On our way to a peaceful, stable world, we need Just Transitions to bridge the gap
How can we create a genuinely common agenda for the climate movement and the disarmament movement?
On our way to a peaceful, stable world, we need Just Transitions to bridge the gap
How can we create a genuinely common agenda for the climate movement and the disarmament movement?
The case against airstrikes on Syria
Story of Antigone is being relived today at Habur border crossing between Turkey & Syria. Antigone is an ancient Greek tragedy in which the new ruler Creon decides to put rebel Polyneices’ body to public shame. His body would not be sanctified by holy rites, and lie unburied on the battlefield, prey for carrion animals Read More
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In two of the most daring days in the modern environmental movement, Greenpeace activists set social media ablaze and, despite the Fennica’s moving on toward the Arctic, hailed the action as a ‘historic achievement’
They were two of the most daring days of the modern environmentalist movement: Greenpeace protesters, suspended from a bridge above – and others kayaking against a Royal Dutch Shell icebreaker below.
Thirteen activists hung from the St John’s bridge, while another 13 monitored their ropes from above. Then, on Thursday night in Portland, just when the Greenpeacers thought the Shell ship had turned away and they could fend off $2,500-an-hour fines, the authorities came in.Continue reading...
Campus police departments in America grew from the student-activist unrest of the 1960s and 1970s that culminated in the shooting deaths of four students at Kent State University – and their officers are fully armed servants of the law
The uniforms are different. The badges are different. The bosses are different. Aside from that, the police who patrol the University of Cincinnati’s campus are empowered with virtually the same powers as sworn city police officers.
But on Wednesday, Hamilton county prosecutor Joseph Deters sought to draw a distinction.Continue reading...
Shell’s plan to commence drilling in this untouched region would impact climate change efforts, indigenous populations and the marine environment
Shell is putting corporate profits ahead of our future in its determination to drill in the Arctic. Our elected leaders, most of whom are beholden to corporate interests, won’t act. That’s why some environmentalists are willing to put their lives on the line if need be to stop this insanity.
On Tuesday, Portland “kayaktivists” – activists on kayaks – and Greenpeace workers converged near the drydock to prevent MSV Fennica, Shell Oil’s damaged ice-breaker, from making its way to the Arctic. If it reaches its destination, the ship will pave the way for Shell drilling in a virgin territory.Continue reading...
At least six people were stabbed at Jerusalem’s annual Gay Pride Parade on Thursday. One woman was critically wounded, two men were seriously wounded and another two men and a woman suffered light wounds. Yishai Schlissel, an Ultra Orthodox man from Modiin Ilit who stabbed three participants in the 2005 Gay Pride march was recently released from prison after Read More
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Authorities force back kayakers blocking the path of Royal Dutch Shell ship headed to Arctic oil drilling fields
Authorities have forced protesters in kayaks from a river in Portland, Oregon, where they were trying to stop a Royal Dutch Shell icebreaker from leaving dry dock and joining an Arctic oil drilling operation.
Police also tried to lower protesters who were dangling from a bridge into the water below. Sergeant Pete Simpson said safety was the main priority, and police and coast guard officers were joined by firefighters and a rope-rescue team.Continue reading...
Thirteen protesters rappelled off the St Johns bridge in Portland, Oregon, on Wednesday to protest the departure of the icebreaking ship Fennica, set to sail to the Arctic as part of the firm’s new drilling campaignContinue reading...
In cities across the United States on July 29, the name of Sandra Bland, a woman whose mysterious death in police custody recently made headlines, could be seen bringing light to dark city nights.
The demonstrations were part of a nationwide action to remember Bland and bring attention to her death. Additionally, a petition by the nonprofit activist organization UltraViolet is soon to be delivered to the Department Of Justice and Attorney General Loretta Lynch, seeking a federal investigation into Bland’s death.
“There is going to be a massive petition tomorrow delivered to the Department of Justice demanding an investigation into [Sandra Bland’s] death and accountability for the officers who are responsible,” said Gan Golan, co-founder of the NYC Light Brigade and member of People’s Climate Arts. “And so this action was part of a multi-city action where there are light brigades all across the country going out tonight and spelling out in big lights ‘Say Her Name’ and ‘Sandra Bland’ and other messages like ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘Unite 4 Justice’ to help amplify this call for justice and accountability.”
Bland was found dead in a Waller County, Texas jail cell on July 13, three days after being arrested by Officer Brian Encinia during a stop for a minor traffic violation. Police claim that Bland hanged herself, but Bland’s family and many activists have expressed doubts that she would commit suicide and suspect a murder and cover-up by police. Bland had just moved back to Texas in order to start a new job on August 3 at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University.
When dashcam footage of Bland’s arrest was made public, activists also expressed outrage at how Officer Encinia treated Bland during the stop and the subsequent arrest, commanding her to put out her cigarette and pulling her out of her car when she refused to do so. The released footage also included many obvious visual glitches, such as images being repeated and cars randomly disappearing, which led to claims that the video was edited and leading to even more suspicion of the police story.
The case has since put a spotlight on many other suspicious deaths of people, particularly women of color, while in police custody. Bland’s advocacy and involvement with the Black Lives Matter movement has also galvanized many other members of the movement to put more focus on police violence committed against black women. But for most people following the case, the main question remains the same: What happened to Sandra Bland?
“It’s important to come out for Sandra Bland because we have to name specific individuals,” said Athena Soules, co-founder of the NYC Light Brigade. “This is happening everywhere all the time. People of color are being mistreated by the cops, mistreated and murdered. So I believe the more we speak about specific people, the more we demand an investigation, the more progress can be made moving forward.”
But regardless of how Bland died, many activists still see the police as the ones responsible for her death.
“What happened tonight was a really moving vigil to honor the life of Sandra Bland and to call attention to the incredibly egregious and unjust death, and possible murder, of this innocent woman and to demand that there is actually accountability for the police who are responsible for this,” Golan said. “Whether she was murdered or whether she committed suicide, they are absolutely responsible for what happened to her.”
After the NYC Light Brigade and dozens of supporters gathered near the arch in Washington Square Park on Wednesday night, they held up Bland’s name and chanted “Say her name! Sandra Bland” and “Black lives matter!” Tourists and onlookers also crowded around and took pictures and discussed Bland’s case and the recent shooting of Sam DuBose by police in Cincinnati. New York City police monitored the vigil from a distance as people held up the letters of Bland’s name for as long as they could while speakers expressed their anger and sorrow over what happened to Bland. Whenever one person’s arms started getting weak, other supporters were always willing to step in and help hold up Bland’s name.
“As I like to say, it’s solidarity through light,” Souls said. “When people hold these letters, it shows that people are behind the messages. It’s not just a banner being hung. It’s people holding their arms high, getting tired because they believe in what they’re out here for.”
Thousands of students in Taiwan have stormed and occupied the Ministry of Education to demand an end to the proposed implementation of a China-centric teaching curriculum tomorrow. (July 31) High School student Dai Lin (林冠華)the spokesperson for the Anti-Curriculum Changes Alliance has committed suicide. Yesterday Lin was found dead in his room with a grill Read More
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*All times are Central European Time zone 15:00 – Workers have pierced the police cordon, one worker was injured in the minor clashes. In an attempt to show that they don’t want violence, workers are approaching the building with their hands up. Meanwhile, more backup for police came. In the center of the city, police is blocking occupying the main Read More
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British embassy officials say celebrated Chinese artist failed to declare his record on application – but supporters say he was never actually charged with a crime
The dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has accused British authorities of turning their backs on human rights defenders after UK immigration officials rejected his application for a six-month business visa, claiming he had not declared a criminal conviction in his home country.Continue reading...
In a shock ruling today Justice Coughlan dismissed charges against a protester who was badly assaulted by Gardaí at a pro-Palestinian protest outside the U.S. Embassy in Dublin Ireland. The protester John Rooney was dragged face first across a road and was being restrained by Gardaí (Irish police) while he had a severe epileptic fit. Read More
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Portland OR—26 climbers have formed a blockade off the St. John’s bridge and are prepared to delay Shell’s Arctic icebreaking vessel, the MSV Fennica, as it attempts to leave Portland on the Willamette River. The climbers have secured themselves in place suspended from the bridge with enough supplies to last for days. According to the Read More
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Adam Fish, Lancaster University and Luca Follis, Lancaster University Activists who use technology to conduct political dissent – hacktivists – are increasingly threatened with investigation, prosecution and often disproportionately severe criminal sentences. For example, in January 2015 self-proclaimed Anonymous spokesman Barrett Brown was sentenced to 63 months in prison for hacking-related activities including linking to Read More
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by George LakeyView image | gettyimages.com
When it comes to action, we are pulled by two tendencies that seem compatible but in practice are often in tension. We want our movements to be rational – that is, to strategize well, use resources efficiently, and stay nimble. Yet, on the other hand, we may also want the products of emotion: to experience solidarity, to let empathy connect us with those who haven’t joined us, and to tap the righteous anger that goes with caring about injustice.
In my lifetime social movements have increasingly turned to trainers to increase their learning curve and make actions more effective. However, a movement’s wish to draw on the power of both rationality and emotion poses a challenge for trainers, who are influenced by middle-class bias and traditional education. Class and the academy push trainers to privilege rationality and ignore the wellspring of emotion.
Fortunately, action reasserts the need for both, and training is learning to respond. The movement story in the United States shows the tension, and begins with the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
The civil rights movement didn’t solve this for everyone
The civil rights movement made more breakthroughs than today’s activists have yet caught up with, but that movement’s practice is not a complete answer for us today. I was a trainer in the civil rights movement and saw brilliant use of role play and other experiential tools for preparing to take on white segregationists and brutal police. The tools were helpful in bringing emotions like fear and anger to the surface and, by normalizing them, making them easier to manage.
The fullest positive use of emotion, however, was in the South where black church culture was strongest. Black preachers were experts in mobilizing what they called soul force for the nonviolent struggle, as we can see in the movie “Selma.”
That tradition is not so available for today’s movements, and experiments by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, did not develop an integrated alternative to the preachers’ model. After the civil rights movement faded a few of its members joined others to form in 1971 the Movement for a New Society, or MNS.
In the early days we in MNS discovered “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” a breakthrough book by the best-known initiator of popular education, Brazilian educator Paolo Freire. Popular education takes sides in the class struggle and honors the wisdom of oppressed people, assisting them through dialogue to name their experience, connect the dots and encourage each other to take action. The tools reassure people who have been told they can’t think well, partly through the facilitator asking questions and showing respect, and partly through the experience of thinking out loud and noticing that others in the group are paying attention.
Our trainers enthusiastically used Freire’s approach, finding that it did elicit more fully the rationality of a group. When MNS combined popular education with the action training born in the civil rights movement, our trainers became in demand around the United States and elsewhere. MNS helped the nonviolent anti-nuclear power movement win its remarkable victory in the late 1970s.
However, a curious phenomenon began popping up in MNS workshops: emotional revolts of participants that most often were expressed at the facilitator team, but also at each other. The workshops’ empowerment tools focused on the rational dimension of the participants. In these mini-revolutions, the group’s emotional life was demanding more attention.
A group in Starhawk’s attic yearns for solidarity
The 1999 Battle of Seattle over corporate-led globalization led to a series of mass confrontations with power holders in the United States and elsewhere. Nonviolent trainers went from city to city, facilitating workshops at each convergence. After a few years, leading activist Starhawk and I called trainers together to take stock of how we were doing. We met in her attic in San Francisco.
Trainers reported multiple successes at working in the midst of chaos, as well as limitations. They also raised strategic questions about the value of mass confrontations that had no concrete or achievable goals.
We turned to skill-sharing, which was fun, and comparisons of analytical frameworks. Suddenly the amicable bunch of trainers turned crabby. We found fault with each others’ comments, but especially distrusted the person who happened, by rotation, to be occupying the facilitator’s chair at the time. Participants urged solutions to our unhappiness: “Let’s go into pairs.” “We need a break.” “We should never have left that earlier point of disagreement.” “Maybe a group song would help.”
Nothing worked. I was as lost as anyone while a storm raged within the group. The facilitator looked flattened. One of the participants lost it, dramatically. Then a respected group member expressed vulnerability. Suddenly, the sun came out, we hugged whoever was near us, we laughed and paused for tea.
Only then did I realize we’d experienced an emotional process that sometimes shows up in groups. We started with our “honeymoon” period when everyone was making nice, then began the raw conflict when people showed more of themselves while peacemakers tried the impossible: to find rational solutions to our pain. Finally, we experienced the breakthrough into community and became, to use organizational development jargon, a “high-performance team.”
I remembered that a group generates a storm when its members want to experience acceptance for the deeper layers of themselves, including differences that they have been, up until then, keeping under wraps. In short, they want closeness, because human beings happen to be social animals.
The rational model suggests that group members could state differences and negotiate common ground in order to gain the solidarity needed for action. True enough, for low-risk, low-stakes action. However, movements often have high stakes that require members to endure fatigue and high stress, execute detailed teamwork, take big risks and draw deep support from their comrades. Nearly everyone has seen this in movies, including sports and war movies, in which a team or platoon that includes members who could never get along back home have together gained a win.
Movements often state goals that require this level of struggle to achieve, and so attract participants who expect to find the support to “go there” — but do not find it. Middle-class control trumps effectiveness in those movements, having only its rationality to offer. In Starhawk’s attic those present would not have asked, in so many words, for that bonding — it would have seemed corny or naïve. Instead, we created it emotionally, by storming.
The good news is that facilitators can be trained to recognize the early signs of a storm brewing and techniques for supporting the storm when it comes. The bad news is that facilitators rarely seek that training, or the other techniques for assisting groups to access their unconscious resources. As with traditional education, popular education did not go there.
Trainers invent direct education to support solidarity-based action
The group of activists who founded Training for Change in the 1990s developed over time a training practice that could make the most of what happened in Starhawk’s attic, and harnessed other group dynamics that support empowered action. Training for Change trainers knew the tools of the civil rights movement and the popular education used by MNS, so we started there. However, we also turned to the resource of emotion, incorporating insights on group dynamics reflected in, among other places, Starhawk’s book “Dreaming the Dark” and psychologist Arnold Mindell’s book “Sitting in the Fire.” My book “Facilitating Group Learning” summarizes a decade of discoveries about both the rational and emotional life of the group, and shares methods that work best across many cultural boundaries. Significantly, this was the action training approach that attracted the widest range of groups, from religious organizations to anarchists to nonprofits to labor unions.
Direct education gets push-back from those who limit learning to the conscious, rational realm, including those who believe that social change happens through wielding abstract academic language like “code-switching” or “intersectionality.”
Our experience is that, when groups bring forth real-world conflicts in the training room, participants get the chance to go to a deeper place and experience the behaviors that abstract words were invented to represent. Supporting conflict in the moment even helps some participants to un-hook from the class-formed attachment to words and become more present to what’s really happening. Actions that flow from such a process are more likely to have an impact on the real world of injustice, because those actions come from experience rather than words.
But what about ‘triggers?’
Conflict-friendly pedagogy contradicts a current assumption in anti-oppression circles that the goal in, for example, achieving racial justice is protection. That assumption gives the facilitator the job of outlining rules to prevent conflict. In some classrooms professors are asked to give “trigger alerts” when material is coming that might in some way be experienced as oppressive.
I believe this trend is anti-liberation. It further empowers power holders, asking authorities (in this case, teachers) to take even more responsibility to monitor and control. It disempowers those who have suffered oppression, by assuming they can’t stand up for themselves when an insult appears. It excuses facilitators from the task of supporting participants to develop the muscles to fight for their own liberation.
The vision implicit in the current trend is to produce hot-house plants who can bloom only with shelter, called a “safe place.” That vision leaves me indignant: my gay and working-class self has grown in personal power in the real world where micro-aggressions abound. In fact, living in the real world helps motivate me to fight for broader change rather than retreat into yet another version of privilege where I will be insulated from the real world.
This well-meaning vision is, because of its classist roots, a version of the gated community.
Trauma survivors need and deserve support. Checking with the facilitator ahead of time might devise options that empower. Depending on the person’s own degree of healing, a particular workshop may or may not work for them. That may especially be true of train-the-trainer workshops, because new trainers need to unlearn reactivity and stay present with aggression that surfaces in a learning group.
The origin of direct education, with its roots in the civil rights movement and its use among oppressed groups that do stand up, insists on a distinction between safety and comfort. In a workshop the facilitator assists members of a group to be both safe and uncomfortable, because discomfort is where the greatest learning and growth are.
Needless to say, today’s movements need the steepest learning curve they can generate.