Waging Nonviolence

Millennials’ non-voting habits, explained

by Kate Aronoff

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What’s the matter with millennials? The latest person to ask and answer this question is Vox’s David Roberts. Listing out a series of polls explaining how supportive 18-29-year-olds are of climate action and clean energy, Roberts reaches a crossroads: If millennials care so much about global warming, then why aren’t they doing anything about it?

“The problem is, too few of them vote,” he says, pointing to low voter turn-outs in the last few elections.

The article itself is filled with cheeky stock photos of millennials taking selfies and walking around college campus sporting vests and fedoras. Look at all the stylish fun they’re having while not voting! Millennials, for Roberts, are a perplexing but — ultimately — useful herd of sheep in need of a good shepherd.

The man for the job, says Roberts, is Very Serious Man Tom Steyer, a hedge fund billionaire and top donor to liberal candidates and causes. He founded NextGen Climate and its associated PAC to bring millennials out to the polls, tapping into their widespread support for stopping climate catastrophe. NextGen was founded in 2013 and is now launching a $25 million campaign to “register and mobilize young voters in seven key battleground states to help elect climate champions to the White House and the Senate this fall.”

While going into detail on NextGen’s plans for the coming months, Roberts somehow gets through a (not-short) piece on millennials, voting and the 2016 election without once mentioning Bernie Sanders, the candidate who has captured double-digit leads among that demographic —  even in states that he’s lost. Millennials would even choose a dinner with Sanders over one with Beyonce or Justin Bieber.

Perhaps more surprisingly, Roberts doesn’t bring up the millennials who’ve already pushed the climate conversation this election into the mainstream, cornering Clinton into a firm rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline and prompting a national conversation about the role of fossil fuel money — including hers — in politics. Also absent are the now hundreds of students who’ve been arrested to stop the Keystone XL pipeline, and the over 60 of them jailed this spring for fossil fuel divestment.

These are serious gaps, but relatively standard from the pundits who’ve built a cottage industry on making bad predictions about this election — largely by underestimating the importance of political outsiders. But if Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump’s surprising success has shown anything, it’s that political elites are more subject than ever to outside forces, and movements. Roberts isn’t alone in leaving the grassroots out of the picture of this election. Winning on climate, though — at the scale science demands — requires a more holistic understanding of the political arena than simply voting and non-voting. Why, beyond the Sanders campaign, haven’t millennials been engaged en mass in elections in traditional ways? What are they doing instead?

As a younger millennial, here are a few #MillennialFacts — in Roberts’s words — to help explain what’s happening in 2016, and why my generation has such a complicated relationship to the ballot box.

I was born in 1992, meaning my first real memories of the Oval Office are of Bill Clinton. Not of NATO bombings or crime bills, but of Monica Lewinsky and the Starr Report. I was too young to understand the controversy that marked the 2000 election, but old enough to know I shouldn’t like the guy who came out on top or the process that put him there.

Before reaching double digits, two planes had hit the Twin Towers and the Bush administration had launched us into a war that’s followed me into adulthood, the reasoning for which I don’t understand any better now than when I was learning algebra. Two years later we entered another war I understood even less — that one sending my brother on a brief and thankfully uneventful tour in Iraq. No Child Left Behind gifted my mother with the task of preparing her special education students for tests she and the school both know they couldn’t pass. The 2004 election inexplicably brought on four more years of Bush. So, by the time there was a chance to elect someone I was actually excited about, I knocked on doors in the hopes of something different, even if I couldn’t yet vote myself. The millennials who could vote came out in record numbers for Obama in 2008, and thousands organized for the campaign. Maybe — just maybe — he could dig us out of a nasty recession and perpetual, bloody conflict in the Middle East.

By the time I was old enough to actually vote for Obama, though, the hope and change that colored his election had faded. Rather than sweeping progressive reform, we got a more tech savvy version of the same wars, and an economic recovery that brought my generation’s economic prospects to a deflated and precarious new normal; five-figure student debt was ready to greet me at graduation.

It should be said, too, that I was lucky. My family’s assets remained largely intact after the crash. Black households, by comparison, saw their wealth decline by a full 31 percent between 2007 and 2010. I also wasn’t subject to the round-the-clock surveillance that’s stalked Muslim communities since the advent of the Patriot Act. Nor do I have loved ones incarcerated by the War on Drugs or deported by draconian immigration policies.

In the midst of all this disappointment, it wasn’t a call for four more years of the same that inspired me. It was the scrappy, stubborn millennials who decided to camp out in public parks around the country. Fraught as Occupy was — and it was plenty fraught — it stood for something electoral politics never had: a better future, and the radical demand for a world without want or rule by the 1 percent. I was too young and too suburban to be a part of the anti-war movement, so Occupy first showed me what it could look like for people, not politicians, to shape a national conversation. It even managed to turn Mitt Romney’s background in private equity from a selling point to a liability, painting him as the candidate of, by and for the elite. The years since 2011 and 2012 have seen an uptick in similarly transformative movements, most recently in the movement for black lives.

For good reason, then, millennials have placed more faith in protests than in politicians. But Roberts’s data isn’t wrong: Millennials don’t vote at the levels we should, even as we rally behind Sanders’s Occupy-inspired campaign. NextGen’s work on this front is important; getting more millennials out to the polls is vital. And though Steyer has a penchant for taking chummy pictures with Koch brothers and dissing activists, he’s funding a project that needs to exist.

At the same time, however, it’s also no magic bullet for cracking the seemingly impenetrable nut of millennial civic engagement — let alone to getting the kind of comprehensive climate policy and energy system overhaul that Roberts outlines so skillfully in his other writing. In its mildest form, adequate climate action means a dramatic reimagining of America’s economic and political system, both in terms of the story we tell about them and the people in charge. (That might be one reason why some 43 percent of millennials favor socialism and 51 percent reject the capitalism that’s wrecked our paychecks, planet and political system.)

To beat a familiar drum, social movements and upheavals are the driving force behind transformative political shifts and realignments. Climate will be no different. Where NextGen can ensure that millennials show up to vote, movements determine who and what goes on the ballot. The political weather that movements help create determines everything from the kinds of candidates running to the policies they’re feasibly able to push. Of course, it’s a street that runs both ways: Just as Occupy laid the groundwork for Bernie Sanders’s candidacy in 2008’s wake, the Tea Party — in its years of dedicated grassroots organizing — has paved the way for Trump. It wasn’t FDR, after all, who created the foundation for a bolstered welfare state after the Great Depression. It was the armies of the unemployed, who marched tens-of-thousands strong on Washington and congressional districts around the country.

Knowing all this, millennial movements have developed an increasingly nuanced understanding of the interplay between protests and politics. Their leaders, emboldened — but not limited by — the Sanders campaign, are exploring the prospects of independent political power. Us millennials want a new kind of politics to vote for, and are already building it — not because we feel entitled to it, but because it’s our collective best shot at a livable future.

How friends and family remember Daniel Berrigan

by Eric Stoner

Alison Murphy, Dan Berrigan and Eric Stoner. (WNV/Mark and Alison Lang)

Like countless others, including all those whose stories follow, Dan Berrigan had a profound impact on my life. I grew up in a conservative Catholic family and community, and was on the fast track to a very different life as a defender of the status quo. During a college class on nonviolence that I took while interning in the world of private intelligence, I read Dan’s beautiful letter to Ernesto Cardenal — a priest who supported the Sandinista’s armed resistance in Nicaragua. I didn’t yet know who the author was or the bold way that he had lived out his beliefs, but I couldn’t deny the power of his words, or how faithful they were to the Gospels. It was one of the first arguments for nonviolence, grounded in faith, that broke through my shell and challenged my support for war to the core. By the end of that fateful course, I decided to give my life to working for peace, not knowing what shape or form it would take.

Years later, by some lucky chance of fate, I found myself living with Dan and the Jesuit community that he was a part of in New York. While I was thrilled by the opportunity, I was at first intimidated and in awe of the man sitting across the dinner table from me. But those feelings quickly melted from his warmth and wonderful sense of humor. He suggested we get a bite to eat and take a walk through Central Park the following weekend, which became a cherished weekly routine. The conversations we had — about the sorry state of the world, life, faith and our families — had no bounds, and were some of the most meaningful moments of my life.

What impressed me most about Dan was his kindness, his support for the journey I was on, his unwavering reliance on God, and how even at that late stage in life he continued his lifelong mission for peace, never losing his sharp edge. This often came out in memorable one-liners. When I broke the hard news, for instance, that the bishop in my hometown would not let Dan speak with me at a church event, he lightheartedly quipped, “If that wouldn’t have happened, I would have worried that I had sold out.”

While the media have published many thorough obituaries on Dan since he died last weekend, most stuck to a straightforward recounting of the well-documented highlights of his remarkable life. In the interest of giving at least a small glimpse of this inspiring human being — when the cameras weren’t on — we have collected memories and anecdotes that speak to Dan’s character, conviction and wit, from some of the family and friends who knew him best.

“The world is full of evil geniuses. But there are some good ones too. When I used to see my dear friend Dan, I would kiss his check and ask him how he was doing. He’d laugh like my existence was a joy worth a reaction. His most common response to asking how he was doing was one of my favorite gems: ‘Better for the sight of you,’ he’d say. In one brief phrase he offered such a precise and precious idea – I make the world around me better. In just his greeting, I was already healing, I was already more powerful. Genius. Good genius.

Luke Nephew is a co-founder of The Peace Poets, a trainer with The Wildfire Project and an artist for Liberation.

“I met Dan Berrigan in 1995 at a Pentagon protest. He asked me to walk him to the bathroom. We went into the Pentagon and used the facilities. As we stood there, Dan said “In the 1940s, some suggested they should turn this place into a hospital after the war.” A few seconds later, he added, “In a way they did. It is the largest insane asylum in the world.”

Jeremy Scahill, a founding editor of The Intercept. He is an investigative reporter, war correspondent, and author of “Dirty Wars” and “Blackwater.”

Jerry Berrigan with his brother Dan Berrigan in Syracuse in 2013. (Facebook/Hit & Stay)

One special memory I have is from 1972 when I was 13 and opened the door of the Danbury State Prison to free my uncle Dan after he had completed his prison sentence from Catonsville. As the door opened, we were mobbed by friends and reporters, and I remember feeling overwhelmed. I was always in awe of how Dan would keep calm and stoic with the media frenzy that tended to follow him. We ended the night having dinner, and sleeping in wicker ‘cat beds’ at Leonard Bernstein’s house in New York City.

Growing up, it was always a lot of anticipation and excitement when my uncles would come to visit Syracuse. It’s hard to grasp the depth and intensity of the brother’s lives, because growing up it was the norm. It was normal for me to spend weekends visiting my uncle in jail, having many people in and out of the house, to have reporters and police calling the house and sitting outside the house trying to get information. My fondest memories of my uncle include sitting around the living room with a couple of drinks, joking and telling the stories of their childhood days. He and his brothers would sit around for hours. He was an uncle who always showed up and was around for many big moments in my life.

Philip Daniel Berrigan, nephew

“I first met Father Berrigan in the hall of Lincoln Center at Fordham. He was teaching a class called ‘Poems by Poets in Torment’ that semester and I was determined to get a seat. Fordham did not allow freshmen to take classes at different campuses, so I was unable to register for the class. A senior who was registered for the class suggested I get a physical add/drop slip, see if Dan would sign it, and then turn it into the dean. The school might enter it into the system and once it was in they’d be unable to change it from their end.

So after the first day of class, I approached Dan in the hall and explained the situation. I wanted to be upfront, so I explained everything to him as clearly as I could. He stared at the slip for a few moments and then looked at me and said, ‘So, we’ll be breaking the rules?’ I replied, ‘Yes…’ He took out a pen, and while scribbling his initials on the slip, said, ‘Good! I hope it will be the first of many times.’ He loved to make mischief, and I will forever love him for it.

Patrick Stanley lives in Athens, Georgia with his wife and 3-year-old daughter. He spends his time repairing books and bicycles.

“A few months after I had been with Witness For Peace in northern Nicaragua, I mentioned the experience to Dan and he responded, ‘Why don’t we go down there again?’ He made the connection with our mutual friend, Gene Palumbo, a Catholic Worker living and working as a journalist in El Salvador, and in June of 1983 we were off. The trip prompted Dan’s book ‘The Steadfastness of the Saints.’ For me it sealed my decision to spend some time in Central America.

Dan’s intellect, humor and groundedness were always inspirations for me. But where our spiritual paths had a special affinity was in the value he placed on art. He voiced his concerns movingly in poetry; I was more interested in the formal issues of order and chaos in painting and sculpture. Dan’s apartment in New York was filled with pictures and sculptures. Most were figurative and peace-related; a few of mine found a place there, but I doubted that Dan would have much to say about my major interest in metal sculpture with no narrative content.

In the mid-90s, while back from Guatemala for a few weeks, I was visiting Dan, and he suddenly suggested that we tape a conversation about my sculpture. I had some images from a calendar printed that year by the Jesuit university in Guatemala. A sculpture for each month was the focus, but like any good conversation, the focus was a catalyst for musings about poetry, art and social change. Dan’s comments were as clear and impassioned as any I had heard from artists.

He entered my world, as he did so many others, with interest, curiosity, wit and intelligence. At the close of our conversation Dan commented, ‘I don’t know, I can’t give thanks loud enough.’ That mirrors perfectly my own feelings, and makes his parting a bit more bearable.

Dennis Leder, S.J. is a Jesuit priest and artist, who lives in Guatemala.

Dan Berrigan holding his “Weapons Inspector” jacket. (WNV/Mark and Alison Lang)

“We knew Father Dan for the last 10 years of his life, and he was one of our favorite people: warm, engaging and very funny. We had him over to our New York apartment many times for an evening of food, drink and great conversation. He particularly enjoyed coming in a blue windbreaker with the words ‘Weapons Inspector’ emblazoned on the back (but crossed out in black marker). The topics of conversation ranged widely, including our recent theater projects. One of our favorite quotes came as we were discussing the state of the world and the wars raging during the second term of the second President Bush. He summed it all up when he said, shaking his head in dismay, ‘If you think you’ve reached bottom, look down.’”

Mark E. Lang and Alison J. Murphy are a New York-based actor couple. Their current project is a biographical play about the actor couple Lunt and Fontanne.

It was in 1999 that I first met Dan, and began a friendship that will remain one of the most important of my life. Dan had led a retreat that I attended, and when he needed a ride to the train station after the retreat ended, I jumped at the opportunity to spend an hour in the car with this person who had become a mythic figure, a hero in my life. I’m fairly certain that I spoke at breakneck speed for the first 45 minutes of the ride — me going through my list of questions and Dan patiently listening. Then finally and mercifully, he stopped me. With that mischievous smile and twinkle in his eye that I would be fortunate to see so many times over the coming years, Dan said that he had one answer to every question I had asked.

Dan Berrigan at the baptism of Adelina Daloisio, with Matt Vogel, Frida Berrigan, and Amanda, Tobias and Matt Daloisio. (WNV/David McReynolds)

The answer, Dan said, to all of your questions, is one word: community. He explained that it was both ridiculous and futile to try and answer any of these questions alone. That only in community could we not only discern better the question, but then live the answers.

Dan was known to occasionally make up words sometimes. With the gift of his words, his wit, his friendship, and his example of living the answers, I wish I had the ability to create a word to encompass what this priest, and poet, and prophet meant and continues to mean to me. I feel like an anchor, a touchstone, is now gone. And yet, what an incredible thing to have shared some time on this earth with Dan Berrigan. Of all the times to live, and people to live with — I can’t think of any better. And now. What an incredible responsibility we all have. A gift really. To carry Dan’s spirit, and his work forth in community. Dan Berrigan. Rest in the peace you fought so hard for.”

Matt Daloisio is a member of Witness Against Torture and the New York Catholic Worker. He is also on the board of the War Resisters League.

“In 2007, while I was on a 3,300-mile walk across the United States for genocide awareness (the Journey for Humanity), I recall talking on the phone with friends from Kairos, the peace community Dan helped found. Having discussed the media outreach work we were doing with mixed results, Bud Courtney reminded me that Dan taught us to ‘do good for the sake of good itself,’ so it’s sometimes important not to fixate our minds on ‘results’ or ‘success’ per se. That’s what I needed then, and I’ve never forgotten it.

Years later, at a Kairos meeting with Dan, I learned about a certain medical doctor who treated him for a small cyst in a New York hospital. It turned out that this doctor wanted to thank Dan because his was one of the draft cards burned in Catonsville, Maryland. ‘That action spared my life,’ he said, ‘and I used it to get a medical degree. Now I’m here to take care of you, Fr. Dan.’ Had Dan and the rest of the Catonsville Nine been seeking proof of results, they may not have simply acted in protest of that war and its draft. And yet, by the witness of Dan’s long and beautiful life, the truth is affirmed that results can come in the most unpredictable of ways — if only we do good for the sake of good itself in the present moment.”

Ed Majian, president and founder of Sartonk, a student of Zen and philosophy, and a magician with an emphasis on the spirit of social justice.

Dan Berrigan will always be associated with his daring and courageous public resistance to war: Catonsville, going underground and eluding the FBI, appearing on the cover of Time magazine and hammering on nuclear weapons. But I remember him most as a brother Jesuit who patiently listened to my questions, fears and hopes. For the quality of his presence. For his generosity in responding to letters. For his deference to the experience and wisdom of other people in the room. And for his often small and subtle but always poetic and prophetic challenges to our common ways of thinking and acting.

Dan Berrigan and Luke Hansen in 2007. (WNV/Luke Hansen)

One night at the dinner table, people were taking turns complaining about this-or-that policy of the U.S. government. Dan simply listened and, after it went on for a while, gently intervened. He said, ‘Sure, we can complain about the state all night, but what about our own church? Where do we stand?’ Silence. He didn’t need to say much to catch the attention and conscience of others in the room. He had a gift for inviting others into the heart of the matter.

Dan didn’t want people to follow him. He wanted people to follow the Gospel. He repeatedly encouraged me, ‘Stay focused on the Gospel and let the rest take care of itself.’ He wrote to our young resistance community in Chicago: ‘The formula has been deceptively simple; open the Bible together as a discipline of holy literacy, be attentive to the spirit of the words, see where they lead.’

Dan has challenged and inspired so many young Jesuits who are involved in the peace and ecological movements, anti-racism work, and the accompaniment of migrants. The work continues. Dan paved the way for us and helped us to imagine that protest and resistance and even civil disobedience are not only possible for Jesuits but essential to our vocation as human beings and as followers of the crucified and risen Christ.

Luke Hansen, S.J., a former associate editor of the Jesuit journal America, is a student at the Jesuit School of Theology, a graduate school of Santa Clara University, in Berkeley, California.

I believe it was 1968 that Philadelphia Quakers’ largest gathering, the Yearly Meeting, invited Daniel Berrigan to be the keynote speaker. The weighty Friend Lyle Tatum was chosen to introduce him. In Lyle’s introduction he said that, several centuries ago, Quakers Ann Austin and Mary Fisher had walked from Northwest England to Rome to try, as Lyle said, “to convert the Pope to Christianity.” At that, Dan laughed as heartily as the rest of us. When he stepped to the microphone to speak, his first words were, “I hope you’ll keep trying.” For me, Daniel Berrigan was a model of how to focus on a point of passionate conviction and at the same time keep the broad perspective that supports a sense of humor.

George Lakey is a columnist with Waging Nonviolence and co-founder of the Earth Quaker Action Group.

“It was the first day of a class called ‘Revelation: The Nightmare of God.’ Father Dan explained the mark of the beast. The Roman empire used to tattoo DC on people, which stood for Divine Caesar. It meant that you were recognizing Caesar as holy and you were declaring that you would worship the empire. At the end of class, he said ‘Alright, for our next class, don’t show up here.’ The class murmurs a general huh? ‘We’ll meet at Bryant Park and 42nd Street. From there we will march to the U.S. Military Recruiting Station because that is where they put the mark of Caesar on people today.’ My classmates and I looked at each other with eyebrows raised.

Two days later, our class marched through the busy chaos of 42nd Street. We walked slowly and in silence, carrying cardboard coffins. The pictures some of the people carried showed people shredded by bombs and women wailing at the sky. When we arrived, our teacher and about 12 others locked arms and stood in front of the door of the recruiting station. Inside, the military men looked confused and tried to open the door, but the group refused to move. Class had turned into a march, and it was now turning into direct action. Our teacher was teaching by example. Within 10 minutes the little triangle in the middle of Times Square was covered with NYPD, who were ordering the protesters to leave. Instead of obeying the police orders, they were singing.

My classmates and I watched in awe as they made a final order for them to leave and their only response was a beautiful rebellious version of ‘We Shall Overcome.’ Somewhere deep in my heart I wanted so bad to believe. Minutes later, our teacher and his fellow peacemakers were being tossed in the back of the paddy wagon. The salty water of profound sadness in his eyes, our teacher gave us a solemn nod as if to say, ‘This is the bare minimum of what is necessary.’ The truth appeared stark and brutal. Our family is murdering our family and the rest of this city is rushing off to work — too exhausted to notice or too complicit to dare acknowledge these wars.

This is a funeral procession. It is not just symbolic when there were people being murdered by war yesterday and today. These people getting arrested are refusing to let that happen without an act of resistance. The paddy wagon shut its doors. The police ordered the crowd to disperse. The blue and red lights flashed across the scene and our teacher was driven deeper into the belly of the beast. Class dismissed. Education commenced.”

Luke Nephew is a co-founder of The Peace Poets, a trainer with The Wildfire Project and an artist for Liberation.

“In 2004, I asked Dan if I could interview him for the New York Catholic Worker paper and he declined. But we struck up a correspondence anyway. My son had entered the military in May of that year and I was despondent. My son was at Fort Benning, Georgia where my brother had trained nearly 40 years prior, and Granny had visited him there. My brother was sent to Vietnam.

Dan helped bring me back into my Catholic faith through his gentle love and support. He was still grieving his brother Phil’s death two years prior and so we shared our grief through letters, not really knowing each other personally. I met him in person (other than seeing him when I was a child) in 2006, at his 85th birthday celebration. The moment he saw my face he turned away. He loved [my grandmother] Dorothy so much. We will miss him sorely just as we miss Dorothy. But we still have each other and the Eucharist, as Dan has said. Beloved community.”

Martha Hennessy, granddaughter of Dorothy Day, divides her time between family in Vermont and volunteering at Maryhouse Catholic Worker.

“I was fortunate enough to have made a visit to Dan on April 22, Earth Day, and only a couple days before he became gravely ill. I arrived just as Dan was coming from chapel and midday mass. I joined him in the dining room for lunch. He was especially expressive that day, asking questions and commenting on various things. He pointed out the beauty of the planters in the solarium and made sure I saw them. When I offered him his coffee cup, he raised it to me and so we toasted. After a bit more back and forth, Margaret wheeled him to his room where he admired the bright, pink daisy I had put in his room. We chatted a bit longer and then I began to sense he was running out of steam. I asked if I could do anything for him before I left. He asked that I lower his blinds. I did that, then kissed him goodbye. I took his hand and he gave me a little reassuring squeeze. I said ‘peace’ to him and he replied ‘peace.’”

Mary Berrigan, niece

“In 1981 I traveled from California  to the East Coast to visit a number of foreign policy think tanks as part of my research for a book project on the consequences of the nuclear arms race. No one I spoke with could envision a world free of atomic weapons. At most, they thought we might be able to cut back on nuclear weapons by dramatically increasing conventional ones. Each appointment left me more and more depressed, and finally, when I arrived in New York, I suddenly thought to call Dan. I was in need of some pastoral counseling on the matter of nuclear weapons, and who better to see? We had never met, but he graciously welcomed me to his quarters.

For several hours, he shared with me his vision, which essentially boiled down to this: ‘We live in a culture of death — and it is up to us to resist it.’ There was a lifetime of experience behind these words and I felt the weight of them.   Then, as we were coming to the end of our time, I said, ‘Dan, I’m going back to the West Coast.  What can I do for you?’ He then delivered a point-blank missive: ‘Don’t do anything for me. Find some people you can pray with and march with.’ This handful of syllables hit their mark all those years ago, and I have done my best to practice them. Following his plain and provocative order, I did as he asked — and my life took an unexpected detour onto a road of nonviolent transformation that I am still, in fits and starts, traveling. Dan, I am grateful for your mighty journey — and the one it inspired in me and countless others.”

Ken Butigan is director of Pace e Bene, a nonprofit organization fostering nonviolent change through education, community and action.

“Early on in his priesthood, Dan would say mass for a nunnery in Brooklyn that my aunt, Sr. Rene Donovan, belonged to. When I was a young man protesting the war (in 1970-71) my aunt shared a story about Fr. Berrigan. She said she liked him but many of the nuns did not. Why? Because most of them had to shove off to jobs, and needed to grab a quick breakfast, get up and out. She said Dan would say each mass, each word, with such feeling and pause after many lines in contemplation. He was feeling the words, and reliving the experience of the cross when he said each mass. She said many of the sisters would be looking at their watches, sighing, and relieved if they got a priest who would just zip through mass without any pausing.”

Anthony Donovan, hospice nurse and filmmaker. His latest documentary is “Good Thinking,” about those who tried to halt nuclear weapons.

My uncle Dan stood up against injustices in the world because it was the right thing to do. He saw changes that needed to be made and took action to make said changes. He became the voice for people whose voices couldn’t be heard. To me, he will always be my uncle Dan with the sparkly blue eyes, bright smile and an affinity for sweets. A man who loved a good laugh and reminiscing on the past. His impact on others has been profound and he continues to inspire me to be determined, passionate in my beliefs, teach others and continue to make a difference every day.

Jenn Berrigan, grandniece

How ‘Strategy for a Living Revolution’ came to life

by George Lakey

In Prague during the height of the Cold War, I met an African freedom fighter who changed my life. He and I were there as resource people for a 1967 international youth conference on revolution.

The participants from both sides of the Iron Curtain came to the conference already allies of anti-imperialist struggles. Looking for a lively issue to stimulate the gathering, I raised a tough question: Shouldn’t we take a leaf from Gandhi’s book and choose nonviolent means? The African freedom fighter — Nathan Shamuyarira, who represented an armed struggle going on at that moment — and I served as opposite poles in the discussion that followed.

Before parting, Nathan and I took time for a friendly one-on-one. “George,” he said, “you know that many of us were initially inspired by Gandhi and did begin with nonviolent protests. I was raised up a pacifist and hoped we could succeed that way, but the British suppressed us ruthlessly. Now we have no choice. In my country, we who give leadership have no space to look for nonviolent alternatives. Your situation is different. You’re in grad school, with intellectual resources and time. Do the work that we cannot do: Explore the possibilities we can’t see, and write out a pragmatic, strategic path for a nonviolent revolution.”

With some trepidation, I accepted the challenge. I read many works on strategy, including Frantz Fanon and Murray Bookchin, Che Guevara and Gramsci and Rosa Luxemburg. In grad school I turned every possible course into an exercise to further my mission, and became so over-specialized that I failed my Ph.D. oral examination. I did, though, succeed in publishing the book I was calling “Strategy for a Living Revolution” in 1973.

Nathan Shamuyarira and I never crossed paths again. He eventually became Zimbabwe’s foreign minister and an apologist for dictator Robert Mugabe. He died two years ago, but the book he challenged me to write lives on. In fact, its third North American edition, entitled “Toward a Living Revolution” was just published in March. To commemorate the occasion, here is the rest of the story of the people and events that shaped the book.

A radicalizing journey

When I started researching the book, I was enamored by regime change. Like some optimists who a few years ago expected a bright future for the Arab Awakening, I believed that throwing the rascals out, nonviolently, would bring about a just society. After meeting Nathan, I spent the summer buried in the Harvard Library and found a major flaw in my reasoning. I found three cases from Latin America where the people overthrew their dictators nonviolently – two in 1944 and one in 1931 – but then found their achievements erased by oligarchical push-back. Clearly, more is needed for a living revolution: a deeper power shift, more of an emerging democratic infrastructure and the means to defend the new society. All that went into the book.

At an international below-the-radar gathering in Clarens, Switzerland, I found myself in a room late at night with Bernard Lafayette from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, and a leader of an armed movement struggling for justice. In explaining his view of power, Bernard used a metaphor I heard for the first time: A society is like a house and the regime is the roof, dependent on the support of the pillars that stand on the foundation. The foundation is the willingness of the people to cooperate. It doesn’t matter, Bernard said, how dazzling the roof is — how many bombs and bullets it has — if the foundation goes, the roof will collapse.

Bernard’s pillars metaphor pushed me to see more clearly the necessity of prefigurative institutions having enough heft to hold society together during the crash. Bernard also supported me to listen well to the feedback I got the next day, when I shared with 40 participants my progress on the book. The most critical feedback was from a scholar who asked: “What’s the value of a strategy without a vision? If a movement only knows what it doesn’t like, and hasn’t even a sketch of what should replace today’s unjust institutions, how can it evaluate alternative strategies, or ask for, and deserve, the broad support it needs?”

I realized he was right, although working it out would delay completion of the book. Nathan had asked for a general theory for nonviolent revolution that people could adapt for their own situation. That was fine; I was excused from offering a vision for any specific country. Still I needed to figure out the role of vision and how to embed its underlying values while letting democratic discussion in the struggle refine the vision.

At the time I knew of no movement that achieved a nonviolent social revolution resulting in sustainable democracy. We would need to learn what we could from partial successes. The most successful movements seemed to grow through a series of stages, analogous to a human being’s growth from stage to stage. Vision, then, might be something like DNA, embedded and influential but not controlling, offering abilities and internal resource, as well as limitations that to some degree might be overcome. Revolutionists could put vision in the first stage and let it be the DNA.

Since writing the book I found a nonviolent revolution in which vision did work in just that way. The workers’ and farmers’ revolutionary movement in Norway was hugely influenced by its Marxist vision, but not limited by it. As the people struggled, they learned and paid attention to the changing world around them. As it turned out, the Norwegians moved successfully through the first four stages in the Living Revolution framework, with results that 80 years later still startle Americans with their degree of equality and individual freedom.

Feminists challenge the stages

The Living Revolution’s five-stage framework was far enough along so that it could be adopted in the early 1970s by the Movement for a New Society, or MNS. The model was incorporated in the War Resisters International’s “Manifesto for a Nonviolent Revolution” and published in many languages.

The timing coincided with the second wave of feminism, a struggle strongly waged within the fledgling MNS. Along with other men in MNS, I resisted change; it would be a few years before I was ready to help found Men Against Patriarchy. In the course of our MNS struggle, some feminist women found the Living Revolution model fitting all-too-neatly into a patriarchal thought pattern. They pointed to how linear the stages are: first do cultural preparation (including analysis and vision), second build organization, third confront the oppressor with propaganda of the deed, fourth escalate to mass noncooperation, and fifth fill the resulting power vacuum with the parallel institutions planted in stage two by organizing cooperative alternatives that meet people’s needs.

I acknowledged that it was linear, but said that’s the nature of developmental schemes: infant/child/adolescent/adult. “Precisely,” they said. “Reality is more complex than linear stages. An adult finds further growth by embracing the inner child, not by marginalizing childhood and becoming an adult control freak.”

I continued to object: Activist movement-builders often have difficulty thinking sequentially, yet when I ask them in a workshop to write on pieces of paper their favorite tactics, then ask them to place the tactics on the floor in a sequence that makes sense to them in reaching the goal, they are able to do it. Moreover, their usual outcome as a group is actually the five-stage model! The stages tap a common sense that is otherwise hard to access. The model states a natural development and, once stated, it can support unity and application.

The feminists continued the argument. “The linearity of the model doesn’t fit a complex society: In one social location people are just now raising their consciousness about an injustice, while in another spot there is a group already building alternatives, and in a third spot — at the same time — there are people getting arrested in the confrontation stage. The linearity pretends to a coherence that doesn’t represent the scatter of diversity!”

Our long and often-emotional dialogue resulted in yet another win for conflict among comrades. We came to realize that the framework works better when we expect iteration of the stages. Early in the historical process organizers might find the sequence only goes from stage one to two and then repeats. Then it may reach stage three and repeat several times until stage four (mass noncooperation) occurs. That sequence may repeat several times until, finally, in enough social/economic locations with growing coordination, broad unity makes it possible to do the whole five-stage sequence. The movement can add far more people with stage one work, bring them into organizations, support them through the fierce stage three, which in turn flows into mass noncooperation and finally parallel institutions.

One of the critics showed graphically that such a modification of the framework would be cyclical — a break-away from patriarchal rigidity — and would resemble the structure of a sea animal, the chambered nautilus.

Flexing the framework this way also made it more useful for campaigns operating in a liberal democracy that is not facing a revolutionary situation. A campaign might aim for what the French labor strategist André Gorz called a “revolutionary reform.” Campaigns can be won by projecting only the first four stages, sometimes just by waging the first three.

I like the humility of this approach. At the present moment we can’t predict how soon the 1 percent’s resistance to change will combine with the climate crisis to create a revolutionary situation. Polarization in the United States continues to accelerate. We might embark on a campaign expecting it will run for only three or four stages to gain a particular victory, yet not be surprised if the legitimacy of liberal “democracy” rapidly goes down the toilet, and we can deepen our mass noncooperation and go to the stage of parallel institutions.

That kind of preparation is what the pro-democracy forces in Egypt would have found useful in 2011. The Global Nonviolent Action Database has many cases illustrating the missed opportunities when crisis deepened beyond the expectations of the would-be reformers. They weren’t prepared to be nimble and support their movements to express fully the people power that might be mobilized.

By responding to Nathan’s challenge I became more grounded in my identity as a lifelong activist and gained tools for staying in touch with today’s reality while preparing for tomorrow’s possibilities. I’m grateful to so many along the way, including longtime activist David Hartsough whose recent cross-country travels convinced him that the book speaks to today’s challenges and helped make this new North American edition possible.

When Father Daniel Berrigan went underground as ‘The Holy Outlaw’

by The Editors

After being sentenced to three years in prison for his part in the 1968 burning of stolen draft files in Catonsville, Maryland, Rev. Daniel Berrigan went underground, evading capture by the FBI for four months. During that time, Berrigan — who passed away on April 30 at the age of 94 — was interviewed for a television documentary called “The Holy Outlaw,” which aired in September 1970, one month after he was finally apprehended.

The documentary, directed by Lee Lockwood for PBS-precursor National Educational Television, has been hard to find over the years, relegated to clips on Democracy Now! and the odd showing at Berrigan-related events. However, thanks to a copy of the film saved by his longtime Jesuit community, Waging Nonviolence is able to share this incredibly rare and important chronicling of Berrigan’s trailblazing act of civil disobedience.

In addition to candid interviews with Berrigan, the film features prominent commentary from renowned historian Howard Zinn, who gives poignant context to Berrigan’s act of defiance, saying, “The law, what we call the law, hunts down some of the best people in society — the people we need to build the kind of country that we need.” Berrigan’s mother, theologian William Stringfellow and members of the Milwaukee 14 also appear in the film, offering support to the self-proclaimed “peace criminal” and “refugee of justice.”

At one point, Berrigan appears in a Philadelphia church to give an impromptu sermon. After being introduced by John Raines — who, along with his wife Bonnie would take part in the infamous Media, Pennsylvania FBI office break-in a year later — Berrigan told churchgoers, “There are a hundred nonviolent means of resisting those who would inflict death as the ordinary way of life… Peace will not be won without such serious and constant and sacrificial and courageous actions on the part of large numbers of good men and women.”

Toward the end of the film, Lockwood asks Berrigan if he has any knowledge of whether his actions have helped make a change. Berrigan responds by saying, “The first evidence of anything really occurring in the lives of others is some evidence that some change has occurred to one’s self, and I’m quite certain that that has occurred.” This particular line reveals the true purpose — and lasting legacy — of the film: to depict a man in transformation.

In the final scene, Berrigan is in handcuffs, being hauled away to jail by disgruntled FBI agents — all while wearing a smile on his face. A reporter asks, “What are your future plans?” After pausing a moment, the answer becomes clear to Berrigan: “Resistance!” It’s the final word spoken in the film, but one that Berrigan would speak many times over the rest of his life.

The life and death of Daniel Berrigan

by Rev. John Dear

Rev. Daniel Berrigan in 1995. (Getty/Chris Felver)

Rev. Daniel Berrigan, the renowned anti-war activist, award-winning poet, author and Jesuit priest, who inspired religious opposition to the Vietnam War and later the U.S. nuclear weapons industry, died at age 94, just a week shy of his 95th birthday.

He died of natural causes at the Jesuit infirmary at Murray-Weigel Hall in the Bronx. I had visited him just last week. He has long been in declining health.

Dan Berrigan published over 50 books of poetry, essays, journals and scripture commentaries, as well as an award winning play, “The Trial of the Catonsville Nine,” in his remarkable life, but he was most known for burning draft files with homemade napalm along with his brother Philip and seven others on May 17, 1968, in Catonsville, Maryland, igniting widespread national protest against the Vietnam war, including increased opposition from religious communities. He was the first U.S. priest ever arrested in protest of war, at the national mobilization against the Vietnam war at the Pentagon in October 1967. He was arrested hundreds of times since then in protests against war and nuclear weapons, spent two years of his life in prison, and was repeatedly nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Daniel Berrigan was born on May 9, 1921 in Virginia, Minnesota, the fifth of six boys to Thomas and Frieda Berrigan. His family subsequently moved to Syracuse, New York, where the boys grew up attending Catholic grade schools. After high school, Berrigan applied to the Society of Jesus, the Catholic religious order known as “The Jesuits.” He entered the Jesuit novitiate at St. Andrew-on-the-Hudson, near Poughkeepsie, New York in August 1939.

With his classmates, he made the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, a 30-day silent retreat; spent two years studying philosophy; went on to teach at St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City, New Jersey (from 1946-1949); and eventually, to study at Weston School of Theology in Cambridge, Massachusetts (from 1949-1953).

Berrigan was ordained a priest on June 21, 1952 in Boston. In 1953, he traveled to France for the traditional Jesuit sabbatical year known as “tertianship.” There, his worldview expanded as he met the French “worker priests.” He returned to teach at Brooklyn Prep until 1957, when he moved on to LeMoyne College in Syracuse, New York, where he taught New Testament until 1962. There he founded “International House,” an intentional community of activist students who seek to live solidarity with the third world poor, a project that continues today.

In 1957, Berrigan published his first book of poetry, “Time Without Number.” The book won the Lamont Poetry Award and was nominated for the National Book Award. His poem “Credentials,” had first caught the attention of poet Marianne Moore who recommended his poetry to publishers and became a friend.

After that first book, Berrigan began publishing one or two books of poetry and prose each year for the rest of his life. His early books include “The Bride: Essays in the Church”; “Encounters; The Bow in the Clouds”; “The World for Wedding Ring”; “No One Walks Waters”; “They Call us Dead Men”; “Love, Love at the End”; and “False Gods, Real Men.”

Denied permission to accompany his younger brother Philip, a Josephite priest, on a Freedom Ride through the South, Berrigan went to Paris on sabbatical in 1963, and then on to Czechoslovakia, Hungary and South Africa. On his return, he began to speak out against U.S. military involvement in Vietnam and co-founded the Catholic Peace Fellowship. In 1964, along with his brother Philip, A.J. Muste, Jim Forest and other peacemakers, he attended a retreat hosted by Thomas Merton at the Abbey of Gethsemani. That retreat marked a turning point for Merton and the Berrigans as they committed themselves to write and speak out against war and nuclear weapons, and advocate Christian peacemaking.

Merton recorded his meeting with Berrigan in the early 1960s in “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander,” calling Berrigan “an altogether winning and warm intelligence and a man who, I think, has more than anyone I have ever met the true wide-ranging and simple heart of the Jesuit: zeal, compassion, understanding and uninhibited religious freedom. Just seeing him restores one’s hope in the church.”

In 1965, he marched in Selma, became assistant editor of “Jesuit Missions,” and co-founded Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam with Rabbi Abraham Heschel. He began a grueling weekly speaking schedule across the country that continued until about 10 years ago.

In November 1965, a young Catholic Worker named Roger LaPorte immolated himself in front of the United Nations. After speaking at a private liturgy for LaPorte, Berrigan was ordered to leave the country immediately by his Jesuit superiors. Berrigan began a six-month journey throughout Latin America. His expulsion cause a national stir throughout the media, and Berrigan returned to New York and in 1967, became the first Catholic chaplain at Cornell University. His book, “Consequences: Truth and…” chronicled his journeys to Selma, South Africa and Latin America.

On October 22, 1967, Berrigan was arrested for the first time with hundreds of students protesting the war at the Pentagon. “For the first time,” he wrote in his journal in the D.C. Jail, “I put on the prison blue jeans and denim shirt; a clerical attire I highly recommend for a new church.” In February 1968, he traveled to North Vietnam with Howard Zinn to receive three U.S. Air Force personnel who were being released. While they awaited their meeting with the Viet Cong, they took cover in a Hanoi shelter as U.S. bombs fell around him. His diary of his trip to North Vietnam, “Night Flight to Hanoi,” was published later that year.

The Catonsville Nine watch draft files burn as they wait to be arrested.

On May 17th, 1968, along with his brother Philip and seven others, Berrigan burned 300 A-1 draft files in Catonsville, Maryland, in a protest against the Vietnam War. “Our apologies, good friends,” Dan wrote in the Catonsville Nine statement, “for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children, the angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house. We could not, so help us God, do otherwise.” Their action attracted massive national and international press, and led to hundreds of similar demonstrations. After an explosive three-day trial in October, he was found guilty of destruction of property.

In his autobiography, “To Dwell in Peace,” Berrigan reflected on the effect of the Catonsville protest: “The act was pitiful, a tiny flare amid the consuming fires of war. But Catonsville was like a firebreak, a small fire lit, to contain and conquer a greater. The time, the place, were weirdly right. They spoke for passion, symbol, reprisal. Catonsville seemed to light up the dark places of the heart, where courage and risk and hope were awaiting a signal, a dawn,” he wrote. “For the remainder of our lives, the fires would burn and burn, in hearts and minds, in draft boards, in prisons and courts. A new fire, new as a Pentecost, flared up in eyes deadened and hopeless, the noble powers of soul given over to the ‘powers of the upper air.’ ‘Nothing can be done!’ How often we had heard that gasp: the last of the human, of soul, of freedom. Indeed, something could be done, and was. And would be.”

The Catonsville Nine protest was followed extensively around the world, in large part because of the shock of two Catholic priests facing prison for a peace protest.

In his 1969 bestseller, “No Bars to Manhood,” Berrigan wrote: “We have assumed the name of peacemakers, but we have been, by and large, unwilling to pay any significant price. And because we want the peace with half a heart and half a life and will, the war, of course, continues, because the waging of war, by its nature, is total — but the waging of peace, by our own cowardice, is partial… There is no peace because there are no peacemakers. There are no makers of peace because the making of peace is at least as costly as the making of war — at least as exigent, at least as disruptive, at least as liable to bring disgrace and prison and death in its wake.”

Back at Cornell, Berrigan wrote the best-selling play, “The Trial of the Catonsville Nine,” which later opened in New York and Los Angeles, and became a film under the direction of actor Gregory Peck. The play has been performed hundreds of times around the world, and continues to be performed as a statement against war.

When Berrigan and his co-defendants were to report to prison to begin their sentences in April 1970, both Berrigans went “underground” instead of turning themselves in. For four months, Daniel Berrigan traveled through the Northeast, speaking to the media, writing articles against the war, and occasionally appearing in public, much to the anger and frustration of J. Edgar Hoover and the F.B.I., which eventually tracked him down and arrested him on August 11, 1970, at the home of theologian William Stringfellow on Block Island, off the coast of Rhode Island. He was brought to the federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut, where he spent 18 months. On June 9, 1971, while having his teeth examined, he suffered a massive allergic reaction to a misfired novocaine injection and nearly died. On February 24, 1972, he was released.

In “The Dark Night of Resistance,” a bestseller written during his months underground, Berrigan used St. John of the Cross’ “Dark Night of the Soul” as a guide for antiwar resisters. Harvard professor Robert Coles recorded a series of conversations with Berrigan during his months in hiding in Boston, later published as “The Geography of Faith.” “America is Hard to Find” was his collected letters and articles from underground and prison, and was published along with “Trial Poems” and “Prison Poems.” His prison diary, “Lights on in the House of the Dead,” another bestseller, recorded his Danbury experience.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Berrigan attracted widespread media attention, was on the cover of Time magazine, and became the focus of intense national debate not only about the war, but how people of faith should oppose the war. He became one the most well-known priests in the world, and consistently called for the Church to abolish its just war theory and return to the nonviolence of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel.

While he was underground, Berrigan wrote a widely-circulated open letter, first published in the Village Voice, to the Weathermen, the underground group of violent revolutionaries who blew up buildings in opposition to U.S. wars. “The death of a single human is too heavy a price to pay for the vindication of any principle, however sacred,” Berrigan wrote. Some credited his statement as a major reason for the break up of the Weather Underground.

In 1972, the U.S. filed indictments against the Berrigans and other activists charging them with threatening to kidnap Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. The trial in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, aimed mainly at Philip Berrigan, was the longest trial in U.S. history, up to that time, and resulted in a mistrial and equivalent acquittal. Afterwards, Berrigan spent six months in Paris living and studying with Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, collaborating on a book of conversations about peace, called “The Raft is not the Shore.”

In 1973, after teaching at Union Theological Seminary and Fordham University, Berrigan joined the New York West Side Jesuit Community on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where he lived with some 30 other Jesuits for the rest of his life.

Daniel Berrigan participating in a prayer service in support of Occupy Wall Street in 2012. (Flickr/Al-Nite Images)

After the indictments and mistrial in Harrisburg, the Berrigans turned their attention to the U.S. nuclear weapons industry and embarked on resistance as a way of life. On September 9, 1980, with Philip and six friends, Berrigan walked into the General Electric headquarters in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania and hammered on unarmed nuclear weapon nosecones. They were arrested, tried, convicted and faced up to 10 years in prison for the felony charge of destruction of government property. Their “Plowshares” action opened a new chapter in the history of nonviolent resistance and the anti-nuclear movement. Berrigan drew inspiration from the biblical prophet Isaiah who wrote that one day, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.”

During their 1981 trial in Philadelphia, which was later dramatized in the film, “In the King of Prussia,” starring Martin Sheen, Berrigan said: “The only message I have to the world is: We are not allowed to kill innocent people. We are not allowed to be complicit in murder. We are not allowed to be silent while preparations for mass murder proceed in our name, with our money, secretly … It’s terrible for me to live in a time where I have nothing to say to human beings except, ‘Stop killing.’ There are other beautiful things that I would love to be saying to people. There are other projects I could be very helpful at. And I can’t do them. I cannot. Because everything is endangered. Everything is up for grabs. Ours is a kind of primitive situation, even though we would call ourselves sophisticated. Our plight is very primitive from a Christian point of view. We are back where we started. Thou shalt not kill; we are not allowed to kill. Everything today comes down to that — everything.”

Over 100 plowshares anti-nuclear demonstrations have occurred since 1980, including in England, Ireland, Germany and Australia.

As he continued to speak each week around the country and publish books of poetry and essays, Berrigan also served as a hospital chaplain in Manhattan at St. Rose’s Home for the poor, and then at St. Vincent’s Hospital, with cancer patients and later with AIDS patients, which he chronicled in his books, “We Die Before We Live,” and “Sorrow Built a Bridge.” In 1984, he traveled to El Salvador and Nicaragua to learn first-hand from church leaders about the effects of the U.S. wars there, and wrote about the journey in “Steadfastness of the Saints.”

In 1985, filmmaker Roland Joffe invited Berrigan to Paraguay, Argentina and Colombia to serve as advisor to the film, “The Mission.” He also had a small part, alongside Robert DeNiro, Jeremy Irons and Liam Neeson. Berrigan published an account about the making of the film, the Jesuit missions in Latin America of 1770s, and their relevance to contemporary efforts against war today, in his book, “The Mission.” In 1988, he published his autobiography, “To Dwell In Peace.”

In the mid-1980s, Berrigan began to publish a series of 20 scripture commentaries on the books of the Hebrew Bible. “And the Risen Bread: Selected Poems of Daniel Berrigan, 1957-1997,” which I edited, was published in 1996.

Dan was my greatest friend and teacher, for over 35 years. We traveled the nation and the world together; went to jail together; and I edited five books of his writings. But all along I consider him one of the most important religious figures of the last century, right alongside Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day and his brother Philip. Dan and Phil inspired millions of people around the world to speak out against war and work for peace, and helped turn the Catholic church back to its Gospel roots of peace and nonviolence. I consider him not just a legendary peace activist, but one of the greatest saints and prophets of modern times. I will write more about him, but for now, I celebrate his extraordinary life, and invite everyone to ponder his great witness.

Thank you, Dan. May we all take heart from your astonishing peacemaking life, and carry on the work to abolish war, poverty and nuclear weapons.

A version of this story was published on Common Dreams.

Debate on protesting Trump featured in Vox

by Eric Stoner

In March, we published a series of articles on how activists are approaching their protests against Donald Trump and ways that they might rethink or reinvigorate them. Yesterday, Dara Lind drew heavily from the conversation on Waging Nonviolence, particularly the exchange between George Lakey and Andrew Willis Garcés, in her article for Vox, “Anti-Trump protesters aren’t trying to change anyone’s mind. Here’s their strategy.

Can the climate movement break free from the ‘jobs vs. environment’ debate?

by Kate Aronoff

(Facebook / 350)

For two weeks this May, organizers across 12 countries will participate in Break Free 2016, an open-source invitation to encourage “more action to keep fossil fuels in the ground and an acceleration in the just transition to 100 percent renewable energy.” Many of the month’s events — pulled together by 350.org and a slew of groups around the world — are set to take place within ongoing campaigns to shut down energy infrastructure, targeting “some of the most iconic and dangerous fossil fuel projects all over the world” with civil disobedience.

The Break Free site’s opening page invites viewers to “join a global wave of resistance to keep coal, oil and natural gas in the ground.” And that’s where some unions have taken issue.

The United Steelworkers, or USW, this week released a response. “Short-sighted and narrow-focused activities like 350.org’s ‘Break Free’ actions,” they write, “make it much more challenging to work together to create and envision a clean energy economy.” Three of the locations targeted — in Pennsylvania, Indiana and Washington — are USW-represented refineries. The union argues that, despite record growth in renewables, the economy will continue to be reliant on fossil fuels for some time. “Shutting down a handful of refineries in the United States,” they say, “would lead to massive job loss in refinery communities, increased imports of refined oil products, and ultimately no impact on global carbon emissions.” Rather, refineries and their workers should be brought into the clean energy economy.

The statement ends arguing that, “We can’t choose between good jobs or a healthy environment. If we don’t have both, we’ll have neither.” In more familiar terms, Breaking Free — for the USW — sounds like a case of jobs versus the environment.

While similar releases are standard fare for other unions, the 30,000-member USW is one of the country’s most progressive — even when it comes to environmental issues.

“People assume that because we’re an industrial union that our leadership doesn’t care about the environment,” Roxanne Brown told me. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Brown is the assistant legislative director at USW, and emphasized the union’s long history of work on environmental issues. The USW hosted a conference in support of air pollutant regulations in the late 1960s, early on rejecting the kind of weaponized jobs versus environment rhetoric that has cropped up around the Keystone XL pipeline and other extraction fights.

In 1967, former president I.W. Abel said that, “We refuse to be the buffer between positive pollution control activity by the community and resistance by industry,” and advocated for unions to play a strong role in determining environmental regulations.

“If you do not participate, the standards may well be determined not by the breathers of air in the community, but by those who have a vested interest in the industrial facilities,” he added.

Just last spring, the USW enlisted the support of green groups in their six-week, nationwide strike, each arguing that unsafe refineries posed a threat to workers and communities alike. “The workers are like canaries in the mine,” USW spokeswoman Lynn Hancock told me last year. “They can see what’s going on and what happens before something tragic happens.” Groups like the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Communities for a Better Environment and even Divest London turned out to support on both sides of the Atlantic.

Where unions and greens coalesced around confronting rampant workplace safety issues in refineries — the kind that caused disasters like the Deepwater Horizon spill of 2010 — the former see cutting off fossil fuel supplies as an existential threat. Brown didn’t have any illusions about the fact that coal, oil and natural gas would be phased out eventually. Unlike Break Free groups, though, she thinks the government should provide incentives and investments in R&D to make sure they’re used in “the cleanest and most efficient ways possible.”

As recent studies find that some 82 percent of fossil fuels must remain buried to avert catastrophic global warming, keeping them in the ground doesn’t sound like such a radical demand. To meet the dangerously modest 2 degree Celsius goal outlined in the Paris Agreement signed last week, it’s a bare minimum. The issue, in this case, may not be that Break Free is too ambitious in its anti-extraction plans. It may not be ambitious enough — either in the scale at which it plans to shut down the industry or how it plans to transition over to an economy not fueled by coal, oil and natural gas.

Of course, there’s no mandate on any one initiative to arrive at a fully-formed program for a just transition off fossil fuels. But organizers may do well to see bringing unions like the USW to the table as a strategic boon, not by giving up on calls to keep fossil fuels in the ground, but by working with unions on fleshed-out plans for phasing them out entirely.

“The just transition message loses a lot of its strength if you’re not thinking about how to make those jobs on the other end high-road and high-wage,” Brown said. The vast majority of the renewables and manufacturing jobs are non-unionized, and the patchwork, “boom and bust” nature of incentives offered to solar and wind turbine companies means that jobs in the industry can leave nearly as quickly as they come.

In 2013, the USW worked with the governor’s office in Pennsylvania to attract Spanish wind turbine manufacturer Gamesa to the state, on the grounds that the facility would employ steelworkers. The steel being used to make the blades produced at the Fairless Hills site, moreover, came from USW shops in Illinois and Indiana.

“It was so beautiful to see this whole supply chain come together to make this final product by the clean energy sector made by steelworkers,” Brown told me. But once a federal tax incentive for wind power (the Production Tax Credit) expired, the company left the state and put over a thousand union workers out of a job.

The USW and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers have each attempted to organize the renewables sector, but faced pushback from companies. There have been, according to Brown, “Very real attempts to deter organizing campaigns. They engage in the same practices that traditional manufacturing facilities engage in. They hire the same anti-union consultants to come in and keep the union out.”

Organized labor, on the defensive in the United States after 40-plus years of neoliberal assault, is understandably shy about saying no to any projects which could provide jobs for their members; just over 11 percent of U.S. workers are represented by unions. But as oil markets face an uncertain future, “the end of oil as we know it” will hit fossil fuel workers — not executives — first. With the fossil fuel industry and union density each crumbling, convincing labor to let go of a largely unionized industry will be an uphill battle.

Still, labor is no monolith. There are sharp divides among unions over the climate and the future of fossil fuels. There are also plenty of potential allies. Some unions, mainly in the building trades, have poured money and staff time into stopping green group’s efforts. Others have waded more cautiously, signing onto events like the 2014 People’s Climate March on the strict condition that it not take a stand on infrastructure projects like the Keystone XL. Unions like National Nurses United and the Communications Workers of America, on the other hand, have been outspoken about their support for the climate fight. And projects like the Labor Network for Sustainability and Trade Unions for Energy Democracy — a coalition of international unions — outline and argue for a holistic transition away from fossil fuels.

A unionized renewables sector is just one piece of building a just and low-carbon economy, to be complemented by retraining programs and a bolstered public sphere with funding for such things as public housing and universal childcare. Proposals like the Leap Manifesto in Canada, Britain’s One Million Climate Jobs campaign and National People’s Action’s “Long-Term Agenda to the New Economy” here in the states all present promising models, both for a transition plan and cross-movement organizing efforts with buy-in from unions and environmentalists alike.

A growing, green industry born of the United States’ hostile labor climate is unlikely to produce steady and well-paying jobs without a fight — not to mention a cross-movement plan beyond shutting down individual infrastructure projects. Breaking Free from fossil fuels can also mean breaking into a more sustainable economy.

Guatemala’s campesinos march to demand right to water

by Jeff Abbott

Marchers from across Guatemala braved the heat and rain as they marched to Guatemala City. (WNV/Jeff Abbott)

Across Guatemala, both rural communities and urban centers have mobilized to protest the systematic theft and privatization of water by transnational companies and the Guatemalan oligarchy. On April 22, nearly 15,000 gathered in Guatemala City to demand an end to this control over water. Marchers had set out on April 11 from the city of Tecun Unam in the northwest department of San Marcos, and from Puruhá, Baja Verapaz. The various columns of demonstrators walked over 263 miles for 11 days to demand that the state address the right to water across the country.

“We have suffered for many years from the theft and contamination of our rivers, especially on the southern coast,” said Daniel Pascual, the leader of the United Campesino Committee, who was one of the central organizers of the march. “There is a massive contamination that is generated by the production of African palm oil and the production of sugar cane. Every year these companies use all the water, and leave the campesinos in drought-like conditions due to the divergence of rivers. Water is a point that affects every citizen, both indigenous and non-indigenous, in the city and in rural areas, with money or without money. This is a grave problem.”

Guatemala is a country with many rivers, streams and lakes. This abundance of water has attracted hundreds of companies to look into the expansion of hydropower, agro-industry or manufacturing in the country. But Guatemala’s water sources are heavily contested, with both campesinos and industry competing for access. All too often business wins out over the poor campesinos, but rural residents have mobilized to demand the companies respect their right to water.

“We’ve been marching down this highway to demand an end of the extractive industries, such as palm oil production, which contaminate our water,” said Ana María Top, a Mayan Kaqchikel from the Association of Integral Group of Women from the community of San Juan Sacatepéquez. “Furthermore, we are seeing the privatization of water in our country. We are here stating that water is life; it isn’t a commodity.”

The thousands of men, women, children and elderly that participated in the 11-day march braved the rain and heat to arrive in Guatemala City. The marchers received support from communities that they passed, with residents donating water and beverages.

The water march arrived in Guatemala City on April 22 to commemorate Earth Day, and to demand that the government resolve the water crisis. The protesters that had set out on April 11 were quickly joined by thousands of students, labor unions and social organizations from across the city, as they demonstrated outside the Guatemalan National Palace and the congressional building to demand that the state respond to the water crisis.

Along the way they also collected water from the streams they crossed, but as marchers crossed into the department of Suchitepequez, along the southern coast, they found that every river and stream that they passed was polluted by industry.

A marcher looks down at one of the many contaminated rivers that marchers passed. (WNV/Jeff Abbott)

Along the way, marchers collected testimonies of residents of the contamination created by monocultures and other industries. These were included as part of a denouncement over the widespread contamination of water resources, which was delivered to the Guatemalan Public Ministry upon arrival in Guatemala City.

According to a 2015 report from the Guatemalan daily newspaper, Prensa Libre, some 85 million cubic meters of water are available in the country. However, of this, about 34 million are polluted.

The southern coast has been especially affected by these contaminations. The departments along the coast have seen the massive expansion of monoculture production such as African palm oil, sugar cane and rubber in the last 15 years. These industries are detouring, or siphoning off the rivers that once flowed through the region.

In fact, it is all too common to see dry riverbeds, or weak and polluted streams that were once strong rivers, while driving down the Central America 9 highway.

One such case is the Madre Vieja River in Esquintla. Communities along this river have mobilized to guarantee that the river stay available for everyone.

Liberating a river from privatization

It is rare to see milpas — the fields of maize, beans and squashes that so many small farmers rely on in Guatemala — let alone forest along the highways of the lowlands of the southern Guatemalan department of Esquintla. Instead along the highways stretch miles and miles of fields of mono-crops such as sugar cane and African palm oil. Yet, a few communities still survive from the production of staple crops. The expansion of monoculture production across the region has brought with it conflicts over the precious water in the region, yet campesinos have mobilized to keep the large companies from blocking their access to the rivers.

Early in the morning of February 10, workers from the palm company HAME dammed the Madre Vieja River, channeling the water of the river to their crops. This has been a consistent occurrence over the last 15 years, after the arrival of the production of African palm oil to Esquintla. The expansion of banana production in the region has stressed the water sources, with the agro-industries using nearly 95 percent of the river during the dry season. According to residents, this leads to the river completely drying up, which has in turn pushed the 98 communities along the river to protest the loss of access to the water for their crops.

Residents gathered in the municipality of Nueva Concepción, Esquintla the same day that HAME detoured the river to demand that the mayor intervene in the conflict over the river. Days later, on February 12, residents mobilized along the river and — with support from the municipality and heavy machinery — removed the dam that the company had built, liberating the river.

Supporters share bags of water with marchers as they arrive to the city of Mazatenango, Suchitepequez. (WNV/Jeff Abbott)

The communities have maintained vigilance over the point in the river that the palm company built the dam. They have stated that they will not let the company rebuild the dam. They have received support from the municipality of Nueva Concepción, and from the Guatemalan Human Rights Office.

Members of the communities of the municipality of Nueva Concepción joined the marchers for the right to water on April 17, and continued along with the other marchers to Guatemala City.

Facing corporate impunity

One of the clearest cases of massive contamination in recent years has been of Pasión River in the northern Guatemalan department of Petén. Heavy rains in the municipality of Sayaxaché between the end of April and early May led to the overflow of the palm oil plantations’ oxidation pools, which flowed directly into the river, leading to the mass die-off of fish in the river. Blame quickly fell upon the local palm company Reforestadora Palma de Petén S.A., or REPSA, which has operated in the region since 2000. Initially, the company accepted responsibility for the contamination of the river.

“Unusually heavy rains provoked the overflow of oxidation pools,” wrote Carlos Arevalo, the legal representative for REPSA, to Gustavo Chacon Cordon, a representative from the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources. “Fish were found with signs of asphyxiation. We have sent samples to the University of San Carlos to determine the cause of death.”

Activists accused the company of carrying out an ecocide along the Pasión River.

The samples that were sent to the University of San Carlos showed high levels of the chemical malathion, a pesticide commonly used in the palm industry. But despite this finding, within a month, the company had backtracked, denying any connection to the problem that had by then hit the national media, which ran dramatic pictures of the dead fish. The company now claimed that it “was not responsible for the deaths of the fish,” and that there was “never an ecocide.”

To make matters worse, the communities along the river were uninformed of the contamination, and only learned something was wrong as they found fish floating in the river. Serious questions were also rising about the potential health impacts on the poverty stricken indigenous communities that lie beside the river and often depend on it for most of their water needs.

“First they killed the river; then they killed the fish,” said Erasmo Caal, a community leader from the hamlet of El Chorro. “Now they are trying to kill us.”

El Chorro sits on a hill above the river in Sayaxché. It is a sparse community, with only a few structures built of cement — most houses are simple, wooden structures with thatched roofs. There are no paved roads or running water, but they do have electricity.

The community, which was established during the late 1960s, has relied on the Pasíon River as their source of water. But despite this reliance, they were never informed of the contamination and continued bathing, washing their clothing, collecting water and fishing. As a result, many have developed rashes, dry and flaky skin, and lesions.

This reflects what Guadalupe Verdejo of the World Health Organization warned when she addressed local reports. During the press conference, she stated she saw the impacts on the skin, but she stated she was most worried about hidden impacts that could emerge later on, such as cancer.

On September 17, 2015 nearly five months after REPSA was accused of contaminating the river, the company was ordered by a court to suspend all operations for 6 months, pending an investigation into the contamination. But the court order sparked spiraling tensions and even an allegation of murder.

Workers from the palm company, angry at being laid off, immediately shut down the highway near the plantations. They also detained three local activists who had arrived to ensure the company was complying with the court order. The three activists were released late in the afternoon on September 18.

The same day, Rigoberto Lima Choc, a rural schoolteacher and leading figure in movement to shut down the plant, was shot and killed outside the Sayaxche courthouse by unknown assailants. Lima Choc had initiated the case against the palm company in June by filing a legal complaint against the powerful company in Guatemala City.

Confronting the corruption enabling the theft of water

At its heart, the march for the right to water is addressing Guatemala’s embedded corruption, as well as confronting the expansion of capitalism in the region, which leaves families without the means to support themselves.

Thousands of marchers down highway CA 9 on the fifth day of the march. (WNV/Jeff Abbott)

“This is bigger than just corruption,” Pascual said. “The corruption that we saw in 2015 within the state falls short when compared to the corruption that exists with the theft of river, the contamination, the ecocides, and the privatization of water. This isn’t just for now; we need to protect the water for future generations.”

Both HAME and REPSA are part of the palm conglomerate, Olemec Group, which is owned by the powerful Molina-Botrán family, who has made their fortunes in the sugarcane and cotton industries. Current owner, Felipe Molina is a cousin of former President Otto Pérez Molina, whose administration was brought down over accusations of corruption.

The Molina family first brought palm oil to Guatemala in the late 1980s following the global fall in cotton prices. Today, according to investigative journalist Luis Solano, the palm firm controls nearly 80 percent of the industry.

The massive mobilization across Guatemala has brought into the public eye the crisis that communities face across the country, and generated a national conversation over the water situation. Organizers hope that this awareness will lead to the Guatemalan Congress passing a law that governs the use of water and protects the rights of communities to water. They also want to spur an investigation by governing bodies into the contamination of water across the country.

Members of Guatemala’s social movements and leftist parties met in the congressional building on April 22, as protesters gathered outside, to stress the need for this new water law. The movement has found support from the Guatemalan Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, which has identified 50 rivers that have been detoured.

“The government and the companies must know that we can no longer permit the theft of our rivers and water for mines, hydroelectric dams, and for monocultures,” Pascual said. “This is a call to consciousness for all citizens in rural and urban areas. It isn’t possible for them to ignore the value of water.”

Why fossil fuel divestment isn’t enough for New England students

by Abby Cuniff

Embed from Getty Images

In the past few weeks students across the country have been demanding that their schools stop profiting from oil, coal and gas companies. As student organizers in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, we believe that we can stigmatize the fossil fuel industry by mobilizing students around issues of climate change. But making changes on campus is not enough; we know that we need to participate in local fights against fossil fuel companies to strengthen our largely symbolic campaigns. The fight in our own backyard is Spectra Energy’s project to expand its “Algonquin” pipeline, which carries fracked gas from Appalachia to Boston. Spectra is constructing about 35 new miles of piping and expanding the existing pipeline to be more than twice its current width within just a few hundred feet of a nuclear power plant.

The fight against Spectra may seem like a new climate fight, but it represents only the most recent version of climate colonialism and environmental racism. Spectra’s “Algonquin” pipeline follows in the legacy of violence against indigenous peoples in New England and contributes to climate devastation occurring throughout the world.

Spectra’s decision to use a derivation of Algonquian, a major language grouping in New England, is initially quite confusing. However, when we start to identify multiple instances of businesses using indigenous words for commercial products, we can see that there is a definitive pattern. Companies have seen that stealing tribes’ names and words is often profitable, and corporate appropriation of indigeneity plays a large role in erasing our understanding of the indigenous people who are alive today.

When asked about Spectra using an indigenous word for their pipeline, Mahtowin Muhro for United American Indians of New England responded by saying, “Do they think it is somehow honoring indigenous people to call it that? We cannot imagine that anyone at [Spectra] knows anything about indigenous lives or nations or values.”

Wesleyan students at a recent teach-in. (WNV / Kati Young)

The “Algonquin” pipeline successfully reminds us of the caricature of the “natural and docile Indian,” and distracts from the fact that expanding this methane gas pipeline close to a nuclear power plant could create an explosion estimated near the size of Fukushima. It also distracts from the fact that methane gas is 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide in disrupting the global temperature. This disruption is what causes drought, storms, and sea-level rise across the world and heavily affects the Global South in a continuation of colonial violence.

To understand the patterns of global climate destruction, we looked to Naomi Klein’s discussion of Black Lives Matter and climate policy. During the period of national unrest last year, she wisely stated, “If we refuse to speak frankly about the intersection of race and climate change, we can be sure that racism will continue to inform how the governments of industrialized countries respond to this existential crisis.” We know that the United Nation’s failure to create meaningful climate policy has solidified the fact that white and wealthy people’s lives are treated as more valuable than others. People in Southeast Asia are watching their homelands slowly go underwater, as people in other parts of the Global South are suffering from oil spills, drought, extreme storms and various forms of climate destruction. In the United States, we know that wealthier and predominantly white communities are less affected by hazards related to fossil fuel extraction and pollution. The 2010 BP oil spill devastated communities along the Gulf Coast, and coal mining continues to endanger the lives of people in Appalachia.

To make sense of the immense amount of climate destruction, we began to think of climate change in the context of global colonialism, which has historically decided whose lives matter and whose lives do not. This colonial mindset is especially relevant in New England where indigenous peoples have faced scalping and murder, in addition to disease and land theft at the hands of settler societies.

Mount Holyoke students holding a teach-in. (WNV / Julia Worchester)

To combat the climate and colonial violence of Spectra’s “Algonquin” pipeline, many of our student groups have been hosting teach-ins to learn more about all of these histories. We have been routinely confronted with the fact that our schools and communities are built upon violence against indigenous peoples, and — with this knowledge — feel it is imperative that we act against the forces of colonialism within climate change. We are taking joint action as a network against Spectra this Saturday, April 30, in West Roxbury and will continue to fight as it moves toward its November 2016 projected finish of the Algonquin Incremental Market gas pipeline expansion.

We cannot remain silent, on or off campus. Complicity allows for climate destruction and upholds the legacy of colonial violence in the Northeast and abroad. We must address our colleges’ and universities’ complicity in this destruction by divesting from fossil fuels, as well as by taking direct action to stop the construction of such projects.

Court victory gives momentum to long struggle against London arms fair

by Javier Gárate

The activists celebrated when their not guilty verdict was announced outside the court on April 15. (WNV/Andrew Dey)

After a week-long trial that ended on April 15, a judge from the Stratford Magistrate Court in London found me and seven co-defendants not guilty for our actions last September to shut down the Defence Security and Equipment International arms fair, or DSEI, on the basis that we were preventing a greater crime. This is a huge victory in the long struggle to shut down one of the largest arms fairs in the world, which takes place in east London every other year.

The last fair was in September 2015, and it saw more than 1,500 exhibitors from around the world displaying the latest technology of the war industry. DSEI is an invitation-only event, where invites go to governments, industry representatives and specialized press. Delegations from repressive regimes and countries violating human rights — such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel — walk through its corridors every other year browsing the latest weaponry. This huge event is not just to showcase the latest technology, but also to facilitate new sales.

My first action against DSEI was in 2005, after I had recently moved to London from Chile. That year I joined Critical Mass, which biked through the streets of London with loud sound systems and colorful signs against the arms fair. We biked to the Excel Centre — the venue where the arms fairs happens — and for the first time in my life I saw people lying on the ground using arm tubes to lock themselves to each other to make the job of removing them harder for the police. I was impressed by the number of people taking action against an arms fair. However, friends told me that the turnout was lower than in 2003, when huge numbers protested against DSEI, and there was a high level of police repression. In Chile I had been part of a very small group of people protesting a public aerospace show called FIDAE. Schools and families see it as a nice day out, while in London the fair was closed to the public and took place with a high degree of secrecy.

I continued to join Critical Mass against DSEI almost every time it came to London and participated in marches, attended conference and wrote articles about the fair. For several years the number of people protesting continued to decline. By 2009, I wrote about how hard it is to mobilize for DSEI because of the difficulty of building momentum for an event that happens every other year and to which people could see no end. But I also argued it was part of the cycle of a campaign to feel that things are stagnated before they pick up again. This was exactly what happened with DSEI, as an increase in the number of people and the range of actions took place in 2011. This was due in large part to a new coalition formed earlier that year called Stop the Arms Fair, which brought together many organizations and activist that revitalized the campaign to shut down DSEI.

At every DSEI action, the strategy was more or less the same: to disrupt its proceedings while it was happening. Using a combination of direct action, marches and meetings to raise public awareness we hoped to stop people from attending the fair. We also wanted to bring attention to the role of the fair in the war machine and to the institutions that facilitate it — for example, the museums and venues hosting official DSEI receptions and dinners.

In 2013, there was an important change to the strategy. A “Big Day of Action” took place the Saturday before the DSEI started, followed by a week of action during the actual fair. On the Saturday action, activists managed to block the entrance to the Excel Centre for several hours with no equipment accessing the site. This success showed the way forward for the struggle against the arms fair — the key being to stop it before it began.

Stopping the preparations

This was the strategy during a week-long self-organized set of actions with specific focuses each day for 2015. It all started on September 7 with a day of action to stop arming Israel. The first action was a blockade — for hours — of an armored vehicle that was heading to the Excel Centre. On the days that followed there were actions focused on faith groups against war profiteering, the arms trade and climate change, academics against the arms trade, and freedom of movement, not of weapons. The week concluded with a “Big Day of Action.” The Stop the Arms Fair coalition and Campaign Against Arms Trade, or CAAT, provided the general frame for the different focuses each day and supported groups taking actions, but each group doing an action was self-organized.

By connecting the issue of the arms trade to other struggles — such as Palestinian solidarity, climate change and refugees — it meant that a diversity of groups got involved during the week. Important bridges were built between movements, and the arms trade was seen not as an isolated problem but rather as part of the wider struggle for social justice.

In early 2015, I moved to Belgium and received an invitation from the Belgian peace organization Vredesactie, or Peace Action, to join them in going to DSEI. Vredesactie runs the campaign I Stop the Arms Trade, which focuses on the European Union’s support of the arms industry. Soon after moving to Belgium I got involved in their campaign and occupied the offices of the lobbying organization AeroSpace and Defence Industry Association of Europe to draw attention to the European Union’s support for war profiteering.

Initially I was going to London primarily to observe and to hold meetings to build collaborations between Vredesactie and CAAT, but — after several exchanges between the five of us traveling from Belgium — we decided that three of us would blockade using arm tubes and that the other two would provide support and do media work. In short, we had a small affinity group.

We decided to do our action on the Big Day of Action called for on September 12, which had the aim of gathering as many people as possible to continue to disrupt preparations for the arms fair. During the morning of the action there were speeches from a wide range of groups and organizations. As the day progressed, we took the streets and the police began to remove us to let the traffic pass. At one point, the police were taking longer to act, and the three of us took our gear, ran to the road and got on the ground, locking ourselves together using the arm tubes.

The blockade using arm tubes on September 12. (Facebook/CAAT)

This meant we had secured the blockade for some time, as the police in the United Kingdom — in most cases — will not just move you if you are locking on. The blockade provided a perfect place for people to gather, and a loudspeaker was used to continue with presentations. During the hours that we were on the blockade we heard from Isa Alaali, a Bahraini citizen, about the torture he experienced, as well as the U.K. military’s support of the Bahraini regime. We also heard from Mexican activists about the Ayotzinapa struggle for justice and the militarization of Mexican society.

From the beginning, the police came to tell us that if we didn’t unlock ourselves they would arrest us. But they didn’t seem to be in much of a hurry. Hours passed and there was no sign that they were going to cut our tubes and arrest us. After several hours the police finally made their move, clearing the road of all the other protesters. In the end, they arrested the three of us on charges of willful obstruction of the highway.

Even though at any moment we could have released ourselves and avoided arrest, we wanted to maintain the blockade to disrupt the preparations of the arms fair for as long as possible. We were also aware that arrest could mean being charged and put on trial, but we didn’t really think much about it at the time. Our focus was on the action itself. After the arrest we were in custody for only a few hours before being given an order to come back to court a month later.

Putting the arms trade on trial

That court appearance was crucial. We could either plead guilty and pay a fine or plead not guilty and face a trial. It was not just the three of us in court, but everyone who had been arrested during the week of action against DSEI. For some time I was unsure what to plea. I wasn’t really in the position to face a long trial, and it seemed that the chances of winning in court were small. But at the same time I saw it as an opportunity to learn how to use the court in campaigning, as I had been arrested in the past but never gone to court. The fact that all the other arrestees were clear on pleading not guilty helped me make the decision. This was a collective action and we would treat the trial collectively as well. The goal was to put the arms trade on trial by facing trial ourselves.

At the court hearing the judge then set a date in February for the trial to give the necessary time to collect the evidence. The lawyers managed to unite all the cases into one — at first there were three separate cases — so that there would only be one trial for all of us. Both the lawyers and defendants could then combine efforts, and also crucially we could all use the same expert witnesses.

The initial February date was moved to April. Between the time of the first court appearance and the trial, there was a huge amount of work to do, primarily by the team of lawyers building the case, but also by the co-defendants. Our task was to find expert witnesses who could give evidence about the illegalities at DSEI, as well as the larger impact of the arms trade. We also worked on the visibility of the case, by writing a statement from the co-defendants and organizing a crowdfunding campaign and a fundraising event.

During the trial, which was scheduled to last five days, we heard evidence from all eight co-defendants. Among them was Alaali, who was forced to flee Bahrain after being imprisoned and tortured for his participation in the 2011 protests. During the uprising, thousands of Bahrainis protested and were crushed by force with a violent intervention from Saudi Arabia. Thousands were arrested and hundreds killed. Isa told the court that he was arrested three times in 2013, and that police held a gun to his head. He was taken to the police station and stripped and beaten until he became unconscious. The police tied his hands behind his back, beat him and threatened to cut off his penis in an effort to force him to give false confessions. Bahrain has purchased nearly $65 million of weapons from the United Kingdom since the 2011 uprising. Needless to say, Isa felt compelled to protest at DSEI.

Lisa Butler, another co-defendant, highlighted the ongoing mass killings of the Kurdish people by Turkey. Having visited Kurdistan recently, she explained to the judge about the violent curfews that have been imposed on Kurdish cities. Tanks and rockets have been firing shells and mortars into the cities and snipers have been gunning people down on the street, including children. Instead of banning Turkey from DSEI, the British government welcomed these war criminals with open arms.

Other defendants stated that they were particularly concerned with the sales of arms to countries such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Israel. As such, they were compelled to act because illegal weapons, such as torture equipment, have been found at previous DSEI events.

“In every single previous arms fair, at least since 2005, illegal activity has been found to be happening,” co-defendant Tom Franklin told the court. “We have evidence of that. We have parliamentary reports. We have reports from Amnesty International. We have reports from Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, listing illegal weapons being sold.”

When my turn came to give evidence I was quite nervous. The entire time that I was being cross-examined by the prosecution I felt like I was giving the wrong answers, undermining my case. But at the same time, I knew that it was the right thing to do — to stand there and denounce the crimes happening at DSEI. My statement also focused on growing up in Chile under the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet and the impact this had on me as a kid.

“I lived under a dictatorship for nearly 10 years. I remember curfews and a general sense of fear of the police and the military due to the horrible regime’s repression,” I testified. “The father of my school classmate was murdered by the secret police when I was six years old.” I also mentioned in court that for many years I had been protesting in different ways against DSEI and that for me the action was not just about ending the sale of illegal weapons, but to shut down the fair as a step toward stopping the war machine. After giving evidence, there was a huge weight taken off me.

We were joined in court by expert witnesses. Among them was Oliver Sprague from Amnesty International, who talked about the illegal weapons that have been sold at every DSEI arms fair. He also highlighted the “legal” weapons that are used illegally. In his report, Sprague gave evidence of arms being used in the Yemen war. “[The Yemen] conflict has cost at least 3,000 civilian lives, 2.5 million people [have been] displaced and 82 percent of the population — some 21.2 million people — currently require some form of humanitarian assistance,” he testified. “Importantly, official delegations from countries directly involved in military action in Yemen were in receipt of official U.K. government invitations to the event, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Kuwait, Bahrain, Morocco and Jordan.”

Sprague told the court that Saudi Arabia is the largest recipient of U.K. arms. Indeed, from July to September 2015, the British government granted export licenses for bombs — of the type being used in Yemen by Saudi Arabia — worth $1.7 billion. This was four times greater than the total exported to all countries in the previous four years.

A key moment in the trial happened when the defense asked Sprague what difference all the evidence he has given to Parliament and other official committees about the crimes taking place at DSEI has made. “I have to say all this has made zero difference,” he replied, which supported our argument that it was necessary to take direct action to stop these illegalities from happening.

Kat Hobbs of CAAT gave the court an overview of Clarion Events, the company that organizes DSEI. “Sixty-one countries were formally invited to DSEI in 2015 by the government, and many more were invited by Clarion, who advertised the fair as the ‘place to do business,’” she said. “Of those 61 countries, 14 are classified as being authoritarian and six are at war, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey.”

Acquitted for preventing a greater crime

After the week-long trial it was time for the judge to present his judgement. “The defendants belief that weapons were being sold unlawfully at DSEI was supported by the detailed expert evidence on this point,” he stated. “I was impressed by the evidence of each defendant … as to how they came to the conclusion that the form of direct action which they chose to adopt was the only effective method left to them in seeking to prevent the unlawful sale of arms which they believed was occurring at the 2015 DSEI … I believe that the defendants were perfectly sincere in their conclusions first that the unlawful sale of arms would almost certainly be occurring at DSEI and, secondly, that their intervention was necessary to seek to prevent this.”

Javier Gárate (right) celebrating along with the other co-defendants after being found not guilty. (WNV/Andrew Dey)

We were acquitted of all charges on the basis that our actions were justified in order to prevent a greater crime. It was “a wonderful moment in which research, activism and the law came together to produce a crucial decision,” said arms trade expert and former member of the South African Parliament Andrew Feinstein. “It is in this way that we will ultimately change the nature of the global arms trade.”

Since the trial verdict there has been extensive media coverage and interest in the case. There have also been calls for the government and the Metropolitan Police to investigate DSEI, but investigations have happened in the past, and as Sprague said, they have made zero difference. Therefore, it is crucial to continue to take action to shut down the fair.

The day of the verdict CAAT sent out a pledge for people to take action in 2017 and already nearly 500 people inspired by the court verdict have signed it. Among activists, there is a belief that next time, if we have enough people willing to put their bodies on the line — combined with other forms of actions — we can actually shut the arms fair down for good.

Mexican feminists declare a ‘violet spring’ on nationwide day of action

by Ryan Mallett-Outtrim

Women marching against sxisim and femicide in Puebla, Mexico on Sunday. (WNV / Ryan Mallett-Outtrim)

Tens of thousands of feminists protested across Mexico on Sunday, amid what they say is an epidemic of violence against women.

“We’re sick of suffering all kinds of abuse when we just walk in the street,” said Mari, a protester in the central Mexican city of Puebla, who was joined by hundreds of activists in Puebla’s city center, demanding justice for victims of femicide.

When the march reached the state government offices, activists accused local authorities of failing to bring perpetrators of violence to justice. One masked protester shouted, “The government here in Puebla lets them get away with impunity,” adding, “This isn’t just in Puebla, but all of Mexico.”

Declaring a “violet spring,” protesters called on women across Mexico to take a stand against sexism. One of the largest protests took place in Mexico City, where organizers railed against Mexico’s traditionally machista, or sexist, culture.

“It is evident that we need social re-education — to teach men not to harass, not violate, not hit, not threaten, not enslave, not abuse and not kill women and girls,” organizers said in a statement.

Back in Puebla, Mari said one the biggest problems for women in Mexico on a daily basis is street harassment. “Those catcalls — like, shouts in the street — they happen all the time,” she said.

The catcallers, however, appeared to have stayed at home on the day of the march, which was protected by squads of balaclava-clad women bearing badges that read “feminist security.”

Women bearing badges that read “feminist security” patrolled Sunday’s march in Puebla. (WNV / Ryan Mallett-Outtrim)

At each intersection, these squads would run ahead of the main rally to form human road blocks, keeping traffic at bay. Behind them, demonstrators chanted, “Hey machista media, we’re here!” Other protesters in Puebla carried dozens of pink crosses. Each cross bore the name of an alleged femicide victim.

Official statistics from the federal government suggest over 60 percent of Mexican girls and women over the age of 15 have faced some form of abuse, ranging from verbal harassment to sexual violence.

Puebla state is one of the epicenters of Mexico’s femicide crisis. At least 26 women have been murdered across the state since the start of the year. One of the latest victims was 53-year-old Guadalupe Chavarria Moral, who was gunned down by her husband in early April.

Her death came just days after another woman was shot in a rural area of Puebla state. In the same week, the body of a third woman was found dumped on the side of the main highway between Puebla and Mexico City.

Nationwide, more than 44,000 women have been murdered over the last three decades, according to data from the government’s official statistics agency, INEGI, whose records also indicate many of the perpetrators of violence are friends or family members of the victim.

Activists in Puebla say one of the most disturbing trends is spousal murder. According to local feminist organizers, there have been numerous cases in Puebla of husbands murdering their wives when they become pregnant.

INEGI’s latest figures suggest that on average, a woman is murdered in Mexico every 20 minutes. In some regions, rates of femicide are 15 times higher than the international average. Meanwhile, according to a 2009 report from the National Femicide Citizen Observatory, less than 2 percent of suspected perpetrators of femicide in Mexico ever face criminal convictions. In its report, the organization accused the Mexican government of allowing a “context of permissibility” to flourish.

“By action or omission, (the state) fails to fulfill its responsibility to ensure the safety and right to life of women,” the report concluded.

A poster announcing a “Violet Spring” in Puebla. (WNV / Ryan Mallett-Outtrim)

In much of conservative Mexico, the act of speaking out against abuse and advocacy of feminism remains controversial. However, there are signs that the movement is gaining momentum.

The latest protests elicited a response from President Enrique Peña Nieto, who tweeted, “Today we were forced to listen to thousands of voices for women’s rights. My commitment to them is firm and determined.”

On the ground in Puebla, protesters said they wanted more than words from the president, with many arguing that a seismic change is needed in the country’s political culture. They chanted, “For all women, there’s no alternative but revolution.”

What does justice for slain Honduran environmentalist Berta Cáceres mean?

by Beth Geglia

Marchers head toward to Gualcarque River to remember Berta Cáceres. (WNV/Beth Geglia)

Amidst lingering smoke from the morning’s ceremony, Garifuna leader Miriam Miranda opened up the space with a welcoming. “We celebrate that you are here with us today to build something real. We don’t want our Sister Berta to become an empty word. We don’t want her name to become just another slogan.”

The space was known as the Nacional de Engenieros Coliseum, a large stadium adorned with sweeping banners representing some of Central America’s most prominent social and environmental movements. From April 13-15, roughly 1,300 people gathered here from 20 countries around the world. Named the “Berta Lives International People’s Gathering,” the three-day event aimed to honor the life and struggle of slain Honduran leader Berta Cáceres, affectionately called “Bertita” by those who knew her.

Cáceres, a life-long indigenous Lenca activist and co-founder of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, or COPINH, was murdered on  March 3 while sleeping in her home in La Esperanza, Intibucá. At least two armed assailants stormed her house, shooting both her and the crime’s only witness, Mexican citizen Gustavo Castro Soto, who had arrived the day before for an international workshop on hydroelectric dams. Castro received two bullet impacts, but was able to survive by playing dead. Berta died in his arms minutes later. Her death sparked a global outcry, highlighting some of the most sinister realities of repression and impunity in the Central American country that has been deemed the most violent place for environmental activists.

“The first goal of the gathering is to ensure justice is found for Berta’s assassination,” said Victor Fernandez, the legal representative of COPINH who works on Berta’s case on behalf of her family. “Beyond that, we have to make justice for the historical demands that Berta and COPINH have embodied and continue to embody.” Fernandez outlined the details of the case. “It’s been privatized,” he explained. “The victims know nothing about the process, and the public prosecutor’s office has declared the case to be a secret. Berta’s daughters don’t even know the time of their mother’s death, because they’ve been denied access to the autopsy.”

Particularly worrisome to human rights organizations was the government’s response within the first 48 hours after the murder, in which investigators allegedly tampered with the crime scene and treated COPINH members as suspects, while ignoring the escalating death threats Berta had been receiving for her opposition to Agua Zarca — a hydroelectric dam project that would have impacted communities surrounding the Gualcarque River.

Daughter of Berta Cáceres, Laura Zuñiga Cáceres, leads a focus group on territorial defense at the “Berta Lives” People’s Gathering. (WNV/Beth Geglia)

The dam project is owned by Honduran company Desarrollo Energéticos S.A., widely known as DESA, but financed internationally. One of COPINH’s most notable victories was convincing the dam’s original funders, the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank and the project’s then co-owner, Chinese state-owned company Sinohydro, to withdraw from the project in 2013. This struggle propelled Berta into the international spotlight and won her the prestigious Goldman Award for environmental activists in 2015.

Such recognition has contributed force to the demands of COPINH and Berta’s family after her assassination. Leaders globally, including members of the U.S. Congress, have echoed the call for an independent investigation into the murder that would be led by the Inter American Commission for Human Rights, or IACHR, but would have direct prosecutorial powers with the public prosecutor’s office. Additionally, letters, phone calls and petitions sent from around the world to Agua Zarca’s two current financiers, Finnish finance company FinnFund and Dutch bank FMO, caused both entities to temporarily suspend funding to the project. However, the banks have not withdrawn entirely and work on the dam inches forward. According to Fernandez, the Honduran government has evaded calls for IACHR involvement and has instead sought to legitimize its own investigation through collaborations with other institutions like the FBI and the newly constructed Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity, or MACCIH.

“Achieving justice for Berta in Honduran courts is an uphill battle,” explained Grahame Russell, director of the U.S. and Canadian-based organization Rights Action. “Ultimately the struggle for justice in Honduras goes much further than that, and it goes to, as Berta Cáceres and COPINH would say, re-founding the state and society. But that is also a Canadian and U.S. struggle.”

Russell, who first met Berta in 1998 when COPINH was coordinating emergency relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch, believes that international solidarity is key to exposing the role of U.S. and Canadian economic interests in upholding repressive governments in Honduras since the 2009 military coup. He came to Tegucigalpa with a delegation comprised of Canadian First Nation leaders to draw these connections.

Shortly after the coup catapulted the country into crisis, Canada signed a free trade agreement with Honduras’ post-coup government, and mining companies, largely of Canadian origin, have benefited from post-coup mining law reforms. “They [COPINH] were not only denouncing the coup itself, but they were denouncing the ‘Honduras is Open for Business approach’ that the coup intentionally opened the door for” explained Russell.

Indeed, the “Berta Lives” international gathering took as its target — first and foremost — the extractivist model of development impacting indigenous and rural peoples throughout the region. Breakout sessions held both days drew out common experiences with loss of territorial sovereignty: tourism developments that restrict access to beaches and displace traditional fishing economies, logging that causes deforestation, mining and hydro-dams that threaten community water supplies, and biofuel production that leads to land concentration and conflict. Participants discussed problems such as militarization and criminalization of dissent, and shared strategies for territorial defense.

Discussion sessions at the “Berta Lives” People’s Gathering attack issues of militarization, criminalization, and strategies for popular education and communication. (WNV/Beth Geglia)

“The vindication of the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples has been a struggle that we’ve shared, for example, our right to free self-determination and our right to consultation” said Francisco Rocael, who came to the gathering from Guatemala representing the Council of Mayan Peoples of the Department of Huehuetenango. Similar to Lencan communities that Berta led, the Maya communities of Huehuetenango have staged a long-term opposition to a Spanish-owned hydroelectric project in the town of Barillas that has led to the criminalization of dozens of community members. “We also aspire to a different economic model,” Rocael explained, “one that respects both human rights and is in harmony with human nature. I think this was a dream we shared with Berta.”

Berta’s desire to see radical changes in the structures of power and to build new models for society were expressed in the various forms of activism she led, which included feminist movements against gender-based violence, as well as the fight for a constituent assembly to re-write the Honduran constitution and “refound” the country after the 2009 military coup. Ismael Moreno Coto, known as “Padre Melo,” a Honduran priest and radio activist who led the ecumenical ceremony at Bertha’s open-air funeral just over a month earlier, attended the gathering to propose what he calls “Plan Sovereignty 2021” in Berta’s name. The proposal outlines a five-year plan for building a national platform based on deep participatory democracy and independence from international economic interests.

“Berta Cáceres was one of the few people with whom I had shared this idea” Melo said. “We had reached some agreements between us to propose and initiate this together. So, on the very same day as her assassination, I said to myself, ‘My homage and my personal promise with Berta has to be to carry forward this proposal.'”

What does it mean to demand justice for Berta Cáceres, and what does it mean to say that “Berta lives on”? Combining spiritual ceremonies and political analysis, strategizing and protest, the crowd in Tegucigalpa made clear its intentions to do justice for Berta Cáceres by embodying her struggle and values, and striving for the unity for which she is remembered.

“Fundamental justice for Bertha Cáceres means that we be able to respond to three big elements that are part of Berta’s identity,” Melo said. “First, her philosophy, which was anti-systemic, anti-patriarchy, and anti-racist; second, her methodology, which was to be firmly planted in reality and build relationships globally; and third, her mystic, which said that the ancestors have something to say to us. We must listen.”

Now, as her surviving daughter, Berta Zuñiga Cáceres, reminded listeners during her declaration to the gathering, Berta is “one more among our ancestors.” It appears that people are listening.

Historic Vatican conference calls for nonviolence and ‘just peace’

by Ken Butigan

Participants gathered in Rome for the “Nonviolence and Just Peace Conference” from April 11-13. (WNV/Ken Butigan)

The atmosphere of an unprecedented gathering on nonviolence at the Vatican — where change-makers from every part of the globe deliberated with priests, bishops and the Catholic Church’s top officer for justice and peace — was electric from beginning to end.

The “Nonviolence and Just Peace Conference: Contributing to the Catholic Understanding of and Commitment to Nonviolence” took place in Rome, from April 11-13. Eighty-five lay people, theologians, members of religious congregations, priests, and five bishops traveled from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Oceania to take part in this landmark gathering, which I helped to organize. Many participants live and work in contexts of extreme violence and injustice, and came seeking a bold new direction from the global church.

The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Pax Christi International and other Catholic organizations from around the world sponsored the first-of-its-kind assembly.

The head of the Pontifical Council, Cardinal Peter Turkson, opened the conference with a warm message of support from Pope Francis, who said, “Your thoughts on revitalizing the tools of nonviolence, and of active nonviolence in particular, will be a needed and positive contribution.” The gathering ended three days later with a dramatic consensus process that called on the pope to issue an encyclical — a major Catholic church document — on active nonviolence.

Taking the pope’s words to us seriously, the conference’s final text urged the church to integrate nonviolence at every level of the global institution — including in the dioceses, parishes, agencies, schools, universities, seminaries, religious orders and voluntary associations — and also called on it to no longer use or teach the so-called “just war” theory.

The conference’s final document — An Appeal to the Catholic Church to Re-Commit to the Centrality of Gospel Nonviolence — was delivered to Pope Francis shortly after the conference concluded. Confessing that we and the Catholic Church had betrayed Jesus’ nonviolence many times, including by “participating in wars, persecution, oppression, exploitation and discrimination,” we concretely proposed that the church “promote nonviolent practices and strategies (e.g., nonviolent resistance, restorative justice, trauma healing, unarmed civilian protection, conflict transformation, and peacebuilding strategies); initiate a global conversation on nonviolence within the Church, with people of other faiths, and with the larger world to respond to the monumental crises of our time with the vision and strategies of nonviolence … continue advocating for the abolition of war and nuclear weapons; and lift up the prophetic voice of the Church to challenge unjust world powers and to support and defend those nonviolent activists whose work for peace and justice put their lives at risk.”

This landmark gathering had been in the works for over a year. In March 2015, I joined the planning committee, which involved those of us from El Salvador, the Philippines, Japan, Italy, Australia, Britain and the United States working with the Pontifical Council to craft an agenda that would be interactive and productive. Marie Dennis, the co-president of Pax Christi International, drew on her considerable experience of organizing international gatherings to create a process where everyone would be heard.

The “Nonviolence and Just Peace Conference” was an astonishing experience, and we hope that it will bear great fruit in the Catholic Church and the larger world. As José Henríquez, a member of the planning committee and recent past secretary general of Pax Christi International from El Salvador put it, “We live in a complex world where armed conflicts are pervasive and where violence has become the first — and many times the only — way to address those conflicts. As a global community, we need to foster the creative imagination to build merciful societies where nonviolence is the norm and not the exception.” At this historical turning point, we invite people everywhere to spread this call for “nonviolence and just peace.”

Inside the growing tenant movement fighting to end mass displacement

by Shane Burley

Marsha Breuer tells a story of exploitation and helplessness at the hands of a massive property management company, and of the victimization that renters across the city are facing. (WNV/Shane Burley)

As Marsha Breuer took the microphone in front of the Multnomah County Commission in Portland, Oregon earlier this month, emotions were already running high. When she began to tell the story of the home she has rented for 21 years, her face moved quickly from appreciation to tears born of stress. After her first landlord died, she received a $365 rent hike while all but one of her neighbors were forced out with “no-cause” evictions.

“The climate of apathy and disregard of fellow neighbors and renters in this city now is intolerable and totally unacceptable,” she declared, her voice punctuated by the growing cheers of approval from the crowd.

“This demolition of our neighborhoods, our city, our communities, and our people and our very lives is appalling. And that is why, in the very least, we are demanding a rent freeze today and no more [no]-cause evictions!”

The rally was organized by Portland Tenants United, or PTU, a group that — in less than a year of its founding — has galvanized the spirit of resistance that was already forming inside of Portland. As one of the most popular urban centers in the country, Portland has hit critical mass with the highest rent increases in the nation.

PTU, founded as a metro-wide tenants union, is now demanding that the county intercede before the next stage of mass rent hikes and eviction notices by taking emergency actions. In 2015, after a campaign from the local non-profit Community Alliance of Tenants, the mayor’s office had declared a “Renter’s State of Emergency” and passed minor legislation extending the notification period for rent increases from 60 to 90 days. This ignores those outside of city limits, which is only a fraction of the neighborhoods affected by Portland’s rental crisis.

“Our rents went up by 14 percent in a month this year,” said Eric Eisberg, an organizer with PTU. “We’re also seeing thousands and thousands displaced from their homes. We’re seeing a severe and enormous increase in our homeless population.”

The rally heard from Portland renters and organizers who told stories of devastating rent increases, sexual assault and lost friends from living on the streets after evictions, and a women who may lose her home once her placement on a liver transplant list precludes her from working.

The event comes on the heels of a sudden announcement from the Oakland City Council, which approved a 90-day moratorium on rent increases. This decision, which will bring the costs down to the rate of inflation, came after more than 200 people told stories in the chambers about being forced into homelessness after their community of decades had become unlivable.

A housing crisis that never left

As the financial crash and subsequent housing disaster of 2008-10 becomes further embedded in the past, it has been easy for many to frame the narrative around housing as one of recovery and triumph. The rate of displacement from foreclosure has slowed, yet much of this housing instability was transferred to a rental market that had to absorb huge numbers of people. As tech and creative industries draw high-paid positions into popular urban areas like Portland, Brooklyn and the Mission District of San Francisco, we are seeing the crisis of housing shifting back onto working-class neighborhoods where affordable housing is being obliterated by hip gentrification. Organizers argue that the situation has been further exacerbated and exploited by a caste of developers, landlords and property management firms that have forced a massive transfer of wealth from tenants as they fight to remain housed.

It is out of this situation that a movement of necessity has grown for many who are battling just to stay in their cities, as the costs preclude all but the wealthy. Portland has seen this burst in just the last few years, as the result of a conscious effort towards branding — where the climate, the arts, liberal politics and a new tech resurgence — has made Portland a city romanticized throughout the country.

“[Housing groups] are not just simply fighting against the material conditions of low-wages and high rent, it’s in fact fighting a war over the image of Portland itself,” said Kevin Van Meter, who teaches social geography at Portland State University and is an organizer with the Portland Solidarity Network. Started in 2010, the network uses direct action campaigns to confront instances of wage-theft and tenant exploitation. Over the last year the number of tenant requests have dominated, and the need has allowed the Solidarity Network model to expand to a huge swathe of major cities.

The new growth of a tenant movement comes as other parallel struggles, such as the peaking Fight for $15, attempt to expand and re-examine their focus. Rhetorically, rental and housing costs have been one of the driving arguments in favor of a $15 per hour minimum wage in Portland and around the country. Oregon recently passed a more moderate wage bill, one that was backed by many unions and will graduate the city to $15 per hour by 2022. This leaves many of the smaller urban areas at $13.50, and rural Oregon at $12.50, yet both of those include regions that share Portland’s rental prices.

The crowd at the Multnomah County Commission. (WNV/Shane Burley)

In Northeast Portland, where rents have jumped the most rapidly, the historically black neighborhoods have become almost uniformly whitewashed as lower income residents are pushed out to east of the city. The Mission District in San Francisco is now seeing a battle with tech workers in Silicon Valley, as well as Airbnb finding a new way to unseat sustained housing developments and turn them into exaggerated profit centers.

The crisis extends to the unhoused population of each city as well, which has led to an even more controversial policy from the city and transportation officials. In Portland, the growing number of houseless encampments began to see “sweeps” from the Oregon Department of Transportation, leading to a growing movement out of environmental and housing justice groups to defend the camps from authorities.

There’s power in a union

Rent control, long on the chopping block for neoliberal economists, is being resurrected as a tried model of sustainability that can buffer explosive rental situations. This was foundational to the quickly growing Trotskyist political party Socialist Alternative and its campaign with Kshama Sawant, who used an explicit anti-capitalist platform targeted at working-class neighborhoods in Seattle that were finding their city unaffordable. The $15 per hour minimum wage was first on the agenda, and with that achievement much of the energy has moved in the direction of rent control. This is syncing up the low-wage worker battles that were expanding out from the SEIU’s original campaign in New York City, with rent control as the next logical step towards stabilizing working-class areas of metropolitan centers.

Rent control still exists in areas of New York and Los Angeles, and implementation could provide a breather for a city that is being completely reshaped by rent gouging. In states like Oregon, rent control is illegal statewide, which means taking the fight far beyond the Portland city limits, as well as looking into alternative tools for rent stabilization.

The flip side to the rising rents is no-cause eviction — a policy whereby landlords can order a tenant to vacate without providing a verifiable reason. This is seen often in lower income housing with few long-term leases, where large swathes of renters can be evicted suddenly so that they can remodel the unit and double the rents.

The antidote to this is often called “just cause evictions,” meaning property management companies and landlords are restricted to issuing evictions only for the violation of certain policies. This notion is used by groups in combination with rent control campaigns, noting that rent control matters little if you can be evicted at any time, and just-cause evictions provide no protections if your rent can be tripled suddenly.

In East Boston, tenant organizations like the long-standing Boston City Life/Vida Urbana are using “home-rule” petitions to city council to institute a just-cause eviction policy. Landlords have not bent to this demand without a fight, and business organizations like the Small Properties Owners Association are labeling it as just another attempt at rent control.

Both rent control and just-cause eviction are noted as partial methods, or stepping stone goals, that are only part of the potential outcome of a tenants movement. It is only in periods of extreme turmoil that organizing projects with the potential to fundamentally reshape the nature of tenancy actually emerge. And that is exactly what’s happening in Brooklyn with the Crown Heights Tenants Union, or CHTU, and its attempt to use collective bargaining power for its tenants in the same way that labor unions do in a workplace.

Although often mentioned as a radical concept, this practice actually has a long history in European housing policy and even in many parts of the United States. Boston City Life/Vida Urbana collectively bargained for two buildings with 435 units into what was labeled “affordability agreements.” This is the model that mobilized public housing tenant union projects like Buffalo Tenants United, which took on two public housing complexes in the fifth poorest city in America. There, as in most instances, it did not achieve its long-term goals for active bargaining, and most “tenant union” projects become member-driven renter advocacy non-profits instead of bargaining units. CHTU has yet to meet these goals themselves, but using a democratic-union structure it is doing the hard work of organizing building-to-building, unit-to-unit.

Confronting the County Commission, the crowd organized by PTU overwhelmed the meeting, showing a collective strength in numbers. (WNV/Shane Burley)

What gives the unionization project its power is the same thing that gives workers and labor unions power in the workplace: the ability to strike. Rent strikes are the tool that organizers argue can shift the balance of power, whereby groups of unionized tenants engage in rent strikes collectively so that they cannot be evicted as a group. This harkens back to the Great Depression and the tenements of New York City, where Lower East Side renters often went on rent strike to force repairs or much needed upgrades. Martin Luther King Jr. used the rent strike to confront oppressive landlords in Chicago in the 1960s, and with the recent five-month rent strike in the Midtown building in San Francisco, the idea of using direct action as the crux of the tenant justice movement is building steam.

“What the landlord model depends on, what their profitability depends on, is receiving the rent,” said Margot Black, a founding member of Portland Tenants United. “And because we don’t have just cause evictions or anything, we have no bargaining power except our rent. If a single person doesn’t pay their rent, they face eviction. If five or 10 people all don’t pay their rent, they’ll all be evicted. But if we can really make this a mass movement, they can’t evict us all.”

A movement of tenants, as tenants

When Portland Tenants United was first formed by a group of renters and activists out of last year’s Portland Renters Assembly, it was the goals of rent stabilization, ending no-cause eviction and creating a tenants union that mobilized them. Rent strike was discussed as an available tool from the start. In January they led a rally and march with other housing and social justice organizations calling for housing for all.

The goals of collective action and solidarity have been key to even their early campaigns, starting by halting the pending eviction of a 79-year-old tenant in Portland who was confronted with a sudden 90-day notice in January. By drawing on a huge pool of disaffected renters to rally, PTU pushed the property management company to reverse the eviction order and negotiate for the tenant to stay. This has worked with subsequent evictions over the past several months, where PTU’s calls for collective action have had enough pressure to sway landlord decisions simply by a call for community support.

Their growth, along with public campaigns from organizations like the Portland Solidarity Network, created a climate that state politicians could not ignore. A renter protection bill was introduced in the state legislature, which was eventually weakened through negotiations. This came, in part, as a result of influence by the landlord lobbying group Oregon Rental Housing Association, which even sent newsletters to its membership noting that it was able to “defeat” restrictions on no-cause evictions, tenant moving allowances, and penalties on landlords for violations. The weakened bill was passed alongside the watered-down minimum wage bill, which was hailed by progressive organizations as the most significant in the nation. Organizers with $15Now Oregon and PTU challenged this portrayal, dropping a “Renter S.O.S.” banner during the legislative session and occupying Gov. Kate Brown’s office.

“After we saw how unresponsive they were to these issues, and how unwilling they were to talk about things like rent control, just cause eviction, and security deposit reform, it just became clear that this was not something that was going to get fixed by the people we vote into office to fix things,” Black said. “It’s really on us to show that we are an organized group with a voice.”

Now the group is calling for a rent freeze and a moratorium on no-cause evictions, a demand that is intended to halt displacement until long-term solutions can be implemented. Inside of the County Commission, renters filled the speaking docket, continuing their stories and demands for action. The anger in the room was palatable as the room erupted into chants, overwhelming the commissioners as protesters took over the space in a show of collective strength.

The following week, PTU organizers met with Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury to further discuss the demands. In a statement put out by PTU, the group said that while the commission was sympathetic, the commissioners turned their attention to the 2017 state legislative session instead of emergency intervention.

“Tenants need immediate relief and long-term solutions. Anything less will fail to stop the displacement of valued and vulnerable residents,” said PTU, in a public statement put out after their meeting with Kafoury. “We are prepared to support elected leaders who take bold action and will join with other advocates to highlight those who show inaction.”

The call has been become a populist rallying point by some, with Portland mayoral candidate Sarah Iannarone actually taking up the call to institute an emergency rent freeze in the model suggested by PTU.

The growth of these organizations has seemed to match the rent increases as well, with last month’s projections indicating that this is not a temporary trend that the market will reverse on its own. Beyond any specific solution, the movement of tenants identifying as tenants is one that will reshape the battle over who owns America’s cities and how neighborhoods will progress decade after decade.

For Marsha Breuer, who passionately addressed the Multnomah County Commission earlier this month, the results of this organizing cannot come soon enough. After rallying out front she joined dozens of others who spoke to the county commissioners, explaining that she has been forced to work six days a week at two jobs into her late 60s just to afford her climbing rent.

“I want to invite everyone who is not experiencing this now to imagine having their rents and mortgages doubled and tripled,” she said to the county commissioners, already pushing past her allotted time. “I invite you also to live in homeless camps for a very long time to experience that. I invite you to walk many miles in our shoes without the privileges that are so taken for granted.”

What’s next for Democracy Spring?

by Eric Stoner

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Last week, I was arrested in a sit-in to get big money out of politics and protect voting rights in Washington, D.C. With more than 1,400 people arrested on the steps of the Capitol since April 11 — including The Young Turks’ Cenk Uygur, Harvard law professor and former presidential candidate Lawrence Lessig, Ben and Jerry’s cofounders and actress Rosario Dawson — the Democracy Spring campaign has pulled off one of the largest acts of civil disobedience this century.

The timing, in many ways, couldn’t have been better. Not only did the Panama Papers drop while more than a hundred were on a 10-day march from Philadelphia to Washington preceding the sit-ins, but the corrupting influence of money on elections has been a major focus of the media spotlight. It’s estimated that by November $10 billion will be spent this election cycle, which would make it the most expensive election in history. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton has been under fire in recent days for earning more in one speech — from corporations like Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and General Electric — than Bernie Sanders and his wife made in all of 2014, according to his recently released tax return.

Democracy Spring is the culmination of years of hard work by 99Rise, which has organized a number of other smaller actions — including a historic disruption of the Supreme Court — to raise awareness on the issue and build the movement. And the extensive planning for this latest campaign was evident. Anyone participating in the action had to attend at least one training by organizers, which involved preparation for dealing with the media, learning how to maintain nonviolent discipline and roll-playing the sit-in. This was necessary, as many who took part had never engaged in civil disobedience before.

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The campaign also distinguished itself by articulating concrete goals, calling for the passage of a series of already-introduced bills that would set up public financing of elections, overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, and protect and expand voting rights and voter access. Another smart feature of Democracy Spring’s design was giving each day a particular focus — from racial justice to labor to the environment — which not only brought activists from a wide range of struggles into the movement, but also showed the difficulty of affecting real change on those issues with so much money in politics rights now.

While most major media did report on the campaign, many of the movement’s supporters were disappointed that the coverage was not more extensive. One factor, from my experience, that likely played a role in the lack of attention by the mainstream media was how the Capitol Police responded to the sit-in. Given that protest is so common in Washington, the police have developed sophisticated mechanisms to handle symbolic actions like Democracy Spring. The officers were unusually restrained, which minimized the drama of the action itself. This no doubt was by intention. In some ways, nonviolent action is theater, and the Capitol Police were much savvier in playing their role than is often the case.

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This raises an interesting question for organizers of campaigns like Democracy Spring. When an action begins becoming predictable and routine, and media interest starts to fade, how do you maintain momentum? How do you reintroduce drama and spontaneity into the campaign, while not loosing control? One way to do this is to shift tactics in a way that the opponent is not expecting. Activists with Democracy Spring tried this on Friday, when 12 people got inside the Capitol and tied themselves to the scaffolding beneath the dome in the rotunda. While this did generate some new coverage, there would likely need to be a higher degree of disruption over a more sustained period to recapture the media’s attention. This would be a challenging maneuver for any movement already in the thick of a campaign.

Nevertheless, Democracy Spring has taken the campaign against big money in politics and voter suppression to a new level. It reached millions with its message, activated thousands to get involved in the movement for the first time and put the issue on the radar of Congress to a new degree. The question that needs to be answered now is what the massive coalition that came together for this historic action is going to do to absorb that energy and momentum in order to take the struggle to new heights.

What role can external actors play in Uganda’s post-election plunge?

by Phil Wilmot

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In any true democracy, the streets are filled with rejoicing upon a popular candidate’s electoral victory. The majority are excited and satisfied for a new beginning. In Uganda, the only things filling the streets after the February 18 voting day were military machinery and silence. General Yoweri Museveni’s continued stranglehold on his 30 years in power was underway.

It was a scene from the dictator’s handbook: tear gas, police brutality, disappearances and arrests. The opposition-supported, would-be president elect Dr. Kizza Besigye was placed on house arrest for nearly two months.

No one expected the court petition declaring the presidential election illegitimate to succeed. Those presiding over the matter of fraudulent elections in the Supreme Court unanimously decided — under rumors of death threats and reports of millions of dollars used by Museveni’s closest allies to influence their decision — that Museveni indeed defeated Besigye at the polls despite allegations from virtually all observing entities (apart from the Museveni-appointed Electoral Commission) that the process was not free and fair.

One group of former political prisoners and other concerned citizens from various tribes and regions of the nation visited the U.N. High Commission for Human Rights office in Kampala, hoping to raise their concern over the rapidly escalating insecurity in the country. Police fully equipped with protest-disrupting weapons and anti-riot gear dispersed the group despite their peaceful visit to an international institution with an open-door policy.

My wife — Suzan Abong Wilmot, also a former political prisoner — happened to be among the group. She was arrested with organizer Johncation Muhindo and forcefully marched through Kampala’s streets under the watch of armed guards to Kira Road police station. The district police commander heading the forced dispersal of the group of a few dozen people angrily asked me, an onlooker, what human rights concern the group could possibly have in the “democratic” environment of Uganda. Fully clad with shin guards, a bulletproof vest, a helmet, grenades, and a gun, the irony of his question made it so laughable.

In one massively pro-opposition corner of the Rwenzori mountains — a region over 200 miles west of Kampala on the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo — police opened fire, killing six people. Shortly thereafter, guards at the royal palace of the Bakonzo were killed in broad daylight. The death toll in the region has reached at least 90, and Museveni continues to exacerbate the crisis by sending tanks and troops — bitter over what was an electoral loss in a region where he failed to steal a significant number of votes.

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Angered over electoral theft, a group of young activists in Kampala tied themselves to individual poles throughout the city, sporting shirts that read, “Break the chain – free my vote.” Indeed, police broke their chains, though they placed them behind new ones. The activists are currently remanded in Luzira prison until their next court date on April 18.

If these incidents and others were not enough to signify the deteriorating political space in Uganda, Museveni drew his lines clearly in a statement on Saturday, promising to crush protesters, even using the term “kill.”

Uganda’s genocidal, dangerous environment begs one to consider the role of external actors amidst the madness. What are foreign stakeholders doing to help – or hurt – the chances of Ugandans dreaming of a day when they might discover freedom and wholeness?

During a recent visit to Kampala, Katherine Hughes-Fraitekh, associate director of field initiatives for the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, said she could see the fear and trauma in the eyes of Ugandans. Having lived through various circumstances of unrest in the Middle East, she noted, “There’s a kind of anger boiling in Ugandans from the hurt. People are deeply suspicious of others.”

So what are those who are afforded a far greater measure of safety doing about the living nightmare confronting Ugandans?

The diaspora

For perhaps the first time during Museveni’s three-decade rule, Ugandans in the diaspora are organizing themselves for substantial public action.

Groups have gathered across Asia, Europe and North America to advocate for their friends and relatives back home. Their concerns vary widely. A protester at the United Nations in New York mourned the dismantling of cooperatives. Others simply want the electoral victory of their candidate Besigye to be upheld. Refugee LGBTI Ugandans have brought their own messages on placards to strategic places, like Ugandan embassies and other points of international diplomacy and influence. The common thread these diaspora members share is their disdain for Museveni’s military coup.

Ugandans in the United Kingdom rallied outside the Uganda House in Trafalgar Square last month. (Twitter / All Equal)

Ugandans abroad called for Canadian, American and European governments to place travel bans on Museveni and his key allies, such as ruling party secretary general Kasule Lumumba (who threatened to open fire on protesters contesting election results weeks before the actual voting day), Kale Kayihura and Katumba Wamala (both vicious security operatives trained by the United States).

Diaspora members also leveraged their influence in the sphere of performing arts. Bebe Cool, one of the musicians featured in Museveni’s campaign theme song “Tubonga Nawe,” was pressured by Ugandans living in Dubai to leave the stage. Many Ugandans in the diaspora heeded the call of the Forum for Democratic Change opposition party to boycott performances of artists aligned with the regime.

Milton Allimadi, editor for Black Star News, wrote an open letter to President Barack Obama that said, “In whichever country they reside, Ugandans should make it clear that the international community can’t continue business as usual with an illegitimate ruler. The United States, Uganda’s principal sponsor, is even barred by the Leahy amendment from working with the Museveni regime whose army has been used for violent repression.” A group of Ugandans residing in America are exploring the possibility of suing the Obama administration for continued illegal military relations with Museveni.

The U.S. government

The United States is Uganda’s largest bilateral funder, annually offering hundreds of millions of dollars in known military financial support alone. The United States also places heavy investments in Uganda’s health sector, much of which is ultimately embezzled. Museveni’s anti-terrorism rhetoric and neoliberal policies have long captured the support of the western powers.

For this reason, it was rather shocking that the U.S. Embassy of Kampala denounced Museveni’s use of security forces to repress Ugandans before and during voting day. It was probably the strongest human rights statements Ugandans could have received from a foreign diplomatic mission. Nevertheless, the United States — in keeping with its support of the Musevini regime — was quick to recognize the Supreme Court’s ruling on the fairness of the election. What’s more, newly-appointed U.S. Ambassador Deborah R. Malac submitted her credentials to Museveni just days after the election, symbolically recognizing him as head of state — this despite the fact that she condemned Uganda’s government for human rights abuses upon first stepping foot in the country.

While it would be easy to draw conclusions about her mixed support for Museveni — given her position representing what is arguably the largest military relationship in Africa — the truth is that the United States isn’t alone. According to Muhindo, the aforementioned organizer who attempted to meet with UNHCR staff,  “The world outside of Uganda legitimizes the dictatorship through its funding and support.”

Perceived roles of external actors

There are many international agencies, NGOs and Ugandan citizens raising their alarms, but there also seems to be little communication between various stakeholders to ascertain which institutions play which roles in times of violence and political upheaval.

There are efforts underway to map this complex terrain. The Atlantic Council, Open Society Foundation and Rhize have partnered with activists in Uganda, Sudan and 10 other countries around the world currently in conflict in order to collect views on the roles of outside supporters in relation to those struggling to cultivate democracy through social change movements. While the data has not yet been fully collected and analyzed, it may produce some quantitative and qualitative insights to inform institutions in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere what others are expecting from them.

One thing is clear, however: Superpowers usually like to be on the side of the winning team. Therefore, external actors might not play the roles they are mandated to play unless they witness massive in-country support for those striving to change the system. For the time being, Ugandans should probably expect less from foreign governments and more from their diaspora members who, though constrained by numbers and resources, have a personal stake in the struggle.

Has the movement to prevent gun violence hit a tipping point?

by Sarah Aziza

Chalk outlines of victims of gun violence, like this one near the Dupont Circle metro stop, were made around Washington, D.C. as part of the Ghost Vote campaign. (States United to Prevent Gun Violence)

On March 15, 2016, chalk outlines of human bodies appeared on sidewalks near Capitol Hill. The silent but striking display represented a “symbolic takeover” of the nation’s capital and the launch of #GhostVote, a grassroots project headed by a coalition of advocates for “common sense gun laws.” The campaign, led by States United to Prevent Gun Violence and the Newtown Action Alliance, aims to elevate the issue of gun violence as a political priority, with an eye toward upcoming elections. The grim “ghost” motif recalls the thousands who lose their lives to gun violence each year, many of whom are commemorated on the Ghost Vote webpage. Participants can dedicate their vote to a specific victim, and are urged to change their profile pictures and share their decision across their social networks.

The Ghost Vote campaign, with its coalition of advocates both old and new, is indicative of a surging national concern over gun violence. While the old “gun control” lobby was historically, egregiously out-funded by pro-gun interest groups like the National Rifle Association, many leaders in what is now being referred to as the gun violence prevention movement say that the nation has reached a tipping point on the issue.

“For every great social movement there is a moment when you look back and say ‘that’s when things really started to change,’” said Dan Gross of the Brady Campaign during his recent TED Talk. “For the movement to end gun violence in America, that moment is now.” His presentation followed on the heels of Obama’s emotionally-charged executive actions for gun reform, and after several mass-shootings reignited the debate over gun access. An estimated 30,000 people are killed each year by gun violence in the United States, where firearms now outnumber people by several million. In addition to leading the world in gun ownership, the United States also ranks third in mass-shootings worldwide.

Ladd Everitt, of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, agrees that support for gun control has reached unprecedented levels. “People are finally demanding a change,” he said, citing multiple new initiatives like Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Americans for Responsible Solutions as evidence of this burgeoning engagement. Many of these groups focus on local anti-violence measures — such as the “Groceries Not Guns” campaign calling for a ban on open carry in Kroger supermarkets. “Moms head to the grocery store on a weekly, sometimes daily basis — often with kids in tow,” reads the campaign mission statement. “We don’t expect to face armed strangers when we shop with our families.”

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In addition, organizations that formerly “just paid lip service” are now taking “real” action to support the cause, said Everitt, who praised the Center for American Progress, Organizing for Action and Americans United for Change for showing “real investment.” In Everitt’s estimation, the critical moment came in 2012 when the horrors of the Newtown shooting rocked the American public. “That was the turning point,” he recalled. “After that, we saw many more ordinary people raising their voice on the issue.”

Everitt’s own involvement in the gun violence prevention movement began in 2000, when he participated in the first Million Mom March, an experience he describes as “deeply moving.” He began volunteering with local gun violence prevention advocates, and — after 16 years dedicated to the cause — said he’s feeling more hopeful than ever. “It’s still going to take a lot of time,” he predicted. “We’ll win some and lose some, but for the first time, we’re seeing a critical mass of support around the country.”

Historically, the pro-gun lobby has been more aggressive in their ideological — and financial — commitments to the fight. In the past, pro-gun constituents have been more than twice as likely than pro-reformers to be one-issue voters. The NRA famously spends millions of dollars a year to protect their interests on Capitol Hill, yet Everitt said it is now losing that edge. “I’m not a fan of money in politics, but the fact that [the NRA] has always had funds, and we didn’t — it made our work incredibly difficult.” Now, said Everitt, gun-reform groups are seeing significant financial backing from concerned citizens and the first-ever pro-gun-reform PACs.

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The political zeitgeist has some of the presidential candidates addressing gun control on the campaign trail — Bernie Sanders, under pressure from political opponents and the gun violence prevention lobby, recently reneged his support of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, a 2005 bill Everitt described as “the biggest gun industry handout in history.” Despite these nods on the federal level, the Center for American Progress recently noted that state-level reforms may be more effective than trying to push change in Congress right now.

Leah Barrett, executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, agrees. In her opinion, pushing for federal reform is an “exhausting and frustrating” endeavor. “The NRA still exerts far too much power in D.C.,” she said. “Even after so many shootings, the gun lobby still controls the way politicians vote.” Barrett is instead focusing on her home state of New York, where she says local and state elections offer the best opportunity for tangible change. She also sees a strategic importance in New York: “If really influential, highly-populated states like New York and California set an example, I think it will catch on.”

For Barrett, the struggle against gun violence is personal. Her brother was shot to death in his place of business in early 1997. After the tragedy, Barrett, living in the U.K. at the time, moved back to the United States to devote herself to organizing for gun law reform. As part of this work, Barrett and her colleagues work one-on-one with mayors and community groups to organize around the issue. Barrett says she’s excited about the change she’s seeing on the local level, where her organization and grassroots partners host vigils, film screenings, town halls and organize petitions to address the ways gun violence affects their communities.

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Barrett also believes strongly in the need to widen the discourse beyond mass shootings, pointing out the numerous deaths that are caused not by deranged criminals, but by accidents. “Children die every week simply because they find an unlocked gun and fire on themselves or others,” Barrett said. “It’s unacceptable.” Likewise, the availability of guns is strongly correlated to the number of violent impulses — like suicidal thoughts or sudden rage — that actually end in death. “If there’s a gun around, people are far more likely to follow through and kill,” she explained.

Lately, the NRA — with its slogan “freedom’s safest place” — has riffed off of liberal messaging by playing up the disparity between low- and higher-income victims of violence, warning that the poor have only “their guns and their faith” to defend themselves from violent crime. The rhetoric of self-defense, said Barrett, is one of the NRA’s most powerful tools. “It’s utterly false,” she said. “Guns don’t protect. Guns kill. Plain and simple.” Barrett believes that micro-level reforms — like better gunlocks and more secure triggers — can prevent many needless deaths. This is in addition to the larger-scale policies touted by her group and others, which include a call for universal background checks, better information sharing, and the closing of loopholes afforded to gun shows and online sales.

Most activists agree that there is a long fight ahead. Yet, as Rebecca Leber noted recently in the New Republic, it appears the issue of gun violence has crossed irrevocably into the mainstream. “Gun control has the potential to be the deciding issue of 2016. And it’s Democrats, for a change, who stand to benefit,” she writes.

This month, Barrett is keeping busy, moving from town to town across New York to meet with local legislators, mayors and community leaders to discuss violence prevention and gun law reform. Everitt said he’s on the phone every day with fellow organizers across the country, “both professional and grassroots,” and that the level of cooperation is heartening. “We have to maintain the fight in every arena — the courts, the legislature and the culture,” he said, but admitted that he’s permitting himself to hope. “It won’t happen overnight, but I’m happy to say that I think we’ll see real change in my lifetime. That’s what keeps me going.”

Syrian independent media offers bold challenge to extremism

by Julia Taleb

A protest in Kafranbel on the 5-year anniversary of the uprising against Assad. (Twitter/Raed al-Fares)

On January 10, the Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group in Syria, stormed the headquarters of Radio Fresh in Kafranbel and arrested its director Raed al-Fares and journalist Hadi Abdullah. The flag of the Syrian revolution was thrown on the floor and al-Nusra members stepped on it and forced the station’s members to do the same. They destroyed and confiscated equipment and books, burned the flag and — according to Ghalia al-Rahal, director of Mazaia, a women’s center in Kafranbel — shouted, “We do not want any media in Kafranbel.” They closed the station and placed a sign at the main door saying, “Confiscated by Jabhat al-Nusra, do not approach.”

This raid came in response to a post on al-Fares’ Facebook page, in which he said, “If our main concern is what’s between a man’s lips [cigarettes] and women’s legs, and as long as we are herding people to prayers and flooding our schools with Sharia books, we will have a thousand years of death to come in Syria.” Al-Nusra also claimed that songs broadcasted on the station were against the Islamic ruling of Sharia.

Members of the radio station were held inside the office for almost two hours while al-Fares was taken by al-Nusra. After hours of negotiations with al-Nusra’s leaders and Sharia judges, Abdullah provided guarantees that al-Fares would not post messages critical of Sharia on Facebook again, and he was released. Al-Nusra had to also admit that raiding the station was a mistake and promised to return all their equipment.

“As we were waiting for the negotiation, we were organizing for a massive protest that was planned to take off the next morning,” al-Rahal said. “Al-Nusra knew that we would have not kept silent.”

“Confiscated by Jabhat al-Nusra, do not approach,” was spray-painted on the walls of the Union of Revolutionary Bureaus in Kafranbel in January 2016. (Twitter/@RamiSafadi93)

Al-Nusra’s attack on the station generated a strong reaction on social media where al-Fares’ story was closely followed and solidarity posts were proliferating on activists’ pages. Kafranbel’s Facebook page, which tracks local demonstrations and news, posted pictures of men and women holding signs that repeated two phrases: “Freedom for Radio Fresh,” and “No Media Oppression.”

Radio Fresh is one of the many activities of the Union of Revolutionary Bureaus, or URB, a grassroots organization that tries to empower community members to uphold their rights and freedom in Idlib province. Established in Kafranbel in 2012 by al-Fares and a young activist named Khaled al-Issa, the URB currently has 475 employees with various offices that focus on enhancing education and empowering women and children. They provide training in sewing, hairdressing, nursing, and other skills that enable women to work. Similarly, URB established centers for children where they are encouraged to express themselves through painting and art. “The bureau activities came as a natural result of the needs on the ground,” said al-Rahal, whose center is part of the URB.

This was not the first time al-Nusra has attacked the station. On January 17, 2015, al-Nusra raided a number of URB’s offices, including the headquarters of Radio Fresh and Mazaia. In response to this incident and continuous harassment and interference in civilian affairs, people took to the streets calling for freedom. They forced al-Nusra to keep the station and the women’s center running.

Al-Nusra is emerging as a powerful force to rival the Islamic State in Syria and has seized several strategic towns in Idlib and Hama provinces. Al-Nusra’s goals are to overthrow the current Syrian government and create an Islamic Emirate under Sharia law. Al-Nusra uses Islam and Quranic texts to oppress people and impose strict social values, including limiting women’s movement and dress code.

Hadi Abdullah (left) and Raed al-Fares (right). (Facebook/Kafranbel Syrian Revolution)

Activists, who are also Muslims, have been using Islamic values to push back. The radio station dedicates the first two hours of the day to broadcast Quranic texts, transmits prayers five times a day, and airs four religious programs a day. “While religious extremists call for death and blood, we call for mercy, respect and forgiveness — all core values in Islam,” al-Fares said. “We need to use the same tool and that which is understood by the general public.”

According to al-Fares, the true reason for his latest arrest was a campaign that he launched on the radio to raise awareness of basic human rights and against religious extremists’ practices. Using female voices, nine messages were repeated between programs and songs that challenged not only extremists, but the whole culture. These messages addressed men — telling them to take some responsibility and stop gazing at women — and were a direct response to armed and extremist factions’ strict rules on women’s dress code and education.

In some places, al-Nusra has been busy fighting and has not had the time to interfere in civilians’ affairs. However, this may change once the fighting halts. “It is important that people increase their civil activities now as this would make it harder for al-Nusra to take control in the future,” al-Rahal said. “Al-Nusra’s members respond to people because they know that without people, nothing has value — not arms, Emirs or rulers.”

People who took to the streets in early 2011 against Assad’s oppressive regime have recently been demonstrating against all oppression. “We protest against the regime, extremists, the Russians, NATO and starvation in besieged Madaya,” al-Rahal said. Madaya is one of 19 Syrian towns under siege, where cases of death due to starvation have been reported. While Madaya is besieged by pro-Syrian government forces, other places like Foua and Kefraya are besieged by armed opposition groups. According to U.N. estimates about 500,000 people are currently living under siege.

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There have been protests against al-Nusra’s aggression and strict rules all across Idlib. On January 15, people in Maraat al-Numan in Idlib demonstrated against al-Nusra and called for its departure. “Maraat is free free, al-Nursa is out out,” they chanted. A new wave of protests has coincided with the ceasefire, which went into effect on Feb. 27. On March 14, hundreds took to the streets against al-Nusra’s aggression against civilians and moderate factions. In places like Khan Shaykhoun and Salqueen, people have protested against al-Nusra’s attempt to impose Sharia clothes, or niqab, on women. In other parts of Syria, like Raqqa, where the Islamic State is in full control and brutal against civil organizations, residents are resisting by not swearing allegiance to the group. Those who do not swear allegiance have to pay for social services, which IS provides for free, and additional taxes.

Five years into the revolution, people have deeper knowledge of themselves and the concepts of citizenship, the state and human dignity, al-Fares explained. Now they are demonstrating against any regressive thoughts or oppression. “Al-Nusra and the Islamic State have arrested me and tried to kill me many times,” al-Fares said, “but this is irrelevant because what I have established in the community and with URB’s activities will always live. People believe in our values and cause, and that is why we live.”

What if Americans protested like Icelanders?

by George Lakey

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When the Icelanders heard that their leader socked away money in an off-shore account in the Virgin Islands, 10,000 of them packed the Parliament Square on April 4 in Reykevik to demand his resignation. That’s partly because Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson had been urging his people for years to show their faith in their country by keeping their money at home. The surge into the streets also represented the Icelanders’ view that they need to use nonviolent direct action to maximize their power.

If Americans were to protest in the same proportion as Icelanders have done, we would put 10 million of ourselves on the streets at one time. What might become possible?

A few years ago, I drank coffee on Parliament Square with Hørdur Torfason — the leader of the Icelanders’ uprising of 2008-09 — interviewing him for my forthcoming book, “Viking Economics.” He suggested we meet at his favorite cafe, which faces where the action took place. The nonviolent campaign he led drove out not only the prime minister but the government itself, and put bankers in jail.

Back then the campaign was called “the pots and pans revolution” because people escalated by banging on kitchen utensils so loudly that parliamentarians couldn’t hear each other inside the building. That action was not a one-off protest; it was part of a sustained campaign. Hørdur gave me a blow-by-blow account, which I relay in the book.

The stakes in 2008 were far greater than individual corruption. Iceland’s was the first modern economy in which virtually the entire banking sector went belly up, and making it worse, the currency collapsed. Unemployment and inflation shot up. Many Icelanders, encouraged by the economic bubble presided over by their government and banks, had spent their savings and had nothing to live on. Because the government had lowered taxes, another mistake frequently made by neoliberals, Iceland had no “rainy day fund” for contingencies. Some in the Western mass media described Iceland as a failed state.

In my book, I share Hørder’s exciting narrative of how Icelanders forced out their government and put bankers in jail, but their people power was just as significant in the follow-up negotiations with the International Monetary Fund. Icelanders couldn’t even withdraw their money from the ATMs, much less pay their mortgages. Yes, the tiny country (population 320,000) simply had to get bailed out, but Icelanders’ new government was a coalition of social democrats and green socialists who refused to accept from the IMF the usual neoliberal prescription of austerity.

Negotiations were intense, but because the new coalition was backed by ordinary Icelanders’ intense nonviolent campaign, the government could negotiate with the IMF a deal unheard of anywhere else in the world.

Iceland then implemented a leftist economic strategy and the country made a dramatic recovery. Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman contrasted Iceland’s approach with that of the United States, the United Kingdom and most European countries after 2008, writing, “Where everyone else bailed out the bankers and made the public pay the price, Iceland let the banks go bust and actually expanded its social safety net.”

In the current moment we don’t know if Icelanders will deal with their corruption by waging a direct action campaign, or content themselves with a one-off event that ousted the prime minister. I was told by Thorvaldur Gylfason, a leading Icelandic economist, that his country has historically been more plagued by corruption than its squeaky clean Viking cousins.

Already in Iceland’s current crisis, however, we know enough to see the impact of 3 percent of a population willing to create “street heat.” If, in the United States, 10 million people – 3 percent of our population — took similar action, we would see what the kind of “political revolution” Bernie Sanders talks about actually looks like.

Americans are trending toward an understanding of how self-defeating it is to look for justice through the ballot box. If Icelanders had been resting their hopes on “the next election,” they, too, would wait in vain. Their understanding of power is not unusual among the Nordics.

When I research the legacy of Nordic people power I see how wrong we Americans are about the causes of their achievement of shared prosperity and greater equality. Typical guesses are homogeneity, or smallness, or having been historically well-off, of having unusually abundant resources. History shows any number of countries that are small, or homogeneous, or resource-rich, and experience mass poverty, injustice and tyranny.

In fact, only a century ago a majority of Icelanders, Norwegians and Swedes were poor. For decades desperate Norwegians and Swedes were fleeing their countries for the United States and elsewhere for a chance to earn a living. Those who remained at home decided to roll up their sleeves, supplement their inadequate electoral systems with nonviolent campaigns and push the 1 percent out of dominance. At that point they became free to abolish poverty, increase individual freedom and build a prosperous economy for all.

Denmark fights back against neoliberalism

One pay-off for the Danish people of their 1920s legacy of direct action showed up in the 1980s and ’90s. They, like the Brits and Americans of the period, experienced a push-back by a 1 percent that was not amused by the progressive period of the 1960s and ’70s. For one thing, in the ’70s the Danish and American nonviolent anti-nuclear power movements check-mated nuclear power. Clearly it was time in multiple countries to resume what billionaire Warren Buffett called the “class war.”

Inspired by Thatcherism, Danish conservatives tried in the mid-1980s to tighten the screws on the working class, and that’s where direct action came in. Danish leadership, having observed both the American and British labor movements on the defensive in the early 1980s, decided to take the offensive. They organized a large and extended strike in 1986-87 that largely prevented the conservatives from implementing a neoliberal program.

Their Norwegian and Swedish cousins could have benefited at that time from the example of Danish feistiness. A ferry-ride away, the 1 percent in Norway and Sweden persuaded governments to deregulate the banks, freeing the bankers to go wild and lead both countries to the economic cliff. Fortunately, the left re-asserted its good sense, seized the leading banks, fired the senior management, prevented the shareholders from getting a krone, and re-organized the financial sector in alignment with social democratic principles. A decade later, when 2008 found financial giants like the United Kingdom and United States tottering in a new banker-led disaster, the Danish, Norwegian and Swedish banks were clean and tidy.

Not a surprise to Dr. King

Martin Luther King Jr. famously told us: “Freedom is not free.” He knew that costly struggle is required to achieve justice, and he would not be surprised by what I discovered in my research about the essential role of direct action in the countries that have achieved the highest degree of justice, equality and individual freedom on the planet.

When the Nordics were poor and oppressed they did have free elections and intact parliamentary institutions – and also rule by the 1 percent. I learned from the famous Princeton study, even before the Citizens United ruling and the current flood of money in politics, that our situation has been similar to that of the Nordics a century ago: democratic pretense and oligarchic reality. Even at times when the Democrats control both houses of Congress and the White House, the oligarchic reality has remained in charge.

The track record of the descendants of the Vikings suggests a way forward. Happily, we can wake up, smell the coffee, and act.

How Bernie Sanders can harness the kind of momentum transforming British politics

by Kate Aronoff

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After his double-digits win in Wisconsin last night, Bernie Sanders’s insurgent campaign has a fair amount of momentum behind it. Still, many are asking what comes next, and how to carry the political revolution forward — whether he wins the Democratic nomination or not.

Lessons for Sanders might come from the movement that formed around another white-haired progressive challenger to the political establishment: British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Riding the wave of his country’s emergent social movements, Corbyn’s rise to the top of the party last summer marked a break with Tony Blair’s “New Labour” brand. It also christened a new generation of Labour Party activists, eager not just for a better candidate but a new kind of politics.

Formed just weeks after Corbyn’s election, the grassroots organization Momentum is channeling the energy of Corbyn’s campaign into “a mass movement for real transformative change.” Over a hundred local groups are now running campaigns at the local level and pushing for a more democratic Labour Party, holding a mix of rallies, town hall-style meetings and pop-up political education events.

To learn more about Momentum and what it might mean for the future of the Sanders campaign, I spoke with James Schneider, a national organizer with Momentum and a journalist who’s been involved with the group since its formation.

Where did Momentum come from? Why did it start?

In the simplest form, Momentum is the continuation of the Corbyn campaign. Over the course of three months last summer, the left of the Labour Party went from being tiny and much-maligned to a popular movement. Party membership doubled. It’s nothing in comparison to Sanders’s half-million volunteers, but by the end of the campaign we had 17,000 activists throughout the country. In the United Kingdom that’s massive. It was bigger than the three other campaigns combined, and it had a popular political energy that hadn’t been seen for some time.

Throughout the summer people like [writer and activist] Owen Jones went around the country saying, “These are the seeds of the biggest progressive movement in this country for a generation.” In one very real sense, Momentum was an attempt to give that some sort of organization. There was now a left leadership of a mainstream party of government. But also there were tens of thousands of people throughout the country who wanted to be politically active and do a lot of work. It’s not as if Corbyn turned up and everyone went, “Oh God, I thought everything was fine before.” The overwhelming majority of people know all too well things are screwed up. But now there’s hope. There’s a project for people to engage with. That all built onto something that gets less coverage, which was an attempt for three years to bring the fragmented parts of the Labour Party left together. This effort and the campaign combined into Momentum.

A Momentum rally in Oxford, England in February. (Facebook / Momentum)

Are there things Momentum does that a social movement can’t? How does it work?

It’s a very peculiar organization. It straddles this divide between a more traditional party form and labor and social movements and civil society. None of these are monolithic. But we sit within all four of them and try to bridge divides. There are bits of Momentum that — if you’re used to more traditional movement things — you might find bureaucratic or compromising. But that’s because it is linked to actually existing labor struggles, which necessarily have degrees of political compromise within them. And it is linked to a political party whose organizational form is still very bureaucratic and 20th century in its political technology. We’ve also had 20 years of centralization within the party under New Labour to strengthen its hierarchy.

So there are tensions between those things. But the benefit of having movements that are associated with parties is that movements can directly influence them, not just from pressure from the outside — which has to carry on, and is very important — but also through having this kind of umbilical link. You can make the party more of a movement party.

I imagine people are talking about what happens after Bernie in the same way that we were talking nine months ago, saying, “He might win, he might not win. Regardless, we’ve got to build something with this.” You’ve got the benefit of the Democratic Party being really hollow, but the drawback of it not having any kind of meaning. If he does win, the campaign needs to open up incredibly quickly into being a citizens’ campaign, with citizen assemblies across the country. He’s not going to be able to pursue his agenda from above.

What kind of space did the general election in May open up, when former Labour Party leader Ed Miliband lost to Prime Minister David Cameron?

I don’t think it started with that election. If you think about the time when Ed Miliband was leader (2010-2015), you saw the “There Is No Alternative” line being rigidly enforced through institutional mechanisms around Europe. Some of those were being challenged from within and outside of Parliament as we got into 2015. That’s what helped Corbyn emerge.

What could this and the rest of Momentum’s experience teach Sanders supporters?

If Sanders doesn’t win you’ve got to decide what the Democratic Party is. Do you want to put a lot of effort into remaking the party? Can it be turned out of its corporatist form, and become a new party of the 21st century that is engaged with movements? Will you run an insurgent campaign at all levels to transform that party? Or will Sanders momentum go into something else?

If he doesn’t win the nomination, the strategy needs to be made clear very early on. Elections are easy to run: they’re time limited, so people know that they can give up a lot of time, but know when that will end. There’s a unifying cause, and because it’s time-limited you can suppress disagreements temporarily. Afterward, when you have a series of goals — some of which may compete for time and energy and people — energy can dissipate. It would be important for some legitimate figure to hold it together. It’d probably have to be Bernie Sanders himself. I understand the problematic elements of saying that you need a singular authority figure in order to launch a sustainable democratic movement, but I think that is the case.

If he does win the nomination, the campaign will carry on as an electoral campaign. It needs to become citizen-based, not party-based — and not Sanders partisan, either. You’re going to need citizens councils, public assemblies and other democratic tools to run alongside it. The party exists for purely electoral purposes. This isn’t really about the party. It is about engagement with the state, and particularly the local state. You’ll need to develop a dual power which is about mobilizing people for the provision of services, and taking quite direct political action within communities to take on a semi-state role. That would give a focus for people who want to push forward the political revolution and make it real and permanent. It would maintain popular support, and it carries an implicit critique of the way the state has been set up and organized.

That’s if he becomes the president. He’ll die if he’s on his own in there. You can’t just use the power of the presidency to negotiate with forces that are antithetical to what you want to do.

It’ll also need popular councils to arrive at policies. Bernie’s been fairly light on the specifics of how he’ll govern. He kind of necessarily has to be. It’s difficult to say, “first we’ll be in a joint process of engaging with and changing the system fundamentally, and through that process will emerge the kind of outcomes you want to see.” You also can’t just say we’ll give 5 percent more spending to education, because that’s not a political revolution. It’s good and that should happen, but it’s not a political revolution.

Outside of an election, how can Momentum influence something like, say, the budget?

If you’re out of power within our system you can’t change policy that much directly, although you can indirectly. The budget is a good example of that. The effect of Corbyn on the political discourse in under a year has been dramatic. Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary — the person who spent the last six years orchestrating cuts — said, in resigning last month, that austerity is more of a political than an economic choice, which is completely the Corbyn line. Now, Smith is on the right of the Conservative Party. He’s not had some kind of left conversion. But Corbyn has moved basic political common sense.

This budget has made the austerity agenda seem both straight-up mean and straight-up incompetent. It’s easy to see the impacts of Corbyn’s leadership on that. For months he argued that our priorities should be different on moral grounds. But then the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, laid out Labour’s alternative economic strategy, and has been bit by bit tearing pieces of the Tory’s economic credibility.

Momentum’s role in that is popularizing and spreading those core themes within society. We’ve got a lot of public political and economic education courses that are starting up around the country. There’s a real thirst for people to get alternative political and economic views; not necessarily to agree with them, but to be able to critically engage. There’s a real feeling among people that, “Some of the consensus might be completely right. Maybe we do need austerity, but I don’t trust the people who are saying it anymore because the system that it supports seems corrupt. And it does seem like there are substantial conflicts of interest, so we want to find out things for ourselves.”

What else is Momentum working on now?

We’ve got 130 groups across the country. Depending on where they are they do different things. Generally, they’ll meet once a month in a community center or town hall and discuss what local campaigns they want to do and collectively run them. There’s a huge diversity of things that people are doing across the country. One thing we need to do way more of is to knit those together more, for mutual support between campaigns but also to show the scale of grassroots political activism that is taking place. It falls below the media radar, but — more importantly — it falls below the radar of other people who might be interested in doing this. If you see that they’re trying to close a ward in your hospital and you know about six other campaigns that are trying to stop the same thing, then you’re way more empowered to do something.

On the national level, we started with the voter registration drive because there’s a kind of gerrymandering taking place, knocking over two million people off the electoral register by changing the way voter registration works. Up next are important local and regional elections, and elections in Scotland and Wales. So we’re doing a lot of traditional campaigning to get people out and voting for Labour candidates.

Last week we put out a survey to our supporters asking what their campaign priorities are. We’ll have a new set of national campaigns that will come out after the May elections. We’re now in support, at the national level, of all sorts of currently running campaigns, particularly the junior doctors strike.

How are those campaigns going?

You definitely can’t put this all down to Corbyn, but he has lit something. The junior doctors strike is an industrial action supported by two-thirds of the population. Britain’s steel industry is currently under threat of being completely closed down, and something like 62 percent of people want it to be nationalized. Eighteen percent don’t, and the rest don’t know. Nationalization is the argument being put forward by John McDonnell, and it’s got overwhelming support.

These are arguments that have not been put forward in Britain in a very long time. And now they’re getting an airing. That’s not to say that all we need to do is talk about socialism and then suddenly everyone will like socialism. There are still not the social blocs developed yet in society that are in a position to be able to actively transform it. But these are both big advances in that direction.

Any last words of advice to people who want to see the Sanders campaign’s momentum move forward?

Whatever happens, build on the thing that reduces the structural power gap between you and the real enemy, which isn’t the Clintonite, plutocratic wing of the Democrats. For Sanders, that’s the ability to have half-a-million people who are doing some kind of activism weekly, a highly decentralized ability to raise money, etc. Whether he wins the nomination or not, the campaign needs to clearly articulate the political strategy of this movement. And then, of course, figure out how people in the movement can then engage with the strategy and try to change it.

Another thing is that you’ve got to decide what the relationship is to the Democratic Party, in a variety of ways. If you’ve got half a million people you are the biggest movement of people being active. But how do you engage with all the other movements that are transforming the country? How does the Sanders movement relate to Black Lives Matter? Who does it relate to in the Fight for $15?