Waging Nonviolence

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.”

Why the climate movement needs a reboot

by Cam Fenton

Embed from Getty Images

Until recently, the climate movement has relied on climate denial — be it outright denial of the science or political denial of the need to act — as a major uniting force. For the ecosystem of groups, people and organizations that make up the climate movement, it was a metaphorical sun. Now, though, the era of climate denial as we’ve known it is gasping its last breaths. As a Guardian headline read in December, “The Paris agreement signals that deniers have lost the climate wars.” Without that unifying force, cracks in the climate movement are starting to deepen. Looking forward, our challenge is whether we can see these cracks as a chance to learn and adapt to an era where this movement shifts from the defensive to the offensive. To do that, however, we’re going to need to build the DNA of the climate movement.

In the movie “Jurassic Park,” the main characters are ushered into a theater where a cartoon double helix explains that “DNA is the building blocks of life.” Like resurrected dinosaurs, movements are living creatures; therefore, they need a kind of DNA to serve as the building blocks for how the movement shows up in the world. However, too often the climate movement has skimmed the surface of our challenges, and so instead of building a viable, powerful DNA, we’ve created one that is scrambling and rips along ideological seams.

This need not be the case.

What happened in Alberta?

Imagine if a cat’s DNA simply said, “You’re not a dog.” Or a tree’s DNA was a restatement of the many ways it is not like soil. Of course that’s nonsense — but too often our movement DNA has been made of very simplistic, ideological viewpoints, instead of a rich tapestry of values. We have too often based our vision on opposition to our opponents, and that’s left us unbalanced. In this lack of balance, movement conflicts often remain at a superficial level, and fail to dig to the depths where we can really learn from our challenges. The Alberta climate plan is a case in point.

On November 22, 2015 the government of Alberta announced new climate legislation alongside politicians, oil executives and representatives from a handful of Canadian environmental organizations. Reactions to the announcement ran the gamut. While some appeared to be celebrating bold, once-in-a-lifetime leadership, others expressed tepid appreciation for a decent step forward from a province on the wrong side of the climate debate for decades. Many more chose to point clearly at the policy’s failure to line up with climate science. The legislation was a perfect portrait of the post-denial era of climate politics, where policies can be praised as historic at the same time as they’re condemned for failing to be in line with what the science demands.

In the weeks after the announcement, the Financial Post ran a front page story alleging a “secret deal” between a handful of environmental organizations, tar sands companies and the Alberta government. For some, the story was proof positive of a conspiracy that had been brewing for years. For others, the ends justified the means. Debates raged on social media, on listserves and continue in meetings to this day.

As far as I can tell, there is little actual evidence that any kind of formal deal for groups to back off tar sands opposition exist. In fact, the only writing to really make the case is an article in a brazenly pro-tar sands publication. I don’t say this to defend the Alberta climate plan, nor to abdicate any of the individuals or groups involved in its drafting and announcement for their roles. In fact, it’s crystal clear that the Alberta climate plan fails any legitimate climate test. It’s also clear that indigenous consultation around the process fell far short of what’s required and that the groups involved with bringing it into the world did so in an unaccountable manner.

All of this has been well documented, and yet, while the Alberta plan is all this, it also represents Success. I don’t mean Success in the dictionary sense, but Success with a capital S — the seventh stage of Bill Moyer’s Movement Action Plan. Looking at it this way, we can be celebratory of what the Alberta plan represents, critical of the way it came together, honest about it’s limitations, and we can learn from it to prepare for what comes next.

Navigating works better with a MAP

The Movement Action Plan, or MAP, is a framework for understanding how social movements grow and how they succeed or fail. In the seventh stage “the long process of building opposition reaches a new plateau in which the new social consensus turns the tide of power against the power-holders and begins an endgame process leading to the movement’s success.” The MAP gets even more specific and identifies three ways that this endgame typically begins to manifest, including one called a “quiet showdown” with some clear commonalities with the Alberta climate plan.

“Realizing that they can no longer continue their present policies, the powerholders launch a face-saving endgame process of ‘victorious retreat,'” Moyer writes. “Rather than admit defeat, they proclaim victory and start a publicly-recognized process of changing their policies and conditions to those demanded by the movement and social consensus. The powerholders try to take credit for this ‘victory,’ even though they were forced to reverse their previously hardline policies, while activists often have difficulty seeing their role in this success.”

This phase brings with it new pitfalls for the movement. Some movement actors may be tempted to compromise too many values and key demands or prioritize achieving minor reforms at the cost of building toward deeper social change. Activists may be led to feel dismayed and powerless because they do not recognize the forward momentum, nor is their role in achieving victories recognized and acknowledged. In this stage, the movement has won some progress on demands, but there remains a long way to go until actual victory. Success as a movement stage, and being able to differentiate it from victory, is crucial to avoiding these pitfalls. In fact, in this stage, especially facing a “quiet showdown,” movements often need to shift back to the tactics of earlier stages to avoid these pitfalls and build the power necessary to move from Success to victory.

In stage six of the MAP, when the movement begins to gain majority public support, the key challenge for the movement is to transition “from spontaneous protest, operating in a short-term crisis, to a long-term popular struggle to achieve positive social change.” This is where the movement needs to be able to articulate a grand strategy, not just a vision of the world we’re trying to get to, but a strategy for how a mass movement can get us there. This strategy, at it’s core, needs to provide a vision for how the day-to-day activities of local activists work together towards the accomplishment of the movement’s highest level goals. To do this, the grand strategy requires a reorientation towards the grassroots of a movement and a shift to understanding the movement as the true source of power in this struggle. Without this, two of the most dangerous pitfalls emerge, what Moyers identifies as “national organizations and leadership disenfranchising grassroots activists by dominating the movement” and “activists becoming stuck in the protest stage, setting the context for a rise in movement violence and macho radicalism.”

Two views of power

The truth is that both of these pitfalls emerge from the same source, and may be the most pressing challenges for the climate movement today. At the root, this tension comes from a conflict between the traditional environmental movement and the growing climate movement, including a tension over the definition of power.

In the 1990s, much of the mainstream environmental movement began to professionalize, and many groups started to enjoy high levels of access to decision makers. As the environmental movement started to work more closely with governments and other powerholders, much of it adopted a monolithic approach to understanding power that looks at power as a triangle with powerful elites on top and a relatively powerless populace on the bottom. Through this lens, there is an unspoken assumption that since the people at the bottom hold little to no power, the best way to make social change is by appealing to the top of the hierarchy, or as close to the top as one can get, to change their policies or action. These appeals happen through traditional channels like elections, lobbying and in the courts.

This approach to power is at the core of the playbook that lays out how most environmental organizations approach their work. It goes like this: First you find a target and present a demand. Then you organize and take action to force that target to pay attention to you and your demand. Eventually, if your campaign is successful, you get to a table with that target, and you negotiate victory — whereby you will stop causing the target headaches, and the target will stop doing something you disagree with, or at least stop doing it so badly.

This approach has been baked into the foundations of most groups working on climate change that come from the mainstream environmental movement. It makes sense to use this as a campaign model, but for a genuine climate movement, it’s a major challenge because by design, movements approach power not as a monolith, but as a social construct.

The engine of the social movement is people power, which is based on the assumption that power ultimately resides in the mass populace. This approach views power as an inverse triangle, where the powerholders lie on the bottom of a fundamentally unstable structure where their power comes from the cooperation, consent, apathy or support of the mass public. With this approach to power, social movements understand that the traditional channels are useful tools, but that they are not the focus of a movement strategy. Instead, movements strive to agitate, educate and mobilize to move enough of the mass populace to move power away from powerholders and into the hands of the people.

Think about the movement’s victory over the Keystone XL pipeline. One way of looking at that is to view the victory as something that happened when Barack Obama officially rejected the pipeline permit. Another way to look at it is that the Keystone XL pipeline was defeated when the climate movement built enough power that it could say to the president, “you can’t approve this pipeline and be taken seriously on climate.” Both of these are true, but the lens of monolithic or institutional power is narrower.

Viewed this way, our capacity to change is limited to the capacity of the powerholder to change. On the other hand, a social view approach to power allows us to understand how campaign victories shift power to the movement over time, and set us up to make bolder and bolder demands — like making the jump from fighting project to project against the fossil fuel industry to transforming our energy economy by keeping fossil fuels in the ground.

Unfortunately, in many cases, shifting how we view power is extremely difficult for organizations. When we don’t address this, dramatic political shifts, like the Alberta climate plan, can surface as a potentially divisive tension between big organizations and the grassroots with dizzying speed.

In 2006, the rise of former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper marked one of the most dramatic shifts for environmental groups in Canada. Almost overnight, these organizations, which had spent years working their way up the triangle of power, were cast back to the bottom. Those from organizations that had been close advisers became persona non grata almost overnight. Then, with the election of Justin Trudeau last October, the pathways back up that hierarchy of power were reopened, and these organizations reacted almost on instinct. I don’t think it was a nefarious decision for groups to go to the table with government and industry, but a decision born of a certain approach to power.

The issue now is that this instinct was learned at a time when a bonafide climate movement didn’t exist. Less than a decade ago, big environmental organizations made up a lot more of the mainstream of the climate movement than they do today. If you don’t believe me look at a photo of the front of a climate movement in 2009 and the front of the People’s Climate March in 2014. The former will be dotted with the logos of organizations, the latter looks a lot different. Today, the climate movement has grown into a real social movement with more fluid and distributed leadership.

The MAP describes this tension as stemming from a situation where organizations begin to feel a right to “cash in” on the social and political gains created at the community level, without recognizing that they are only as powerful as the power of the movement’s grassroots. In other words, organizations fail to recognize that as a movement grows and begins to shift power, they too need to shift how they approach power to truly support that movement.

The challenge now is to figure out how to expedite this shift, while also raising the bar of what we’re fighting for.

Where do we go from here?

In 2014, Naomi Klein coined the term “blockadia.” It referred to the burgeoning resistance movement around the world where people were starting to get in the way of fossil fuel expansion. It’s a clever term, and the struggles it serves as a catch-all to describe have been the leading edge of the fight to keep the majority of the world’s fossil fuel reserves in the ground. Unfortunately, even on our best day, the climate movement is only fighting a fraction of fossil fuel projects around the globe. The truth is that the sheer scale and scope of the fossil fuel energy economy is such that there is simply no way to get in the way of all of it. On top of this, the majority of infrastructure fights take years to play out. The Keystone XL fight dragged on over half a decade, and we don’t have that kind of time to keep fighting project by project. Of course, standing in the way of unjust projects is a crucial tactic, but it alone won’t keep enough fossil fuels in the ground to meet what the science demands.

We need a force multiplier for on-the-ground fights to stop fossil fuel infrastructure. If we take the world as currently exists — because we kind of have to — that’s going to require political action and legislation to lock fossil fuels in the ground. The rub is that much of that kind of legislation is, at least for the moment in most parts of the world, considered politically impossible. Thanks to their endless coffers, the fossil fuel industry has used political contributions, cultural sponsorships, advertising and so much more to build deep influence over governments and other powerholder institutions around the world. To put it another way, we need to recognize that in much of the world, the decision-making table has rotted due to the influence of big polluters. As a result, there are fundamental limitations to what’s possible to win while sitting at those tables. The climate movement has been eroding that power with increasing speed, but with the ticking clock of climate change, we also need to accept a pretty fundamental truth: If Big Oil is sitting at the table, keeping most fossil fuels in the ground won’t be an option on that table.

We can’t physically get in the way of every extraction project, nor can we lobby the problem out of existence, especially when so many politicians are still under the influence of fossil fuels. So how do we meet the scientific imperative to keep fossil fuels in the ground?

When social movements enter the late stages of the MAP, a crucial task becomes developing strategies in which large numbers of people can become actively involved in programs that challenge the current status quo, but also reflect the values of the masses. These strategies also need to promote the alternatives being put forward by the movement and through the implementation of these strategies put mass numbers of people directly in contradiction with official policy. To do this, the climate movement may need to abandon a common trope — the concept of an inside/outside strategy.

The problem with the inside/outside strategy, is that in the climate movement it typically is implemented in a manner where traditional environmental organizations see themselves as the inside, and view the movement as the outside. Rather than support growing people power, this approach instead serves as a barrier to building solid movement DNA. In an inside/outside strategy, the seat of power is still seen to be the inside, where the powerholders retain control, deepening the divide between the monolithic approach to power and the social approach. Because of this, an inside/outside strategy actually serves more to divide movements than to unite them. Instead, we need to prioritize the strategy, and view the inside and outside as tactical streams to achieve a grand movement strategy. This is going to be crucial in the coming months and years as the climate movement makes an important strategic shift from fighting projects to working to keep entire fossil fuel reserves in the ground. The good news is that some parts of the climate movement have already done this and — through making this shift — won some pretty impressive victories.

In 2012, while playing a small part supporting the Quebec movement against fracking, I learned an important lesson about fracking: It’s next to impossible to fight fracking campaigns one company or project at a time. By the time you’ve stopped one fracking well, a hundred more have gone up. Knowing this, the only way to stop fracking is often to force a government to give up or at least back off on a plan to frack an entire gas deposit. In Quebec, a powerful network of community organizations rose up to oppose fracking, helped along by an innovative campaign called Moratoire d’une Generation. Organizers deployed a wide range of tactics, but focused almost across the board on bringing opposition to fracking into the public sphere. They focused on town halls, community meetings, mass public trainings and civil disobedience pledges — along with other tactics — which brought the decision over fracking out of the back rooms and into peoples’ living rooms and community halls. By doing this, they also shifted how the movement viewed power in the context of where the authority to make a decision over the future of fracking in Quebec lay. In 2013, Quebec organizers won their first fracking moratorium.

A year later, organizers in Nova Scotia did something similar. During a public consultation on fracking organized by the provincial government, organizers got to work bringing concerned residents out en masse. Rather than treating the process as simply a forum to engage with decision makers, the consultation itself became a venue where communities clearly made a very public decision over the future of fracking where they lived. Shortly after the consultation process, the government started a process that would lead to a fracking ban in the province.

Similar strategies have been used in other fracking campaigns, fights to stop coal exports, and to win sweeping legislative victories over all fossil fuels in places like Portland, Maine and Portland, Oregon. The question is: Could we do this on a larger scale? Can we work to open up spaces that allow the climate movement of an entire nation to bring the fight over keeping fossil fuels in the ground to a public venue, where we can use people power to tip the scales in our favor? I, for one, think we can, but not without good movement DNA.

We no longer have climate denial to rally behind, and with it’s disappearing relevance we’re losing many of our most vicious political opponents. In this vacuum, we need strategies that are grounded in a DNA that is inviting towards many players and reflects the needs of a growing mass movement. We need to interrogate how power is viewed and held, as well as how both power and privilege play out — not just in the world we’re fighting to change, but also in this movement. To hold to this, we need to build a DNA that is responsive and inviting, that grows with conflict rather than cracking and dividing. Fundamentally, we need to understand — and to lay as the cornerstone of this movement’s DNA — the notion that our only hope of solving the climate crisis is trusting, investing in, and dedicating ourselves to the next phase of building a people-powered movement from the ground up.

35-year sermon of peace comes to end with White House protester’s death

by Colman McCarthy

Concepcion Picciotto outside of the White House on June 15, 2010. (Wikipedia/George Kauper)

Since August 1981, the closest night and day neighbor of the president of the United States was Concepcion Picciotto. Her 35-year residence in Lafayette Square across from the White House was a varicolored collection of tightly spaced chairs, blankets and a plastic covering. Fronting it all were large and small hand-lettered signs, ranging from “Ban All Nuclear Weapons or Have a Nice Doomsday” to “Live By the Bomb, Die By the Bomb.”

At her death at age 80 in a Washington assisted living center on Jan. 25, Picciotto, a Spanish-born pacifist, had staged the nation’s longest-running 24/7 protest against American militarism. The site became known as the Peace Park Anti-Nuclear Vigil. Blizzards, downpours, lightning bolts, heat waves and other inclemencies came and went, none of them a match for the willpower of Picciotti. Activist allies would join her, either to let her take shower breaks at nearby facilities or help her pass out literature to tourists passing by the encampment. Among the international groups that unfailingly showed up, as if paying homage to a shrine, were those from Japan — grateful that at least one American grieved the August 1945 horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

As visible as the vigil was — critics denounced it as an eyesore and supporters hailed it a light shining in the nuclear darkness — Picciotto’s stand was politically grounded in what was called Proposition One, a proposed constitutional amendment legislatively requiring nuclear disarmament and the disbanding of weapons companies. The bill, meeting with near-total disinterest by the denizens on Capitol Hill, never came up for a floor vote. Even though the peace vigil could be seen from the West Wing of the White House as well as the second floor residence, none of the five presidents from 1981 to now — Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama — ever bothered to stop by to say hello, much less host her in the Oval Office. The establishment media largely dismissed her as an eccentric, never booking her for a spot on the Sunday morning talk shows. Nor did the editorial boards of the New York Times or Washington Post invite her in. Others were more appreciative. In 2011 Picciotto received the Joe A. Callaway Award for Civic Courage presented annually by the Shafeek Nader Trust for the Community Interest.

More than once I brought my students to the vigil to meet this wonder women. Connie, as I and many other admirers came to call her, was ever gracious and modest. She told stories of her many run-ins with the Secret Service and hassling park police. For my students, I thought it was educationally better for them to see a sermon on peace than hear one.

Presence is the antidote to killing

by Rev. Jeff Hood

Dr. Hood standing vigil outside Huntsville Unit in Texas. (WNV/Larry Derrick)

Last Wednesday, I took a short walk from my car to stand on the corner outside the old red prison walls of the Huntsville Unit as Texas killed Richard Masterson. Having led the nation for many decades, executions are a fairly routine event for Texans. Only the most ardent abolitionists show up to voice opposition. In those difficult hours as the sun started to set, I joined about a dozen others standing in defiance.

While there was really nothing I could do, I’ve never grown comfortable just standing there. The closer the moment gets the more restless I always become. I thought about charging the building. I knew that was just a fantasy. I was stuck. I started to pray. I couldn’t even understand my own prayers. I knew I couldn’t stop them. What good was I to Masterson now? Seeing me physically struggling, an old friend leaned over and said, “Your presence is enough.” The words of an old nun I heard long ago ruminated in my ears, “Presence is the antidote to killing.”

I don’t believe in killing people. When I was a child, I learned about God killing a bunch of people in a flood. Before I could give it a second thought, I decided I didn’t believe in that right then and there. God doesn’t kill people. We do. Over the years, I’ve clung to Jesus for guidance in the midst of the killing. While loving your neighbor as yourself has never been vogue, I’ve tried to spread the message as best as I can. Repeatedly in the midst of crisis, I’ve had to remind people that loving and killing don’t go together. There is no way to lovingly kill your neighbor. I figured that this was an exceedingly logical conclusion. Then, I moved to Texas.

While killing is terrible, it’s even worse to be around it and not do anything about it. When I moved here almost four years ago, I knew had to do something about the constant executions Texas was carrying out. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to make a difference. From the shower to the car to the church to everywhere I went, I couldn’t think of anything else.

Dr. Hood leading walkers in Ohio. (WNV/Derrick Jamison)

Then, the Spirit of God snuck up on me. At an interfaith breakfast in Dallas almost three years ago, a Buddhist monk named Tashi Nyima stood up and relayed a story about giving our bodies to conversations for justice. I knew what I needed to do. I needed to start walking. Since then, I’ve trekked and hosted events on a small group 35-mile journey from Dallas to Fort Worth, a solo 200-mile journey from Livingston (home of death row) to Austin and a solo 43-mile journey from Livingston to Huntsville (execution chamber). Just last year, I even got invited to help lead a couple of dozen walkers on an 80-mile journey for abolition in Ohio — from Lucasville (death row) to Columbus (execution chamber).

In moment after moment along the way, people have joined me and discovered their passion for abolition. Here in Texas, we have seen a steady increase in participation in abolition groups and a decline in new death sentences. Though the work is slow, I believe the death penalty is on the way out. I’m praying for a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court that the death penalty is unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment. Until then, I just try to be present. Truthfully, all of my journeys have led to moments where I wondered if I was doing anything productive. In those hours of struggle, the words of the old nun always come back, “Presence is the antidote to killing.”


Will the future of the working class be determined by the Global South?

by Eric Dirnbach

The prospects of the “working class” as an agent of social change has been debated for well over a century and a half. In recent years, part of this discussion involves the weakening of the labor movement in the United States and other industrialized countries. There’s certainly no question that there has been union decline in many countries in the past several decades, with the United States seeing a fairly drastic fall in union density, which currently stands at 11 percent. This is related to another strand of the discussion — the loss of jobs in former union industry strongholds such as manufacturing. Furthermore, a more combative employer class makes organizing new workers difficult and has thrown the labor movement on the defensive. Meanwhile, there’s another discussion in more techno-futurist circles that speculates about the “end of work,” where the future post-industrial economy will require fewer jobs and workers as the production of more goods and services are increasingly automated. Thus — in the Global North — it may seem to some that there are fewer industrial jobs, and those that remain are increasingly non-union, calling into question the notions of traditional working class identity and its agency as a revolutionary force.

However, for now, stuff still needs to be made, and raw materials still need to be dug up. But this is increasingly happening in other places. The jobs lost in the Global North often don’t really disappear, they may reappear in different forms in the Global South due to continuous corporate restructuring, outsourcing and foreign direct investment in developing countries. As an example, a recent report from the Economic Policy Institute estimates that over 3 million manufacturing jobs have been outsourced from the United States to China, based on the volume of manufacturing imports.

As these jobs move from north to south, worker organizing often follows. Indeed, Beverly Silver in her book “Forces of Labor: Workers’ Movements and Globalization Since 1870” showed convincingly that for over a century — in several industries such as textiles and automobile assembly — as capital moved production from country to country, labor unrest soon followed. The labor turmoil may then instigate further moves by capital, spurring further labor organizing at the newer production sites. In this way capital and labor are in a perpetual dance as employers seek lower costs and newer workers revolt against the subsequent poor working conditions.

In his new book “Southern Insurgency: The Coming of the Global Working Class,” City University of New York Professor Immanuel Ness focuses on the labor movement of the Global South. He rejects the idea that the working class is shrinking — in fact, he sees growth, movement and transformation. He reminds us that the global proletariat is at its largest size in history, currently around 3 billion workers, and that the Global South has 84 percent of the industrial workers and 74 percent of the service workers. As unions have declined in the north, the major labor struggles are now being waged by southern workers, and it is there that the future of the working class may be determined.

Ness focuses on three labor case studies in India, China and South Africa in an effort to better understand how southern workers are organizing. As these cases occur in three of the BRICS countries (the designation for five of the major developing and influential economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), what happens in the labor movement there is of global importance. He uses these specific examples to highlight a trend toward growing worker militancy in the form of direct action and autonomous workers’ organizations. This book is a clear successor to previous books edited by Ness such as “New Forms of Worker Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class-Struggle Unionism” and “Ours to Master and to Own: Workers’ Control from the Commune to the Present,” which present examples of autonomous worker organizing and worker self-management.

The case studies

The three case studies have a number of factors in common. They take place in major countries that over the past several decades have become integrated into the global economy within the neoliberal framework. They include organizing among migrant workers (traveling from distant rural to industrial areas) and/or contracted workers. Traditional unions were not responsive to the workers’ needs, and there has been state repression against the workers organizing efforts. Ness sees three general directions these workers have taken, which include holding worker assemblies, the formation of independent unions and the pressuring of traditional unions.

Throughout the book Ness adopts a critical perspective on neoliberal “globalization” as the latest phase of northern capitalist imperialism, and he highlights concepts such as the global reserve army of labor which is used to depress wages. He is also extremely critical of mainstream unions, which are often closely tied to ruling political parties and are frequently unable to represent workers as economies have moved further toward a finance dominated, “free-trade” framework.

The case of India deals with the automobile production sector, which has grown rapidly since the implementation of neoliberal economic policies in the early 1990s. Along with this growth has been the weakening of unions and the increase in contracted labor arrangements. The focus is on the Maruti Suzuki auto company, the largest car producer in India, owned by the Japanese company Suzuki. Ness’s “New Forms” book also included a chapter on this campaign.

The labor dispute at Maruti Suzuki was part of a wave of strikes at auto plants throughout India over the past number of years. Workers had been organizing at the company for over a decade, but the latest labor dispute occurred in 2011-2012 and centered on a new modern plant that had recently opened in an industrial zone near New Delhi. About 75 percent of the workers were employed on an informal basis, earning a fraction of what the full-time workers made. A series of tumultuous events occurred involving the formation of the independent Maruti Suzuki Workers Union, with a series of strikes, lockouts and plant occupations.

The campaign culminated with the company bringing in hired thugs to attack the workers, which was a pretext for the state to conduct a mass arrest of hundreds of workers for rioting. The brutality and repression the workers were subjected to is appalling, with many being tortured. Thousands of workers were fired.

A delegation from the International Commission for Labor Rights conducted a fact-finding visit and released a highly critical report “Merchants of Menace” in 2013. The report found that the workers had consistently raised the issues of intense production speeds, lack of rest times, unfair wage structure, unpaid overtime and their precarious job status. Management responded with violations of labor law, the government failed to enforce the law consistent with International Labor Organization conventions on freedom of association and collective bargaining, and the police interfered inappropriately in an industrial dispute. The trial of 147 of the workers for the murder of a plant manager during the labor dispute is ongoing.

The case study on China focuses on the major manufacturing region of the Pearl River Delta and Guangdong Province in southeast China and particularly the large shoe manufacturer Yue Yuen. The decline of state-owned enterprises over the past few decades along with the dramatic increase of foreign investment for the production of export commodities is a familiar story, as is the mass migration of hundreds of millions of rural workers to urban manufacturing areas. This tremendous growth has produced in recent years a surge in labor disputes. The labor rights group China Labor Bulletin maps the growing wave of strikes in China.

Ness focuses on a labor dispute in 2014 at Yue Yuen, the largest shoe manufacturer in the world with 20 percent of global production. The strike was mainly over the company’s underpayment for social security benefits, a serious issue for the growing numbers of older workers in the region’s manufacturing plants. Over 30,000 workers shut down the company for almost two weeks in what is considered the largest strike at a private enterprise in China’s history. The police attacked the workers, but the government moved soon after to recognize the legitimacy of the workers’ demands and mediate a settlement.

What’s particularly interesting is the relationship between the workers’ activity and the official union, the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, or ACFTU. As Ness makes clear, the ACFTU, which is the only official legal union in China, has moved to enroll tens of millions of workers from private sector, foreign-owned factories. However, it maintains a distant presence on the shop floor which gives workers room to maneuver with their own direct action tactics. This helps explain the large number of labor disputes — since the ACFTU has an underdeveloped grievance processing system, the workers have to resort to their own organizing and disruption. To some extent this is tolerated by the government, as long as the disputes remain isolated at the factory level and don’t grow to form an independent organization that can challenge the authority of the ACFTU or the Communist Party.

Ness sees some advantages to this kind of dual labor system, pointing out the irony that “while most labor advocates and non-governmental organizations advocate and support the formation of independent unions recognized by the state, like those in the West, all the evidence demonstrates that Chinese workers may in fact have greater power through direct action without the existence of the restrictive labor laws that inevitably accompany recognition of Western-style unions.”

This dynamic of a distant ACFTU coupled with growing direct action efforts on the shop floor is fascinating. It remains to be seen how long this trend will be tolerated by the state and how the workers’ movement will evolve. Indeed, the 2008 Labor Contract Law was largely in response to worker unrest and it’s likely that the Chinese government will continue to react with a combination of concessions and repression. Recently, in December 2015 prominent labor rights activists were arrested in the region.

The chapter on South Africa focuses on the strategic “platinum belt” in the North West province of the country, which accounts for 80 percent of world production, and was where the wave of strikes that led to the infamous Marikana massacre in 2012 occurred — in which 34 workers were killed and dozens more injured. This tragedy led to a governmental Marikana Commission of Inquiry and has been documented by the excellent film “Miners Shot Down.” Ness’s “New Forms” book also has a chapter on this incident.

As background, it’s important to keep in mind the country’s labor politics. As apartheid was ending in the 1990s, the country’s principle labor federation, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, or COSATU, formed the Tripartite Alliance with the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party. This partnership means labor has been close to the government, but always as the junior partner. Indeed, as Ness points out, labor rights and economic equality were essentially abandoned in favor of formal political rights as the country turned toward a neoliberal framework under the direction of the International Monetary Fund.

A wave of wildcat strikes throughout the mining sector started in 2009 by migrant and contract workers seeking a substantial raise. Many of these workers were rock drillers, who labored under appalling conditions for poverty wages. The principal union, the National Union of Mineworkers, only represented a small part of the mining workforce and was consistently opposed to these actions. It lost the trust of the workers in favor of a newer and more militant independent union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, or AMCU. The labor unrest included workers at mines owned by the Lonmin Company and resulted in the Marikana massacre, the largest killing of Africans by South African police since the Soweto uprising in 1976.

This wave of militancy did win the workers a significant 22 percent wage increase, and the workers have held more recent strikes that have also won more increases. According to Ness, these gains appear to have contributed to a modern turning point in the South African labor movement. The important National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa became more militant and after criticism of COSATU’s policies was expelled from the federation. We’ll have to see if this, as well as the growth of AMCU, presage a significant restructuring of the labor movement in the country.

The autonomous organizing trend

There’s both something familiar and something new in these case studies. There are, of course, countless examples throughout labor history of tough organizing campaigns with management opposition, repression, firings, arrests, beatings and occasionally murders. Workers may make some gains or be left with little to nothing. These examples indeed follow that pattern and occur in sectors and countries that appear to be on the raw edge of the global class struggle.

What’s newer, however, according to Ness, is the relationship between established unions and the new workers movement. The systematic failure of mainstream unions to respond to changes in the evolving global economy and represent workers effectively has led workers to adopt more autonomous and militant forms of organizing. As mainstream unions have grown weaker and more defensive, struggling to hold onto what they have, space has opened up for workers to organize themselves in other ways, what Ness calls “operating within the interstices of existing trade union structures.” We have certainly seen a version of this in the United States with the rise of worker centers, the revitalization of the syndicalist Industrial Workers of the World, and the growth of the so-called “alt-labor” movement.

Ness’s main claim of a growing militant, autonomous form of worker organizing is intriguing but will need to be supported by more than a few case studies, though his previous work has documented other examples as well. He’s clearly sympathetic to this trend, as are many folks on the labor-left. If it is a growing movement, it remains to be seen how mainstream unions and the state will ultimately respond. If this autonomous organizing is successful in continuing to wring concessions from employers, unions may react to the competition by becoming more aggressive in organizing and defending workers. Moreover, there will likely be the usual attempts by the state to domesticate the autonomous worker groups and bring them into the system with labor law “reforms,” contracts, grievance procedures and regulations.

Furthermore this brings up a paradox regarding how these inchoate workers’ organizations will change over time. If they are unlike mainstream unions in that their anarchic, direct action-oriented style is what poses a challenge to the state and capital, then can these groups maintain this form for long? Ness sees an eventual maturation process, when “the worker mobilization that is taking place both inside and outside established structures will cohere into disciplined organizations.” Perhaps that’s true, but then this kind of institutionalization process may turn them into something like the existing mainstream unions and the militancy may be lost. How can this be avoided? And if it can’t, perhaps workers may then begin again with something new.

As history has shown, the working class will continuously develop and reinvent various ways of organizing to meet their real needs at work, and these examples of direct and militant organizing demonstrate the continuing resiliency and courage of the working class under tremendous challenges. The autonomous wing of the global labor movement is an exciting development, and it will be fascinating to see how it evolves in years to come.

Why understanding gut reactions is key to building powerful movements

by Brian Martin

The intuitive mind is like an elephant and the rational mind is like its rider. (Wikipedia)

Many protesters are driven by their emotions, including anger at injustice and sympathy for victims of oppression. Acts of resistance, such as by Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama in December 1955, can trigger an outpouring of support. Yet, at other times, people are acquiescent to injustice. What happened to their emotional responses?

Insight into the role of emotions in nonviolent action can be obtained from studies by psychologist Jonathan Haidt and colleagues into “moral foundations.” These are six basic factors that shape human judgments about good and bad: care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity. These have great relevance to activists.

Here I will first describe Haidt’s perspective on the operation of the human mind. Then I will examine each of the six moral foundations for relevance to nonviolent action.

Our two minds

Most people think they have a single mind, the one we recognize every day when we think. However, Haidt, like other psychologists, subscribes to the view that humans have two minds. One, the intuitive mind, usually operates without conscious awareness, and is automatic and high-capacity. For example, if you notice a dark moving spot in your visual field, you don’t have time to consciously calculate its speed and direction; instead, you instinctively duck to avoid the rock. The second, higher-order human mind, the rational mind, is slow, careful and requires more effort.

In practice, people often make a decision about right and wrong based on their gut reactions, using the intuitive mind, and then use their rational mind to produce a rationalization for the decision. Haidt developed some ingenious scenarios that would cause perplexity, because people had an intuitive response but no rational justification for it.

Haidt calls the intuitive mind the elephant and the rational mind the rider, sitting on top. The rider imagines it is in control, but actually the elephant usually goes its own way and the rider has no choice in the matter. If you’ve ever had a discussion with someone about whether nonviolent action can be more effective than violence, you may have observed this phenomenon. If the other person is sure violence always triumphs over nonviolence, then it doesn’t matter how many arguments or examples you bring up: They will always dismiss or counter them with some different argument or example. Their intuitive mind is convinced about the superiority of violence, and their rational mind keeps coming up with ways to justify this belief.

The intuitive mind, or the elephant, is also responsible, in many cases, for automatic responses to violence. A protester might want to remain nonviolent, yet when physically attacked be provoked into fighting back. This is the intuitive mind overriding the rational mind. Nonviolence training is an attempt to overcome this automatic response. However, it usually takes weeks or months of changed behavior before the intuitive mind changes its assessment and adopts a new automatic response.

The problem is that the rational mind cannot communicate directly with the intuitive mind: It’s not possible to switch automatic responses overnight. Nevertheless, the intuitive mind can be influenced, but more gradually. If you change your behavior — for example pretending to be outgoing and confident when actually you feel shy and insecure — eventually the intuitive mind will respond to the changed behavior and adopt different automatic responses. It’s like the saying, “fake it until you make it.” This applies to developing a commitment to nonviolence as much as anything else.

The operation of two minds can also be observed in all sorts of public policy debates — for example, over gun laws, drugs, abortion and vaccination. Politicians, like others, have their gut reactions, and can be impervious to arguments and evidence. Their elephant drives their beliefs, and they can come up with all sorts of strange justifications for these beliefs. The rider searches for any justification that sounds halfway plausible and latches onto it. An endless “war on terror” has become an article of faith for many politicians, and it seems nothing can dislodge it.

The two-minds hypothesis is fruitful for understanding how people respond automatically, without careful consideration. The intuitive mind generates a gut response, and the more intelligent a person is, the easier it is to come up with a plausible justification for this gut response.

But what determines a person’s gut response? Haidt says six “moral foundations” influence human judgments about right and wrong. He argues that each moral foundation has an evolutionary rationale, and he and his collaborators have carried out ingenious experiments to show the influence of each moral foundation in people today.


The first moral foundation is care for others; its opposite is harm. In evolutionary terms, care for children was essential for the survival of human groups, and this care response has become generalized so that many people care about strangers and about nature.

The care response is highly important for most people. It can be triggered by images, for example the famous photo of a napalm-burnt child in Vietnam and, more recently, the photo of a dead refugee child on a beach in Turkey. These images of harm create concern. The care response inspires people to protect their own families, but also to help strangers, support welfare policies and join tree-hugging actions.

Haidt calls the moral foundations the “first draft of human nature.” The care response may have some instinctive basis in the human mind, but it can be modified, and often is. Politicians, corporate executives, religious leaders, advertisers, and all sorts of lobbyists and campaigners seek to direct the care response to serve their priorities. Governments raise the alarm about terrorists, invoking the need to protect citizens from harm. On the other hand, governments hide the harm caused by their own terrorist actions, such as invasions, drone strikes and torture. They may condemn the targets of their attacks as terrorists, criminals or aliens, namely as not worthy of being cared for.

Many political struggles thus involve continual attempts to trigger the care response for desired goals and to inhibit it for undesired ones. Nonviolent activists should be aware that in challenging repression and oppression, they can draw on people’s care response, but that their opponents will try to manipulate the care response in different directions.


The second moral foundation, fairness, can be seen in children who feel cheated if their siblings receive a larger helping of food or a more desirable gift. Fairness is a powerful motivator in campaigning. The Occupy movement’s slogan “We are the 99 percent” appeals to people’s sense that it is unfair that the richest 1 percent of the population has such a large proportion of total wealth.

Fairness is an extremely potent factor in nonviolent actions. When police beat peaceful protesters, many people see this is unfair: One side is using force whereas the other is not, and this is a violation of a gut sense of justice. When police shoot a defenseless person, they will try to hide their action or denigrate the victims as a threat, and thus reduce or deter the fairness response.

Fairness is the basis of one of the most powerful tools serving nonviolent campaigns: political jiu-jitsu. This occurs when police or troops attack peaceful protesters, generating public outrage and causing an increase in support for the campaigners. This occurred due to beatings of protesters during the salt satyagraha in India in 1930, the massacre of protesters at Sharpeville in South Africa in 1960, and the massacre of protesters in Dili, East Timor in 1991. For these attacks on protesters to backfire on the attackers, many people need to see them as unfair and information about them must be communicated to receptive audiences. The fairness moral foundation helps explain the importance of protesters maintaining nonviolent discipline: If some activists use violence, the encounter seems more like a fight and the fairness response is diluted.


The third moral foundation is liberty; its opposite is oppression. According to Haidt, humans have a natural tendency to support liberty and oppose oppression, something vital for most nonviolent campaigns. Indeed, it helps explain why nonviolent action is most commonly used for rather than against greater freedom. However, rulers seek to suppress the liberty response through laws, surveillance and policing. Corporate managers suppress the liberty response among workers through bureaucratic systems of hierarchy and the division of labor. The liberty response can also be channeled into less significant domains: Fashion trends are labeled transgressive and pet products sell themselves as “revolution.”

The three moral foundations of care, fairness and liberty are powerful allies for nonviolent activists. The challenge is to overcome the techniques used to modify and suppress these evolutionarily conditioned responses. However, the next three moral foundations — loyalty, authority, and sanctity — less easily align with activist methods and goals.


Loyalty had survival value in human evolution: In a group of a hundred early humans, disloyalty could threaten the group’s capacity to deal with threats. The loyalty foundation is most natural for small groups in which you know most members. In many contemporary societies, though, extended families are breaking down. Governments attempt to redirect the loyalty response to the nation or state, most obviously through national holidays, remembrances and in war-fighting. This has no evolutionary analog: modern-day loyalty to nation or state involves identification with thousands or millions of people who are strangers except for a label. Yet this abstract loyalty to an imagined community can be manipulated — for example to fight enemies or oppose immigration.

Inside large organizations, loyalty is mobilized by employers to support managerial control. This is especially notable within the military and police, which are defenders of the state and often the immediate antagonists of protesters.

Campaigners often come up against the loyalty response: Governments commonly attempt to paint challengers as disloyal, as traitors and as threats to the social order. A few protesters may embrace this identity, but it makes more sense to try to build loyalty to something different. In a campaigning mode, there is loyalty to other protesters. A few individuals might feel loyalty to abstract concepts like freedom and equality, but for most people loyalty to individuals or groups is more potent. Possibilities include loyalty to the oppressed, to the working class, to the 99 percent, to the global community, to future generations and to nature.

More commonly, campaigners transfer their loyalty to their own leaders, especially charismatic ones. When challenging repressive regimes, loyalty shifts may unseat a ruler but then become the basis for a new repressive ruler. This suggests that finding a suitable recipient for the human loyalty response should be a priority for nonviolent activists.


The moral foundation called authority can pose a dilemma for activists. Many people automatically defer to authority, whether this is government leaders, corporate executives, church leaders, police officers or family patriarchs. In this context, there can be a gut reaction against challengers to authority, something seen in the antagonistic emotional response to spies, whistleblowers, heretics, and, in patriarchal cultures, outspoken women.

The authority response varies from person to person and situation to situation, but overall can pose a problem for protesters, who inevitably challenge some form of authority: They are seen as subversive. This helps explain why it is easier to gain support to defend, for example against a military coup, than to bring about social change.

One way to counter the authority response is to distinguish between good and bad leaders, so it is seen as legitimate to challenge bad leaders and reasonable to acknowledge good ones. Campaigners point to the corruption, abuse and human rights violations by current rulers, thus weakening the authority response as applied to them. However, there is a risk: Deference to authority may be transferred to new rulers, who in turn become as corrupt and authoritarian as the old ones. Campaigners seeking to unseat a ruler and help transform a society need to find new sources of authority, for example the authority of local community groups. Shared authority is less likely to be oppressive. In families, shared authority is a way for equality between men and women to be compatible with the authority response.

In systems of dispersed authority, such as capitalist markets, in which many members play multiple roles (for example as buyer and seller), the role of the authority response is less clear. The authority in such cases is the system itself: Rules need to be followed. Global justice campaigners, opposed to corporate domination, can tackle particular instances of exploitation — for example, poorly paid work in unsafe conditions — more readily than the market system and its rules. But by the same token, the authority response is probably more powerful when attached to authority figures, such as bosses, than to abstract systems of rules in markets and bureaucratic organizations.

An especially important role for the authority response is within the military and police, who are usually defenders of the existing system of rule and have been trained to obey their commanders. For police and troops, the loyalty and authority responses combine; campaigners against a repressive government, or against an oppressive policy, need to either appeal to the commanders or appeal directly to troops. In either case, in the long run there is the problem that troops will support some new ruler. Perhaps the ultimate solution, for creating a nonviolent world, is dissolving authority systems based around use of violence and replacing them with ones based on participatory alternatives. Much more needs to be done on this.


The final moral foundation is called sanctity; its obverse is degradation. The word “sanctity” has connotations of religion, and certainly religion is tied with this moral foundation, but there are other elements too. Try this: First swallow, then spit into a clean glass and drink your spit. If this seems disgusting, it’s your sanctity response speaking through your gut reaction, because there’s no logical difference between the two actions.

The sanctity response can be triggered by food — there are prohibitions in several religions and cultures — sexual behavior, and a host of religious and political symbols. Manifestations of the sanctity response include the outrage of Muslims over cartoons making fun of Mohammed, of patriots over burning of the flag, and of animal rights activists over factory farming.

Governments and religious leaders, and their followers, foster particular sanctity responses. The U.S. government, for example, tries to make being American something sacred. This effect is so powerful that many U.S. peace activists avoid seeming unpatriotic and claim that they too are pro-American and do not criticize U.S. troops in foreign wars, but only the war-making itself. In the United States, thus, patriotism has become something sacred, and making fun of self-styled patriots can trigger the same sort of rage that occurs elsewhere over making fun of religious prophets.

Rather than buying into government-promoted sanctity responses, activists can develop their own. In some circles, maintaining strict adherence to nonviolence or following formal consensus decision-making procedures rigorously can become new bearers of sanctity responses. Language is another arena in which purity is expected in some groups — for example, avoiding language that is racist, sexist or speciesist.

The questions for nonviolent activists are whether to challenge conventional sanctity responses — like pledging allegiance to a flag — and whether to promote their own new sanctity responses — for example, about the purity of nonviolence. Answers will not be easy but are worth pursuing.


People’s intuitive feelings about right and wrong are powerful influences that affect recruitment into social movements, participation in actions, strategic choices and relationships with each other. Governments and other powerful groups do what they can to shape these intuitive feelings. Activists need to take them into account and work out their approaches.

There are two important lessons from Jonathan Haidt’s research on intuitive moral psychology. The first is that most people are primarily driven by automatic reactions, what Haidt calls the elephant; these reactions are then justified by the rational mind, the rider that usually goes along with the elephant’s preferences. The implication is that activists need to recognize intuitive responses and build campaigns taking them into account.

When planning actions and campaigns, it is worth paying attention to the six moral foundations — care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity — that are the criteria people use to make judgments about right and wrong. However, the application of these foundations is constantly being shaped by “moral entrepreneurs,” including governments, advertisers, media and religious leaders, who seek to mobilize human feelings for their own advantage.

Three of these foundations — care, fairness and liberty — are a natural fit for nonviolent activists, and deserve attention to ensure they are used to maximum effect. Three other foundations — loyalty, authority, and sanctity — are more likely to be obstacles when activists challenge repressive systems. The challenge is to know how to counter the manipulation of these responses to serve oppression and whether it is worth developing alternatives.

Activists deliver plan for just transition to EPA offices nationwide

by Kate Aronoff

Activists deliver the Our Power Plan to the EPA’s regional office in San Francisco on January 19. (Facebook/CEJA)

Yesterday, activists at each of the Environmental Protection Agency’s 10 regional offices issued their own corrective on the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. Days before the end of the federal comment period, the Climate Justice Alliance’s Our Power Campaign — comprised of 41 climate and environmental justice organizations — presented its Our Power Plan, which identifies “clear and specific strategies for implementing the Clean Power Plan, or CPP, in a way that will truly benefit our families’ health and our country’s economy.”

Introduced last summer, the CPP looks to bring down power plants’ carbon emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels within 15 years. The plan was made possible by Massachusetts vs. EPA, a 2007 Supreme Court ruling which mandates that the agency regulate greenhouse gases as it has other toxins and pollutants under the Clean Air Act of 1963. Under the CPP, states are each required to draft their own implementation plans by September of this year, or by 2018 if granted an extension. If they fail to do so, state governments will be placed by default into an interstate carbon trading, or “Cap and Trade,” system to bring down emissions.

Michael Leon Guerrero, the Climate Justice Alliance’s interim coordinator, was in Paris for the most recent round of UN climate talks as part of the It Takes Roots Delegation, which brought together over 100 organizers from North American communities on the frontlines of both climate change and fossil fuel extraction. He sees the Our Power Plan as a logical next step for the group coming out of COP21, especially as the onus for implementing and improving the Paris agreement now falls to individual nations.

“Fundamentally,” he said, “we need to transform our economy and rebuild our communities. We can’t address the climate crisis in a cave without addressing issues of equity.”

The Our Power Plan, or OPP, is intended as a blueprint for governments and EPA administrators to address the needs of frontline communities as they draft their state-level plans over the next several months. (People living within three miles of a coal plant have incomes averaging 15 percent lower than average, and are eight percent more likely to be communities of color.) Included in the OPP are calls to bolster what CJA sees as the CPP’s more promising aspects, like renewable energy provisions, while eliminating proposed programs they see as more harmful. The CPP’s carbon trading scheme, CJA argues, allows polluters to buy “permissions to pollute,” or carbon credits, rather than actually stemming emissions.

The OPP further outlines ways that the EPA can ensure a “just transition” away from fossil fuels, encouraging states to invest in job creation, conduct equity analyses and “work with frontlines communities to develop definitions, indicators, and tracking and response systems that really account for impacts like health, energy use, cost of energy, climate vulnerability [and] cumulative risk.”

Lacking support from Congress, the Obama administration has relied on executive action to push through everything from environmental action to comprehensive immigration reform. The Clean Power Plan was central to the package Obama brought to Paris. Also central to COP21 was U.S. negotiators’ insistence on keeping its results non-binding, citing Republican lawmakers’ unwillingness to pass legislation.

Predictably, the CPP has faced legal challenges from the same forces, who decry the president for having overstepped the bounds of his authority. Republican state governments, utility companies, and fossil fuel industry groups have all filed suit against the CPP, with many asking for expedited hearings. Leading up the anti-CPP charge in Congress has been Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has called the plan a “regulatory assault,” pitting fossil fuel industry workers against the EPA. “Here’s what is lost in this administration’s crusade for ideological purity,” he wrote in a November statement, “the livelihoods of our coal miners and their families.”

Organizers of Tuesday’s actions, however, were quick to point out that the Our Power Plan is aimed at strengthening — not defeating — the CPP as it stands. Denise Abdul-Rahman, of NAACP Indiana, helped organize an OPP delivery at the EPA’s Region 5 headquarters in Chicago, bringing out representatives from Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, National People’s Action and National Nurses United.

“We appreciate the integrity of the Clean Power Plan,” she said. “However, we believe it needs to be improved — from eliminating carbon trading to ensuring that there’s equity. We want to improve CPP by adding our voices and our plan, and we encourage the EPA to make it better.” Four of the six states in that region — which includes Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin — are suing the EPA.

Endorsed by the National Domestic Workers’ Alliance, Greenpeace and the Center for Popular Democracy, among other organizations, yesterday’s national day of action on the EPA came as new details emerged in Flint, Michigan’s ongoing water crisis — along with calls for Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s resignation and arrest. The EPA has also admitted fault for its slow response to Flint residents’ complaints, writing in a statement this week that “necessary [EPA] actions were not taken as quickly as they should have been.”

Abdul-Rahman connected the water crisis with the need for a justly-implemented CPP. “The Flint government let their community down by not protecting our most precious asset, which is water,” she said. “The same is true of air: we need the highest standard of protecting human beings’ air, water, land.”

How pillows can change the Syrian refugee narrative

by Anthony Grimes

At the heart of nonviolent direct action lies the task of reimagining narratives that enable oppression. If they are not challenged and disrupted, the stories we tell can make space for destructive policies and mores.

In less than five years, Syria’s civil war has caused the death and displacement of millions of people, creating a massive global humanitarian crisis. These displaced human beings, most of whom are Muslim, have quickly come to represent the largest refugee population in the world.

If these individuals manage to finally arrive on our U.S. shores — a formidable challenge, given the fact that Middle Eastern refugees are subject to the “strictest form of screening of any class of traveler to the United States before they are allowed to enter” — they are stigmatized, as “terrorists” by many neighbors. From this language is birthed policy to protect “us” instead of policy that resettles “them.” In fact, this language eliminates the possibility of “us” and “them” ever becoming a united we — human beings searching for freedom.

The predominant narrative of otherness, criminality and terrorism allows state and federal refugee resettlement programs to be drastically underfunded, new political roadblocks to be proposed in Congress and state legislatures, and emboldens presidential candidates like Donald Trump to shamelessly promise banning all Muslim immigrants from the United States. This narrative dehumanizes undocumented Central Americans, reducing them from mother, father, sister, neighbor to simply “law-breaker.”

Anthony Grimes holding a pillowcase that he made for the #GiveRefugeesRest campaign. (FOR)

Changing this bellicose narrative was my motivation in developing the #GiveRefugeesRest campaign, which I initiated as the new director of campaigns and strategy for the Fellowship of Reconciliation, or FOR. Our team started imagining a way to reverse the course of a nation that is increasingly hostile toward Muslim people and the idea developed into using pillows to send a message to our government.

Last week, my teammate Gretchen Honnold and her mother, Martha Ridings, sat at their dining table in their North Carolina home, painting #GiveRefugeesRest on 31 pillowcases. They then inserted the pillowcases with accompanying letters into envelopes, and addressed them to the 31 governors who have sought to ban Syrian refugees from their states.

The letters state that we believe their current stance on Syrian refugees is an “egregious decision that contradicts the best spirit of the United States of America, as well as our various faith traditions. We oppose this decision in the strongest possible terms, on both moral and political grounds.”

As part of a broader campaign launched on January 12, the day the 31 envelopes were charted to land in the governors’ mailboxes, the pillowcases are twofold symbols: they are both a wake-up call for political leaders to remember our common humanity, and a demand to provide for the basic needs of displaced and suffering people.

FOR is mobilizing a national network and calling for people of conscience to join in this campaign. We are inviting everyone to join us by sending a pillowcase to a listed governor, particularly of your own state, with a message of your own, as well as the hashtag #GiveRefugeesRest. We are also encouraging participants to take selfies with your pillowcases to post on social media with the same hashtag. In addition, we will be releasing a series of short video commercials over the next month aimed at changing this narrative.

In just the first days of the campaign, this initiative is already proving to be bigger than any one organization — people around the country have expressed interest in participating; we have been told of high school and college groups that plan to participate, of pillowcase-making house parties, and of people who are planning to personally deliver their pillowcases to their state capitals.

“We’re just glad that people are finally doing something about this,” Iman Jodeh, executive director of Meet the Middle East, said to me as we were filming a commercial.

A couple respondents have expressed skepticism, questioning if the campaign is a gimmick. We contend that historically symbolic acts of protest have proven effective.

#GiveRefugeesRest was inspired by a successful FOR campaign in 1954 in which bags of wheat and rice are reported to have changed the course of history. On November 3, 1954, in the midst of a severe famine on the Chinese mainland and a period of intense U.S.-China political tensions, FOR launched the “Food for China” campaign. Members sent small sacks of grain to President Eisenhower’s administration with the message, “If thine enemy hunger, feed him. Send surplus food to China.”

A small bag of food sent to the White House in 1954 as part of FOR’s Food for China campaign. (Snopes.com)

“We now know that the 45,000 bags that were sent, as well as tens of thousands of letters, were mentioned three times in cabinet meetings,” Rev. Kristin Stoneking, FOR’s executive director, recently explained in a statement on this historic moment. “The third time, this grassroots pressure led Eisenhower to veto a proposal to bomb China.”

On February 4, Rev. Stoneking will seek to hand-deliver a pillowcase and letter to the office of House Speaker Paul Ryan, along with fellow FOR members and partners in Washington D.C. We are asking concerned citizens everywhere to also hand-deliver your pillowcases to your state capital if possible, and to please take photos and share on social media with the hashtag #GiveRefugeesRest so that we can follow your actions.

Last week in his State of the Union address, President Obama lifted up the first three words of the U.S. Constitution — “We the People” — as a central metaphor for how we understand a “more perfect union” based on trust and mutual respect. But he spoke these words against a backdrop of heightened Islamophobia and anti-Muslim rhetoric, with hate crimes against mosques and individuals, as well as broad anti-refugee policy, with nativistic federal legislation accompanied by ICE raids on Central American homes.

In the face of this xenophobic reality, the meaning of #GiveRefugeesRest is to engage a metaphor that allows everyone to express their dreams of a country for, indeed, “all the people” as the president stated. Through symbolism and multimedia, together, we can reimagine a dangerous narrative and prevent the racist policies that too often represent its aftermath.

Why Martin Luther King’s pledge of nonviolence matters today

by Stephanie Van Hook

Bill Hudson’s image of Parker High School student Walter Gadsden being attacked by dogs in Birmingham, Alabama was published in The New York Times on May 4, 1963. (Wikipedia)

Alycee Lane believes that the same spirit that guided Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s work can be awakened within us. And it can be found in a pledge. Not just any pledge. It’s a pledge that in the climax of the 1960s African American freedom struggle in Alabama included clear instructions, not just for how to behave in deed alone, but it goes further, asking volunteers to cultivate nonviolence in thought and word, too — in all of one’s relationships, even toward opponents. It’s the Kingian ideal. Author of “Nonviolence Now! Living the 1963 Birmingham Campaign’s Promise of Peace,” Lane translates the often overlooked pledge card for a contemporary audience, emphasizing the power of nonviolence as a practice in the spirit of King’s vision. I had the opportunity to ask her some questions for deeper reflection.

Most nonviolence pledges ask us to refrain from violence. What else was included the 1963 Birmingham campaign pledge?

The Birmingham campaign pledge was a commitment card that, according to Martin Luther King, all volunteers were “required” to sign in order to participate in the movement. I came across the pledge in King’s work, “Why We Can’t Wait,” a book in which he talks about the Birmingham campaign. The card consisted of ten commandments, including: “1) meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus. 2) remember always that the nonviolent movement in Birmingham seeks justice and reconciliation — not victory. 3) walk and talk in the manner of love, for God is love. 4) pray daily to be used by God in order that all men might be free. 5) sacrifice personal wishes in order that all men might be free. 6) observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy. 7) seek to perform regular service for others and for the world. 8) refrain from the violence of fist, tongue or heart. 9) strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health. 10) follow the directions of the movement and of the captain of a demonstration.”

Why is this pledge significant?

The significance of this pledge is that, first of all, it secured volunteers’ promise that they would protest nonviolently. In this way, the pledge helped organizers — the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, or SCLC, and the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, or ACMHR — to screen out those unwilling to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience.

But as I argue in my book, the pledge had an even deeper significance. With its emphasis on the importance of taking up a daily practice of (for example) courtesy, love, service, meditation and prayer, the pledge really offered to volunteers an opportunity to embrace nonviolence as a way of life. The commandments in effect constitute a daily practice of nonviolence, and as such, it conveys that nonviolent direct action is not merely or solely public protest and organizing. It is also (and perhaps more importantly) speaking, thinking, acting and engaging the world — even at the most mundane level — from an ethic of nonviolence, so that we actually become nonviolence.

The pledge thus disavows what Leela Fernandes in “Transforming Feminist Practice” calls the public/private split in political activism. It offers a notion of activism that “is not stunted by the illusory distinctions between the means we use and the ends we seek, between the public and the private, the spiritual and the material, the dailiness of our everyday lives and the grander actions that we classify as social activism.” To live nonviolence purposely — to meditate, to seek justice and reconciliation, to walk and talk in the manner of love, to care for our bodies, to practice courtesy — is activism at its best. And it infuses our “grander actions” with tremendous power.

Did the volunteers in King’s day take the pledge to heart? How can you prove that?

Now, I don’t know to what extent (if at all) the Birmingham campaign volunteers took the pledge to heart and practiced nonviolence on a daily basis. Moreover, I suspect that, given the exigencies of the campaign, the idea of nonviolence as a way of life was not one that organizers really drove home. But that’s ultimately of no matter; through the pledge, SCLC and ACMHR opened a door that I think we must walk through given the myriad crises we face today — endless war, domestic and international terrorism, growing economic and social inequality, climate change, factionalism across multiple political and social identities.

What do you hope to achieve by reexamining and reinterpreting the pledge?

Well, first of all, I should say that through my examination of the pledge, I offer what I hope will force us to redefine what we mean by “activist” and to undo the “illusory distinctions” between the public and private that Fernandes talks about. To the degree that activated people reify the public/private split is, I think, the degree to which the pledge is relevant.

Having said that, in “Nonviolence Now!” I examine the original pledge, situate it within the context of the Birmingham campaign, and then offer secular versions as daily practices of nonviolence that we can all take on. For example, I truncate the first commitment from “Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus” to “Meditate daily.” I also offer five new commitments that I think capture the spirit of the campaign and carry us in this 21st century moment: Practice Forgiveness; Extend Compassion, Love, and Kindness to Those Who Express and Act with Ill Will; Reestablish a Connection to Earth; Strive to Be in Good Bodily Health; Cultivate Hope.

Do you see any strategic value in working nonviolence into our daily lives for any contemporary struggles? What does that look like?

Yes. It is strategic, I think, for those who are activated to choose not to emulate the very people whom we hope to disarm, to refuse to exchange tit for tat, to withdraw our cooperation with and complicity in creating our culture of violence. It is strategic to demonstrate by word and deed that there is another way to walk in this world and to engage others. It is strategic, in other words, to disarm ourselves and one another just as surely as it is to disarm the state.

It saddens me when folk who are doing righteous work to confront, say, police brutality or economic inequality or environmental exploitation, express the kind of venom they themselves receive because of the work that they do. It saddens me when I say belittling and dehumanizing things about folks with whom I disagree. In those moments, we become allies in nurturing an atmosphere of conflict, hate and violence. We also reveal the extent to which our emotional and spiritual lives have been colonized.

So to change the tone and to organize, with great intention, from a commitment to living nonviolence is a strategic decision to turn ourselves, our communities, our nation and the world inside-out and to offer something radically different. What might this look like? I don’t know, but what comes to mind is a story Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh tells about Vietnamese refugees who escape danger by boat to safer shores. As the passengers on the boat become afraid and panicked in the face of sickness, the sea’s hazards and other perils, the willingness of one to demonstrate and embody fearlessness, compassion, and quiet strength helped everyone to calm and to have hope. The hazards they faced didn’t disappear, nor did the possibility of violence and death. What left, however, was fear, and in its stead came cooperation, fortitude and a willingness to go on, come what may. Ultimately, they all survived.

We can ground ourselves in compassion, care and nonviolence as we organize and try to change the world — and thus signal to others that there is absolutely nothing that can defeat us, come what may — or we can ground ourselves in the chaos, fear, and hate around us — and thus signal that we are already defeated.

What message do you want people to get from your book?

We continue to be faced with the choice of “nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation,” as King observed in his speech on the Vietnam War. We have raised generations in a culture of violence. Indeed, as I have argued elsewhere, “ours is a war culture, our economy a war economy, and our democracy a war democracy.” But the chickens are coming home to roost, for the violence we commit in the name of our democracy or free markets or American exceptionalism is violence we have turned “into ourselves,” to borrow Allen Aubrey Boesak’s phrasing. We are armed to the teeth and armed against each other. In the process, we have even turned violence itself “into a good cause.”

So, it has become even more urgent for us to choose and to recognize that we have an opportunity to make this nation one that defines strength, power and leadership not in terms of our weapons or the wealth we produce at the expense of the poor, of natural resources, and of other sentient beings, but instead in terms of our willingness to lay down our arms and make nonviolence the foundation of our politics, economy, and social relations. Why not be great because we choose nonviolence?

But to get to that place, we have to practice nonviolence. We can’t do it on the cheap; we can’t think that we can radically change institutions and structures of subordination without changing ourselves as well. We have to be willing to do the labor of practice. And so what I want people to get from my book is that the time to do that labor is now.

What happens to the Bernie Sanders movement if he loses?

by George Lakey

Embed from Getty Images

You may have heard the story of the woman who was walking her dog one night and found a man on his hands and knees, searching the sidewalk under the streetlight. “Can I help you find something?” she asked.

“I dropped my house key over there,” he replied, gesturing behind him, “and I need to find it.”

“But if you dropped it over there, why are you looking here?” she asked.

“The light is much better here,” he answered.

I remember the story when I think about the many Americans who know that huge changes are needed in economic and climate policy, and turn to the electoral arena to find their power. They won’t find their power there because the system is so corrupted, but they nevertheless look for their power “under the streetlight,” where middle school civics textbooks tell them to look.

The corrupted system, however, does not lead me to dismiss Bernie Sanders’ campaign for the Democratic nomination for president. He and the many people working with him have already contributed mightily to the task of preparing Americans for a living revolution. How so?

First, he articulates clearly truths about our system that many Americans have figured out, but have wondered — for good reason — if they are alone. In a recent ABC/Washington Post poll, 68 percent agreed that we live in a country whose economic system favors the rich rather than the rest of us. (About half of Republicans thought this, too.) In another poll, 74 percent said they believe that corporations exert too much influence on American politics and life. As early as 2012, a poll found a staggering 75 percent of Republicans agreed there would be less corruption if there were limits on donations to super PACs.

Sanders is giving these views a voice. When Bernie asserts on national television that it is Wall Street that regulates Congress instead of the other way around, he strikes a chord that potentially enables people to resonate together — Republicans and Democrats alike.

Second, Sanders defies the political class by projecting a vision of how our country could move toward justice. U.S. politicians are notoriously vision-averse, except for neo-conservatives and libertarians. (Social justice activists are also remarkably vision-averse, even though the aversion undermines our effectiveness.) By contrast, Sanders repeatedly points to Denmark and other Nordic countries, thereby bringing vision into the conversation. While I have radical Nordic friends, who are critical of their countries’ achievements, in the U.S. context Bernie is performing a remarkable service. He even makes sure to connect the dots by offering a public course on democratic socialism.

Here again, the U.S. public is way ahead of the political class (and even ahead of many social justice activists). For over 30 years Gallup pollsters have found a steady majority who agree that the United States should redistribute the wealth by imposing heavy taxes on the rich. Gallup found in 2014 that even Republicans polled at 45 percent in favor of increasing taxes on the rich. The Pew Research Center found that more Republicans favored increased spending on Medicare, education and infrastructure than favored cutting those programs. The Economist worries that, “Anti-capitalism is once more a force to be reckoned with.” Among Democrats, in October 2015, a YouGov poll found 49 percent of Democrats viewed socialism favorably, while their approval of capitalism had fallen to 37 percent.

So Bernie’s campaign scores high in articulating both analysis and vision. He challenges other activists to stop holding back as we relate to the majority of Americans. Clearly, it is time to be bold and meet people where many of them already are.

A ‘political revolution?’

Sanders’s candidacy is, to be sure, self-limiting. The political revolution he calls for cannot be achieved through the ballot box. Most Americans would agree with me if asked, based on their perception of the corruption of the system. I’d recommend to the remaining true believers in “U.S. democracy” a Princeton study released in 2014.

Two U.S. political scientists conducted a broad empirical study that reveals who actually has the say in public policy. Martin Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin I. Page of Northwestern examined the 1,779 specific policy issues that came to a head for national decision over the two decades between 1981 and 2002. Note: that period was before the Supreme Court made the Citizens United decision, before the billions released in the current money rush.

For each issue Gilens and Page determined from opinion polls and other evidence what the majority of the public wanted and what the economic elite wanted. When those two views differed, the scholars wanted to know whose view prevailed. They took into account the fact that ordinary citizens often combine to form mass-based interest groups like the American Association of Retired Persons.

What they found was that, when there was a difference, the economic elite almost always prevailed over the majority. Even the mass-based interest groups had little or no independent influence. In the scholars’ words, “In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule — at least in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes.”

Bottom line, there’s no reason to think that the election of Bernie Sanders as president, even with a Congressional majority of Democrats, could possibly deliver the changes we want. Both major parties are clearly owned by the economic elite, and what they want, they get — as long as movements for change stay within the framework of electoral politics.

The good news is that we have the option of moving outside that corrupted framework. What if the Sanders campaigners maintained their commitment to a progressive analysis and vision and simply acknowledged what so many Americans already know: The system is too rigged to be changed from within.

Looking for power where it actually resides

It’s no accident that schools and the mainstream media urge us to look for empowerment in the wrong place: “Over here, under this streetlight!” For the 1 percent the 1960s was a truly dangerous decade. Too many people at that time discovered their power.

Cultural influencers in the mass media and academia therefore minimized and even ignored what people had learned about power through their nonviolent campaigns. The ‘60s were characterized as either a hippy “summer of love,” or a violent time of the Weather Underground and Black Panthers, thereby ignoring the main events that involved the most people and had the largest impact. Martin Luther King Jr. was caricatured as the “Day of Service” guy — even though, as far as I know, he never did a day of service in his life.

Despite this, working class and poor people did wage campaigns in the 1970s and ‘80s through unions and groups like ACORN, with little support across class and color lines. Environmentalists won their largest victory by stopping the spread of nuclear power with nonviolent direct action. Greenpeace and the Rainforest Action Network kept nonviolent campaigning alive, but failed to get the support they deserved because the electoral streetlight remained so appealing. Under the radar, Movement for a New Society, War Resisters League, and other clusters of trainers and manual-writers helped keep the direct action craft in circulation, laying the groundwork for the Battle of Seattle and the subsequent resurgence of larger-scale nonviolent direct action.

Throughout the period covered by the Princeton study, 1981-2002, and since, many continued to cling to electoral politics despite the onslaught of what billionaire Warren Buffett later acknowledged to be a successful class struggle initiated by his class. Over and over middle-class liberal Democrats legitimated an arena that couldn’t work for them, acting against their own interests as the wealth gap grew. Some are now noticing that looking under the streetlight is the wrong place to find their power.

Plan B: A strategy for those who ‘feel the burn?’

The Sanders campaign is doing fine work in projecting analysis and vision so people can recognize they are not alone, then claim it, and work side by side with those who share it. The question of strategy remains. When the electoral arena reveals itself to be an instrument of the 1 percent, where will the Sanders movement go? Will people accept the lessons of their own experience, integrate the Princeton study into their worldview, and re-form to claim their authentic power: nonviolent direct action?

Veteran campaigner Antje Mattheus suggests that the Sanders movement take a part of the vision that has the most potential and form a nonviolent direct action campaign to fight for it. Why not a national fight for free higher public education, say? Or fight for federally-guaranteed green jobs for all, a goal that would combine economic and racial justice with the climate justice imperative, and would expose the utilities and fossil fuel companies that try to stand in the way? Such a campaign could attract majority U.S. support across class and race lines and support us once again to go on the offensive for change.

When we don’t find our power under the streetlight, we need to shine a light of our own.

Chileans boycott supermarkets to fight corruption

by Monse Sepulveda

A photo of an empty Lider, one of the supermarkets that was boycotted, on January 10. (Twitter/Lucas Palape)

Chile is commonly rated as a country with low levels of corruption for the region. However, a series of cases of corruption that began to come to light in 2008 have shaken the public’s perception of corruption in Chile.

As a response to the latest scandal, on January 10 a boycott against three supermarket companies accused of collusion was called for on social media in Chile. A hashtag on Twitter that mobilized supporters became a national trending topic. Thousands of people joined the campaign and opted instead to shop at their local grocery store.

The first case of collusion dates back to 2008, when three major pharmacies were accused of secretly collaborating to raise the prices of their products. Later in 2011, three of the largest chicken distributors were also accused of collusion. In 2014, a third case, known popularly as “Colusion del Confort,” came to light. In this case, two of the biggest corporations in Chile were accused of raising the prices of products, such as toilet paper and napkins.

In addition to these cases, three more shocking corruption cases are currently under investigation. In the first, one of the largest financial groups in Chile, Grupo Penta, has been accused of bribery, fraud and money laundering to finance the political campaigns of right-wing politicians in the 2013 elections. In the second, the son of Chile’s president, Sebastian Davalos, is accused of influence peddling to obtain a multimillion-dollar loan from a bank and real state that was set to be rezoned as urban. Finally, one of the largest mining companies, SQM, was accused of subsidizing the election campaigns of specific politicians at the expense of the public treasury.

It is no surprise, then, that Chileans responded with calls for a nationwide boycott when early this year another network of collusion was revealed. Three of the largest supermarket chains — Cencosud, SMU and Walmart — were accused by Chile’s Tribunal for the Defense of Free Competition of colluding for over three years to raise the price of chicken and coercing smaller supermarkets to abide by the secret agreement.

There was an immediate response by the public on social media. A campaign emerged that called for a boycott on January 10 against each of the six supermarkets run by the companies involved in the collusion network. Thousands of people shared the call for a boycott with the hashtags #ColusionCiudadana, or #ThePeoplesCollusion, and #SupermercadosVacios, or #EmptySupermarkets, with the latter becoming a national trending topic on Twitter.

Using the hasghtag #SupermercadosVacios to report on the impact of the boycott, hundreds of photographs of empty supermarkets and parking lots were posted on social media. All of the biggest national media covered the campaign, shedding light like never before not only on the ongoing litigations against the companies involved in collusion, but most importantly, on the power of a grassroots campaign to express nationwide indignation and demands for justice.

The boycott has also facilitated a wider regional conversation. The hashtag #SupermercadosVacios began being used by Chileans on January 7, but it was already being used in Venezuela since early 2014. While Chileans were using it to ask people to not go to the large supermarkets, Venezuelans used it to denounce their internal food shortage crisis. Argentines, on the other hand, joined in the conversation on January 10 to support the Chilean campaign as they have gone through years of internal political, financial and social crisis. For an entire weekend, people from three different countries joined in a common conversation. It is through this type of solidarity that a movement can gain strength and affect change.

On Sunday, when I spoke to my family about this campaign many of them expressed frustration. “People still went to the supermarket, I saw them!” my father complained. In fact, many people did shop at supermarkets on Sunday, as reports on Twitter show. However, the success of this movement goes beyond whether people did or did not go to the supermarket, or whether or not the profit margin of the targeted corporations was affected. This campaign’s successes should also be gauged by the extent to which it sparked a national and international conversation about corruption, the strategies of nonviolent action, and the power that individuals have as agents of change.

Definite and effective legal action has already been taken against the companies involved in all corruption and collusion cases. Every company that have been found in recent years to have colluded in raising the prices of their products has either been found guilty — and will each have to pay sums ranging from three to $22.5 million — or is currently under investigation. Sebastian Davalos and his wife — as well as more than a dozen Grupo Penta and SQM executives — are also facing criminal charges.

However, the problem of collusion in Chile will undoubtedly continue. Already the president of the National Corporation of Consumers and Users, Hernan Calderon, has said that there is ample evidence pointing toward further networks of collusion. A report issued by the FNE, the national economic prosecutor, on this last case of collusion already suggests as much, as it outlines that “data shows a degree of [collusion] on other products.”

These cases of corruption have revealed serious gaps in Chile’s mechanisms for the prevention of these types of crimes. So far, the demand for justice and reforms by the public with the #SupermercadosVacios campaign has been mostly organic and organized by individual users, but the movement faces strong opposition by these same networks of corruption. Recently in 2013 the same pharmacies accused of collusion lobbied in Congress to obtain votes against a law that sought to regulate the prices and access to medication, threatening to withdraw their support from politicians or offering others financial support in future political campaigns. Confronted with this, it may take a stronger and more organized movement to achieve the changes necessary within Chile’s legal structures for accountability and transparency.

For now, there are already calls on social media in Chile for a second boycott on January 17. Given the media coverage of the action on January 10, the solidarity of people in other South American countries and the effort of thousands of people through Twitter and Facebook, #SupermercadosVacios has the potential to become an even stronger, more organized national movement.

What happens when soldiers stop believing in war?

by Ellen Barfield

Despite a long history of veterans, soldiers and military families opposing war, the public perception is that those who fight in wars keep believing in them and war-making in general. Nan Levinson helps dispel that false assumption with her sympathetic and perceptive analysis of the formation and first few years of Iraq Veterans Against the War, or IVAW, in “War Is Not A Game: The New Antiwar Soldiers and the Movement They Built.” A journalist and writing teacher, Levinson got drawn into writing the book slowly, having initially written a newspaper article before the 2003 attack on Iraq about resisters to the Gulf War in 1991, and expecting that the much bigger mobilization and the much murkier Iraq war would surely generate soldier dissent.

“I was … moved that they had found a way to use their frustration, fury and sorrow to try to force change,” she writes in her prologue. “I liked their refusal to be reasonable, to shut up and behave as expected … though the reason in too many cases — that the worst that could happen did — is hard to bear.”

The book begins with IVAW’s formation at the Veterans For Peace, or VFP, yearly convention in Boston in 2004 by young veterans who had only just met all together in a workshop earlier that day. Then it follows the growth of the military arm of the anti-Iraq war movement — including Military Families Speak Out, Gold Star Families for Peace, Cindy Sheehan and Camp Casey, and the Bring Them Home Now project — and winds up with the story of IVAW’s Winter Soldier testimonies at the National Labor College in Silver Spring, Maryland in 2008.

Levinson did a skillful job reporting on so many “ethical spectacles,” a term coined by activist and media scholar Stephen Duncombe and used by IVAW member Aaron Hughes to refer to the political actions IVAW and their colleagues used to startle, inform and awaken the public and politicians.

Levinson examines a long list of actions and projects — the Mobile to New Orleans march to protest poor funding for victims of Hurricane Katrina and ongoing huge war spending; the Arlington West temporary graveyard displays of crosses; Bake Sales for Body Armor to send needed equipment and point out that the troops were poorly supplied, the online Appeal for Redress signed by over 2,000 active duty troops, Operation First Casualty street theater patrols in various cities where IVAWs enacted detentions, cuffing, hooding as they had done in Iraq with volunteer civilians from VFP and other groups, the Yellow Rose of Texas Peace Bus tour to military bases, the GI coffee houses Different Drummer and Coffee Strong, the Combat Paper art project making paper out of shredded uniforms, Warrior Writers workshops and playwriting, Operation Recovery to stop traumatized soldiers being sent back to combat, and confrontations at military recruiting offices.

There is a schizophrenic attitude from some non-veteran peace activists, who want veterans to appear at peace events as media bait due to the seeming paradox of former soldiers — who are generally assumed to be pro-war — opposing war, but who also resent the greater credibility that the media and the public afford veteran’s messages. As IVAW grew up after Camp Casey, its members began to demand to be included as leaders in big coalition marches and events, even to be featured at the front. Amadee Braxton, a civilian activist who ran IVAW’s very first office in Philadelphia, quoted IVAW leaders saying, “Why do we keep going and being a part of other people’s stuff? This war’s about us most directly.”

Guilt is a big item in the book and in veterans’ and families’ lives. Survival guilt, perpetrator guilt, and parental and buddy guilt for not protecting a child or friend.

Levinson quotes Kelly Dougherty, IVAW’s first board chair and then executive director when enough money accumulated, saying, troops in Iraq were “occupiers in bullet proof vests.” Dougherty, a Colorado National Guard medic who got assigned to military police duty escorting supply convoys and guarding and eventually burning broken down vehicles, said, “I’m not proud of burning flatbed trucks filled with food while hungry Iraqis looked on. I’m not proud of burning ambulances.”

Cindy Sheehan, expressed her guilt that she didn’t act until her son died, saying “It took Casey’s death to awaken me.” Levinson observes, “Guilt can be confusing and paralyzing, but apparently it can be a great motivator.” At the Winter Soldier hearing, John Turner, after detailing atrocities he took part in, said, “I am no longer the monster I once was. I just want to say that I’m sorry.”

Levinson is refreshingly honest about the successes and failures, the strengths and weaknesses, of the people and organizations in her book. “[T]hey could be disorganized, defensive, insular, self-dramatizing, and impossible to get on the phone, but they were seldom boring,” she admits. “IVAW reinforced the argument that dissent can be as principled as military service. And, not least of all they kept showing up … and demonstrated that they could play other roles than hero or victim.”

Levinson rightly criticizes the short-cutting media which tends to seek “a lone, distraught survivor” instead of reporting on movements. Many journalists refused to recognize the movement Cindy Sheehan was part of and accompanied by when she demanded George Bush tell her what noble cause her son Casey died for. Rather, they “anointed [her] Mother-of-All-Mothers,” just as they called Rosa Parks an old woman with sore feet instead of an experienced civil rights activist. Levinson reports IVAW’s perhaps unfortunate later resistance to putting forward a figurehead or leader after being burned by the Camp Casey experience, where other grieving families and veterans had been slighted.

Unfortunately, Levinson herself fell prey to that journalistic tendency, implying single planners for the Mobile to New Orleans march and for the Winter Soldier hearings. She claims Aaron Hughes alone organized the medal throw back at the NATO summit in Chicago in 2012. As a member of Veterans For Peace and Military Families Speak Out and an organizer with the Bring Them Home Now project I personally know these all were big coalition efforts.

Interestingly, there is another similar book, published on the earlier end of 2014, and with a cover photo of a different angle of the same IVAW action confronting the Democratic National Convention in Denver in 2008 that “War Is Not A Game” uses on its cover. Dr. Lisa Leitz, a sociology professor and the wife of a naval aviator who was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, wrote “Fighting for Peace: Veterans and Military Families in the Anti-Iraq War Movement.” Leitz is both more academic and more personal in her examination of the anti-Iraq war work of the military community. She powerfully portrays the family of military war resisters helping each other move from emotions of powerlessness to emotions of resistance. The two books make good companions in examining how a movement forms, burgeons and adjusts.

I have always felt so pleased that VFP was able to be a platform for IVAW to launch itself, of course literally in Faneuil Hall in Boston in 2004, but more importantly by offering the philosophical, emotional, and sometimes economic backing they needed from a bunch of older folks who appreciated what they were about much better than most.

ICE-Free NYC protests raids on immigrant families and communities

by Ashoka Jegroo

ICE-Free NYC marches in Manhattan on Friday. (WNV / Ashoka Jegroo)

Eight protesters wearing cement-sleeves were arrested on Friday outside a New York City immigration court for blocking a busy intersection, as part of a protest against recent raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.

“In light of the national news that immigrant communities are again being terrorized, with people being woken up in the middle of the night and families being torn apart in states across the country, we felt it was imperative that, here in New York City, we have an action and call attention to this,” said Nastaran Mohit, an organizer with the pro-immigrant rights coalition ICE-Free NYC. “This is a crisis, and it demands action.”

Before the street blockade, which last almost an hour, the protesters held a rally and press conference outside of the Varick Street Immigration Court in Manhattan, where speakers detailed how the U.S. immigration policies, and the ICE raids that enforce them, split up immigrant families and communities.

“It’s not fair that they come to your home, take your family, and leave you as a single-parent,” said Carol McDonald, one of the speakers at the rally. “The children are the ones impacted by the deportation. There are many families who live here, who are now homeless and have to fight for family that can’t come back to the country.”

McDonald, a single mother who attended the rally on her day off, detailed how her 18-year-old daughter hasn’t seen her father in about 10 years. Most of the other speakers were also personally affected by deportations and spoke about its effect on families and children.

“When [Homeland Security secretary] Jeh Johnson and [President Barack] Obama say they’re going to focus on deporting criminals, they’re lying because those at the front of the deportations are women and children,” said a speaker known as Antonio, who is also an immigrant. “Today, it’s our brothers and sisters from Central America. Tomorrow, it can be Mexicans, Ecuadorians, Colombians, or any one of us. The Republicans call us ‘criminals,’ and the Democrats deport us by the millions.”

The protest took place in response to last week’s raids and detention of 121 immigrants, mostly in North Carolina, Georgia and Texas. The raids, most of which targeted Central American immigrants, along with Johnson’s describing them as part of “concerted, nationwide enforcement operations,” sparked fears and rumors of raids in other cities from San Francisco to New York City.

Although most of those arrested last week were Central American women and children, Johnson defended the raids as “consistent with our laws and values” and that the people targeted had “been issued final orders of removal by an immigration court” and had “exhausted appropriate legal remedies.”

“This should come as no surprise,” he said in a statement. “I have said publicly for months that individuals who constitute enforcement priorities, including families and unaccompanied children, will be removed. I know there are many who loudly condemn our enforcement efforts as far too harsh, while there will be others who say these actions don’t go far enough. I also recognize the reality of the pain that deportations do in fact cause. But, we must enforce the law consistent with our priorities.”

(WNV / Ashoka Jegroo)

After ICE-Free NYC’s rally and press conference, the protesters began chanting and marching around the Varick Street Immigration Court building. When they approached the corner of Varick Street and West Houston Street, seven activists attached to each other at the arms with cement-sleeves stepped in front of traffic and blocked the intersection. Other protesters then unfurled banners with anti-deportation messages, including one plainly stating “Fuck ICE.” Dozens of other protesters also helped block traffic while chanting.

“We had several brave members of the ICE-Free NYC coalition, some of whom have sensitive status themselves and wanted to put their bodies on the line, lock themselves together and take the streets, surrounded by hundreds of activists that had their back,” Mohit said. “We thought it was really important to have a direct action component to this because we’re tired of having rallies and press conferences. This is a crisis in our community so we’re going to continue to escalate.”

The New York City Police Department — seemingly caught off-guard — struggled with trying to disperse the protesters and detach the activists from their cement-sleeves. Members of the NYPD’s Strategic Response Group and Emergency Service Unit were then called in, along with a set of power tools and a helicopter flying overhead, in order to arrest and disperse protesters. Traffic at the intersection came a standstill for a little less than an hour, but the police eventually sawed through the cement-sleeves and arrested each of the seven people blocking the street one by one as crowds of protesters and onlookers cheered. One woman was also arrested for using a megaphone without a permit.

While organizers are still waiting for the arrestees to be released, they saw the action as a success and plan to continue fighting to keep immigrants safe from ICE raids.

“We wanted to have this action today to call attention to the terror that immigrant communities have to deal with and to make sure the news goes far and wide across the country that we’re ready to take action here in New York City,” Mohit said. “We’re going to continue to take action, and we’re not going to stop until every immigrant family in this country is safe.”

Did grandmothers kill a government minister, nonviolently?

by Phil Wilmot

Minister of internal affairs, Gen. Aronda Nyakairima, at the 2012 African Land Forces Summit. (Flickr / US Army Africa)

In virtually all subjects of study — mathematics, history, science, arts, religion — the African continent takes a back seat in the priorities of academia. Unfortunately, the majority-black nations of Africa have also been sidelined in news and research on nonviolence.

I’m regularly scoping out the social change terrain in hopes of finding something definitive and innovative that the people in my environment are contributing to the global development of nonviolent strategy or the understanding of peace and justice. What I think I’ve found is a new understanding of metaphysics – the understanding of what reality is and how it works.

In April, Uganda witnessed a very successful nonviolent demonstration led by elderly women in Amuru District, who stripped naked in protest of an attempted land grab by the Ministry of Lands and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The ministers of both of these branches of government turned their convoys around upon witnessing this “abomination,” as some residents called it. The military occupation in the area was called off shortly thereafter, and leaders across various sectors convened to discuss how to move forward, with several pro-people resolutions passed. Within a few weeks, similar actions took place in other parts of the country.

Despite the action’s success, something irked me about the land grabbers’ response. Allies of the land grabbers accused the Amuru women of behaving violently rather than settling the dispute through dialogue. (Nevermind the fact that the land grabbers had regularly refused calls to dialogue directly with residents of the community.) Violence? None was apparent to me, certainly not in a physical sense. Maybe they were just sore losers, I thought. Then, something interesting happened.

On September 11, the 56-year-old minister of internal affairs, General Aronda Nyakairima, died mysteriously on a flight from South Korea to Dubai. There were rumors that he — like others who might not have carried out President Museveni’s biddings with complete perfection — was poisoned. (Museveni did himself no favors to delegitimize this notion by behaving dubiously at the funeral.) But that wasn’t the only theory. Another one soon arose and gained significant traction: He had been killed by the Amuru women — fragile old ladies who never laid a finger on him and hadn’t even seen him for half a year.

Keromela Anek was one of the women who stripped naked in protest of the land grab. (WNV / Phil Wilmot)

While I’m certainly someone who believes in psychological power — after all, it must be the reason why placebos sometimes work — the idea of a cultural omen or curse killing someone was hard to conceive. But then, something else happened to further add to this seemingly unbelievable theory: the minister of lands, Daudi Migereko, lost his parliamentary seat in the ruling party primaries.

At the time, I was attending a workshop at a hotel that he owns, and I watched him staring petrified at the evening news leading up to the vote. I also remembered that back when he was confronted with the sight of the naked women, Migereko burst into tears (one anonymous contact from the minis office even informed me that the incident had had a long-term impact on the minister).

After Migereko lost the primary, many voices spoke out to congratulate the Amuru women for their victory in blocking his political advancements with their disrobing.

Still, a primary election loss is nothing compared to death. I couldn’t help but wonder, “Did the women commit violence against General Aronda? Did they actually kill him?”

In November, I was participating in a training of activists in Kampala, Uganda’s capital. One young man was present who had organized these Amuru women and their community on that April day. Our group dialogue deviated from its intended path, and we found ourselves discussing the incident and its alleged relationship to Aronda’s death.

“How many of you believe that Aronda died because he was poisoned by the government?” I asked. A few hands rose.

“How many of you believe that Aronda died because the women of Amuru stripped naked?”

“Phil, we are Africans. Of course we believe that’s why he died,” interjected activist Hamidah Nassimbwa, speaking on behalf of the mostly well-educated group. The majority of the room raised their hands to concur that Aronda’s fatality originated in Amuru in April.

“Actually, it was not the stripping itself that initialized the curse,” said Leonard Okello, a cooperative organizer more conversant with traditional practices in northern Uganda. “It was the deliberate pointing of the women’s breasts at the ministers.”

“Alright,” I said. “Then how many believe the women committed an act of violence?”

All of the hands in the room dropped.

“So, if he died because of the curse,” I asked, “why was the disrobing itself not an act of violence?”

The activists explained exactly what I thought their response would be: Aronda’s death was his own fault because he refused to return to Amuru for the cleansing ceremony that was demanded by Amuru residents upon cursing him. The disrobing merely initialized a curse. It was a poison, yes, but it was delivered alongside a ready antidote contingent upon an admission of wrongdoing by the offender.

According to this belief, if you are able to own up to your mistakes and repent, you deserve to live and be reconciled with the community you have so long oppressed. Realistically speaking, the deal sounds rather forgiving coming from a community that has suffered years of random attacks, arsons, arbitrary arrests, a public execution, killing and theft of livestock, and unremitting intimidation.

I logged the interesting topic away in my memory as a mere intellectual musing, but a month later, I was training another group of mostly poorer, semi-literate male activists, and the concept of metaphysics and the role of the scientifically incomprehensible again resurfaced. The group, consisting largely of workers in the transportation sector, was constructing a strategy to address the dilapidated state of the roads. After determining the objectives of their campaign, they began planning actions that could help them build a critical mass among their sympathizers.

“Let’s find a pothole that has been around for too long,” said one participant. “I’ll stall someone’s car in it to cause some outrage as a traffic jam accumulates.”

Another participant chimed in. “When the car fails to start again, we can deem it a sign from the gods about the evil nature of those who have neglected our roads.”

While the scene they were preparing was more of an act of overly-dramatic invisible theater than anything else, I was still intrigued enough to ask whether they believed enough people would buy into this claim to gain popular support.

“Definitely,” one man said. “People just say they are Christians or Muslims for business purposes. Most people in the capital city still run to their traditional healers whenever they are having marital problems.”

Understandings of metaphysics can run deeper than even the beliefs generated from most violent systems of dogmatic religion, capitalism or colonialism. The metaphysical aspects of our worldviews usually take more than a generation or two to change significantly, even as science rapidly evolves. This is the reason, after all, that physicalism — the notion that reality consists merely in the physical world —  arguably informs the day-to-day practice of western religion more than belief in the transcendent (the basic pillar upon which such religions usually claim to rest).

Perhaps the western understanding of nonviolence, with its strategic tools, planning worksheets and quantitative evaluations does not adequately encompass a worldview conducive to social movements achieving their goals in the global south. (The preference of various African societies for long-term reconciliation and restorative justice would support this assertion, as does the fact that the African words for “peace” tend to be more all-encompassing and nuanced in their native languages.)

It may also be possible that I am overemphasizing the value of metaphysics — whether real or perceived. Perhaps my observations should fall into the already obvious principle in effective nonviolent strategizing known as “understand your cultural assets.” While I don’t want to romanticize the African continent as some enchanted land where the western laws of physics never apply, I think it would be equally inappropriate to disregard the indigenous knowledge of metaphysics — which often explains what modern science cannot — as laughable. This article is much less a hypothesis and much more a call to further study by academics more qualified than me.

Whatever the true reality and nature of curses, omens, metaphysics and nonviolence may be, I wonder to what extent we activists should consider it violent to bait opponents into becoming agents of their own demise. I have sympathy for Aronda inasmuch as he was a human being — and on top of that, one who sometimes made the right decisions for the common good. In the instance of grabbing land on behalf of his superiors (especially in a country where attempted land grabs are not really prosecuted), I have trouble feeling bad for him if he did indeed succumb to the weight of refusing a cleansing ceremony — something he had the complete capacity to control.

As practitioners of celebrated organizer Saul Alinsky’s principles can attest, “the threat of the thing is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.” Everyone I consulted who believes in the power of the Amuru women’s omen said it was the women who dug Aronda’s grave, but Aronda – through his deliberate inaction – who put himself in it.

Church of demolished Palestinian village gets Israeli electricity for Christmas

by Melanie Nakashian

Amir Toume speaking to a tourist group visiting Iqrit on January 2. (Facebook / Iqrit)

On December 22, the only building still standing in the Palestinian Christian village of Iqrit was connected to the Israeli electricity grid. This unprecedented move is part of the Iqritis’ larger struggle for their right to return and it carries implications far beyond the electricity itself.

Iqrit is located in the Galilee, in northern Israel proper, just south of the Lebanese border. It was evacuated 67 years ago during the Nakba, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, also known as Israel’s War of Independence, which made way for the 1948 establishment of the State of Israel.

What makes Iqrit stand out from the hundreds of Palestinian villages that suffered a similar fate, however, is its unique legal advantage — a 1951 Israeli Supreme Court ruling and 1995 ministerial committee recommendation that reinforced their right to return — combined with the fact that their land has not been physically covered by any Jewish Israeli development.

Sixty-four years ago, on Christmas Eve 1951, the entire village — except for its St. Mary’s Church and its cemetery — was bombed by the newly-established Israel Defense Forces, despite the aforementioned Supreme Court ruling from July of that same year. But this past Christmas, Iqritis were able to celebrate an entirely different kind of gift that other displaced Palestinians can only dream about.

This year’s Christmas mass at Iqrit was celebrating more than just Christmas. (Facebook / Iqrit)

While incessantly struggling over decades for their right to return, as I reported for Waging Nonviolence in August, Iqrit’s internally displaced families have periodically returned to host holiday services, cultural events, tourist group visits and an annual educational summer camp for the youngest generation of descendants. Last August marked three years since a group of Iqriti youth, mostly comprised of working students, decided to permanently return with a 24/7 presence in their church. They and the larger Iqriti community have managed to function with solar panels and a generator, thriving in spite of heavy restrictions on their lifestyle and frequent disruptions from the Israel Land Administration, or ILA, which claims ownership of the land.

After three years of legal maneuvering and 11 years since their original request for connectivity, the Israeli Supreme Court decided in April 2015 that Iqrit’s church could join the national Israeli electricity grid. Many were rightfully skeptical that this would be realized, but after going through the necessary bureaucratic moves over the past months, installation began on December 16 and was completed on December 22 — just in time to illuminate their Christmas tree for their annual mass, which has also served to commemorate Iqrit’s Christmas Eve destruction.

According to Amir Toume, a 21-year-old student who plays an active role in the on-the-ground group, this recent connection to the electrical grid not only facilitates their ability to function normally and organize more efficiently, but also marks their “first and most important win against the ILA,” indicating that the State of Israel has informally recognized their right to live and pray on their land. Nemi Ashkar, head of the Iqrit Community Association, or ICA, also said the Supreme Court ruling was confirmation that they are indeed the legal owners of the land in a way that has never before been seen in any displaced Palestinian village.

ICA member Shadia Sbait said it felt strange to see construction taking place where they have become accustomed to seeing destruction. She also noted the spiritual feeling that presided over their usual Christmas mass. This time, their service took place “without the noise of the generator outside and with the knowledge that [they] won.”

Israeli-powered light at St. Mary’s on December 22, the first night of connectivity. (Facebook / Iqrit)

Although just one step in their struggle, it is indeed a significant landmark that Ashkar feels brings hope that the return to Iqrit is within reach. It also gives them courage to continue following the legal track, of which the next step will be to regain ownership of their cemetery. Of course, they will continue to pursue all other methods, including their on-the-ground organizing and international advocacy. Toume feels that receiving electricity has already changed life at Iqrit in a way that will continue to empower them to use more creative methods in their struggle.

As for the solar panels that have now been rendered unnecessary, Sbait said, “they will be an important part of the Iqrit museum after we achieve the return.”

Do ‘safe spaces’ and ‘trigger warnings’ weaken us?

by George Lakey

Embed from Getty Images

First, let’s agree that safety is a human need. Studies find that children who grow up amidst threats, violence and insecurity are less likely to thrive as grown-ups. The defensiveness induced by trauma gets in the way of creativity and the learning curve needed for achievement.

The anti-oppression movement long ago began to create safe spaces. As a gay man, I remember the first time I saw on the door of a campus office a triangle, signifying that this would be a safe place for me. Surrounded by rampant homophobia, I relaxed as I turned the doorknob.

I also took the sign on the door to be a sign of sensitivity; here might be a heterosexual ally who has empathy for my frequent encounters with prejudice, even the mild expressions that could remind me of scary or hurtful incidents. That sequence – mild expression jumping to vividly remembered hurtful incidents – later became the basis for some teachers offering to give “trigger warnings” before wading into sensitive information.

Safety is a human need, like eating. Our need to eat, however, doesn’t mean we need to eat all the time. Any human need exists in balance with other needs, one of which is a sense of agency. By agency I mean knowing our power, our ability to operate in a variety of circumstances, our acceptance of the responsibility to determine the course of our own lives.

“Don’t help me,” my six-year-old granddaughter sometimes says, as she wrestles with a challenging task and sees me preparing to intervene. Ella knows the delicious satisfaction of her own agency and is impatient with the well-meaning, but clumsy “helping” some grown-ups are prone to. She is on her way to being a high-achieving powerhouse, like Wonder Woman, her favorite character. I’ve learned in the swimming pool that the scariness of water generates fears Ella wants to handle; it would be no favor to protect her. I stay nearby while she takes the risks that support her power and growing self-confidence.

For this reason, I want to raise the question of whether the current preoccupation with safety and protection has gone too far.

Acknowledging the middle-class cultural theme of protection

In the early days of gay and women’s liberation and the black freedom movement, we were highly critical of mainstream culture. We knew that mainstream culture was dead wrong in enforcing white supremacy, say, or misogyny, so why should we assume it was right about anything else? We gave ourselves permission to question everything.

As liberation movements grow they come under enormous pressure to accept middle-class mainstream assumptions. Their cultural critique weakens and dubious assumptions creep in unnoticed. For the anti-oppression movement, I believe that one of those assumptions is the middle-class value of over-protection. “Really good parents” in the mainstream don’t allow their children to go outside unsupervised because parents show how good they are by how much they protect children from something that might happen. “Really good homemakers” use germ-killers at every opportunity because parents show how good they are by how much they protect children from something that might sicken them.

Fortunately, push-back is happening on both those fronts — first from parents who remember happy hours of childhood freedom, and second from medical people who wonder if the growth of allergies is related to the weakened immune systems of children who don’t have enough germs in their lives. On both fronts, the result is over-protection that weakens children and reduces their agency. Note the subtle dynamic of class here. Protection as obligation is especially strong in the middle class, and is generalized therefore into a hierarchy: higher-status people (who of course know better) expect themselves to ensure the safety of lower-status people.

What is now called the anti-oppression movement began with a liberatory critique but now seems to have absorbed the mainstream narrative that protection is what makes higher status people “good allies.” One way this plays out in workshops is that the facilitator is expected to use ground rules, their own authority, and other methods to protect and keep “safe” everyone in the group who might otherwise experience offensive behavior.

As I watch this long-term trend I wonder what’s happening to the agency of oppressed people subjected to this mainstream assumption. Are marginalized individuals in a group excused from standing up for themselves and fighting out differences with other group members that might arise? Are higher-status people coming to believe that oppressed people are by definition weak or even fragile? It wouldn’t be the first time that the attitudes of do-gooders diminished others, participating in the disempowerment of those they intended to help.

Many of us have lived the pro-liberation version of movements, as we came to terms with an oppressed identity or in our role as allies or both. In the 1970s, I — an “out” gay white man — taught in an Ivy League university. In my course I found more African American students showing up each semester, seeking refuge from their wider experience of dominant white norms. In the course’s three-hour experiential classes and weekend retreat, minority students renewed their determination to maintain their integrity.

We had no ground rules because I had no interest in creating a germ-free environment. Oppressive behaviors including racism showed up and useful conflicts erupted; students’ power — their immune systems — grew. The course became popular because I supported black students to tackle for themselves the white-dominated world, maintaining their critical stance. They, and other marginalized students, empowered themselves. One result was a degree of community that was unheard of in a course in a huge university.

The trigger warning — a second look

Liberation/empowerment trainer Daniel Hunter pointed out to me that the demand for “safe space” easily loses track of real life. Individuals seeking safety in a classroom may imagine that a racist statement or behavior is the same as actual harm or danger. They confuse subjective feeling and objective reality. The confusion is compounded when others buy in, believing that strong feelings should rule. In the name of sensitivity, a group culture can join the historical narrative that turns oppressed people into poor victims.

The group’s (or teacher’s) confusion here assumes that upset feelings overrule a person’s innate ability to think and act well under stress. We can test this belief. If subjective feelings control us, then surely the objective experience of harm and danger prevents us from thinking and acting smartly, right?

If we believed that, we would have to re-write history. Black Lives Matters in Minneapolis would not have come back to the police precinct house in November after the white supremacists attacked them because — since they’d been shot at — it wasn’t safe. The entire civil rights movement would never have happened, nor the workers movement, nor the women’s or LGBT or disability rights movement. None of these waited for safety to strategize smartly and act effectively.

People can of course be brilliant while scared or hurt — unless they believe otherwise. The quickest scan of successful social movement history shows not only what a lie the belief is, but also how delighted the 1 percent must be to watch anti-oppression extremists undermine every movement within reach.

Doesn’t the trigger warning expectation invite lower expectations of ourselves and others? When the technique is institutionalized, it suggests that oppressed people are too fragile to handle symbolic representations of oppression, much less able to handle oppression in real life. In my experience, the truth is otherwise: It is usually people with privilege who are fragile and can’t deal with what oppressed people often handle well. (I’m talking about class again. Sorry about that, but we do pay a price for letting the anti-oppression forces avoid interrogating their class.)

The dearth of vision in demands for ‘safe space’ and ‘trigger warnings’

I admit I’m an elder with high expectations. I expect movements that make many demands to have a vision of what it is they seek. If the goal is to produce hot-house plants that cannot survive without the protection of others (higher-status others, of course), admit it.

My vision is of humans working to realize their full potential, supported by their cultures to act powerfully in the world to transform institutions. Folk wisdom offers a motto to guide us as we work: “Smooth seas train poor sailors.” I hope for comments from readers about how we can support everyone’s power to act for liberation.

The climate movement is stuck in ‘Groundhog Day,’ here’s how it can break free

by Cam Fenton

Bill Murray runs through the snow in a scene from the film ‘Groundhog Day’, 1993. (Photo by Columbia Pictures/Getty Images)

Throughout 2015, I had a hard time explaining my feeling about the Paris climate talks. Friends and allies would excitedly ask me if I was going and I’d force a smile and explain that no, I had been to enough United Nations climate meetings. The truth was that after more than five years of attending and watching U.N. climate talks, the whole thing had started to feel like the climate movement had gotten itself stuck in a time-warp and we were living the same two weeks over and over again every year.

As I watched the Paris talks unfold, the whole thing started to feel like the movie “Groundhog Day.” If you haven’t seen it or don’t remember, the basic premise is that Bill Murray plays a weatherman who gets caught in a time loop, reliving the same day in rural Pennsylvania over and over. Just looking at the major actions, each one seemed to be a repeat of something from the past. Red lines in Doha and red lines in Paris. Sit-ins and walk-outs year after year from Copenhagen to Durban to Rio to Warsaw. I was reminded of something a friend told me about the Doha talks — the outcome was so predictable that he wrote press releases months in advance and the only change he had to make to the one about the final reaction was the date.

Nevertheless, there is good news. About halfway through “Groundhog Day,” Bill Murray realizes that his only way out of the time warp is to become a better person. In Paris, it feels like the climate movement — the collective Bill Murray in this analogy — have reached a similar point. On the one hand, it’s great news because coming out of Paris it feels like we’ve crested a hill. On the other hand, it’s awful because from the top of this hill, we can now see the mountain peak we have to ascend. In “Groundhog Day” terms, it’s great because we know how to get out, but since time isn’t standing still, we can’t afford to keep repeating history over and over. So, with that in mind, here are three suggestions for ways the climate movement can break free.

1. We need to redefine what climate leadership means

For years, the climate movement has viewed it’s principle opponents as people and institutions who deny the existence of climate change. In this context, a culture of desperation was born in much of the climate movement, where the need to win something, anything, on climate became so strong that we clamored to amplify and validate almost any politician willing to even admit the reality of climate change. Modest steps and half measures were answered with so much applause from much of the climate movement that even the most valid criticisms and questions were drowned out. The simple fact was that a lot of us felt like we desperately needed something to applaud.

Now the needle has moved on climate change, and while we can debate the merits of the Paris climate agreement, one thing that we can’t ignore is that these talks marked the end of the politics of outright climate denial. This year saw a U.S. president reject the Keystone XL pipeline on climate grounds, as well as over $3 trillion divested from fossil fuels. It also had tar sands company CEOs touting their “climate leadership.” Clearly, things are changing for the better.

Going into 2016, politicians and CEOs want the title of “climate leader,” and right now they’re getting it without really having to work for it. Whether it’s Jerry Brown in California allowing fracking across the state or Canada’s new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledging to support a 1.5 degree Celsius ceiling on temperature rise while allowing tar sands pipelines to be approved without climate considerations, climate leadership has become such a hollow measure that you can be a climate hero one day and an oil baron the next.

That’s why this movement needs to redefine what climate leadership is by raising the bar for what we, as a movement, will applaud. Governments and politicians are not fragile children in need of constant reassurance from the climate movement. They are decision makers who by and large are not moving fast enough to do what it takes to leave fossil fuels in the ground and facilitate a justice-based transition to 100 percent clean energy. It’s 2016, politicians don’t need the climate movement to apologize for them not doing enough, they need us to organize to force them to do more.

2. We need to get real about climate justice

The outcomes of climate talks can often be seen as a kind of “movement barometer” measuring the amount of pressure that the climate movement is putting on politicians around the globe. Looking at the outcome of the Paris talks through this lens is useful because it helps us recognize that a commitment to a 1.5 degree climate target was only achieved because of the growing power of the global climate movement — and that’s something to celebrate.

By the same measure, though, we need to accept that in the Paris outcome indigenous rights, human rights and women’s rights have all been moved to sections of the text where they aren’t legally protected. On top of this, support for the most vulnerable people in the Paris outcome isn’t anywhere near what a just and fair deal would look like. If we are going to celebrate a 1.5 degree target as a victory for this movement, we also have to acknowledge where we fell short. Coming out of Paris, the biggest losses landed on the laps of the most vulnerable people, communities and nations, and in my eyes that means we still have a long way to go to get real about the justice part of climate justice.

Since Copenhagen, a lot of the climate movement has shifted it’s language in support of frontline communities and a justice-based and systemic approach to climate change. It’s the sort of shift that made something like the People’s Climate March possible. But, by the same token, it’s telling that if you line up reaction statements to the outcome of Paris, the most impacted peoples were more critical of the deal than mainstream organizations, which were far more celebratory.

There, of course, is no easy solution to this challenge, but it starts with recognizing that climate justice needs to be more than a buzzword. This is going to mean some serious soul searching for the climate movement in 2016, and spending more time listening to, digesting and doing the work to deepen our commitment to acting on, not just speaking to, justice.

3. The climate movement needs to move beyond the environmental movement

One of the worst things that ever happened to climate change was the moment it became viewed as an environmental problem. It narrowed the focus of one of the broadest, farthest-reaching social justice issues of our time and placed the responsibility for tackling it in the hands of a movement that frankly, isn’t up to the task alone.

In 2016, we need to leave environmentalism behind and begin to experiment with what a real climate movement can be, because honestly, it might be the only chance we actually have to turn #KeepItInTheGround from a hashtag into a strategy.

The modern environmental movement, for the most part, has very “elite” strategies. Organizing, mass mobilization and direct action have primarily been seen as tools to facilitate lobbying and negotiation strategies, which for a movement bred from a conservation ethic has meant getting to the table with corporations and government in order to achieve a compromise. This strategy has been successful at winning a lot of crucial environmental victories, but it’s also come at the cost of building a genuine movement, and it won’t be enough if we’re going to get serious about meeting the climate challenge.

One major challenge is that the environmental movement is made up mostly of big organizations. It’s like an ecosystem where every organism is an apex predator. They can exist with one another, but quickly devour smaller organisms and groups, and while that may mean the ecosystem can exist, it’s far from healthy and certainly not diverse. For the climate movement to be successful, we need a movement ecosystem that’s as dynamic and full as the rainforest. We need to make room, and a big part of that is going to mean rethinking our strategies and campaigns.

One of the biggest problems with approaching climate change the way the environmental movement has approached other issues is that there is no negotiating with physics. If we acknowledge that the vast majority of fossil fuels need to be left in the ground for a safe climate, then we can’t compromise with an industry that’s business model is built on extracting and burning as much as it can. It’s not even that we don’t want to, it’s that science says we can’t.

This means that the goal of getting to the table with politicians and industry doesn’t make sense, because we’re never going to be at that table in good faith, and neither is the industry. We also need to acknowledge and remember that when it comes to climate change, the table has been rotted to the core from over three decades of fossil fuel interests polluting our politics. With this in mind, the goal may need to shift from organizing to the table to organizing the table to the people, where we can balance the scales of fossil fuel interests with genuine, mass people power.

Building the kind of movement with the power to make this happen is going to require a lot of people that have helped to make this movement what it is to play outside our comfort zones in 2016, myself included. It’s also going to mean taking the time to learn from other movements. Whether that’s the fierce and undeniably courageous work of Black Lives Matter organizers, the rooted justice-based solutions work of the Our Power campaign or the protean, viral nature of movements like Occupy, we need these lessons to update our strategies. The climate movement also needs to spend more time learning the history of movements for civil rights to stopping nuclear proliferation.

If we approach learning from these movements not just as harvesting their best ideas, but building relationships, this could also be our best means to find the “fault lines” of our movements. Through this we can get beyond the politics of token solidarity and dig deep to build the kind of transformative power that a climate movement really demands.

As was the case for Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day,” the only way to break free from the time loop was to learn from his mistakes and refuse to repeat them. Whether it’s the United Nations climate talks, election cycles or meetings upon meetings, a lot of this movement feels like a time warp, and the true test isn’t whether or not we get everything right, but if we learn, evolve and innovate to take on new challenges.

Why was a climate activist persecuted, but the Bundy militia shown patience?

by Curtis Morrison

Tim DeChristopher speaking at the 2011 Power Shift, shortly before being sentenced to two years in prison. (Flickr / Linh Do)

When activist Tim DeChristopher sabotaged a December 2008 Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, oil and gas auction by bidding on thousands of acres of land he had no intention of paying for, he was sentenced to two years in federal prison, a three-year probation and a $10,000 fine. Since Saturday, an armed militia has occupied BLM facilities on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon, and the BLM’s reaction, so far, has been comparatively subdued.

On Sunday, DeChristopher weighed in on Twitter suggesting the Oregon uprising is a result of the federal government’s capitulation two years ago, when Cliven Bundy threatened to go to war with the government in order to continue using public lands for cattle grazing. “The Bundy Klan pointed loaded weapons at government officials … and faced no consequences,” DeChristpher said. Today, Bundy’s sons are leading participants in the militia’s occupation.

As depicted in the documentary “Bidder 70,” the BLM didn’t “play along” once it was obvious DeChristopher’s paddle was buying up every parcel offered at the oil and gas auction. The auction was stopped and federal agents swiftly took DeChristopher into custody, and he was charged with two felonies three days later. In Oregon, the federal government has closed the Malheur Refuge, effectively providing the militia privacy, on federal public land. Now, in Oregon, unlike in DeChristopher’s auction, the BLM is not intervening to stop a protest, but merely monitoring the situation.

While both conflicts revolve around the BLM’s handling of federal land, DeChristopher’s intentions were quite distinct from the militias. In the last days of the Bush administration, the BLM had quietly attempted to privatize 22,500 acres of federal land, through a discrete auction held the Friday before Christmas. Much of that federal land surrounded Utah’s Arches National Park. DeChristopher showed up at that auction, took a paddle, and pretty much thwarted that scheme. A judge would later rule the auction was illegal, and some of the parcels that DeChristopher “won” would remain federal land. DeChristopher’s intention was to preserve federal public property for public use.

The militia’s intention seems less about preserving federal property for public use, and more about preserving it for the private use of ranchers, or the militia group itself. In fact, the militia appears to be seizing the Malheur Refuge and its buildings and facilities. The Bundys told the Oregonian, “We’re planning on staying here for years, absolutely.”

The militia’s occupation followed a Saturday protest of a federal judge’s sentencing of Dwight Hammond and his son Steven Hammond, ranchers convicted three years ago of arson for fires lit in 2001 and 2006. The Hammonds claim they lit the fires to protect their property from wildfires and invasive plant species, but the BLM argued that the Hammonds were destroying evidence of poaching. Although both arsons occurred years before DeChristopher’s auction incident, the father has served only three months in prison, and the son has served only one year. DeChristopher served 21 months.

DeChristopher was armed with a paddle, a weapon of principle. The militia that has seized the Malheur Refuge is armed with pistols and long rifles — weapons of war.

Some are debating why the media isn’t labeling the militia members as terrorists. That criticism is rooted in a collective gut feeling among progressives that hypocrisy is at play, and it certainly is. However, the government’s reaction also shows how much more dangerous it views creative nonviolent direct action.

While some may want to see the government storm the refuge, and solve its hypocrisy problem, there’s another takeaway. In the future, the federal government should exercise as much patience, if not more, with protesters armed with paddles as it exercises with armed militias seizing federal property for their private use.

The problem with calling the Bundy militia terrorists

by Kate Aronoff

Embed from Getty Images

A group of roughly 30 militiamen in rural eastern Oregon occupied a vacant Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, visitor center on Saturday at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. While initial reports suggested there were as many 150 armed militia members inside the government building, more recent estimates place that figure somewhere between 20 and 30. Leading up efforts are two sons of famed anti-government rancher Cliven Bundy.

A group that included militia members had gathered in nearby Burns, Oregon on Sunday afternoon to protest the sentencing of Dwight Hammond and his son Steve Hammond for arson on BLM property. As Rolling Stone explained, the pair are expected to report on Monday for their five-year sentence, which protesters and militia members argue represents a form of government “tyranny.” Notably, a lawyer for the family has said they reject the militia’s support.

Randy Bundy told a reporter with The Oregonian that the militia was ready to “kill and be killed,” and prepared to remain inside of BLM premises indefinitely. Ammon Bundy, Randy’s brother, stated that the group, “Would not rule out violence if law enforcement tries to remove them.”

The occupiers have invited “patriots” from around the country to join them — guns and all — and hope the visitor center will serve as a base of militia operations for years to come. “We’re planning on staying here for years, absolutely,” one Bundy brother said in a video released yesterday. “This is not a decision we’ve made at the last minute.”

A local paper, the Willamette Week, reported that militia members have been trickling into the region for weeks. Among them was 32-year-old John Ritzheimer, who bid farewell to his family in a Youtube video before joining the Malheur occupation, citing that he wants to “die a free man.”

Ritzheimer, a former Marine, has made headlines before. This fall, he planned armed protests against New York mosques, and has issued a series of violent statements and threats against Muslims, President Obama and members of the federal government. In a video from November, he declared, “Fuck you Muslims. We’re gonna stop at virtually every mosque along the way, flip them off and tell them to get the fuck out,” proceeding to cock his handgun on camera.

Land resource management has been a key issue for conservative ranchers since Cliven Bundy’s stand-off with federal forces in the spring of 2014, when he threatened to go to war with the government so that he could continue to graze his cattle on government land in Nevada. While most of today’s GOP presidential candidates supported Cliven Bundy’s efforts, they have been mum so far on this weekend’s events. Donald Trump has said of Bundy that, “I like his spirit, his spunk,” and Bundy himself is a Trump supporter. Given the similarity between their actions, one might suspect that the Bundy apples don’t fall far from the tree. At an armed demonstration outside of a Phoenix mosque in October, Ritzheimer said, “Let Donald Trump build something beautiful.”

Noting the mainstream press coverage of the occupation, progressives have pointed out the fact that neither authorities nor the media have described the occupation as an act of terrorism. The National Guard and federal authorities have been conspicuously absent, in stark contrast to the largely nonviolent uprisings against systemic racism in Baltimore and Ferguson. Like “thug” or “illegal immigrant,” though, terrorist is an ugly word that — at least since 9/11 — comes as a package deal with racist overtones. Each term is also connected to a well-funded, well-armed program of state violence that criminalizes communities of color. In light of all this, should the goal of progressives be to create a more inclusive definition of terrorism?

Of course, it doesn’t take much creative imagination to predict what the authorities’ response would have been had the occupiers been anything other than white — not to mention the words that would be used to describe those efforts. Still, whether the Oregon occupiers are actually terrorists is beside the point — mostly because there is no objective definition of terrorism. It might best be defined as any form of organized violence considered illegitimate in the eyes of the state, the media and the public. (States, it’s worth noting, are defined in many policy circles and academic disciplines by their monopoly on the legitimate use of force.)

The Black Panther Party and American Indian Movement, or AIM, each planned and executed armed occupations of federal property in the California State Capitol in Sacramento and Alcatraz Prison, respectively. Both were targeted aggressively by federal authorities. Neither, however, was primarily a militia. And while members of AIM and the Panthers expressed a range of opinions on the use of guns and nonviolence more generally, the majority of their work was dedicated to building a movement for the liberation of oppressed people. However, due to contemporary press coverage and some shoddily written history, many Americans’ enduring memory of both groups are those that involve guns — which is undoubtedly a consequence of taking up armed resistance against the government.

Although the Bundys, Ritzheimer and company might well see their white, middle-class brethren as an oppressed group, their claims are rooted in the same nostalgic nationalism that defines Trump’s call to “Make America great again.” Troublingly, Trump’s campaign has served as a meeting and mobilizing point for all stripes of right-wing extremists, Minutemen and ordinary (white) Americans lacking alternative narratives to understand their worsening economic circumstances. Forces that in years past could be written off as fringe elements (think Branch Davidians or abortion clinic bombers) can now find voice in an increasingly mainstream political movement. Trump supporters have already assaulted a Latino man in Boston and beaten up a Black Lives Matter protester. His policy proposals include banning Muslim immigration, and rounding up and deporting all of this country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants and their U.S. born, citizen children. Both state and vigilante violence lurk at the heart of Trump’s appeal among his supporters. If the Bundys’ militia haven’t been welcomed with open arms yet, they might well become Trump’s next cause célèbre.

Regardless of how the situation in Oregon is resolved, Trump’s campaign is continuing to rise, and enjoys hearty support among militiamen throughout the country. The Bundys’ actions should be understood not only as part of a long history of right-wing violence, but of a political project that’s actively vying for state power — and stands a real chance of winning the reins to a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. If the goal of any egalitarian movement is to bring about a more deeply peaceful world, it’ll be up to movements to define a greater, nonviolent America and the path to it.