Waging Nonviolence

How to navigate the white water of these turbulent times

by George Lakey

The latest lurch in global statecraft — Trump’s dissing NATO allies then playing footsie with Vladimir Putin — leaves many scrambling to maintain some balance. Republicans for whom the enemy status of Russia is an article of faith are beside themselves. Democrats are running out of adjectives to describe Trump’s behavior. And activists who have been around for longer than the last election are wondering how to steer a steady course in the midst of extremities.

It reminds me of whitewater rafting on the Upper Gauley River in West Virginia, the kind where people aren’t supposed to even get into the raft unless they’ve had prior experience. I never paddled so hard in my life. At one point, even our guide was tossed out of the raft; thankfully a nearby kayaker grabbed him and returned him to us.

When the activist and lesbian feminist writer Barbara Deming encountered Frantz Fanon’s “Wretched of the Earth,” she praised his raising the question of balance. Fanon, involved with with the Algerian war of independence from the French empire, was writing about armed struggle for liberation. He said a major challenge for revolutionaries at a time of accelerating turbulence is how to avoid vertigo, the dizziness that accompanies highly emotional events happening around us.

Deming’s personal experience in the 1960s civil rights movement brought that kind of challenge, she said in her reflection “On Revolution and Equilibrium.” Deming found in the midst of turbulence that her commitment to nonviolence was steadying for her and others. Locked up in jail in Albany, Georgia, as one of a group of pacifists arrested for breaking the segregation laws, Deming undertook a fast that — when I saw her in the courtroom — left her hardly able to walk. The group won their struggle with the infamous Sheriff Laurie Pritchett.

When I read her essay, I saw that her nonviolent commitment had a steadying ability to lead her more deeply into her center — where, as organizer and trainer Starhawk teaches, one source of power lies.

What does the white water mean for strategizing?

Whichever practices we choose for self- and group-centering, there is still the question of strategy. When paddling to keep up with the river, it matters whether you avoid the biggest rocks and how you handle the waterfall that lies just ahead. Black historian Vincent Harding likened the history of his people to a river, sometimes so placid that the current was hardly noticeable, and other times racing at a furious pace. His metaphor helped me to see that in black history the ability of people to make the most of the rapids was linked to the group capacity they’d built in the quieter times.

Community organizers know this, nurturing leadership skills and supporting group solidarity — so that when the white water comes, the team will paddle together. But what do we do now that we’ve already entered the white water?

Use opportunities efficiently

We need to choose tactics that achieve strategic goals. Venting is not enough reason to have a demonstration. For a hundred years we can express ourselves through one-off actions and not make a difference. Corporate executives and politicians know that we can gather a hundred thousand or a million people together and that we’ll go home the next day. From their point of view, no problem.

A politician running for office knows that winning requires more than holding a rally and then counting the votes. To win, they need a campaign. That’s exactly the case for activists: direct action campaigns give us a chance to win. A campaign has a demand, a target (the decider who can yield the demand), and a series of escalating actions that reflect campaign growth and increased campaign militancy.

Expect attitude change

In the accelerating 1960s, a number of white segregationists began to accept the need for integration. In the turbulent 1930s, stoutly racist white auto workers in Michigan began to see the value of an integrated United Auto Workers. I’ve watched patriots supporting the Vietnam war start to oppose it and family members contemptuous toward LGBT people embrace us. A century ago, while war and industrialization accelerated change, male chauvinists became willing to give the vote to women.

As the river runs faster, the big problem becomes rigidity among activists who grew accustomed to excluding those who weren’t “in the know.” Judgment becomes more important than effectiveness, when activists would rather be right than learn how to unite to win.

I’m told that increasing numbers of young people are now realizing that “the calling out culture” was a toxic trap, creating activist groups on campuses and elsewhere that marginalized themselves.

As a gay man brought up working class, I am in touch with the fear that leads me to judging, to differentiating myself from people who I expect through long experience will keep the microaggressions coming. These days I rage and cry, at home, about the professional middle-class activists whose description of Trump supporters is riddled with prejudice against my class.

It helps me to know that the struggle for liberation has never been about safety, about protecting myself inside a bubble apart from the reality that is out there. Justice is gained through campaigns confronting the reality and changing it. Ironically, the greatest availability for change is in those political moments when the ugly reality is most apparent, when the bigots yelled “fag” at me and my people as we campaigned for equality.

In the midst of turbulence humans tend to “gird ourselves for defense” instead of continually scanning for the changes in attitude that happen around us. Then we miss opportunities to support the changes. It helps to watch revealing films like John Singleton’s “Higher Learning,” or listen to reformed white nationalist Christian Picciolini tell his story.

Support growing interest in alternatives

Most people experience political turbulence as stressful, since it comes on top of what can be challenging personal lives. Some respond with nostalgia for the “good old days,” but others open their minds to an alternative vision.

The 1850s in the United States was a period of whitewater. In the turbulence surrounding the Fugitive Slave Act and the Dred Scott decision, black abolitionist Martin R. Delany published a utopian novel “Blake.” Feminists and ecological writers famously published visions in the 1970s. We see the theme now again in the hit movie “Black Panther.”

Alternative visions help in vital ways. They express hope, especially needed now by those distracted by the negativity of Trump. Visions help to create platforms for uniting a movement of movements, an essential if we want a living revolution. They also add significance to the new economy institutions that are being built in our midst, the start-ups for what needs to happen after a power shift opens the way to the new society.

In her book “No Is Not Enough,” Naomi Klein shares the process Canadian civil society groups went through to come up with their vision of a just Canada: The LEAP Manifesto. They intentionally called it a “leap” to distinguish from the step-by-step incrementalism that held many Canadian progressives in its soggy embrace.

In short, acceleration of the pace of change opens opportunities that activists need in order to launch mass movements. After the failure of Occupy, we’ve been in a period of what I’ve called “low-grade depression,” a dogged determination accompanied by a sense of helplessness and hopelessness.

Symptoms include plodding through tactical rituals (marches and rallies) and indulgence in blaming and guilting. The choppy white water of the river we’re traveling on invites a different orientation: to devise creative tactics as part of ongoing campaigns that can produce wins, to invite everyone to join whether or not they’re hip or use our favorite language, and to plant alternatives while taking seriously the need for a vision to replace the imploding status quo.

First Nations take on Canadian government to stop Trans Mountain pipeline

by Nick Engelfried

Tsleil-Waututh water protectors at Saturday’s rally in Whey-Ah-Whichen, now the site of Cates Park in North Vancouver. (WNV/Nick Engelfried)

For thousands of years, Whey-Ah-Whichen has been a site of importance to the Tsleil-Waututh people. This hospitable flat peninsula in the Pacific Northwest was home to one of their major villages, standing in the shadow of surrounding hills and mountains covered in towering Douglas-fir and other ancient trees. Today, Whey-Ah-Whichen is the site of Cates Park, so-named by the descendants of English colonists in what is now British Columbia. It overlooks Burrard Inlet, a finger-like extension of the Salish Sea separating the cities of Vancouver and North Vancouver. The Tsleil-Waututh still live nearby, many of them on a reserve just down the highway.

On Saturday, Tsleil-Waututh community leaders brought together several hundred people for a rally on the site of the former village. Many carried signs with messages including “Water is Life,” “Stop Kinder Morgan Pipeline,” and “Protect the Water, Land, Climate.” They came to participate in a fight against one of the largest proposed fossil fuel infrastructure projects in Canada, an expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline that would transport tar sands oil from Alberta to a Kinder Morgan-owned storage facility directly across the inlet from Whey-Ah-Whichen. There, oil from the pipeline would be loaded into tankers for transport to the United States or across the Pacific.

Saturday’s rally was only the latest manifestation of the indigenous-led resistance to the Trans Mountain project, which has grown in size and boldness this year. As more and more people arrived at the park, some prepared to take to the water in kayaks, canoes and other small vessels. Hundreds of others massed near the shoreline, watching as the boats headed across the inlet and gathered in front of the razor-wire fence erected by Kinder Morgan to keep people away from its facility. From one of the canoes, Tsleil-Waututh elder Amy George led a water ceremony expressing participants’ intent to care for and protect the inlet.

On the shore below Whey-Ah-Whichen, the smell of salt and slowly-drying seaweed permeated the air as the tide receded. Canada geese floated on the water among the kayaks, and tiny crabs scurried between pebbles on the beach. The crabs, a traditional food of the Tsleil-Waututh, were one reason people had gathered here today.

“The whales and fish, the crabs and lobsters, they need us to be their voices because they can’t speak for themselves,” said Amy George after her canoe returned to shore. George is credited with launching the resistance to the Trans Mountain pipeline in the Greater Vancouver area.

Protectors, not protesters

“We’re not protesters, we’re protectors,” George said earlier that morning. “We’ve been doing this since the first contact with Europeans, fighting to protect our land and water. Now some Europeans are joining our movement — we’re finally getting together. If the oil from this project spills, one dump will ruin the water from here to Prince Rupert, here to California.”

When the Tsleil-Waututh first learned about plans to expand the Trans Mountain pipeline, then backed by Kinder Morgan, not everyone was sure the nation of slightly more than 500 people could realistically take on one of North America’s largest oil infrastructure companies. Cedar George-Parker, a member of the extended George family that has led the resistance, described how Amy George convinced the community to oppose the project: “She told us we needed to warrior up.”

Kinder Morgan’s plan for Trans Mountain involves expanding an existing tar sands pipeline to triple its carrying capacity. Among other things, this would entail building 14 new storage tanks on Burrard Inlet and boring a tunnel through nearby Burnaby Mountain so that a new branch of the pipeline can deliver more oil to the facility.

According to the grassroots environmental group Stand.earth, the expansion project would lead to a 700 percent increase in the number of tar sands oil tankers plying the ecologically sensitive Salish Sea. An accident on a tanker, or at the Burrard Inlet facility, would be devastating for communities throughout the region.

Water Protectors in canoes took part in Saturday’s rally against the Trans Mountain pipeline. (WNV/Nick Engelfried)

“What we need is clean water for our children and grandchildren,” Cedar George-Parker said to the crowd at Saturday’s rally. “For many years our people took our food from the water. Now it’s time for us to give back, to protect the inlet from the oil and bitumen that will kill it.”

A study commissioned by the Tsleil-Waututh Nation predicts a large oil spill in the inlet would expose over a million people to acute health effects from air toxins. “I don’t want my little brother to be one of those people affected,” George-Parker said, citing one of his main motivations to keep fighting.

The movement escalates

While resistance to Trans Mountain has been building for a decade, it heated up this year as Kinder Morgan started preliminary construction activity along the pipeline route. In March, members of the Tsleil-Waututh built a traditional watch house near the route of the pipeline in Burnaby just south of Burrard Inlet. Around the same time, 10,000 people gathered nearby for one of the most massive displays of opposition to the pipeline so far. Tsleil-Waututh water protectors and their allies have blockaded initial phases of construction, protested at Kinder Morgan’s annual shareholder meeting in Houston, and turned the watch house into a visible symbol of resistance. More than 200 have been arrested during nonviolent actions opposing the pipeline so far.

In April, with public opposition growing ever fiercer, Kinder Morgan announced it would suspend “non-essential” activity related to the Trans Mountain expansion while it determined whether or not to move forward with the project. The company set a May 31 deadline for making a decision. Throughout the Salish Sea, communities at risk waited in hopes that victory was near.

Then, in late May, with the deadline fast approaching, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the Canadian government would spend billions to buy the Trans Mountain project from Kinder Morgan and build the expanded pipeline using taxpayer dollars. With the stroke of a pen, the Trans Mountain tar sands expansion turned from a private industry endeavor to an official project of the Canadian government. Trudeau, previously regarded as a progressive voice for action on climate change, emerged with his climate reputation in tatters. Within 12 hours of Trudeau’s announcement, thousands of people gathered for an impromptu rally in Vancouver expressing public outrage.

“In the beginning of this fight, we were trying to protect our land and water from Kinder Morgan,” Amy George told the crowd in Whey-Ah-Whichen. “We’ve made them give up, and they’ve gone back to Texas. I don’t care who’s still backing this pipeline, we’re still saying no. It would take until 2050 to pay off the taxpayer debt Justin Trudeau wants to use to finance this project. I’m a taxpayer, and I don’t want to be a shareholder in dirty energy.”

Sending a global message

Even as the movement to stop Trans Mountain has been forced to shift targets from Kinder Morgan to the government of Canada itself, members of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation — including the George family — have continued to lead the opposition. Will George, another family member who played a key role in organizing Saturday’s rally, recently spent 40 hours with 11 other water protectors suspended from a bridge, blocking a tar sands tanker leaving Burrard Inlet. And in the years since Amy George first convinced her community to oppose Kinder Morgan, the movement to stop the pipeline has become a rallying point for indigenous leaders throughout Canada.

“The message we’re gathering with here today is now getting out to the world,” said vice president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs Bob Chamberlain, another one of Saturday’s speakers. “We’re sending a message that we don’t need to build and capitalize on something that just isn’t sustainable, like this pipeline. Our opponents characterize us as ‘activists,’ as ‘radicals.’ Imagine, we’re radicals because we want clean air and water. Well, if that’s what a radical is, I’m glad to be one with you.”

The movement to stop Trans Mountain has drawn comparisons to the encampment that delayed construction of the Dakota Access pipeline on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in 2016. During the waning days of the Obama administration, that movement brought together tribal representatives from across North America to oppose a major oil pipeline that threatens the Standing Rock Sioux’s drinking water and right to control their natural resources. As happened at Standing Rock, the Trans Mountain opposition has been joined by thousands of non-indigenous activists concerned about everything from endangered species to climate change.

In the Trump/Trudeau era, when national governments on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border have firmly allied themselves with the oil industry’s expansion plans, countless people across North America have taken inspiration from Standing Rock. And from Burrard Inlet to the Gulf of Mexico, indigenous peoples continue to lead the way. Indigenous-led encampments have sprung up in the paths of the Bayou Bridge pipeline in Louisiana and the Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota. And if construction begins on the Keystone XL pipeline next year — as TransCanada, the owner of that project, predicts it will — the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe has sent clear messages that its members intend to stand in the way.

Nor will the resistance to Trans Mountain be going anywhere. As the possibility of major construction work beginning on the project grows imminent, and with the watch house already serving as a permanent base for water protectors along the route of the pipeline, the potential exists for a confrontation on the scale of Standing Rock. If that happens, protectors like Amy George believe they will simply be upholding their nation’s long tradition of caring for the land.

“We’re not doing something new by carrying on the fight for the inlet,” George said. “During thousands of years that we were here, there were no endangered species. We cared for the streams and didn’t overpopulate to tax our food sources. If there’s a spill, it means death to everything in the water. It means saying goodbye to the few orcas left in the Salish Sea.”

Even a recent heart procedure won’t stop George. “I’m still here saying no,” she said. “We’ve been saying no to Kinder Morgan all along, and it doesn’t change things now that we have to fight the so-called leader of the country.”

Indigenous and environmental water protectors fight to block Louisiana pipeline

by Sheehan Moore

Dressed as crawfish, water protectors from the L’eau est la Vie resistance camp shut down a construction site of the Bayou Bridge pipeline for several hours by preforming a humorous musical on April 9. (Facebook/L’eau est la Vie Camp)

Half an hour outside of Lafayette, Louisiana — almost three hours west of New Orleans — the proposed route of the Bayou Bridge pipeline crosses the road. It’s a seemingly minor bend in the crooked path of a 162.5-mile pipeline that, if completed, would snake underground from Lake Charles near the Texas border to St. James in “Cancer Alley” — the dense stretch of refineries and other petrochemical facilities lining the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

But this bend matters to Cherri Foytlin, a Diné (Navajo) and Cherokee activist, journalist and mother, whose organization owns the small plot of land around which the pipeline’s route skirts. Here, a few small structures and a long line of tents make up the L’Eau Est La Vie (“Water Is Life”) resistance camp.

“We bought the land in November of last year and have been occupying it since January of this year,” Foytlin said. “The very first thing that happened is they moved their pipeline to go around the property, because it was set to go through it.” It’s a physical trace of the opposition to the pipeline’s construction, which is scheduled for completion in October.

The Bayou Bridge pipeline, or BBP, is one of a handful of pipelines currently under construction by Energy Transfer Partners, or ETP, a Dallas-based oil and gas company with tens of thousands of miles of lines already operational. Further upstream from the BBP, the ETP network includes its Dakota Access pipeline, which draws sweet crude from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota and passes through the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on its way to Patoka, Illinois. From there, another ETP line takes the oil south to Nederland, Texas, where the first phase of the Bayou Bridge to Lake Charles has already been completed.

“This pipeline that’s going through our region here is the tail end of the Dakota Access pipeline,” Foytlin told a crowd of around 50 Louisianans gathered outside the capitol in Baton Rouge for a Moral Monday protest on June 4. “The exact same company that hit people with water hoses and freezing water, that sent dogs to bite people, those are the exact same people who are down here trying to push a pipeline through 700 bodies of our water.”

The people and water along the line’s route are the key concern for pipeline opponents, who worry about ETP’s higher-than-average record of spills. A Greenpeace report published earlier this year found that, on average, ETP pipelines have leaked once every 11 days since 2002, releasing 3.6 million gallons of hazardous liquids, including 2.8 million gallons of crude oil. On 18 occasions, leaks contaminated groundwater.

This track record worries even those whose primary fight is not against extraction, including Dean Wilson of Atchafalaya Basinkeeper — an organization committed to protecting the swamps at the 20 mile-wide mouth of the Atchafalaya River. This has led them to form coalitions with groups — including L’Eau Est La Vie — whose analysis of the situation can be very different.

“We are not fighting the oil industry,” Wilson said. “We won’t support them, but we won’t try to stop them if they follow certain conditions. The problem we have with these pipelines when they go through the Atchafalaya Basin is there’s no enforcement.”

The river basin already straddles a key pipeline corridor, but the addition of the BBP here would mean widening this right-of-way. “The corridor is already out of compliance with the permits,” Wilson said, “and Energy Transfer Partners has been one of the worst in the basin. What we’re telling the [U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] is, before they keep granting permits, the Corps has the authority and the obligation to enforce those permits.”

Basinkeeper is one of several groups, including the Louisiana Crawfish Producers Association, that sued the Corps in January for inadequate environmental review during BBP permitting. Crawfishing, a major revenue source for the basin’s population, would be devastated by an oil spill. Crawfish and other wildlife are also threatened by the sediment dredged up during pipeline construction. While a federal judge granted an injunction against the BBP in February, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals quickly reversed that order and allowed construction to continue while it decided on a challenge brought by ETP’s Bayou Bridge subsidiary. On July 6, a divided panel of justices ruled in favor of the pipeline.

Another Basinkeeper lawsuit — filed along with local residents in the St. James Parish district court, Bold Louisiana (a group headed by Foytlin) and other organizations — targets Louisiana’s Department of Natural Resources, or DNR. In April, Judge Alvin Turner ruled against the ETP subsidiary, ordering them to develop environmental protection plans and emergency evacuation routes “prior to the continued issuance of said permit.” The ruling concerns only the final miles of pipeline that run through St. James Parish, where almost half of the population is black and nearly one in five residents live in poverty.

The DNR has appealed Judge Turner’s decision. In the meantime BBP construction is ongoing. “We won the lawsuit,” Wilson said, “but they’re still building without a valid permit. DNR is doing nothing to stop it.”

At L’Eau Est La Vie camp on a hot day in early June, a visiting lawyer led a legal workshop for a group of pipeline resisters gathered in the shade. Across the street, pipeline workers took a lunch break while a sedan marked “security” cruised up and down the road. The camp’s presence here is the latest manifestation of a movement that’s been building since the initial phase of the pipeline began in 2015 — first as a mobile group in the swamps and now with a more fixed, permanent presence. “We’ve been around for a while,” Foytlin said. “We were a floating camp, decentralized. Then the opportunity came up for this little piece of property.”

Cherri Foytlin addresses crowds from a flotilla on Bayou Lafourche to draw awareness to BBP on September 9, 2017. On the right is Pastor Harry Joseph of Mt. Triumph Baptist Church in St. James. (WNV/Alicia Cooke)

The physical camp is now home base for a network of pipeline resisters who organize, protest and monitor construction along the BBP’s route. A rotating group lives on the land, running educational workshops and uploading photos and videos of digging and deforestation to their Facebook page and website. On May 24 and July 3 of this year, water protectors blocked access to work sites in St. James and Iberville Parishes, with multiple arrests each time.

Growing opposition to the BBP has also meant an increase in both state and corporate policing. Last year, the private security firm TigerSwan — infamous for its surveillance of the Standing Rock protests — was denied a license to practice in Louisiana. But The Intercept reported in March that an apparent TigerSwan front organization was also seeking a license. And in Baton Rouge this May, legislators pushed through a weakened version of a bill that initially attempted to criminalize pipeline protest activity under the broad heading of “conspiracy.”

Meanwhile at camp, Foytlin has noticed a shift in local police tactics. “We have a little conversation out there, a few of us gather, and five police cars just roll up. For what? We go out to eat and come out and there’s cops out there taking our tags. For what reason?” Most recently, two mobile surveillance stations have appeared at the construction site across from the property.

Foytlin lives a short drive from camp, just across the parish line. “I realize the land I’m on is not my land either,” she said. “In the meantime, this is where I’m raising my family.” Before buying the Vermillion Parish resistance camp property, Foytlin explained, “The first thing we did is we asked the Atakapa Nation if it would be okay if we used this land to oppose the pipeline and to build this space.”

In total, the BBP’s route passes through 11 of Louisiana’s southern parishes — territory that has seen centuries of settler violence and dispossession, often in the name of resource extraction. But communities of Atakapa Ishak, Chitimacha, Choctaw and Houma people continue to live along this corridor.

Monique Verdin is a member both of the Tribal Council of the United Houma Nation and the council of the L’Eau Est La Vie camp. She sees the BBP as embedded within the history of this region. “We’ve been doing this for a very long time. The Bayou Bridge pipeline is just the newest pipeline,” she said. “We’re facing rapid land loss here. My people are all at the ends of the bayous. We’ve been experiencing this cycle of injustice and this is just the newest case.”

There are 17,000 members of the United Houma Nation, most of whom live in the Yakne Chitto, or Big Country — “technically between the Atchafalaya and Mississippi Rivers, but really between Bayou Lafourche and the Atchafalaya,” Verdin said. “There were these scattered settlements and sites where our people retreated as they were dodging the Trail of Tears.” Counting the Houma, Bayou Lafourche provides drinking water to 300,000 people along its course. The BBP would pass under it as it approaches the refinery and export terminal at St. James.

Water protectors from the L’eau est la Vie resistance camp protest at a construction site of the Bayou Bridge pipeline. (Facebook/L’eau est la Vie Camp)

“You have to remember that what you’re looking at is a reflection of what the plantation and colonial mindset has bred here,” Verdin explained. “I like to remind people that where plantations once sat, prisons and petrochemical plants sit now. Before we had oil and gas we had cotton and sugarcane. Life has changed a little bit, but the control of the corporations? I compare it to the colonial system.”

She reflected on the changes that her grandmother — born in 1915 — witnessed as the oil and gas industry moved into southern Louisiana. “I think it’s really appalling to now be in the 21st century, and to have Louisiana judges coming out with rulings against [oil companies], and then the company still just does what they want to do because they have the corporate, colonial power to do it. Our government, our justice system, has their hands tied. But the truth is, that’s how this state has been run for decades.”

The United Houma Nation is a state-recognized tribe, but despite the United States agreeing to honor tribal treaties at the time of the Louisiana Purchase, the Houma still lack federal recognition. Their current petition has been pending since 1996. “That’s one of the things that’s really been frustrating,” Verdin said. “Because we’re not federally recognized, we don’t have to be consulted in the same ways. We don’t have the same rights, and we don’t have authority over our sacred sites. So even in our own backyards, literally, where we have these ancient mounds that are disappearing into the water, we have no jurisdiction because we’re not federally recognized.”

The ongoing struggle for recognition, combined with economic dependence on oil and gas, has made many Houma reluctant to speak out against the BBP and other development projects, Verdin explained. “We’re a blue collar coast. Our people are barely getting by. They can barely pay their bills, let alone go sit in a public meeting and have to say, ‘Hey, my community matters.’”

But Cherri Foytlin is optimistic about the broad coalition that has emerged to fight the pipeline in the courts and on the ground. “It’s a beautiful thing that we’ve been able to create here that I’ve never seen before in southern Louisiana. We are all very much committed to standing in solidarity to protect what we have.”

Earlier in June, outside the Louisiana capitol building where dozens of protesters had just occupied the governor’s office, Alicia Cooke — an organizer with environmental justice group 350 New Orleans — explained the importance of these emergent networks.

“If you’re not building trust as you go, these fights simply aren’t going to be sustainable,” she said. “If you do lose — if pipelines do get built  — are you going to be left with just a sense of despair that you weren’t able to stop them? Or will you have at least gained a community from that, who’s now strengthened for the next fight? Because there’s gonna be another fight.”

Anti-fascists won’t let Germany return to normal after weak verdict in neo-Nazi trial

by Hilary Moore and Laura Frey

Protesters hold up signs with pictures of the victims of neo-Nazi terror group National Socialist Underground in Munich on Wednesday. (WNV / the Tribunal “Unraveling the NSU Complex”)

Thousands of people took to the streets in Munich and many other cities across Germany on Wednesday to protest the long-awaited verdict in a neo-Nazi terror case. Although the five defendants — affiliated with the terrorist organization National Socialist Underground, or NSU — were convicted for their parts in a 2000-2007 killing spree targeting migrant communities, many believe the verdict to be too narrow, overlooking a much wider terror network.

The verdict found main defendant Beate Zschäpe guilty of 10 murders. She was given a life sentence, which translates to 15 years in prison. Another defendant was sentenced to 10 years for assisting in nine of the murders, while three other defendants received between two and three years for supporting the terrorist organization.

“What is the message of this verdict?” asked Alexander Hoffmann, an accessory lawyer representing one of the victim’s family. “That neo-Nazis are able to go outside, murder people, and that you only get two years in prison for supporting them. That is an invitation!” Underscoring this point were the dozen neo-Nazis in the courtroom, who applauded the verdict.

Meanwhile, outside the courtroom, people were outraged. In Munich, 5,000 people marched in the streets, carrying signs with portraits of the slain. Activists also changed 200 street names to the names of those killed by the NSU: Enver Șimșek, Abdurrahim Özüdoğru, Süleyman Taşköprü, Habil Kılıç, Mehmet Turgut, Ismail Yașar, Theodoros Boulgarides, Mehmet Kubaṣık, Halit Yozgat.

These actions, however, are only part of the latest efforts to shine a light on the injustice in the trial and preceding investigations. Over the last five years, anti-fascist and anti-racist activists have spread awareness of the trial and its implications — attending, documenting and translating all 437 days of court proceedings. They have also fought to bring indictments of institutional racism and state collusion, but have been blocked many times along the way. In one major instance, the Domestic Intelligence Agency, Germany’s version of the FBI, prevented the release of its NSU records — choosing to protect its informants rather than fully investigate the case. As a result, activists organized a tribunal process, or people’s court, to show evidence that was not being considered and to give voice to the victims’ families. Going forward, they are united by a simple message: “Kein Schlussstrich,” or “No Closure,” which means — as they explained in a press conference on Wednesday — that they will continue to investigate the murders and work against the conditions that created the NSU.

For anti-racist and anti-fascist organizers in the United States, this is a familiar concern. In cases like the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer murders, the 1979 Greensboro Massacre in North Carolina, and last year’s deadly attack in Charlottesville — where the judicial system has obstructed prosecutions from including state collusion — activists have had to assert strategic pressure and ongoing organizing to ensure political gains are made from these tragedies. Now, German activists face similar strategic questions to the ones that U.S. activists have negotiated for much of the past half century.

This is particularly interesting given that white supremacy has always built power across borders. And U.S. racist history has, at times, lent an inspiring hand to Germany’s formations, from Hitler’s fascination with Jim Crow laws to the Ku Klux Klan chapters currently active in Germany.

As a result, this case is an opportunity to strengthen and inspire resistance strategies and learn from one another. Given this political moment where increasing numbers of hate groups are emboldened by right wing governments, the NSU trial is an important example of the limitations of the state in prosecuting systems of white supremacy and what tactical moves are available to movements on the left.

Murders, investigations and the NSU Complex

Between 2000 and 2007, the NSU killed 10 people — eight people with Turkish backgrounds, one with a Greek background and one German person. They planted nail bombs in 1999, 2001, and 2004, in migrant communities that injured more than 20 people, some of them severely. They robbed 15 banks and lived underground for 13 years. It wasn’t until 2011 — when Beate Zschäpe turned herself in following the suicides of two accomplices — that authorities considered the NSU as suspects.

Before the trial started, there was hope that it could bring change. The German public seemed genuinely shocked that a neo-Nazi terrorist organization was able to live underground and kill migrants for 12 years. In February 2012, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel promised a “full investigation” into the case.

However, by the time the trial started in May 2013, hope had dwindled. Only five suspects were accused, and the Federal Prosecutors Office pushed the premise that the NSU consisted of only three people and a handful of supporters. Angelika Lex, one of 60 private accessory lawyers that submitted evidence to the Federal Prosecution on behalf of the families, stated that 50 or 500 people should be brought to trial — not five — because that is how many supported the NSU.

The first year of the trial was a mess. For the families of the victims and anti-racist activists, it became clear that one of the biggest obstructions to justice was going to be the Federal Prosecutor. Out of 248 pieces of evidence, 152 were submitted by the accessory lawyers of the victims’ families — many of which were denied by the federal prosecutor. Notably, much of the evidence submitted by the families’ lawyers was brought up to investigate links between state officials, the NSU network and the sites of murders.

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One of the most telling examples is the murder of 21-year-old Halit Yozgat. Domestic Intelligence Agency Officer Andreas Temme told the court that he did not see or notice the shooting of Halit — despite the fact that he was inside the internet cafe at the time of the murder. Outrage from the families and outside organizers ensued when the court refused to pressure and pursue this further. It also denied a request of İsmail Yozgat, Halit’s father, for the judges to visit the crime scene and see how it was possible that Temme missed the murder. Instead, the court said that the officer was innocent — a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. After this, any remnants of faith in the process were squashed. “We are not going to acknowledge the verdict,” said İsmail Yozgat.

While the court focused on the neo-Nazi defendants, groups on the outside began to see the structural blocks and controversies, including the inherent flaws in the investigations before the trial as well as the trial process itself. They now refer to these issues as the NSU-Complex.

For instance, despite the fact that all nine of the victims from non-German origin were shot execution style with the same rare gun, a fact that classified the murders as a series, the police failed to consider right-wing terrorism as a motive. The investigations had been underway for years, presumably giving the authorities time to consider multiple leads. Yet, racism hindered the scope of the investigations — so much so, that in 2007, the Bavarian State Office of Criminal Investigation even failed to take the FBI’s advice to look for a highly-mobile and well-supported right wing network.

Narrow investigations are part and parcel to the NSU-Complex. Two days before Yozgat was killed in Kassal, Mehmet Kubaṣik — a 39-year-old father and German citizen originally from Turkey— was shot in Dortmund with the same gun. The police focused strictly on organized crime, which limited the scope of the motive to drug dealing or problems within Kubaṣik’s marriage. While his family and friends rejected these accusations, the police retorted by saying they were part of a Turkish “parallel society,” unwilling to cooperate with German state institutions. Similar stories are told by the friends and families of other victims.

Mainstream journalists reproduced this narrative by reporting only what the police said. Until November of 2011, these murders were known in the media as the “Döner Kebab Murders,” a Turkish style of food, clearly signaling the racism behind the story.

Outside the courtroom, there were key moments of shock and outrage that sparked public pressure on the case. Yet, in recent years, many Germans forgot the trial was still going, reminded only when an occasional report on the lead defendant was released. Some mainstream reactions are eager to finally close this trial, stating that German institutions have learned from the past, and that the families of the victims and the survivors were heard.

Pushing back and beyond the trial

After the NSU surfaced, many within the progressive left in Germany began to organize around the murders and the limited investigations of the police and state. The trial, for better or worse, was a shared point of interest that evolved quickly into unprecedented coordination and collaboration. The different roles and strategies became more than complimentary, but also largely aligned.

For instance, there were multiple strategies taking place within the trial itself. Some of the lawyers of the victims’ families consistently fought for the demands of the relatives to be a part of the trial. This has involved years of hard work. And, even though the court largely ignored those demands, the work of the lawyers articulated the need to take action on those demands outside the court.

While the lawyers of the victims’ families might not necessarily identify as anti-fascist, their investigations and evidence have been critical to uncovering layers of the network that supported the NSU in their acts of terror. This level of work has consistently pushed the judge to accept or decline evidence that raises indictments well beyond the five defendants.

Another inside strategy is the work of NSU-Watch. Made up of a dozen anti-fascist and anti-racist groups and individuals, NSU-Watch has closely monitored the trial. Their research on neo-Nazi networks comes from a long tradition of fighting fascism in Germany, often pushing the state to recognize the existence of large neo-Nazi networks. The members of NSU-Watch attended trial on a daily basis, writing reports, summaries and fact sheets into accessible forms (both translating into multiple languages and out of judicial speak) for the social movements and broader public. Having widely accessible information has been a key strategy to bringing more people into the organizing. This is crucial since there is no video documentation of the trial, making it impossible to view publicly.

A demonstration led by the No Closure network in Munich on Wednesday drew 5000 participants (WNV / Tribunal “Unravelling the NSU Complex.”)

Around 2015, the failures of the trial began to spur new connections between community initiatives working on a local level against racist murder cases. As a result, a network formed called “Unraveling the NSU-Complex.” Although galvanized by the NSU murders, many of the community initiatives were not directly connected to NSU terror, but found commonalities in their stories of racist attacks as well as their demands to challenge right wing formations and institutional racism in Germany. Artists, academics and post-migrant organizations have joined this network, combing their different sectors to organize around the demands of the victims’ families.

In 2017, this network organized an extrajudicial people’s court, called “Resolving the NSU -Complex” Tribunal, where they conducted their own investigations. With the evidence acquired by the families lawyers and NSU Watch, the tribunal worked with a research agency based in London called Forensic Architecture to create a simulation of one of the murder scenes. They released this information publicly along with their own indictment. After the success of this first tribunal, a second will be held in Mannheim, Germany in November.

For many, the tribunal marks a new moment in anti-racist and anti-fascist collaboration. At times, these struggles are divided on tactics and strategies, but the tribunal was a resounding moment of alignment. The principle of prioritizing “migrant knowledge,” or the critical experience and perspectives of migrants, was at the core of the organizing, which was then amplified by skillful research and sharp criticism of state collusion.

Building international solidarity

In the United States, organizing inside and outside trials against white supremacists has continued. For instance, new groups formed around victims’ families, like the Greensboro Justice Fund, which finally brought charges against the shooters in the massacre through a civil rights suit in 1985. After 26 years — and following two acquittals by all white juries in both a murder trial and federal civil rights trial — community groups adopted methods put forth by the Truth and Reconciliation process in South Africa to conduct their own report of what happened, in the hopes of bringing some closure of the tragedy.

Meanwhile, today, activists and organizers in Solidarity Cville are pushing the Charlottesville case and beginning to raise similar questions to those raised during NSU-Complex debates — such as how white supremacists are funding their operations, what the state knew about the “Unite the Right” rally and its plan for violence, and what measures — if any — the authorities took to prevent it, assuming they had some advance knowledge. Activists and organizers are facing down the very real prospect of the court turning against the victims of the Charlottesville rally. They are also discovering the extent to which state institutions participate in withholding information and participation. For instance, despite pressure from activists, the University of Virginia and the city of Charlottesville are refusing to the press charges against the white supremacists.

While judicial and social contexts in Germany and the United States can differ greatly, it is worth looking to the lessons available at different phases and sharing information to strengthen international solidarity. The activists and organizers in Charlottesville are in the relative early stages of gathering testimony and possible strategies, while those in Germany are entering a post verdict phase aimed at sustaining ongoing organizing against the conditions that created the NSU-Complex and demanding further investigations into the murders.

Despite the verdict, the next steps are to “keep the flame burning” said Friedrich Burschel, a member of NSU Watch. His group and the tribunal network will continue to organize, now with the additional aim of preventing the illusion that German society can return back to normal.

What the Parkland teens can teach the Medicare for All campaigners

by George Lakey

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A man passes out in church. An ambulance is immediately summoned, and he’s taken to the nearest emergency room where he is treated and discharged. But the real stinger in this story is the $1,633 bill he receives for the seven-mile ride to the hospital.

All this really happened. What’s more, as the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Sarah Gantz reported in her investigation, it could happen to any one of us.

The TriHampton Rescue Squad said the man owed the money because that ambulance company was not part of his insurance network. Health insurance companies often sign contracts only with particular ambulance services – it’s their “network” system. Insurance then backs you up only if you take the ambulance in your own network.

The only trouble is, most of us, when unconscious, don’t look over our health insurance contracts to find out which ambulance service to call.

This is only one way that Americans are terribly vulnerable under an arbitrary and capricious health care delivery system. Medical bills can lead you to personal bankruptcy. Forty-three percent of low-income Americans go without medical care because of costs. Americans are more likely to die from health care delivery system failure than people in almost any other wealthy country.

The system that’s supposed to protect us leaves us vulnerable, but few people get mad at systems.

Making our vulnerability real

Vulnerability is also our condition in relation to gun violence. In the past decade we’ve seen mass shootings in schools, a movie theater, a gay nightclub, a church and many other places. After short bursts of indignation, the energy usually shifts back to policy advocates who take it to the system level. Yet, again, few people get mad at systems.

Most of us return to the denial that allows us to live our daily lives. Denial helps us function when there’s no campaign to join, no ability to take direct action with a chance of challenging the entrenched status quo.

What re-awakens our concern is when the vulnerable have faces, and we hear their stories. We feel their passion and remember “that could be me or my friend or my family.”

What the teenage survivors of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas School shooting in Parkland, Florida, did was to become the faces and voices of the vulnerable. Their direct action (die-ins, marches, school walk-outs) inspired urban teenagers to take a public stand against the gun violence they face in their neighborhoods. In multiple places around the country, an informal cross-race and cross-class coalition is forming against gun violence, led by the teens who are willing to let their faces and passion be seen and felt.

In Florida, where state government has a history of being under the thumb of the gun lobby, a short campaign brought some policy change. Clearly, the teens are onto something. Whether they will retain their feisty independence and be supported by adults with resources or instead be co-opted by lobbyist insiders is an open question.

The vulnerable are everywhere in our health care system

As bad as gun violence is in the United States, the chance of your life being seriously impaired by the U.S. health care “delivery” system is even greater than you getting gunned down. People die in the United States for lack of adequate health care at higher rates than in comparably wealthy countries, even though people pay much more for health care in the United States than those countries.

The extra we pay reflects profit and waste. The CEOs of 70 of the largest health care companies cumulatively earned $9.8 billion in the seven years after the Affordable Care Act was passed.

A market-based health delivery system is so obsolete that most industrial countries gave up theirs many decades ago. The system leaves us highly vulnerable, but — to say it again — few people get mad at systems. As the Florida and inner city teenagers know, what arouses people’s energy is faces, voices, passion. What channels that energy effectively is nonviolent direct action campaigns.

The extraordinary opportunity for Medicare for All is that the vulnerable ones are everywhere: People who, in distress, were “taken for a ride” on an ambulance and are still paying the bill; people who were charged in one hospital twice as much as for the same service in another; people who were denied the treatment their doctor recommended; people who needed to choose between paying the rent or keeping up with their meds; and people who resorted to crowd-funding to pay for what would already be taken care of in Denmark.

When I gave the keynote for a Medicare for All conference in 2017, I heard about a new public health problem: doctors burning out. We already have fewer doctors per capita than the Nordic countries. Even though the conference attendees knew more than I did about our system’s failings, I found the indignation channeled into polite policy advocacy. There was little enthusiasm for adding to advocacy a direct action wing that would use proven campaign strategy principles to build a movement that could win. I found myself wishing I’d brought some gun control teenagers along.

The majority wants Medicare for All

Just as with gun control, a majority of Americans want Medicare for All according to a Kaiser Family Foundation 2017 poll. Even a majority of Republicans told pollsters in 2017 that they want more governmental spending on health care.

Advocates on both issues want us to take comfort in the minority of the minority party who are willing to try what the majority of Americans want. On both issues, the power realities are against them. The good news under these conditions has always been people power; even a quick look at the Global Nonviolent Action Database reveals hundreds of cases where the power structure opposed reform but was forced to give way to campaigns using nonviolent direct action.

Comparing the issues of gun control and Medicare for All suggests another way in which the single-payer forces have a big opportunity right now. The opposition to gun control is not only coming from the economic elite — the usual opponent of progressive change. There is also a substantial and passionate grassroots opposition to major gun regulation. That base was built over time and will not erode quickly. The struggle would be easier if we were only taking on the gun manufacturers and the National Rifle Association.

By contrast, whatever popular support there has been for the medical-industrial complex is eroding: the disappearance of community hospitals in rural areas, insufficiency of medical professionals to provide service to vets and others, inability to control costs including medications, the demography of aging boomers stressing the system even more. Reasons keep growing — including among Trump voters — for a health care system that will actually work for their families.

The beauty of strategizing around a Medicare for All campaign is not only the combination of system failure and widespread support for a just alternative, but also that there are so many targets for campaigning. The civil rights movement used multiple targets to generate many campaigns: public accommodations, schools, voting, housing, hiring. A more recent example is the environmental movement to shut down coal mining, with campaigns targeting power plants, barges, terminals for overseas loading and banks.

The medical-industrial complex is similarly many faceted. Each facet deserves its own campaign, and there are tactics that can be quite useful for targeting the pharmaceuticals and drugstores, private health insurers and private hospitals — not to mention the investors.

Successful campaigns will feature faces of the vulnerable with whom we can identify, bold and passionate action, and a movement-building strategy of nonviolent direct action campaigning. The Medicare for All lobbyists may initially oppose such dynamic campaigning, but in the end they will be happy because, at last, they will represent real people power.

Why unarmed civilian protection is the best path to sustainable peace

by Annie Hewitt

International civilian protection officer, Rufus Moiseemah, helps open access to remote areas of South Sudan so they can receive humanitarian assistance. (Twitter/Nonviolent Peaceforce)

The first image that often comes to mind when one thinks of peacekeeping, especially within the frame of the United Nations, is that of the blue helmets: armed soldiers gathered from member states who are then strategically deployed in conflict areas.

There are over 90,000 armed UN peacekeepers working around the world today — from Haiti to Lebanon to Kosovo to Darfur — who are generally isolated from the communities they are meant to protect. They engage from the outside, with soldiers often patrolling in vehicles and retreating at the end of the day to compounds of rarefied security.

This drastically reduces the ability of traditional peacekeepers to know and respect local people; without this understanding, trust is weakened and the kind of clear and open communication needed for sustained peace is undermined. A recent UN report exploring ways to improve the safety of UN peacekeepers embodies this relationship model: its focus is on the protection of peacekeepers who come from outside countries and concludes that their safety depends on the proactive use of force.

There is, however, another model for peacekeeping called unarmed civilian protection, or UCP. It works from the inside and has been proven to save lives, empower communities and can secure strong and lasting peace in areas plagued by violent conflict.

“Unarmed civilian protection challenges the widespread assumption that ‘where there is violence we need soldiers,’ or that armed actors will only yield to violent threat,” said Rachel Julian, director of the Centre for Applied Social Research at Leeds-Beckett University, during a UN event in May. Hosted by the permanent missions of Uruguay and Australia to the UN, the event offered inspiring success stories and provided persuasive evidence that unarmed civilian protection works.

UCP, she began, is not a new-fangled and untested method of peacekeeping — in its current form, it has been around for over 35 years. Despite its long history, UCP is rarely recognized by international bodies as a viable tool for peacekeeping; armed strategies tend to dominate institutional efforts to combat threats of violence. Julian’s research suggests that we have much to gain by expanding our conception of what peacekeeping is and by broadening our ideas of the methods it involves.

Julian explained that armed peacekeeping is limited in part due to the fact that the peace sought by armed peacekeepers is not grounded in the knowledge, practices and traditions of the people directly involved in the conflict. Armed peacekeeping imposes peace externally, introducing temporary resolutions from the outside. It is often implemented according to a fixed and prescribed model that is applied with relative uniformity in different regions and in all kinds of conflict.

As Youssef Mahmoud from the International Peace Institute said at the event, this kind of peacekeeping can yield “security, not safety.” And no doubt, security is important. But more important is a sustainable peace that finds its roots in the particular community itself. These local approaches to peace are always present, even amidst horrific violence.

Unarmed civilian protection draws on the peace infrastructure that exists within all communities by actively listening to everyone involved, by opening clear lines of communication, and by making a safe space for people to use and build on the knowledge and resources they already have. UCP is based on the recognition that each conflict and thus each peace is distinct and requires methods that are adapted to the particularities of the community and implemented by local people themselves.

Over the years, Julian has gathered a tremendous amount of data to prove the efficacy of UCP. Her research shows that unarmed civilian protection is scalable, that it is successful in preventing violence, that it works in all stages of conflict and that it is effective in preventing the displacement of civilians.

But the benefits that grow directly from the practices of unarmed civilian protection require time and funding, which they currently lack. Building trust and capacities, strengthening community ties, encouraging communication among “enemies” are not cheap and quick fixes. However, the investment pays off: the peace UCP ushers in tends to be strong and enduring. After all, its roots lie deep in the individual communities and in the hearts of its residents.

Over 40 Women’s Peacekeeping Teams focusing on civilian protection and peacebuilding have formed throughout South Sudan. (Nonviolent Peaceforce)

In the Kook community of South Sudan, strong local women came together to form the Women’s Peacekeeping Teams, which pooled their strength and knowledge to take action for peace. These teams were able to sustain peace among once hostile clans when it was threatened after a chief’s son was killed. Because the Women’s Peacekeeping Teams had laid the groundwork by taking the time to get to know and listen to people from all groups in the area, they were able to intervene on behalf of their community as a whole and ensured that no revenge killings would take place. And indeed, the peace remained.  

Carmen Lauzon-Gatmaytan is the program development officer with Nonviolent Peaceforce, an unarmed, paid civilian protection force founded in 2002, which now has peacekeepers in the Philippines, Iraq, South Sudan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. An international NGO, Nonviolent Peaceforce is committed to “building peace side by side with local communities” in a way that saves lives and preserves human dignity.

Lauzon-Gatmaytan works in Mindanao region of the Philippines, which has emerged as an epicenter of violence in the country. Unarmed civilian protection has been effective in countering this violence, creating reliable channels of communication among opposing groups and cultivating islands of peace where conflict seemed inevitable. Local actors have been empowered through trainings in the methods of unarmed civilian protection, and trust among ostensible enemies is gradually emerging and taking hold. This has come in part by identifying common interests which unite rival groups, despite disagreement on the issues that drive the conflict.

A few years ago, a high school graduation celebration was disrupted by armed militias. Parents and students contacted Nonviolent Peaceforce to come work with their community, providing protective accompaniment to vulnerable people and encouraging dialogue among all parties. The following year, the graduates took part in a ceremony free of tension and fear. Families — whatever their political, religious and ethnic ties — recognized and respected the desire to watch their loved ones receive diplomas.

NP was on the ground in the Philippines conducting monitoring patrols and addressing civilian concerns when they returned to their communities more than six months after fleeing from fighting between armed groups. (Twitter/Nonviolent Peaceforce)

Building bridges among opposing groups reveals only one axis of UCP’s impact, which cultivates trust and strengthens ties among civilians. Equally significant, Lauzon-Gatmaytan insisted, is how UCP facilitates the coming together of civilians, government officials and armed actors to work for peace. This was witnessed in Mindanao when both the government and the main rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, requested that Nonviolent Peaceforce join in the official ceasefire and recognized unarmed civilian protection as a tool to be used to find resolution to the region’s problems.

Yasmin Maydhane, an international protection officer with Nonviolent Peaceforce, has direct experience using unarmed civilian protection in remote areas of South Sudan that are inaccessible to the UN mission there. Her work has introduced her to local people whose knowledge and resources have been channeled and directed so that they are now active unarmed peacekeepers themselves.

Herself a byproduct of UN peacekeeping missions in Somalia, Maydhane has firsthand knowledge of what works and what doesn’t, and UCP, she stated without equivocation, works. She spoke with pride and excitement about the fact that UCP methods have inspired local youth to be increasingly involved in peacekeeping efforts in South Sudan, forming youth groups of motivated peace activists. The Upper Nile region, long cut off from aid of all kinds, now has basic humanitarian services thanks to UCP.

Perhaps most significant, women are leading some of the most successful peacekeeping efforts in the area. In one instance, they managed to bring together representatives from different ethnic groups to ensure safe passage through a once perilous series of checkpoints: Maydhane described how before these brave women joined forces, going through checkpoints meant abuse and rape. They declared, “Our men rape you, yours rape us — let’s end this” and South Sudanese women did just that. The checkpoints are now safely crossed.

At the event, Mahmoud said the efficacy of unarmed civilian protection comes in part from its adaptability and flexibility. This gives it a unique capacity to contend successfully with decentralized violence, a characteristic of most active conflicts in the world today. Equally important, unarmed civilian protection makes room for local actors to realize capacities that have become latent, and any good peacekeeper, he said, must draw on this untapped potential.

Peacekeepers must be sure to “map not only what is not working, but also what is working” — that is, to understand that the solutions to any conflict lie with the local people. This means that the aim of unarmed civilian protectors is ultimately to become dispensable — somewhat paradoxically, they must strive to be unneeded. In this, unarmed civilian protection goes beyond mere protecting, but supports local actors to build peace themselves. Real peace, Mahmoud stressed, always grows from the bottom up and while external actors can help make the space for peace, they must leave room for others “to shape it as their own.”

The UN event made clear that unarmed civilian protection is not simply about keeping peace, it is inseparable from building peace, which necessarily involves unearthing and realizing the capacity, knowledge and power of the communities that are directly involved in conflict. The kind of local ownership UCP depends on is essential for a robust and sustained peace as opposed to a fleeting and fragile one. Much of traditional peacekeeping has been pried from its natural place within grassroots peacebuilding, reduced to an external force that strains to impose a frozen peace from the outside and is itself dependent on outsiders.

The practices central to UCP — inclusive dialogue, protective accompaniment, trust-building and open negotiation — grow directly out of the awareness that local capacity is never absent, only buried and rendered dormant under the weight of conflict and violence. These are all too often the direct result of external forces — colonialism, proxy wars, scarce resources, climate change — for which those stuck in conflict bear no responsibility.

Nonviolent peacekeeping allows people to see humanity visibly manifested; unarmed peacekeepers must be decent and kind, they must listen actively and make all parties to a conflict feel as though they matter. In doing so, humanity is revealed to be not the property of one side or another, nor something that must be imported from outside.

Unarmed civilian protection directly addresses the urgent need to ensure that even the most violent regions across the globe are on a road to becoming safe and peaceful. Given increased international recognition and adequate financial support, data suggests that such widespread peace is in fact possible and sustainable.

Equally significant, this peace does not require the constant presence of saviors from outside, whether UN blue helmets or others. “Outsiders have to be humble enough to recognize that people have capacity not just needs,” Mahmoud said. “Outsiders also have to build into their DNA that they are dispensable.”

What can be learned from a mass shooting that didn’t happen?

by Michael Nagler

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Nonviolence is spread out all around us, yet we so often fail to see how it can be used to stop some of today’s worst atrocities. Take school shootings, as just one example. It’s telling that the idea of arming teachers has been seriously debated in the media, while nonviolent approaches to conflict resolution remain largely unknown.

That’s why the recent film “Faith Under Fire: The Antoinette Tuff Story” is so unique. It tells the true story of Antoinette Tuff, an elementary school accountant in Decatur, Georgia, who prevented a mass shooting in 2013 by talking would-be killer Michael Hill into putting down his assault weapon. Hill had slipped into the school with an AK-47 and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, announcing that “everybody’s gonna die today.” But thanks to Tuff, none of the 841 young children — “my babies” as she calls them — were harmed.

While the event got some fairly intense media coverage when it occurred five years ago, one network — in a perfect example of the distorted lens through which we see the world — actually pulled the story because nobody got killed. Yet, it’s precisely the cases where nobody gets killed that teach us about the resources of the human spirit and their ability to save us from the scourge of violence.

“Faith Under Fire” deserves credit for shining a light on this unfortunately timely and teachable true story — as does Toni Braxton, who turned in a great performance as Antoinette Tuff. What’s more, the film maintains acute tension for almost all of its 90-minute run — right up to the happy conclusion, where Michael Hill puts his weapon on Tuff’s desk, lies face down on the floor and tells her she can call the police. As far as I know, the film hardly changes anything about the actual event – nor does it need to. This was one of the more incredible, and overlooked dramatic confrontations of our day. Its sensitive treatment of race issues (Tuff being black and Hill white) is also much appreciated.

The only problem with “Faith Under Fire” is what it doesn’t say. To begin, it didn’t quite bring out what Tuff actually said to Hill. In the 911 calls, she can be heard making use of an age-old script for exhorting people to pluck up their courage and desist from an unwise course. This script was so common — and so effective — that it was actually named and formalized in ancient times (the Romans called it a consolatio).

It more or less goes as follows: First, you acknowledge, with sympathy, the distraught person’s mental state. Then you show how you, too, have similar difficulties. Next you remind the person that things will not always be this bad. And, finally, you urge him or her to do something. It seems to me this script, or parts of it, can be learned and put to work in any number of situations to defuse potentially violent interactions. Of course, to be learned, it needs to be taught.

Another error of omission in the film stemmed from its depiction of what gave Tuff the strength to do what she did in the ordeal, which went on for hours. The film set it down to faith in God — which is true as far as it goes — but Tuff herself has cited a kind of centering activity her pastor had taught her. In other words, it was more like a spiritual practice instead of, or along with, that faith. Faith is one thing — you either have it or you don’t. But spiritual practice is something anyone can do. So, again, it was a bit of a lost teaching opportunity.

The most important missing item, however, was an open acknowledgement of the things that failed to save the children: security gates, police, and a SWAT team. Perhaps it’s implicit in the way the film upholds Antoinette Tuff, as a sensitive, compassionate, brave human who saved children. But implicit isn’t quite enough. A profound lesson seems to be lurking here — namely that the human capacity for nonviolence is a more powerful way to achieve security than the institutions and paraphernalia we’re trying to rely on today.

That realization would reach far beyond school shootings or, in fact, any kind of individual encounter. Think of how the world slept when refugees streamed out of Iraq in the 1980s, asking for help with their civil resistance against Saddam Hussein. If we had heeded their appeal, it could have spared us the untold ongoing misery still being inflicted on that country. Or what about when the world slept in 1972, during a major nonviolent uprising in Pakistan that failed for want of any recognition, not to mention support from the international community? Or what about when it failed to notice an extremely courageous, determined nonviolent resistance going on in Kosovo in the 1990s, until armed fighters appeared on the scene? The list goes on and on. To paraphrase President Kennedy, those who ignore nonviolent moments will live in a violent forever.

But let’s not do that. Let’s think right here for a moment about what we could do, as individuals or through institutions, to get to a world where nobody gets killed because the lessons of nonviolence going on all around us (as they do) are noted, understood and developed. The first thought would be, of course, the media. Most of us are not journalists, but every one of us is a consumer of journalism — and therein lies our leverage. If they ignore nonviolence, we should ignore them. Individuals and groups use this tactic with the media and their corporate sponsors frequently with telling effect. What’s more, weeding out the sensationalizing mirror of violence to get real stories of human courage and creativity — aka nonviolence — can have a healthy effect on our own mindset, which in turn influences the mindset of the world around us.

Nonviolence is everywhere, but it’s beneath our radar. We have to be proactive and learn everything we can about it, then be our own news channel to disseminate and interpret its unfolding events. Peace scholar Johan Galtung talks about the “great chain of nonviolence” by which people who have no direct access to policymakers (like most of us) often have indirect access — whether we know it or not — through a ladder of connections, on up the line to the so-called high seats of power. Whether we have them or not, however, every one of us influences her or his surrounding culture.

Two other lessons would seem to build directly off Antoinette Tuff and the way she was prepared, without realizing it, for her confrontation with destiny. First, get trained in nonviolent practices that can help you deal with all kinds of interactions, some of them difficult (check out the nonviolence training hub). Second, back it up with a spiritual practice. We may never have to confront a mass murderer (Inshallah), but we all can and must work on a culture bringing mass murder into our troubled world.

Unions have been down before, history shows how they can come back

by George Lakey

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The Janus decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday was another blow to the labor movement. It creates a financial incentive for public sector union members to leave the union while continuing their job.

Ever since the beginning of the 1980s clamp-down on the U.S. left, signaled by President Ronald Reagan’s firing of the air traffic controllers to end their strike, the labor movement has been besieged by what billionaire Warren Buffett described in the New York Times as a class war started by his class. It’s not the first time this has happened in U.S. history.

Labor organized strongly and successfully in the period before World War I, so much so that the 1 percent led a fierce push-back in the 1920s that substantially lowered union membership. While touring for my book “Viking Economics” last year, some people told me we can’t get the Nordic model in the United States because the labor movement has been in decline, not realizing that labor has a history of ups and downs in this country. The 1930s became a period of tremendous union growth, so much so that progressive movements were able to achieve victories almost impossible to imagine in the 1920s.

Two ways we can honor unions at this time of trial are to ask others to join union picket lines and to learn from their innovations and successes for whatever campaigns we are committed to today. According to labor historian Sidney Fine, the union breakthrough in Detroit and Flint, Michigan, was “the most significant American labor conflict in the twentieth century.”

In some ways the struggle was more strategically sophisticated than many campaigns are today, which is why it offers important lessons on tactics, racism, using the spectrum of allies and sequencing the focus of organizing.

Labor matches innovative tactics to target in giant victory

Americans fell in love with the automobile in the 1920s. Factories in Michigan needed to grow rapidly to meet the demand. At the same time, black people from the South were making “the Great Migration” to northern cities, joining a flow into the workforce from Europe.

The auto industry was a giant in the U.S. economy and determined not to accept trade unions. Its influence on governments, both local and national, meant that law enforcement could be used to back up its network of private detectives and spies.

Early attempts to unionize failed, since the usual tactic — workers refusing to go to work and picketing the factory gates to keep out replacement workers — was broken by arrests and violence.

The United Mine Workers of America, or UMWA, moved into Michigan to give it a try. That union had already made great progress in another industry defended by violence: coal mining. The UMWA set up what became the United Auto Workers, or UAW.

However, automobile manufacturers had a back-up defense against attempts at unionization: racism. The largest of them, General Motors, hired only white workers for skilled jobs. That meant unemployed black workers would be easy to recruit as replacement workers in case of a strike, setting up race against race to divert attention from their common enemy, the economic elite. With both violence and racism on their side, how could the auto manufacturers lose?

Meeting in living rooms with the comparatively few black GM workers in Flint, UAW organizers told them the union would oppose Jim Crow, just as the Mineworkers had done in Birmingham, when they organized the steel industry there. To tackle GM as a whole, however, they would be publicly organizing the white workers.

While the slow, painstaking work of organizing continued, word arrived in spring 1936 about the French trying a different kind of strike. Instead of leaving their jobs and going home, almost 2 million workers were occupying their factories. This reduced the threat of replacement workers, who could simply be locked out by the occupation.

Flint workers decided to try it, calling it the sit-downs. Their families and friends mobilized to bring in food and supplies — no one knew how long the occupations would continue.

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The GM executives refused to negotiate with the union, asking local political leaders (who they controlled) to use the police to expel the workers. GM also went to state court to get an injunction on the grounds that the workers were occupying private property.

After the workers repelled local police who tried to enter one of the factories, a state court passed an injunction against the sit-downs. That move added to GM’s pressure on the governor to intervene, using the National Guard.

The workers sent a message to the governor that the use of force would mean “a blood bath of unarmed workers” for which the governor would be responsible. They put him in a dilemma: follow the law as interpreted by the state court, with violent repression, or keep his reputation as a humane governor.

The governor stalled while making a decision. The occupiers understood the dynamics influencing his decision. According to Fine, “Though many workers saw GM as a mortal enemy and were inclined to inflict any available punishment on the company, an anti-sabotage committee prevented any significant injury to the machinery, the tools and the inventory stockpiles … they did not loot the captured management offices; they used seat padding as beds but did not keep the padding for permanent use.”

Since the governor was forced by the court’s decision to at least send the National Guard to Flint, he gave it the mission to prevent violence — including protecting the strikers from attacks by outside forces — and appointed, as commander, an officer he knew had a cool head and was less likely to use violence than the guard’s regular commander. The governor then pushed GM to negotiate with the UAW and get a settlement.

General Motors, the largest automaker, finally gave in.

With racism, strategy means that sequencing matters

As in chess, or any game, being strategic includes estimating which move is best to take first, second and so on. Often we choose a smaller target then proceed to a larger, more powerful one. The reality of racism actually suggested the reverse order of sequencing in the auto union struggle, for a couple of reasons. This may be hard to grasp in today’s demand heard among activists for intersectionality as a moral, rather than strategic, stand. History helps us out here.

When the union took on the Ford Motor Company, taking advantage of the momentum from its victory with GM, it met a workforce with more black workers. That’s because Henry Ford saw an opportunity to hire black workers who would, given prevailing discrimination, be grateful for the job and, therefore, also loyal to his company and hostile to unionization.

Ford reinforced the loyalty by making many of the hires through referrals from black ministers, to whose churches Ford gave contributions. The result was that, by the onset of World War II, 12 percent of the Ford workforce was black.

Because UAW organizers chose the GM fight first, they gained credibility for tackling the mixed-race situation at Ford. Most Ford workers could see that being a union member would give more protection and a more promising economic future than not having a union. On the other hand, black autoworkers had experienced plenty of white racism and had little reason to expect a union to be any different.

When the UAW was formed the United Mine Workers was a consciously anti-racist union that, among other things, developed leadership skills in black workers and gave them leadership spots. Further, UAW knew that Ford would use divide-and-conquer tactics in order to keep the union out, in this case dividing blacks and whites.

Because of their principled anti-racism and understanding that success depended on unity, UAW organizers knew they had to somehow unite workers across racial lines. They developed a two-pronged recruitment strategy. Organizers recruited black members secretly to get some momentum before the issue became an open fight. And they invested in seemingly endless one-on-one encounters to convince white workers that, however strongly they might be prejudiced, they would need to contain it, instead of acting on it, for the sake of unity in the struggle.

It worked. Ford capitulated, the plants became union and the workers had their first experience of a degree of economic justice.

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The bottom line was that the UAW was unwilling to let the racism of white workers prevent organizing at Ford. There were ongoing tensions between whites and blacks, some racially tinged physical fights, and initially a lower percentage of blacks than whites joined the union.

Nevertheless, the UAW became an interracial union. That doesn’t mean the UAW was free of prejudice and discrimination. But despite its flaws, it managed to be an instrument for economic justice for many black workers and also became a progressive force for equality on the national scene for decades after its founding.

A lesson for today: dealing with racism

UAW’s success in building an interracial union in the 1930s gives considerable grounds for hope for movement-builders today. The discouraged among us who think we should aim low and resign ourselves to incrementalist steps because racism will prevent large gains are wrong.

Instead, we need to learn from what worked for UAW and the mine workers back in the day. They did not focus on attitude, “unlearning prejudice,” or the psychology of individual change. They focused on struggling together for a win on justice issues that matter deeply to many people, regardless of race. We have many issues like this today: health care, low wages, poor public schooling, gun violence, wars without end, climate disasters, poor housing – I could go on and on.

For at least 50 years, academic race relations studies have found that when people of different races are placed together in equal-status situations (affordable housing, a good school, a work team, a military unit, a sports team, or performance group), white people experience prejudice reduction. Here again the strategic question of sequencing comes up: Will we make more progress by first waging the cultural fight about white supremacy or first changing the “facts on the ground” as people live their lives? Sometimes both can be done simultaneously, but sometimes we need to make choices, which is what strategy is about.

In other words, we could argue strategically that if the energy now going into white people probing their psychological depths to ferret out racism were instead focused through campaigns on changing the major policies that sustain institutional racism, it’s more likely that racism would take a major hit.

White people especially need to remember that the UAW gained credibility among black workers at Ford by the white workers’ success in taking on GM. In other words, white people who want people of color to see them as champions of racial equality can earn that trust by demonstrating their chops — by initiating direct action campaigns whose demands will improve the lives of actual people of color who are most hurt by injustice.

Another huge lesson from the Flint workers teach us the power that comes from self-discipline. Their choice to leave intact the plants they occupied limited the range of options the powerholders could use against the workers. General Motors wanted the governor to intervene violently and suppress the workers. But GM needed the auto workers to damage property in order to justify that level of force. The workers, by practicing discipline, prevented GM from getting its way.

Importing a tactic from another movement, in France, required thoughtfulness about how to adapt it to a new environment, analyzing how it would play out in the mind of the target/powerholders and those who could influence the outcome of the struggle. The more we learn about other movements’ successes, the more we learn about strategic choices for today.

Calls to abolish ICE grow as encampments multiply across the country

by Shane Burley

The encampment outside of ICE in Portland, Oregon. (WNV/Daniel V. Media)

It was about 3:30 a.m. on the morning of Monday, June 25 when armed Federal Protective Service officers returned to the Portland, Oregon office for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE personnel had not been back since June 19, when protesters began disallowing easy access in and out of the building. A mass of people had formed the night before and began blocking the exit at closing time on Monday afternoon.

As the protest ramped up that evening, an ICE staff person came out and demanded the protesters move so that the ICE staff could “go home to their families.” It was that line that caused an insurgent uproar, cementing the creation of a community that included hundreds of people and tents.

Family concentration camps

The Trump administration’s “no tolerance” policy on undocumented immigration, and the revelations that families are being broken up and children placed into cages in detention facilities, has created a vitriolic wave of anger across the country. Protests exploded in dozens of cities, targeting ICE operations who many allege have created a system of terror and oppression for people of color and immigrants. Stories about sexual assault in ICE facilities, the use of forced labor in camps, and the “losing” of children in custody have made this an issue so divisive that the public has been forced to confront it.

While the movement has hit a fever pitch in affected communities in every pocket of the United States, the protests hit a tipping point in Portland, Oregon. A local organization, the Direct Action Alliance, held a rally at the local ICE facility in the city, nestled near a track of high-priced condos newly built along the Willamette River waterfront. That first action pushed for an occupation, a blockade that would directly contest ICE’s ability to continue aggressive immigration arrests, and the growing numbers of protesters decided to enact a round-the-clock vigil.

“The feeling has been one of community and defiance and revolution. It really felt like once the occupation started, and started growing, that we were on to something here,” said organizer Jenny Nickolaus.

A community quickly formed, built on the principles of direct democracy and anti-hierarchical decision making. In the model of the Occupy Wall Street movement, the tent city included a fully functioning kitchen, medical and mental health tents, an accessibility area, childcare and a growing complex infrastructure meant to sustain more than just the protest. Committees and working groups were formed with an eye on maintaining the simultaneous purpose of building relationships and halting the functioning of the building it was quickly engulfing. This was more than just a challenge to ICE, it was a vision of something to replace it with.

Committing to disruption

The Portland occupation sparked a nationwide shift in tactics, moving beyond simple protest and into actions where organizers were committed to the longer-term blockage of ICE functioning in the various administrative and detention centers it operates in.

In New York City, the Metropolitan Anarchist Coordinating Council, or MACC, took the lead on turning a Bikes Against Deportation protest on Thursday, June 21, into a rolling encampment to challenge ICE operations in Lower Manhattan. As the protests continued well into early Friday morning, and confronted an ICE van trying to enter the 201 Varick Street entrance, it was clear that a continuous blockade was starting to form. They had taken over two city blocks by Sunday and were operating in shifts with 20 to 30 people at a time to maintain coverage on the entrance to the facility. While police came and hosed off chalked messages about ICE overreach, ICE canceled all immigration hearings in the building that were scheduled for June 25.

The ICE Out of L.A. coalition, along with groups like L.A. Against ICE and Ground Game L.A., started with a protest action at the Metropolitan Detention Center, which is used by the LAPD, federal authorities, and ICE for detention of undocumented people. As the protest swelled, organizers wanted something that was more than just symbolic and could actually interfere with the basic functioning of ICE in the Los Angeles area.

Occupy ICE blocks an ICE facility in Los Angeles on June 23. (Facebook/ICE out of L.A.)

“We can cause an actual disruption to the injustice of the system,” said John Motter, an organizer who helped start the encampment with Ground Game L.A. “We want to maintain this as a vigil and a show of solidarity for people incarcerated in the building behind us and around the country.”

The protest continued through the weekend, bringing out dozens to maintain watch and keep the protest going on a continuous basis. Those incarcerated in the building have been flashing their cell lights to communicate with protesters on the outside, building a bond between those facing incarceration and the movement of solidarity on the sidewalk.

“It is bigger than just reuniting families, but fixing the problems with, or abolishing, ICE,” said Motter.

Just down the road, and closer to the Mexico border, Occupy ICE San Diego formed out of a massive coalition of groups, from Redneck Revolts to the Democratic Socialists of America, attempting to disrupt ICE operations in a city known for its border militarization. Using a multi-front approach, organizers hit both the Chula Vista Border Patrol and the Otay ICE location on Saturday, shutting it down for 14 hours before state police came in and started making arrests.

“We are a group of organizations, groups, and regular folks who are committed to standing up for the migrant members of our communities. The violence and trauma that Trump’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy has inflicted on migrant families must stop,” said Yesenia Padilla at the encampment.

Viewed from the White House

As the occupations grew, the Attorney General’s Office doubled down on its “no tolerance” policy while opposition from inside the political ranks mounted. Donald Trump finally announced that he would end the policy of separating families through a temporary executive order rather than a concrete policy.

“Trump’s executive order is not even a bandage on this gaping wound, and continues to allow ICE to inflict violence upon our neighbors, family members and friends,” Padilla said, echoing the growing view that the entire system of immigration in the United States is untenable.

As the protests grew, it was not just the policy of family separation that was brought into focus, but ICE as an institution. Organizers keyed in on the goal of abolishing ICE wholesale, using the language of prison abolition of a way of linking up these movements.

“It is directly connected to our other causes, prison abolition, abolishing the police,” said Kim Kelly, an organizer with MACC in New York. “Every cage is still a cage, no matter what the jailer is wearing.”

In Detroit, occupiers came with a clear goal of shutting down the facility, disrupting the “business as usual” approach to incarceration of undocumented people. Groups had come together with the intention of blockading from the start, and they blocked all three entrances to the Detroit ICE facility for several hours on Monday morning until police swarmed the protesters with threats of pepper spray and zip ties. The group has reconvened and re-establishing the encampment on June 26.

“With 40 people we shut down operations at an ICE facility for six hours. Come out and let’s see what we can do with 400,” said Robert Jay, of Occupy ICE Detroit and the Metro Detroit Political Action Network.

Occupy ICE PDX

On Sunday, June 24, a rally with hundreds of people was held at the Portland City Hall with politicians and community leaders openly calling for the abolition of ICE. Chloe Eudaly, the Portland city councilor who rode into office with the support of tenant rights organizations, came out to the occupation to show her firm support. This has been echoed in some sectors of the Democratic Party, with Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan introducing a bill to eliminate ICE.

Signs on the blockaded door of the ICE facility in Portland, Oregon. (WNV/Daniel V. Media)

By mid-morning on June 25, law enforcement had put out an official notice to the Portland encampment indicating that occupiers could face criminal charges. In their public release, which they attempted to hand out to the encampment, they stated that the blocking of areas such as entrances, the creation of loud noise, or anything that “disrupts the performance of official duties by government employees” could be subject to criminal charges.

One organizer, who asked to remain anonymous, said that they were visited by a federal public defender who noted that the Federal Protective Service was planning to evict the camp and possibly seek prosecution of the occupiers on federal statutes.

“I don’t think we have weeks. I think we have days,” the organizer said.

That certainly seemed correct as the pressure mounted on June 25, with police making return visits and occupiers alleging tear gas being fired at them from inside the ICE facility. The Portland encampment is maintaining itself despite threats from law enforcement, including potentially serious federal charges.

“No one has any plans on leaving anytime soon,” said Jordan Sheldon, a member of the Occupy ICE PDX media team. “We will be making sure we keep everything in order to make sure we don’t get swept.”

With the encampment continuing, they are calling for the city to do what it takes to become a “true sanctuary city” and to disallow ICE operations. This is part of the larger push to dismantle the system of mass immigrant incarceration that Trump and Jeff Sessions are expanding, and to see abolition and community as the answer to this policy. If the occupations are able to multiply, grow and withstand state intervention, the large scale demands of abolition — rather than the incremental reforms offered by politicians — will continue to gain traction.

The resistance ramps up as pro-immigrant direct action breaks out nationwide

by L.A. Kauffman

A “nurse-in” held outside ICE’s New Jersey headquarters in Newark. (Twitter / @HiHemployers)

Quite suddenly, over the last week or so, something crucial has shifted in the mood of the grassroots resistance to Donald Trump. You can time it, more or less, to the release of that devastating recording of migrant children weeping for their parents after having been ripped from their arms, or the widely circulated photographs of children being held in cages. The unfolding horror of Trump’s family separation policy, and his administration’s plans for indefinite immigrant detention, is galvanizing people to fight back in a way that hasn’t yet happened under this presidency — specifically, with mass direct action.

The scale of protest under Trump, thus far, has certainly been extraordinary. Researchers with the Crowd Counting Consortium have tallied more than 20,000 separate demonstrations over the period from January 2017 through May 2018, involving something on the order of 11 million to 16 million total participants. That’s more people protesting than at any previous time in U.S. history, including the most tempestuous years of the Vietnam antiwar movement.

What’s more, it’s not just the size of these demonstrations that’s been unprecedented. It’s also their geographic reach — with protests being staged in record numbers of locations around the United States. A major day of action against Trump’s immigration policies is planned for this Saturday, June 30, with more than 600 demonstrations being staged all around the country, taking place in more than 80 percent of the nation’s congressional districts.

Until now, though, protests against Trump have mostly been marches and rallies: legal, permitted events. There certainly has been some nonviolent direct action under Trump, but it’s been fairly rare and small in size, particularly in relation to the vast number of people in the streets. In short, the resistance has been massive, but its character has been mild.

It’s suddenly ramping up, though, as a growing number of people are now ready to do more than march. In this new wave of direct action, as with every other aspect of the grassroots resistance to Trump, women are taking the lead. Parents with small children — mostly moms — have invaded the offices of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, in New York and Chicago to decry family separation and detention. Many more of these “playdate protests” are planned around the country for the coming days.

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Kids wrapped in thermal blankets occupied the Capitol rotunda in a parent-organized protest last week, and a group of 50 moms held a “nurse-in” outside ICE’s New Jersey headquarters. An Occupy ICE encampment in Portland has effectively shut down the local ICE facility since late last week, and similar encampments have sprung up in New York, Los Angeles, Tacoma and Detroit.

Most dramatically, a very sizable number of women have committed to engage in civil disobedience against Trump’s immigration policies in Washington, D.C. this Thursday, June 28, in a major action being coordinated by the Women’s March and the Center for Popular Democracy. Organizers aren’t releasing signup numbers publicly, but the action is clearly shaping up to be — by far — the largest direct action to take place under Trump, and it could well be the largest women’s direct action in U.S. history. (There’s still time to sign up and participate, and men are being encouraged to help with support roles.)

Meanwhile, the youth-led immigrant rights group United We Dream is planning a direct action tomorrow in the border town of Tornillo, Texas, where immigrant children are being held in a grim tent city. And the Latinx advocacy group Mijente is planning a major direct action at the border near San Diego next Monday, July 2.

Much of the resistance to Trump has been focused, quite rightly, on electing a wave of Democrats to office this November. But the crisis around family separation and detention has underscored what scholars of authoritarianism already know: electoral work alone isn’t adequate to counter an all-out assault on democratic norms and basic standards of human decency. The sudden uptick in direct action has already rattled Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who issued a warning over the weekend against disruptive protests targeting ICE. But the warning is unlikely to deter the women and men who are stepping up all around the country — too many people have reached their breaking point, and all the signs suggest the resistance will continue to rise.

Mass protests sweep Vietnam for the first time in decades

by Vu Quoc Ngu

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An Arab spring has started to emerge in Vietnam,” said Pham Chi Dung, a former member of the ruling Communist Party, following the largest and most widespread protests in years.

Over the weekend of June 9-10, tens of thousands of Vietnamese took to the streets across the country to protest two bills on cyber security and the creation of new special economic zones, or EEZs. The protest began with the participation of around 50,000 workers from the Pouchen footwear factory in Tan Tao industrial zone in Ho Chi Minh City, the biggest economic hub in the Southeast Asian nation.

Thousands of people gathered in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Danang, Nha Trang and other cities, chanting and carrying banners that read “Say no to bill on EEZs,” “No land lease to China even for one day,” and “Cyber security law means silencing people.”

The protests showed how widespread the dissatisfaction is with systemic corruption, serious large-scale environmental pollution, deep social inequality, and the government’s weak response to China’s violations of Vietnam’s sovereignty in the resource-rich sea.

In an article for the unregistered Independent Journalist Association of Vietnam, Dung said the protests mark “the first time since 1975 [when the communists took over South Vietnam] that an action directly challenged the ruling government had been taken.”

The demonstrations took place the week after the National Assembly, the country’s highest legislative body, publicized its plan to discuss and approve the two bills on June 12-15, as part of its month-long session, which started on May 20.

The call urging people to rally circulated on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Over 60 million Vietnamese people are online, and Facebook — with more than 40 millions users in Vietnam — is the most popular social network in the country.

Vietnam’s security forces responded aggressively to the call for peaceful demonstrations. Authorities sent plainclothes agents and militia to private residences of local activists to prevent them from participating in the protests. Many activists said they had to leave their houses before the weekend and go into hiding to avoid being locked in by security forces.

On June 10, large numbers of police, militia and thugs were deployed to suppress the demonstrations, detaining hundreds of protesters and beating others. While police successfully suppressed small protests in Hanoi by noon, the rallies in Ho Chi Minh City and Nha Trang, went until the early hours of Monday. Police in Ho Chi Min City deployed Long Range Acoustic Devices purchased from the United States to equip patrol ships of the Vietnam Coast Guard, which generates intense sound that can cause extreme physical pain and permanently damage hearing.

In Phan Thiet and Phan Ri, in the central province of Binh Thuan, police used tear gas and water cannons on local residents. After one protester was knocked unconscious by police, protesters attacked the police’s special units with stones and bricks, and occupied government buildings. Police surrendered and took off their equipment and went home. However, the government was able to take full control there by the morning of June 12.

The police detained over 500 protesters, according to state media and leaked information from police. Protesters were interrogated for hours. During their time in detention they were beaten and their cell phones and other belongings were confiscated. Police released many detainees but still keep dozens of others, threatening to prosecute them on allegations of violating national security rules and “causing public disorders.”

According to legal experts, the bill on cyber security will give sweeping new powers to the Vietnamese authorities, allowing them to force technology companies to hand over vast amounts of data, including personal information, and to censor internet users’ posts. According to activists, the law aims to silence government critics and could lead to internet users being criminally charged for exercising their basic right to freedom of expression. As a result, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have called on Hanoi to not approve the bill. The United States and Canada, however, have merely urged Vietnam to postpone the vote on the bill to ensure it aligns with international standards.

Meanwhile, with the law on special economic zones, Vietnam’s communist government wants to establish three zones — namely Van Don, Phu Quoc and Bac Van Phong — in strategic locations where foreign investors may be allowed to rent land for 99 years. Activists suspect that the bill is the first step to allow Chinese investors to acquire land and bring untrained Chinese workers to these locations.

Many senior economists, including veteran chief economist Pham Chi Lan, say that Vietnam — which has already signed a number of free trade agreements with the European Union, the United States and other countries — has no need to set up more special economic zones to attract foreign investment.

In addition to national security issues — with the potential investment from China — these special economic zones will allow companies in these locations to pay lower or no tariffs for years, according to entrepreneur Le Hoai Anh.

In an interview with Free Asia radio, veteran novelist and former communist soldier Nguyen Ngoc said “I decided to join the protest [because] the EEZ law will severely impact national security, and the cyber security law will kill off people’s right to freedom of expression, freedom to speak out. This will lead to a nation that is lacking in creativity. Everything will be pushed back to the past, while we need to advance towards the future.”

In response to the public pressure, Vietnam’s communist-controlled parliament and government said they would postpone the discussion and approval of the bill on special economic zones to the next session of the parliament scheduled in October. The cyber security was approved on June 12, and the law will become effective on January 1, 2019. Despite government repression, protests against the approval of the law and parliament’s plan to resume working on the bill on special economic zones in October are expected to continue.

A central concern with the the bill on establishing new special economic zones, is how it will affect the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea. Vietnam and China have a long history of disputes. China has sent their armies to attack Vietnam 22 times over the last thousand years, according to historian Dao Tien Thi. In 1979, China sent around 60,000 soldiers to invade the six northernmost provinces of Vietnam, killing tens of thousands of Vietnamese soldiers and civilians and destroying the entire infrastructure there.

In 1988, China also invaded several islands and reefs, known as the Spratly Islands, controlled by Vietnam. In recent years, China has turned these reefs and islands into artificial structures and deployed modern missiles and other military equipment there in a bid to turn the East Sea into its own lake.

The ruling Communist Party of Vietnam, in order to maintain its power in the country, treats China as its closest political ally. The communist government in Hanoi has verbally protested China’s violations instead of taking stronger actions, such as bringing the case to international tribunal court, as the Philippines has done.

Hanoi has systematically suppressed anti-China protests and persecuted anti-Sino activists. Many of them have been convicted and sentenced to lengthy sentences in trumped up politically motivated cases.

However, suppression may only increase the number of people in disagreement with the government. As more and more ordinary people become interested in politics, Vietnam’s government needs to carry out drastic political reforms to allow free elections, and must respect human rights as it works to address social dissatisfaction. The government should use dialogue, while local civil society organizations could mediate between protesters and the government. If the leaders insist on running the country with a one-party regime and continue to rely on violence, the grievances of the people will not be resolved and the nation may fall into internal struggle.

“The administration needs to care for what its people care for,” said Nguyen Si Dung, a former deputy head of the National Assembly office.

Remembering Dorothy Cotton, movement educator for democracy and freedom

by Lucas Johnson

Dorothy Cotton was the director of education for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference during the King years. (Twitter / @natcivilrightsmuseum)

On June 11, the world lost another veteran of the 20th century struggles for freedom and democracy. Dorothy Cotton, director of education for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, or SCLC, when it was led by Martin Luther King Jr., passed away at the age of 88.

As an invaluable member of a legendary team of preachers and organizers, she was one of the few women at SCLC to have served in a senior leadership position. Amid the efforts to register black voters in the segregated South, SCLC came to realize that registration was not enough for a population that had been disenfranchised for centuries. Cotton wanted people to understand the mechanisms of a government that had never really represented them or their interests and, ultimately, make that government their own — a process that would involve much more than voting.

She devoted herself to this work in the 1960s, ensuring that black people were taught black history and lessons important to economic empowerment, alongside classes on the constitution and ways to pass literacy tests. After the movement years, she went on to become the director of student activities at Cornell University and, among other things, supported students who were organizing in solidarity with the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa.

I didn’t meet Dorothy until long after she retired from Cornell. In 2012, Vincent Harding had asked me to join a historic delegation to Palestine that was being organized by the Dorothy Cotton Institute. I was uneasy about joining the delegation — which was mainly veterans of the black freedom struggles of the 1950s and ‘60s — but eventually agreed. It was a tremendous honor to be among such a remarkable group. Led by Cotton and Harding, the delegation was, in part, a testament to her commitment to education. Even before leaving, we read, discussed and shared insights. Since the delegation was composed mostly of African Americans and Jews, we delved into the complicated history of relationships between the two groups in the United States. But that was just one part of the journey we undertook together.

The Dorothy Cotton Institute’s delegation to Palestine in 2012. Dorothy is at the center, holding hands with Vincent Harding. (WNV / Lucas Johnson)

I learned an incredible amount on that delegation, and I owe Dorothy a great deal for it. Perhaps one of the most significant lessons was one I didn’t notice I was even learning. Dorothy would use movement to push us forward during the more difficult moments of the delegation. She was modeling for me, and the rest of us, the role of music in the movement. She would sing because we needed it and call us to song because she needed it.

I had learned about the important role of music in the movement before — that it gave strength and courage to weary and sometimes frightened marchers. I knew of the power of song, but the demonstrations of my generation had more chants than songs. To experience Dorothy Cotton leading us all in song, in an effort to renew our souls on a hot and exhausting day, is among the greatest blessings of my life.

We sang often during the trip. I don’t recall exactly when we began, but there was a notable moment for me in the West Bank, after our group of travelers had been listening all day to the painful stories of the occupation. We had heard of the destruction of homes, the stories of beatings, brutality and unequal treatment under the law. The truth of the occupation of Palestine is difficult for anyone to hear and see, much less a group of people who witnessed and survived similar treatment in the segregated United States.

Our bus had stopped in front of the “separation barrier,” which interrupts the ancient route of the Jericho Road. We had gotten off to see the tear gas canisters marked “Made in the U.S.A.” The canisters added the burden of our complicity to the weight of all that we had seen and heard. In my memory, we were quite silent when we returned to the bus, and it was Dorothy Cotton’s singing that broke the silence. “Joshua fit the Battle of Jericho, and the walls came tumblin down.” It seemed at once an expression of lament and a defiant call to hope. The song represented a strange juxtaposition of time: the story of the ancient Israelites, carried in a song composed by our ancestors while they were enslaved, being sung in a location closer to the original story, but at a time far removed.

Palestine in 2012 was also quite far from the movement years of the 1960’s. But the lessons Dorothy Cotton, Septima Clark and others involved in SCLC’s Citizen Education Program could be felt in that moment. They understood the importance of vigilance in the struggle ahead. Then, as much as now, in order to transform the world, we have to see ourselves and each other differently. We will need to believe ourselves capable of something more than the dehumanizing roles our society has given us. We have to look beyond the caricatures of ourselves, caricatures that we are so often tempted to become.

In 1960, that meant that African Americans needed to free ourselves of the beliefs we internalized about our own inferiority, our own criminality. This was the importance of black history in the citizenship education workshops. The lies told about us for centuries were so pervasive and so penetrating that even if they had stopped 50 years ago, the struggle to free ourselves from them would still be necessary.

For all of us in this country, and most especially for white Americans, our task was and still is to free ourselves of the corrosive myth of white supremacy — a myth that has touched every fabric of American life from local economic structures to foreign policy. It is a myth that so distorts one’s sense of self that it has the power to suppress empathy, perhaps the key component of our humanity.

We know today, as clear as ever, that this myth is not easily defeated. This was the vigilance for which Dorothy and others prepared us. They knew democracy, equality and freedom would not be secured by the right to vote. To have considered this and prepared for it at a time when people were being killed for such efforts is a testament to the remarkable foresight and tenacity within the movement.

Dorothy Cotton speaking at the National Civil Rights Museum. (Twitter / @natcivilrightsmuseum)

Dorothy’s vigilance and commitment to freedom is what inspired her to travel to Palestine while in her 80s. She was unsatisfied with the official narrative of events. Through the pain of what we saw, the difficult conversations we had upon our return and the relationships we risked to tell the truth, she wrestled alongside us. Dorothy demonstrated a consistency of courage, even at a time when she could have rested on her well-deserved laurels. She modeled a life dedicated to the destruction of walls that divide us, and she was anchored by the belief of who we could become.

I will remember her and celebrate her life not only because of who she was in the 1960’s — and the sacrifices of her generation that made my life possible — but also because of all she continued to be. She taught us how to be a citizen and how to be more fully human, even until the end.

South Asian community mobilizes to support Kashmir after brutal sexual violence

by Skanda Kadirgamar

A rally calling for justice for Asifa Bano at Union Square in New York on April 18. (WNV/Sainatee Ninkhong)

Earlier this month, the War Resisters League launched a discussion series focused on zones of conflict that are neglected in American anti-war circles. The first event centered on Kashmir, the site of the world’s longest running military occupation, dating back to the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. Both countries make territorial claims in the region that clash with Kashmiri demands for self-determination and drive settler colonial violence. The South Asia Solidarity Initiative, or SASI, used this opportunity to draw attention to violence in the region, such as the brutal rape and murder of eight-year-old Asifa Bano, a Kashmiri Muslim girl.

Asifa was a member of the Bakarwal Muslim community, which relies on herding livestock in the Kathua district of Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir. Her alleged perpetrators were Hindu nationalists. She was kidnapped in January and held in a local Hindu temple, where she was drugged, gang raped and beaten to death.

The identities of the alleged perpetrators were confirmed in March by a Special Investigation Team. Reports say they meant to terrorize her community in order to drive them from the area. Sanji Ram, a former bureaucrat who has been named as the mastermind behind this attack, has a history of violence aimed at Bakarwals in Kathua. Ram’s record as a bigot and agitator includes sexual violence and inciting Hindus in Kathua to deny Bakarwals access to land. Attempts to displace Kashmiris based on religious and ethnic identity date back to 1947. More recently, the Bakarwals have been subjected to a boycott pushed by Hindu nationalists aiming to undermine their livelihoods.

As details of the case came to light, local Hindu nationalists tied to India’s ruling party, the chauvinist Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, scrambled to defend a posse of eight men who were arrested over connections to the rape and homicide. They mobilized a campaign called the Hindu Ekta Manch aimed at obstructing justice in this case. Lal Singh Chaudry, a former BJP politician who threatened Kashmiri Muslims with ethnic cleansing in 2016, joined a rally defending the alleged perpetrators.

Over the past few months, SASI has aimed to mobilize South Asian communities against both the Hindu right’s salvos and the ideology justifying Kashmir’s occupation. On April 18, the organization partnered with Equality Labs, a tech startup led by South Asian activists from marginalized communities, to rally people to New York’s Union Square. Around a hundred people showed up to decry the atrocities perpetrated against Asifa Bano and her community.

A Kashmiri activist who was invited to speak at the mobilization called on attendees to see Asifa’s death as part of an occupation that “continues to use sexual violence as a weapon of war, continues to brutalize Kashmiri bodies and erase Kashmiri identity.” This activist, who asked to remain anonymous, said that India’s vision of Kashmir as part of its territory is a crucial factor in that brutality and erasure.

Self-identified Hindu progressives and adherents of a more secular nationalism tended to view the atrocity perpetrated against Asifa as a “social-sexual” crime linked solely to religious hatred. On April 16, Sadhana, a group describing itself as a “coalition of progressive Hindus,” held its own “Against the Rapes in India” rally in Union Square. Asifa’s story was shared alongside those of Indian rape victims in Unnao and Surat. Board member Sunita Vishwanath responded to the BJP, specifically addressing the Hindu Ekta Manch. “Ekta is [a] word that’s very important to the Hindus,” she told India Abroad. “[I]t means oneness, it means unity, and we will not let such words that are sacred to us be co-opted by hate mongers and rapists.”

Responses like this, however, have been criticized for characterizing Asifa as an Indian victim. Including her in a list of Indian victims erases the fact that she was a Kashmiri victim of India’s occupation. One of SASI’s goals in the coming months, explained organizer Robindra Deb, is to challenge and unpack the ways in which Indians treat Kashmir — as if it were part of India irrespective of how Kashmiris feel. One Kashmiri organizer contended that the effect of calling Asifa an Indian victim was to “selectively erase the decades of violence that Kashmiri women have suffered and the persistent use of sexual violence against Kashmiri individuals across the gender spectrum.”

Furthermore, historian Hafsa Kanjwal has noted that “when Kashmiri women get raped … and when young Kashmiri girls are … killed” by the Indian army “there is no liberal outrage in India.” Kashmir is one of the world’s most militarized areas, with a ratio of one soldier for every 20 civilians. Over 700,000 Indian soldiers have been deployed to the region in response to mass movements for Kashmiri self-determination and as part of an exercise of power directed at Pakistan. This military presence is known for responding to protests and demands for autonomy with extreme violence.

As in other conflict zones, sexual violence towards Kashmiris is a constant feature of the Indian occupation and is used to “punish, intimidate and degrade Kashmiris at large,” Kanjwal explained. The 1991 siege of the villages of Kunan and Poshpura — during which the Indian army allegedly raped up to 100 women — along with the alleged rape and murder in 2009 of two women by police in the town of Shopian illustrate this dynamic. “Kashmiri civil society groups have documented 7,000 cases of sexual violence that also include violence against men in custody, including sodomy,” Kanjwal said.

Both Kanjwal and Mohamad Junaid, a Kashmiri scholar and activist, note how the suffering of Kashmiris in Jammu and Kashmir is obscured because India claims them as citizens. “In Kashmir, the Indian government claims the people it shoots down, blinds and treats with cruelty are Indian citizens,” Junaid said. “This confuses people who are not so familiar with what is going on in Kashmir because they think Kashmiris are Indians when they are facing the same kind of cruelty and atrocity as Palestinians.”

SASI hopes to illuminate these dynamics for a broad audience. This objective underpinned the teach-in that SASI co-hosted with the War Resister League on June 3, which covered both the history of occupation and movements for self-determination in Kashmir. Hafsa Kanjwal and Mohamad Junaid discussed these issues and were joined by a third speaker, Palestinian activist and member of the Decolonize This Place collective Amin Hussain. Hussain explained how the dearth of attention paid to Kashmiri resistance undermines the positions of those purporting to oppose other occupations, such as the Israeli presence in Palestine.

The teach-in drew upon groundwork that has been laid for transnational opposition to the occupation of Kashmir. “When you are from Palestine, or are a Tamil from Sri Lanka, or a Kurd — when you are any other nationality who has had a war imposed upon you or are living under an occupation — [Kashmir] instinctively resonates,” Juniad said prior to the event.

Amin Hussein attested to this during the teach-in when he talked about a longstanding affinity between self-determination movements that link Palestine and Kashmir. Recalling how he has been active in the Palestinian resistance since the age of 12, Hussein said he was “raised knowing about Kashmir.” He situated the struggles against settler colonialism in Kashmir alongside the Ferguson uprising and Standing Rock, calling each of these struggles for self-determination part of a “spirit that has been coming back.”

Ambazonians struggle for independence from Cameroon amid military takeover

by Phil Wilmot

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Northwestern and southwestern Cameroon have seen relentless bloodshed over the past few weeks. Something akin to civil war has broken out since factions of a separatist movement in English-speaking areas adopted violent tactics — including abductions and guerilla-style attacks — following years of nonviolent struggle against the Francophone government headed by despot Paul Biya.

Anglophone Cameroon — which is affectionately known to its inhabitants as Ambazonia — declared independence from Cameroon on October 1, following industrial strikes against government marginalization of Anglophone citizens. Biya’s government, as in the past, cracked down swiftly. Since declaring independence, Ambazonia has seen periodic waves of arsons, killings and pillaging of villages. The displaced likely amount to more than 100,000.

After a May 25 attack by Biya’s forces in the small town of Menka in the Anglophone Northwest Region — during which about 30 civilians were killed — politicians, leaders and local residents gathered to express disgust at the killings carried out by the military. During this open dialogue, 76-year-old Ni John Fru Ndi — a celebrated politician among Anglophones and the founder of the Social Democratic Front opposition party — told representatives of Biya’s government, “If I were 50 years old, I would be fighting in the bush.”

While the Anglophone minority is enraged by Biya’s refusal to grant Ambazonia autonomy, the Francophone majority isn’t particularly enthralled with him either, particularly after 35 years in power. “Bad governance is the common grievance Anglophones and Francophones share,” said Bergeline Domou, a French-speaking activist and politician with the Cameroon People’s Party. “Cameroonians face over 30 years of governance without goals. Our health system is a catastrophe. Our education system only produces more unemployed. To that you add harassment, embezzlement, violence and control of people’s freedoms.”

Ambazonians form a nation

Although interim president Sisiku Ayuk Tabe formed his cabinet in exile, Ambazonia is not without its own symbols. Passports, currency, a flag and a national anthem have all been created.

Meanwhile, the Southern Cameroons Broadcasting Corporation, or Ambazonia TV, has been popularizing the secession struggle since early 2017. The station launched in defiance of a ban by the Ministry of Communications. This helped bring tens of thousands to the streets in support of independence a week prior to the declaration.

“[Ambazonia TV] has been a major source of information to the population about the calling of ghost towns, boycotts and tax resistance,” said Dzebam Godlove Ayaba, an organizer with the youth movement Draufsicht in the Bamenda area of Ambazonia. “The channel also shows images of military violence, sensitizing the Anglophone people.”

While such high-level tech resistance is not common among African political movements, Ambazonia has a special asset working to its advantage. The southwestern area of Ambazonia called Buea is home to a number of universities and functions as a convergence point for developers, hackers, coders, entrepreneurs and creatives. At least 30 high-tech startups are headquartered in the area — which is also known as Silicon Mountain — and an annual conference attracts hundreds from Ambazonia and other parts of Africa.

As a likely result of its success, Biya’s regime has shut down internet access in Buea for months at a time on several occasions since early 2017. Members of the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium — a coalition with many members pushing for succession — fought one of the earlier internet blackouts (as well as the arrests and crackdowns by the state that took place during it) by mobilizing “ghost town” actions. People stayed at home and businesses remained closed. Some blocked trucks exporting timber and petroleum to Francophone Cameroon.

The government then banned the consortium and arrested President Felix Agbor Nkongho and Secretary General Fontem Neba. As the consortium was squelched, a communiqué was hastily issued, designating members of the diaspora with sufficient internet access to preside over the campaign. These new leaders in the United States and Belgium were briefed on the nonviolent nature of the Anglophone struggle.

“The diaspora funds the struggle and provides enormous coordination and social media presence,” said Emmanuel Abeng, a diaspora activist originally from Bamenda. “More impactful decisions can’t be made [by diaspora leaders] because their boots are not feeling the actual heat on the ground.”

Ambazonia’s citizens aren’t waiting for outside leadership, even if it has played a crucial role. On September 22, just before Biya was about to address the United Nations, tens of thousands flocked to Bamenda’s streets with plants symbolizing peace. They converged at the palaces of traditional leaders, recognizing them as authoritative rulers, instead of Biya’s government.

Repression intensified after violent tactics

The patience of some Ambazonians has worn thin over the past several months, as government repression continues to escalate. While the majority have stuck with nonviolent resistance, a violent flank of separatists have armed themselves, using guerrilla tactics to abduct and kill agents of Biya’s government. This has enabled Biya to brand the military occupation of Ambazonia as a struggle against terrorism. And scorched-earth tactics have increased since late 2017 as a result.

Reliance on violent tactics has also enabled prosecution of nonviolent leaders as terrorists. In one instance just after the massacre in Menka, radio journalist Mancho Bibixy was sentenced to 15 years in prison for terrorism, hostility, secession, revolution and insurrection.

“Supporters of the accused have attended every session at the military court in Yaounde,” said activist Edna Njilin. Meanwhile, Francophone allies are stepping up their game at this time of crisis, offering pro bono legal support to those sentenced, spearheading hashtag campaigns like #FreeAllArrested and #BringBackOurInternet.

Shortly after the May 25 massacre, French-speaking activist and politician Bergeline Domou joined 30 Francophone women in a visit to the northwest to stand in solidarity with victims. “We were there to let them know that we too are facing difficulties under this government,” he said. “Acting together is a necessity. We used to have many moderates, but today more and more are giving their support to the secessionists.”

What immigrants can learn from the teachers strikes

by Catalina Adorno

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The wave of teacher strikes across the United States this year is a reminder of what workers can accomplish if they use their labor as leverage when making demands. Following strikes that ranged from six days to over two weeks, teachers won wage increases in four states. Some also won more funding for their schools — a clear benefit not just to teachers, but students and parents as well.

Such victories should serve as inspiration to all workers. But for immigrants — the backbone of this country’s economy — it should be a rallying force. Without immigrant labor, the economy would collapse. Yet most people do not recognize the role immigrants play as workers.

As an immigrant myself, I see this all the time. We are not even acknowledged as members of this society. This becomes even more clear when people talk about undocumented immigrants, a sector of workers that gets pushed into the shadows. The media vilify undocumented immigrants, referring to them as “aliens,” “illegals” and “thugs and drug lords.” Undocumented immigrants are also targeted by law enforcement and by abusive employers.

The criminal justice system is set up to target undocumented immigrants. At the local level, many states have collaboration agreements between police and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. Local policies like that result in the detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants. ICE also targets communities by coming into our neighborhoods and picking up people in the streets, outside the courthouses, inside schools and hospitals, and even at our workplaces. How much longer are we willing to suffer these injustices?

Many immigrants assume that if we simply trust the political process and the politicians who claim to be our friends, we will find a solution. The truth is that we have trusted the system for decades. We’ve trusted politicians when they have promised immigration reform and pledged to pass some sort of legislation in their first 100 days in office. But they have failed us every single time.

They don’t seem to care that our friends, families and neighbors are getting picked up by immigration officials right in our streets or that many of us end up in detention for simply driving without a license. And what have they done about the children being separated from their parents simply because they don’t have a social security number?

We have seen how both Republicans and Democrats have made deals with for-profit detention centers to keep us locked up. Neither of these parties have ever intervened when ICE steps into our communities and raids our workplaces. We have heard countless empty promises from different political parties, which — at the end of the day — only care about their political seats.

If anything, we have been constantly told to wait. For decades, we have been told that we cannot win. Time and time again people have tried to tell us how we should behave, how we should fight and what we should be fighting for. Every time we raise our voice, we are told that we have to wait.

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The economy of this country functions because of us. We work in multiple sectors, from service to transportation to farming. And while that work doesn’t define us, we are a powerful labor force that needs to be reckoned with. We will use this power to fight back because we are tired of waiting. We know that if we decide to not go to work, entire services and companies will shut down.

At the same time, going on strike is scary prospect for many of us. In those moments of fear we must remember that we are capable of taking risks. We’ve mobilized in big numbers before, and we’ve gone on strike before. In 2006, millions of us flooded the streets of Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and other major cities across the country because an anti-immigrant bill was about to become law. Known as the Sensenbrenner bill, this legislation would have criminalized all of the undocumented people in this country, as well as any person who provided aid or services to them.

People didn’t know what to do. We couldn’t rely on the same political process that was just about to criminalize us all. After all, we couldn’t vote. What we could do, however, was mobilize. And we did! We made our banners and posters that said “Ningún Ser Humano es Ilegal” and “Inmigrantes Unidos,” and we went on strike on May 1, 2006 — a day that became known as A Day Without Immigrants. Millions of us took the streets and won, forcing the failure of the Sensenbrenner bill.

Members of the South Central Farm attending the immigrant rights march in downtown Los Angeles California on May Day, 2006. (Wikimedia/Jonathan McIntosh)

We did it again last year. Following the organizing efforts of Movimiento Cosecha, a nonviolent movement fighting for the permanent protection and dignity of all 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, immigrant workers once again went on strike on May 1. This time it was to highlight the immigrant labor that sustains this country and the value we bring — an important message to raise amidst an anti-immigrant climate. We knew that our community was under attack. We also knew that we could no longer remain in the shadows or live in fear.

We showed our presence that May 1. Businesses like bakeries, markets, clothing stores and restaurants closed down in solidarity, and people who have never been part of a march or rally organized themselves and took to the streets. However, one day is not enough. In order to win permanent protection dignity and respect we must not only go on strike, but we need to be able to sustain the strike. As the teachers demonstrated, to win they had to hold their ground and refuse to go to work until their demands were met. That is what the immigrant community needs to do when we go on strike, and we have to do it in large numbers across the country — just like the teachers.

Movimiento Cosecha is working towards organizing such a strike. It will be holding a National Assembly this September and will be inviting the immigrant community to make this vision a reality. We can create change through direct action and economic non-cooperation, as the teachers have shown. Now it is time for us to follow their lead.

When you have an AR-15 but want a garden hoe

by Julia Travers

Mike Martin with local participant Cherie Ryans in Philadelphia forging tools from guns. (Yes! Magazine/Dan Brearley)

This article was first published by Yes! Magazine.

Blacksmiths in Colorado use their anvils to turn guns into gardening tools, reshaping America’s gun culture one strike of the hammer at a time.

This is the work of the “Swords to Plows” initiative of the nonprofit RAWTools. Gun owners from around the country send RAWTools their disassembled weapons for transformation. Most guns can be made into several tools, such as hoes and pickaxes. Shotguns often become hand spades, and a weapon like the AR-15 that was used in recent mass shootings has a thicker barrel that suits an afterlife as a mattock.

RAWTools’ first donated gun was an AK-47 from a retired public defender. Since then, it has reshaped more than 200 weapons so far, with more in progress. The tools they create are typically returned to the donor, given to community gardens, or sold to raise money for programming.

RAWTools founder and executive director Mike Martin was inspired to learn blacksmithing and start the nonprofit after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. By late May 2018, 23 school shootings in the United States have involved injury or death this year.

This summer, RAWTools and the Newtown Foundation, an organization formed after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting to focus on post-gun violence healing, will carry out an extensive version of weapons transformation. In cooperation with the New Haven Police Department in Connecticut, weapons from a gun buyback program will be taken apart by a local metal sculptor. Volunteer inmates from the New Haven Correctional Center will do the blacksmithing to create the tools, which will be used by students at local high schools to plant gardens. The harvests will be donated to soup kitchen and shelters.

“The entire process will essentially transform weapons of death into implements of life,” Newtown Foundation communications director Steve Yanovsky said.

Martin is a former Mennonite pastor. “Swords to Plows” is a reference to the biblical quote, “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks … nor will they train for war anymore.”

He works with his dad and three other blacksmiths locally in Colorado Springs, as well as in traveling programs. RAWTools also promotes community dialogue around gun violence and leads peacemaking workshops. It partners with churches, community groups and organizations like the Newtown Foundation and the Children’s Defense Fund.

During the group’s community demos and workshops, participants can try their hand at forging the metal. Cherie Ryans is one of numerous mothers who lost a child to gun violence and has taken a turn at the RAWTools forge. Martin said that between each swing of the hammer to the iron she said: “This bang is bang for bang my bang son.”

“I was holding the hot metal as she did it. Everyone was in tears, and it was all I could do to hold the metal safely,” Martin said.

More than 300 million guns are loose in America — the equivalent of about one gun per person. About 96 people are killed by guns in America every day.

The type of gun surrender program that RAWTools is reimagining has been going on in the United States since the 90s in the form of police-run buybacks. Weapons can be turned in anonymously to police, no questions asked. To encourage participation, police often give out gift cards in return.

A 1994 study evaluating a Seattle buyback, which the National Rifle Association references, concluded that while buybacks are broadly supported by communities, their effect on decreasing violent crime and reducing firearm mortality is unknown. The nonprofit GUNXGUN, which mobilizes community-funded buybacks, states the infrequent and isolated nature of U.S. buyback programs makes it hard to analyze their effectiveness. But, it points out that after a 1996 mass shooting in Australia, an extensive buyback program coupled with stricter gun regulations led to a significant reduction in firearm deaths.

Getting firearms out of circulation is only one of many potential ways to reduce gun violence. Along with changing guns into peaceful instruments, RAWTools runs workshops on intentional conflict resolution. Martin says these range from “serious to silly” and integrate dramatic arts, role-playing and direct instruction.

RAWTools artist-in-residence Mary Sprunger-Froese leads many of these multi-age programs, which might include rapping, personal storytelling, skits, and other ways to train in de-escalation and peacemaking. So far she has taught an adult bystander intervention class and led a theater and nonviolent tools workshop for middle schoolers.

Martin envisions a nationwide RAWTools network, and said it’s happening already.

Volunteers across the country have helped gun donors disable guns for the forge, and churches have opened their parking lots for tents and anvils. Blacksmiths throughout the United States have signed on, and Martin says he needs “more people to help make tools, especially if they come from guns in their region.”

RAWTools is piloting a regional chapter in Toledo, Ohio. This summer, it will host youth workshops involving making tools from guns, creative expression and conflict mediation.

“There’s something beautiful and good about participants forging something that destroyed our community in some way into something that will bring beauty and life to our community,” said pastor Joel Shenk, who is leading the project.

New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence in Santa Fe, which previously collaborated with RAWTools, has now started their own creative gun transformation program. They invite community members to use the metal and the plastic from relinquished guns to make tools, sculptures and jewelry.

Elsewhere in the United States, a group called Lead to Life changes guns into shovels for tree plantings at sites affected by violence in Atlanta and Oakland, also citing the “swords to plowshares” tradition as an inspiration. So does Mexican artist Pedro Reyes, who also turned guns into shovels.

For Martin, transforming weapons at the forge and teaching nonviolence are important because guns in America are “elevated to such a level that they are viewed as an ultimate problem-solver.” He said, “Guns drain so much of our imagination to explore other ways to engage with conflict or confrontation. They are a tool to use power over others for the sake of the individual and not the community. This is what motivates me to do the work of RAWTools.”

A military veteran named James gave his guns to RAWTools after studying Christian scripture supporting pacifism. He wrote that he could no longer justify owning the guns because there was “no way to guarantee they would never be used to take a life.”

Another participant, who chose to remain anonymous, wrote: “I’m a teacher. After Parkland, I can’t own a gun anymore. How do I get it to you?”

The rise of resistance and resilience to tear gas

by Anna Feigenbaum

This text is adapted from “Tear Gas: From the Battlefields of World War I to the Streets of Today

All around the world people invent, adapt and share techniques for resilience and resistance to tear gas. In doing so, they care for each other. They transform this weapon into a collectivizing tool. There is a growing transnational solidarity of tear gas resilience, aided by social media and mobile technologies that help protesters circulate relief remedies, gas mask designs and grenade throwback techniques. Displaying what social movement researcher Gavin Grindon has called “grassroots cultural diplomacy,” these tips are tweeted from Greece to New York, from Palestine to Ferguson, from Egypt to Hong Kong.

In places like Bahrain and Palestine, widespread and even daily use of tear gas has made this chemical weapon a part of life. As a way of exhibiting and collectively processing this trauma, people sometimes transform tear gas canisters into other objects. Acts of anger, grief and memorializing emerge as artistic practices. For example, in Bahrain, people designed a throne made out of tear gas canisters to signify their royal family’s role in the suppression of democracy protests. In Palestine, tear gas canisters have been used as Christmas tree ornaments to send a holiday message to the United States about the role of its tear gas and arms manufacturers in the violence of the Occupied Territories. In 2013, images of a Palestinian garden made out of plants potted in empty tear gas shells went viral, picked up by mainstream media outlets as an image of hope and quiet resistance. Yet, as Elias Nawawieh pointed out in +972 Magazine, absent from the news stories, Twitter photos and Facebook posts was the grave built as the garden’s centerpiece. It bears a translucent photo of Bassem Abu Rahmah, who was killed by the IDF in 2009 after being shot in the chest at close range by a tear gas grenade.

In 2013, Occupy Gezi in Turkey became a site of innovation, a place where people designed, adopted and adapted novel modes of resistance and resilience to tear gas. There was Ceyda Sungur, the woman in the red dress, pepper-sprayed at close range and turned into a movement icon. There were dancing ballerinas in whirling, brightly colored skirts that contrasted against the harshness of the full-cover gas masks they wore as they spun around. Penguins wore gas masks to symbolize the media’s failure to cover police violence, after television news stations attempted to block out news of the uprisings by screening a documentary about penguins instead of footage from the protests. Christian Gubar writes that “as both political commodities and stage props, goggles and gas masks were embraced for their eerie theatricality, speaking volumes to the grotesque banality of living under billows of noxious gas.”

A whirling sufi wearing gas mask during the 2013 protests in Turkey in Gezi Park. (Wikimedia/ Azirlazarus)

Rampant tear gas use on protesters and point-blank pepper-spray blasts are as common today as they were in the 1990s and early 2000s, with their use rapidly increasing across the Middle East and Eastern Africa. Like mobile video recording the decade before, the emergence of digital social media has meant that images of police violence against public demonstrators can circulate around the world in seconds. People directly hit with aerosol CS, pepper spray, and other tear gases take photos and videos that travel around Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, spreading stories often before the release of any official news reports. Such images can become movement icons.

The 2011 Occupy movement in the United States was marked by a number of these tear-gassed iconic images. First there were the young women penned in plastic while unarmed and peacefully protesting. Images of this action went viral, picked up by social and mainstream media. Then there was retiree Dorli Rainey, who was sprayed directly in the face at Occupy Portland.

These objects were as much about material reality as symbolism. Protesters in Gezi borrowed, translated, and reproduced instructions for making a gas mask out of a plastic bottle, and for using Maalox and other household ingredients as remedies for the painful effects of tear gas. Talcid Man appeared after a rumor spread that Talcid (a liquid medicine to relieve stomach inflammation) could help ease the effects of pepper spray. He emerged onsite, distributing the medicine as an embodied mobile care unit, and became a symbol of the movement’s resilience and generosity — depicted in stencils and sketches that circulated far beyond the occupied park.

Street medics

In the gas-flooded streets, a variety of shops, sidewalk stands, ground-level flats and even a hotel became makeshift medical field stations, providing remedies and treatments to protesters. At these sites, health workers and those with basic first-aid skills converged. As this book has shown, these medical volunteers often have a clearer and more accurate understanding of the real-world impact of “less lethals” than scientists running tests in sterile laboratories. It is here, under the tarpaulins of protest architecture and in the pop-up clinics, amid the chaos these weapons intentionally provoke, that the bruises and bleeding, the choking and vomiting, the inability to breathe, the concussions, and the paralysis are immediately felt.

South Korean activists protest a shipment of tear gas to Turkey. (War Resisters International)

At the site of protest, pain is not a toxicity count or a threshold percentage. “Less lethal” is no longer a technical term but a vision of how much torment a body can take, of how close someone can come to death without dying. Measured in human experience, the medical field stations of protests can make visible the reality of riot control. Their ways of seeing and knowing medical injury can move us beyond the flames and smoke of media screens. They can provide far more accurate and detailed on-the-ground accounts than hospital records can. Their testimony can be mobilized to challenge the clinical trials produced by military-paid scientists.

Stopping shipments

The export chains that enable the sales of less lethal weapons are also often targeted by campaigns seeking to intervene in what Amnesty International calls the “trade in torture.” In an act of defiance that ignited the unions in Egypt, customs worker Asma Mohammed, a member of her union’s women’s committee, refused to process a shipment of seven tons of tear gas from Combined Systems Inc. According to the War Resisters League, which honored her with its 2012 Peace Award, Mohammed recalled, “I said ‘No, I refuse — because I don’t want to be the cause of someone’s pain or death.’ So in solidarity with me, or with the cause, my co-workers said, ‘No, we’re not going to work on it either.’”

In 2014, Bahrain Watch launched a #stoptheshipment campaign targeting Korean manufacturer Dae Kwang Chemical, which had contracted to supply more than a million canisters of tear gas to Bahrain — a country where more than 40 people have died and thousands more have been injured as a result of tear gas. Campaigners worked with Amnesty South Korea, Korean unions and local campaigns, as well as journalists at agenda-setting publications such as the Financial Times and New York Times. These longstanding tactics were combined with sophisticated, contemporary uses of social media, including a catchy, action-based hashtag, timed retweets and a campaign-specific website. They succeeded in pressuring the South Korean government into placing an embargo on tear gas to Bahrain, stopping the Dae Kwang shipment.

Engaging in direct action

Another way to resist excessive uses of riot control and protest profiteering is engaging in direct actions that intervene at sites where the transnational training of police forces takes place.

In October 2013, the Facing Tear Gas campaign brought together organizations to protest against Urban Shield, an annual SWAT team training session and security sales expo that promotes the use of military tactics for protest policing. The campaign built a coalition of more than 30 local groups in Oakland, including the Oscar Grant Foundation and the Arab Resource and Organizing Center. The next year they came back more organized, more informed and determined to make a difference. They created online petitions, held dedicated coalition-building meetings with council members, adopted a preemptive press strategy, and staged a demonstration outside the expo site that drew hundreds to the streets. Their efforts paid off: The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office announced that Urban Shield would no longer be held at the Marriott, and Mayor Jean Quan said that the City of Oakland would not renew its contract with Urban Shield. This was a small victory in a much larger struggle to change policing policies and practices.

Asians for Black Lives block the entrance Urban Shield at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in 2016. (Brooke Anderson Photography)

A key part of the success of the Stop Urban Shield campaign is sometimes called “going for the low-hanging fruit.” Trying to counter police use of force at the level of government policy or even at the sites of corporate headquarters will likely be slow and require legal action. Expos and SWAT training events held in public, or in spaces that have some public access (like hotel lobbies), are often easier to reach. They offer a convergence site for demonstrations, architecturally and territorially. Likewise, as sites where policing products are sold and displayed, expos offer activists an opportunity to make the secretive world of the arms trade visible. As the wide circulation of Shane Bauer’s 2014 video exposé of Urban Shield for Mother Jones evidenced, in today’s journalistic world of fake news, seeing verified information is believing.

In addition, social media has changed PR, making image management a two-way process where customers’ influence is bigger than ever before. This transition is expanding the field of image-based activism, as people find key image locations — moments and partnerships — that are ripe for intervention. While this can appear to be auxiliary, targeting theaters or museums sponsored by arms dealers hits PR teams where it hurts. In this case, by linking Urban Shield to ongoing events in Ferguson and to Oakland’s past cases of police brutality, particularly against young black men, the Stop Urban Shield coalition’s multi-ethnic, queer membership made it impossible for the city council to support the expo without further damaging the city’s image.

Importantly, it was not just the act of showing up and demonstrating at an arms fair that had this effect: It was making a global struggle local through grassroots mobilization and antiracist critique. Similarly, in explicitly targeting the Marriott, a large international hotel chain popular with families, Stop Urban Shield forced the company to weigh the profits of running this policing event against the risks of tarnishing its image. Getting the Marriott to pull out of Oakland’s Urban Shield is no guarantee that it will stop hosting similar expos elsewhere. However, Stop Urban Shield’s success in Oakland reveals a key pressure point that could become the grounds for a sustained campaign to get for-profit policing out of the Marriott.

Resisting from within

In 2013, after I began writing in the media about tear gas, I received an email from a police trainer working in Eastern Europe. “I hope you will continue to read my message after I confess [my job] … I worked in this field for 20 years, and I realized that the high-profile policing (using force against demonstrators) is a dead-end, and I campaign for the communication-based or low profile approach. Now I lead a police training center and hope I can use my influence to spread this idea.” The officer went on to ask for training materials that he might be able to translate for his trainees. Letters like this one serve as a much-needed reminder that other worlds are possible. They remind us that we often have more in common than we think.

It is not an easy thing to question the principles and protocols that shape your job and the way it is done. While my focus has been on advocacy from the outside, there are also a number of ways you can help transform how police are trained from the inside. In doing so you are likely to upset others around you, and you will certainly upset all those private consultants and experts who make money off the Saturdays you spend in their classrooms. Yet, by speaking out from within, you will be joining the ranks of many officers who have fought against the way excessive force is taught, enacted, and then covered up and protected within police departments. You will be speaking out against the cycles of trauma that can produce and perpetuate unnecessary uses of force. Change cannot just be about better public relations; it must also come from the bravery of speaking out from your heart and mind against systems you know are broken or corrupt.

What now? What next?

The increasing deployment of tear gas around the world has led to more canister strikes to the head, more asphyxiation from grenades launched in enclosed spaces, more tear gas offensives coupled with rubber bullets and live ammunition. These violent deployments of chemical weapons continue to leave people dead, disfigured, and with chronic physical and mental health conditions. If the century-long medical history of modern tear gas shows us anything, it is the problem with for-profit science. When science is leveraged for the profit of the few instead of the protection and health of the many, all of society suffers. At the most basic level, people deserve to know more about the chemicals that can be used against them. This is an issue of public health that must be researched independently and disclosed in ways that allows people to clearly understand the effects.

Tear gas must also be considered in its material form — as an object designed to torment people, to break their spirits, to cause physical and psychological damage. No amount of corporate public relations or safety guidelines can hide that foundational truth of chemical design. Tear gas is a weapon that polices the atmosphere and pollutes the very air we breathe. It turns the square, the march, the public assembly into a toxic space, taking away what is so often the last communication channel people have left to use. If the right to gather, to speak out, is to mean anything, then we must also have the right to do so in air we can breathe.

Guatemalan farmers occupy plantation formerly owned by drug traffickers

by Jeff Abbott

Two children ride a bike through the plantation known as Las Palmeras in Guatemala. (WNV/Jeff Abbott)

Guatemala’s southern coast is in a constant conflict caused by the expansion of agro-industry. Across the region, small farmers struggle to feed their families as companies buy up more and more land for export crops.

Since the arrival of the Spanish to Guatemala in 1524, the country’s fertile southern coast has been the site of some of the most intense social conflicts over land. These conflicts have continued into the 21st century with the massive expansion of sugar cane and palm oil production.

Many of these land holdings have come to include illicit interests, including drug trafficking. But local small farmers, known as campesinos, have pushed back.

Since September 2016, 135 families associated with the Committee for Campesino Unity, also known by its Spanish acronym CUC, have maintained an occupation of a finca, or a large plantation, named Las Palmeras near the municipality of Cuyotenango. They are calling for the state to expropriate the land, which was once owned by a known drug trafficker, to the campesinos.

“We see the necessity [in our communities],” said Marcos (a pseudonym), a resident of the community of Progreso, who is supporting the occupation. “We have no place to work the land due to the amount of monoculture that surround us. They have made themselves the owners of the land. We have taken this finca because we need the land to sow the basic crops.”

The campesinos come from the surrounding departments of Quetzaltenango, Suchitepequez, and Retalhuleu.

The farmers have set up a small settlement on the finca, building small structures, as well as using the houses that are on the finca. They have established a collective store in the center of the finca, where they sell sodas, cooking oil and other common household items.

Since taking the finca, the campesinos have also begun to divide the land among the families. Many families have spent nearly two years sowing and harvesting several seasons of crops, including maize, beans, peanuts and fruits.

“They accuse us of land invasion,” said Francisco (a pseudonym), a campesino from a neighboring town who is supporting the occupation. “This is not an invasion, but rather a recuperation the lands of our ancestors.”

Organizing the occupations

Occupations have long been used in Guatemala by campesinos to gain titles to land. That practice grew dramatically in the 1950s following the passage of land reform under President Jacobo Arbenz. His administration expropriated unused land from large land holders, including the U.S.-based United Fruit Company, to be distributed among landless farmers across the country. After the U.S.-backed coup d’état in 1954, however, the tactic fell out of practice due to the threat of violence.

According to research by Charles D. Brockett, occupations would return to prominence in the late 1970s with the formation of the CUC. The organization was founded during the Guatemalan internal armed conflict and worked for the interests of the small farmers across Guatemala, as well as against structural inequalities and racism.

A woman wears a CUC flag while holding the hand of her daughter who wears a CUC hat during the 2016 water march. (WNV/Jeff Abbott)

Since the beginning of the 21st century, the region has seen the massive expansion of monocrops, such as sugar cane and bananas, for export by large landholders. This expansion of export crops further exacerbated the land crisis on the coast, driving many campesinos on the coast to organize to occupy the land due to the inequalities in land availability.

“The problem is that there is a lot of African palm oil, sugar cane, rubber and bananas being planted on the coast,” Marcos said. “These monocrops are leaving us without land to support our families. It was the necessity that drove us to take the finca. [The large land owners] have left us without any land.”

But the support from the CUC has been the key for the occupation on the Guatemalan coast, with the organization providing moral and legal support for the campesinos in Suchitepequez.

“After we launched the occupation, the CUC arrived to provide support,” Francisco said. “The CUC has worked for years to serve and support campesinos across Guatemala.”

The campesinos have also received support from other farmers who have participated in other occupations in the country. They sent others to support the occupation when it began.

“We had a meeting a few days [before the occupation] with other campesinos [that had participated in occupations],” Francisco said. “They saw the necessity of launching the occupation of the land. They decided on the date, where everyone came at 4 p.m. to occupy the land.”

Guatemala has a land problem that has dictated social relations from the Spanish invasion until today. A small percentage of the population controls the majority of arable lands that they utilize for the production of export crops for foreign markets such as sugar cane, African palm oil and bananas. This problem is being exacerbated by the rise of the influence of drug traffickers and criminal networks in the two decades since the end of the internal armed conflict in 1996.

Following the signing of the peace accords, the Guatemalan government established the Land Fund, which was meant to resolve the historic land problem. Yet the high price of the land often keeps it out of reach of landless farmers.

Narcos and land

Drug traffickers have increasingly taken to purchasing land as a means of laundering money, and as a means of transporting narcotics through Central America. As the country continues to work to fight drug trafficking in the country, campesinos have increasingly taken to occupying lands owned by convicted and accused drug traffickers, as well as lands owned by their associates.

The case of Finca Palmeras is a good example of this.

The finca was founded when the Ralda family purchased extensive land holdings in the department of Suchitepequez. Prior to the establishment of the finca, the land was largely used for rice production and cattle ranching.

When Manuel Ralda died, he divided the farm among his children, but his children chose to sell the land, including Finca Palmeras. In 1995, the lands of Finca Palmeras were transferred into the national land registry. Campesinos and others lined up to purchase the lands, but the price was outside the range made available by the Land Fund. The owners of the nine caballerias of land (or a little more than 850 acres) were set at 1.5 million quetzales per caballeria, or a little over 205,000 dollars.

“A group of campesinos entered that wanted to purchase the finca,” Francisco said. “But at the time, the Land Fund only provided credit for 1 million quetzales per caballeria. The fund would not provide the money to buy the land.”

Then entered Juan Alberto Ortiz Lopez — commonly known as Juan Chamale — who was one of the principal drug traffickers in Guatemala, and the main connection to the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel. He offered to buy the finca for 3 million quetzales per caballeria, and purchased the property. His goal was to create a front company to hide the transit of drugs from Colombia through the coastal region.

He quickly put in place security to block the local residents from passing through the finca to access the nearby Icán river, which was a popular fishing spot.

“Before we could fish in the rivers without any problem,” Francisco said. “But when Jaun Charmale bought the finca he put in place security guards, and it was prohibited to pass through the finca.”

According to the neighbors and campesinos occupying the finca, Charmale built new routes through the finca in order to move drugs. These routes connected to other fincas, eventually arriving at the Mexican border.

During the time that Ortiz Lopez owned the finca he would rent the lands to the neighboring fincas. This has caused problems for the campesinos occupying the land.

Furthermore, the campesino communities face an uphill battle to gain access to the land. The campesinos have faced intimidation and repression from the nearby fincas, including legal action over their occupation.

“We found ourselves with a problem,” Francisco said. “The neighboring fincas had sugar cane on part of the finca, and they filed a lawsuit against us in order to harvest that years’ crop.”

These lawsuits have included orders for the arrest of the organizers. The farmers also faced an eviction order that the police to date have not carried out.

Ortiz Lopez was finally arrested in 2011 on drug trafficking charges, and eventually extradited to the United States in 2014. At the time of his arrest, he was in possession of eight or nine fincas across Guatemala, which he would rent out to sugarcane producers, especially the nearby finca Palo Gordo. He had used the fincas as a means to launder his money from trafficking.

“The end of [Alvaro] Colom’s administration was when he finally fell,” Francisco said. “The government began to take the cattle that he had on the land.”

The campesinos are emboldened through the Law of Extinction of Domain, which was established in 2010. The law permits the expropriation of any assets of anyone convicted of a crime related to narco-trafficking, or any illicit crime.

Yet the campesinos’ claim is complicated. By the time he was arrested, Ortiz Lopez had put the titles for his land in his youngest son’s name. But campesinos from the region have laid claim to the lands, arguing that the Guatemalan government must apply the law, and expropriate the farm and distribute it among the small farmers.

Violence against occupying farmers

Despite the constant threat of eviction, the community has yet to see any violence. Meanwhile, other communities that have utilized the same law to argue for expropriating land have not been so lucky.

On October 30, 2017, the residents of the Q’eqchi’ Maya community of Chaab’il Ch’och were violently evicted from the homes they had occupied for a year. Police and military burned houses and crops, as well as the belongings of residents.

The community of Chaab’il Ch’och sits on a finca called Santa Isabel located in the municipality of Livingston, Ixabal. The finca was acquired by a shell company owned by former President Otto Pérez Molina.

The finca is currently being administered by Rodrigo Lainfiesta, a businessman and ally of Pérez Molina, who is also facing corruption charges. Pérez Molina is currently being prosecuted for corruption, as well as charges related to his association with drug traffickers.

In an interview for Upside Down World, one member of the occupation stated that they believed the land was used or going to be used for drug trafficking.

Yet, in spite of the violence against other communities, the campesinos in Suchitipequez are confident that they will emerge victorious.

“We are asking God that we will win, and believe we will,” Francisco said. “For our children, we do not want to see any more malnutrition in our communities.”

International resistance builds to save Sudanese teen from death penalty

by Phil Wilmot

Trigger warning: The entire article talks about sexual assaults and abuse.

Last Thursday, Sudanese teenager Noura Hussein Hammad — a rape survivor in a forced marriage — was sentenced to death for killing her husband in self-defense.

It was two years ago when Noura was raped by her husband, while his male relatives forcefully restrained her. When her husband attempted to rape her again the following day, she defended herself by stabbing him to death.

Noura then sought refuge at her family’s home. But this was the same family that — three years earlier, when she was just 15 — had arranged for her to marry her cousin. Upon hearing Noura’s account of what had transpired, her family turned her over to the police, never again visiting or supporting her.

Noura was held in Omdurman prison for a year. During that time, her husband’s family could have urged the court toward monetary restitution and forgiveness, but instead they pushed for the death penalty. The date of Noura’s execution has not yet been set.

In the Sharia law of Sudan, marital rape is not a crime. To the contrary, its family law dictates that a woman cannot refuse sex with her husband, and a girl can be wedded once she hits puberty.

Noura was simply trying to defend her own life in a nation with extremely repressive and patriarchal laws and traditions. But over 700,000 petitioners — organized across the world under the hashtag #JusticeForNoura — are trying to save her life, as well as eliminate laws and practices that punish survivors who resist marital rape with the death penalty.

“I had to do something and not let this happen like it did for Asifa, and Zainab, two little girls that have been recently raped and killed in Pakistan,” wrote petition creator Zaynub Afinnih, who is based in Rouen, France. “I am, too, a teenager, and I could have faced the same thing as Noura if I was born in Sudan.”

Arfinih’s petition is being aided by a complementary strategy. Since direct appeals to Sudan’s government, which is headed by war criminal Omar al-Bashir, might fall upon deaf ears, activists with the Pan-African network Afrika Youth Movement, or AYM, have begun targeting the leaders of other African countries.

“We acknowledge that the Sudanese president is not that interested in the reaction of — or calls from — the West,” AYM North Africa coordinator Sodfa Daaji said. “But we do know that he has an interest in maintaining good relations with African countries. This is why we are asking the African Union to directly follow up Noura’s sensitive case and urge [al-Bashir’s] intervention.”

Despite AYM’s strong desire to save Noura’s life, the group hadn’t heard her story until a few days prior to Thursday’s court hearing. What’s more, Daaji had never worked on an anti-death penalty campaign and had to spend the first three days learning about Sudan’s judicial system, religions and cultures to ensure their advocacy would be impactful.

Using the relationships they have built while lobbying for various causes over the years, movement organizers with AYM’s Pan-African network have managed to draw attention to Noura’s story within the United Nations and the African Union.

According to Sudanese activist Zahra Hayder, outside pressure on Sudan “has often worked.” She cited the case of Meriam Yahya Ibrahim, a pregnant Christian teenager who was imprisoned for refusing to convert to Islam and forced to give birth while shackled to the floor in 2014. International outcry drew attention to the plight of non-Muslim Sudanese, and eventually Ibrahim obtained asylum.

If an equally effective international campaign for Noura succeeds, much remains to be done at the grassroots level to protect her and countless other young women facing similar charges. Among the most pressing short-term concerns is Noura’s care while she remains in prison. Nahid Jabralla, director of the Center for Training and Protection of Women and Child’s Rights, or SEEMA, has been in direct contact with Noura.

“She is strong because she knows that a lot of people are supporting her,” Daaji said. “The support is making her feel that she is not alone and that she has a family.”

Even if Noura is released, she faces the possibility of revenge from her husband’s family, or even her own family. So Jabralla and her colleagues are doing everything in their power to ensure adequate protection. Such work, however, carries great risk in Sudan. While attempting to protect females and children within and beyond the capital city of Khartoum, where SEEMA is based, Jabralla has been imprisoned on multiple occasions and subjected to torture. In July 2012, she disappeared for some time, together with more than 2,000 other activists, journalists and members of the opposition during a wave of protests that were ultimately squelched by al-Bashir.

A local campaign called “No To Women Oppression Initiative” organized by a coalition of activists and progressive organizations has built solidarity support groups, a legal support group and awareness-raising actions (mostly on social media) that critique bad laws and practices.

On the legal end, Noura’s lawyers are developing an appeal based on the fact that she never gave consent to her marriage. At the same time, they are also doing all they can to raise awareness of Noura’s story. However, a recent planned press conference was banned by Sudan’s repressive national security forces. According to human rights activists in Khartoum, the crackdown is a direct result of the civil society campaign and the international media attention it’s drawing.

“She’s strong,” Daaji said, in explaining Noura’s current spirits. “Of course, a little depressed, but strong.” Daaji hopes that this campaign positively impacts the lives of more girls than Noura, even in countries beyond Sudan. “We cannot excuse [early marriage] anymore in the name of culture and tradition. Muslims do know that rape is haram, not halal [or forbidden, not permissible.]”

50 years later, the spirit of the Catonsville Nine lives on

by Frida Berrigan

Frida Berrigan stands in front of the newly unveiled Catonsville Nine historical marker in Catonsville, Maryland with her children. (WNV)

It was a big moment. More than a hundred people watched as a college professor held one end of a heavy vinyl cover, helping an 88-year-old woman, pull it from the top of a tall metal sign. Together, they unveiled a familiar looking historic marker — the kind that draws attention to battlefields drenched in centuries-old blood and the birth places of famous men all over the country.

This one, however, was different.

It read: “On May 17, 1968, nine Catholic activists raided the selective service office in Catonsville and burned hundreds of draft files to protest the Vietnam war.” It now stands on Frederick Road in Catonsville, Maryland — about a block from the building that housed the young men’s draft files.

The 88-year-old woman was Marjorie Melville — one of those nine Catholic activists and, along with George Mische, one of only two still living.

After the unveiling, which took place on May 5, she shared recollections of the action at a nearby church, including a funny story about her husband, Thomas Melville, who responded with a rousing and immediate “I’m in,” when invited to join the action. The two had recently married after leaving the Maryknoll order, where they served as a priest and a nun. “I was mad,” she recalled. “He didn’t consult me, but then I thought about it and decided, ‘I’m in too.’”

In its few sentences of block letters, the historic marker only mentions “priests Daniel and Philip Berrigan” by name. It doesn’t capture Melville’s motivation to join the Catonsville action and draw attention to U.S. military involvement in Guatemala as another Vietnam. She and Thomas shared their experiences in that Central American country in searing testimony captured in my uncle Daniel Berrigan’s play, “The Trial of the Catonsville Nine.” The Melvilles brought John Hogan — a former Maryknoll brother who they had served with in Guatemala — into the action. Mary Moylan, another one of the nine, had been a nurse in Uganda, while George Mische had worked in the Dominican Republic. They all said that part of their radicalization, part of the journey that led them to Catonsville, was a result of seeing the far-flung damage wrought by U.S. foreign policy. David Darst, a Christian brother, and Tom Lewis, an artist and recidivist, had both lived in the inner cities and saw a less exotic version of the same brutal dynamic.

The hallmark of so much of our political expression is reactive outrage. It was then too. “Hell no, we won’t go,” was a slogan to be chanted by the young men who were drafted. There is so much to be outraged about, and our outrage matters. But the members of the Catonsville Nine were not outraged. And their action was not a response to the massacre du jour, but to the whole of U.S. foreign policy. As John Hogan said at the trial, “I just want people to live. That is all.” And it was not carried out by those most affected by the draft. In fact, every member of the action was personally exempt from military service by their age, gender or profession, as priests and brothers. It was nine people stepping out of comfort and into commission and conscience.

My father knew he was but one of nine; he was moved by Mary Moylan and Marjorie Melville and her husband. He learned from David Darst, John Hogan and Tom Lewis — his dear friend and co-conspirator in many actions. He was challenged and inspired by George Mische and his brother Daniel Berrigan. He would be quick to point out that the Catonsville Nine was not just the “Berrigan Brothers.”

I don’t have any recollections of the action, since I wasn’t born until six years later. My father also wasn’t one to sit around and tell the peace movement’s “war stories.” But I learned the lasting impact of this one action by listening. Strangers would come up to my father — men of a certain age — while he was pumping gas, buying a newspaper or attending a demonstration to confirm his identity and then share some version of this: “I’m alive today because you destroyed my file. My card was at Catonsville. I was about to be sent to Vietnam. Thank you.” My father would accept their thanks with discomfort and pride. Now, from a greater distance, I can understand the discomfort as part of a veteran’s process of atonement, a life saved from war after so many lives lost in war, and an affirmation of the path — narrow, rocky, grueling and lonely — that he had chosen for himself.

And then there were the friends, fellow community members — people as close as family. One was a young mother on Long Island, raising five boys. On May 17, 1968, she was sitting in her kitchen, listening to the radio, busy with some household task. The news announcer reported that nine Catholic antiwar activists were arrested after destroying draft records. She was a devoted Catholic, and this was an action involving two priests, a brother, a former priest, a former nun and four lay people. “I was sitting down, and I stood up. I haven’t sat down since,” she said. She went on to be a Catholic Worker, peace activist and a dear friend. I have heard that story countless times, from her and many others who were similarly catalyzed into activism by the Catonsville Nine.

Learning about this one day in May through the prism of the transformations of both strangers and friends has helped me see the draft board raid as living and continuing. It may have been 50 years ago that my father was one of nine who broke the law to prevent a greater crime, but it was only a month and a half ago that my mother, Liz McAlister, was one of seven, acting in that same spirit. As a member of the Kings Bay Plowshares, she gained access to the Kings Bay Trident Base in Georgia and symbolically disarmed the warheads, marking them as criminal.

From the Camden County Detention Facility in Woodbine, Georgia, she sent me a statement to share with those who gathered in Catonsville for the unveiling: “May the disarmament continue.” This was in keeping with the message the Kings Bay Plowshares carried onto the naval base, which read, in part: “We come in peace on this sorrowful anniversary of the martyrdom of a great prophet Martin Luther King, Jr. Fifty years ago today on April 4, 1968 Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee as a reaction to his efforts to address the ‘giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism.’ We come to Kings Bay to answer the call of the prophet Isaiah to ‘beat swords into plowshares’ by disarming the world’s deadliest nuclear weapon, the Trident submarine.” For this action, they face more than 20 years in prison.

It seems like a very long time.

The Catonsville activists were sentenced to two and three year prison terms, which is also a long time. How do we use our time? My uncle, Dan Berrigan wrote in “Portraits of Those I Love” that “on the one hand, I do not want to live in a world without anger; on the other hand, I am not interested in dying just yet. But I don’t want anger to burn uselessly as a waste flame from an oil stack. Living on, nursing my flame I write. It is a way of surviving. It tells me my soul is my own.”

Action, community, collective courage — that’s the spirit of the Catonsville action. It is a way of survival. It tells us our souls are our own. So, thank you, Brother David Darst, John Hogan, Thomas Melville, Marjorie Melville, George Mische, Tom Lewis, Mary Moylan. Thank you Uncle Dan. Thank you Dad.

And thank you, Kings Bay activists, friends, family: Martha Hennessy, Clare Grady, Father Steve Kelly, Patrick O’Neil, Mark Colville, Carmen Trotta. Thank you, Mom.

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