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France’s chaos stems from its failure to adapt to globalisation | Natalie Nougayrède

The Guardian | Protest -

A showdown is taking place on the streets. President Hollande must stick firmly to his plans for long overdue reform

Demonstrating is in the French political DNA. It’s almost as if, for each generation, pouring out on to the streets is part of growing up. There is a collective ritual to this – we have a national penchant for cathartic moments. Historians point to a revolutionary narrative harking back to 1789. But if you are looking for some of the romanticism of May 1968 in the latest unrest, don’t hold your breath.

Related: Riot police crack down on Paris protests against labour reforms

Never before, under the Fifth Republic, has a socialist government been confronted with this degree of social unrest

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Barcelona: Third Statement of El Banc

House Occupation News -

We’ll try to enter again
May 27, 2016

Whatever might be said by the City Council about this conflict, it does not take place between private parts, it is a conflict between two ways of living: those who want a common life and to relate through mutual support networks, produced among equals, and those who defend private property – regardless of its use – and the supremacy of some over others.

Barcelona en Comú is not and will not be a representative of those of us who have been here these days, first because we do not have representatives – and simultaneously do not aspire to represent anyone but ourselves – and secondly because their institutional choice is not and will not be our’s neither. We refuse to serve as an excuse for the various political parties, that have been throwing electioneering darts between themselves, while spreading lies about us. We have never negotiated with no one, regardless of the untruths spread by politicians: those who signed a contract to maintain social peace – CiU –, paid over €65,000 of an unjustified fund to the well-known speculator Bravo Manuel Solano, an amount that almost fully covers for the buying cost paid by him for our space.

They justify this contract by appealing to our alleged social work, trying to build a distinction between the Bank and other occupied spaces, but do not be mistaken: we are the same people. We do not do social and humanitarian work, what we strive for is the generation of networks of mutual support and the creation of a world exterior to the mercantile logic. We do not want to cover up the holes of misery that capitalism created, we want to put an end to them. And, to achieve this, all tools are valid and necessary.

Those that are weaving networks, those that retrieve houses for those who suffer evictions, those that occupy to create homes and meeting spaces, those that make parties and other activities to pay all the costs of judicial repression, those that cut off streets so that popular protests can advance, those that face up to the police: we are all the same because these are different paths of a common struggle.

There has been a lot of talking about violence, our’s to be more precise, but whoever pretends to criticize all forms of violence is refusing to recognize that this society is impregnated with violence in its very foundations: the violence that occurs over evictions, the violence of the homicidal Mossos that remain unpunished, the violence of the persecution of street-sellers and of the rejection of refugees, but also the violence that, beneath the unquestionable excuse of anti-terrorism, shatters the doors of our homes at five in the morning, and kidnaps our companions. If someone really wants to talk about violence, let’s talk about it, but basing ourselves on the fact that if the inequalities of this society do not disappear, it’s because there is an organization specialized in acting violently in order to maintain them. This organization is called the police, whatever the country, the color of its uniform, or the government who commands it.

The police is the visible and explicit part of this structural violence. But this violence can also be found in blackmailing in the workplace, when we accept to be humiliated and robed out of fear of misery; it can be found – as we already noted – in foreclosures, when home ownership is more important than the necessity of a roof; it is found in the sexism that denies the feminicide that is taking place; it takes place in this Europe that turns its back on the refugees of the wars that were caused by our own countries. This capitalist society is based on violence, any serious discussion must start from this premise.

The conflict over El Banc Expropiat, that is taking place in the streets, has begun when we got evicted, and it will finish once we get back in. We have nothing to negotiate because we do not aspire to anything else than reopening the Banc Expropriat at the same location where it always has been; if they want to negotiate, they can do it among themselves, Generalitat, City Council and Solano Bravo. It is not our problem. We do not want another space, we want this one, where it is, with its neighbors. El Banc is ours because we have constructed it second by second with all the people that has passed by and have made it vibrate with hundreds of different experiences; El Banc is ours and we will defend it until the end.

It’s quite simple: the only solution to the conflict they have opened is to let us back in.

May 27, 2016
Vila de Gràcia

Barcelona: Second statement of El Banc

House Occupation News -

[May26] These days are being very intense and this is why we’re having difficulties to spread informations as a collective. Within our capacities, we will add more detail to our version of the facts of these last few days and also our opinion on many aspects of the conflict that is taking place.

First of all, we would like to thank all the people that moved from solidarity to explicit engagement with the project of El Banc Expropiat.

Many of you are asking in which ways they can contribute to this struggle, ranging from neighbours of Gràcia that are getting in touch with us to people from elsewhere, sometimes writing from places so far away as the combative neighbourhood of Gamonal, in Burgos.

Here’s some ideas for you:

  • Convoke all sorts of protests that could pressure those responsible of this conflict, grant more visibility to what El Banc Expropiat is or to what is happening these last few days in Vila de Gràcia.
  • Hang banderoles, banners, or posters to your balconies or windows in support to El Banc Expropiat.
  • Spread the information we publish with your nearest relational circles.
  • Participate in the pot-banging actions that are taking place are 22h from your balcony, your window or the nearest square.
  • Send us all the informations, images and videos that you consider that could be useful to us.

Who is behind this eviction?

  • Catalunya Caixa: this bailed-out bank (now absorbed by BBVA) was the owner of the space when we squatted it. If they hadn’t started the legal process to evict us, we probably would not be here today.
  • Manuel Bravo Solano: this individual is the responsible behind the current obscure network of real estate companies dedicated to speculation that legally own the space. Companies like this and people like him are responsible of the gentrification process that we are suffering in Gràcia.
  • Mossos d’Esquadra: we won’t be fooled, the violent interventions of the police are not being a response to the violent actions of the people that are protesting. It became self-evident the second day that the goal of the police is not to prevent disturbances, but instead to prevent us from re-opening El Banc Expropiat. When we manage to enter our space it it will become obvious that the disturbances are taking place because of the eviction and the later interventions by the Mossos d’Esquadra.
  • Government of the Generalitat: The Government of Junts pel Sí (CDC and ERC) are the political responsibles that command the Mossos d’Esquadra. Of the Government of the Generalitat wanted to, the police would walk away, and if they do we will be able to re-open El Banc Expropiat.
  • Media: These actors would not have the strength they have if the media wasn’t acting as a amplifier of their messages. The media manipulation of these last few days is becoming quite obvious, not only because some old footages of disturbances were used, or the desperate attempt of the journalists to find neighbours who talk badly about El Banc Expropiat, but also because of the complete silencing of police violence, notwithstanding the images, videos and testimonies that circulate through social networks in very significant terms. The fact that we don’t do press conferences doesn’t mean that the press does not have access to the huge amount of information that refutes many of the lies that individuals such as Batlle or Collboni [local TV journalists] are spreading.

Each of these actors have their share of responsibility in the conflict that we are suffering, and for this reason we invite everyone to make their role visible and to pressure them to change their attitude.

Stay tuned for more information

May 26th of 2016
Vila de Gràcia

Barcelona's Gràcia district braces for more riots

The Guardian | Protest -

Protesters refuse to accept defeat in row over eviction of squatters from former bank in fashionable neighbourhood

Barcelona’s fashionable Gràcia neighbourhood is braced for a weekend of violence after three nights of rioting this week.

The trouble began on Monday when police evicted squatters from an abandoned bank which has served as an informal civic centre for the past five years. Running battles between protesters and police followed for the next three nights, resulting in numerous injuries and widespread damage.

Related: Is this the world’s most radical mayor? | Dan Hancox

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Scores arrested in Democratic Republic of Congo clashes

The Guardian | Protest -

One protester killed in Goma during opposition-organised protests against President Joseph Kabila’s plan to delay elections

Police and demonstrators have clashed in the Democratic Republic of Congo amid growing fears that elections scheduled for later this year will be postponed.

One protester died during running battles in Goma, the largest city in the east, while security forces in the capital, Kinshasa, fired teargas at an opposition march.

Related: Fears DRC president's push to keep power will spark major violence

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A fond farewell to New York’s Peace Pentagon

Waging Nonviolence -

by Frida Berrigan

The Peace Pentagon, at 339 Lafayette Street, in January 1991, during the Gulf War. (WNV / Ed Hedemann)

Nearly 20 years ago, as I left the War Resisters League, or WRL, offices in lower Manhattan for the first time, I noticed that my fingertips were covered in black soot and ink. My hands were full of tracts and leaflets, and I had been looking through nonviolence training materials for the last hour. I tried to rub the dirt off onto my jeans, but it wouldn’t budge and later even soap and water had to work really hard.

A few weeks ago, I went back to 339 Lafayette Street to say goodbye to the appropriately nicknamed Peace Pentagon. The visit reminded me of that sooty, inky afternoon, when the late great and gentle Karl Bissinger gave me a tour of the WRL workroom — teeter-towered floor to ceiling with books, pamphlets, leaflets, posters and signs from every demonstration of the last half century (almost).

Back in that same workroom, sun streamed in the huge loft windows — even though they were caked with lower Manhattan’s finest smog particles. There was a hole in the floor large enough to swallow both of my small children. I was supposed to be taping historic photos on a large poster board for display at the party later that evening, but instead I was trying to keep two WRL staff members from throwing away or recycling a single piece of paper. They shot daggers at me and kept stacking things for the recycling bin. Turns out that one person’s poorly-lettered sign about a campaign 15 years ago, is another person’s recycling.

My hands were filthy again (because someone keeps stealing the hand soap from the bathrooms), but I managed to save what I could: a roll of wrapping paper (not sure why), a ripped “Shut Down Guantanamo” poster and an awesome “It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need” poster in Spanish with a perfect sneaker print marring the bright yellow. I rolled these treasures up and went back to my project, knowing that everything genuinely historic and important had already been sent to the Swarthmore College Peace Collection archive for some dedicated intern wearing acid free gloves to sort through.

From the first time I was buzzed into 339 Lafayette Street — huffing my way up 20 uneven, steeply-pitched concrete stairs (no elevator, no way, no how) to the heavy red metal door that the New York Times found so iconic, and stepping into a packed, bustling office — I was in love. There were dust bunnies, paper clips and tumbleweeds of cat hair everywhere. The desks were huge and pocked, the chairs off kilter and prone to wheeling off on their own over the wavy pitched floors. Every flat surface was covered in bumper stickers and notes. I always had to move precarious piles of papers to carve out a place to sit and work.

Despite this disorder, I always felt like stepping into the office was putting my feet into the continuum of nonviolent resistance; even when I was there for the most mundane reason — to pick up a package that had been sent to me there by mistake or to borrow a pen and legal pad on my way somewhere else. I felt a part of something bigger, older and more powerful than myself and whatever occasion required that pen.

The War Resisters League’s offices occupied most of the second floor of the Peace Pentagon — a warren of leftist, progressive, artistic and anarchist groups — for almost half a century. But now, WRL and the other groups sheltered by the A.J. Muste Memorial Institute are moving from the corner of Bleecker and Lafayette Streets on the Lower East Side to rented offices on Canal Street. WRL began renting space in the building in the late 1960s and bought it for $60,000 in 1974 — the year I was born. Many of its staff were war tax resisters and anti-war activists, and they worried about having an asset that could be seized in lieu of fines or taxes. So, they sold the building to the newly formed A.J. Muste Memorial Institute in 1978 for $91,000. The Muste Institute ran the building, acting as a very generous landlord to an ever changing clutch of radical causes, in addition to providing fiscal sponsorship, grants and technical support to many progressive organizations.

I joined the War Resisters League National Committee in 2000 and got my very own key to the building (which I very grudgingly gave up when I moved to Connecticut in 2009). But for those nine wonderful years I had a home at the corner of Bleecker and Lafayette — a respite from the consumer madness and constant striving of Manhattan, a refresher in what really matters — people, progress, pacifism and posters!

Like in any relationship, it wasn’t all perfect. A group of us learned of the building’s shortcomings and structural needs, as well as the Muste board’s interest in selling 339 Lafayette in 2006. We organized ourselves into Friends of 339 and tried to come up with ways to keep the building in the peace movement — lots of meetings, lots of creativity and a great architecture competition. The result: failure and heart break.

Nevertheless, my favorite time of all in my relationship with the office was the almost-full year I spent living at the New York Catholic Worker in 2010. I would finish up a shift of cooking and serving lunch to dozens of hungry women, take off my apron in the now quiet and relatively clean kitchen and walk several blocks over to the WRL office. Once there, I would help plan the anti-nuclear activities we held during the United Nations nonproliferation meeting or our anti-torture work with Witness Against Torture for the afternoon. I would still smell like bean soup, old coffee and bleach as I warmed up the computer and started making phone calls.

This short walk across a few blocks of rapidly gentrifying Lower Manhattan would bring to mind the long and close relationship between two very different anarchist non-institutions. And it was more than our mutual affection for old papers and genial tolerance of disorder. The Catholic Worker and the War Resisters League share a belief that it is people power not power over people that is going to change our politics and our priorities. We are Catholics and atheists alike, who believe that more often than not it is the still, small voice that needs to be heard. We both believe that it is not more leaders or better rhetoric, but rather principled, strategic action, vision and sacrifice that is needed.

I checked in with longtime War Resisters League member and once-executive director David McReynolds about this friendship of conscience. He lives sort of equidistant between the WRL and the Worker in a rent-controlled apartment amid $4 cups of coffee, $15 burger joints and more dog accessory stores than laundromats. He told of how Catholic Worker co-founder and now Catholic candidate for sainthood Dorothy Day decided to non-cooperate with air raid drills in Manhattan in the late 1950s. Picketing in front of the jail where Day was being held afterwards, McReynolds thought that resisting these air raid drills was something that could involve masses of people. He and others in the War Resisters League worked on a three-prong strategy designed to protect people who wanted to register their dismay and outrage at this Cold War cooption exercise, but who couldn’t or wouldn’t get arrested.

Catholic Worker folks and the WRL worked together to organize mass sit-ins during the drills, which were compulsory under New York City law. WRL put out the call (even printed up special match books with information). Five hundred people showed up at the appointed time to expose that there is no running from a nuclear war, there is only disarmament and peaceful coexistence. Many were arrested.

“In 1961,” McReynolds recalled, “we repeated the process, again a WRL event, and drew 2,000 people. Over a hundred of us were arrested, including the entire WRL staff. All of us got 25 days in jail (the longest term I ever served). But it was the end of the civil defense drills in New York. There was a dialectic between Dorothy Day’s witness, and my somewhat more cautious, quasi-Marxist approach — it was the picketing that led to my eventually doing something. And it was my concern about involving as many people as possible, which led to the three-level strategy.”

Joanne Sheehan (my mother-in-law) first came to 339 Lafayette as an organizer with the Catholic Peace Fellowship, or CPF, in 1970 and recalls the building as an incubator for the peace movement. “CPF was pretty male dominated and sexist,” she explained. “As a young and developing feminist, I was challenged and educated by the women in the building to stick it out and have the hard conversations about the kind of world we want to create. War Resisters League chairs like Norma Becker and Irma Zigas were strong women and committed activists who mentored me. They did so much of the ‘behind-the-scenes’ work that every movement needs. The building was also home to One Big Union, a collective of women typesetters, who were inspiring.”

Long before social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, just opening the door to the building was a chance to network, learn, connect and appreciate the intersections between different struggles and movements. “Just inside the front door, the walls were like a huge bulletin board crammed with flyers and posters,” she said. “That was the starting point. I picked so much up by osmosis, just being in the building with people holding so many different pieces of our work.” On Friday nights, people would step out of their offices and cubicles and help prepare copies of WIN Magazine for mailing. “We would drink beer, eat pizza, label magazines and talk about what was going on in the world, in the movement and in our lives. We built community.”

We live in a different world today. Bulletin boards? Flyers? Mailing parties? Offices with doors? In a stretch of Manhattan that is almost entirely gentrified, 339 Lafayette seems like a tiny brick-and-mortar relic smooshed between massive spires of steel and glass. It makes me think of a picture book that my kids love called “The Little House,” in which a small rural home is subsumed into an ever-expanding metropolis. The descendants of the original owners eventually move the house to a new stretch of country road amid apple orchards and everyone lives happily ever after.

The WRL bathroom in 1969 (left) verses 2016 (right). (WNV / David McReynolds and Ed Hedemann)

I am so sad to say goodbye to the Peace Pentagon. I am holding on tight to an image of the Peace Pentagon at 339 Lafayette Street that is now totally obsolete: as a constant, visible, rough-around-the-edges home to activists and artists in the heart of Manhattan’s manic, gold-plated, empty-headed boomtown. But then I remember the bathroom. It is hard to be sepia-toned nostalgic about bombed out bathrooms where someone is always stealing the soap.

The War Resisters League and the other residents of 339 Lafayette are in the process of moving to newly remodeled offices at Canal and Elizabeth. I am pretty sure the soap dispenser is attached to the wall. And after four decades of having to scale the stairs every day and turn away people who can’t handle them, the building’s elevator will mean a new kind of accessibility and intersectionality is possible. Onward War Resisters League! Cue the bagpipes, pull out the tissues, and let’s get moving.

The man behind #ThisFlag, Zimbabwe's accidental movement for change

The Guardian | Protest -

What started as personal rant has quickly become a rare way for citizens to vent anger against Mugabe’s government, the Daily Maverick reports

Pastor Evan Mawarire was sitting at his desk in Harare, worrying about how he was going to pay his children’s school fees, when something inside him snapped.

The Zimbabwean, who isn’t paid a salary by the church, decided to film himself venting his frustrations with the Zimbabwean flag around his neck, explaining to camera: “When I look at the flag it’s not a reminder of my pride and inspiration, it feels as if I want to belong to another country.”

This flag represents my hopes and my aspirations. The realisation of dreams that i have been robbed of #ThisFlag

Imagine what we could do with $600 000.
Food aid
School fees help
Etc #ThisFlag

Oh. Very revealing. So #ThisFlag thing is a pastor's fart. How stinking!

First #ThisFlag was a "fad" then they said it was "politics" now they say its funded by the west. The citizens movement is surely alive.

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Interview With An Activist About The Eviction of Idomeni’s Refugee Camp

Revolution News -

The situation has devolved since our last interview, and almost every scenario became worst case. The refugee camp in Idomeni, Greece was brutally evicted, and roughly 10,000 refugees have been re-located. Where are they now, and what conditions are they living in? They were brought to several “camps”, most of them are around Thessaloniki. InRead More

Zimbabweans show support for Robert Mugabe in 'million man march'

The Guardian | Protest -

Thousands turned out to celebrate leader and his Zanu-PF party in response to rally organised by opposition last month

Several thousand Zimbabweans joined a march through Harare in support of President Robert Mugabe on Wednesday after the main opposition party staged its own rally last month.

The marchers, many of whom were transported to the capital by bus, sang songs praising Mugabe and wore T-shirts displaying his image as they gathered at a central square to hear him address the crowds.

Related: Thousands march in Harare in rare mass protest against Robert Mugabe

You can't beat this #millionmanmarch #Mugabe

How much of hundreds and thousands of $s spent on this could have gone to paying long-suffering unpaid civil servants? #MillionManMarch

Related: Alleged Mugabe cronies kept offshore firms years after UN alert raised

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Barcelona: Statement of El Banc

House Occupation News -


Yesterday, May 23th, El Banc Expropiat was evicted by the Catalan police, after more than 160 days of resistance (more than 100 during the first campaign, and 87 days this time). The first time, the City Hall secretly decided to pay over 65.000EUR to Manuel Bravo Solano, who owns the bank, in order to avoid another Can Vies before the municipal elections. After this shady deal was exposed, the City Hall justified itself saying that they believed that the Banc had an important “social” role. They then admitted that this rent was being paid to avoid breaking the social peace, because they knew that the eviction of El Banc would imply all sorts of responses. This is what finally happened yesterday. First of all, we would like to thank all the solidarity that we have received, a solidarity which has taken many different forms and that has also meant a form of support to all the other struggles which are currently taking place.

Yesterday’s outburst of rage is not only due to El Banc, it is a consequence of recent arrests, of raids on squats and libertarian spaces, of the assassination of Juan Andrés Benítez that exposed police impunity.

We understand that some neighbours are annoyed because of the situation that the neighbourhood is going through, or the physical damages that might have suffered. But, as we’ve said many times, we will defend the Banc in every single way we can.

Anyone who has seen the police interventions can attest the violence that they have produced. Over 50 people have ended up with broken heads, knees, hands or arms as a result of their actions. This is another reason to stay where we are and try to get back to the Banc.

We will return to the Banc.

Solidarity actions can be sent to elbanc [at] riseup [dot] net or to the squat’s page “With Love


House Occupation News -

Ephemeral re-squat before heavy police charges in a second night of protestscops stop reoccupation
On Tuesday evening a new series of demos converged on the evicted autonomous social center, the ‘Expropriated Bank’ in Barcelona’s Gracia barrio. A group of protesters opened the welded steel plates and re-occupied amid wild cheering, just before the Riot Police commenced a series of brutal charges, that resulted in 19 injured. Fresh demonstrations are called for tonight, Day 3.

continue reading + video here: ..

Donald Trump could face chaos as he heads to ‘riot-happy’ California city

The Guardian | Protest -

California continues to put up the noisiest resistance to the Trump campaign; by holding a rally in Anaheim, the Republican nominee is ‘wishing for chaos’

If Donald Trump is eager to avoid the large, impassioned, noisy protests that almost derailed his last visit to California – and maybe he’s not – he has certainly picked the wrong location for his return trip on Wednesday.

Anaheim may be the home of Disneyland and a reliable source of affluent, conservative white voters in the suburban tracts an hour south of Los Angeles, but it is also bubbling over with tensions, as a restive and growing Latino minority clamors for greater political representation, a less repressive police force and a more tolerant environment for immigrants and their families.

Related: Reality stars and xenophobes: Trump's California delegates mirror their maker

My stomach turns when I hear the man’s voice … he provokes a very bad feeling among the communities he has stepped on

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The First Trial Against Anonymous in Spain

Revolution News -

The first trial against Anonymous in Spain finally moved forward last week. The three defendants known as RTS, YLDI and JMZF were arrested in simultaneous raids in June 2011 in Barcelona, ​​Valencia and Almeria. The #JuicioAnon trial has been dragging on for five years. The defense team and supporters of those arrested have stated unwaveringlyRead More

Brussels anti-austerity protesters clash with police – video

The Guardian | Protest -

Police in Brussels fire water cannon during clashes with protesters at an anti-austerity demonstration. Fighting broke out at the end of a peaceful rally on Tuesday that saw around 50,000 take to the streets. Around 100 masked protesters starting hurling objects and firecrackers at the police, who responded by firing jets of water. Photograph: AP/Michel Spingler

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Brussels police fire water cannon at anti-austerity protesters

The Guardian | Protest -

About 100 masked protesters reportedly broke away from main rally and started hurling objects and firecrackers at police

Belgian police have fired water cannon during clashes with protesters at a demonstration in Brussels against the centre-right government’s austerity measures.

A 100-strong group of masked protesters broke away from the peaceful main rally of about 60,000 people in the Belgian capital and started hurling objects and firecrackers at riot police, reporters at the scene said.

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House Occupation News -

The ‘Expropriated Bank’, a self-managed occupied social center in the beautiful Gracia barrio of Barcelona, has finally fallen. Symbol of resistance to repression and austerity , colleagues called for the occupation of 1000 more banks.

Seeding Mutual Aid against Capitalism

The eviction was not an easy task, it took police more than eight hours, using metal cutters, etc., to extricate the last heroes. The police struggled all day to get them out of a barrel of cement, itself inside a safe, inside the basement with metal barricades. See video and report.

Meanwhile, reinforcements gathered and marched from several pre-organized points in the city until by 9.00 pm at least 2000 filled the narrow streets, but the entire front of the Bank had been welded  shut with iron plates .

An army of very aggressive riot police, masked and without ID plates and with a helicopter, moved into the crowds of young people. Only  for good luck no one was killed…..

continues HERE + videos + in Catalan


Fracking wins battle in Yorkshire but not the war | Damian Carrington

The Guardian | Protest -

For those backing fracking, the approval of exploration plans at Kirby Misperton is a vital victory, but they are fighting growing public opposition

For those backing fracking, the approval of exploration plans at Kirby Misperton in Yorkshire is a vital victory.

But the war is far from won, with public opinion moving ever further against fracking. The more zealously the government goes on the offensive on shale gas, the more people oppose it.

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Counter-extremism bill puts our rights at risk | Letter from Diane Abbott MP, Natalie Bennett and 47 others

The Guardian | Protest -

Letter from Labour MPs Diane Abbott, Kate Osamor, Clive Lewis, Green party leader Natalie Bennett, NUS president-elect Malia Bouattia and 42 others

We, the undersigned, are concerned about the implications of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy, Prevent, and the proposed counter-extremism bill on civil liberties, freedom of speech, religion and cultural expression, the right to protest and dissent (Mixed bag promises laws on crime and broadband, 18 May).

Prevent is not working. We all agree with the need for a counter-terrorism strategy, but it must do exactly that.

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What if activists could more accurately predict political events?

Waging Nonviolence -

by Brian Martin

Embed from Getty Images

Think how useful it would be to make accurate forecasts of political events. Will there be a ceasefire in the Yemen war in the next six months? Will the Chinese government allow uncensored access to the Internet in the next year? Will there be a successful military coup in Mali in 90 days?

With accurate estimates of the likelihood of such events, activists could be more effective in targeting their campaigns. However, there’s a complication. Activist campaigns could change the outcome being forecast. Set this aside for now.

Philip Tetlock is the world’s leading researcher on political forecasting. In studies beginning in the 1980s, he sought to see whether anyone could accurately predict events. Certainly there are all sorts of people making predictions: pundits, politicians, political scientists. The problem with many of them is that their predictions are too loose to be tested. When a prominent figure like New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman says there’s a possibility of a default by the Italian government, the wording usually leaves an escape hatch. There’s nothing that can be rigorously evaluated.

When Tetlock actually tested political predictions rigorously, he found that most were woeful, usually no better than chance. Furthermore, commentators and political experts who were highly knowledgeable were no better at forecasting political events than anyone else. Tetlock said, memorably, that the average expert was about as accurate as a dart-throwing chimpanzee.

If political forecasting is a hopeless task, that is the end of the story: Don’t trust commentators who make predictions, no matter how authoritative they might be and sound. But Tetlock continued his studies with a new goal. Although it’s true that most forecasting is little better than random guessing, there are some individuals who can do better. Tetlock reports on his findings in a new book titled “Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction,” co-authored by writer Dan Gardner.

Understanding forecasting

One of the big problems in explaining forecasting is helping people to understand probabilities. Suppose the weather forecast says there’s an 80 percent chance of rain tomorrow. If it doesn’t rain the next day, most people say the forecasters got it wrong. Actually, though, a single outcome like this doesn’t prove that a forecast is right or wrong or prove that a forecaster is good or bad.

Think of it this way. On 100 different days, the weather forecaster says the chance of rain is 80 percent. If it rains on 80 of the days, the forecast is accurate as a prediction of the chance of rain. If it rains on 70 days or 90 days, the forecast is not so accurate. The point is that accuracy can only be judged using a sequence of forecasts. Knowing whether it rains on any particular day is not enough.

Most people don’t grasp this point. For example, they blame U.S. intelligence agencies for not predicting the 9/11 attacks, or perhaps for saying the chance of a terrorist attack is high when actually there is no attack. But these assessments are unfair, because they use a single instance when actually what’s needed is examination of a large number of predictions and outcomes.

To judge forecasts, they need to be precise. If you say, “It’s going to rain,” you’re bound to be right eventually. Likewise, if you say, “The regime will collapse,” you almost certainly will be right, but maybe you’ll have to wait a century. So weather forecasts are for the next day or the next week, and likewise your forecast about regime stability needs to include a time frame: “There’s a 70 percent chance the regime will collapse in the next year.” But what exactly does it mean to say, “the regime will collapse”? That the president will step down? That the regime’s repressive system will be replaced? That the government will break down into warring groups? For a precise forecast, try something like “There’s a 70 percent chance that the president will leave office by September 30.”

If the president does leave office by September 30, does that mean you’re a good forecaster? It doesn’t prove a lot, because you might have been lucky. So to show your skills, you need to make lots of precise forecasts and show you can do better than uninformed guessing.

Tetlock’s research involved setting up a system for inviting people to make lots of specific political forecasts on a wide range of political and economic events and seeing how well they did. He used a formula to calculate the accuracy of the forecasts. Quite a few people joined and did better than chance. Then there were a few who did especially well. Tetlock calls them superforecasters.

Superforecasters tend to be intelligent, understand probabilities, and be heavy readers of the media and other information sources. Even after making a forecast, they keep on the lookout for new information and then slightly revise their forecasts in the light of the new information.

Tetlock also put groups of forecasters together and found they could do better than individuals. But superforecasters could do better than groups of regular forecasters, and teams of superforecasters better still. However, performance depended on the ways teams were set up and operated.

The implication of Tetlock’s studies is that forecasting is a skill that can be learned. Some people, due to their ways of thinking, may have a head start, but anyone can get better. Tetlock even provides a list of 10 guidelines for becoming better, such as to break difficult problems into manageable sub-problems and to strike a balance between underconfidence and overconfidence.

Nonviolence forecasting

Some of Tetlock’s studies are funded by the U.S. military. The surprising finding is that superforecasters, relying entirely on public sources, can make better predictions of political events than experienced intelligence analysts with access to classified information. One advantage superforecasters have is intellectual humility: They don’t have status or reputations to defend.

There are several possible reactions to the finding that unheralded citizen superforecasters can do better than the large agencies paid to do the job. One is to express glee that intelligence agencies are so hopeless. Another is to express alarm that the agencies will now have access to superforecasting techniques and skills. Yet another is to investigate how forecasting can be used to aid nonviolent struggles. That is my focus here.

Tetlock describes the ways that superforecasters think, and it is reasonable to believe that few activists think the same way. Many activists are driven by a sense of outrage over injustice or by a feeling of duty to take a stand. Also, they need to believe their efforts will make a difference. These beliefs and emotions are not conducive to the calm, rational, probabilistic approach used by superforecasters.

Nevertheless, it is possible to become better at forecasting. Few people have trained systematically at it. Now that the skills are better understood and there are ways of obtaining feedback, it should be possible for many more people to realistically aspire to become superforecasters.

Some activists might want to do this themselves. It might also be possible to find people who, although not involved in activism themselves, are sympathetic to nonviolent methods and goals and willing to provide their insights to movements. In fact, because personal involvement can bias predictions, sympathetic yet independent forecasters might have an advantage.

Consider this scenario. Movement-sympathetic forecasters give a 30 percent chance that there will be a successful military coup against the elected government in a given country within the next six months. The forecasters are then provided with information that local campaigners will put a major effort into raising awareness and fostering anti-coup skills, and revise their estimate of the chance there will be a successful coup to 20 percent.

Activists now have a decision to make: should they make this major effort to prevent a coup? On the one hand, it seems worthwhile to reduce the probability of the coup succeeding from 30 percent to 20 percent: that’s a significant one-third reduction. On the other hand, it’s only a 10 percent change overall. There’s a 70 percent chance the coup wouldn’t succeed even without any activist preparation, and a 20 percent chance the coup will succeed despite the preparation. This makes it seem like a lot of effort for a small prospect of making much of a difference.

Then there’s another thought. Perhaps there might not have been a coup anyway — the 70 percent chance — but the activist effort will pay dividends later on, past the six-months forecast horizon. And perhaps even if the coup is successful despite activist efforts — the 20 percent chance — those efforts will contribute to limiting the damage due to the coup and reversing it later.

To add to the complications, activists need to consider the opportunity costs of an anti-coup effort. They might instead put their efforts into something quite different, say into community building or opposition to the arms trade. To make a better informed decision about what to do, forecasters could help by offering predictions about the impacts of the different efforts, assuming again that a precise formulation of the outcomes is possible.

Then there is the additional complication of activist interests, morale and momentum. Few activist groups have the capacity to reassign their passion and energy to a different issue or campaign simply because some analyst says it offers a better chance of having an impact. It is likely that many activists will resist the cold rationality associated with forecasting, preferring their own judgments about what is worth doing.

If it is possible to combine activist drive with improved forecasting, this could make a difference, and it could be a virtuous cycle. When activists believe they have a greater chance of success and of making a difference, they are more likely to continue their efforts, making success more likely.

Bill Moyer developed the Movement Action Plan, which lays out a set of stages through which many social movement campaigns proceed. A crucial stage is when the movement is on the verge of a breakthrough, yet activists become unaccountably demoralized, anticipating failure. The misperception at this stage might be countered by listening to independent forecasters sympathetic to the movement. Forecasting, though it has to be anchored in realities, can sometimes offer real hope, as opposed to the artificial hope by so many predictions.

As Tetlock well recognizes, most political forecasting is not much better than chance, and even those few who can do better can say little beyond a limited time horizon of at most a few years. However, his research shows what can be achieved and gives the best available guide on how to do better. Furthermore, Tetlock’s research shows that some independent individuals, not paid for their efforts, can do better than intelligence agencies with access to classified information and supplied with vast resources.

Some members of nonviolent movements should be following the research, learning the skills to become better forecasters and recruiting superforecasters to serve the goals of the movements. Such an effort might result in only a small increase in the effectiveness of nonviolent campaign, but even a small increase could make a huge difference to people’s lives.