Waging Nonviolence

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.

The 2015 Creative Activist Awards

by Nadine Bloch

It’s that time of year to embrace highlights and bury the out-of-date. As activists, this can be a critical time to evaluate our strategies and alight on alternate paths if needed.

Earlier this month, in Paris, activists with the Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination and others launched the Climate Games to counterbalance the U.N. climate talks — yet another international convention full of hot air on an ever more scorched earth. Climate Game Awards were used as a tool to inspire strategic action and encourage community building. So, in appreciation for activists who have gone beyond the ordinary, mobilized magnificent resources, turned commonplace objects into magic wielding wands, or fabricated harbingers of even more technologically advanced and nuanced stunts, I bring you the 2015 Creative Activist Awards.

Let these awards inspire new creative heights for actions within your strategic activist plans. So, without further ado, here are the winners.

The Illuminating Award

This one goes to two groups, one in Russia and one in Spain. In the former, handicap citizens with the organization Dislife, installed holograms of a disabled person in a wheelchair that would flash on when a non-handicap labeled car would try to park in their spot. This was done using a fine mist for the projection and a security camera that would verify (or not) the presence of a handicap sticker on the vehicle. “Don’t pretend I don’t exist” says the holographic wheelchair activist in a bit of misty brilliance.

In Spain, when the Spanish Parliament outlawed protests, No Somos Delito, or NSD, created the world’s first holographic protest march. “The law is surreal — so surreal that it drove us to do something equally surreal, “ said Carlos Escaño of NSD. “It’s about art, about going to a place beyond discourse. It’s about touching emotion.” Beyond that, though, it is about defying citizen security laws in a way that both protects civil society and fights the surreal with surreal.

Embed from Getty Images

New Heights Award

We have entered the A.D.(After Drone) age of tagging and graffiti. A well-known graffiti artist and vandal used a six-story-tall fashion spread in New York City as a first canvas for his newly engineered graffiti spray paint drone. While not quite in the pretty category yet, the potential is huge. We eagerly await Graffiti Drone 2.0.

Murals as Metaphor Award

(Galería de la Raza)

Maricon Collective painted a classic and gorgeous mural featuring gay, lesbian and transgender latin@s on Galería de la Raza’s wall in San Francisco, only to have it vandalized several times. The mural has been repaired at least three times. The gallery has committed to restoring it as many times as it takes because they feel that no one should be marginalized or erased from their history.

Crowdfunding a New World Award

Fed up with the dithering of our politicians while regular citizens suffered without recompense, Thom Feeny, a London shoe shop worker, calculated that a 3 euro donation from every European was all it would take to solve the Greek debt crisis and get folks back on their feet. With this back-of-the-envelope calculation, he launched an IndieGoGo “Greek Bailout Fund” Campaign to do just that. Although it did not reach its 1.6 billion euro target, it did mobilize more than 100,000 ordinary people from 182 countries to pledge 2 million euros — an impressive and heartwarming people-to-people response.

They’re All Quacks Award

(Instagram / Ananymous)

In an old school Anonymous move, they declared a National Trolling Day of anti-ISIS memes and propaganda, and swapped rubber ducks in for jihadists across the Internet. Kill them with humor, it has been said.

No Pussy Footing Around Award

(Twitter / Jeroen Flamman)

In Belgium, following the November 13 Paris attacks, the hashtag #BrusselsLockdown was overwhelmed with cat pictures when the police requested silence about its anti-terrorist operations. Apparently, locals took the reference to heart as the security level was raised to four, or “quatre” in French. For those in the know, “quatre” is pronounced “cat.”

Raise the Bar, Lower the Flag Award

You have to do some things yourself if you want them done in a timely fashion. While the politicians pontificated, Bree Newsome took her place in the annals of nonviolent direct action and lowered the Confederate Flag in front of the South Carolina Statehouse. As the United States continued to reel from the terrorist shootings just 10 days earlier in Charleston, Bree’s action became a beacon for fighting racism and white supremacy across the nation.

Naked Truth Award

The National Day of Action for Black Women and Girls was amplified by topless women protesters blocking traffic in San Francisco. In the tradition of their African grandmothers, the women used this tactic to boldly declare “our bodies are not for your consumption” as they stood up to white supremacy and patriarchy.

Who’s the Biggest Dick? Award

Students at the University of Texas fought back against the Campus Open Carry Gun Law by strapping on dildos! #CocksNotGlocks organizer Jessica Jin noted that although dildos are illegal to openly carry on campus, they are “just about as effective as [guns in] protecting us from sociopathic shooters, but much safer for recreational play.”

Hot Shit Award

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As in many parts of the world, South Africa was rocked this year by student protests. Calling out the fallacy of post-apartheid opportunity and continued inequality, student Chumani Maxwele dumped a bucket of shit on the head of a bronze statue of 19th Century British colonialist Cecil John Rhodes on the University of Cape Town campus. Not just any shit, but poo collected in a bucket from a local township without running water, a physical embodiment of the student’s issues. As such, this is known locally as the “poo protest.”

Unsuitable for Children Award

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Dystopic “bemusement” Theme Park anyone? We’d expect nothing less from Banksy and 58 other artists. Amid a decomposing castle, crashed police van and overturned Cinderella’s chariot, Dismaland delivered despair, gloom, politics and controversy on the site of an old factory in an English seaside town last summer. In one particularly disturbing installation, there was even the opportunity to drive miniature boats overflowing with miniature refugees across a dirty pool.

Good Walls Make Good Neighbors Award

Times are hard in many places. In Iran, “Walls of Kindness” have spontaneously popped up in several cities, featuring decorations with clothes, shoes and coats for the needy next to the words. “If you don’t need it, leave it. If you need it, take it.” Refrigerators where food can be left for the homeless have also been sighted, as part of another community response initiative called “Payan-e Kartonkhabi,” or “ending homelessness.”

Climate activists can learn a lot from Black Lives Matter

by Kate Aronoff

(Twitter / Eli Gerzon)

Yesterday afternoon, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty told a cramped room of reporters that no officers would be tried for the killing of Tamir Rice. The announcement came just over a year after the 12-year-old was gunned down by police for waving around a toy rifle in a Cleveland park. Within two seconds of arriving at the scene, officer Timothy Loehmann had fired two very real bullets at Rice — including the one that killed him.

Calling Rice’s death a “perfect storm of human error, mistakes and miscommunications by all involved that day,” McGinty spent several minutes laying out the ways in which the child should have known better than to play in a park while being black. It was “indisputable,” he said, “that Tamir was drawing a gun from his waist.” McGinty added that the boy’s “size made him look much older” and that he “had been warned that his pellet gun might get him into trouble that day.”

Before the press conference was over, Twitter had issued its own verdict. One of the most popular (and representative) came from “Selma” filmmaker Ava DuVernay, who posted a photo of Tamir smiling in a restaurant with a one-word caption: “Innocent.”

As the movement for black lives has pointed out over the last year, the fact that police can kill a 12-year-old boy without impunity is grounds for moral outrage and disobedience. Organizers are already channeling that outrage into protests in Ohio, New York and elsewhere. The non-indictments of the officers that killed Mike Brown and Eric Garner drove thousands into the streets last year. The rallying cry Black Lives Matter was birthed in similar environs two years prior, when George Zimmerman was acquitted of murder after shooting Trayvon Martin dead on a sleepy Sanford, Florida street. Continued police shootings around the country have prompted further escalation, with protesters moving to shut down business as usual in shopping malls, airports and highways from coast to coast, most recently in a series of actions known as BlackXMas.

These efforts have catapulted a conversation about police brutality and systemic racism into the mainstream. Sixty percent of Americans — compared with just 43 percent the year before — now believe that black Americans’ fight for equal rights isn’t over. The movement has also racked up a string of legal and political victories, including California Gov. Jerry Brown’s decision to ban the use of grand juries in cases of excessive police force.

Central to the movement’s success has been its ability to outline the appropriate public response to killings and non-indictments. On top is a call for empathy, with the families of victims and the countless others who have experienced similar losses.

Alongside it is a sense of justified anger. Nearing 2016, law enforcement’s ability to kill unarmed children and walk free isn’t shocking. As Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote of Rice’s case last year, “Convicting an officer of murder effectively requires an act of telepathy.” The anger that the movement for black lives has articulated, then, is not for specific incidents or errant prosecutors; it’s for a system that was designed to fail large chunks of the people living in it. Events like Monday’s non-indictment are reminders to keep fighting.

Samaira Rice, Tamir’s mother, said as much in her statement on the grand jury’s decision: “I don’t want my child to have died for nothing and I refuse to let his legacy or his name be ignored. We will continue to fight for justice for him, and for all the families who must live with the pain that we live with.”

The facts of her son’s case were all part of the discussion Monday — no less so than among legal analysts — but they served mostly to bolster the movement’s larger narrative that “the whole damn system is guilty as hell,” and shutting down business as usual is the only way to change it.

Of the many lessons the climate movement can draw from the one for black lives, this might be the most valuable. Building on a scaffolding erected by Al Gore and his ilk, mainstream climate activists have for years billed their battle as one for the truth, believing that if they tell the truth, the people (and the politicians) will follow. But faced with disappointments like the Paris Agreement, more environmentalists are coming to realize what many organizers in the movement for black lives already knew: that changing anything means building a big, brash movement. And doing that means talking about people, not statistics.

To be fair, climate denial is a colossal problem. There are still plenty of truths to be told. The GOP’s party line is to disagree with 97 percent of scientists, and its 2016 hopefuls range from quiet skeptics to dues-paying members of the Flat Earth Society. A year-long investigation by Inside Climate News revealed that ExxonMobil funded cutting-edge research into climate change starting in the 1970s, only to spend millions covering up its findings over the next 40 years. Republican obstinacy provided an easy excuse for U.S. negotiators to excise the Paris Agreement’s few binding sections, on the grounds that any agreement that had to pass through a GOP-controlled Congress would be dead on arrival at American shores.

Only sheer stupidity, the argument goes, could obscure the links between devastating floods in the United Kingdom, a nearly 70 degree Christmas in New York and the impotence of the climate deal reached in Paris a few weeks back. “If only they knew better,” goes the thinking of mainstream climate activists.

Content explaining how stupid Republicans are on climate is its own renewable resource — just look at the climate change tab of any major progressive news outlet. A cottage industry has cropped up to generate rapid-fire fact-checks on Republican presidential debates and just about anything Donald Trump says.

But what good does caring about the truth really do? Trump’s resilience against reality is a case in point. As journalist Paul Waldman recently explained, “Not only does [Trump] refuse to be held to any standard of truth, he refuses to act ashamed when he gets caught in a lie, or even grant that he might have been mistaken. And his supporters go right along — if Donald says it, it’s true, and no bunch of media jerks are going to tell them otherwise.” For Trump supporters, facts are irrelevant. The same might well be said of many Americans — not because they’re ill-informed, but because stories do more work than a slideshow ever can. And most people generally don’t like being called stupid. Trump and the climate deniers are telling one story, and the media jerks another. Movements have to up-end them both.

As the movement for black lives already understands, dismantling racism is not about proving racists wrong. Climate change will not be solved by convincing climate deniers of their own idiocy. Each are about power and affecting near-tectonic shifts in national values and priorities: Whose lives matter? Who controls our future? What does security mean amidst rising tides, and who deserves it?

The point here is not to draw a hokey analytic comparison between the movement for black lives and the one against climate change. For one, the links between climate and racial justice aren’t abstract. Reducing that relationship to “links” at all belies how deeply interwoven the two really are. It was Cleveland’s polluted Cuyahoga River, after all, which sparked national outrage when it caught fire one June morning in 1969 — a scandal that led to both the Clean Water Act and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. Additionally, some of this country’s longest-running fights against pollution and extractive industry have taken root in the communities of color that are first to feel their worst impacts. It’s no secret, either, that the nations currently feeling the blunt force of climate change tend to be poorer and browner than the ones that contributed most to it.

These connections aren’t just facts. They’re lived reality. Necessarily, the movement for black lives has always been a struggle for life and death. The climate fight — for many — is no different. As protesters respond to yesterday’s grand jury decision, environmentalists should be taking notes and joining in.

The 60s can’t save us, nor can ‘The Man in the High Castle’

by Max Zahn

A screen shot from “The Man in the High Castle.” (Amazon)

When ashes fall from the sky in the first episode of “The Man in the High Castle,” a new television series from Amazon, the viewer can’t help but mistake them for snowflakes. They flutter to the ground beside a windy stretch of road in America’s Midwestern plains, gradually amassing into a white fog, just as a winter storm might.

Ashes, snowflakes. The resemblance is uncanny — the connotations, of course, wildly disparate. The mistake is unavoidable as the audience struggles to make sense of this work of alternative history, equal parts ambition and cheap thrill, based on the novel of the same name by Phillip K. Dick set two decades after Japan and Germany have defeated the United States in World War II, the latter nation becoming a fascist vassal split between the victors. Baseball, billboards, and burgers remain, yet so too, it seems at first, do safe assumptions about snowflakes. If it quacks like America and walks like America, is it still America? “The most chilling thing about the series,” writes Todd VanDer Werff of Vox, “isn’t how different [America] is, but how similar.”

What’s most haunting about the resemblance is how the characters themselves are seduced by it, grasping ever less tightly to the America they once knew — or, in the case of the younger characters, never knew. For them, it doesn’t matter whether the fog comprises ashes or snowflakes; the point is that it’s obscuring their view. The audience has the luxury of comparing the America on screen to the one off it. In the characters’ case, preserving the distinction is a feat of memory; a delicate balance between the resistance born of nostalgia and the tacit acceptance that comes from stringing days together, building a new life.

“The Man in the High Castle” is, therefore, a show about remembering. For the most part, the older characters, many of whom fought in the war 20 years prior, simply choose not to. They must reconcile themselves to their reality, no matter how abhorrent. But the young characters, like Joe Blake, a 20-something Nazi secret agent, and his soon-to-be love interest, Juliana Crane, a member of a small but committed resistance movement, are driven by curiosity about the country that America once was. They’re nostalgic for a time they never knew, and they lack the shame in having lost it.

The show goes out of its way to establish this stark generational divide, so much so that, for those on the left, the dynamic feels reminiscent of the contemporary relationship between the 1960s generation — many of whom fought valiantly against but, ultimately, capitulated to neoliberalism — and millennial activists who look back nostalgically on that post-WWII era of high union density and low wealth inequality. Like Juliana and Joe, young activists today — myself among them — cannot viscerally feel the absence of that imagined past. Their nostalgia is purely intellectual, even if it must willfully ignore the comparatively worse social conditions for women and people of color. Many activists nevertheless derive hope from their knowledge of a time that better aligns with their desired role of government. Hence all of the mythology on the American left around that Edenic phenomenon called the 60s. The yearning, at bottom, comes from disappointment with the status quo.

As those ashes start to fall, we find ourselves riding along with Joe on an assignment driving a truck cross-country. After suffering a flat tire, Joe asks a middle-aged, avuncular highway patrol officer for assistance. Joe points to a tattoo on the officer’s arm, depicting a flower overlaid by a dagger. “A soldier so fierce he’d kill a rose,” the officer explains. “That was you?” Joe asks. “Oh, a long time ago,” the officer responds. “We lost the war, didn’t we? Now I can’t even remember what we were fighting for.”

Neither can Joe, of course. He was a baby during the war. Having grown up as a member of the Nazi youth and having joined the SS after a brief stint working in a factory, he’s never even left New York. His father, he tells the officer, fought in the war as well. Joe, like the viewer, cannot recognize the ashes. “What is that?” he wonders aloud. “Oh, it’s the hospital,” the officer nonchalantly replies. “Tuesdays they burn cripples, the terminally ill … those [who] drag on the state.” Nary a shudder accompanies the statement — things are the way they are.

“You have a safe trip, son,” the officer says. “Make your old man proud now.” Honoring the older generation, at least for the officer, means acclimating as best you can. It is akin to the stereotypical sell-out ex-hippie wishing a young activist luck on a corporate job interview.

Earlier in the episode, while posing as a prospective member of the resistance in order to infiltrate it, Joe must convince its elder leader that he isn’t a spy. “I want my country back,” he says. “You never had it,” the resistance leader retorts. “You were still sucking your thumb when [the Germans] dropped the [atom] bomb” that won the war. Joe responds: “My father told me what it was like … He said every man was free … I don’t have any buddies who died in the war. I don’t know what freedom is … I’m here because I want to do the right thing.” Though the hollow words of an infiltrator, Joe’s lofty declarations mirror the rallying cry of a young resistance member, Randall, a few episodes later, who says, “Evil triumphs only when good men do nothing.”

Their nostalgia lacks the specificity to be visceral; it’s abstract, saccharine. They miss sights they’ve never seen, freedoms they’ve never enjoyed. That yearning leads the young revolutionaries toward conspicuously high-minded rhetoric and an ineffective course of action. The viewer learns about the resistance’s activities through Juliana Crane, whose younger sister Trudy, unbeknownst to Juliana, has been a member of the resistance for some time. In the first episode, Trudy turns over a subversive and illicit film to Juliana, asking that she make sure it get delivered to a member of the resistance’s East Coast affiliate. Moments later, Trudy is caught and killed by the state’s secret police. Juliana inherits the task. The delivery of these films, it soon becomes clear, is the nationwide resistance’s primary objective. It’s hard to fathom, though, how the spreading of the films could plausibly spur an insurrection strong enough to overcome the German and Japanese military regimes. Writing in Verge, Adi Robertson aptly points out how the members of the resistance “spend so much time and money acquiring films that they start feeling like bootleg video distributors who moonlight as dissidents.”

The films, carefully doctored to mimic newsreels, depict World War II as if the United States had in fact won. They therefore supply the detailed vision of a pre-fascist America that the show’s young generation never had and that the older one has forgotten. Using the films as its primary means to spark dissent, the show’s resistance movement recapitulates the tactic most commonly associated with America’s hippie generation: experimental art intended to raise public consciousness. Intoxicated by how good it feels to “see” a better alternative, the show’s activists think the mere spreading of that revelation is all that’s required of them.

“The Man in the High Castle” thus reimagines the rock n’ roll revolution, but shifts the experimental art from an audio to a visual medium, one better fit for the widely accessible YouTube-dominated media landscape of today than the expensive film reel technologies of the 1960s. You have to wonder, even if the films prove as potent as the resistance hopes, whether the movies can possibly be distributed en masse at a time when most people simply didn’t own the hardware necessary to watch them at home.

But the show’s depiction of the resistance reflects an even deeper fallacy. The successes and failures of the 1960s didn’t spring from (predominantly white) kids listening to the Grateful Dead or taking LSD. That’s just the popular narrative too-often told. As the truer story goes, the years of organizing on the part of both the civil rights and antiwar movements — coupled with increasingly receptive media coverage — built power that couldn’t be ignored, at least until the right prevailed and Reaganism began in earnest. So “The Man in the High Castle” ends up looking like a strange projection of Americans’ most terrifying fears of Nazi control combined with our most glamorous understandings of 60s insurrection. Alternative history, after all, is in the eye of the rememberer. Putting the moral clarity of 1940s anti-fascism together with the romantic protests of the 1960s seems like an ex-hippie’s yearning for a more straightforward political landscape and a set of youngsters more willing to inhale the accepted wisdom of a bygone era.

The show’s prescription doesn’t match the present-day disease — or even its symptoms. On the other hand, Dick’s novel, which was released in 1963, spoke directly to its historical moment, chronicling the influence not of a mysterious underground film but of a work of popular fiction called “The Grasshopper Lies Heavy,” which depicts the U.S. winning World War II as a result of Italy’s betraying the Axis powers and a joint British-Russian military force conquering Berlin. As quasi-revolutionary music topped the charts, Dick exposed how popular art’s potential to spark massive policy change depends on the public institutions built to enact its demands. In the case of his hypothetical Nazi state, prospects were bleak.

Now those same songs sell Hummers and iPhones. The revelatory individualism harnessed by the left in the 1960s has been co-opted by consumer culture’s celebration of selfhood and a government made ever more vulnerable to corporate influence. If any lesson can be gleaned from this show, it’s that a resistance, quite literally, needs a clear vision. But instead of looking forward for this better alternative, the show’s characters look back. What they see, again quite literally, is a projection — and one of their deepest yearnings. Similarly, today’s young activists don’t miss the 60s; they daily mourn the 2015 they don’t have.

With Trump bringing fascism, or at least its facsimile, into the national conversation with plans for a Muslim registry, a border wall and mass deportation, the gauntlet has been thrown. The left cannot respond by projecting its bygone heyday onto an unwieldy present. Instead of the individually-experienced revelation inspired by the films distributed by the show’s resistance movement or the hallucinogens handed out by 60s dissidents, the left could use a clearer collective idea of the world it wants. And we can no longer find it by looking back.

These days there’s no shortage of far-right blathering to make lefties feel superior or CNN documentaries on the 60s to make them feel nostalgic. But moral high ground and indulgent memories do not make a social movement. In fact, if neoliberalism’s rightward shift continues, then the left’s wistful desire for a return to moral clarity could take the form of an all-too-real rolling back of even its most basic victories. Circumstances probably won’t get as bad as those depicted in this show, but with Trump’s meteoric rise, suddenly anything seems possible. Since intergenerational strife pervades “The Man in the High Castle,” it’s fitting that the response the show inspires is perhaps the most tired yet prescient advice of all: Be careful what you wish for.

Which war did the Republican candidates serve in? Reflections on the GOP debate from an Iraq vet

by Ramon Mejia

Embed from Getty Images

As a U.S. Marine veteran who was deployed to Iraq in 2003, I can’t even begin to describe the disgust I felt while watching the GOP debate on Tuesday night. Presidential candidate after presidential candidate attempted to one-up each other by highlighting how tough they would be as future commanders in chief. Each solution they presented demonstrated what little regard they had for the loss of life, and how quick they would be to resort to acts most often referred to as war crimes.

The debate reached its height of callousness when Ben Carson, once a pediatric neurosurgeon of some repute, was asked if he was “OK with the deaths of thousands of innocent children and civilians.” He responded with “You got it.” The irony of a person who formerly devoted his career to saving children’s lives and is now so willing to commit to actions that would result in the deaths of thousands of children in order to showcase his mettle is hard to ignore.

Let me make something clear: no one on that stage has experienced war. None of those candidates have to relive the memories and traumas of participating in war. And not one shares the intimate loss and grief endured by the death of hundreds of thousands of civilians and service members. And yet, carpet bombing, targeting of civilians, opposing democratic movements, and murdering families as retaliation were all openly suggested as potential strategies in the never-ending wars that began with the Bush administration and have continued throughout Obama’s presidency.

Serving in the invasion and occupation of Iraq has made me question the motivations of any elected leader that casually mentions war as a quick and easy option. My time in Iraq was anything but easy. During the dozens of resupply missions my unit was tasked with, we were exposed to the devastation that the invasion had left inside of Iraq. Trucks, cars, tanks, countless buildings scarred with battle damage.

On each successive resupply run, we watched as the faces of children on the side of the roads changed from open and curious to eventually withdrawn and fearful. I saw children that were so happy and so filled with life, and we were the ones taking that away from them. You won’t hear this from any of the candidates promoting more war. You won’t hear about the impact war has had on the people actually living in Iraq, Syria or Afghanistan.

It is also telling what else was not discussed during the debate. While the candidates all seemed perfectly willing to sacrifice yet another generation to pointless wars all in a shameless attempt to increase their place in the polls, they failed to mention the cost of such belligerence. The term “PTSD” wasn’t uttered once during the debate, nor was “Traumatic Brain Injury,” or “Suicide.” The word veteran? Mentioned only once. The reality is that the impact of the war stays with me, and with countless veterans who are returning home traumatized, with as many as 22 veterans a day resorting to suicide as a solution.

Watching the GOP debate on Tuesday gave me an opportunity to reflect on what I took part in and the journey I’ve traveled to come to a place of dedicating my life to make things right. I wish our country would learn some of the lessons that I did instead of perpetuating the same mistakes repeatedly. The sideshow that many of us watched on Tuesday night was only the most recent egregious example of how irresponsible the national dialogue around our foreign policy has become. We, as people responsible for electing the next commander in chief, need to take a good hard look at who we are bringing into office because, let’s be honest: this isn’t a problem confined to only the Republican Party. This is a bipartisan failure. We need to ask ourselves if the candidate that we choose to elect is going to offer us more of the same or break us out  of this deadly cycle.

Australia’s powerful web of grassroots climate resistance

by Nicola Paris

Viv Malo, a Gooniyandi woman from First Nations Liberation, speaks at the Flood the System action in Melbourne earlier this month. (Flickr / Direct Action Melbourne)

I’ve long been fascinated by spider webs, and their potential for movement metaphor. One thread can seem so flimsy and insignificant, but bound together, and woven with care, it can create structures capable of holding immense weight. We might not all be linked directly, but through different strands and nodes we are all inevitably connected — and vibrations from one small piece can be felt across the web.

Also, you can punch a big bloody hole through it, and it can still survive.

The web of resistance that Direct Action Melbourne wove with our Flood the System action earlier this month was better than I imagined, as glorious chaos and decentralized organizing allowed it to become a vision that everyone owned.

I had an idea for an action. To find multiple sites in the city, where we could “connect the dots” and weave a web — both as a visual metaphor and as a literal blockade — to show the connections between climate change, capitalism and our finance sector. We also wanted to highlight the human rights injustices that play out on those most vulnerable: First Nations peoples and refugees from fossil-fueled wars.

Of course, this was easier said than done. We had to find two suitable locations with a public road between in order to create both a strong narrative to link the ideas together, as well as a physical blockade. With a network that had less than a year’s worth of experience working together, as well as many first-time activists, it was a huge leap of faith to publicly announce an open civil disobedience action with the attendant police attention that it would draw. But that’s exactly what we did.

Determination, sleepless nights and a handful of grassroots activists created a beautiful event that blocked the wealthy, corporate end of town, as well as a major city street, for four hours. We also blocked the entrances of a major Australian bank, Westpac, and BHP Billiton, the company responsible for the destruction of aboriginal homelands for uranium and coal — not to mention the worst mining disaster in recent history.

Multiple affinity groups of trusted allies worked to shut down and secure the location, so that we could then open the space for the broader movement to join us. As huge amounts of police followed the hundreds of people from Federation Square, the excitement was palpable. Our web came to life — ribbons, rope and bunting criss-crossed the road, and physically connected the sites of BHP and Westpac, where teams locked onto the doors.

It was joyous and fun, and it interrupted business as usual on affluent Collins Street. For nearly four hours, we did indeed flood the system.

Like many climate activists across Australia, we were excited to see the beautiful resources and graphic narrative of Flood the System, created by Rising Tide North America and its vision for “movement momentum.” However, with the much shorter lead time and lack of resources, it meant some of the community organizing and aspirations for more diverse movement building went unrealized in our less resourced areas.

In contrast, with significantly longer lead time, and likely hundreds of thousands of dollars of resources behind it — not to mention paid NGO staff, flyers and posters, and huge sound systems — the Peoples Climate Marches across Australia on the last weekend of November were huge, particularly in Melbourne. The movement building and coalition work was done better than ever before, but it was characterized by a complete lack of political demands or clear next steps, as well as fraught politics with First Nations people.

It was only in the week prior to the march that the well-resourced campaigners considered the question, “Where to next?” They had worked on organizing the march for months, and the idea of having people walk around the city block, but had nothing else planned for them to do beyond that.

In comparison, our budget was $500 — all for some padlocks and chain, paints and banner material, as well as second-hand sheets and yarn that were ripped up to make our web. Of course, there was also the hard unpaid work of a handful of grassroots volunteers. Our message was both complex, in terms of climate justice, but also simple. We made it clear that we had already written letters, signed petitions, lobbied and marched. So, it was time to intervene and get in the way of business as usual, where our government and corporations fail to act.

The web of our resistance, “connecting the dots” at the corporate end of town, between BHP Billiton and Westpac Bank (Flickr / Direct Action Melbourne)

This powerful and diverse action demonstrated again that the real groundswell in the Australian climate movement is happening at the grassroots. A huge campaign to save a forest and small community from a massive coal mine expansion project at Maules Creek in New South Wales has seen over 350 arrests in the last two years.

Infrastructure provided by one of the larger NGOs ensured that the camp, hosted at a friendly local farm, had a kitchen capable of mass catering, toilets and an overall level of comfort that allowed diverse participation — from religious groups to choirs to bird watchers. Doctors, lawyers, scientists, farmers and local conservative voters participated in civil disobedience for the first time in their lives. Despite sustained action over years, however, it wasn’t enough to stop the mine from being built.

Nevertheless, the resistance came with a huge cost to the company involved, and has started to re-shape the perception of coal extraction in Australia — a country whose wealth has been built on the back of resource extraction, as well as colonization and the displacement of First Nations people. The social license for coal is being eroded, slowly but surely, despite former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s ludicrous assertions that “coal is good for humanity.”

The mining lobby has come out on the attack, flailing like a wounded animal, with misfiring PR campaigns that have landed to broad ridicule across social media. The brilliant coalition building work of Lock the Gate — a grassroots movement of farmers, traditional custodians and environmentalists organizing against unconventional gas — as well as my work with CounterAct, training activists for nonviolent direct action and associated campaigning skills, has come under attack by the mining industry and a parliamentary inquiry. It can surely be considered a huge indicator of our impact as a tiny grassroots group.

The Maules Creek #LeardBlockade campaign planted the next seeds of a movement that is sprouting and connecting people who felt the power of those mass actions and seemingly unlimited creativity of the smaller-themed lock-ons and tree-sits. From medics against coal to Batman taking to a tripod, or to a coal loader these creative acts of resistance are weaving our web stronger and broader than ever before.

Those connections and deepened relationships were evident at a powerful climate action at Federal Parliament in early December. Despite international critiques of its approach, 350.org’s work in Australia has been largely well received. Its rapid building of skill sets and staff have enabled it to jump from the perceived rhetoric of its “Summer Heat” direct actions in early 2014 to the extraordinary Pacific Warriors climate flotilla and solidarity actions with grassroots groups late last year. 350 followed that up with its behind the scenes support for the massive “People’s Parliament,” an action that saw 300 community members from around the country converge in Canberra during the first week of COP21 to send a strong signal to government — that where they refuse to lead, the people will step up.

The chants of “people before polluters” filled the grand foyer of Parliament and we heard from people across the frontlines of climate change: fiery Aunty Mabel, a traditional custodian from Bailai country; Zane, one of the Pacific Island Warriors; those challenging massive coal mining projects, such as the Rio Tinto Warkworth mine expansion; and people impacted by the Hazelwood mine fire.

This growing diversity was also reflected in our Flood the System event in Melbourne. We had unionists, fiery anarchists, grandparents and young students — all taking action for the first time — along with refugee rights advocates and First Nations activists from Seed and the Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance.

With Australia being one of the world’s biggest carbon emitters per capita and having an embarrassingly isolated government — including a brand new prime minister who, despite the rhetoric and sheen, has conceded nothing to the environment movement — and a relatively conservative NGO sector still playing in-the-tent politics with business and government, it falls to those at the grassroots to push for the ambitious and bold response needed.

As the Paris agreement landed to near universal acclaim across the mainstream environmental movement — with groups like the Australian Conservation Foundation calling the #D12 protests a celebration — the grassroots has a responsibility to call it what it is: something that was better than many expected, but absolutely not good enough. Naïve optimism is not going to cut it, nor will it show respect to Pacific Islanders’ call to save their homelands. As for the people on the streets in Paris, they need to be seen for what they were: many thousands drawing a red line, sending a strong signal that although this agreement might not have any teeth, it is time that we bare ours — not just in anger, but with defiant joy.

Neil Morris, Yorta Yorta man, with the First Nations banners (Flickr / Direct Action Melbourne)

After training people across the country in recent years, I am increasingly certain that the climate justice movement in this country — and perhaps in other wealthy nations — is not providing the pathways that concerned community members are ready to take. In times of crisis, the only reasonable response is to intervene, and it’s time for civil society in Australia and elsewhere to build the pathways needed to allow people to step into powerful nonviolent direct action.

For us, in Melbourne and across the country, we saw an important next step as hundreds took action in the city for the first time and brought coal ports to a standstill along the east coast. We will now build on that momentum and join the international climate justice community in looking toward disrupting more infrastructure projects in 2016. Here in Australia, we hope to keep the Galilee coal reserves in the ground, and keep further unconventional gas at bay.

In order to do so, we must continue to weave our web, drawing stories, culture, leadership and inspiration from our First Nations peoples, as well as those on the frontlines of climate change. We must amplify their voices and become a richer movement in the process — weaving a web of resistance that connects us, despite our differences and what the flailing, dying fossil fuel industry and government throws at us.

How advocates for Syrian refugees are weathering the storm

by Sarah Aziza

Hamid Imam, a Syrian activist based in New Jersey, leads a crowd of supporters in pro-refugee chants in Union Square on September 12. (WNV/Sarah Aziza)

Syrians in the United States may be safe from falling bombs, but they are never free of the shadow cast by the still-raging war. Sarab al-Jijakli is one of many Syrians in America who have sought activism as an antidote to the frustration and grief of watching their nation torn apart by fighting. But, as al-Jijakli says, this can often feel like an exercise in futility.

“There’s a chant on the Syrian streets now — that we have no one to rely on but God,” said al-Jijakli with a mirthless chuckle. “It’s really starting to feel true.” His comment came in late November 2015, and reflected a deep weariness wrought after years of struggling for the Syrian cause.

Al-Jijakli, founder of the National Alliance for Syria, has devoted himself to promoting a vision of a free and democratic Syrian state. Most of his experience as an activist has been defined by a maddening indifference from the American public. “It was very difficult to engage people on this issue,” he recalled. “People have become desensitized to violence in the Middle East, or they say it’s too complicated for them to understand. It was very discouraging. No one wanted to listen or to talk about the Syrian cause.”

That all began to change in the summer of 2015.

Signs of hope

I first met Sarab al-Jijakli on a cloudy morning on September 18, 2015, in Manhattan’s bustling Union Square. Despite sprinkling rain, al-Jijakli’s spirits were high as he ambled through the crowd of 200 activists and onlookers gathered in the plaza. Al-Jijakli conferred with fellow organizers and passed out signs emblazoned with antiwar slogans and “Welcome Refugee” messaging. At noon, al-Jijakli mounted the plaza steps to lead the first major pro-Syrian refugee rally in New York City.

Turning to me a few minutes before his opening speech, al-Jijakli’s earnest eyes showed a long-absent glimmer of optimism. “People are starting to care about the Syrian plight,” he told me. At the time, he was right — American public opinion in September 2015 showed unprecedented support for resettling Syrian refugees in the United States.

This trend, while heartening, represented a belated reaction to a tragic reality. Throughout the summer of 2015, as images of overcrowded lifeboats, squalid squatters camps, and the unforgettable photograph of young Alan al-Kurdi’s limp body penetrated Western media, Americans felt a sudden concern for the years-old conflict. Looking to European nations like Germany and Sweden as examples, Americans began to call on their own government to take a more proactive approach to alleviate the humanitarian crisis.

Many of those gathered in Union Square that morning were newcomers to political activism and to the cause of the Syrian refugees. Al-Jijakli opened the rally by rattling off a few of the grisly facts: Since 2011, a quarter-million Syrians had died, 7 million were internally displaced, and 4 million refugees had been driven out of the country. Despite the magnitude of the crisis, al-Jijakli reminded the crowd that the United States had so far accepted fewer than 2,000 refugees for resettlement. The crowd booed at this disheartening statistic, with chants of “Let them in!” swelling from their throats.

Another dedicated Syrian activist, Hamid Imam, took the stage next, launching into a passionate call for an end to the “proxy war” in Syria and a toppling of the Assad regime. Young and fiery, Imam is tormented by the memory of his hometown, Raqqa, which is now an ISIS stronghold wasted by months of fighting. That morning, his voice rang with urgency.

“Our people have suffered every kind of violence — bombs, bullets, beheadings.” Imam paced around the platform in tight circles, his thick arms waving up and down as his upper body rocked in rhythm with his words. “What more does the world need to see before they put a stop to this?” Imam ended his speech with a return to al-Jijakli’s call for more refugees to be resettled in the United States.

Later, on October 12, al-Jijakli stood before a packed meeting hall at the Islamic Center of NYU, where over a hundred community members from the tri-state area had gathered to strategize about the next steps in pro-refugee advocacy. Alongside al-Jijakli were representatives from the International Rescue Commission and Islamic Relief, as well as Linda Sarsour, a prominent activist and founder of the Arab American Association of New York.

For the next hour and a half, these experts weighed in on “what to expect, and how to help” in light of President Obama’s recent promise to resettle 10,000 refugees in the 2016 fiscal year. During the Q&A, audience members leaned forward with arms raised, vying for the chance to ask a question or offer spare bedrooms to shelter new arrivals. Al-Jijakli was heartened by the enthusiasm, but reminded the audience, “they’re not here yet — so far, all we have is a political promise.”

As he closed the meeting, however, al-Jijakli allowed himself a moment of optimism. “For the first time, we’re able to be proactive,” he said. “People are finally seeing us as humans, not just a security threat.” After four tumultuous years of organizing around the Syrian cause, al-Jijakli confessed that this was the most hope he’d felt in a long time. Unsure how long the popular support would last, he stressed the need to “act as quickly as we can, while this goodwill lasts.”

Calm before the storm

Barely a month later, the world watched in horror as Paris was plunged into bloody chaos. As the horrific events unfolded, al-Jijakli steeled himself for possible fallout against his community. “I was thinking what every Muslim was thinking: Please, God, don’t let the attackers be Muslim.” When a Syrian passport surfaced at one crime scene and the so-called Islamic State claimed responsibility for the carnage, al-Jijakli’s grief was compounded with the dread of impending backlash.

Within hours, al-Jijakli would begin to see months’ of advocacy work undone, as anti-Arab sentiment surged across the country. Politicians, formerly vocal supporters of the proposed refugee resettlement, now competed in denouncing the plan with increasingly vitriolic rhetoric. Within days of the attacks, 31 state governors announced their plans to refuse Syrian refugees, reneging on earlier promises and denouncing these asylum seekers as a collective security threat.

“I will not stand complicit to a policy that places the citizens of Alabama in harm’s way. We refuse Syrian refugees,” tweeted Alabama Gov. Bentley. House Speaker Paul Ryan urged Congress to pass a bill barring both Syrian and Iraqi refugees, arguing, “This is urgent. We cannot and should not wait to act, not when our national security is at stake.” When activists, and Obama himself, pointed out that refugees receive more intensive screening than any other demographic entering the United States, it did little to stem the anti-Syrian hysteria.

In the days following the attacks, al-Jijakli’s voice was heavy with resignation. “We’re back to where we started — or worse,” he confessed to me. “Everywhere the doors are slamming in our faces again.” Al-Jijakli had no immediate strategy, but said simply, “First, we have to weather this storm.”

In the weeks following the Paris attacks, it appeared the storm was growing darker. When it was revealed that the couple responsible for the subsequent San Bernardino attacks had ties to ISIS, Islamophobic and anti-Arab rhetoric mounted across the country. The hysteria came to a head on Dec. 6, when presidential candidate Donald Trump made a public call for a nationwide ban on Muslims entering the country. Meanwhile, reports of attacks on Muslims across the United States continued to rise.

Imam has weathered many storms in the course of his activism, but said the intensity of the backlash following Paris and San Bernardino was the worse he’d known. For a moment, Imam was tempted to despair. Exasperated by the escalating harassment he faced as an Arab Muslim in his hometown of Paterson, New Jersey, Imam began questioning whether he would continue advocating for refugee resettlement at all. “We care about our people’s physical safety, but we also care about their dignity,” Imam said, whose family in Syria is still trying desperately to escape. “I don’t want to bring victims here only to have them humiliated.”

Hosam (last name withheld), a survivor and newly-arrived refugee from the Syrian city of Homs, addresses the crowd at a rally at Columbus Circle on Dec. 10. (WNV/Sarah Aziza)

Lighting the fire again

It was not long, however, before Imam and al-Jijakli redoubled their efforts, joining forces with Linda Sarsour and a wide coalition of activist groups in the tri-state area to organize another rally — this one in front of Donald Trump’s own property in Midtown Manhattan.

On Dec. 10, over 700 individuals representing over 50 organizations gathered in Columbus Circle, just off of Trump’s looming high-rise properties, and for an hour and half filled the air with their adamant voices. With supporters ranging from leather-clad CUNY students to Spanish-speaking Brooklynites to Asian-American organizers from the Bronx, the rally was bigger and broader than the Union Square gathering — and angrier, too.

“War is terrorism. Refugees are the victims” read one sign, hoisted by a trim, white woman in a wool coat. “Refugees welcome — Trump, not so much” read the poster of a curly-haired man in a skullcap, standing beside a group of antiwar organizers waving “Hands off Syria” signage. Others raised boards emblazoned with Spanish and Arabic messages of solidarity. In the center of the plaza, speakers clambered atop a granite monument to project their voices above the crowd.

“We stand in solidarity with refugees and in protest of the racist rhetoric that is taking over the media,” Akua Gy, a representative from the Black Lives Matter movement, called out. “I can’t help but see the connections between the campaign against Arabs and Muslims with the war on black people here in this country.” The crowd roared in agreement. Naomi Dann of Jewish Voice For Peace, a key organizer of the event, connected the event to her faith. “The Jewish tradition teaches us to welcome our neighbors and to learn from our own experiences of oppression.”

At the back of the crowd stood Manal Abdelaziz, a demure, Damascus-born mother of three. Speaking in Arabic, she said that while she occasionally faces hostility in the United States, she’s grateful for the opportunity it offers her family. “Really, I’m here [at the rally] to show my support for the people back in Syria.” Abdelaziz said she prays daily for her family, still in harm’s way in Damascus.

Al-Jijakli agreed that he was most haunted by the knowledge that people in Syria continued to perish. “This is just one chapter of a long struggle,” he explained. “Eventually this anti-refugee, Islamophobic hysteria will pass, but we’ll still be fighting for freedom in Syria, and an end to acceptable bigotry in America.”

Imam took the stage as one of the last speakers, and it was clear he’d regained his fighting spirit. His powerful voice, edged with pain, bellowed across the evening air. “We are here to show the world: This is the face of a Syrian refugee.” The crowd erupted into applause, then chanted: “Say it loud! Say it clear! Refugees are welcome here!”

Later, dismounting the stage as the crowd dispersed, Imam made the rounds among fellow organizers, shaking hands and urging his fellow Syrians to “hold on to hope.” The victory, said Imam, will come through sheer resilience. “In Syria, there are cities that have been completely leveled by bombs. You know what the people are doing? They are surviving, and fighting, beneath the rubble,” he said. “How can you beat people like that?”

Why I went to Guantánamo, again

by Frida Berrigan

Frida Berrigan in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (Flickr / Justin Norman)

I have the world’s worst hair cut. It is uneven, hacked and does nothing to flatter my features. For the first few days after I cut it, my hair was also super dirty, sticking straight up with a Pomade of bug spray, sunscreen and Cuban dirt.

While so many in the United States were being driven to distraction by the biggest deals of a lifetime on Black Friday, I was in Cuba, taking a pair of scissors to my head as I looked down a mountainside at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantánamo Bay. I could see the base, which straddles the sparkling bay, cutting the Cuban people off from rich fishing waters and full access to their land. A representative of the Cuban government told us that the Department of Guantánamo lags behind the rest of the nation in economic development because they have expected an invasion to come from the base since 1903, when the United States seized the land. “Why invest in an area that is just going to be destroyed by bombs?” she asked.

Standing at this spot, I could see the sacred — mountains, valleys, rainbows, water, skies that almost sing with gorgeousness — and the profane — occupation, militarization, torture, abuse, indefinite detention. I was there with 13 other friends from Witness Against Torture. We were spending our Thanksgiving week far from our families, camping out at the Mirador overlooking the U.S. Naval Base. We were being hosted by the staff of La Gobernadora restaurant and lounge. From the look out, we could see the U.S. base that has occupied more than 100 square kilometers of Cuban land for over a century and imprisons 107 men in torturous conditions.

We camped. We prayed. We worked to transform a random international tourist spot — not to mention local make out spot, where the night staff drink rum from the bottle and blast reggaeton music toda la noche — into a place to honor. We wanted to connect and extend ourselves towards the men our nation has demonized and forgotten — hoping our songs, chants and prayers were carried by the wind, refracted by the sun, swept along by the rain, and carried along by every bird that flew overhead.

After a while, though, I needed to do just a little more than fasting and camping. I needed just a little more suffering. I was here — close this exact spot — 10 years ago, when Witness Against Torture was born. That time, in December 2005, 25 of us walked about 100 kilometers from Santiago de Cuba to the Cuban military checkpoint that guards the entrance to a Cuban military territory that surrounds the U.S. naval base. We fasted then as well, camping out at the Cuban checkpoint and calling U.S. SOUTHCOM to request entry onto the base. That time, we hoped that the United States would press charges against us for traveling to Cuba, giving us an opportunity to put the Bush administration’s torture program on trial. They declined.

What drew me back to Guantánamo? What propelled me away from my husband and three small children during Thanksgiving week? I returned 10 years after our original mission because so much has changed for me — I am now a wife and a mother — and so little has changed about the criminal injustice of indefinite detention, abuse and torture.

Relations between the United States and Cuba have changed. Travel restrictions have loosened. Embassies have opened in both countries. We are not breaking any laws by being here, but we are doing something no one has done before, and the Cuban people were with us. They are sick of being occupied, sick of being exploited, sick of Guantánamo being synonymous with torture the world over, when it should bring up visions of gorgeous beaches, fat healthy fish and rigorous mountain climbing.

That’s why I needed a little more than fasting and camping. That’s why I needed a little more suffering. And that’s why I opted to give myself the world’s worst haircut. As I sawed and hacked off hanks of hair, I recalled all the names we had read earlier in the day. The names and stories of 107 men still held at Guantánamo, many in solitary confinement, many on hunger strike, many still subjected to forced feeding.

Mohammed Ahmad Said al Edah is a 52- or 53-year-old citizen of Yemen. As of November 16, 2015, he has been held at Guantánamo for 13 years and 10 months. As of January 2010, the Guantánamo Review Task Force had recommended him for transfer to Yemen provided that certain security conditions were met.

Abd al Malik Abd al Wahab is a 35- or 36-year-old citizen of Yemen. As of January 2010, the Guantánamo Review Task Force had recommended him for continued detention. A parole-like Periodic Review Board later recommended him for transfer. As of Nov. 16, 2015, he has been held at Guantánamo for 13 years, 10 months.

I wanted to get back to my kids, my husband and my domestic routine. I yearned to wash dishes (and my hair) and read books. But I didn’t want to forget what we were able to do on that mountaintop. I didn’t want to forget what people of good will are able to accomplish. We established an outpost of prayer and intention, and showed the world that people from the United States still care about what happens here.

I wanted to leave Cuba with more than a sunburn, a stomach ache and pile of really beautiful, moving photographs of our work here. I wanted to leave Cuba changed and doubly committed to changing the life circumstances of the men who are stuck in the worst form of hell — life in limbo. We are living in an age of borderless war, pervasive terror and prevailing fear. We can trace many of the origins of this to 2001, the launch of the U.S. war on the people of Afghanistan and the delivery of a planeful of Arab and Muslim men into U.S. custody on Cuban soil in 2002. Guantánamo — the wholesale shackling, torturing and confining of men without charge or evidence — was the beginning of a new and grim chapter in our nation’s history.

I keep thinking about what my children and grandchildren will ask me about this time when they are older. I want to be able to tell them that I stood on the side of the outsider, that I was not afraid, that I kept the flame of peace afire and held onto my humanity by never losing sight of anyone else’s humanity. That’s why I embarked on this journey, to be able to look my children in their big beautiful eyes and say, “I tried. I am trying.” But, the first thing they said when they saw me was, in fact, “Hi Ma, what happened to your hair?”

Breaking bread in Kabul

by Kathy Kelly

Children at the Afghan Peace Volunteer’s Borderfree Street Kids School learn from Ellis Brooks and Dr. Hakim about resolving conflicts peacefully. (WNV/Dr. Hakim)

Here in Kabul, over breakfast with Afghan Peace Volunteers, or APVs, we easily recalled key elements of the conflict resolution and peer mediation “train the trainers” workshops that Ellis Brooks, with Voices for Creative Nonviolence-UK, had facilitated a week ago. The APV is a grassroots group of ordinary multi-ethnic Afghans seeking a life of nonviolence.

Peer mediators make “promises” before beginning a session: We won’t tell you what to do, we won’t take sides, and we won’t talk about this session with anyone outside of our room. While pouring tea and breaking bread, we recalled the hand signals Ellis gave us to help remember each promise.

Children at the Borderfree Street Kids School were also taught the peer mediation skills. I’m guessing that the street kids who work to supplement their family income can easily recall what Ellis taught them. They played games to show the importance of listening, and they learned to avoid blaming, exaggerating and “mind-reading” when mediating a dispute.

I watched the little children work in small groups to assemble cartoonized images of two donkeys, tied together, pulling against each other while heading for two heaps of food located in opposite directions. Each group succeeded, working together, in arranging the images so that the classic yet timely story ended with the two donkeys having figured out that they could both approach each pile, both be satisfied and both feed themselves, first at one pile and then the other. To reinforce the story, Ellis called on Ali and Abdulhai, two of the APV teachers, to role-play being the donkeys, using Ellis’s scarf as the tie to bind them. Hilarity filled the room as the children advised their beloved “donkeys” about how to achieve a win-win solution.

We laughed this morning, recalling the scene. But I can’t help but worry that most of our younger friends are not very likely to be chatting about the workshop while enjoying fresh, warm bread and a second round of tea in a relatively secure setting. Many of them live in refugee camps. Their families don’t have money to buy wood for fuel, and they often share meals of stale bread and tea without sugar.

It’s troubling to see how easily the children identified with a scenario the APVs helped Ellis develop, which would become the grist for analyzing conflict resolution and mediation. The story, as told by one of the child disputants in the role play, presents a grievance: Every morning, Nargis, a little girl, begs for bread at a certain set of homes, and when she is done she usually has acquired about 10 pieces of bread. She accuses Abdullah of going to those houses to get bread before her. She says that Abdullah stole her bread, that he is a thief and not to be trusted. Abdullah says that he had no idea that he couldn’t approach the same houses, and that he only got one piece of bread for his family. He says that Nargis is greedy and selfish, and that he would even have shared the bread if she didn’t shame him before others and for some reason call him a thief.

Ellis guided the children through efforts to tell the story without including any exaggeration, blaming or “mind-reading,” as a skilled mediator would do. Using the image of peeling layers of an onion, he helped everyone identify what happened, what the disputants thought, how they felt, and, so importantly, what they needed. The stark reality in the role-play was that both Nargis and Abdullah fear hunger and need bread.

They want to bring some measure of security to their families, and the idea of returning empty-handed can inspire anxiety, rage and even panic.

I felt a bit of relief in knowing that the 100 child laborers participating in the Borderfree Street Kids School are each given a donation of beans, flour, cooking oil and rice, once a month, to compensate for what they would have earned working on the streets of Kabul while they now attend school. It’s very good to know that each child has been given warm clothing to help them through the coming winter.

Yet it is estimated that there could be up to 60,000 child laborers in Kabul alone. What shall we conclude about the others? What about their experiences of hunger, cold and insecurity?

Ironically, while Ellis was in Kabul, the U.S. Embassy had issued high level alerts warning westerners in Kabul to stay home because of an anticipated imminent attack. Ellis, tall and fair, could easily be spotted as a westerner, while walking the short distance between the APV live-in community and their Borderfree Center where APV gatherings are held. He acknowledged that some of his family and friends were highly fearful about his visit to Kabul. “Have you gone mad?” some asked.

But, during the workshops, the lively, engaging activities quickly displaced concerns about security and possible attacks. Ellis was paired with Dr. Hakim, whose translation and interpretation were superb. The two of them deftly gained respect and full cooperation.

Later in the week, as I began to learn about rising fear and insecurity following the attack in San Bernardino, California that killed 14 people, I wondered how Ellis’ guidelines could affect people in the United States. Suppose that media, educators, faith-based and civil society leaders cooperated to educate people about the dangerous harm caused by language that labels all Muslims as suspect, exaggerates the threat to people’s daily lives in the United States, and reads the minds of Muslims claiming that all of them harbor hatred toward the United States. Suppose that it was commonplace for people in the United States to ask what fears and needs inspire antagonism toward their country. Suppose the media gave daily coverage to the sobering reports of U.S. attacks against civilians in other countries, most recently in war zones where the civilians have been routinely bombed and maimed, destroying their homes and causing millions to flee the consequent breakdown of civil society.

Before leaving, Ellis thanked the APVs for welcoming him, even though interventions by his country and others have made Afghanistan less safe and less free. He said he had learned, while here, about a strong capacity not to give up on basic rights, especially the right not to kill, the right to care about the planet, and the right to seek equality between people. “Thank you,” he told all of the students, “for being my teachers.”

Beyond Paris and the temptation to despair

by George Lakey

Embed from Getty Images

I’m no stranger to despair — it almost killed me. At age 39, I was diagnosed with a kind of lymphoma that was usually fatal. I’m exactly twice that age now. The healing took an extraordinary mobilization of resources from inside me and from my community. But first I had to learn the biggest lesson of all.

I remember that challenging time now, as I read the news from the Paris climate talks. Many of us, frankly, did not hold high expectations for the gathering. In 1973, I published my prediction that governmental leaders would fail us on fundamental environmental issues. I proposed an alternative strategy that would not rely on politicians to take care of us and called it a “living revolution.”

Still, when heads of state gather in the bright lights of mass media, there’s often hope against hope. Against our better judgment, we can set ourselves up for discouragement and worse.

When facing the prospect of my dying, I found an approach that went beyond both despair and desperate hope. I remember groaning in a hospital bed after massive surgery when the surgeon came in. He explained, “We couldn’t get it all, so radiation and chemo will be next.” I noticed the surgeon would no longer meet my eyes. Today’s analogy to his ominous message might be the environmentalists who tell us that it’s already too late — we can’t really save ourselves from climate calamity.

As I digested my grim diagnosis I began to feel a complete victim. I asked myself, why me? I’m young and chose a healthy lifestyle. I have children to care for, and I work for a better world.

My primary community, Movement for a New Society, organized a care team for me in the hospital. MNS member Ellen Deacon invited her dad to visit me. When he walked into my room, the pain was roaring and tubes were coming in and out of me. Ellen’s dad simply said, “My daughter told you I’d drop by in case you needed anything. Not very long ago I was where you are now.”

That got my attention.

“I realize we’re all different,” he said, “but what turned me around was when I decided to take responsibility for the cancer I had grown.”

Every fiber within me shouted “No!”

“I’m not talking about blame, here,” he said. “I’m simply talking about owning my situation, realizing that the rest of me had something to do with the cancer cells multiplying. You might want to consider it.”

I said as graceful a goodbye as I could under the circumstances, and went back to feeling sorry for myself. Later, though, his words came back to me, along with his healthy vibrancy. I began to consider what he said. If I somehow had the power to cooperate with the growth of the cancer cells, would that imply that I had the power to non-cooperate as well? If I can grow tumors, could I also shrink them?”

The idea was too far-fetched for me to believe it. Yet, as a working hypothesis, it was very attractive. I like being powerful. I felt powerless at the moment, pathetically so. I could choose to stay with pathos (I do like opera), or I could choose power.

Ellen and the others in the Movement for a New Society community put me in a love bath, 24/7. To the alarm of the supervising nurse, they wouldn’t let me alone. They sat beside me while I slept, sang and held me while I shook with fear. My dad had reared me to be a stoical individualist, but even his influence couldn’t prevent my surrender to the love. I could tell it was surrender because I so often became a blubbering idiot with them, pouring out decades of stored-up pain and disappointment and, yes, despair.

I was unprepared to strategize my healing, so my comrades helped out. They researched, helped me examine my lifestyle with a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats), pointed me toward resources I’d never heard of. They wisely left each decision to me — this was about empowerment, after all. I kept in mind the very real chance of dying, reading books about it and building into my life qualities that I wanted to enjoy on my way out, if that’s how it went. My strategy also included new disciplines and new forms of struggle, to support a renewal of life. Even if the probability is low, I asked myself over and over in the middle of the night, why not go for it?

Dealing with our collective threat

Afterward, I looked back on that year of mobilization, painful as it was, as one of the best of my life. I realized that, because of my stubborn denial, I needed the death threat to get myself together. My growth curve transformed limiting beliefs and gave me glimpses of what the mystics and saints have long been getting at. I did know of people who resigned themselves to their cancer, turned on the television, and sank into oblivion. I chose love and possibility and reached for a new degree of liberation. Maybe our society’s denial also needs the death threat to get itself together and make its own breakthrough.

Already in the late 1960s I “got the memo” about environmental crisis. I did little activism for the cause, however, because the movement’s mainstream was so determined to bark up the wrong tree. Most environmentalists’ belief in a middle school civics version of American politics kept groups to the right of Greenpeace unwilling to tap their full power.

In the past five years I see environmentalists shifting. Global conferences in Kyoto and Copenhagen revealed the truth to some, and Paris is revealing it to more: Politicians will not — and can not — save us, any more than I could have healed from cancer with band-aids. The environmental/economic crisis is way too fundamental to be handled by masses of people who ignore the source of their own power, which is literally called “people power.”

As with my cancer, the turn-around begins by taking responsibility, by accepting that somehow or other we’ve been avoiding operating from our true, life-affirming selves. Once we accept that we gave our power away to politicians and the corporate heads who control them, we can choose to take our power back.

As with my cancer recovery, a self-assessment will be useful. We’ll find we need to love each other instead of playing identity politics one-upmanship. If we’re on the oppressed end of one of the many “isms,” we’ll need to root our action in self-respect rather than attacking our comrades. We’ll need to interrogate class in ourselves, and become blubbering idiots, as we let go of the superiority moves that divide our efforts. By understanding class we’ll see how white supremacy, economic injustice and climate chaos are all maintained by the 1 percent and the institutions they control, such as the university and the Democratic Party.

We’ll also need to accept some good news, which is that the pace of change is not even. Predictions of doom usually assume a steady pace, but in fact there is often acceleration when masses go into motion. The four years between the Montgomery bus boycott and the 1960 sit-ins seemed like an eternity to civil rights organizers, but the years following 1960 were like a speeding train, almost impossible to keep up with. Nor would our SWOT analysis be complete if we overlook the positive indicators that showed up in Paris.

Strategically, the main lesson I learned in getting the goods on cancer was to be holistic. Let’s live the revolution now, even while we engage in the earlier stages that build the revolutionary movement. Let the timid ones see our affirmative organizational cultures that accept the emotional highs and lows that go with the struggle. Let’s act with awareness that a broad social movement includes diverse roles (advocacy, building alternative institutions, and so on), then affirm each role while enhancing the direct action that, in the United States, has suffered decades of neglect.

As environmental activist Joanna Macy teaches in her books and workshops, denial of despair doesn’t make it go away. In fact, in my life, despair was killing me. Post-Paris is our opportunity to get with friends, and do the raging, grieving and anguishing that might be coming up. Children are right to have tantrums, and we grown-ups are too — without needing to overturn police cars to be all drama-queen about it. When we choose to express our emotions safely and with each other, we send a subtle but clear message to our own selves that we are powerful indeed. By releasing our own emotions in a responsible way we free our agency and restore our sense of confidence.
Will humankind succeed in taking on the unjustly organized economies that are propelling the crisis? No one can really know for certain. I personally know what it means to look at slim odds. And I know I can choose to go for it.

Climate Games challenge Paris protest ban with peer-to-peer disobedience

by Kate Aronoff

An activist makes moss graffiti in Bordeaux with the slogan of the Climate Games. (Twitter/@JEBA_JE)

The 21st Conference of Parties, or COP21, has taken place under unusual circumstances, which is saying a lot given the history of international climate negotiations. Following the attacks on Paris on November 13, French President Francois Hollande declared a nationwide state of emergency that the French legislature then extended to three months. Relevant to COP21, that includes a wholesale ban on protests and “outside events.” Tomorrow, thousands in Paris are planning to defy it.

At D12 — “D” standing for both December and disobedience — activists plan to form a massive “red line” with their bodies, symbolizing how they and others around the world will hold governments accountable to the climate commitments negotiators will theoretically agree to tomorrow.

Plans to mobilize around this year’s talks had been brewing for months before November’s attacks, if not since the last landmark climate talks collapsed in Copenhagen in 2009. When the Global Climate March, planned for November 29, was canceled, an umbrella coalition of NGOs, unions and social movement representatives called Coalition Climat 21 went into deep negotiations to figure out their next steps. Long beforehand, however, a small group of European climate activists had been planning a series of demonstrations called the Climate Games, which seemed ready-made to defy the government’s protest ban prohibiting public gatherings of more than two people. Their plan was for creative, decentralized direct actions organized in small groups with no discernible nexus beyond shared messaging: “We Are Nature Defending Itself.”

Over 100 Climate Games actions have rolled within and without France for the last two weeks, and its originators are part of the network of seasoned organizers determining next steps on an hour-by-hour basis. With the penultimate public briefing on tomorrow’s action happening yards behind us, I spoke with Climate Games co-organizer Selj Balamir to hear more about the state of emergency, the strategy behind the games and what organizers plan to do next.

How did the Climate Games come together?

The Climate Games started in Amsterdam to target the coal plant and harbor there. The Netherlands, as you might known, is home to two of Europe’s major coal ports. After some disappointing actions that nobody showed up to, we reconsidered our mode of action. From that came the idea of games: Something that brings together different tactics and people with different levels of experience, presenting different styles of actions rather than imposing one type that we choose as organizers.

Games are universal, and so is disobedience. The shift worked fantastically: On the one hand, we had experienced, Earth First!-style direct action groups doing blockades. Next to them were flashmobs by new divestment groups. All of that being together in the same space at the same time showed the physical presence of the larger array of movements acting together. That presence is proof that we are a rich and diverse convergence of movements that support one another, not just people saying “we are a big climate movement.”

What was the plan for mobilizations in Paris before the attacks on November 13?

There is a big coalition (Coalition Climat 21) containing more than 150 organizations — an unprecedented feat — that came together to figure out the choreography of the two weeks of COP. To a certain extent, it also exists to support disobedient action at the end of the talks. Some elements that took charge of the disobedient acts had agreed on having a broad, accessible mass civil disobedience which would be many people’s entry point to those types of actions.

We were very inspired by the Ende Gelande action last summer, when 1,000 people entered the Lignite mines in Germany and stopped digging for a day. Eight hundred people were arrested, all of them released and most of them first timers. We were also inspired by the history of so many rights not being granted, but earned through disobedient acts. At that point, the Games were still planning to overlap with this massive action.

What happened after November 13?

We started from scratch. From my understanding, what happened was that a recombination of actors within Coalition Climat 21 repositioned themselves in the state of emergency, not stepping back at all. In fact, in moments where everything is forbidden everyone is disobedient, so actually it becomes much easier to organize a disobedient act. And yet — given the general mood and changing sensibilities — it seemed unwise to go for La Bourget and a traditional mass action.

It was a moment with a lot of creative thinking: How, in a very short period of time, do you reimagine what was promised to be the largest-ever civil disobedience around climate? And here we are now, one day before D12, having the redlines briefed and revealed as a complete plan right behind us. I think the emphasis on those strong, creative visual elements have taken center stage as a way to inspire, empower and communicate some of the elements of the action that have been present the whole time.

Ultimately, the movements’s goal in Paris was not to influence the COP. It wasn’t to stop the COP, or force negotiators to do something. It was supposed to be a moment for the movements to come together to reinforce and consummate their efforts, and to launch — most importantly — the escalation of their actions in the spring. In that sense, nothing has changed. It will be an attempt — a successful one — to steal the spotlight from leaders shaking hands and pretending to save a world in a state of emergency at an airport. We’ll make it clear that that’s not where the solutions are. The solutions will be in those mass actions next year.

What has the state of emergency been like for you?

For organizers in Paris, the situation was tense. Knowing history, those kinds of crises are never missed as an opportunity for states and the powerful to act against people. The state of emergency was absolutely deployed as a shock doctrine against climate mobilizations in Paris.

The attacks gave the government the legitimacy, legal grounds and power to target the organizers of the climate movement, to place them under house arrest and to raid squats as an intimidation tactic. And, of course, to attack the unauthorized march in Place de la République before the first day of the COP.

But this is the superficial level of what the state of emergency means. What the attacks have revealed — or rather reinforced — is our commitment to climate justice being about deepening conversations about security, about safety, about freedom and about emergencies.

This is supposed to be a civil society-driven two week summit, not a NATO meeting where cities get locked down and become a playground for the military. The sheer disjuncture between the social movements’ calling, “It takes everyone to change everything,” and the state of emergency declaring that you can’t convene more than two people is absurd.

How do you think the design of the Climate Games lends itself to doing confrontational action within a state of emergency, where these big demonstrations that police are trained to look for are officially prohibited?

It’s ambiguous. On the one hand, since the state of emergency bans any mass public gatherings, it means that there is more space for affinity group-led decentralized actions. The space for Climate Games-type actions has been increased. But at the same time, of course, surprise acts made by little groups carry connotations that are closer to terrorist attacks. We encouraged teams to revise their plans in light of recent events.

We also realized that big organizations tend to break down when they are hit by a shock. As a small affinity group, you can revise your plans over a bottle of wine in the evening. In terms of plasticity and response to situations, we find that small groups are much more resilient because you don’t need to reinvent everything in a short amount of time. Something we observed in these two weeks is that there is even more interest and reason to pursue those types of actions. If this is the shadow of a future that we want to avoid, but that is creeping, nonetheless, we can reinvent our modes of actions and our tactics while maintaining elements of broad support.

What kinds of instruction do potential Climate Games participants need to have before they can go out and plan and participate in an action?

The first step is becoming an affinity group and starting to make decisions, deciding what kind of actions you want to do and what kind of team you are. The second is to consult a map, and the points of interest of all the “manifestations of the mesh,” as we call it — capitalism, authoritarianism, colonialism — and all the manifestations of fossil fuel industries: lobbyists, false solutions, greenwashers and so on. After picking your targets, you are encouraged to design and realize your own adventure.

The beauty of it is that we have no idea who is planning actions, what kinds of actions they are planning and when they are going to happen. You can’t just stop us and stop the Games from happening. It is truly distributed through network-based politics — it’s peer-to-peer disobedience. Our job as organizers is ultimately to channel and amplify those messages, and create the understanding that these are not isolated acts happening in little bubbles, but global blockadia happening everywhere and taking so many different forms.

What have the Climate Games looked like so far?

We have seen three main typologies of action. The first are blockades of concrete sites of emissions or extraction, the most significant of those being in Germany. The second type would be softer and very creative disruptions; exposures of false solutions like those happening in Belgium. The third I would call “poetic resistance”: All the culture jamming, banner drops, anything that has messaging content applied in a public space. The major one of these was from Brandalism, taking over 600 billboards across Paris.

What have the conversations been like among different organization in figuring out how to plan actions in the state of emergency?

My impression is that because of the influence of big NGOs, the mission the coalition set for itself from the beginning was to build up numbers: to have the largest march in history with 500,000 people marching in Paris. That made the coalition a bit too large for my taste, with pro-nuclear unions, and NGOs that collaborate with corporations. But as a construction effort the coalition is definitely admirable.

We have seen that this strategy — of only going for numbers — meant that after the first shock (the state of emergency) it fell apart. The reason it fell apart was because the unions didn’t want to do security for the march. Therefore, there wasn’t enough counter-power in the hands of the coalition to go forward with their plans. That gave the authorities the legitimate grounds to ban it. From there, it already seemed like there would be a splinter into three actions on November 29: a very clicktivist shoes photo-op; an interesting but limited human chain; and a clear, bold call-out for disobeying the ban with a rally, which was still overwhelmed by the police and gave them the grounds to point to good protesters and bad protesters.

It was an indication that if you don’t bring groups together with a deeper agenda and political common ground, you can’t adapt to situations that will be thrown at you. And if we are talking about the climate we should be prepared for all kinds of instabilities, political or environmental. As the slogan goes, “it takes roots to weather the storm.” And the coalition wasn’t really strengthening those roots, from my understanding.

Still, there wasn’t a total breakdown of the coalition, which is very admirable and respectable. We’ll see how that process will go in the long-term. We will see which actors we have been able to trust in this process and build upon those relationships in the next year. It doesn’t have to be under the coalition. I’ve been following the groups organizing disobedient RedLines actions around D12 more closely, and I can say that, there, links have been strengthened. It has been a remarkably constructive and respectful process.

Why do you think it’s important for people to defy the ban tomorrow?

I like the twisted version of the People’s Climate March slogan: “To change everything, we have to step out of line.” True progress has only been achieved by disobedient acts. There is no better moment than moments of emergency to declare counter-emergencies. In other words, it’s not only up to states to declare states of emergency. It’s really up to people. You cannot really declare a people’s emergency — a climate emergency — simply with marching and petitions.

We are more committed to empowering movements to take those steps, not only in symbolic and temporary spaces or events like the COP, but — most importantly — where the problems lie and where the solutions lie: at the grassroots and on the frontlines, and all the sites of global blockadia. This is only a moment of coming together, where we reinforce each other, share our experience and take a common stance as the eyes of the world are on Paris. Any deal they produce cannot go unchallenged, and we will achieve the deal we need with peaceful yet determined means.

Syrian refugees welcomed outside Trump Tower

by Ashoka Jegroo

A sign welcoming Syrian refugees at a rally outside Trump Tower in New York City on Dec. 10. (WNV/Ashoka Jegroo)

Hundreds of people gathered in New York City’s Columbus Circle on December 10 to show solidarity with Middle Eastern refugees and to demand that the United States government allow entry to as many refugees as possible.

“This gathering is in reaction to the recent hearing that took place on November 19, 2015, where the U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act of 2015 or the American SAFE Act of 2015 (H.R. 4038),” organizers stated in a press release. “This bill makes it harder for refugees to enter the U.S. by requiring background checks by not just the Department of Homeland Security but also the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Director of National Intelligence. Since the aftermath of 9/11 – increased ‘security’ has only left the Muslim/Arab community in fear of government officials.”

Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011, people from conflict-ridden areas in Syria and Iraq have fled their countries seeking safety from the violence. To date, over four million people have left Syria, with most staying in nearby countries like Turkey and Jordan. Others have sought asylum in Europe and the United States. This, along with fear and anti-Muslim bigotry provoked by recent attacks by ISIS-affiliated shooters in Paris and San Bernardino, has caused many right-wing parties and politicians in Western countries to gain in popularity. The right-wing reaction has also become more extreme.

Even more so than the passing of the American SAFE Act of 2015, people at Thursday’s protest seemed to have been drawn out in response to recent statements by Republican presidential front-runner, Donald Trump, in which he called “for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” Throughout the rally, the crowd shouted chants like “There is no debate! Trump equals hate!” and “Donald Trump, don’t you hear? Refugees are welcome here!” The rally took place in the middle of Columbus Circle right across the street from Trump Tower.

“While people say that Trump is a problem, is it really Trump that’s the problem?” asked Jamila Hammami, one of the organizers and a member of the Queer Detainee Empowerment Project. “I think it’s a systemic issue of America.”

Activists from over 50 organizations were present and spoke about increased xenophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry since the Paris attacks, why it’s important to show solidarity with refugees, and the need for the United States government to both stop its interventions in the Middle East and accept even more refugees.

“At present, the U.S. government has agreed to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. This is not enough. We demand that the US government accept more refugees from Syria and Iraq without intense background checks and to provide adequate resources and social services to these newly resettled refugees,” organizers stated in the press release. “Further, we demand that the U.S. and all other governments cease their interventions in the Middle East and North Africa and their support of human rights abuses by repressive regimes.”

Regarding recent incidents of anti-Muslim bigotry, including a sixth grade girl in the Bronx being attacked by other students who called her “ISIS” and a severed pig’s head being thrown at the door of a Philadelphia mosque, Hammami stated that she hoped that the rally would also help combat the fear currently being felt by Muslims.

“These are repetitions of what happened after 9/11, but everyone in the Muslim community has all agreed that this is actually significantly worse than what it was after 9/11, and there’s a lot of fear that we have,” she said. “So our hope is for there not to be fear amongst us.”

The rally lasted for about two hours and ended with the words of Assata Shakur and songs by the Peace Poets. Organizers also announced that another protest would be held the following day outside the Plaza Hotel where Trump will be speaking to raise funds for Pennsylvania’s Republican Party. Before all of that though, a Syrian refugee, a middle-aged man wrapped in the Syrian Independence flag, thanked the crowd with the help of a translator.

“I’m Muslim. I’m Sunni. I’m not a terrorist! We suffered a lot at the hands of ISIS and the [Bashar al-Assad] regime,” he said. “Yes we left Syria, but we will go back. I left because of my kids, to guarantee a better future for them, but Syria will always stay in my heart and the revolution will always stay in my heart. Thank you for your solidarity with Syrians and the Syrian revolution!”

Imprisoned immigrant hunger strikers face abuse as their health deteriorates

by Tekendra Parmar

Supporters of the imprisoned asylum seekers who are on hunger strike picketed outside Hillary Clinton’s Brooklyn campaign office on Dec. 3. (Facebook/DRUM)

On the evening before Thanksgiving, over a hundred asylum seekers — most from South Asian countries — began a hunger strike protesting conditions in detention centers across the United States. Hunger strikers at various facilities, including the Theo Lacy Facility and Otay Detention Center in California, as well as the Etowah County Detention Center in Alabama, are calling for improved conditions for asylum seekers in immigration detention centers. On November 30, detainees from facilities in Adelanto Detention Facility in California, Aurora Detention Facility in Colorado, and South Texas Detention Facility joined the hunger strike. Since then, 15 detainees from the Krome immigration detention center in Florida also joined the protest. Their demands include an end to lock up quotas, indefinite detention and all deportations. This week the situation escalated in a few facilities, although the Theo Lacy and Otay strikers ended their strike after reaching an agreement with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Most hunger strikers have passed the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service’s credible fear screening process, which qualifies detainees to be released on parole. However, many have been detained in these facilities for over two years.

These hunger strikes are the latest of a series protesting similar conditions in detention centers across the country. Strikers have said that detention centers are woefully inadequate in their maintenance of basic human rights, offer limited visitation rights, and accuse detention officers of verbal and physical abuse. At the Theo Lacy facility, four strikers were placed in solitary confinement due to the protests. According to a press release by South Asian activist organization DRUM, detainees at the Etowah facility are reporting disturbing medical abuses including forced catheterization while being verbally abused. Recent reports from within the Etowah and Adelanto centers have described deteriorating conditions, including sleep deprivation — with guards waking up detainees every 15 minutes — and threats of force feeding. Seven detainees from the Etowah center have been sent to medical units for urgent care. In an attempt to sever communications between the hunger strikers and the outside world, the Krome, Etowah and Aurora centers have cut off calls to known supporters of the hunger strike.

Fahd Ahmed, executive director of DRUM, said in a press release that the current crisis in immigration detention centers “is a failure of the system, and … a failure of humanity.” In response to what can only be seen as Guantanamo-esque measures in these detention centers, DRUM has called for “urgent intervention” in what has now become a “life and death situation.”

In a report released in 2012 by the Detention Watch Network, two of these detention facilities — the Theo Lacy Facility and Etowah County Detention Center — were deemed among the worst in the United States. The watchdog organization accused these facilities of human rights violations, including lack of access to proper medical care, legal advice and recreation facilities, as well as racially discriminatory treatment and, in some instances, allegations of sexual assault by prison staff. The Etowah County Detention Center is violating ICE’s own detention center standards by offering no legitimate outdoor recreation facility. In its place the center offers what detainees refer to as “the sweatbox,” a cement room with relatively small windows providing a circulation of air that ICE has deemed sufficient enough to meet the “outdoor recreation” requirement.

An October 2015 report by the National Immigrant Justice Center and Detention Watch Network details the lack of transparency and independent oversight over conditions in detention centers. According to the report, inspections carried out by the Office of Detention Oversight and the Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations, are “not designed to capture actual conditions of detention for the population at a given facility.”  In 2010 ICE had tried to end its contract with Etowah, however, a series of political backlashes by county officials and members of Congress led ICE to delay and later abandon its plans to end their contract.

Activists claim that at the heart of these prolonged detentions is a controversial “bed quota” policy set by the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, which states that ICE “shall maintain a level of not less than 34,000 detention beds.” The controversy is related to whether “maintain” means that these beds must be filled or whether they must simply be available. On top of the bed quota, detention centers that involve private prison contractors — such as the Otay Mesa Detention Center, which is run by the Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA — often negotiate to ensure that they make a profit on a certain number of beds. The Otay Mesa Detention Center has a guaranteed minimum of 900 beds, which guarantees that the facility will be paid by ICE for 900 beds regardless of whether they are needed. Two of the biggest private prison corporations, the Geo Group and CCA, have a total of 4,063 and 1,935 guaranteed minimums respectively.

Detention Watch Network argues that bed quotas and guaranteed minimums act as a de facto baseline on how many asylum seekers must be locked up, putting “substantial pressure [on ICE] to funnel immigrants into detention in order to keep beds filled.” This argument has also been made by members of Congress, such as Rep. John Culberson, who — in a heated exchange with ICE Director Sarah Saldaña this past April — said, “You feel like the language does not require for you to use the beds, so I think the language may require a little tweaking.” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has repeatedly argued that he does not believe the bed quota must be filled with people.

Yet, one thing is clear: Detainees who do not pose a legitimate threat to society are being detained for prolonged periods of time without parole in detention centers that often violate their basic human rights. The attempt to close down the Etowah Detention Center is indicative of how ICE has continued to use facilities with substandard human rights conditions in order to meet the requirements of the bed quota policy.

Detention Watch Network estimates that around 60 percent of beds in immigration detention centers are operated by private prison corporations. The watchdog group estimates the CCA makes $752 million a year from federal contacts and has seen the value of their stock double since the quotas were enacted in 2009.

At a national press call coordinated by DRUM, Mohamed Aminul Islam, a former detainee and hunger striker in El Paso in October, recounted his harrowing journey into the United States. He fled a politically tumultuous Bangladesh and traveled across South and Central America to seek asylum in the United States. Speaking through a translator Islam recounted stories of verbal abuse by the staff at the El Paso Detention Center as well as the threat of force-feeding through tubes in order to end the hunger strike. Despite passing his credible fear finding, Islam was held in El Paso for nearly a year before being released in November.

In attempts to draw attention to the asylum seekers conditions, on Dec. 3 supporters of the hunger strikers picketed outside Hillary Clinton’s Brooklyn campaign office. Sen. Bernie Sanders was the first to issue a statement in support of the protesters, which said, “These aspiring Americans should not be criminalized, subjected to dehumanizing solitary confinement or indefinitely detained. The United States must meet our international responsibilities to families seeking refuge.” Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley then told the Huffington Post that “we have to end immigrant detention, period.” While a representative from the Clinton campaign greeted protesters outside her office, her response was comparatively tepid. “Hillary Clinton believes our immigration enforcement and detention system must be humane, and ensure the dignity, safety and well-being of every human being,” she said.

Jahed Ahmed, a former detainee at the El Paso detention center, was invited to speak to Sen. Sanders at his Families First conference on Dec. 7. He asked, “As a senator would you be willing to give a call to ICE or DHS and inquire about these asylum seekers, deportations and the consequences?” Sanders replied in the affirmative. “Above and beyond immigration reform, we have a very broken criminal justice system … the whole issue of trying to better understand how we can make sure that people who should not be in jail are not being detained is of great interest to me,” he said.

Recent political instability in South Asia, and ICE’s own assessments, evince the credibility of fear claimed by these asylum seekers, especially those fleeing the most recent wave of political violence in Bangladesh. Yet, they flee persecution in their own countries, only to encounter further violations of their human dignity in the abject conditions of these detention centers. “The nature of hunger strikes is to disrupt the status quo,” said DRUM’s Fahd Ahmed, acknowledging both the urgency of their situation and the fact that there is no guarantee in their protests.

After the last wave of hunger strikes in El Paso and LaSalle, the results were varied. A majority of detainees in El Paso were released — although the most recent reports suggest a renewed threat of deportation. At LaSalle no detainees were released. Sanders’ statement represents a move in the right direction, however, deteriorating conditions in detention centers draw an increasingly bleaker view. Yet, as Fahd Ahmed put it, “when every aspect of your life is controlled this is the only method to raise your voice.”

Bringing solutions to COP21 — a conversation with Cooperation Jackson’s Brandon King

by Kate Aronoff

It Takes Roots poster

Within the high-stress, low-waste frenzy of the 21st Conference of Parties, or COP21, there are around 100 organizers from the frontlines of the climate crisis and energy extraction in North America. Drawn from the Navajo Nation, the Appalachian Mountains, Harlem and elsewhere, the It Takes Roots delegation is a joint venture of the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, Indigenous Environmental Network and the Climate Justice Alliance. Its members — some inside and some outside of official UN proceedings — are engaged in a range of efforts back home both against fossil fuel extraction and for the development of community-owned alternatives, as well as a wider-reaching “just transition” away from what they call an extractive economy.

The delegates have come to COP21 demanding that the U.S. negotiating team commit to binding emissions cuts; leave fossil fuels in the ground; reject fracking, nuclear power, carbon markets and “other dangerous technologies and false solutions;” strengthen the agreements’ commitment to human and indigenous rights; and support community-rooted solutions. For those understandably cynical about the potential of COP21, the most apparent question might be simply, “Why bother?”

Brandon King, a member of the It Takes Roots delegation, is also a lead organizer with Cooperation Jackson. After graduating from Hampton University, King worked for years with the labor union UNITE HERE in New York. His involvement in the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement there eventually took him to Jackson, Mississippi, where he worked on the late Chowkwe Lumumba’s successful mayoral campaign. After Lumumba’s death, he and the rest of Cooperation Jackson have continued to drive forward the vision outlined in their Jackson-Kush Plan — in particular its goals of economic democracy. I sat down with Brandon in Paris the other night to hear what the delegation and Cooperation Jackson alike are hoping to bring and take away from the climate talks.

Brandon King at the human chain action in Paris.

What brought you to COP21?

Being here is really important for frontline communities to express that we’re not okay with how the conferences have been going. Since the first COP, carbon emissions have risen astronomically. Their meetings haven’t been effective, and there’s been international outcry about that fact. We’re here sharing that we actually have solutions to the climate crisis.

We’re also here to stand in solidarity with migrant communities. For us, the attacks on November 13 were a reminder that the fossil fuel economy fuels war and unrest. Then, governments create enemies out of people — out of Muslim, Arab and black communities. We see those communities as being our communities.

What are the groups within the It Takes Roots delegation — many of which are doing incredibly local work — getting out of an international conference?

This is an opportunity for us to link with frontline communities around the world that are engaged in doing one transition or another to renewable energy — figuring out the creative ways that people have been doing it, and sharing different strategies for implementing transitions in our own communities.

Negotiators at COP don’t really have a reason to listen to us. We have to make them listen to us, and we can do that by strengthening our work at home and building a base that is connected globally. That will help us move internationally and collectively toward a system change. Constant economic growth on a finite planet that has limited resources is psychotic; it’s a road to destruction. We know that, and we want to look out for our children, our children’s children and our children’s children’s children.

What has your experience in Paris been like so far?

One of the first actions that we took part in was the human chain action that happened near Place de Republique. This was after November 13, when the French government declared a state of emergency. Tensions are high, and they’ve banned public protest. There was supposed to be a huge march in Paris, with thousands upon thousands of people from all over the world. With all that happening, it sort of limited frontline communities’ ability to engage democratically in the process. The government used the terrorist attacks to squelch any dissent, and any opposition to what the government and corporations think.

I’m very excited by the courage of people here. Even though the government discouraged people from marching and made it illegal to march, people said, “It’s a democratic right. We have a right as human beings to express our discontent with the way that things are going.” The human chain action was an example of that. It’s a climate that feels similar to the United States right after 9/11. You’re told to rally behind the flag, and listen to the government. Us listening to the government has led to our communities being in disarray. It has led to our communities not being organized. It has led to our communities not having the things that we need to survive.

In large parts of the United States, climate change can be seen as several steps removed from basic fights for survival like that being waged by the movement for black lives. What do make of that disconnection?

It’s really unfortunate that there’s a disconnect between those two things. I see the murder of black people every 28 hours in the United States as a direct signifier of the ecological imbalance. Black people are part of the environment. Climate and violence are some of the most clear indicators of a society that isn’t working in ecological balance.

Connecting with migrant communities here in Paris that face some of the same anti-black racism and xenophobia as our communities back home is a way of bridging some of those gaps. It’s very unfortunate that those attacks happened, but it has made the It Takes Roots delegation’s analysis sharper in terms of understanding more deeply that the violence immigrant communities face needs to be a priority when we’re talking about climate justice.

Conversations about the refugee crisis in Europe tend to get segmented off from those about immigration in the United States. What do you see as the similarities?

In the United States, the overwhelming narrative toward immigration is: “These people are taking our jobs. These people don’t deserve to be here. These people are terrorists. These people are lazy.” But that same kind of rhetoric is being touted here in France. Just yesterday, some folks from the It Takes Roots delegation visited a community called Sarcelles, about an hour away from Paris, which is a predominately Arab and black community. Their projects look different than where we are in Jackson, but the conditions people face are extremely similar.

On the way back from doing the exchange with folks, we saw two black men get pulled over by the police. There was no one on the road. For me, the question was, “Who are they disturbing?” It hit home that to be black anywhere within this country is to be criminal. That’s something that people see here, that people see in the United States, that people see in Latin America. That’s something that people see in Asia and Africa — everywhere. When we’re talking about system change and a just transition, all of those things need to be taken into account while we’re building the “new.”

What do you see as possible for Cooperation Jackson and other members of the It Takes Roots delegation coming out of Paris?

Indigenous communities have been building strength over the last couple years, and have been really on the front lines in terms of fighting fracking and the Keystone XL pipeline, for instance. They’ve seen high levels of extraction and pollution, and are bringing their history of struggle; they’re bringing their understanding of and relationship to the land to COP21. Talking with colleagues who are part of the It Takes Roots delegation inside the talks, it seems like there’s a constant struggle for them to maintain what rights they have within COP21 texts, which other nations are now attempting to strip.

Inside-outside strategies work for some communities, but for black communities, we weren’t included in the first place. One of our objectives here is to build with other black communities toward a just transition. If the COPs were actually effective organizing bodies and not just talks, they would include legally binding caps on carbon emissions. Countries wouldn’t be able to choose what emissions levels they want to meet in order to comply. It should be scientifically bound, and it should have a timeline. If we left it up to these governments and corporations, they would give themselves 100 or 1,000 years to get to appropriate levels of emissions. Those commitments don’t actually mean anything because — when we get to that level — no one will be here.

The United States and other world superpowers have a climate debt. Since they’re responsible for so much of what has fueled climate change, they should be responsible for paying reparations, and funding the transition for frontline communities all over the world: in Kenya, Latin America, the United States, the Philippines, everywhere. If COP21 was really concerned about confronting climate change, it would implement these sorts of measures.

Will you be back for COP22?

It’s incumbent upon us to build the power we need to a point that governments and corporations actually don’t have the power to do what they want. They should have to listen to us, or face total dysfunction. That’s my hope: that we’re able to build that kind of base — not only in the United States, but internationally. Something that seems important in terms of engaging internationally is the ability to connect to communities that are doing similar work around the world: in communities figuring out how to survive the best. We’re figuring out not only how to survive, but how all of us can live fully affirmed lives. If COP22 happens, then that will be another space where we can express our frustration with the process, but also engage with other social movements from around the world that want a system change.

How torture and state violence made its way from Chicago to Guantánamo

by Jerica Arents

Jerica Arents, wearing a T-shirt of the alternative version of Chicago’s flag in Guantanamo, Cuba last month. (Flickr / Justin Norman)

The Chicago flag is iconic. Four red stars symbolizing key events in the city’s history are surrounded by blue bars for the Chicago River. A riff on the flag was created last year by the campaign that fueled the Reparations Ordinance for Police Torture Survivors — a radical document that outlines a path toward healing for those who survived torture under the direction of former Chicago police commander Jon Burge. The activist logo includes a fifth star, only in outline, to mark the Chicago Police Department’s reign of terror — including beatings and electrocution — against hundreds of black men from 1978-91. Only with official recognition of the torture and with restitution can that final star be made red.

In April 2015, the Chicago City Council passed the Reparations Ordinance, which includes financial relief for the torture survivors. In a public ceremony, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel apologized to them, their families and their communities. The reparations package is a stunning success, showing the power of sustained grassroots organizing to win some measure of justice for those suffering state violence. Organizations including Project NIA, the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, and the People’s Law Office devoted enormous amounts of energy and time to organize for the ordinance’s victory. But as the recent revelation of the CPD’s cover-up of another police killing makes clear, more work remains.

As a resident of Chicago on the fringes of the reparations campaign, I wore a T-shirt with the activist logo last week in Guantánamo, Cuba. I was there over Thanksgiving with Witness Against Torture, a grassroots group devoted to closing the prison and ending all forms of U.S. torture. Along with 13 others, we traveled to Cuba in part to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the group’s first pilgrimage — a 70-mile walk from Santiago de Cuba to the detention facility in 2005.

After arriving this time, we set up tents on top of a scenic overlook of the bay. The edge of the U.S. base was visible. We faced the prison and spoke our anger at our government and compassion for the men it has abused. We held huge banners, including portraits of detained men. On Thanksgiving Day, we fasted in recognition of the ongoing hunger strike of some detainees, and the separation of all from their families. And, in the defining ritual of our trip, we read the name, told the story, and placed on a stone wall the picture of each of the 107 men still at the prison. We then placed the portraits (excluding those of the tiny number of admitted, terrorist perpetrators held at Guantánamo) on a bed of blankets, prayer rugs, and mementos to represent homecoming. To accompany this act, we sang the words: “Courage Muslim brothers / you do not walk alone / we will walk with you / and sing your spirit home.”

These two histories — the torture and humiliation inflicted by the CPD and the terror practiced at Guantánamo — are deeply connected and never leave me. I came to Guantánamo, in part, to carry with me the stories of the African American men victimized in Chicago and to join them with people whose torture is more widely recognized. Throughout my time in Cuba I kept thinking: So many Americans still tolerate Guantánamo because we tolerate routine cruelties in our domestic detention and incarceration system.

There is at least one direct connection between these brutal systems of domestic and overseas detention. While in power, police commander Burge led a cadre of detectives who occasionally cherry-picked individuals from the black community who fit the profile of an alleged suspect and inflicted electric shock, mock executions and physical beatings on them in remote areas of the city. One such detective, Richard Zuley, completed his training under Burge. Zuley, as The Guardian reported last February, abused suspects, including by shackling them to walls for hours and making threats to harm their family members.

Also a U.S. Navy reserve lieutenant, Zuley was sent to Guantánamo in 2002 to conduct interrogations. He is alleged to have run “one of the most brutal in the history of the notorious wartime prison.” At Guantánamo he used sleep deprivation, exposure to extreme temperatures, and vivid death threats. As in Chicago, the result was a false confession. In Zuley, torture techniques practiced in Chicago jails were literally exported overseas. I wonder how many other police and corrections officials similarly applied their dark trade in War on Terror facilities, whether as private contractors or uniformed military.

Race is another link between torture at home and abroad. Those abused in Chicago were almost exclusively African American men. The detainees in Guantánamo have been Muslim men mostly from the Arab world and Africa. All these populations were, in essence, profiled. Chicago police presumed the criminality of black men. The U.S. military and CIA first detained, and then tortured, countless Muslim men based on flimsy — and even non-existent — evidence of connection to terrorism. Torture inflicted by the modern American state is in part the racist targeting and dehumanization of people of color.

While it’s widely understood that it destroys the individual body, torture damages the collective body of the wider community as well. Social psychologist Ignacio Martín-Baró argued that systematic state terror, including acts of torture, serves to keep a population in a state of fear and disconnected from one another. Communities feel they have no option but to comply with those who uphold the security of the state. Torture then serves as a psychological tool, a weaponized form of hatred that inflicts fear and anger among those targeted. Mass incarceration and state violence in all its forms destroy the social fabric of communities of color. Anti-blackness and Islamophobia are, in this way, two sides of the same coin.

Their repercussions linger, for the city of Chicago, the United States as a whole, and even for those set free. Individuals, families and communities bear the scars of torture long after the violence stops. In Chicago, the Reparations Ordinance includes stipulations that begin to address healing for the communities targeted by Burge: a mandatory history curriculum outlining Burge’s reign of terror in Chicago Public Schools, a public memorial honoring the survivors, and a community center on the South Side that will offer therapeutic services, job placement resources, and healing spaces for the survivors and their families. The directive of reparations goes far beyond merely financial compensation.

Some would argue the final star on my shirt now be filled in. The torture survivors of Burge’s reign of terror have been publicly recognized, their small settlements scheduled to be dispersed. But the wider story of America’s web of torture remains. Guantánamo lingers on the outskirts of American politics, a prison I saw with my own eyes last week open and in operation. Until the men are released and some semblance of accountability is determined, the survivors and their communities — as well as the American public — will not be able to start a process of healing. These two histories, forever linked in my mind, will continue.

5 ways movements can handle threats and attacks

by George Lakey

Congress of Racial Equality march in Washington, D.C. on September 22, 1963 in memory of the children killed in the Birmingham bombings. (Wikipedia / Thomas J. O’Halloran)

We’d attracted a dense crowd by street speaking against the Vietnam war. I got off the soapbox to allow someone else a turn. A young man in army uniform stepped in front of me. He was trembling with the effort to keep it together as he confronted me, barely a foot away. “How can you protest the Vietnam war when we’re over there to keep you free?” Then he showed me his knife.

I remembered that confrontation when I read about the attacks on the Minneapolis demonstrators from Black Lives Matters on November 22. Every incident is different, but the trend felt familiar. The movement pushes, then encounters violent retaliation. The 1960s again.

The young soldier gripping the knife seemed about to snap, so I looked steadily into his eyes. “You don’t want to do this,” I said quietly. “You’ll be in big trouble, and you won’t stop us.” People around us were paying attention to the new speaker on the box. No one had noticed the knife yet. The soldier considered for a moment while we locked eyes, then put his knife away.

In the ‘60s and ‘70s American social movements forced the greatest progressive changes in my lifetime, despite sometimes violent resistance. Activists developed ways of increasing our safety and — when we did get hurt — maximizing the change potential of those incidents. One of the tools was used again brilliantly last month, after five members of Black Lives Matter Minnesota were shot while protesting. Overnight they organized a disciplined march to City Hall in which a thousand people joined to demand racial justice, not swerving from their original issue.

With this inspiring action fresh in our minds, it might be a good time to review some of the other tools activists have used to counter violent resistance, and prepare to add to the toolbox.

Unarmed peacekeeping

In the ‘60s, we routinely had medics with us at our demonstrations, as well as trained marshals to head off trouble when possible. Marshals in the midst of a larger crowd often found it possible to isolate a fight between attackers and demonstrators. Sometimes the marshals encircled the fight and kept the fight from spreading, then de-escalated. Groups expecting trouble routinely trained marshals/peacekeepers for each action and trained the demonstrators as well. For a heated anti-war demonstration in Berkeley a large church was used overnight to train 3,000 demonstrators.

Training for Change trainer Erika Thorne witnessed such nonviolent intervention in Minneapolis on November 28. She and other people from white solidarity group Showing Up for Racial Justice, or SURJ-Minnesota, responded to the shooting of the five Black Lives Matters protesters. They went to a busy mall to ask white shoppers to join them in taking responsibility for the attitudes that support white supremacy. They gave out yellow slips of paper with the county attorney’s phone number to call, urging action. A white man went into a rage and began screaming at two of the SURJ women. As he continued to yell, some white shoppers who had been neutral when first approached came over to join the group. One mother stood directly in front of him despite his continued raging.

The Minnesota shoppers were responding in a natural human way, but protesters can’t always count on that. It’s possible to recruit people ahead of time. I remember a Catholic nun who, long after her religious order had given up the black habit, kept hers to wear to demonstrations where tension was expected. This was one precursor of what became a field with even international application, called “unarmed peacekeeping,” or third party nonviolent intervention.

Stay in the game

During the 1950s Algerian struggle for independence, French pacifists had a rough time protesting their government’s war. They faced assaults by police and civilians. They learned to shorten the attack and reduce injury by sitting on the ground when it began. They told me they memorized these words: “When in doubt, sit down.” The tool was mirrored by the U.S. civil rights movement with success. Decades later in Thailand, I learned activists there found the tool useful during the nonviolent insurrection of the early ‘90s.

Keeping the initiative is important. Being calm and restrained may not be enough – look for other moves you can make. As shown in the movie “Freedom Song,” civil rights activists learned to go to each others’ aid in non-threatening ways, like putting their bodies between the attacker and the demonstrator. This can be done even if you have already been hit, if you’re not disabled. Stay in the game. Start a song – your group might pick it up.

Discipline as a deterrent

All these positive micro-behaviors are more likely to be performed if a demonstration is well organized. In fact, a disciplined action is itself a deterrent to violence. Canadian trainer Karen Ridd and I worked with an annual Cambodian peace march in which marchers had recently been killed. Buddhist monks led the long-distance march through territory where government and Khmer Rouge soldiers fought. The march’s goal was to strengthen peasants who were exploited by both sides.

Karen and I learned that the march stopped each night to camp and hold prayers. After breakfast the leadership typically began marching before clean-up was finished. Some participants would follow, then others, in a long, straggling procession. We led a succession of roleplays for 30 of the leaders in which she and I created difficulties that they found could have been met effectively if they were organized and disciplined. They worked out a culturally appropriate system for marching down a road as a tight-knit, united band. Future treks proceeded without fatalities.

Postponing confrontation

In the film “Selma” we see a dramatic example of choosing not to proceed into danger. On the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Martin Luther King, Jr., sensed a trap. He famously turned the march around, setting off a furious tactical debate. In the film, however, we see the brilliant execution of the turn-around: orderly, unhurried, with dignity.

It is no disgrace to postpone confrontation, to let tactics be led by strategy — which, in King’s case, were probably augmented by divine inspiration. The question is how it is implemented. The signal sent by the demonstrators needs to be one of self-possession, of empowered decision rather than fear.

The point of the attacks, after all, is to scare us. While we feel our fear we can also summon our courage, remaining in control of ourselves. We retreat, when useful, in good order. In effect, we refuse to play their fear game.

Refusing to let fear run us builds the movement in at least two ways. It enables us to keep pushing for our original goal rather than back off or shift our target, as when Occupy Wall Street shifted focus from the 1 percent to the New York police. Second, the violence can lead to the “paradox of repression,” when additional participants and allies step forward. That’s what happened in Minneapolis.

Learning from the hardest challenge successfully met

Swarthmore’s searchable Global Nonviolent Action Database has the largest known published collection of civil rights campaigns: 72. Most of the campaigns were attacked, often by angry people not in uniform. Remarkably, nearly all found ways to continue their campaigns despite the violence. About half of the 72 campaigns used the violence to increase their size and strength by inducing the paradox of repression.

For successful movements, the most extreme sustained exposure to risk in my lifetime was in Mississippi in the early 1960s. The “freedom houses” of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, were surrounded by people who wanted SNCC workers dead, and who had an organized instrument for making that happen, the Ku Klux Klan. In 1964 I asked Bob Moses, head of Mississippi SNCC, how so many SNCC members survived. He told me, “It’s because we don’t have guns in our freedom houses, and everyone knows it.”

Seeing the puzzled expression on my face, he explained. The terrorist KKK was a working class organization, and did the dirty work of white supremacy. The middle and owning class White Citizens Councils were the controllers, and protected the KKK members from arrest for church burnings and lynchings. The leaders of the White Citizens Councils knew that negative economic and other consequences would happen to Mississippi if nonviolent SNCC members were murdered, so they told the KKK to hold off. If SNCC had tried to defend itself violently in that context, all bets were off — members would simply be killed in what would be branded a “shootout,” with minimum consequences for KKK and maximum negative outcome for SNCC.

If ever there were a time when young adult activists can usefully watch “Eyes on the Prize” and other films about the civil rights movement, this is the time. In situations more polarized than ours, black people and their white allies faced terror and won victories. Today’s activists will add creative new movement tools for handling threat. I’m guessing that the best tools are invented as we live into the exercise of courage. The legacy we have already is a good place to start.

Navigating paths to personal and social transformation — A conversation with Agustina Vidal

by Nina Packebush

The Icarus Project is a mutual aid community, support network and media project for people who experience the world in ways that are often diagnosed as mental illness. It began over 10 years ago as the wild idea of Sascha Altman DuBrul and Jacks McNamara and has blossomed into an online community of thousands with in-person groups scattered throughout the world. Icarus views emotional sensitivities, voice hearing and visions, not as mental illness that must be cured, but rather as dangerous gifts that can be managed in ways that help individuals thrive. Icarus is unique in that it is entirely made up of people with lived experiences of madness who help each other and their communities to navigate emotional distress by looking at things like oppression and trauma and their effects on emotional health.

Over the years Icarus has put out several books, zines and handouts including “Navigating the Space Between Brilliance and Madness” (now in its 10th printing), “The Harm Reduction Guide to Coming Off Psychiatric Medications,” and “Friends Make the Best Medicine” — all of which can be downloaded for free from their website. The Icarus Project recently came out with the first in a series of interactive guides called “Mad Maps,” which can be purchased in print or downloaded for free. Originally inspired by the idea of Advanced Directives (legal documents to share with doctors and friends in the event of being hospitalized), “Mad Maps” were intended to help individuals identify and map their own personal emotional paths, but over time evolved to include the idea of transformative liberation of the community and society as a whole. Icarus believes in the simple idea that in order to have emotionally healthy individuals we must have healthy communities.

I recently sat down with “Mad Maps” coordinator Agustina Vidal to talk about this project.

What exactly is “Mad Maps?”

“Mad Maps” are documents that those of us who identify as mad create to help remind ourselves of our goals, what wellness is to us, and also what it means to be unwell, so we can chart paths to get back to emotional health when we are struggling. In other words, when we are feeling lost in our sometimes tricky emotional landscape, “Mad Maps” can help us get back to ourselves. It takes us step by step through the process of creating our own physical wellness documents that we can refer to when we are feeling emotionally lost. “Mad Maps” also help us identify and document ways in which those around us can best support us when we are struggling. In addition, through “Mad Maps” we trace societal forces like oppression and intergenerational trauma and how they impact our past, present and future journey.

“Mad Maps” is about personal transformation as well as collective liberation. That’s the mission of the Icarus Project to transform ourselves by transforming the world. We can’t be healthy if we have a system that is forcing people into sickness by means of oppression and trauma.

Can you describe how someone would use these guides?

There are four different “Mad Maps” guides. The first one is “Madness and Oppression,” the second one is “Intergenerational Trauma,” the third is “Our Own Personal Maps,” and the fourth one is “Collective Liberation.” So, for example, in the first book, “Madness and Oppression,” which was just released, we have an explanation of how to use the guide, short descriptions for each section within the book, and then a series of check-boxes to help the user really identify the things that apply to them. The guides also contain blank pages where the user can write down their own notes and ideas.

We developed the check-box questions by asking our community what was important to them. What kind of oppression was affecting them? How did they cope with that? And when they gave us back the answers, we assembled the central themes. Then we returned to the community, and we said, “This is what your community wants to know, do you have any tips for them?” We compiled their answers and put them into these guides. It’s kind of like a workbook. For example, it says, “How can people support you?” and then you get 20 different check boxes with all the things that people with these experiences have found that help them, so you can draw inspiration and see what works for you. And if something doesn’t appeal to you, you can choose something else. In that sense it’s like a choose your own adventure book because you navigate the journey and see where it takes you until you find your own individual path.

How are “Mad Maps” different from other self-help workbooks?

I think the first important difference is that “Mad Maps” resources are made by people with lived experience of, what many would call, mental illness. When you come to our “Mad Maps” you’re trying resources that have actually worked for people like you. It’s a way of connecting with your peers and it’s not a treatment, it’s not an institutional treatment. There’s not an authority or professional telling you how you should do it. It’s people like you, your peers, your mad ones, all struggling and fighting together helping us to be better. And the second difference is that we take a very deep look at the way that the system affects someone’s mental health. We do not think that mental illness resides solely in the brain. We believe that the circumstance around us impact us a lot. It’s very hard to be happy if you have somebody yelling racial slurs at you every morning. You cannot be happy if, when you go out, you face catcalling or street harassment. Things like that really impact the way that you see yourself in connection with society and how you can relate to each other.

So until we’re free from these oppressions then we’re not going to be able to say that we as a community are emotionally healthy.

How did the “Mad Maps” guides come together?

Many, many years ago Seven, who was a member of the Icarus Project, coined the term “Mad Maps.” The people in the Icarus Project community started helping and supporting each other and as they did this they began charting their journeys, and this is what came to be known as “Mad Maps.” Most of this mutual aid support took place on the Icarus Project message boards. When I came to the Icarus Project a couple years ago I realized that the only way you could access such important knowledge was to navigate thousands and thousands of forum posts. So basically there was all of this really important information that was completely inaccessible unless you were already in the community and knew where it was and how to get there. The idea of the book was to take that as inspiration to create a tool that everybody could download from the Internet. Something that could work for everyone and would be accessible and easy to do whether someone is alone at their computer or with friends in the community, “Mad Maps” can be used in many ways.

I didn’t take anything specifically from the message boards because some of the conversations were many years old and I didn’t feel that I had the permission to take other people’s words and put them out there outside the forums. What I used as inspiration were the conversations that people were having, the things that they were touching on. And then I reached out to our current community with surveys and questionnaires to talk about these conversations again, so I could get proper permission to use their words.

Can you talk a little bit about the next three guides that will be coming out?

The “Intergenerational Trauma” guide is a book that will trace the legacies of abuse that we’re born into. We all have intergenerational trauma. The most common one is gender imbalance. We are all born into a world where people are assigned a gender at birth that matches their reproductive organs. If we do not perform the gender that we have been assigned we are discriminated against, persecuted and criminalized and if we do perform it we have these messages, such as women are the weak sex and woman are at the service of men. At least from that point of view we all have at least some intergenerational trauma. There’s also the trauma of war that so many people have lived through and colonization, racism. Anti-blackness is rooted in the very deep trauma of slavery which is transmitted from generation to generation. Not only can this deeply impact the emotional health of individuals, but also society which keeps transmitting these anti-black feelings again and again. We need to look at this and find a way to stop these cycles. We need to get to the root of why we behave and think and are treated the way we are so that we can discover other ways of being. The “Intergenerational Trauma” guide helps people identify and work through the specific traumas that they face.

The third one, “Our Own Personal Maps,” explores the landscapes of our own terrains. It explores how we see ourselves, what language do we use for ourselves, how do we label our emotions. The mental health systems gives us language that is not our own, so your personal map is a call to recover our own narratives, to recover language and the self determination to tell our stories and the tools that work for each individual, specifically when someone might be in different states of consciousness or going through different situations in life. This guide looks at us as individuals.

The fourth guide, “Collective Liberation,” is a collection of all of these conversations that we’ve been having. It will help transform them into starting dialogues and collecting tools and skills. It will help us to transform the things that are so damaged in our communities.

The beauty of COP21 is in the street

by Kate Aronoff

A human chain took the place of the giant march that was planned and prohibited in Paris on Sunday. (Flickr / Mona Caron)

This week, an estimated 40,000 people have descended on Paris for the 21st Conference of Parties, or COP21, a gathering of world leaders, civil society organizations and bureaucrats that will attempt to hash out the details of an international agreement on climate change. The nearly 140 diplomats converging in the French capital’s outskirts are bringing their own national commitments, with eyes on top polluters from the United States, China, Canada and India to adopt hearty, binding resolutions.

On the table are a number of different scenarios, none of them a quick-fix for worsening storms. Grassroots movements, Global South nations and indigenous groups have coalesced around the demand for a 1.5 degrees Celsius cap on emissions. “That’s what our appeal is,” Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sosene Sopoaga said in his opening remarks yesterday, “simply to ask that the future of our children be assured.” But, as journalist Mark Hertsgaard pointed out in The Nation, even a best-case scenario — in which countries integrate their predetermined pledges — will still increase temperatures anywhere between 2.7 to 3.5 degrees Celsius.

To make matters worse, the United States and Canada are championing a fully non-binding international agreement to codify countries’ plans in Paris, on the grounds that it could supersede our Republican-controlled Congress. Pakistani COP veteran and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change lead author Dr. Adil Najam wrote that “Without a binding agreement, without a relentless focus on limiting climate change to 1.5 Celsius, all that Paris offers is more talk. For that, it is already too late.”

After 25 years of botched COPs, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s assertion that this month’s talks are a “new starting point” comes with a sting. Well before the close of day one yesterday, many commentators had already stuck a pre-emptive fork in COP21. But is the best we can hope for from Paris really only a pyrrhic victory?

The talks are also happening just weeks after the deadly November 13 attacks on the same city that claimed 130 lives. French legislators have extended the state of emergency President Francois Hollande declared in its aftermath, giving police free reign to act without judicial oversight — and block dissent. While more than 2,000 homes have been raided under state of emergency provisions, 24 climate organizers have been preemptively placed under house arrest and 120,000 French police have been deployed around the country. All “outside events” and public demonstrations have been banned, including the Global Climate March that had been planned for last Sunday.

The ban means that we’re likely to see an increased focus on events happening outside of conference rooms, even if there are likely to be less of them. Defying Hollande’s protest prohibition, as many have already done, could leave movements in the position of presenting a more hopeful and ambitious vision of the future than any likely to emerge from official proceedings.

But entrusting faith in the people outside La Bourget doesn’t mean giving negotiators license to walk away without a clear plan; the stakes — especially for those already suffering from drought and displacement — are much too high for that. It means being realistic about what can be reasonably expected to happen in the next two weeks, and making sure negotiators know that — in Paris and when they get home — they’ll have to answer to a militant, global movement that can ramp up pressure locally, and extends well beyond one nation’s borders, however militarized.

Many came to Paris with the intention to do just that. Kicking-off this week’s talks, a record-breaking 775,000 people marched in some 175 countries on Sunday. Indigenous groups held a small healing ceremony in solidarity with victims of both recent terrorist attacks and the ongoing tragedy of climate change. More than 10,000 took part in a human chain spanning the three-kilometer march route, and 11,000 donated shoes and messages in defiance of the state-imposed ban on protests. By the end of the day, an estimated 280 people had been placed in police custody.

Shoes left symbolically after the French government banned the Paris Global Climate March on Sunday. (Flickr / Ian Bremmer)

As the human chain was in progress, police began clashing with protesters, trampling candles and other tributes Parisians had left for those lost in the attacks in Place de la Republique. Predictably, the fracas captured the lions’ share of the mainstream media’s attention. Without a shred of evidence, MSNBC’s Alex Witt took it upon herself to suggest that it might have been terrorists behind the clashes. “Have you heard any mention by authorities there that there’s concern that potential terrorists could be among the havoc of those protesting now?” she asked a correspondent on the ground. He responded that it was “unclear.”

The question and answer alike are absurd, but highlight an important point about what’s at stake these next two weeks: Who gets to frame what happens in Paris, in the streets or around the negotiating table? A metric that might be every bit as critical as how many parts per million countries keep out of the atmosphere is how much faith people place in movements — the people who will make sure anything that happens at La Bourget is worth a damn after diplomats fly home.

Declaring an early defeat leaves room for little apart from nihilism. Investing too much hope in the COP’s flawed process, on the other hand, threatens to repeat the post-failure “climate trauma” that trailed the collapse of talks in Denmark in 2009. What happens in Paris matters. What happens afterward is every bit as important.

For better or for worse, the onus now is on movements to be as bold, defiant and creative as ever, and tell a more compelling story than any born of bureaucratic jargon. Coalition Climate 21, comprised of some 130 groups from around the world, the Climate Games, and a host of other organizations will be planning ongoing protests throughout the week. The Climate Action Zone, in the Centquatre-Paris, promises to be a hub of activity in the lead-up to D12, a day of mobilization to close out the talks and a renewed intention to target fossil fuel infrastructure and extraction the world over.

As we’ve seen these past few months in the United States, the only leadership our government has displayed on climate has been a result of movements making business as usual harder to conduct. There was no magical change of heart, after all, that took Obama’s administration from advocating an “all of the above” energy policy last May to rejecting both the Keystone XL pipeline and Shell’s arctic drilling exploration in recent months.

While there are plenty of policies and backroom politics to be analyzed over the next two weeks, what matters more is what’s being done outside the conference rooms, where demands that actually meet the crisis at hand are being made. As with the French workers’ uprising in 1968, the beauty at COP21 is in the street.

How Black Lives Matter came back stronger after white supremacist attacks

by Celia Kutz

Black Lives Matter Minneapolis marches after the shooting by white supremacists. (Facebook/Adja Gildersleve)

When five protesters were shot by white supremacists in Minneapolis, Minnesota on November 22, my world turned a bit upside down. My time as an activist there, from 2006-13, has largely informed how I organize and do movement building. I knew at a lot of the people involved and was quickly on the phone. The protesters’ campaign demanded justice for Jamar Clark, an unarmed African American who was killed by Minneapolis police a week before.

I knew that the protest site, the Fourth Precinct Police Station on Plymouth Avenue, had previously been the location of a storefront center for black activism named The WAY. Thirty-five years ago, Police Chief Anthony Bouza bragged about how he would turn the site into a police station to show who was on top. Now the location spotlights the violent police role in institutionalized racism in Minnesota. It’s no wonder that freelance shooters would show up.

At the same time, it’s also no surprise that Black Lives Matter Minnesota quickly organized a mass march from the Fourth Precinct to City Hall the next day. But to fully appreciate this powerful response to the shootings, we need to realize how things might have gone differently. When many people hear about violent attack on their friends and fellow protesters, they react with numbness, shock and rage. Some are caught like deer in the headlights, unable to move because it seems beyond comprehension. Some simply want to fight back with violence, and others want to withdraw. Sometimes, though, we can see other options that strengthen our inner resiliency — the ability to acknowledge events, feel their effect and seek to heal by expressing the power we have in that moment.

That’s precisely what the Black Lives Matter organizers did when they quickly planned a march to emphasize the seat of accountability, City Hall. Protesters knew not to withdraw, run or lay low after the violence. Instead, they showed up. The route itself is three miles and difficult to navigate since the city has built an extensive highway system that stands between the predominately black neighborhood of North Minneapolis and downtown. A result of racist urban planning practices, the highway cuts off tourism and commercial business that might spread from downtown. (In neighboring St. Paul this same highway included such obviously racist routing that the city of St. Paul later made a formal apology.)

(Twitter/Black Lives Matter MPLS)

Marchers at the front, anxious to begin moving, were restless and organizers worked to channel the energy. What they did was brilliant: They changed the chants from the familiar “Black, Lives, Matter” and used different confrontational, specific words that channeled the escalating energy. Knowing that tense people need to move their bodies, organizers led those who were there to circle the precinct, urging the demonstrators to “let them see our faces, let them know who is here.” Organizing within a highly tense environment requires responsiveness to the moment. Rather than try to contain or minimize the intensity, the organizers found effective ways to channel it.

One of the wounded protesters, shot in the knee, came back to the precinct station, leaning heavily on a cane, determined to participate in the action. Cultural workers led a healing circle, local artists shared music and body workers set up a shack on wheels for private sessions if needed.

In the meantime, white activists went to Uptown — an upscale shopping district of mostly middle-class white people — where they challenged other whites to stand up against racist violence and speak out.

When the march was ready to head towards City Hall those in front had already practiced marching and could lead from their experience of having handled their own anxiety, sustaining their energy and then moving when the rest of the mass was ready to move with them. The route of the march made sense: It highlighted racial segregation in Minneapolis and illustrated the way that power should flow – from the struggle in the streets to the halls of justice.

Minneapolis has one of the most proactive and diverse city councils in the country. When Rep. Alondra Cano was running for office she personally called me to build a relationship. She and Rep. Keith Ellison are consistently engaged in the community by not only changing policies, but also supporting grassroots organizing. After the shootings Rep. Ellison tweeted, “As we continue our work on these critical issues, the safety of everyone at the Fourth Precinct must be our highest priority. Monday night’s shootings are not the fault of the victims or the Black Lives Matter movement, which is committed to nonviolence.”

A community meeting to figure out the next steps after the shooting. (Twitter/Black Lives Matter MPLS)

As one of the largest cities in the Midwest, Minneapolis organizing is successful due in part because of how diverse cultural practices have combined with grassroots organizing. A vibrant East African community, trans youth organizers and the largest urban population of indigenous people in the country each contribute. The quick and effective response to the attack was additionally made possible because local organizers, who have been movement building for decades in the Midwest, have been offering trainings on trauma and resiliency for the last year. Showing Up for Racial Justice, or SURJ — a national network of groups and individuals organizing white people for racial justice — has supported white allies in Minnesota to talk to people in wealthy districts. The action in Uptown, for instance, was the result of a SURJ Minnesota chapter.

Meanwhile, in October, Training for Change held its three-day core training on direct education in Minneapolis — Training for Social Action Trainers — where Black Lives Matter demonstrators learned skills to confront challenges and facilitate difficult moments. Some organizers are also participants in the Training For Change Judith C. Jones Fellowship for Trainers of Color, as well as The Wildfire Project, which trains, supports and links grassroots groups, helping to lay the foundation for powerful movement building. In August, the Wildfire Project and Training for Change came together to train a number of those who have been active in this recent round of demonstrations.

Another important training, led by a group now known as Ayni, was finishing up the morning the news broke about Jamar Clark. Their approach, which they call the momentum model, “merges the traditions of mass protest and structure-based organizing to create a new tradition of mass protest in the United States.” During the last hours of that training, Black Lives Matters Minneapolis organizers were applying momentum concepts to their work that would take place later that day — the occupation of the Fourth Precinct.

The strategy of the civil rights movement turns out to be as relevant in 2015 as in 1960. When white supremacists attack you with violence, increase the pressure of your nonviolent action. The reward the racists were hoping for — to intimidate you into submission or to evoke counter-violence — is not the reward you’ll give them. Instead, you come back with stronger action, legitimate leaders applaud your nonviolence, and additional allies come forward. That’s the way to win local struggles, whether in Montgomery, Birmingham or Minneapolis.