Waging Nonviolence

What happens when US teens link gun violence at home to America’s wars abroad?

by Allegra Harpootlian

Students taking part in a March for Our Lives action in Boston, Massachusetts last year. (Flickr/AnubisAbyss)

This article was first published by TomDispatch.

In the wake of the February 14, 2018, mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17 students and staff members, a teacher said the school looked “like a war zone.” And to many young Americans, that’s exactly what it felt like. But this shooting was different. Refusing to be victims, Parkland survivors disrupted the “thoughts and prayers” cycle by immediately rallying student activists and adults across the country, mobilizing them around such tragedies and the weapons of war that often facilitate them.

Recent history suggested that such a movement, sure to be unable to keep the public’s attention or exert significant pressure on lawmakers, would collapse almost instantly. Yet, miraculously enough, the same fear — of their school being next — that had kept young Americans paralyzed for almost 20 years was what drove these newly impassioned activists not to back down.

Let me say that, much as I admire them, I look at their remarkable movement from an odd perspective. You see, I grew up in the “school-shooting era” and now work for a non-profit called ReThink Media tracking coverage of the American drone war that has been going on for 17 years.

To me, the U.S. military and CIA drones that hover constantly over eight countries across the Greater Middle East and Africa, and regularly terrorize, maim, and kill civilians, including children, are the equivalents of the disturbed shooters in American schools. But that story is hard to find anywhere in this country. What reports Americans do read about those drone strikes usually focus on successes (a major terrorist taken out in a distant land), not the “collateral damage.”

With that in mind, let me return to those teenage activists against gun violence who quickly grasped three crucial things. The first was that such violence can’t be dealt with by focusing on gun control alone. You also have to confront the other endemic problems exacerbating the gun violence epidemic, including inadequate mental health resources, systemic racism and police brutality, and the depth of economic inequality. As Parkland teen organizer Edna Chavez explained, “Instead of police officers we should have a department specializing in restorative justice. We need to tackle the root causes of the issues we face and come to an understanding of how to resolve them.”

The second was that, no matter how much you shouted, you had to be aware of the privilege of being heard. In other words, when you shouted, you had to do so not just for yourself but for all those voices so regularly drowned out in this country. After all, black Americans represent the majority of gun homicide victims. Black children are 10 times as likely to die by gun and yet their activism on the subject has been largely demonized or overlooked even as support for the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students rolled in.

The third was that apathy is the enemy of progress, which means that to make change you have to give people a sense of engagement and empowerment. As one of the Parkland students, Emma Gonzalez, put it: “What matters is that the majority of American people have become complacent in a senseless injustice that occurs all around them.”

Washington’s expanding drone wars

Here’s the irony, though: while those teenagers continue to talk about the repeated killing of innocents in this country, their broader message could easily be applied to another type of violence that, in all these years, Americans have paid next to no attention to: the U.S. drone war.

Unlike school shootings, drone strikes killing civilians in distant lands rarely make the news here, much less the headlines. Most of us at least now know what it means to live in a country where school shootings are an almost weekly news story. Drones are another matter entirely, and beyond the innocents they so regularly slaughter, there are long-term effects on the communities they are attacking.

As Veterans for Peace put it, “Here at home, deaths of students and others killed in mass shootings and gun violence, including suicide gun deaths, are said to be the price of freedom to bear arms. Civilian casualties in war are written off as ‘collateral damage,’ the price of freedom and U.S. security.”

And yet, after 17 years, three presidents, and little transparency, America’s drone wars have never truly made it into the national conversation. Regularly marketed over those years as “precise” and “surgical,” drones have always been seen by lawmakers as a “sexy,” casualty-free solution to fighting the bad guys, while protecting American blood and treasure.

According to reports, President Trump actually expanded the U.S. global drone war, while removing the last shreds of transparency about what those drones are doing — and even who’s launching them. One of his first orders on entering the Oval Office was to secretly reinstate the CIA’s ability to launch drone strikes that are, in most cases, not even officially acknowledged. And since then, it’s only gotten worse. Just last week, he revoked an Obama-era executive order that required the director of national intelligence to release an annual report on civilian and combatant casualties caused by CIA drones and other lethal operations. Now, not only are the rules of engagement — whom you can strike and under what circumstances — secret, but the Pentagon no longer even reveals when drones have been used, no less when civilians die from them. Because of this purposeful opaqueness, even an estimate of the drone death toll no longer exists.

Still, in the data available on all U.S. airstrikes since Trump was elected, an alarming trend is discernible: there are more of them, more casualties from them, and ever less accountability about them. In Iraq and Syria alone, the monitoring group Airwars believes that the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS is responsible for between 7,468 and 11,841 civilian deaths, around 2,000 of whom were children. (The U.S.-led coalition, however, only admits to killing 1,139 civilians.)

In Afghanistan, the U.N. recently found that U.S. airstrikes (including drone strikes) had killed approximately the same number of Afghan civilians in 2018 as in the previous three years put together. In response to this report, the U.S.-led NATO mission there claimed that “all feasible precautions” were being taken to limit civilian casualties and that it investigates all allegations of their occurrence. According to such NATO investigations, airstrikes by foreign forces caused 117 civilian casualties last year, including 62 deaths — about a fifth of the U.N. tally.

And those are only the numbers for places where Washington is officially at war. In Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and Libya, even less information is available on the number of civilians the United States has killed. Experts who track drone strikes in such gray areas of conflict, however, place that number in the thousands, though there is no way to confirm them, as even our military acknowledges. U.S. Army Colonel Thomas Veale, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, put it this way last year: “As far as how do we know how many civilians were killed, I am just being honest, no one will ever know. Anyone who claims they will know is lying, and there’s no possible way.”

After a U.S. strike killed or injured an entire Afghan family, the trauma surgeon treating a four-year-old survivor told NBC, “I am sad. A young boy with such big injuries. No eyes, brain out. What will be his future?”

In other words, while America’s teenagers fight in the most public way possible for their right to live, a world away Afghanistan’s teenagers are marching for the same thing — except instead of gun control, in that heavily armed land, they want peace.

Trauma is trauma is trauma

Gun violence — and school shootings in particular — have become the preeminent fear of American teenagers. A Pew poll taken last year found that 57 percent of teens are worried about a shooting at their school. (One in four are “very worried.”) This is even truer of nonwhite teens, with roughly two-thirds of them expressing such fear.

As one student told Teen Vogue: “How could you not feel a little bit terrified knowing that it happens so randomly and so often?” And she’s not exaggerating. More than 150,000 students in the U.S have experienced a shooting on campus since the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, considered the first modern mass school shooting.

And in such anticipatory anxiety, American students have much in common with victims of drone warfare. Speaking to researchers from Stanford University, Haroon Quddoos, a Pakistani taxi driver who survived two U.S. drone strikes, explained it this way:

“No matter what we are doing, that fear is always inculcated in us. Because whether we are driving a car, or we are working on a farm, or we are sitting home playing… cards — no matter what we are doing, we are always thinking the drone will strike us. So we are scared to do anything, no matter what.”

Similar symptoms of post-traumatic stress, trauma and anxiety are commonplace emotions in countries where U.S. drones are active, just as in American communities like Parkland that have lived through a mass shooting. Visiting communities in Yemen that experienced drone strikes, forensic psychologist Peter Schaapveld found that 92 percent of their inhabitants were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, with children the most significantly affected. Psychologists have come up with similar figures when studying both survivors of school shootings and children who have been psychologically affected by school-lockdown drills, by the media’s focus on violence, and by the culture of fear that has developed in response to mass shootings.

The voices left out of the conversation

The Parkland students have created a coherent movement that brings together an incredibly diverse group united around a common goal and a belief that all gun violence victims, not just those who have experienced a mass shooting, need to be heard. As one Parkland survivor and leader of the March For Our Lives movement, David Hogg, put it, the goal isn’t to talk for different communities, but to let them “speak for themselves and ask them how we can help.”

The Parkland survivors have essentially created an echo chamber, amplifying the previously unheard voices of young African-Americans and Latinos in particular. At last year’s March For Our Lives, for instance, 11-year-old Naomi Wadler started her speech this way: “I am here today to acknowledge and represent the African-American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper, whose stories don’t lead the evening news.”

In 2016, there were nearly 39,000 gun deaths, more than 14,000 of them homicides and almost 23,000 suicides. Such routine gun violence disproportionately affects black Americans. Mass shootings accounted for only about 1.2% of all gun deaths that year. Yet the Parkland students made headlines and gained praise for their activism — Oprah Winfrey even donated $500,000 to the movement — while black communities that had been fighting gun violence for years never received anything similar.

As someone who spends a lot of her time engrossed in the undercovered news of drone strikes, I can’t help but notice the parallels. Stories about U.S. drone strikes taking out dangerous terrorists proliferate, while reports on U.S.-caused civilian casualties disappear into the void. For example, in January, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command claimed that a precision drone strike finally killed Jamel Ahmed Mohammed Ali al-Badawi, the alleged mastermind behind the deadly October 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen. Within a day, more than 24 media outlets had covered the story.

Few, however, focused on the fact that the U.S. command only claimed al-Badawi’s death was “likely,” despite similar reports about such terrorists that have repeatedly been proven wrong. The British human rights group Reprieve found back in 2014 that even when drone operators end up successfully targeting specific individuals like al-Badawi, they regularly kill vastly more people than their chosen targets. Attempts to kill 41 terror figures, Reprieve reported, resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1,147 people. That was five years ago, but there’s no reason to believe anything has changed.

In contrast, when a U.S. airstrike — it’s not clear whether it was a drone or a manned aircraft — killed at least 20 civilians in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in December 2018, only four American media outlets (Reuters, the Associated Press, Voice of America, and the New York Times) covered the story and none followed up with a report on those civilians and their families. That has largely been the norm since the war on terror began with the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001. In the Trump years so far, while headlines scream about mass school shootings and other slaughters of civilians here, the civilian casualties of America’s wars and the drone strikes that often go with them are, if anything, even more strikingly missing in action in the media.

When Safa al-Ahmad, a journalist for PBS’s Frontline, was asked why she thought it was important to hear from Yemenis experiencing American drone strikes, she responded:

“I think if you’re going to talk about people, you should go talk to them. It’s just basic respect for other human beings. It really bothered me that everyone was just talking about the Americans… The other civilians, they weren’t given any names, they weren’t given any details. It was like an aside to the story… This is part of the struggle when you construct stories on foreign countries, when it comes to the American public. I think we’ve done [Americans] a disservice, by not doing more of this… We impact the world, we should understand it. An informed public is the only way there can be a functioning democracy. That is our duty as a democracy, to be informed.”

This one-sided view of America’s never-ending air wars fails everyone, from the people being asked to carry out Washington’s decisions in those lands to ordinary Americans who have little idea what’s being done in their name to the many people living under those drones. Americans should know that, to them, it’s we who seem like the school shooters of the planet.

Waking up an apathetic nation

For the better part of two decades, young Americans have been trapped in a cycle of violence at home and abroad with little way to speak out. Gun violence in this country was a headline-grabbing given. School shootings, like so many other mass killings here, were deemed “tragic” and worthy of thoughts, prayers, and much fervid media attention, but little else.

Until Parkland.

What changed? Well, a new cohort, Generation Z, came on the scene and, unlike their millennial predecessors, many of them are refusing to accept the status quo, especially when it comes to issues like gun violence.

Every time there was a mass shooting, millennials would hold their breath, wondering if today would be the day the country finally woke up. After Newtown. After San Bernadino. After Las Vegas. And each time, it wasn’t. Parkland could have been the same, if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids. Having witnessed the dangers of apathy, Gen-Z seems increasingly to be about movement and action. In fact, in a Vice youth survey, 71 percent of respondents reported feeling “capable” of enacting change around global warming and 85 percent felt the same about social problems. And that’s new.

For so long, gun violence seemed like an unstoppable, incurable plague. Fed up with the “adults in the room,” however, these young activists have begun to take matters into their own hands, giving those particularly at risk of gun violence, children, a sense of newfound power — the power to determine their own futures. Whether it’s testifying in front of Congress in the first hearing on gun violence since 2011, protesting at the stores and offices of gun manufacturers, or participating in “die-ins,” these kids are making their voices heard.

Since the Parkland massacre, there has been actual movement on gun control, something that America has not seen for a long time. Under pressure, the Justice Department moved to ban the bump stocks that can make semi-automatic weapons fire almost like machine guns, Florida signed a $400 million bill to tighten the state’s gun laws, companies began to cut ties with the National Rifle Association, and public support grew for stricter gun control laws.

Although the new Gen Z activists have focused on issues close to home, sooner or later they may start to look beyond the water’s edge and find themselves in touch with their counterparts across the globe, who are showing every day how dedicated they are to changing the world they live in, with or without anyone’s help. And if they do, they will find that, in its endless wars, America has been the true school shooter on this planet, terrorizing the global classroom with a remarkable lack of consequences.

In March 2018, according to Human Rights Watch, American planes bombed a school that housed displaced people in Syria, killing dozens of them, including children. Similarly, in Yemen that August, a Saudi plane, using a Pentagon-supplied laser-guided bomb, blew away a school bus, killing 40 schoolchildren. Just as at home, it’s not only about the weaponry like those planes or drones. Activists will find that they have to focus their attention as well on the root causes of such violence and the scars they leave behind in the communities of survivors.

More tolerant, more diverse, less trustful of major institutions and less inclined to believe in American exceptionalism than any generation before them, Generation Z may be primed to care about what their country is doing in their name from Afghanistan to Syria, Yemen to Libya. But first they have to know it’s happening.

What happens when US teens link gun violence at home to America’s wars abroad?

This article was first published by TomDispatch.

In the wake of the February 14, 2018, mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17 students and staff members, a teacher said the school looked “like a war zone.” And to many young Americans, that’s exactly what it felt like. But this shooting was different. Refusing to be victims, Parkland survivors disrupted the “thoughts and prayers” cycle by immediately rallying student activists and adults across the country, mobilizing them around such tragedies and the weapons of war that often facilitate them.

Recent history suggested that such a movement, sure to be unable to keep the public’s attention or exert significant pressure on lawmakers, would collapse almost instantly. Yet, miraculously enough, the same fear — of their school being next — that had kept young Americans paralyzed for almost 20 years was what drove these newly impassioned activists not to back down.

Let me say that, much as I admire them, I look at their remarkable movement from an odd perspective. You see, I grew up in the “school-shooting era” and now work for a non-profit called ReThink Media tracking coverage of the American drone war that has been going on for 17 years.

To me, the U.S. military and CIA drones that hover constantly over eight countries across the Greater Middle East and Africa, and regularly terrorize, maim, and kill civilians, including children, are the equivalents of the disturbed shooters in American schools. But that story is hard to find anywhere in this country. What reports Americans do read about those drone strikes usually focus on successes (a major terrorist taken out in a distant land), not the “collateral damage.”

With that in mind, let me return to those teenage activists against gun violence who quickly grasped three crucial things. The first was that such violence can’t be dealt with by focusing on gun control alone. You also have to confront the other endemic problems exacerbating the gun violence epidemic, including inadequate mental health resources, systemic racism and police brutality, and the depth of economic inequality. As Parkland teen organizer Edna Chavez explained, “Instead of police officers we should have a department specializing in restorative justice. We need to tackle the root causes of the issues we face and come to an understanding of how to resolve them.”

The second was that, no matter how much you shouted, you had to be aware of the privilege of being heard. In other words, when you shouted, you had to do so not just for yourself but for all those voices so regularly drowned out in this country. After all, black Americans represent the majority of gun homicide victims. Black children are 10 times as likely to die by gun and yet their activism on the subject has been largely demonized or overlooked even as support for the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students rolled in.

The third was that apathy is the enemy of progress, which means that to make change you have to give people a sense of engagement and empowerment. As one of the Parkland students, Emma Gonzalez, put it: “What matters is that the majority of American people have become complacent in a senseless injustice that occurs all around them.”

Washington’s expanding drone wars

Here’s the irony, though: while those teenagers continue to talk about the repeated killing of innocents in this country, their broader message could easily be applied to another type of violence that, in all these years, Americans have paid next to no attention to: the U.S. drone war.

Unlike school shootings, drone strikes killing civilians in distant lands rarely make the news here, much less the headlines. Most of us at least now know what it means to live in a country where school shootings are an almost weekly news story. Drones are another matter entirely, and beyond the innocents they so regularly slaughter, there are long-term effects on the communities they are attacking.

As Veterans for Peace put it, “Here at home, deaths of students and others killed in mass shootings and gun violence, including suicide gun deaths, are said to be the price of freedom to bear arms. Civilian casualties in war are written off as ‘collateral damage,’ the price of freedom and U.S. security.”

And yet, after 17 years, three presidents, and little transparency, America’s drone wars have never truly made it into the national conversation. Regularly marketed over those years as “precise” and “surgical,” drones have always been seen by lawmakers as a “sexy,” casualty-free solution to fighting the bad guys, while protecting American blood and treasure.

According to reports, President Trump actually expanded the U.S. global drone war, while removing the last shreds of transparency about what those drones are doing — and even who’s launching them. One of his first orders on entering the Oval Office was to secretly reinstate the CIA’s ability to launch drone strikes that are, in most cases, not even officially acknowledged. And since then, it’s only gotten worse. Just last week, he revoked an Obama-era executive order that required the director of national intelligence to release an annual report on civilian and combatant casualties caused by CIA drones and other lethal operations. Now, not only are the rules of engagement — whom you can strike and under what circumstances — secret, but the Pentagon no longer even reveals when drones have been used, no less when civilians die from them. Because of this purposeful opaqueness, even an estimate of the drone death toll no longer exists.

Still, in the data available on all U.S. airstrikes since Trump was elected, an alarming trend is discernible: there are more of them, more casualties from them, and ever less accountability about them. In Iraq and Syria alone, the monitoring group Airwars believes that the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS is responsible for between 7,468 and 11,841 civilian deaths, around 2,000 of whom were children. (The U.S.-led coalition, however, only admits to killing 1,139 civilians.)

In Afghanistan, the U.N. recently found that U.S. airstrikes (including drone strikes) had killed approximately the same number of Afghan civilians in 2018 as in the previous three years put together. In response to this report, the U.S.-led NATO mission there claimed that “all feasible precautions” were being taken to limit civilian casualties and that it investigates all allegations of their occurrence. According to such NATO investigations, airstrikes by foreign forces caused 117 civilian casualties last year, including 62 deaths — about a fifth of the U.N. tally.

And those are only the numbers for places where Washington is officially at war. In Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and Libya, even less information is available on the number of civilians the United States has killed. Experts who track drone strikes in such gray areas of conflict, however, place that number in the thousands, though there is no way to confirm them, as even our military acknowledges. U.S. Army Colonel Thomas Veale, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, put it this way last year: “As far as how do we know how many civilians were killed, I am just being honest, no one will ever know. Anyone who claims they will know is lying, and there’s no possible way.”

After a U.S. strike killed or injured an entire Afghan family, the trauma surgeon treating a four-year-old survivor told NBC, “I am sad. A young boy with such big injuries. No eyes, brain out. What will be his future?”

In other words, while America’s teenagers fight in the most public way possible for their right to live, a world away Afghanistan’s teenagers are marching for the same thing — except instead of gun control, in that heavily armed land, they want peace.

Trauma is trauma is trauma

Gun violence — and school shootings in particular — have become the preeminent fear of American teenagers. A Pew poll taken last year found that 57 percent of teens are worried about a shooting at their school. (One in four are “very worried.”) This is even truer of nonwhite teens, with roughly two-thirds of them expressing such fear.

As one student told Teen Vogue: “How could you not feel a little bit terrified knowing that it happens so randomly and so often?” And she’s not exaggerating. More than 150,000 students in the U.S have experienced a shooting on campus since the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, considered the first modern mass school shooting.

And in such anticipatory anxiety, American students have much in common with victims of drone warfare. Speaking to researchers from Stanford University, Haroon Quddoos, a Pakistani taxi driver who survived two U.S. drone strikes, explained it this way:

No matter what we are doing, that fear is always inculcated in us. Because whether we are driving a car, or we are working on a farm, or we are sitting home playing… cards — no matter what we are doing, we are always thinking the drone will strike us. So we are scared to do anything, no matter what.

Similar symptoms of post-traumatic stress, trauma and anxiety are commonplace emotions in countries where U.S. drones are active, just as in American communities like Parkland that have lived through a mass shooting. Visiting communities in Yemen that experienced drone strikes, forensic psychologist Peter Schaapveld found that 92 percent of their inhabitants were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, with children the most significantly affected. Psychologists have come up with similar figures when studying both survivors of school shootings and children who have been psychologically affected by school-lockdown drills, by the media’s focus on violence, and by the culture of fear that has developed in response to mass shootings.

The voices left out of the conversation

The Parkland students have created a coherent movement that brings together an incredibly diverse group united around a common goal and a belief that all gun violence victims, not just those who have experienced a mass shooting, need to be heard. As one Parkland survivor and leader of the March For Our Lives movement, David Hogg, put it, the goal isn’t to talk for different communities, but to let them “speak for themselves and ask them how we can help.”

The Parkland survivors have essentially created an echo chamber, amplifying the previously unheard voices of young African-Americans and Latinos in particular. At last year’s March For Our Lives, for instance, 11-year-old Naomi Wadler started her speech this way: “I am here today to acknowledge and represent the African-American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper, whose stories don’t lead the evening news.”

In 2016, there were nearly 39,000 gun deaths, more than 14,000 of them homicides and almost 23,000 suicides. Such routine gun violence disproportionately affects black Americans. Mass shootings accounted for only about 1.2% of all gun deaths that year. Yet the Parkland students made headlines and gained praise for their activism — Oprah Winfrey even donated $500,000 to the movement — while black communities that had been fighting gun violence for years never received anything similar.

As someone who spends a lot of her time engrossed in the undercovered news of drone strikes, I can’t help but notice the parallels. Stories about U.S. drone strikes taking out dangerous terrorists proliferate, while reports on U.S.-caused civilian casualties disappear into the void. For example, in January, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command claimed that a precision drone strike finally killed Jamel Ahmed Mohammed Ali al-Badawi, the alleged mastermind behind the deadly October 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen. Within a day, more than 24 media outlets had covered the story.

Few, however, focused on the fact that the U.S. command only claimed al-Badawi’s death was “likely,” despite similar reports about such terrorists that have repeatedly been proven wrong. The British human rights group Reprieve found back in 2014 that even when drone operators end up successfully targeting specific individuals like al-Badawi, they regularly kill vastly more people than their chosen targets. Attempts to kill 41 terror figures, Reprieve reported, resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1,147 people. That was five years ago, but there’s no reason to believe anything has changed.

In contrast, when a U.S. airstrike — it’s not clear whether it was a drone or a manned aircraft — killed at least 20 civilians in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in December 2018, only four American media outlets (Reuters, the Associated Press, Voice of America, and the New York Times) covered the story and none followed up with a report on those civilians and their families. That has largely been the norm since the war on terror began with the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001. In the Trump years so far, while headlines scream about mass school shootings and other slaughters of civilians here, the civilian casualties of America’s wars and the drone strikes that often go with them are, if anything, even more strikingly missing in action in the media.

When Safa al-Ahmad, a journalist for PBS’s Frontline, was asked why she thought it was important to hear from Yemenis experiencing American drone strikes, she responded:

I think if you’re going to talk about people, you should go talk to them. It’s just basic respect for other human beings. It really bothered me that everyone was just talking about the Americans… The other civilians, they weren’t given any names, they weren’t given any details. It was like an aside to the story… This is part of the struggle when you construct stories on foreign countries, when it comes to the American public. I think we’ve done [Americans] a disservice, by not doing more of this… We impact the world, we should understand it. An informed public is the only way there can be a functioning democracy. That is our duty as a democracy, to be informed.

This one-sided view of America’s never-ending air wars fails everyone, from the people being asked to carry out Washington’s decisions in those lands to ordinary Americans who have little idea what’s being done in their name to the many people living under those drones. Americans should know that, to them, it’s we who seem like the school shooters of the planet.

Waking up an apathetic nation

For the better part of two decades, young Americans have been trapped in a cycle of violence at home and abroad with little way to speak out. Gun violence in this country was a headline-grabbing given. School shootings, like so many other mass killings here, were deemed “tragic” and worthy of thoughts, prayers, and much fervid media attention, but little else.

Until Parkland.

What changed? Well, a new cohort, Generation Z, came on the scene and, unlike their millennial predecessors, many of them are refusing to accept the status quo, especially when it comes to issues like gun violence.

Every time there was a mass shooting, millennials would hold their breath, wondering if today would be the day the country finally woke up. After Newtown. After San Bernadino. After Las Vegas. And each time, it wasn’t. Parkland could have been the same, if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids. Having witnessed the dangers of apathy, Gen-Z seems increasingly to be about movement and action. In fact, in a Vice youth survey, 71 percent of respondents reported feeling “capable” of enacting change around global warming and 85 percent felt the same about social problems. And that’s new.

For so long, gun violence seemed like an unstoppable, incurable plague. Fed up with the “adults in the room,” however, these young activists have begun to take matters into their own hands, giving those particularly at risk of gun violence, children, a sense of newfound power — the power to determine their own futures. Whether it’s testifying in front of Congress in the first hearing on gun violence since 2011, protesting at the stores and offices of gun manufacturers, or participating in “die-ins,” these kids are making their voices heard.

Since the Parkland massacre, there has been actual movement on gun control, something that America has not seen for a long time. Under pressure, the Justice Department moved to ban the bump stocks that can make semi-automatic weapons fire almost like machine guns, Florida signed a $400 million bill to tighten the state’s gun laws, companies began to cut ties with the National Rifle Association, and public support grew for stricter gun control laws.

Although the new Gen Z activists have focused on issues close to home, sooner or later they may start to look beyond the water’s edge and find themselves in touch with their counterparts across the globe, who are showing every day how dedicated they are to changing the world they live in, with or without anyone’s help. And if they do, they will find that, in its endless wars, America has been the true school shooter on this planet, terrorizing the global classroom with a remarkable lack of consequences.

In March 2018, according to Human Rights Watch, American planes bombed a school that housed displaced people in Syria, killing dozens of them, including children. Similarly, in Yemen that August, a Saudi plane, using a Pentagon-supplied laser-guided bomb, blew away a school bus, killing 40 schoolchildren. Just as at home, it’s not only about the weaponry like those planes or drones. Activists will find that they have to focus their attention as well on the root causes of such violence and the scars they leave behind in the communities of survivors.

More tolerant, more diverse, less trustful of major institutions and less inclined to believe in American exceptionalism than any generation before them, Generation Z may be primed to care about what their country is doing in their name from Afghanistan to Syria, Yemen to Libya. But first they have to know it’s happening.

The post What happens when US teens link gun violence at home to America’s wars abroad? appeared first on Waging Nonviolence.

How young activists turned the old idea of a Green New Deal into a powerful movement

by Nick Engelfried

Destine Grigsby (center) of Sunrise Lousiville during a day of action at Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office in February. (Twitter/@sunrisemvmt)

Last week over 250 young people converged on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office in Washington, D.C. for a sit-in marking one of the latest escalations in the youth-led campaign for a Green New Deal. The action, led by youth from McConnell’s state of Kentucky, was planned in direct response to what they saw as his attempt to quash a Senate resolution on the Green New Deal by scheduling a premature vote.

“We’re here to demand Mitch McConnell look us in the eyes and tell us the $1.9 million he’s gotten from fossil fuel CEOs is more important than my generation’s future,” 17-year-old Destine Grigsby of Louisville said as the group arrived. “We’re here to share our stories and show him Kentucky needs a Green New Deal to ensure we have clean water, clean air, and stable jobs. This is the only solution we have for a livable future in Kentucky and throughout the world.”

The next day young activists descended on Senate district offices around the country. Just a couple days later, in a stunning sign of the movement’s effectiveness, McConnell announced he would postpone the Senate vote until much later this year.

The idea for a Green New Deal — a massive nationwide investment in jobs and infrastructure that would shift the United States to a clean energy economy while rapidly cutting carbon emissions — took off in November when hundreds of young activists held a sit-in at the office of Rep. Nancy Pelosi less than a week after the 2018 election. Fifty-one were arrested while calling on Pelosi and other Democrats to establish a Select Committee for a Green New Deal with power to advance legislation.

A few weeks later, on Dec. 10, over a thousand youth flooded the halls of Congress again. They lobbied over 50 Congressional offices and held sit-ins at the offices of Pelosi and other key Democratic leaders. A total of 143 were arrested.

Sunrise Movement flooded the halls of Congress on Dec. 10. (Twitter/@sunrisemvmt)

The leading force behind this wave of action is an organization called Sunrise Movement, which launched in 2016 with the immediate goal of making ambitious climate action a key issue in last year’s midterm elections. In the longer term, Sunrise seeks to use high-visibility actions that put pressure on candidates and elected officials as a strategy for building power and rallying public opinion behind a Green New Deal. After the election, Sunrise immediately began mobilizing to put Democratic leaders on the spot over years of failure to address the climate crisis.

With Democrats taking back the House of Representatives in November, some observers saw a chance to advance bold progressive policies. But when it came to climate change, Sunrise organizers worried Democrats would merely pursue the cautious strategy they have used in the past — most notably in 2009-2010, when a weak cap-and-trade bill riddled with corporate giveaways passed the House only to fail in the Senate.

Sure enough, Democratic leaders announced plans to resurrect a version of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, which was first established in 2007 and has no authority to advance legislation. Sunrise, along with new members of Congress like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, advocated the alternative Select Committee for a Green New Deal.

While the Green New Deal Committee was never formed, from the perspective of advancing bold ideas about climate legislation this may not matter. Sunrise’s November and December protests accomplished their most important objective by popularizing the Green New Deal and putting both parties in Congress on notice that young activists will not be content with tepid action on climate change.

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On Feb. 7, Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts introduced identical resolutions in the House and Senate formally calling for a Green New Deal. The Senate version was quickly co-sponsored by most Democratic senators running for president. Thanks to Sunrise successfully pressuring McConnell to delay his rushed vote, both resolutions remain in play.

A moment long in the making

The concept of a Green New Deal isn’t new. According to Vox, the term was first used in 2007 and soon became part of Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign platform. However, while some elements of the Green New Deal — like pairing clean energy with an economic stimulus — made modest progress during Obama’s presidency, the administration never seriously attempted the type of sweeping policies today’s Green New Deal advocates are demanding.

One reason for this lack of progress in the early Obama years was insufficient grassroots support. At the time, the climate movement just wasn’t large enough or politically savvy enough to create the type of massive grassroots mobilization that’s needed to transform bold ideas into policy. Today, that may have changed. From mass protests that stopped pipelines and closed coal plants to grassroots organizations advancing clean energy at the local level to a nationwide divestment campaign that galvanized students around energy justice — the climate movement has grown a lot in the last decade.

Many Sunrise Movement founders got their start organizing in one or another of the waves of climate activism that helped set the stage for a powerful Green New Deal movement. A recent story in the New Republic describes how young activists involved in campaigns like fossil fuel divestment came together to launch Sunrise. They united behind a vision for a slate of policies to dramatically cut carbon emissions, while creating millions of jobs, ensuring economic security for all and combating racial injustice.

Like Medicare for All, the Green New Deal is a bold progressive proposal with the potential to inspire the kind of mass support cautious Democrats in Congress have largely failed to attract for their ideas. However, in order to build that momentum Sunrise needed to grow from a small group of organizers — based mostly on the East Coast — into a true nationwide grassroots campaign.

Reaching coast to coast

The Green New Deal movement’s rapid growth over the last few months was made possible by the existing network of climate activist groups that formed across the United States over the past decade or so. One example is the Cascade Climate Network, or CCN, a regional organization that promotes climate justice on college campuses in Oregon and Washington. Last school year, CCN organized a conference that hosted a workshop by Sunrise Movement co-founder Victoria Hernandez. Hernandez invited students to sign up for Sunrise Semester, a fellowship that engaged young people in pressuring politicians to support Green New Deal policies in the months leading up to the 2018 elections.

Lisa Grimm, a 21-year-old student at University of Puget Sound in Washington, was among those who heeded the call. Becoming a Sunrise fellow last summer, she was sent to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where she worked to pressure candidates running for office in a key swing state. Grimm also learned during the fellowship that Sunrise was launching decentralized hubs to continue organizing work in Congressional districts throughout the country. “When I got back to school in Washington, I really wanted to keep the momentum going and organize a hub here,” Grimm said. “I realized it made sense to build power locally.”

After Sunrise garnered national attention with its November and December actions on Capitol Hill, “interest in the Green New Deal really skyrocketed,” Grimm explained. So she put out a call to other youth activists in Washington State. Over a period of a couple months they launched local hubs in several Washington communities. Among the most active is Sunrise Seattle, which held a town hall on Feb. 22 to highlight public support for a Green New Deal.

Sunrise Seattle members prepare for their town hall on Feb. 22. (Sunrise Seattle/Braden Lawrence)

“It was really exciting for us,” said 22-year-old Harry Katz, one of the town hall organizers. “Thirty-six people, mostly young people, were able to get up in front of a full room and speak about why the Green New Deal matters to them. About half hadn’t come to previous meetings or events. These are young people getting involved in a progressive movement for the first time — I think because they admire Sunrise’s willingness to fight for a solution that would actually address both the climate crisis and the crisis of inequality.”

Seattle Sunrise’s co-coordinators include Katz, 23-year-old Lily Frenette, and 26-year-old Sam Farquharson. They held their town hall during a Congressional recess with the hope that Washington’s U.S. senators would attend. It was part of a series of actions across the country Sunrise organized after McConnell announced the hasty Senate vote on the Green New Deal resolution.

While Washington Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell were both invited to the town hall, neither managed to attend or send staff. So Sunrise Seattle visited their district offices the following week and delivered recordings of the public testimony. The youth organizers spoke with office staff, but neither senator has yet taken a public position on the Green New Deal.

“They seem to hope their previous record voting for environmental policies will be enough,” Frenette said. “But our message is: While some of their past environmental votes may have been great, we need them to show they support a Green New Deal. Otherwise, they aren’t taking the concerns of constituents and scientists seriously.”

Over 120 Sunrise hubs have launched nationwide, from Alaska to Florida and from California to Maine. Their immediate priority has been organizing actions like the Seattle town hall and confronting members of Congress. In one of the most visible examples, video of a meeting between California middle school students and Sen. Diane Feinstein went viral when it showed Feinstein treating the students dismissively. After the incident drew nationwide public scrutiny, Feinstein backed away from plans to introduce a much weaker climate resolution that would have competed with the Green New Deal.

Sunrise Louisville during the sit-in of Sen. Mitch McConnell’s office on Feb. 25. (Twitter/@sunrisemvmt)

McConnell abandoning the rushed Senate vote was the most important result of this wave of action, an outcome that seemed to take even Sunrise members by surprise.

“During our day of action almost 2,000 people around the country visited their senators demanding they co-sponsor the Green New Deal,” Katz said. “The fact that McConnell backed off shows he’s afraid of what our movement has accomplished.”

Youth leading the way

While Sunrise welcomes solidarity from older activists, the campaign is determined to remain youth-led. After all, young people will be dealing with the effects of climate change longer than anyone else alive today, so keeping their voices at the forefront makes sense. Like the early 20th century women’s suffrage movement — which decided not to include men in its pickets outside the White House — the modern Green New Deal movement is making strategic use of political theater to highlight a deadly serious injustice. By visibly pitting people with a unique stake in the climate fight against entrenched corporate and political interests, the movement is building a compelling public narrative.

Many young activists have already witnessed the effects of a changing climate for themselves. Grimm, for example, was visiting family in Japan last summer when she experienced firsthand some of the extreme weather gripping the country. A July heat wave killed at least 80 people and sent more than 35,000 to the hospital. That same month over 220 people died in record-setting floods. “It stuck with me all summer that this is real, weather exacerbated by climate change is hurting families around the world,” Grimm said.

Yet a common theme among Sunrise organizers talking about their experience is a feeling the Green New Deal has given them hope that the worst effects of climate change can be averted.
“It’s a vision for our future that can fight the climate crisis at the scale scientists say is necessary,” Farquharson said. “It’s more than incremental change, rhetoric, or any piece of legislation we’ve seen in the past. It gives me hope that if it gains enough momentum and eventually leads to legislation, we could actually see change that makes it possible for our kids and our kids’ kids to have a brighter future in this beautiful world we live in today.”

How young activists turned the old idea of a Green New Deal into a powerful movement

Last week over 250 young people converged on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office in Washington, D.C. for a sit-in marking one of the latest escalations in the youth-led campaign for a Green New Deal. The action, led by youth from McConnell’s state of Kentucky, was planned in direct response to what they saw as his attempt to quash a Senate resolution on the Green New Deal by scheduling a premature vote.

“We’re here to demand Mitch McConnell look us in the eyes and tell us the $1.9 million he’s gotten from fossil fuel CEOs is more important than my generation’s future,” 17-year-old Destine Grigsby of Louisville said as the group arrived. “We’re here to share our stories and show him Kentucky needs a Green New Deal to ensure we have clean water, clean air, and stable jobs. This is the only solution we have for a livable future in Kentucky and throughout the world.”

The next day young activists descended on Senate district offices around the country. Just a couple days later, in a stunning sign of the movement’s effectiveness, McConnell announced he would postpone the Senate vote until much later this year.

The idea for a Green New Deal — a massive nationwide investment in jobs and infrastructure that would shift the United States to a clean energy economy while rapidly cutting carbon emissions — took off in November when hundreds of young activists held a sit-in at the office of Rep. Nancy Pelosi less than a week after the 2018 election. Fifty-one were arrested while calling on Pelosi and other Democrats to establish a Select Committee for a Green New Deal with power to advance legislation.

A few weeks later, on Dec. 10, over a thousand youth flooded the halls of Congress again. They lobbied over 50 Congressional offices and held sit-ins at the offices of Pelosi and other key Democratic leaders. A total of 143 were arrested.

Sunrise Movement flooded the halls of Congress on Dec. 10. (Twitter/@sunrisemvmt)

The leading force behind this wave of action is an organization called Sunrise Movement, which launched in 2016 with the immediate goal of making ambitious climate action a key issue in last year’s midterm elections. In the longer term, Sunrise seeks to use high-visibility actions that put pressure on candidates and elected officials as a strategy for building power and rallying public opinion behind a Green New Deal. After the election, Sunrise immediately began mobilizing to put Democratic leaders on the spot over years of failure to address the climate crisis.

With Democrats taking back the House of Representatives in November, some observers saw a chance to advance bold progressive policies. But when it came to climate change, Sunrise organizers worried Democrats would merely pursue the cautious strategy they have used in the past — most notably in 2009-2010, when a weak cap-and-trade bill riddled with corporate giveaways passed the House only to fail in the Senate.

Sure enough, Democratic leaders announced plans to resurrect a version of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, which was first established in 2007 and has no authority to advance legislation. Sunrise, along with new members of Congress like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, advocated the alternative Select Committee for a Green New Deal.

While the Green New Deal Committee was never formed, from the perspective of advancing bold ideas about climate legislation this may not matter. Sunrise’s November and December protests accomplished their most important objective by popularizing the Green New Deal and putting both parties in Congress on notice that young activists will not be content with tepid action on climate change.

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On Feb. 7, Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts introduced identical resolutions in the House and Senate formally calling for a Green New Deal. The Senate version was quickly co-sponsored by most Democratic senators running for president. Thanks to Sunrise successfully pressuring McConnell to delay his rushed vote, both resolutions remain in play.

A moment long in the making

The concept of a Green New Deal isn’t new. According to Vox, the term was first used in 2007 and soon became part of Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign platform. However, while some elements of the Green New Deal — like pairing clean energy with an economic stimulus — made modest progress during Obama’s presidency, the administration never seriously attempted the type of sweeping policies today’s Green New Deal advocates are demanding.

One reason for this lack of progress in the early Obama years was insufficient grassroots support. At the time, the climate movement just wasn’t large enough or politically savvy enough to create the type of massive grassroots mobilization that’s needed to transform bold ideas into policy. Today, that may have changed. From mass protests that stopped pipelines and closed coal plants to grassroots organizations advancing clean energy at the local level to a nationwide divestment campaign that galvanized students around energy justice — the climate movement has grown a lot in the last decade.

Many Sunrise Movement founders got their start organizing in one or another of the waves of climate activism that helped set the stage for a powerful Green New Deal movement. A recent story in the New Republic describes how young activists involved in campaigns like fossil fuel divestment came together to launch Sunrise. They united behind a vision for a slate of policies to dramatically cut carbon emissions, while creating millions of jobs, ensuring economic security for all and combating racial injustice.

Like Medicare for All, the Green New Deal is a bold progressive proposal with the potential to inspire the kind of mass support cautious Democrats in Congress have largely failed to attract for their ideas. However, in order to build that momentum Sunrise needed to grow from a small group of organizers — based mostly on the East Coast — into a true nationwide grassroots campaign.

Reaching coast to coast

The Green New Deal movement’s rapid growth over the last few months was made possible by the existing network of climate activist groups that formed across the United States over the past decade or so. One example is the Cascade Climate Network, or CCN, a regional organization that promotes climate justice on college campuses in Oregon and Washington. Last school year, CCN organized a conference that hosted a workshop by Sunrise Movement co-founder Victoria Fernandez, who invited students to sign up for Sunrise Semester — a fellowship that engaged young people in pressuring politicians to support Green New Deal policies in the months leading up to the 2018 elections.

Lisa Grimm, a 21-year-old student at University of Puget Sound in Washington, was among those who heeded the call. Becoming a Sunrise fellow last summer, she was sent to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where she worked to pressure candidates running for office in a key swing state. Grimm also learned during the fellowship that Sunrise was launching decentralized hubs to continue organizing work in Congressional districts throughout the country. “When I got back to school in Washington, I really wanted to keep the momentum going and organize a hub here,” Grimm said. “I realized it made sense to build power locally.”

After Sunrise garnered national attention with its November and December actions on Capitol Hill, “interest in the Green New Deal really skyrocketed,” Grimm explained. So she put out a call to other youth activists in Washington State. Over a period of a couple months they launched local hubs in several Washington communities. Among the most active is Sunrise Seattle, which held a town hall on Feb. 22 to highlight public support for a Green New Deal.

Sunrise Seattle members prepare for their town hall on Feb. 22. (Sunrise Seattle/Braden Lawrence)

“It was really exciting for us,” said 22-year-old Harry Katz, one of the town hall organizers. “Thirty-six people, mostly young people, were able to get up in front of a full room and speak about why the Green New Deal matters to them. About half hadn’t come to previous meetings or events. These are young people getting involved in a progressive movement for the first time — I think because they admire Sunrise’s willingness to fight for a solution that would actually address both the climate crisis and the crisis of inequality.”

Seattle Sunrise’s co-coordinators include Katz, 23-year-old Lily Frenette, and 26-year-old Sam Farquharson. They held their town hall during a Congressional recess with the hope that Washington’s U.S. senators would attend. It was part of a series of actions across the country Sunrise organized after McConnell announced the hasty Senate vote on the Green New Deal resolution.

While Washington Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell were both invited to the town hall, neither managed to attend or send staff. So Sunrise Seattle visited their district offices the following week and delivered recordings of the public testimony. The youth organizers spoke with office staff, but neither senator has yet taken a public position on the Green New Deal.

“They seem to hope their previous record voting for environmental policies will be enough,” Frenette said. “But our message is: While some of their past environmental votes may have been great, we need them to show they support a Green New Deal. Otherwise, they aren’t taking the concerns of constituents and scientists seriously.”

Over 120 Sunrise hubs have launched nationwide, from Alaska to Florida and from California to Maine. Their immediate priority has been organizing actions like the Seattle town hall and confronting members of Congress. In one of the most visible examples, video of a meeting between California middle school students and Sen. Diane Feinstein went viral when it showed Feinstein treating the students dismissively. After the incident drew nationwide public scrutiny, Feinstein backed away from plans to introduce a much weaker climate resolution that would have competed with the Green New Deal.

Sunrise Louisville during the sit-in of Sen. Mitch McConnell’s office on Feb. 25. (Twitter/@sunrisemvmt)

McConnell abandoning the rushed Senate vote was the most important result of this wave of action, an outcome that seemed to take even Sunrise members by surprise.

“During our day of action almost 2,000 people around the country visited their senators demanding they co-sponsor the Green New Deal,” Katz said. “The fact that McConnell backed off shows he’s afraid of what our movement has accomplished.”

Youth leading the way

While Sunrise welcomes solidarity from older activists, the campaign is determined to remain youth-led. After all, young people will be dealing with the effects of climate change longer than anyone else alive today, so keeping their voices at the forefront makes sense. Like the early 20th century women’s suffrage movement — which decided not to include men in its pickets outside the White House — the modern Green New Deal movement is making strategic use of political theater to highlight a deadly serious injustice. By visibly pitting people with a unique stake in the climate fight against entrenched corporate and political interests, the movement is building a compelling public narrative.

Many young activists have already witnessed the effects of a changing climate for themselves. Grimm, for example, was visiting family in Japan last summer when she experienced firsthand some of the extreme weather gripping the country. A July heat wave killed at least 80 people and sent more than 35,000 to the hospital. That same month over 220 people died in record-setting floods. “It stuck with me all summer that this is real, weather exacerbated by climate change is hurting families around the world,” Grimm said.

Yet a common theme among Sunrise organizers talking about their experience is a feeling the Green New Deal has given them hope that the worst effects of climate change can be averted.

“It’s a vision for our future that can fight the climate crisis at the scale scientists say is necessary,” Farquharson said. “It’s more than incremental change, rhetoric, or any piece of legislation we’ve seen in the past. It gives me hope that if it gains enough momentum and eventually leads to legislation, we could actually see change that makes it possible for our kids and our kids’ kids to have a brighter future in this beautiful world we live in today.”

The post How young activists turned the old idea of a Green New Deal into a powerful movement appeared first on Waging Nonviolence.

What does it mean to be a war resister in Israel?

by Rory Fanning

Israeli war resisters Hilel Garmi (right) and Adam Rafaelov. (War Resisters’ International)

This article was first published by TomDispatch.

Hilel Garmi’s phone is going straight to voicemail and all I’m hoping is that he’s not back in prison. I’ll soon learn that he is.

Prison 6 is a military prison. It’s situated in the Israeli coastal town of Atlit, a short walk from the Mediterranean Sea and less than an hour’s drive from Hilel’s home. It was constructed in 1957 following the Sinai War between Israel and Egypt to house disciplinary cases from the Israeli Defense Forces, or IDF.

Hilel has already been locked up six times. “I can smell the sea from my cell, especially at night when everything is quiet,” he tells me in one of our phone conversations. I’m 6,000 miles away in Chicago, but Hilel and I have regularly been discussing his ordeal as an Israeli war resister, so it makes me nervous that, this time around, I can’t reach him at all.

A recent high-school graduate with dark hair and a big smile, he’s only 19 and still lives with his parents in Yodfat, an Israeli town of less than 900 people in the northern part of the country. It’s 155 miles to Damascus (if such a trip were possible, which, of course, it isn’t), a two-hour drive down the coast to Tel Aviv, and a four-hour drive to besieged Gaza.

Yodfat itself could be a set for a Biblical movie, with its dry rolling hills, ancient ruins, and pastoral landscape. The town exports flower bulbs, as well as organic goat cheese, and notably supports the Misgav Waldorf School that Hilel’s mother helped found. Hilel is proud of his mom. After all, people commute from all over Israel to attend the school.

Nineteen-year-old Israeli war resister Hilel Garmi. (War Resisters’ International)

He is a rarity in his own land, one of only a handful of refuseniks living in Israel. Each year roughly 30,000 18 year olds are drafted into the IDF, although 35% of such draftees manage to avoid military service for religious reasons. A far tinier percentage publicly refuses to fight for moral and political reasons to protest their country’s occupation of Palestinian lands. The exact numbers are hard to find. I’ve asked war resister groups in Israel, but no one seems to have any. Hilel’s estimate: between five and 15 refuseniks a year.

“I’ve thought the occupation of Palestine was immoral at least since I was in eighth grade,” he told me. “But it was the March of Return that played a large role in sustaining the courage to say no to military service.”

The Great March of Return began in the besieged Gaza Strip on March 30, 2018, the 42nd anniversary of the day in 1976 that Israeli police shot and killed six Palestinian citizens of Israel as they protested the government’s expropriation of land. During the six-month protest movement that followed in 2018, Israeli soldiers killed another 141 demonstrators, while nearly 10,000 were injured, including 919 children, all shot.

“I couldn’t be a part of that,” he said. “I’d rather be in jail.”

However, after 37 days in prison, it was the letter Hilel received from Abu Artema, a key Palestinian organizer of that march, which provided him with his greatest inspiration. It read in part:

“Your decision is what will help end this dark period inflicted on Palestinians, and at the same time mitigate the fears of younger Israeli generations who were born into a complicated situation and a turbulent geographical area deprived of security and peace… I believe the solution is near and possible. It will not require more than the courage to take initiative and set a new perspective, after traditional solutions have failed to achieve a just settlement. Let us fight together for human rights, for a country that is democratic for all its citizens, and for Israelis and Palestinians to live together based on citizenship and equality, not segregation and racism.”

“This letter excited me a great deal,” Hilel said. “It’s Palestinians like Artema who have the true courage, the kind that can only come from the moral authority of those resisting occupation and violent oppression. This type of authority is much stronger than the forces that occupy Palestine.”

After trying yet again to reach him by phone, I send Hilel a Facebook message:

“I hope everything is all right. Call me when you can. By the way, I was listening to this song and it reminded me of you. Stay strong, brother.”

I attach a YouTube video of “The World’s Greatest” by Bonnie “Prince” Billy:

I’m that little bit of hope
With my back against the ropes.
I can feel it
I’m the world’s greatest…”

War resister to war resister

As a war resister myself while serving in the U.S. Army — I was protesting America’s unending wars across the Greater Middle East — I’ve wondered a lot about what it means to be one in Israel, a country where an antiwar movement is almost non-existent. My friends in the U.S. who are familiar with the militarization of Israel and the population’s overwhelming support for their country’s still-expanding occupation respect what Hilel is doing, but wonder about the political purpose of an essay like this one about a war resister who lives in a country where such creatures are rarer than a snowy day in Jerusalem.

A valid point: the Israeli antiwar movement (if you can even call it a movement at this moment) is a long, long way from making a dent in the occupation, no less ending it, and I wouldn’t want to convey false hope about what such refuseniks mean to the larger question of Palestinian liberation.

Still, I talk to Hilel because I know how much it would have meant to me if someone had contacted me when I was still resisting the Global War on Terror within the 2nd Ranger Battalion nearly 15 years ago. If I had known that there were others like me or at least others ready to support me, it would have made my own sense of isolation during the six months I spent on lockdown inside my barracks less intolerable.

There’s more, though. Each time Hilel and I speak, I feel like I’m the one being energized by the conversation. He’s smart, reads a lot of the books I also read (despite the 22-year age difference between us), and has a passion for rock climbing in the Shagor mountain range. More than anything else, though, he has a kind of energy that I identify only with those who are standing up for a principle, whatever the repercussions for their own future. He exhibits no misgivings about what he’s doing, but somehow remains remarkably grounded in reality.

“It’s hard being rejected by friends and family who have never questioned the occupation,” he tells me in one of our phone conversations. (His English, by the way, is superb.) “Very few in my class agree with what I’m doing. But I believe in what I’m doing. That is the most important thing. Although, who knows, my decision to resist may have a positive ripple effect in a way we can’t appreciate at this point in time.”

He tells me all this in a tone that feels both light and confident, the very opposite of what you might imagine from a teenager who had at that moment been jailed six times in a single year and expected more of the same. His voice is authentic. It’s all his and draws strength from a self-possessed sense of the truth.

Like many, I’ve been exhausted and depressed by Donald Trump’s presidency. His administration represents a dark step back when it comes to social-justice issues around the world and makes me question the time I still spend organizing against America’s endless wars. The ship appears to be sinking, no matter what I do, and since the election I’ve found myself asking why I shouldn’t try to just shut out the world.

In such a context, talking with Hilel has been a tonic for me. After our conversations, the all-too-familiar feelings of depression and hopelessness fade, at least briefly, while his courage and optimism energize me. So part of my urge in writing this piece is to convey that very feeling, hoping others will be energized, too.  It’s a tall order these days, but worth a try.

The adventures of a teenage refusenik

After a week in which my calls frustratingly keep going to voicemail, I finally hear back. “They arrested me again,” he informs me. “I expected it, but wasn’t sure they would come back a seventh time.” Surprisingly, he’s still in good spirits.

The Israeli government distinguishes between pacifists who reject the use of force for any reason and those with “selective conscience,” or those who specifically refuse to fight in protest over the occupation of Palestinian territory. The latter are treated far more severely and are significantly more likely to find themselves in prison.

Hilel’s public declaration — which has been circulating in left-leaning outlets in Israel — on why he continues to refuse military service couldn’t be clearer on where he stands and helps explain why the Israeli government has sent him back to prison so regularly:

“I cannot enlist, because from a very young age I was educated to believe that all humans are equal. I do not believe in some common denominator which all Jews share and which sets them apart from Arabs. I do not believe that I should be treated differently from a child born in Gaza or in Jenin, and I do not believe that the sorrows or the happiness of any of us are more important than those of anyone else… As a person who was born into the more powerful side of the hierarchy between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, I was given the power as well as the obligation to try to fight that hierarchy.”

Refuseniks like Hilel generally spend 20 days in jail. They are then released for a day or two and immediately reprocessed back into prison.

“There is a lot of sitting around in prison. I read a lot. It’s a military prison so I’m in with people who are in trouble for a variety of things while serving in the IDF.” There are different cellblocks (A, B, and C) designated for various infractions — A being the “easiest,” C the “hardest,” according to Hilel:

“I started in A, but worked my way up to C because I continue to refuse to fight. C is where those who commit assaults of varying degree within the IDF are housed. C is used as a threat by the jailors. I was in C for a short time because I wouldn’t tell a group of demonstrators protesting my arrest to disperse. After they left on their own, they sent me back to B.”

I ask him how many protestors there were. “About 50,” he replies, “But they gave me a lot of strength. Atlit, where the jail is, is not a very big town, so to have anyone out there at all was encouraging.”

An increasing number of Israelis oppose the occupation and some have formed groups to help support war resisters. Yesh Gvul, an organization that backs refuseniks like Hilel (and to which he belongs), for instance, first put me in touch with him. Palestinians like Abu Artema are also reaching out to refuseniks. Palestianian and Israeli activists are working to overcome the barriers that divide them, searching for creative ways to connect and organize against the occupation. In December 2018, Israeli activists, including conscientious objectors, held a video meeting with Artema. “Those who refuse to take part in the attacks on the demonstrators in Gaza, who express their natural right to protest against the siege, those who refuse to take part in the attacks on Gaza’s citizens — they stand on the right side of history,” Artema said during the call.

And now, having grown strangely attached to Hilel, I feel a small flood of relief that he’s on the phone with me once again. I ask if we can Skype so that I can actually see him and he promptly agrees. It’s December and he’s wearing a ski hat. He’s sitting in his parent’s kitchen and his eyes glimmer. As he talks, I’m taken back to my own 19-year-old self, to the Rory Fanning who was still trying to fit in, get decent grades, and have fun. I certainly wasn’t taking on my government, which only makes me more impressed that he is.

He and I chat more about his family and his town. Yodfat was once a place governed by a group of people called the Kibbutz (from the Hebrew word kvutza, meaning “group”). Inspired in part by Karl Marx, the Kibbutz movement strove to live communally and maintain deep connections to agriculture. “It’s still a progressive town,” he says, “and most people, at least as lip service, will say they oppose the occupation. However, they see obedience to the current law and general support for the military — even though some of them may admit it’s an undemocratic one — as far more important.”

I ask him about the Boycott Divestment Sanction, or BDS, movement. BDS is Palestinian-led and inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement. It calls on others globally to pressure Israel to comply with international law and end the occupation of Palestine.

“The people of Israel feel isolated from the rest of the world,” Hilel responds. “The government and media constantly remind them how Iran and so many others want to destroy the country. The effects of anti-Semitism echo in everyone’s head. I think BDS only reinforces the idea that the government promotes that Jews are rejected by the world.”

I remind him how an earlier BDS-style movement helped end apartheid in South Africa and ask if he thinks it might be an effective way to end Israel’s system of apartheid, too. “Maybe,” he responds hesitantly. “I haven’t thought about it too much. I could certainly see how it could.” I don’t press the issue, but as ever I’m struck by how open he is, even on a topic that the Israeli government clearly feels deeply threatened by.

As I can see via Skype, the sun is going down behind Hilel. It’s still morning here in Chicago, but six in the evening in Yodfat, so I let him go back to his embattled teenage life.

And I wonder yet again how I’ll write about that life, his dilemmas, and the unnerving world both of us find ourselves in. Then, I’m reminded of how encouraging it felt to have many active-duty soldiers reach out to me over the years after hearing my own story of war resistance. I know that there are surprising numbers of people in the U.S. military who question America’s endless wars, trillion-dollar national security budgets, and the near-robotic thank-you-for-your-service patriotism of so many in this country, because I’ve met or talked to many of them and even seen a few over the years break ranks as I did (and as, in a very different situation, Hilel has done). And obviously there must be many others out there I know nothing about.

News travels fast these days. Support networks like Veterans for Peace and About Face continue to be built up in this country to support soldiers who question their mission. And I know that, in Israel, there are others who think the way Hilel does and are just waiting for an atmosphere of greater support to develop so that they, too, can begin to resist the injustices of their moment and their country. That, of course, is what Hilel has helped accomplish. Stories like his create openings for others to act. Sooner or later, those others, inspired by him and perhaps by similar figures to come, will inevitably follow their lead.

Just as I’m finishing this piece, he suddenly calls to tell me that he’s been released — for good! The Israeli Defense Forces have freed him from his military obligation. At first, a ruling against releasing him came down from a committee of civilians and officers controlled by the IDF, because his refusal to fight stemmed from reasons that were “political” rather than from “conscience.” Later that day, however, a higher-ranking officer overturned that group’s decision and, after his seventh imprisonment, Hilel was suddenly free.

He isn’t sure why the decision was overturned, but perhaps the higher-ups finally concluded that he simply wouldn’t break under their pressure. Quite the opposite, a determined 19-year-old resister might only get more attention if they kept sending him back to jail. His courage might, in fact, motivate others to resist, the last thing the IDF wants right now.

I look forward to staying in touch with Hilel. He tells me he plans on working with disadvantaged youth in Israel for the next two years. I know there are great things in store for him. Interacting with a fellow war-resister across continents and seas these last few months, and seeing him go from prison to freedom in a matter of weeks, has reinvigorated my own tired sprit in ways I had not anticipated when I sent my first note to him.

What does it mean to be a war resister in Israel?

This article was first published by TomDispatch.

Hilel Garmi’s phone is going straight to voicemail and all I’m hoping is that he’s not back in prison. I’ll soon learn that he is.

Prison 6 is a military prison. It’s situated in the Israeli coastal town of Atlit, a short walk from the Mediterranean Sea and less than an hour’s drive from Hilel’s home. It was constructed in 1957 following the Sinai War between Israel and Egypt to house disciplinary cases from the Israeli Defense Forces, or IDF.

Hilel has already been locked up six times. “I can smell the sea from my cell, especially at night when everything is quiet,” he tells me in one of our phone conversations. I’m 6,000 miles away in Chicago, but Hilel and I have regularly been discussing his ordeal as an Israeli war resister, so it makes me nervous that, this time around, I can’t reach him at all.

A recent high-school graduate with dark hair and a big smile, he’s only 19 and still lives with his parents in Yodfat, an Israeli town of less than 900 people in the northern part of the country. It’s 155 miles to Damascus (if such a trip were possible, which, of course, it isn’t), a two-hour drive down the coast to Tel Aviv, and a four-hour drive to besieged Gaza.

Yodfat itself could be a set for a Biblical movie, with its dry rolling hills, ancient ruins, and pastoral landscape. The town exports flower bulbs, as well as organic goat cheese, and notably supports the Misgav Waldorf School that Hilel’s mother helped found. Hilel is proud of his mom. After all, people commute from all over Israel to attend the school.

Nineteen-year-old Israeli war resister Hilel Garmi. (War Resisters’ International)

He is a rarity in his own land, one of only a handful of refuseniks living in Israel. Each year roughly 30,000 18 year olds are drafted into the IDF, although 35% of such draftees manage to avoid military service for religious reasons. A far tinier percentage publicly refuses to fight for moral and political reasons to protest their country’s occupation of Palestinian lands. The exact numbers are hard to find. I’ve asked war resister groups in Israel, but no one seems to have any. Hilel’s estimate: between five and 15 refuseniks a year.

“I’ve thought the occupation of Palestine was immoral at least since I was in eighth grade,” he told me. “But it was the March of Return that played a large role in sustaining the courage to say no to military service.”

The Great March of Return began in the besieged Gaza Strip on March 30, 2018, the 42nd anniversary of the day in 1976 that Israeli police shot and killed six Palestinian citizens of Israel as they protested the government’s expropriation of land. During the six-month protest movement that followed in 2018, Israeli soldiers killed another 141 demonstrators, while nearly 10,000 were injured, including 919 children, all shot.

“I couldn’t be a part of that,” he said. “I’d rather be in jail.”

However, after 37 days in prison, it was the letter Hilel received from Abu Artema, a key Palestinian organizer of that march, which provided him with his greatest inspiration. It read in part:

Your decision is what will help end this dark period inflicted on Palestinians, and at the same time mitigate the fears of younger Israeli generations who were born into a complicated situation and a turbulent geographical area deprived of security and peace… I believe the solution is near and possible. It will not require more than the courage to take initiative and set a new perspective, after traditional solutions have failed to achieve a just settlement. Let us fight together for human rights, for a country that is democratic for all its citizens, and for Israelis and Palestinians to live together based on citizenship and equality, not segregation and racism.”

“This letter excited me a great deal,” Hilel said. “It’s Palestinians like Artema who have the true courage, the kind that can only come from the moral authority of those resisting occupation and violent oppression. This type of authority is much stronger than the forces that occupy Palestine.”

After trying yet again to reach him by phone, I send Hilel a Facebook message:

I hope everything is all right. Call me when you can. By the way, I was listening to this song and it reminded me of you. Stay strong, brother.

I attach a YouTube video of “The World’s Greatest” by Bonnie “Prince” Billy:

I’m that little bit of hope
With my back against the ropes.
I can feel it
I’m the world’s greatest…”

War resister to war resister

As a war resister myself while serving in the U.S. Army — I was protesting America’s unending wars across the Greater Middle East — I’ve wondered a lot about what it means to be one in Israel, a country where an antiwar movement is almost non-existent. My friends in the U.S. who are familiar with the militarization of Israel and the population’s overwhelming support for their country’s still-expanding occupation respect what Hilel is doing, but wonder about the political purpose of an essay like this one about a war resister who lives in a country where such creatures are rarer than a snowy day in Jerusalem.

A valid point: the Israeli antiwar movement (if you can even call it a movement at this moment) is a long, long way from making a dent in the occupation, no less ending it, and I wouldn’t want to convey false hope about what such refuseniks mean to the larger question of Palestinian liberation.

Still, I talk to Hilel because I know how much it would have meant to me if someone had contacted me when I was still resisting the Global War on Terror within the 2nd Ranger Battalion nearly 15 years ago. If I had known that there were others like me or at least others ready to support me, it would have made my own sense of isolation during the six months I spent on lockdown inside my barracks less intolerable.

There’s more, though. Each time Hilel and I speak, I feel like I’m the one being energized by the conversation. He’s smart, reads a lot of the books I also read (despite the 22-year age difference between us), and has a passion for rock climbing in the Shagor mountain range. More than anything else, though, he has a kind of energy that I identify only with those who are standing up for a principle, whatever the repercussions for their own future. He exhibits no misgivings about what he’s doing, but somehow remains remarkably grounded in reality.

“It’s hard being rejected by friends and family who have never questioned the occupation,” he tells me in one of our phone conversations. (His English, by the way, is superb.) “Very few in my class agree with what I’m doing. But I believe in what I’m doing. That is the most important thing. Although, who knows, my decision to resist may have a positive ripple effect in a way we can’t appreciate at this point in time.”

He tells me all this in a tone that feels both light and confident, the very opposite of what you might imagine from a teenager who had at that moment been jailed six times in a single year and expected more of the same. His voice is authentic. It’s all his and draws strength from a self-possessed sense of the truth.

Like many, I’ve been exhausted and depressed by Donald Trump’s presidency. His administration represents a dark step back when it comes to social-justice issues around the world and makes me question the time I still spend organizing against America’s endless wars. The ship appears to be sinking, no matter what I do, and since the election I’ve found myself asking why I shouldn’t try to just shut out the world.

In such a context, talking with Hilel has been a tonic for me. After our conversations, the all-too-familiar feelings of depression and hopelessness fade, at least briefly, while his courage and optimism energize me. So part of my urge in writing this piece is to convey that very feeling, hoping others will be energized, too.  It’s a tall order these days, but worth a try.

The adventures of a teenage refusenik

After a week in which my calls frustratingly keep going to voicemail, I finally hear back. “They arrested me again,” he informs me. “I expected it, but wasn’t sure they would come back a seventh time.” Surprisingly, he’s still in good spirits.

The Israeli government distinguishes between pacifists who reject the use of force for any reason and those with “selective conscience,” or those who specifically refuse to fight in protest over the occupation of Palestinian territory. The latter are treated far more severely and are significantly more likely to find themselves in prison.

Hilel’s public declaration — which has been circulating in left-leaning outlets in Israel — on why he continues to refuse military service couldn’t be clearer on where he stands and helps explain why the Israeli government has sent him back to prison so regularly:

I cannot enlist, because from a very young age I was educated to believe that all humans are equal. I do not believe in some common denominator which all Jews share and which sets them apart from Arabs. I do not believe that I should be treated differently from a child born in Gaza or in Jenin, and I do not believe that the sorrows or the happiness of any of us are more important than those of anyone else… As a person who was born into the more powerful side of the hierarchy between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, I was given the power as well as the obligation to try to fight that hierarchy.

Refuseniks like Hilel generally spend 20 days in jail. They are then released for a day or two and immediately reprocessed back into prison.

“There is a lot of sitting around in prison. I read a lot. It’s a military prison so I’m in with people who are in trouble for a variety of things while serving in the IDF.” There are different cellblocks (A, B, and C) designated for various infractions — A being the “easiest,” C the “hardest,” according to Hilel:

I started in A, but worked my way up to C because I continue to refuse to fight. C is where those who commit assaults of varying degree within the IDF are housed. C is used as a threat by the jailors. I was in C for a short time because I wouldn’t tell a group of demonstrators protesting my arrest to disperse. After they left on their own, they sent me back to B.

I ask him how many protestors there were. “About 50,” he replies, “But they gave me a lot of strength. Atlit, where the jail is, is not a very big town, so to have anyone out there at all was encouraging.”

An increasing number of Israelis oppose the occupation and some have formed groups to help support war resisters. Yesh Gvul, an organization that backs refuseniks like Hilel (and to which he belongs), for instance, first put me in touch with him. Palestinians like Abu Artema are also reaching out to refuseniks. Palestianian and Israeli activists are working to overcome the barriers that divide them, searching for creative ways to connect and organize against the occupation. In December 2018, Israeli activists, including conscientious objectors, held a video meeting with Artema. “Those who refuse to take part in the attacks on the demonstrators in Gaza, who express their natural right to protest against the siege, those who refuse to take part in the attacks on Gaza’s citizens — they stand on the right side of history,” Artema said during the call.

And now, having grown strangely attached to Hilel, I feel a small flood of relief that he’s on the phone with me once again. I ask if we can Skype so that I can actually see him and he promptly agrees. It’s December and he’s wearing a ski hat. He’s sitting in his parent’s kitchen and his eyes glimmer. As he talks, I’m taken back to my own 19-year-old self, to the Rory Fanning who was still trying to fit in, get decent grades, and have fun. I certainly wasn’t taking on my government, which only makes me more impressed that he is.

He and I chat more about his family and his town. Yodfat was once a place governed by a group of people called the Kibbutz (from the Hebrew word kvutza, meaning “group”). Inspired in part by Karl Marx, the Kibbutz movement strove to live communally and maintain deep connections to agriculture. “It’s still a progressive town,” he says, “and most people, at least as lip service, will say they oppose the occupation. However, they see obedience to the current law and general support for the military — even though some of them may admit it’s an undemocratic one — as far more important.”

I ask him about the Boycott Divestment Sanction, or BDS, movement. BDS is Palestinian-led and inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement. It calls on others globally to pressure Israel to comply with international law and end the occupation of Palestine.

“The people of Israel feel isolated from the rest of the world,” Hilel responds. “The government and media constantly remind them how Iran and so many others want to destroy the country. The effects of anti-Semitism echo in everyone’s head. I think BDS only reinforces the idea that the government promotes that Jews are rejected by the world.”

I remind him how an earlier BDS-style movement helped end apartheid in South Africa and ask if he thinks it might be an effective way to end Israel’s system of apartheid, too. “Maybe,” he responds hesitantly. “I haven’t thought about it too much. I could certainly see how it could.” I don’t press the issue, but as ever I’m struck by how open he is, even on a topic that the Israeli government clearly feels deeply threatened by.

As I can see via Skype, the sun is going down behind Hilel. It’s still morning here in Chicago, but six in the evening in Yodfat, so I let him go back to his embattled teenage life.

And I wonder yet again how I’ll write about that life, his dilemmas, and the unnerving world both of us find ourselves in. Then, I’m reminded of how encouraging it felt to have many active-duty soldiers reach out to me over the years after hearing my own story of war resistance. I know that there are surprising numbers of people in the U.S. military who question America’s endless wars, trillion-dollar national security budgets, and the near-robotic thank-you-for-your-service patriotism of so many in this country, because I’ve met or talked to many of them and even seen a few over the years break ranks as I did (and as, in a very different situation, Hilel has done). And obviously there must be many others out there I know nothing about.

News travels fast these days. Support networks like Veterans for Peace and About Face continue to be built up in this country to support soldiers who question their mission. And I know that, in Israel, there are others who think the way Hilel does and are just waiting for an atmosphere of greater support to develop so that they, too, can begin to resist the injustices of their moment and their country. That, of course, is what Hilel has helped accomplish. Stories like his create openings for others to act. Sooner or later, those others, inspired by him and perhaps by similar figures to come, will inevitably follow their lead.

Just as I’m finishing this piece, he suddenly calls to tell me that he’s been released — for good! The Israeli Defense Forces have freed him from his military obligation. At first, a ruling against releasing him came down from a committee of civilians and officers controlled by the IDF, because his refusal to fight stemmed from reasons that were “political” rather than from “conscience.” Later that day, however, a higher-ranking officer overturned that group’s decision and, after his seventh imprisonment, Hilel was suddenly free.

He isn’t sure why the decision was overturned, but perhaps the higher-ups finally concluded that he simply wouldn’t break under their pressure. Quite the opposite, a determined 19-year-old resister might only get more attention if they kept sending him back to jail. His courage might, in fact, motivate others to resist, the last thing the IDF wants right now.

I look forward to staying in touch with Hilel. He tells me he plans on working with disadvantaged youth in Israel for the next two years. I know there are great things in store for him. Interacting with a fellow war-resister across continents and seas these last few months, and seeing him go from prison to freedom in a matter of weeks, has reinvigorated my own tired sprit in ways I had not anticipated when I sent my first note to him.

The post What does it mean to be a war resister in Israel? appeared first on Waging Nonviolence.

After historic breakthrough, conscientious objectors face new challenges in South Korea

by Yongsuk Lee

An action and press conference in support of conscientious objection in front of South Korea’s Constitutional Court in 2015. (Flickr/World Without War)

South Korea’s Ministry of Defense proposed a system for alternative service to the military on Dec. 28, following a historic decision by the Constitutional Court in June, which ruled that the existing law does not guarantee freedom of conscience.

The court’s decision —which was a major victory for the movement to recognize conscientious objection in South Korea — has sparked a fierce debate over the issue. There have been tangible achievements, such as the Supreme Court finding a conscientious objector to be innocent for the first time ever on Nov. 1. However, the struggle over how the alternative service system will work is just beginning.

Koreans strongly believe that military power is needed to defend the country, given its long history of foreign occupation and war. Korea was colonized for 35 years by neighboring Japan a hundred years ago. After liberation, the two Koreas fought an all-out war for three years, and there has been constant military conflict of varying intensity ever since.

The court’s decision is significant considering how recently this issue was put on the national agenda. There were no political conscientious objectors to military service during the mass democratic movement against the military dictatorship in the 1980s. At that time, the student and labor movements that led the movement in Korea were famous for their militaristic cultures.

While there have been more than 19,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses who have been imprisoned since 1945 for refusing to serve in the military, the political conscientious objectors and peace activists deserve credit for making it a social issue. More than 15 years of resistance to military service led to this decision by the judiciary, which is said to be the most conservative institution in Korean society.

Strategies that enabled success

The biggest factor influencing the recent decisions by the courts is that objectors have kept coming forward, thereby continuing to address conscientious objection as a social issue. Political objectors, in particular, have made their existence visible by speaking actively about their pacifism. By using a variety of tactics — such as holding press conferences and organizing parties with supporters — they have turned their stories of rejecting the military into a social movement.

Activists ride their bikes together on Conscientious Objector’s Day in 2017. (Flickr/World Without War)

At the center of this movement is the organization I work for — World Without War, or WWW — which was formed in 2003 by conscientious objectors and peace activists to support conscientious objection and promote the introduction of alternative service. WWW offered counseling to those who were concerned about refusing military service. The organization also worked together with these conscientious objectors to consider, plan and implement ways to communicate their ideas to Korean society. People who refuse to serve in the military naturally gathered around the WWW and went to jail after declaring their conscientious objection to military service.

In the early days of the campaign, WWW mainly talked about creating alternative service rather than how to prevent objectors from being sent to prison. Following the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the sending of Korean soldiers to fight there in 2003, participation in the campaign for conscientious objection gradually came to be seen as civil disobedience against state violence. This strengthened the peace movement and led people to reject the military for a wider variety of reasons.

Soldiers have refused military service after witnessing state violence against protesters or troops being sent to fight in unjust wars; feminists have refused in order to redefine and expand the understanding of masculinity, which the military has distorted; and queer activists have rejected the norms around gender and sexual orientation forced upon them by the military when they declare their conscientious objection with WWW.

WWW worked to expand its contact with the international community while continuing its conscientious objection campaign. International peace movements such as War Resisters’ International, or WRI, have been providing important advice, planning and help executing campaigns since the beginning of the Korean movement. For Korean civil society, where the issue of objecting to military service was unfamiliar, international solidarity was an oasis in the desert. Strategies for campaigns and case studies from other countries have been of great help. WWW has also engaged with the United Nations and other international bodies. In particular, international law and international human rights treaties have played an important role in influencing the judiciary to rule in favor of conscientious objection.

In 2007, the Roh Moo-hyun government decided to introduce an alternative service system, but the decision was completely reversed by the Ministry of Defense after the conservative Lee Myung-bak government came into power. After that setback, activists felt helpless. They had done everything they could think of, including organizing all kinds of street actions, lobbying to put pressure on the National Assembly, creating international solidarity and engaging the international human rights bodies. Given Korea’s political landscape, it was questionable whether change would be possible if the conservative government continued. Activists were tired, discouraged, and above all else, had lost track of what to do and what could be done.

To reflect on its activism and re-energize plans to build future campaigns, WWW hosted a nonviolence training using Bill Moyer’s Movement Action Plan tool, with the help of WRI. This proved to be very timely and necessary for those involved in the campaign. This training allowed the activists to feel re-empowered. They were able to ease their anxiety by learning that social movements are a long process and by finding strategies they needed to achieve their short- and long-term goals. In addition, each activist was able to actively find their roles in the campaign on the path to success.

A woman carries flowers during an action on Conscientious Objector’s Day in 2018. (Flickr/World Without War)

The leadership of women also had a great influence on the Korean conscientious objection movement. Since military service is only mandatory for men, women have naturally taken on leadership roles as men who refuse are imprisoned. This has enabled female activists to lead the campaign against military service in Korea, which has led to the development of a more equal and democratic movement. WWW therefore did not fall into easy traps associated with conscientious objection movements, such as the heroizing of male objectors.

Efforts to overcome the limits of success

With the Constitutional Court’s decision, the introduction of an alternative service system is now a reality. However, some officials in the Ministry of National Defense and the government are not interested in addressing whether alternative service meets human rights standards. The conservative party, for example, is arguing that alternative service should be used as a form of punishment.

The system proposed by the ministry on Dec. 28, requires those who opt for alternative service to work twice as long as they would if they joined the military, and limits their service to correctional facilities. If the introduction of alternative service follows this approach, it may not be a way to expand freedom of conscience or weaken militarism, but rather serve as another way to punish conscientious objectors.

As a result, WWW is working with other civil society organizations to ensure that the government’s proposed alternative service is made available in a more human rights-friendly and non-punitive manner. Campaigns are currently being organized to pressure the Ministry of National Defense and persuade the government, as well as improve public opinion on conscientious objection.

With the help of Joomin Park — a member of the National Assembly, who is a human rights lawyer and an advocate of conscientious objection — WWW will be making a list of lawmakers who may be easier to persuade and targeting them with actions, both online and offline. They also plan to introduce examples of alternative service from other countries that are more just.

WWW is fully aware of the fundamental limitation of alternative service and is now preparing to develop the anti-militarism movement after its introduction. Activists have held seminars and discussions on this topic, and in the coming months will hold workshops to set goals and strategies for WWW as the movement evolves beyond alternative service.

Translation by Jungmin Choi and proofreading by Tom Rainey Smith.

Why Bernie Sanders’ plan to recruit 1 million volunteers is a winning movement strategy

by Nicole Carty

Bernie Sanders speaking with supporters at a town meeting in Phoenix in July 2015. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

Sen. Bernie Sanders is now the 12th person to launch a bid for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States. The oldest candidate to run for office in history and the most radical in a crowd of competitors, Bernie could seem like a long shot.

But to think that would mean you haven’t been paying attention because Sanders’ ground-game is exceptionally strong.

His residual 2016 infrastructure alone establishes him as a front-runner. He’s got an all volunteer meme-factory 400,000 strong, no less than three distinct organizations supporting his candidacy, and a grassroots donor base of over 200,000 so eager for another round of Sanders’ that they raised him $6 million dollars in the first 24 hours of his campaign.

While all of this is unprecedented, Sanders’ smartest move yet may be his intention to recruit “one million active volunteers” to join the campaign.

With over 600 days left until the election, there are enough candidates to field a football team and the competition is only likely to grow. The primary battle for the next Democratic candidate is very likely to last right up until the July convention, which means we have over 16 more months for the public to contest who deserves to be the nominee. And this is why Sanders’ volunteer strategy sets him apart.

Aside from the obvious capacity, a volunteer force of one million can provide for a campaign, ongoing visible action and volunteer support can build credibility for the Sanders campaign and platform in a way that money, ads and rallies cannot. There is nothing like a million people in action, reaching out to their friends, authentically advocating for Sanders and his policy in their own words to turn the tide of opinion in Sanders’ favor.

Momentum, a movement incubator and training organization, calls this sort of lasting engagement “active popular support.” It’s a decisive factor in popularizing new ideas and shifting public opinion. Active popular support can transform dominant thinking, making people more sympathetic to — and aware of — ideas they did not previously consider. It’s a key component of how social movements win their demands.

Its power is substantiated by data. Erica Chenoweth, professor of public policy at Harvard, found in her research that no social movement has failed to meet its demands if 3.5 percent of a population engage in sustained nonviolent action.

And what’s 3.5 percent of the roughly 28.8 million people who cast a ballot in the Democratic primary? One million. Look at that.

Now, Chenoweth’s research is not meant to be used for predictive purposes, but it does indicate that the sustained volunteer strategy — from a movement perspective — has the potential to be extremely successful for the Sanders campaign. It’s certainly a powerful start.

What’s more, the presence of volunteers draws more people to support the campaign and demonstrates that there is a place for them to fully engage. If the Sanders campaign can find a way to quickly plug in new volunteers they will be able to add even further to their organizational capacity and build even more support among the public for their candidate. All of this could very likely set Sanders out ahead of the rest in a very crowded primary field.

If this base of active support helps Sanders win the primaries — which it very well could — he would then be in an extremely good position to win the general election, countering the over $100 million Trump has already raised for his 2020 run. And Sanders will do this with priceless human infrastructure, setting up a true 1 percent vs. grassroots stand-off in the general election.

To be sure, Sanders still has obstacles ahead. He has yet to meaningfully or convincingly connect with voters of color, especially large portions of the older black population — the most staunchly Democratic population in the country. Sanders may have a hard time getting his volunteer army to be and look representative of the American public. Failing to attract a base consisting of the full diversity of America would be a disqualifying blow for him or any other serious Democratic contender for 2020 for that matter. But Sanders is identifying that active, recurring support is a foundational metric in his campaign. That means he’s not really building a campaign — he’s building a movement. And if Barack Obama or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have shown us anything, it’s that movements are what win elections.

Why Bernie Sanders’ plan to recruit 1 million volunteers is a winning movement strategy

Sen. Bernie Sanders is now the 12th person to launch a bid for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States. The oldest candidate to run for office in history and the most radical in a crowd of competitors, Bernie could seem like a long shot.

But to think that would mean you haven’t been paying attention because Sanders’ ground-game is exceptionally strong.

His residual 2016 infrastructure alone establishes him as a front-runner. He’s got an all volunteer meme-factory 400,000 strong, no less than three distinct organizations supporting his candidacy, and a grassroots donor base of over 200,000 so eager for another round of Sanders’ that they raised him $6 million dollars in the first 24 hours of his campaign.

While all of this is unprecedented, Sanders’ smartest move yet may be his intention to recruit “one million active volunteers” to join the campaign.

With over 600 days left until the election, there are enough candidates to field a football team and the competition is only likely to grow. The primary battle for the next Democratic candidate is very likely to last right up until the July convention, which means we have over 16 more months for the public to contest who deserves to be the nominee. And this is why Sanders’ volunteer strategy sets him apart.

Aside from the obvious capacity, a volunteer force of one million can provide for a campaign, ongoing visible action and volunteer support can build credibility for the Sanders campaign and platform in a way that money, ads and rallies cannot. There is nothing like a million people in action, reaching out to their friends, authentically advocating for Sanders and his policy in their own words to turn the tide of opinion in Sanders’ favor.

Momentum, a movement incubator and training organization, calls this sort of lasting engagement “active popular support.” It’s a decisive factor in popularizing new ideas and shifting public opinion. Active popular support can transform dominant thinking, making people more sympathetic to — and aware of — ideas they did not previously consider. It’s a key component of how social movements win their demands.

Its power is substantiated by data. Erica Chenoweth, professor of public policy at Harvard, found in her research that no social movement has failed to meet its demands if 3.5 percent of a population engage in sustained nonviolent action.

And what’s 3.5 percent of the roughly 28.8 million people who cast a ballot in the Democratic primary? One million. Look at that.

Now, Chenoweth’s research is not meant to be used for predictive purposes, but it does indicate that the sustained volunteer strategy — from a movement perspective — has the potential to be extremely successful for the Sanders campaign. It’s certainly a powerful start.

What’s more, the presence of volunteers draws more people to support the campaign and demonstrates that there is a place for them to fully engage. If the Sanders campaign can find a way to quickly plug in new volunteers they will be able to add even further to their organizational capacity and build even more support among the public for their candidate. All of this could very likely set Sanders out ahead of the rest in a very crowded primary field.

If this base of active support helps Sanders win the primaries — which it very well could — he would then be in an extremely good position to win the general election, countering the over $100 million Trump has already raised for his 2020 run. And Sanders will do this with priceless human infrastructure, setting up a true 1 percent vs. grassroots stand-off in the general election.

To be sure, Sanders still has obstacles ahead. He has yet to meaningfully or convincingly connect with voters of color, especially large portions of the older black population — the most staunchly Democratic population in the country. Sanders may have a hard time getting his volunteer army to be and look representative of the American public. Failing to attract a base consisting of the full diversity of America would be a disqualifying blow for him or any other serious Democratic contender for 2020 for that matter. But Sanders is identifying that active, recurring support is a foundational metric in his campaign. That means he’s not really building a campaign — he’s building a movement. And if Barack Obama or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have shown us anything, it’s that movements are what win elections.

The post Why Bernie Sanders’ plan to recruit 1 million volunteers is a winning movement strategy appeared first on Waging Nonviolence.

How to fight fascism from a position of strength

by George Lakey

Members of Operation Libero celebrate upholding Switzerland as a pillar of democracy. (Twitter / @operationlibero)

This column is the third in a series about resisting fascism. See part one and part two.

The growth of white supremacy and fascism has been noticeable in a number of countries lately, prompting the question: What can we learn from each other? Each country might find “best practices” elsewhere that could be applied at home, in addition to learning from its own past successes.

Americans might be especially drawn to the Swiss example because what has been working for that country addresses not only our current immigration crisis but also the need among progressive U.S. movements to re-learn how to go on the offensive.

According to Flavia Kleiner, a young leader in the movement Operation Libero, the right wing grew steadily for two decades in Switzerland using the issue of immigration. The right-wingers cleverly introduced a series of modest anti-immigrant initiatives — each of which contained some common-sense logic — and used their successes to become the largest political force in Switzerland.

My impression is that the Swiss right-wing’s strategy was like the movement against reproductive choice in the United States — a series of steps designed to chip away at a woman’s right to choose. Switzerland’s established parties reacted to this offensive in the way the Democrats do in the United Sates: by going on the defensive and trying to hold on to previously-won gains. In both countries, the largest parties operate contrary to the folk wisdom that “the best defense is a good offense.”

Kleiner and her friends, however, knew better, and they launched a grassroots initiative. Their crowd-funded, volunteer-based campaign defeated the Swiss People’s party in four major referendum battles from 2016-2018.

Operation Libero did this by ignoring the established parties’ strategy of defending existing immigration policies. Instead, the movement put forward a vision that stressed Switzerland’s progressive values. In their cultural context, they framed the vote as an affirmation of their pluralist constitution, “a pillar of the liberal democracy” that the vast majority of Swiss are proud of. They were so effective at re-framing the referenda that the right wing had to change its own argument and go on the defensive. As a result, the anti-immigrant cause lost its referendum for the fifth time in November.

Can individuals also go on the offensive?

In Denmark, where neo-fascism has been on the rise, Sherin Khankan was getting abusive letters and implied death threats. She led the Mariam mosque in Copenhagen, and was the first female imam, or cleric, in Danish Islam.

From her start in February 2016, she knew her position would arouse controversy in that country. She also expected to be pressured from inside Islam, since one of her major objectives was to use her leadership to challenge patriarchal structures in religious institutions. The result: she didn’t know who would have her back.

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Khankan’s Muslim father is a refugee from Syria who came to Denmark after being imprisoned and tortured for his opposition to the regime. She knew from his experience what courage looked like. But still, the threats worried her.

One person she turned to for advice was Jacob Holdt, an internationally known Danish artist who owned the building she used for the mosque. A few months afterward, my partner and I happened to be visiting Holdt in Copenhagen. I asked the artist what happened to the threats against Khankan.

Jacob chuckled and said, “She was very surprised with my answer, but she trusted me enough to try it. She used her networking skills to track down some of the extremist leaders of the anti-immigrant movement, then she went to see them. She knocked on their doors at their homes, talked with them, let them see her courage and what she’s made of.”

The fascists were, of course, startled. What’s more, as Jacob explained, “They were so impressed by her boldness that they agreed to put the word out that she shouldn’t be hurt or threatened.”

Now the mosque is flourishing with a female co-leader Saliha Marie Fetteh, offering mixed-gender services on most days and a women’s service on Fridays. Taking the offensive seems to be the way to go.

What’s going on in public confrontations?

Right-wing extremists have two main strategies for public actions. One is to set up situations where they can play the victim and increase sympathetic interest in their cause, or at least to polarize and confuse the issues — something Richard Spencer has done on college campuses.

I’ve also seen that approach used in my own neighborhood park in West Philadelphia. It happened last year, during a Pagan Pride festival, when a few right-wing evangelicals showed up on the edge of the park to do street speaking against feminism, gender diversity, homosexuality and of course paganism.

My neighborhood is full of progressive and radical activists. Enough of a crowd gathered, so the police showed up.

At first some of my neighbors, understandably upset by the inflammatory denunciations being made by the evangelicals, argued back. I watched, ready to intervene if no one else would. Happily, several people in the crowd began to explain the game the evangelicals were playing, urging that our neighbors not cooperate with that game. My neighbors “got it,” and stopped. The evangelicals, clearly disappointed, soon departed. They didn’t manage to look like victims after all.

The other favorite tactic of right-wing extremists is to threaten and use violence to increase the fear level of their opponents. Symbols are less costly than actually injuring and killing, and so they like to use symbols like clubs, tiki torches, burning crosses, or dressing in sheets or military-style uniforms. By getting there first, they set the tone, but they don’t win just by doing that. Their victory comes when their opponents respond in a like manner and try to out-intimidate the intimidators.

The threat of counter-violence reinforces the “action logic” of the fascists: we are the framers of this contest, and our opponents concede by following our lead. The confrontation has become a contest about who is best able to scare the other side into changing their behavior.

Not only have the right-wing extremists succeeded in getting progressives to copy their tactics, but the nature of the tactics used by both sides drain the contest of its ideological content. It’s violence vs. violence — fear vs. fear. That’s why Donald Trump and others could claim that, in Charlottesville, both sides were to blame. In Germany and Italy in the 1920s, the bystanders to street fighting between fascists and leftists came to the view that what was needed was a strong state to stop the violence. (And we know who the economic elite in both countries chose to lead the state: Hitler and Mussolini!)

Alternatives to playing the fear game

The grassroots progressive Swiss solution was not only to go on the offensive with visionary content. They re-framed, set a different tone, confounded the right-wingers, and won over and over. What’s the equivalent on the streets?

In a number of countries grassroots people have been experimenting with re-framing and sending a message that strongly contrasts with the right-wingers. In Sweden the Clowns against Racism confronted a spring rally last year of the extreme-right Nordic Resistance Movement in the town of Ludvika. The clowns became so popular, exceeding numbers that can march without a permit, that the police announced they needed to pay a fine. That announcement gained even more publicity for their refusal to follow the neo-fascist’s tactical lead.

Clowning has also shown up in Finland and Scotland. In her delightful article for Waging Nonviolence, Sarah Freeman-Woolpert describes clowning in a number of U.S. localities. In Knoxville, Tennessee, the clown brigade was so effective that the neo-Nazi group called off their demonstration several hours early.

In Wunsiedel, Germany, some merry pranksters who oppose neo-Nazi ideology came out to cheer the marchers. Why? They’d turned it into a fundraising event: local residents and businesses pledged to donate 10 euros for every meter the white supremacists marched. The funds raised went to an anti-fascist group helping people leave right-wing organizations.

Where does activist creativity come from?

The strategic initiatives in Switzerland and Denmark — as well as the tactical innovations in multiple countries — come from activists who turn from the reactive part of their brain (fight, flight or freeze) to the creative side, even in the face of danger. Humans, including top athletes, are simply more effective when we visualize the result we want, tapping the resource of vision.

The decades of defensiveness of the Democrats, copied by most major progressive movements, rendered our country vision-averse. The big signal of change was the Movement for Black Lives’ 2016 release of a vision for the United States that, for the first time, gives us a chance to move past racism.

That same year, visionaries in the Northwest proposed a huge, solar-based reinvention of transportation across the northern tier of the country called “Solutionary Rail.” And, in 2017, Popular Resistance convened a gathering that wrote “The People’s Agenda.”

In 2018, a grassroots group of Vermonters, after reading about the Nordic countries’ success in turning their countries around, realized that collective vision was a critical ingredient. The group called for a statewide “Vermont Vision Summit.” A hundred people came together from all parts of Vermont, deciding to tackle a vision on the state level.

Now the Sunrise Movement and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have made the Green New Deal a buzzword among progressives.

Is our political discourse getting ready for vision? I hope so, because not only does it anchor us in a place of creativity — where we can give up playing the fear game with the neo-fascists — but it also invites the possibility of a movement of movements that could actually take on the dominance of the 1 percent. A vision helps because it shows how the disparate groups struggling on their own issues can share a vision that will liberate all from the ability of the economic elite to veto each of our separate group’s hopes.

All substantial progressive goals are now vetoed by the economic elite that controls both the Republican and Democratic parties. Only a people’s movement of movements can scale up nonviolent direct action to the level where it can force a power shift. Each movement needs the others in such an undertaking. Each deserves the reassurance that its priority goals will be achieved in the new society.

The lesson is clear, whether learned by grassroots movements in Switzerland or elsewhere: Without a vision, the people perish. We don’t need to build our political identities around what we’re against. It’s time we align our tactics, strategies, and organizing approaches with a positive, common sense vision that inspires us.

How to fight fascism from a position of strength

This column is the third in a series about resisting fascism. See part one and part two.

The growth of white supremacy and fascism has been noticeable in a number of countries lately, prompting the question: What can we learn from each other? Each country might find “best practices” elsewhere that could be applied at home, in addition to learning from its own past successes.

Americans might be especially drawn to the Swiss example because what has been working for that country addresses not only our current immigration crisis but also the need among progressive U.S. movements to re-learn how to go on the offensive.

According to Flavia Kleiner, a young leader in the movement Operation Libero, the right wing grew steadily for two decades in Switzerland using the issue of immigration. The right-wingers cleverly introduced a series of modest anti-immigrant initiatives — each of which contained some common-sense logic — and used their successes to become the largest political force in Switzerland.

My impression is that the Swiss right-wing’s strategy was like the movement against reproductive choice in the United States — a series of steps designed to chip away at a woman’s right to choose. Switzerland’s established parties reacted to this offensive in the way the Democrats do in the United Sates: by going on the defensive and trying to hold on to previously-won gains. In both countries, the largest parties operate contrary to the folk wisdom that “the best defense is a good offense.”

Kleiner and her friends, however, knew better, and they launched a grassroots initiative. Their crowd-funded, volunteer-based campaign defeated the Swiss People’s party in four major referendum battles from 2016-2018.

Operation Libero did this by ignoring the established parties’ strategy of defending existing immigration policies. Instead, the movement put forward a vision that stressed Switzerland’s progressive values. In their cultural context, they framed the vote as an affirmation of their pluralist constitution, “a pillar of the liberal democracy” that the vast majority of Swiss are proud of. They were so effective at re-framing the referenda that the right wing had to change its own argument and go on the defensive. As a result, the anti-immigrant cause lost its referendum for the fifth time in November.

Can individuals also go on the offensive?

In Denmark, where neo-fascism has been on the rise, Sherin Khankan was getting abusive letters and implied death threats. She led the Mariam mosque in Copenhagen, and was the first female imam, or cleric, in Danish Islam.

From her start in February 2016, she knew her position would arouse controversy in that country. She also expected to be pressured from inside Islam, since one of her major objectives was to use her leadership to challenge patriarchal structures in religious institutions. The result: she didn’t know who would have her back.

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Khankan’s Muslim father is a refugee from Syria who came to Denmark after being imprisoned and tortured for his opposition to the regime. She knew from his experience what courage looked like. But still, the threats worried her.

One person she turned to for advice was Jacob Holdt, an internationally known Danish artist who owned the building she used for the mosque. A few months afterward, my partner and I happened to be visiting Holdt in Copenhagen. I asked the artist what happened to the threats against Khankan.

Jacob chuckled and said, “She was very surprised with my answer, but she trusted me enough to try it. She used her networking skills to track down some of the extremist leaders of the anti-immigrant movement, then she went to see them. She knocked on their doors at their homes, talked with them, let them see her courage and what she’s made of.”

The fascists were, of course, startled. What’s more, as Jacob explained, “They were so impressed by her boldness that they agreed to put the word out that she shouldn’t be hurt or threatened.”

Now the mosque is flourishing with a female co-leader Saliha Marie Fetteh, offering mixed-gender services on most days and a women’s service on Fridays. Taking the offensive seems to be the way to go.

What’s going on in public confrontations?

Right-wing extremists have two main strategies for public actions. One is to set up situations where they can play the victim and increase sympathetic interest in their cause, or at least to polarize and confuse the issues — something Richard Spencer has done on college campuses.

I’ve also seen that approach used in my own neighborhood park in West Philadelphia. It happened last year, during a Pagan Pride festival, when a few right-wing evangelicals showed up on the edge of the park to do street speaking against feminism, gender diversity, homosexuality and of course paganism.

My neighborhood is full of progressive and radical activists. Enough of a crowd gathered, so the police showed up.

At first some of my neighbors, understandably upset by the inflammatory denunciations being made by the evangelicals, argued back. I watched, ready to intervene if no one else would. Happily, several people in the crowd began to explain the game the evangelicals were playing, urging that our neighbors not cooperate with that game. My neighbors “got it,” and stopped. The evangelicals, clearly disappointed, soon departed. They didn’t manage to look like victims after all.

The other favorite tactic of right-wing extremists is to threaten and use violence to increase the fear level of their opponents. Symbols are less costly than actually injuring and killing, and so they like to use symbols like clubs, tiki torches, burning crosses, or dressing in sheets or military-style uniforms. By getting there first, they set the tone, but they don’t win just by doing that. Their victory comes when their opponents respond in a like manner and try to out-intimidate the intimidators.

The threat of counter-violence reinforces the “action logic” of the fascists: we are the framers of this contest, and our opponents concede by following our lead. The confrontation has become a contest about who is best able to scare the other side into changing their behavior.

Not only have the right-wing extremists succeeded in getting progressives to copy their tactics, but the nature of the tactics used by both sides drain the contest of its ideological content. It’s violence vs. violence — fear vs. fear. That’s why Donald Trump and others could claim that, in Charlottesville, both sides were to blame. In Germany and Italy in the 1920s, the bystanders to street fighting between fascists and leftists came to the view that what was needed was a strong state to stop the violence. (And we know who the economic elite in both countries chose to lead the state: Hitler and Mussolini!)

Alternatives to playing the fear game

The grassroots progressive Swiss solution was not only to go on the offensive with visionary content. They re-framed, set a different tone, confounded the right-wingers, and won over and over. What’s the equivalent on the streets?

In a number of countries grassroots people have been experimenting with re-framing and sending a message that strongly contrasts with the right-wingers. In Sweden the Clowns against Racism confronted a spring rally last year of the extreme-right Nordic Resistance Movement in the town of Ludvika. The clowns became so popular, exceeding numbers that can march without a permit, that the police announced they needed to pay a fine. That announcement gained even more publicity for their refusal to follow the neo-fascist’s tactical lead.

Clowning has also shown up in Finland and Scotland. In her delightful article for Waging Nonviolence, Sarah Freeman-Woolpert describes clowning in a number of U.S. localities. In Knoxville, Tennessee, the clown brigade was so effective that the neo-Nazi group called off their demonstration several hours early.

In Wunsiedel, Germany, some merry pranksters who oppose neo-Nazi ideology came out to cheer the marchers. Why? They’d turned it into a fundraising event: local residents and businesses pledged to donate 10 euros for every meter the white supremacists marched. The funds raised went to an anti-fascist group helping people leave right-wing organizations.

Where does activist creativity come from?

The strategic initiatives in Switzerland and Denmark — as well as the tactical innovations in multiple countries — come from activists who turn from the reactive part of their brain (fight, flight or freeze) to the creative side, even in the face of danger. Humans, including top athletes, are simply more effective when we visualize the result we want, tapping the resource of vision.

The decades of defensiveness of the Democrats, copied by most major progressive movements, rendered our country vision-averse. The big signal of change was the Movement for Black Lives’ 2016 release of a vision for the United States that, for the first time, gives us a chance to move past racism.

That same year, visionaries in the Northwest proposed a huge, solar-based reinvention of transportation across the northern tier of the country called “Solutionary Rail.” And, in 2017, Popular Resistance convened a gathering that wrote “The People’s Agenda.”

In 2018, a grassroots group of Vermonters, after reading about the Nordic countries’ success in turning their countries around, realized that collective vision was a critical ingredient. The group called for a statewide “Vermont Vision Summit.” A hundred people came together from all parts of Vermont, deciding to tackle a vision on the state level.

Now the Sunrise Movement and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have made the Green New Deal a buzzword among progressives.

Is our political discourse getting ready for vision? I hope so, because not only does it anchor us in a place of creativity — where we can give up playing the fear game with the neo-fascists — but it also invites the possibility of a movement of movements that could actually take on the dominance of the 1 percent. A vision helps because it shows how the disparate groups struggling on their own issues can share a vision that will liberate all from the ability of the economic elite to veto each of our separate group’s hopes.

All substantial progressive goals are now vetoed by the economic elite that controls both the Republican and Democratic parties. Only a people’s movement of movements can scale up nonviolent direct action to the level where it can force a power shift. Each movement needs the others in such an undertaking. Each deserves the reassurance that its priority goals will be achieved in the new society.

The lesson is clear, whether learned by grassroots movements in Switzerland or elsewhere: Without a vision, the people perish. We don’t need to build our political identities around what we’re against. It’s time we align our tactics, strategies, and organizing approaches with a positive, common sense vision that inspires us.

The post How to fight fascism from a position of strength appeared first on Waging Nonviolence.

Revisiting the Catonsville Nine’s greatest day

by Frida Berrigan

Jack Cummings III’s new production of Daniel Berrigan’s award-winning play “The Trial of the Catonsville Nine.”

Courtrooms are sterile, airless places with strict dress codes and tightly scripted dialogue.

They are places of fear, judgment and dire consequences.

You don’t expect declarations like “We agree that this is the greatest day of our lives.” And yet, that was Daniel Berrigan’s response upon hearing the jury’s guilty verdict in the trial of the Catonsville Nine — a trial in which he was one of the defendants.

It all stemmed from an action that took place on May 17, 1968, when he and eight other Catholics burned more than 300 1-A draft files in the parking lot of the Knights of Columbus building in Catonsville, Maryland. They used homemade napalm. As the files burned, they stood in a semi-circle and recited the “Our Father.” Three wore clerics collars: David Darst, Daniel Berrigan and his brother, Philip Berrigan. Darst was a Christian Brother, and Phil Berrigan was a Josephite priest, who was later excommunicated when he and Elizabeth McAlister, a Catholic sister, married. (They had three children, and I am their eldest). Dan Berrigan was a Jesuit priest. The others were neatly dressed: Marjorie Melville and her husband Tom (they met in Guatemala, where they were a nun and priest), George Mische, Mary Moylan, John Hogan and Tom Lewis. The activists had alerted the press and, as the cameras were rolling, they burned the files that would call young men to military service in Vietnam.

That was a pretty great day for the nine, as they filed into the waiting police van. Some waved peace signs back at the cameras and the small crowd that had gathered. Right then, they knew they had accomplished their aim of destroying the records so that young men would not be drafted. They hoped to kindle a movement of draft board raids that would destroy tens of thousands of similar documents across the country over the next few years. They hoped that the spectacle of nine Catholics being arrested and tried for property destruction would awaken a somnolent Catholic Church into action against the war in Vietnam. By the time their trial started that fall, they knew they were accomplishing all these aims and more. They were demonstrating the power of community. They were using the trial as a platform for speaking about conscience, racism, economic exploitation, U.S. history and their faith. They were not following the script. They were not cowed by decorum. They were not afraid of the consequences of their actions.

That was more than 50 years ago. All but two of the co-defendants have since passed away. Wars continue to rage in every corner of the globe. The world moves so much faster today than it did in 1968, and the Catholic Church has lost most of its moral authority.

But the spirit of Catonsville — that freedom from fear, that joy found in resistance, that inspiration drawn from conspiracy — was all very much alive on Saturday, February 9 in a small theater in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. A sold-out crowd perched on court benches (or church pews) had just heard that incongruous statement of joyous completion — “We agree that this is the greatest day of our lives” —  in Jack Cummings III’s new production of Daniel Berrigan’s award-winning play “The Trial of the Catonsville Nine.”

But this time, the words were uttered by actor Eunice Wong, one of just three actors — alongside
Mia Katigback and David Huynh — in a play with more than a dozen parts. Together, they inhabit the roles of all nine co-defendants, the judge, the prosecution, the defense and the witnesses. The three actors are members of the National Asian American Theatre Company, which is a partner in the Transport Group’s production, running through February 23. The actors share and trade roles throughout the production, sometimes speaking lines together, sometimes switching from judge to defendant to prosecutor, and sometimes alternating between interior thought or recollection and testimony. All this is done without conventional gimmicks like different voices, accents or quick costume changes.

Actors David Huynh, Eunice Wong and Mia Katigback.

Wong, speaking as Daniel Berrigan, begins weeping at one point late in the play while speaking these words to the court: “We have chosen to say with the gift of our liberty, if necessary our lives: the violence stops here, the death stops here, the suppression of truth stops here, the war stops here! Redeem the times! The times are inexpressibly evil, and yet — and yet — the times are inexhaustibly good, solaced by the courage and hope of many.” I started crying too. And I am sure I was not the only one. I’ve always thought of my uncle, who passed away in April 2016 just a few days before his 95th birthday, as a reserved and self-contained man. He did not weep in public, in my experience. But there he was — vividly resurrected with a full depth of emotion — in Wong’s portrayal, and I felt reunited with him in that moment. It was an incredible gift.

Another, less personal, gift of the Transport Group’s production was how the work put the nine defendants on equal footing. As someone who bears the name Berrigan, I have always been conscious of how the media viewed the Catonsville Nine as “Berrigan and 7 others” and how that celebrity driven shorthand obviates the contributions of John Hogan, Tom Lewis, David Darst, Mary Moylan, George Mische, Marjorie and Tom Melville. In traditional productions of the play, there are always eight static figures of the defendants who are not speaking. But in the hands, voices and bodies of Wong, Huynh and Katigback there is no room for stardom or media anointed leadership. The nine defendants’ voices are equalized by their embodiment in the three actors.

Jack Cummings III’s production of the “Trial of the Catonsville Nine” is modern, moving and — most importantly — motivating. There is no separation between actor and audience. We are implicated; we are the jury that finds them guilty or we are the supporters who must leave the courtroom to continue the work while they are hauled off to prison.

I watched this play as my mother entered her 10th month in a county jail in Georgia for her part in the Kings Bay Plowshares in April 2017. She and her six co-defendants do not yet have a trial date. Writing from jail, she said, “We came to the Kings Bay Submarine Base animated by the absurd conviction that we could make some impact on slowing, if not ending, the mad rush to the devastation of our magnificent planet. And this is no extreme overstatement. The six submarines at Kings Bay carry enough destructive firepower to destroy all life on earth… We come with our voices and our lives. We raise our voices in a cry to dismantle the weapons — all of them. And we risk life and limb and our future hopes to make this plea. Dismantle the weapons.”

Frida Berrigan (center) with director Jack Cummings III (left) and the cast of “The Trial of the Catonsville Nine.” (WNV / Matt Daloisio)

The Kings Bay Plowshares — Elizabeth McAllister, Father Steve Kelly, Mark Colville, Martha Hennessey, Clare Grady, Patrick O’Neill and Carmen Trotta — acted in the spirit of the Catonsville Nine. It was an honor to speak their names and share their story after Saturday’s performance, when I was invited to share my reactions and thoughts in a discussion facilitated by the show’s dramaturg Kristina Corcoran Williams. I offered that Uncle Dan would have loved to sit next to me in the audience and see his work, his words and his life-witness revitalized by all who contributed to the production.

Redeem the times. Dismantle the weapons.

Temple controversy sparks quiet revolution by women for religious equality in India

by Payal Mohta

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On Wednesday, India’s Supreme Court heard as many as 65 review petitions seeking to reimpose a ban on the entry of women in an ancient Hindu temple. The court has decided it needs more time to make a judgement on the matter. Only four months ago, the same court allowed women to enter the very same temple, for the first time, after decades of denial.

Since then, India has erupted over a new-age debate on religious equality.

The temple at the center of the controversy is called the Sabarimala Sree Dharmasastha. It is situated in the Periyar Tiger Reserve of the northern state of Kerala in India. One of the country’s biggest pilgrimage sites, it is visited by over 50 million people each year. A short trek through the surrounding hills and forests is required to reach the shrine.

For centuries the Sabarimala temple has denied the entry of women between the age of 10 and 50. Temple authorities claim that its deity, Lord Ayyappa, is celibate and to respect his mission, he must not be distracted by the presence of women. Those who oppose the ban believe that disallowing women to offer prayers in the shrine is rooted in the orthodox notion that menstruating women defile a place of worship.

In 1991, religious sentiments prevailed and the Kerala government passed a law forbidding women of the particular age bracket from entering the temple.

The recent ruling that reversed the ban came as a result of a petition filed by the Indian Young Lawyers Association in 2006. They argued that the ban violated guarantees of equality, non-discrimination and religious freedom of women, which are protected by the constitution of India.

While the Communist Party of India Marxist, or CPIM, which has a political majority in Kerala — along with revered religious Hindu leader Swami Sandeepnandana Giri — supported the move, right-wing Hindu groups like the ruling Bhartiya Janta Party, or BJP, Akhil Bhartiya Parishad, Shiv Sena and a national body of Ayyappa devotees expressed their staunch disapproval.

From demanding an ordinance in the state assembly against the top court’s verdict to threats of mass immolation, the entry of women in the temple has triggered large-scale political agitation. Even the supposedly secular Congress party has denounced the court’s verdict. Many view the political opposition as a way for the BJP and Congress to gain the vote of Kerala’s upper-caste Nair community, which is against the entry of women in Sabarimala.

The magnitude of the opposition was revealed only in October 2018, when Sabarimala first opened its doors after the reversal of the ban. A group of 13 women that included locals, reporters, activists and even a New York Times journalist attempted to enter the temple. Many of them had police protection. However, violent right-wing mobs and orthodox devotees blocked their path, which forced the women to turn back. Protesters also formed human walls, heckled the women and even threw stones at them to deter them from entering the shrine.

According to a report by the First Post, the base camp at Nilakkal, which is about 12 miles away from the Sabarimala shrine, was teeming with protesters — mostly women — inspecting cars, buses and other vehicles heading to Pamba (from where the shrine can be accessed by foot) for female pilgrims. Hundreds of these women protesters forcibly dragged female devotees out of their vehicles. Female members of the press and their cameramen covering the protests were also harassed to the point that they were forced to stop recording.

The absence of women police officers at the scene aggravated the situation further, as male cops have limited ability in physically controlling the actions of female protesters.

“It’s almost as if these people view women as terrorists,” Manoj, a father who had to protect his 22-year-old daughter from being forced out of a bus by an angry mob, told NDTV.

After six days of what seemed like the rule of hooliganism, the temple shut its door, not having let any women step inside it. While political debate — between the respect for religious sentiment and gender equality — raged on national media, the women of Kerala were getting ready for a quiet revolution.

On New Year’s Day, an estimated 3 million women stood shoulder to shoulder along national highways in Kerala to form a “Women’s Wall” that ran the length of the state. The wall stretched for almost 385 miles. The event was billed the largest congregation ever of women in Kerala. These women came from diverse backgrounds and included locals, activists, journalists, celebrities and politicians from both rural and urban regions.

The Women’s Wall was conceptualized by Punnala Sreekumar, who is the secretary of Kerala Pulaya Maha Sabha — an organization of a scheduled-caste community, the official name given in India to the lowest caste, which is regarded as socially and economically disadvantaged. The organizations participating in the wall were leaders and workers of the Left Democratic Front, or LDF, a major coalition of political parties in Kerala including the CPIM, and their allies. Other members included the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam, an organization representing the numerically-strong Ezhava community — another socially and economically disadvantaged group — and government-sponsored self-help groups for women.

In the city of Kannur, which is home to Kerala’s chief minister, the CPIM went door-to-door to sign women up for the wall. “We told them [the women] that this has nothing to do with the Sabarimala issue. This is to do with going against a system that sees women as second-class citizens,” Prabhakaran, secretary of the CPIM’s branch of a village in Kannur told the Caravan.

In a press release, the Self-Financing College Teachers And Staff Association in Kerala promised that 25,000 of its teachers would be part of the wall.

On the day of the Women’s Wall, there was no direct reference made to the entry of women in the Sabarimala. The participants of the Wall pledged to support gender justice as well as Kerala’s renaissance movement. They were referring to the social reform led by Kerala’s renowned thinkers of the 19th century, who sought to resolve the rampant casteist practices prevalent in the state at the time.

This is significant because India has a history of caste perpetuating religious discrimination. So the Women’s Wall stood for both caste and gender equality.

For Bindu Ammini and Kanakadurga, who goes by one name, both women in their 40s, the Women’s Wall served as an inspiration to make a second attempt at entering the Sabarimala shrine. The duo had tried to access the temple on Dec. 24 but had to retreat when an angry mob attacked the police personnel who were escorting them. Undeterred the two women stayed in a secret location for a week, away from media glare and police surveillance, as reported by Scroll.

On Jan. 2, Ammini and Kanakadurga started their climb to the temple a little after midnight. Cloaked in the darkness before dawn, they offered prayers in the Sabarimala shrine at 3:45 a.m. “The violent mob was out of that place,” Ammini told the New York Times. “No devotee raised any voice against our journey to the shrine.”

Soon after the women’s visit, a set of protests followed in the coming weeks. The head priest of the shrine closed the temple to perform “purification rituals,” the BJP announced a state-wide strike in Kerala, while the Congress Party there observed a “black day” and violence was reported from several parts of Kerala. Continued threats from fundamentalists have even forced Ammini and Kanakadurga to go into hiding.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has completely disregarded women’s entry in Sabarimala by criticizing the CPIM government’s commitment to allowing women to enter the temple as “shameful.”

Yet, Kerala’s ruling government remains a resolute supporter of women’s rights. In a recent speech, the state’s governor, P. Sathasivam said that the CPIM-led LDF government was “duty-bound” to implement the supreme court’s verdict permitting women of all age groups into the Lord Ayyappa shrine. According to a report by the Hindu, the LDF along with 174 organizations that were integral to the formation of the Women’s Wall, are gearing up for yet another “neo-renaissance movement to consolidate and sustain the momentum gained through the wall.”

With several other religious sites in India denying women the right to worship, the feminist activism surrounding the Sabarimala controversy is a milestone in religious equality for the country. And it points the way forward for women’s rights in deeply patriarchal India.

How can allies protect communities threatened with violence?

by George Lakey

A white ally marching with the striking Memphis sanitation workers in 1968. (Flickr)

A favorite tactic of the extremist right is to attack oppressed communities in order to discourage them from standing up for themselves. Milo Yiannopolous and Ann Coulter stand out as two celebrities who have done this verbally, while new groups like the Proud Boys and old groups like the Ku Klux Klan do it physically.

When those who aren’t the ones being targeted show solidarity in some way, progressive movements have a better chance to grow. In the early 1970s gay men suffered a wave of physical attacks outside bars in Philadelphia’s Gayborhood because we’d gained publicity while campaigning for our rights. I led nonviolent workshops for the Gay Activist Alliance on how to respond to the bashers. I remember how moved I was when heterosexuals turned up at the workshops as well.

In the proud history of LGBTQ progress, heterosexuals played an ally role even when it put them in jeopardy in one way or another. They were following the path of white people who’d risked by joining civil rights actions even though they were sometimes more severely beaten than their black comrades because whites were regarded as “race-traitors.” An example is portrayed in the Danny Glover film “Freedom Song,” the story of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s entrance into Mississippi Klan territory.

Avoiding the ‘white savior syndrome’

Starting in the early 1980s liberals and progressives in the United States developed a culture that prioritized defense. When the economic elite initiated its fierce pushback, symbolized by President Ronald Reagan’s 1981 firing of the air traffic controllers in order to break their union, most of the major progressive movements of the 1960s and ‘70s became reactive. They decided to focus on retaining previously-won gains.

A brave exception was the LGBTQ movement, which remained on the offensive and continued to win victories. The rest — labor, civil rights, women, school reformers — found their gains eroding, which is what happens when people go on the defensive.

The progressives’ new defense-oriented culture means that antifa’s claim to defend vulnerable communities is appealing. For example, if you’re a middle-class activist already trying to defend previously-achieved gains, it will only seem natural to apply that approach to your newfound embrace of identity politics. After all, if your collective identity includes privilege, shouldn’t you leap to defend a group that is more oppressed? Isn’t that just “common sense”?

Unfortunately, there’s a problem with this new progressive mode of thinking: being on the defense means coming from an inherent place of weakness. But that’s not the only problem of being on the defense — it also raises the always-tricky relationship of allies to an oppressed group.

As is so often the case in trying to untangle the discourse on oppression, we find both classism and patriarchy have edged their way into the discussion. The very phrase “vulnerable communities” is a signal; the words suggest that I, the privileged ally, believe others — as communities — are weaker and need protection.

It’s much more straightforward to respond to individuals being threatened. I’ve shared stories of intervention in situations where someone was being attacked or threatened. Luckily, my fellow teacher George Willoughby was nearby to step in nonviolently when I was being threatened with a knife by an outraged student.

We intervene in those situations not because we’re privileged but because we’re able to be useful.

What’s not helpful is the abstract assignment of “vulnerability” to a collective identity. The Collins Dictionary defines the word vulnerable as “weakness.” The very act of describing oppressed groups as needing help from me, “the stronger one,” fits all too neatly into classist, racist and other oppressive conditioning.

The reality is that most of the wins for justice despite opposition by the economic elite have been gained mainly by the oppressed, not by the privileged. Based on results, the more vulnerable have been the stronger ones.

Some men assisted in the woman suffrage movements, but most of the heavy lifting was done by “the weaker sex.” In the U.S. case, it was women picketing the White House who were beaten up, not men, and their willingness to respond nonviolently changed the politics of a nation at war.

Learning to trust ‘mother wit’

I learned this phrase from a black student when I was teaching at the Martin Luther King School of Social Change. Because oppressed people have experienced so much mistreatment and survived, many of them have a finely-tuned intuition about how to handle their oppressors.

I entrusted my life to that intuition, when — in 1989 — I joined the first Peace Brigades International, or PBI, team in Sri Lanka. Our job was to act as unarmed bodyguards for lawyers who were threatened with assassination because they were standing up for activists’ human rights.

Each of us followed the directions of whichever lawyer we were assigned to. In one case I was told to live with the lawyer’s family and answer the doorbell at night after curfew, on the chance it was the hit squad there to kill the lawyer. Whatever delaying tactics I used, enhanced by my American white skin privilege, might give him the margin of safety he needed. He readily agreed to PBI’s policy that he needed to lock up his gun, believing that nonviolent intervention gave him a better chance than a shoot-out.

After I moved into his house he took me on a “social call” to drink tea with the family of a colleague. On the way home he told me that the colleague was acquainted with the controller of the hit squad. “By tonight,” he said, “the controller will know all about PBI and possible repercussions if he kills me. He’ll think twice about dispatching the next hit squad.”

The lawyer’s immediate tactical move once again reminded me of one reason why oppressed people have so often taken leadership in nonviolent breakthroughs. Their subordinate situation incentivizes them to look for subtle dynamics that provide openings, ways to move forward and still stay safe.

I could relate. When the epidemic of gay-bashing broke out in my town, would I have wanted heterosexual allies to come into the Gayborhood with weapons to protect us, the “vulnerable community”? No way!

As a gay man struggling in the ‘70s, the last thing I wanted was well-meaning allies to pack a gun to protect me. I had gay friends who’d been bashed and I knew of lesbians and gay men who’d been killed. Our movement chose nonviolent tactics because, in our judgment, more of us were likely to get badly hurt or killed if violence was used for “protection.”

That’s like the Jewish congregations of today who, after the Squirrel Hill massacre in Pittsburgh, are refusing to use armed guards partly because they believe it’s safer to rely on the community of nonviolent allies than to risk the possibility of violent escalation with violent anti-Jewish forces.

The Sri Lankan lawyer and other human rights defenders’ intuitive choice to rely on nonviolent intervention for survival has been borne out empirically. For decades now PBI and other unarmed civilian peacekeepers have been operating in violent situations, keeping people alive.

Violence is a hatchet when a surgeon’s knife is needed

The intention of well-meaning allies to assist threatened communities is made more difficult with violence. As shown by the examples above, allies to oppressed people will do better by letting go of the “father knows best” syndrome and respecting the intuitive survival knowledge of those in that community who can see the subtleties and therefore can appreciate the value of creative nonviolent intervention.

Violence is anything but subtle; in fact, it is such a gross tool that it often spins a situation out of control. Cornell West was relieved when armed anti-fascists came to the rescue in Charlottesville, Virginia when he and other pastors were surrounded by menacing white supremacists. However, because counter-violence usually amps up a confrontation, the pastors could instead have been hurt or killed by random cross-fire.

In fact, in the growing chaos other anti-racists were injured and killed in Charlottesville. Hopefully the next time professor West enters a chancy situation he’ll make sure that those doing the intervention know their nonviolent tactics and know how to de-escalate instead of bringing a higher degree of chaos.

As the civil rights movement learned brilliantly in multiple situations of violent threat by white supremacists, tactics of disruption can be effective when we’re in charge. That means, for one thing, doing our nonviolent direct action as part of a strategic campaign, as in Birmingham, Selma, and Mississippi. Chaos, on the other hand, is not our friend. Even the weapon-carrying experiment by the Deacons of Defense, composed of other black people, was problematic.

And what about winning?

In the LGBTQ community we want more than relief from the bullying and life-threatening violence we have endured. We also wanted to win equality. Those in any oppressed community ready to struggle know there are risks, would like to minimize them, and still want to choose a strategy that maximizes their chance of winning.

Political scientists Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan found in their sample of 323 cases of mass struggle that the opponent responded with violent repression 88 percent of the time – in both violent and nonviolent struggles. The opponent’s power and privilege was, after all, threatened whether the movement used violence or nonviolent action. However, nonviolent campaigns that responded to the repression with nonviolent tactics increased their chance of winning by about 22 percent.

In other words, if your goals are substantial enough, expect suffering no matter which means you use. Choosing to respond nonviolently increases the chance that the suffering will result in more justice for your community. My new book, “How We Win,” aims to maximize your chance of winning, by drawing from a century’s worth of successful campaigns to find lessons especially applicable to today’s political moment.

The civil rights movement, running ahead of the political scientists, believed that nonviolent discipline would increase their probability of success when facing terroristic violence. The overwhelming majority of black participants in the Deep South relied on nonviolent discipline instead of violent self-defense. The movement won its greatest victories in the part of the United States where the violence against it was the worst.

This wisdom about how we win is very much alive today. On November 22, 2015, five members of Black Lives Matter were shot by white supremacists during a late-night demonstration at a police precinct station in Minneapolis.

Instead of the movement asking the mostly-white members of Standing Up for Racial Justice, or SURJ, to bring armed protection for continued demonstrations, Black Lives Matter raised its level of nonviolent confrontation. They led a mass march from the precinct to City Hall. Instead of relying on masks (which signal fear), the organizers began the march by circling the precinct, urging the demonstrators to “let them see our faces, let them know who is here.”

The white supremacists backed off instead of continuing to attack the campaign’s actions. Expecting bullets to intimidate black people into stopping their campaign just wasn’t working, and white allies worked in tandem with that.

It’s only one story of many in which oppressed communities lead the way, innovating nonviolent responses to attack that not only reduced further injury but also pushed the campaign assertively forward. Antifa, and all of us, need to learn from those innovations.

Repression strengthens mass movement aiming to topple Sudan’s dictator

by Phil Wilmot

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Doctors, pharmacists, engineers, teachers, physicians, lawyers — in just about any country such professionals are among the privileged class. But in Sudan, they are not much better off than blue collar workers because only despot Omar al-Bashir and his inner circle of loyalists have any power.

Poverty — including among well-educated professionals — is exactly why protests broke out on Dec. 19 and haven’t relented. Medical professionals and trade unionists of other sectors have flooded the streets of about 50 cities across the nation. And despite at least 40 extrajudicial killings, thousands of hospitalizations, and thousands of detentions and kidnappings, the demonstrations continue to escalate.

This may be because protesting is actually the lesser risk. Trying to cope with the status quo has become impossible. ATM machines have long lines with wait times that are routinely over an hour, and — making matters worse — they only dispense around $25 per day per person. When the state cut subsidies to account for losses in oil revenues, the cost of basic commodities like bread tripled. Obtaining anything from antibiotics to gas immediately became an all-day affair, forcing people to find items on the black market at even higher prices.

War, genocide and kleptocracy are the tools Bashir has used for three decades to preserve his reign. Organizations focusing on human rights and social justice are raided and shut down. Dissidents are kidnapped, imprisoned and tortured. The only thing that’s different now is that this repression seems to actually be strengthening the revolution.

Organizers persist under torture

Akram Ahmed is one such dissident. In 2008, when national resistance to Bashir’s rule was virtually nonexistent, Ahmed began convening weekly dialogues on seemingly apolitical issues, like economics. These were not directly critical of Bashir at first. Had they been, Ahmed might no longer be with us today. Eventually, however, these conferences evolved into a political network, active at various universities and trading centers. Organizers started involving musicians to generate more participation. By 2009, this informal and seemingly apolitical network became a citizen movement known as Girifna, meaning “we are fed up.” Today, Girifna remains Sudan’s most formidable non-partisan movement.

Raising voter awareness was the first grand task of Girifna organizers. In a nation as autocratic as Sudan, a voter awareness campaign is a highly subversive undertaking. Members of Girifna had to be nimble, since their movement was deemed illegal. They used qualified lawyers to lodge cases of procedural violations in voter registration and got registered non-governmental organizations to volunteer as election monitors. They knew all of this had to be merely a preamble to a longer-term effort of peaceful political transition.

The 2002 documentary “Bringing Down a Dictator” offered inspiration to the founders of Girifna. They watched and learned from the creative tactics used by the Serbian movement Otpor! in its efforts to take down Slobodan Milošević. In one instance, Ahmed actually duplicated one of the tactics: a satirical television commercial in which a Serbian woman washes a Milošević-shaped stain with her Otpor! brand laundry detergent. Similarly, Ahmed etched “Girifna” into a bar of soap and explained on camera that the soap would wash away the stain in his shirt, a stain that resembled the notorious Bashir.

“At that time, we knew someone had to break the wall of going public,” Ahmed said. “If not us, then no one would.”

Before breaking the silence, Ahmed and his fellow organizers had spent weeks together studying the behaviors of Sudan’s security apparatus and their rights as listed in the national constitution. This wasn’t enough to guarantee safety, though. Ahmed’s price for uploading this video to YouTube was 15 days of torture.

Later, in 2013, Ahmed was abducted a second time for nearly a month. He was raped with a stick, a practice common among conservative segments of Sudanese society who abuse homosexuals. “Raping dissidents with a stick is not only about the physical torment,” explained fellow activist Midhat Afif al-Din Hamdan. “It is psychological abuse as well — performing an action on political organizers that is typically reserved for those marginalized by the civilians themselves.”

Hamdan has had his own fair share of run-ins with Bashir’s National Intelligence and Security Services, or NISS. In 2007, Hamdan and a few colleagues started Kace Sudan, a civil society organization dedicated to human rights monitoring in the country. Such organizations are typically forbidden in Sudan. Kace kept its head above water until 2012, when NISS raided its main office.

As a result, Kace was indefinitely dissolved, leading Hamdan to quickly found the Centre for Training and Human Development, also known as TRACKS, to have an entity present on the ground. But it wasn’t long before this new organization was also raided, and Hamdan — along with seven of his fellow activists — were imprisoned for a year. The ordeal spawned an international campaign demanding their immediate release, but Bashir largely ignored it.

Once the activists were released in March 2017 they worked to reestablish their organization in neighboring countries. “Due to the circumstances we will have to consider working underground,” Hamdan said. “This, of course, creates challenges in fundraising with donors who demand a registration certificate.”

Repression continues to backfire in Sudan

No longer is the Sudanese revolution restricted to the major cities of Khartoum and Omdurman. Roughly 50 cities and towns across Sudan, largely under the coordination of unionists and professionals, have risen up against Bashir and the accelerating cost of living. The most courageous among these dispersed protesters may be those of the ravaged western region of Darfur.

Subjected to decades of exploitation, residents of Darfur — including thousands of internally displaced people — seized the opportunity of the escalating revolution to call out Bashir’s racism. As has become custom in Darfur, quasi-state militias swept in quickly to disorganize dissent.

Earlier this month in Nyala, the main city of South Darfur, residents held their first ever demonstration — with a turnout numbering in the hundreds. It took place shortly after Bashir — who blamed the civil unrest on foreign agents — left the city. Like other protests around the country, Bashir’s forces suppressed it with tear gas and live bullets. In response, diaspora members and allies have been protesting at Sudanese embassies around the world.

Wherever Bashir strikes, resistance to his rule escalates. Sudan’s internet shutdown on Dec. 21 was met with a Distributed Denial of Service, or DDoS, attack by the hacktivist group Anonymous, which affected over 200 Sudanese government websites. Anonymous operative Lorian Synaro said, “This [action] will end when the people of Sudan … will not need our help anymore.”

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As if an internet blackout wasn’t enough, Bashir’s administration also undertook measures to silence traditional media outlets. Work permits for foreign press agents have been revoked, and nationals have faced even more extreme forms of repression.

“Even those critical of the government must speak well of it in their publications, lest they face the brutality of the government,” Hamdan said.

On Jan. 14, 28 journalists delivered a petition and staged a courageous sit-in at the NISS office in Khartoum. They were arrested after offering their critique of crackdowns on Al-Jareeda, a local newspaper authorities have lately been intercepting before circulation.

Last week, the Sudanese Engineers Federation performed a sit-in in a suburb of Khartoum. Before the action was dispersed, members held up images of Bashir and the word “leave.”

The cumulative effect of these kinds of actions is penetrating Sudan’s network of statesmen and dignitaries. On Jan. 4, former ruling party secretary Al Shafi Ahmed Mohamed invoked Bashir to resign and make way for a transitional, technocratic government. Last week, former Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi called upon Bashir to step down.

The resolve of the Sudanese people is strengthened with every act of their despot’s brutality. Given the way this campaign has escalated into a nationwide revolution, the severity of the economic crisis and the increasing defections in Bashir’s camp, cutting subsidies could spell the end for Bashir.

“In all of these years, we have never seen sustained resistance across all parts of Sudan,” Ahmed said. “We have never seen politicians, musicians, professionals and youth working together without being co-opted by Bashir. What is happening now is different than everything before.”

Defying war and defining peace in Afghanistan

by Kathy Kelly

An Afghan girl attends a female engagement team meeting to voice their concerns to coalition forces. (Flickr/DVIDS)

On Jan. 27, the Taliban and the U.S. government each publicly stated acceptance, in principle, of a draft framework for ongoing negotiations that could culminate in a peace deal to end a two-decade war in Afghanistan.

As we learn more about the negotiations, it’s important to remember others working toward dialogue and negotiation in Afghanistan. Troublingly, women’s rights leaders have not, thus far, been invited to the negotiating table. But several have braved potential persecution to assert the importance of including women in any framework aiming to create peace and respect human rights.

A young medical graduate student told me she was deprived of schooling during the Taliban era. “If government doesn’t protect women’s basic rights,” she said, “we could lose access to health care and education.”

“The war was started by men, the war will be ended by men,” an aide to Rula Ghani, the wife of President Ashraf Ghani, recently told a Reuters reporter. “But it’s the women and children who suffer the most and they have a right to define peace.” In 2018, the United Nations expressed alarm at the increased use of airstrikes by U.S. and Afghan forces which caused a rising death toll among women and children. In the run-up to the past week of negotiations and even during the negotiations, attacks and counter attacks between the warring parties killed dozens of civilians, including women and children. Both the Taliban and the U.S. seemed intent on showing strength and leverage by demonstrating their willingness to slaughter the innocent.

Another group not represented at the negotiating table is the “People’s Peace Movement.”  Beginning in May 2018, they chose a path which pointedly eschews attacks, revenge or retaliation. Following deadly attacks in their home province of Helmand, initiators of this movement humbly walked, sometimes even barefoot,  hundreds of miles, asking people to reject the entire institution of war. They’ve urged an end to revenge and retaliation and called on all warring parties to support a peace process. Their journeys throughout the country have become venues for informal hearings, allowing opportunity for people to collectively imagine abolishing war.

Afghan Peace Volunteers meet with members of the People’s Peace Movement outside Kabul’s U.K. embassy July 29, 2018. (WNV/Dr. Hakim)

We in the U.S. have much to learn from Afghan women human rights advocates and the People’s Peace Movement regarding the futility of war.

Since 2001, and at a cost of $800 billion, the U.S. military has caused irreparable and horrific losses in Afghanistan. Afghan civilians have endured invasion, occupation, aerial bombings, ground attacks, drone warfare, extensive surveillance, internal displacement, soaring refugee populations, environmental degradation and the practice of indefinite detention and torture. How would U.S. citizens bear up under even a fraction of this misery?

It stands to reason this litany of suffering would lead to increased insurgent resistance, to rising support for the Taliban, and to spiraling violence.

By late 2018, even a top military commander, Army General Scott Miller, told CNN the United States had no chance of a military victory in Afghanistan. He stated the fight will continue until there is a political settlement.

Danny Sjursen, an exceptionally honest Major General and author, wrote in December 2018 the only thing left for the U.S. military to do in Afghanistan was to lose.

Sjursen was correct to concede inevitable U.S. military defeat in Afghanistan, but there is something more U.S. people can and should do. Namely, pay reparations for 17 years of suffering we’ve caused in Afghanistan. This is, as Noam Chomsky once said, “what any civilized country would do.”

Some might counter the United States has already provided over $132 billion dollars for reconstruction in Afghanistan. But, did that sum make a significant difference in the lives of Afghan people impoverished by displacement and war? I think not.

Since 2008, John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, has submitted quadrennial reports to the U.S. Congress detailing ways waste, embezzlement, fraud and abuse have consistently resulted in failed reconstruction efforts. Sopko and his teams of researchers and analysts offered a chance for people in the United States to see ourselves as we’re often seen by an increasingly cynical Afghan public. But we seldom even hear of the SIGAR reports. In fact, when President Trump heard of these watchdog reports during his first cabinet meeting of 2019, he was infuriated and said they should be locked up!

It’s telling that SIGAR was preceded by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, or SIGIR, which filed similarly critical yet largely unnoticed reports.

U.S. citizens often regard their country as a civilized nation that goes to war against demonic tyrants. Martin Luther King Jr. held forth a different vision. He urged us to see the humanity of other so-called enemies, to ask how we’re seen by other people, and to thereby gain a needed understanding of our own weaknesses. If we could hear from other people menaced by militarism, including ours, if we could see how our wars have contributed to terrorism, corruption and authoritarianism that has turned the United States into a permanent warfare state, we might find the same courage that inspires brave people in Afghanistan to speak up and resist the all-encompassing tyranny of war.

We might find ourselves guided by an essential ethical question: how can we learn to live together without killing one another?  If we finally grasp the terrible and ever-increasing urgency of this lesson, then we might yearn to be trusted global neighbors who humbly pay reparations rather than righteously bankroll endless wars.

Why activists shouldn’t be afraid of polarizing an issue through protest

by Paul Engler and Sophie Lasoff

Sunrise Movement members challened Massachusetts Congressman Stephen F. Lynch to support the Green New Deal. (Twitter / @SunriseBoston)

This is an excerpt of “Resistance Guide” published in the recent “Bye-Bye 45: A Guide to Bringing Him Down.” Read more about the action guide here.

For social movements, protest is the most effective means of polarizing an issue. Research shows that perceptions of protest as violent or destructive of property tend to discourage participation and make a movement less effective. Confrontation, however, is not the same as violence. Confrontational tactics can draw people to a cause, even when the protesters are criticized as too abrasive.

You wouldn’t always know it. The message that protest doesn’t work is deeply ingrained in our political and popular culture. Anyone who tries to join a demonstration will hear the same refrain: No one is listening to you. No one cares. You’re just preaching to the choir. You’re too disruptive. You’re too angry. You’re making a lot of noise and accomplishing nothing.

This message is wrong. Dangerously wrong. In recent decades, scholars have pushed back against the monolithic myth with numerous accounts of how protests changed public opinion, shaped policy and altered the course of history. There’s even quantitative evidence: A study by Daniel Gillion at the University of Pennsylvania analyzed civil rights legislation from the 1960s through the 1990s and found that every 10 protests in a representative’s district made that representative 1 percent more likely to vote in favor of civil rights issues — a minor but nonetheless demonstrable effect on legislative progress.

Our society is adept at shutting out the voices of ordinary people. Corporations spend millions on advertising. Celebrities dominate airtime. Wealthy constituents have the attention of elected officials. In a democracy, protest is the most effective way to seize the microphone in the absence of either money or fame.

Protests capture the attention of the media and the broader public. They shine a spotlight on issues that those in power would otherwise ignore. And after heightening awareness, protests force people to take a position. Protest asks, “Which side are you on?”

Even though confrontational tactics may cause discomfort, they force people to make a choice, to view an issue in terms of right and wrong.

Martin Luther King Jr. presented a powerful explanation of this process in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Responding to criticism of disruptive protests that had culminated in violence, King wrote, “We who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out into the open, where it can be seen and dealt with.”

This is the response to offer those who say that protest is too disruptive. Protest polarizes, and successful polarization moves people from neutral to taking a stand.

Not everyone has to like us

We don’t need to change the minds of angry Trump supporters to win. We don’t need everyone to like our movement or approve of our tactics. A large majority of the public opposed the Tea Party, yet they captured the agenda of the Republican Party. The civil rights movement achieved huge legislative victories because the public came to support the need for concerted action on civil rights even as they disapproved of the movement’s tactics.

Research shows that even tactics the public dislikes can increase support for an issue. Even a movement that is seen as unpopular can continue winning people to its cause. Public opinion never gave wide support to the Occupy movement — approval of the Occupy encampments often polled lower than it did for the Tea Party. Yet through Occupy, public concern over inequality grew.

Of course, this does not mean that we should be purposefully alienating. There is a fine line between protests to move people towards our side and alienating potential supporters. Protests that are disruptive or dramatize an issue should still appeal to common sense values.

The Indigenous Peoples March was about a lot more than the kids in MAGA hats

by Tekendra Parmar

The Indigenous Peoples March on Jan. 18. (Twitter/Jordan Shearer)

The Indigenous Peoples March in Washington, D.C. went viral online after a group of high school students from Kentucky mocked an indigenous Vietnam War veteran, Nathan Phillips, outside the Lincoln Memorial on Jan. 18.

The incident was indicative of the racial politics in the United States and around the world that devalues indigenous rights and sees indigenous peoples as caricatures meant for the amusement of the dominant classes. However, the significance of the march — which was organized by the Indigenous Peoples Movement, a global coalition of indigenous communities — extended well beyond this petty display of white supremacy.

“I look at this as the last stand of desperate people — they’re not going down without a fight,” said Cliff Matais, one of the organizers of the rally. Matais is the chief of the Red Rum Motorcycle Club, an indigenous biker collective that volunteered to shepherd protesters from their starting point outside the United States Department of the Interior to the symbolic Lincoln Memorial.

Keith Anderson (WNV/Tekendra Parmar)

Protesters gathered outside the Department of the Interior for a 9 a.m. prayer before the start of the march. The smells of sweetgrass, sage and rosemary wafted through the air. “Be mindful of people’s sacred items” organizers told protesters, gesturing to the men and women dressed in their traditional regalia and carrying the drums and instruments of their people. Alongside the banners calling for the protection of indigenous lands and indigenous rights, some protesters carried family heirlooms as old as the founding of the United States. “These trade silvers are as old as the 1700s,” said Keith Anderson, a member of the Nansemond indigenous community in Virginia, pointing to the ornaments around his neck. As much as the march was a call for justice and human rights it was a celebration of the history and culture carried by each individual.

The march brought together a who’s who of indigenous activists, from radio personality Jay Winter Nightwolf to Ashley Callingbull, the first Canadian to win the Miss Universe pageant.

“Donald Trump has declared war on the American Indian,” Nightwolf said in a fiery speech overlooking the National Monument, as teenagers in MAGA hats loitered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Nightwolf’s speech was a reminder that in his first month in office President Trump steamrolled plans to build the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, which had been rejected by his predecessor.

Yet, protesters rallied against Trump with banners like “There is No O’Odham Word for Wall,” referencing the indigenous community whose land the president’s border wall threatens to tear through. Another sign read, “There are no illegals on stolen land.” And perhaps the most penetrating of criticisms came from a woman who wore an olive green jacket with the words “We Will Always Care” written in white paint on its back — a reference to Melania Trump’s infamous “I really don’t care” jacket.

A woman wearing a jacket with the words “We Will Always Care” written on it. (WNV/Tekendra Parmar)

Donald Trump was not the only far-right politician on the minds of protesters. Others carried banners that read “The world knows what’s happening in Brazil. You are not alone. #StopBolsanaro.” Like Trump, during the first days of Jair Bolsanaro’s presidency earlier this year, he signed an executive order effectively stripping indigenous Brazilians of autonomy over their land.

From environmental and land rights to the thousands of indigenous women who have gone missing in the United States and Canada, the march was a reminder that indigenous people suffer from the same problems across the world and the necessity to build transnational solidarity.

“We have no tokenized leadership,” said S.A. Lawrence, the social media coordinator for the Indigenous Peoples Movement. “People want to have a name behind something. But it’s all of us. The idea that we have to separate ourselves to have an identity is part of the problem.”

According to Lawrence, the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline that tore through the land of the Sioux at Standing Rock, was a watershed moment reminding indigenous communities of their capacity to build solidarity. Standing Rock brought together indigenous communities across North America for the largest Native American action since the American Indian Movement’s 71-day occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973.

“Because of how everything ended at Standing Rock — this is a space to heal and come back together and live in that power and resilience,” said Takota Iron Eyes, a 15-year-old environmental activist, who was at both protests and whose father, Chase Iron Eyes, helped organize the march.

For Phyllis Young, a veteran indigenous rights activist and member of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, the march was also a reminder that the incoming Congress is the most diverse in American history. Among its members are Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland — two of the first Native American women elected to congress. (Davids also happens to be the first lesbian congresswoman from Kansas.) Both were strong supporters of the protests at Standing Rock.

“We’re here because, [they] came to Standing Rock to stand with us, now we’re on the Hill to stand with them,” Young said. “No arbitrary orange man is going to dictate by executive order … we’re here as a new partnership.”

The Irish Revolution’s overlooked history of nonviolent resistance

by David Carroll Cochran

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This month marks the 100th anniversary of Dáil Éireann, Ireland’s Parliament. Amid the better-known events of a century ago that led to Ireland’s independence from its union with Britain, such as the Easter Rising or the island’s partition with the Anglo-Irish Treaty, the significance of Dáil Éireann’s founding on January 21, 1919 is often underappreciated. This is unfortunate, since it played a crucial role in the Irish Revolution’s outcome and was a path-breaking event in the emergence of nonviolent civil resistance methods over the last century.

The usual story of Ireland’s independence struggle runs something like this: Revolutionary movements such as Wolfe Tone’s United Irishmen in 1798 or the Fenians in 1867 staged a series of violent “risings” against British rule that, while creating romantic nationalist heroes, were easily suppressed (Google “the battle of Widow McCormack’s cabbage patch” to get a sense of how they often turned out). These “physical force nationalists” were opposed by “constitutional nationalists” such as Daniel O’Connell and Charles Stewart Parnell who instead pursued a nonviolent reformist agenda within the British political system that gradually proved more successful.

A political cartoon from 1886 showing men kicking British Prime Minister William Gladstone and the Home Rule bill in the air. (Wikimedia Commons)

O’Connell’s Catholic Emancipation movement won civil and political rights for Irish Catholics in the first half of the 19th century. Toward the end of the century, Parnell welded most of the British Parliament’s Irish representatives into the Irish Parliamentary Party, a block of votes that traded its ability to make or break majorities for concessions such as land reform that helped transfer farms from absentee British landlords to their Irish tenants. The chief goal of the constitutional nationalists was Home Rule, which would grant Ireland its own parliament and significant autonomy, though still as part of the larger British constitutional system and under some measure of British sovereignty. After a decades-long fight and several near misses, the British finally granted Home Rule in 1914, only to suspend it with the outbreak of World War I.

This is where momentum shifted back toward physical force nationalism. As majority-Protestant areas around Belfast in the north raised a militia and imported arms to resist Home Rule and keep the British union as it was, majority-Catholic areas in the rest of Ireland responded in kind. In an environment of increasing militarism, Patrick Pearse and a small group of armed rebels seized key positions in Dublin on Easter Monday in 1916 and proclaimed an Irish Republic completely independent of Britain.

The British military’s heavy-handed response — reducing the center of Dublin to ruin, executing the Rising’s leaders, imprisoning thousands not even involved, and declaring martial law — further radicalized the country. Within three years, the Irish Republican Army, or IRA, had launched a bloody insurgency campaign against British troops and local police units. The Anglo-Irish War, fought as a series of ambushes, assassinations and civilian reprisals, finally forced the British to cede Ireland its de facto independence in 1922, but only after partitioning off six counties that would remain part of the British union as Northern Ireland.

The usual story’s framing of violent versus reformist methods in Irish nationalism is true as far as it goes, but also incomplete. What it misses is a powerful third tradition of radical, extralegal, but still nonviolent resistance. In the 19th century, many rural communities, often organized by women in the Ladies’ Land League, refused to pay rent to British absentee landlords or work for their local land agents at harvest time. Indeed, our word “boycott” is named for Captain Charles Boycott, a land agent in County Mayo ostracized by his local community in 1880 during a noncooperation campaign.

An Irish Land League poster from the 1880s. (Wikimedia Commons)

Nonviolent methods grew more widespread leading up to and during the revolutionary period. In the years preceding to the Easter Rising, Dublin saw major industrial and transportation strikes; activists such as Helena Molony, arrested for destroying a picture of King George V during his coronation visit to Ireland, refused to pay fines and took jail sentences instead; and some Irish juries would not convict locals accused of opposing the British war effort during World War I. After the Rising, railway workers refused to carry British troops and munitions, other work-stoppages secured the release of political prisoners, and hunger strikes by Irish nationalists in British custody brought international condemnation down on the British government.

The key figure in this tide of nonviolent defiance was Arthur Griffith, the founder of Sinn Féin. Griffith was not a principled pacifist, but he believed nonviolent methods would prove more effective against British rule in Ireland. His was a nationalism that advocated dissolving the political and economic ties that linked Ireland to Britain by acting as if they no longer existed, an approach signaled by the name Sinn Féin, which is Irish for “Ourselves.”

Founded a decade before the Easter Rising, Griffith’s Sinn Féin movement came into its own in the revolutionary environment of the Rising’s aftermath. When the British government, desperate to replace soldiers killed at the front during World War I, decided to extend military conscription to Ireland in early 1918, Sinn Féin joined labor unions and Catholic clergy to coordinate a massive nationwide civil disobedience campaign. Almost two million people signed an anti-conscription pledge after Sunday masses that April 21. Arresting Griffith and other movement leaders only strengthened opposition, and ultimately the British found conscription unenforceable.

The anti-conscription campaign was a springboard for Griffith’s most innovative idea: using British elections themselves to select, legitimize and seat a rival Irish government outside the British system. When elections to the British Parliament, long delayed by World War I and featuring a newly expanded franchise with the inclusion of women voters, arrived in late 1918, Sinn Féin candidates, again backed by labor activists and Catholic leaders, swept to victory everywhere except the unionist strongholds in the north. Following Griffith’s policy of “abstentionism,” they refused to take their seats in the British Parliament and instead, acting as if British authority no longer existed, gathered at Mansion House in Dublin to declare themselves Dáil Éireann, or Assembly of Ireland, establishing the independent Irish government that exists to this day.

The Sinn Fein members elected in the December 1918 election at the first Dail Eireann meeting, on January 21, 1919. (Wikipedia)

 

While the British outlawed the Dáil as a “terrorist organization,” it continued to operate underground in accordance with its newly drafted constitution, appointing government ministers, sending diplomats to foreign capitals, and issuing bonds to raise money hidden from British authorities in sympathetic Irish banks. Operating as a parallel government, it attracted increasing allegiance from ordinary Irish people.

Crucial to its growing legitimacy was the Dáil’s ability to extend its authority down to local communities. In early 1920, Sinn Féin again swept elections, this time at the city and county levels, gaining control of many local governments that quickly flipped their loyalty to the Dáil, refused to cooperate with British tax collection, switched their purchasing contracts to Irish-owned firms, and closed workhouses associated with the hated British poor-law system. Even more dramatic was the creation of “Dáil Courts,” a multi-tiered parallel judicial system that spread across most of Ireland. British courts formally remained in place, but they essentially ceased functioning as enforcers of British law when local people instead began taking their disputes to the new Dáil judicial system that became, in the words of one local observer, “the only authority in the County.”

The nonviolent defiance of British authority led by Dáil Éireann existed alongside and overlapped significantly with violent methods during the Anglo-Irish War. Many nationalists supported both approaches and moved back and forth between the Dáil’s political resistance and the IRA’s military operations. But while mainstream, popular historical accounts give the violence more attention and credit for the Irish Revolution’s outcome — often through romanticized accounts of leaders such as Michael Collins — they underplay or miss entirely other critically important aspects of the struggle.

The historical evidence is clear that the Dáil’s campaign of noncooperation and parallel government did just as much or more to make Ireland ungovernable and force the British into negotiations. These actions eventually led to an independent country in the 26 southern counties and the formal handover of administrative power to the Dáil as that country’s legitimate government.

Arthur Griffith. (Wikimedia Commons)

If the methods developed by Arthur Griffith and Dáil Éireann are underappreciated in the usual story of Ireland’s independence struggle, the same is true of their contributions to the history of nonviolent civil resistance more generally. Few realize the impact Griffith’s innovative techniques for withdrawing authority from an occupier had on better-known nonviolent campaigns that followed him. India’s is the most notable. After attending a Dublin Sinn Féin meeting in 1907, Jawaharlal Nehru wrote: “They do not want to fight England by arms but to ignore her, boycott her, and quietly assume the administration of Irish affairs.” Leaders of the Swadeshi movement that organized boycotts of British goods praised Griffith as a “model.” And, perhaps most significantly, Gandhi himself cited Griffith’s direct influence on his own ideas, though he decried the later turn to violence by many Sinn Féin members.

This influence shows how Griffith’s noncooperation techniques embodied by Dáil Éireann were important early contributors to one of the most significant developments of the last century: the emergence of organized civil resistance as an alternative to armed struggle. Indeed, as researchers such as Maria Stephan and Erica Chenoweth demonstrate, nonviolent civil resistance movements since 1900 are twice as likely as violent ones to succeed against an oppressive regime or foreign occupier.

And the case of Griffith and Dáil Éireann suggests such comparisons may actually understate the power of nonviolence. The Irish Revolution is an example of nonviolent strategies operating effectively, if more quietly, within an otherwise violent campaign, revealing how even seemingly successful violent movements may actually owe much of that success to overlooked nonviolent techniques operating behind the scenes. Dáil Éireann’s centenary, then, is a chance to celebrate this still-underappreciated revolutionary power of nonviolence.

Why Americans need to act like the majority we already are

by Onnesha Roychoudhuri

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This article was first published in “Bye-Bye 45: A Guide to Bringing Him Down.” Read more about the action guide here.

Ever since the 2016 presidential elections, we’ve been served a million versions of what amounts to the same tired story. Whether it’s woven through the pages of the New York Times or written in all-caps on the Facebook page of your self-appointed-pundit uncle, it usually goes something like this: We’ve never been more divided. We need to reach across the aisle, “look past” our identities or differences — even if it’s to hold hands with avowed bigots — if we’re ever going to move forward.

Another story that’s always on tap? That we’re screwed. We can protest all we want, but our system is so corrupt that there’s really no point.

At their core, these narratives are both pretty dang cynical. Also, they don’t make a whole lot of sense. (Before we go on, a quick reminder that the majority of Americans did not vote for Donald Trump.) In reality, Americans are shifting left on issues ranging from equal pay, gay marriage, single-payer health insurance and affordable (or free) access to education. In other words, we’re far more aligned on issues that affect our daily lives than the daily news cycle may lead us to believe.

But what about the white working class? We’ve been told we can’t win unless we reach out to this monolithic entity and stop “playing identity politics.” Well, it turns out that the majority of the working class are actually people of color. (Also, can we stop talking about the white working class as though they’re a single movement of pitchfork-wielding, MAGA-hat-wearing bigots? It just ain’t true.)

There’s some basic math we need to reckon with here. The percentage of Americans who are straight white men — the historical flavor of choice for those who wield power in this country — amounts to fewer than 30 percent of Americans. That means the marginalized Americans among us — the queer folk, the black and brown, the immigrants, the women — are indisputably the majority. Throw in our white male progressive allies and we’re talking about a supermajority. If we want to win, we don’t need to “reach across the aisle” so much as reach out to our prospective allies to ensure they recognize our shared interest, and the power we have as a movement.

Preaching to the choir gets a bad rap. But reaching out to potential and likely allies to encourage them to take political action, whether at the ballot box or in the streets? That changes everything — making a more cohesive movement out of the marginalized majority that we are.

Case in point: Remember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s primary win? The press called it an upset, a surprising win. Just look at what the poll numbers were! When asked about it, Ocasio-Cortez responded that the win wasn’t so surprising at all. Polls, she has rightly pointed out, usually measure voters who are “likely” to turn out. Her approach? To reach out to voters who don’t normally turn out.

The notion that identity politics divides us is a bunch of malarkey: If you look at history, some of the most profound wins for American equality hinged on identity — from the civil rights movement to women’s suffrage. And it’s the most marginalized among us — particularly queer brown women — who have done much of the heavy lifting for social justice throughout America’s history.

We’re seeing that now, yet again. For the past two years, unprecedented numbers of marginalized Americans have been making their voices heard through protest and escalating direct action. In fact, since the 2017 Women’s March, decentralized protests have taken place in a record number of communities across the United States. The media generally suck at covering any kind of resistance to the status quo — especially when it comes to protest and direct action. They underestimate the number of people who come out; they assume that a group of people who don’t have a single, easily achievable demand is wasting their time. And because of that, media have a major blind spot around identifying what protest movements have succeeded in accomplishing.

From Occupy Wall Street to Black Lives Matter to the Women’s March to the Fight for 15 to the DREAMers to climate justice, the grassroots movements of our time have worked individually and in tandem to radically alter the conversations we’re having, raising our expectations of what is possible and necessary. And we’re seeing a powerful sea-change: In November, record numbers of women and minorities ran for office and unseated the GOP majority in the House. They won in large part thanks to college-educated female voters and the formidable grassroots hustle that got out the vote.

The next time someone tries to tell you it’s hopeless or that we need to “reach across the aisle,” because we’ve never been more divided, tell them they’re right. We’ve never been more divided: Over decades, the Democratic and Republican platforms have become increasingly out of touch. The real divide in America is between what the majority of us want and need, and what a tiny minority — a handful of extremists in power — have been offering.

It’s time to for us to recognize our power and act like the majority we already are.

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