Waging Nonviolence

#FreeBlackMamas bails black mothers from jail for Mother’s Day

In 1870, abolitionist Julia Ward Howe issued her Mother’s Day proclamation: a call for mothers across the United States to end war.
It was five years since the end of the Civil War and the passage of the 13th Amendment, which banned chattel slavery with one notable exception: involuntary servitude is allowed as punishment for a crime.

Nearly 150 years later, Howe’s dream of ending war has yet to become a reality. And the 13th Amendment has become more significant as, over the past 40 years, the number of people being sent to prison has skyrocketed. But accompanying these soaring numbers have been calls for abolition of another kind — to abolish prisons. It’s a call that’s been gaining traction and popularity over the past decade.

Among the numerous tactics taken by abolitionists is one focusing specifically on mothers, particularly mothers of color, who have been hard hit by both poverty and tough-on-crime policies. It also challenges the country’s bail system, in which people who cannot afford to pay bail must stay in jail for months — and sometimes years — as their cases slowly wind their way through the court system.

Even a few days in jail can result in losing one’s job, housing and even custody of one’s children.

When a person appears in court after being arrested, the judge has the option to release them, jail them until trial or set bail, which is a monetary amount that they or their family will have to pay. The reasoning behind bail is not that the person is deemed a risk to themselves or their communities. Instead, it’s based on the logic that, by paying a certain amount, the person is more likely to return for subsequent court dates. If they fail to appear, they forfeit that money. But in reality, bail serves as a two-tiered system in which people with money are allowed to prepare for their court date at home, while those without money must languish in jail.

On any given day, 462,000 people (of all genders and races) are held in jail pretrial, meaning that they are currently awaiting their day in court. The majority are jailed simply because they cannot afford to post bail — or a money amount assigned by the judge ostensibly to ensure that a person returns to court.

Being jailed can mean the difference between an acquittal or a conviction. Being in jail prevents a person from meeting with their attorney, showing up to court in their own clothes, or gathering evidence or witnesses that could bolster their defense. People in jail are more likely to plead guilty; 94 percent of state convictions (and 97 percent of federal convictions) are because of plea bargains.

But even a few days in jail can result in losing one’s job, housing and even custody of one’s children.

An action for #FreeBlackMamas in Nashville. (Twitter/SONG)

In the United States, #FreeBlackMamas is entering its third year. The idea started with Mary Hooks, the executive director of Southerners for New Ground, or SONG, an LGBTQ organization. Hooks proposed a mass bailout of black mothers in time to spend Mother’s Day with their families instead of languishing in jail cells. The call spread across the country and over a dozen organizations — from reproductive justice groups to organizations focused on mass incarceration and criminalization — took up the call. They raised awareness about bail, as well as funds needed to pay it. Then they sat in courtrooms, clerks’ offices and jail waiting rooms — sometimes for hours on end — in order to post the bail that would allow mothers to be home with their families in time for Mother’s Day.

Why black mothers?

The number of women in jails across the United States has increased 14 times between 1970 and 2014. Of those women, 44 percent are black (though black women make up only 8 percent of the country’s population). Eighty percent of women (of all races) are also mothers.

In 2017, #FreeBlackMamas organizers raised over $1 million in two months, enough to post bail for 106 mothers nationwide. Not only did they bail these mothers out of jail, but they also connected them with support services — such as housing and counseling — while also providing transportation to their follow-up court dates. Their efforts sparked other bailouts, including a Father’s Day bailout and a Black August bailout, which freed 71 other people. In October 2018, the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights launched a two-week bailout of women and minors held pretrial on Rikers Island. They spent over $1.2 million posting bail for 105 people, ages 16 to 62 with bails that ranged from $750 to $100,000.

Previous Coverage
  • How organizers raised over $233,000 in one day to bail hundreds out of jail
  • This year, groups and organizers in 17 different states — including New York, Georgia, California, Mississippi, Colorado and Texas — have committed to bailing out black mothers before Sunday. Each group has its own fundraiser and many have already raised tens of thousands of dollars. So far, 70 mothers have been freed in 22 cities.

    In New York City, VOCAL-NY — a grassroots organizing group of people affected by HIV, the drug war and mass incarceration — has already posted bail for three women. The group noted that one mother was five months pregnant and might have faced the possibility of giving birth behind bars. Another had a $2,500 bail set for shoplifting. The third had a bail that took 24 hours to process. In Philadelphia, organizers have bailed out seven black mothers.

    Bailouts aren’t limited to Mother’s Day or holidays. In some states, organizations have arisen to bail people out all year round. The Massachusetts Bail Fund has been posting bail for the past six years. In April alone, they paid nearly $48,000 to bail 100 people out of jail. Their efforts have also brought the need to eliminate cash bail into conversations about criminal justice, including in Boston’s recent prosecutorial race. The winner, Rachel Rollins, signed onto a letter calling for the end of cash bail. She also promised that her office would decline to prosecute 15 low-level crimes, though organizers say she has yet to keep that promise.

    In the neighboring Berkshire County, prosecutor Andrea Harrington has said that she would stop requesting bail for minor offenses. In Middlesex County, Marian Ryan, who has been the county prosecutor since 2014, issued a public memo stating that she would stop holding people for misdemeanors.

    “We’ve changed the conversation in Massachusetts, period,” said Bail Fund organizer Mallory Hanora. In other words, the collective and sustained effort of groups such as the Bail Fund and Families for Justice as Healing — an organization of formerly incarcerated women in the Boston area — has made cash bail impossible to ignore in criminal justice conversations.

    At the same time, organizers’ efforts have brought more people into conversations about bail. They’re teaming up with Wee the People, an anti-oppression education program for children, for this year’s Black Mamas’ Bailout. The collaboration isn’t just fundraising and posting bail. It’s also discussing with the program’s youth about the incarceration of mothers and grandmothers, as well as the federal Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, drafted with input from formerly incarcerated women and aimed at improving conditions in women’s jails and prisons.  

    SONG leaders chained themselves to the Durham County Jail in North Carolina on May 9. (Twitter/@bear_peretz)

    Across the globe, in Western Australia, formerly incarcerated women and prison abolitionists have been challenging another way in which people, particularly Aboriginal women, are jailed for lack of money. In Western Australia, people are jailed for unpaid fines. These fines can be for actions as insignificant as not registering a pet dog or getting on public transportation without a ticket. But then there are additional fees and costs added to the original fine, which can bring it from the low hundreds to the low thousands of dollars. No payment plan is allowed — the debt must be paid in full. If a person does not — or cannot — pay, the fine becomes a warrant. Every $250 owed becomes a day spent in jail. Western Australia is the only state that jails people for unpaid fines, and the majority of people jailed are Aboriginal women.

    In 2014, the practice briefly made headlines when Ms. Dhu, a 22-year-old Aboriginal woman, died while jailed for $3,362 in unpaid fines. She would have had to spend 14.5 days in jail, but she died two days after her arrest.

    In January 2019, Sisters Inside, an organization that works with women in Australian prisons, began their #FreeThePeople campaign. Organizers identify women who are either currently jailed or at risk of being jailed for unpaid fines. Then, they pay those fines.

    How do they find these women? First, they put word about the campaign to Aboriginal elders, Aboriginal organizations and non-governmental organizations, asking them to help identify women with unpaid fines. Sometimes the groups will give them names — other times, the women will contact them directly. Once they have their names, they begin the process of paying the fines so that arrests don’t happen or the women can go free. (Unlike the U.S. bail system, payment for these warrants can be done over the phone or online.)

    As of mid-March, 10 weeks after beginning the campaign, Sisters Inside had already paid the fines for over 100 women. Some of these fines aren’t cheap: “It’s worked out to an average of $3,300 [to] $3,500 per woman,” said Deb Kilroy, the director of Sisters Inside and founder of the #FreeThePeople campaign. But some are much more. Kilroy recounted the story of one woman, a 23-year-old fleeing domestic violence with three children under the age of six, who had more than 10 fines adding up to $8,100. But with $9,500 in additional fees and costs, she was looking at paying $17,500 or spending 70 days in jail. Neither was an option she could afford.

    “I’ve spoken to Aboriginal mothers who’ve had their fines paid in full,” Kilroy tweeted. “I told them they can’t be arrested. They cheered, screamed & cried. They’re overwhelmed at donors’ generosity. One even asked, ‘What’s the catch?’ To which I said ‘No catch you’re free.’”

    #FreethePeople has raised over $391,000 over the past four months. But here’s the catch: In the United States, bail fund organizers can expect most, if not all, of the money posted for bail to be returned once the person completes their court case. (In some places, a non-refundable administrative fee is taken out of the bail amount.) In Western Australia, however, the court-imposed fines, fees and costs are non-refundable, meaning that Sisters Inside must constantly be raising money to keep women out of jail.

    That could be a Sisyphean task if not for the second prong of the #FreeThePeople campaign — advocating to abolish the practice, something that other Australian states have already done. People who donated to #FreeThePeople are encouraged to email the state’s attorney general, John Quigley, to repeal this law. Nearly every one of the 8,000 people who donated during the first two months did so. In response to the flood of emails and the media attention raised by the campaign, Quigley’s office has said that a set of reforms to the law will be introduced in July 2019. Meanwhile, Sisters Inside continues to raise funds and reach out to Aboriginal organizations to pay for women’s freedom.

    In the United States, black mothers who had been freed through #FreeBlackMamas in previous years traveled to Tulsa, Oklahoma, in September to participate in a convening of the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls. They gathered on stage for the Sunday morning plenary to talk about the importance of being bailed out of jail, of being able to fight the charges against them from the outside, and of not being torn away from their children and loved ones. One mother talked about finding a year-old flier about the Mamas Day Bailout. She called her mother and asked her to call the number listed. The following week, she was bailed out and came home one day before her son was murdered. If not for the bailout, she would not even have had that last day with him.

    Some had never been involved in political advocacy before being bailed out. Now, every one of the women on the stage was deeply involved in anti-prison work, including participating in and organizing this year’s bailouts.

    Drivers strike ahead of Uber’s public offering today

    On May 8, Uber, Lyft and other ride-hail drivers in New York City went offline during morning rush hour, joining over two dozen cities around the world that went on strike ahead of Uber’s initial public offering today. Drivers are demanding higher wages and better working conditions, which they say have deteriorated over the past few years. In New York City, the strike was aimed at pressuring the City Council to pass new legislation on regulating the ride-hailing industry amid Uber and Lyft’s efforts to push for further deregulation and corporate-friendly policies.

    Drivers rallied in front of Uber and Lyft’s Long Island City headquarters in the afternoon and chanted “We want cap now” and “Driver power, union power.” Then, New York Taxi Workers Alliance executive director Bhairavi Desai addressed the crowd.

    “In 2015, when the City Council backed down from capping the number of for-hire vehicles temporarily — straight out of that victory for Uber and Lyft — Wall Street overloaded them with money, which they used to saturate the streets with cars,” Desai said. “By the end of the year in 2015, the streets were flooded. By January 2016, Uber and Lyft started to cut the fares and that was the beginning of the race to the bottom.”

    A few men behind her held signs with the names of six professional drivers that have committed suicide since that time. Through years of organizing, the Taxi Workers Alliance has been able to push New York to regulate the industry more than many other cities around the country. Still, Desai said, drivers face foreclosures, bankruptcy and eviction.

    Since 2010, when Uber first came to New York, the city has become the largest market for the ride-hailing app in the country. Desai pointed out that of the 130,000 for-hire vehicles in the city, around 80,000 are app-based cars, primarily those of Uber and Lyft, which remain empty 42 percent of the time. “There is absolutely no reason beyond corporate greed for why there would be no cap on the number of vehicles,” Desai said.

    She explained that Uber and Lyft have created a “false narrative” around a supply problem, noting that a quarter of all Uber drivers leave the company within a year. Her solution: Treat the workers better. “Regulation is the only thing that will bring stability back to this industry and keep a workforce of 100,000 people from going deeper into poverty.”

    Following a study that found 85 percent of drivers made less than minimum wage, the City Council passed legislation for a minimum of $17.22 per hour before taxes — a victory drivers saw at the end of last year. The City Council also passed legislation to temporarily stop issuing for-hire vehicle licenses for 12 months and is scheduled to hold another vote on a vehicle cap on Aug. 8.

    Previous Coverage
  • New NYC regulations on Uber and Lyft a victory for union organizing
  • Inder Parmar, who’s been driving for Uber for six years says he relies on support from his children, who are now out of college. “Uber used to pay us $2.60 a mile in 2013. Today they pay us $1.25 a mile.” Had his children still been in college,” he told the crowd, “I would most probably have had to sell my house for their college fees.”

    Passing comprehensive legislation at the federal level will prove even more difficult and those organizing for higher pay and increased job security face an uphill battle. A study by the National Employment Law Project notes that companies like Uber and Lyft have followed an aggressive strategy of state interference similar to those pursued by the NRA and tobacco industry.

    The study’s authors wrote that in 2016 “Uber and Lyft lobbyists outnumbered Amazon, Microsoft and Walmart combined.” Many of these efforts were focused on the state and local level. Forty-one states, the study found, have either “overrule[d] or preempt[ed] local regulations” on app-based vehicles and, in two states, “Uber wrote or co-wrote the original drafts of legislation.”

    If it weren’t for the fact that drivers are classified as independent contractors — exempting them from traditional full-time employee benefits like workers compensation, healthcare and the ability to form a union — Uber, with its fleet of three million drivers, would be the world’s largest employer. To put this in perspective, Uber is larger than the United States Department of Defense (2.87 million), the People’s Liberation Army of China (2.5 million), and Walmart (2.2 million).

    With a driver base that large, a coordinated strike is nearly impossible, but the strike was still large enough to generate headlines across the media spectrum — while also raising concerns about the future of the company, as it enters the stock market. Estimates put the IPO at over $80 billion, making it one of the largest in U.S. history. Many within the company are expected to make millions overnight, adding to the $143 million in total compensation that Uber’s top five executives saw last year alone.

    The strike also garnered support from some politicians in Congress who are in more of a position to reign in an industry that sees no limits to its potential growth. Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Elizabeth Warren were just some of the strike’s supporters in Washington. Last year, Sanders introduced legislation to the Senate revising how the National Labor Relations Act defines “employee” to extend traditional employment rights — like forming a union — to gig economy workers.

    Under the Trump administration, however, the Department of Labor, in a recent statement, reaffirmed the classification of gig economy workers as independent contractors, a move that further empowers tech companies at the expense of drivers across the country.

    “They are making clear that while technology can often be an instrument of progress and efficiency, we cannot allow it to be another corporate weapon against workers,” Sanders wrote in an op-ed for the San Francisco Chronicle.

    If Uber’s IPO goes anything like Lyft’s — which went public in late March and has since seen its shares plummet — the company’s prospects don’t look good. Worse still is what a flop IPO would mean for workers, who could face more “deactivations,” as they say in Silicon Valley. At this point, the only recourse that drivers have is to keep organizing for a greater share of the company’s revenue through increased regulation, such as the minimum wage passed in New York City.

    Others have proposed more drastic measures. In The Nation, Mike Konczal calls for socializing the company entirely. Uber’s executives contribute very little, he writes, while “workers labor individually, doing the same tasks, so there’s no need for a management class to control their daily operations.” Costs such as insurance, licensing fees and vehicles are already paid for by drivers. The only thing executives really provide is a software platform in the form of a phone app, a negligible cost when considering the approximately 15 million trips drivers complete each day.

    Taking the company from the New York Stock Exchange to being worker-controlled isn’t likely to happen anytime soon, but it would give a whole new meaning to the term sharing economy.

    How LGBTQ people are resisting Bolsonaro’s Brazil through art

    This article was first published by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

    Jair Bolsonaro was elected president of Brazil in October 2018 and took office in January 2019. Since then, the Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights has chosen to remove the legal protection status of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer people. Some politicians are now pushing for a ban on talking about gender diversity and sexual orientation in schools.

    Bathroom laws pertaining to which toilet facilities trans people are allowed to use and bills defining what constitutes a family, same sex marriage and laws enabling trans people to change their legal name are also seen to be under threat.

    Brazil has a reputation as one of the most violent countries in the world and is known as the LGBT “murder capital” – 167 trans people were reported murdered between October 1, 2017 and September 30, 2018 alone. In the lead up to and since Bolsonaro’s election, LGBT hate crime has increased.

    No wonder that many Brazilian LGBTQ people are worried that they are becoming isolated from the rest of the world. Marielle Franco – a young politician who took a strong stance against police violence – was murdered in Rio de Janeiro in March 2018.

    She was a bisexual black woman who grew up in the Maré favela and pushed for social justice for marginalized people in the city. She was reportedly targeted by professional killers.

    In Brazil, military police patrol the streets and are independent from the municipal police who carry out investigations. In March 2019, a year after her murder, it was reported that two ex-military police had been arrested for the killing.

    Theusa Passareli – a 21-year-old art student who identified as genderqueer or non-binary – was murdered in April 2018, killed on their way home from a party.

    Their work was incomplete in Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janiero’s design studio when I visited in November 2018 and will stay to commemorate their memory, as the university and the trans community mourn the murder of another young person.

    Resin on glass by Theusa Passareli.
    Catherine McNamara, Author provided

    A safe place to protest

    I was in Rio for a short residency with the TransArte festival – a three day art show that explores gender identity and sexuality. The festival brings together trans people and allies to exchange ideas, make and share work, and celebrate the strengths of the LGBT community in Brazil within a place of safety.

    It’s not easy to protest when faced with violence, nor is it easy to enjoy culture – particularly for people living in poverty where basic needs are difficult to meet. Trans artists have said that being trans is a barrier to participating in the arts, but “safe spaces” such as the TransArte festival allow protest art to flourish and create opportunities for LGBTQ people to express themselves.

    Trans and LGB artists, activists and educators from Rio de Janeiro and London.
    TransArte Festival Team, Author provided

    A theater company led by trans people created Come As You Are – a series of autobiographical stories with physical theater and improvisation. The stories were about family – supportive and loving family as a source of strength, and familial rejection as a result of being trans.

    They explored life as trans men and women in a culture of toxic masculinity, normativity and police brutality. A photography exhibition of several artists included Bernardo de Castro Gomes, whose work also explored his identity as a black trans man facing intimidation, harassment and violence.

    Queer drag artists such as Le Circo de la Drag spoke about their political performance – using their bodies to resist toxic masculinity and defy the threats of violence they often receive.

    Le Circo de la drag pay tribute to Marielle Franco and Theusa Passareli.
    Marianna Cartaxo, Author provided

    The show Monster, Whore, Bitch – Waldirene’s Dreams, directed by Dandara Vital, compiled the everyday experiences of Brazilian trans people interwoven with a re-telling of the story of Waldirene – the first trans woman to undergo gender reassignment surgery in Brazil in December 1971, at the height of the military dictatorship.

    Resistance is clearly flourishing in Brazil against the odds and not only within festivals like TransArte. A Portuguese translation of Jo Clifford’s play The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven was due to open in Londrina, a city in southern Brazil, but the venue cancelled at the very last moment.

    The lead, a trans woman called Renata Carvalho, received death threats. The company moved to a semi-derelict space where they performed by torchlight instead, despite injunctions from both Pentecostal and Catholic groups to stop the production.

    My own experiences working with the TransArte festival team in Rio have shown me the value of safe places free from judgement and hostility. The people we worked with told us that being there in solidarity with the trans communities of Rio felt like a powerful action in itself, resisting the culture of violence that thrives in Bolsonaro’s Brazil.

    What if most people love violence?

    For decades, I’ve investigated and promoted nonviolent action as a means to help create a better world. Although there are signs of hope, the obstacles remain enormous. For example, military systems seem as powerful as ever, and nationalism is not fading away. The capacity of humans to harm each other and the environment is frightening. Just think of child soldiers, torture and climate change.

    Because the problems seem so huge, I’ve long been on the lookout for insights about what activists are up against, including deeply rooted driving forces. Recently, I made contact with Steven James Bartlett, a philosopher and psychologist who has spent his career investigating dysfunctional features of the thought and behavior of “normal” humans. One of his books, “The Pathology of Man: A Study of Human Evil,” offers startling assessments that I think are relevant to nonviolence.

    “The Pathology of Man,” which came out in 2005, is the result of a decade’s immersion in writings and research related to human evil. To be clear, the word “man” in the title refers to the human species, not just males, and — in addressing evil — Bartlett develops a scientific rather than a religious definition. For him, evil refers to the human capacity to harm and destroy other humans, as well as other species and the environment, which supports all life.

    “The Pathology of Man” is a mammoth work, addressing a wide range of writings and evidence relating to human psychology and behavior. Bartlett examines the ideas of psychiatrists like Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, the work of mathematician and peace researcher Lewis Fry Richardson, the observations of ethologist Konrad Lorenz, and many others who are less well known today. He examines evidence from genocide (especially the Holocaust), war, terrorism and ecological destruction.

    Bartlett’s conclusion is stark and disturbing. He says humans are pathogenic, namely destructively harmful, towards themselves as well as the environment. The pathological features of human behavior and thinking enable violence, cruelty and ecological destruction.

    Reading through the extensive evidence and careful arguments in “The Pathology of Man,” I decided Bartlett’s ideas deserve greater attention. The book did not have a big impact when it was published over a decade ago, in part because its message is so disturbing. Yet, to be more effective in bringing about positive change, it is valuable to understand the dark side of the human species. Inspired by Bartlett’s study of evil, I offer here some insights relevant to nonviolent campaigners.

    Lessons from the Holocaust

    The Holocaust was not the deadliest or the quickest genocide, but it is the best documented. It is useful to remember that Germany in the 1930s and 1940s was one of the most “civilized” cultures in the world, with advanced technologies and leading artists and intellectuals.

    It seems that, in Nazi Germany, to actively resist evil was to be different from the norm.

    Bartlett examines evidence about the psychology of people in Germany during the genocide, looking at five groups: leaders, doctors, bystanders, refusers and resisters. Nazi leaders engineered the Holocaust, yet despite overseeing horrific deeds, most of them were psychologically normal. Likewise, most of the doctors involved in the genocide were psychologically normal — in fact, many were model citizens in their home life. Bystanders were those Germans who knew about the killings but did nothing. They constituted the majority of the population, with the same psychological diversity.

    Then there were refusers. When men were called up to join killing squads, they could decline to participate, and there were few penalties for opting out. Yet most of these raw recruits decided to remain, seemingly preferring conformity in killing over nonconformity in refusing. Finally, there were resisters — those who actively opposed the genocide. They were a small minority.

    Bartlett’s conclusion from this, and much other evidence, is that most of those who participate in or tolerate evil are psychologically normal. It seems that, in Nazi Germany, to actively resist evil was to be different from the norm.

    Hannah Arendt, in writing about Nazi Holocaust organizer Adolf Eichmann, famously introduced the concept of the banality of evil. Bartlett says the problem is broader than this, and has referred to “the evil of banality.”

    Mass murder, according to Bartlett, draws on the satisfaction humans derive from killing others. This is connected to the psychological process of projection, in which negative aspects of one’s own psyche are denied and instead attributed to others, who then may be attacked. In collective violence, projection is allied to the human urge to conform to the in-group. The out-group, or the enemy, becomes the embodiment of evil and is seen as deserving extreme adverse treatment, while the in-group is seen as innocent, and being part of it is satisfying.

    Lt. Col. Dave Grossman raises a noteworthy counter-argument in his 1995 book “On Killing.” He points to a military study that found most U.S. soldiers on the front lines during World War II did not fire their rifles at the enemy, even when their lives were in danger. Grossman found evidence from many earlier wars of the same reluctance to kill, concluding that there is “within most men an intense resistance to killing their fellow man.” This applies especially in front-line combat — killing at a distance, for example by using artillery or aerial bombing, generates far less revulsion.

    Furthermore, as Bartlett notes, Grossman reported that the U.S. Army developed new training techniques using operant conditioning that ensure that nearly all soldiers kill, leading to a dramatic increase in the rate of PTSD among veterans. Many of these methods — such as playing violent video games that associate killing with pleasure — are widely used throughout U.S. society, influencing children and adults.

    War as a ‘functional pathology’

    Bartlett cites ample evidence that most of those who participate in and support war are normal. His observations highlight features of human emotions and social systems that may be familiar to peace activists but are revealing when placed in the context of a study of evil.

    War is like a disease that most people don’t want to cure because it provides great psychological satisfactions.

    As well as examining the psychological factors that enable war, Bartlett also looks at the factors that restrain people from resisting war. His conclusion is that wars, and war-making, continue because most people choose not to do anything differently. For example, consider the wars in Afghanistan over several decades, at least since the Soviet invasion in 1979. Since then, most people in the countries involved — including Pakistan, the Soviet Union, the United States, the United Kingdom and many others — have not made special efforts to stop the war-making. Most continue in their usual roles: only a few engage in agitation against the war.

    Bartlett observes that “If men and women were desirous of peace, they would invest significant resources to further the causes of peace, but hardly a country in the world reserves a significant part of its national budget to study ways to foster peace.” To this might be added that budgets for the military are enormous, while there is only minuscule funding for nonviolent action. Few people pay much attention to military budgets or spend time exploring nonviolent alternatives. It is this very complacency that enables the evil of war systems to continue.

    Bartlett’s conclusion is that war is a “functional pathology.” In other words, it is like a disease that most people don’t want to cure because, when it flares up, it provides great psychological satisfactions. For soldiers, there is an intense experience of bonding, so strong that many remember combat as the most meaningful part of their lives. For those on the home front, war can provide meaning too. Being part of the cause puts humdrum daily life into the shadows, replacing it with something more dramatic and urgent.

    Peace activists have long had to deal with the power of patriotism. It is a psychological force seemingly immune to rational argument, and the label “unpatriotic” is the ultimate insult. Patriotism provides a way of merging with the whole, of relinquishing one’s own responsibility and putting one’s trust in a greater power. The attachment of patriotism to organized violence is one of the major psychological obstacles to ending war.

    For most people, vicarious experiences of violence provide satisfaction, including violent video games, war movies, violent sporting events and even the daily news. Most people are willing to watch lethal violence, finding it thrilling or satisfying, especially when the baddies are the ones being hurt. Few are so repelled that they have to look away. Fictional portrayals of violence, from cartoons to murder mysteries, are seen as exciting and enticing, not repulsive.

    What is it about humans that enables the rise and perpetuation of institutions that harness and amplify some of the worst sides of human behavior and thinking?

    War provides an escape from everyday morality. Religious leaders preach about the sanctity of life, but few do much to resist the war system, revealing how moral principles can be compromised to enable preparation for mass violence. Bartlett concludes that war “is one of the most evident expressions of human evil” because it causes enormous harm, provides justification for killing without penalty, suspends compassion, fosters hatred and cruelty, and is a source of meaning and gratification.

    It has been argued that — especially prior to the development of agriculture and industry — many human societies have shown the capacity for living in harmony with each other and the environment. So is human destructiveness primarily a result of current social institutions, including states, militaries and massive corporations?

    Bartlett recognizes that there are numerous examples showing that humans have the capacity to do good. His argument is that there is also a widespread capacity for evil. Some social institutions, such as the military, seem designed to harness and facilitate that capacity. So it might be asked, what is it about humans that enables the rise and perpetuation of institutions that harness and amplify some of the worst sides of human behavior and thinking?

    No ready alternative or simple fix?

    Bartlett does not propose any solutions to the problem of human evil, in part because he does not want to provide false hope. Indeed, provocatively, he argues that hope is part of the problem because it causes people to avoid acknowledging the immensity of the challenge.

    The central lesson from Bartlett’s study is that the capacity for cruelty and violence is deeply rooted in human thinking and feeling. War and violence provide many deep satisfactions to people who are psychologically normal, and there is no ready alternative. No simple fix, not even the promotion of nonviolent action, is likely to be effective in the short run.

    In the early 1980s, when I first became involved in a group advocating nonviolent alternatives to the military, I imagined that significant progress was possible, even recognizing that social institutions are highly entrenched. Today, despite the efforts of many dedicated campaigners, the military seems just as widely accepted and alternatives just as far away.

    To a large extent, acceptance of systems based on violence is widespread due to indoctrination, including thinking of the world as necessarily divided into countries, each with a central government that uses force to maintain power. The indoctrination includes acceptance, and often passion, for overcoming those designated as enemies. Also important is the constant attention to violence in news and entertainment.

    Those who make efforts against systems of evil may need to be psychologically different from the norm by being morally intelligent.

    To foster development of different attitudes and values, there are several possibilities. One is interventions to create a different media environment, one that counters nationalism, domination over nature, enemy-creation and violence as the solution. There have been many worthwhile initiatives, but the challenge of creating full-scale alternatives — from child rearing to rituals honoring contributions to society — is immense.

    One lesson from history is that persuading people that war and violence are bad is inadequate. Knowledge and logic are not enough. If they were, the horrors of war, and the devastation of a future nuclear war, would be more than adequate to impel masses of people to join peace movements. Warning people that nuclear war could annihilate much of the world’s population should be all it takes. However, despite warnings since the early 1980s that nuclear war could trigger a globally devastating “nuclear winter,” most people take no special action against nuclear arsenals.

    Awareness of the damaging effects of violence is not enough to turn more than a few people towards a rejection of violence. The implication, following Bartlett’s analysis, is that those who make efforts against systems of evil may need to be different from the norm via greater moral intelligence. Beyond distinguishing right from wrong, this means having the capacity to link reason and emotion to enable doing good. Morally intelligent people need to be able to act against oppressive authorities rather than going along with the crowd. They need to be willing to stand up to persecution.

    Rather than just telling people about nonviolence, it may be more effective to show them through actions. Activists have long known that participation in social action is a powerful way to forge commitment. Social movement scholars have shown that more people join action groups by being invited along by a current member than by moral outrage. Essentially, this is to rely on the common human urge to join with others. This is fine, but insufficient, because systems based on violence, such as the military, use the same techniques and have far more resources to deploy them.

    Schools promote intellectual development, but there is no institution systematically helping people to achieve the most advanced forms of moral development — ones that involve seeing beyond self-interest, attachments to organizations and countries and our species. The challenge for nonviolence supporters is to help develop forms of learning through practice that foster moral development. For example, it would be useful to study whether extensive training and practice in nonviolent action causes participants, in other circumstances, to become more compassionate to humans and nature.

    What can be done to counter the satisfactions many humans gain from participating directly or vicariously in violence, and the willingness of most humans to tolerate the existence of social and technological systems designed to cause death and destruction? Almost certainly, nonviolence is part of the answer. Participating in nonviolent actions can provide powerful psychological satisfactions and may be an alternative to the appeal of violence. However, despite the dedication and sacrifice by millions of people over the years, there has not yet been a mass shift in commitments to reject violent systems in favor of nonviolent action.

    Nonviolent strategists emphasize the importance of innovation, of testing out new methods of struggle. To this should be added a wider search for innovative methods of broadening participation in challenges to human evil and the systems built on it.

    Why now is the time to connect the pipeline fights

    A remarkable chance exists right now to accelerate the climate justice movement. President Trump is moving to speed up pipeline construction just as the public is waking up to the need to keep fossil fuels in the ground. This is exactly the moment to move pipeline fights to a new level, by meeting the need for networking.

    One of the authors of this article, George Lakey, encountered this need while touring the country for his new book “How We Win.” He found people active in their local fight to stop an oil or gas pipeline and asked how they connect with other campaigns. He also asked how they learn about what works and how their local campaign links to the national situation. He heard the same answer over and over: They found it difficult to connect widely or get a big picture.

    This means local organizers are likely doing things that have previously failed when tried by other pipeline campaigns. It also means they may be inventing effective new methods that others have no way to hear about.

    Locals told George that the few websites reporting on campaigns do it selectively, more with an eye toward fundraising than to what is useful for local organizers. What’s more, they aren’t finding a wide and comprehensive view of how the many pipeline campaigns are doing.

    In short, local campaigners can’t find out what works and what doesn’t, and aren’t gaining a larger sense of the collective effort of struggles like their own.

    Some sharing does happen

    Some people bring lessons from one campaign to another, as bees bring pollen to plants. One such person is Rose Tompkins, a Sioux activist who got involved with the Standing Rock campaign in 2016 — then brought the knowledge she gained from that experience to local pipeline struggles in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. In one place she worked with white people to re-frame their inclination toward using specifically Christian terms, urging them to broaden their movement to include spiritual people. That way, people like her, who associate Christianity with colonization, would feel more welcome. In another situation, she was able to support indigenous tribal leaders whose leadership was disrespected by some white people.

    Judy Wicks, the other author of this article, also used her experience at Standing Rock to help pollinate subsequent campaigns. After finding inspiration in the thousand-year-old Lakota prophecy of a Black Snake that comes out of the ground to lay waste to the land, she came home to Philadelphia and saw her state in a new light — namely, as the center of fracking and pipeline construction. She also found that others in her community were stimulated by the drama in North Dakota. So she engaged in civil disobedience and got arrested with Lancaster Against Pipelines — a campaign organized by local people who’d been to Standing Rock. Since then, pipeline struggles have played a key role in Pennsylvania politics. In fact, eight new officials were elected to the state legislature in 2018 after refusing to accept fossil fuel money.

    One of the things Judy brought with her to Pennsylvania was the Standing Rock practice of connecting disruptive actions with the spirit of love. While in North Dakota, she witnessed — after a spurt of police violence — indigenous campaigners parading by the sheriff’s office in “forgiveness marches.” Judy also met indigenous youths who’d learned that police were short on supplies. Because campaign supporters at that time had sent an abundance of supplies, the youths shared sodas and hand-warmers with the police.

    She learned that a very long pipeline under construction, like the Keystone XL, may have local campaigns along the route that need more support from outside their area. This prompted her to begin fundraising for the New Orleans struggle led by indigenous Creoles and others called the L’eau Est La Vie campaign, which was protesting the Bayou Bridge Pipeline.

    Effective movements put resources into learning from what works and what doesn’t.

    Spontaneous travelers like Rose Tompkins and Judy help the networking process, but their assistance is random. The larger movement, serious about winning, makes a system intervention, ensuring that everyone is learning as rapidly as possible. This requires the resources of a national green organization.

    Learning is natural but intentionality adds power

    When leaders of the Montgomery bus boycott were chosen in 1955, they telephoned Louisiana to quiz the organizers of a bus boycott in Baton Rouge two years prior. The student sit-in movement of 1960-61 was so successful partly because students from many campuses were in touch with each other.

    George remembers a 1999 phone call from a student friend inviting him to a dorm to observe a campus steering committee’s strategizing. Students were campaigning to stop the University of Pennsylvania from buying paraphernalia made by sweatshops in the Global South.

    George noticed throughout the evening students coming in with “the latest” from other campuses who were waging similar campaigns. He watched others’ experiences enrich Penn students’ strategizing. The campaigns were being networked by the United Students Against Sweatshops, or USAS.

    At the same time, USAS encouraged each campus to try its own experiments and report the results. When Penn students found it difficult to stir the massive student body, they increased the drama of their campaign by disrobing. They gained more attention.

    Movements arise from multiple campaigns on a similar issue: civil rights (the bus boycotts and sit-ins), economic justice (shutting down sweatshops), climate justice (stopping pipelines). Effective movements put resources into learning from what works and what doesn’t. They value innovation at the campaign level and enliven horizontal communication.

    The pipeline movement could go to a new level if a national organization became intentional, supporting connection and learning.

    Effective movements discard tactics that are of little or no value, like most one-off demonstrations and tired rallies. They move away from street blockades that irritate people who need to join us. Movements learn that their most creative campaigns juice the movement, attract new allies and enable them to win.

    Effective movements support their campaigns to debrief their actions, organize trainings, hold strategy retreats, set clear goals, assess results and learn rapidly from each other. They are especially attractive to young people whose orientation is to skill-development and effectiveness, and therefore grow leadership for the larger struggles to come. They are more likely to have inter-generational participation, which in turn sustains them through down-times and helps them grow.

    The pipeline movement could go to a new level if a national organization became intentional, supporting connection and learning.

    The green movement has done it before

    Synergy is a name for what happens when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. An example is the struggle against nuclear power in the 1960s and ‘70s. The movement consisted of many local direct action campaigns that had educated the public to the existence of safer and lower-cost alternatives. When Three-Mile Island started to melt down in 1979, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back: The pro-nuclear establishment was beaten. The goal of the U.S. economic elite was 1,000 nuclear power plants. Of that number, 253 were ordered and of those, about half were cancelled.

    Previous Coverage
  • 4 lessons for climate organizers from the anti-nuclear movement
  • As organizer Will Lawrence has pointed out, some of the local anti-nuke campaigns were successful before the meltdown, and some were not, but the broader movement succeeded. In this way nonviolent campaigns are like military battles: Some can lose while others win, and the overall result can be victory.

    That’s synergy.

    The local campaigns in the anti-nukes movement were connected to each other. Leaders in the Keystone Alliance, a Pennsylvania-based campaign, knew the odds were against stopping their local plant. They also knew that their fight was important because they had a big picture.

    As a result, they campaigned hard and were able to block one of the two reactors that was planned. They sustained years of effort because, in addition to the big picture, a web of communication kept them close to campaigners in other places.

    This historic moment makes connectivity crucial

    Today’s mass media situation leaves journalists less able to help us than before. They occasionally share the drama of a Standing Rock, but even then can’t publish most of what an organizer wants to know.

    Pipeline campaigns are often attacked as NIMBY, or “Not in my back yard,” sowing seeds of hesitation on the part of local activists who do see some truth to the charge. Even though they know some local campaigners for whom it is only a backyard issue, they will re-double their efforts by knowing they are part of a larger climate justice struggle.

    Sharp strategy comes from a bigger map of power. Knowing which banks are financing which pipelines, which prominent office-holders and other figures are corrupted, which companies are already in trouble in other states, opens the door to new potential allies and tactics.

    A big picture helps funders who give strategically. Perhaps pipeline fights are more successful in one region than another. If that’s the case, some funders might step up their support where it’s more needed. After a campaign wins a victory, the big picture can attract the local funders of that campaign to turn to bolstering other campaigns still in the midst of struggle. As the saying goes, “Nothing succeeds like success!”

    Moving to a network of local campaigns makes it possible to have a greater influence on national climate policy.

    This sense of solidarity isn’t available only on a funding level: Organizers of a winning campaign might be more available to travel to other campaigns to join strategy discussions and share their experience.

    Supporting the national movement to regain the offensive

    Acting defensively is disastrous strategically. Nevertheless it is hard for environmentalists, as well as many other progressive organizations, to shake a habit of going on the defense which began in the Ronald Reagan days of the 1980s.

    Going on the offensive now could include, for example, demanding a reconstructed Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC. The fossil fuel industry uses FERC as its tool, and we need to take it from them. That’s the kind of demand no local campaign could win, but a multi-year national-level campaign would have a chance.

    Previous Coverage
  • Defend yourself — go on the offensive!
  • When we dare to consider going on the offensive we can remember the civil rights movement at its height: lively local campaigns nationally connected, giving the national organization opportunity to weave together a shared narrative. It’s that shared narrative that could, in the green context, support both the Green New Deal and keeping the carbon in the ground.

    Our proposal to connect the campaigns aligns with our understanding of how ecology works: moving to a new level of organizational complexity makes it possible to occupy a wider ecological niche. That is what we propose here: moving to a network of local campaigns makes it possible to have a greater influence on national climate policy.

    What’s not to like?

    How creative protests to improve everyday life in Zimbabwe circumvent repression

    On the outskirts of town a young man uses a shovel to scoop up a clod of tall grass from the side of the highway. Hastily, he dumps it into one of the huge potholes that dot the road. Glancing around warily, he jumps back in his vehicle and takes off.

    This scene was recently repeated several times across Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city. Part of a project to draw attention to the dangerous condition of local streets, the tactic was instigated by a loose confederation of citizens called the Better Bulawayo Initiative.

    Formed in November 2018, the group of 200-300 citizens is using creative, low-risk protest measures to agitate for better city services. Their goal is to address the kinds of simple but important issues that affect the lives of residents every day, like access to clean water, better sanitation services, regular garbage collection and safer roads.

    While traditional public protests may be considered too dangerous, using unconventional, low-risk methods is more appealing.

    The modest nature of Better Bulawayo’s objectives is understandable considering the potentially threatening conditions under which it operates. Matabeleland, the region of western Zimbabwe where Bulawayo is located, has been a center of opposition since the country’s independence, and as a result has seen a history of violent repression perpetrated by former President Robert Mugabe and his ruling ZANU-PF party.

    After independence in 1980, the main obstacle to Mugabe’s ambitions of a one-party state was the ZAPU party, which enjoyed broad support from the Ndebele people in Matabeleland. To eliminate the threat, the government initiated a terror campaign in 1983 that resulted in the murder of over 20,000 Ndebele.

    “Then, in 1999, when [the opposition party] Movement for Democratic Change was formed, its support base was in Matabeleland,” explained Khumbulani Maphosa, team leader of the Better Bulawayo Initiative. “Most people were arrested, most were beaten, many were killed. For that reason, most people from here don’t want to be seen actively participating in politics.”

    But people are more willing to advocate for local social issues, which they don’t perceive as political. And while they may consider traditional public protests too dangerous, using unconventional, low-risk methods that don’t directly confront the authorities is more appealing. Planting tufts of grass in potholes and quickly escaping before the police arrive is an example of a tactic that — while it may embarrass city officials — can be carried out with little fear of retaliation.

    Better Bulawayo has also employed a perfectly legal technique they call “flooding.” To protest a large expenditure of scarce city funds to host some South African dignitaries, citizens used WhatsApp to deluge their city council members with photos showing how the money could be better spent. For example, they have sent pictures of a traffic light that isn’t working, a school house that needs a new roof, and broken windows in an abandoned government building.

    In contrast to marches or other “top-down” organized protests, these creative nonviolent tactics have the potential to harness the imaginations and dynamism of more people in the community as they take ownership and become co-creators of their actions.

    Successfully contesting seemingly minor quality of life issues can help reshape the expectations of the citizenry.

    “We believe these are strategic actions … that build community confidence and involve different people,” said Matabeleland Institute for Human Rights general secretary Benedict Sibasa. “They build the capacity of communities to be creative and use community energy.”

    Motivating people, however, is a huge challenge, especially in a country where democratic institutions are weak. Politicians who don’t think they should be answerable to their constituents are a major problem. “In Zimbabwe, the culture of accountability is not there,” Maphosa said. “Our leaders are not used to being held accountable by their citizens. And the citizens are afraid to hold their leaders to account.”

    Zenzele Ndebele, director of the Centre for Innovation and Technology in Bulawayo, agrees, but thinks successfully contesting seemingly minor quality of life issues can help reshape the expectations of the citizenry. “Governance starts at the local level,” he said. “If you can hold your city councilors to account … then that means the leaders you send to the national level, or to the parliament, will be leaders who are accountable.”

    Maphosa hopes that working on the local level to develop the confidence and skills to demand accountability is an idea that will eventually impact national politics in Zimbabwe. But for now the group is focusing on extending its reach within Bulawayo. So far, they have trained organizers in eight of the city’s 29 wards, with more in the works.

    Although the nascent organization continues to grow, organizers have learned that simply reacting to the City Council’s policies tends to kill their momentum. To counter that problem, they are holding strategy meetings at the end of April to choose three key issues they can proactively address. Campaign issues under consideration include keeping medical clinics open 24/7 and reinstating children’s public play centers throughout the city.

    The willingness of citizens to take advantage of the small space of freedom available to them is a positive sign for the future of civil society in Zimbabwe. Already the success of Better Bulawayo has caught the attention of nearby cities that want to start similar organizations.

    “Together these movements one day maybe will demand a better Zimbabwe, but we need to start in our localities,” Maphosa said. “In my culture there is a proverb which says, loosely translated, that you should chew what is enough for you to swallow. So that’s the strategy that we are using currently — to say let’s chew what is enough for us to swallow, and then we will be swallowing as we go.”

    The Little Big Union joins the growing movement to transform fast food

    On a sunny Saturday morning, a crowd was starting to overwhelm the popular Couch St. Park in a high-rent Northwest Portland neighborhood, coalescing around a series of makeshift tables filled with union signs and shirts. With no public announcement, and no previous public campaign branding, the workers at the popular Portland burger chain Little Big Burgers had managed to draw a large crowd of supporters on March 16 for what was going to be the first labor action of their unionization campaign. The workers were not alone. They were also joined by a large contingent of Burgerville Workers Union workers who had blazed the trail that the Little Big Union was about to join them on.

    “The purpose of today’s action is to announce the union and to state that we’re here and that we are going to be fighting to make sure our basic labor rights are met,” said Gerry West, a Little Big Union worker for the last year. “We’re presenting a letter to our bosses asking to them to recognize the union and to go into negotiations with us, and we hope they do so.”

    After a series of speeches from Little Big Union workers and local labor organizations like the Portland Jobs With Justice, the workers led a march through the streets to the popular Little Big Burger location on NW 23rd Avenue. The crowd surrounded the location, chanting and arranging a moving picket line, while management decided to close their door rather than address the contingent of workers.

    The workers at Little Big Burger, and the larger campaign of the Portland IWW — a radical labor union known for its direct action approach — to organize fast food, did not happen in a vacuum.

    Fighting for ourselves

    The “Fight for $15” campaign — started by workers at McDonald’s and Wendy’s, with the support of the Service Employees International Union — has sparked a near revolution in the fast food industry over the last seven years. Low-wage, high-turnover jobs like fast food have been a difficult proposition for labor unions since building up organizing committees at restaurants is difficult, they require significant resources and have corporate owners that are intent on crushing unionization attempts. The Fight for $15 rested on a mass organizing campaign that relied on public action and support, often through visible actions and public relations. Over time, the fight shifted to being a successful minimum wage battle across the country, and their efforts to unionize have largely been absent.

    The IWW instead uses a different model: workers organizing each other, shop to shop, rather than relying on large institutional resources and budgets. What Burgerville workers did with the IWW was take their time, build up strong bonds with workers, win victories and develop community support. Now Burgerville has just won its fourth National Labor Relations Board, or NLRB, election — meaning four shops are bargaining their first contract together — and they are helping Little Big Burger workers step up and go public as well.

    Little big problems

    While Little Big Burger has portrayed itself as a local Portland favorite, it was sold off by founder Micah Camden in 2017 to the North Carolina-based company Chanticleer Holdings. It has now grown rapidly in Texas, Washington and North Carolina, giving the potential of mass unionization more significance since it could affect a nationwide chain.

    After the sale of the company, workers say they began seeing some of the same issues that many low-wage service workers do: bad wages, absent benefits, difficult scheduling and unsafe working conditions.

    “Management allows equipment to break and doesn’t replace it,” West said. “They promise people hours that they can’t provide and then cut them constantly to make labor costs as low as possible. They are basically creating an atmosphere that encourages atomization and division.”

    The organizing drive was focused on tangible issues that workers were facing day to day.

    The wages are so low that employees are rarely making enough to rent an apartment in Portland’s increasingly volatile rental market. Right now workers are paid minimum wage, $11.25 per hour, plus tips. West reported that he makes about $1,300 a month at his position. The average rent for a two bedroom apartment in Portland is currently $1,640.

    “[I am living] far below the poverty line, but they sell this as a job that we should be bending over backwards to keep,” West said.

    Workers report chronic understaffing, particularly during the lunch and dinner periods when they are slammed by a loyal customer base. Workers also allege that sick time, which employers must provide in Oregon, is a mirage since they are required to find someone to cover their shift if they need the time off to recover. If they cannot find someone they are required to come in or face discipline, which is problematic given how communicable illness can be spread through food preparation

    The staff began meeting in 2018 to discuss the issues they were facing and what they could do about it. The organizing drive was not focused solely on campaigning for official union recognition, but instead they have worked on tangible issues that workers were facing day to day.

    “[We were] getting our schedules only two days, sometimes one day, before we work,” said Cameron Crowell, who has been working at Little Big Burger for about two years. “A group of workers started talking about how we could change that. So we wrote a letter and everyone in my store signed the letter. We showed our manager, asking them to give us schedules a week in advance, and that really kicked things off for us.”

    Management conceded the scheduling demand, allowing workers to have their schedules two weeks in advance. Union members have organized confrontations with managers at four Little Big Burger restaurants asking them to respect workers, and even won no slip mats for their worksite.

    “Speaking with coworkers about how we can better fulfill our lives together has been really a life-changing thing for me,” Crowell said.

    Fast food solidarity

    The Burgerville Workers Union changed the playing field for directly democratic labor unions in Portland, and across the country, when they went public in April 2016. Their campaign used “solidarity union” tactics of organizing workers before going for standard union legal mechanisms like NLRB recognition. Over two years they arranged public “marches on the boss” to deliver worker demands, pickets, strikes, and finally a Burgerville boycott, all of which culminated in five Burgerville locations going union in individual NLRB elections.

    The Portland Industrial Workers of the World is at the center of the fast-food organizing explosion in Oregon. (WNV/Shane Burley)

    Their strategy, of building bonds between workers and with the community — all of which require time and passion more than money — proved to be a winning one. After they proved unionizing these fast food locations was possible, even though large labor unions had been unable to see it through, it served as an inspiration to the workers of Little Big Burger. The experience that the Burgerville Workers Union had in doing this kind of organizing, particularly since it was a very similar workplace, allowed for workers to share training and skills in a way that prepared them to launch a public campaign even more efficiently.

    “We actually have gleaned a lot of advice from the Burgerville workers, and they consider our campaign an extension of their campaign,” said Isabel Crosby, a supporter of the Little Big Union who organizes on their Solidarity Committee.

    Little Big Burger presents challenges that Burgerville did not, especially given that they are now owned by a large conglomerate that is not based in the region. “We don’t expect them to be as nice as Burgerville because they don’t have this nice local reputation to uphold,” Crosby said.

    The union marches on

    The union has asked Chanticleer Holdings to “voluntarily recognize” the union, but the company declined to do so, and said in a statement that they wanted a “fair, secret ballot election.” This means that workers will have to file for a union election with the NLRB or continue with shop-floor organizing without the benefit of recognition and a collective bargaining agreement.

    Workers have now issued a series of public demands of Little Big Burger, including a $5 per hour raise, paid time off, benefits, safe workplace conditions, holiday pay, transparency around hiring and firing, and for Little Big Burger to become a “sanctuary workplace” that refuses to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

    Right now workers at the NW 23rd Avenue location say they have an overwhelming majority of workers in support of the union, and they are organizing at five other locations that may go public in the near future. Shortly after the public action announcing the formation of the Little Big Union, workers allege that management removed union posters from the break room. Management later said this was because of their “no solicitation” policy and insisted that they were not anti-union, though decisions like this could be cited as grounds for Unfair Labor Practice complaints.

    Shortly after this happened the Little Big Union put out a public statement saying they are “disappointed that the corporate executives of Chanticleer Holdings and Little Big Burger regional managers have chosen to ignore our basic request to not disparage their workers or engage in union busting.” Little Big Burger relented on their policy, but workers report that a manager said “unions cost too much.”

    Previous Coverage
  • Burgerville workers aim to take Fight for $15 to next level
  • This behavior from Little Big Burger came shortly after Burgerville posted anti-union flyers on public boards at their restaurants in what workers allege is an attempt to dissuade further restaurants from voting in the Burgerville Workers Union.

    If the Burgerville Workers Union campaign is any indication, the Little Big Union will need to build steam over the next several months. This could mean eventually filing for an NLRB election, or it could simply be building numbers and power in their shops to continue to pressure management and the parent company for reforms.

    The strategy, as Burgerville has shown, is successful when the workers’ needs and workplace connections drive the campaign. As the Little Big Union continues to grow it will likely continue to focus on the personal bonds that are necessary when doing this long-game kind of democratic unionism. This is the model that the IWW was founded on and why it seems to be growing in conditions that have been so tough for labor in the past.

    “To see the IWW come back in force and tackle this problem of organizing workplaces that have not been able to be organized before, which was always the IWW’s strong suit, is incredible,” said West.

    How Sudan’s protesters upped the ante and forced al-Bashir from power

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    This article was first published by The Conversation.

    Following months of protests, and a prolonged sit-in outside the military headquarters in Khartoum, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was placed under house arrest on April 11 as the country’s military prepared for a transitional government.

    Many have described the Sudanese uprising as a “bread protest” against a rise in inflation. In fact the Sudanese people took to the streets for much more than a struggling economy, or the price of bread. They have been calling for freedom, peace, justice and the downfall of the regime.

    And they have finally won.

    The generation leading the uprising was born and raised during al-Bashir’s 30-year rule. The protesters are mostly young professionals who have been directly affected by the regime’s Islamisation and Arabisation policies.

    These policies have been particularly harsh against women’s freedoms and rights, which explains why young Sudanese women are at the heart of the uprising. The policies have also resulted in multiple years of conflict and insecurity in Darfur, South Kordofan, and the Blue Nile.

    Sudan’s governing system has already deteriorated because of years of state autocracy, nepotism, corruption and violent conflict.

    Al-Bashir’s removal may bring down the state if a strong successor isn’t positioned to replace him. But in my view, given how Sudan has historically been run, the democratic preferences of many young protesters is unlikely to come to fruition. Their expectations for a functioning democracy, with free and fair elections, and constitutional freedoms will not be met unless the next leader of Sudan is a reformist.

    Al-Bashir’s first responses

    The regime responded to the protests in three ways.

    First, al-Bashir tried to quickly reconsolidate his power by proposing constitutional changes that would have allowed him to stand for reelection in 2020. That was quickly taken off the table.

    He then declared a year-long nationwide state of emergency. The emergency state prohibited “unauthorized” gatherings and movements. Violence followed as the state deployed heavy-handed tactics to break up the protests.

    Al-Bashir also dissolved federal and state governments, replacing almost all of Sudan’s 18 state governors with army officers. And he ordered parliament to delay deliberations over proposed constitutional amendments that would allow him to run for an extra-constitutional term in next year’s elections.

    When the protests didn’t subside he called for broad-based dialogue.

    In a bid to stay in power, al-Bashir also reached out to those who had backed him financially on previous occasions. These included the Persian Gulf states as well as Egypt and Russia. However, these allies have done little more than offer him vague statements of support.

    He also began to lose the support of Western backers. Once warm to al-Bashir, they recently began to issue stern reprimands.

    The protests

    By the time al-Bashir stepped down protests had taken hold in more than 35 cities across the country. People took to the streets in more and more places following the first demonstration in the northern Nile-side town of Atbara.

    The current uprising was triggered by a government decision to lift subsidies on essential commodities and to drastically increase bread prices. In a matter of weeks, the protest in Atbara would reach the capital Khartoum 349 kilometers away.

    As protests erupted across the country agents of the powerful National Intelligence and Security Service and riot police began to crack down on demonstrators. Throughout, however, the army refrained from intervening. Rumors began to surface that al-Bashir was ready to hand over power to the armed force. But this was swiftly rejected by the Minister of Information and government spokesman of the government, Hassan Ismail.

    In the final days before al-Bashir stepped down thousands of demonstrators reached the ministry compound in Khartoum. This also houses al-Bashir’s residence, the secret service headquarters and the defense ministry.

    Protesters then upped the stakes by trying to gain support from the army. What began to emerge was that senior officers were possibly weakening, or that they were hoping to use the protests to pressure factions within the ruling elite.

    Protesters used a number of tactics to keep the momentum going. These included using social media such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp. All evolved during the uprising despite the government’s attempts to block the user, and Virtual Private Networks were used to access the women’s only Facebook group called “Minbar Chat”.

    Videos recorded by the protesters became important in documenting the crimes perpetrated by the security forces during the peaceful protests. They also became the main means of informing the Sudanese people and the international community about the brutality of al-Bashir’s regime.

    Now that al-Bashir has resigned he will probably be required to leave the country by agreeing to safe passage to a friendly state, possibly somewhere like Egypt, or Qatar. The only way he can remain in Sudan is if he had prior agreement with the military to ensure his safety. It’s possible that the new generals he appointed after the declaration of a state of emergency might side with him.

    Their support could have been one of the reasons why he felt that he could step down. Looking ahead, with or without Bashir, there’s also a possibility that the protests could continue if the people of Sudan feel that the swamp has not been drained of all the regime’s oppressive leaders.

    Progressive coalition boycotts ‘woke-washing’ of San Francisco event space

    When Emanuel “Manny” Yekutiel opened his events space and wine bar in San Francisco last December, he didn’t expect his self-named business, Manny’s, to become an example of how not to launch a successful startup in Silicon Valley.

    Located on the ground-floor of a low-income housing complex, on one of the busiest intersections in San Francisco’s Mission District, the website of Manny’s explains its reason for existing: to be a place that serves tapas with a side “of learning, of conversation, of organizing and of social change.”

    However, activists with roots in the neighborhood — who have protested outside Manny’s every Wednesday night since it opened its doors — believe its mission is just a way of dressing up the ugly truth around the politics of the place. In their eyes, it’s a business that further gentrifies a neighborhood where evictions and homelessness are increasing, with an owner who supports Zionism — the nationalist movement in Israel that props up the occupation of Palestine in Israel.

    In the progressive Bay Area, activists have a term for the feel-good, liberal marketing behind Manny’s: “woke-washing,” which they define as an attempt to paint a liberal face on a business that supports right-wing political views.

    Previous Coverage
  • Exposing Israel’s ‘pinkwashing’
  • Woke-washing is in the same vein as greenwashing and pinkwashing, two other varieties of public relations campaigns that whitewash dark realities about the businesses they promote. (Greenwashing uses eco-friendly marketing to achieve this, while pinkwashing uses an LGBT-friendly appearance.)

    Jemma lives several blocks away from Manny’s in San Francisco’s Mission District — a neighborhood often dubbed “ground zero” by the mainstream media, when it talks about the issue of housing inequality. She requested her last name not be used because she works for the government, which is continuously threatening free speech — and specifically targeting those who support the boycott, divestment and sanctions, or BDS, movement against Israel. Jemma says the portraits of black people displayed prominently on the walls of Manny’s are an attempt to make the place seem “woke,” but it’s just a facade. “It’s the equivalent of liberal blackface,” she said. The gentrification leads to increased police violence in a once majority-Latinx neighborhood.

    Jemma is a regular organizer with queer direct action groups concerned with the ousting of black and low-income people from the Bay Area, such as the Lucy Parsons Project and Gay Shame. She says that at its base, the boycott of Manny’s appeals to a basic human desire: No one wants to feel like they’re being taken advantage of.

    Confronting woke-washing also presents an opportunity for truly progressive organizations that sometimes silo themselves into narrower issues to organize together. The diverse list of groups that have joined the boycott includes Mothers on the March, which gathers at San Francisco police and sheriffs’ headquarters to express outrage, mourn, and bring attention to local youths killed by law enforcement officers; the Palestine liberation-focused Palestinian Youth Movement; Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism; the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network; the Latinx-led Black and Brown Social Club and the Brown Berets; and the Oakland chapter of the anti-prison industrial complex group Critical Resistance, whose co-founder Angela Davis was recently in the news for having a civil rights honor rescinded due to her anti-Zionist activism. (It was soon re-awarded.)

    All of these groups agree on the importance of intersectionality in movements: Oppression is oppression, no matter where it happens in the world. The boycott has so far led several speakers to cancel planned events at Manny’s, including labor organizer Ai-jen Poo of the Domestic Workers Alliance and the hip hop and politics radio show host Davey D.

    Why focus on Manny’s? To locals on the left, the venue’s “social justice”-messaging represents an insidious form of “faux-gressivism” that skirts, and sometimes makes worse, current political flashpoints. Gentrification, for starters, intensifies homelessness and police killings. And the extraordinary ties between the United States and Israel form a messy knot, involving billions in military aid each year, and American police traveling to Israel for training.

    A January job posting on Craigslist described Yekutiel’s belief “in investing in our people and our culture.” After a social media call-out by Gay Shame, the job’s terms — specifically, a minimum-wage salary with fewer hours than would legally compel the company to offer health insurancewere deleted. A low-income housing nonprofit is the landlord of Manny’s, which offered Yekutiel below-market rate rent because of the wine bar’s supposed social justice mission.

    At the same time, many of Manny’s speakers don’t particularly bring to mind social justice — such as tech billionaire and influencer Sam Altman — whose defense of sexists and hypocrisy around free speech have helped to cement Silicon Valley’s toxic culture —  or a staffer from the Burning Man arts festival, which can cost $1,000-$5,000 to attend. This has led many activists to believe that the community has less to gain from hearing these speakers than the speakers have to benefit from an association with a progressive-seeming event venue like Manny’s.

    “It’s basically a place for techies to feel good about themselves while black and brown people are dying in the streets,” Jemma said.

    Cecilia Chung, a policy director for the Transgender Law Center, who sits on Manny’s nonprofit-style advisory board, said, “I think everyone is entitled to their own opinion.” Later, after crossing the picket line to speak at an event about the LGBT movement, Chung didn’t waver, saying, “What makes San Francisco beautiful is all the different points of view.”

    Activists also point out how Yekutiel previously worked in public relations for the tech industry-funded charity FWD.us, which became infamous in left circles for funding advertisements with a right-wing — anti-immigrant and pro-oil — agenda. Before that, he worked as a fellow sponsored by the Israel lobby firm A Wider Bridge, a pinkwashing group whose right-wing funding was recently laid out in a February 2019 report by independent scholar Stephanie Skora, with support from the National Lawyers’ Guild, the Chicago chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace and the Canada-based Independent Jewish Voices.

    Yekutiel has not helped his cause by gaslighting activists and silencing people who have been hit the hardest by problems like unaffordable housing. In an op-ed for the San Francisco Chronicle, he dubbed activists like Jemma “the alt-left,” effectively equating nonviolent protesters with the white supremacist clashes that have literally killed anti-racist activists.

    Teacher Margot Goldstein and lawyer Rachel Lederman have spent several decades in the Mission. In a published response to Yekutiel’s op-ed, they described the extent of Yekutiel’s Zionist, anti-Arab racism. In particular, they rejected Yekutiel’s description of Israel as “a feisty liberal democracy in a despotic neighborhood; the ecological rescue of a once barren land.”

    “The boycott of Manny’s is supported by the Mission [District]’s social justice community,” Goldstein and Lederman wrote in the Chronicle, “because both gentrification and Zionism require and result in the forced displacement of long-standing communities from their homes for the sake of profit and indigenous peoples from their land for the sake of power.”

    As the protests approach month five, there is a widening coalition — including labor activists, students and hunger strikers who protested killer cops outside the police station a block from Manny’s — that believes a combination of leadership from people who are directly affected, persistent direct action and more BDS-inspired guest cancellations can beat the false liberal marketing of woke-washing.

    The world’s happiest people already have a Green New Deal, and they love it

    According to the latest report from the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network, the Nordics are once again in the top tier of the World’s Happiest People. This year’s report, which came out March 20, pulled together the scores from the last three years to build a composite score, revealing that the four happiest countries from 2016-2018 are Finland, Denmark, Norway and Iceland, with Sweden coming in seventh.

    The researchers combine a number of indicators to define “happiness.” One especially interesting for Americans is “freedom to make life choices,” since we like to think of ourselves as leaders in liberty. The index, however, places the United States at 62 (narrowly ahead of the United Kingdom), while the Nordics remain in the top 10 countries in freedom.

    Other research methodologies line up with these findings on freedom. In 2018, Freedom House rated countries by degree of political freedom. Norway, Sweden and Finland tied for first, while the United Kingdom was 27th and the United States came in at 58 and dropping.

    Our relative lack of freedom makes getting a Green New Deal for the United States look like a hard slog, but we may get some clues from others — including from the time when they were less than free.

    Do the Nordics have a ‘green new deal’?

    The two main goals of the Green New Deal are to address climate change and economic inequality. Why combine the two? After all, there are some Democratic Party leaders and even some environmentalists who prefer to split those goals.

    I found one connection in Denmark’s recent history. When the left coalition of labor and other egalitarian parties is in power Denmark surges ahead in addressing climate change. When the centrist coalition is in power, Denmark’s commitment to climate slows down. That’s because the Danish centrists, like the Democratic Party in the United States, include the 1 percent who find it against their financial interests to reduce carbon emissions. Canada provides another example: centrist Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talks a good game about climate but reportedly committed over $7 billion in federal funds to purchase the failing Kinder-Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline.

    The Nordics have for half a century been in the top tier of nations for equality because they adopted a radically different economic model — one that puts the workers, farmers and professionals first, using capital as a tool to advance the common good. To ensure this, Norwegians have majority public ownership of most corporations and the public completely owns Norway’s largest bank. As I describe in my book “Viking Economics,” the Nordics have used heavily-regulated markets for some purposes, and they gave up completely on markets for other sectors.

    Poverty was widespread in the Nordic countries a century ago, so the Nordics designed poverty out of their systems. And even though they were small nations living in what was for them a globalized world, they empowered themselves to protect against cycles of boom-and-bust.

    While Iceland flirted with neoliberalism in the early part of this century — resulting in an economic collapse in 2008 — they came to their senses, defying the International Monetary Fund and returning to their people-first leftist model. As a result, they recovered from their Depression more quickly than the capital-first centrist United States did from its less-severe 2008 recession.

    Using a Green New Deal for abundance

    The Nordic model pays off for equality, but how about the other focus of the Green New Deal: meeting the challenge of climate change? U.S. critics of the Green New Deal try to scare us with the prospect of scarcity.

    That’s an old game. The Danish economic elite did the same when it promoted nuclear power in the 1980s. However, after the people’s movement mounted a nonviolent direct action campaign, the government turned to wind for electricity. It began licensing decentralized coops for local energy, while also investing in massive wind farms in coastal waters. As a result, Denmark became a world leader in renewable energy technology, and its economy grew.

    While Finland and Denmark are both aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050, Sweden has its sights set on 2045 and Iceland is saying 2040. Each of them had major poverty a century ago but today enjoy shared prosperity with free higher education and universal healthcare.

    Norway is a special case among the Nordics because it’s the only one that has significant oil and gas. A growing minority wants to stop extracting entirely, but a majority is not yet convinced. In the meantime, Norway takes other steps: charging drivers around $7 per gallon for gas, leading the world in electric cars and bicycle highways per capita, and spending over $3 billion so far to combat deforestation in the Amazon. The country is moving up the ranks of Yale’s Environmental Performance Index, now placing 11th. To make up for its continuing oil extraction, parliament plans to use offsets to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030.

    All the Nordics have found that their focus on climate coinciding with growth in the common good. Consistent with the American advocates of the Green New Deal, the Nordics’ investment in people’s health and well-being, jobs and education, yield benefits in abundance and innovation.

    Nordics don’t waste money on crime-fighting because they reject poverty and mass incarceration. Sweden welcomed more immigrants fleeing the Middle East during the Syrian exodus than any other European nation, per capita, and recently adopted Norwegian best practices for integrating the refugees. One in five Swedes and Norwegians is foreign-born. While Nordics will tell you that they are far from utopia, they learn from each other while continuing to invest in social justice.

    How they made space for their version of the Green New Deal

    Grassroots movements forced a power shift. In each case the people created a multi-dimensional strategy for empowering themselves. They educated each other so they could see through the pretense of democracy that protected 1 percent-rule, building prefigurative institutions like co-ops that taught individualists the value of collective effort.

    The movement involved intellectuals so they could together design a vision of the kind of economy they wanted, enabling them to also attract people who had doubts and hesitations. In this way they avoided the trap of becoming protesters who simply react against injustice. They put forward a program, and their positivity won increasing numbers of allies.

    Once disunited, they built unity across the urban/rural divide and other lines that divided them. Having watched the civil war in Russia that accompanied the Bolshevik revolution, they trained themselves to use nonviolent struggle, employing the technology of campaigns. Small farmers took over landed estates in Denmark. When the Swedish state called out the troops to protect the 1 percent by shooting unarmed demonstrators, the people responded nationally with a general strike that forced out the old regime.

    Is Scandinavian success relevant to us?

    Although Americans generated mass movements in the same time period as the Nordics, Americans faced greater challenges, including our inheritance of racism. That’s one reason why, in the 1920s and ‘30s, we couldn’t keep pace with our sister movements abroad — although this fact doesn’t diminish the brilliance of their own strategic breakthroughs.

    Circumstances change. Americans now have some advantages the Nordics didn’t have a century ago. One of our advantages now is that the U.S. civil rights movement learned many lessons about what works in tough situations — much tougher than we face now. These lessons are easily available to us, even in movie formats.

    Another advantage we have now is in economic lessons we can adapt from other countries. No country prior to Denmark and Sweden had invented and practiced “the Nordic model” — who knew ahead of time that it would even work? We now have the easier task of adapting the model to our circumstances.

    Thoughtful people around the world look for “best practices” to improve outcomes in their work. People in other countries have adapted innovations first tried in the United States, and we have already adopted from other countries’ practices, including Social Security and Medicare.

    What strikes me about the “happiest peoples” is their understanding that analysis of what’s wrong cannot create what’s right. Analysis is only the first step: Just as important are vision and strategy. The ingredients of their winning strategy are not strange to Americans: education and culture work; leadership development; a platform or vision; coops and other structures that align with the vision; community organizing for growth and unity; nonviolent direct action campaigning to force the issue; building to scale in a movement of movements; and keeping our eyes on the prize. The art is putting the ingredients together in this political moment.

    The opportunity for us is to work together toward this end.

    Labor organizer Jane McAlevey on why strikes are the only way out of our current crisis

    Over the past year, a wave of teacher strikes — from Los Angeles to West Virginia — have won major victories for public education, including salary increases and smaller class sizes. Inspired in part by the Chicago teachers strike in 2012, they drew on years of grassroots organizing and strategic planning to build stronger unions and establish clear demands to address the major problems affecting the public education sector today.

    According to longtime environmental and labor organizer Jane McAlevey, this recent wave of teacher strikes is also the perfect example of how change happens. It begins by developing a deep understanding of power, which then evolves into building small campaigns within a larger struggle to achieve measurable goals — all the while engaging in deep listening across differences, instead of self-selecting into single-minded silos.

    Previous Coverage
  • Meet Jane McAlevey, labor’s hell-raiser
  • Throughout her prolific writing — including two books, “Raising Expectations (And Raising Hell)” and “No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Guilded Age” — McAlevey lays out the foundations for what she calls a “credible plan to win.” A vital part of that, she argues, is understanding the mechanics and strategic steps of winning a campaign — something that is best achieved through the training and mentoring of emerging organizers and activists.

    After her own period of learning — while being a student activist and living with farm workers in Nicaragua during the Sandanista revolution — McAlevey has dedicated her adult life to building grassroots power for progressive change. And right now, she says that mass strikes are the key to winning progressive victories in the Trump era. Ultimately, as she explained to me in the following conversation, labor strikes carry invaluable lessons for fighting — and winning — strategic grassroots campaigns.

    What does this wave of teacher strikes tell us about effective organizing practices, and what are some of the wider implications of mass strikes at this political moment?

    Author and organizer Jane McAlevey. (Wikiemedia/Alice Attie)

    There’s an important lesson to be learned in realizing that strikes do not just happen because people get pissed off. [In Los Angeles,] they had four years of really serious work leading up to the strike in January, with deadlines and backwards planning attached to it. There were eight serious structure tests conducted leading up to that strike — that’s what good planning and analysis looks like.

    A crucial element in their understanding of power was knowing that they could not win that strike without the community on their side. They held huge meetings that were open to parents and students, not just teachers, to set the contract demands. Understanding that we can’t win traditional labor fights anymore without bringing the whole community with us is crucial.

    Ultimately, I don’t think there’s any way out of the crisis we’re in in this country right now unless we start having more strikes.

    So, I love the teacher strikes, because they are just putting it all out there. The Los Angeles teachers said, “That’s it. Every teacher is going to quit, or we’re going to have a life and death fight for whether education matters for democracy.” So, 34,000 teachers just led a fight that educated 30 million people in greater Los Angeles about what happens when you de-fund education, close down schools and begin to destroy democracy. It was a monumental master class in how to run a good strike, and it mattered for 600,000 kids in public school who will have a much better education because of the drastic drop in students per classroom that they won.

    That’s part of why it’s such an exciting time. The teachers that have been out on strike are literally putting front and center the very question of “Can you have a functioning democracy if there’s no educational system?” And I think the answer is no.

    How does the labor movement intersect with other progressive organizing taking place in the Trump era?

    Ultimately, I don’t think there’s any way out of the crisis we’re in in this country right now unless we start having more strikes. I think Trump’s election clarified for a lot of people that we were in a do-or-die moment in this country. But, if you are involved in public schools in any way, you felt like Trump got elected somewhere around the year 2000, in terms of how severe the defunding of public education had become.

    The origins of the strike explosion we’re seeing in the education sector right now really started in 2012 in Chicago, which was ground zero for the undoing of the U.S. public education system. Teachers went from having 20 students in their classroom to having 40, and [the Chicago teachers’ strike] basically created a roadmap for what’s happening now in a more visible way.

    Previous Coverage
  • Organizing as whole people
  • People need to stand up and start supporting workers in struggle, especially progressives. There was one case in which a group of electric workers in Boston were locked out for a year. This was right after the Women’s March and all this upsurge of progressive energy, and there are a thousand workers locked out of their jobs in Boston because the boss wanted to break the union. People should have been up in arms surrounding them. But the workers were from the same union that was supporting pipeline construction — so no one in the progressive movement could relate to these workers who were doing something progressives thought was bad. But blaming workers for wanting a good job is a big mistake.

    You have written about the many risks workers undertake when they get involved in mass strikes. As an organizer, how do you get workers to participate in such a high-risk tactic, especially when people feel discouraged or cynical about the potential for change?

    We as organizers have to raise people’s expectations that they can actually win, and that starts by making them believe that what is happening around them is not acceptable. What defines real organizing is that we start by helping people come to see that there are solutions for the problems in their lives, and that if they participate it’s going to actually matter.

    Unions put us into conversations with people who most of the progressive movement isn’t talking to, which is the problem.

    When I go to work with workers in a campaign where they’ve never had a union, people start off saying, “We’ve tried everything for 20 years and nothing’s going to change.” So we start by describing a credible plan to win, because that’s what matters to people. Show people that if they come to this meeting and get others to come with you, their participation is [directly] contributing to [hitting the] percentage of workers we need to win. That’s going to change their perspective on what it means to stay home.

    Part of what we do wrong in this country is that progressive forces slip into the same tactics as the right wing, which is the use of fear. We have to create a sense of urgency without using fear because fear is fundamentally demobilizing. Climate change is a terrific example of this. If you say, “Come to this meeting or the planet will blow up,” that’s not helping people understand how we’ll defeat fossil fuel players in today’s economy. There has to be something specific and local so that they can see and feel their participation is connected to a larger fight.

    You have said that union campaigns involve a “cross-section” of America, in terms of the political opinions people hold in any workplace. How does this influence your approach as an organizer?

    One reason I love union work is that I’m forced to deal with Trump voters every day. Unions put us into conversations with people who most of the progressive movement isn’t talking to, which is the problem. My starting point in the workplace campaign are Democrats, Republicans and a bunch of people who — like most everyone else — are independent or entirely checked out and not voting at all. The only thing that unites them is that they come to work, they have a boss, they haven’t had a raise in six years and their health care plan just got a lot more expensive — so they’re totally pissed off.

    Young people play a really important role in the movement, which is to be uncompromising.

    But the vast majority of people in this country who sit down face to face to have a conversation actually agree on the basic things, like whether rich people and corporations should pay higher taxes. Everyone in this country can tell you a story about someone they know dying or getting seriously ill because of a lack of health care. If we focus on finding issues that matter to all of us, that’s the thing that can change elections. But not talking to people is not an option.

    The younger generation is taking a strong lead in emerging movements, from the recent climate strikes to last year’s March for Our Lives against gun violence. How does the core role of young people factor into strategic organizing?

    Young people play a really important role in the movement, which is to be uncompromising. Compromises will need to be made, but the role of youth is to say, “There is no compromise,” and to hold the moral compass about what’s wrong and what’s at stake. Young people getting active is unbelievably important, and the way a lot of young people start engaging is by speaking truth to power. But it’s not enough.

    For that reason, I always encourage young people to get involved in campaigns with a win-or-lose outcome. You can spend your whole life organizing rallies and protests, but that won’t ever really allow you to measure your effectiveness in real terms. That’s why I think unions are so unbelievably important — it’s a nonstop series of deadlines. Every contract has an expiration date. The clock is ticking. These constant deadlines allow us to be self-reflective in asking, “Is what we’re doing effective?” We know the answer because we’re either winning or losing.

    What I hope for the new generation is that they can more quickly focus on central questions of power. I want young people to wake up in the morning and think, “What is my theory of power on whatever issue I care about? How can I break it into a series of campaigns that will test if what we’re doing is working or not working?”

    The sooner we learn the right lessons about power and strategy, the more effective we can be our whole lives. Young people need to latch onto the right mentors and dig into them and learn as much as they can. There’s a certain amount we do just to feel strong. I go to marches to be reminded that there’s a bunch of people who agree with me. I don’t ever go to a march thinking I’m changing anything.

    It’s not that we shouldn’t do all the things that make us feel good. But I always understood that marches and civil disobedience were ultimately small tactics in a much more sophisticated strategy based on a serious analysis of how we are going to build the power we need to win. So we need to know the difference between “feel good” actions and work that is effective. That’s what I want for the next generation to learn. And do it fast! No pressure.

    Otpor! leader’s new campaign manual shows strategy is for everyone

    Today in the United States, activists and community members are facing scores of pressing social justice issues. The movements are growing in strength and numbers, but what we need isn’t just more hands-on-deck; it’s better strategy for making change.

    As an activist and trainer, I’m always on the lookout for manuals that increase our strategic wisdom.  I’ve been a resistance manual junkie since before I wrote “The Dandelion Insurrectionand its accompanying study guide to making change. As a trainer, I read everything that comes out, for better or worse. I despise handbooks that limit citizen action to the song-and-dance routines of calling senators, signing petitions and donating to electoral campaigns. I tear my hair out reading the innumerable books that talk only about protest actions. Despite a slew of “protest manuals,” it’s surprisingly difficult to find books with a rigorous understanding of the disruptive, non-cooperative and visionary potentials of civil resistance.

    Fortunately, Ivan Marovic’s highly pragmatic, exquisitely useful book, “The Path of Most Resistance: A Step-by-Step Guide to Planning Nonviolent Campaigns” provides an excellent resource for improving the strategic wisdom of our movements. (A free downloadable pdf version has been made available here.) It is perfect for all of us who are working for change, designing a civil resistance campaign, or training people to think strategically.

    When I met Marovic at the James Lawson Institute in 2014, he impressed upon me that everyone should understand strategy, not just a handful of campaign organizers or hardcore activists. His experience in Serbia’s youth-led Otpor! movement showed him that when the populace has a widespread working knowledge of basic strategic principles for civil resistance, the chances of successful — and strategically-sound — campaigns increased.

    “When everyone knows how to plan,” Marovic said, “you start to get strategic behavior.”

    True to this philosophy, Marovic’s new book is designed for activists to take the materials and share them with others. Marovic guides the reader through a step-by-step approach to figuring out the nuts-and-bolts of making change. He concludes with a section on how to take others through a strategic planning process. The manual combines classic strategy tools that activists have used for decades with new understandings and approaches. His “Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats,” or SWOT, analysis tool is one of the more detailed and rigorous I’ve encountered, connecting SWOT insights to scenario development exercises and cost-benefit analysis for both strategy and tactics.

    The manual also offers newer tools such as the “Perception Box” exercise, which helps activists analyze opponent, ally, and bystander feelings and beliefs about the issue — showing how to use this knowledge to craft strategic slogans that advance your cause.

    “The Path of Most Resistance” links strategic analysis exercises with how to apply the knowledge in resistance campaign designs, which is where many other manuals fall short. In a succinct manner, Marovic’s book covers everything from grand strategy to tactical selection, drawing on years of organizing experience.

    And he does it with a lot of humor and wisdom.  

    “I identified a need in the field for a step-by-step guide allowing individuals to break down a complex nonviolent resistance campaign into a series of manageable steps. A comprehensive guide that would include resources, lesson plans, tools, etc.,”  Marovic said in a recent webinar talk about the book, which is worth watching.

    His introductory remarks during the webinar include many gems of strategic wisdom, and he offers several highly-illuminating slides that are not in his book. In addition to being an engaging speaker, one of Marovic’s gifts is boiling down complex ideas in understandable — but not oversimplified — ways. He compares strategy for nonviolent campaigns to cooking: If you’re a master chef who knows your ingredients and the nuances of cooking, you can improvise. If you’re like the rest of us, you might want to get to know the fine art of cooking before you try to cater a 100-person dinner. Nonviolent struggle is an equally complex field — with high stakes and a lot of risks — and when it comes to planning campaigns, a lot of us don’t have much experience.

    Marovic’s book is to activism what America’s Test Kitchen is to cooking: He distills knowledge from thousands of tests and case studies into basic principles for us to cook up change. He then goes a step further and puts it into nuggets of chapters that we can use as strategic planning exercise with our friends and fellow change-makers.

    Check it out. Try it out. Put this step-by-step guide into practice. If you’re tired of going to the same old boring protests, this book is for you. If you’re up against impossible odds, this book is for you. If you have passion and no idea what you’re doing, this book is for you. Strategy is for everyone.

    Nuclear weapons ruined my life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way

    I want to offer you something different than the barrage of facts and figures around nuclear weapons. But let’s establish the basics. There are nine countries that possess them: France, China, the United Kingdom, India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea and — of course — Russia and the United States. Together these nine countries possess a total of 14,575 nuclear weapons, with the United States and Russia accounting for 92 percent of them.

    Then there’s the outlandish nuclear weapons budgets and U.S. plans to modernize and upgrade current nuclear weapons stockpiles at egregious expense. According to a new government estimate, plans for modernizing and maintaining the nuclear arsenal will cost $494 billion over the next decade — an average of just under $50 billion per year.

    All of this is happening with Donald Trump in the White House. With his recklessness and overriding need to win — or appear to win — at all costs, he is more dangerous than his predecessors. And that’s despite the fact that every president of the nuclear age played a part in extending the nuclear nightmare and increasing the threat of global annihilation.

    Again, these are just the basics — things you already knew or aren’t terribly surprised to learn. That’s why I want to tell you a different story about nuclear weapons: My own.

    It comes through the lens of the nuclear fire and my relationships to the people who serve as a sort of bucket-brigade — offering sense, responsibility and sacrifice in an effort to douse the inferno.

    April 1, 1974

    I am born. It’s a home birth to a nun and a priest — in the basement of a tall three-story row house full of anti-nuclear activists. On the day of my birth, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock stands at 12 minutes to nuclear midnight, moved back from 10 minutes in 1972 after the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks between the United States and Soviet Union developed a road map for reducing nuclear arsenals.

    A few months after I am born, the scientists move the clock forward again — this time to 9 minutes to nuclear midnight, “In recognition that our hopes for an awakening of sanity were premature and that the danger of nuclear doomsday is measurably greater today than it was in 1972.”

    Richard Nixon is president. He’s a nuclear hothead who perfects the “madman” strategy of nuclear diplomacy. He tells a meeting of congressmen, “I can go in my office and pick up a telephone, and in 25 minutes, millions of people will be dead.”

    I am blissfully unaware. A healthy baby — the first of three — born to parents, Elizabeth McAllister and Philip Berrigan, who had set themselves on a course that maybe should have precluded children: a course of robust, muscular, creative, risky anti-nuclear resistance.

    My uncle, Daniel Berrigan, the Jesuit priest and poet, writes a series of poems to welcome me into the world. One goes like this:

    Photo of Frida Berrigan next to a poem by her uncle, Danial Berrigan. (WNV / Berrigan family)

    You came from Harrisburg pit
    You came from Custom’s House blood
    You came from Catonsville Fire
    You came from jail
    You came in spite of Judge Mace’s death’s head
    Shaking “no” in its socket.
    You came without regard to writs, torts, barbed wire
    You came up from the least known
    Phiz, China and beyond
    Down from Dante’s crystalline
    Paradise– a round eyed
    Round trip freeloader.
    You came from a nun
    You came from a priest
    You came from a vow
    Yes and No and the Great Tao
    That creeps. A vine
    Claiming like two arms
    The world’s rack for its own dismembering and flowering.

    March 28, 1979

    Three days before my fifth birthday, the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant suffers a partial meltdown. It is decades before I learn what that term really means, but the terror is real. Three Mile Island is less than 90 miles from our house and radiation is headed our way. My parents take my little brother and I to West Virginia — as far away as they could figure — for the better part of two weeks.

    We return to a changed diet: miso in hot water for breakfast every morning. My mother read that healthcare workers in Hiroshima drank the fermented soybean paste in water after the U.S. atomic bombing in 1945. They strengthened their immune systems and cleansed radiation out of their bodies with this ancient traditional Japanese food.

    Miso is brown, salty and is disgusting to the 5-year-old palate. But we drink it every morning for years.

    Our father shouts at us every time we leave a light on: “Okay, now we are supporting Calvert Cliffs — our local nuclear power plant.”

    My parents start to look more deeply at the connections between nuclear weapons and nuclear power. There are nearly 100 nuclear power reactors across the United States, and they provide roughly one-fifth of the electricity produced in the country. Nuclear power is one of the dirtiest, most dangerous and most expensive sources of energy. Nuclear reactors in the United States and around the globe are plagued by accidents, leaks, extended outages, delayed construction and skyrocketing costs. Nuclear reactors produce highly radioactive waste that continues to threaten the environment and public health for thousands of years and for which no safe disposal exists.

    There is a large scale movement to end the production of nuclear weapons and our dependence on nuclear power as well. Our father shouts at us every time we leave a light on: “Okay, now we are supporting Calvert Cliffs — our local nuclear power plant.”

    September 9, 1980

    I am 6 years old and my brother is 5 when our father and seven others gain access to General Electric’s Nuclear Missile Reentry Division plant in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.

    The Plowshares Eight, from left to right: Carl Kabat, Elmer Maas, Phil Berrigan, Molly Rush, Dan Berrigan, Anne Montgomery, John Schuchardt, Dean Hammer. (WNV / Berrigan family)

    A few months earlier the Doomsday Clock had been moved from 9 to 7 minutes to nuclear midnight because the United States and Soviet Union are behaving like “nucleoholics — drunks who continue to insist that the drink being consumed is positively ‘the last one,’ but who can always find a good excuse for ‘just one more round.’”

    Our dad and his friends hammer on two nose cones, pour blood and read from this statement:

    We commit civil disobedience at General Electric because this genocidal entity is the fifth leading producer of weaponry in the United States. To maintain this position, GE drains $3 million a day from the public treasury, an enormous larceny against the poor. We wish also to challenge the lethal lie spun by GE through its motto, ‘we bring good things to life.’ As manufacturers of the Mark 12A reentry vehicle, GE actually prepares to bring good things to death. Through the Mark 12A, the threat of first strike nuclear war grows more imminent. This GE advances the possible destruction of millions of innocent lives.

    This is a new kind of action, in the tradition of the Catonsville Nine (which two of the eight participated in) and the Hebrew prophets who enjoined peacemakers to beat swords into plowshares.

    Our dad writes:

    We love our children and all children — that is why we are in resistance; that is why we are in jail. We cannot abandon the children; cannot render them to caesar for our immunity and comfort. And that love for them, and for the God who blessed us with them, will enrich their lives. So runs our hope.

    Fall 1980 finds us in school for the first time, at sea in a swirl of six-year-old politics that we do not understand. We are objects of fascination and derision to our mostly African-American classmates and regarded with pity by most of our teachers. They have been told what our father has done and — even though they know the details of the action and that he is a good person — they have less context for what he has done than we do.

    Our father spends that Christmas in jail. Just before the holiday, we go and visit him and my brother Jerry says: “We want to thank you, Dad. You’ve given us the greatest Christmas gift anyone could.”

    “What’s that, Jer?” our Dad asks. There were no presents from the Montgomery County Jail in rural Pennsylvania.

    “Your action. You were making peace, just as Jesus was in coming to us at Christmas.”

    This becomes an oft-told story in our household, used at various times to celebrate my brother’s thoughtfulness and sincerity or, at other times, to highlight our long downward spiral since that glorious apex of insight and righteousness.

    Our dad faces years in jail. In a February 1981 jury trial, he is convicted of burglary, conspiracy and criminal mischief and sentenced to 5-10 years in jail. It isn’t until April 1990 (when I am 16) that the Plowshares 8 wins some overturning of charges on a hard fought (and almost forgotten) appeal.

    Somewhere between action, trial and conviction, my sister Kate is conceived. My mom comes home from the doctor’s appointment — after finding out she was pregnant — and slugs a shot of scotch.

    Liz McAlister turns 42 just two weeks after my sister is born on Nov. 5, 1981. The Doomsday Clock is at 4 minutes to nuclear midnight, moved in January in response to “the flat unwillingness of either the United States or the Soviet Union to reject publicly, and in all circumstances, the threat of striking the other first. Both sides willfully delude themselves that a nuclear war can remain limited or even be won. In 1980 both sides officially declared nuclear war ‘thinkable.’”

    November 20, 1983

    Frida Berrigan with her brother Jerry Berrigan. (WNV / Berrigan family)

    I am 9 and my brother is 8. Our sister has just turned 2. As a general rule, we are not permitted to watch television, except for the nightly news. But on this random Sunday before Thanksgiving, we Berrigan children get a special treat. We watch a television movie with our parents. It is called “The Day After.”

    More than 35 years later, before consulting Google, the details of the film were vague, but the outline is clear. The film imagines a nuclear attack on the United States and the lives of the people who survive its aftermath.

    After the film, we sat with our parents while our mom told us that she was going to do an action soon that would try and keep what the film depicted from happening.

    She later wrote about that conversation:

    Our children have grown up with these [nuclear] realities as part of the air they breathe. They have seen many people in the community in which we live, including their mom and dad, imprisoned for resistance to nuclear annihilation. But to have mom do something like this and to face her possible absence from their day to day lives for an indefinite amount of time — this was a large step.

    They were willing to accept the personal sacrifice of my absence as their part in trying to stop nuclear war from happening, as their part in trying to avoid the suffering that the movie displayed… They committed themselves to assuming more responsibility around the house, especially to be helpful dealing with the questions and fears of their little sister, who was not able to understand it as they were.

    It was a moment of extreme closeness for the four of us — a moment of accepting together whatever might come, and we concluded our conversation with prayer and big big hugs.

    Thirty-five years later, reconsidering this story as a parent myself, it strikes me as a very calculated move: a mom power play. But there we were.

    President Ronald Reagan watched the film a few weeks before it hit TV screens and wrote in his diary that the film was “very effective and left me greatly depressed.” Nearly 100 million people watched “The Day After” on its first broadcast, a record audience for a made-for-TV movie. But very few followed it up with an action like our mom’s.

    November 24, 1983

    Mom is one of seven who enter the Griffiss Air Force Base in upstate New York in the early hours of the morning to hammer and pour blood on a B-52 Bomber.

    Poster for the Griffiss Plowshares reads “For love of the world, we hammer swords into plowshares.” (WNV / Corita Kent)

    We are in Syracuse with my dad’s brother and his family when it happens. It takes hours for the base security to learn of the breach and arrest them. They are initially charged with sabotage, conspiracy and destruction of government property — and face 25 years in jail. We are, as I said, 9, 8 and 2.

    They are eventually tried in a federal court in Syracuse. Their trial is a strange mix of freedom and scrutiny for my brother, sister and me. Our mom and dad are caught up in the trial, and we are left to play and grapple largely unsupervised. But we are also in the media eye. People magazine calls us “troupers to the extreme” when it covered mom’s sentencing in July 1984.

    Our dad tells the reporter, “They don’t cry. They’ve been raised in a resistance community, and they’ve seen their mother and father repeatedly brought to jail for nonviolent civil disobedience.”

    Liz McAllister holding Kate Berrigan outside the Syracuse federal jail. (WNV / Berrigan family)

    We did cry. Our mom serves 26 months in Alderson Federal prison in West Virginia. We fall into a rhythm of traveling there once a month for a long weekend. The powers that be conspire to make those weekends fall on every school field trip or fun excursion planned by our teachers. Our dad writes us long “please excuse my children from school” letters reminding our teachers every month that our mom is in jail for her anti-nuclear action. He sees it as an opportunity for education. We bypass this impulse and figure out a way to relate exclusively with the school secretary for early dismissals on these fraught Fridays. We are not the only kids with moms in jail, but we are the only ones whose dad writes polemics about it every month. We endure.

    April 3, 1988

    It’s Easter Sunday. I am 14, and it is two days after my birthday. My dad is one of four activists who board the battleship Iowa in Norfolk, Virginia as part of a public tour greeting the vessel on its return from service in the Persian Gulf. The four disarmed two armored box launchers for the Tomahawk Cruise Missile, hammering and pouring blood, and unfurled two banners: “Seek the Disarmed Christ” and “Tomahawks Into Plowshares.” It becomes known as the Nuclear Navy Plowshares action.

    My dad is sentenced to six months in prison.

    March 31, 1991

    Another Easter Sunday. The day before I am to turn 17, and this time my father is in Bath, Maine, aboard the U.S.S. Gettysburg, taking part in the Aegis Plowshares action. The state declines to prosecute and charges are dismissed the day before the trial was scheduled to start.

    December 7, 1993

    While not close to any birthdays or special holidays, it is the anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day. I am 19, in my second year at Hampshire College. The activists wade through marshes and over rough terrain to gain access to the tarmac at Seymour Johnson Air Force base in Goldsboro, North Carolina. There they hammer on an F-15 fighter plane before being surrounded by hundreds of armed soldiers who were engaged in war game exercises at the time. They call themselves the Pax Christi-Spirit of Life Plowshares.

    The trial the next February was notable to some people because the judge enforced a gag order and refused any mention of the political or moral justification for their actions. It was notable to me because my college boyfriend was able to attend. I was trying to integrate the various pieces of my life and not just slip the letter to the school secretary any more.

    Visiting him at the county jail in the midst of the trial, my dad says, “Was that Him in the courtroom?” I nod, nervous and proud at the same time. “Seems a bit of a hippie, doesn’t he?” my dad observes. And that was that.

    February 12, 1997

    My dad is one of 6 who boards the U.S.S. Sullivans, a nuclear-capable Aegis destroyer at Bath Iron Works in Maine. They hammer and pour blood on different parts of the battleship. As they read their action statement and unfurl a banner, armed military security forcibly push them to the deck and place them under arrest.

    Cover of the Boston Globe Magazine from 1997 featuring (back row, from left to right) Steve Kelly and Mark Colville and (front row, left to right) Steve Baggerly, Phil Berrigan and Susan Crane.

    They call themselves the Prince of Peace Plowshares, and they are tried in May and sentenced in October. My dad is sentenced to two years in jail and told not to associate with any other felons except for his wife. He pays this no mind. He is 74 years old at the time.

    I had finished college the month before and moved home. In that brief time before his action, we spent our time building a composting toilet to collect our “humanure.” I help him out on less controversial projects around the house, while looking for a job. He doesn’t understand why I want a job.

    “I have student loans, Dad.”

    He is flabbergasted. His daughter is in debt?

    “Yep, I owe $14,000 bucks, Dad.”

    I went to the most expensive college in the country (with a great financial aid package) and nobody had any money to put down at the beginning.

    I managed to get into college with encouragement from people outside of my nuclear family. Mom and Dad were not much help. It was hard to explain — to a man who went to college on the G.I. Bill after World War II and then graduated school as a Josephite priest — the real cost of a college education.

    Awaiting trial after the action, Dad is in a county jail in Maine. Every time I go visit him, I upset the routine of local activists who visit him every week, and I feel awkward as they give me “private” time with my dad, grizzled and rumpled in his orange suit.

    Looking back now, forced to confront the patina of angst I’ve spread over all these memories, it occurs to me that we were deeply embedded in this life.

    I walk with my class at Hampshire College in May 1997 on a frigid day. We go straight from the graduation ceremony up to Maine to see Dad in jail. My brother graduates a few weeks later. Our sister graduates from high school the next year. He misses it all.

    I recently poured through my high school and college journals — thick, precious times that show how much time I had to process my experiences before social media or small children. I looked for hard evidence of the bereavement I tend to lay atop my parents’ absences. But it wasn’t there, or it was so between-the-lines that my 44-year-old eyes couldn’t see it.

    Nowhere did I write: “I am distraught because my father is missing my graduation.”

    Looking back now, forced to confront the patina of angst I’ve spread over all these memories, it occurs to me that we were deeply embedded in this life. It was who we were and what we did. We did not question it. And while we missed our dad (mostly) and our mom (earlier), we included them in everything. We recounted it all in letters and visits. We saved the best parts for them. In some sense, our experiences weren’t entirely real until we shared them with our dad or mom (whoever wasn’t physically there).

    December 19, 1999

    The group cuts through a fence at the Air National Guard Base in Essex, Maryland and pours blood, hangs a rosary and a banner, and hammers on two A-10 Warthog bombers. All were charged with malicious destruction of property and conspiracy. They call the action “Plowshares vs. Depleted Uranium.”

    From left to right: Elizabeth Walz, Steve Kelly, Phil Berrigan and Susan Crane. (WNV / Berrigan family)

    By this point, I am living in New York City. I have an apartment in Brooklyn and a boyfriend who is not a hippy. In fact, he has gained my dad’s grudging regard. I also have a job at the New School for Social Research, where I work for an arms analyst and public intellectual named William Hartung. At college, my friends and I had joked about becoming public intellectuals like Edward Said or Eqbal Ahmed, and now here I am earning money to pay attention to the military industrial complex. I feel incredibly lucky and very uncomfortable with my good fortune.

    I know all about depleted uranium — the radioactive byproduct that is used as a covering on munitions to give them armor-busting capabilities. Some of my favorite times with my dad are trading bad news story for bad news story. He is reading (and enjoying) the many articles I am writing and publishing. He occasionally enjoins me to not have such a secular voice and to end my articles for In These Times or The Progressive with a Jesus quote. I demure.

    I knew this action was coming, and I asked him to sit this one out. I did not offer to take his place.

    He wrote in a statement before the action:

    I am 76 years old, a married Catholic priest, with 35 years of resistance to the empire’s wars, nine years of imprisonment, numberless arrests, surveillance and ‘dirty tricks’ from the FBI… Enter my friends, sometimes brusquely: ‘Hey Dads!! Give it up to the young pups. It’s rocking chair time…’ But, but, but… I cannot forget the dying children of Iraq, and the two million Iraqis dead from our war, sanctions and depleted uranium… I cannot forget my country’s war psychosis — its obsession with better tools for killing, its mammoth war chest, its think tanks and war labs.

    My dad is sentenced to 30 months in jail. “They were prepared for the worst,” my mom says outside the courthouse afterward, “and they got it.”

    He serves some of his sentence in a youth facility in rural Maryland. My brother, sister and I visit him there often. (There is an outlet mall nearby). He is the only white person in the visiting room — save for some of the corrections officers. The visiting room was designed for discomfort. It has this chest-level barrier between the inmates and the visitors, and you can’t lean on it to be closer to your family member. It is brutally loud. The boys all call him Pops and show him concern and respect. At some point, he was moved to a jail in Ohio that is more age appropriate, where we visit as often as we can.

    Previous Coverage
  • A peaceful warrior lives on in us
  • He is released right before Christmas 2001. Friends welcome him back to “minimum security.” He dies less than a year later, on Dec. 6, 2002.

    The Bulletin of the Atomics Scientists’ Doomsday Clock stood at 7 minutes to nuclear midnight, the same time as when it was created in 1947. In the wake of September 11, 2001, the scientists wrote: “Moving the clock’s hands at this time reflects our growing concern that the international community has hit the ‘snooze’ button rather than respond to the alarm… More than 31,000 nuclear weapons are still maintained by the eight known nuclear powers, a decrease of only 3,000 since 1998. Ninety-five percent of these weapons are in the United States and Russia, and more than 16,000 are operationally deployed.”

    Previous Coverage
  • Liz McAlister’s fearsome mom-ness
  • Over most of the next decade and a half, our mom continues to live in the community she formed with my dad and others and continues to bear witness at the Pentagon, the White House and other sites of power. She keeps animals — goats, llamas, donkeys, even sheep for a while, and starts painting again. She is arrested repeatedly, but not for any big actions. I leave New York City for a small town in eastern Connecticut, get married and have three kids.

    My brother and sister settle down too. My brother has three kids, lives in a Catholic Worker community in Michigan that he founded with his wife and another couple. My sister studies to be a physical therapist, becomes a doctor, falls in love with a doctor of English and lives in Grand Rapids. We are all arrested occasionally, but not for any big action. We march, we organize, we speak. We try.

    As our mother approaches and passes 70, we — like many people our age — start encouraging her to take it easy, give up the rigors of community life and resistance, the constant hosting and demonstrating. We envision and invite her to live a life with her grandchildren, stories, bedtimes, sporting events and art projects. We have room, we all say.

    She goes in the exact opposite direction. With others taking the reins at Jonah House, she feels free for the first time since our father’s death to be a Plowshares activist again, to conspire with her friends and to plan for a rigorous and daring action.

    We don’t know the specifics, but as all her answers about the future muddle into a very specific kind of vagueness, we know exactly what is going on.

    “Please don’t,” we say.
    “You are too old,” we say.
    “Think of your grandkids,” we say.

    “I will. I’m not. I am. This is what I have to give.”

    April 4, 2018

    Previous Coverage
  • How do you tell the kids that Grandma is in jail for resisting nuclear weapons?
  • It was just three days after my 44th birthday, which was also Easter — again. We received word of a new plowshares action. Seven Catholic activists entered Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in St. Mary’s, Georgia. They went to make real the prophet Isaiah’s command to “beat swords into plowshares.” The seven chose to act on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., who devoted his life to addressing what he called the “triple evils of militarism, racism and materialism.” Carrying hammers and baby bottles of their own blood, the seven attempted to convert weapons of mass destruction. They hoped to call attention to the ways in which nuclear weapons kill every day, just by their mere existence and maintenance. They are charged with three federal felonies and one misdemeanor for their actions. They could face 25 years in prison if convicted on all counts.

    My mother feels very useful in jail — generous, empathetic and calm in a place that encourages none of those qualities.

    And there they still are. Three — my mom, Father Steve Kelly and Mark Colville — remain in county jail almost a year later. They still do not have a trial date. The other four are out on bond, wearing ankle monitors and are required to check in with their minders at regular intervals.

    The Kings Bay Naval Station is home to at least six nuclear ballistic missile submarines. Each carries 20 Trident II D 5 MIRV thermonuclear weapons. Each of these individual Trident thermonuclear weapons contains four or more individual nuclear weapons ranging in destructive power from a 100 kilotons to 475 kilotons. To understand the massive destructive power of these weapons remember that the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima was a 15 kiloton bomb.

    My mother feels very useful in jail — generous, empathetic and calm in a place that encourages none of those qualities.

    The wheels of justice grind very slowly in Georgia particularly because the activists are mounting a creative legal defense. They seek to portray their actions as protected under the freedom of religion, using the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which allowed the homophobic cake makers to not make a cake for a gay couple. They are seeking to demonstrate their “deeply held religious beliefs” and how the practice of their religion has been burdened by the government’s response to their actions. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act requires the government to take claims of sincere religious exercise seriously.

    Please keep them in thought and prayer.

    Just a few months before they acted, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the clock again — this time to 2 minutes to nuclear midnight, saying, “This is a dangerous time, but the danger is of our own making. Humankind has invented the implements of apocalypse; so can it invent the methods of controlling and eventually eliminating them.”

    The clock has never been closer to nuclear midnight in my lifetime. All the work, all this sacrifice, and the clock keeps moving closer to midnight.

    My mom’s action and extended incarceration pre-trial come as nuclear conflagration seems more likely. Nuclear weapons do not even rate in the list of top 10 fears that Americans are questioned about every year.

    Putin and Trump have shredded the imperfect and imbalanced but nevertheless important fabric of nuclear arms control treaties. Putin claims that Russia is developing a new class of “invincible” nuclear weapons, including a cruise missile that can reach anywhere in the world.

    The Pentagon signaled recently that the United States would begin tests on a couple of types of missiles. And just to make things truly terrifying, Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says that in response to U.S. and Russian actions, China is improving its own nuclear arsenal.

    Searching for signs of hope to counter as a bulwark against these mounting fears, I hold close the work of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, or ICAN. It developed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and is now building a global civil society coalition to promote adherence to and full implementation of the nuclear weapons ban. ICAN received the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize “for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons.” I draw hope from that movement.

    Nuclear weapons ruined my life.

    Previous Coverage
  • Mass mobilization stopped nuclear war before and it can again
  • I am never not thinking about them. Nuclear weapons are present in my most mundane tasks. Nuclear weapons are present in all my major relationships. Every goodbye and hello is freighted with uncertainty.

    They have shaped how I think about time. Nuclear weapons have caused me to honor and treasure the present. They have made the future provisional, muted, not taken for granted. I try to be present to the present and hold the future loosely, but with hope.

    Nuclear weapons ruined my life. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. In fact, I hope they are ruining your life too. Because that is the only way we are going to get rid of them.

    Why desperation could be the key to tackling climate change

    Last October, something strange happened when the United Nations released a report saying we have just 12 years to limit the disastrous effects of climate change: The world paid attention. For a moment, media outlets around the world collectively shared the report’s stark, and frankly terrifying findings that “temperature rise to date has already resulted in profound alterations to human and natural systems,” that climate change happening faster than anyone predicted and — based on everything scientists know — we only have a matter of years to get our act together and right the ship.

    The report sent a shockwave through the climate community and, in a lot of circles, people started freaking out. Former Ontario Environment Minister and lifelong climate incrementalist Glen Murray was one of those people. Taking to Twitter a few weeks after the climate report dropped, he called for a climate revolution.

    “I am down to the dregs of hope on climate change & after decades on the front lines of fighting it, I am taking time to figure out what I can do that is enough to change the course we are on,” he wrote. “It isn’t conventional & it has to be nonviolent but able to generate massive change.”

    His conclusion was that the climate crisis demanded massive civil disobedience and a “revolutionary approach.” He closed his short Twitter essay by saying, “It is not alarmist to pull the fire alarm when your home is on fire.”

    To be clear, this is not normal. Murray is a sort of Canadian version of former California Gov. Jerry Brown or current Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. Both are climate champions, but they have also been adherents to the kind of slow, politically pragmatic approach to climate change that has failed to move politics at the speed or scale of the crisis. Similarly, when Murray was in office, he was a cap-and-trade evangelist. To be sure, the Ontario government did some great things on climate under his watch — ending coal-powered electricity generation for starters — but he was always a politician who stayed squarely within the realm of the “politically possible.”

    What makes Murray’s “awakening” particularly interesting is not that it is so out of character for him. It’s that his freak out about climate change is actually becoming the new normal. As climate impacts rise and the clock ticks down on our window to act, more and more people are starting to subscribe to a kind of “desperate times call for desperate measures” approach to climate action.

    In this way, desperation is starting to define the politics of climate change. While there is a certain danger to this approach — in that it can be used to validate almost any approach to solving, or ignoring, the problem — it also represents a real opportunity. Climate desperation is bringing more attention to climate change, and more urgency to the need to solve it. If handled well, it could be exactly the kind of fire in the belly we need to actually tackle climate change on the timeline we have left.

    Climate desperation

    Climate desperation takes many forms. In the halls of power and punditry it has already moved conversations about mass carbon removal and geoengineering schemes from the science fiction shelf to the world of serious policy consideration. What’s more, it has even brought renewed support for nuclear power as a climate solution, including from notable climate advocates like James Hansen and George Monbiot. Perhaps most terrifying though, it’s led some — like journalist and author David Wallace-Wells — to hypothesize that climate inaction could open the door to a sort of “green fascism” that uses tackling the climate crisis as a means to empower authoritarian despots.

    The heaviest burden of climate desperation is weighing on the shoulders of grassroots climate activists, frontline communities and those living with the urgency and scale of the climate crisis for most of their lives.

    Meanwhile, climate desperation is also making its presence known among climate organizers. Facing down the ticking climate clock, both big green groups and power players in major international institutions are rethinking their incremental approach to climate action. In February, United Nations Secretary-Gen. António Guterres called for an emergency climate summit, declaring that — in his estimation — we only have a year to get the politics of climate moving in the right direction if we want to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold.

    A few months later, Canadian environmentalist Tzeporah Berman declared on Facebook that she was “done with smiling in the face of incrementalism.” It was a rather surprising statement coming from someone who made her bones winning incremental environmental victories like the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement — a forest conservation agreement in British Columbia that protected vast swaths of old growth forest, while giving logging rights to other areas. And, up until recently, she was a member of the Alberta government’s Oil Sands Advisory Group, helping them to craft their 2015 Alberta Climate Leadership Plan. Continuing her mea culpa, she said, “I am done with massaging communications to be ‘positive’ to deny the horror we are facing. I am done with not calling out small measures framed as ‘climate leadership’ when the house is literally on fire.”

    For all the mainstream political and environmental figures waking up to the reality of climate change, however, the heaviest burden of climate desperation is weighing on the shoulders of grassroots climate activists, frontline communities and those living with the urgency and scale of the climate crisis for most of their lives. One such person was David Buckel, a prominent LGBT rights lawyer-turned-environmentalist who doused himself in gasoline and self-immolated in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park last spring. His suicide note read: “My early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves.”

    While Buckel’s suicide may seem like an extreme case of climate desperation, researchers have identified a new mental health crisis — something they’re calling “ecological grief.” According to a recent study in the journal Nature Climate Change, “Unmitigated climate change could result in a combined 9–40 thousand additional suicides across the United States and Mexico by 2050.”

    At the grassroots, climate desperation is also inspiring new movements. Perhaps the clearest example is Extinction Rebellion, the U.K.-rooted campaign that is, essentially, a nonviolent weaponization of climate desperation.

    Extinction Rebellion protesters blocking a London road in November. (Flickr / David Holt)

    Extinction Rebellion, which calls itself XR for short, officially launched in London on October 31, 2018 with its “Declaration of Rebellion” — a call to arms that opens with the clear statement that “this is our darkest hour.”

    XR has rapidly gained significant momentum, organizing large actions in the United Kingdom, as well as sparking a global network of small groups that have taken up their mantel, goals and tactics in at least 14 countries. Despite these advances, however, it’s unclear how far XR’s approach will take them. The issue boils down to the numbers.

    Previous Coverage
  • Participation is everything — a conversation with Erica Chenoweth
  • According to the XR website, its strategy hinges on “mobilizing 3.5 percent of the population to achieve system change” — a threshold drawn from the work of political violence and civil resistance scholar Erica Chenoweth. After analyzing hundreds of campaigns from 1900 to 2006, she determined that “no campaigns failed once they’d achieved the active and sustained participation of just 3.5 percent of the population.”

    The question for XR is whether it can actually meet that number. In the United Kingdom, where XR has had the most success, its largest public action mobilized around 6,000 people, shutting down bridges and snarling traffic throughout London. Outside of the United Kingdom, mobilizations have been far smaller. Make no mistake, organizing thousands of people to engage in civil disobedience is a huge feat, and the active public support for XR is probably at least 3-4 times the number of people actually turning out to risk arrest. Still, the question remains: Can XR close the gap between its current level of support and the 2.3 million people it needs to have 3.5 percent of the U.K. population involved?

    This question is put into starker relief when you consider some of the critiques leveled against XR. Inside and outside the United Kingdom, many have been critical of XR for lacking a clear political agenda, lacking a roadmap to its ambitious goals, and developing a strategy that alienates marginalized communities – all things that many consider critical for building a mass movement on the 3.5 percent scale. Obviously, it will take time to see if these critiques bear out, but — in the meantime — there is another risk we need to consider when talking about weaponizing desperation: What happens if it fails?

    This is not the first time that organizers have used a sense of desperation — and an argument about the failure of conventional politics — to motivate action on a cause. In many social movements, the failure of solutions to come in a timely manner fuels escalation. A lot of the time, this escalation is necessary. But it needs to be done in a considered way that builds power, instills hope and brings large numbers of people along. In other worlds, escalation can’t just be seen as a tactical decision. It needs to be a strategic and intentional one that grows a movement. If it isn’t, organizers risk following a journey that author Jonathan Smucker calls “the story of the righteous few” in his 2016 book “Hegemony How To.”

    Talking about his own activist journey and his time at Occupy Wall Street — a movement that was similar to XR in its massive initial growth — Smucker says “the tendency of the outgunned resister to run headlong, kamikaze-style, into enemy lines is the tendency of someone who wants to be righteous, not of someone who seeks to actually change the world. We must ask ourselves if our intention is to bring about meaningful change, or if it is simply to act out righteous narratives.”

    This doesn’t mean that XR is going to replicate the pitfalls of the “righteous few” that Smucker lays out. Nor is it meant to diminish the important work they’ve done thus far. I only mean to pose the critical question of “What else is needed to turn climate desperation into movement power?”

    One answer? Youth.

    The kids are alright

    On March 15, the largest climate mobilization in history turned 1.6 million people out in cities all around the globe. It wasn’t called by a famous environmentalist. It didn’t happen around a U.N. Summit, and no major environmental organizations — including my own, 350.org — played a major role in pulling it off. It was, fittingly, organized by kids: the people with perhaps the most to lose, and the most to be desperate about, because of climate change.

    Students and youths are well placed to move the kind of active public support Chenoweth’s 3.5 percent rule requires.

    As the most recent crescendo of a growing student climate strike movement — which started with 16-year-old Greta Thunberg staying home from school in Sweden — the March 15 global mobilization demonstrated a different approach to tackling climate desperation. Namely, it promoted hope. I’m not talking about the kind of blind optimism that climate communications professionals peddle as the best response to the climate crisis, but rather a hope much more akin to that found in Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. King was clear that his dream of a better tomorrow was rooted in a nightmarish here and now. The United States needed to rise up to overcome Jim Crow, he explained, because 100 years after the official end of slavery, “the Negro still is not free.”

    For the climate strikers, a similar parable holds true. Despite knowing about the threat of climate change for decades, their future is in worse peril than when Bill McKibben published the first book on climate change for a general audience in 1989. They will, to some degree, now inherit a broken Earth. Their futures will be measurably more difficult and dangerous when they reach my current age of 32. Nevertheless, they are meeting this grim prospect with hope because, quite frankly, to meet it with anything else would be to admit defeat. And, by all accounts, their approach is working.

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    In part, that’s because students and youths are well placed to move the kind of active public support Chenoweth’s 3.5 percent rule requires. In a school, students have teachers and peers. In a family, children have parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.

    Put another way, imagine that 1 million of the 1.6 million people in the streets on March 15 were actually students and children. Then imagine that each one of them inspires one teacher and one family member to take action. The exponential growth potential of this movement is massive and already working. In the wake of the March 15 mobilization, dozens of new groups — like Parents for Future — are popping up to support the young people leading the climate strikes.

    Not only that, this kind of approach has worked in the past.

    During the civil rights movement, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee used a similar approach when organizing the 1964 Freedom Summer campaign. They recruited white students from the North to organize in Jim Crow Mississippi with the specific hope that they would activate their parents and social networks back home. In the end, their strategy helped to activate a political force in the northern United States that would prove critical in winning major civil rights victories.

    Nevertheless, the student strikes — while scaling active public support faster than XR has done thus far — still have some of the same challenges as XR: notably, the lack of a clear strategic pathway to meet their goals of rapid and drastic emissions cuts.

    Previous Coverage
  • 3 ways Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats are changing what is winnable
  • How young activists turned the old idea of a Green New Deal into a powerful movement
  • Thankfully, another youth-led climate project, the Sunrise Movement, might just have the answer to how we do that. In the United States, Sunrise has taken the idea for a World War II-scale economic and social mobilization to tackle climate change — called a Green New Deal — off of the op-ed pages and onto the political agenda. In a matter of months, the Green New Deal has gone from a policy report to a resolution to something that nearly every major Democratic presidential hopeful for 2020 has endorsed.

    Like Extinction Rebellion and the climate strike, Sunrise has also moved the conversation about climate change as an emergency. What’s more, their organizing around the Green New Deal has had even more of an impact when it comes to moving the mainstream media and forcing pundits — who a few months ago would barely mention climate change — to argue in favor of treating it like an emergency. Although Sunrise hasn’t organized mass action in the manner of the climate strike, or XR, they are activating another critical form of active public support, namely voters.

    Polling in the United States suggests that a Green New Deal is a winning political issue. It can turn out millennials — the largest potential voting bloc in the next election — and win over Independents and Republicans. In fact, it’s already shaping up to be one of the biggest issues in the critical Democratic primaries in Iowa, where “65 percent [of caucus goers] favor a candidate who supports the Green New Deal in full and 26 percent favor approaching it in part.”

    This is important because, as Mark Engler and Paul Engler outline in their 2016 book “This Is an Uprising,” active public support under the 3.5 percent rule can be measured by people showing up at events, persuading others to join the cause, acting independently within their sphere of influence and, critically, “voting with the movement.”

    We won’t really know how close Sunrise and others rallying around the Green New Deal are to the 3.5 percent threshold until maybe 2020, but the speed and scale at which they’ve built massive active public support can be instructive.

    The way forward

    If you accept Erica Chenoweth’s research, which is by all accounts pretty unimpeachable, we would need to mobilize 3.5 percent of the global population to facilitate a kind of “climate revolution” that meets the scale of this crisis. That means of the 7.7 billion people on the planet we need 265 million in the “active public support” category.

    At first blush, that’s a terrifying number. Remember that the recent student strikes — the largest day of global action on climate change in history — turned out 1.6 million people, which is a full 264 million shy of the global 3.5 percent threshold.

    Still, closing that gap isn’t impossible. First, remember that turning out to protests is only one measure of active public support, and it’s likely that active public support is significantly higher than 1.6 million. But even at 10 times that, it’s still a long ways to go. So, we need to start thinking strategically, and one way to do that is through an organizing tool that the Sunrise Movement calls a “political alignment.”

    Protesters march with signs along Market Street during the San Francisco Youth Climate Strike on March 15. (Wikimedia / Intothewoods7)

    Drawing heavily from Smucker’s “Hegemony How-To,” Sunrise argues that the re-ordering of U.S. politics that happened under Ronald Reagan is the underlying political barrier to climate action in America. The vast array of right-wing institutions, movements and social actors that came together to form a political alignment — called the Reagan alignment — instituted sweeping political and social changes that fundamentally undermined the ability of the U.S. government to mobilize massive economic and social intervention for the public good. Journalist and author Naomi Klein makes a similar argument in her book “This Changes Everything,” detailing how the rise of neoliberal capitalism created the climate crisis as it is today — making it the biggest barrier to action.

    If you accept this, you also have to remember that the Reagan alignment, alongside its mirror image in the United Kingdom — Thatcherism — had global influence. Countries like Canada, where I live, were already friendly toward free market capitalism. So it was easy for them to embrace neoliberalism and translate it into their own localized versions.

    In Canada, it was the maple-tinged reforms brought in over a decade of both Liberal and Conservative rule under Prime Ministers Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney and Paul Martin. The result, among other things, was the privatization of previously state-owned fossil fuel companies — something that makes it measurably more difficult today to stop the expansion of Canada’s tar sands industry.

    If the same few powerful countries that adopted Reaganism and Thatcherism were to come together into a new climate alignment, they might change the world for good this time.

    Elsewhere, in countries that resisted global neoliberalism, governments and people were met with economic, military and paramilitary force to either bring about their capitulation, or install governments friendly to the cause.

    Given this historical analysis, Sunrise argues mobilizing the mass state intervention needed to tackle climate change in the United States requires a sort of anti-Reagan, new left political alignment pushing for a Green New Deal. But, it’s not just that this alignment needs to emerge, it also needs to become what they call the “dominant alignment” by garnering a critical amount of public support and taking political power at every level. Through this, the institutions needed to tackle climate change can be cranked up into a “World War II style mobilization,” referencing the last time most Western nations directed their economies to tackle a specific challenge.

    Taken globally, this argument actually translates really well. If the rise of neoliberal capitalism in the 1980s has hamstrung our governments from taking necessary action, then the emergence, and organizing to dominance, of a new climate-centered global political alignment could be our best chance at actually tackling climate change. To put it another way, if the same few powerful countries that adopted Reaganism and Thatcherism were to come together into a new climate alignment, they might change the world for good this time.

    Using this lens, maybe we don’t need to mobilize 265 million people, but rather we only need to mobilize 3.5 percent of the population of a critical alignment of nations. But, which ones?

    The map

    Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple answer. There isn’t a magic formula for how this could happen, but if we use the Reagan alignment as a starting point, we can make a few assertions.

    First, a global climate realignment will have to include the world’s biggest emitters. That means the United States, Russia, China and India. While it’s true that the United States’ sphere of influence has shrunk since the 1980s, it remains one of the most influential global players and, when it comes to climate change, is still among the world’s top polluters. It’s also home to the largest coal reserves on the planet.

    Russia, China and India would also need internal climate realignments. As the world’s other top three emitters — and also home to some of the largest coal and gas deposits on the planet — a global climate realignment would require massive economic shifts in these countries. That is, of course, no small feat.

    Next, a global climate alignment would need to including the world’s biggest bankers, and countries that are home to some of the world’s most polluting banks and corporations. We know that just 100 companies are responsible for 71 percent of emissions. So, building a global economic realignment on climate change also means that we’ll need countries to tackle the outsized climate impact of their corporate sectors — regulating finance in a way that cuts off the flows of finance to massive fossil fuel projects, especially from the Global North to the Global South.

    One country that falls in this category is the United Kingdom, which — despite its flagging political influence — still plays a major role in global affairs. With few fossil fuel reserves to speak of, and decent domestic climate policy, one of the United Kingdom’s major roles in driving climate change is actually as the home base for banks and corporations funding the climate crisis. Tackling this in a country like the United Kingdom, and cutting off the flow of funds, would be a critical piece of a global climate realignment.

    The third piece of the puzzle would be countries that are home to some of the planet’s largest fossil fuel reserves. Take Canada for example. With a relatively tiny population, my country’s emissions are important, but nowhere near those of the world’s biggest emitters. Still, as the home of the world’s third largest oil reserve and 10th largest coal reserve, our per-capita emissions and exported emissions are massive.

    Climate solutions in the South Pacific can leapfrog fossil fuels and their resiliency in the face of increasing climate impacts can chart the path for living in a climate-changed world.

    For a global climate realignment to take hold, countries like Canada would need to leave their coal, oil and gas in the ground. Such a move would not only contribute to emissions reductions, but also constrain the fossil fuel supply and send a critical global signal that governments are accepting the science that tells us we need to get off of fossil fuels.

    Australia is in a similar position to Canada, in that it has the world’s fourth largest coal reserve, along with a similar population and political situation. Other major producers, like the OPEC oil majors or Venezuela and Nigeria, would obviously be different, requiring a very different flavor of mass political movement, and possibly more dramatic changes in government. So, too, would coal-rich European nations like Germany and Ukraine, along with fracking hotbeds like Argentina, Brazil and South Africa. But cutting off these fossil fuel reserves — and creating a global consensus around the need to keep fossil fuels in the ground — would be necessary for a global climate re-alignment.

    (Flickr / Takver)

    The final aspect of a new global climate alignment would be transformation leaders. While the current global climate map has been drawn by the fossil fuel economy, the same places where oil, coal and gas lie underground are not necessary those places where the wind blows strongest or the sun shines brightest. Part of a global climate realignment would need to be driven by nations in places like the South Pacific, where climate solutions can leapfrog fossil fuels and resiliency in the face of increasing climate impacts can chart the path for living in a climate changed world.

    When you add it all up, it’s a daunting equation. And there are, quite frankly, probably hundreds of ways it could actually play out. But that’s actually a good thing because if there was only one specific recipe for putting the perfect mix of governments together into a new climate alignment, this would feel like far more of a long shot. Instead, we can think of a climate realignment as a kind of alchemy that would start a series of chain reactions, as mass movements push enough emitters, producers, bankers and transformation leaders into a new global alignment.

    This is where organizing comes in

    Building a new global climate alignment will require a new kind of climate people power. Movements around the world will need to start wining and taking power in their own communities, regions and countries on a scale we have yet to see. The emergence of new trends like Extinction Rebellion, student strikes and the rise of the Green New Deal are signs that this new power is beginning to develop.

    Of course, it will take a lot more than what we’re currently seeing. Alongside the student strike and Sunrise Movement, we’ll need land-defense campaigns, indigenous risings, mass mobilizations, game-changing politicians and economic transformation movements working in concert towards a new global political alignment.

    It will also take things that we haven’t seen before in the climate movement: laws that stop the flow of fossil capital from centers of wealth in the Global North to extraction projects in the Global South; mass uprisings, challenging and toppling despotic fossil fuel barons; and political campaigns on climate that build enough support to actually win power at every level of government. We’ll also need regional alliances linking the frontline transformation leaders with challenger movements fighting the bankers, emitters and producers in their countries.

    Perhaps most of all, though, it’s going to take hope. And that’s what thinking about a new global climate alignment — and understanding Chenoweth’s 3.5 percent principle — can help us articulate.

    The more dire climate change becomes, the more people are going to start grasping for solutions. If movements want to provide those solutions, we need to be able to articulate a vision for a global people-powered climate revolution that overcomes desperation. If we can’t do that, we open the door to dangerous ideas like planet-hacking geo-engineering or authoritarian eco-facism. More than that, we’re going to miss what might be our last chance to put up the fight we need to save this planet.

    Why direct action campaigns are the best way to empower yourself and others

    Self-care is a growing trend worth celebrating. Whether it’s taking unlearning racism workshops, doing yoga, enrolling in courses, engaging in spiritual practices or simply eating healthy — millions of people are now devoting time and energy to strengthening themselves in some way.

    At the same time, people are aware that political, economic and environmental issues hugely influence their present and future. The American Psychological Association reports that a majority of Americans from both political parties feel stressed about the future of the nation.

    The activist option exists, but trying to add activism on top of everything else people do can seem impossible. And giving up practices supporting personal well-being to plunge into activism may look like a recipe for burn-out.

    That’s one reason for many to confine themselves to the occasional protest or rally, even though one-off protests have little chance of forcing change over the opposition of the powerholders.

    The direct action campaign as a structure for personal empowerment

    Campaigns are far more powerful in bringing change than one-off protests. A campaign offers a series of actions over time that often escalate and grow in numbers until victory is won. While some campaigns are invitations to burn-out, others create a container that deliberately supports the campaigners to grow in their personal capacity and power.

    Earth Quaker Action Team, or EQAT, intentionally chooses practices that empower its members. That’s how it sustained one campaign over five years, to force the seventh-largest bank in the United States to give up financing mountaintop removal coal mining.

    Previous Coverage
  • How a small Quaker group forced PNC Bank to stop financing mountaintop removal
  • In EQAT, new campaigners are encouraged to participate in task groups that organize actions, but they join a task group only as often as it’s realistic for them as they balance the rest of their lives. They receive support to learn how to play empowering roles that carry out the actions, such as media liaison, police liaison and logistics coordinator. Practices like group singing and meditation enrich members personally, as well as build their capacity for solidarity.

    All campaigners are encouraged to participate in internal workshops like dealing with racism and reaching out to the unconvinced. Campaign workshops can go deeper than external learning because attendees are with their comrades, reinforcing each other.

    All campaigners are encouraged to ask themselves to identify a growth edge and to challenge themselves to go to that edge. The cultural norm of being “on your edge” supports equality among activists who vary greatly in terms of how much experience they have: Everyone (including the author) has a growth edge and a 19-year-old can ask, “George, in this action coming up, what’s your edge?”

    Campaigning groups that provide a container for personal empowerment attract young people. The practices help to ground them at a political moment when turbulence is everywhere. I noticed when Donald Trump was elected U.S. president that many friends and acquaintances were shaken up, and continued to obsess about the latest tweet and revelation. I looked for shakiness in EQAT but found instead a centered organization moving smoothly along in its new climate, economic and racial justice campaign. Empowering practices matter and can be found in my new book, “How We Win: A Guide to Nonviolent Direct Action Campaigning.”

    A dramatic example from the civil rights movement

    Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee leader Charles Jones told me this story from a hard-fought North Carolina sit-in campaign in 1960. Jones was student body president at Johnson C. Smith University, a historically-black institution in Charlotte, not far from Greensboro where the Feb. 1 sit-in ignited the lunch counter desegregation movement.

    Jones knew that students at his school would want to do a campaign, but he worried about the “big man on campus.” That student was a prominent football player who had chased white teenagers away when they tried to disrupt a college dance. Jones knew the athlete would want to join the sit-in, but doubted his ability to maintain nonviolent discipline.

    Before Feb. 9, the Charlotte campaign’s first day, Jones met with the footballer and questioned his ability to meet the challenge. The student insisted that he could do what the others were going to do.

    On the first day, the athlete managed to contain himself when the students were harassed by white people while police looked the other way. Jones told me the athlete gripped the sides of his lunch counter stool, by sheer force of will restraining himself from flattening a couple of the white supremacists.

    Many people in the civil rights movement surprised themselves when they learned how courageous and powerful they could be.

    The next day, however, the athlete noticed that the students to his right and left were not finding it as hard to deal with white harassment as he was. He began to pay attention to the nightly trainings back on campus, which included roleplays and singing led by black pastors. He began to change.

    A few weeks later he met a new challenge. Into the lunch counter came a white woman who had apparently not seen with her own eyes black students sitting “where only white people should be.”

    The woman became hysterical. She targeted the athlete — the largest student — and screamed a torrent of abuse, then pushed him sideways off the stool.

    He landed hard, took a moment to pull himself together, got up calmly. Noticing a sign blocking an aisle leading to the exit, he moved it aside with a nod of his head indicating she could pass.

    She dissolved into tears and was led out of the store by her friend. Two weeks later she joined a white women’s solidarity group in support of the sit-in.

    Charlie Jones told me the story to indicate the transformation that the athlete had gone through. The heat of the battle, support of his peers, and nightly trainings combined to bring him to a point of flexibility, grace and power in the face of hostile attack.

    Such large change in a short period of time is not to be expected as the norm — the athlete had the heart of a great warrior, apparently — but many people in the civil rights movement surprised themselves when they learned how courageous and powerful they could be.

    As our country continues to heat up, with increased polarization and violence, leaders will be wise to let go of one-off protests, organize direct action campaigns and intentionally use the campaigns’ capacity to empower their members. Grace under fire is as valuable in nonviolent struggle as it is in the army. We need that courage and power now.

    What Black Lives Matter activists can teach us about the pitfalls and potential of digital organizing

    According to a recent Economist article, police monitoring of social media as a way of surveilling activists is now commonplace. Given the publicly accessible nature of social media, that should come as no surprise. However, it raises clear questions about the effectiveness of using digital platforms as primary organizing spaces, even while social media has provided important platforms for activists to broaden their reach and impact.

    As researchers exploring the potential of social movements to scale the impact of their work, we recently interviewed 11 Black Lives Matter, or BLM, social media page administrators across the United States. Their responses provided us with insights into the potential challenges of using social media to scale grassroots activism work. Overall, these activists (who agreed to be interviewed on the condition that they remain anonymous) see the role of social media as positive, but they emphasize a number of challenges that digital organizing can create. In particular, their responses highlight the maintenance costs created by social media — due to the time it takes to respond to posts that co-opt or challenge their message — and security risks that arise for those who have an active online presence. However, we also found that activists have clear strategies in place to address these issues.

    Maintenance costs

    One significant challenge BLM activists noted with respect to their online work is addressing the tension between being inclusive and remaining on message. On the one hand, a large following is a way of amplifying groups’ narratives and making sure that information about events and campaigns is widely disseminated. On the other hand, the larger the group, the more likely it is that followers or group members will actively try to disrupt that message. Indeed, several activists with whom we spoke noted that those opposing BLM’s message target BLM group media platforms in order to divert attention away from their cause. One group administrator explained, “social media gives everyone a chance to have an opinion about what you do and don’t do.” Another group administrator noted that counter-messages were a particular issue in social media spaces, saying, “When we first started this Facebook group, we spent a lot of our lives online arguing with people — painful argument after painful argument, with folks popping up [with] a knee-jerk response, often racist, about groups mobilizing around racial justice.”

    As activists noted, the same social media platforms that create possibilities for widely disseminating movement messages also limit the possibilities for activists to fully control who is, or is not, part of the movement.

    For Black Lives Matter activists, much of this trolling occurs as a way of trying to shut down the conversation, often in the form of comments related to the counter-movement #AllLivesMatter or #BlueLivesMatter. As one administrator noted, All Lives Matter was often used as a way of saying, “Shut up.”

    How activists deal with these comments varies by group, but in general group administrators agreed that it is necessary to constantly monitor online spaces, which in turn diverts resources away from amplifying the movement’s central messages. In fact, BLM group administrators spoke to the immense amount of time they dedicate to moderating their online social media profiles, in large part to stay on the defensive front against unsavory narratives or outright criticism. Some groups take preventative measures such as closing groups to followers only or requiring administrative review before accepting new members. However, these approaches ultimately limit public accessibility and the potential for reaching a broader audience.

    A related issue is the “ideological blurring” that can occur as a result of organizing in the social media sphere. As activists noted, the same social media platforms that create possibilities for widely disseminating movement messages also limit the possibilities for activists to fully control who is, or is not, part of the movement. This is especially true with decentralized movements like Black Lives Matter: Even among groups that support the values BLM promotes, not all fit neatly into the movement — either in terms of their focus or level of engagement with advocacy and direct action addressing systemic injustices against black lives.

    For example, two group administrators we interviewed were white women in solidarity with the movement, but otherwise unaffiliated with BLM or the Movement for Black Lives. The primary focus of these two groups is fostering understanding and awareness of police violence and structural racism amongst (primarily) white followers. The groups were notable in that they have no on-the-ground organizing component: They exist solely online as platforms for discussions. Yet, these groups consciously used “Black Lives Matter” as a framing symbol, thus demonstrating how the name can be applied to many types of initiatives that may not fully align with the movement’s central platform. In fact, one of the administrators we interviewed explained, “We are not an official group and have no connection to any other group. Probably, we shouldn’t even call ourselves Black Lives Matter.”

    Our research ultimately suggests that in a decentralized movement such as BLM, the catchiness of the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag may constrain impact by broadening the range of issues included under the BLM umbrella and leading to the use of content and symbols in unanticipated ways.

    Risks to activists

    Events such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal involving Facebook data use leading up to the 2016 U.S. elections illustrate the potential for data collected through social media platforms to be exploited and potentially used in insidious ways. Moreover, social media platforms play a significant role in silencing activists by shutting down sites or banning individual users. These challenges exist for Black Lives Matter social media administrators too. In one of our interviews, the administrator shared that he had multiple pages as back-ups ready to launch when his main page was occasionally shut down.

    Beyond these potential constraints on using digital platforms to amplify their voices, activists using social media face very real security risks, including the risk of physical harm. We know that activists in general are at risk of verbal or physical attacks from opposition parties or authorities. However, online activism via social media broadens the risk to 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In an age where the lines between public and private life are regularly blurred, online movement or group administrators can easily be tracked down at home or in their local neighborhoods should someone wish to take spite.

    Among the BLM activists we spoke with, several mentioned that they constantly feel a sensation of being watched, not only by individuals opposed to the Black Lives Matter movement but also by state and state-sanctioned groups. For instance, one activist told us, “I made a Facebook event for a vigil we held for [police shooting victim] Terence Crutcher. Literally three minutes later I got a call from [the local] FBI branch.” Another group administrator noted, “The police use social media a lot to stalk and look at you. So you know that you are not alone.”

    Activists also noted the possibly of recognition by members of the public at large and the threat that this posed. One individual told us about receiving death threats. Because of their work with Black Lives Matter, another activist pointed out, “Your private life is completely out the window. People are legit starting to recognize us now. It’s just like, it’s gotten to the sense of celebrity, more than ever … We don’t use our real names … But somehow people figure out our entire names and everything about us.”

    A few activists also noted that recognition was not only a personal security risk, but also a risk in terms of job security. For some of these activists, in other words, online activism and its associated challenges created risks to personal security as well as to their livelihoods. This can be countered to some extent by using pseudonymous accounts, but activists are no more immune to doxxing than are journalists or other digital platform users who have been targeted.

    Lessons for social media activism

    The perspectives of BLM activists administering social media pages offer a better understanding of the tradeoffs between relying on social media platforms for organizing and the potential risks that are associated with social media use. Just as importantly, however, they also suggest important implications for other movements seeking to scale their movements online. In particular, the experiences of BLM activists illustrate that use of social media often requires investing significant resources in order to counter trolls or those challenging the movement. Social media use can also significantly exacerbate physical risks already associated with nonviolent civil disobedience and activism.

    Therefore, activists should have strategies in place for minimizing risk. For starters, activists should be prepared to invest time and energy in conserving core messages against counter-narratives. Secondly, they should regularly monitor social media platforms to block trolls or to counter/report threats to limit the potential risks posed to movement activists with a high-profile social media presence. Finally, activists should consider the possibility of using “closed” or “secret” groups, which can provide some measure of safety. But they also need to be aware of the tradeoffs in doing so, in terms of minimizing some of the beneficial opportunities for message control and dissemination, accessing resources, and building coalitions.

    Despite these challenges, the BLM activists we interviewed indicated that the positives of social media use outweigh the negatives. Indeed, the educational dimension of social media platforms cannot be understated. As one group administrator noted, when “we connect on social media and we pick sides … we don’t need to read books to get up to speed on things I [used to have to] sit in a classroom to discover.” Instead, social media provides the opportunity for activists to learn about legal theory and strategies for nonviolence — key organizing tools that might not be accessible otherwise.

    Waging Nonviolence marks 10 years of publication with new website and community model

    Today, we are unveiling a fresh new look on Waging Nonviolence. Even more importantly, we’re also launching a new approach to the way we cover movements. In short, Waging Nonviolence is now a platform for movement media. We will continue to publish the in-depth news and analysis you’ve come to expect from us, but we have also added a new community section where peace and justice organizations — as well as university research centers — will share their perspectives and stories. With all of our voices on a shared media platform, we’re confident that the sum of our parts will produce a more powerful message than any of our individual efforts.

    Before we introduce you to the new members of our community and explain some of the other new site features, we’d like to tell you a bit about how we got to this point.

    It was 10 years ago when three young writers and activists launched Waging Nonviolence. At the time, we noticed a dearth of reporting on nonviolent action. So, we thought, “Why not start a blog?” It was 2009, after all — that’s what you did when you saw a gap in media coverage.

    As we quickly discovered, running a publication was no small endeavor. If we wanted to reach beyond our limited knowledge and experience, we realized we needed to seek other voices. We slowly shifted from writing to editing, and began working with journalists and activists all over the world. Things snowballed, we received some seed funding, and in time we built a diverse network of over 450 contributors from more than 80 countries. In the decade since our debut, we have published over 3,500 articles, podcasts and videos offering original reporting and analysis from the frontlines of change.

    We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished. But there have also been many challenges, particularly the constant pressures of fundraising and new obstacles to reaching our audience from gatekeepers like Facebook and Google. At the same time, we’ve also observed a notable decline in other sources of movement media, as once-leading historic nonviolence publications have either shut down or scaled back in recent years.

    Recognizing the strength in working together, we saw an opportunity to use Waging Nonviolence as a space to make movement media stronger at this crucial political moment. So, we developed the platform model you can now see under our “Community” section. As of today, there are three active community members: The Fellowship of Reconciliation, Campaign Nonviolence and Metta Center for Nonviolence. In the coming weeks, four more will be joining their ranks: War Resisters League and three universities (Rutgers-Newark’s International Institute for Peace, UMass Amherst’s Resistance Studies Initiative and Juniata College’s Baker Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies).

    Each member is a leader in our field — be it through organizing, culture shifting or research — and we’re proud to be working with them.

    As dues-paying members of the Waging Nonviolence community, these organizations are entitled to a number of services, including their own dedicated page, the ability to publish their own content and receive some editorial support. That being said, the views they express are their own. This is what makes Waging Nonviolence a platform for movement media: it hosts a multitude of voices and perspectives, united by their interest in issues of peace and justice.

    To learn more about our community membership program, check out this explainer.

    As for other new features on the site, our new archive easily sorts the last decade of Waging Nonviolence content, serving as an aid to researchers and a resource to today’s organizers. A new section called WNV Top Reads will highlight our favorite movement-related stories from around the web, reviving an old feature on the site. We also have a new approach to privacy that prioritizes the security and anonymity of our readers, who can use the site without revealing any personal information.

    As always, our content remains free of charge and without any kind of paywall. It also falls under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license, which means anyone can republish Waging Nonviolence stories — and many have over past decade, including The Guardian, The Nation, In These Times, Salon, Huffington Post, Yes! Magazine and openDemocracy. To learn more about how to republish stories from our site, visit our terms of use.

    Over the next year, we plan to continue growing the platform with more community members, while also rolling out new features, like a podcast network and expanded video content.

    In sum, the launch of this new site, has us feeling extremely positive about the future of movement media. And with the explosion of activism around the world over the last few years, it couldn’t come at a better time.
    But it couldn’t have come without all the people who have helped us along the way: our new community members, our contributors, our advisors, our funders, sustaining members and anyone who has ever donated or shared our stories over the years. We never could have made it to 10 years without that kind of dedicated support.

    The post Waging Nonviolence marks 10 years of publication with new website and community model appeared first on Waging Nonviolence.

    3 ways Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats are changing what is winnable

    A week after the midterm elections, 200 activists from the Sunrise Movement occupied Sen. Nancy Pelosi’s office with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to demand a Green New Deal. It came at just the right time, as the 24-hour news cycle made this bold proposal — advanced by a new generation of the climate movement and the Democratic Party — the next big story. The visionary urgency of the new guard contrasted powerfully with the plodding pace of the old guard, especially as Pelosi’s office showed no signs of major proposals a week after winning a new majority in the Senate. Since then, the Green New Deal has shaped the terms of debate around climate change — while also calling into question the old guard’s ability to contend with it.

    For those of us on the left who have lived decades of our political lives in a defensive crouch, it is exhilarating beyond words to watch the new guard stand up straight and go on the offensive. But the media, unable to distinguish between historical happenstance and brilliant organizing, won’t identify the lessons — and choices — of this era for us. To do that, we must look beyond the faces of the new guard, like Ocasio-Cortez, to learn from the two groups driving the Green New Deal and, with it, a realignment of the Democratic Party: Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats.

    Previous Coverage
  • How young activists turned the old idea of a Green New Deal into a powerful movement
  • Sunrise relies primarily on an “outside strategy.” According to their website, they are “building an army of young people to stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process.” By contrast, Justice Democrats relies primarily on an “inside strategy” to take over the Democratic Party with, in their own words, “a new generation of diverse, working-class leaders.”

    But this is not a traditional “inside/outside strategy,” which often dilutes disruptive outsider organizing and turns it into little more than transactional grassroots lobbying. Instead, Sunrise and Justice Democrats embrace disruption, conflict, and polarization as a means of creating political will where it has been sorely lacking — and as necessary features of democracy itself.

    In short, Sunrise and Justice Democrats are reshaping the political landscape and what grassroots organizing looks like in the United States. Here are three key ways they’re changing the game:

    1. Sunrise and Justice Democrats are movement organizations, which means their primary target is the public — not decision-makers. Both groups are focused on moving the base out from under the politicians who perpetuate the status quo, instead of focusing exclusively on moving politicians themselves. Politicians still have the same instrumental role they’ve always had: making policy. That is why Sunrise partnered with Ocasio-Cortez to write and introduce the Green New Deal resolution. It’s also why Justice Democrats launched her campaign in the first place. But politicians are even more important here as spokespeople galvanizing the public around a new common sense.

    Changing the common sense is at the heart of their strategy to change what is winnable

    Drawing on lessons from civil resistance movements around the world,  Sunrise and Justice Democrats understand that popular support is essential for creating political will. (By way of full disclosure, many of the strategists in these groups are also active leaders in the Momentum community, of which I’m the executive director.) Both groups know that popular support must go beyond public awareness to become sustained participation in the form of voting, donating and disrupting the status quo. For Sunrise, this has meant absorbing thousands of new members over the last few months, training them up, and turning them out for a new wave of public-facing actions. For Justice Democrats, this has involved backing insurgent candidates popular enough to garner millions of votes and then supporting them, once elected, to disrupt business as usual over and over again.

    A movement orientation, in turn, impacts how these groups understand victory. While their goals are, respectively, to pass a Green New Deal and to elect a left flank of the Democratic Party, they are equally focused on changing the common sense of the American people themselves, as movements like Occupy and candidacies like that of Bernie Sanders did. It is not quite accurate to say that building popular support is simply a step on the path to more instrumental wins, such as passing a Green New Deal, because changing the common sense often makes much more than a single policy reform possible. Changing the common sense — and turning that into organized political leverage — is at the heart of their strategy to change what is winnable instead of accepting whatever paltry solutions are on offer from the old guard.

    2. They are building a different kind of coalition. Traditional grassroots coalitions rely on the premise that if we can bring several organizations together around a single goal, we can create adequate leverage to pass significant reforms. For instance, if you have 10 organizations working on a campaign to increase the minimum wage, and each organization has 100 active leaders with the capacity to knock on 10,000 doors, obtain 6,000 petition signatures, and mobilize 500 people to an action, the coalition can collectively knock on 100,000 doors, get 60,000 petition signatures, and mobilize 5,000 people to an action. An assessment of those numbers will in turn shape what the coalition believes is winnable, and therefore the campaign demand: For instance, the coalition may assess that they have the leverage to raise the minimum wage from $10 per hour to $13 per hour — but not to $15 per hour (either by ballot measure or by legislative process).

    The limitations of the traditional grassroots coalition is that the size (and tactics) of the base determine, in large part, what the campaign can demand and win — and even with a combined base, those wins can be modest. Many coalitions who have run these kinds of campaigns for decades have assumed that eventually these modest reforms would incrementally add up to something larger. The Sunrise Movement recognized that there was no guarantee of that, and certainly not on the timeline needed to stop climate change.

    Having a big demand makes it much easier to organize millions of people who aren’t yet organized

    Sunrise and Justice Democrats’ model of a campaign coalition instead takes its cue from the likes of Podemos, an insurgent political party in Spain. Their leaders realized that even if the Spanish left were to add up the bases of all its organizations, it still wouldn’t have enough leverage to win the kinds of reforms that are truly necessary. As a consequence of this insight, Podemos decided to frame its platform in terms that would appeal broadly to the Spanish people and their lived concerns, instead of speaking in the left/right shorthand of political affiliations.

    To win a Green New Deal and a realignment of the Democratic Party, Sunrise and Justice Democrats determined that they would need to organize the millions of people who aren’t yet organized. Ironically, having a big demand — like the Green New Deal — makes it much easier to do this than a more modest demand like cap-and-trade legislation. Both Sunrise and Justice Democrats are energizing broad swathes of the public and converting that energy into new capacity for their campaigns. While Sunrise publicly declares that anyone who wants to join their movement has a place in it, Justice Democrats is more selective — giving priority to working-class people of color as their candidates and campaign managers. Either way, both groups are working to build a coalition of the public — young people, people of color, working-class people and women — instead of a coalition of organizations representing tiny fractions of those demographics. In the process, they invite us to imagine what the American left could achieve with a similar orientation.

    3. They studied the changing political landscape and changed their organizing strategy accordingly. Through extended research and planning, leaders in Sunrise and Justice Democrats saw that democratic capitalism was undergoing a crisis throughout the West. In the U.S. context, they saw partisan polarization at a record high, and faith in public institutions at a record low. They also saw that in a two-party system, both parties are barely coherent aggregations of different interest groups.

    Obama’s 2008 election, Bernie Sanders’ popularity, and finally Trump’s victory decisively proved that the U.S. government was undergoing a crisis of legitimacy and that the public now had a preference for populist candidates. In spite of the media’s constant harping on the divide between “liberals” and “conservatives,” Sunrise and Justice Democrats — among many other brilliant organizers and theorists, such as Jonathan Matthew Smucker — saw that the real conflict was between the people and the establishment. The open question for this era, therefore, is what party will be the party of the people that can credibly claim to represent the 99 percent?

    With the Republican party offering a reactionary populism that reduces the American people to white Christian men, the Democratic party appears to be the only possible vehicle for representing, in government, the interests of the entire working-class, people of color, women and everyone else excluded from original access to American democracy.

    If climate change requires precisely that kind of coalition — and a realignment of the Democratic Party — to make sweeping reforms sooner rather than later, then Sunrise and Justice Democrats would catalyze it and work to reshape the meaning of American democracy in the process.

    This has real implications for democracy as we know it: If this new generation manages to transform the ruling bargain such that our political parties are not warring clans of elites, but instead populated and led by the people, the United States will be among very few democracies in the world to achieve such a feat. To this day, very few liberal democracies are governed by working-class people.

    As the media never ceases to remind us, it is too soon to say precisely what Sunrise and Justice Democrats will win in their efforts to stop climate change or realign the Democratic Party. However, what is crystal clear already — and more relevant to strategists than journalists — is that the Green New Deal is not the only sweeping reform possible. Justice Democrats provides its candidates and officials with a policy platform that includes other visionary policies, such as a living wage, free higher education, abolishing ICE and Medicare For All.

    The new guard has created an opening for movements on a range of issues to dust off our biggest demands and translate them into a platform that can be stumped on, debated and popularized in the coming years. We are no longer in an era where we have to settle for what the establishment says is winnable. Whether we, on the left, seize that opportunity and shape the realignment already underway, is up to us.

    The post 3 ways Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats are changing what is winnable appeared first on Waging Nonviolence.

    Prospects for revolution in Africa’s 54 countries

    A lot has changed since I arrived in Uganda in 2009. At that time, mass mobilization for political goals was far more abnormal in Uganda.

    For those of us in the struggle against authoritarianism, it is only natural to dwell on the long distance we must still travel to victory. We see the goal still ahead of us — a dictator’s removal or a war that must end — but we rarely look behind to celebrate how far we’ve come.

    Even just two years ago, I would’ve hesitated to assert that Ugandans had begun to coalesce their power. It was the same handful of activists and disorganized, strategy-less opposition parties making noise at press conferences. In October 2017, however, all hell broke loose as dictator Yoweri Museveni orchestrated an amendment to the constitution, prolonging his three-decade reign. Parliamentary proceedings looked more like a WWE special, as legislators brawled with chairs and military personnel infiltrated their proceedings, along with the offices of progressive organizations throughout the country.

    Despite the crackdown, Ugandans in every region of the country pushed back. It was the first leaderless, well-dispersed emergence of anger-begetting-action I had witnessed in Uganda. Conflict between citizens and the state continues to rise as ghetto-raised Rasta star Bobi Wine goes head-to-head with Museveni, mobilizing urbanites for nonviolent resistance. If his campaign team can get beyond the city context they know well and establish a well-coordinated network of rural organizers, 2019 could set him up to take power from Museveni’s grip.

    I have hope for the year ahead of Africa. It began with unions in Sudan and Zimbabwe putting old and new authoritarian regimes respectively to the test. Togo stands on the brink of ending a half-century of family rule, and Algerians continue to flood the streets against their despot, who was just forced to concede his candidacy for a fifth term. Anti-government protests in Ethiopia have pushed a traditionally regressive regime into taking steps toward democracy, which its new leaders are doing.

    Of course, it wouldn’t be wise to be purely optimistic. Fascism is on the rise in the southern world as much as it is in the north. The following overview of national political situations shows just how promising, if not turbulent, the rest of 2019 may be.

    Horn of Africa

    There is perhaps no better place to start than Ethiopia: the place where humanity (arguably) began. This birthplace of civilizations, religions and many African peoples who have migrated the continent has also boasted a more modern tradition: minority rule. The early 1990s saw the rise of a Tigray minority that took control of the government and suppressed even the most modest forms of dissent for nearly three decades. Human rights organizations, for example, were not permitted to exist in Ethiopia. Last April, however, new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took power following a long bout of protests by the Oromo people and others yearning for political change.

    “Ahmed is pushing reforms faster than anyone has anticipated,” said Ethiopian journalist and activist Eden Sahle. “Even more impressive is his ability to serve as a role model and articulate his vision of wiping out the extreme ethnonationalism through compassion and democracy.” There is a sense of possibility that has swept Ethiopia for the first time in the lives of young people. Already the Ethiopian government has taken progressive measures against foreign investors. In October, the first female president of the country was installed. Ethiopia is one African nation with massive potential in 2019.

    The rest of the Horn of Africa looks more bleak. Djibouti — home to the only permanent U.S. military base in Africa — has no legally instituted independent media outlets. Regional human rights body Defend Defenders decried the regularity of arrests and torture of artists, journalists and civil society workers. Little news concerning people power has leaked beyond the borders of the small country in recent years.

    Somalia still remains a dance of terrorist groups and kleptocrats (with some reports ranking it 2018’s most corrupt country in the world). More Somalian activists are integrating issues of gender justice into their push for political change, but being among the least stable countries, they’ve still got a long way to go.

    Meanwhile, Eritrea just might win the “North Korea of Africa” prize. With no independent legislature, judiciary or media, President Isaias Afwerki is feeling comfortable in his 26th year in power. Every Eritrean serves the state for an indeterminate period upon turning 18, with most being designated to military service. According to a 2018 report by Human Rights Watch, this “national service” often lasts more than 10 years.

    North Africa

    Previous Coverage
  • Repression strengthens mass movement aiming to topple Sudan’s dictator
  • Could 2019 be the year of the “Arab Re-awakening?” Sudan continues bold revolutionary action against longstanding dictator Omar al-Bashir. The resistance has spread to all corners of the country and has benefitted from the leadership of the professional class, including lawyers, doctors, engineers, teachers and academics.

    In Morocco, on Feb. 20, the officially banned Justice and Dignity movement, with participation from teachers and other trade unionists, commemorated the anniversary of the Arab Spring by marching on the royal palace, home to autocrat King Mohammed VI. The once suppressed population is now said to hold an average of 48 protests daily, according to Morocco’s human rights ministry.

    Previous Coverage
  • Sahrawi refugees build their nation in exile
  • At the same time, Western Sahara — the only country in Africa still occupied by a colonial power (Morocco) to this day — continues its long tradition of resistance. Effectively building a nation in exile, the Saharawis score incredibly high in women leadership, national solidarity and large-scale intifadas. With demonstrations on the rise in Morocco, perhaps 2019 will be the year Morocco’s security apparatus is spread too thin, weakening its hold on the resource-rich land.

    Protesters filling the streets of Algiers. (Twitter / @AfricaFactsZone)

    Algeria has not been as resistant to dictatorship over the past several years, but on Feb. 22, Algerians transitioned immediately from the mosques to the streets, condemning President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s intention to pursue a fifth term in the upcoming April elections. These protests began this year in a few towns and have escalated fast. In protests on March 1, turnout was on the rise again. Now it seems every town’s streets are overflowing with Algerians hopeful for an end to Bouteflika reign. At the threat of public demonstrations, he seems to be resigning his mission to seize a fifth term and instead delaying elections to prolong his fourth term in power.

    In Tunisia, a journalist named Abderrazk Zorgui set himself ablaze in December to protest economic hardship. The action calls to mind the 2010 self-immolation of Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi — the event that is often credited as the start of the Arab Spring. In both Tunisia and Egypt, there is a growing outrage that the regime changes of 2011-2013 did not produce the desired results in the lives of citizens and the systems and cultures of governance. Many contend that the situations are in fact worse than they were in the early 2000s.

    Another country that brings to mind the shortcomings of the Arab Spring is Libya. It is a nation much harder to summarize, and its political future much more difficult to predict. A mix of armed and unarmed groups continue to protest and contend for various interests. Public and private sector actors — and, of course, international militaries under the banner of NATO and the United States — compete for various interests, some more virtuous than others. Libya remains a chaotic and fragile state, if indeed we can call it a state.

    West Africa

    Benin had the first post-colonial democratic transition in the region in 1991 and has often been lauded as an example of democratic values in West Africa. In recent years, however, there has been some regression on this legacy. Dissatisfaction from unions and youth movements is likely to result in more anti-government protests this year. Perhaps they will pick up some tips from Burkina Faso, home to a recent youth-led revolution and a spirit of restoring the political memory, ideals and systems that once governed her land.

    Previous Coverage
  • Mass nationwide protests bring Togo to the brink of ending 50 years of dictatorship
  • Recent momentum against the half-century family dynasty in Togo has unfortunately subsided. “Opposition parties broke into factions, seeing 2020 elections ahead,” said activist Farida Nabourema. “There is a strong demobilization at the moment. Opposition needs to unite around a civil resistance agenda rather than an electoral one.”

    Nabourema, who was also in Nigeria for the recent presidential elections, witnessed massive voter turnout despite a postponement and then a Boko Haram attack on the rescheduled election day. “Nigerians are not afraid to go to the extreme to get what they want,” said Nabourema. Incumbent Muhammadu Buhari won a second term. In the words of one Nigerian activist, “[Buhari’s] so-called corruption fight has been lopsided and based on party affiliation, religion and tribe. I really don’t foresee the leopard changing its spots.”

    Previous Coverage
  • Gambians protest dictator by preparing for new president’s inauguration
  • Buhari also congratulated Senegalese incumbent Macky Sall on his recent electoral victory, which was obtained partially through the imprisonment of his contenders and partially through the modern infrastructure he has built in Dakar. Activists in Senegal might turn to neighbors in The Gambia for advice on restoring democratic practices. Gambians won defections from despot Yahya Jammeh’s inner circle and thwarted his 2017 coup. This is likely to be a year of investigations into rights abuses from members of Jammeh’s past administration.

    While Ghana has had more frequent change of presidents than most African countries, we shouldn’t confuse this with the rights and freedoms afforded to citizens. 2019 will be another year in which Ghanaians push for LGBT rights and freedoms of expression and press in the face of police brutality.

    Law enforcement crackdowns have also been a serious problem in Guinea, where police used sometimes-lethal force against protesters last year. We may see more of this unfortunate practice in 2019, as a resumption of teacher strikes and protests for citizen rights in the mining sector is likely to occur.

    Meanwhile, Ivory Coast ex-president (and former leftist and youth activist) Laurent Gbagbo was acquitted of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court one month ago. His release was met with resistance back home by those who felt his acquittal was unfair. More drama should unfold on this matter over the coming months.

    In many West African countries, the current push by protesters isn’t for regime change, but for better governance.

    After the first year of Liberian President George Weah’s administration, citizens are critiquing the slow rate at which he has tackled issues of poverty and corruption. Nevertheless, Weah still enjoys majority support in Liberia, both with government workers and citizens at the grassroots. Pressure will likely exist in 2019 to push him to deliver on his campaign promises.

    Sierra Leone saw protests in 2018 against fuel price hikes and a miner’s strike. First Lady Fatima Bio is spearheading her own campaign to end sexual violence against girls, which other first ladies in the region have also endorsed. Like many other West African countries, the current push by protesters isn’t necessarily for regime change, but for better governance, especially where private corporations are enjoying profits at the expense of citizens.

    Guinea-Bissau has witnessed nine coups or attempted coups since 1980, but people are now taking matters into their own hands, rising up in the thousands to oust President Jose Mario Vaz. These demonstrations follow failed regional talks to settle internal competition within the ruling elite.

    Even in the 21st century, slavery is still rampant throughout West Africa. In Mauritania, there have been protests in recent years against the enslavement of about 90,000 people. President Ould Abdel Aziz announced he isn’t running for a third term this 2019, but we have heard this story before. Resistance will rise if he doesn’t stay true to his promise.

    Niger and Mali are currently insecure with the presence of militant groups, but citizens of the latter managed to hold protests against fraudulent elections last year. This resistance may reside for a time before regrouping, as a state of emergency has been declared through October 2019.

    Central Africa

    Previous Coverage

  • Ambazonians struggle for independence from Cameroon amid military takeover

  • Some Ambazonians continue to fight for succession from autocrat Paul Biya’s Cameroon amidst widespread insecurity. Public lamentations organized by Anglophone women last year have reduced the regularity of violent attacks, but Biya’s grip on power remains firm.

    While a military coup attempt was thwarted by the administration of President Ali Bongo in Gabon earlier this year, Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was not quite as lucky in his direct coup attempts. Still, he managed to cut his losses by assisting the less popular Felix Tshisekedi to rig the Dec. 30 elections against popular opposition figure Martin Fayulu. Tshisekedi took power, rewarding Kabila with a comfortable transition of power after decades of pillaging the resource-wealthy country. Such bait-and-switch presidential antics should be analyzed by movements across the continent, as more longstanding dictators concede power, but not without insulating themselves first.

    In the neighboring Republic of the Congo, President Denis Sassou Nguesso’s three-decade rule doesn’t seem to be facing any real threat. The last formidable resistance took place in 2015, when a sham referendum resulted in a change to the constitution that allowed Nguesso to retain his hold on the presidency.

    Idriss Déby is another African dictator who has been insulated from opposition, in his case by the French military, which spared 2,000 troops in February to help suppress mercenary soldiers. In 2018, bishops in Chad spoke out against the manner in which Déby modified the constitution to help himself keep power through 2033. Resistance to Déby mostly comes from violent groups, which means it may be quite some time before democratic transition takes place in Chad.

    Teodoro Obiang, who ousted his uncle in 1979 and has been in power ever since, might just win the award for worst dictator in Africa. With propaganda often spread about his divine abilities, Equatorial Guinea sits at his mercy. Many state resources are essentially private family assets — especially oil — giving him an estimated value is $600 million. Opponents have accused him of cannibalism — specifically, consuming enemy testicles and brains to increase his sexual stamina. Much of the resistance to Obiang has been by non-African states, who have seized assets belonging to his family. Although Obiang announced amnesty for political prisoners last year, the opposition has a long way to go in consolidating its power against his personality cult.

    Previous Coverage

  • How an underground hip hop artist and his book club threaten Angola’s regime

  • The big ray of hope in Central Africa, however, is Angola. With Jose Eduardo dos Santos now out of power, following an uprising of artists and their fans, the culture of resistance hasn’t dissipated. Although there are many arbitrary arrests of those protesting corruption, Angolans remain vocal and aggressive.

    East Africa

    My home of Uganda has enjoyed the exciting emergence of musician-politician Robert Kyagulanyi, known affectionately as Bobi Wine, going head-on with the militaristic three-decade Museveni regime. The slogan “people power, our power” is chanted by school pupils and the working class alike. So far, however, Kyagulanyi’s campaigns have mainly consisted of live concerts in the capital city and interviews with international media outlets following his arrest and torture. If he can use 2019 to build networks of rural organizers to supplement his city strength, he will undoubtedly poke a hole in the increasingly draconian Museveni government, which has illegally taxed social media.

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    Rwanda, despite its commendable infrastructural development, remains a totalitarian state. With one ruling party spy designated to every 10 homes, little if any dissent to dictator Paul Kagame is publicly voiced without severe retaliation by his security apparatus. Rwanda is regionally notorious for suppressing dissent through forced disappearances and killings. Most dissidents still alive remain in exile. In September, however, female opposition leader Victoire Ingabire was freed from jail and pledged to continue her fight.

    Burundians are nearly as quiet as their Rwandese neighbors. Extreme repression, including state killings, has discouraged open critique of Pierre Nkurunziza — who, after defiling Burundi’s constitution, is eligible to stay in power until 2034.

    At the same time, Tanzania’s fascism is escalating. In November, administrative head of Dar es Salaam Paul Makonda called for public reporting of gay people, for whom he had assembled a team of police and officials to jail them. President John Magafuli had run on an anti-corruption platform, but his administration has become more vicious with every turn.

    Previous Coverage

  • What will it take to stop extrajudicial killings in East Africa?

  • Extrajudicial killings remain high in Kenya. A number of activists documenting killings by police remain at high risk. In February, organizers of social justice centers based in Nairobi slums held vigils for Caroline Mwatha, who they allege was murdered for exposing the truth about police involvement in killings. Nairobi activist and friend of Mwatha, Florence Kanyua, said, “We went to the city morgue and confirmed Caroline was dead. The state is blaming it on a botched abortion, yet police have claimed there is no government pathologist available to carry out a postmortem.”

    South Sudan is in a constant circle of peace negotiations and violations of these negotiations. Backed by President Museveni of Uganda, warlord Salva Kiir continues to pillage the country and drive millions of South Sudanese into refugee camps within South Sudan and in neighboring countries. Women’s rights organizations, the women’s wing of South Sudan Council of Churches and youth arts-activism movement #Anataban are among those who continue to pressure for a total end to civil war.

    Southeast Africa

    In Mozambique, 2019 has already been characterized by killings and mutilations in resource-rich Cabo Delgado. President Filipe Nyusi had claimed the situation was under control, but youth organizer Cidia Chissungo and her fellow organizers broke through the silence by circulating photos of the atrocities. “During the media blackout on Cabo Delgado, we had thousands of shares in less than 24 hours,” Chissungo said. “Ten days after we began the campaign, the president stated the situation was critical and began paying it more mind.” The Mozambique Liberation Front, or FRELIMO, has been in power since Mozambique’s independence.

    Previous Coverage

  • Despite crackdown, teachers in Zimbabwe keep pressure on a regime in transition

  • Last year’s protests against corruption in Zimbabwe escalated to a massive protest against fuel price hikes this January in which over 600 were detained and 12 killed. Trade unions called for general strikes in February following a multi-day march by the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe that escalated to occupations in the capital of Harare.

    In May, Malawi will hold presidential elections where incumbent Peter Mutharike — tied up in a corruption scandal — will face off against his own Vice President and former female President Joyce Banda.

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    Zambia, while often characterized as a country of passive people, may be the strongest voice against China’s emerging influence over the continent. The “China equals Hitler” protest slogan was popularized among Zambians in September. China continues to indebt national governments throughout Africa, which is understood by some as a type of long-term colonization strategy. Zambians are also increasingly wary of their own governments and institutions. For example, a student protest against the abolition of meal allowances was held in February.

    Southern Africa

    The African National Congress that once played a pivotal role in ending apartheid in South Africa has in recent years found itself embroiled in scandals, one of which pushed President Jacob Zuma to resign a year ago. 2018 witnessed more protests in the country than any of the previous 13 years. Perhaps it is no coincidence that South Africa has been dubbed the “protest capital of the world.”

    Previous Coverage

  • The successes and failures of South Africa’s student movement

  • There is likely to be no slowing down in 2019 either. It is an election year, and student protests continue even long after the heyday of #FeesMustFall. Recently installed President Cyril Ramaphosa was a unionist and anti-apartheid activist, but is now a millionaire with a track record of human rights abuses. Yet, he once cut a visit to London short to return to South Africa in order to address protester demands. Such responsiveness by the head of state to citizen grievances is likely to encourage more demonstrations in 2019, regardless of his position on matters being protested.

    Meanwhile, Lesotho and Eswatini remain monarchies under traditional cultural hegemony. Last year, in Lesotho, factory workers organized protests, whereas in Eswatini, the Rural Women’s Assembly and Swaziland United Democratic Front are among those leading the charge. Both small nations have small movements aimed at transitioning from monarchic rule to democracy.

    Southern Africa still sets the bar high, despite its shortcomings. Botswana and Namibia rank high in political freedoms. Namibia, in fact, ranks higher than the United States in democracy and press freedom.

    Island countries

    We mustn’t forget the islanders — who, in addition to pristine beaches — are enjoying comparatively adequate governance as African nations. In particular, it’s the tiny island nations that are really setting the pace. Cape Verde received a high ranking in the 2011 Ibrahim Index of African Governance, second only to Mauritius — whose president, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, resigned a year ago due to a corruption scandal.

    Seychelles President James Michel also resigned in 2016, without offering explanation, and President Danny Faure is completing his five year term. Sao Tome and Principe ranks high in all categories assessed by Freedom House.

    The only drama among the small island nations seems to be in Comoros. Traditionally, the presidency rotates between the three islands, but President Azali Assoumani won a constitutional referendum in July to extend term limits and abolish the rotational presidency system. More than 20 coup attempts have taken places since Comoros’ 1975 independence, and with autocratic trends taking hold, 2019 could yield some pushback from citizens.

    Africa’s largest island, Madagascar, is perhaps the furthest behind, when it comes to in citizens’ rights. Authoritarian in its governance culture, the state suppresses the voices of the many environmental activists who strive to protect the country’s unique species and ecosystems. Youth movement Wake Up Madagascar and civil society coalitions are on the frontlines of fighting for political freedoms.

    Toward a new Africa

    There may be no straightforward way to summarize the political momentum in Africa. Some places are becoming free. Others are being driven into suppression. Most nations are experiencing a bit of both.

    I want to suggest only one generalization that characterizes most of Africa: It is wrongly governed by old men. While gerontocracy exists the world over, it is particularly vicious in Africa, where the median age is 19. Political and business elites, on the other hand, are above the age of 50 — or, if they are not, they tend to think and behave as those who are generations removed from the majority population. Youth are systematically excluded from political representation, influence and opportunity — with few exceptions. In almost every country, we see youth rising up in one way or another to spark change.

    Africa is our planet’s second most populous continent and holds the highest concentration of natural resources. Yet, infrastructure is so poorly developed — and information so overly censored — that even fellow Africans must painfully strain to obtain news about their homeland.

    Furthermore, the continent is so diverse in every way imaginable that articles such as this one can only skim the surface. Hopefully, as events unfold throughout the year, news of African movements will reverberate throughout the world in ways that cannot be easily ignored or suppressed.

    The post Prospects for revolution in Africa’s 54 countries appeared first on Waging Nonviolence.

    How technology is shaping creative activism in the 21st century

    Two decades into the 21st century, one would expect all manner of “new and innovative” activism, right? Even Gene Sharp — the grandfather of cataloging nonviolent tactics, who published a list of 198 methods back in 1972 — fully expected the 21st century to be a time when we would have moved beyond learning about nonviolent action and toward perfecting its use. But it sure doesn’t feel like that is the case right now. From many vantage points, we seem firmly entrenched in a dystopia. Closing civil society space, encroaching authoritarianism in many countries, increasing environmental, climate and humanitarian crises — it all seems too daunting to tackle.

    Still, creative activists continue to respond, as resistance — especially in the growing number of repressive regimes — is not only necessary, but necessarily dependent on creativity and innovation for its very existence. In fact, we may not have perfected using nonviolent action to build people power, but we have moved way beyond Sharp’s 198 methods. A new study has noted more than 300 methods of nonviolent resistance, representing plenty of  innovation, specifically on the tech and digital front. And some of this technology has contributed to the record number of people participating in activism in the past couple of decades.

    In the United States, there has been an uptick of dissent and increased involvement by those who are motivated to defend, protect and build a better world, following attacks on social services and human rights in the Trump era. All through history, the vanguard has often been indebted to the leadership of youth — and right now there is a swell of young people leading the way on the critical issues of our time: climate chaos, gender-based violence, immigration, racial justice and gun control.

    At the core of these rising numbers is the increased accessibility and advancement of specific technologies — namely, ones that help activists use mass communication tools more easily and cheaply.

    The mass mobilizations that have shown the most power have come from very specific marginalized communities. The largest ever single day of protest in the United States was the day after the 2017 presidential inauguration, when 3-4 million showed up for the women’s marches across the country. Beyond the U.S. borders, the 2010-2015 Arab Spring was a time of great mobilization in half a dozen countries by citizens attempting to bring down regimes and uphold civil society. Meanwhile, on Jan. 1, 5 million women and allies formed a 385-mile long wall across the Kerala region in India to support women’s equality.

    At the core of these rising numbers, however, is the increased accessibility and advancement of specific technologies — namely, ones that help activists use mass communication tools more easily and cheaply. This, in turn, supports larger, dispersed, sometimes anonymous — and therefore less risky — tactics. Of course, oppressive regimes and other malevolent forces are oftentimes making equal use of these technologies, meaning activists have to stay one step ahead. So, let’s dig into some of the main technological advances helping activists to become more effective at leveraging resources towards that world we hoped to have by now.

    Digital and mass communications

    The increased affordability, capacity and versatility of cell phone and other digital technology — including video, photography and live broadcast capacity — have been the driving force behind DIY media and social media networks, digital memes included. Facebook Live and the ACLU app Mobile Justice not only enable campaigners to report from a hearing or demonstration in real time, but also to document the behavior of law enforcement as it happens. Meanwhile, memes have become the omnipresent visual communication form of social media from Facebook to Twitter. Within some of these platforms, enclaves like “Black Twitter” have blossomed, using hashtags to connect slices of specific communities across the globe. From #NotMyPresident to #BlackGirlMagic to #MeToo to #FeesMustFall — hashtags are now a feature of our cultural landscape. The sheer volume of digital communications is notable: For example, MoveOn says its volunteers sent 35 million peer-to-peer text messages to potential U.S. voters in 2018.

    It wasn’t too long ago that the ability to live broadcast required expensive equipment and contracts for transmission. Smartphones of all kinds and the growing availability of broadband, as well as cell networks, have made live broadcasts and real time streaming accessible around the world. The implications of this have democratized who can report the news and who can watch whom, speeding up the news cycle — sometimes to our detriment — even while providing almost instantaneous opportunity for activist mobilization. But the recent gutting of net neutrality laws means activists will have to fight to retain the benefits of these advances.

    The question remains: What kind of impact does this virtual activism have?

    It was no surprise that activists heavily used social media to get a message of #resistance out after the U.S. elections in 2016. More unusual were the rogue or alt-Twitter accounts set up by disapproving Federal Agency employees as they were targeted by the Trump administration, such as @altUSEPA and @AltDptEducation. There was a rather poetic beauty to these actions since Twitter is the president’s preferred mode of communication with the U.S. public.

    Please remain calm and carry on. The National Park Service is on the scene. Normal service will resume prior to graduation. pic.twitter.com/v5mUdMvpvw

    — altEPA (@altUSEPA) February 1, 2017

    Of course, the growth of social media has sparked a hot discussion about the effectiveness of this form of communication. While it is undeniable that the number of people using social media has grown exponentially in the last two decades — along with the number of people signing petitions and emailing their elected officials — the question remains: What kind of impact does this virtual activism have?

    Back in 2011, Avaaz reported that about 10 million people across 193 countries had taken part in close to 46 million of their “actions” (i.e. Avaaz-branded emails, phone calls, fundraisers, rallies, etc.). Are those actions a poor substitute for personal involvement? Did they detract from time that could have been spent off-line in more impactful ways, especially on issues that require direct intervention? Take, for example, the most recent U.S. federal shutdown, which ended when no-show unpaid airport workers forced airports to close — not when social media outrage reached a particular pitch.

    Around the world, from Tahir to Maidan Square, most agree the Facebook revolution is a myth — even while acknowledging the impact social media can, and has had, on mobilizing at a scale critical for catalyzing people power.

    Digital get out the vote

    Online dating: OK, let’s go there. It’s not new, of course, but it has newly become a way to mobilize people to get to the polls — whether it’s Tinder, Grindr, or OKCupid. Some sites are not happy with soliciting or  “Tinderbanking.” (Yes, someone even coined a name for it.) Two British women figured out how to get folks to loan their profile to a chat bot to engage in dialogue encouraging the suitor to hook up with the political process — not just a date. This was especially important in the United Kingdom, where younger voters are disproportionately unregistered and, therefore, unable to vote.

    Meanwhile, in the United States, there is even an app called VoteWithMe. It works with your cell phone contacts and can tell you a person’s voting history and whether they are in a flippable state. It was designed to increase the number of people who vote — because research shows that a personal reminder increases the likelihood of someone actually going to the polls.

    Even the mundane conference call has morphed into a huge platform, particularly as advances in video conferencing have made it much easier to use than even 10 years ago. Not only does this technology support organizing, it also allows for virtual trainings and international connections at an unprecedented scale. Some action/campaign coordinated calls have had upwards of 60,000 participants. In fact, tens of thousands of MoveOn members joined their online training calls in 2018.

    Digital mapping

    Another widespread integration of new computer technology has fueled the accessibility of data visualization. Creative activists have used mapping in many ways to help “make the invisible, visible” — often one of the first challenges that activists on complex, hidden or distant issues face. For example, many aspects of climate change can be predicted and shown by geographic area on interactive maps, whether heat index, sea level rise, fire or drought risk. Activists working on indigenous and First Nations’ rights often find that current inhabitants have limited or no knowledge about the places they live. Want to know the indigenous history of the land you are living on? Enter your zip code into this app and you can find out.

    Native Land Digital map showing the indigenous land that constitutes today’s New York metropolitan area. Drones

    Sure, high-flying remote-controlled technology has been around for a while, but the advent of mass produced small, cheap and, therefore, accessible drones has opened up a world of aeronautic protest and documentation for ordinary folks. It has included the surveillance of game poachers and commercial outfits in hard-to-access, protected areas. Drones have also been used to fly abortion pills into countries that have outlawed their access, and they have documented authorities illegally attacking water defenders at Standing Rock. Greenpeace crashed a Superman drone into a nuclear power plant containment dome to expose its vulnerability just months ago.

    Drone footage of #NoDAPL protesters being sprayed with water in below freezing temperatures. (Youtube/NoDAPL Protest) Crowdfunding

    Innovation and tech advances have made it possible — in theory and sometimes in reality — to crowdfund solutions to seemingly intractable economic justice issues. Theoretically, the “Greek Bailout Fund” campaign could have raised enough money to help Greece avoid austerity, even as it did expose the unjust system. On the other hand, an almost $32 million of medical debt has been forgiven by online crowdfunding to purchase debt for cents on the dollar, and then forgive that debt. The National Bailout program also provided direct relief through a mass donation to bailout black mothers and others affected by mass incarceration.


    We can now safely self critique and admit that early activist light projections were either tiny and poorly lit, or required outrageously delicate and expensive machines with high energy needs. The technology has shifted so dramatically in the last few years that it’s almost a new ball game. Projectors have not only become much more powerful, efficient and smaller — they have also become way more affordable. Mapping programs have improved as well, enabling an artist with a photo of the target building to turn their computer into an architectural wizard.

    Whether it’s the symbolism of shining a light on something to expose a wrong, or just its ephemeral nature — a statement seemingly coming from nowhere and gone in an instant — there’s a current love affair with large scale illuminations right now. In 2012 Egyptian activists projected videos of military repression onto prominent buildings. Meanwhile, in 2018, Americans projected images of the slain journalist Jamal Kashoggi onto a part of the Newseum, which has a quote from the first amendment. Part public service announcement, part luminous artistic statement, projections are used to glowing effect around the world.

    A projection of Saudi journalist Jamal Kashoggi on the Newseum in Washington, D.C. (Twitter/@bellvisuals)

    An update on projection technology wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the world’s first holographic protest march, which took place in Spain in 2015. The surreal threat of outlawed public protest drove artist-activists in the group No Somos Delito (We Are Not a Crime) to fight back in an equally surreal way. It was considered a big leap for how technology is used in activism.


    Not just full of hot air, inflatables have been making big impressions lately. Beyond the longtime practice of unions using giant inflatable rats to expose scab establishments, the recent appearance of “Baby Trump” and “ChickenHawk Trump” balloons have lifted protest props to a new height.

    Birddogging on steroids

    The old school tactic of birddogging — or pursuing elected officials to get them to comment on specific issues in order to hold them publicly accountable — has been employed at a much larger scale recently. Over the last couple of years, immigrants, women and anyone needing health care were faced with the increasing federal and state curtailment of a their right to control their own bodies.

    This manifested publicly in the controversy surrounding the nomination of right-wing judge Brett Kavanaugh for the U.S. Supreme Court. Coordinated teams of birddoggers in the Senate and House office buildings delivered hundreds of face-to-face interactions in the very short timeline of the nomination hearings. It got so intense that specific senators avoided the halls of Congress for fear of being questioned by constituents. The flip-flop of Sen. Jeff Flake after one of these moments went viral.

    Unfortunately, the backstory of the intentional organizing of this tactic by the Center for Popular Democracy, Housing Works, Ultraviolet and NARAL did not reach the wider public. But it is worthwhile to consider how upgrading, or scaling up, tried and true tactics can deliver results.

    Healing as resistance

    Beyond numbers and technological innovations, one of the critical contributions of the Movement for Black Lives, or M4BL, and organizers with #BlackLivesMatter have offered by example to the broader activist community is the emphasis on healing and joy. This is not an overall new approach, but rather a resurgence of attention being paid to trauma awareness, self care and the future that is being created from the black radical tradition. (Not too long ago, free school breakfast programs grew out of a Black Panther social program.)  

    It manifests in making time for public and private community events highlighting black culture, as well as in community healing circles. An emphasis on healing justice and embracing the positives in M4BL grew out of the need to fight systemic racist oppression and — at the same time — uplift black lives and resilience. This current emphasis on infusing healing and humanity into activist campaigns is a gift to the broader movement for social justice — truly addressing the radical and essential root of transformative work.

    And, hopefully, when we look back at early 21st century activism, we will see the creative and cultural aspects highlighted above continue to be cornerstones of ever more effective people-powered movements. Successful campaigns share not only strategic thinking, but also creativity, innovation and escalation of tactics by ever larger numbers of participants — exactly what we need to realize the healthier, more equitable world we strive toward.

    The post How technology is shaping creative activism in the 21st century appeared first on Waging Nonviolence.