Waging Nonviolence

Students assert their ‘right to dissent’ in India

by Bhavana Mahajan

Students march in support of JNU on Feb. 18. (Facebook/Stand With JNU)

A new era in public debate and polarization has dawned in India over the last few weeks following the government’s crackdown on students and universities across the country under the guise of protecting “nationalist sentiment.”

In May 2014, the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, came to power in India with an absolute majority. Corruption scams and ineffective leadership by the previous government had left people feeling frustrated, and the world’s largest democracy voted for what seemed to be a development-oriented growth agenda. While the central government and its leadership started working on implementing this agenda, the BJP’s parent organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, or RSS — and a student’s wing called the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, or ABVP — decided it was time to “fix” the social and moral fabric of the nation. They launched a campaign against all that did not fit in with the mainstream “Hindutva” right-wing ideology, leading to many face-offs between the liberals and leftists on one side and “sanghis,” or right-wing fundamentalists, on the other.

One area of the public sphere that felt a subversion of its autonomy was higher education. University campuses came under regular scrutiny, and one of these interventions took a nasty turn when a lower caste doctoral student, Rohith, committed suicide. He was expelled from his campus housing, and his university fellowship was ended after complaints of an alleged attack against an ABVP leader. National dailies have since reported that ABVP activists had originally objected to Rohith’s alleged protest against the death penalty for Yakub Memon, who was convicted for his role in the 1993 Bombay bombings case, among other incidents. The situation escalated into a face-off between ABVP activists and Rohith’s political association for Dalit students. In his suicide note, Rohith wrote, “My birth is my fatal accident.” His suicide on January 17 sparked protests against caste-based discrimination all over the country, including in the Jawaharlal Nehru University, or JNU, in New Delhi.

JNU, one of the most respected Indian universities, is known as one of the few bastions of free speech and radical debating culture. This culture of critical thinking has translated into academic rigor that has produced some of the leading thinkers as well as bureaucrats that dominate the political landscape in India and internationally. This culture of critical thinking also means that the institution is strongly anti-establishment. No government has managed to escape its sharp critique, and students routinely discuss and debate issues of critical importance, including excesses by the state in the name of policy or national security.

While India has been a victim of terrorism, it has also indulged in excesses in the name of combating terrorism. One of these was the hanging of Afzal Guru, who was convicted of the 2001 terrorist attack on the Indian parliament. He was hanged and his body burned — against his religious rights as a Muslim — in secrecy. Many political commentators argued that the hanging did not follow due process, an allegation that a minister from the previous government acknowledged. This incident, as well as the hanging of Yabuk Memon, has come to be widely regarded in civil society and academic circles as India’s version of the Guantanamo detentions. Given the air of critical debate and discussion that characterizes JNU, on the anniversary of Afzal Guru’s death some students decided to organize a remembrance meeting.

Even for someone accused of crimes against humanity, remembrance meetings are a way of reclaiming our common humanity. Since Afzal’s case had been shrouded in so much mystery, he is not accepted as a “terrorist” by sections of Indian society and instead seen as an embodiment of state-sanctioned injustices meted out in the name of fighting terror. This gathering was supposed to be no different. But it unleashed demons that have polarized India like never before and festered conspiracy theories that have shaken the very roots of India’s democracy.

At the meeting on February 9, a few students deemed Guru a martyr and the Indian state a tyrant. This led to a campus-wide crackdown by the central government, which said that JNU is home to anti-national elements. In a related twist to these events, Kanhaiya Kumar, the university’s student union president was arrested on February 12 following media reports that he too sloganeered for “freedom.” In the Indian context, any call for “freedom” is read as secessionist, especially in the context of Kashmir or the Northeast. Since Guru hailed from Kashmir, Kumar’s speech — even though he specifically called for freedom “from RSS,” which was cut from the video aired by the media — was interpreted as direct support for the secessionist forces in Kashmir. This became a national story, and Kumar was arrested was on the grounds of sedition. The bizarre incident went one step further with the home minister quoting tweets from a fake Twitter account to claim that the event and campus politics at JNU in general were supported by Lashkar-e-Taiba, a banned terror group.

With the so-called evidence being presented, the battle lines between the “right to dissent” and “nationalism” were drawn. Following the arrest, lawyers physically assaulted students at Kumar’s hearing; BJP leaders beat up left-wing ideologues in public, claiming “Mother India” had been insulted; student groups all over the country came to the streets to protest the mishandling of events and the demonization of JNU; and international, as well as civil society activists, cried themselves hoarse as the whole incident smacked of authoritarianism.

Of course, shouting slogans may have been naive on the students’ part, or there could have been a conspiracy by the ABVP/RSS ideologues to target JNU for its anti-establishment views. But did this incident warrant the whole might of the government to come crashing down on them, and denounce the university as a threat to “national security?” Universities contribute to nation-building. Targeting them has not only antagonized liberals, but has acted as a unifying force for all who oppose right-wing fundamentalism. The media — and over-simplified accounts of what has happened — have polarized the Indian citizenry.

A woman holds a sign critical of the media at the march on Feb. 18. (Facebook/Stand With JNU)

Hate, however, may yet be defeated. In defense of JNU, students and professors of the university have come together to express their dissent in novel ways. Professors at the university have been hosting “open classes on nationalism,” which are live streamed and later uploaded to YouTube. In addition to performing songs of solidarity, students had, early on, also taken charge of shaping public discourse by leveraging social media. One of the first things they did was create a community page on Facebook to share news and updates about “assaults on democratic ethos of the JNU community.” Since being launched on February 15, the page is now followed by over 35,000 people.

To reclaim the university as a safe space, students and teachers formed a human chain on campus and launched a peaceful protest movement at Jantar Mantar, in the heart of the capital. Over 15,000 people reportedly marched in the streets of the capital on February 18 to protest against Kumar’s arrest and to “protect the soul of democracy.” On-campus, students gave those working with the media red roses and asked them not to spread rumors about the university. The outpouring of support from universities, student groups as well as influencers — from all over India and abroad — have helped the movement maintain its momentum. There have been no cases of student-led violence on campus, and the university community continues to emphasize nonviolence as the only legitimate means to seek justice.

The so-called nationalists are beating victory drums, and the witch-hunt against JNU students is a reality. Kumar faces many threats to his life. Kashmiri students have vacated campus housing out of fear that they could be targeted next. Kumar’s arrest was followed by the arrest of two other JNU students, who were responsible for organizing the initial remembrance meeting for Afzal Guru, on charges of sedition. Kumar has distanced himself from the other two students, and the situation polarizes. However, not all seems to be lost. Kumar was granted interim bail by the Delhi High Court on March 2, in what is shaping up to be a long battle.

As support for JNU continues to pour in, the government has been aggressively putting forth the nationalist argument to defend police action, even amid sharp criticism by opposition parties. Nevertheless, the judicial basis for the arrests seems to be faltering too with the high court criticizing the police on Kumar’s arrest. The students, on the other hand, want to continue to build on the national support and challenge the sedition law itself. Led by the student union, students marched to the parliament, and called for an international day of protest, on March 2 to demand the dropping of charges against JNU students and their release, the scrapping of the sedition law, and the passing of a “Rohith Act” to end caste-based discrimination in educational institutions. These are times of flux, but there are many who are willing to stand up for their rights now, and that is a start.

Using momentum to build a stronger movement

by George Lakey

We always looked forward to the annual visit of Saul Alinsky when I taught at a small graduate school. Alinsky was the terror of city hall bosses everywhere, and he told us colorful stories from his organizing experience. Ours was the Martin Luther King School of Social Change. The students could earn an M. A. in Social Change, which, when asked, I would explain stood for “Master’s in Agitation.”

This was the late 1960s and most of our students were drawn from front-line communities where the struggles were hot. The students were famously direct and critical, and by the time Alinsky turned up they would have read his “Rules for Radicals” and been eager to take him on.

“Where’s your big picture?” they demanded. “How do all those stop-sign victories on a local level add up to larger institutional change?”

He challenged them right back. “What’s your method of leadership development? What does empowerment mean if it’s just about drama and a flash in the pan? Do the headlines grabbed by you romantics result in solid organizations that improve people’s lives in the workplace or the neighborhoods where they live?”

The two great traditions — mass protest and community/labor organizing — continue to argue with each other to this day. In “This Is An Uprising” Mark and Paul Engler take up the argument. Their book describes some of the foremost adversaries including Alinsky himself and activist-sociologist Frances Fox Piven and sets out their ideas fairly.

The Englers’ book, however, could not have been written in the 1960s when Alinsky took on my students. Brothers Mark and Paul Engler shine much more light than we had available then. They draw ideas from the accelerating use of nonviolent struggle on local and national levels and the research that points out what did and didn’t work to produce lasting change that affects people’s lives.

Spoiler alert: The Englers end up proposing a craft that makes the best of both traditions — a craft they call “momentum.” They don’t pull this off by synthesis. They do it by calling everyone to a higher order of strategizing.

Born teachers, they show rather than tell. They show how momentum can work by sharing vivid glimpses from movements and campaigns as various as the DREAMers, Occupy Wall Street, ACT-UP, the Birmingham civil rights campaign, the Harvard 2001 student sit-in for a liveable wage, the LGBT movement, Tahrir Square and the campaign against Egypt’s dictatorship, the overthrow of Serbia’s dictator Slobodan Milosevic, and others.

Are we there yet? No, the craft is not yet fully embodied, but the Englers help us to see it emerging through the creativity and daring of activists in many places. They also bring to the conversation analysts like political scientists Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephen, sociologist/organizer Bill Moyer, civil resistance studies founder Gene Sharp, and others. (Full disclosure: I’m there, too. Plus, parts of the book first appeared on Waging Nonviolence.) All of this is to invite the reader to learn “how to combine explosive short-term uprisings with long-term organizing that can make movements more sustainable.”

I’ve rarely seen movements described so intimately at their strategic turning points, supported with the comparative insights of scholars in the field. Reading the gripping stories alone makes the book worthwhile.

Framing our challenge as a skill-set

The Englers intend to help the reader become skillful in several ways: by “staging creative and provocative acts of civil disobedience,” “intelligently escalating once a mobilization is underway,” and making sure that “short-term cycles of disruption contribute to furthering longer-term goals.”

They take the time to deconstruct the two traditions and show how the differences reveal strengths and weaknesses on both their parts. In the light of this book, Alinsky and my students were both right, and both wrong. Each side needed a creative leap to find ways of retaining their own strengths and borrowing the strengths of the other’s, through a new theory and practice.

The craft does mean letting go of some assumptions held by both sides, and the Englers are frank about that — again backing themselves up with movements’ own experiences. As I read, I imagined going through the wealth of campaigns in the Global Nonviolent Action Database to see more examples of people practicing aspects of the craft – or not.

An example of a questioned assumption from the mass protest tradition is: Disruption has the inevitable cost of getting backlash not only from the power holders but also the people caught in the middle. I remember surging with others into a center city street at the height of traffic on a Friday afternoon, for example, and shrugging off the cost to the jammed up drivers who couldn’t pick up their kids from school. The book points out that the political cost of disruption to the 99 percent can be offset by tactical choices in which the activists “put more skin in the game” through personal sacrifice. What I get from this is that creativity matters: It’s time to drop the mindless reflex of blocking traffic to show we’re indignant.

Another dubious assumption from the mass protest tradition is that sheer numbers win the day. I remember during the anti-Vietnam war movement there were repeated marches down New York’s 5th Avenue. The organizers rejoiced each time the number grew, but the Englers point out — based on what actually works in getting change — drama often trumps numbers. I contrast what I call the “numbers obsession” with Alice Paul’s choice to leave the woman suffrage organization’s mass marches and start a campaign with smaller numbers and bigger drama — and then win.

When analyzing what they call “the whirlwind,” the Englers describe clearly a movement moment: “The defining attribute of a moment of the whirlwind is that it involves a dramatic public event or series of events that set off a flurry of activity, and that this activity quickly spreads beyond the institutional control of any one organization. It inspires a rash of decentralized action, drawing in people previously unconnected to established movement groups.”

Right there we can see why mass protest worries some leaders of community organizations and unions – the loss of control. What those leaders miss is the opportunity for organizing that a whirlwind gives. The Englers recall Mine Workers union leader John L. Lewis’ use of a whirlwind in the 1930s to organize more unions (membership organizations) and build the Congress of Industrial Organizations into a cohesive national force that gravely worried the 1 percent.

Some Occupy Wall Street leaders saw that kind of opportunity in the Occupy whirlwind, but as we know the prevailing culture of Occupy prevented building a mass movement. Now I wonder if Occupy’s resisters of growth might have been willing to play a bigger game if they had known about the craft of momentum-driven organizing.

In any case, now there’s a new marker for us to go by in the Englers’ book, and new reason for hope for effective outcomes of our work.

A new wave of climate insurgents defines itself as law-enforcers

by Jeremy Brecher

On August 15, 2015, 1,500 people engaged in a daring act of civil disobedience to shut down Europe’s biggest source of C02 emissions. (Flickr / 350.org / Paul Wagner)

One in six Americans say they would personally engage in nonviolent civil disobedience against corporate or government activities that make global warming worse. That’s about 40 million adults. The fate of the earth may depend on them — and others around the world — doing so.

Such actions are about to take a quantum leap both in numbers and in global coordination. From May 7-15, 350.org, Greenpeace and many other organizations — notably grassroots movement organizations from every continent — will hold a global week of action called Break Free From Fossil Fuels. They envision tens of thousands of people mobilizing worldwide to demand a rapid transition to renewable energy. Events will include nonviolent direct actions targeting extraction sites or infrastructure; pressure on political targets to shift policies around fossil fuel development; and support for clean energy alternatives. Mass actions in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Indonesia, Israel/Palestine, Nigeria, the Philippines, South Africa, Spain, Turkey, and the United States will target fossil fuel projects and support ambitious solutions. Before and during the week of action, additional, locally-initiated actions are expected in many other locations around the globe.

In the United States there will be actions in California, the Northwest, the Mountain West, the Midwest, Washington, D.C., and the Northeast. They will include support for a moratorium on the auction of public land for fossil fuel development; mass trespass at fracking sites; land and flotilla blockades of refineries; actions at the facilities of pipeline companies; and blockades of trains carrying fracked oil. In each case the partners include not only national and international environmental organizations but dozens of community, indigenous, climate justice, labor, religious, citizen action and other groups that have long been campaigning locally against these targets.

Flipping the script

Break Free From Fossil Fuels participants will define themselves to the movement, the public and the courts not as criminals but as law-enforcers trying to enforce legal rights and halt governments and corporations from committing the greatest crime in human history.

Fundamental principles embodied in the laws and constitutions of countries around the world provide a strong basis for these claims. Basic human and constitutional rights include the unalienable rights to life, liberty and property — including the property that belongs not just to us but to future generations of humanity. And pursuant to the public trust doctrine governments are the trustees of the vital natural resources on which human well-being depends; they have a “fiduciary duty” to manage them for the benefit of all present and future generations. Governments have no right to authorize the destruction of those resources today to the detriment of future generations and constitutional rights to life, liberty and property. These legal rights will help provide the frame for the public messaging and legal strategy of climate-protecting civil disobedience surrounding Break Free From Fossil Fuels.

Use of constitutional law and the public trust doctrine for climate protection has been pioneered by young people, supported by Our Children’s Trust, who have brought lawsuits and/or rulemaking petitions in every U.S. state and against the federal government, as well as in several other countries around the world. Their aim is to require governments to act on their public trust duty to protect the climate, as well as the fundamental constitutional rights of present and future generations.

“The Federal government has been making decisions in the best interest of multinational corporations and their profits, but not in the best interest of my generation and those to come,” said Earth Guardians youth director Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, one of the lead youth plaintiffs in the landmark federal climate lawsuit now pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon. “Instead of changing their business model to meet the scientific reality of climate change, these companies are demanding we adapt to an uninhabitable world that supports their profits. When you compare the two, I think it’s clear that our right to clean air and a healthy atmosphere is more important than their ‘need’ to make money off destroying our future.”

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez in Paris for the 2015 UN climate talks. (Facebook / Earth Guardians)

In an astonishing turn of events last November, the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, the American Petroleum Institute, and the National Association of Manufacturers — representing nearly the entire fossil fuel industry — filed a motion to “intervene” and join forces with the government against the youth in the Federal Constitutional and Public Trust lawsuit of Our Children’s Trust. They argued that, “If plaintiffs succeed in this court ordering the elimination or massive reduction of U.S. conventional fuel consumption and manufacturing processes that emit greenhouse gases beyond existing federal and other regulations, the members of each of the proposed intervener-defendants will be harmed.”

According to Our Children’s Trust executive director and lead attorney for the youth Julia Olson, “The fossil fuel industry would not want to be in court unless it understood the significance of our case. This litigation is a momentous threat to fossil fuel companies. They are determined to join the federal government to defeat the constitutional claims asserted by these youth plaintiffs. The fossil fuel industry and the federal government lining up against 21 young citizens — that shows you what is at stake here.”

On January 15, Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin of the Federal District Court in Oregon accepted the fossil fuel and manufacturing industries’ move to intervene to oppose the lawsuit.

Claims that government actions are illegal and unconstitutional have played an important role in empowering social movements throughout history. They strengthen participants by lending a sense of clarity that they are not promoting personal opinions by criminal means, but rather performing a public duty. And they strengthen a movement’s appeal to the broader society by presenting action not as wanton law-breaking, but as an effort to rectify actions of governments and institutions that are themselves in violation of the law.

For the civil rights movement, the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal rights meant that those engaged in sit-ins and freedom rides were not criminals, but rather upholders of constitutional law — even if Southern sheriffs threw them in jail. For the activists of Solidarity, the nonviolent revolution that overthrew Communism in Poland was not criminal sedition, but an effort to implement the international human and labor rights laws ratified by their own government.

Constitutional and public trust arguments make it possible for the climate protection movement to turn the tables on the governments that purport to represent the world’s people and to have the authority to rule the world. They stand for the proposition that governments do not have the right to destroy the climate — and that the people have the right to stop them when they do so. Governments have no more right to authorize the emission of greenhouse gases that destroy the climate than the trust officers of a bank have to loot the monetary assets placed under their care. The people of the world have a right to our common natural resources. And we have a right, if necessary, to protect our common assets against those who would destroy them.

The constitutional duty of governments to protect the public trust, and the right of the people to life, liberty and property, can play much the same role in the climate movement that the U.S. Constitution’s right to equality played for the civil rights movement and the Polish government’s legal commitment to human and labor rights played for Solidarity. Those who perpetrate climate change, and those who allow them to do so, should not be able to claim that the law is on their side. Those who blockade coal-fired power plants or sit down at the White House to protest fossil fuel pipelines can — and should — insist that they are simply exercising their fundamental constitutional rights to life, liberty and property, as well as their responsibility to protect the atmospheric commons they own along with all of present and future humankind. Climate protesters can proudly proclaim that they are actually protecting constitutional public trust rights for all, upholding the law, not violating it.

It has begun

When protesters block fuel trains or occupy government buildings, normally the police are called in, and the protesters are arrested and tried as law breakers. But a trickle of recent climate cases has begun to erode the expectation that the law supports the right of property owners to use their property to destroy the climate.

On Earth Day 2013, Alec Johnson (a.k.a. “Climate Hawk”) locked himself to a construction excavator in Tushka, Oklahoma, as part of the Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance campaign to stop the Keystone XL pipeline. Johnson explicitly based his defense on the public trust doctrine: “When it comes to our commons, to our public property, we the people have rights in a public trust.” The public trust doctrine, he continued, “assures us that we have rights when it comes to how our public commons are administered by any trustees placed in charge of it.” We the people are “armed” by such legal doctrine. We now “demand our environmental institutions and agencies recognize their responsibilities as trustees and exercise their fiduciary responsibility to act with ‘the highest duty of care,’ to ensure the sustained resource abundance necessary for society’s endurance.”

In a statement he prepared for the jury, Alec Johnson argued that his blockade of Keystone XL pipeline construction was necessary because the pipeline threatens our atmospheric public trust, and state and national governments are failing to protect us against that threat. He proclaimed on the basis of the public trust principle, “I wasn’t breaking the law that day — I was enforcing it.” Although Johnson could have been sentenced to up to two years in the Atoka County jail, he received no jail time and a fine of just over $1,000.

In 2013, Jay O’Hara and Ken Ward used a small fishing boat named Henry David T to block a ship from unloading 40,000 tons of coal at the Brayton Point, Massachusetts power plant. Prosecutors charged them with disturbing the peace, conspiracy, failure to act to avoid a collision, and negligent operation of a motor vehicle. O’Hara and Ward argued that the imminent threat of global climate change left them no choice but to act as they did. The day the trial was set to begin, the Bristol County District Attorney went out to the steps of the courthouse and announced that he was reducing the charge to a modest fine, which would help defray municipal costs. Then he issued a statement in support of O’Hara and Ward’s protest: “Climate change is one of the gravest crises our planet has ever faced. In my humble opinion the political leadership on this issue has been gravely lacking.” He thereupon met with the defendants and told them he would join them at the upcoming People’s Climate March.

Rising Tide Seattle activists have blockaded an oil train in Everett. (Facebook / Rising Tide Seattle)

On September 2, 2014, five activists blockaded a train used to ship Bakken oil in a BNSF Delta rail yard in Everett, Washington. They included a business climate consultant, a teacher’s assistant, a coffee house owner, a retired music teacher, and the owner of a small carpentry and painting business. In their court filings, the “Delta 5” argued that “to seriously address the climate crisis, we need to be shutting down our fossil fuel infrastructure and keeping that oil in the ground.” On that basis they maintained that their blockade was “morally — and legally — justifiable given the imperatives of the climate crisis.” The risks of global warming are an emergency, and require urgent, rapid reductions of atmospheric CO2 emissions if we are to maintain a sustainable climate. The blockaders asked that their actions be viewed, “not as a crime, but a as reasonable act of conscience, necessitated by the extreme nature of the emergency and by the fact that the government itself is in violation of the law.” Abby Brockway, a housepainter and Presbyterian elder, presented an additional defense based on the threat the oil trains presented to railroad workers and the communities they went through.

Initially the judge refused to admit a necessity defense. But shortly before the trial he reversed himself. As a result, for the first time in U.S. history a judge allowed a jury to hear testimony that climate protesters should not be found guilty of breaking the law because their actions were necessary to prevent a far greater harm – destruction of the Earth’s climate.

After testimony was completed, however, the judge instructed the jury not to consider the necessity defense, primarily on the grounds that they had not shown that all legal avenues had been exhausted. But the jury had already heard why the Delta 5 did what they did – and the expert testimony on the threat presented by climate change and oil trains. The jury acquitted them on the major charge of obstructing a train and found them guilty only of trespass. At the end of the trial three of the jurors met with the defendants in the hallway, hugged them and agreed to join them for an upcoming climate lobby day. Were it not for the judge’s firm instructions, they said they would have voted to acquit. The Delta 5 are appealing the decision.

A kind of “municipal climate disobedience” is also emerging. In Deerfield, Massachusetts, this February, the Texas-based Kinder Morgan company asked the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, or DPU, to force the more than 400 property owners along the route of its proposed Kinder Morgan natural gas pipeline to allow company surveyors on their land. In reply, the town of Deerfield wrote the DPU that its Board of Health has forbidden all activities of Kinder Morgan in the town. The health board had said that “a corporation convicted of felonies resulting in the tragic deaths of five people presents an unreasonable risk to the health and lives of residents of Deerfield if such [a] felon were to be allowed to build a massive fracked gas pipeline through the town.”

The Select Board of the town warned that anyone entering onto private properties without permission from the property owners for activities related to the proposed natural gas pipeline will be arrested for trespassing – even if they have an order from the DPU. A lawyer representing the town said Deerfield is “prepared to supersede any state authority and have police officers arrest anyone who enters onto private property as part of the pipeline project.” Kinder Morgan claims the federal Pipeline Safety Act preempts any state’s authority to regulate pipeline safety and that certain state laws trump the town’s orders.

While nobody should commit civil disobedience in the expectation that they will be acquitted on constitutional or public trust grounds, these cases show that we can expect a growing proportion of our neighbors and fellow citizens – including some who serve as judges and juries – to recognize that climate change must be halted by all means necessary and that our actions hasten that result.

A climate insurgency?

Break Free From Fossil Fuels may be the harbinger for a global nonviolent climate insurgency. It is globally coordinated, with common principles, strategy, planning and messaging. It is utilizing nonviolent direct action not only as an individual moral witness, but also to express and mobilize the power of the people on which all government ultimately depends. It presents climate protection not only as a moral but as a legal right and duty, necessary to protect the Constitution and the public trust for ourselves and our posterity. It represents an insurgency because it denies the right of the existing powers and principalities – be they corporate or governmental – to use the authority of law to justify their destruction of the earth’s climate.

How best to train the next generation of activists? Give them chores

by Frida Berrigan

Embed from Getty Images

There it was, right next to our places at the breakfast table every Saturday morning. On top of clumpy oatmeal and disgusting miso, we also had to choke down the weekend chore list. There would be no fun and games, no excursions, no relaxation until all the items written out in Mom’s perfect handwriting were completed. It could take an hour; it could take all day, our choice.

They weren’t the worst chores in the world — sweeping the stairs, emptying the trash all through the house, tidying our room. Sometimes, we dragged our feet and tried to negotiate our way out of these chores, but mostly my brother and I rushed through them as fast as possible or turned them into games. Sweeping the steps with our bottoms instead of a rag was fun. So was playing three story catch with the bathroom trash — we’d argue over who was the tosser and who stood down in the backyard trying to catch the bag. It was more fun to toss and the tosser was less likely to get in trouble too. Sometimes, the wind caught the trash bags and there would be no catch, that was always hilarious.

In addition to these independent, haphazardly completed chores, we had to do a lot of helping out. “Come work with me,” Dad would say, and “No thanks” was not an option. We helped him wash the car (no soap, no hose, just lots of elbow grease), chop and stack wood, change the car’s oil (we were small and so he’d send us under the car to unscrew things so he didn’t have to jack the car up).

Dad seemed to enjoy making these chores as hard as possible, as I recall. We did own a vacuum, but he thought that sweeping the rugs in our basement living spaces with a broom was better. It was quieter, but it was also so much more work. The rug itself was a chore – small square rug samples of different textures and colors glued to the cement floor. The glue was always failing in the humid basement, and so another chore was re-gluing the rugs. He’d squeeze wood glue, and we’d smear it around the back of the rug and the floor and then find a stack of books to weigh it down for a while. “Give it a sit,” he’d say, and my brother and I would perch our bottoms on top of stacks of mystery novels and religious polemics. We’d press the glue into the ground, smiling at each other like mad clowns who could not believe their luck (Dad let us sit down, ha ha). Then we’d ruin it by being too silly and loud, and he’d send us off on the next chore.

Here is an interesting statistic: In a 2014 Braun Research survey of 1,001 U.S. adults, 82 percent reported having regular chores growing up, but only 28 percent said that they required chores of their own children. Is this some kind of proof that kids today are lazy, or is it more a reflection on the grown ups?

Making kids do chores is hard work. Harder than the chores themselves, most of the time.

“Pick up this mess, Seamus,” I tell my three-year-old son. He is sitting on the sofa — naked — surrounded by library books and the clothes he has taken off. There are more library books piled on the floor along with princess dresses and stuffed animals. Somewhere in this pile is an upended bowl of goldfish too.

“It happens, Mama,” he says. “Messes just happen.”

“Right, Seamus. Messes happen and then neatness happens because we clean up.”

“In a minute, Mama.”

Now, I have a choice: To give him a minute and see what happens or insist that it happens right now — threatening, storming and incentivizing. I could also start cleaning and make it look so fun that he is irresistibly drawn to participating. The children’s literature on chores says that the third option is the best. They say: Make the work collective, make it fun, make it part of family together time.

But I have already cleaned this exact mess up three times today, and I don’t feel like making it fun. He’s lucky that I don’t own a magic wand because I feel like making it all disappear so there are no library books, no clothes and no goldfish ever again. I feel like a three year old does not need to take off all his clothes and throw books on the floor to have a good time.

So, I storm and threaten and count. Oh, he loves it when I count.

“Count, Mama, count,” he’ll say, which is infuriating, sassy and hard not to laugh at.

“Nothing else is happening until this mess is cleaned up,” I say.

Oops. Now, I have done it. Match point, and it goes to Seamus. He is perfectly happy, he doesn’t need anything else to happen today. I am the one who needs other things to happen. It is my to do list, errands and desire to not come home later to a pile of books on the floor that is pushing this clean-up party. Fail!

“Come help me,” I say as I rush around picking up books and sweeping up goldfish and making a neat pile of his clothes. He watches.

“Put your clothes on, Seamus.” He waits.

“I need help, Mama. Help me, please.” The children’s literature says that a three-and-a-half-year old should be able to dress himself in simple clothes (the only kind he wears). But that takes forever, and I am out of patience (and he said please). I give in completely.

Ron Lieber, the New York Times “Your Money” columnist, wrote “The Opposite of Spoiled.” He says that kids “are capable of so much more than we allow them to do, mostly because we aren’t patient enough to give them the chance to take on new tasks and do them wrong a few times before getting the hang of it.” Oops. My bad.

I have to keep at it. I have to get better. Marty Rossmann, professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota, completed a longitudinal study in 2002 that followed 84 children across four periods in their lives — in preschool, around ages 10 and 15, and in their mid-20s. Here are her findings: “Young adults who began chores at ages 3 and 4 were more likely to have good relationships with family and friends, to achieve academic and early career success and to be self-sufficient, as compared with those who didn’t have chores or who started them as teens.” Yes, working with my dad, getting that list from my mom, those dreary hours spent dusting, sweeping, unscrewing, stacking, emptying, and so much more were the key to my many successes as an adult.

We are trying. Seamus’s older sister is nine. We share responsibility for Rosena with her mom, and the big girl lives with us half the time. She responds really well to “the clean up is a game” ploy. Turn music up loud, give her a time limit and she is a greased lightening clean up machine. She also sets and clears the table, puts away her laundry and is game for projects like reorganizing the mud room. “I love working with you, Frida. It is so much fun,” she tells me as we restack the milk crates for the 150 pairs of shoes needed to keep five individuals from slumping around barefoot and rehang the 400 coats, vests, jackets and slickers without which we can be neither warm nor dry nor fashion forward.

Rosena’s good nature and generous spirit gives me hope that her slothful little brother will wise up and be helpful. He worships the backs of her heels, so that’s a good sign. And when big sister peer pressure doesn’t help, I can sometimes garner his cooperation by invoking his goddess — Ms. A, his preschool teacher. “Would Ms. A like that you are not helping clean up?” I’ll ask. He looks around the room to make sure she is not watching before he scurries to put the stuffed animals back in their basket. “Ms. A says I am a good helper,” he says. “I am, right Mama?” Gotcha!

My dad would have loved to hear me say something similar as we stacked firewood or scrubbed out the inside of the garbage cans, but I don’t think I ever did. Rosena and I finish putting everyone’s hats, mittens and scarves back in their overflowing bins.

The children’s literature is worried about a new generation of kids coming up who are not capable, not independent, not empathetic, and not even a little helpful. They say it starts with chores, with learning how to work together, learning that work is part of life. I am worried too — not just about the state of my house, but the state of our world.

I never would have admitted it to him, but I did love working with my dad. I learned so much in the process — and not just how to do all the things we did together. I learned a key life lesson: “Leave things better than you found them.” It works on bedrooms, kitchens and the inside of trash cans, but it works on a bigger scale too. With your time and effort, make a dent on the big messes like racism and white supremacy, a nuclear-armed war-making state, an anti-human economic system and a wasteful culture. I want to raise kids who care enough to not just clean up their own little (and not so little) messes, but also tackle all these bigger messes. So, it means being a little more patient, a little more tolerant and a little more fun in helping the kids do their chores.

Chiapas communities organize to protect sacred lagoon from tourist highway

by Sandra Cuffe

Candelaria residents erect a fence around the Suyul Lagoon to help protect it from intruders. (WNV/Sandra Cuffe)

The reeds and grasses are as tall as Sebastián Pérez Méndez, if not taller. The vegetation is so thick it’s hard to see the water in the Suyul Lagoon that he and other local Maya Tzotzil residents are working hard to protect. Pérez Méndez crosses the road to point out where aquatic plants serve as a natural filter for the water as it flows out the lagoon, located in the highlands of Chiapas, in southern Mexico.

“The water is under threat,” he said. Pérez Méndez is the top authority of the Candelaria ejido, a tract of communally-held land in the municipality of San Cristóbal de las Casas. “We’re not going to allow it.”

Communities in Chiapas are organizing to protect the Suyul Lagoon and communal lands from a planned multi-lane highway between the city of San Cristóbal de las Casas and Palenque, where Mayan ruins are a popular tourist destination. Candelaria residents continue to take action locally to protect the lagoon. They also traveled from community to community along the proposed highway route, forming a united movement opposing the project.

It all started back in 2014 when government officials showed up in Candelaria looking for ejido authorities, including Pérez Méndez’ predecessor. It was the first residents had heard about plans for the highway. The indigenous inhabitants had not been consulted and were not shown detailed plans.

“They realized that [the government officials] were only seeking signatures,” Pérez Méndez said.

No one person or group is authorized to make a decision that would affect ejido lands, however, and there are strict conditions in place to ensure elected ejido leaders are accountable to members, he explained. An extraordinary assembly was held to discuss the highway project.

The Candelaria ejido was established in 1935, a year after a new agrarian law enacted during the Lázaro Cárdenas administration led to widespread land reform throughout Mexico. More than 2,000 people live in the 1,600-hectare ejido, and more than 800 of them are ejidatarios — legally recognized communal land holders whose rights have been passed down for generations. Only ejidatarios as a whole have the power to make decisions on issues like the highway project.

Candelaria residents paint over graffiti to fix up a roadside sign proclaiming their opposition to the highway project. (WNV/Sandra Cuffe)

“The ejido said no,” said Guadalupe Moshan, who works for the Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas Human Rights Center, or FrayBa, supporting Candelaria and other communities in Chiapas. “They didn’t sign.”

Candelaria leaders sought assistance from FrayBa in 2014, after they were approached by government officials and pressured to sign a document indicating their consent to the highway project that would involve a 60-meter-wide easement through communally-held lands. Officials told community members that the highway was already approved and that they would be well compensated, but that there would consequences if they refused to sign, Moshan said.

“They told them they would suspend government programs and services,” she explained. In the days following the extraordinary ejido assembly rejecting the project, there was unusual activity in the area, according to Moshan. Helicopters flew over the ejido, unknown individuals entered at night, and trees were marked, she said.

Protecting the Suyul Lagoon remains at the heart of Candelaria’s opposition to the planned highway. The lagoon provides potable water not only for Candelaria, but also for several nearby communities, said ejido council secretary Juan Octavio Gómez. Aside from the highway itself, project plans eventually shown to the community leaders include a proposed eco-tourism complex right next to the lagoon. That isn’t in the communities’ interest, Gómez explained.

“Water is life. We can’t live without it,” he said. “Without this lagoon, we don’t have another option for water.”

Fed by a natural spring, the Suyul Lagoon never runs dry. Local residents are careful to protect the water and lands in the ejido, where the majority of residents live from subsistence agriculture, sheep rearing and carpentry. They engage in community reforestation, but have plans to plant more trees, Gómez said.

The Suyul Lagoon is also sacred to local Maya Tzotzil. Ceremonies held every three years in its honor involve rituals, offerings, music and dance.

“It is said that it’s the navel of Mother Earth,” Pérez Méndez said.

Candelaria residents didn’t sit back and relax after rejecting the highway project in their extraordinary assembly. They have been organizing ever since. The Suyul Lagoon lies just outside the Candelaria ejido, but it belongs to ejidatarios by way of an agreement with the supportive land owner. Aside from the highway project and potential eco-tourism complex, the lagoon has caught the attention of companies, whose representatives have turned up in the area expressing interest in establishing a bottling plant.

It’s cold in February up in the highlands, but community members have been out all day, erecting a fence around the Suyul Lagoon to protect it from intruders. White fence posts are visible under the treeline across the sea of reeds. Like so many other local initiatives, fence materials are collectively financed by the ejido and the labor is all voluntary, communal work.

While residents continue stringing barbed wire from post to post, others take paintbrushes to one of their roadside signs. Locals have erected large signs next to roads in and around their ejido, announcing their opposition to the tourist highway.

A sign along the road leading to Candelaria informs passers-by of opposition to the planned super-highway. (WNV/Sandra Cuffe)

“We’re also already organized with the other communities,” Pérez Méndez said. “All the communities reject the super-highway.”

After they were approached by government officials, Candelaria ejido residents traveled from community to community along the entire planned highway route. Some communities hadn’t heard of the project at all, while others said they were pressured into signing documents indicating their consent, Pérez Méndez said. As a result of Candelaria’s visits, community organizing along the highway route led to the formation of a united front of opposition, the Movement in Defense of Life and Territory.

Candelaria also recently got together with other indigenous communities in the highlands to issue a joint statement rejecting the tourist super-highway and a host of other government and corporate projects and policies.

“Our ancestors, our grandfathers and our grandmothers have always taken care of these blessed lands, and now it’s our turn to [not only take] care of the lands, but also to defend them,” reads the February 10 communiqué.

“The neoliberal capitalist system, in its ambition to exploit natural assets, invades our lands,” the statement continues. “The government and transnational companies are violently imposing their mega-projects.”

Back along the edge of the Suyul Lagoon, Candelaria residents continue to string barbed wire from post to post. They’ve been at it for a while now, according to Pérez Méndez, but they’ve now stepped up their efforts and hope to finish the fence by the end of the month.

Pérez Méndez surveys the progress, protected from the unrelenting sun and icy wind by his hat and white sheep’s wool tunic. He becomes pensive when asked if he thinks communities will be able to defeat the highway project.

“Yes,” the ejido leader said, after giving it some thought. “We can stop it.”

Protesters carrying coffin demand Rikers Island be shut down

by Ashoka Jegroo

A protest outside New York City’s City Hall to close the jail complex at Rikers Island on Feb. 23. (WNV/Ashoka Jegroo)

Protesters rallied outside City Hall in New York City and attempted to deliver a mock coffin on February 23 in response to the mayor’s recent comments regarding the Rikers Island jail complex.

“We demand that Mayor de Blasio publicly rescind his statement that shutting Rikers Island is not possible and that he begins, immediately, to work with all pertinent city and state officials to not only shut down Rikers but to reinvest those funds in communities that need it most,” the Campaign to Shut Down Rikers said in a statement. “We will not rest until de Blasio meets these demands; we will not be silent and we will not take no for an answer.”

Rikers Island, located in the East River between Queens and the Bronx, is the city’s main jail complex and has become notorious for being one of the worst jails in the country. Amidst a variety of recent cases of abuse, torture and neglect in the jail complex, calls to shut down Rikers Island have grown louder with supporters like Gov. Andrew Cuomo, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and even New York City’s First Lady Chirlane McCray now joining the cause.

“I think it’s a great idea,” McCray told Jezebel, when asked what she thinks about calls to shut down Rikers.

Her position stands in contrast with that of her husband, Mayor Bill de Blasio, as well as New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and president of the New York City Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association Norman Seabrook, all of whom have dismissed closing down the jail as unrealistic.

“[It’s] a noble concept, but one that will cost many billions of dollars, and we do not have a viable pathway to that at this point,” de Blasio told the New York Daily News.

Activists, as well as the politicians who have hopped on the bandwagon, insist that closing down the jail is far from a dream. Rather, they insist that closing down the notorious hotbed of torture is a moral imperative.

“I wonder if Mayor de Blasio would allow his son to spend one night in Rikers Island,” said Josmar Trujillo of New Yorkers Against Bratton. “I wonder if Mayor de Blasio would allow his son or his daughter to spend any time in Rikers Island without a conviction. The people in Rikers Island don’t have a father that is a mayor. They don’t have family members oftentimes who can bail them out, and we need to be able to speak up for them. But first and foremost, we need to shut down Rikers, not because it’s practical or pragmatic, but because it is a human rights violation.”

An activist holds a mock coffin for Kalief Browder outside City Hall in New York City on Feb. 23. (WNV/Ashoka Jegroo)

The protesters who met outside City Hall on Tuesday cited the cases of Kalief Browder, Jerome Murdough, and Bradley Ballard as concrete examples of why the jail should be closed down. Ballard was a mentally ill inmate who was put into solitary confinement for seven days in 2013, receiving no medical attention during that time, and was later found dead in his cell. Murdough, a mentally ill former Marine, was left inside an unbearably hot cell and was later found dead in a pool of vomit and blood. Browder, perhaps the most famous case, was held in Rikers for three years, two of which were spent in solitary confinement, without a trial beginning when he was 16 years old. After the charges of allegedly stealing a backpack were dropped, Browder was released but suffering the effects of solitary confinement and abuse by the guards and other inmates. He later committed suicide on June 6, 2015 at age 22.

Browder’s brother, Akeem Browder, was one of the protesters outside City Hall on Tuesday. After speaking about how Rikers destroyed his brother’s life and chanting his brother’s name, Akeem helped other protesters carry a mock coffin bearing Kalief Browder’s name. They then attempted to enter the gates outside City Hall in order to deliver the coffin but were stopped by police at the entrance. The protesters also presented seven reasons why Rikers should be shut down including: its treatment of the young and the mentally ill, the routine torture, the prevalence of physical and sexual violence, its waste of tax dollars, and its largely poor, black and brown inmate population. The activists say they’d rather the money spent on arresting and incarcerating people be spent on other, more productive programs.

“Every investment in the police and prison state is a divestment from our communities,” said Nabil Hassein of Millions March NYC. “I’m talking about the 1,300 new cops and the 1,800 new correction officers. Those hundreds of millions of dollars should have been spent on social services that actually keep our communities safe: healthcare, education, jobs, mental health care, rehabilitation.”

Recent studies of Rikers reveal a culture of rampant abuse by guards, particularly against inmates with mental health issues. A secret internal study done by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene revealed 129 inmates suffered “serious injuries” in altercations with the guards over an 11-month period in 2013. The majority, 77 percent, of those inmates suffered from mental illness. Another study, commissioned by the New York City Board of Correction and released in 2013, revealed the overuse of solitary confinement, especially on mentally ill inmates. These horrific statistics — as well as the real, heart-breaking stories of people who have suffered and are now suffering inside Rikers — are the reasons, protesters insisted, that Mayor de Blasio was the one who needed to “get real” and shut down the jail complex.

“Too many innocent people and lives have been destroyed by Rikers for the NYC political establishment to wait,” the protesters said in a statement. “We must shut down Rikers immediately.”

Michael Moore gives a comedic boost to the US learning curve

by George Lakey

(Facebook / Where to Invade Next)

Many fields of endeavor have what they call “best practices,” and self-respecting workers look for those. I wouldn’t expect Michael Moore to focus there, since his films delight in blistering attacks on capitalism, the U.S. healthcare system and gun culture. That’s why I was so surprised by his newest film, “Where to Invade Next.”

I heard myself laughing out loud more than I do in movies branded as comedies. I also learned new things about global best practices when it comes to equality for women, free higher education and taking excellent care of people who work for a living. Without pretending that other societies don’t have their flaws, Moore tells us that in this film he’s collecting for us not the weeds, but the flowers.

Moore adopts his usual “gee whiz!” persona as he sits in a French provincial elementary school cafeteria and has a leisurely lunch with persons about a sixth of his size. It works; he stands in for us Americans who are often sheltered by our mass media from exposure to what other countries do much better than we do. Who knew that school lunches can be so attractive — as well as flavorful and nutritious — such that the children at Moore’s table would wrinkle their noses at photos of American school lunch glop? (Not to mention the school chef, who is close to insulted by Moore’s expectation that he cooks hamburgers, and who points out that his high-quality meals, including brie and camembert, cost less than U.S. school lunches.)

Hillary Clinton may try to dismiss Bernie Sanders’s positive reference to a Nordic breakthrough as, “That’s Denmark,” but the cumulative impact of riding along with Moore’s travelogue is un-mistakable: It’s clear how much we the people are suffering for the sake of the U.S. Empire. That’s the metaphor that holds the film together: Since the United States has done so poorly at delivering quality of life recently (or even at winning wars) by relying on militarism, why not send Michael Moore to “invade” other countries to learn about their best practices?

How many soldiers do we need to traumatize to learn what other countries do better than we? That, for example, Slovenia’s free higher education works so well that U.S. students are going there to avoid going deeper into debt? Or discover that workers in Italy enjoy paid vacations of five to eight weeks?

The Finnish public school system used to perform at a so-so level. Now it is the best in the world, based on international ratings. Moore spends quality time finding out how it works. His interviews include an American teacher and also a student who moved to Finland and compares the two systems.

While Moore shows that a learning curve sure beats invasion when we get interested in improving our country, the audience is laughing at the set-ups and gags. The film does turn serious, though, when he pays attention to Germany’s way of confronting the Holocaust. Again, I learned new information about ways Germans learn from the terrible suffering they caused, and join with Moore in thinking we Americans need best practices when confronting the holocaust we brought to native people here, as well as the slavery and its aftermath that whites continue to benefit from.

Although I’ve interviewed Icelandic economists about their country’s 2008 financial collapse for my forthcoming book “Viking Economics,” I learned from this movie that one bank came through the crisis just fine – a bank run by women. In the film we learn why. The overall gender revolution in Iceland merits a companion visit to Tunisia, a Muslim country where the women not only participated strongly in the overthrow of the dictatorship that started the Arab Spring, but successfully resisted an Islamist government’s effort to subdue their freedom. With street heat the women won their demand that their equality be enshrined in the Tunisian constitution, an achievement still awaiting the United States. Moore’s interview with the Islamist party’s chief, a patriarch defeated, is by itself worth the price of admission.

Meanwhile, his visit to a Norwegian maximum security prison reminded me, as the American movement against mass incarceration does, what a litmus test prison provides for the health of a country. We visit with prisoners in their rooms (not cells) and listen to guards talk about their work. I wish that Americans who reduce their own life expectancy when they take prison guard jobs would see this film.

Movements don’t get far without an alternative vision. I hope ours takes a deep look at Norway, where the recidivism rate is a fraction of ours because the focus is on multi-dimensional rehabilitation. The root value underlying their criminal justice system is reinforced in Portugal, where police officers look into Moore’s camera and urge Americans to give up capital punishment because, they say, enforcement must be guided most of all by regard for human dignity. The Portuguese also reinforce Germany’s emphasis on universal health care by noting that they reduced drug abuse dramatically by de-criminalizing it and expanding treatment opportunities.

The film gives me hope. Human beings are not a species condemned to ignorance and cruelty. The film includes plenty of reminders of the people power struggles that were waged in those countries to gain their best practices. Americans are part of the same species, but have been shielded by the 1 percent-controlled media and schools from knowledge of our potential. Moore’s movie offers us a break-out, and is entertaining at that.

Ugandans defy fraudulent election, while Congolese prepare for one in DRC

by Phil Wilmot

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Two weeks ago, a late-night attempt to abduct me from my home during the lead up to Uganda’s election failed. The 30-year Yoweri K. Museveni regime’s desperation was reaching new depths with disappearances and mass arrests, and I was beginning to feel it personally, as I scrambled to put better security measures in place for my loved ones.

Yet, my personal troubles are a laughable matter for those who faced much worse circumstances earlier this week when Ugandan authorities killed two people and arrested dozens in the capital city streets who were supporting the most popular opposition candidate, Col. Dr. Kizza Besigye of the Forum for Democratic Change, or FDC. Besigye has been arrested more than 30 times since defecting from Museveni’s ruling party, the National Resistance Movement, or NRM. During the recent presidential debate, he accused the incumbent of warmongering and plundering neighboring nations such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia.

We all knew what to expect during this election cycle, really. Past elections, during which Besigye’s support was not as strong as it is now, have revealed that Museveni’s regime is very capable of instilling fear in the population, harassing and killing dissidents, bribing very poor voters and rigging elections. Besigye’s latest message has been that of defiance. He and his wife Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International, have been encouraging Ugandans to stand up for their rights and protect their votes.

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There is a weakness in FDC’s messaging, however, when it comes to nonviolent strategy. The term “defiance” carries a strong connotation and certainly interrupts the trivial, passive messaging of civil society organizations and foreign embassies in Uganda that are merely endorsing “peace” during this election period. It is not that Besigye and his party have not done enough in terms of explaining that there are peaceful ways of resisting dictatorship and militarization. Rather, their messaging may not have been explicit enough to ensure exclusively nonviolent means of struggle, which would be politically strategic, especially in a nation where the president’s pillars of support are so obvious: neoliberalism, foreign aid, corruption, patriarchy and the like. Sometimes, FDC supporters carry tree branches; other times they carry fake guns. A rhetoric of deliberately nonviolent resistance could have been useful, but most of the FDC leaders and supporters I have consulted have kept the option of violence in their back pocket as a “just in case,” much as Museveni himself did in the 1980s, when he took to the bush to fight against leaders who overstayed their terms in power. Of course, he went on to do the very same after seizing it.

Surely, throwing a stone is less violent than insulating a violent and oppressive dictatorship with heavy-duty war machines and corporate sponsors, but onlookers — including the foreign governments that have enjoyed Museveni’s lengthy tenure — are often glad to turn a blind eye to state violence, as long as there is the moderately forgivable excuse of “They struck us first.” Ugandan authorities are known for their ability to infiltrate social change movements with imposters, including those who incite violence to justify state repression toward nonviolent demonstrations.

This week, as FDC prepares to challenge the lie that Museveni has won elections, the party’s ability to distance itself from violence may be crucial (especially since the NRM secretary general has threatened to kill the children of protesters). During Thursday’s voting, much creativity was exercised that indicates opposition supporters are headed in the right direction with determination.

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Majority opposition areas witnessed delays in the arrival of polling materials, forcing some to stand in the queue for seven or eight hours — even in the rain — to cast their votes. At one such polling station, voters seized the ballot boxes and dumped them to the ground. At another, voters made placards for Besigye and Museveni, and asked people to form queues behind each placard to visually depict the peoples’ will. One lone young man stood behind Museveni’s name while countless others gathered patiently in the Besigye queue to wait for materials to arrive. Electoral Commission officials and voting materials were delayed many hours in Namuwongo, a slum in the capital city of Kampala, causing residents to erect roadblocks in protest of the state’s attempts to deny their right to select their head of state. When police removed the roadblocks, they were simply reconstructed by FDC voters.

Ballot-stuffing and fraud was leaked in various areas such as Kiruhura, and some voters bused in from other countries to vote for Museveni were identified by local residents and arrested.

Amazingly, despite a capital city full of tear gas, live bullets and a social media blackout overseen by Uganda Communications Commission and private telecom companies under the directive of the Electoral Commission, Ugandans did indeed remain defiant Thursday. It has been an opportunity that has engendered creativity and offered practice for those who wish to build a new Uganda. If the crowds that follow Besigye wherever he goes are any indicator of his level of support among voters, he is set to be a clear winner.

But is the defiance strategy too little too late? Having worked closely with activists and organizers throughout Uganda, I fear that there is too much mobilizing and not enough organizing. Mobilizing is short-term, but organizing looks at a long-term strategy that builds momentum, escalates conflict and is not reliant on individual tactics.

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Perhaps Ugandan activists could learn something from this week’s struggle of organizers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The DRC is home to hundreds of tribes and an infrastructure more disorganized than that of Uganda, but they have been able to carefully plan and implement a nonviolent strategy about nine months ahead of their presidential elections. They expect president Joseph Kabila to extend his rule, which he began in 2001 and cannot legally extend without changing the constitution.

On Tuesday, the capital city of Kinshasa was nearly idle. A group of taxi drivers decided to pressure Kabila by pulling themselves off of their routes, which brought public institutions to a halt as government employees were not able to find a means of reaching their offices.

The strike’s effect also reached the DRC’s far eastern ends of Goma and Uvira, where activist groups were arrested for preparing leaflets announcing the action.

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The actions of Congolese activists are not only useful for their media value and decentralized approach. Getting the gears of social change turning months ahead of the November presidential elections by implementing a tactic that cuts off Kabila’s power (tax revenue, political legitimacy, and work force) is also crucial. Uganda’s taxi drivers only recently held a meeting to plan a similar strike, but it was dispersed by authorities and Crime Preventers — an extralegal citizen militia trained and armed by the state, much like the Interahamwe of Rwanda prior to the 1994 genocide.

The resolve for defiance of the Ugandan population is commendable, but willpower must be supplemented by strategic organizing, clear messaging and effective internal coordination — not only with the aim of ousting a 30-year dictator, but also with the broader goal of cultivating systemic transformation of the nation’s governance system. Perhaps Ugandans and Congolese alike can provide a strategic roadmap for other neighboring nations such as Burundi and Congo Brazzaville, whose people are more than ready for a change.

BDS movement and common sense face threat from UK government ban

by Kate Aronoff

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Earlier this week, the British government announced a new Tory-led parliamentary measure that will inflict “severe penalties” onto local governments and public institutions that boycott goods and services on an “ethical” (as opposed to purely financial) basis, including divestment. Planned to coincide with British Cabinet Office Minister Matthew Hancock’s visit to Israel this week, the move is transparently directed at the international Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement to end Israel’s occupation of Palestine, but further includes “companies involved in the arms trade, fossil fuels [and] tobacco products.”

As U.K. Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn told The Independent, “The government’s decision to ban councils and other public bodies from disinvesting from trade or investments they regard as unethical is an attack on local democracy.” It also sets a worrying precedent for campaigners on a range of issues. Aside from being a blatant attack on free speech, though, the new rule begs the question: What happens when boycotts and divestments become as practical as they are ethical?

Divestment and boycotts alike are part of a broader campaign to remove the social license of an industry — or set of companies profiting off a certain moral harm — to operate. More so than to funnel capital out of bad actors, the goal is to stoke a cultural and political context in which benefiting economically from whatever terrible thing particular corporations are doing becomes impossible. Take the case of fossil fuel divestment: Even if every university endowment in the continental United States were to jump ship on ExxonMobil, chances are strong that the company would either not miss the money at all or find new investors to replace it.

If ExxonMobil were a high-performing stock with sterling financial prospects for the future, as it has been historically, then divesting from it — choosing to forgo an otherwise solid investment — would be a purely ethical move. If, for whatever reason, that stock were to become unprofitable, then discerning whether a divestment were taking place on political or pragmatic grounds would become more difficult.

Uniquely, in the case of fossil fuels, movement and market forces are fusing into a newly unprofitable environment for companies like ExxonMobil — and an all the more confusing context for Britain’s new ban.

The think tank Carbon Tracker, comprised of financial professionals, has argued for years that coal, oil and natural gas companies are grossly overvalued, drawing their high prices from fossil fuels they’re unlikely to be able to dig up. Their most recent report finds that as many as $2 trillion in corporate assets could be “stranded” by some mix of regulation and climate catastrophe.

Between sinking oil prices and a new — if still undefined — global resolve to end the era of fossil fuels after December’s climate talks in Paris, Carbon Tracker’s predictions appear to be coming true. As J.W. Bode at The Ecologist points out, New York teachers already lost $135 million off their pensions thanks to investments in the oil and gas industry, where stocks are now reaching 10 year lows. Fifteen Australian pension funds gave up a collective $5.6 billion betting on fossil fuels, and even Goldman Sachs is fretting that oil could drop below $20 a barrel before prices rally. When oil prices were still high, the world’s largest investment manager, BlackRock, had created a fossil free fund. And the fossil fuel divestment movement, of course, had by that point already begun to drag the industry’s reputation through the mud, joining a newly militant, visible climate movement and putting pressure on world governments to reach an agreement at COP21 and wean off of coal, oil and natural gas.

Fossil fuels are idiosyncratic, investment-wise. Tobacco corporations and those profiting off of the occupation (think Sabra hummus or Caterpillar, which primarily makes construction equipment) are not exactly backbones of the global economy. Eighty percent of Israeli chickpeas don’t need to remain in the ground to avert global catastrophe. But movements alone can make them unfashionable, creating new norms within the investment community that turn the tide away from companies harming people and the planet, and prompt wider policy shifts. At least in the United States, this has already happened with regards to firearms and tobacco; it’s now standard for large-scale institutional investors to screen those industries out of stock portfolios. Divestment was also one of several drives at South Africa’s apartheid regime that ultimately led to its unraveling, even if the companies under fire didn’t face massive losses.

As Corbyn also noted, the new ban would prevent any of this, and potentially leave British pension funds and student unions with toxic investments. At their best, movements can make “ethical stances” — like those the British government is now attempting to stamp out — common sense, something in which U.K. conservatives might do well to invest.

Is understanding the history of nonviolence essential to harnessing its power?

by Tristan Husby

A friend of mine who is an organizer and nonviolent trainer has a favorite exercise called “10-10,” which she uses when introducing nonviolence to new activists. She divides the students into groups and tells them to write down, as quickly as possible, 10 wars. Afterwards, they review all of the different wars that people have recalled. While there are a number of wars that are repeated, often each group has come up with some war that other groups have not thought of at all. When I first participated in this exercise, I was excited to contribute the rather obscure Corinthian War. Then she asks the groups to write down 10 nonviolent struggles. This task always takes longer and some groups run out of time before they can complete the task.

The point of the “10-10” exercise is to drive home how our society pays close attention to wars and violent conflicts: We devote countless news articles, books and classes to retelling the history of these violent events. It is not surprising then that for the past 40 years much of the literature on nonviolence has been historical: Scholars and writers have uncovered, recorded and preserved examples of nonviolent struggles from across the world and from many different time periods so that activists can know for themselves and convince others of the efficacy of people power. Other writers, such as the philosopher Todd May and the theologian Ronald Sider, have adopted this idea of historical research being necessary to argue about and promote nonviolence in new books that they have each published.

Sider is an activist, teacher and writer, most famous for his 1977 book “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger.” As a practicing Mennonite who bases his politics on his faith, Sider eschews the usual allies: Conservatives bemoan his comments on the need to redistribute wealth while those on the left are uncomfortable by his comments on queer relationships and abortion. While Sider comes to nonviolence through his faith, his approach is ecumenical and open to other points of view. In “Nonviolent Action: What Christian Ethics Demands But What Most Christians Have Never Really Tried,” Sider retells well-known examples like the Indian independence movement, as well as lesser known struggles like the movement to oust Liberian dictator Charles Taylor. These descriptions both benefit from and are constrained by Sider’s decision to focus on a key individual in each movement. This focus allows him to include small details, like Leymah Gbowee’s nighttime doubts about her ability to rally women to oppose war in Liberia. Sider also highlights the importance of prayer and spiritual resolve, perhaps most clearly in how Cardinal Jaime Sin and Catholic nuns helped organize Filipino people to stand up to dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ army in the 1980s. However, this focus on a great individual works against Sider’s concluding argument, which is that the power of nonviolence will be even greater if it is supported and practiced at an institutional level.

Sider’s call for the creation and maintenance of nonviolent institutions is the core of his conclusion. Even though the title of Sider’s book indicates that he is specifically addressing Christians, his arguments do not rely on his readers having a Christian perspective on violence or anything else. Indeed, Sider refuses to directly address questions about the morality of violence, instead exhorting readers to consider the moral superiority of nonviolence. With this moral superiority in place, he then uses historical examples to show that nonviolence can accomplish the goals that people usually assume require violent means, such as overthrowing governments and casting out occupiers. Sider does not attack those who think that violence is justified for such goals, but thinks that they primarily hold this position because they do not realize how effective nonviolence can be. But since nonviolence is effective and morally superior to violence, it at least deserves the training, funding and building institutional support that our society currently gives to explicitly violent methods. In other words, Sider imagines a world in which peace studies departments match the size of military academies and volunteers at nonviolent organizations outnumber soldiers.

It is not surprising that Sider holds this vision, considering — as he noted in his account of peacemakers in Nicaragua — he has, on occasion, put himself in danger in order to prevent war. As part of an organization called Witness for Peace, Sider went to Nicaragua in order to put himself between the warring Contras and Sandinistas. Sider also chronicles the history of similar organizations, including groups such as Christian Peacemaker Teams and Nonviolent Peaceforce.

May’s book, “Nonviolent Resistance: a Philosophical Introduction,” is likewise inspired but not focused on the author’s own experience with nonviolence. In the preface, May explains that he was prompted to reflect about nonviolence in part because of his experience protesting U.S. nuclear arms in the 1980s. His book is not framed as a demand that political struggles be nonviolent, but rather as a philosophical investigation of nonviolence. To answer this question, May turns to a variety of thinkers, including Martin Luther King and Gandhi, but also Michael Rosen, a historian of ideas, and the philosophers Kant and Rancière. For May, the moral preference for nonviolence is the result of how it rests on and interacts with dignity and equality. It is a form of struggle that grants both the oppressed and the oppressors chances to become better people.

While such a description runs the risk of marking May as a wishy-washy sentimentalist, he is far from it. Rather, he points out that nonviolence creates opportunities in which oppressors can act out of purely selfish reasons that nonetheless benefit the oppressed. For instance, when the Filipinos confronted the army in order to oust Marcos, May notes the soldiers may have disobeyed Marcos’ orders because they wanted to avoid being vilified for shooting on innocent protesters. This kind of moral calculation was not done with the interests of the Filipinos in mind, but nonetheless protected the Filipinos and helped their campaign. In addition to the movement against Marcos, May also philosophizes on historical examples such as the Estonian struggle against the Soviet Union, the Egyptian ouster of Hosni Mubarak and Occupy Wall Street.

Since May’s book is an introduction to the philosophy of nonviolence, the jargon is kept to a minimum. Nevertheless, his analyses of the relationship between oppressors and the oppressed is sophisticated, elegant and worthy of rereading. This elegance is in part a result of May’s careful work on definitions, including what kind of violence nonviolence rejects. He considers various kinds of violence, such as psychological violence, violence to property and structural violence. Two particularly important questions that May addresses are whether violence can be moral (May answers yes) and whether nonviolence can be coercive (again, yes).

May ends with a view towards the future, specifically the work of overthrowing neoliberalism. While May believes that nonviolence offers the best tools to oust this economic system, he is also honest that it will be quite different than using nonviolent struggle to oust dictators, mainly because a dictator has a human face while neoliberalism is a complex series of relationships between workers and bosses, owners and property.

May and Sider do not have the historical examples to show that nonviolence can do what they hope it can do, namely stop future wars and create a just economic system. But this doesn’t have to be a problem. As Nietzsche wrote, “The historian looks backwards; ultimately he also believes backwards.” In other words, to use nonviolence to make a better future one does not necessarily need a solid understanding of its history. Indeed, as May’s and Sider’s own historical examples show, one does not need to know the history of nonviolence to harness its power. But a solid understanding of what it is and why it works is critical.

In regards to their thoughts on nonviolence rather than history, May’s writing is more useful than Sider’s. May’s thoughts on nonviolence are at times quite wonky, however his arguments should provide new appreciation even for those who know a great deal of the history of nonviolence or who have practiced it for many years. Perhaps more importantly, his words and ideas have the potential to support the dedication of an activist through harrowing times. Sider’s book is less likely to have the same kind of impact. Since Sider does not explore why nonviolence is moral, his preference for it is based on unstated ideas about the immorality of violence. By not condemning violence, Sider opens his book to a wider audience, but his use of historical examples to propel his argument hints that Sider has doubts about the persuasive power of theology.

That May and Sider both felt that their books needed to include a great deal of history is unfortunate, as neither are particularly strong historians. Both books share the problem of being very removed from the original events; that is, neither have conducted original interviews or looked at primary documents such as governmental records. Instead they write their stories based on the narratives provided by historians, journalists or social scientists.

As the “10-10” exercise shows, many people do not know that nonviolence even has the power to overthrow dictators. Does nonviolent resistance have the power to overthrow neoliberalism and stop war, as May and Sider argue that it does? The future, not history, will answer this question.

Uncovering the secret 50-year history of struggle in West Papua

by Dale Hess

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Although West Papua is less than 80 miles from Boigu Island, Australia’s northern point, very few Australians know much about it. It is a beautiful land, but it is shrouded in secrecy. Part of the secrecy arises because it is currently under militarily occupation by Indonesia. The Indonesian government has enforced a policy to keep foreign journalists out of West Papua in an effort to prevent stories of human rights abuses, economic exploitation, and lack of health and educational services, which are being experienced by indigenous Papuans, from reaching the outside world. The Indonesian authorities do not want others to know of Papuan struggles to achieve merdeka — a word in the Indonesian and Malay language for independence, liberation, identity, human dignity, self-reliance, material and spiritual satisfaction.

Jason MacLeod, a Quaker educator, organizer and researcher, has written an astounding book — “Merdeka and the Morning Star: Civil Resistance in West Papua” — in which he gives an in-depth analysis of this struggle, the most protracted violent conflict in the Pacific. He writes from both an academic and a practitioner viewpoint. He tells that as a 19-year old he dropped out of university and traveled to Papua New Guinea in search of adventure. In a remote area on the Keram River he collapsed with cerebral malaria, and it was only because of the efforts of two Papuan health workers that his life was spared. This experience led him to a life’s journey of solidarity with the Papuan people. His research is based on 14 years of interviews with over 150 groups and individuals, participant observation and dialogue, and the facilitation of skill-building community workshops on strategic nonviolent action with over 450 Papuan activists. Crucially, it is also informed by current theory of civil resistance.

He begins by relating the historical and political background to the conflict. Belatedly, in 1961, the Dutch created a Papuan national legislature and the Morning Star flag was adopted by the Papuans as their symbol. These events led to an invasion of West Papua by Indonesia, and in 1962 the Kennedy administration brokered the New York Agreement, which gave Indonesia administrative control of West Papua. The Papuans were not involved, nor consulted, in this process. Under the New York Agreement, a referendum for self-determination was to be carried out, but instead of allowing universal adult suffrage, Indonesian authorities handpicked 1,025 participants. Then the military terrorized villagers and executed those who dissented — declaring, at that point, that Papuans were 100 percent in favor of integration with Indonesia. The result was not challenged at the time or later. The Indonesian government interprets their control of West Papua as being sanctioned by the United Nations, while the overwhelming majority of Papuans feel the process was a sham and they have not been given a chance to choose whether or not they wish to be part of Indonesia.

Resolution of the problem is very complex. Aside from the denial of self-determination, the issues of racism, state violence (over 100,000 Papuans are estimated to have been killed), economic exploitation (e.g. large-scale projects like the Freeport-McMoRan/Rio Tinto mine, and logging) and migration (estimated to reduce the Papuan population from 96 percent in 1971 to just 29 percent by 2020) add interactive layers of direct, structural and cultural violence. MacLeod quotes research by Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan’s 2011 book Why Civil Resistance Works, showing that nonviolent campaigns are more than twice as effective than violent campaigns in achieving national liberation, democracy and equal rights. But secession struggles against occupation are more difficult, and the chances of fully achieving success for either violent or nonviolent campaigns fall dramatically.

After exploring the dimensions of problem, MacLeod outlines the sources of Indonesian power in West Papua and the strategies employed to maintain state control. This perceptive analysis of the root causes of the conflict, the opponent’s sources of power and their strategies of rule provides essential information to develop civil resistance strategy.

Papuan civil resistance has a long, largely unknown history stretching back to the 1850s. Making these stories known, stories that give a collective identity to Papuans and strengthen civil resistance, was a prime reason why MacLeod wrote this book. He provides a critical analysis of the strategies, as well as the successes and failures of case studies, missed opportunities and the evolution from sporadic protests to unified campaigns. Over time there has been a transition from armed struggle in the mountains or jungles of the interior towards unarmed resistance in urban areas, carried out by younger Papuans. MacLeod provides an analysis of the dynamics, which has led to these shifts, a transition that is still going on.

In his last chapter MacLeod offers a framework for nonviolent liberation. He argues that success hinges on increased movement participation, enhanced strategic skillfulness, greater unity, the ability to attract greater support from within Indonesia and also internationally, and taking advantage of political opportunities. He admits the immense difficulty of the task, but affirms that civil resistance has already achieved some notable advances. For example, Papuans launched a widespread and successful campaign to sink plans for a third province; Papuan women market-sellers’ launched a campaign to establish their own marketplace in Jayapura, the capital; and Papuan landowners and environmentalists ousted BHP Billiton and its plans to build a nickel smelter on Gag Island in Raja Ampat, the world’s most diverse marine environment.  In 2007, there was a massive strike by Freeport mine workers, which saw the formation of the first independent trade union in West Papua and brought 40 percent participation —  including highlanders, islanders and migrant workers — to win a 98 percent wage increase for the lowest paid mine workers. Another successful strike in 2011 had 52 percent participation and increased the number of international allies.

Finally, and most recently, MacLeod captures the drama and excitement of events leading up to the 2015 United Liberation Movement of West Papua’s application for membership to the Melanesian Spearhead Group, or MSG [read about this case in a published excerpt]. This action represents the internationalizing of the West Papuan issue, which is exactly what Jakarta was trying to avoid.

“Merdeka and the Morning Star” gives a discerning overview of the current situation in West Papua and provides a vision of the potential of nonviolent civil resistance. It lifts the veil of secrecy of the injustice and violence inflicted on the Papuan people in this troubled land, and allows us to hear their cry for merdeka. But the struggle will be long and difficult, more difficult than bringing down a dictator, because it must be waged in three places simultaneously — within West Papua, within the centers of power and the society of Indonesia, and internationally. It is further complicated by the immense wealth of West Papua, which brings in entrenched interests of the Indonesian government, the Indonesian military and intelligence services, and transnational corporations. The struggle must also confront the underlying issue, which is the basis of occupation: the issue of racism.

MacLeod offers hope to Papuans in their struggle by giving a strategic framework to understand how civil resistance works and what needs to be done to achieve success. It does this by pushing our thinking about the elements of waging nonviolence in secessionist or self-determination contexts; bringing together insights from community organizing and civil resistance mobilizing in the context of an anti-colonial struggle; integrating insights from theories on revolution; and articulating a methodology for participatory action research of civil resistance struggles.

It should also be of help to people waging anti-colonial struggles in places such as Palestine, Tibet, Kanaky, Maohi Nui, Nagaland, Western Sahara and elsewhere. It also encourages outsiders to become involved in the movement and to explore what it might mean to accompany West Papuans and others, living under occupation, in their nonviolent struggle for peace and justice.

NYC activists celebrate guilty verdict in Akai Gurley case, plan to keep pressure on NYPD

by Ashoka Jegroo

Akai Gurley’s aunt speaks to a crowd outside the NYPD’s headquarters on Friday after the conviction of officer Peter Liang. (WNV / Ashoka Jegroo)

One day after an officer was convicted for manslaughter in the 2014 death of a Brooklyn man, dozens of people gathered outside the New York City Police Department’s headquarters to celebrate the verdict and show support for the victim’s family.

“Did you ever think that we would get to a place where we could have a rally and be in a happy place?” asked organizer Kerbie Joseph of the ANSWER coalition. “Since I’ve been marching… it’s been a place of dread and frustration.”

On February 11, a jury declared Officer Peter Liang guilty of second-degree manslaughter and official misconduct in the killing of 28-year-old Akai Gurley in the stairwell of Brooklyn’s Louis H. Pink Houses on November 20, 2014. Liang and his partner, Officer Shaun Landau, had been conducting a “vertical patrol,” where police patrol building stairwells starting from the roof downward, in the dimly-lit stairwell of the building. Liang had his gun in hand, a supposedly common police practice, when Gurley and his girlfriend entered the stairwell. Officer Liang was then startled and let off a shot that ricocheted off the wall and hit Gurley, who made it from the seventh floor — where he entered the stairwell — to the fifth floor before collapsing.

Prosecutors say that neither officer called in for an ambulance and that Liang was more concerned with saving his job than with helping Gurley. Officer Landau even admitted to snatching the phone out of Liang’s hand as he tried to call the sergeant. Although they are supposed to be trained to do so, neither Officer Liang nor Officer Landau performed CPR on Gurley, claiming in court that they were not properly trained and that the NYPD had helped them cheat on the CPR-certification test. Liang’s lawyers claim that he was busy crying and in a state of shock and was thus in no condition to perform CPR.

“It’s going to be pretty clear he broke down and was crying in the hallway,” Defense Attorney Robert Brown told DNAInfo. “Not necessarily the best physical and mental condition to perform CPR on someone.”

The jury didn’t see it that way and took two days to decide on the guilty verdict. Liang and his partner, Officer Landau, were also officially terminated from their jobs after the verdict came out. The next day, outside of the NYPD’s headquarters at One Police Plaza, supporters of the Gurley family gathered for a rally to celebrate the verdict. Organizers and Gurley’s family thanked all the activists in New York City who demonstrated for the last year and helped keep Gurley’s case on people’s minds.

“I really feel like without you, there’s no way that we would’ve gotten the verdict that we did,” Gurley’s cousin Mesha Joseph told a crowd of activists at the rally.

Ever since Gurley’s death, his name has been chanted at multiple protests and demonstrations along with the various other victims of the NYPD, and many actions were dedicated solely to remembering him. Protesters have been a common sight outside the courthouse, in Grand Central Station, and on the streets. Many of the more dedicated activists and groups have become close with the Gurley family, providing various kinds of support.

“I want to thank everyone from the Grand Central crew NYC Shut It Down, People’s Power [Assemblies], Malcolm X Grassroots [Movement], everybody,” said Gurley’s aunt Hertencia “Aunt T” Peterson at the rally. “There’s so many, and I want to thank you all from the bottom of my heart.”

This coalition of grassroots groups all contributed to keeping Gurley’s name from being forgotten and were thanked multiple times by the family for their work.

“I know for a fact that protesting and all of the noise that we’ve made played a role [in the verdict],” said Kim Ortiz of NYC Shut It Down. “You know things like this get swept under the rug. Cops on videotape get non-indictments. So absolutely the pressure that we’ve kept up, our endurance, our persistence, and our straight up militancy have definitely played a role in this verdict and also nationwide.”

Many of Liang’s supporters insist that, while white officers often get away with killing civilians, Liang was convicted because he is Chinese. Liang’s mother spoke out about this the day after the verdict at a press conference in Brooklyn along with other supporters of Liang and his family.

“If the cop was white, he would have not been convicted,” Adele Chen, a friend of Liang, told NY1. “Because there are so many cases where the cops are white and they have not been convicted for the crimes. So why is this one Asian being convicted for what he has accidentally done?”

Activist groups like CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities, an Asian-American group that has been supporting the Gurley family and advocating for Liang’s conviction from the beginning, insist that while Liang’s race may have played a role in his conviction, justice requires that he, as well as white officers, be held accountable when they kill people.

“I hear it, and I feel for them,’’ Cathy Dang, executive director of CAAAV, told the New York Times. “I understand that they feel like he is a scapegoat, but at the end of the day a life was stolen from a family, and Officer Liang is part of a system that does it to many other people, and we can’t keep giving police officers impunity.”

Liang is set to be sentenced on April 14 and faces up to 15 years in prison. The activists who helped bring about his conviction, however, say they will continue onto other cases where cops have gotten away with murder, and hopefully make sure that officers of all races are held accountable.

“Our black and brown bodies are still dropping at the hands of law enforcement, so we need to keep pursuing every single case of injustice,” Ortiz said. “We need to make sure that every single case gets accountability and get justice for these families because it’s not just Akai Gurley.”

Bernie Sanders is a candidate for, not of, today’s movements

by Kate Aronoff

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Yesterday, The Atlantic’s Eric Liu asked what it would take to move presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’s ambitious proposals from “we’re gonna” to “we’ve done it,” outlining seven steps to bridge the gap. First among Liu’s recommendations is a call for a “Bernie’s 30” of progressive congressional Democrats to oust Republican incumbents, throwing the weight of the Sanders campaign’s small donor base into strategic races around the country. But what about Bernie’s three million?

Liu’s suggestions are solid, involving a mix of plans for grassroots mobilization and innovative electoral strategies at all levels of government. According to his fifth point, “Sanders would have to link up to other organic movements that are arising in parallel with his own campaign.” Liu cited Democracy Awakening and even Trump supporters hungry to “make America great again.”

But the strategies for the Sanders camp’s success and that of egalitarian movements are necessarily distinct: Bernie is a candidate for, not of, the movements, but his success thus far is a sign of what a sizeable chunk of America is ready for, electorally speaking: democratic socialism. It’s still hard to escape the feeling that he caught today’s movements off guard. If Sanders is elected, will movements make their own push for electoral power, for a party of and by DREAMers, the movement for black lives and the emergent youth climate fight? Or will they mobilize outside to hold him accountable? Hopefully, both.

Bernie and the soul of the Democratic Party are worth fighting for. As renowned civil rights organizer Bayard Rustin said, “A political party is not only the product of social relations, but an instrument of change as well.” A Sanders administration would make life better for millions of ordinary Americans and likely signal the end of the Clintonite New Democrats’ rush for the center. Radicals can win — or at least get close enough to shake up the party establishment, as Sanders already has. Movement leaders could be the “Bernie 30,” and push for a historic realignment with their own agenda, shared platforms and party infrastructure. And their comrades in the streets can continue pushing for the kinds of change that only mass uprisings can put on the agenda.

As Liu points out, Obama’s on-the-ground strategy in 2008, the brainchild of United Farmworkers’ veteran Marshall Ganz, is a powerful example for how to integrate young and newly-engaged volunteers into a campaign infrastructure — and one that movements themselves could learn plenty from, along with the Tea Party’s impressive grassroots infrastructure (something Liu also mentions). That said, there’s a difference between a revolutionary election campaign and a revolution. A “Bernie three million,” then — whether he wins or loses — will be about more than Bernie, channeling their energy and new-found skills back into the movements that made his run possible.

Whatever a Sanders White House can accomplish will not be enough — commander-in-chief isn’t an office that lends itself to activism. The crises of climate, and racial and ethnic inequality can’t be undone in one office over four years. That’s likely why Bernie’s campaign has been quick to deflect from his importance as an individual, circulating the slogan “Not Me Us” in advance of the Iowa caucus. In calling for a “political revolution,” the 74-year-old Brooklynite has repeatedly pointed to his supporters as the vectors of change. “This campaign is not just about electing a president,” Sanders said in last night’s Democratic debate. “This campaign is about creating a process for a political revolution… It is about bringing tens of millions of people together.”

The United States has come close to a political revolution before, and passed a slate of unprecedented redistributive policies to quell. The New Deal is an overused, overstated metaphor for what form a more redistributive, more sustainable American economy could take. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was no socialist, though, and passing each part of the New Deal also came down to outright fights between his administration and Congress, which was “often to the left of Roosevelt in the early years,” according to historian Arthur Schlesinger. Conventional narratives herald then-president Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a savior of the country’s downtrodden. What that leaves out is the historic New Deal Coalition, an often extra-governmental, ungainly force of social movement actors — communities of color, unions, the unemployed — that backed him into a corner. Roosevelt faced the threat of open revolt, from his own party and the American people.

Take this vignette from before FDR took office, in 1932, as fallout from the Great Depression continued to hit. Robert McElvaine’s history of the period describes the House floor in March of that year as a “truly remarkable” scene. “Prompted by the largely spontaneous outpouring of sentiment from their constituents, congressmen rebelled against their leaders,” he writes. “Amidst cheers, foot stomping, whistling, and wild applause, progressive Republicans united with Democrats in voting to increase income taxes, surtaxes, and estate taxes. Shouts of ‘soak the rich!’ and ‘conscript wealth!’ rose from the House floor.”

As anyone who’s watched C-SPAN can attest, congressman don’t foot stop against the rich of their own accord anymore. There are no scripts for a democratic socialist American president, and the lead-up to the New Deal is a plenty imperfect one to follow. If we take Bernie’s call for a political revolution seriously, though, we can hope for some more scenes like the one above.

Protecting war tax resistance strengthens antiwar movement

by David Gross

Peter Smith carries a check representing redirected war taxes in a demonstration accompanying the NWTRCC national gathering in Asheville, North Carolina, in May 2013. (WNV/Ruth Benn)

The thing about the 1 percent is that we outnumber them. They don’t have enough jail cells to lock us all down. They ought to be terrified. But what they lack in numbers they make up for in craftiness. They don’t have to go after all of us: If they target a few, the rest lose courage and fall back in line.

But this only works if we fail to organize creatively. With a well-run mutual aid program, if the government targets someone, the rest of us make sure that person doesn’t bear the brunt alone. One example is the War Tax Resisters Penalty Fund, which has been protecting U.S. war tax resisters from the IRS since 1982.

Peter Smith is on the fund’s steering committee. A retired math professor from South Bend, Indiana, where he runs the St. Augustine Soup Kitchen, he has an infectious, elfin smile that bursts through a long white beard. You probably wouldn’t guess from looking at him that he was once an ROTC student who pulled his opinions from the John Birch Society.

“I wasn’t a gung-ho military person at any time,” Smith explained, “but I also wasn’t opposed. I grew up Catholic and I was involved with the Knights of Columbus who were really supportive of the Vietnam War. I didn’t get anything in my background that would indicate to me that there was anything wrong with war, and I never thought about the death and destruction that it caused.”

From college, Smith embarked on a four-year Navy stint, assigned to a destroyer in the west Pacific. Afterwards, inspired by Martin Luther King’s opposition to the Vietnam War and his arguments for Christian pacifism and nonviolent resistance, Smith turned his back on the military. He began to counsel men on how to avoid the draft and, in 1969, he started refusing to pay part of his federal income taxes.

He has been refusing ever since. “I don’t keep the money,” Smith said. “I send it to organizations that I know are going to be helping people. I end up paying the whole tax, but I don’t pay it to the government.”

Smith doesn’t understand why more antiwar activists don’t join him. “It just seems so obvious … if you’re against war you shouldn’t pay for it. The IRS is kind of a scary institution and I guess people feel like they don’t want to mess with it.”

Many people think if you refuse to pay taxes you’ll end up behind bars, but this is actually very rare. Of the tens of thousands of people who have resisted war taxes over the past 75 years, the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee, or NWTRCC, knows of only 30 who have done time.

Although Smith has refused to pay for over 40 years, he said he’s never faced jail or criminal charges because of it. “The IRS would just as soon collect the money and sock you with fines and interest,” he said.

That’s where the Penalty Fund comes in. It fully reimburses resisters for penalties and interest, thereby taking the sting out of IRS reprisals.

The IRS often fails to collect penalties, interest, or anything at all from determined resisters. Some resisters live lives of voluntary simplicity and have nothing for the IRS to seize (or owe no income tax in the first place). Others hide their assets. And sometimes the IRS drops the ball and lets the statute of limitations expire without attempting to collect. An informal poll at a national gathering of resisters in 2011 found that the IRS had taken only about a quarter of the hundreds of thousands of dollars those resisters had refused to pay over the years.

Peter Smith at the NWTRCC national gathering in San Diego, California, in 2014. (WNV/Ed Hedemann)

But not everyone is so lucky. Smith says the IRS took just about everything they wanted from him — garnishing his salary and seizing money from his bank and retirement accounts: over $100,000 in all. If you’re unlucky you’re also on the hook for penalties (which can eventually climb to 25 percent of what you refuse to pay) and interest. For example, if you refused to pay $6,000 in federal income tax when you filed your return in 2014, by the following April, at the interest rates operative at that time, the IRS would have added another $600, and the amount would continue to climb from there. Smith said “many folks find that the penalties and interest sometimes accumulate almost as much as the original principal that the IRS said they owed.”

Shulamith Eagle, a war tax resister from Middlebury, Vermont, who is on the fund’s steering committee, says that support from people who believe in her stand strengthens her resolve in the face of these IRS reprisals. “Some of us can’t afford the financial penalties of tax refusal,” she said. “With the penalty fund, we can afford this type of protest because we’ll end up paying only the actual tax owed.”

Eagle says the fund reminds her of the South African tradition of stokvel — or small mutual savings and investment programs — held by Christian congregations that organize mutual aid health insurance, and also of more spontaneous generosity. “Look at what happens when there is a weather or illness tragedy and it’s publicized — money pours in from everywhere,” she said. “Human beings are very generous people, and are willing to sacrifice where ethical protest is involved.”

When people tell Smith that they admire his stand and wish they had the courage to do it, he tells them to subscribe to the fund. That way they can help other resisters until they work up the courage to do it themselves. “You don’t have to be a war tax resister to support people,” he said. “Anybody who wants to can sign up to help, and it’s easy to do.”

A survey of fund contributors found that many were not tax resisters. “Some people, because of family responsibilities or other reasons, can’t [resist],” Eagle said. “This way they can participate indirectly. It’s a blessing to help other people work to change things that must be changed, whether directly or indirectly. People said this over and over in their answers to the survey.”

And it’s a legal way to help people who are willing to risk civil disobedience, according to Peter Goldberger, an attorney who specializes in war tax resistance cases. “The penalty fund runs as a sort of insurance plan,” he said. “I can’t think of any way it would be illegal — either a violation of tax law or of criminal law — to plan to mitigate the consequences of other folks’ getting into trouble for their own choices. There have long been ‘bail funds’ that crowd-source getting poor people or arrested demonstrators out of jail, for example, and folks that pay the criminal fines of others who are arrested for civil disobedience that the funders support in principle.”

The fund has about 220 subscribers and it issues appeals a couple of times a year, asking subscribers to contribute about $30 apiece. Each person who applies for reimbursement provides IRS transcripts — showing the amount that was collected and how much came from interest and penalties — and also some evidence that they resisted taxes because of their conscientious objection to war.

“As of now we have been able to pretty much reimburse everybody for what they have asked for,” Smith said. The fund struggles more to find resisters to reimburse than to find money. Smith stresses that you don’t have to be a subscriber to apply for reimbursement: you just have to be a war tax resister who has lost interest and penalties to the IRS.

Encouraging resisters to ask for reimbursements is one challenge the fund faces. Recruiting subscribers is another. “We use word of mouth and tabling at NWTRCC meetings and other conferences,” Smith said. There’s also some drudgery involved: Someone has to maintain the database of subscribers. Sending appeals — a process that still relies mostly on snail-mail — is time-consuming. But their hard work means the government has to work harder to discourage war tax resisters. Hitting a few resisters with fines and penalties will not be enough to scare them off.

How veterans can lead progressive politics and bring back the peace movement

by Perry O'Brien

U.S. Army veteran Perry O’Brien questions former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. (Beyond the Choir)

A few weeks ago, I joined a group of fellow veterans in New Hampshire for the GOP’s “First-in-the-Nation” Presidential Town Hall. We came into a strange scene at the Nashua Radisson, where the event was being held. A group of naval cadets stood in the lobby, the young trainees having apparently been summoned to serve as valets. Just beyond this formation we were greeted by a pair of life-sized cardboard cutouts — one of Ronald Reagan and another of George W. Bush.

Seven of the Republican hopefuls were speaking that day. Each candidate was represented by a table piled high with campaign swag, staffed by grinning volunteers with signs bearing slogans like “Real Leadership,” “Jeb!” and “Unleash the American Dream.”

Like the other vets I’d come with, I carried an index card with a hand-written question concealed in my pocket. Our plan was to try and get called on during the Q&A sections of the town halls, which would give us the opportunity to address the candidate, the media and the thousand-or-so Republican activists who had gathered for the weekend. We knew the issues we’d come to raise — including war profiteering, anti-Muslim bigotry and the deportation of immigrant veterans — would not be popular with this crowd.

As I took my seat in the auditorium, trying to blend in, I began to feel nervous. My mind kept traveling to past antiwar protests, when other veterans and I had been threatened, shoved and even spit on by Bush supporters. Given the belligerent tone of the current elections, there was no reason to expect an environment of polite discourse; after all, everyone had seen the way protesters were getting handled at Trump rallies.

I got in my first question to Jeb Bush, who I managed to flag down as he left the podium. “Governor Bush,” I asked, “do you have a second for a U.S. veteran?”

Bush paused, slowing the momentum of his entourage, and turned toward me. Instantly, the two of us were surrounded by cameras and smart phones.

“Why were you so eager to support the rush to war in Iraq, your brother’s war?” I asked. “Given the enormous consequences…”

Before I could finish, Jeb turned away with a scoff, assuming a wry smile that suggested he’d heard a familiar but unfunny joke. Showing me his back, the former governor rushed onward toward the exit, trailed by a flurry of aides.

Unfortunately, Bush’s attitude is all too emblematic of the way veterans have been treated by the political establishment. Since September 11, servicemembers and veterans have been repeatedly deployed as props to support hawkish political agendas, while actual veterans have less and less of a voice in our political discourse. In fact, this year’s election cycle marks the first time in modern American politics that not a single candidate from either party has served in the military. This is especially remarkable when you consider the sheer number of candidates vying for the nomination and the fact that our nation has been at war for the last 15 years.

Rather than being a historical oddity, the lack of veteran representation in politics is symptomatic of a larger divide between the military and civilian worlds. This chasm has been growing since the Vietnam war. As it stands, fewer than 2 percent of Americans have served in the military since September 11, meaning that a comparatively tiny number of citizens can claim to have direct, personal experience with the global consequences of war and militarism. This divide poses serious consequences for the future of progressive politics in the United States, particularly when it comes to foreign policy.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, social movements have had a visible and profound influence on our national discourse, shifting popular opinion — and the agendas of politicians — on everything from the War in Iraq to the minimum wage. In the absence of a visible war to protest against, there has been very little momentum to challenge the unbroken policies of U.S. imperialism and a militarized economy. The insulation of the larger U.S. population from military experience has further constrained the possibility of mass mobilization to address these issues. The result is that the peace movement has shrunk to a tiny, righteous few, with little connection to other, more popular social movements.

Other groups and movements interested in connecting their struggles to the issue of militarism face significant obstacles. For starters, U.S. antiwar efforts have traditionally had difficulties collaborating with other movements while maintaining a focused message. Despite being motivated by the desire to build alignments around popular, morally resonant issues — for instance, by taking a stance against racist violence, whether at home or abroad — these attempts have often fallen into the “lefty laundry list” trap, where a movement is perceived as advocating for every issue under the sun, and therefore nothing at all. Additionally, membership-driven groups like unions and community organizations are often concerned about the possibility of alienating their veteran members if they take an antiwar stance. Finally, organizations often don’t feel like they have spokespeople who can credibly address issues of war and militarism.

I believe that progressive veterans can play an important role in overcoming these challenges. One way is by using our personal experience to draw links between domestic issues and militarism. For instance, at the New Hampshire town hall we attended, Iraq veteran Jason Hurd posed this question to Carly Fiorina: “I spent a year in Baghdad, policing Iraqis with often brutal tactics. Now, I see police here at home using those same tactics — with the same weapons and the same equipment — on black communities here at home. What would your presidency do to end the militarization of police and stop cops from killing everyday Americans?”


Similar questions could be raised about the use of defense contractors to run private prisons, or the connection between military spending and growing rates of economic inequality.

The footage of Jason Hurd also serves as a demonstration of the unique, mythologized status of veterans in U.S. culture. Even when engaged in political interventions that challenge the status quo, this cultural legitimacy tends to make us less vulnerable to being dismissed as “protestors” or “troublemakers.”

I am currently working with a team of veterans and organizers on a project to cultivate the skills, savvy, and leadership of veterans who have developed a critique of war and foreign policy. The project is being run by Beyond the Choir, a social movement strategy group, and the idea is to equip antiwar veterans — who have already demonstrated leadership abilities — with political skills that will enable them to become lifelong leaders in progressive social justice movements. The event in New Hampshire was just the first step in this broader project, which will continue to grow through the 2016 elections and beyond.

Back in Nashua, it turned out I didn’t need to worry about the audience. Every time we identified ourselves as veterans, we got an enthusiastic ovation, and the clapping often continued (if more muted) after we had finished speaking. All in all, our group of veterans got questions in with all six of the major GOP candidates.


At one point during the event, I found myself sitting next to an undecided Republican voter. When I told her I was a veteran, she asked whether I thought that “most mosques” were fronts for terror groups. I replied by saying I was sure that wasn’t the case, and in fact, I was hoping to ask Rick Santorum (who was currently speaking) whether he’d commit to stating that “Islam is not a national security threat.” I explained to her that I’d worked closely with Muslim interpreters in Afghanistan, and was fed up with the Islamaphobia that too many of the candidates seemed eager to cultivate. She listened to me quietly while I talked.

When Santorum finished his speech, and I stuck up my hand. “Call on him,” said the woman sitting next to me, who’d asked about the mosques. “He’s got a good question.”

As the movement for black lives shifts to policy, several options emerge

by Kate Aronoff

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Since the moment protests broke out in Ferguson in the summer of 2014, commentators — supportive and otherwise — have asked when and how the movement for black lives would channel its rebellious energy into policy. Last week, leading voices in that movement made very different attempts to do just that.

Late last Thursday, prominent activist DeRay McKesson enlisted the the Washington Post, New York Times and Baltimore Sun to help announce that he’ll throw his hat into Baltimore’s upcoming mayoral race. McKesson will join 13 other contenders for the Democratic primary, all vying to replace outgoing Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

Raised in Baltimore, McKesson wrote on Medium that he is running “in order to usher our city into an era where the government is accountable to its people and is aggressively innovative in how it identifies and solves its problems.” He first reached a national audience documenting protests in Ferguson on Twitter in the summer of 2014, later traveling to Baltimore to join demonstrations around Freddie Gray’s death in police custody last spring. Along with friend and collaborator Johnetta “Netta” Elzie, McKesson co-founded Campaign Zero and We Are the Protesters, a policy slate for criminal justice reform and an information repository, respectively, on both protests and police killings.

From recent appearances on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show and the Daily Show to in-depth profiles in the New York Times, McKesson has been cast as a public face of the movement for black lives, and used his platform to prod national conversations on white supremacy and broadcast news of protests out to the world. The notoriety has paid off: Within 24 hours of its kick-off, McKesson’s campaign raised nearly $70,000. But as many organizers (and McKesson himself) have pointed out, he is not formally affiliated with either the 26-chapter Black Lives Matter Network — founded by Opal Tometti, Alicia Garza and Patrice Cullors in 2012 — nor with other groups leading up the broader movement for black lives’ on-the-ground organizing efforts in cities around the country, Baltimore included.

There’s been speculation, too, that McKesson’s national prominence may not translate to the city itself. “I suspect the vast majority of the most prolific voting bloc in Baltimore City do not know who he is,” Baltimore journalist Sean Yoes told the Baltimore Sun. “That’s going to be problematic for him.” Progressives have criticized McKesson’s open ties to the controversial education reform group Teach for America, or TFA, widely cited as one of the key organizations driving forward the privatization (and often de-unionization) of inner-city public schools. As a Baltimore and then Minneapolis public schools human resources administrator, McKesson spoke at TFA’s 25th anniversary celebration in Washington D.C. this past weekend alongside charter advocate Michelle Rhee. The executive director of the organization’s St. Louis outfit sits on Campaign Zero’s planning team. Members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers’ Caucus of Working Educators also penned an open letter to McKesson last fall, when he came to the city to speak at a TFA-hosted event.

Although not an organizer, per se, as a self-described protester, McKesson is as much a part of the movement for black lives as those taking to the streets in Ferguson, Baltimore and elsewhere. And while his announcement has faced mixed reviews, McKesson’s bid for local office presents one of several options for what the next phase of the movement for black lives could entail.

Another came earlier last week — on the first day of Black History Month and to comparatively little press — when BYP100 unveiled the Agenda for Building Black Futures. According to its authors, the idea was “to articulate a set of economic goals and structural changes that could improve the lives of Black people living in America.” The group is a cross-sectoral, member-based outgrowth of the Black Youth Project, founded in 2012 by feminist scholar Cathy Cohen. Most recently BYP100 has mobilized in Chicago around the police killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, calling for the resignation of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County State Attorney Anita Alvarez.

The agenda, nearly 50 pages of thoroughly researched policy recommendations, model legislation and campaign suggestions, is the second such report from the group, which previously released an Agenda to Keep Us Safe that targeted criminalization and police accountability. Among the Agenda to Build Black Futures’ ambitious policy proposals are reparations, divestment from private prisons, the elimination of fines within the legal system, the scaling back of police budgets, universal childcare and reproductive health coverage, expanded services and legal protections for trans people, community land trusts, and the adoption of a Workers’ Bill of Rights with provisions for a living wage, guaranteed employment and a guaranteed national income. Notably, as BYP100 National Director Charlene Carruthers recently told In These Times’ Salim Muwakkil, policy pushes are one of a three-part theory of change for BYP100, alongside direct action and electoral and civic participation.

“Our goal is to provide a well-researched and accessible resource to activists who want to change public policy on national, state and local levels,” Carruthers said in the report, noting that the agenda is intended as a tool for local BYP100 chapters (in Chicago, New Orleans, New York City, Oakland, Washington D.C. and Detroit) to be used in developing local campaigns. “ It is not an exhaustive list of demands, but rather a wake-up call to those who have been asleep, and a call to action for all,” Janaé Bonsu concludes in the report’s afterword.

At the agenda’s core is a budgetary putsch, rerouting local, state and federal funds away from systems of punishment — policing and prisons — and toward a revitalized public sphere and redistribution that addresses the historical inequity wrought by anti-blackness. “Bold, expansive and wide-reaching public policy change that moves our economy towards equality and equity is the only solution,” the agenda argues. “This kind of change can only be achieved through a well-organized political movement for justice.”

The agenda’s closest predecessor might be the Freedom Budget for All People, released by a group of civil rights leaders — including Bayard Rustin, A. Philip Randolph and Dr. Martin Luther King in 1966. It was a self-described “practical, step-by-step plan for wiping out poverty in America during the next 10 years,” featuring plenty of policy-specific overlap with BYP100’s proposals. Another corollary is the more controversial Black Manifesto, drafted in 1968 at Detroit’s National Black Economic Development Conference, which demanded $500 million for black-led economic projects from white churches and Jewish synagogues. But the agenda for Building Black Futures also offers a fundamentally new, 21st-century vision for black liberation, centering radical inclusivity and a black queer feminist perspective.

Neither McKesson nor BYP100 are walking on uncharted territory. They are also grappling with the same question that movements from Occupy Wall Street to the black freedom movement have faced for generations: What comes after the spark? Like all movements, the one for black lives today doesn’t move in lock-step among its many component parts; it’s messy, multi-faceted and even contradictory. Its future may prove every bit as complicated.

Time spent in Guantánamo is time no one gets back — whether soldier or prisoner

by Frida Berrigan

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I love my local paper. The Day is locally owned and based right in downtown New London, Connecticut. They publish an actual, physical newspaper every single day and have a first rate photo department. Their news pages feature a mix of national and international articles from The New York Times and AP wire service stories, as well as locally produced articles of local interest — with headlines like “Reality television producer sees show for New London.”

Usually, I turn to the opinion page first because I like to see what hits home with my fellow Southeastern Connecticuters. Wing nuts and firebrands of all political stripes (this one included) expound in the letters to the editor section. I am constantly composing letters to the editor in my head, but two kids down with the flu ate away all my screed-writing time last week. So, consider what follows an extended version of what I would have sent to my local paper if I hadn’t been covered in vomit and cranky kids.

The headline that caught my eye was this: “Niantic-based National Guard Unit home after deployment to Guantánamo Bay.” I read the article with interest, and had no idea that local people were among those burdened with patrolling and guarding this tropical hold-over of the Monroe Doctrine. The article was accompanied by joyous pictures of families reunited after the long deployment to the Cuban base.

One woman was welcoming home her husband right before their first wedding anniversary. She held a sign that read, “I would wait forever, but 10 months is long enough! Welcome home!” She told the reporter, “We have been apart for 10-and-a-half months. It’s been a really long year by myself, and we’re so excited to be back together finally.” There were balloons, flowers, tears and children in adorable outfits.

Yet, there was no mention in the article of the unit’s duties while on the base and — given the immensity of the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay — no reason to assume they had anything to do with the Muslim men who have been held there in extremis for 14 years. There was no mention of the changes in policy and personnel that took place during their deployment. There was no mention of President Obama’s oft reiterated promise to close Guantánamo.

I was struck that during our local guard’s deployment, the prison population at Guantánamo shrank to under 100 for the first time since its establishment as a “Global War on Terror” indefinite internment site in early 2002. As the Connecticut guards were preparing to come home, three men were supposed to leave Guantánamo as well. But they were not welcomed home with flowers and balloons. They did not return to their home countries.

Tariq Mahmoud Ahmed al Sawah was born in Egypt and sent to Bosnia, where he is a dual citizen. Abdul Aziz Abdullah Ali al Suadi, a Yemeni, was resettled in Montenegro. They join a growing cadre of displaced former Guantánamo prisoners, trying to make a life for themselves in new and unfamiliar countries after more than a decade of imprisonment, torture and mistreatment. They now live in Ghana, Palau, El Salvador, Uruguay, Slovenia and a dozen other European countries.

The third to be released refused to get on the plane. Mohammed Ali Abdullah Bwazir of Yemen was not told where he was going and according to his lawyer, John Chandler, was “frightened” to leave the prison headed to an unknown country, where he had no ties or connections. Bwazir, who is in his mid-30s, was brought to Guantánamo in 2002 and is one of the many men who had used hunger striking as a tactic to resist and oppose his detention. Chandler told The New York Times, “Can you imagine being there for 14 years and going to a plane where you could finally leave, and saying, ‘No, take me back to my cell?’ This is one of the saddest days of my life.”

There was no such sadness as families reunited in Connecticut last week. One captain held his eight-month-old daughter who wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the message: “I’m here to pick up my daddy.” He and his family were able to video-chat and connect throughout his deployment, so he was not too surprised by how much his daughter had grown. But there is nothing like the real thing. He hugged her and told the reporter, “It’s wonderful. I couldn’t be more excited. We’ve been counting down the months, the days.”

I am always happy when families are reunited, but the words of another father reuniting with his children rang through my head as I read these words.

Shaker Aamer was told he was going home an hour before he was loaded onto a U.S. military plane and flown back to England. The British resident and father of four had been at Guantánamo for nearly 14 years. The United States never charged him with a crime; he had been cleared for release by the Bush administration in 2007. So, for nearly two thirds of his detention, he was officially and categorically innocent. At Guantánamo, he was beaten, tortured and almost asphyxiated. He was held in solitary confinement for 360 days at one point during his imprisonment. His lawyers think he was singled out for mistreatment because he spoke English, was well educated and well spoken, and was thought to be an agitator within the prison population. Aamer engaged in many hunger strikes to protest his detention and the mistreatment of his fellow prisoners.

Shaker Aamer met his 13-year-old son Faris for the first time on October 31, 2015. His older children are now young adults. He told the BBC, “I’m a father who did not practice his fatherhood for 14 years. I left them when they were little tiny kids, hugging them, carrying them all the time. And now they are grown up.” Their first moments together were surreal, and punctuated by sorrow. “Even though it was a happy moment,” Aamer explained, “it was sad at the same time. Because it was happy that I’ve seen my kids again, but it was so sad that the feeling is not that they are my kids. They look at me and they’re just trying to know who is this person? But through their eyes, I feel like they are just looking at a stranger.”

We heard President Obama repeat his “close Guantánamo” promise at the State of the Union. “As Americans, we have a profound commitment to justice. So it makes no sense to spend $3 million per pris­on­er to keep open a pris­on that the world con­demns and terrorists use to recruit. Since I’ve been president, we’ve worked responsibly to cut the pop­u­la­tion of Gitmo in half. Now it’s time to fin­ish the job.” He added, “It’s time to close Gitmo.”

Time. We can’t get it back. When it’s gone, it’s gone. The families embracing their returning fathers, sons and husbands after 10 months of separation in Connecticut know it. Shaker Aamer and his children — Faris, Said, Michael and Johina — meeting almost as strangers after 13 years apart know it too. All those innocent men released from Guantánamo and still struggling to find their footing in strange lands — and still struggling to heal from severe trauma — know it too. And so do those 91 men who remain at Guantánamo, while their families wait for them. Time, to close Gunatánamo. I wish my local paper had used the happy occasion of families reuniting to say it too.

What role were you born to play in social change?

by George Lakey

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Bill Moyer was a street-wise, working class white boy from rowhouse Philadelphia, who — in the turbulence of the 1960s — went to Chicago to work for an anti-racist housing campaign. He wound up joining Martin Luther King Jr.’s national staff as an organizer. I played tag football more than once with Moyer, catching his grin as he mercilessly overwhelmed his opponents through daring and smarts. He might have been the most joyfully aggressive Quaker I’ve known. By the time he died in 2002, Moyer had given significant leadership on multiple political issues, including the national anti-nuclear movement.

In California, Moyer went to graduate school to study social movement theory and indulge his love of analytical thinking. He became best known for identifying eight stages of successful social movements, which he named the Movement Action Plan, or MAP. I found activists using MAP as far away as Taiwan, where they had already read it in translation before I got there.

Moyer also invented a powerful tool that clarifies how we work for change on two levels: individually and organizationally. Four Roles of Social Activism, he called it, and right now the tool is helping environmentalist organizations in the Philadelphia area clarify their relationships to the new campaign Power Local Green Jobs. The tool also empowers individuals to become more effective. In this column I’ll describe the four roles so you can notice their resonance personally for you and also for your group.

With Moyer’s permission, I tweaked the names of three of the four roles, making the differences sharper; you’ll get both names here.  I call the roles advocate, helper, organizer, and rebel.

The advocate role

The advocate focuses on communication with what Moyer called “the powerholders,” who can change a policy or practice. Think of the civil liberties lawyer suing the city for stop-and-frisk that profiles people of color, or the lobby group urging city council to change that policy. Moyer calls this role the “reformer,” while acknowledging that an advocate might urge changes that are radical in content.

In workshops, I invite people to scan their childhoods to recall whether they usually turned to an authority to correct what they felt was an injustice or problem. Maybe they went to the teacher after class to report bullying on the playground, or told a parent that little sister was upset. I’ve found that many adults who prefer to play the advocate role in social movements expressed that preference early, often developing some skill and confidence.

The helper role

The helper is drawn to direct service, personally doing what they can to remedy the situation. They address gender and racial discrimination in jobs by teaching how to write resumes or initiating job training. They attack carbon pollution by weatherizing houses or starting solar installation co-ops. Because much of mainstream community life is marked by service, Moyer’s name for this role is “citizen.”

When adults known for playing helper roles look back on their childhood they sometimes remember their own intervention to stop the bully, or their being the first one to bring a band-aid when little brother falls off the bike.

The organizer role

While the advocate and helper who want to make a bigger difference may themselves need to organize — by starting a nonprofit, for example — the organizing part is not the most satisfying for them. The advocate is happiest when convincing the judge that equal marriage is constitutional. The helper loves to witness the graduating class that includes more people of color.

The organizer, on the other hand, experiences joy from collecting people who may not even know each other and turning them into a well-oiled team, or tripling the attendance at the union local’s monthly meetings. Organizers often believe that the sheer power of numbers will make change because powerholders are afraid of alternative sources of power and may concede something to head off further growth.

When organizers were children they may have been the ones who revived the celebration of Martin Luther King Day at school, or boosted the flagging morale of the drill team. Moyer calls them “change agents,” and he himself was certainly that.

The rebel role

The rebel who sees a problem or injustice prefers to make a commotion of some kind to force powerholders to make a change. Martin Luther King Jr. explained that a campaign must create a crisis. Gandhi made so much trouble that he made India ungovernable by the British. True, some famous rebels needed organizing skills to scale up their commotion to the crisis point. But rebels look at numbers not for their own sake but to determine “how many people will it take to create what degree of crisis?” Alice Paul left the mass movement for woman suffrage in order to lead a smaller band of rebels willing to make the nonviolent trouble that forced U.S. President Woodrow Wilson to give in to justice.

Roles can be played positively or negatively

While some activists dismiss one or more of these roles as uncool — “the nonprofit-industrial complex” or “sellout lobbyists” or “infantile protesters” — Moyer found the record clear: Successful social movements include all four roles.

He acknowledged, though, that any of these roles can either assist or undermine a movement, depending on how people play the role. Advocates, for example, can — through communication with powerholders — find ways of framing demands that make it more likely that the movement will take a large step forward. On the other hand, they can get co-opted by the powerholders and undermine a campaign’s clarity so it settles for less.

Rebels can either generate drama that motivates the undecided to take the issue more seriously and to side with the movement, or it can choose tactics that are so self-marginalizing that the undecided lend their support to the powerholders.

Helpers can empower people who are feeling helpless by giving them skills and assisting them to see that they can only get what they really want through solidarity with others. Or the helpers can adopt the false belief that society changes through individuals enhancing their lives one-by-one.

In his book “Doing Democracy,” Moyer describes a number of positive and negative ways each role can be played. Looking fearlessly at his analysis helps our learning curve.

How do you play your role?

I’ve personally performed a lot of voluntary service, started and led new organizations, and lobbied elected officials. In my heart of hearts, though, I’m a rebel. To avoid burnout, I need to remember that. I’m healthiest, most creative and productive when I’m in touch with my rebel self and find a group that’s OK with that.

Becoming self-aware is also helpful for organizations. They do best when they clarify their mission, even when that means saying “No” to lots of otherwise good ideas that are offered but aren’t really aligned with the essence of their role. Earth Quaker Action Team, my primary affiliation, claims its rebel role in the larger struggle for environmental, economic and racial justice. In our new campaign Power Local Green Jobs, other groups we talk with expect that we will join with them as they advocate, or organize, or do job training. We get to explain over and over the advantages of a division of labor: “Do what you’re best at and we’ll root for you while we do our rebel thing.”

A group that embraces its particular role in the movement can also have a diversity of roles within its membership. Within EQAT we have people who as individuals shine as organizers, helpers and advocates and contribute quite a lot to the group’s internal life. Within any group there is room for all as long as they support the clear, overall mission.

Of course a membership that includes multiple role identities will also experience conflicts, and that’s a good thing — especially when hard choices must be made. An organizer may object that a rebel’s tactical proposal is premature because the group doesn’t yet have the resources to deal with the consequences. A helper may say that more solar installation training needs to be in place before the utility yields and funds extensive rooftop programs, or else the poor and people of color will be overlooked when workers start lining up for jobs. An advocate may note that the opponent is for the first time engaged in serious consideration of the demand, and argue that this is the wrong time for militant action.

People who face strategic hard choices are more likely to come up with creative and wise next moves when the four roles fight it out — fighting fairly while acknowledging differences. The research is clear: Over time, diversity actually does produce the best outcomes. Or at least diversity works when everyone agrees on the bottom line: The role the group plays in the larger movement.

This illustration from Earth Quaker Action Team can be repeated for organizations taking a different role: advocacy, say, or helping or organizing. The combination of diversity of membership and unity of purpose is a winning combination.

Bill Moyer’s Four Roles is about effectiveness. Instead of one organization trying to do many things and risking scatter, his vision was that of a proliferation of groups, each maximizing strength through focus while networking and supporting a broader sense of unity. That’s what a powerful movement looks like.

Why we still need ‘The X-Files’

by Kate Aronoff

Mulder and Scully in the new season of “The X-Files.” (Facebook / The X-Files)

There are a lot of questions left at the end of the first two episodes of the long-awaited “The X-Files” reboot: What has show creator Chris Carter done with the series mythology? Why does Gillian Anderson seem incapable of aging, and why does she still not have her own desk? How is the Cigarette Smoking Man still alive? Of all the questions, on top might be whether “The X-Files” still matters in 2016.

Premiering in 1993, “The X-Files” arose before the Internet — or cell phones, for that matter — had permeated American life. The paranoia directed at Soviet communism through the Cold War had turned inward, and FBI agents Dana Scully (Anderson) and Fox Mulder (David Duchovney) spent an hour each week sifting through provincial folklore and conspiracy theories that touched on everything from the Jersey Devil to JFK’s assassination to the Jonestown Massacre. Animated by a mix of series-spanning mythos and one-off “monster of the week” episodes, the show thrived on its ability to dig up the surreality of everyday life, extraterrestrial and otherwise — not to mention a sexual tension between Scully and Mulder thick enough to cut with a dull knife. Out there was a world — or many — beyond comprehension, worlds they (the mysterious Syndicate and/or the U.S. government proper) tried to keep under wraps, but couldn’t fully control. There were realities different from the ones we knew, whether in an alien war in the sky or sadistic, man-made genetic experiments.

In Season 10’s bumpy first episode, YouTube conspiracy theorist Tad O’Malley (Joel McHale) jolts the agents into this particular stretch of the 21st century. Shamelessly modeled off of real-life Infowars sachem Alex Jones (if not leagues more charming), O’Malley is a devotee of Mulder and Scully. He’s determined to enlist them in pulling the last thread on the big sweater the government has been using to hide its prized secret: aliens. But as we learn from Mulder’s one-on-one with multi-abductee Svetta, that sweater itself has been a rouse. In reality, the government has spent countless funds and lives throwing the agents off the trail of a wide-reaching government “assault on its own people,” including everything from climate change to NSA surveillance. Or, as Scully calls the theory, “Fearmongering claptrap isolationist techno-paranoia so bogus, and dangerous, and stupid that it borders on treason.”

True to form, she’s only convinced upon finding out that her own abduction decades earlier has left her with alien DNA — the result of government experiments to breed human-alien hybrids. (Never mind that this same plot point was raised at the end of Season 4 into the start of Season 5, when a rogue Department of Defense employee named Michael Kritschgau informed our heroes that they were being led expensively astray, and the government was behind everything. Or that Scully tested her own DNA to find that it matched that of an alien the government had supposedly planted in Antarctica.)

For long-time fans, Season 10’s retcon was the equivalent of finding J.R. from “Dallas” unharmed in the shower after a season of thinking he’d died. In short, all of the alien politics Carter and company spent years crafting are now reduced to a government plot to use a stash of alien technology recovered from one crash in the 1940s. It’s also at least temporarily removed one of the series’ most compelling parts: Its fascination with another world.

The plot twist is a corrective for what critics have called an overly-complicated storyline that developed in the show’s later seasons, involving alien colonization, an infection carried by bees and an insidious black oil. It’s been replaced with a frenzied, universal theory of everything, a pastiche of right wing-nuttery (9/11 conspiracy theories), more traditional left critiques like that against the surveillance state, and something like DJ Khaled’s mysterious “they.” As Scully deadpans to her partner in one preview, “Mulder, the Internet is not good for you.”

When “The X-Files” went off the air in 2002, the series hadn’t fully digested the cultural and political shift that September 11 and the war on terror brought with them. Having spent most of their young adult lives in the post-Patriot Act era, younger millennials like myself exist in a kind of uneasy equilibrium within the United States’ bloated surveillance apparatus. On top of the brick-sized cell phones and Scully’s boxy pantsuits, the seemingly fresh notion that the government is up to some deeply shady dealings with our information makes watching the show’s first run feel like a trip to a past most of us don’t remember. In 2016, the government’s plots on its citizens aren’t revolutionary. The existence of a world beyond our own is.

For those fighting corporations, systemic racism or deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, too, the intonation that an elite club controls the world doesn’t convey much new information. Yes, a “well-oiled and well-armed multinational group of elites,” as O’Malley says, really do guide global politics. Hell, there’s a Bush and a Clinton in the running for president. But that group isn’t holed up in secretive back rooms colluding to evade enterprising FBI agents. They’re at the World Economic Forum in Davos, stumping in Iowa and at the seat of the European Union in Brussels, doling out austerity. The truth matters, but only insofar as it provides ammunition for people’s movements to do something about it. We need Mulder and Scully’s willingness to break the rules to get at conspiracies just like we need Edward Snowden. We also need popular, nonviolent uprisings that change the political weather and make it harder for the elites to do their jobs.

In an understandably flattered response, Alex Jones called his likeness’ inclusion in the series a “cultural victory.” “I’m ready for them to put me in jail,” he said, a reference to where we’re led to assume O’Malley is at the end of episode one. But unlike on TV, Jones’ truth isn’t threatening enough to evoke a response from authorities. There’s a good reason why he’s not sitting in jail, but thousands of nonviolent protesters around the world are.

“The X-Files” has always offered a broad spread of good (episodes like “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” and “The Post-Modern Prometheus”) as well as bad (“Schizogeny”, “Sanguinarium”), with the end result being an endearing, dark, sometimes campy and often horrifying 202 episodes. Season 10’s second installment, “Founder’s Mutation,” is a return to form, and Duchovny and Anderson have each admitted it took them a few tries to get back into their old characters’ shoes. The series’ mythology has backtracked before, and — maybe naively — I want to believe it can happen again, ideally putting some distance between Scully, Mulder and O’Malley. Like “The X-Files,” new and better worlds still matter in 2016. With any hope, this reboot will bring less conspiracies, and more healthy distrust for institutions and confusing other worldliness.

Thousands march against right-wing Austrian ball

by Ashoka Jegroo

A march against the Academics Ball in Vienna, Austria on January 29. (Twitter/Rafaela Freitas)

Thousands of left-wing and anti-fascist activists participated in multiple protests on Jan. 29 against a far-right gathering taking place in the center of Vienna, Austria.

“This is a very important meeting for the European far-right and neo-Nazi elite,” one protester told the BBC. “For example, there are participants from PEGIDA, from the National Front in France, from the Finnish True Finns Party.”

The demonstrations were in protest against the Wiener Akademikerball, or the Viennese Academics Ball. Aside from the presence of nationalist student fraternity members, the annual ball has no official connection to Austrian academia and has become known for traditionally having members of European far-right parties as guests. Tatjana Festerling, a German politician and organizer for the right-wing, anti-Muslim political group PEGIDA, was revealed as one of the guests at this year’s ball. The event is organized by the anti-immigrant, far-right Freedom Party of Austria and was formerly known as the Wiener Korporations-Balls, or Viennese Corporations Ball. Since 2013, the event has been organized by the Freedom Party in order to continue holding the ball at the Hofburg Palace, the former imperial palace in the center of Vienna.

Protests against the ball have occurred since 2005, and many protesters oppose the fact that it even occurs at the Hofburg Palace, which is regarded as a historical site used for important state occasions. This year, the Socialist Left Party marched at around 3:30 p.m. from the Wallensteinplatz station to the Schottentor station, near the University of Vienna. The anti-fascist group Offensive gegen Rechts started their march at the University of Vienna at about 5 p.m., making its way around the city center and ending at the Museumsquartier, not far from the Hofburg Palace. Organizers claim that about 8,000 people attended the protests while police claim that number was closer to 5,000. The group “Jetzt Zeichen setzen!” then held a rally and concert at 7 p.m. at Heldenplatz. Protesters let off fireworks, held signs with anti-fascist messages like “Vienna remains strong. Nazis must be stopped,” and chanted pro-refugee slogans like “Say it loud and say it clear, refugees are welcome here.”

“We are here to show the people that another world is possible, a better world is possible,” another protester told the BBC, “where all the refugees that are coming now to Europe are being welcomed.”

A little less than 3,000 police had formed a human wall and cordoned off the entire city center in fear of the clashes that broke out last year between protesters and police, which ended with dozens arrested and one police officer injured.

“Last year showed us that this area was quite hazardous for people who were heading towards the ball,” police spokesman Johann Golob told Austria’s The Local.

Police also dispatched 20 camera teams with cameras mounted on poles in order to better surveil protesters and be able to film above the crowds. “We’ll be able to document exactly who does what,” police chief Gerhard Pürstl told Austria’s The Local days before the ball.

Thanks to the police protection, the right-wing ball went off without any interruptions. “The opponents of the ball are on the losing side,” Freedom Party chairman Heinz-Christian Strache said during his opening speech at the ball. “They are undemocratic. We must fight for our rights as citizens. This ball is a part of world heritage.”

Police say that the protests were largely peaceful except for a few protesters who shot fireworks and threw eggs at cops towards the end of the night. Nine people were ultimately detained by cops, and six were arrested. The police said that 14 officers were “slightly injured” during the protests.

But despite the police repression, protesters vowed to continue demonstrating against the Academics’ Ball every year until Austria’s far-right is stopped.

“Right-wing extremism is still not properly handled in Austria,” Magdalena Augustin from the Offensive gegen Rechts told Austria’s The Local. “And until it is, we will not cease to demonstrate against this ball.”