Waging Nonviolence

‘Suffragette’ raises question of property destruction’s effectiveness

by George Lakey

Women suffrage activists wearing suffrage sashes demonstrating with signs at city street corner in 1916. (Wikimedia)

“Suffragette,” a British film now in U.S. theaters, tells a gripping story drawn from the direct action wing of Britain’s woman suffrage movement. Because it spotlights one tactic – property destruction – the film raises the question of effectiveness. Leader Emmeline Pankhurst’s argument for escalating with arson and explosions was to hasten their win. Did it?

One way to answer the question is to compare the struggle with Alice Paul’s strategy on this side of the ocean. Paul also escalated with nonviolent tactics but chose to rule out property destruction. The fact that Alice Paul cut her teeth in the British movement, and then in this country made a different strategic choice, provokes some thinking about a tactic that some U.S. activists look upon with favor.

When I lived in Britain, I talked with women who participated in their movement, and back home I researched what American women did. I conducted a long interview with Paul, who was arrested repeatedly in Britain before returning to the United States to organize a direct action wing of the American movement.

When Pankhurst launched in 1903 the Women’s Social and Political Union, or WSPU, she organized marches, demonstrations and nonviolent disruption of meetings of prominent politicians – what we now call “bird-dogging.”

The time was right. By 1908, the WSPU mobilized 60,000 people for a nonviolent invasion of the House of Parliament. A reinforced police line held them back. That same year, the American Alice Paul was studying at a Quaker college in Birmingham, England. She plunged into the WSPU. Beaten by police, her seven arrests led to three imprisonments.

The WSPU began its most controversial escalation by smashing windows and a wall of the House of Parliament. After Parliament failed to extend suffrage in 1910, the WSPU channeled anger and disappointment by blowing up governmental postal boxes and starting fires in the houses of Members of Parliament. Pankhurst expected the resulting polarization of opinion, but thought it would pay off by increasing the government’s sense of crisis.

Alice Paul chose a different strategy of escalation

Alice Paul and Lucy Burns returned to the United States in 1910. The large National American Woman Suffrage Association, or NAWSA, confined itself to lobbying and petitioning. Its strategy of winning suffrage state-by-state seemed to Paul to be moving at a glacial pace.

In every campaign, the choice of target is critical. Paul used her graduate study at Penn to think through a shift in target: from states to the federal government. In the meantime she worked in Philadelphia’s woman suffrage scene and got women to stand on a box on the sidewalk to address startled pedestrians.

In this Internet-soaked period, it is tempting for activists in one country to copy-cat actions that are gaining publicity elsewhere, without asking how conditions in their own city or country are similar and different to the place in the spotlight. That happened with Occupy Wall Street, for example, taking the occupation in Cairo’s Tahrir Square as something to emulate, then finding that the rigidity of the basic form (“Hold the space!”) prevented the flexibility that a successful movement needs to grow organically under quite different conditions.

Alice Paul, nurtured in the advanced direct action of the British suffragettes, could have tried immediately to organize a civil disobedience campaign on this side of the Atlantic. Instead, she sniffed the air, built relationships, developed credibility within the U.S. suffrage movement, and then chose a moment to test the political climate.

With the support of NAWSA, Paul organized a Woman’s Suffrage Parade in Washington in January 2013 — the day before Woodrow Wilson’s presidential inauguration. You can watch a version of the near-riot that resulted in the excellent HBO movie “Iron Jawed Angels,” starring Hilary Swank as Alice Paul. Except for a made-up love interest for Alice Paul, the film follows the narrative of the campaign in a remarkably accurate way.

The thousands of women marching that day and the abuse they endured brought into the spotlight their demand for a suffrage amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Alice Paul and Lucy Burns concluded that the country was ready for a direct action campaign targeting President Wilson and the Democratic majority in Congress. Their gradual but edgy tactics in this direction led to a split with NAWSA and starting the National Woman’s Party.

By December 1916, they had a full-fledged direct action campaign. Like their sisters in the United Kingdom, they disrupted (including a banner-hanging in the U.S. Senate) and picketed (the first group to picket the White House). Civil disobedience was central: By the time of their victory Julia Emory had been arrested 34 times. They used the tactic of jail-in: When the police began to arrest them, they recruited more women to picket and refuse to pay fines, in that way taxing the limited jail facilities. They often refused to work and went on hunger strikes.

Escalating when expected to subside

Emmeline Pankhurst suspended the WSPU’s campaign in 1914 when Britain entered World War I. When in 1917 the United States entered, U.S. groups were pressured to support the war effort, but Alice Paul refused. Instead, she escalated, challenging Woodrow Wilson to become as enthusiastic about democracy at home as he was in his pro-war rhetoric. In front of the White House, women held signs calling their president the title of the enemy Germany’s emperor: “Kaiser Wilson!” When infuriated men beat up the women, the police looked the other way. Police reportedly arrested some men who intervened to try to protect the women from the punching and kicking attackers.

While some members of the Woman’s Party resigned to protest Paul’s lack of patriotism, other women joined the campaign, angered by Wilson’s hypocrisy. They publicly burned the president’s speeches whenever he invoked “the American obligation to stand up for democracy.” Jail sentences became longer.

Wilson felt the pressure. He’d already gone from dismissing the idea of a suffrage amendment to agreeing in principle — although, he said he needed to wait until the end of the war to attend to the matter. To add pressure, some women released from jail were sent on speaking tours around the country, sharing their experience of repression. Opinion shifted; prominent politician Dudley Field Malone, for example, announced his resignation as Collector of Customs for New York in protest against the treatment of the picketers.

Finally, the president relented and, even though the war continued, urged Congress to pass the amendment. Congress did so, and after a massive push by the movement, including the NAWSA, enough states ratified the amendment to bring victory in 1920.

Polarization, property destruction and winning

The Woman’s Party relied on a strategy of escalation just as much as WSPU. Each knew that society would initially polarize, with some allies and even members distancing themselves from the cause in the short run. (Much later in the United States, we saw during the civil rights movement this dynamic again: first polarization, then growth of support for the campaigners.) Significantly, Alice Paul even when intensifying the escalation in 1917, used nonviolent tactics instead of property destruction. The Woman’s Party ended its direct action when Congress passed the amendment in 1919. From start to finish, the direct actionists in the United States campaigned for six years.

The WSPU had the advantage of larger numbers of women ready to do direct action. Halfway through their campaign they were able to assemble 60,000 women to try to invade Parliament, a larger number than the entire Woman’s Party membership grew to be across the United States. That’s quite remarkable when you consider how much smaller Britain is as a country. Furthermore, it has a unitary government and no written constitution needing amendment. The WSPU campaign started in 1903 and ended in 1914 – 11 years in duration, five years more than that of the Woman’s Party.

When Parliament finally responded in 1918, only 40 percent of women gained the right to vote: those over 30 with property. Not until 1928 did the United Kingdom make women equal with men as voters, something gained in the United States in 1920.

When we look at escalation, whose goal is to accelerate victory, the comparison is even more stark. The Woman’s Party’s nonviolent direct action intensified in the final two years and led to victory. Before suspending the campaign, the WSPU used property destruction for its final six years. It’s hard to disagree with the British historians who believe that WSPU’s use of property destruction was sadly self-defeating.

Why would property destruction slow us down instead of speeding us toward our goal? The answer lies in noticing who controls the narrative. Even though, in my definition of the word, property destruction is not the same as violence, in many cultures it does get framed as violence by prevailing opinion-leaders and their mass media operations. Certainly in the United States and Britain, where the power-holders respect private property more deeply than human life, property destruction is branded “violence” while militarily invading other countries is called “force.”

In the United Kingdom and the United States, I don’t expect a shift in the emotionally-laden meaning of property destruction to happen any time soon. In the meantime, let’s join Alice Paul, who knew that escalatory nonviolent tactics resulting in suffering often cause polarization initially, but then lead to the paradox of repression. That’s when politicians like Dudley Field Malone — who quit his post as secretary of state to support women’s suffrage — join the cause because they correctly see who is perpetrating violence.

What slowed down the Brits, despite the moving heroism shown in “Suffragette,” was that they didn’t understand then what we can all see now: Choose nonviolent tactics for escalation if you want to ensure a greater chance of victory.

Mizzou students’ victory was a real team effort

by Ashoka Jegroo

View image | gettyimages.com

After a diverse series of protests against racism at the University of Missouri and the administration’s lack of action, the university’s president and chancellor have decided to resign from their positions. For months, student activists have hit the school administration with a variety of different protests, including blocking cars and hunger strikes, with the knockout blow coming from the school’s football team refusing to practice or play.

“This is not the way change should come about,” former university president Timothy M. Wolfe said in the statement. “Change comes from listening, learning, caring and conversation. And we have to respect each other enough to stop yelling at each other and start listening and quit intimidating each other. Unfortunately, this did not happen and this is why I stand before you today and I take full responsibility for this frustration and I take full responsibility for the inaction, which has occurred.”

Within two days of the football team’s announcement that — in solidarity with other student activists — they would not practice or play in any games, Wolfe announced that he would step down. Hours later, university chancellor R. Bowen Loftin also resigned, stating that he would take on a research position in the school starting January 1. Many then focused on the football team’s actions as the main factor in this victory for the students.

“If the football team gets behind a cause, that cause is going to win,” Missouri student radio station KCOU general manager Kyle Norris told Texas A&M University’s The Batt. “Football has that much influence on what’s going on, because it’s such a money grab.”

And while the football team’s strike would ultimately land the finishing blow to Wolfe’s tenure as university president, the various protests that led to the football team strike were just as important in achieving this victory. Each protest made the administration’s inaction more and more blatant until the football team felt a duty to step in and flex their political muscles to save a fellow black student’s life.

Back in April, a swastika and the word “heil” were found scribbled at the Mark Twain Residence Hall on campus. After the hateful graffiti was cleaned off, a swastika and “You have been warned” appeared the next day. A freshman at the school was later arrested for allegedly being behind the graffiti.

On September 12, the Missouri Students Association President Payton Head, a young black man, posted a Facebook status discussing a racist incident that had happened to him the night before. On Friday night, as Head walked through campus, a group of men in the back of a pickup truck yelled racial slurs at him as they rode past. Head also said that a similar incident happened to him during his sophomore year. The post quickly went viral.

“I’ve always dealt with microaggressions, and there’s racism in all sorts of things that we do, but never directly had someone said something like that to me, out of hatred, to my face,” Head told The Maneater, the university’s campus newspaper. “Like, they looked me in the eye and called me the n-word.”

Later on September 24, students staged their first “Racism Lives Here” rally on campus to protest Loftin’s slow and inadequate response to what happened to Head. The students gathered at Speakers Circle on the campus and gave speeches about Loftin’s slow response and unimpressive letter regarding the incident. Loftin had refused to even use the word “racism” in his statement. After the speeches, they chanted and marched to Jesse Hall.

“Let me be clear about what I think of this letter: Fuck this letter,” graduate student Danielle Walker told The Maneater. “Fuck this letter, because it continues to perpetuate the fact that Mizzou doesn’t give a damn about its black students.”

A second “Racism Lives Here” rally was then held October 1 where students marched around the student center and gave speeches.

“Let us be clear that until the administration takes a serious stance on racism on our campus, we will be marching until we are guaranteed justice,” Walker told The Maneater. “They say they are for the students. Well, we are the students.”

A few days later, on October 5, as the Legion of Black Collegians, or LBC, was going through its 2015 Homecoming Royalty Court rehearsal, a drunk white man stumbled on stage, refused to leave, and then hurled racial slurs at the black students. LBC President Warren Davis later released a statement on what happened and on the casual racism that pervades the campus. The next day, students held a sit-in on the floor of Jesse Hall for four hours with breaks where students would stand and chant. During the sit-in, students once again said that school administrators were doing little about the racism on campus.

On October 8, Loftin announced that beginning in January, students, staff and faculty would be taking “diversity and inclusion” training. Two days later, 11 students locked arms and blocked Wolfe’s car during the homecoming parade to get him to finally address the racial climate on campus. Wolfe never even got out his car. After 10 minutes, police threatened to pepper-spray the students and forced them out of the way. A third “Racism Lives Here” rally took place on October 10, but was ultimately cut short.

On October 20, student activist group Concerned Student 1950, named for the year black students were first allowed on campus, issued a list of demands including Wolfe’s resignation and more diversity in the faculty and staff. On October 24, yet another set of swastikas were found written in feces in a bathroom on campus. Concerned Student 1950 then met with Wolfe on October 26, but — according to a statement released afterward by the group — the university president “did not mention any plan of action to address the demands or help us work together to create a more safe and inclusive campus.”

View image | gettyimages.com

Then, on November 2, graduate student Jonathan Butler announced on Facebook that he would be going on an indefinite hunger strike until Wolfe resigned.

“Students are not able to achieve their full academic potential because of the inequalities and obstacles they face,” Butler told The Maneater. “In each of these scenarios, Mr. Wolfe had ample opportunity to create policies and reform that could shift the culture of Mizzou.”

This hunger strike went on for days and is what finally led the football team to go on strike, refusing to play despite an upcoming game against Brigham Young University. Missing the game would have cost the school more than $1 million, which likely made things much more urgent for Wolfe. He soon resigned along with Loftin. But as the football team themselves acknowledge, they were ultimately pushed to action by the previous protests, particularly Butler’s hunger strike.

“It is not about us,” senior defensive back Ian Simon said in a statement. “We just wanted to use our platform to take a stance as fellow concerned students on an issue that has special meaning, as a fellow black man’s life was on the line. We love the game, but at the end of the day, it is just that — a game.”

How Romania turned from shock to revolt in less than a week

by Alexandru Predoiu

View image | gettyimages.com

Romania turned from shock to revolt in less than a week, after a tragic fire at the Colectiv club in downtown Bucharest on October 30 killed at least 46 people and left over 100 more injured. The rock band Goodbye to Gravity was launching their new album that evening, but the fireworks they used onstage quickly set fire to the former factory’s polystyrene decor and wooden frame.

Dozens of ambulances, firetrucks, police and gendarmerie wagons rushed towards the scene and began taking the injured to different hospitals in the area. While Raed Arafat, the sub-secretary of state for the Health Ministry, and Gabriel Oprea, the minister of interior affairs, were giving joint press statements from the scene, assuring everyone that the situation was under control, it became clear to the media and the public that the intervention had not gone as well as they were claiming. In reality, the ambulances and the fire department didn’t arrive on time, the hospitals were overcrowded and the equipment needed for burned victims had to be transported from cities close to the capital.

As soon as people heard about the accident, a vast solidarity network began to form. While medics and hospital staff who were not on duty that night rushed to their posts to help out, people wanting to donate blood formed lines in front of transfusion centers. Others were helping out with information about the victims, as most of them could not be identified. Still, the state of shock persisted and the next three days were declared national days of mourning by the government. Almost no cultural or entertainment events were held. Instead, people formed informal groups to see what kind of medical supplies the doctors needed, while lawyers, psychologists and surgeons from private medical facilities started offering their services free of charge for the families, friends and surviving patients. All of this was done in seemingly record time, using social media sites and not involving authorities in any way. On Sunday evening, 11,000 people, dressed in black and with candles in their hands, gathered at University Square to march silently towards the site of the tragedy in order to pray for the dead and injured. It was this grieving that would soon make way for revolt.

Monday was the last day of mourning and authorities were already detaining and questioning the club’s owners. At first glance, they seemed to be the ones most responsible for the tragedy, having bought cheap material and run the club without safety permits or legal forms for the staff. They are, at the moment, charged with murder and are awaiting trial. However, as more facts began to surface regarding the authorities’ intervention, and as the death toll kept rising, outrage took over the hearts and minds of the people.

View image | gettyimages.com

Since civic engagement and human rights groups like Romania Curata and Militia Spirituala, were already engaged in disseminating information about the inefficiency of state institutions and corruption within Prime Minister Victor Ponta’s administration, average citizens were more than ready to take action. Furthermore, having experienced several major protests in recent years — specifically against austerity measures in 2012 and mining companies in 2013 — they didn’t need to wait for veteran activists to propose and organize demonstrations.

The first march, held on Tuesday evening, was launched by people who were not a part of the traditional activist scene. Numerous calls appeared on Facebook and people reacted quickly. At the same time, however, the government was not expecting a large number of people in the streets. Confident in their assessment of the situation, they ordered the gendarmes not to intervene in any way and the march proved to be an effective way of gathering a huge crowd — much like the 2013 anti-mining protests, which used numerous columns deployed throughout the city to grow the crowd size. At the start of Tuesday’s march, there were only 4,000 people and by the end of the day numbers rose to 25,000. Early the next day, Victor Ponta announced that he would resign from his post as prime minister, thereby taking down the whole government with him, including the now reviled Minister of Interior Gabriel Oprea. Soon after his live statement, the mayor of the district in Bucharest where the nightclub is located, Cristian Popescu Piedone, also renounced his office. The street had obtained an unexpected victory, as the three persons they considered responsible all relinquished their posts.

Social cells that don’t actively participate in the day-to-day sanctioning of political decisions — such as football supporters and teams, young corporate employees and student associations — played an active role in organizing the street protests, having already built-in affinity groups. Social media sites gave them the opportunity to organize faster and keep up with the pace of events. Grievances are still being debated and discussed on Internet platforms where everybody can contribute, amend or just support them. While some are focusing on eliminating the corruption that’s present at all levels of government, others are focusing on reducing the budget of state security institutions or the church and prioritizing the health system.

View image | gettyimages.com

“There is no need for one person to say what the demands of the streets are,” said Romania Curata member Mihai Dragos. “They are clear and they are shouted every day in the streets. They are also formulated and released for everybody to see.”

The divide is evident, but everybody agrees that all current political parties must drastically reform or dissolve. As a result, some are trying to build on this general sentiment by inviting participants on the streets to join new political parties, offering them printed political programs and arguing that “new faces are needed in politics in order to protect the future of our children and country,” as one political activist from the newly formed Popular Party noted.

There seems to be a general sense of confusion when looking at what is happening in the square — at least for the distant observer or the lone participant. Looking closer, however, one finds that the younger generation is trying to build new forms of political engagement. Some propose the classical political party scheme, but with new values. Others focus on grassroots activism, but with greater accent on inter-group collaboration. The idea is to rally around common points of interest and force them into parliament. These may seem like minor democratic experiments, but they’re vital to a generation that wants to break with the old customs of political engagement. A banner created on the streets by the group Militia Spirituala explains this sentiment: “We have defeated you! Now we battle with ourselves.”

Looking back to 2012, it seems safe to say that Romanian society has progressed towards more democratic values and citizens have become more conscious of the crucial role they play in politics.

High school students walk out in response to racist threats

by Ashoka Jegroo

Berkeley High School students rally on November 5. (Twitter/@Jacket__Pride)

More than a thousand high school students in Berkeley, California walked out of class on November 5 in a protest against racist threats left on a school library’s computer in support of the Ku Klux Klan and threatening a “public lynching” next month.

“This is an act of domestic terrorism,” one student attending the protest told Fusion. “This is terrorism and it should be treated as such.”

The controversy began at around 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday when people at Berkeley High School — a public school located a few blocks away from University of California — discovered that one of the school library’s computers was displaying a page full of racist slurs and threats, including messages like “KKK Forever” and “Public Lynching December 9th 2015.”

School district spokesperson Mark Coplan said that no hacking or actual changing of the school library’s website was involved. Instead, the messages were part of a displayed image that someone left open on the computer screen. Later that night, Berkeley High School’s Black Student Union tweeted a photo of the computer screen for everyone to see and released a statement.

“The perpetrator sympathizes with the racist cause of the KKK and makes a clear threat to lynch black students this December,”  the statement read. “The terrorists call for the death of all black people in the message. We are disgusted by this act of terror and demand it be investigated as such.”

The school’s principal, Sam Pasarow, also sent out an email at around 10:30 p.m. on Wednesday night.

“Today in the library, at approximately 12:30 p.m., a hateful and racist message was discovered on one of the library computers, containing threatening language toward African Americans,” he wrote in the email. “The administration is looking into who posted this message. This is a hate crime and messages such as this one will not stand in our community.”

The next day, Berkeley High students Alecia Harger, Nebe Zekaryas, and the rest of the Black Student Union organized a walkout, rally, and march to spread awareness of the incident, as well as racism in general on school campuses. Early on Thursday morning, students walked out of class and held a rally at the community center on campus where Berkeley Unified School District Superintendent Donald Evans, Principal Pasarow, students, and members of the Black Student Union addressed the crowd.

After the speeches, students began walking off campus through Martin Luther King, Jr. Civic Center Park and headed toward Old City Hall. After hitting Old City Hall, the protesters then marched through the streets and arrived at UC Berkeley, where they chanted “You’re the ones who showed us how, UC Berkeley join us now,” “Black lives matter,” and “No justice, no peace,” as they marched through the university’s campus.

“Never have I seen something this unified,” Berkeley High senior and Black Student Union member Dante Ryan told Berkeleyside. “All the legends of the civil rights movement are looking down on us real proud.”

A student makes a fist to the crowd below. (Twitter)

The protesters made more speeches once on the UC Berkeley campus and thanked authorities like Principal Pasarow for supporting the march and the students. Pasarow then raised his fist in solidarity.

“I absolutely support the protests. The leadership the students have shown today is incredible,” he told Berkeleyside. “I’m all in favor of the importance of instructional minutes in the classroom, but this learning experience is incredible for the students.”

He also promised to hold an all-school assembly on December 9, the date that the racist messages said would include a “public lynching,” examining the contributions of the black community.

Shortly before 1 p.m. the protest ended and Berkeley High students made their way back to their school. No arrests or confrontations were reported by police.

Later that night, Pasarow sent out an email informing students and staff that the 15-year-old student responsible for the racist messages had been identified. The student’s name will not be released due to student privacy laws, but Berkeley police say the student will be turned over “to juvenile probation for review of charges.”

This particular racist incident follows two other incidents over the past year, including a noose left on a tree at the school in October 2014 and an incident earlier this year in June where a message in the yearbook referred to a group of students of color as future “trash collators” (sic).

Despite these incidents, Thursday’s walkout and protest was well-attended, peaceful and widely supported by school staff and local school officials. It also ultimately pushed the student responsible for the threats to confess while bringing together many of Berkeley High’s students.

“It’s really heartening to see this many people turning out,” Black Student Union co-president Alecia Harger told Berkeleyside. “It’s a great event of healing for black students from Berkeley High who had to endure this incident.”

Keystone XL victory is a reminder of why we cover movements

by The Editors

(350.org)

This is the news the climate movement has been waiting for: President Obama has rejected the Keystone XL pipeline. These are the words they’ve been waiting for him to speak: “We’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them.”

As a publication covering this movement, we’ve been waiting right alongside them.

Waging Nonviolence began its Keystone XL coverage with a blog post in August 2011, asking, “Can two weeks of mass action in DC stop the tar sands pipeline?” It was an honest question, harboring some (now laughable, in hindsight) doubts that the police would play their part in the planned acts of civil disobedience. Days later, however, we found out first-hand just how serious this wave of resistance was going to become, as two of our editors got arrested on the first day of what would become an historic two weeks of sit-ins outside the White House.

Nevertheless, today’s announcement doesn’t provide a clear answer to the question posed in that very first blog post. On the one hand, the answer is “no.” Those two weeks did not stop the pipeline — not on their own. After all, it’s taken over four years to reach today’s decision. On the other hand, those two weeks sparked or shined light upon everything else that did (cumulatively) stop the pipeline — from the First Nations resistance that came before it to the ongoing frontline community struggles against all forms of extreme energy to the moments when everyone came together (like with last year’s People’s Climate March) to show the true size and force of this movement for the planet and it’s people.

For a site like Waging Nonviolence, which seeks to show the inner workings of movements and how they build power, today’s victory is more than an opportunity to celebrate, it’s an opportunity to reflect upon the work that changes our world. So, we invite you to do that. You can view all our Keystone XL resistance coverage here — at the Sans Tar Sands series page. Or, for a curated list of our favorite pieces just keep reading. The more we understand how to succeed, the more opportunities there will be for celebration.

Protesters encircle White House, close in on tar sands industry | November 7, 2011
“We don’t know how many people it takes to encircle the White House, but we’re about to find out,” Bill McKibben told a crowd of over 12,000. It ended up taking far less, as the lines forming the circle were four deep.

Don’t mess with Texas’ Tar Sands Blockade | August 15, 2012
One year after more than 1,200 people were arrested in front of the White House protesting the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline, a coalition of Texas landowners and activists will attempt to physically halt its construction.

Opposition mounts as first tar sands mine in US gets a green light | September 7, 2012
A new front against tar sands mining has opened and this time it’s not in Canada, but in Utah.

Communities of resistance know no borders in fight against tar sands | January 18, 2013
While much of the recent anti-pipeline attention has been focused on rural landowners in East Texas towns, Tar Sands Blockaders and anarchist community organizers have been cultivating a growing resistance campaign in the Houston neighborhood of Manchester.

In historic turn, Sierra Club gets arrested for the climate | February 13, 2013
The nation’s largest and oldest environmental organization follows up on its pledge to engage in civil disobedience for the first time in its 120-year history.

Is Bill McKibben’s math finally adding up? | February 18, 2012
Had Bill McKibben and 350.org not put so much effort into creating the perception of a powerful movement, they might never have built one.

The climate movement’s pipeline preoccupation | April 8, 2013
Before the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway campaigns come to an end, we all must recognize the dangers of having a single-issue approach to movement building.

Indigenous resistance grows strong in Keystone XL battle | May 8, 2013
For as much as the Keystone XL pipeline threatens indigenous communities, it has also connected them for a massive stand of resistance.

Looking to lessons learned for the upcoming Keystone XL battle | February 6, 2014
While grassroots efforts to halt construction of the Keystone XL’s southern portion were not successful, many activists believe the lessons learned through that experience will be useful in the upcoming battle over the pipeline’s northern section.

When Cowboys and Indians unite — Inside the unlikely alliance that is remaking the climate movement | May 2, 2014
One native prophecy speaks of a black snake that — much like the Keystone XL — will bring great destruction. Another speaks of different peoples uniting to defend the land. Now, it too is becoming a reality, thanks to indigenous-led organizing.

#NoTarSands resistance march draws thousands in Midwest | June 7, 2015
Frontline indigenous communities took center stage in the largest anti-tar sands demonstration in Midwest history.

Wave of hunger strikes at immigrant prisons gains momentum

by Victoria Law

View image | gettyimages.com

On October 28, 27 women at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Texas began refusing meals. Contrary to what its name may suggest, the 500 women inside Hutto are not voluntary residents. They have been placed in immigrant detention by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), which has contracted with Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA, a private prison corporation which owns and operates Hutto. Hutto is the sole women’s-only immigrant detention center in the country.

The women were protesting not only conditions inside the immigrant prison — from abusive treatment by guards to lack of medical care — but also the fact that they are being detained at all. In other words, they’re demanding their freedom. The majority of the women are fleeing violence in their home countries and seeking asylum in the United States. Here, however, they’ve been placed in immigrant detention as they await a decision about their fate. Some have been languishing behind bars for nearly two years.

“It gives me great pleasure to participate in this hunger strike. I can’t take any more of this punishment. I am dying from desperation, from this injustice [and] from this cruelty,” wrote Insis Maribel Zelaya Bernardez, a Honduran Garífuna woman currently imprisoned in Hutto.

Congressional appropriations covering the budget for ICE detention state “[t]hat funding made available under this heading shall maintain a level of not less than 34,000 detention beds.” The funding for these 34,000 beds — and the pressure to keep them filled — means that alternatives to detention, such as supervised release, are less likely to be utilized, locking people away from their families and communities as they await their day in (immigration) court. This includes the 500 women in the Hutto detention center as well as thousands in similar situations nationwide.

The call for freedom spread and, in less than a week, the number of women refusing food in a privately-run immigrant detention center has swelled, although no one is sure just how many women are now participating in the hunger strike. Their actions, accompanied by handwritten letters released by Grassroots Leadership, an organization working to end for-profit private prisons, jails and detention centers, garnered media and activist attention.

The women’s mass hunger strike comes on the heels of two other hunger strikes in immigrant prisons. On October 14, 54 asylum seekers from Bangladesh, India, Afghanistan and Pakistan imprisoned in a detention center in El Paso, Texas, began refusing food and water. Less than a week later, in Louisiana’s Lasalle Detention Center, another 14 people began a solidarity hunger strike. In both places, the hunger strikers had already been deemed to have credible fear of being persecuted if they are returned to their home country, a first step in the process of seeking asylum. Although a 2010 ICE policy states that asylum seekers who pass their credible fear interview should be considered for parole, these men continue to be held in immigrant detention. Some had been held as long as two years. The El Paso hunger strike lasted about a week, and 11 of the hunger strikers were released.

The LaSalle hunger strike lasted nearly two weeks. Before they ended their strike, the LaSalle hunger strikers sent a message to the women at Hutto. In a message distributed by DRUM-South Asian Organizing Center, a social justice group mobilizing low-income South Asian immigrants, one LaSalle hunger striker wrote: “I am Foyez Ahmed, and I am saying freedom for the Hutto27! Our sisters, they have started a hunger strike and fighting hard. And we are support to them and they are support to us.”

It’s unclear whether the women in Hutto know about these messages of solidarity. But what is known is that, in Hutto — as in LaSalle — resistance has brought repercussions. TeleSur reported that two women have been transferred to a different immigrant prison and Zelaya Bernardez was placed in solitary confinement for three days, clearly measures intended to both break solidarity and scare other women into ending their strike. One of the women, Francisca Morales Macías, was able to call her daughter to let her know about the transfer. “She said they had her isolated, that she couldn’t do anything, she was only allowed to be in her room, she couldn’t talk to nobody,” her daughter told Fusion. Then, the call ended.

This is not the first time that women in immigrant prisons have gone on hunger strike to demand immediate release from horrific conditions. On New Year’s Eve in 1992, 40 women and 119 men imprisoned in Florida’s Krome Processing Center, one of the oldest and largest immigration processing centers (and the subject of repeated investigations of abuses), launched a hunger strike to demand their freedom. At the time, immigration policy dictated that Haitian refugees be indefinitely detained while their claims were investigated. In contrast, asylum-seekers from Cuba were allowed to go free. Eight days into the strike, 39 of the original 40 women were still refusing to eat despite the fact that the center’s administrators shut off the water coolers in the housing units and threatened to transfer women to local jails where they would be unable to receive family visits. But their actions had some effect. In the six months that followed, 88 of the 159 Haitian asylum-seekers were released, although the breakdown of genders was not publicized.

As the Hutto hunger strike enters its second week, ICE officials are denying that a hunger strike — or anyone refusing to eat — is taking place. The women remaining at Hutto report that they now have less access to phone calls and outdoor time. They also have told outside advocates that they are being given disciplinary reports for refusing to leave their dorms during meal times, that staff have been bringing food to the dorms and pressuring them to eat, and that guards have been following the women on hunger strike.

Resistance is spreading and people in other immigrant prisons are protesting conditions by refusing food. On October 30, at least 20 men at the Adelanto Detention Facility in California began a hunger strike to demand better medical and dental care, better food and respectful treatment.

While they too decry their conditions of confinement, the women at Hutto continue to refuse food until their one overarching demand is met — their immediate release.

The growing grassroots movement to fight the NRA and prevent gun violence

by Ladd Everitt

View image | gettyimages.com

I won’t lie. As the director of communications for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, it’s been fun watching the Democratic presidential candidates jump over each other in trying to be the strongest on the issue of gun violence prevention — as well as the most vocal opponent of the National Rifle Association. Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley are puffing out their chests and demonstrating fearlessness, the most precious commodity our movement possesses. And Bernie Sanders? We’re going to make sure he doesn’t win anything until he supports a full repeal of the noxious 2005 Gun Industry Immunity law, which gave gun manufacturers, distributors and dealers unprecedented legal immunity from their own negligent behavior.

It’s hard to tell right now if the candidates are feeding off the American public or vice-versa. But Clinton has been leading on this issue for some time now — long before she officially announced her candidacy. For some reason, the Umpqua Community College shooting in Oregon last month really resonated with the public. My organization is seeing that in the correspondences we’ve been receiving from concerned citizens, who have had enough and want to get involved as volunteers on the ground.

When you work on this issue for some time, it’s always very difficult to guess which tragedies will move people to action. My sense with Umpqua is that it finally cemented for people that this endless cycle of daily, gun-related horrors is never going to end given the current status quo on gun laws. I think the same old tired argument about “gun-free zones” is falling flat, too, because Umpqua allows students to carry concealed handguns. MSNBC interviewed a veteran named John Parker, Jr. who confirmed that he and many other students were carrying their firearms on campus that day, but decided not to intervene because they were worried about being shot by responding SWAT officers.

All of a sudden, there’s been a spontaneous burst of energy at the grassroots level, as evidenced by actions like Jessica Jin’s “Cocks Not Glocks” protest at the University of Texas against a law that will allow guns on campus starting next August. Overall, the commentary is increasingly shifting toward a focus on gun culture, as opposed to policy. The times they are a changin’.

It is probably the greatest outburst of energy we have seen since the Sandy Hook massacre, which fundamentally transformed our movement. The two areas where we have long fought to level the playing field with the National Rifle Association are political fundraising and grassroots energy. We have made enormous strides in both areas since that awful day of December 14, 2012.

Ladd Everitt speaks at the “Let’s Start A New Routine, America!” rally at the White House on October 17, 2015.

I am no fan of Big Money in politics — it erodes political equality entirely, and reform is desperately needed to restore the concept of “one person, one vote” — but we have suffered terribly for decades from having no skin in the game when the NRA was paying off politicians left and right. Too many lawmakers who agreed with us in principle ended up voting against us because they were afraid of the NRA running ads against them, sponsoring rallies in their district, getting the vote out on the pro-gun side through paid campaigns, etc. They always had the comfort of knowing that they would never have to face similar resources on our side.

That changed for good when former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched his Independence USA PAC in 2012. For the first time, we had the resources to reward candidates who voted with us and punish those who didn’t. Mark Kelly and Gabby Giffords then launched the Americans for Responsible Solutions PAC, which is also extremely well-funded. Both PACs are heavily involved in Virginia’s off-years races right now and that will continue in the upcoming 2016 elections. The great crusade of the 21st century has to be getting money out of politics, but as long as the NRA is free to spend in political races, I want to make sure our side can as well. Lives depend on it.

The gun violence prevention, or GVP, movement has also made enormous inroads in terms of grassroots organizing in the last three years. For starters, Sandy Hook led to the creation of a new national organization mobilizing activists on the ground in 50 states: Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America (now incorporated under the Everytown for Gun Safety umbrella with Mayors Against Illegal Guns). Existing coalitions like States United to Prevent Gun Violence in America added additional state organizations and new volunteers as well. Equally important, progressive groups that previously paid lip service to gun violence prevention became fully vested in it. This includes Organizing for America, Americans United for Change, and the fantastic new gun violence prevention team at the Center for American Progress led by Arkadi Gerney.

The result has been a far greater deal of activity on the ground by volunteers, even in red states. This has manifested itself in terms of lobbying visits to lawmakers, attendance at legislative hearings, and even single-issue voting (yes, the gun violence prevention movement is now hearing from many Americans who are indicating they will only vote for candidates who are solid on the gun issue). It has made an enormous difference in our campaigns and advocacy. For the first time in a long time, politicians understand that they better look both ways before deciding how to vote on gun bills.

We are incredibly unified. The federal and state groups in the movement do weekly conference calls and at least one face-to-face meeting each year. A day does not go by in which I am not directly working with activists and organizations from across the country. I don’t want to get too corny with this, but we really are family. Many of us have been working together for many years and you don’t join this movement to get rich — we all believe in this work passionately.

There is broad agreement in the movement that our federal priority should continue to be universal background checks, and also quite a bit of consensus on the types of state policies we need to be promoting. Once you get outside of that, there is a diverse range of opinion in terms of the strategies our movement should be employing for mobilizing grassroots support, messaging with the public, etc. I’m sure you’d find the same in any movement in America. So for those of you calling for a GVP mega-merger, don’t hold your breath. It not’s going to happen on any large-scale in the near future, and it is no panacea for breaking the NRA’s political power anyway.

Finally, we have mutually agreed to never use the term “gun control” again. It is a term from a far earlier time before multi-millionaires like Wayne LaPierre routinely exploited our government’s good name for their own profit. None of our organizations have any problem with Americans owning firearms for a host of legitimate purposes; hunting, recreational shooting, home defense, etc. We will not operate in the biased frame they have spent millions discrediting.

In the months ahead, you will see our movement make aggressive efforts to become more diverse (we need to do a better job of reaching out to communities of color and speaking to issues that they are most concerned about, including gun violence committed by police). You will also see us speak about the cultural aspect of the issue in a way that is far more confident and assured. No longer will the NRA be the sole arbiter of political and moral values on this issue. We are challenging them aggressively on their promotion of insurrectionist ideology and now have them squarely on the defensive in this area. We have seen recently seismic cultural shifts on the issues of gay marriage and the Confederate flag. Our moment is coming as well. We are going to make reckless, threatening gun ownership as cool as second-hand smoke.

Look to see our movement continue to push ballot referendums on universal background checks and other important policy questions at the state level. The policies we promote enjoy broad public support (a recent survey found that 93 percent of registered voters support universal backgrounds checks on all gun sales) and the referendum process allows us to get around legislative stagnation and take these decisions directly to the people. Nevada and Maine, in the 2016 election, are the next two target states and many more will follow from there.

This movement has come a long way since I started as a professional in 2006. Today, we are better organized, better funded, and more determined than ever. It is only a matter of time before we break the political power of the NRA and create space for reforms that can save countless lives. On that day, not only America but the entire world will rejoice.

Can “solidarity unionism” save the labor movement?

by Eric Dirnbach

The debate on how to revive the troubled U.S. labor movement has been around for decades. Labor activists generally believe that much greater rank-and-file democracy and workplace militancy is the key to labor renewal. However, an essential perspective that is usually missing from the conversation is well represented by Staughton Lynd’s “Solidarity Unionism: Rebuilding the Labor Movement from Below,” which was first published in 1992 and has been recently reissued.

Lynd is a legendary progressive lawyer and activist from Youngstown, Ohio. He is the coauthor with his wife Alice Lynd of the classic “Rank and File: Personal Histories by Working-Class Organizers,” a collection of oral histories of militant union organizers, which informs much of the framework of “Solidarity Unionism.” At around 100 pages, the book reads more like a summary of his organizing philosophy, and many readers will come away wanting a more extensive discussion. It should be read along with several other recent books which make similar arguments: Stanley Aronowitz’s “The Death and Life of American Labor: Toward a New Workers’ Movement,” and “New Forms of Worker Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class-Struggle Unionism,” edited by Immanuel Ness, who also provided the introduction for “Solidarity Unionism.”

Lynd argues for a rethinking of the assumptions of the labor movement and for a revived version of labor organizing that was more prominent in the pre-New Deal era that he calls “solidarity unionism.” What may surprise most labor-oriented readers is that central to this kind of unionism is the absence of a contract between the union and the employer.

Isn’t the whole point of forming a union to get a written collective bargaining agreement? Lynd doesn’t think so and he argues that workers fighting together with direct action on the job to make improvements in the workplace do not need a contract and may be hurt by having one. He is critical of the “management rights” and “no-strike” clauses that are standard in almost all union contracts. He believes they reduce the power of workers to influence major decisions in how the workplace is run and to solve their problems at work immediately as they arise. Contracts tend to remove agency from the workers and place it in the hands of union staff who typically bargain and process grievances while the members may be uninvolved and cynical. Lynd is also skeptical of a union’s exclusive representation of all workers in the workplace and automatic dues check-off, preferring for workers to actively join the union and pay dues because they want to.

Lynd’s view of the prevailing “contract unionism” differs from standard labor history, which considers the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, or NLRA, labor reforms as a progressive advance for workers. In the mainstream view, workers organizing, with the support of President Roosevelt, finally won full government enforcement for the right to organize and bargain collectively. In exercising this right, unions typically hold workplace elections and then negotiate contracts with employers that set the conditions of employment and also guarantee labor peace (no strike/no lockout) for the term of the contract. This industrial relations framework led the way for millions of workers to organize and improve their wages and working conditions. This “class compromise” held for several decades until employers changed their mind and increased their opposition to unionization again.

For Lynd, this view is backwards. Workers were already organizing and improving working conditions, but the NLRA contract system was then imposed by the government to tame a militant 1930s labor movement and create the conditions for industrial peace. Opportunistic labor leaders used the rank-and-file workers’ disruptions to step in as responsible partners that could restore order with a union contract. Unions became contract administrators who disciplined unruly workers. Moreover, the ejection of the labor movement’s radical wing during the anti-Communist scare of the 1940s and 1950s eliminated a whole culture of militant unionism. Over the years, rank-and-file initiative and militancy has been weakened, such that when the employer anti-union offensive resumed in the 1970s and 1980s, unions were unprepared.

What does Lynd’s type of solidarity union look like? Shop floor committees based in workgroups organize and take direct action on the job to fight for their demands. The issues could be a wage increase or better scheduling and the actions could be marches on the boss, slowdowns, or other tactics. The goal is not to get official union recognition from the employer and a written contract, but simply the workplace improvements. If the workers have another grievance a month or a year later, they take further action to address it. This has been the model of the Industrial Workers of the World for over 100 years and is also the way many workers centers operate. Solidarity and initiative among coworkers with community support is the basis for this kind of unionism.

As an example, Lynd quotes John Sargent who worked at Inland Steel in Chicago in the late 1930s. “Without a contract we secured for ourselves agreements on working conditions and wages that we do not have today, and that were better by far than what we have today in the mill,” he said. “For example as a result of the enthusiasm of the people in the mill you had a series of strikes, wildcats, shut-downs, slow-downs, anything working people could think of to secure for themselves what they decided they had to have.”

Given Lynd’s analysis, what should the labor movement do today? Lynd doesn’t appear to advocate that unions rip up their contracts. But he does encourage the formation of rank-and-file shop floor committees. Union workers can certainly incorporate aspects of solidarity unionism by practicing workplace militancy as much as possible even with contracts in place, as Labor Notes has advocated for decades. Non-union workers can form independent unions based on solidarity unionism principles. We may also see more hybrid types of organizing, such as the fast food and OUR Walmart campaigns, sponsored by mainstream unions, and based in part on workplace actions. Some labor radicals are encouraged by these campaigns as something new, but Lynd reminds us that they recreate older forms of organizing, at least to the extent that they involve genuine worker leadership rather than stage-managed media events.

Lynd also encourages the formation of what he calls “parallel central labor councils” which are groups of workers in an area from different workplaces that provide solidarity to each other in their struggles. Lynd cites several examples of rank-and-file worker controlled solidarity initiatives in Youngstown in the 1980s, such as the Workers’ Solidarity Club, which provided picket line support and organizing assistance, as well as hosted educational and social events.

Given that almost 90 percent of U.S. workers are non-union, there is certainly a great opportunity to build a large solidarity union movement of the kind Lynd outlines. However, organizing is risky and groups that practice solidarity unionism in its purest form will tend to be small, with few staff or resources, depending almost entirely on the workers themselves. This is a lot to ask. Indeed many members of mainstream unions may point to the benefits of having a large, stable organization with contracts, funds, benefit plans, dedicated staff, lawyers, and political relationships. But for Lynd, these kinds of institutional arrangements tend to come at the cost of democracy and militancy.

This raises, I think, the greatest challenge and dilemma for this kind of unionism. It allows the best chance for workers to run their own union, making their own decisions on strategy and tactics with maximum democracy and freedom of action. But it also carries potentially more risk as workers are exposed to changes in workplace policy and arbitrary boss behavior without any written contract protections. Lynd would likely make the claim that contracts offer no real protection without worker power to back it up, and if you have that power you don’t need the contract. No doubt that’s true in some cases.

Ultimately the solidarity unionism model essentially makes two broad claims: that the outcomes for workers will be better and that it is a way of organizing that can more effectively challenge capitalism. Regarding workplace outcomes, this is a fascinating question that needs more data and there may possibly be too few documented modern cases of workplace organizing and improvements outside of the formal contract system. This certainly deserves more attention.

Regarding the challenge to capitalism, although Lynd doesn’t develop this point at length, he links solidarity unionism with the potential to build a socialist society. This is consistent with Lynd’s view that mainstream union practices cannot meaningfully challenge capitalism. We can see how this might be true since the regular practice of workplace militancy will likely develop more class-conscious fighters of the system than staff-directed contract bargaining. And a mainstream union’s assets and relationships tend to enmesh it in the capitalist system, making alternatives hard to envision within typical union practices.

In any case, union contracts and the working conditions they codify are the current compromise between labor and capital in any given workplace. With or without a contract, workers will have to struggle. Lynd doesn’t seem to consider the possibility that some workers may not be looking for constant class warfare on the job, and that settling a decent contract offers a much needed respite to lock-in gains. In any case, labor radicals should meet the workers where they are, and workers themselves should decide what kind of union they want. Let’s have many different organizing forms and see what works. The philosophy and practice of solidarity unionism provides a critical reminder of alternative ways of organizing and a valuable framework for the stronger and more militant labor movement that we need.

Shaker Aamer and the future of Guantanamo

by Jeremy Varon

“Fast for Shaker” supporters outside parliament. (Twitter)

The texts and tweets started flying early in the morning of October 30 with the news: Shaker Aamer, as reported by the BBC, was on a jet plane from Guantanamo to London and to life as a free man. Detained since 2002, Aamer was the last U.K. resident held at the notorious prison. Charismatic, hyper-articulate and defiant, he was a leader among the detainees. Former prisoners speak near-reverentially about Aamer’s ability to bring a miserable cell block to life and his tenacious defense against the petty cruelties of camp administration. Aamer paid heavily for his protest, suffering hideous abuse according to ex-prisoner and lawyer accounts. The wounds have been both physical ailments and post-traumatic stress. An ambulance met him at the tarmac.

Aamer also became a cause célebre — indeed the great global icon both of unjust detention at Guantanamo and resistance to that injustice. His attorneys insist that allegations of his Taliban affiliation and links to al-Qaida were fantasy, for which his jailers offered no proof. For years, supporters held his picture at protests, told his story and demanded his release. Perhaps the best guess as to why he was held so long — despite being cleared for transfer in 2007 and 2009, the negligible security concerns of release to England, and clamors for his freedom from top officials in the U.K., including Prime Minister David Cameron — was a de facto punishment for his defiance in the prison.

Even after being told by U.S officials of plans for his imminent transfer, Aamer chose to launch a new hunger strike. (By U.S. law, Congress must be notified 30 days prior to any release.) His fear, to his last days at Guantanamo, was that he would not make out it alive. His hunger was his vigilance.

Nothing in years has galvanized the global community of anti-Guantanamo campaigners like the word of Aamer’s pending release. Attorneys and activists in England did the heavy lifting to amplify Aamer’s vigilance. “Fast for Shaker,” conceived by Aamer’s lead attorney Clive Stafford Smith at Reprieve, rallied more than 420 solidarity fasts since October 15. Fasters included members of Aamer’s family and legal team, former detainees, MPs from across the U.K.’s political spectrum, an ex-guard at Guantanamo, and celebrities like Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters and actors David Morrissey and Ed Asner. Dozens of U.S. activists, including three who had engaged in months-long hunger strikes in 2012, joined the fast.

The British media admirably covered the campaign. The solidarity efforts succeeding in making Aamer’s arrival in London a leading news item, captured with minute-by-minute drama. The mainstream U.S. media, by contrast, covered the latest of the Aamer saga only sparsely, filing reports on his intended transfer and his eventual release. With an irksome “even-handedness,” much of the U.S. coverage contrasted the government’s claims with Aamer’s denials, suggesting that his innocence may remain in question. Demagogues on the right will doubtless repeat the allegations to argue that closing Guantanamo puts Americans at risk. As it is, Aamer’s release was delayed several days past the notification period, possibly to accommodate the visit of a delegation of U.S. lawmakers to Guantanamo led by Sen. Kelly Ayotte. Spouting Cheney-esque calumnies, Ayotte has spearheaded efforts in the Senate to thwart Obama’s official policy of closing Guantanamo.

For one bright day at least, none of the “worst of the worst” dreck used to tar all detainees or the suspicion that can cloud even discerning minds seemed to matter. Shaker Aamer was free, reunited with his family. The statement issued by his U.K. lawyers was unequivocal and defiant: “Shaker Aamer is an extraordinary man who determined for 14 years that he would return to Britain in the face of the determination of the most powerful of states that he would never do so. He achieved this by unimaginable, heroic, sustained courage … [N]o words can describe torture, isolation, despair, even less for the length and intensity that he has endured.”

Aamer himself was extraordinarily gracious in thanking those who stood with him. His brief statement in part read: “I feel obliged to every individual who fought for justice not just for me but to bring an end to Guantanamo. Without knowing of their fight I might have given up more than once; I am overwhelmed by what people have done by their actions, their thoughts and their prayers.”

For years it has been clear — no matter President Obama’s repeated promise — that there would be no cathartic day when the prison’s walls would magically fall, freeing the innocent and bringing those under just suspicion into a fair trial process. Instead, closing the prison has meant the grinding work to free prisoners one-by-one or in small batches when the political winds and the caprice of transfer diplomacy break right. These releases barely tip the grand scales of justice. They only incrementally advance a policy that will most likely fail to shutter the prison by the end of Obama’s presidency. But by another, cosmic measure, they mean everything, bringing to mind the adage — common to the Quran and Talmud, and suggested by other faiths — that to save a single life is to save all of humankind.

Aamer’s release may signal the crossing of a threshold for the Obama administration’s efforts to close the prison. His very notoriety meant that his release would draw new scrutiny to the besieged policy. It was a risk, but the administration took it. Other, quieter signs suggest durable momentum. On October 23, President Obama announced that he would veto this year’s National Defense Authorization Act, in part because it “impedes our efforts to close Guantanamo” by imposing undue burdens on the transfer of detainees. (The status of this veto threat, however, remains unclear.) And with little fanfare, the United States repatriated to Mauritania Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz, who had spent 13 years at Guantanamo, on October 29 — just a day before Aamer’s release. Even without a worldwide movement behind him, he too is now free.

Attorneys, human rights lobbyists, and grassroots campaigners will continue to push for the final resolution of the Guantanamo disaster. That outcome means pushing past congressional obstacles, executive branch inertia, partisan fear-mongering, public opposition, and the official sanction of indefinite detention for some prisoners. In the meantime, we await the next transfer from the prison, when humankind can be saved all over again.

Chicago’s charter schools expansion draws ire of zombie protesters

by Ashoka Jegroo

In a “Day of the Dead”-themed action, students marched to their alderman’s office in Chicago on October 26. (Progress Illinois)

Hundreds of students, along with their teachers, walked out of their Chicago high school on October 28 in a protest against proposed charter schools. The students say that these new charter schools will end up draining resources from already-underfunded neighborhood schools.

“I fear that our public schools don’t have enough resources, and they deserve more funds to grow current programs,” high school senior Stephanie DeLeon told DNAInfo.

The students attend Thomas Kelly High School in Brighton Park, a neighborhood in southwest Chicago. Just a few blocks away, on a now-vacant lot, the Noble Network of Charter Schools wants to build a new high school capable of taking in 1,100 students, along with a good amount of funding, from surrounding schools. The Noble Network, which allegedly has close ties to the president of Chicago’s Board of Education, insists that the area needs a new charter school to serve the thousands of kids who currently attend Chicago Noble Network schools but have to travel outside of their own neighborhoods to do so.

The walkout occurred on the same day the Chicago Board of Education was set to vote on 13 proposed charter schools. The students left their classes in the afternoon, made their way across the street to Kelly Park, and had a speakout about what the new charter schools would mean for their school.

“If that happens, there’s a chance Kelly would close down,” high school junior Tykira Taylor told DNAInfo. “The soccer team, our classes, we could lose money. We don’t want Kelly to be ruined.”

The students then marched around their school for about 30 minutes before their principal asked them to come back to class. Some tried to hop on the bus to the Board of Education meeting. Others stayed at the school and waited for news cameras to arrive. That morning, hundreds of students from high schools around Chicago counter-protested a pro-charter school demonstration outside of Chicago Public Schools, or CPS, headquarters. Anti-charter school protesters from the Chicago Teachers Union also showed up to CPS headquarters dressed as zombies.

Kelly students also held a rally on October 26 outside the offices of Alderman Edward M. Burke, a local politician who has openly supported the charter schools. Donning face paint usually worn on Mexico’s Day of the Dead, symbolizing the teachers who have been fired and the programs that have been underfunded due to recent budget cuts, the students, along with their marching band, made their way to Burke’s office, arriving at around 4 p.m. The alderman’s offices were closed by then, but hundreds of students had come out and rallied nonetheless.

“As a Kelly student I have noticed that every year they have been cutting our school budget because CPS says that they don’t have enough money, and yet they’re trying to open a new charter school in my community,” Jonathan Herrera, a student from Kelly, told Progress Illinois. “Don’t open a new school. Fund the schools we already have. This year, my school got a budget cut [of] over $800,000, and I have already noticed changes in my school.”

Students from nearby Gage Park High School also rallied in late September against the proposed Noble Network charter school as part of a larger campaign started in late July by more than a dozen public schools and community organizations.

Outside of Wednesday’s Chicago Board of Education meeting protesters from both sides of the issue confronted each other while people testified for and against the charter schools on the inside.

“By eliminating the expansion of charters, you are taking away our freedom of choice,” Stephanie Bassett, who has three kids currently attending charter schools, told the board.

Students protesting outside the meeting faced-off with pro-charter school protesters in a series of chants and then marched up and down the street. Students then staged a study-in where they all sat on the sidewalk and did their homework and studied.

Despite the long campaign against the Noble Network school, the Chicago Board of Education ended up approving it along with a new Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, charter school in the Humboldt Park neighborhood and the expansion of an existing KIPP school in the Austin Park neighborhood. They also rejected a number of the proposed schools and put 10 existing charter schools on an academic warning list requiring them to submit a written plan of improvement.

Inside the indigenous movement to protect India’s commons

by Pushpa Achanta

Dongria Kondh women (Sadai Huika on the far right) involved in resisting mining in Niyamgiri, Raygada district, in March 2015 (WNV/Pushpa Achanta)

In early October, news emerged that India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change was blocking the implementation of a high-level government panel’s report on tribal rights that recommended the creation of stringent rules to safeguard indigenous people from displacement.

Meanwhile, two state governments have begun implementing a much different set of guidelines — issued in August without any interference — that allow the private sector to manage 40 percent of forests for profit at the expense of indigenous forest dwellers. In addition, another ordinance passed this year will permit private corporations to easily acquire land and forests from indigenous communities and carry out ecologically harmful mining. These legislative and policy decisions are usually made without the knowledge of indigenous communities whose lives, livelihoods and ecosystems will be worsened by these irresponsible actions of the government.

Hence, indigenous communities in Uttar Pradesh, a northern state and Odisha, in the east, are strengthening their organizing to protect their rivers, lands, forests and hills from “development” that would displace thousands of local residents and destroy the environment.

“People from my community and I were beaten, detained or jailed unnecessarily for opposing tree felling in our forests, some years ago,” said Nivada Debi, a feisty 38-year-old woman from the Tharu Adivasi community in Uttar Pradesh. “We visited the police station multiple times for their release. The government did not assist the injured. Despite the police and government indifference, we will fight for our land and environment.”

A mother of four children subsisting on the forests, Debi is active in grassroots resistance that started nearly 20 years ago and has grown into the All India Union of Forest Working People, or AIUFWP. The group is made up of many indigenous people who subsist on forests and are collectively protecting forests from poachers and encroachers.

Nivada Debi at the Lucknow rally against the imprisonment of the opponents of the Kanhar dam in July 2015. (WNV/Pushpa Achanta)

Debi was among hundreds — from the AIUFWP, the allied Save Kanhar Movement and other resistance groups — who traveled to Lucknow in July 2015 for a rally protesting the continued incarceration of their comrades fighting land grabbing in other districts of Uttar Pradesh. Roma Malik, the AIUFWP deputy general secretary, and Sukalo Gond, an Adivasi, which means original inhabitant, were among those arrested on June 30, before they were to address a large public gathering about the illegal land acquisition for the Kanhar dam and the violent repression of its opponents by the state. Another member of AIUFWP, Rajkumari, who prefers to go by her first name, was jailed on April 21, after 39 Adivasis and Dalits, who are considered outside the caste hierarchy, were brutally shot at by the police during a peaceful protest on April 18. The demonstration, which began on April 14 — the birthday of B.R. Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian constitution and an icon for many Indians, particularly Dalits — was opposing the construction of a dam across the Kanhar river in the Sonbhadra district of southeastern Uttar Pradesh.

Rajkumari was released toward the end of July while Gond and Malik were freed in September. However, others are still imprisoned on fabricated charges. Courts are delaying hearing their cases or denying them bail.

AIUFWP members, some of whom were previously involved with other local resistance movements, have been actively opposing the construction of the Kanhar dam for years. It would submerge over 10,000 acres of land from more than 110 villages in Uttar Pradesh and the neighboring states of Chattisgarh and Jharkhand, displacing thousands of local people and disrupting their lives and livelihoods. The dam was approved by the Central Water Commission of India in 1976, but was abandoned in 1989 after facing fierce opposition, especially from the local people whose lives and ecosystem would be destroyed by the proposed dam. However, construction resumed in December 2014, violating orders to stop it from the National Green Tribunal — a government body that adjudicates on environmental protection, forest conservation and natural resource disputes. No social impact assessment was done, nor were the necessary environmental or forest clearances — mandated by the Forest Conservation Act — obtained by the state government.

“Since this dam can destroy our survival and also adversely impact the surroundings, we have been opposing its construction and related land acquisition for many years,” said Shobha, a determined 42-year-old Dalit. “On December 23, 2014, the police caned some of our comrades when we were peacefully protesting the revival of building the dam earlier that month. However, the police falsely accused some leaders of our struggle of attacking the sub-divisional magistrate.” Shobha, who also prefers to go only by her first name, is among the vocal leaders of a women’s agricultural laborers union, which has allied with AIUFWP, in the village of Bada.

Shobha (center) with daughter Deepika (left) and associate Rekha (right) before the Lucknow rally against the incarceration of the opponents of the Kanhar dam in July 2015. (WNV/Pushpa Achanta)

Around 400 miles from Sonbhadra, in the Kalahandi and Rayagada districts of southern Odisha, live the Dongria Kondhs, an indigenous community of over 8,000 people. They have been fighting tirelessly to protect their sacred mountain, the nearly 5,000-foot high Niyamgiri, from large private corporations — like Vedanta Limited — that are trying to mine bauxite in the area to produce aluminum. Supporters of the Dongria Kondhs were arrested in Delhi on August 9 outside the Reserve Bank of India, as they peacefully highlighted Vedanta’s illegitimate and harmful mining in the Niyamgiri. Vedanta’s mining would violate the Forest Rights Act, which states that indigenous communities are entitled to remain in the forests — and utilize the produce, land and water in the forests — while conserving and protecting them.

“The Niyamgiri symbolizes a parent to our community,” said Sadai Huika, a steadfast 45-year-old Dongria Kondh woman from Tikoripada village. “While the streams that originate from it help our farming, the plants and grass that grows on it feed our cattle and goats. We cannot exist without it and will safeguard it from anyone trying to harm it.”

Huika and people from hundreds of villages near the Niyamgiri are active members of the Niyamgiri Protection Forum, which originated around 2003 to resist attempts by Vedanta to begin mining where the Kondhs live, with the support of the Odisha state government. At every one of the 12 village council meetings with government officers held in 2013 atop the Niyamgari, community members stated that they would not allow mining nearby.

Kumuti Majhi, an elderly Dongria Kondh man and one of the forum’s leaders, is among the few people who have traveled within and outside Odisha to advocate against mining and garner vital support for their struggle. He has met ministers to explain how significant the Niyamgiri is to his community and their reasons for safeguarding it.

By organizing protests locally and with allies around the world — and meetings with Vedanta’s shareholders and empathetic government officials, who the forum has enlightened about the need to protect the Niyamgiri — the group has stalled the mining.

“We know that extracting bauxite from the Niyamgiri will pollute our environment and also affect all living beings here,” Majhi said. “Hence, we will stop anyone coming to plunder the Niyamgiri, despite police harassment and false charges against us and our families.”

Activists need to realize that most Americans actually agree with them

by George Lakey

View image | gettyimages.com

I admit to following the shenanigans of mainstream politicians, so much so that I sometimes slip into their assumptions even though I know I shouldn’t. One of their more seductive assumptions is that U.S. public attitudes over the years have moved to the right, an assumption I often hear echoed even among concerned people on the left.

As a hobby I’ve been collecting public opinion poll numbers to try to stay centered. My sociological training taught me to be skeptical about opinion polls, but the consistent results of polls are actually better than who wins elections for learning what the public thinks about issues. I abruptly encountered that contrast in the 1980s when the Jobs with Peace Campaign was running referenda asking voters if they would like to have tax money taken out of military spending and devoted instead to education, transportation, housing, health care and the like. The referenda were not binding, but they gave people a voice.

In Pennsylvania, we ran some of those referenda when Ronald Reagan sought re-election as president. Reagan had spent his first term shifting the budget from civilian needs to the military sector. However, in every county where we ran our referendum, our ballot question won overwhelmingly even though Reagan also won.

In exit polls we asked voters how they voted and why. The Reagan voters who voted “Yes” to Jobs with Peace typically responded this way: “Well, President Reagan is a wonderful leader for our country, but even fine leaders need guidance on issues and he does have it wrong on prioritizing the military.”

Because votes on candidates tell us far less about public opinion than polls do, finding out what the pollsters are reporting helps to ground my political analysis.

For example, a large majority of Americans, 68 percent, said in a recent ABC/Washington Post poll that our economic system favors the rich rather than the majority. About half of those who said they were Republicans agreed. Economist Joseph Stiglitz has been following opinion research over time and consistently found that the percentages of those who see too much wealth inequality were high among men and women, Democrats and Republicans, people with lower incomes and even those with higher incomes.

Over a 30-year period the Gallup opinion polls have seen a steady majority responding positively to the question: “Do you think our government should or should not redistribute wealth by heavy taxes on the rich?” The Pew Research Center found 69 percent agreeing that the federal government should do something, or should do a lot to reduce the income gap.

For the past couple of decades elected officials have been cutting taxes for the wealthy, but a Washington Post poll in 2014 showed a majority of people in favor of tax increases. A Gallup poll showed that even among Republicans, 45 percent believed upper income people paid too little in taxes.

In 2014, national polls revealed that a majority of Americans want to address climate change. A year later, the Senate appointed its leading climate denier to be head of the Senate’s committee on the environment.

For decades the airwaves have been full of anti-government rhetoric insisting only private business can be “job creators.” Then a poll in 2014 found almost half those asked wanted the government to provide a job to any citizen who cannot find work in the private sector.

I could go on and on with poll results like these that place the American majority considerably to the left of the Democratic Party on most issues, although there are exceptions. Bottom line, the evidence shows that the political class is wrong to assert that, as it moves rightward, it is “following the American people.”

Billionaire Warren Buffett revealed as long ago as 2006 who the political class is actually following. He told the New York Times, “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

What does this mean for us?

Revising our understanding of how much the majority agrees with us has a couple of obvious implications, and also some not so obvious. Knowing what’s really going on helps us challenge our despair, freeing energy for action. I notice I feel better and walk down the street with the body language of openness when I’ve read yet another poll in the daily paper revealing that many of the people on the sidewalk see the world as I do.

A deeper implication arises at the identity level. This is a personal issue for me, and I don’t think I’m alone. In high school I became a chronic differentiator. I fiercely wanted to be an independent thinker rather than to “follow the crowd,” and so I built my identity partly around my ability to emphasize my uniqueness.

Training for Change facilitators often point out that there are two fundamental motions an individual chooses between in social life: to join or to differentiate. We make those choices moment to moment. Coming out of a movie theater with a friend we might join in raving about the sound track and then disagree about the star’s performance. Most of us easily swing back and forth, joining and differentiating depending on how we see the issue at hand: “Do I want a beer? Not really – I’d rather have tea at the moment.”

Some of us, though, get the choice-making wrapped up in our identity. You might lean strongly toward conformity, “going along to get along,” usually joining even at times when, in your heart of hearts, you might prefer to differentiate.

Or, like me, you might lean strongly toward differentiating and have to think twice to realize it really is OK to join. At my worst, I’ve been a “Yes, but…” person, having to agree with someone’s political point but then quickly finding some way to differentiate, as if reassuring myself that I truly am a unique being.

This fundamental joining/differentiating dynamic of social life can operate when we form our political identity. One way to stabilize a set of political values and convictions is to contrast them with some “other,” which originally might be that annoying uncle or teacher. I was brought up by my blue-collar family to differentiate from the Republicans, and I still enjoy doing that. Then, as a young adult, I grew to see how often the Democrats also supported racial and other injustices. That’s when the obvious “other” to contrast myself with became a vague “mainstream” or “majority.” The socialization of graduate school cemented that, encouraging me to believe I was part of an intellectual elite forever “above” the opinions of those who don’t use big words in conversation.

My political life since then has been one long series of opportunities to eat humble pie. Learning that a far higher percentage of Americans who had not finished high school saw through the Vietnam war than did college graduates — that was a big one. Realizing that professors, with graduate degrees, were usually slower to figure out the justice implications of issues and act on them than were undergrads, who in turn had a lot to learn from the service workers on the university staffs — that was another one.

When I woke up to my chronic disposition to differentiate, I began to pay attention to my internal coach, who often needed to say to me at everyday moments of choice, “George, What’s your problem? Join!” I also began to notice the alternative reality reflected in easily available information. The polls I’ve reported in this column are only a small sample of what’s in the daily newspaper and widely-available magazines. Now, at last, I am allowing myself to enjoy holding some of the same convictions as those of a majority of my nation, and to join them. As a radical, I  know I’m unique and not about to fall into mindless conformity — so I can relax about that. I’m therefore free to enjoy the connection with a multitude of strangers with whom I now know how to join.

Freeing ourselves to build mass movements

Jonathan Matthew Smucker keeps urging us to “go beyond the choir.” Letting go of the link between identity and either differentiating or joining makes that possible. Those of us who are activists don’t even need to fixate on the ways our particular group is different from “that other group.” Activists who are chronic conformers can reach for a new degree of independent thinking within the group that we belong to.

We can enjoy a new freedom to make our choices based on the merits, rather than identity; strategizing can become far more interesting because we’re less worried about “what others will think.” Freedom supports creativity, which in turn supports new ways of relating to the tens of millions of people out there who are being oppressed and have ideas about change that we might happen to agree with.

What is the future of unarmed struggle in Palestine?

by Brian Martin

What can and should be done about the conflict in Israel-Palestine? Watching the news gives a highly distorted view of what is going on — with nearly all attention on violence by one or both sides, as has been the case with the recent wave of stabbings and shootings in the West Bank. For decades the conflict has regularly featured in the news, whereas many others, so-called “stealth conflicts,” are hardly ever mentioned.

Those familiar with nonviolent action know that the struggle against Israeli oppression has involved many unarmed methods. These include the first intifada, a major unarmed uprising from 1987-1993 involving strikes, boycotts and collective organization; regular protests against Israeli expropriations, demolitions and restrictions, in many of which Palestinians are joined by Israelis and international supporters; and the 2010 Freedom Flotilla to Gaza, in which ships bringing humanitarian aid were stormed by Israeli commandoes, generating outrage internationally.

It is probably better to call the first intifada and other such Palestinian struggles unarmed rather than nonviolent. A continual feature of Palestinian resistance has been youths throwing stones at Israeli soldiers. Although stone-throwing is largely symbolic because relatively few Israeli troops are harmed, from the point of view of the Israeli public this makes the Palestinians appear to be using violence against “our” troops. Stone-throwing, from the perspective of nonviolent action, can be counterproductive because it provides justification for much greater Israeli violence. Of course, suicide bombers and rocket attacks are violent and more obviously contrary to the principles of nonviolent struggle.

If you want to learn more about Palestinian unarmed struggle, there is quite a lot of material, including Souad Dajani’s “Eyes Without Country,” Mary King’s “A Quiet Revolution,” Maxine Kaufman-Lacusta’s “Refusing to be Enemies” and Andrew Rigby’s “The First Palestinian Intifada Revisited.”

To these valuable contributions can now be added “Popular Protest in Palestine: The Uncertain Future of Unarmed Resistance” by Marwan Darweish and Andrew Rigby, the focus of attention here. The book provides a highly knowledgeable, well-written and balanced treatment of nonviolent action by and in support of Palestinian aspirations.

Darweish and Rigby carried out over a hundred interviews, most of them with Palestinian activists, asking them about their views on all aspects of the struggle, including methods, leadership, opportunities and challenges. They also interviewed Israeli activists who support the Palestinian struggle. They use this material, including many quotes, to support their overall analysis.

The conflict in Israel-Palestine is treated in the news as a set of isolated events. To better understand present actions, it is important to consider history and circumstances. Darweish and Rigby provide concise and informative coverage of Palestinian resistance to Zionism in the decades prior to the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, pointing both to significant periods of protest (especially in the late 1930s) and the significant weaknesses in the resistance due to a lack of national leadership, the timidity of Palestinian elites, and an unrealistic commitment to elite-level negotiation rather than popular mobilization, among other factors. Some of the same shortcomings have persisted in subsequent decades. The authors’ examination of the struggle is a broad, analytic overview rather than a detailed descriptive account: It is especially good in giving insights into strengths and weaknesses of Palestinian resistance.

Then comes the story of resistance after Israel became a state. This includes Palestinians living in Israel, as well as those in the occupied territories. Highlights include the first intifada, the disappointments of the Oslo peace process, the second intifada (involving far more Palestinian violence and far less success in mobilizing Palestinian, Israeli and international support), the building of the separation wall and resistance to it. Darweish and Rigby offer information and insight through accounts of particular struggles (for example, communities directly affected by the wall), listing of active organizations in both Palestine and Israel, assessments of factors hindering the struggle, and quotes from activists they interviewed. All this provides exceptional insight into the struggle. For example, summarizing the situation prior to the upsurge of resistance in the period 2002–13, the authors write, “The second intifada rapidly became militarized, leaving very little space for any large-scale unarmed civil resistance. Indeed, one estimate is that only 5 percent of the Palestinian population in the OPT [occupied Palestinian territories] played any active role in resistance activities during the confrontations of this period. Some people did issue repeated calls for a turn towards civilian-based popular resistance along the lines of the first intifada, but the necessary conditions for this were no longer present.”

Their overall assessment is pessimistic. The Israeli government seems intransigent and the prospects of any progress through the so-called peace process are non-existent. Even more depressing is the state of the Palestinian resistance: for the most part, morale has plummeted and participation in wide-scale actions is limited. As one veteran of the first intifada is quoted in Darweish and Rigby’s book, “There is no unified command, no program, no real coordination between the different political forces … The 1987 intifada was a complete system, which ruled our lives. And the objective of the movement was clear. Today nobody knows what we want.” Most Palestinians focus simply on survival; activism is most developed in areas where the wall or encroachment by Israeli settlements on the West Bank directly impact local Palestinian communities. Part of the problem is dysfunction in the Palestinian leadership. Both the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza are riddled with corruption and are prone to turn on any competitors, including autonomous resistance to Israeli impositions. Palestinians are seriously divided in various ways, partly due to Israeli policies that foster divisions.

There are many non-governmental organizations operating in Palestine, providing welfare and supporting justice campaigns, but sometimes they can be part of the problem. Such a large amount of foreign money flows to these groups that they become cautious, responding to the agendas of their funders, while Palestinians are disempowered. On the other hand, internationals who join direct actions provide hope and inspiration for many Palestinian activists.

Meanwhile, within Israel, there are many solidarity groups, some taking their message to the Israeli public, others joining actions with Palestinians. However, Israeli activists have a difficult time maintaining their initiatives because so few members of the public care. The Israeli mass media seldom report on the injustices affecting Palestinians, and comments suggest that many viewers switch off when they do.

One ray of hope comes from the international solidarity movement, which has grown dramatically with the formation of the boycott, divestment and sanctions, or BDS, movement. BDS campaigners see a parallel with the international campaign that contributed to the end of apartheid in South Africa. Darweish and Rigby see the value of BDS campaigning, but give a whole series of reasons why it will be difficult to repeat the success of the anti-apartheid movement. These include lack of a unified leadership in Palestine (compared to undoubted leadership of the African National Congress in South Africa), the use of suicide bombers and rocket attacks (compared to the restraint by the African National Congress’s armed wing, which avoided attacks that might hurt civilians), and the Israeli economy’s lack of dependence on Palestinian labor (compared to the South African economy’s dependence on black labor). In total, Darweish and Rigby provide 14 comparisons between Palestine/Israel and South Africa, all suggesting that significant progress will not be as easy as in South Africa, where the struggle was long and hard.

Although “Popular Protest in Palestine” gives a pessimistic prognosis for the struggle against injustice, this should be preferred over unanchored optimism. The authors point out that there are other goals than the ending of Israeli oppression: Cultural survival and the persistence of resistance will be achievements in themselves. They cite the rise of a dissident youth voice in Gaza, condemning Hamas, Fatah, Israel and the U.N. alike, as a source of hope. That protests organized by this youth movement were obstructed by Hamas and Fatah shows the depth of the challenge facing the Palestinian people.

Eminent nonviolence scholar Gene Sharp developed a framework for a successful nonviolent struggle built around a series of stages or components: laying the groundwork, a challenge to authorities that triggers a repressive response, maintaining nonviolent discipline in the face of this response, political jiu-jitsu (in which repression backfires on the attackers), success via conversion, accommodation or nonviolent coercion, and the redistribution of power. Opponents of nonviolent campaigners can intervene at any stage to obstruct, divert or repress the challenge. Going by Darweish and Rigby’s account, the Palestinian unarmed popular resistance reached its high point in the first intifada, during which Israeli repression generated much greater support for the Palestinian cause.

Since then, things have gone backwards, and the movement is closer to the initial stage of laying the groundwork, namely building networks, understandings, skills, commitments and capacities to be able to mount an effective challenge. The Palestinian resistance has many committed members taking courageous front-line actions and persistently organizing behind the scenes. Yet, overall there is neither sufficient unity nor commitment to nonviolence to mount a challenge that can make major steps towards success. The Israeli government has developed ways of undermining the crucial preliminary stage that Sharp calls laying the groundwork.

At the end of their book, Darweish and Rigby provide a set of conditions for a “scenario of hope.” These will be difficult to satisfy. The unarmed resistance has proved incapable of generating sufficient leverage among the Israeli public or international leaders to end the occupation, and continuing violence by a few desperate Palestinians only reinforces the stereotype of Palestinians collectively as terrorists rather than victims of oppression. In this bleak time, “Popular Protest in Palestine” is vital reading for anyone who wants to understand possibilities for change and contribute to the scenario of hope.

Book excerpt: How 10 women disarmed a warplane bound for genocide in East Timor

by Andrea Needham

The four members of the Seeds of Hope East Timor Ploughshares action who were arrested celebrate outside the courthouse after their victory. Andrea Needham is on the left. (WNV / Andrea Needham)

In January 1996, I was one of 10 women who carried out a Ploughshares action in England, disarming a Hawk attack aircraft at a British Aerospace factory in Lancashire. The Hawk was about to be delivered to the Indonesian military, for use against civilians in illegally occupied East Timor. The action – the Seeds of Hope East Timor Ploughshares – came after three years of campaigning to stop the sale by other means. Together with thousands of people all over the country, I had written letters, signed petitions, taken part in public meetings, rallies and marches and organized acts of civil disobedience.

Nothing had worked, and the planes were about to be delivered. The only thing left to do was to disarm them ourselves.

After our act of disarmament, we were arrested and charged with criminal damage – at that point put at the equivalent of $3.6 million. We were refused bail and held in prison for six months. In British law, you are allowed to use reasonable force to prevent crime: We argued that we had been using reasonable force to prevent the crime of genocide in East Timor. The jury listened carefully to the evidence about East Timor and how selling Hawks to Indonesia made Britain complicit in the genocide, and acquitted us of all charges.

The acquittal was a landmark in peace movement history: It was the 56th Ploughshares action worldwide, but the first time that anyone had been found not guilty. The jury’s verdict showed that ordinary people, when presented with the facts, can see that extraordinary action is justified when one’s government is engaged in criminal behavior.

To mark the 20th anniversary, I’m writing a book that tells the inside story of the action. Seeds of Hope happened when the Internet was in its infancy, and there’s very little written about it. “The Hammer Blow” — to be published by Peace News Press, which is running a crowdfunding campaign until October 28 — will tell the full story from my point of view, including the year-long preparation, the action itself, the vital role of the support group, the prison time, trial and acquittal.

Although the Seeds of Hope action took place almost two decades ago, it is still relevant today. Britain is the world’s second largest weapons dealer, selling arms to countries embroiled in conflicts and guilty of terrible human rights abuses. As refugees pour out of war zones in the Middle East, Britain’s response is to offer sanctuary to a very few, whilst continuing to see that area of the world as a key market for arms deals.

Campaigners in every area — the arms trade, the environment, human rights — need to be prepared to stand up and hold governments to account. The Seeds of Hope action showed how a small group of committed women did just that. “The Hammer Blow” aims to inspire new generations of activists, and to show that, even when the cards appear stacked against us, we can still win. What follows is an excerpt of the book.

The Hawk after the women disarmed it and hung a banner. (WNV / Andrea Needham)

For several weeks I had been having panic attacks. They would swoop on me out of nowhere; walking down the street, not even thinking about the action, my legs would suddenly turn to jelly, my heart would start pounding and great waves of panic would engulf me. I’d have to sit down and take some deep breaths to calm myself. These episodes made me worried about how I would cope on the night: If I could react like that beforehand, how much worse would it be in the actual event?

But now, to my surprise, I felt very calm and focused. We’d spent nearly a year in planning, and had talked through every last detail of what we were to do, right down to the configuration in which we’d cut the fence and who would wield each tool as we broke into the hangar. I think we all needed reassurance that we could carry off this disarmament, and such detailed planning gave us a sense of security; there were to be, we hoped, no surprises.

We finished the minute’s silence, gave each other a last hug, and headed for the fence. Lotta and I were carrying boltcutters, Jo had the Japanese peace cranes we’d made to tie on the fence as a symbol of our peaceful intentions.

Lotta and I worked on cutting an arch-shaped hole in the fence, whilst Jo tied the peace cranes nearby, her frozen fingers struggling with the string. We were confident the fence wasn’t alarmed: Jo and I had made a small cut in it during one of our night time recces some weeks earlier, before giving it a vigorous shake and scuttling behind a bush to watch for any reaction. Nothing had happened.

After the trial, a British Aerospace worker in a more unguarded moment told us that there was in fact a movement sensor on the site but it was set off so often by rabbits that it was generally ignored. Perhaps that night the security guards had been sitting in their office wondering vaguely about the three extremely large rabbits hopping around.

It seemed to take ages to cut the fence; our hands were cold and we were made clumsy by the urgency of the situation. Finally the last strand gave way. I scrambled through the hole and grabbed the bags which Lotta and Jo passed to me before squeezing through themselves.

From where we had entered, it was only about 50 yards to the nearest entrance, a fire door on the corner of the building. But to reach it we had to walk through chest-high grass, which was dry and frozen, and crunched and snapped as we passed. There was otherwise complete silence apart from the occasional distant engine, and the noise of the grass seemed incredibly loud. But nobody seemed to hear us, and soon we were clambering up the bank onto the road around the hangar.

The fire door was right in front of us. We planned to smash the glass, then reach through and push the exit bar from the inside. Having no idea how strong the glass would be, we’d taken no chances and come equipped (“armed” as the prosecutor would later put it with no sense of irony) with an enormously heavy iron bar, a weight from inside a sash window. It had been ceremoniously presented to us a few weeks earlier by Ricarda and Rowan, support group friends who were replacing their windows. Not wanting it to appear to be an offensive weapon, they had carefully painted “Women disarming for life and justice” on it. It would later be brought out in court as evidence against us, the prosecutor grimacing slightly as he struggled to hold the huge lump of iron whilst reading the words to the jury.

There was a camera over the fire door, and security lights on each corner of the hangar. Standing there in the glare of the lights I felt very exposed and vulnerable. Surely they must have noticed us? What if we were caught now?

We’d talked a great deal about what we could do to make the action a success even if we didn’t manage to disarm the Hawks. To that end, we carried with us personal statements and a video we had made to leave at the site to explain what we had come to do. We even had business cards with our names and “Seeds of Hope East Timor Ploughshares” inscribed on them. Nobody would be left in any doubt as to what our intentions were.

But despite all that, I knew that I’d be desperately disappointed if we failed to hammer on the planes. And more than any personal feelings, the fact was that we were trying to prevent these Hawks from leaving for Indonesia; it was absolutely vital that we were able to carry out the action as planned.

The glass smashed easily, and Lotta put her hand through the window, feeling about for the bar inside. “I can’t find it,” she whispered. “Can you break the other panel?” I smashed the other panel of glass. “I still can’t feel it,” she said, her voice tense. “Let’s try the crowbars!”

In desperation, and expecting a heavy hand on our shoulders at any minute, we set to with the crowbars, but the gap between the two doors was too thin for them. Things weren’t looking good: It would be terrible to be caught now, so near and yet so far from our target.

While Lotta and I wrestled with the door, Jo ran off round the corner to see if we could get in anywhere else. A couple of minutes later she was back. “I’ve found a way in,” she said.

There were small doors set into the big folding metal shutters which opened to let the planes in and out of the hangar, but in our planning we’d dismissed these as being too difficult to crack. However, Jo had almost got one open with her crowbar; a little extra pressure from Lotta and me, and the whole lock popped off. We were in.

Several hours later, we were being interviewed by detectives at Lytham police station. They were very keen to know how we’d got into what they’d obviously been told was a very high security area without being detected. “Come on, just tell us, it won’t do your case any harm,” they coaxed.

I was tempted to tell them how easy it had been, how we’d more or less just walked right in, but I bit my tongue and smiled at them in what I hoped was a suitably enigmatic manner. They thought we’d had inside information or help; how else could three women have got into such a fortress? In fact, all the information we had was publicly available — at least to anyone willing to spend many days and nights sitting in freezing ditches peering through binoculars — and the lack of security was simply luck.

The lights in the hangar were on low, bathing all the planes inside in an eerie green light. We were interested in only one of them: an Indonesian Hawk. By the time of the action, Jo and I were experts on how to identify Hawks. We’d spent hours browsing military aircraft magazines and planespotters’ guides. We knew how to tell a Hawk 60 from a Hawk 100 and a Hawk 100 from a Hawk 200. We knew which serial numbers had been allocated to the Indonesian order of 24 Hawks. British Aerospace were also making the planes for other countries, including Saudi Arabia, and whilst that regime committed plenty of its own human rights’ abuses, we needed to keep the issue very clear, and not hammer on the wrong planes.

But there, standing right in front of us, was the apple green Hawk ground attack plane that Jo and I had seen being taken out of the hangar two days earlier. The lettering on its tail — ZH 955 — told us that it was destined for the Indonesian military, one of the world’s most brutal regimes. This was one of the actual weapons they planned to use to perpetrate murder in East Timor.

I’d expected it to be much bigger. For so long it had loomed large in my imagination, filling my thoughts, screaming into my dreams, overwhelming me with its power and violence. And yet now that we were standing in front of it, the Hawk seemed so small, so vulnerable — so easy to disarm.

By this time we’d been inside the site for about 10 minutes. We’d cut through a fence, smashed two panes of glass, and forced a door, all under the eye of security cameras. Discovery must be imminent: We had to work fast.

The hammer Andrea Needham used to disarm the warplane. (WNV / Andrea Needham)

I had a heavy lump hammer that I’d bought a few months earlier to chip mortar off old bricks when I was rebuilding a wall. I’d decorated it with the words from the biblical book of Isaiah that have inspired so many disarmament actions: “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” On the handle I’d painted “Choose life!” a reference to another biblical line, from Deuteronomy: “I put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore, choose life.” For me, this action was all about choosing life: Choosing to say yes to a disarmed world and no to weapons of destruction; to say yes to nonviolence and no to violence; to say yes to accountability for our actions and no to the abdication of responsibility shown by British Aerospace and the British government.

Jo had a smaller hammer, which had been a gift from friends, and Lotta had two hammers, which had both been used in previous Ploughshares actions. One of the beautiful things about Ploughshares actions is that anyone can do them. You don’t need to be a technical genius or an engineer; you don’t need to be physically strong; you don’t need any expensive equipment or special skills. All you need is a hammer and a functioning arm. We each had both of those things. We started hammering.

Meet the 1 percenters finding solace in redistribution

by Kate Aronoff

Farhad Ebrahimi at Occupy Boston in 2011. (WNV / Farhad Ebrahimi)

In a political and economic system seemingly tailor-made for the 1 percent, backlash against “wealth therapy” — the trend of moneyed Americans seeking counsel through their Occupy-induced feeling of shame and isolation — is well-placed. While the top 0.1 percent of families in the United States possess as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent, money psychologist Jamie Traege-Muney moaned to The Guardian that the movement wrongly “singled out the 1 percent and painted them globally as something negative.”

But a growing cadre of this statistical owning class are now crafting a healthier relationship to the rabble at their doorstep. Responding to Occupy and other movement moments, young people with wealth are organizing the resources of their peers and families to level the playing field — and support one another in the process.

“It’s not that I disagree that having wealth in this society is uncomfortable,” said organizer and donor Farhad Ebrahimi. “But treating it is not about individual therapy or even engaging in philanthropy or charity. It’s about collective action.” As a teenager, Ebrahimi was gifted a pool of wealth from his high-tech entrepreneur father. Growing up Iranian-American during the Iran-Iraq war was part of a “perfect storm” that led him to punk rock and radical politics, though for years Ebrahimi continued to identify more as a musician than an organizer. It was only later that he would conjoin his background with his beliefs.

“I wasn’t even 100 percent sure they were compatible at first,” he explained. “I approached philanthropy pretty agnostically in the beginning.” Shortly after graduating from MIT in 2002, Ebrahimi founded the Chorus Foundation using $25 million of his personal money. Focused on funding projects to address climate change, Chorus is dedicated to “working for a just transition to a regenerative economy in the United States.” And unlike other foundations, Chorus has a built-in expiration date: intending to spend out the entirety of its — and Ebrahimi’s — reserves by 2024. While he expects another gift from his father at some point in the future, he says it will go toward a “Chorus Foundation Round Two” with the same goal.

“I’m trying to put myself out of business,” Ebrahimi said. “And I’m trying to create a world in which someone would not end up in my situation of having been gifted more money than I possibly know what to do with.”

Andrew Carnegie’s “Gospel of Wealth,” a bible of sorts for modern philanthropists, was penned at the height of the Gilded Age in 1889. Observing the continued accumulation and stratification of wealth that surrounded him, Carnegie declared it “a waste of time to criticize the inevitable,” seeing inequality — not unlike the contemporary economist Thomas Piketty — as a structural outcome of capitalism. He scorned the “socialists or anarchists who seek to overturn present conditions,” arguing that their plight “is to be regarded as attacking the foundation upon which civilization itself rests.” Much like Hillary Clinton did in last week’s Democratic debate, Carnegie argued that the wealthy have to “save capitalism from itself,” ameliorating its worst excesses by choosing to redistribute their own surplus. In doing so, he called on his fellow industrialists to “consider how the foundation, as one of the [capitalist] system’s most prominent offspring, might act most wisely to strengthen and improve its progenitor.”

Organizer Abe Lateiner — who describes his giving as “spiritual and empowering work” — has a gospel that is noticeably distinct from Carnegie’s. Confronting the idea that society’s most well-off should pick which causes deserve funds, Lateiner warns that “Writing checks by yourself on New Year’s Eve is not liberating if you’re doing what you think is best — which is exactly what got us here.”

“The isolation thing is very real,” Lateiner said of his affluent bretheren seeking wealth therapy. “There are very specific, non-material, damaging things that come with privilege.” Excess resources, he explained, “are wonderful for our material well-being, but destroy the spirit [and] our ability to connect socially.”

Having grown up in a “solidly Democratic” household, Lateiner’s family never discussed money around the dinner table, and he struggled to explain his circumstances even to close friends. “My inability to talk about money or class on a personal level has definitely ruined relationships and cut off opportunities for relationships,” Lateiner said. “I mean that as friendships and romantic relationships and everything in between.” Having taught for six years — something he described as “the best way, within my liberal framework, I could think of to give back” — Lateiner came across an article in the New York Times in 2012 about young, socially conscious heirs, including Naomi Sobel and Resource Generation executive director Jessie Spector.

“The ground started to shift under my feet,” Lateiner remembered. Not only were Sobel and Spector speaking openly about their wealth and about giving it away; they were happy about it. He looked Resource Generation up online and quickly became involved. This collective version of wealth therapy emerged from “being able to be with people who understand [the problems of having wealth] and can honor them to get past the guilt.” A national, chapter-based organization, Resource Generation serves as a space for both support and political education among young people with wealth. More recently, it has also become a platform for them to leverage resources toward “an equitable redistribution of land, wealth and power.” An initiative launched last year called “It Starts Today” collaborated with racial justice groups around the country to raise $1.4 million for the movement for black lives and other black-led organizing.

While Ebrahimi has worked with Resource Generation, he’s also been involved with the upstart funders’ network Solidaire, which looks to combine Resource Generation’s political analysis and support structures with a commitment to moving sizable resources toward burgeoning movements. Founded in the wake of Occupy in 2012, Solidaire’s grants have backed everything from the People’s Climate March to on-the-ground mobilizations in Ferguson, Missouri to work against the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Three classes of grants support movements at different stages in their development, be it in “movement moments” like Darren Wilson’s non-indictment, or building out long-term infrastructure for when reporters stop calling.

Apart from Solidaire, Ebrahimi also noted that Occupy marked a kind of sea change among more mainstream funders’ circles, who are now more open than ever to cross-issue conversations centered on justice. Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza, for instance, was invited to speak at the Environmental Grantmakers’ Association’s annual conference this year — a small step, but something Ebrahimi said would have been virtually unheard of just a few years ago.

Both Ebrahimi and Lateiner emphasized the importance of honesty when approaching movements as people with wealth. While he was involved in Occupy Boston, Ebrahimi walked around the Dewey Square encampment with a shirt bearing the words “I am the 1%… I stand with the 99%.”

“There was a time when I was scared that anybody with good politics would be inherently wary of somebody sitting on a pile of gifted money,” he recalled. But being clear about his background from the outset was met with more excitement than derision. Instead of worrying about being judged by his fellow occupiers, Ebrahimi “could focus on trying to support a political moment that I thought was important, making a bunch of new friends and having all sorts of crazy adventures. It really never had to be an elephant in the room that I was a rich kid with a foundation.”

Meanwhile, Lateiner has started dressing up rather than down in movement spaces, where being open about his wealth has enabled him to build trust with working class organizers. “I have to be careful about the way I choose to speak and behave in those spaces,” he said. “But I’m not going to deny who I am.”

While acknowledging the trials of extreme wealth, Lateiner, Ebrahimi and other forward-thinking heirs are turning to one another for support, not so-called money psychologists. They take solace, too, in putting their personal resources to work. “Under a scarcity mentality, we’re taught to see giving as losing something, rather than seeing it as getting to be part of justice,” Lateiner said. And for the wealthy, he added, being a part of justice means not getting to define it. “I think the best work happens when people who are funding it get the hell out of the way.”

For solutions, they turn to movements. As opposed to Carnegie, this new breed of philanthropists reject their so-called “obligations” to capitalism, and are eager to help build a fundamentally different economy. “When we respond to the crisis of income inequality, we’re really responding to the crisis of consolidated wealth,” Ebrahimi explained. “What that says to me is that we’re trying to create a world in which there is no radically consolidated wealth. Without that, you don’t have any foundations” — or, at least, any wealth therapists.

In Tripoli, young Lebanese defy city’s violent reputation

by Christine Petré

Street art by Hayat Chaaban covers a wall in one of Tripoli’s more troubled areas. (WNV/Christine Petré)

A black-and-white mural with the text “Salam,” peace in Arabic, with a hand wrapped in barbed wire making the peace sign, covers a wall in one of Tripoli’s more troubled areas. Its artist, Hayat Chaaban, who has lived in Lebanon’s second largest city her whole life wants to put art to the battered facades of Tripoli and defy the violence. By doing so she is not only challenging the city’s rough reputation, but also the perception that graffiti is a male-oriented activity.

In response to the “you stink” protests, Chaaban made this image of a garbage bag in the shape of Lebanon. (Hayat Chaaban)

Despite the risks, she isn’t afraid. Dressed in a hoodie and baggy jeans, she is one of the few female graffiti artists in Tripoli and most likely in all of Lebanon. The 19-year-old artist was also involved in the recent demonstrations against the government’s garbage management. In one of her pieces, she portrayed a garbage bag in the shape of Lebanon and underneath it she wrote “Enough!” The photo quickly became well-known and used by those in the movement. But her focus is Arabic calligraphy with social messages. “I don’t pick any side,” explained the street artist, “whether it be about politics or religion.” Chaaban’s work is instead about critical thinking and co-existence. But in a city like Tripoli, that is not always easy.

Tripoli has increasingly become known as a conflict-ridden place. Foreigners are advised against visiting and many Lebanese have never stepped foot in the northern coastal city. The reason behind the city’s violent reputation is closely related to a sectarian conflict between two neighborhoods, the Sunni quarter of Bab al-Tabbaneh and the Alawite area Jabel Mohsen. The old schism between the areas has intensified as a result of the continuing war in neighboring Syria. Most people in Bab al-Tabbaneh praise the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, while the majority of the residents in Jabel Mohsen support the Syrian president. The city is also known as “Tripoli of Syria” due to its connection to the country’s war-torn neighbor. What happens in Syria is believed to have a direct effect on the Lebanese city. “It could even be argued that Tripoli has become an integral part of the Syrian conflict,” argued researcher and author Raphael Lefèvre in a recent report for the Carnegie Middle East Center.

In the area where Chaaban lives, Abu Samra, situated on a hilltop overlooking the city, hang posters of young men who died while fighting in Syria. Many are portrayed as martyrs for the Islamic State, which has a number of supporters in Tripoli. Several Islamic State affiliates have been arrested in the city. “They exist,” admitted Chaaban, “but it’s a very small group.” Yet, these individuals have contributed to Tripoli’s bad reputation.

Hayat Chaaban stands next to one of her murals in Tripoli. (WNV/Christine Petré)

Strolling through downtown Tripoli, Chaaban shows her murals across the city center. The young artist points out that the city’s reputation is not representative of the city at large. It’s mostly isolated to certain areas and perpetuated by a small group of people. Chaaban hopes that her art will not only reinforce the city’s beauty, but also that its citizens will reflect on the murals’ social messages.

Nevertheless, a number of events have continued to taint the city’s reputation. In 2013, two mosques were targeted in an attack, which killed 47 people — making it the deadliest since the country’s 15-year-long civil war in the 1980s. Human Rights Watch called on the Lebanese authorities to protect Tripoli’s 500,000 inhabitants by confiscating weapons and arresting gunmen. “The Lebanese government can’t afford to sit on its hands,” stated the watchdog.

During one of the peaks of fighting in 2012 another of the city’s young women found her escape not in calligraphy, but in music. While the fighting escalated on a spring morning in May on the other side of the city, a piano tune would make peace advocate Heba Rachrach known. As she sat at home, the then-21-year-old started recording her song before she was disrupted by an explosion. But instead of stopping, Rachrach decided to stay resilient and continued to play, drowning out the noise with the sound of the piano. At the end of the day, she uploaded the clip “Stop the violence in Tripoli” on YouTube and it quickly went viral. “The bombings fulfilled people’s stereotypes about Tripoli because the city has a reputation of being unsafe,” explained Rachrach, “and home to terrorists and extremists.” Despite being safer than before, she argues, it is difficult for the city to break free from the negative connotations many have of it.

Heba Rachrach (WNV/Christine Petré)

But youth initiatives across the city are trying to change the city’s reputation. Rachrach is involved in perhaps the most well-known initiative, We Love Tripoli, which is trying to change not only people’s perception of the city, but also give voice to the youth through cultural and social activism by arranging events where they can come together and discuss their social grievances. Nobody is doing this type of work here, explained Rachrach. Perhaps that is why it has been so successful. Created in 2007 as a youth-led online community on Facebook, We Love Tripoli has almost 60,000 likes today.

“They do lots of social activities to make Tripoli a better place,” explained one of its supporters, 25-year-old Bassem Alameddine, who has been involved for two years. He was introduced to the initiative through a friend when he realized that many of his acquaintances were already involved. “I hope we can deliver a message to outsiders that the city is not as dangerous as they think,” he said. The city’s youth are keen to do social work to improve Tripoli, he explained.

We Love Tripoli helps young people to appreciate their city and thereby protect and care for it. The organization’s frequent activities include photography excursions, called “Shoot as you walk,” which aims to photograph new sides of the city and document its hidden beauty. This is Alameddine’s favorite activity, discovering his city’s gems. There are also regular movie screenings and workshops on topics such as recycling. The aim is to bring the youth together and promote a volunteer spirit to, for example, strengthen young people’s connection to their city and protect its cultural heritage. Many of the city’s young are keen to establish an alternative narrative to the mainstream about Tripoli. According to Rachrach the media is playing an essential role in presenting the city as conflict-ridden. However, there is more to Tripoli than the mainstream media headlines and its residents’ are working hard to prove it to the outside world.

NYC activists ticket Park Slope residents to show how cops treat communities of color

by Ashoka Jegroo

A PROP member issues a summons to a Brooklyn family. (WNV / Ashoka Jegroo)

Anti-police brutality activists in New York City took a trip to a gentrified neighborhood on October 18 to catch white people freely committing the type of crimes that get black and brown people regularly harassed by cops.

The group that organized the action, the Police Reform Organizing Project, or PROP, took to the streets of Park Slope, Brooklyn Sunday afternoon and handed out fake summonses to white people committing small quality-of-life crimes.

“We’re out today just giving mock summonses to people in Park Slope,” said Josmar Trujillo, a member of the Coalition to End Broken Windows, one of the groups that joined the action in Park Slope. “White people are not used to getting any kind of police enforcement around low-level offenses.”

The action was intended to highlight the racial disparities in the New York Police Department’s practice of Commissioner Bill Bratton’s signature “broken windows” policy. According to the policy’s reasoning, small, quality-of-life offenses need to be strictly enforced by police lest any apparent tolerance for these small crimes lead to criminals confidently committing much more serious crimes. In practice though, this approach to crime has mostly resulted in police routinely harassing and brutalizing people in communities of color, often as a method of clearing up a neighborhood for future gentrification.

“Blocking the sidewalk, jaywalking — those are the two main activities where we found white people were violating some aspect of the municipal code,” Robert Gangi, founder of PROP, said on the day’s action. “The point of [the action] is to put into sharp relief how starkly discriminatory police practices are. White people in Park Slope virtually never get ticketed for these kind of activities whereas African-American and Latino people in different neighborhoods in this city will get sanctioned — ticketed and sometimes arrested — for these kind of activities on a regular basis.”

Robert Gangi, left, talks to other PROP members about to hand out summonses. (WNV / Ashoka Jegroo)

Judging from the responses the activists received throughout the day, it was clear that many white Park Slope residents experience very little routine harassment from the police in their gentrified neighborhood.

“The worst response — which to me is the best because it highlights the truth of how people are really entitled and privileged out here in Park Slope — was from a woman who was just incredulous about being stopped,” Trujillo said. “She was like ‘This is Park Slope!’ and she just kind of made it a point to say that in this neighborhood, this doesn’t happen.”

Other Park Slope residents who were stopped also responded with incredulity and sometimes outright anger. One woman who was riding her bike on the sidewalk was stopped by Gangi, and after he explained that people of color in other parts of town get regularly ticketed for that offense, she responded, “I know that, but you’re not a cop. Get out of my way!”

Many residents responded positively as well, though, even signing PROP’s petition to end NYPD quotas and broken windows policing.

Besides this anecdotal evidence, the numbers are also on PROP’s side of the debate. Earlier this year, PROP released a report titled “That’s How They Get You.” It documented 117 stories of people — most of them people-of-color — being ticketed or arrested for small quality-of-life crimes like putting their feet on a subway seat and riding a bike on the sidewalk.

“Part of what’s so deeply offensive about broken windows policing is that it’s a form of bullying,” Gangi said. “It is basically targeting and harassing people who have limited resources, both politically and financially, to fight back.”

An analysis by the New York Daily News also found large racial disparities in enforcement of small offenses. According to the Daily News, the number of summonses given out has “soared” since Broken Windows policing began in the early 1990s. According the New York Civil Liberties Union, 81 percent of the people hit with violations between 2002 and 2013 were black or Latino. Even New York City’s most infamous recent case of police brutality, last year’s murder of Eric Garner by cops in Staten Island, was a textbook case of broken windows policing, with Garner originally being stopped for allegedly selling loose cigarettes.

(WNV / Ashoka Jegroo)

In all, the activists, divided into three groups at locations throughout Park Slope, stopped around 50 to 60 people within the span of two Sunday afternoon hours. They hope that these interactions influence those who were actually stopped, as well as serve as political theater to raise the consciousness of onlookers. PROP will soon be releasing a new report on the racist history of the NYPD, and they have even tentatively planned to hit the streets once again to hand out mock summonses. Ultimately, they seek to not only run Bratton out of New York City and end broken windows, but also to help strip the NYPD of much of its resources and empower communities-of-color.

“We’re going to try to make sure Broken Windows is one of those things that people clearly understand is part of white supremacy,” Trujillo said. “It’s no longer just about small policy reforms, it’s about unearthing and dismantling those policies and saying no to a different, softer version of it. But it’s up to the communities of color. They’re the ones who are going to have to dismantle it.”

Thousands reject the extractivist logic at the World Bank-IMF meeting in Peru

by Michael S. Wilson

An estimated 5,000 people marched towards the World Bank and IMF conference, including members of dozens of labor, feminist, indigenous, environmental, youth and agriculturalist organizations. (WNV/Michael Wilson)

The annual governors’ meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank opened on October 5 in Peru’s capital city. In the meeting, an estimated 800 representatives from 188 countries were negotiating the shape of the world’s soon-to-be renovated finance infrastructure.

While the international media focused on the official meetings, no news outlets outside of Latin America have mentioned the Plataforma Alternativa conference — a parallel three-day meeting organized under the theme “Belying the ‘Peruvian Miracle.’”

More than 1,200 people attended Plataforma Alternativa’s conference. Dozens of young volunteers zoomed through the marbled hallways of Lima’s Hotel Bolívar, which hosted the conference. Participants represented dozens of organizations and countries as diverse as the Netherlands, China, the United States, Belgium, Zimbabwe, Colombia, Indonesia, Spain, Mexico, the Philippines, Germany, Palestine and Argentina.

On Friday, an estimated 5,000 people marched across 70 blocks in Lima, from Plaza San Martín to the first of three police perimeters around the official conference. Groups at the protest included indigenous feminist organizations, the Lima-based Comando Feminista, Bloque Hip Hop, worker unions, the Peruvian Campesino Confederation, and dozens of others.

Peru reportedly mobilized 20,000 police for this event, many of whom were safeguarding key areas around the city for the 12,000 visitors: from the airport to hotel areas.

The counter-conference was free, open to the public, and streamed online. It featured U.S. economist Joseph Stiglitz, a former World Bank chief economist and an outspoken critic of its policies, as its keynote speaker.

“Inequality is a choice — not the result of inevitable economic laws,” Stiglitz said in his speech after reminding the audience that Latin America has the highest rate of wealth disparity among world regions. At the end of September, Oxfam — one of several organizations in charge of the conference — released a report indicating that, at the current pace, one percent of Latin Americans would be wealthier than the remaining 99 percent by 2022.

“The neoliberal economic model minimizes states and makes them mere functions of economic power,” said Mirtha Vásquez, a lawyer who works with the rural development organization Grufides. Her conference panel also featured Máxima Acuña, an agriculturalist from the Peruvian Andes who has become famous worldwide for standing up to the world’s largest gold company, Yanacocha.

“The company has tried to force me out of my land through violence and delinquency,” said Acuña, her voice quivering as she detailed how police and company employees attempt to intimidate her. “I live with this daily. Everyday I am crushed by them.”

The new documentary film “Hija de la Laguna,” which features Acuña, was screened after the panel. It was the first time Acuña had seen it.

Activist and writer Hugo Blanco walks alongside Máxima Acuña at the march. (WNV/Michael Wilson)

As we walked during Friday’s march, Acuña told me about how the company continues to operate despite a government freeze on its activities. I asked her why, unlike her neighbors, she has refused to sell her land and chosen to become an obstacle — and a target — for the company. “Many people think only about money, but I am attached to my land,” she said. “I would rather die. Because I didn’t sell the rights to my land, I live threatened everyday by the police, who survey my house from their new post overlooking my house.”

Given Peru’s recent experiences with deadly conflicts surrounding mining projects like Tía María, Las Bambas, and La Oroya, it is perhaps understandable that many of the panels focused on conflicts related to extractive industries. For two decades, the Peruvian state has adopted natural resource extraction as the leading engine for its economic growth — under the guidance and financing of the World Bank and IMF.

A study presented at the conference by the Peruvian investigative organization Convoca found that between 1994 and this year, almost 30 percent of all financing from the World Bank Groups’ International Finance Corporation, or IFC, had gone to extractive projects. The IFC has a five percent stake in the mining project that will require Acuña’s displacement.

As the global price of mineral commodities boomed up to its peak in 2013, Peru’s government promptly expanded the scope of extractive activities in its territory. At the same time, however, the number and intensity of social conflicts over these projects also escalated. The ombudsperson’s office documented 223 active socio-environmental conflicts in mid-2013. The same report noted that 196 people were killed and 2,369 were injured in conflicts over natural resources between 2006 and 2011. Most of these tragedies surrounded mining projects.

“There are visible tensions between companies and communities,” Convoca panelist Gabriela Flores told me. “The state allows this to go by without intervening, until everything erupts, and we see deaths, injuries. By the time it has to intervene, it is too late.”

The frequency of conflicts surrounding such projects has also been bad for business. Today, industry advocate and economist Hernando de Soto estimates that protests currently paralyze $70 billion dollars of mining investment in Peru.

A few months ago, IMF President Christine Lagarde argued that Peru’s natural resources would ensure it would develop to levels reaching Canada and Australia within only a few years. Earlier this month, however, the IMF released a report suggesting that Latin America was headed towards the first recession since the end of the global financial crisis, owing to the global economy and reduced demand for raw commodities.

“When countries extract natural resources, they become poorer. They had resources, and now they don’t,” Stiglitz said in his talk. “Unless you reinvest the benefits from below the ground above the ground, you will be poorer, and vulnerable to external shocks, like now.” However, according to Stiglitz, the IMF enacts “tariff structures that make it very difficult for developing countries to diversify their economies.”

Attention at the conference has centered on the recent signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, a 12-country trade agreement that includes Peru, Japan, Mexico, the United States, Australia and Canada.

The TPP includes some labor and environment protection measures lauded by U.S. President Barack Obama as new and “absent in previous agreements.” However, according to José de Echave, a former Vice-Minister of Environment in Peru, the 2007 free trade agreement between the United States and Peru already included these standards, and in fact served as a template for their wording in the TPP.

De Echave notes that rules within the 2007 trade pact prohibited the rollback of environmental and worker protections. However, in the last two years alone, President Ollanta Humala’s government has approved a series of five reform packages meant to “encourage investment” by altering approval processes and the power of the state’s environmental oversight organization. That the Obama administration has failed to enforce rules set by that earlier agreement is a sobering check on the U.S. president’s optimism about the TPP.

Members of the Inter-Ethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Jungle, or AIDESEP, expressed their dismay at the softening of environmental and social standards for extractive industries. “We didn’t use to see economic booms or busts. We are neither rich nor poor — we are self-sustaining,” said Wilmer Sánchez of AIDESEP. “The introduction of these international cycles has been bad for us, and bad for the Amazon.”

Only six years ago, the international political economy made its presence felt in Peru, when it underscored an escalating set of tensions that culminated in the Bagua massacre. Near that Amazonian city, national police were ordered to open fire on indigenous protestors — including members of AIDESEP — who were blocking a highway to demand that the state repeal concessions over their territory granted to logging, oil, and other extractive industries. Some of the protesters retaliated and wounded several police. Leaked cables from the U.S. ambassador warn the Peruvian government that, were it to “give in to the pressure, there would be implications” for the treaty.

The violent confrontation in a remote part of the country crystalized the uneasy meanings of “development” according to the Peruvian state and its international financial supervisors.

“The Trans-Pacific Partnership is almost certainly a bad deal for Peru,” Stiglitz said. “It is a strategy for non-development.”

As in the other signatory countries, the TPP will require approval from Peru’s legislature. This, coupled with the leverage social movements wield as Peru heads into general elections, opens a great opportunity to pressure the government and would-be presidents to reject it.

Turks turn against Erdogan in the wake of Ankara bombings

by Arzu Geybullayeva

View image | gettyimages.com

The “Labor, Peace and Democracy” rally organized in Turkey’s capital Ankara on October 10 was calling to end the violent conflict between Turkish security forces and the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party, also known as the PKK.

People came from all over Turkey to simply march for peace, to call for democracy and stability in a country that once stood united. Among the protesters were university students, families, friends, representatives of various unions and nongovernmental organizations. Turks of all ages gathered in Ankara’s most popular square where political rallies are often held. Footage, which circulated on the news from just minutes before the two deadly blasts, showed people performing traditional dances, holding flags and ready to start the march that was scheduled to take place at 10 a.m.

But at 10:04 life stopped at Sihhiye Square. The first explosion happened, and then seconds later another one. Body parts scattered across the square, pools of blood, people screaming and running around. As one of the local reporters recalled the scene later, it was hard not to step on human body parts as people crossed the square shocked from the explosion.

On October 10, Turkey saw its deadliest terrorist attack. Some people described the explosion, as Turkey’s own 9/11. According to the Turkish Medical Association, they have been able to identify 105 people killed so far. Thirty remain in critical condition of the 440 people rushed to the hospitals the day of the explosion.

This was the third explosion this year. The first explosion took the lives of four at a support rally for the People’s Democratic Party, or HDP, a largely Kurdish bloc, in the city of Diyarbakir in the run up to June 7 parliamentary elections. The second bomb went off in July in the majority Kurdish town of Suruc, killing 33. And now, the Ankara bombing has taken the lives of many more.

Blaming the government

As thousands of people attended funerals across Turkey in the aftermath of the bombings, many mourners vented their anger at the government.

“The ministry of interior should have assessed that the risks were greater than those associated with a normal political rally,” İhsan Bal, a renowned terrorism expert and the vice president of the International Strategic Research Organization, said in an interview with the Journal of Turkish Weekly. “Their security assessment was faulty.”

Eyewitnesses from the square reported that there were no security checks and only three police cars were parked at the roundabout across from the city’s main train station, where people were gathering before the march.

Similarly, Lutfu Turkkan, a right-wing lawmaker in Turkish parliament, tweeted that the Ankara attack “was either a failure by the intelligence service, or it was done by the intelligence service.”

The Minister of Interior Selami Altinok thought otherwise. In a press conference hours after the attack, he said, “all security measures were taken” and that he had no intentions of resigning. Sitting next to Altinok, the minister of justice smiled when a journalist asked whether any of the ministers were intending to resign over this tragedy.

This only created more anger. A journalist who went to a rally organized by the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, at the same location just two weeks ago said that there were at least 15 security checks.

Civil society takes action

The media blackout only added to the general frustration. Hours after the attack, Turkish authorities issued an order telling news outlets to remove images showing the moment of the blasts and gruesome pictures from the scene. The news organizations were warned of a total media blackout if they did not comply.

Users of online platforms, including Twitter and Facebook, reported difficulty accessing these networks and Turks were yet again forced to turn to virtual private networks. And while there was no official announcement by the state that it was responsible for blocking social media, previous experience suggested this was indeed part of a government media blackout.

In the meantime, civil society organizations and thousands of activists across Turkey came together and stood united to mourn the dead. #Yastayiz (we are mourning), #HayatiDurduruyoz (We are stopping life), #Boykottayiz (We are boycotting) were popular hashtags calling for unity. While the state declared three days of national mourning, thousands gathered in main squares in towns across Turkey calling on the government to find the perpetrators immediately and end the divide within Turkish society. In some rallies, people were reportedly chanting “Murderer Erdogan.” Many Turkish citizens fear the attack was aimed at sowing seeds of fear before the upcoming elections.

Students at many of Turkey’s main universities and schools went on strike and held commemoration ceremonies on their campuses. Trade unions, which were key organizers of the Ankara peace march — such as the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions, Confederation of Public Employees, Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects and the Turkish Medical Association — announced strikes for October 12 and 13 and organized marches across the country. Similarly, Turkey’s Bar Association went on strike and all hearings were postponed.

The government response

Turkish citizens were not the only ones pointing fingers. Shortly after the explosion the ruling party and the HDP traded barbs. The co-leader of the HDP, Selahattin Demirtas, accused the government of being directly responsible in the explosion. “We have lost almost 150 of our people before and after the elections [referring to previous explosions in Suruc and Diyarbakir],” he said. “There was no effective investigation into previous explosions. There will be none regarding today’s attack either. This is not an attack against the unity of our state and nation. This is an attack by our state against our people.”

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu fired back, saying Demirtas had no right to accuse the state and the ruling party. The prime minister went as far as to question the involvement of Demirtas and the HDP in the bombing and also accuse the party of using the attacks to gain votes in the upcoming elections.

Such open accusations against the Kurdish party became common after June’s elections, which the AKP lost because the HDP managed to win 13 percent — passing the 10 percent threshold and gaining seats in Turkish parliament for the first time in Turkey’s history.

“Yes, elections are over, the people have decided. They chose chaos,” Burhan Kuzu, a professor known for aligning with the AKP, said the day after the elections. “To leave this country to the opposition means only taking the country to the abyss.”

A month later Ankara dismantled the brief two-year ceasefire with the PKK fighters by launching air strikes against their bases in retaliation for the explosions in Suruc and Diyarbakir.

This made it clear to many that Erdogan was not capable of resolving the country’s tensions — between the secular and religious, rich and poor, Kurds and Turks.

Ahmet Hakan, the prominent Turkish journalist who was recently beaten in front of his house by men later identified as AKP members, wrote that the government turned the country into a place where people hate each other.

A brief history of the conflict

The PKK fought for a separate state — called Kurdistan — in Turkey for years, starting in the 1980s. Ankara suppressed hopes for any such state and went to war with the PKK, which had led to the loss of some 40,000 lives. In the 1990s, the PKK softened its rhetoric, calling for autonomy rather than an independent state and the recognition of the cultural rights of Turkey’s estimated 1.5 million Kurds. For Turkey, the PKK was a terrorist organization and the party’s political branch was labeled as part of the terrorist network as well. Turkey only had good relations with Iraqi Kurds and with the semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan. Turkey pumps 120,000 barrels of oil a day from Kirkuk to its port in Ceyhan.

The arrest and jailing of Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK leader, in 1999 killed any hopes for further normalization. It was only Ocalan’s call for a ceasefire in 2013 that brought Turkey’s then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the negotiation table.

But the brief truce ended abruptly when Ankara launched airstrikes against the PKK camps in northern Iraq in July 2015. In response, the PKK declared that these attacks against Islamic State positions in Syria and Kurds in Iraq spelled the end of peace process.

What is next for Turkey?

With elections looming in just a little over three weeks, Ankara is facing a lot of criticism from the public and opposition parties. People’s trust in the government is severely undermined and Erdogan has done very little to create unity among Turks.

The dismantling of the peace process with the Kurds — and the loss of more than 200 lives over the past three months — only adds to Erdogan’s declining popularity at home.

Most importantly, secular Turks see the restarting of conflict with the PKK as an attempt by Erdogan to gain votes, and the war with the Islamic State as a show of strength. People realize they are being played and that the average citizen is losing in this struggle over political power in Turkey.

Mohawks stand up against Montreal’s plan to dump sewage in St. Lawrence River

by Ashoka Jegroo

The Mohawk warrior flag. (Red Power Media)

A group of Mohawks lit a bonfire next to a busy train line early on October 15 in opposition to the city of Montreal’s plan to dump billions of liters of raw sewage into the St. Lawrence River.

“On October 7, the women sent a notice of objection to the city of Montreal. We have not received a response,” the group said in a statement read during the action. “This notice is our warning to the city of Montreal to stop dumping waste that is toxic to our lands, life and waterways. The temporary obstruction on Thursday, October 15 is to emphasize our objection to this environmentally destructive action.”

At around 9 a.m. on Thursday morning, the group of Mohawks from the Kahnawake reserve, including members of the Mohawk Warrior Society, gathered near Adirondack Junction and put together a bonfire a few feet away from the train tracks. They held indigenous flags as the flames engulfed two large logs they placed on top of the fire and then read their statement.

“The release of the equivalent of 2,600 Olympic-sized swimming pools will result in unknown contamination and multi-generational devastation of the entire ecosystem,” the group’s statement read. “We come to you with the gentleness of a feather which we hope will be accepted. Should you not respond reasonably, you leave us no alternative but to take necessary action to convince you. There has been no commitment to not dump. We would like the mayor to take responsibility to preserve our waterways.”

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, with the approval of Quebec’s environmental department, has been pushing to dump eight billion liters of untreated sewage into the St. Lawrence River between October 18 and October 25. Coderre insists that, in order to make necessary repairs and move a large snow collector pipe located underneath the Bonaventure Expressway, a nearby sewage treatment facility needs to be temporarily shut down. Therefore, according to the mayor, they have no choice but to throw all this sewage into the river since there is nowhere else to put it. Some Canadian wastewater treatment experts also agree with the mayor’s decision. The mayor had hoped that the infrastructural repairs would be finished by November 15 before any major snowfalls.

With the federal election only days away, Coderre, a liberal, has received pushback from environmentalists as well as his political opponents over the planned dumping. An online petition opposing the plan titled “The St. Lawrence Is Not A Garbage Can” has collected over 90,000 signatures. Conservatives in the federal government, like Minister of Infrastructure Denis Lebel and Minister of the Environment Leona Aglukkaq, expressed their opposition to the mayor’s plan and call on him to suspend it.

Earlier this month, Aglukkaq claimed that she had only recently found out about the planned dumping and that the plan needed further consideration.

“Last week my office learned of Montreal’s plan to dump billions of litres of raw sewage into the St. Lawrence,” she tweeted on October 7. “This plan is concerning and we have done the responsible thing by exploring options to prevent it while we get more information.”

However, an investigation by the Canadian Press showed that she had, in fact, known about the plan since late 2014.

Coderre accused conservative politicians of “playing politics to score cheap political points” and referred to previous occasions when sewage was dumped into the river with little political pushback.

“In 2003, we did the same. In 2007, we did the same, and Environment Canada said yes to that,” Coderre told the Montreal Gazette. “What’s going on? It’s [the] exact same thing.”

Nonetheless, on October 14, just days before it was scheduled to begin, the Canadian federal government ordered a halt to Montreal’s planned dumping. Aglukkaq released a statement and Lebel made the announcement that the dumping would be put on hold pending further scientific analysis.

“Based on limited data, Environment Canada cannot conclude whether or not the untreated wastewater to be released will be acutely toxic,” Lebel told the Canadian Press.

Though the federal government put a temporary halt to the plan, the Mohawk group stated the the protest actions would go on regardless.

“In our law, we’re supposed to protect the Earth, and we’re carrying out our responsibilities,” Akohserake Deer, a spokesperson for the group, told the Montreal Gazette. “Whether the project is on or off doesn’t matter, it’s just another stalling tactic by the [federal] government.”

The group had also originally announced that they would blockade a busy train line but didn’t specify when they would do so. When asked about possible future actions, the group’s spokespeople preferred not to say, only stating that they would take action to protect their lands and resources if the planned dumping gets put back into motion.

“We’re informing Mayor Coderre that this is unacceptable,” a spokeswoman for the Mohawk group said during the bonfire demo. “We want him to take an alternative route to the dumping. They can do it. They have the funds to do it. The problem is money. And to us, we’re protecting our river and money is not our concern. Our future generations are our concern. Our life is on that river.”

Pages