Waging Nonviolence

Blocking trains and removing coal, climate activists fight to close one of New England’s largest power plants

Under cover of darkness, dozens of climate activists snuck into the forest in the small town of Harvard, Massachusetts. The air was buzzing with nervous excitement as the group filed along a dirt path next to the railroad tracks, carrying heavy metal scaffolding. After half a mile of walking, the group set up camp and assembled the scaffolding into a 16-foot-tall metal structure above the train tracks.

Once the scaffolding was secured in place, the group formed a circle and joined hands. One of the activists announced that he had just placed a call to the railway’s emergency number, alerting the dispatcher that there were people and a metal structure on the tracks. Four people were stationed a ways ahead, waving red flags to make sure the coal train would stop. And stop it did — waiting several costly hours for police to arrive and arrest the four activists who had climbed onto the scaffolding and refused to come down.

This blockade, which lasted through the night on Jan. 2, was just the latest action for a coalition of regional climate groups and activists calling themselves the #NoCoalNoGas campaign. With the aim of shutting down fossil fuel infrastructure — starting with Merrimack Station, New England’s last coal-fired power plant without a shutdown date — the campaign has been leading actions across Massachusetts and New Hampshire since August.

“If [the Harvard blockade] had been an isolated action, then maybe it would feel like we didn’t accomplish much. But #NoCoalNoGas is a long-term strategic campaign.”

As the blockades have surged in recent months, so too has the campaign. By escalating from symbolic actions to obstructing Merrimack Station’s ability to operate — leading to dozens of arrests in the process — the #NoCoalNoGas campaign is mounting the most serious challenge to the plant since it opened in Bow, New Hampshire in 1960.

“Part of what we’re trying to do is to show that burning coal at this stage is completely unacceptable and won’t be tolerated,” said Tim DeChristopher, one of the activists arrested at the Harvard blockade. “Coal trains can’t roll through our communities anymore without being impeded.”

DeChristopher’s group, the Climate Disobedience Center, or CDC, helped form the campaign, collaborating with 350 New Hampshire Action and a regional coalition of other climate action groups and individuals, including many first-time activists.

From thoroughly researching and identifying a vulnerable target to prioritizing the process of community-building among participants, the #NoCoalNoGas campaign is a strong example of how to develop an effective strategy, while also creating an inclusive environment for new activists to join. Building on the growing sense of urgency to address the climate crisis, organizers have harnessed public outrage into action. 

“A lot of people even in the town [of Bow, New Hampshire] itself don’t know we’re still burning coal in New England, much less in their own community,” said Emma Schoenberg, a nonviolent action trainer with the CDC. “We started really thinking about ways in which we can bring awareness to the fact that this coal plant exists, and to eventually shut it down with a really prominent goal of building community.”

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  • The campaign’s initial success at mobilizing large numbers of participants has led journalists and older activists to draw parallels with the Clamshell Alliance campaign of the 1970s, which fought to stop construction of the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant in New Hampshire. In 1977, during the largest of several acts of mass civil disobedience, 1,415 people were arrested while occupying the construction site. While the Clamshell Alliance wasn’t able to stop Seabrook, it sparked a national anti-nuclear movement that deserves credit for largely shutting down further nuclear construction, as well as inspiring a greater public understanding of nonviolent direct action.

    Today, the #NoCoalNoGas campaign could do for coal what Clamshell did for nuclear energy: build a blueprint for shutting down a dangerous industry through coordinated direct action.

    From #BucketByBucket to #TrainByTrain

    Although many participants in the #NoCoalNoGas campaign are new to civil disobedience, the campaign’s core organizers are veterans of nonviolent struggle. DeChristopher, who is a co-founder of the CDC, famously posed as a bidder at an oil and gas auction in 2008 to protest the sale of public lands — a stunt that landed him in prison for 21 months.

    It thus comes as no surprise that the #NoCoalNoGas campaign began with a bit of surreptitious action, when a core group of activists decided to scout out the coal plant’s layout firsthand. In August, five of them walked straight onto the grounds of the power plant to see it for themselves. 

    “After having a good look around, we went in and talked with some of the managers of the plant,” DeChristopher said. “We explained to them that we need to shut this plant down for the sake of the climate and our survival. They were pretty surprised that we were able to just walk right into the plant.”

    350 New Hampshire Action Field Organizer Emma Shapiro-Weiss poses at the fuel pile at Merrimack Station in New Hampshire. (Twitter/Shapiro-Weiss)

    On August 20, the campaign launched its first action when eight activists removed over 500 pounds of coal in buckets from the power station grounds. Three days later, they dumped buckets of coal in front of the New Hampshire State House in Concord, New Hampshire and told the media they were laying the responsibility for ending coal usage on the government’s doorstep.

    A month later, on Sept. 29, dozens of people dressed in white tyvek suits and carrying plastic buckets tried to approach the coal pile at Merrimack Station. Met by police in riot gear, 67 were arrested and charged with criminal trespassing. They sang and drummed on buckets throughout the action, while 300 more rallied in the field across the street from the plant. According to the organizers, it was one of the largest environmental civil disobedience actions in New England since the Clamshell actions at Seabrook 40 years ago. 

    Seventy-six year old Espahbad Dodd was one of the bucket-bearing activists arrested that day. Having never taken such a risk before, he noted, “It just got to the point where it was time. I figured I don’t have grandchildren, but I have lots of friends that do. I don’t want to think about any responsibility I have for not leaving them a world in which they can live.”

    “We can stop these trains fairly easily. It’s a very simple thing to do, and it needs to become commonplace.”

    The next major action took place two months later in early December. Shifting from #BucketByBucket to a rallying cry of #TrainByTrain, activists began blockading railroad tracks as trains carried shipments of coal through New England to Merrimack Station. The first blockades happened during the night of Dec. 7 and into the next day. Over 100 activists blockaded the train tracks at three different points along the route, beginning in Worcester and Ayer, Massachusetts and culminating with a third blockade in Hooksett, New Hampshire. The coal train was delayed for several hours, resulting in 20 arrests on trespassing charges. Two people were further charged with resisting arrest after refusing to come down from a railroad bridge. 

    Activists attempted to blockade the tracks again on Dec. 16 in West Boylston, Massachusetts. However, despite calling the emergency dispatcher and waving red flags to signal the conductor, the coal train did not stop, and almost two dozen activists had to jump out of the way as the train barreled towards them.

    The group remained undeterred, organizing another train blockade Dec. 29, when over 20 people in Worcester stood across the tracks. Ten were ultimately arrested, setting the stage for the scaffolding blockade in Harvard on Jan. 2. 

    “If [the Harvard blockade] had been an isolated action, then maybe it would feel like we didn’t accomplish much,” said Cody Pajic, who was arrested at the blockade on Jan. 2. “But #NoCoalNoGas is a long-term strategic campaign, and when Bow finally shuts down, we’ll know that the train blockades were part of the path that got us there.​”

    “We are building Dumbledore’s Army. We will grow in deep relationship with one another in a movement network across the region.”

    These train blockades embody one of the campaign’s guiding principles: that ordinary people can take matters into their own hands to disrupt fossil fuel infrastructure and address the climate emergency. 

    “We can stop these trains fairly easily,” DeChristopher said. “It’s a very simple thing to do, and it needs to become commonplace.” 

    Developing strategy and an inclusive campaign culture 

    Participants like Barbara Peterson, who has long studied nonviolent direct action, have emphasized the campaign’s strategic sophistication as a key reason for getting involved. From thoroughly researching a target to providing intensive training in nonviolent direct action and regularly evaluating previous actions, #NoCoalNoGas has been intentional about shaping a campaign that is smart and effective. 

    “We do a process of evaluation of the tactic after we’ve used it,” Schoenberg said. “For me, it’s important to ask, ‘Did this meet our goals? Did our strategy shift from the data and information we received? Does a different tactic make sense? Or do our people need rest?’”

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  • Asking these questions allows activists to shift focus from civil disobedience to community-building when needed. For example, in the coming weeks the campaign may place more emphasis on supporting activists facing court proceedings than conducting direct actions. In this way they would also be able to work on advancing the use and acceptance of the “climate necessity defense” — a legal argument that would allow activists to explain their unlawful actions as being for the greater good.

    Nevertheless, organizers are clear on the campaign’s three goals: The first is to develop community and ownership of the campaign among participants as they put their bodies on the line; the second is to show people in New England and around the country that it is possible to shut down a plant like Merrimack Station with direct action; and the third is to shut down the plant itself, while also preventing the plant from being converted into a natural gas facility. The community-building aspect is considered more important for building power in the long-term than simply shutting down the plant.

    “We are building Dumbledore’s Army,” said CDC Co-Founder Jay O’Hara. “We will grow in deep relationship with one another in a movement network across the region, and therefore we will grow in power. Once we are done with [Merrimack Station], we will move onto the next thing.”

    O’Hara said the campaign embraces an approach of “emergent strategy,” which allows for a flexible, ever-evolving series of actions that are not centrally planned and imposed.

    “We don’t get together and write a strategic plan that has these predetermined peak moments of escalation, timelines and how we’re going to mobilize various resources,” he explained. “It’s not that we don’t think about those things, but we don’t start from there, because when we start from there we start to think of human beings as the pieces we’re trying to plug into our plan. From my perspective, that is the central problem of the domination system we’re trying to get out from underneath.”

    Barbara Peterson is arrested during the #NoCoalNoGas campaign’s first nonviolent direct action on Sept. 29. (Twitter/DrPeace)

    Peterson said that despite the challenges of doing direct actions, being a participant in the campaign feels deeply purposeful and important. 

    “I suppose everyone’s different, but for me it’s not fun getting arrested,” she said. “It’s not fun going against the system. It’s frightening, it’s incredibly inconvenient — you have to sleep out overnight. I’m not woodsy. I’m not a camper. We do it because we can’t not do it.”

    The #NoCoalNoGas campaign builds on a longer history of climate activism in the region, including a number of other campaigns to shut down coal plants in New England.

    Part of the campaign’s strength comes from this approach of building solidarity and joy among participants. One way activists are doing this is by cultivating a culture of singing into their organizing and direct actions.

    “It seems like a sign that we are building a transformational movement when people sing together,” Schoenberg said. “We haven’t seen that in many movements since the civil rights movement, when black spirituals that people sang at home and in church were brought into social justice spaces. That seems like a sign that we are really building a transformational movement when people sing together, because that comes from people’s homes.”

    Building a regional movement against coal power

    While three coal-fired power plants still remain in New England, one (Bridgeport Station in Connecticut) is scheduled to be closed in 2021 and the other (Schiller Station in New Hampshire) has been partially converted to run on wood chips. This has made Merrimack Station — the only fully coal-fired power plant without a shutdown date — the target of #NoCoalNoGas.

    What’s more, Merrimack Station is also quickly becoming obsolete. Owned by Granite Shore Power, a partnership between two Connecticut-based companies, it operates infrequently under the direction of ISO New England, which manages the regional power grid.

    #NoCoalNoGas activists march to the coal pile at Merrimack Station on Sept. 29, signing and drumming on buckets. (Facebook/350 New Hampshire Action)

    “[Merrimack Station] is vulnerable because it’s unnecessary,” DeChristopher said. “If we can give a bit of an extra push in terms of making it more inconvenient and expensive to run that plant, we can put it over the edge in shutting it down.”

    The plant also receives millions of dollars in “capacity payments” from New England rate-payers even when it’s not operating, so it can stay prepared to produce energy if needed.

    “The fossil fuel industry is working up agreements with companies like ISO New England, saying ‘You’re gonna need us. What if there’s a cold snap?’” Schoenberg said. “Pushing back on that narrative is going to be critical.”

    “We are building a regional New England identity. That’s the same level at which our energy grid operates.”

    New England operates an auction-style energy grid, in which distributors purchase that energy from producers. Generating negative media attention and public outrage against the Merrimack Station and coal production could dissuade distributors from purchasing energy from the plant, organizers said.

    The #NoCoalNoGas campaign builds on a longer history of climate activism in the region, including a number of other campaigns to shut down coal plants in New England. One such effort took place back in 2013 with the Lobster Boat Blockade, during which two environmental activists, including the CDC’s Jay O’Hara, blocked a freighter from delivering a shipment of coal to the Brayton Point Power Station in Massachusetts. Brayton Point was the largest coal-fired power plant in New England until it shut down in 2017.

    In an effort to continue building momentum to drive coal out of New England, O’Hara and Marla Marcum of the CDC helped to lead the 2015 “Pipeline Pilgrimage” with a group of young Quakers as part of the Young Adult Friends Climate Working Group. They marched for 12 days along the 150-mile route of a fracked-gas pipeline that was proposed to run through Massachusetts and New Hampshire. 

    In 2017, Quakers led another pilgrimage from the Schiller power plant in Portsmouth, New Hampshire to Merrimack Station, 50 miles away. The Schiller station has since converted one of its three coal-fired boilers to burning wood chips instead. Another plant, the Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth, Massachusetts was shut down in 2019 after local outrage at the poor maintenance and dangerous conditions of the plant.

    The #NoCoalNoGas campaign is part of a larger regional movement to shut down fossil fuel infrastructure, and has developed stronger linkages between various environmental campaigns in New England, including the campaign opposing the natural gas compressor station in Weymouth, Massachusetts and protests against JPMorgan Chase Bank, which has underwritten billions of dollars of funding for new coal-fired power plants.

    Step by step, bucket by bucket, and train by train, a multigenerational movement is growing to tackle the climate crisis.

    “We are building a regional New England identity,” Schoenberg said. “That’s the same level at which our energy grid operates. Each state is trying to pass a deal around the climate emergency in their own way, and we’re building a network of people helping each other with resources and skills.”

    The campaign may have lasting ripple effects on New England’s energy grid. State officials in Connecticut say the state may withdraw from the regional energy grid and reconsider pro-natural gas policies. Meanwhile, Massachusetts lawmakers are discussing the possibility of implementing carbon pricing. As the #NoCoalNoGas campaign continues, activists will use the growing regional network to apply pressure on key actors, from elected officials to presidential candidates to corporate executives.

    Lessons 50 years after Seabrook

    It’s not hard to see the Seabrook protests as ancestors of the campaign to shut down Merrimack Station. Both campaigns showed commitment to nonviolence, used blockades and occupations, employed creative expression, devoted energy to nonviolent action training, and organized participants into affinity groups.

    Both campaigns also understood the corporate connection. The Clamshell protesters knew they were up against New Hampshire’s largest electric utility company, Public Service Co. of New Hampshire, with ties to a web of local and regional financial interests. Their actions included occupying the board room of a major Boston bank and a blockade of the New York Stock Exchange in 1979 on the 50th anniversary of the market crash.

    Yet, as much as the climate activists of today are taking lessons from Seabrook, they are also aiming to forge something radically new.

    “What makes something powerful is not to try and re-inhabit or re-deploy the tactics of a previous generation,” O’Hara said. “What makes something powerful is the underlying spirit that infuses the group taking action.”

    As New England’s climate activists gear up for this next year, shutting down the region’s last coal-fired power plant is only one step along the way. Step by step, bucket by bucket, and train by train, a multigenerational movement is growing to tackle the climate crisis — and the campaign to close Merrimack Station is only the beginning.

    How new creative actions are fueling Chile’s uprising

    The Feast of Laughter group performs a scenic barricade at Anibal Pinto Square on Dec. 20. (WNV/Cristián Opaso)

    On the surface, things have calmed down in Chile, after the initial weeks of massive demonstrations that began on Oct. 18, and brought the military back into the streets almost three decades after the fall of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. But the country is far from calm.

    While new repressive tactics are being used to keep stubborn protesters away from the now legendary Dignity Square, the Chilean people — from organized traditional unions to artist collectives — are developing and implementing new creative nonviolent direct actions. The best known among them is the now world famous performance of the Las Tesis women’s collective that spread like wildfire from Valparaiso to Istanbul to Mexico City to San Francisco and beyond.

    What is it that has kept the fire of protest alive? How are Chileans dealing with the wounds inflicted on thousands and how are they seeking to overcome fear?

    Constanza Salcedo is only 25 years old. On Oct. 19, she joined neighbors protesting in the La Florida neighborhood of Santiago to nonviolently defy the curfew that had begun that day, the first of a week long state of emergency. It only took a few minutes for the Carabineros (local police) to shoot at her and change her life forever. She was to be become the first to lose her eyesight as a result of police violence. Since then, 316 other people have suffered eye injuries and 21 of them have suffered irreversible damage.

    Constanza Salcedo, 25, was one of the first of dozens of Chileans who have lost one of their eyes. (WNV/Cristián Opaso)

    “I have not lost my eye: I still have the eyeball, but I have completely lost vision,” she said calmly, before adding: “Fortunately it wasn’t both, as was the case with Gustavo Gatica or Fabiola Campillay.”

    Salcedo’s feelings have kept changing since that tragic day. “At first I was very angry and sad,” she said. “I couldn’t believe that someone would have shot to show his superiority, to obey orders. The truth is I still cannot understand. They want to provoke permanent damage and that hurts me a lot. You lose some faith in humanity.”

    But Salcedo has kept living, studying and organizing. Only three days before we spoke she had graduated from the University of Chile as a midwife, and when we met she was marching with the recently organized Coordinating Committee of Victims of Eye Injuries.

    “Now I am trying to deal with all this,” she said. “That is why I get involved in this. I am not a very extroverted person, but I know that this helps people be aware about what is going on.”

    Protesters with an injured eyes joined a recent march in front of the Presidential Palace with photographs of the disappeared during Pinochet’s regime. (WNV/Cristián Opaso)

    Dec. 20 marked the first time that the newly formed Coordinating Committee of Victims of Eye Injuries marched alongside the relatives of the disappeared, who have been marching at least since 1978, seeking the whereabouts of more than a thousand people who never returned after being captured by police following the 1973 military coup. After the return to formal democracy in 1990 they have marched many Fridays (some 160 times) between the presidential palace and the Supreme Court.

    The fact that both groups marched together made it possible for the new committee to walk the few blocks without being repressed by the police. The traditional signs showing the faces of the disappeared were now accompanied by signs showing bleeding eyes carried by protesters, some of whom covered their own injured eyes. Drawings of eyes as art objects and the covering of one eye in public have become the symbol of police repression.

    Among those who marched that Friday was Marta Valdés Recabarren, whose 17-year-old son Edgardo Navarro Valdés was shot in the face by a policeman during a high school demonstration. As a result, he suffered a serious eye injury that has prevented him from being on the frontlines of the protests and from practicing skating, which is another passion. His mother, after realizing that many did not know how to seek help — and that others offering support couldn’t find ways to channel their efforts — got together with 20 eye injury victims and organized the group.

    Marta Valdes Recabarren, founder of the Coordinating Committee of Victims of Eye Injuries with one of the victims, her son Esteban Navarro, 17. (WNV/Cristián Opaso)

    “Psychologically, and in many other aspects, it has been of great help to be united, to be together,” said Marta, who now acts as the spokesperson for the committee. “From sorrow we have come out with something beautiful: to know each other, to love each other, to caress each other, to share our pain and see how we are coping with the eye injuries. This has been of tremendous significance in a country today immersed in so much violence.”

    Despite not being new to this violence, like other victims, she remains hopeful.

    “I have five disappeared in the family” she said in an almost casual way, referring to the brothers, father and wife of the Gonzalez Recabarren family who were kidnapped in the 1970s. “The best way we can get even with those who have repressed, who have tortured, for all they have done, is to be happy. And I am cheerful, regardless of everything that we have lived through.”

    The committee is working on providing medical help to those injured across the country and also preparing a legal case against President Sebastián Piñera, who they believe is ultimately responsible for the repression. That case will at some point be seen by the Supreme Court, the exact place where the committee ended their march.

    Re-vindicating nonviolent civil disobedience

    The judicial system is in fact a key player in current events in Chile. Their main headquarters in Santiago is right across the street from the parliament. And it was precisely this space that Unidad Social, or Social Unity, the main coalition of traditional unions and social movements supporting the protests, decided to occupy in what they called Dignity Camp. Starting on Dec. 9, they came with tents, stages and sound systems, and for 11 days held public meetings, lectures and artistic performances concerning many issues, among them of course the new constitutional process that will be decided next April. For Mario Aguilar, head of the powerful teachers union, it was a re-vindication of a legitimate course of action.

    “Our main goal was to carry out an act of civil disobedience at a time when they have tried to demonize civil disobedience almost as an act of terrorism,” explained Aguilar on the teachers union’s online video channel. “We re-vindicate the right of the people to carry out nonviolent civil disobedience. Civil disobedience is a profoundly ethical act; it is fundamentally a moral act.”

    The occupation was illegal because they were not given permits to create the democratic space to debate what Chileans want for their country legally, he explained. “[It is] an illegal, but profoundly democratic action, just as there are actions that are legal, but profoundly antidemocratic and illegitimate” he added, before pointing to the offices of the Supreme Court and Parliament.

    Congress indeed has been slow in introducing changes to the process for a new constitution that is scheduled to begin with the plebiscite in late April. A preliminary agreement has been reached to have a quota system to assure equal representation for women, but disagreement remains concerning reserving quotas for indigenous representatives. Urgent social reforms demanded by the uprising that began on Oct. 18 have also not been implemented. These include an end to the privatized pension system put in place during the Pinochet dictatorship that has failed to cover basic costs of living for the great majority of retirees, and access to free health and education.

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  • Courts on the other hand have been slow to react to the widespread human rights abuses that, despite decreasing in number, have continued. Indeed, in November and December four major international human rights organizations — the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch — put out statements or reports denouncing widespread and systematic human rights abuses, many of which are ongoing.

    Some national courts have in fact been slowly restoring some basic rights. Judge Daniel Urrutia, for example, ruled that it was illegal for the city and police to prevent protesters from gathering at Dignity Square. And on Dec. 23, the Santiago Appeal Court released math teacher Roberto Campos, the first person arrested for the still unresolved destruction of 25 subway stations between Oct. 17 and 18. Charged with destruction of subway installations (allegedly proven by subway surveillance videos) and violation of Internal Security laws, Campos had been held at a maximum security prison and today awaits trial at his Santiago home.

    A couple dozen protesters who had come to support Campos celebrated outside the courthouse after the judges reviewed the case. Armando Arjona, Campos’ Mexican-born partner, highlighted the importance of the ruling.

    “I am supremely thankful. Not only are we bringing about social changes, but also political ones,” he said. “Justice belongs to the people [and is] in our hands. We have been able to change the history of Chile, and we can change the way that justice is implemented. This has not ended. There are still many compañeros and compañeras imprisoned because of the mobilizations.”

    On the following day a court in the southern city of Concepción released three students who were also held in prison awaiting trial.

    According to the prosecutor’s office, there are 1,957 people held in prison awaiting trial and 20,207 people have been indicted, most of them for theft in uninhabited locations.

    Furthermore, on Jan. 8 the government announced legal prosecutions against high school student leaders, responsible for sparking the widespread protests, and who recently occupied public schools in an effort to boycott what they claim are unfair college entrance examinations.

    On the other hand, only a handful of members of the security forces are being held in prison, despite the prosecutor’s office having opened 2,670 investigations for human rights violations. Among them are dozens of cases of sexual violence. In November 2019, the governmental (but independent) National Human Rights Institute presented 74 legal actions for sexual violence, a figure that amounted to four times those presented in the last nine years combined.

    Reinventing barricades

    It was precisely this aspect of repression that led Las Tesis to come up with a feminist dance performance known as “A rapist in your way.” It has been reenacted by groups of women in a variety of public spaces, among them Chile’s main sport arena, where thousands of women of all ages simultaneously moved their bodies, pointed their fingers and blasted patriarchy in its various forms — from state violence to daily sexism — with lyrics that defy and inspire.

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    “The rapist is you. It’s the cops, the judges, the state, the president. The oppressive state is a macho rapist,” the participants cry out in unison. “And the fault wasn’t mine, not where I was, not how I dressed. The rapist was you. The rapist is you.”

    After the group first performed on Nov. 20 in front of a police station in Valparaiso, it spread quickly around the world. It is not only a powerful denunciation of the sexist violence of the police and the state as a whole, but also an example of the many art actions that have begun replacing traditional barricades with performances on street corners and in shopping malls. Sparked by small artist collectives, these regular street performances are decentralized and spontaneous.

    The artists who constitute the group “Fire: Actions in Cement” inspired the Las Tesis collective to come up with their now legendary action.

    “We were out in the streets, participating in the protests since the first day, for at least the first three weeks,” said Andrés Ulloa, one of the members of Fire, who is an actor and teacher from Valparaiso. “But there came a time when the police changed their strategies of repression, and it became much more difficult for us to be in the protests. We are not that young anymore. It was saying to ourselves, ‘We are afraid, but we cannot remain in the margins, we have to act.’”

    Andrés Ulloa, 42, one of the founders of the Valparaiso artist collective Fire: Actions in Cement smiles next to John Lennon at Anibal Pinto Square, where the first scenic barricades were performed. (WNV/Cristián Opaso)

    It all began on Nov. 9, when Katty Lopez posted a call to fellow artists on her Facebook page.

    “I suppose it’s key to carry out actions that rub the faces of those who for years have inflicted miseries and pain on us, but I also see, even more urgently, a revolution with laughter, dissidence, joy, dance, pleasure,” the post read in part. “Make the streets become improvised theaters, make the streets become intimacy, make the streets become inextinguishable force and fire.”

    Close to a hundred people responded, and Lopez, Ulloa and three others, decided to give form to the original idea.

    “And we named it Fire to symbolize the social movement and the explosion that has resulted in a fire that has not been extinguished, and action on cement because what we proposed was to act in the streets and occupy public spaces,” Ulloa recalled.

    They came up with three types of actions: “scenic barricades” consist of blocking street traffic for no more than five minutes and performing a short theatrical piece. Another type of action they call “facades,” which involve artists performing brief plays where they talk back and forth with the institution represented by the facade. They have performed these action in front of the courts and a local church. The third kind of action is “outside the theater,” where short plays are performed in squares and other public spaces.

    Olga Echeverría Monarde, 92, performed the first scenic barricade in Valparaiso on Nov. 18. (WNV/Fire: Actions in Cement)

    The first scenic barricade, the most successful of their proposals, featured the grandmother of an artist who blocked the streets and calmly had a cup of tea, as a denunciation of the miserable conditions of many elderly people. Images of the performance went viral and the actions multiplied. The third was the one organized by Las Tesis, but dozens have occurred since. On New Years Eve for example 10 simultaneous scenic barricades took place, mostly by actors, but also one by a graphic artists collective.

    Fire: Action on Cement has helped produced many of the events, but they do not seek to become permanent coordinators nor owners of the idea.

    “Our proposal is that this function in a joint and collaborative manner,” added an inspired actor after yet another successful barricade at the Anibal Pinto square on Dec. 28. “The idea is for people to grab the idea and apply it independently. The bottom line is that we don’t want to direct anything … which is part of the spirit of the revolt … We will keep disrupting traffic even though it might bother some people, because we believe it is necessary.”

    Some 10,000 people gathered to welcome New Year in Santiago, despite not having a permit. Special tables were set up and food given to members of voluntary health brigades and others on the frontlines. However, as the street celebrations came to an end, two more Chileans — Matias Orellana, a teacher from Valparaiso, and Diego Lastra, a medical student from Santiago — were both partially blinded by tear gas canisters shot in their faces by the police.

    Voluntary health workers celebrate at a massive New Year’s dinner held next to Dignity Square, where thousands congregated despite official prohibition. (WNV/Cristián Opaso)

    Others, such as a young couple, were heavily repressed by the police. Judith Fernandez, a protester who was badly beaten with her partner Eduardo Hidalgo near Dignity Square, sent a public message on social media. Speaking with her eyes swollen by the police beating, Fernandez came close to tears when she recalled the help she had received from health volunteers.

    “Two wonderful people gave us drops that helped with the most intense pain,” she said passionately. “They were there supporting us, even though they didn’t know us — encouraging us, thanking us for having been there. Let’s continue. This is not going to stop. No beating, no mark that these assholes leave on our bodies is going to fracture our spirit. We are winning, we are going to make it.”

    Why we need to move closer to King’s understanding of nonviolence

    The following is an edited version of a chapter from Kazu Haga’s new book, “Healing Resistance: A Radically Different Response to Harm,” published with permission from Parallax Press.

    In Kingian Nonviolence, a philosophy developed out of the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr., there is a distinction made between nonviolence spelled with a hyphen, and nonviolence spelled without a hyphen. “Non-violence” is essentially two words: “without” “violence.” When spelled this way, it only describes the absence of violence. As long as I am “not being violent,” I am practicing non-violence. And that is the biggest misunderstanding of nonviolence that exists.

    I live in one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Oakland, with an equal mix of black, Latino and Asian residents. One day, I was taking a nap in my apartment when I was woken up by a couple yelling at each other below my second-story window. I decided to get out of bed and look, and I saw a woman on the ground being beaten, crying and screaming for help. I jumped up, put on my shoes and ran downstairs. By the time I arrived, about 15 of my neighbors had also come outside, but they were just watching this woman get beat, doing nothing to help. I managed to break up the fight and get the two to walk away from each other, one fuming with anger and the other in tears.

    My neighbors who were just watching this were practicing “non hyphen violence.” They weren’t throwing punches or kicks. They were explicitly being “not violent.” So, you see how, from a Kingian perspective, what a difference that little hyphen makes. You see how big of a misunderstanding it can create if we think that nonviolence is simply about the absence of violence. If we define nonviolence as “not violent,” then we can hide behind the veil of nonviolence while still condoning violence.

    It’s easy to be a bystander. We see rising homelessness, and we turn the other way. We see unarmed black folks being killed by police, and we blame the victim. We hear about high suicide rates among LGBTQ youth, and we do little or nothing about it. We read reports on the climate crisis but leave it to the next generation to deal with. We watch our communities and the earth being assaulted every day, and we just gather around and watch.

    Nonviolence is not about what not to do. It is about what you are going to do about the violence and injustice we see in our own hearts, our homes, our neighborhoods and society at large. It is about taking a proactive stand against violence and injustice. Nonviolence is about action, not inaction.

    Negative peace

    This misunderstanding of nonviolence leads to a dangerous misunderstanding of peace. Similar to misunderstandings of nonviolence, calling for a misunderstood peace can be an act of violence. On February 3, 1956, a woman named Autherine Lucy became the first black student to attend classes at the University of Alabama. Within days of her arrival, riots broke out. A mob of more than a thousand people surrounded the car she was traveling in, and rioters climbed on top.

    In response, the university expelled Lucy. They claimed that her presence was causing a threat to the safety of the school. The following day, the riots stopped. The local newspaper ran a headline that read, “Things are quiet in Tuscaloosa today. There is peace on the campus of the University of Alabama.”

    There is peace. What kind of peace was the paper talking about?

    A one month later, King gave a sermon in response to this titled, “When Peace Becomes Obnoxious.” In it, he said the peace the newspapers described was not a real peace. He said that this is “the type of peace that all men of goodwill hate. It is the type of peace that is obnoxious. It is the type of peace that stinks in the nostrils of the Almighty God.” Strong words from the man who would go on to win the Nobel Peace Prize. When King spoke of a “peace boiled down to stagnant complacency,” he was talking about what peace educator Johan Galtung calls “negative peace,” a peace that describes the absence of tension at the expense of justice. King went on to say that, “peace is not merely the absence of tension, but the presence of justice.”

    Oftentimes, we think of peace as calm and quiet. We conjure up images of watching the sunset on a tropical beach, meditating in the forest by a creek, incense and scented candles. That can be as problematic as thinking that nonviolence is about not being violent. I guarantee you that the moment after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, things were really quiet. So did we create peace? If someone is screaming in my face, and I stop them by knocking them unconscious, did I just create peace?

    It is easier in the short term to sweep issues under the rug and settle for a cheap yet ultimately unsustainable negative peace.

    As ridiculous as that sounds, this is how our society tries to create peace, because we have such a gross misunderstanding of it. This is what allows us to justify going to war to create peace. If we just kill all the terrorists, we’ll have peace. It justifies the militarization of the police. If we just lock up all the protesters, then our streets will be quiet and peaceful. It justifies mass incarceration. If we just lock up all the bad people, we’ll have peaceful neighborhoods.

    Negative peace is prevalent in many of our relationships, homes, workplaces, faith communities and institutions. This is often the type of negative peace created and maintained by a ubiquitous, unspoken understanding that surfacing conflict is not welcome. My home country of Japan deals with this type of negative peace on a national level. As a culture, we tend to be conflict-averse. We are taught that the honorable thing is to hold it in, keep our heads down and endure. It is considered rude to bring up difficult topics that could create tension because we would be placing a burden on others. It’s impolite. So we endure.

    Japan may be one of the safest nations on Earth in terms of violent crime, and from the outside looking in, it looks peaceful. But we also have one of the highest suicide rates in the world. To learn to endure life’s challenges with dignity can absolutely be a positive trait, but when it results in a nation of people trying to simply endure trauma, isolation and living a life without purpose — when people are taught not to speak out about injustice and oppression and to “stay in their place” — that’s repression. It is negative peace.

    I once heard someone describe this phenomenon as the “tyranny of civility.” We’re told in corporate workplaces not to speak out about sexual harassment because it would “create conflict.” We’re told in our churches not to question the use of church funds because “it’s improper.” So we go on pretending there’s no problem. Enduring.

    We see this everywhere in our society today. Racism? Not a problem anymore; the only people still talking about racism are the racists! Patriarchy? Look at all the women leading major corporations now! Poverty? The economy has never been better! Look at the stock market!

    It is easier in the short term to sweep issues under the rug and settle for a cheap yet ultimately unsustainable negative peace. It is an entirely different conversation to proactively work against violence and build toward a positive peace that includes justice for all. It requires us to lift the veil off injustice and work to repair the harm.

    Disturbing complacency

    When we associate peace with only the absence of tension, we actually move farther away from the positive peace that King called for. In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” he wrote, “My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word ‘tension.’ I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.”

    In 2015, in response to the police killing of Freddie Gray, the city of Baltimore erupted into an uprising. This included some members of the Baltimore community engaging in acts of violence. Buildings were burned. Car windows were smashed. Former Baltimore Ravens star Ray Lewis implored the protesters to “stop the violence.”

    When we use nonviolence to confront violence and injustice, we are not disturbing the peace, we are disturbing complacency.

    As a nonviolence trainer, I don’t necessarily think that burning buildings is the most effective tactic to creating lasting change. And at the same time, I was disappointed at Lewis’s statement. There is great irony in his call for protesters to “stop the violence.” Because that is exactly what the protesters were trying to do. The uprising in Baltimore wasn’t only about the killing of Freddie Gray. It was a response to 500 years of violence against people of African descent in this country. People were out in the streets because they were the ones sick of the violence perpetrated in their communities for so long.

    King once said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” Riots are ultimately a cry for peace from communities who have never had it. To condemn oppressed people for lashing out against centuries of violence is to ignore the larger context of violence they are lashing out against. It is the inevitable response from a community whose pain had gone unacknowledged for centuries.

    Calls for Black Lives Matter protesters to be peaceful following the latest police killing can be a form of repression. It is a call for peace that acts as a euphemism for “stop complaining” and “stay in your place.” Peace is messy. Justice is loud. If we expect that creating peace in a society as violent as the United States will be a neat, calm and quiet process, we will be in for a rude awakening.

    Real peace-building requires us to learn to have the conversations we don’t want to have with our families and with society. It may require us to hold interventions, shut down highways or perform other acts of resistance. When we do those things, we are not creating the conflict. We are simply surfacing the conflict that already exists so that it can be addressed.

    King was arrested 29 times in his short life. Many of those times, he was charged with “disturbing the peace.” Think about that for a moment. Let that sink in.

    This still happens today to many activists. When we use nonviolence to confront violence and injustice, we are not disturbing the peace, we are disturbing complacency. We are disturbing the normalization of violence. We are disturbing negative peace. When massive homeless encampments become normalized, we need to disturb that. When we accept a 50 percent dropout rate from urban high schools, we need to disturb that. When we invest in a prison system that produces an 83 percent recidivism rate, we need to disturb that. When corporate interests are destroying our planet and endangering the livelihoods of future generations, we need to disturb that.

    The charge of “disturbing the peace” should be stricken from the criminal codes of this country until we finally learn to live in real, positive peace. We cannot disturb something that doesn’t exist in the first place. When we engage in the hard work of nonviolence and social change, we are not disturbing peace. We are fighting for it.

    How Generation Z is leading the climate movement

    For the first decade and a half of her life, Jamie Margolin was like any other U.S. teen living in the suburbs. She went to school, made friends and got involved in sports. Yet all the while, beneath the surface, lurked the fear of a looming climate catastrophe — one that she felt powerless to stop.

    For a while, Margolin was able to keep this fear at bay. Her focus on school and athletics certainly helped. Then came election night 2016, when the protective wall she had built around herself finally began to crumble.

    At age 14, Margolin’s political experience was, at that point, limited to just some phone banking for the Clinton campaign. But rather than give in to despair over the election result, she decided it was time to attack head-on the problem that scared her most: climate change.

    Soon Margolin found herself volunteering for Plant for the Planet, a youth-based climate advocacy group, which she traveled with to the State Capitol in Olympia to lobby for a climate bill. She testified at hearings, spoke at protests and organized rallies. Still, she dreamed of taking even more powerful actions.

    Jamie Margolin speaking to a crowd of youth climate activists. (Facebook/Zero Hour)

    Things came to a head in 2017, as extreme weather events unfolded at home and around the globe. That summer, for the first time in her life, smoke from nearby wildfires palled Seattle’s skies.

    “I saw the smoke, then watched Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico,” Margolin said. “I decided I needed to take my activism to the next level.”

    She wrote an Instagram post that included this message: “If we have a #YouthMarchonWashington where young people flood the streets and demand climate solutions … we can change the game in the #climatecrisis.”

    Responses poured in from friends and from students around the country. Working over email and social media they launched a new youth-led organization called Zero Hour. For maybe the first time, Margolin began feeling she could have the kind of impact she’d dreamed about.

    Inspiring a movement

    Like Margolin, Andrea Manning grew up hearing about climate change. However, for years she thought the problem seemed remote. When it came up in school the focus was always on ice caps and polar bears. As an African American high schooler living near Atlanta, Georgia, these concerns felt far from Manning’s lived reality.

    Then, during her senior year of high school in 2018, a friend asked Manning to help organize a climate march as part of Zero Hour’s first major day of action. Had it been about polar bears, she likely would have passed on the invitation. But when she realized the organization put a strong emphasis on marginalized people, she became intrigued.

    Andrea Manning is now a student at the University of Georgia and part of the Zero Hour executive team. (Zero Hour)

    “I saw how climate change affects real communities and racial justice,” Manning said. “Zero Hour’s message is about the importance of a livable future, but also people on the frontline being affected by fossil fuel development today.”

    Manning was quickly drawn into Zero Hour’s remotely coordinated teenage network, becoming an organizer. The team’s first project was a nationwide day of action that summer on July 21, 2018, which included a march in Washington, D.C. and satellite actions around the country. Manning and her friends pulled off an Atlanta rally that drew 40 people. Small as this first local action may have been, the phenomenon of high schoolers protesting climate change piqued the community’s interest and garnered coverage from news media like the Georgia State Signal.

    Having been inspired by Zero Hour, Thunberg in turn served as an inspiration for many young U.S. climate activists.

    Meanwhile, young people around the world were drawing inspiration from Zero Hour — most notably Greta Thunberg, then a 15-year-old high school student in Sweden.

    Thunberg read about Zero Hour’s day of action online. Then, a month later, she began her Fridays For Future school strike campaign, protesting outside Sweden’s parliament every week. The strike movement spread across Europe and the world, becoming a key part of today’s wave of youth climate activism.

    Patience is rewarded

    Greta Thunberg and Jamie Margolin on a visit to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. in September. (Twitter/Jamie Margolin)

    Because so much of the youth climate movement is organized online, events in Seattle, Stockholm, or almost anywhere can have a near instant ripple effect across the globe. Having been inspired by Zero Hour, Thunberg in turn served as an inspiration for many young U.S. climate activists — including, coincidentally, those in the city where Zero Hour got its start.

    On Dec. 14, 2018, 12-year-old Ian Price became one of the first students to launch a school strike in the United States. Price had watched Greta Thunberg’s speeches on YouTube, and he decided to start a strike of his own outside Seattle City Hall.

    “I’m here because decision-makers like the ones in that building, who have power to make real changes, need to act,” Price said.

    By coincidence, on the same Friday Price began his strike, 14-year-old Alexandria Villaseñor of New York City started one of her own outside the U.N. headquarters. Over the next few months, other strike actions started popping up around the country. In many cases, activists like Price and Villaseñor kept lonely vigils for weeks before anyone else joined. But their patience was eventually rewarded.

    Fourteen-year-old Zoe Schurman, who was also motivated by Thunberg, began coming to the Seattle strikes a couple months after Price launched them. She had been concerned about climate change for years but wasn’t sure how young people like her could make an impact.

    “It was inspiring to see youth my age making waves,” Schurman said. “If older generations aren’t going to be responsible, then in times of crisis youth have to step up and be the adults.”

    Seattle climate strikers at a Friday action in November. (WNV/Nick Engelfried)

    Now, around 30-50 students and supporters join the Seattle strike every Friday. Like in many other cities, a small core group strikes every week with much larger numbers on occasional days of mass action. One such day was Sept. 20, the kickoff to a week of action when more than 7 million people around the world participated in a Global Climate Strike, timed to coincide with a special U.N. climate summit in New York.

    In Seattle, 10,000 people joined a march with strikers like Price and Schurman. Meanwhile, in Atlanta — a more challenging organizing environment because of the region’s conservative politics — a strike organized by Manning and others drew almost 400 participants, 10 times the size of their first Zero Hour action.

    While crowd size varied from city to city, the Global Climate Strike included more than 5,000 events spread across 163 countries. This meant that the movement — which began with only a scattering of teenagers — had just led to the planet’s largest-ever demonstration in support of climate action.

    Life as a youth organizer

    Zero Hour Advocacy Director Ethan Wright was one of about 10,000 people rallying outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. that day in September. “We were chanting so loud, I could hear our words echo off the U.S. Capitol building,” he said. “Elected officials walked out onto the balcony to see what was going on.”

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    No sooner was the rally over than Wright, a key player in the D.C. action, was off to his next activist responsibility, hopping on a train to New York with fellow Zero Hour organizer Nadia Nazar. Over the weekend they — along with Margolin and other young activists — participated in a special youth summit ahead of the main U.N. event that began Monday. Sunday evening Wright caught a plane back to the D.C. area, just in time for another week of school at George Mason University, where he is a freshman.

    “That’s being a youth organizer,” Wright said with a laugh. “We do all this activism, then I’m like, I have to go home and do my Spanish homework.”

    ‘We are upholding a mass epidemic of genocide, and I don’t want to be part of that.’

    As a white male college student, Wright freely acknowledges he came to climate activism from a place of privilege not shared by many Zero Hour leaders. He also sees the need for those with less privilege to lead the way. “I love how intersectional and women-of-color-based Zero Hour is, and also how centered it is on frontline youth and indigenous peoples. It’s about making real, tangible change — and uplifting the right people as well.”

    This intersection between climate justice and human rights concerns has motivated many young activists. Recently, it has even led some to risk arrest.

    Pushing the boundaries

    Hours before sunrise on Nov. 5, 19-year-old Lydia Stolt chained herself to a ladder on a landing dock at the Port of Vancouver on the Columbia River. Her aim was to prevent a vessel carrying Canada-bound oil pipeline parts from landing. Along with several other activists from Portland Rising Tide and Mosquito Fleet, Stolt was acting in solidarity with indigenous groups fighting projects like the Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline.

    Climate activists in Washington locked themselves to a landing dock in the Port of Vancouver to block a shipment of oil pipeline parts. (Twitter/Portland Rising Tide)

    “I couldn’t sit by and say I did nothing,” said Stolt, who became a climate activist after spending summers working in Alaska where she saw the retreat of glaciers and impacts on nearby small villages. While emphasizing that she does not speak for indigenous people, Stolt nevertheless said she was motivated to act after meeting Alaska tribal members and making the connection between their fight for survival and those of other indigenous groups opposing fossil fuel pipelines. “We are upholding a mass epidemic of genocide, and I don’t want to be part of that,” she said.

    Stolt wasn’t the only student taking their activism to a new level that day. Twenty-two-year-old Kiran Ooman had also chained himself to the pier, partly in hopes that it would inspire more young people to take similar actions. “Honestly, I’d like to see more youth risking arrest and pushing the boundaries,” Ooman said. “At some point we need to escalate.”

    Ooman embodies an “all of the above” approach to nonviolent activism. At age 17, he joined 20 other youth plaintiffs in Juliana v. United States, a lawsuit alleging that by not acting on climate change, the U.S. government has failed to protect young people’s rights to life and liberty. Ooman, who is studying social movement theory in college, says legal actions, legislative work, and nonviolent direct action are all necessary. He is encouraged by the growth in youth climate organizing over the last few years.

    According to the Harvard Political Opinion Project, over 70 percent of Generation Z see climate change as a problem, with two thirds believing it is “a crisis and demands urgent action.”

    “When I got into climate activism as a high school senior, everyone else was at least five years older than me,” Ooman said. “It just wasn’t something most kids were interested in, but today they are. Now there’s a whole youth movement.”

    That movement is getting thousands of people into the streets through campaigns like the climate strikes, and confronting fossil fuel development directly through action. It’s also taking the push for climate action to the highest levels of international government.

    Reaching the halls of power

    On Dec. 10, 16-year-old Isabella Fallahi was trying to stage a peaceful protest at a panel where a Shell Oil executive was speaking. Fallahi was at COP25, the latest round of international climate negotiations, in Madrid. She traveled there from her home in Indianapolis, where pollution from coal-burning plants — which contributed to her developing asthma — motivated her to become a climate organizer.

    Isabella Fallahi (right) raises a hand with an eye drawn on it to symbolize that “we (the world) are watching,” while a Shell official speaks at COP25. (Twitter/Neil LaChapelle)

    Fallahi and other young activists were planning a silent, peaceful protest against the involvement of polluters like Shell in COP25. However, security guards told them this wasn’t allowed. “They essentially said they would kick us out if we did that,” she said.

    Out of respect for the U.N. process, Fallahi and the other youth decided not to hold the protest. But the incident seemed emblematic of how polluters held influence at COP25.

    “Nothing could get done because of major polluters like Shell,” Fallahi said. “It’s one thing if they’re participating, but they’re being invited onto panels and into closed-door discussions.” She believes it is largely because of this that COP25 failed to make significant progress on international plans to curb emissions.

    Things at COP25 came to a head on Dec. 11, when hundreds of activists led by indigenous youth occupied the main plenary room to demand rich countries pay for damage caused by climate change. A line of security officers forced them out and stripped many activists of the badges that allowed them to enter the conference. International climate group 350.org called it “a crackdown with little precedent at the annual U.N. climate talks.”

    Despite the disappointment of COP25, many young activists came away with fresh ideas about how to escalate public pressure on officials. Fallahi is now part of one such effort: a new youth-led campaign to ban polluters from COP26 in 2020. “We don’t want any polluters invited to COP26. It’s time to kick them out.” The youth will also lobby U.N. and national government officials in the lead-up to the talks.

    Meanwhile, Zero Hour is training youth ambassadors to give presentations in their communities about the Green New Deal. “We’re helping people understand what the Green New Deal really means and the importance of voting for candidates who support it,” said Andrea Manning, who is working on the project.

    Another international day of climate strikes is coming up on the 50th Earth Day in April — one more sign that the youth movement shows no indication of slowing down. This should be no surprise, since according to the Harvard Political Opinion Project over 70 percent of Generation Z see climate change as a problem, with two thirds believing it is “a crisis and demands urgent action.”

    “Climate change is connected to everything,” Fallahi said. She wants all young people to realize the importance of getting into the streets, lobbying and — for those who are old enough — voting in the 2020 election. “It’s connected to mass migration, health, and every aspect of society you can possibly think of. There’s no other way to put it.”

    ‘Music is a living thing’ — a conversation on movement music with the Peace Poets

    For as long as people have been protesting, they’ve also been singing about it. From Woody Guthrie’s leftist national anthem “This Land is Your Land” to Sam Cooke’s soulful “A Change is Gonna Come,” movement music has fostered hope and brought people together throughout history. 

    Perhaps no one knows the power of music in organizing better than the Peace Poets, a hip-hop and spoken word collective from Harlem, New York. The group, comprised of Frankie Lopez, Lu Aya, Frantz Jerome, Emmanuel Candelario and Abraham Velasquez, Jr., often refer to themselves as a family. Some of the members have known each other from age 3, while others met in college. Together, they’ve written songs that address social and political crises in over 40 countries. Their songs have been used in the Women’s March, the Standing Rock protests, and most famously, Black Lives Matter protests after the death of Eric Garner. In 2014, their song “I Can’t Breathe” went viral after actor Samuel L. Jackson recorded himself singing the song in solidarity with the protesters.

    The Peace Poets cite among their influences Peter Yarrow, Rage Against the Machine, Harry Belefonte and Mercedes Sosa — and in their words, their music “can take you from the Boogie Down to Berlin, from the border to the bodega.” I sat down with two of the Peace Poets, Lu and Frankie, to delve into their roots, the power of music and what they’ve learned from years of organizing. 

    How did the Peace Poets get started?

    Frankie: In 2006, Sean Bell was murdered by police the night before his wedding in New York. There was a group called Mahina Movement that organized an event called “50 Shots, 50 Artists.” They were calling on the New York community to come out and speak their rage, to speak their sadness and to organize. At the event, I shared a poem. Afterwards, the father of a young man named Nicholas Heyward, Jr., who was killed by the NYPD in Brooklyn, came up to me and said, “Hey, can you do that poem at my son’s memorial? I’ve been organizing it for years, and I would love if you could come there.”

    From there, we met the whole family, and the Stolen Lives Coalition, which comes together with family members that have also had their loved ones killed by police violence. And we started showing up in the streets with them — not just the memorial, but the rallies and vigils. And then we started writing songs and chants that we could use out on the streets when we gathered. 

    There were so many intersections, from police violence to mass incarceration to immigrant detention centers. We began building relationships with people in the movement and building community. When you live your life in relationship — that’s when the combination of art and activism becomes the most powerful.

    Why do you think music is such a powerful tool when it comes to organizing?

    Lu: People know the power of music. There are concerts that fill stadiums. Everywhere you go, people have their radio or their headphones on. The reason why music is so powerful in movements is because when we sing together, we literally get on the same vibration. It’s a physical thing. It’s like an audio hug, or holding each other’s hands, or putting a hand on your shoulder in support. In that way, music is exactly what we need. We all need medicine to heal. We need something to give us courage and make us feel not alone. That’s the power of music —  to connect us to our purpose, and our history and our vision. 

    Your music and poetry has allowed you to connect with communities from around the world, including Harlem, Ferguson, Standing Rock, Guantanamo and the Dominican Republic. What’s one moment that has stood out to you?

    Lu: We believe in the power of nonviolent direct action to achieve justice in our society, to break unjust laws and to stop business as usual. So I think one of the most meaningful ways that people have responded to our art is by singing our songs in direct action. The first time that happened was around the housing crisis. We did a song called “Listen Auctioneer.” People all over the country saw a video of us singing to shut down foreclosure auctions. It was like a light went on. If there’s a song that taps into what people feel, a song that they’re gonna wanna sing, then they’re gonna wanna do an action. That’s been the response to songs that resonate with people, and the love, the rage, the joy and the pain that people are feeling in their heart.

    Frankie: I think some of the most powerful moments are when young people come up to us and speak about how the message resonates. A lot of people tell us that our music helps them through hard times. I remember actually last year, I was speaking about mental health, and a young woman came up to me crying, saying that she herself had been dealing with depression and she really related to it. That was powerful — but what she also told me was, “I want you to be okay.” I was like, “whoa.” As an artist, it’s one thing to hear, like, “nice poem.” It’s another thing to hear, “Are you okay?” or “I want to check in on you.” That’s one thing that sticks out to me.

    Art education is a critical element of what the Peace Poets do. Why is working with youth so important to your group?

    Frankie: All five of the Peace Poets are artist educators. We’ve worked everywhere from detention centers to community centers and schools — from as young as third grade, all the way to the university level. Our music has led us into these spaces of education and academia. But we’re also flipping the script on academics, so sessions usually look like a circle where everyone speaks their mind and everyone is teaching each other.

    It’s important to say that we came from an organization called the Brotherhood-Sister Sol in Harlem. As teenagers we were part of the lyrical circle. Every Friday we’d get together and share poetry and rap around different focus issues, from Pan-African Latino history to sexism, racism, politics and conflict resolution. One of our members says it best: “I work with youth, because I was a youth that was worked on.” 

    What’s the most meaningful lesson you’ve learned from creating movement music?

    Lu: It’s taught me to be fearless about connecting. To listen. And to let it guide you — to follow the power of the people and the melody of the people.

    Frankie: The music is a living thing. When it wants to change, it takes on another form. And it has spread to the people. People have heard songs of ours in a particular way, and then changed the lyrics to suit their community, and that’s so beautiful. That’s one of the best things ever. There’s a song we wrote for the Climate Strike on Wall Street back in 2014. Later, it was changed lyrically and used for the Women’s March in D.C. It went from “the water rising” to “the women rising.” And how beautiful is that? The music is like water. It’s a tool in the hands of the people, and it flows with the people.

    WNV’s top stories of 2019

    From anti-corruption protests in Lebanon and Iraq to pro-democracy struggles in Sudan and Algeria to the climate-striking youths around the world, 2019 has been a big year for movements. It might even be the largest wave of nonviolent protest in history.

    Naturally, this unprecedented level of action has led to increased movement coverage across the entire media landscape. While that is, of course, a good thing, movements also deserve coverage even when they aren’t generating headlines — and that is one of the primary roles Waging Nonviolence aims to fulfill.

    We believe that every stage of a movement is important and offers lessons that help us understand how to build power and effect change.

    The following lists of our most-read and favorite stories of the past year really show this principle at work. Featuring movements both big and small, past and present, local and international, we see that our readers are interested in a wide-range of movement-related topics.

    If you want to see more stories like the ones below please send us a one-time donation or become a sustaining member. We are just $5,000 short of where we need to be to ensure consistent coverage throughout 2020. So please show your support!

    Our Most-Read Stories of 2019

    1. Why Bernie Sanders’ plan to recruit 1 million volunteers is a winning movement strategy
    By Nicole Carty
    Bernie Sanders’s plan to recruit a million volunteers shows that he’s not really building a campaign, but a movement. And movements are what win elections.

    2. Nuclear weapons ruined my life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way
    By Frida Berrigan
    As someone deeply embedded in a life of anti-nuclear resistance, I know the only way to get rid of these weapons is to never stop thinking about them.

    3. Right-wing media is creating the ‘antifa shooter’ narrative out of thin air
    By Shane Burley
    The right is using the Dayton shooter’s Twitter account to make spurious connections between antiracist ideas and mass murder.

    4. How South Africa forced Gandhi to reckon with racism and imperialism
    By Mary Elizabeth King
    Born 150 years ago, Gandhi’s perceptions about human sensibilities, social power and political truths began their transformation not in India, but South Africa.

    5. Street vending is legal in Los Angeles after a decade of organizing
    By Adolf Alzuphar and Ivy Beach
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    Can now really be the best time to be alive? A dialogue across generations

    Editor’s note: The following exchange is between 33-year-old organizer Yotam Marom and 82-year-old George Lakey, whose activism, organizing and training spans over 50 years.

    Dear George,

    I remember sitting at the small round table in your kitchen, with tea you had just made. It was Spring, and light was coming in through the window above the sink, where you were bustling around as you often do. We talked about life, work, politics. You were excited about something or other — maybe your “How We Win” book tour, or something I was up to, or a new trend of growth in the movement like the Democratic Socialists of America or Sunrise. I’m always mystified by how genuinely excited you are about things young people are doing. I think it’s part of what attracts so many of us to your kitchen table.

    I think you had recently turned 82, so we were talking about your age. I like to joke that you’re now only now entering your prime. (Even as we speak, you are on a 40-city book tour, no big deal.) Between your family genes and your own stubborn goodwill, you’ve probably got another 40 years in you!

    It might have been after an aside about your age that you said something like: “I’m so happy to be here now. There’s no other time in history I’d rather be alive for.”

    It feels like I’m standing with my three-year-old daughter on one of those flat escalators slowly churning toward the edge of a cliff…

    I don’t know if I thought much of it at the time. Old people say wacky things sometimes, and young people (on a good day) smile along and humor them (though I’m sure that, in reality, most of the time you’re the one smiling along and humoring us). But then I heard you say this again, and again – I even went to one of your book events and you said it there too. In all honesty, it seemed a bit insane to me. The fact that you could feel happy to be alive in this particular historical moment was miles away from how I felt.

    Most of the time, I feel pretty unlucky to be alive at this time. I wake up with the sense that could probably manage if all we had to do was overcome the many political, economic and social crises we’re facing. But climate change changes the game dramatically, both by making the stakes completely existential, and by putting a time limit on what we can do about it. I live with a quiet, constant sadness at the loss people around the world are already facing, a nagging fear of what’s to come and a sort of ashamed hopelessness about what we can do to stop it.

    I don’t think I’m alone in that. It seems that other folks in my peer group, people in our 30s, feel similarly. Depression is becoming more and more widespread, and younger generations — kids in high school now — seem to be showing even deeper signs of it.

    There’s a line in the opening episode of the Sopranos, where — panning over a hollow, grey suburban life in New Jersey — Tony says: “Lately, I’ve been getting the feeling that I came in at the end. The best is over.” It’s a bit harrowing, a guy really framing his whole existence inside the collapse of the American dream, and the bleakness of it all. That line now comes to me often. It feels like I’m standing with my three-year-old daughter on one of those flat escalators slowly churning toward the edge of a cliff, wondering how much more life she’s going to get to live before we get to the edge, what she’ll get to see, what she’ll miss, what happens to her, and after her, if anything.

    So, George, your feeling that this is the best time to be alive doesn’t resonate. But it’s also confusing.

    What is the path to power in times like these? What are you seeing, George, that I’m not seeing?

    My general orientation about everything that’s fucked up in the world is that the solution is mass movements. Want to change the world? Build a movement. And so part of what is depressing to me about this particular time in human history is that our movements are, unfortunately, not prepared for the task ahead. Our labor movement has been in collapse for decades. We have no serious political power or parties of our own to wield it at a national scale. Even our most massive demonstrations are eclipsed by the average attendance of a football game. On a good day, I can see that movements are on the rise, that we are contending for political power in a way that is actually ground-breaking, that we are building institutions, getting better and sharper. Some days, I can almost taste a Green New Deal, imagine a world in which black lives really matter, see the border wall collapse, almost believe a social democratic economy is within our grasp. But most days I think: too little, too late.

    And that’s where the confusion sets in: You’ve been around for so many of the movement moments I envy! You helped train some of the first lunch counter sit-ins in the civil rights movement, were part of the movement against the war in Vietnam and everything that circled it, the nuclear disarmament movement, and everything between then and now. You’ve witnessed entire decades in U.S. politics where millions of people regularly took the streets, where massive cultural change took place, where huge layers of the population were politicized, where it looked like there might even be a revolution. And yet, here we are, in the midst of a crisis perhaps deeper than human beings have ever faced, knowing that movements are our only hope, but living at a time in which our movements are not yet ready to organize at the scale of the crisis, and in which there’s a time limit to avert the worst of what’s before us.

    What about that could possibly make us lucky to be alive at this time? What is the potential? What is the path to power in times like these? What are you seeing, George, that I’m not seeing?

    So I decided to ask you — and ask you again, and again. And what has emerged is this response, for which I’m grateful. May we always be lucky enough to have the vision, backwards and forwards, from mentors like you. May we have the humility to learn from that wisdom and also the arrogance to break the rules when we need to. I’m sure you wouldn’t want it any other way.

    Love,
    Yotam Marom

    Dear Yotam,

    I first want to acknowledge your feelings of urgency and anguish. I see the grim picture you’re seeing. I take it personally, as you do. My housemates sometimes see me crying as I read the morning newspaper over breakfast.

    Even so, I feel lucky to be alive now because this is the best chance in my lifetime to make really big progressive change. Our difference is partly that I see powerful conditions emerging, under the surface, that open new possibilities. I call them “signals of emergence.” I see evidence, right now, that these trends will give us a chance to gain victories we haven’t been able to reach before in this country.

    Please notice that I said, “a chance.” No guarantees. Mine isn’t a new version of the old “scientific Marxism” — I don’t believe in the inevitability of progress. But that’s OK because I am willing to take chances. When, at age 39, I was expected to die from a very nasty cancer, my community and I committed to the chance that I would live.

    I’m grateful that I went for it then, and that now I’m part of your community, eager to go for it now. And because I like to argue with you, I’ll point to evidence of conditions emerging that give our progressive movements the chance this time to make decisive change.

    The signals of emergence are obscured by the drama of pain, from opioids to floods to shootings to the guy who occupies the White House. In all this high-decibel confusion, the signals of emergence can get lost.

    The previous high-water mark: the 1960s-’70s

    Let’s compare today with “the ’60s.” The prelude to that decade was kicked off in 1955 by the Montgomery bus boycott, a mass movement of 50,000 black people in Alabama. Although neither political party wanted to touch the civil rights movement in the early ‘60s, we forced major changes.

    Victories continued for Chicano and Filipino farmworkers, women, LGBTQ people, elders, mental health consumers, environmentalists, and many other groups inspired to stand up and fight for their rights. The momentum of “the ‘60s” continued well into the ‘70s.

    Previous Coverage
  • How movements can use drama to seize the public imagination
  • We often needed the drama of direct action in order to arouse the numbers needed for success. When I joined the tiny opposition to the Vietnam War I found it hard to draw attention to something happening in a small country few people had even heard of.

    Soon I found myself on a Quaker sailing ship confronting naval gunboats off the coast of Vietnam, one of the dramatic campaigns in 1967 that awakened Americans to the war. The peace movement grew massive and helped force the U.S. to give up its self-appointed mission of replacing the French Empire in running Vietnam.

    Millions of Americans in that period took direct action, acting outside the box defined by high school textbooks as the proper place for civic duty: the electoral system. Inspired by the drama of nonviolent direct action, even more millions lobbied and canvassed and drove voters to the polls. It would take thousands of words to describe the progressive victories gained from 1955 to when President Ronald Reagan began the counter-offensive in 1981 by firing the air traffic controllers and breaking their union.

    What’s different now?

    Much of what discourages your generation is not new. During the ‘60s and ’70s we also faced a resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, armed militias, and a revival of the Nazi movement. We saw militarization of police departments and police infiltration of social movements. We saw the shooting and killing of students by Mississippi State Police at Jackson State and the Ohio National Guard at Kent State. We even saw assassinations of some of our greatest political leaders, and an all-out war by the police on black organizations and communities. In other countries, the U.S. Empire — run by politicians at home in the interests of the economic elite — was killing millions of people.

    In those days of rampant injustice we built mighty movements that forced progressive change. Dick Cluster mischievously titled his book about those movements and the sparking role that had been played by the student sit-ins, “They Should Have Served that Cup of Coffee.”

    You and I agree that those movements didn’t change the system deeply enough. This time around, with the climate crisis at our door, we need to go farther. In this letter I’ll focus on what makes that possible, like the signs that the system itself is cracking.

    Trends that open the door for a bigger leap forward

    I see four new trends that open the door for bigger change than we could make in the 1960s: inequality-led polarization, economic insecurity, decline of federal governmental legitimacy and climate disasters. We also have assets we didn’t have “back in the day.”

    1. The two-headed impact of polarization

    While traveling on book tours I’ve heard a widespread belief that political polarization keeps us stuck. Intuitively, the claim sounds true. How can a country move forward if everyone’s shouting and no one’s listening?

    Historically, however, polarization has a double impact. One is stalemated governments and divided communities. The other impact is a loosening, a setting in motion. My favorite metaphor is a blacksmith’s forge: polarization heats up society, making it malleable.

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  • How to build a progressive movement in a polarized country
  • We’re frustrated and saddened by the first impact of polarization: relationships fracture, racism becomes more overt, violence more frequent.

    However, the volatility also makes positive change easier to get. In the polarized 1930s progressive movements got changes they could only dream of in the ‘20s, like unions, labor laws, Social Security, conservation, electricity for millions, bank regulation and better policies for family farmers.

    There’s no guarantee that increased volatility will yield changes for the better. In Germany and Italy during the 1920s and ‘30s polarization made fascist outcomes possible.

    During those same decades Scandinavian polarization predictably generated fascist growth. Fortunately, the left in those countries navigated the polarization brilliantly, using the volatility to grow mass democratic socialist movements. The result: more individual freedom than Americans have, accompanied by more equality, a stronger social safety net, and higher productivity.

    The late black historian Vincent Harding likened history to a river. Remembering my experience on a class V river in West Virginia I think of activism during polarization as white water rafting. In the 1920s and ‘30s the river of history for Germany and Italy, the United States, and the Scandinavians all hit the turbulence of white water. The first two countries capsized. The United States navigated pretty well and made progress. The Scandinavians, with historical advantages and better strategy, made a breakthrough everyone can learn from.

    Forward to my lifetime, the 1960s and ’70s: racial, gender, generational and other conflicts created turbulence. Even though we lacked then some assets we have today, we made important gains.

    Different now from the 1960s is the economic inequality that’s driving polarization. Political scientists Nolan McCarty, Keith T. Poole, and Howard Rosenthal found that political polarization correlates directly with economic inequality. The more inequality, the more polarization. The United States has now become one of the most unequal societies in history.

    The 2018 tax law generates even more inequality. That in turn drives more polarization. We can expect, therefore, that the resulting volatility opens more opportunity for progressive change than I’ve experienced in my lifetime.

    2. Economic insecurity

    In the ‘60s, the United States experienced an overall condition of stable prosperity. Young people in each generation expected to become more prosperous than their parents. Since then we’ve seen the loss of well-paid working class jobs and debt-bondage for those who try to get into the middle class through college. At the same time, a pension crisis looms.

    Falling economic security compared with the ‘60s shakes things up. The result: more openness to new ideas and bolder approaches.

    Increasingly teachers can’t afford to live in growing cities where they teach. Commuting becomes more difficult – the national engineers’ give the United States a D- grade on infrastructure. The war on immigration makes it even harder to imagine either re-populating emptying towns or re-building the infrastructure.

    A dysfunctional health care system fails to control costs, leaves tens of millions uninsured, ignores untold numbers of trauma victims, and has waiting lists for the mentally ill and drug addicted. Some life expectancies are declining. Healthcare bills drive up bankruptcies, destabilizing towns already reeling from loss of jobs.

    All these trends hit people of color even harder than white people.

    Compare that to the ‘60s when the American dream was still around: Upward mobility was high, especially for white men, and life expectancies were increasing. For us social movement organizers, the situation was daunting: So many people could ignore the value of collective action for change because their individual prospects looked promising.

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  • How to take on fascism without getting played
  • Upward mobility has declined. The economic dream is fading.

    Many express their disappointment and rage by moving away from centrism, opening to anti-Semitic conspiracy theories or, on the other hand, voting for the first time in their lives for a socialist, even an elderly Jew from Brooklyn who represents hippie Vermont in the U.S. Senate!

    Falling economic security compared with the ‘60s shakes things up. The result: more openness to new ideas and bolder approaches.

    3. Decline in government’s legitimacy

    In the ‘60s governmental legitimacy was high. When the public was awakened to the scandal of widespread poverty in the wealthiest country on earth, President Lyndon B. Johnson responded with a “War on Poverty” that was met with widespread approval.

    At the time I heard civil rights leader Bayard Rustin cynically comment that the War on Poverty was “the first time the United States is going to war with a BB gun.” He was right, but an outlier. Most people had a sunny confidence that, if the federal government chose to solve a problem like poverty, it could do it.

    That confidence has largely disappeared, regarding poverty (most national politicians avoid the subject) and a whole lot else. The feds have trouble simply keeping the government open to do basic functions like safety inspections and collecting taxes.

    Compared with earlier in my lifetime, the loss of confidence in government makes it easier now to initiate grassroots actions.

    Since 2001, the Gallup organization has sought data on how proud Americans are of our country. The polls show pride has been sinking, hitting its lowest point so far in 2019. Of the various aspects measured, pride is lowest in our political system.

    Many people nowadays believe there is widespread corruption, prompting presidential candidate Donald Trump to promise to “drain the swamp.” A majority even of Republicans polled believe the economic elite has too much power in governmental policy-making. One poll shows a majority of Americans now believe that ordinary people would “do a better job of solving problems” than elected officials.

    Compared with earlier in my lifetime, the loss of confidence in government makes it easier now to initiate grassroots actions, and new technology makes it easier for the actions to spread.

    4. Climate –the game changer

    I agree with you that this is fundamental. Climate is also linked to the previous trend: government failures further undermine its own legitimacy.

    Additionally, the mind-blowing nature of the climate challenge is at last impacting activists who once defined it as a single-issue effort. Now movement leadership is shifting toward those who can hold a bigger picture and design visions to fight for, like the Green New Deal.

    The dynamics unleashed by climate change can promote unity in a larger, broader, and more visionary mass movement powerful enough to take on the 1 percent.

    Psychologist Abraham Maslow long ago outlined a hierarchy of human needs that prioritized security as well as physiological needs like food. From extreme weather following hurricane Katrina in 2005 to the growth of severe asthma to the epidemic of wildfires, basic human needs for safety are at risk because of government’s incapacity to respond to the climate crisis on the scale needed. The science is clear. To come even close to competency, the federal government would need to respond to the climate crisis the way it did to World War II: an all-out mobilization.

    The government can’t deal with climate because the 1 percent vetoes significant action. Its veto power is not new. According to the Princeton University “oligarchy” study, the economic elite was the primary player in governmental policy even before the Supreme Court issued the Citizens United ruling released even more money into elections. That’s why leading Democrats as well as Republicans have refused until now to respond to the climate crisis.

    Barack Obama discovered this early in his presidency when he asked then-Sen. John Kerry to develop a climate bill (the Dems being in control of Congress at the time) and Kerry reported back that he couldn’t create a bill his colleagues would support.

    While part of the economic elite is doubling down on climate denial, another part is moderating on climate, as reflected in the activity of billionaire hedge fund manager Tom Steyer. That split gives permission to Democrats to shift so they can play their traditional “good cop” role in U.S. politics, leaving once again the “bad cop” role to the Republicans.

    In that way the Democratic leadership, constrained by loyalty to the elite, can hope to co-opt the growing climate justice movement, as it did with the labor and civil rights movements. It’s worth recalling that the civil rights movement made its greatest gains 1955-65, when it was independent, then slowed to a crawl once embraced by the Democrats.

    One Democratic professional politician prominent in his state actually said to me with a cheerful grin, after I called out the Democrats for co-opting movements: “You’re right about what we do, and we’re good at it.”

    Climate disasters and the decline of some prejudices mean that divide-and-rule is less available for the establishment’s defense of its dominance.

    The traditional U.S. political division of labor is now playing out with climate: the Republicans are deniers while Democratic leadership talks climate and rejects the only proposal before them that takes the crisis seriously: the Green New Deal.

    As journalist/activist Bill McKibben says, even Congress cannot suspend the laws of physics. Growing failure on the environmental front produces what political scientists consider a recipe for rapid change and even revolution: the demonstrated inability of a government to solve the basic problems faced by society.

    How does all this influence me to say we’re facing the biggest chance of my lifetime to make breakthrough change? The dynamics unleashed by climate change can promote unity in a larger, broader, and more visionary mass movement powerful enough to take on the 1 percent.

    In the 1960s and ‘70s we were able to generate sufficient grassroots power to change some laws and policies backed by the 1 percent, but we could not challenge the elite’s dominance. Although the elite was put on the defensive, it was able to use lines of cleavage in our society, especially race, to regain the offensive in the 1980s.

    When he was interviewed by the New York Times in 2006 billionaire Warren Buffett described the economic elite’s move as “class warfare,” and he went on to say “…it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

    True enough — their counter-offensive launched in the 1980s has been winning victory after victory. The climate crisis is something new; it provides an existential basis for solidarity that did not exist previously. The third “500-year flood” that hit Houston in three years hurt everyone except the very rich, as do the wildfires and floods in the Midwest.

    Each crisis impacts different groups differently, but the accumulated impact is felt by all except the class that has vetoed real action for sustainability. (The very rich are currently buying property in New Zealand for their new homes.)

    While climate change itself can become a force for solidarity, it comes at a time in which Americans have already reduced the lines of division that were so deep in the 1960s. Even though we are still far from reaching Martin Luther King’s dream, and classism has hardly been touched, the United States is much less racist, sexist, homophobic and elder-intolerant than it was in the ‘60s.

    To put it together: Climate disasters and the decline of some prejudices mean that divide-and-rule is less available for the establishment’s defense of its dominance. Many more people are losing confidence that the “masters of the universe” and elected officials are able to protect life and dignity. They are looking to each other for leadership, and we see that in the emergence of more grassroots activism in the last decade. Expect these powerful trends to accelerate.

    How to navigate the river

    Earlier I mentioned Vincent Harding’s metaphor for history as a long river. Sometimes it moves very slowly and other times quickens to white water. I’ve studied and participated in movements that handled the rapids poorly and drowned, and also movements that absorbed the energy of the white water to navigate successfully.

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  • Navigating the white water of these turbulent times
  • That’s how I can picture what our successful navigation might look like. I’m not predicting exactly how the river will run this time, or the exact moves we’ll make. I’m describing how I think our paddling might turn out, based on the right moves other movements made in other times and circumstances, and what moves are available to us as we hit the white water.

    I picture American activists realizing how much they can learn from their mistakes, rather than repeating them. Organizers and leaders decide to base their moves on evidence-based knowledge, gained through wide use of study groups and training workshops. Movement cultures adopt a focus on “our learning curve.”

    This makes quite a difference when it comes to the question of whether to use violence in direct actions. Organizers use the evidence produced by social scientists showing that nonviolent action is much more practical and effective than violence, even for protection. The resulting discipline frustrates our opponents, who are still sending provocateurs into the movement to try to instigate violence and make it possible to shut us down.

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  • How movements build strength through training
  • Training also helps us build solidarity more quickly. Prior to the 2020s some activists were unwittingly helping out the elite’s divide-and-rule strategy by activists using the “calling out” tactic to respond to oppression dynamics they found in the movement. Resorting to shame-and-blame generated a toxic activist culture in some movements and a sense of scarcity that meant any oppressed group that wasn’t in the limelight at a particular moment was somehow being left out.

    However, training organizations like Momentum, Wildfire, and Training for Change grow rapidly to meet the movements’ need to drop old divisive habits.

    Activists shift from one-off protests to sustained campaigns. In nonviolent direct action campaigns organizers use a series of escalating actions directed toward deciders who can yield our demand. With campaign strategy activists move beyond “protests” — really just the expression of their opinion — to the sustained series of actions that gains actual wins.

    This shift is influenced by the popularity of electoral campaigns by Bernie Sanders and other outliers. Activists watching Sanders’ 2015 espousal of Medicare for All grow into a major policy proposal that occupied center stage in 2019 learned how much it matters to focus on a demand in a sustained way over time.

    Previous Coverage
  • Why doesn’t American political culture understand the power of direct action campaigns?
  • Even though the mass media still call the campaigners’ dramatic actions “protests,” most organizers move on to the advanced technology of direct action campaigns. The wins support morale and build the spirit of unity. The community that activists experience over time by learning how to struggle together proves an excellent antidote to despair.

    In addition to re-discovering direct action campaigns, activists from various movements are learning from the civil rights struggle the “movement power grid.” Multiple local campaigns in the South networked with each other in the 1960s. When one of them needed help or seemed ready for a growth spurt, energy could flow into that one from elsewhere, in the form of organizers, money, “name” leaders.

    To cite just two examples, that strength of the grid made it possible for Birmingham in 1964 and Selma in 1965 to shake the national power structure. Alabama, geographically far from Washington, D.C., twice provided the pivot to force national wins!

    I see national movement leaders realizing that, instead of calling national marches at this or that place, they can become strategically organic by directing energy and mass to local campaign sites. To use military terms, movement leaders’ shift turns the entire nation into potential “battlefields” instead of relying on the tired destinations of New York City and Washington, D.C. That strategy shift accelerates our struggle.

    In fact, back in 2016-17 grassroots activists anticipated the strategy shift when a mass influx showed up in South Dakota at the site of the Dakota Access Pipeline; it was the largest assembly of native Americans in decades, and the solidarity stimulated other pipeline fights around the nation.

    Sharpening up strategy for struggle isn’t enough

    Two other developments add to the sharpened strategy for struggle: linking a network of grassroots “helper groups,” and visioning the society we want. These additional moves are accelerated by the further decline in governmental legitimacy induced by climate disruption.

    What mobilizes grassroots helpers is that federal and local governments are responding to climate disasters with money taken from the already-insufficient funding for healthcare, housing, education, immigration support, welfare, and environmental upgrades. Governments prefer this method to taxing the rich (who most benefitted from conditions that led to the climate crisis).

    These widening gaps in human services induce people not drawn to direct action campaigns to try to meet needs by expanding co-ops and other direct service initiatives. Their experience, in turn, awakens them to the need for larger institutions that put people ahead of profit. This encourages working class supporters of the right wing to shift their allegiance to the needs of themselves and their neighbors. They increasingly welcome a vision of a society that assures the rights of all for survival and well-being.

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  • Vision is finally on the rise in U.S. politics
  • The vision breakthrough builds on the Movement for Black Lives’ 2016 platform and the series of initiatives like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. Many centrists join the discussion, realizing that neo-liberal, incrementalist Democrats beholden to the rich for campaign cash are simply unable to fight for a viable future.

    The vision work and helper networks reinforce each other, encouraging national leaders of the movement of movements to shift their style from “complainers” to “proclaimers” — of a new society.

    Both vision and helper networks also help to transfer the legitimacy lost by capitalism and government to the movements for change. The positivity of the vision and helpers offsets the disruptiveness of the increasing number of direct action campaigns demanding major change.

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  • What the US can learn from Scandinavia in the struggle against inequality
  • Macro vision-work is turning out to be easier than initially thought. Countries like Scandinavia that were already setting the pace in the climate crisis are known for providing more equality, democracy, opportunity for immigrants, and individual freedom than the U.S. Americans who like to be pragmatic realize it’s sensible to borrow from the Nordic model with its half-century track record of global best practices. After all, the U.S. borrowed Social Security and Medicare from other countries, and a huge majority of Americans learned to count on those “foreign imports.”

    Emerging consensus on vision within the movement of movements builds unity, since the vision shows how each of the groups fighting for progressive change can realize their goals in a new America that pushes aside the economic elite fighting to retain its dominance. This vision plays a role in generating something new: a movement of movements that senses the possibility of a power shift.

    Climate disruption continues to accelerate the flow of the river. Liberal and progressive politicians continue to move to the left in their policy proposals, and more of them win elections, but the Democrats’ need to retain the party’s main source of financial support and retain the support of the economic elite reduces the centrists’ wiggle room. The really big changes remain stymied.

    A people whose only political practice is electoral is at a disadvantage against an elite that plays the dictatorship card.

    For the public, however, crisis sharpens the mind. As multiple coastal cities submerge in floods while wildfires rage and pollinating bees disappear, Washington is the target of bitter laughter. I remember the midst of the 2008 financial crisis when the cover of a mainstream magazine proclaimed in bold letters that “We’re all socialists now”? That’s what’s happening: the bold alternative macro-vision proposed by the movement makes more and more sense to a majority whose belief in Washington has gone beyond cynical.

    Writing this now, in 2019, I can’t picture what the endgame of our struggle in the late 2020s looks like — there are too many unknown factors, including how much violence the economic elite might unleash in their attempt to preserve their domination. Even though we know that followers of economist James M. Buchanan would likely push for dictatorship, we can’t know for sure whether the elite will try to rule through presidential decree backed by the military, using the pretext of climate emergency as its excuse.

    We do know from the research of political scientists that multiple movements in other countries have gone up against military dictatorships and won through the power of mass nonviolent direct action. Compared with many of those movements, we are arguably better prepared for that struggle.

    In fact, knowing now about the possibility of attempted dictatorship down the road reinforces our wide use of direct action campaigns rather than relying only on electoral means to make change. A people whose only political practice is electoral is at a disadvantage against an elite that plays the dictatorship card. Practicing direct action skills along the way makes the public battle-ready if that possibility shows up.

    An optimistic view would be that electoral means can implement a power shift in which the economic elite loses its ability to dominate and democracy becomes a reality.

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  • How Swedes and Norwegians broke the power of the ‘1 percent’
  • In the 1930s movements of movements pulled off that feat in Sweden and Norway: they used mass nonviolent direct action to make their countries ungovernable by their economic elites while using elections and parliaments to transfer power to the people. The Swedish elite did use the army to try to enforce its will, but the people’s general strike responding to a massacre signaled “game over.”

    Mass noncooperation forced the resignation of the Swedish Parliament’s ruling party. The Social Democrats then re-organized the country to set a new standard of justice, equality, shared prosperity, and individual freedom. That would not be a bad goal for the American people.

    The signals of emergence

    And so, Yotam, this is my picture of how we can make the biggest progress in my lifetime. I’ll italicize the main features.

    Four major trends are inequality-led polarization, economic insecurity, decline of federal governmental legitimacy and disasters compounded by the climate crisis. None of these existed in our country’s previous high-water mark, the 1960s-‘70s.

    Together, these trends are already beginning to incentivize masses of people to act boldly for change who have not before been in the ranks of self-identified activists. Millions are bringing with them not only their talents and connections, but also their sense of urgency. They see the whitewater ahead; they will want to make it safely through.

    The power these millions will generate partly depends on the strategy, skill and learning curve of organizers. We’re now in better shape in those respects than we were in the beginning of the ‘60s. Training is more effective at dealing with dynamics of division, it’s more available, and it’s more easily expanded than it was in those days.

    The art of nonviolent direct action campaigning is being de-mythologized and turned into technique. Communications technology makes networking easier and faster. The “movement power grid” becomes available even where defined leaders forget to structure it.

    The increase of larger disruption caused by direct action campaigns is offset by a growing network of grassroots helper groups to meet human needs. People are also inspired by the promise that, on the other side of the white water, is a just order — the vision projected by a movement of movements.

    The possibility of repressive violence can be met by a combination of new knowledge and training capacity. The dangers faced by the civil rights movement can be met with more confidence than before. Progressive shifts in electoral politics may diminish the use of violence against us but in any case the wins that accumulate through nonviolent direct action campaigns will continue to give heart to the whitewater rafters.

    Whether the movement of movements forces the economic elite to give up its dominance, or simply gains major concessions, the resulting changes can be significantly larger for justice and equality than the gains of the 1960s and ‘70s.

    For you, me, and everyone who hungers for a fresh start for our country, let’s make this happen.

    George Lakey

    How a rising anti-mining movement is challenging Portugal’s ‘white gold’ rush

    The global transition to renewable energy and electric vehicles — technologies that are currently powered by lithium-ion batteries — is creating a high demand for lithium, popularly known as white gold, among other minerals. In Portugal, where some of the largest reserves of lithium in Europe are located, the government recently launched a strategy to increase mining and supply of the mineral for this emerging market. However, residents and organizations throughout the country are questioning the impacts of that large-scale mining plan and who will really benefit from it.

    “Lithium mining in Portugal involves large open-cast mines that rip open huge tracts of land-destroying soils and ecosystems,” said Laura Williams, a resident based in central Portugal, who is having to deal with lithium mining activities on her doorstep. “It uses huge amounts of water in the processing, which then contaminates ground and river water. The huge machines that are used have a massive impact in terms of noise and vibrations on local communities.”

    Awareness raising

    In August, Williams helped to organize a creative protest at the highest point in mainland Portugal, on Serra da Estrela mountain. About 400 residents and organizations gathered to perform a “die-in” and to send a collective message: “No to Mines, Water is Life.” The demonstration was filmed with drones and distributed across the media to raise awareness about the environmental and social impacts of mining for lithium and other minerals, which are often not officially disclosed.

    “I do not campaign on this issue simply to get mines out of Portugal and send them somewhere else,” Williams explained. “For me, the real issue is that attempting to solve an ecological problem with a solution that involves more extraction — in this case, mining for lithium to make electric cars to reduce CO2 emissions — is not a solution. In fact, it is heading in the opposite direction of what is called for at this time: to protect and restore ecosystems.”

    In the last three years alone, Portugal has received hundreds of requests for prospecting and exploration of lithium by national and foreign companies. Today it is estimated that lithium prospecting already covers more than 10 percent of the country’s territory. And in some cases, proposed areas of exploration are adjacent to protected or classified sites, which is fueling opposition.

    In the Serra da Estrela region, for example, several requests for the prospecting of lithium and other minerals were recently made. However, the area is surrounded by sites of cultural, ecological and geological importance, such as the Serra da Estrela Natural Park, which is in the process of being classified as a Global Geopark by UNESCO. As a result, four local organizations issued a joint written statement to express their “deep concern” and reasons for opposing the mining interests in that area. The groups also declared that they are preparing to give “more rigorous and detailed technical advice on this issue” and urged the local authorities to make their position clear as well.

    Community organizing

    “We have been working in unison with other associations that are struggling with the same problem,” said Maria do Carmo Mendes, a member of the Guardians of Serra da Estrela, one of the groups confronting mining in sites of community importance. She said that the group has already sent a letter of complaint to the Directorate General for Energy and Geology, the administration that oversees mining developments in Portugal. And together with other local organizations, they are pressuring the directorate for “absolute transparency in the process of granting mining licenses,” in addition to having an outside entity conduct environmental impact studies before a decision is made.  

    In the north of Portugal, in a rural town called Covas do Barroso, a group of residents has united to defend their land and livelihoods from big mining interests. They came together after finding out about requests for open-pit lithium mining in their area, which is classified as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. A spokesperson from the Association United in Defense of Covas do Barroso, announced that the local community realized they would have to fight “powerful economic and political interests.” Therefore, they decided “to unite and speak in unison” to ensure that the rights and needs of the community are respected.

    The group has been working to educate the community and has organized protests to persuade the national government to withdraw lithium prospecting concessions in Covas do Barroso, which is already causing environmental and social problems. Last week, after a visit from the state secretary for energy in the City Hall of Covas’ municipality, dozens of residents surrounded the secretary’s vehicle making it difficult for him to leave. As they held posters with messages against lithium mining in the area, protesters shouted: “No to the Mine, Yes to Life.”

    Around 400 people participated in this aerial art action on Serra da Estrela mountain, the highest point in mainland Portugal, to protest lithium mining on Aug. 24. (WNV/Laura Williams)

    Also, citizens from two neighbor municipalities in central Portugal have united to defend the preservation of the Serra da Argemela region and to “protect the environmental, health, economic and cultural heritage” of its community. The Group for the Preservation of Serra da Argemela, or GPSA, has organized several demonstrations, public meetings and interventions against mining for lithium and other minerals in the region since 2017. This year, following a petition that gained the signature of many residents, organizations and representatives of local government, the group persuaded the national authorities to reject current mining requests in the Argemela (at least, until an Environmental Impact Study is officially presented by mining companies).

    “A big victory would be if citizens could rest assured that their rights will always be defended by the state,” GPSA member Ana Morão said, when asked if the Portuguese government’s move was a victory for them. “Until then, in addition to the right to demonstrate, the GPSA will exercise its rights of reply and contestation, particularly in the context of the public consultation that will be carried out alongside the Environmental Impact Study.”

    Online organizing

    Residents across the country have also been organizing online, through Facebook groups, for instance, to exchange information about the mining development plans and their implications, and to mobilize offline demonstrations.

    The Movement Against Mining Beira Serra, is one of the Facebook groups created this year in response to the lithium mining boom, which now has over 5,000 members. Nik Völker, an administrator of the group, said that they are currently focusing on raising awareness around the issue, but have already taken part in local and national demonstrations, information sessions and campaigns in cooperation with other similar movements.

    “Our main demand is the right to free, prior and informed consent of any local community being considered for any new mineral exploration or exploitation project,” Völker said. “As long as these conditions are not met, both companies and government will have to deal with our local and national peaceful protest, and possible legal interventions in the near future.”

    Vítor Afonso, one of the members from the Movement Against Exploitation of Mineral Resources in the Municipality of Montalegre, a Facebook group with more than 3,600 members, created in May 2019, explained that he is against open-pit mining for lithium and other minerals not only in his area but throughout the country. “It’s not a desirable or sustainable development model,” he said. “The planet has no capacity to regenerate if it continues to be exploited the way it has been.”

    As a form of protest against the lithium mining plans for Montalegre, residents decided to boycott the European elections in May and the local elections in October. In addition to demonstrating on the streets during election day, they also placed banners that read “No to the Mine, Yes to Life” in front of the City Hall and across public spaces.

    A national platform called Say No To Mines was recently created to facilitate the learning and cooperation between activists and movements that oppose the mining plans, especially for lithium, adopted in Portugal. Yet the Portuguese people are far from being alone in this endeavor. Yes to Life, No to Mining is a global network of and for communities that are battling against destructive mining projects and seeking life-sustaining alternatives.

    Contesting the political economy strategy

    The exploitation of lithium — considered a fundamental step for an “energy transition” by the Portuguese government — has been systematically contested by the National Association for Nature Conservation, called Quercus. The organization publicly requested an “immediate suspension of the government’s strategy for lithium,” after conducting a study that concluded the process of mining for lithium, a non-renewable resource, will result in “high levels of CO2 emissions.” They estimated that each lithium mine will emit an additional 1.79 million tons of greenhouse gases per year, which means it’s an energy development plan that’s still environmentally unsustainable.

    Quercus also organized the first National Forum on the Environment and Lithium, on June 22, that was attended by several representatives of movements, organizations and political parties, who are concerned about the consequences of lithium mining. The event was developed in partnership with the organization Environment in Uraniferous Zones, which has been fighting for the environmental recovery of abandoned uranium mines that still affect the health of local populations in various parts of the country, since 2002.

    Alternatives to lithium mining were also discussed in the forum, including the various technologies that can support a sustainable energy transition and electric mobility, such as the use of hydrogen and biogas fuel, which are renewable and generate low or zero carbon emissions. The next steps agreed upon at the event include organizing a formal meeting with all political parties, the minister of environment and energy transition, and Portugal’s president to debate problems with the lithium mining strategy and potential alternatives.

    The anti-mining movement that is emerging in Portugal, and growing globally, is a clear sign that a “business as usual” development model — oriented to the ever-increasing exploitation of natural resources and unfair economic practices — is no longer accepted by society. And decision-makers will have to respond accordingly.

    “Article 66 of the Portuguese Constitution states that ‘everyone is entitled to an environment of human life, healthy and ecologically balanced, and the duty to defend it,’” Afonso said. “The duty to defend our territories will certainly be exercised [by the people].”

    Why be a pacifist?

    Tim Gee had a transformative experience as a teenager. A group of bullies taunted him and his friends with homophobic slurs, then pelted them with eggs. Gee and his group decided to retaliate: They went out and bought a carton of eggs, snuck up on the bullies and made their own attack — feeling victorious as they drove away.

    It wasn’t long, however, before Gee had the sinking feeling that they had done something wrong. Having grown up in a British Quaker family, he was perhaps primed to feel deeply affected by this schoolyard feud. While some people become pacifists after going to war, throwing those eggs was all the convincing Gee needed to start his lifelong journey of exploring what it means to be a pacifist in the world today.

    In the two decades since that day, Gee has dedicated his life to peace activism and environmental organizing. In 2010, he was a member of a group dubbed the “Superglue 3,” having glued himself to the Royal Bank of Scotland protesting its investment in tar sands. More recently, he was campaign manager of the London Climate Strike, and helped organize the Quaker sit-in that disrupted the London Arms Fair in September 2019. Gee’s third and recently published book, “Why I Am A Pacifist,” explores the personal experiences and philosophical arguments that led him to become a pacifist, and how this informs his activism today.

    I spoke to Gee on Remembrance Day, an occasion when people in the United Kingdom wear red poppy pins on their shirts to commemorate the end of the First World War. We spoke about the role of faith in his pacifist approach to activism, and the linkages between war and climate change. Gee emphasized that a truly pacifist movement will require a nuanced approach to building a new society. From developing a pacifist economy to addressing structural injustice — bound up in racism, misogyny and xenophobia — Gee described the challenge and potential of pacifism in the 21st century.

    In “Why I Am A Pacifist,” you emphasize an important point: Pacifism is not passive. Do you find that people struggle with this concept and can’t imagine pacifism adequately dealing with tough issues, like fascism or the climate crisis?

    I thought long and hard about whether to use “pacifist” in the title of the book. It was when I looked up the origins of the word that I decided I would. Pacifism literally means “peacemaking.” And although it has often been conflated with not doing something, the case I make in the book — building on lots of other people’s work — is that pacifism is a process of creating the conditions of peace. It is the presence of justice, not the absence of tension, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said.

    When I think about fascism, and what the core components are of the fascist point of view, these are ultimately the things pacifism tries to take away: toxic masculinity and the swaggering aggression that goes with it, strong pride in the military and obviously a deep racism. If we take an approach to pacifism that addresses racism and economic inequality, fascist ideas can’t thrive in that environment.

    Furthermore, the climate crisis is deeply related to peace. The very power dynamics that have led to the current destruction of the planet are the same ones that lead to war. I became an environmentalist shortly after I became a pacifist, after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began. I made the link between wars for oil and oil causing climate change, and have been almost a full-time activist ever since.

    Quakers have a long tradition of working for peace and justice. How has your Quaker faith shaped your pacifist beliefs?

    One of the images used for peace, the dove, is an image that arises out of Christianity. It can often be used as a representation of the presence of God. The idea that peace and the presence of God are the same is quite a powerful one. Beyond the rational arguments, this is the experienced truth for many Quakers of what keeps them going in the context of an extremely violent society.

    Previous Coverage
  • New language for nonviolence — a conversation with Tim Gee
  • In some of the nonviolent discourse, and particularly among some advocates of strategic nonviolence, there’s a hesitancy for an approach that allows space for the spirit. We need something inside us to keep us going. When I wrote my first book, “Counterpower,” I was reading Gandhi and King, and just focusing on their political strategy. It was only when re-reading [Gandhi and King] that I found it is very difficult to read these people in an entirely secular way. The spiritual struggle was every bit as much of it for them as the political struggle. So I’m not saying that nonviolence needs to be religious or spiritual, but I would like to make space for it because it can be an important part of social change.

    In your vision of a pacifist society, what is the interplay between direct action against militarism — like the London Arms Fair blockade — and the deeper structural work of addressing racism, sexism and economic injustice?

    Previous Coverage
  • While Britain’s Parliament is suspended, its arms fair is open for business
  • The London Arms Fair is one of the world’s largest arms fairs, and there are literally tanks on the streets, on the backs of lorries. There are human rights-abusing countries from around the world — Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Israel — who all came [to the Arms Fair] this year. I would also include countries like the United States, which is going to be using weapons bought there in its current policies. There are only two main gates to enter the Arms Fair, so I went there with Quakers and people of many faiths, and together we blocked one of the gates for most of a day.

    We held two Quaker meetings for worship that were very moving. At one point, a constable interrupted us and said that anyone who didn’t move was going to get arrested. For a lot of people, that prompted cultural memories of Quaker meetings in the early days being broken up by constables. Not one person moved until the scheduled end of the Quaker meeting.

    But they still managed to get the other gate open, and even if we had closed both of the gates, we wouldn’t have stopped war. It would have been a wonderful symbolic victory, but we wouldn’t have stopped war. And I think that’s one of the reasons why I wrote “Why I Am A Pacifist.” It’s because I want to make a distinction by saying that we can go protest outside the London Arms Fair every two years, but being a pacifist means identifying the injustices, the metaphorical traffic leading to war that we experience in our everyday lives, of which I would include any policy or practice informed by racism, gender inequality or anything that perpetuates economic inequality.

    By broadening out and saying the traffic to war exists in all our lives, I want to say that each of us has many opportunities each day to prevent the conditions that lead to war. That means campaigning against things like the flagship racist policy in the United Kingdom, the Hostile Environment Policy, which is every bit as important and integral to pacifism as is going to the Arms Fair and sitting in lorries loaded with tanks.

    What does a pacifist foreign policy look like to you? When President Trump made the sudden announcement to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria in October, he appropriated language of the peace community by claiming this was a step towards “ending endless war.” Are you ever challenged by those who equate pacifism with international isolationism?

    A pacifist foreign policy would naturally have to be internationalist and solidarist. I don’t see any other way to do it. I support the idea of a uniformed service because I think there’s a lot of ways the passion and skill currently used in the military could be used, as it is to some extent in clearing mine fields or rescuing people from the most extreme effects of climate change that we’re already facing. So I support a pacifist and internationalist foreign policy.

    On Syria and the situation of the Kurds, I found myself — for the first time — on a march to call not for the withdrawal of our troops alongside the Kurdish community in the United Kingdom. That was maybe a surprise, but this ultimately wasn’t a withdrawal of troops in order to build peace. The United States could have brought parties together in such a way as to create an agreement and slowly withdraw, leaving peace behind. Instead, the United States left in a way that has led to war crimes and maybe even worse than that. So that’s why I protested against that withdrawal, and that’s why I’ve protested against the Arms Fair when Turkey attended.

    I think intentionality is important. When people say the United States and United Kingdom go to war in the Middle East on some kind of humanitarian mission, this withdrawal shows that’s not the case. This withdrawal has opened the way for an awful humanitarian situation. That’s how I’ve approached the issue — I do so as a pacifist. To my Kurdish fellow activists I’ve said, “I am a pacifist. Am I welcome? How can I help?” And they have said, “Yes, you are welcome,” and “Yes, you can help.” It needs to be done from a position of solidarity. You sometimes do find puritanical pacifists who would not march alongside someone who isn’t a pacifist, and I think that approach is not fully thought through.

    We are seeing such a powerful shift in the momentum around climate justice work. What are some of the deep linkages between a movement to address the climate crisis and global militarism?

    The climate justice movement in the United Kingdom is bigger right now than it has ever been. Awareness of climate change, including in the priority lists of issues by voters, has skyrocketed in the last year alone. The youth climate movement and school strikers are the most intersectional environmental movement I’ve ever encountered. So my experience with school strikers is that the arguments I make in the book about all of these issues needing to be linked is just obvious to them. It doesn’t need explaining.

    One of the slogans people have been chanting on the streets is “Cash for climate, not for war.” It’s an overwhelmingly nonviolent movement, and a movement which understands that a more climate friendly world would be a more peaceful world, by not pursuing so many wars for oil — not to mention the contribution of militaries to climate change directly. So I have a lot of hope for the youth climate movement. I think about my generation, the people who became politicized through the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, who are now beginning to enter politics and take some positions of responsibility. But young people today are even more passionate and determined, and they’re not going to wait 15 years until they are put in positions of leadership. I think it’s up to the rest of us to listen and follow.

    Celebrate movements with WNV’s new T-shirt and tote

    At Waging Nonviolence’s 10-year anniversary party last month, we were excited to debut our first ever T-shirt and tote bag, which are now available as gifts when you become a sustaining member of the site at $5/month or more. They are the fruit of a collaboration with designer Josh Yoder, who has produced some stunning visuals for a number of social justice movements.

    When we began brainstorming ideas for the design, we really weren’t sure what to do. We’ve always been reticent to sell “merch” because our goal is to put the movements we cover front and center. After talking this through with Josh, it became clear that we needed a design that did the very same thing. Ultimately, we settled on one that features 25 movement logos and icons, both historic and present. We wanted to pay tribute to the movements that have inspired and informed our work over the years.

    We deliberately chose some symbols that are more widely known and others that are more obscure. They include official organizational logos, as well as remixed iconic movement imagery. Our hope is that it will serve as a conversation starter, with people swapping stories about the different symbols they can identify. And in the process, we can take stock of the power and impact of so many different movements that have shaped our world for the better.

    To help facilitate these conversations, we thought it’d be helpful to give you an answer key with a little information about each of the symbols in the design. We’ll take one row at a time starting with the top, so let’s dive in. 

    The dove is a traditional symbol of peace going back thousands of years. This particular image has been widely used by antiwar groups and is an adaption of Picasso’s “La Colombe. 

    A raised, clenched fist could be associated with countless movements around the world dating back to at least the Industrial Workers of the World in their 1917 “Solidarity” cartoon. Since then, versions of the fist have been used by the feminist, Black Power and indigenous rights movements, as well as Otpor! in Serbia and the April 6 movement in Egypt.

    The crane became an international peace symbol thanks to Sadako Sasaki — a 12-year-old girl, who was a victim of the atomic bombs dropped by the United States on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After being diagnosed with leukemia from the radiation, Sadako began folding cranes when her father shared a Japanese legend that if you fold a thousand origami cranes you will be granted a wish. 

    The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, better known as ACT UP, chose to use a pink triangle accompanied by the slogan “Silence = Death” as their logo in 1987. The group went on to organize some of the most bold and disruptive protests of the era, and played an influential role in developing life-saving treatments for those with HIV/AIDS. Despite the progress that has been made, the crisis persists and ACT UP is still at the forefront of the struggle to end it. 

    The image of the black cat, known as “Sabo Tabby,” is a long-time symbol of the Industrial Workers of the World and labor strikes more generally. As the union explains, “its original purpose was as a code or symbol for direct action at the point of production, specifically sabotage… [though] it must be emphasized that the latter did not mean destruction of machinery or equipment.” Since then, the image has been modified and adopted by many other movements that they have inspired. 

    The woman wearing a sash represents the suffragettes, who secured U.S. women the right to vote in 1920 through what WNV columnist Nadine Bloch called a “phenomenal, inspirational, often nail-biting and groundbreaking campaign.” Their creative tactics have been a source of inspiration to countless movements around the world. 

    The image of a man in front of a tank is referencing Tank Man, the unidentified Chinese man who blocked a column of tanks following the massacre at Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989. The photo has since become one of the most iconic images of protest and resistance.

    British artist Gerald Holtom created the next design for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in 1958. The symbol combines the semaphore signals for the letters “N” and “D” — denoting “nuclear disarmament”  — enclosed in a circle. That history is lost on many, who simply know this as perhaps the most recognizable “peace sign” in the world. 

    The Aztec eagle is taken from the red and white flag for the National Farm Workers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers. It was designed in 1962, just after the founding of the union by César Chavez and Dolores Huerta. “A symbol is an important thing. That is why we chose an Aztec eagle. It gives pride,” Chavez said, referring to the flag. “When people see it they know it means dignity.”

    Designed in 1975 by Danish activist Anne Lund, the image of the “Smiling Sun” is the most common international symbol of the movement against nuclear power. Accompanied by the words “Nuclear Power? No Thanks,” the logo has been translated into 55 languages and seen a resurgence in its use since the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan. 

    Growing out of the student sit-ins in 1960, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, played a critical role in many of the major campaigns and actions during the civil rights movement. They used this image of a black hand shaking a white hand as their logo.

    The modified yin and yang symbol was a symbol created by the Anti-Apartheid Movement, or AAM. Founded in London, in response to a call for international support from Albert Luthuli, AAM first used this image during protests following the Sharpeville massacre of black protesters by police in 1960. 

    Transfeminism, according to scholar and activist Emi Koyama, is “a movement by and for trans women who view their liberation to be intrinsically linked to the liberation of all women and beyond.” The logo combines male, female and mixed gender symbols, with a fist in the middle. 

    Sunflowers have been a symbol used by the climate justice movement since at least the first Earth Day in 1970. In addition to their beauty and bright color, they also have “the ability to remove harmful toxins from our soil,” as the Farmers Almanac has noted.

    Handala is a character created by the Palestinian cartoonist Naji Al-Ali, one of the most well-known cartoonists in the Arab world. The image of this 10-year-old refugee child has become a powerful symbol of the Palestinian struggle for justice. In describing the child, Al-Ali wrote that “His hands are clasped behind his back as a sign of rejection at a time when solutions are presented to us the American way.”  

    The migrant justice movement has embraced the monarch butterfly as one of its symbols for good reason. “To me, the monarch butterfly represents the dignity and resilience of migrants and the right that all living beings have to move freely,” said artist and activist Favianna Rodriguez, who launched the “Migration is Beautiful” campaign in 2012.  

    In July 2011, the Canadian anti-consumerist magazine Adbusters published a poster of a ballerina on top of the Charging Bull statue. Behind her are protesters in gas masks obscured by a cloud of tear gas with the hashtag #OCCUPYWALLSTREET and a date. The image would spark the imagination of organizers in New York City who would turn the idea into a reality and a worldwide movement for economic justice.

    The image of a person in a wheelchair breaking their chains is the logo for ADAPT, the national grassroots disability rights organization. By organizing bold acts of civil disobedience — like chaining themselves to buses and crawling up the steps of the U.S. Capitol — ADAPT activists played a critical role in passing the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. They drew national attention again in 2017 for leading protests that successfully thwarted the Republican health care reform bill, which would have drastically cut Medicaid and led to 22 million losing their health coverage.

    According to the United Nations, over 10 percent of the world’s population are technically squatters, in that they live on land or in buildings they do not own or rent. Squatting is a nonviolent act — in opposition to the commodification of housing — taken by people to meet their basic needs, and the circle with the arrow cutting through it is the international squatters’ symbol.    

    Over the last couple years, the youth-led Sunrise Movement has quickly moved to the forefront of the climate justice movement and through bold action put the Green New Deal on the political map

    Inspired by Edward Abbey’s novel “The Monkey Wrench Gang,” the radical environmental group Earth First! developed provocative new direct action tactics — known as monkeywrenching — to prevent logging and stop the construction of dams or other forms of development that harm the wilderness and wildlife. Their logo is the stone tomahawk crossed with a monkey wrench.

    Accompanied by the words “Water is Life,” the image of “Thunderbird Woman,” became popular during the Standing Rock encampment to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock in 2016. Created by Anishinaabe artist Isaac Murdoch, it has since been used by frontline water protectors around the world. 

    The day after Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017, more than 4 million people participated in the Women’s March, which is likely the largest single-day protest in U.S. history. A common sight at the demonstrations was the pink, knitted or crocheted “pussy hat,” with cat ears. In addition to making a powerful visual statement at the marches, the idea was conceived of by Krista Suh and Jayna Zweiman as a way for those who could not physically attend to be a part of the action by making hats.

    In 2014, a mass pro-democracy movement exploded in Hong Kong. While its full name was Occupy Central with Love and Peace, it was commonly called the Umbrella Revolution because umbrellas were widely used by protesters to shield themselves from not just from the sun, but the tear gas that was regularly fired at them by police. 

    Finally, there’s the V-sign that appears in place of the letter “v” in our logo. This is, of course, the well-known symbol for peace in the United States. It is used in other countries to mean different things, but its origins as an activist symbol date back to the 1960s antiwar movement. Peace activists — including celebrities like John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who helped popularize it — adopted the V-sign from World War II, when it meant “V for victory” or “end of war.” It also was used to mock President Richard Nixon, who had made it his trademark sign.

    With this knowledge you will now be able to impress your friends when they ask any questions about the design. And if you know of any iconic movement symbols or logos that we didn’t include, let us know in the comments and we may feature them in the next iteration of the design!

    Unlikely allies win campaign to stop state monopoly in Kenya

    On Dec. 4, Kenya’s senate committee on transport summoned the cabinet secretary for transport over his directive to haul cargo from the port city of Mombasa to Nairobi exclusively by rail. The meeting — attended by activists, businessmen and leaders from Mombasa — ended with the cabinet secretary, James Macharia, promising to rescind the directive, which has hurt business in the coastal city.

    The senate meeting was a culmination of two months of action led by the affected business people in Mombasa. It all started one September morning when Harriet Muganda arrived at the governor’s offices in Mombasa. There was a presentation of findings on the effects of a newly-commissioned Chinese-built railway on the economy of Mombasa by the University of Nairobi. The hall was already full, so she stood near the door with others who weren’t able to get a seat.

    It was Muganda’s first time at such a function, as she considered herself apolitical and had never attended a political rally or event before. Since it spoke to her livelihood, this one, however, was dear to her. She worked in Mombasa, a key cargo entry point for East Africa, as a clearing agent charged with handling custom documentation related to shipments getting into the country on behalf of her clients.

    For the past year, business has been bad, following a government directive to have all cargo hauled to Nairobi via the government-run railway. The government said it made this decision to reign in malpractices at the Mombasa port, according to the cabinet secretary for transport. Businessmen and activists, however, believe that it was to ensure that standard-gauge railway, or SGR, has as much business as possible in order to be able to repay the Chinese loan that was used to develop it.

    Economists have argued that the Chinese-built railway doesn’t make economic sense and therefore the government had to enforce a monopoly in cargo haulage in order to make money. Processing of custom documentation for all cargo getting into the country by ship is now being done in Nairobi, over 300 miles away. This has left many businesses without work, and trucking, bulk handlers and other cargo-handling companies have since moved or closed shop. Muganda estimates that 200,000 people have lost their jobs. 

    The University of Nairobi’s findings aligned with what the transporters were experiencing. James Ambok, the CEO of Kenya Truckers Association decries the effects brought about by the state’s monopolization of cargo haulage. “I am telling you that the SGR sometimes does around 14 trips to Nairobi, and in each trip it has got 108 containers,” he explained. “So, it means each and every day, over 1,000 drivers do not have jobs. It means each and every day 1,000 turnboys do not have jobs.”

    Harriet Muganda at a Fast Action protest in early November. (WNV/Anthony Langat)

    After the presentation, Muganda and a few other business people felt that they had to do something. Salim Karama, who owns trucks for long-distance delivery, asked Muganda to take the contacts of the people who were there. She was also tasked with forming a WhatsApp group to enable them to communicate and deliberate on what to do next.

    “It was on a Thursday when we met and by that evening, we had 50 people in the group. They included business owners and their employees. By the next day we were over 256 and I had to form another WhatsApp group,” she said.

    They called the group “Fast Action,” and they lived up to their name. Three days later, on Sept. 16, Fast Action Business Community organized its first protest in the streets of Mombasa. They marched six miles from the courthouse in Mombasa to Changamwe and back. The action caused businesses along the route to come to a standstill, and transport was paralyzed as trucks followed them at a snail’s pace, honking in support.

    Every Monday since then they continued with their protest. The group uses WhatsApp to fundraise for things like banners, T-shirts and even the water that they need on the days of the protests. They would sing and chant slogans — including “people power” and “no to SGR monopoly” — as they slowly walked their route. Since their first protest in September, the numbers grew every week. On the second week of November, they expected 3,000 protesters, but the rain reduced the number by half, according to Muganda.

    Haki Africa — a Mombasa-based NGO that campaigns against land grabbing, police brutality, corruption, gender-based violence and other issues — has been supporting Fast Action’s protests. They assist Fast Action with the planning to ensure that they follow due process with regards to the law governing protests. They have worked to obtain the permit for their protests and offered them free representation in court when they were denied permits by the police.

    This campaign has faced serious challenges. Twelve protesters, including Fast Action organizers and Haki Africa staff, were arrested and locked up on Oct. 7 for six hours despite having all the necessary permits to carry out the protest. “I think the main challenge so far have been the police,” said Haki Africa Executive Director Hussein Khalid. “We have had some of the protesters arrested here, including the business people and ourselves.”

    Haki Africa Executive Director Hussein Khalid addressing the press, as they awaited the court’s ruling on Fast Action Business Community’s petition to continue their protest. (WNV/Anthony Langat)

    Khalid said that they have been approached by civil society movements based in Nairobi who want to be part of the movement. However, their immediate plans were to organize protests in every town along the Mombasa-Nairobi route, since they are more directly affected.  As of mid-November, they were meeting and planning with people in the towns of Voi and Mtito-Andei, which are along the route to Nairobi. Their intention was to hold subsequent protests in at least three towns along the Mombasa-Nairobi corridor. These are towns that depend mostly on the trucks passing through for business. They managed to hold a protest in Mtito-Andei in late November which was disrupted by the police despite having the necessary permits.

    While protests by civil society and organized labor have been common in Kenya, it is unheard of for businessmen to be at the forefront of a movement. “It is the business community that is taking the lead and agitating for their rights as business people,” Khalid explained. “The economy has really taken a hard hit, and there are concerns that this has affected their businesses and families and livelihoods as well.”

    Nevertheless, the actions have struck a chord with the political and civil society groups and drawn attention to the coastal town, which isn’t regarded as a protest capital in the country.

    Apart from Haki Africa, Muslims for Human Rights, or Muhuri, another coast-based non-governmental organization that works on land access and gender equality has gotten involved in the campaign. Notable figures from Kenya’s civil society — including Katiba Institute founder Yash Pal Ghai, economist and activist David Ndii, and InformAction Director Maina Kiai — have also come out to support Fast Action’s protests.

    Toward the end of October, the Fast Action Business Community had planned to have a public lecture at the Technical University of Mombasa. Ndii, Ghai and Kiai were set to address the crowd, but that morning, the police cordoned off the venue to block anyone from entering. The meeting was then cancelled. The protests now include business people from many spheres including shopkeepers, tuktuk and motorbike taxi operators, among others who indirectly benefit from the cargo business.

    Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir (middle) with Fast Action Business Community members as they await the court decision on their right to protest. (WNV/Anthony Langat)

    Abdulswamad Nassir, a member of parliament for Mvita in Mombasa, has been supportive of the group and went to show solidarity with them in court when the police denied them permits to protest. “People need to express their views and opinions,” he said. “You can’t suppress a whole society and community, and decide without any reason whatsoever that they do not have [the right] to raise their opinions.” The court ruled in favor of Fast Action.

    Protesting in Kenya is not viewed favorably by the authorities and instances of injuries or even death of protesters due to excessive use of force by the police are a normal occurrence. A 2018 report by Amnesty International stated that “the police used excessive force to disperse protesters who supported the opposition party and demonstrated against the electoral process, including with live ammunition and tear gas. Dozens died in the violence, including at least 33 people who were shot by police and of whom two were children.”

    The leadership of the Fast Action protests were clear in what they wanted: non-monopolization of the cargo transport by the state and the reinstatement of cargo-handling and clearing services to Mombasa. “We just want our businesses back; we want our livelihoods back to normal as they were before the SGR,” Muganda said. “If the government would agree to stop the monopolization of cargo transportation so that there is a healthy competition between the government’s SGR and the private transporters, I don’t think anyone would go back to the street to protest.” However, until something is done, she said that the protests would continue.

    The group mobilized more residents of Mombasa and friends from other towns — through social media and by talking with people one-on-one — to join in the protests every Monday. “We will continue with the protests,” Muganda said.  “It will stop being black Mondays and it will be black every day, because we now have no work and all the time to do this.”

    On Dec. 2, their protests were disrupted by police as had become the norm. Two days later, they were invited for a meeting at the senate in Nairobi. The cabinet secretary for transport had been summoned by the senate committee on transport. In the meeting, the cabinet secretary promised to rescind the directive on mandatory hauling of cargo via rail. In a statement released a day later, Karama said that Fast Action had postponed the planned Monday protests after the successful meeting.

    However, the group is cautious about the victory and not ruling out a possible return to protests. A few days after the meeting, all the cargo was still being ferried by rail to Nairobi, according to Muganda. She is still skeptical about the government’s commitment to lifting the directive. Only a few days after the senate meeting, the government spokesperson vowed to crack down on the protesters on the premise that the they were hurting operations of the port. “We are suspending the Monday demonstrations to gauge and monitor the movement,” Karama said. “We will come up with the final decision when we are satisfied that the situation has improved to bring life to Mombasa county’s economy.”

    Is it time to put the Baby Trump blimp to bed?

    It began as an irreverent stunt during Donald Trump’s 2018 visit to London, a helium-filled swirl of yellow hair atop an obese, orange, diaper-clad Trump, his small hands clutching a phone. After a brief nap, Baby Trump has been pressed into service as the unofficial mascot of the anti-Trump resistance, with at least nine appearances in the United States so far.

    It’s easy and gratifying to insult Trump. He offers a daily smorgasbord of contemptible flaws to feast upon. And he dishes out as good as he gets, his Twitter feed a virtual firing range of baseless, crude and bigoted put-downs. Mocking him as a fat, tantruming baby may seem a fitting and well-deserved counterattack, one that is orders of magnitude less terrible than the many acts of cruelty Trump has perpetrated.

    The Baby Trump blimp, however, is emblematic of the counterproductive manner in which the left too often registers our very justified outrage.

    To start with, there’s the body shaming. Hardly a day goes by without Trump’s body size, shape and color being ridiculed as grotesque. Body shaming is a form of bullying that isn’t any less cruel when done to people we don’t like. Even though Trump is the target, the blimp stigmatizes every person with bodies deemed too fat by our thinness-obsessed culture, much like the atrociously cruel and classist — yet wildly popular — People of Walmart website, which lampoon unsuspecting shoppers with shabby clothes, fat asses and other “white trash” offenses. Sizeism is one of the few forms of bigotry still tolerated by mainstream society. Why do we perpetuate it?

    Liberal mockery of Trump’s copious flaws only serves to entrench his supporters’ loyalty and bolster Trump’s persecution narrative.

    Spectacles of leftist schadenfreude paint us into a hypocritical corner, as was pointed out to me by a conservative woman I met at a cross-partisan dialogue. To put it in crass, realpolitik terms, cruelty damages our brand. It prompts the public to fixate on our ugliness instead of the dastardly policies of the Trump administration. Furthermore, it perpetuates the us-versus-them divisiveness that adult Trump so masterfully leverages to his advantage. (One of his supporters recently slashed a Baby Trump balloon with a razor blade in a self-proclaimed act of “good versus evil.”

    Like any skillful demagogue, Trump has forged a counterfeit bond with his base, a bond premised on a shared victimhood narrative of lost honor and wounded pride. What I’ve learned from conservatives over the past two years is that Trump supporters perceive an attack on him as an attack on themselves — those high and mighty liberal elites are not only smugly self-righteous, they’re mean, they hate us, we are under siege and must protect our tribe and our leader Trump.

    Conservative journalist Rod Dreher has written that, when Trump goes off the rails, his voters justify their support by saying to themselves, “He may be a fool, but he’s our fool.” Liberal mockery of Trump’s copious flaws only serves to entrench their loyalty and bolster Trump’s persecution narrative.

    As has been amply documented, partisan (some call it “tribal”) polarization has reached a deleterious extreme in the United States, leading people to form knee-jerk partisan opinions instead of reflecting on the merits of contentious issues. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt told National Affairs that, when we attempt to rationalize our partisan bias, we get rewarded with a highly pleasurable hit of dopamine. It feels good to belong to our team, our party, our tribe, and if tribal membership requires that we denigrate the “other” tribe and publicly humiliate their leader, we do it, and we do it gleefully. And when we do so, we prompt the right to hate and fear us back. For this reason, humiliating Trump plays into Trump’s us-versus-them strategy of rousing his supporters to battle against the common enemy: us.

    There is, to be sure, a long tradition of satire aimed at undermining the authority and respectability of the powerful. The question is, what, if anything, does the public learn from it? Literary critic Tim Parks distinguishes effective satire, which points toward positive change, from failed satire. “[W]itty mockery of a political enemy can be hilarious and gratifying and can intensify our sense of being morally superior. But as satire it has failed,” he writes in the New York Review of Book. “The worst case is when satire reinforces the state of mind it purports to undercut, polarizes prejudices, and provokes the very behavior it condemns.”

    Previous Coverage
  • Don’t feed the trolls — how to combat the alt-right
  • Baby Trump falls short of Park’s standard, for it is no more enlightening than a playground taunts — such as “you’re a baby,” “no you are” and “I know you are but what am I?” The overarching problem with Trump isn’t that he’s immature (or fat), it’s that he’s created what Ralph Nader calls a “cocoon of falsity” in which he smashes and breaks democratic and cultural norms and governmental functions that keep people safe, healthy, fully included and respected.

    Poking fun at a degenerate figurehead is not automatically effective. If mocking Trump turned fence-sitters against him, late night comedians would have successfully blocked Trump’s candidacy before it ever gathered steam. For all the ridicule Trump’s endured, it doesn’t seem to have undermined his brazen abuse of power.

    Perhaps if our national culture were one of reverence for politicians, then the mere act of mocking one would have some shock value and jolt us into seeing them in a new and unflattering light. Perhaps if Trump attempted to present himself as a dignified head of state, we would need Baby Trump to expose the contradiction between his pretend and actual disposition. At this point, anyone who doesn’t already see that the emperor has no clothes is not likely to be enlightened upon seeing him in diapers. It’s simply meanness for meanness sake.

    The creators of Baby Trump said they wanted to boost the morale of Trump’s foes and to “get under his skin.” As one of the organizers wrote in the Independent, “Trump has repeatedly shown that he doesn’t respond to reason, to facts or to science. What he does respond to is humiliation.” Yes, he sure does, and that’s precisely the problem.

    Evelin Lindner, a psychologist and founder of Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies, or Human DHS, has documented cycles of humiliation met by violent reprisals met by more humiliation, until the society spirals into genocidal violence. “Humiliation,” she writes, “is the nuclear bomb of the emotions, perhaps the most toxic social dynamic of our age.” It reinforces the tyrant’s self-serving rationalization that they are valiantly fighting the evildoers who are attacking them.

    Linda Hartling, a community psychologist and director of Human DHS, emphasizes the boomerang nature of humiliation. “If you use humiliation as a shortcut to attack an opponent, it will come back in some way, if not at you then at someone more vulnerable,” she said. Hartling sees Trump as a “humiliation entrepreneur” who is constantly retaliating against those who pierce his thin skin.

    Trump has already been ratcheting up his incitement of violence, calling for his persecutors to be tried and executed for treason and warning that civil war could break out if he’s impeached. Dozens of preeminent psychiatrists have raised red flag warnings about Trump’s anti-social, narcissistic, sadistic and sociopathic behavior. “Trump’s sociopathic characteristics … create a profound danger for America’s democracy and safety,” retired Harvard psychiatry professor Lance Dodes told the Washington Post. “Over time these characteristics will only become worse, either because Mr. Trump will succeed in gaining more power and more grandiosity with less grasp on reality, or because he will engender more criticism producing more paranoia, more lies and more enraged destruction.”

    “Speak the truth but not to punish,” Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh counsels.

    Ridiculing Trump achieves nothing and risks provoking him to even more outrageous attacks and counterattacks. That’s what narcissists and demagogues do when their fragile egos are threatened. Psychiatrists warn that someone with Trump’s malignant narcissism and anti-social personality is vulnerable to a total psychotic breakdown and that, by the time the warning signs are evident, it may already be too late.

    Criticism of Trump and vigorous efforts to remove him are vitally necessary, no matter what the risk of further destabilizing his mental health. But piling on personal insults adds unnecessary fuel to the fire. A deranged Trump is incredibly dangerous.

    For all the grievous harm Trump has done, I cannot and do not respect him. But withholding respect and diminishing his humanity are two different things. At a minimum, I feel obliged to treat Trump with the basic decency I extend to every human being, no matter how awful I find them. To do otherwise, to dehumanize them as the “enemy other,” is to set in motion a vindictive spiral that cannot end well. Human dignity is sacred and, when it’s violated, our ability to negotiate and tolerate discord erodes, and hate and violence reign.

    “Humiliation is the most destructive force on the planet,” Hartling said. “It leaves a wake of destruction, disrupting relationships in ways that are extremely difficult to repair.” Why risk so much collateral damage just for the sake of inflicting suffering on a man who is already seemingly one of the unhappiest on earth, his inner life its own perpetual torment?

    “Speak the truth but not to punish,” Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh counsels. What that means to me is that, when I criticize Trump’s rampant misconduct, I focus on the actions, not the person, and contextualize the actions in systems and structures of white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, militarism and the resource extraction mindset. I also want to contrast Trump’s nihilism with my vision for an equitable and sustainable future, a beautiful, inclusively-interconnected sacred place where humans and all living creatures bow to each other in the great dance of life.

    Over two city blocks in San Francisco, community groups painted their visions of solutions to climate chaos on Sept. 25. (Maluco Studios/Anesti Vega)

    During the Sept. 25 Climate Strike in San Francisco, artists and activists from 10 environmental justice and human rights groups transformed two downtown blocks into a series of street murals representing “community-oriented and earth-based solutions” to the climate crisis. Taken together, the murals invited viewers to envision a more beautiful future that celebrates the interconnected lives of people, plants and wildlife. To me, honoring what’s sacred is worlds more inspiring than denigrating what we already know is awful.

    Diné (Navajo) land and water protector and poet Lyla June Johnston suggests that the struggle of resistance against Trump and fossil fuels shouldn’t be one of hate-driven revenge against but, rather, a movement for life in all its sacred beauty. It’s not about winning, Johnston said in an interview with the podcast “For the Wild,” it’s about sustaining, diversifying, protecting and, above all, loving life.

    So long as I attempt to implement my vision by denigrating those evil people who stand in my way, I am taking one step forward and two back. Aggressors usually rationalize their behavior as serving some higher purpose; seldom is that the case.

    Trump must be held accountable but accountability need not take a vindictive cast. I don’t believe murderers should be executed or rapists raped. I don’t want Trump hung in effigy or body shamed, I simply want him gone and, potentially, imprisoned where he can do no further damage. And I want his supporters to feel that they have a rightful place in a post-Trump America, a place where they are treated with the same basic decency and respect as everyone else. If they don’t feel this way, brace yourself for President Donald Trump, Jr. or whatever other humiliation entrepreneur is waiting in the wings.

    Hating on Trump incessantly isn’t going to be any more effective in 2020 than it was in 2016. The more we hate and humiliate him, the more his supporters will be inclined to defend him. Even if we win, we’ll be sowing the seeds of a vicious backlash. And our hatred could trigger an adult Trump tantrum of existential dimensions. Our desperately sick culture needs to heal, and more poison isn’t what the doctor ordered.

    Remembering G. Simon Harak — a powerful ally of all victims of war

    On Nov. 3, 2019, G. Simon Harak, a Jesuit priest and passionate advocate for peace and justice, died peacefully in a Jesuit health care facility in Weston, Massachusetts. He had been suffering from a rare form of dementia for several years, with physical effects similar to ALS.

    Nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize, Simon’s steadfast commitment to recognizing each person’s humanity and dignity made him a powerful ally for all people displaced and devastated by war, wounded by violence of all kinds, and marginalized or ostracized by society.

    He and his twin sister, Adele, were born on April 15, 1948 in Derby, Connecticut, though for most of his adult life, Simon would celebrate his Catholic baptism in June as his “true birth date.” His father, Simon Gabriel, was an immigrant from Lebanon, and was a singer who formed his own orchestra in the big band era and performed on nationwide radio. His mother Laurice, a first-generation Lebanese immigrant, was a professional opera singer in New York City. 

    It was likely from those artistic performers that Simon inherited his life-long love of teaching, preaching and public speaking. Simon dedicated all of his public and private service to advancing Christ’s nonviolent Kingdom of God, challenging and inviting people to see beyond what is socially constructed, and to decide how to act rightfully and justly. 

    Simon was a brilliant intellectual, graduating valedictorian from Fairfield University in 1970, majoring in classics. He possessed a reading knowledge of Latin, Greek, French and German. Although accepted into Harvard Law School, Simon answered a deep calling and joined the Jesuits in September 1970. He said that Jesus “called me by name,” and thus began a lifelong companionship with Jesus that became the center of everything he did and said. 

    During his nine-year preparation for ordination, Simon furthered his formal education, earning a Masters of Divinity from the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California. But he never let his broad academic accomplishments stop him from ministering to the people. One fall, Simon returned home for a short visit. I noticed that my slightly built brother had developed large forearm muscles. When I asked why his arms looked like that, he told me that he had spent the summer using a chainsaw to help the impoverished people in Appalachia clear trees and build homes.

    Simon celebrating his first mass as a Jesuit in May 1979. (WNV/Philip J. Harak)

    After his ordination in 1979, he went to Jamaica as a missioner, working as a chaplain with young people. He took the school boys to visits to the public hospital, elderly residences and a home for lepers. Whether individually or as a group, Simon always sought out and ministered to those who were marginalized, suffering and outcast. 

    Upon his return to the United States, he earned a doctorate in theology and ethics from Notre Dame in 1986. He crafted his dissertation into his first book, “Virtuous Passions: The Formation of Christian Character.” Preeminent theologian Stanley Hauerwas called Simon’s work “stunning,” and wrote that “he is able to write about Aquinas on the passions making that text come alive in a way that no one else has been able to do.” 

    Simon often said that he loved to share knowledge and to incite people to think critically for themselves. Teaching and lecturing were lifelong passions. Accordingly, he became a beloved, life-changing teacher and award-winning professor of religion and Christian ethics at Fairfield University from 1986 to 2000. While there, his focus on justice and peace was both local and global. For example, he and his students became involved in protests for equitable salaries for dining hall workers (to the chagrin of most in the administration). 

    In the fall of 1995, he embarked on a cause that intentionally put him and his fellow activists in violation of both U.S. State Department policy and the U.S. Constitution’s forbiddance of aiding and abetting the enemy. Then, the Iraqi people were the “enemy,” and they suffered terribly from U.S.-imposed sanctions, especially the children. With about 250 children under the age of five dying daily since the inception of the sanctions regime in 1990, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clarke described the situation as genocide against the Iraqis. Always committed to deep research, which he said would lead to facts, and then to truth, Simon felt an irresistible movement to act on behalf of the Iraqis. 

    Along with Kathy Kelly, Simon started a humanitarian organization called Voices in the Wilderness, which is now called Voices for Creative Nonviolence. Simon traveled to Iraq three times, ministering to the children and people there. Their delegations brought much-needed food, medicines, clean water, and even toys to the children and people in need.

    “Without Simon, I wonder if Voices in the Wilderness would ever have been initiated,” Kathy recently said. “Simon’s guidance, energy, scholarship and kindness greatly helped Voices send 70 delegations to Iraq, all in open and public defiance of the U.S./U.N. economic sanctions against Iraq. Whether leading delegations to Iraq, organizing local actions, joining in lengthy fasts, or making presentations, Simon always made time for Voices in the Wilderness.” 

    All throughout his life, Simon balanced his academic pursuits with his calling to be a “priest for the people.” He loved his service as a pastoral priest, and he would often fill in for missing or vacationing parish priests across the country. He was proud of the successful marriages of more than 30 couples for whom he prepared and performed marriages, including my own marriage to Margaret Savage, in 1995. He was always available to minister to the sick, the grieving, and to the poor who approached him on the street. He was also just a good friend, always sending postcards from wherever he was in the world, and bringing home thoughtful little gifts. 

    “As a Christian commanded by my Master to love my enemies, I have yet to find a way to do that while preparing to, and then, killing them!”

    – G. Simon Harak

    Witnessing endless unspeakable suffering and pain on his last visit to Iraq seemed to galvanize Simon away from his full professorship. He decided he needed to be a full-time voice for all the victims of war, including the warriors themselves. He wanted to awaken people from the stupor of blind acceptance of warfare, and expose the real human costs of war. Using his skill for discovering hidden facts, and for expressing complex issues clearly, Simon worked diligently at the War Resisters League in New York City as the national anti-militarism coordinator, from 2003 until 2006. 

    Late in 2005, financial benefactors Terry and Sally Rynne, along with the Jesuits at Marquette University, invited Simon to found and head the Marquette University Center for Peacemaking. Students there created local and national outreach programs, focusing on teaching nonviolent conflict resolution in schools and communities. The center sponsored two national conferences and the publication of an academic journal. Simon shepherded that center until 2013, when his illness forced his resignation and his return to the Campion Health Center in Weston, Massachusetts. Even while the illness was robbing him of his mental and physical abilities, he continued to serve residents and staff there as long as he was able. 

    Simon leaves a legacy as a passionate disciple of the nonviolent Christ, performing his mission until his last breath. He had made over 2,000 television, radio and speaking engagements at venues in the United States and abroad regarding truths and human costs of the Iraqi war, and later, about war profiteering. While he was gifted in creating nonviolent actions and in intellectually dismantling the maddeningly tautological and false promises of violence, he did not see nonviolent strategies merely as an end in themselves, but as constitutive to Christian discipleship. He understood Jesus’ way to be based upon what Jesus clearly did and said: endless forgiveness, compassion, mercy and nonviolent love of friends and enemies, with no exceptions. 

    Possessing a sharp wit within a great sense of humor, Simon would sardonically comment, “As a Christian commanded by my Master to love my enemies, I have yet to find a way to do that while preparing to, and then, killing them!” Often at odds with “just warrior” advocates both within his own order and broadly inside and outside of Christianity, Simon would remind those advocates that “just war theory” was never taught by Jesus.

    He would always correct the common misunderstanding that nonviolence meant non-resistance or passivity. He would provide examples and also personally act in ways consistent with those other nonviolent resisters, both famous and ordinary, who believed and acted with “a force more powerful” than violence. He challenged the pillars of governmental, institutional and personal violence, and sought to liberate people by presenting meticulously researched information that countered the narratives purported by a culture inured in the myths of redemption or lasting safety through revenge, oppression and violence. 

    Simon loved life, and would balance his hours of research and writing, his pastoral ministry and full immersions into human suffering, with many different activities he found both revitalizing and fun. He would begin each day with private prayer with Jesus, followed by his joyful celebration of the Mass. He loved music and theater, and would thoroughly enjoy taking friends and family to concerts, plays, museums and movies. He read about two or three science fiction books per week. A lifetime baseball fan, we would attend games everywhere he was stationed. 

    His Jesuit funeral on Nov. 8 at the Weston Chapel was a beautiful and moving ceremony. It was the culmination of incredibly respectful, medically sensitive and loving treatment he always received there, from his Jesuit brothers and all the staff. 

    Simon leaves a loving and eternally grateful group of family and friends. His father, Simon, died in 1970, three weeks after his son joined the Jesuit Order. His mother, Laurice, died in 1992. Along with his sister Adele Campbell, he leaves his sister Laurice Boutagy, and his two younger brothers — me and John — his siblings’ spouses and their children. 

    When Simon left home in 1970, I felt a deep sadness. Employing his remarkable gift of witnessing and validating other’s emotions, he consoled me by explaining that, “I have to leave you and this family, Philip, in order to best serve Jesus. A true test of my Christianity is to treat everyone else in the world with the same kind of love I have for you and the family.”  “Blessed be Simon,” James Douglass wrote upon hearing of his friend’s passing, “who has walked with us all in so many ways … and will continue to do so.” Amen, Jim.

    Why doesn’t American political culture understand the power of direct action campaigns?

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    Since 2016, I’ve been book touring in dozens of states — first with “Viking Economics” and then with “How We Win.” I’ve done events in hundreds of bookstores, universities, and civic and religious spaces. Time and time again, I get the same kind of question, and my puzzlement has only grown.

    Just last month, at a crowded meeting sponsored by 350.org in Madison, Wisconsin, dozens of people were asking me how they can make their work for justice more effective. One person recalled how the move of Gov. Scott Walker in 2011 to take away public workers’ rights was met by an immense outpouring of Wisconsin citizen rage. Direct action filled the capital and paralyzed the government.

    “That was nonviolent protest, right? And it disrupted everything — even Democratic legislators traveled out of the state to prevent the Republicans from taking away the rights of state workers. And still the nonviolent struggle failed!”

    “On the contrary,” I countered, remembering that I had been in Madison at a crucial moment for consultations, along with organizer Daniel Hunter. “The nonviolent campaign was deliberately dropped. Despite our advice, the leadership shifted strategies, going instead for a recall election, which they lost.”

    Continuing to explain, I said, “The Democratic leadership and some labor allies believed that the ballot box is superior to what was actually working. It wasn’t the nonviolent campaigning that failed — it was interrupted. It’s the premature switch to an electoral strategy that failed.”

    At another recent event, in a Pennsylvania bookstore, I was challenged by some women deeply disappointed by the demise of Occupy in Harrisburg. Inspired by Occupy Wall Street in 2011, their city’s Occupy action became a dramatic presence. “If nonviolent action is so powerful, why didn’t that work?” the activists asked.

    Demand something, target the entity that can yield the demand, do a series of actions, escalate and grow.

    “In most cities, the Occupy movement focused on a single tactic,” I explained, “and didn’t have the flexibility it needed to grow beyond a protest. It was like the opening act of a play that had no larger narrative. Occupy participants needed to make clear winnable demands, adopt other direct action tactics, and escalate in order to grow. In other words, after a great start you needed to transform into a nonviolent direct action campaign.”

    What is a ‘nonviolent direct action campaign’?

    A campaign has a clear demand with a focus on a decider who’s responsible for — or can meet — the demand. Campaigners start and sustain a series of actions that escalate as the campaign grows.

    In the 1960s and ’70s, nearly everyone interested in progressive change knew what a campaign looked like. Black students walked into a lunch counter, demanded coffee, were thrown out of the store and came back again and again, often escalating by adding picketing and boycotts. In short: a demand, a decider (the store manager), a series of actions, escalation.

    Racial minorities, students, elders, differently-abled people, workers, LGBTQ people, environmentalists against nuclear power: They knew what nonviolent direct action campaigns were and often used them well. “Demand something, target the entity that can yield the demand, do a series of actions, escalate and grow.”

    Direct action campaigns were the engine that built powerful movements that changed the United States to the point that the economic elite became alarmed. The 1 percent then launched its counter-offensive, officially by President Ronald Reagan in 1981. The Democratic Party did its part in the counter-offensive by co-opting as many of the movements as it could, the Democrats pleading that the ballot box was a better technology for change than nonviolent direct action campaigns.

    The actions that campaigns did were called “protests,” supporting confusion between one-off actions and genuine campaigns. By the 1980s the mainstream media had coined a new, condescending meme: “protests vaguely reminiscent of the ’60s.”

    I can’t simply fault our opponents, their allies and the mainstream mass media for the disappearing concept of “direct action campaign.” Most of the movements themselves, previously winning, shifted in the 1980s to a defensive strategy, trying to retain the gains they’d already made.

    Defense is a loser’s game. Labor lost ground, as did civil rights, women and environmentalists. They had to lose, because as football coaches and generals (and even Gandhi) could tell you: Defense is for losers.

    Previous Coverage
  • What we can learn from the LGBTQ movement’s 50 years of achievement
  • With the stunning exception of the LGBTQ movement, which kept winning because it stayed on the offensive, the choice by the major movements to go on the defense spread a psychology of reactivity. “Let’s react to this outrage, and that one, and that one.”

    Reactivity plays the 1 percent’s game, since the elite has the money to organize as many outrages as it wants (voter suppression, attacks on Planned Parenthood, take-aways from labor, new gas pipelines, immigrant children in cages and many more). They may even enjoy watching us react; it confirms who’s in charge.

    Reactivity promotes one-off demonstrations, and activists can weary themselves running from protest to protest. In the reactive confusion, the option of becoming pro-active and starting nonviolent direct action campaigns got lost.

    Fortunately, some didn’t forget. In this period, the Coalition of Immokolee Workers — along with student allies — organized winning campaigns for farm workers by creating campaigns targeting fast food chains. Some environmentalists used campaigns to win against toxic polluting. Some students forced their colleges to abandon sweatshops when purchasing regalia, and even to pay a living wage.

    But the Democratic Party’s choice to go on the defensive after 1981 influenced many progressives who believed that mainstream Democrats are smart strategists. Even though defensive Democrats steadily lost previous gains and moved to the political right, many grassroots activists seemed to accept that reactivity is strategically correct. After all, the Democrats’ top leader, Nancy Pelosi, announced in January that her first priority would be defending Obamacare. Now she has joined a different defense: the traditional procedures of governance.

    Given this descent of political culture into reactivity, perhaps it’s not surprising that nonviolent direct action campaigning got lost as a strategic option even for many people who identify themselves as activists.

    How can we re-take the offensive?

    Campaigns are perfect for turning away from defensive fights and moving back into what works: Going on the offensive by framing an issue into a demand, choosing a decider, planning a series of actions then escalating and growing. The issue can be local, regional, national, highly ambitious in its demand or less so. We get to choose — it’s an existential move of empowerment.

    Direct action campaigns provide the power that can drive successful movements to grow and win bigger goals than each individual campaign focuses on.

    Workers can teach us. Despite being battered by the elite counter-offensive launched four decades ago, they have not forgotten what a nonviolent direct action campaign is. When, in 2018, the leadership of the West Virginia teachers resisted going on the offensive, the members forced a strike vote and the majority chose to strike — and won. Feeling inspired, teachers in multiple other states and cities went on strike (one form of the nonviolent direct action campaign), often winning, followed by the United Auto Workers taking on the giant General Motors Corporation and winning.

    In a St. Petersburg, Florida, Quaker Meetinghouse a woman came to me eagerly during the break or a workshop I was leading and told me she had helped to organize a strike as a labor organizer. “It was hard work, very hard, but it was so inspiring — all that solidarity, taking that risk to win! It was,” she said, eyes shining, “the greatest experience in my life.”

    A new workshop is available to welcome people into campaigning

    Direct action campaigns provide the power that can drive successful movements to grow and win bigger goals than each individual campaign focuses on. In this way, more macro-level changes can result from multiple campaigns combining, as happened in the movement against nuclear power and when the multiple divestment campaigns against apartheid resulted in a major power shift in South Africa. I’m eager to build on this dynamic and create a narrative in which multiple campaigns power multiple movements, which combine to reach a scale where the economic elite can be removed from dominance.

    Previous Coverage
  • What the US can learn from Scandinavia in the struggle against inequality
  • That’s the organic path that began to unfold in the United States in the 1930s and then again in the 1960s and ’70s, both times scaring the 1 percent considerably. In the Nordic countries, the same path unfolded under more favorable conditions, and they were able to move from multiple campaigns powering multiple movements to a movement of movements that could force out their economic elites. (Without that happening, there would have been no “Nordic economic model” of democratic socialism.)

    Because the stakes are so high at this political moment in the United States, I decided to create a short workshop that invites people into the world of strategic nonviolent campaigning, which I call the “How We Win Workshop.” I believe that activists can recover lost knowledge, namely: that we can strategically assert power in the face of state repression and right-wing violence against us, and win.

    In less than half a day participants learn how the rapid flow of events in the U.S. life now favors direct action campaigns, and how those campaigns can build movements on such a scale that we can contest for power on a national level.

    After I led a series on workshops on both coasts and the Midwest, I realized that many more people, ranging from college students to elders, are eager for the workshop than I can reach. I’ve begun a train-the-trainer process so other experienced facilitators can lead this workshop.

    If your organization, after discussion, wants to bring the How We Win Workshop to your area, reach out in the comments or contact me through this site.

    What happened when Chile woke up

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    It has been a month since Chileans took to the streets in a surprising and mostly nonviolent uprising that changed the country’s political agenda and shattered its image as Latin America’s most successful and stable economy. “Chile woke up” is how many describe what has happened. But the awakening has not been free from nightmares that cloud the streets and minds of Chileans, which are compounded by the memory of the 17-year-long Pinochet dictatorship that ended in 1990.

    “I studied during the dictatorship, and I have seen things I never saw then,” said Enrique Morales, president of the human rights department of the Chilean Medical Association, in a recent television interview. “Policemen firing inside a girls’ high school, I never saw that. Never 210 people losing their eyesight because of police shotguns.”

    On the other hand, never in recent history have Chileans witnessed such widespread looting and urban fires, which have mainly affected big supermarkets, banks and pharmaceutical chains, but also small businesses. At least 100,000 jobs are expected to be lost as a result of the protests and millions of dollars will have to be invested to fix damages.

    Other damages are irreversible, such as those inflicted on the more than 200 people who have suffered eye injuries and partial blindness as a result of the police firing birdshot from riot shotguns. Or the hundreds, if not thousands, who have been badly beaten, tortured or raped by the police forces. According to the governmental National Human Rights Institute, or INDH, between Oct. 17 (when widespread protests began) and Nov. 10, 5,629 people had been arrested and 2,009 treated for injuries in hospitals — among them 197 with eye injuries (which has since increased to 222). The institute has filed 384 legal actions mostly against the police, among them 273 for torture and cruel treatment and 66 for sexual violence.

    A protester next to poster that shows the faces of the people killed during the widespread demonstrations that have shocked Chile. (WNV/Alconda Opaso)

    These figures could indeed be much higher. INDH Executive Director Sergio Micco said that many people were afraid to denounce arrests and police abuse. In its regular public reports, the INDH is not detailing the number of people whose whereabouts are unknown. They also have stopped reporting the number of people who have died as a result of the protests. In the first two weeks, 23 protesters were killed, five of them victims of police forces and the army, and the rest, government sources claim, were burned to death in lootings. But, according to sources at the coroner’s office, at least one of the bodies was found to have three bullet wounds.

    Counting the dead is not an easy task. The INDH had to formally ask the coroner’s office to detail the exact number of deaths. And at the coroner’s office, Aleida Kulikoff, a high ranking employee was fired after allegedly demanding more through autopsies for the burned corpses.

    Despite the horrific violence and uncertainties, people not only continue taking to the streets, but have organized thousands of cabildos, or assemblies of neighbors, that are asking themselves about the root causes of the uprising and what people can do about it. Close to 10,000 assemblies are said to have been held across the country. They exist not only in poor neighborhoods, such as Yungay, near downtown Santiago, where neighbors have assemblies every day and also organize first aid workshops and food kitchens, but also in Vitacura, one of Santiago’s most affluent neighborhoods. 

    30 years, not only 30 pesos

    It all began the third week of October when — after a 30 pesos hike in subway fares — high school students called for massive civil disobedience and refused to pay. What started with hundreds of students jumping over the subway gates grew to thousands, as adults began to join. On Oct. 18, a massive protest resulted in the burning of dozens of subway stations. The following day President Sebastián Piñera declared a state of emergency and ordered the armed forces to patrol the streets. But in a country that survived the Pinochet dictatorship that resulted in 3,600 dead and close to a thousand “disappeared,” protesters were not deterred. 

    A couple of days later, more than a million people gathered in Baquedano Square, in the largest demonstration seen in decades. Unidad Social, or Social Unity, a wide coalition of trade unions, human rights, student, environmental and women’s groups has helped organize the protests. For Mario Aguilar, national president of the powerful National Teachers Union — which is also one of the professional associations that is part of Social Unity — a wonderful change has taken place in Chile.

    Mario Aguilar, national president of the Chilean Teachers Association and leader of Social Unity at his office in Santiago, Nov. 9. (WNV/Cristian Opaso)

    “The most extraordinary thing is the main slogan that people shout in the streets: Chile woke up,” Aguilar said. “I think we were a people that were numbed in a big way by a model that enslaved us, that chained us to a lifestyle that, despite us not liking, we could not free ourselves from. Chile woke up and suddenly realized that it was indeed possible to change things, that together we were a mighty force, that the one next to me had the same problem.”

    On Nov. 10, Aguilar burst into tears while being interviewed live on national television at the entrance to the Santa Maria Clinic after visiting Gustavo Gatica, a 21-year-old student who was blinded by birdshot fired a police shotgun while taking photographs. “This is criminal … They are mutilating our youngsters; they are on purpose firing towards youngsters’ faces,” Aguilar said. “I ask Piñera to stop the war against the people of Chile.”

    Despite police violence, Aguilar and many others continue taking to the streets. On Nov. 12, Unidad Social called for a national strike and close to two million Chileans protested. Many governmental offices, and some ports and copper mines, joined the strike. The Baquedano Square, now known as Dignity Square, was again the scene of massive gatherings and an old university building and a church were set on fire. 

    Television, as usual, provided extensive coverage not of the largely nonviolent protests, but of the fires and confrontations between the police and protesters, and on the following day interviewed neighbors whose shops or homes were looted. 

    Previous Coverage
  • Chileans mobilize to replace a constitution written by a military dictatorship
  • Piñera has refused to resign, but nevertheless has offered a package of economic reforms to raise the minimum wage, lower medicine prices and raise some taxes. He recently conceded to drafting a new constitution and even having people choose all the delegates. The date for this process to begin has been set for April of next year. 

    On Nov. 15, exhausted members of the Chilean congress announced an “Agreement for Peace and a New Constitution.” Nonetheless, that evening 29-year-old Abel Acuña died at Dignity Square after police attacked an ambulance with water cannons and tear gas, preventing medical personnel from reanimating Acuña, who had suffered a heart attack. Since the announcement of the agreement the number of protesters has diminished, but street actions and assemblies continue in major cities across Chile.

    For the protesters, these concessions are not enough. People are demanding not only a constitutional assembly, with widespread popular participation to replace the present constitution, which was imposed by Pinochet in 1980 and only superficially reformed in later years. They are also demanding truth and justice for the human rights violations that have taken place and more drastic measures to increase pensions and wages.

    Building internal barricades

    Gustavo Gatica’s mother is encouraging people to continue with their actions. While she said in a message to fellow teachers that she is destroyed, she thanked people for their support and asked that people not give up. She also relayed a message from Gustavo: “I sacrificed my eyes, so that people would wake up.”

    The cruel blinding of Gustavo and so many others has no doubt provoked fear, but, as Aguilar says, fear can be overcome. “One has to pay attention to oneself,” he explained. “Don’t let fear paralyze you. Fear is there, but we have to have hope to defeat fear. That is what’s happening in the streets still. I hope it remains.” 

    Among the myriad number of groups organizing actions is the Visual Artists and Friends of Cultures Collective. Organized last year by a handful of female artists — who had met as art students at the University of Concepción in southern Chile — the collective carried out its first artistic action in remembrance of Camilo Catrillanca, a leader of the indigenous Mapuche population who was shot by police exactly a year ago. 

    An artists collective gathered at German Fountain, next to Dignity Square, holding sign that says “We lost an eye due to those that refuse to See” on Nov. 8. (WNV/Cristian Opaso)

    Recently they organized two actions related to the people who have been blinded by police violence. The first took place at the entrance to the Fine Arts Museum of Santiago on Nov. 3, where members of the group each covered one of their eyes — as well as one on a statue — and held a sign that read, “We lost an eye because of those that refuse to see.” They also repeatedly chanted other slogans, such as “Even if we lose our eyes, we see more than those in power,” and “Chile woke up, now let’s open our eyes.” Days later, during another massive protest at Dignity Square, they silently held their sign among the thousands who had gathered nearby.

    Alconda Gonzalez, a member of the collective is also a high school teacher in the Independencia neighborhood. She has attended recent self-organized assemblies that were held in the affluent Vitacura neighborhood. On Nov. 3, close to 30 people gathered at noon for an assembly, very close to where U.N. buildings are located, to share feelings and ideas.

    “We are not armed. Our arms are justice and dignity and against that phenomena arms can do nothing.”

    Gonzalez spoke of the importance of supporting young people who are fighting in the streets, sometimes behind barricades. Another person spoke about the need to continue with “internal barricades,” with the inner strength and inspiration to continue until real change takes place.

    Contrary to what one would expect from affluent citizens, people were concerned not so much with violence against property, but with “structural violence.” Another person noted that “there is something different now — the economic model and also representative democracy are being questioned.”

    “I feel I have to contribute with something,” said a woman who confessed that she had been crying all morning. Others added that they had to “humanize dialogue” and “strengthen the non-virtual social fabric.”

    Those human bonds are also one of the priorities that has emerged at Achawal Waru, a squat house in the Yungay sector of Santiago. Occupied for about four years, the house has offered workshops on first aid, developed a protocol for self-protection and has helped coordinate alternative journalists covering Chilean events from several countries.

    Lissette Vidal Carmona, with her partner Sergio Lillo and their 2-year-old son Kunturi outside their squat house in the Yungay neighborhood of Santiago. (WNV/Cristian Opaso)

    Lissette Vidal Carmona lives there with her partner and Kunturi, her 2-year-old son. “That shit, firing shotguns at the eyes of people, that is fear,” she said. “They are provoking fear so that you don’t go out. But we are not armed. Our arms are justice and dignity and against that phenomena arms can do nothing. What are they going to do?”

    She believes there are different spaces and roles for people to play in the movement. “There are men and women to fight in the streets. Others are organizing like us, in a trench that is a communal space” she explained, adding how important mutual support is these days. “It is important to caress each other, let others know how much we love them, how important we are. Never has it made more sense to say: Please take care of yourself. Give me a call.”

    Despite uncertain future, Lebanon’s uprising remains united against political elite

    Holding a megaphone, a women chants to the crowds gathered at Martyrs’ Square in the middle of central Beirut, “We are the revolution of the people, you are the civil war!” The people, filling up the entire square and streets leading up to Lebanon’s parliament, repeat the words in unison. “You are the civil war,” they chant, “we are the revolution.”

    It is an afternoon in early November, more than three weeks since the uprising against political corruption began in mid-October. Unlike previous protest movements in the small Mediterranean nation, demonstrations have spread to all parts of the country, including small towns and villages, and are targeting the entire Lebanese political elite.

    “All of them, and we mean all of them!” the protesters chant, sparing no one.

    Like each day, it is a diverse crowd that has gathered in the square. Parents have arrived with their children, young people with their friends. In their hands are posters with handwritten slogans or jokes, each smarter than the other.

    “We are missing our lessons to teach you one,” one student’s poster says.

    “We are not here to study history, we are here to write it,” says another.

    More than ever before, youth have come to form an important part of the movement. University students have led sit-ins and strikes; school children have articulated the most clear-sighted demands and critiques. Just like the uprising as a whole, the students do not have a unified leader. Many have organized on their own, or through university student groups.

    When schools were closed due to the protests, teachers held lessons at the sit-in in Beirut. (WNV/Jenny Gustafsson)

    A bit further away on the square, loudspeakers blast an electronic version of “The people want the regime to fall,” the slogan familiar from the Arab Spring.

    But Lebanon is different. There is no absolute ruler to be toppled, no dictatorship to be brought to an end. The country, at least on paper, has some features of a democracy — an elected government, even if many politicians are former warlords, a partly free media and a deeply rooted tradition of free speech.

    What remains is a long list of failures, which is what brought people out into the streets. There is record-high inequality (Lebanon has one of the highest rates of billionaires in a population), terrible infrastructure (the electricity cuts out daily, and despite rich rainfalls, water is in constant shortage), the looming ecological crisis (manifest most blatantly in the garbage crisis of 2015, when trash was left in the streets for weeks) and an ongoing, yet-to-be-resolved economic emergency.

    “We are in the streets because we have nothing in this country. There’s no welfare, zero. And everyone is affected.”

    The blame for all of this, say the protesters, is on the political class, which has managed, successfully and uninterrupted, to stay in power since the days of the 1975-1990 civil war, ruling through extended networks of patronage.

    The formula for ruling, since Lebanon’s foundation as a state, has been to distribute power along religious lines (the country has 18 recognized religious groups). But it has been a formula for division, not unity.

    “The sects have been hijacked by the politicians, and people have become hostages to their sects. This sectarian system will never be able to function,” said Lamia Osseiran, a long-time civil activist.

    She has been out in the streets every day since the uprising began, as have her daughters and most of her friends.

    What initially sparked the protests may seem insignificant — a tax on WhatsApp, announced as an attempt to get desperately needed funds to stave off some of the effects of the financial crisis. But to millions of Lebanese, for whom this is the only affordable way of calling, it showed just how out of touch politicians are.

    “We are in the streets because we have nothing in this country,” said Hussein Ghandour, a recent graduate. “There’s no welfare, zero. And everyone is affected. My mum has a gastric disease and is struggling all the time to get care.”

    He is standing behind a table at Martyrs’ Square, set up by an organization called Nahnoo, working on public space issues. Since the protests began, the entire area has seen a transformation. From being a privately owned and expensive part of the city, it has come — if momentarily — into the hands of the people.

    Volunteers go in the early mornings to sort and recycle garbage from the night before. Street vendors, who are normally not allowed into the square, arrive at nightfall with sweets and snacks. One afternoon, a group of people brought plants from the mountains, and planted them in holes in the concrete.

    Children walking through the main square in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second-largest city and one of the main centers of demonstrations. (WNV/Jenny Gustafsson)

    Tripoli, the second-largest city in Lebanon, has been transformed in a similar way. The central Nour Square (which despite its name is a busy roundabout) is filled with people each evening. The big building overlooking the area, previously cement grey, has been painted like a gigantic Lebanese flag. A group of women chop onions for a free communal meal; members of the youth-led volunteer group “Guardians of the City” walk around talking to people, offering help to those who might need it.

    In both cities, debates and open mics are held daily. People gather to discuss tactics and goals, share personal stories, and speak about what kind of country they want in the future.

    “We don’t know what government will come after this one falls, but power must always rest with the people,” said a woman who introduces herself as Rayan.

    Each night, in unison, people loudly beat pans with spoons from their kitchens. The message: we have nothing to put in our pots.

    But the path ahead is far from straight. Political divisions, kept in place by the sectarian system, run deep in the country, and are not easily overcome. In the face of a mostly absent state and non-existing welfare system, people are left with few options but to rely on the sectarian leaders.

    Leaders from across the political spectrum have tried to play things to their own advantage. Parties like the Kataeb and Lebanese Forces went down to join the protests — to the outrage of activists, who do not want to their revolution to be hijacked. Supporters of opposing parties, Amal and Hezbollah, intimidated and confronted demonstrators, and destroyed the tents on Martyrs’ Square.

    After two weeks of demonstrations, Prime Minister Saad Hariri came out with his resignation, leaving the country without a sitting government. But few saw this as a victory for the protesters.

    A feminist demonstration marching through the streets of Beirut. (WNV/Jenny Gustafsson)

    “He was the low-hanging fruit who was likely to resign,” political analyst Rami Khouri said to Al-Jazeera.

    It did not end the uprising either. Schools may have reopened — as have banks, amidst talks of collapse and bankruptcy — but sit-ins and demonstrations are organized daily. People take aim at symbolic institutions like the Central Bank and the state-owned electricity company, or hotels built on formerly public land.

    Across the country, at 8 p.m. each night, people beat loudly, in unison, with spoons on pans from their kitchens. The message: We have nothing to put in our pots.

    People’s demands have not changed after Hariri’s resignation. The movement, which remains broad and with no unified leadership, continues calling for an end to political corruption, the establishment of a civil state, economic reforms and social justice.

    On the evening of Nov. 12, President Michel Aoun delivered a pre-recorded speech. Midway through, he said that if people “aren’t satisfied with any of the decent leaders then let them immigrate.” Immediately, crowds took to the streets, closing off roads with burning tires. Later that night, a father of three, Alaa Abou Fakher, was shot to death by an army member in front of his wife and child.

    Few people can say where things are headed, whether there will be any real, significant change. Not everyone is optimistic. But one thing is clear, one transformation has already happened.

    “We have never seen people united like this before. Not even before the war, nor at any time in our history,” Osseiran said. “I think no one expected it to happen so soon and in such a massive way.”

    Fifteen-year-old Aya addresses the crowd in Beirut. (WNV/Jenny Gustafsson)

    At the open mic, in a corner of the expensive shopping district bordering Martyrs’ Square — which before the uprising was scarce of people and is now teeming with life in the evenings — a 15-year-old student named Aya has gone up to speak.

    “We learned about Lebanon in school, but I never learned so much about my country as now,” she said to the crowd. “It is the first time that I feel proud of being Lebanese. And the first time I feel like I want to stay here to make things better, not leave.”

    How the spirit of the indigenous occupation of Alcatraz lives on, 50 years later

    For most people, Alcatraz Island is nothing more than a San Francisco tourist destination — home to the infamous penitentiary and Al Capone’s jail cell. But for Kris Longoria, who prefers to be known by her artist name, UrbanRezLife, Alcatraz Island is home. 

    From 1969 to 1971, when UrbanRezLife was eight years old, she and her family were among a group of nearly a hundred indigenous activists who occupied the island, protesting treaty violations and boldly demanding sovereignty. Eventually, the occupation was forcibly ended by the U.S. government — but not before awakening the American public, igniting indigenous activism nationwide, and directly affecting federal policy. 

    Fifty years later, the island is where UrbanRezLife goes to be by herself, reflect and even weep. “Alcatraz is my rez,” she said, shorthand for reservation. “I love Alcatraz with all my heart. It changed all of our lives — you can’t leave that space without taking it with you.”

    “The spark that started the fire”

    The seeds for the Alcatraz occupation were planted over a decade before the activists stepped foot on the island. In 1956, the Indian Relocation Act — a law designed to encourage indigenous people to leave reservations and their traditional lands with the goal of assimilating them into urban areas — was passed. 

    Two boys in the main cell block on May 30, 1970. (Copyright Ilka Hartmann)

    The Indian Relocation Act was one of many “Indian termination policies” which sought to end the U.S. government’s recognition of tribe sovereignty, forcing indigenous people to become tax paying citizens that were subject to state and federal laws.

    The urban migration as a result of the policy played a critical role in the forced termination of many federally-recognized tribes, and often left participants struggling to adjust to life in cities where they faced unemployment, discrimination and severance from their culture.

    Because of the Indian Relocation Act, the population of Native Americans in cities like San Francisco skyrocketed. By the late 1960s, many participants in the relocation program, especially students from the Bay area, had begun organizing across tribal lines, championing “Red Power” and fighting for self-determination.

    “Alcatraz shouldn’t be viewed as a singular event, but as part of a wider activism,” said Herb Butler, a native Alaskan activist who lived on the island during the occupation. “The relocation program allowed [American Indians] to compare notes on what was happening on a nationwide scale, so they could organize and start the movement.”

    Belva Cottier and a young Chicano man during the Occupation of Alcatraz Island, May 30, 1970. (Copyright Ilka Hartmann)

    The final impetus for the occupation took place in October 1969, when a fire destroyed the San Francisco Indian Center. The center had been at the heart of the urban indigenous community, providing them with jobs, health care and a haven to hold pow wows in peace. The loss of the Indian Center was devastating, but it was also what UrbanRezLife calls “the spark that started the fire.”

    “We hold The Rock”

    Before dawn on November 20, 1969, a boat carrying nearly 80 indigenous activists arrived on the chilly shores of Alcatraz. The island, which is 22 acres and only 1.5 miles from San Francisco, had once been reserved for housing infamous criminals. However, it hadn’t been touched since it was shut down in 1963 — making it the perfect location for a new Indian cultural center. To justify reclaiming Alcatraz, the activists cited the Treaty of Fort Laramie, an 1868 agreement between the United States and the Sioux stating that all abandoned federal land was to be returned to native people.

    Upon their arrival, activists wrote in bold red letters across the water tower: “Peace and Freedom. Welcome. Home of the Free Indian Land.”

    The Proclamation was a humorous tongue-in-cheek statement by the local Bay Area Indian community stating why the poor conditions of the island were perfectly suitable for Indians. (Copyright Ilka Hartmann)

    The group called themselves “Indians of All Tribes.” Their first official proclamation to the public was a manifesto addressed to the “The Great White Father and All His People.” In it, the activists claimed that though Alcatraz was theirs by “right of discovery,” they were also willing to buy it for $24 in glass beads and red cloth — the same price their people supposedly received for the island of Manhattan. 

    The dissidents went on to declare that they didn’t mind that Alcatraz was lacking in freshwater and completely devoid of opportunities. If anything, this would make the island “more than suitable for an Indian reservation, by the white man’s own standards.”

    The radical, inventive and tongue-in-cheek tactics of the Alcatraz occupiers immediately captivated the media, enabling the movement to garner donations from across the country. Celebrity supporters included Jane Fonda, Marlon Brando and the rock band Creedence Clearwater Revival, whose donation was used to purchase a boat for transporting supplies.

    Michael Leach (Sioux) on the boat to Alcatraz in March 1970. (Copyright Ilka Hartmann)

    During the 19-month occupation, the activists slept in the warden’s quarters and in empty prison cells. They wasted no time in electing civil officers, setting up an infirmary, and instituting a school. The activists also established a security force to patrol the shoreline, pointedly dubbed the “Bureau of Caucasian Affairs” (a play on the widely-despised Bureau of Indian Affairs). One of the occupants, a Sioux activist named John Trudell, began broadcasting radio updates on an underground station called “Radio Free Alcatraz.”

    At the height of the occupation, there were nearly 400 people protesting on the island. For most activists living on Alcatraz, the occupation was about more than simply getting their demands met — it was about publicly reclaiming their heritage and holding the federal government accountable for the first time in history. “At that point, our people were like, ‘Oh, we can fight. We can fight openly, we don’t have to be behind any kind of closed doors and be silent,’” UrbanRezLife said.

    Before the occupation, UrbanRezLife’s childhood was spent attending Black Panther meetings in San Francisco and marching in protests. Because she grew up before the Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 was passed, she also has vivid memories of her family practicing tribal ceremonies in secret. “We were doing all of these things in the community, but I didn’t feel proud until we went to Alcatraz,” she said. “It was then that I figured out I was Red. I was Indian.” 

    The end of the occupation

    In January 1970, tragedy befell the island when 13-year-old Yvonne Oakes fell down a staircase to her death. Shaken by the loss of his daughter, the movement’s frontman, a Mohawk activist named Richard Oakes, left Alcatraz to mourn. (Two years later, when he was only 30 years old, Oakes was murdered in an altercation with a white supremacist. Though Oakes was unarmed, his killer was acquitted by the jury.)

    As the months wore on, the occupation’s numbers began to dwindle. Many of the original occupiers left to return to school, and the island was rapidly becoming overrun by hippies and drug abusers. In an effort to force the occupiers to return to the mainland, the federal government cut off all electrical power and telephone services. Shortly after, several buildings caught fire.

    On June 11, 1971, the occupation was forcibly ended when three Coast Guard cutters containing 20 armed marshals arrived on the island. The 15 remaining activists on the island surrendered peacefully.

    Indigenous occupiers giving the Red Power salute moments after the removal from Alcatraz Island on June 11, 1971. (Copyright Ilka Hartmann)

    Indians of All Tribes didn’t achieve their goal of permanently seizing Alcatraz, but the movement did have a lasting effect on federal policy. In July 1970, President Richard Nixon officially rejected Indian termination policies, including the Indian Relocation Act, and called for Congress to pass a bill authorizing the return of sacred land to the Taos Pueblo Indians. A series of bills followed, all in favor of self-determination and ending government-sanctioned assimilation.

    The fight continues

    Fifty years later, the Alcatraz occupation remains a beacon of hope for the indigenous community. “Alcatraz was the start of it all,” UrbanRezLife said. “It opened the doors for our people.” 

    For Butler, the occupation was an opportunity for him and his people “to become leaders of their own destiny.” Today, Butler is 76 years old — and still regularly meets with members of Congress to advocate for Alaska natives. “Those of us that remain alive from the movement are now elders and are teaching the young,” he said. “We’re advisors across the nation. That’s a result of the movement.”

    Half a century later, there remains a lot of work to be done. Across the United States, violence against Native women has reached staggering rates. Recently, nine states approved legislation that would effectively outlaw demonstrations near pipelines, a measure which would make it easier for the government to target indigenous activists defending their land. And of course, there remains the issues of treaties, many of which continue to be broken or only partially lived up to by the U.S. government.

    And yet the spirit of Alcatraz lives on.

    UrbanRezLife standing in front of the iconic “Red Power” graffiti at Alcatraz, which she helped to restore a few years ago, in 2019. (WNV/Natassja Trujillo)

    Today, UrbanRezLife is a community activist and artist living in San Francisco. She is still teaching herself not to let anyone diminish her story. “As a child, I was surrounded by people who were doing the most beautiful work,” UrbanRezLife said. “They taught me to always be there for your people. Even if all you can do is be the person to make the coffee — be that person. There’s no role too small.”

    Ever since 1975, several thousand indigenous people have gathered on Alcatraz each year for Unthanksgiving Day, a ceremony that commemmorates the occupation while celebrating indigenous survival in the face of colonization and genocide. 

    In 2016, protests erupted at the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota, due to a proposed pipeline that would corrupt the water and cross ancient Sioux burial grounds. Many veterans of the Alcatraz occupation traveled across the country to show their support. Among them was UrbanRezLife, who found herself overwhelmed by “the beauty of being a part of something from the beginning.” 

    “When I was a kid, I watched the ancestors fighting for treaties and land, and the sovereignty of our nation,” she said, struggling to hold back tears. “Now here we are, all these years later. We’re still fighting — but we’re fighting stronger than we fought before.”

    How anti-Vietnam War protests thwarted Nixon’s plans and saved lives

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    “Demonstrations don’t work.” Next time you hear someone (or yourself) say that, you might consider the Moratorium and Mobilization demonstrations in the fall of 1969 — both commemorating their 50th anniversaries this year.

    On Oct.15, 1969, more than two million citizens took part in the Moratorium — a one-day national strike against the war. In hundreds of cities, towns and campuses throughout the country, people from all walks of life took the day off to march, rally, vigil or engage in teach-ins. Until the Women’s March of 2017, the Moratorium held the title as the biggest nationwide demonstration in American history.

    Exactly a month later, on Nov. 15, more than a half-million war opponents flooded the nation’s capital for the Mobilization. That was more than double the number of marchers who participated in the famous 1963 March on Washington led by Martin Luther King, Jr. More than 100,000 rallied in a simultaneous antiwar demonstration in San Francisco.

    It’s not just the enormous size of these antiwar protests that make them worth recalling. I was on the staff of the coalition that organized the Mobilization action. Though none of us involved knew it then, these demonstrations foiled Richard Nixon’s plans to dramatically escalate the war.

    At the time, I was delighted with the massive turnouts. I’d been working full-time as an antiwar organizer for the previous two years and would continue doing so for four more. I believed the antiwar movement was making progress as more and more people from an ever-broadening cross-section of the public were joining the actions. It seemed the tide of public opinion was shifting in our favor.

    But was the dissent having any impact on the warmakers? After all, the war was continuing to send both Americans and Vietnamese to early graves every day. I sometimes wondered whether the peace movement was no more than a side show. The government always pooh-poohed our influence. Nixon even claimed to have watched a football game while a half-million of us marched and rallied within earshot of the White House.

    Few could have predicted earlier in the year that the peace movement would have launched such massive protests. When Nixon entered the Oval Office in January, the national peace movement was in disarray. It’s well worth telling the story of how the movement transformed itself over the ensuing months. It certainly illustrates why it’s so crucial for mass protests to be creatively nonviolent.

    Fewer than 10,000 people showed up for “Counter-Inaugural” actions, which were held Washington, D.C. when Nixon took office. It was sponsored by the Mobilization coalition that had called other national demonstrations. (The two coalition protests in 1967 each drew more than 10 times that number). And the Counter-Inaugurals were widely considered a flop. The most publicized actions were minor street skirmishes between the police and small bands of protesters, some of whom threw objects at Nixon’s car as it made its way down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House.

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    Even before the Counter-Inaugurals, the Mobilization’s leadership had little credibility. Opponents of the war were wary of a repeat of the violence that occurred the previous summer at the Chicago Democratic Convention. The Chicago demonstrations had also failed to attract more than 10,000 in part because of the violent rhetoric and provocative statements made by Mobilization leaders. At one point, Tom Hayden exhorted a crowd: “Make sure that if blood is going to flow, let it flow all over the city.”

    Most antiwarriors understood that Mayor Richard Daly and the Chicago police were responsible for the violence, not the protesters. (A government commission called it a “police riot.”) Still, it’s hard to recruit large numbers of people to an event where you think you might get your head bashed in. And the Mobilization leadership had done little either in Chicago or at the Counter-Inaugural to dissuade those within the antiwar movement who spouted violent rhetoric (“Off the pig” was a favorite chant) or advocated violent tactics.

    During the first months of the new administration, some antiwarriors were willing to give the new president the benefit of the doubt to see whether he would become the “peacemaker” he so eloquently proclaimed in his inaugural address. Believing in his powers of persuasion, Nixon’s aide Henry Kissinger met with a group from the major antiwar religious coalition to urge patience. His effort backfired. Two weeks later, the group announced a series of demonstrations in the spring, as did other antiwar groups who had concluded that Nixon — like his predecessor, Lyndon Johnson — hoped to win a military victory despite his talk of turning responsibility for the war over to the South Vietnamese, as well as enacting token troop withdrawals.

    Kissinger had the same luck several weeks later with a group of student leaders. They represented more than 250 student body presidents and college newspaper editors who had signed a petition saying they would refuse to be drafted into the military. Meeting in the Situation Room in the basement of the White House, Kissinger gave his spiel about patience. It did not go over well with students who faced being drafted and possibly being sent to prison or Vietnam while Nixon and Kissinger were patiently trying to achieve “peace with honor.” After Kissinger left the room, John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s senior aide, told the group, “If you people think you can break laws just because you don’t like them, you’re going to force us to up the ante to the point we’re handing out death sentences for traffic violations.” He slammed his hand on the table and the meeting was over.

    Leaders of the student group soon organized the Vietnam Moratorium Committee and called for people to stop work or school on Oct. 15 to protest the war. They intentionally picked the word “moratorium” rather than “general strike” to appeal to a broad cross-section of the public, especially those who’d never previously taken to the streets. Leaders of the Moratorium saw the potential for enlarging the movement after having worked on the 1968 electoral campaign of antiwar candidate Eugene McCarthy. They urged people to protest in their own communities with the Moratorium functioning as a clearinghouse to support local groups.

    Meanwhile, a newly formed coalition emerged with a wide spectrum of community, religious, professional, labor, political and student groups. Called the New Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, its organizers went to great lengths to eliminate the violent rhetoric and confrontational street tactics that had marred previous coalition actions.

    The Mobilization called for major rallies in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco for Nov. 15. To set a peaceful tone, they added a solemn two-day March Against Death immediately prior to the mass rally in Washington. The plan was to march from Arlington Cemetery to the Capitol via the White House with marchers holding placards with the name of a U.S. soldier who’d been killed in the war or the name of a Vietnamese village that had been destroyed.

    Earlier that spring, some local groups had adopted the tactic of reading the names of the war dead in front of government buildings. The tactic served to remind the public that the war was not over, that the killing was continuing. The tactic got national network coverage when a group of Quakers did it on the steps of the capitol and were joined by a handful of Congresspeople. Because it was then illegal to demonstrate on the Capitol grounds, the demonstrators were hauled off to jail, but the representatives could not be arrested because of congressional immunity. (The Quakers successfully challenged their arrests, and a judge found in their favor — making it legal to exercise one’s First Amendment rights at the Capitol.)

    While antiwarriors were making plans for the fall, Nixon had initiated what he called his “Madman Theory,” which involved threatening the other side with massive destruction if they didn’t agree to his peace terms. The president gave the communists a deadline of Nov. 1 to agree to the American peace terms or face “measures of great consequence and force” and had his aides imply that the fervently anti-Communist president could be unpredictable or even act irrationally if angry.

    Nixon then had the Pentagon and his National Security Council led by Kissinger draw up plans to deliver a “savage, decisive blow” against North Vietnam because, in Kissinger’s words, “I refuse to believe that a little fourth-rate power like North Vietnam doesn’t have a breaking point.” Plans included bombing the country’s dikes — which could have killed tens of thousands of civilians — as well as dropping so-called tactical nuclear bombs near the Chinese border, which could have provoked the nuclear-armed Chinese or Soviets to retaliate.

    Unfortunately for Nixon, his ultimatum date of Nov. 1 was sandwiched between the dates for two antiwar demonstrations. When Nixon learned from CIA infiltrators that the Moratorium was “shaping up to be the most widely-supported public action in American history,” he saw trouble ahead. As Nixon later wrote, he saw that “the only chance for my ultimatum to succeed was to convince the Communists that I could depend on solid support at home if they decided to call my bluff.”

    “Solid support at home” was not forthcoming. The size and breadth of both the October and November protests surpassed the organizers’ most grandiose expectations. Reading the names of the war dead was used extensively during the Moratorium protests. And the March Against Death drew more than 45,000 protesters who walked single file along the four-mile route with their candles and placards for 36 hours.

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    The Mobilization also attempted to create a highly disciplined action by recruiting and training more than 4,000 marshals to keep order. Their one-and-a-half nonviolent training sessions included several role-playing scenarios about how to deal with potential disrupters, whether police, agents provocateurs or radical activists. (The latter was a major concern, as Bill Ayers of the newly formed Weatherman faction tried to extort $20,000 from demonstration leaders in exchange for agreeing not to disrupt the action. He was turned down.)

    As a result of the demonstrations, Nixon cancelled his war plans. He wrote in his memoirs that the protests had “undercut the credibility of the ultimatum.” Several other researchers have verified that in this instance at least, “Tricky Dick” (as he was then called), had told the truth.

    What about Nixon’s claim to have ignored the Nov. 15 Mobilization? “Untrue,” according to Daniel Ellsberg, who was then working for the Nixon administration: “Every 10 minutes he [Nixon] was calling the Situation Room and finding out what was going on, getting the reports from the U-2s on crowd size… He was totally absorbed.”

    Of course, the fall 1969 demonstrations did not end the war. It was one battle in a 10-year nonviolent struggle that ultimately helped to stop the bloodshed in Indochina. Admiral Thomas Moorer, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Nixon administration, acknowledged that the government always was concerned about how the antiwar movement would react. He said that the movement “served to inhibit and restrain the decision makers… both in the executive and legislative branches of the government.”

    It’s worth reflecting on the implication of Admiral Moorer’s statement. To “inhibit and restrain” warmakers in wartime meant less violence. Put another way, the anti-Vietnam War movement saved lives.

    Sadly, few of us who were involved in American’s largest nonviolent struggle knew then or know today that we had such power. At the time, we knew opposing the Vietnam War was the right thing to do. But it sure helps to realize that it made a real difference to have marched and rallied, petitioned and lobbied, sat through countless meetings and engaged in civil disobedience.

    Hopefully, those involved in today’s struggles will find some helpful lessons from our experiences.

    It’s not just ‘coal country’ — what the history of women’s labor reveals about Appalachia

    After the 2016 presidential election, many people in the United States sought to understand the rise of Trump through stories of rural America. Books like “Hillbilly Elegy” and “Strangers in Their Own Land” examined conservative communities as a way to explain the rise in right-wing politics.

    But for historian Jessie Wilkerson, who grew up in eastern Tennessee, there is something important missing from the stories that gained a spotlight after Donald Trump’s election. Wilkerson studies women’s history, particularly the role women have played in social movements in the south and Appalachia. These stories, she has found, shed light on the many myths of “coal country,” including the assumptions that Appalachia is exclusively white and staunchly conservative.

    In her recently-released book, “To Live Here You Have to Fight,” Wilkerson tells the stories of several women who led a range of locally-rooted movements during the 20th century — from welfare rights to community health to anti-poverty. She tells of the repression these movements faced, as well as their lasting contributions to the wellbeing of Appalachian communities.

    I interviewed Wilkerson about the significance of documenting these little-known stories of women-led movements in Appalachia, and the way this history can reshape our understanding of the region today.

    Why did you choose to research the role women played in leading Appalachian social movements?

    For me, it was really important to write Appalachian women’s history because the region is so often portrayed as a space of white masculinity. Even up until the present, the icon of Appalachia is a male coal miner. Before that, in earlier histories it was the so-called mountaineer. The region is perceived as a hyper-masculine space of working-class men. That applies to negative caricatures of the region, but also for labor histories of the region that focus on coal miners who were almost exclusively men until the 1980s.

    As a women’s labor historian, I wanted to take on the challenge of writing a book about women and labor, and to ask myself how that would change the way we think about Appalachia. Even when women are written about, they are attached to men as coal miners’ wives and daughters. But women always had their own positions of labor and worked to defend their communities.

    I started this book a long time ago, never imagining I would be finishing it at a moment when there is suddenly a spotlight on Appalachia, and what the region meant for the rise of Trump and a certain brand of right-wing politics. But I also never could have imagined that there would be so many young activists in Appalachia who — because of how the story of Appalachia has been told since 2016 — were hungry for a deeper, richer history.

    That, for me, has been the most rewarding thing about this book coming out. Of course I care what my colleagues will think, but what is more important is seeing that there is something valuable in this book for current day activists. From youth in Appalachia who want to stay in the region and are trying to imagine a post-coal economy to West Virginia teachers on strike — it was so important to me to be able to write a book that resonates with people in the region, many of whom are women and queer folks.

    Your book examines two core concepts: the “ethic of care” and “ethos of citizenship.” Why did you choose to focus on the concept of caregiving when researching the role women have played in Appalachian movements?

    I grew up in eastern Tennessee, in a household where Appalachian history and women’s history were valued. When I became a historian, I knew I wanted to write about women in Appalachia. I ended up narrowing in on eastern Kentucky, where I could trace a series of events through these women’s lives — from the development of the coalfields to the labor strikes of the 1930s-1970s to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. Then I started learning about the community health movement. There were all of these movements happening, but they seemed pretty separate. I knew there was a labor movement, an anti-poverty movement, a health movement, but I wasn’t really seeing them as interconnected. Yet, once I started tracing the stories from these women’s lives, I saw they were very much connected. And one of the threads that connected them all was this discourse around caregiving.

    I think my research shifted when I started asking the question, “What is the story of women’s labor here?” And women’s labor primarily related to caregiving. When I came to that, I went back through everything and I was struck by how often women framed their activism as driven by their position as mothers, as people caring for someone with disabilities, as women trying to create a safer environment for their children so they could raise them to adulthood. Then, of course, there was a welfare rights movement, which had been totally unknown to me. And welfare rights is all about caregiving, providing support to people who are taking care of children and the elderly and others.

    We think of social movements in these particular ways — protests, campaigns, strikes — but what I found was that caregiving was a thread running through these women’s activism. We know that everyone is participating in caregiving every single day. It’s not always a motivation to become an activist. But these stories show how caregiving labor really informed the politics of these women activists.

    What did you find most surprising about the stories you learned in your research?

    There is this story of white working-class southerners as being anti-big government and anti-welfare. That narrative is so strong that I couldn’t even imagine that a welfare rights movement existed in Appalachia. But it did! This movement was led by both women and men, black and white, who were fighting for federal policy to be implemented in their communities. They were trying to hold public officials accountable. If legislation had been passed to say that all kids should have access to food but kids in their communities didn’t have access to school lunches, they would protest, go to the school board and call federal officials. They fought for those things. They worked in broad coalitions intersecting with indigenous activists and Latinx activists and African American activists, especially black women activists who led the welfare rights movement.

    There is still this story that welfare is all about people being dependent, being cheats and frauds and living off the government. I wanted to recapture the narrative of people fighting for the things — food, shelter, basic income — that they saw as a right of citizenship in this country. That’s a very different framing than we have today.

    You wrote a lot about how racism — and the assumption that Appalachia is all white people — affected social movements in the region. How did this shape your research?

    Growing up in a predominantly white community in Appalachia, I learned a history of Appalachia that is almost entirely about white people and white settlers. I carried those myths with me for a long time. And then I studied the history and read the work of a lot of other scholars who have written about race in Appalachia, and I realized this was much more complicated.

    For me, it was really important to be clear that although the primary characters I’m writing about are white working-class women, that is the result of a couple of things. First, the history of race in Appalachia is a history of racial terror and racial violence and discrimination. So to the extent that there are predominantly white areas in Appalachia, that is the result of those structures.

    And second, the War on Poverty — which is where the book really starts — fed resources into communities that helped to generate a social movement, but the very fact that the resources flowed to these community members is because they were white. So the entire system of the War on Poverty in Appalachia was built on a racist structure. That was important to understand.

    The other part of the region’s racial history that I wanted to show was how the attacks on white activists in the War on Poverty were bound up in attacks on the black power movement. In eastern Kentucky and around the region, the state government set up the Kentucky Unamerican Activities Committee. The targets of that committee were people involved in civil rights organizing and black power organizing in Louisville, Kentucky. There were arrests of black power activists in Louisville and trials targeting them, then they turned focus on activists in eastern Kentucky, because [the committee] was broadly against the War on Poverty as well.

    The attacks made it seem like anti-poverty workers were so-called “subversives,” that they were outsiders coming into eastern Kentucky and telling people what to do, or fooling them into becoming part of the movement. Activists like Edith Easterling, who I write about, pushed against this story that people in the mountains are naturally conservative and that they would never be drawn into a movement of their own accord, but could only be manipulated by outsiders. Edith was from the community, and she refused that narrative. She would say, “We are fighting for our community, and you all are lining your pockets cause you’re part of the coal industry.” This is really interesting given narratives today that see Appalachia as a monolith where there are no progressive activists. That’s an old trope that has been used to undermine movements in the region for a long time.

    How do you think our collective perception of Appalachia would change if we knew the stories of women, people of color and LGBTQ activists leading movements in the region?

    We can understand how these stories shape our perception by looking at which stories of Appalachia make national news. The Blackjewel miner’s protest is really important, but we primarily see images of the male workers in the media. At the same time, not far away in Kingsport, Tennessee, a nonviolent protest led by women has been happening for over 170 days to protest a merger of two hospitals. They would lose the neonatal intensive care unit and Level 1 trauma center, so people would have to drive an hour or more to get to a hospital. For them, this is about rural people and their access to health care, and about hospitals prioritizing profit over the health of rural communities. That’s happening right now, not far from [the Blackjewel blockade].

    As a historian, I do think that 50 years from now we will look back and see that there was this upsurge of activism in Appalachia at the same moment that people were talking about “Trump country” and characterizing this place as the way to explain the rise of the right wing. There are right-wing activists in Appalachia too, as there are across the United States, but it does not exclusively define the place. There is so often this focus on electoral politics as the way that people express resistance. But that’s not usually the way change happens. It’s the everyday resistance that doesn’t have a Democrat or Republican gloss to it. It’s about people dealing with their everyday lives. These women activists had a different vision of society, so they started community centers, they created their own libraries, fed children and helped people gain access to Social Security or welfare. They did a number of things to create that vision.

    What is one story you learned about in your research that stood out to you as a powerful example of how women’s lives intersected with these overlapping movements over time?

    Appalachian anti-poverty activist Eula Hall in 2009. (Wikipedia)

    One example from my book is the story of a woman named Eula Hall. She worked as an anti-poverty activist in her community of Floyd County, Kentucky. Eula was born in the 1920s. She was a middle-aged mother by the time of the War on Poverty, and in a pretty difficult situation in her own life. She ended up getting involved in anti-poverty activism and became an anti-poverty worker in federal programs. She helped to start a welfare rights organization in her community, and she was trying to help people gain access to their rights to food or health care or black lung benefits.

    Then, when the welfare rights movement weakened, Eula turned to the community health movement. One of her passions was health care because she grew up in a place where she saw people die due to a lack of access to basic health care. She helps to lead the effort to start a clinic, then she learned at a community health fair about the Brookside mine strike in Harlan County, Kentucky. She knew that unions are really important to help working-class people gain labor rights and labor power, so she drove every morning to Harlan County to stand on the picket lines with miners on strike.

    She also became part of the anti-strip mining movement, and she helped to start an Appalachian women’s rights organization, which tried to center rural Appalachian working-class women in conversations about what women’s issues are. For them, it wasn’t necessarily just about gaining access to jobs — or credit — that were once closed to women. It was also about welfare, environmental justice and the economy in general.

    So I found that when you trace one woman’s life over time, you can see her — in this case, Eula Hall — moving in and out of an array of movements that are interconnected and overlapping. Her clinic is still there. It’s now called the Eula Hall Health Center, and it’s still the only clinic serving that community. For me, doing the life history work and thinking about women’s lives in the context of a lifetime, it was really important not to silo the issues that animated them. I could have written a book about feminists in Appalachia, and it would cover one slice of their activism, or about the Poor People’s Campaign and Appalachian involvement in that. But the power in her story is how she is wherever the movement is. She sees them all as interconnected, and she gives her energy at various times to each of them. I think that is really more instructive for how we live our lives.

    How a growing movement made impeachment politically feasible

    The last few weeks have been a turning point for impeachment. Suddenly, dozens of members of Congress dashed at once to announce their support until the pro-impeachment faction had grown to a majority of the House of Representatives. In the national conversation, impeachment went from politically infeasible to seemingly inevitable. As someone who has been in the trenches of this fight, I can tell you that when Nancy Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry on Sept. 24, she wasn’t just reacting to Donald Trump’s offenses with Ukraine, she was responding to pressure from an increasingly vocal movement. 

    I originally ignored calls for impeachment as a waste of time. But, after resisting attack after attack from the Trump administration, I felt our movements had to rethink our strategy. So, in August 2018, when I was approached to join a new grassroots campaign to impeach and remove Trump called By the People, I deeply aligned with their strategy of going on the offensive against Trumpism. Since then, as a volunteer and now political director of the campaign, my dedication to this mission has been driven by the belief that the stakes are simply too high to wait until the 2020 elections to remove Trump. He endangers our lives and shreds any checks on his power every day that he remains in office. 

    Winning the backing of the American public and mobilizing them into highly visible forms of collective action are the key ingredients to toppling the Trump administration.

    I’m also grounded by what we can accomplish together by waging a struggle for a democracy that works for all of us. If we don’t act, Trump will be emboldened to commit further abuses of power, including rigging elections in his favor, and his behavior will become the new normal regardless of who holds office. But, if we take the reins and contest for the soul of America, we can make this country what it should be — one that serves the many, not just the few.

    In order to protect ourselves from rising authoritarianism and bring the public with us, it was clear we were going to need a grassroots movement for impeachment. Rooted in a strategy of civil resistance, By the People sees winning the backing of the American public and mobilizing them into highly visible forms of collective action as the key ingredients to toppling the Trump administration. Fortunately, more people have supported the impeachment of Trump than supported impeaching Nixon at the start of the Watergate scandal. This is a testament to how the broad anti-Trump resistance — from waging battles against the Muslim ban and family separation to defending health care and environmental protections — have created the conditions for Trump’s historic unpopularity. 

    Millions of Americans have long been ready to remove Trump, but few organizations and leaders offered them a pathway to putting an end to this administration. We needed to show Americans that impeachment and removal are grassroots tools to stop what we cannot tolerate. What’s more, they are winnable first steps to ensuring we are a country where all are equal before the law.

    Rep. Rashida Tlaib joins activists calling for impeachment on Capitol Hill on Sept. 23. (Facebook/By the People)

    Starting in the weeks leading up to the midterm elections, we staged direct actions and street protests to capture the public imagination and to change the political debate. Just after the new Democratic House took power, we launched a pledge to impeach, which Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar were the first to sign. In March, we launched a sit-in at Nancy Pelosi’s office on Capitol Hill to say loud and clear: It’s #TimetoImpeach. As dozens of volunteers sang and chanted from her office, Rep. Tlaib responded to the calls of the movement and announced a resolution for impeachment in the House. 

    One of the half dozen people arrested during the sit-in at Pelosi’s office was Davida Ginsberg, who took action with us as a way to combat her discouragement. As she explained, “I saw impeachment as a means to break through the disbelief that change is possible and show not just to our elected representatives, but each other, that we are unwilling to be bystanders as democracy is ripped apart.”

    The resolution proved to be an inflection point. It provided us with a vehicle to organize impeachment supporters and gain new political champions. Shortly afterward, the rest of “the squad” — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley and Ilhan Omar — along with several other members of Congress joined Tlaib as co-sponsors. In April, Sen. Elizabeth Warren announced her support for impeachment. 

    Just a few weeks later, we organized another act of civil disobedience on Capitol Hill — this time occupying the Cannon Rotunda — to keep the pressure going. With momentum came alignment. As public opinion polls started to shift further in our direction, By the People began to build alliances with groups that had so far sat out the impeachment fight, allowing the movement to take on a whole new scale.

    Activists with By the People at an action calling for impeachment on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. on March 6. (Facebook/Chris Kleponis)

    As spring turned to summer, we launched the first national day of action for impeachment with MoveOn.org and other national groups that resulted in over 140 actions across the country on June 15. The pressure was working; every week, more and more members of Congress bent to pressure from their constituents and publicly endorsed an impeachment inquiry. Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee also began to take steps towards launching those very proceedings. During the August congressional recess, there wasn’t a place members of Congress could go or hide without having to answer whether or not they supported impeachment. 

    By the time Congress returned to session in September and the Ukraine whistleblower complaint hit the headlines, the foundation of the dam on impeachment was already set to burst. As I rallied alongside By the People activists and Reps. Tlaib and Al Green on Capitol Hill just one day before Pelosi’s announcement, I could feel the tide turning. Rather than follow the polls, we drove them and leveraged our growing ranks of active supporters to change the political terrain.

    There are three phases to victory in this fight. The first one involved forcing the House to begin an impeachment inquiry, which we’ve now accomplished. Next, we need to get a majority of the House to pass articles of impeachment — something that is now in progress. Finally, we have to secure 67 votes in the Senate to remove Trump from office. To win these last two phases, it is going to take Americans coming together across race, gender, class and geography in sustained mass mobilizations across the country. By stigmatizing Trump and his whole agenda, we will make it a political necessity for Trump’s enablers to abandon him and set the stage for new political alignment in America that values all of our voices.

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  • Leading Puerto Rican activists celebrate governor’s resignation, talk next steps
  • We don’t have to look far back or far away for guidance. Just this year, Puerto Ricans of all walks of life successfully tossed aside a corrupt governor who sold out his people for his own personal gain. Though triggered by a scandal over the governor’s leaked communications, the strikes and marches that spread across the island were about much more and became a stand against generations of colonialism, decades of austerity and months of crises imposed by those in power. We must follow their example and that of our neighbors in Lebanon, Ecuador, Chile, Sudan, and Hong Kong and demand the fall of a regime that doesn’t represent our interests. By removing Trump from office, we will show what kind of country we want to live in, and that his greed, division and hate will not be a part of it — and it will take millions of us to make that happen. 

    If we’re to put an end to the Trump administration, we must also seize this opportunity to make removal a truly transformative moment in our history. If we don’t act, we normalize Trump’s abuses of power as permissible by him and all who follow him. But, if we put a stop to this madness, we can isolate and stigmatize rising fascism and make a huge leap towards a freer, fairer and deeper democracy. Impeachment is about more than Trump — it’s about demanding a government that represents all of us rather than the interests of the wealthy few. If we win, we will change this country forever and we will emerge stronger for it. We will have answered for ourselves what we deem to be acceptable — and be equipped with a new muscle to topple governments that violate our freedoms. 

    The immediate task ahead of us is ensuring the House follows through this fall and votes on articles of impeachment that condemn the culture of criminality, bigotry and corruption of the Trump presidency. Polls now show consistent majorities of Americans in favor of impeaching and removing Trump from office. When we speak clearly of the full extent of Trump’s high crimes and abuses of power, the majority of the public agree: We must get rid of this lawless president. 

    The only thing powerful enough to stop the Trump administration is us. Congress will not fulfill its constitutional duty until we make it a political necessity for them to act. On Oct. 13, By the People and Women’s March, joined by 18 national partners, hosted over 60 #ImpeachNow marches nationwide to exercise and recruit the growing numbers of impeachment supporters into this movement. But, one day of action is not enough. Our rapid response corps will be responsible for consistently taking to the streets and showing up again and again in every zip code. We must force every one of our elected representatives to go on the record and make a choice: Are they with Trump or with all of us? Just as our ancestors stood up to kings, the Confederacy, fascism and Jim Crow, so too must we show that Americans will not tolerate the Trump administration.

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