Waging Nonviolence

While the Amazon burns, Brazil’s indigenous peoples rise up

A record outbreak of fires is incinerating the Amazon, the largest remaining tropical rainforest in the world, which is home to at least one in every 10 species of plants and animals on Earth and millions of indigenous people.

Rather than working for environmental preservation, Jair Bolsonaro, the recently elected president of Brazil, is committed to opening up the Amazon to business. He has also refused to recognize the rights of indigenous peoples — who are facing a wave of increasing attacks and threats — to their ancestral land. Wealth instead of well-being seems to be Bolsonaro’s priority, which is why many are calling him the “Tropical Trump.”

“If you open up and destroy these [rainforest] territories, not only does it spell genocide for the people who live there, but it’s also catastrophic for all of humanity in terms of our fight against climate change,” Survival International senior researcher Sarah Shenker told Earther. By far, the best way to combat climate change is to protect indigenous territories.”

Indigenous Brazilians are now on a mission to remind society that they exist and are battling against the colonial tactics of governments and corporations, which see them — and the rain forest — as obstacles to economic development.

“We Indians are like plants. How can we live without our soil, without our land?” asked Marta, from the Guarani tribe, in a report by Survival Brazil. “We exist. I want to tell the world that we are alive and want to be respected as peoples.”

Making the invisible visible

There are approximately 800,000 indigenous people in Brazil. Although they make up less than one percent of the Brazilian population, there are 305 ethnic groups and 274 unique languages among them. Most live in the Amazon region, where they have found the resources and conditions needed to sustain their way of life for generations. Some tribes still have no contact with modern society.

In April, an estimated 4,000 indigenous people from many different tribes gathered for three days in Brazil’s capital to protest for their rights, demonstrate their traditions and debate with congressional leaders. This nonviolent mobilization, called Free Land Camp, has taken place every year since 2004 and is organized by the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil, or APIB — an alliance of indigenous communities and organizations from several regions of the country. This year’s assembly denounced the growing attacks against their peoples and lands, proposed changes to the current government’s anti-indigenous policies and demanded justice.

APIB was created to unite, mobilize and strengthen the defense of indigenous peoples and their constitutional rights. Its executive coordinator — Sônia Guajajara, a 44-year-old indigenous woman with a degree in special education — is a key figure in the national indigenous movement. In 2010, she handed a “Golden Chainsaw” award to Kátia Abreu, the former minister of agriculture, to protest amendments to the Brazilian Forest Code that would increase deforestation rates for agribusiness growth. She has already participated in several United Nations climate change conferences and international events, where she denounced threats against the indigenous peoples of Brazil.

An indigenous woman protests in front of the National Congress in Brazil’s capital during Free Land Camp in 2017. (Agência Brasil/ José Cruz)

“We have already advanced a lot. We are showing ourselves, participating, discussing and bringing our voice,” Guajajara said in an interview with the Amazon Environmental Research Institute. “[But] we still need to work on raising awareness of society as a whole to support the process of indigenous lands demarcation because when we have land demarcated and protected, we are preserving a good that is for everyone.”

Indigenous youth are also using social media to spread their messages and amplify their voices. Twenty-seven-year-old indigenous Brazilian Erisvan Bone — along with other young indigenous people — created Mídia Índia in 2017. The project uses social networks such as Facebook and Instagram to disseminate content that discusses important issues among indigenous peoples and also educates society at large. At the same time, Mídia Índia works to make indigenous cultural diversity and traditions — usually portrayed in a stereotypical way — better known within and beyond the Brazilian society.

“The goal is to give voice to traditional peoples [in Brazil] and visibility to their struggle and resistance, at a time of attacks and loss of rights,” explained Bone in a report by Instituto NET Claro Embratel. “It is to bring facts of reality told by ourselves and show that the indigenous can be protagonists of their history.”

Meanwhile, 20-year-old Cristian Wariu, an indigenous Brazilian who grew up outside his family’s tribal territory, has been using YouTube as a weapon against discrimination and ethnocide. He created a channel on the platform two years ago where he talks about his own indigenous culture, differences across indigenous lifestyles and recent demonstrations. The most-watched video on his channel — titled “What it’s like to be indigenous in the 21st century” — has over 40,000 views so far.

“Long ago, I realize that people who are not part of our culture have a certain prejudice against indigenous peoples,” Wariu told the BBC. “Whenever I explain things better, they come to respect us more. I saw YouTube as an opportunity to reach more people and explain to them about our [misunderstood] culture.”

Changing roles, changing rules

Since the beginning of this year, illegal mining has exploded in the Yanomami indigenous territory, in the Brazilian Amazon, where tribal leaders have reported the presence of more than 10,000 illegal miners on their land. It is the largest invasion since the land was demarcated in 1992, which the Yanomami people have exclusive use of according to the law.

On July 23, several gold miners invaded the Wajãpi community and cruelly stabbed the tribe leader to death. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet promptly issued a public statement saying, “The murder of Emrya Wajãpi … is a disturbing symptom of the growing problem of encroachment on indigenous land — especially forests — by miners, loggers and farmers in Brazil.”

For a long time Brazil has been one of the world’s most dangerous countries for land and forest defenders — approximately one million people were involved in rural conflicts in the country, many of which happened inside indigenous territories, in 2018 alone. But under Bolsonaro’s administration, land invasions, killings and displacement of indigenous peoples are becoming the rule rather than the exception.

“This violence generated against indigenous peoples arose from the lack of recognition of indigenous lands, the extreme degree of discrimination against indigenous peoples and the impunity on what happens over indigenous lands,” explained Brazil’s first indigenous lawyer Joenia Wapichana in an interview with the Indigenous Missionary Council.

Last year, Wapichana also became the first indigenous woman ever elected to be a federal deputy, and the second indigenous person to have a seat in the Chamber of Deputies in the history of the country. In her new role, she is working to end violence against indigenous peoples, combat corruption and promote sustainable development. And she is not alone in this quest. There has been an increase in indigenous candidates in national elections over the past five years, including a record 56 percent rise in the number of indigenous candidates last year alone.

This year, the indigenous lobby has already shown signs of its strength. It helped block one of Bolsonaro’s first moves after taking power: an attempt to transfer the authority of the National Indian Foundation — that oversees indigenous land issues — to the Ministry of Agriculture, which traditionally favors interests of agribusiness and extractive industries.

Defending the defenders

From 2005 to 2012, deforestation rates in the Brazilian Amazon dropped by about 70 percent, thanks to effective environmental policies and zero-deforestation commitments adopted in the country by the government and corporations. However, these strategies haven’t been maintained and the situation has been worsening in recent years.

Deforestation and wildfires in the Brazilian Amazon hit a record high this year and scientists are arguing it is not by accident. The widely respected Brazilian Space Research Institute has detected that over 2,400 square miles of rainforest have been lost in the last 12 months, which is equivalent to an area eight times the size of the city of New York. This represents a 48 percent increase in rainforest loss over the previous year. (President Bolsonaro, who has been called “Captain Chainsaw,” insists that this scientific data is a lie.) These trends, if maintained, will likely pose serious threats to all forms of life on Earth.

Now, while many are praying for someone to “save the Amazon,” indigenous peoples are looking to technology to combat forest destruction, land grabs and climate change. The IPAM, a scientific, non-governmental and non-profit organization that works for the sustainable development of the Amazon, recently developed a cell phone app called “Alerta Clima Indígena to help indigenous Brazilians find and share alerts about fires, illegal practices in the forest and climate data.

“The app is currently being used by indigenous brigades to combat forest fires under the supervision of IBAMA [the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources],” said IPAM Senior Researcher Paulo Moutinho. He also explained that there are important success stories that haven’t been disclosed yet, and that they are now seeking resources to expand this initiative together with indigenous leaders and related public organizations.

Although not every indigenous person has a phone or access to the internet, technology is becoming popular particularly among the youth. “Our traditional knowledge of management is no longer enough, we need new tools,” Kayapó tribe member Paxton Metuktire told IPAM. “We need to combine our knowledge with your technology to counteract the impacts and maintain our lands, [which is] fundamental to the survival of our people.”

How the youth-led climate strikes became a global mass movement

It began as a call to action from a group of youth activists scattered across the globe, and soon became what is shaping up to be the largest planet-wide protest for the climate the world has ever seen.

The Global Climate Strike, which kicks off on Sept. 20, will not be the first time people all over the world have taken action for the climate on a single day. But if things play out the way organizers hope, it could mark a turning point for the grassroots resistance to fossil fuels.

“Strikes are happening almost everywhere you can think of,” said Jamie Margolin, a high school student from Seattle who played a role in initiating this global movement. “People are participating in literally every place in the world.”

“Suddenly there’s this entire new generation of activists calling out everyone no matter who they are for not doing enough, and that’s woken people up.”

Starting Friday and continuing throughout the following week, thousands or possibly millions of people will participate in actions calling on governments to address the climate crisis. From elementary school students organizing walk-outs, to experienced activists planning nonviolent disruption in major cities, people will call attention to the moral urgency of climate change by interrupting business as usual.

“It’s a galvanizing moment for the climate movement, which frankly has been losing the battle up to now,” said Jake Woodier of the UK Student Climate Network, which is organizing for the strike in London and other cities across the United Kingdom. “Suddenly there’s this entire new generation of activists calling out everyone no matter who they are for not doing enough, and that’s woken people up.”

As is nearly always the case for large social movements, momentum for the Climate Strike came from many different people in different places. But if its origins can be traced to a specific event, it would probably be a 2018 march spearheaded by the youth-led organization Zero Hour, which Margolin co-founded a year earlier with a small group of other young activists — mainly students of color.

The Zero Hour youth climate march took place on July 21 of last year in Washington, D.C. and was preceded two days earlier by a day of lobbying on Capitol Hill, along with other student-led events all over the United States. Hundreds of young people joined the D.C. action despite rainy weather, drawing considerable media attention and shining a spotlight on how Generation Z is disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis. But what hardly anyone could have guessed was that behind the scenes, Zero Hour had put in motion a series of events that would lead to an even larger, worldwide mobilization led by young people.

Jamie Margolin speaking to a crowd of youth climate activists. (Facebook/Zero Hour)

On the other side of the Atlantic, Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, 15 years old at the time, had been reading news about Zero Hour online and was inspired by its leaders’ vision of a distinctively youth-led movement. She began following organizers like Margolin on social media, and soon the teens from different continents were communicating about climate activism over the internet. On August 20, 2018, Thunberg staged her first “climate strike,” skipping school to protest for climate action outside the Swedish parliament. The following month she launched the ongoing “Fridays for Future” strikes, inviting other students to join her in holding school walkouts every week.

“Greta Thunberg’s actions sparked a movement,” Woodier said. “In a world where we’re often made to feel individualized and atomized, that we’re small and can’t make a difference, she has been a massive inspiration to many young people.”

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  • In late 2018, Thunberg began attending intergovernmental climate meetings in Europe, including a U.N. summit in Poland. She wasn’t the first young person to show up at the United Nations and call on leaders to take action, but there was something unique about her approach.

    For one thing, Thunberg was decidedly more pointed than her predecessors in calling out policymakers’ inaction, telling the leaders in Poland, “You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess. You are not mature enough to tell it like it is.” For thousands of people around the world who were fed up with decades of government inertia, her tone was a welcome change.

    Moreover, several converging factors contributed to Thunberg’s activism coming at the perfect time. The climate movement has — over the last decade — been getting gradually better at organizing coordinated actions across continents, making possible the rapid spread of new tactics. At the same time, in the United States, the high school student-led March for Our Lives against gun violence provided a model for what a mass youth movement could look like. Finally, with extreme weather hammering nearly every part of the world, more people are waking up to the urgency of the climate crisis, making them receptive to Thunberg’s message. As a well-spoken member of the generation that will bear the costs of climate change more than any other alive today, Thunberg was the perfect movement spokesperson to harness the opportunity created by these events. Soon her addresses to world leaders were going viral on YouTube.

    Meanwhile, the Fridays for Future movement was growing — especially in Europe, where it has had the most influence so far. In July, German Chancellor Angela Merkel cited pressure from youth activists as one reason her government plans to move more aggressively to curb carbon emissions. Across much of Europe, the strike movement has helped put climate change higher on the political agenda for both policymakers and voters. A Green Party surge in May’s E.U. parliamentary elections is possibly the most concrete sign yet of the movement’s impact. But the strikes quickly spread beyond Europe.

    There are now nearly 700 strikes scheduled in the United States, and hundreds of others in 117 countries across the globe.

    By early 2019, school strikes were taking place in countries including the United States, Brazil, India and Australia. Then, over the spring and summer, calls started coming for a new escalation of the movement — one led by youth, but with participation from people of all ages. The idea was for a worldwide strike where people would leave school, work or other daily tasks to join protests for climate action.

    The date chosen to kick off the planet-wide strike coincides with the lead-up to an emergency climate summit, called by U.N. Secretary-Gen. António Guterres and is scheduled to begin in New York on Sept. 23. Many see this U.N. gathering — intended as an opportunity for countries to strengthen their goals under the Paris climate agreement — as being itself a direct reaction to the grassroots pressure governments are feeling.

    “This climate action summit was called in response to the worsening climate crisis and pressure from the strike movement,” Woodier said. “That’s a reversal from the past, when climate organizers planned demonstrations in response to official events set in stone long beforehand.”

    Greta Thunberg (center) joined other climate striking youth in New York City last month. (Twitter/@GretaThunberg)

    Thunberg has been invited to address the U.N. meeting, and a special youth summit will be attended by teens from around the world, including Margolin. On August 28, Thunberg arrived in New York after crossing the Atlantic in an emissions-free yacht. She had barely set foot on U.S. soil before joining a youth-led climate protest outside the U.N. headquarters. Meanwhile, the Global Climate Strike has been endorsed by close to 200 organizations in the U.S. alone, and hundreds more internationally.

    While the largest demonstrations will take place in major cities, strike actions are also making waves in smaller towns, even within fossil fuel-producing states. “I expect our growing local climate movement will bring out more people for the strike than we’ve ever seen before,” said Jeff Smith, co-chair of 350 Montana, one of several organization involved in planning a series of strike actions in Missoula. “I expect the crowds alone will be enough to dominate our local news cycle.”

    In the United States, national organizations encouraging their members to join the strikes include Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, Sunrise Movement, Oil Change International, MoveOn, Food and Water Watch and many others. According to the international climate group 350.org, there are now nearly 700 strikes scheduled in the United States, and hundreds of others in 117 countries across the globe.

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  • 350.org has a good amount of experience with this type of international climate mobilization. The organization initiated the first truly large-scale day of action specifically devoted to climate change in October 2009. It took place in the lead-up to that year’s U.N. climate negotiations in Copenhagen and was meant to push delegates to adopt a strong, binding international climate treaty. The idea that such a goal could have been successful at that point may appear naïve in hindsight, but at the time it didn’t seem so unreasonable. The United States had recently elected Barack Obama as its president, and even many climate activists had yet to realize just how deeply entrenched fossil fuel money was in the halls of government.

    Indeed, the 2009 day of global action was largely a festive, celebratory affair. Groups posed for photos with banners in front of melting alpine glaciers and other landmarks affected by climate change. There was lots of artwork and relatively few truly large marches. This made sense for a global movement that was just finding its feet — at a time when it genuinely seemed like world leaders might be gently prodded into doing the right thing. But with international progress on climate change largely stalled, legislative action in the United States nonexistent, and the ascendancy of right-wing leaders like Donald Trump, the mood of the climate movement has changed dramatically.

    “Folks watching the science understand we are now in the runaway phase of climate catastrophe,” said Nadine Bloch, an organizer with #ShutDownDC, which is planning an action to bring work in the U.S. Capitol to a standstill next week. “The urgency of being on fire has finally been heeded by folks outside traditional activist communities.” The Global Climate Strike will take place just 10 years shy of the 2009 mobilization, and it will include larger and more escalated demonstrations. Its message — that action on climate change takes precedence over school and day jobs — reflects this increased urgency.

    Yet, while the word “strike” connotes a more militant type of nonviolent action than photo shoots and rallies, not everyone shares the same vision of what it looks like. “In the United States in particular, a lot of people don’t understand what a strike actually is,” Bloch said. “They’re still talking about getting permits for protests, which isn’t a true strike.” #ShutDownDC envisions something more disruptive, though nonviolent. “We’re planning to interrupt business as usual in the seat of government power where leaders are refusing to acknowledge the climate crisis or take responsibility.”

    “I’m motivated by two things: What I’m for and what I’m against,” Margolin said.

    Activists are also planning for how to carry momentum from the strike forward into other youth-led movements. “Dismay at government inaction has led people to get involved in the climate strikes,” said Gracie Brett of Divest Ed, which works with over 70 campus-based fossil fuel divestment campaigns. “This same urgency has led to the divestment movement getting a second wind recently. It offers an opportunity to be involved beyond the strike.”

    Jamie Margolin also sees the strike as a way to bring larger numbers of young people into the climate movement. “A lot of people aren’t initially attracted to the nitty gritty organizing, which is the vast majority of the work that goes into climate activism,” she said. “But if you say to them, ‘Hey do you want to join this mass action?’ — that attracts nearly everyone. Mobilizations like the strike are a point of entry to the wider movement.”

    Margolin, who originally helped inspire Greta Thunberg’s activism, has since followed her lead by regularly striking from school. She has relatives in Colombia and is motivated by the knowledge of how climate change will impact both her current home and the place of her family’s origins. In this sense, she has much in common with other young people in an increasingly diverse and international climate movement — where teenagers and young adults use the internet to coordinate actions across continents and oceans.

    “I’m motivated by two things: What I’m for and what I’m against,” Margolin said. “I’m fighting to protect the beautiful Pacific Northwest where I live today, and the beautiful Amazon Rainforest in the place my family is from. But I’m also fighting against the handful of people at the top of a handful of corporations who are literally destroying life on Earth for the other seven billion of us.”

    While Britain’s Parliament is suspended, its arms fair is open for business

    Activists with Trident Ploughshares and Extinction Rebellion used a boat to shut down a road in London last week, preventing arms dealers from reaching the DSEI fair. (Twitter/@CNDuk)

    In any other week, the arrival of the world’s largest arms fair to Britain would have been big news. Thirty-six thousand people are expected to attend the Defense and Security Equipment International fair, which opens on Tuesday. More than 10 percent of the governments on the official invite list are recognized by the U.K. government as having seriously problematic human rights records. Among them are Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Israel and — until they withdrew their delegation — Hong Kong.

    But this hasn’t been an ordinary week. United by the decision to suspend Parliament — a move that was labelled by opponents as an attempted coup — MPs used their remaining few days together to pass legislation designed to impede a “no deal” exit from the European Union. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s threat to sack politicians of his own party who supported the measure backfired when Parliament also refused an immediate election, leaving Johnson stranded without a majority.

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  • Broad coalition escalates campaign against London arms fair
  • While the tanks on the streets en route to the fair might not have received much media coverage, the new prime minister’s misogynist-militarist language has. It began when he branded supporters of the law discouraging “no deal” a “surrender bill.” It was then revealed that in cabinet papers he had called former Prime Minister David Cameron a “girly swot” and — while sitting in Parliament — decided to goad opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn by calling him a “big girl’s blouse.”

    These jibes might seem a long way from the tanks and guns of war, but the peace movement has long pointed out the link between toxic masculinity (especially hetero-masculinity) and militarism. In the school yard where male status has been typically defined by willingness to engage in fighting, and boys who refuse to inflict pain on others have been called “girl” or “faggot.” This is the start of socialization to a world in which most of the world’s soldiers are men, as are the majority of the politicians who send them to war. Meanwhile it is often women who are the worst affected by armed conflict.

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  • In pursuit of a more peaceful world, seven consecutive days of protests have disrupted deliveries to the exhibition center where the arms fair is held. Peaceful sit down protests in the road have led to more than 100 arrests with hundreds more taking part. A notable aspect of the organization of the actions is an emphasis on co-operation, welfare and mutual support.

    The borough council for the area where the arms fair happens has voted to do all it can to stop the arms fair from returning. In perhaps the most high profile intervention, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has called the fair “abhorrent” and said he too will take any opportunity available to prevent the arms fair in future. Maleness and militarism don’t need to go together.

    It is cruelly symbolic that even as the prime minister closes the doors on Parliament, his government opens the doors of the arms fair. By its presence though, the peace movement has shown that there’s a different way of doing things waiting at the gate.

    Lessons on overcoming fear from the overlooked 2003 global justice victory in Cancún

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    The following excerpt is from Lisa Fithian’s new book “Shut It Down: Stories From a Fierce, Loving Resistance” and is reprinted with permission from Chelsea Green Publishing.

    The 2003 global justice mobilization in Cancún, Mexico, is a relatively untold story, though the ministerial conference there collapsed, just as in Seattle. At that time in the United States, there was a debate about local versus global activism, with some making the argument that international summit-hopping was just for the privileged few. Many chose to stay home. This was unfortunate, because local organizers in the Global South could have benefited from material support from the Global North, and organizers from the Global North could have benefited from the wisdom of the indigenous resistance.

    I became involved via my participation in the Root Activist Network of Trainers, or RANT, a small trainers collective founded in 2000 by Starhawk, Hilary McQuie and myself. Star and I attended an international planning meeting in Mexico City in November 2002 that included representatives from 89 Mexican organizations and 53 international ones from 16 countries [spanning Central and South America, Southeast Asia, Europe and the United States.]

    There was a general consensus that agricultural and environmental policy, including GMO policy, protection of forests, and energy extraction, should not be governed by the World Trade Organization, or WTO. The call to defend the water, forests and food sovereignty — defined as the right to eat, produce and decide agricultural policies locally — was very strong. An overall strategy was articulated that included support for developing countries to resist the WTO, breaking consensus between the European Union and United States on key issues, national civil society campaigns, and mass mobilization and street protest.

    Starhawk and I traveled extensively to support the mobilization. We worked with a group of youth from Mexico City who formed the Global Alliance S9. Their slogans were “We Say No to Institutional Violence” and “We Support Legitimate Self Defense.” We did a big training with them, and Star and I still remember the dirty, sweat-filled wrestling mats we slept on in a gym. RANT raised over $10,000 to pay for buses to take them to Cancún. These students were inspiring and experienced, sophisticated organizers. We also met with organizers and local activists in Cancún, many of whom were working with a global network of NGOs called Our World Is Not for Sale, along with Puente a Cancún (Bridge to Cancún), a collaborative of Mexican, Irish and U.S. activists. La Vía Campesina, the international peasants movement, was a big player, bringing thousands of campesinos to the mobilization.

    Cancún mirrors many problems and realities that the neoliberal world brings, especially the extremes of wealth and poverty. This land, on the northeast tip of the Yucatán Peninsula and historically inhabited by Mayan people, was mostly undeveloped prior to the 1970s, when the Mexican government decided to develop this lush, tropical region as a tourist destination. Today it is comprised of Cancún Centro, a city center on the mainland, and a resort area along a narrow strip of land that juts into the Caribbean. The former is a poor working-class city while the peninsula is a playground for the rich.

    In advance of the mobilization, we rented a four-story white building near Parque de las Palapas, the main city center park, to house our art making, meetings and legal support — along with a nearby house for the medics and a big space for the media center. Another location, Casa de Cultura, had large meeting spaces and was where the La Vía Campesina contingent would be sleeping. Together we partnered with a group of young punks from Mexico City to construct a model eco-village in the open fields to the north of Casa de Cultura. (In advance of the summit, they had given us a tour of their permaculture projects in the south of Mexico City.) In the fields we constructed solar showers, a solar oven, an educational display, and ingenious handwashing stations that used collected rainwater and a bike pump with funnels for basins that recycled that water back into the soil. This was real infrastructure that supported La Vía Campesina during their stay in Cancún, while also educating the thousands of people who came through that space about low-cost, simple systems to reproduce in their own communities.

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    [The first day of the ministerial was marked by the death of Lee Kyung-hae, president of the Federation of Farmers and Fishermen of Korea, who took his own life in protest of the WTO’s trade policies on South Korean farmers.] On the second day, we went forward with a powerful, youth-led, fiery night march filled with the clanging of pots and pans. It was called a cacerolazo, which was first used in Chile in 1971 during protests against food shortage. When this march approached Kilometer Zero and the memorial [to Brother Lee that was] under way, it went dead silent as everyone raised their fists in the air.

    We were more determined than ever to get into the Hotel Zone. The unique geography of Cancún made it easy for the government to keep us out; there were only two roadway entrances to the narrow strip of beach, one coming from the airport to the south, the other from the mainland to the north. It was nearly impossible for us to figure out an effective action from the south, and the government erected not one but two security fences to the north. The first, at Kilometer Zero, was breached the first day. The second, more elaborate fence was about a third of a kilometer farther down the road. We did not think we could break that fence or actually get to the ministerial itself. We were wrong.

    It didn’t seem realistic to enter the Hotel Zone en masse, but a smaller, disruptive action seemed possible if we could get into the zone. Our planning meetings were exhausting. Ideas arose, then fizzled out as the tactical impossibilities were discussed. Then a plan emerged — Operation Ballpark! What if we went into the zone as tourists? We could enter in small groups of just two or three, dressed the part, then converge around the Hard Rock Cafe and blockade the road next to the convention center. We would do this at dinnertime, when the ministerial’s delegates would be out and about at nearby restaurants.

    Early that evening Star, Juniper, our friend Brush and I drove in our rental car down Boulevard Kukulcan, easily passing through the checkpoint. We watched as the beautiful jungle scenery gave way to hotels, sparse at first, then densely packed. We parked near the Hard Rock Cafe and got some ice cream — great cover, and one of Star’s favorite things. Looking around, I saw others from our group milling about, staging as tourists, getting out of taxis, browsing at souvenir shops. So far, so good.

    Abruptly, as planned, a group of young folks bolted into the road. Taking their lead, the rest of us flowed into the streets. Out of inconspicuous tourists’ bags we pulled drums and bags of seeds. Some drummed and chanted, some sat down across the road, some danced in a spiral around two fruit trees, calling on the elements of earth, air, fire and water to be with us. We called on spirit to help in the healing of the environment against the ravages of globalized corporate industry. The road was blocked.

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    I called our media team to let them know we had taken the road, and they called some of our friends inside the ministerial, including Antonia Juhasz from the International Forum on Globalization who joined us in the street. She and other representatives with mainstream NGOs were credentialed to attend the meetings. Soon the media arrived and the sidewalks filled with onlookers. The police stood at the periphery, not making a move. As the evening grew dark, we gathered in an impromptu spokes council to decide our next move. Luke Anderson, a writer and organizer from California, urged everyone to acknowledge that we had achieved our goal and that it was wiser to be part of another action tomorrow than to go to jail. Part of the art of action is knowing when to end an action, and to me, this was a clear ending point. Much to our surprise, the police offered two luxury buses to transport us back to wherever we wanted to go. Those without cars took the buses back to Kilometer Zero.

    That night, we gathered together and worked late with the Koreans, discussing plans to tear down the second security fence. I was skeptical, but the Koreans were confident it could be done. They were unyielding, carrying a fierceness I can only describe as the spirit of Brother Lee working through them. They presented the plan of using ropes to tear down the fence, and a Mexican woman proposed that the women should go first, cutting the fence to weaken it before the ropes. I was thrilled. We had been dealing with a lot of sexism, part of the Mexican culture and also deeply rooted in some of the international male organizers, including some from the States, who had arrived in Cancún full of arrogance, assuming leadership in pretty unskillful ways. There had been growing frustration among the women.

    We presented our plan to the delegates assembly at La Casa de Cultura the next morning, and much to our surprise they all agreed. I raced to the nearest hardware store and bought every bolt cutter they had, along with wire cutters and heavy-duty pliers.

    By 10 a.m. we were ready. Thousands of us marched toward Kilometer Zero, including thousands of indigenous people in their beautifully woven clothes. The Koreans wore their tan vests and floppy sun hats, the students sang and banged on drums, and the Infernal Noise Brigade, from Seattle, brought great energy to the march. Several pushed the giant puppet my friend Gan Golan had built of Chac — the Mayan god of rain, thunder and lightning — and we asked for Chac’s support as we traveled the road that led to the ministerial.

    At Kilometer Zero we paused to honor Brother Lee, then walked toward the new fence that had been erected 100 meters closer to the Hotel Zone. The women coalesced into formation, row upon row of us wearing bandannas around our foreheads or as masks. We had learned from the Zapatistas that masking your face is a way to be seen. Before reaching the fence, we linked arms, feeling happy, excited and free. There was a crack of thunder and a brief rain poured down, cooling us all. The gods were with us! We were in our full power as we chanted “Bella Ciao,” an Italian anti-fascist song of resistance. Years later, I realized how appropriate it was in light of Lee’s suicide.

    The fence was just ahead, and it was formidable. Massive sections of thick, chain-linked metal were reinforced from behind with eight-foot boxes of steel and topped with barbed wire. Behind that were barricades, then battalions of riot police. I passed the tools out to the women and, singing our hearts out, we cut and unscrewed. The police did nothing, perhaps having confidence in the steel wall between us. Little by little, section by section, we weakened the chains and the links. As we worked, the men behind us kept pushing forward, wanting to break through the fence before it was ready to come down. Other men held the impatient ones back until we had completed our work.

    Lisa Fithian pulling the ropes attached to the police barricades. (Chelsea Green Publishing)

    Next it was the Koreans’ turn. Several of them came forward and tied the rope to the fence, then stretched the long ropes out into the crowd. When the ropes were tied tightly to the fence and secured in everyone’s hands, the man at the front yelled, “Pull!”

    The road was wide open before us, along with hundreds of riot police with their water cannons, tear gas, and Darth Vader suits, plus the brown-clothed, unarmed peasants the police had conscripted to add to their numbers. There was a moment of stillness, as nobody, police and demonstrator alike, had planned for what would happen next. We all sat down, forming rows as the Koreans lit candles in the road. We held this space for about an hour, then the Koreans led a chant, “Down, Down, WTO,” as we all rose together, drumming and singing. We marched back to Kilometer Zero, marching with joy, giving all we could to say “No Más, No More, the WTO Must Go.”

    The ministerial itself was several kilometers away. We would not get there, but we didn’t need to. We had opened the way, a political space that the state had closed.

    The next morning, news came that the Kenyan delegates — representing the desires of the Group of 22 developing nations — refused to go along with the WTO’s agricultural deal. They walked out, and the ministerial collapsed, again. There would be no deal. It was an overwhelming sight to behold as our beloved community at Kilometer Zero broke out in joy, hugging, singing, crying and dancing.

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    In Cancún, we demonstrated peacefully and powerfully with our humanity, our creativity and our hearts. Unlike in Prague and Genoa, the police did not attack, and therefore there was no violence. We voiced our opposition to the WTO through action, and the delegates inside the ministerial were emboldened to step away from deals that would have continued to do harm to their people and their lands.

    A few months later, in November, we mobilized again against the Free Trade Area of the Americas, or FTAA, at a summit in Miami. This led to the final unraveling of the deal we had first protested in Quebec. Bolstered by our street actions and emboldened by the growing collaborations and solidarity within the global justice movement, delegations inside the negotiating rooms from Central and South America said no. The FTAA was finished for good.

    These lessons from the global justice movement are needed now more than ever. With the rise of right-wing populism, many are afraid of violence, and fear leads to confusion and division. It is the empire’s most powerful tool for social control. We may be afraid, but we can still act. We don’t all have to agree on the best way forward, and we can work together with respect and agreements. There is no one way; there are many ways. This is what the Zapatistas have taught us: “One no, many yeses.” Our solidarity despite our differences in the midst of courageous, creative and collective action is the sweet spot where the greatest changes are possible.

    Anti-racists turn out en masse as far right gains new ground in Germany

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    Following parliamentary elections on Sunday, the far right party Alternative for Deutschland, or AfD, became the second strongest party in the East German states of Brandenburg and Saxony. This means that two-thirds of the population living in Saxony, for example, have chosen strongly conservative to far right wing values.

    By taking a substantial number of votes from the two leading parties — the Social Democratic Party and the Christian Democratic Union — AfD will receive more state funding for its anti-immigrant initiatives. This outcome is far from surprising, as AfD’s support base has steadily increased since it was founded in 2013.

    The AfD’s new role is a major win for the right in Germany. After emerging onto the electoral scene with a strong anti-immigration position, the AfD has come under sharp criticism in recent years. From campaigns against feminism and LGBTQI struggles to controversial coalitions at the local level, the AfD has consistently raised questions about the party’s connection to violent and extremist groups.

    For instance, in August 2018, representatives of the AfD joined with anti-Muslim organization Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West and neo-Nazi party The Third Way in a series of racist riots in the city of Chemnitz. Citing the fatal stabbing of a German man allegedly by a refugee, groups of men chased down people they perceived to be refugees or immigrants. “Germany for Germans” and “Foreigners out!” became unifying positions for a range of white supremacist groups. While these messages and coalitions persist, Saxony has seen a 38 percent increase in violent attacks since 2017.

    Far right group PRO-Chemnitz organized a demonstration on August 25, one year after a German man was allegedly killed by a refugee. (Henrik Merker)

    The ground that AfD gained on Sunday did not go unchallenged. On Saturday, August 24, over 40,000 people took to the streets in Dresden, the East German capital of Saxony, sending a preemptive message to AfD and the neo-Nazi network supporting it. Protesters declared the anti-racist majority to be “unteilbar,” or indivisible, and said “solidarität verteidigen”  — defend solidarity.

    In reaction to the 2018 events in Chemnitz, people began organizing “unteilbar” demonstrations in order to build a strong anti-racist movement. In October 2018, 240,000 people took over Berlin. In July 2019, 7,500 people kept the momentum going in Leipzig. This time in Dresden, churches, migrant organizations, artists, young people representing Fridays for Future, the youth climate movement inspired by 15-year-old Greta Thunberg, and even German pop musicians were in attendance.

    Previous Coverage
  • Anti-fascists won’t let Germany return to normal after weak verdict in neo-Nazi trial
  • Of the 40,000 people who came to challenge the politics of hate, 10,000 took part in the Parade-Power-Block, an explicitly anti-racist and anti-fascist contingent. Welcome United, Nationalism is Not an Alternative, the NSU-Komplex Tribunal, Iuventa 10 and Initiative of Black Germans set the tone that anti-racism and anti-fascism are intersecting struggles, desperately needed under the influence of the far right. Thousands of “Migrantifa” stickers were plastered along the demonstration route, making the connection that migration is a normal part of society, as is resistance to fascism. 

    “I’ve been living in Dresden for 10 years,” said Hannah Zimmerman, a staff member of the Chemnitz-based Offener Prozess, or Open Process — a political education nonprofit dedicated to fostering global perspectives. “I’ve been to many demonstrations here. Mostly we were a social minority and often criminalized or discredited by the media because we were disobedient and opposed to the Nazis. Taking to the streets with so many people and demonstrating together for an open and plural society was a strong sign [that our movement is being taken seriously].”

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    Moving forward, activists and organizers concerned with democracy and the safety of all people are asking important questions, such as: How will the AfD shape the discourse of the parties in the governing coalition? What compelled several hundred thousand new voters to mobilize for AfD? What will the next five years bring? And how do anti-racist struggles stay visible and connected, especially in areas that have fewer resources or are located in smaller towns and villages?

    “It will be a really difficult five years, but I have no plans to leave,” said Anne Gersch, a staff member of Courage — a project that facilitates anti-discrimination trainings in schools throughout Saxony. “There are many of us who are staying and [who will] keep on working to discuss discimination in our society.”

    For many living in eastern states, the work will continue. Yet, longtime anti-racist organizations working in Saxony anticipate new challenges. For instance, SUPPORT, a project that provides counseling to victims of right-wing violence, expects that the new government will favor projects less critical of far right violence to do their work. “It might deter victims to report incidents,” said Andre Löscher, a counselor with SUPPORT. This means staying visible and available to victims, especially in smaller villages or towns, is incredibly important.

    Despite the election results, the fight against racism is growing. The shift in political terrain has created new anti-racist formations. For instance, the pressure of racist attacks has increased refugee self-organization. Groups like the Arab Association for Culture and Integration are working to establish a positive image of refugees in the area, by offering language courses, tutoring for children and public dialogue events. Initiatives formed by refugees are an important part of establishing networks, which help increase the likelihood of recent immigrants staying in Saxony and Germany.

    As is true in the United States, an important question for those involved in the anti-racist struggle in Germany is how to stay visible and connected. Despite shifts in the electoral field, anti-racist movements have shown that they can leverage their vast networks to mobilize for large demonstrations, as well as the on-going, everyday work against racism and fascism.

    “It is particularly frightening that the AfD could become the strongest party among 18-24 year olds, who now make up 21 percent of their votes,” Zimmermann explained. This challenges the idea that most AfD voters come from older generations that lived in the former German Democratic Republic. “Nevertheless: We continue! Our struggles here are important, and we know there is a country-wide solidarity network that stands behind us.”

    Is the United Kingdom really experiencing a coup?

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    This week Britain’s cities are echoing to the sounds of crowds chanting “defend democracy” and “stop the coup.” On Twitter, #StopTheCoup has already trended. Meanwhile, opposition politicians are comparing the actions of new U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson to those of a dictator or autocrat.

    The reason for this outrage is Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament for five weeks — a move that’s likely to force Britain into exiting the European Union without an agreement on how to do so smoothly, otherwise known as a “no-deal Brexit.” It is widely thought that this has been Johnson’s aim all along, but with only a working majority of one seat in Parliament — amidst cross-party plans to prevent a “no-deal Brexit” — the prime minister chose to invoke the arcane procedure of “proroguing” to cut short parliamentary time to try and get his way.

    While proroguing isn’t unknown, and the government has claimed it is simply using the procedure to prepare a new set of policies to be announced in October, this will be the longest such suspension since 1945. With that in mind, the independent Hansard Society has described the move as an “affront to parliamentary democracy,” and the speaker (parliamentary chairperson) of the House of Commons has called it a “constitutional outrage.”

    Those who have followed closely the struggles of movements against dictatorships across the world may be rightly wary in applying the term to the United Kingdom. In “Sharp’s Dictionary of Power and Struggle,” nonviolent theorist Gene Sharp defines a dictatorship as a system in which the position of ruler is occupied without constitutional limits, and without separation of powers, elections or civil liberties. With a legal challenge in the offing, a general election widely expected imminently and the sit-down protests outside Parliament for the most part passing off more-or-less peacefully, it would appear to be as yet too soon for such a term.

    The related definition of autocracy describes a structure in which a single person makes decisions and issues commands without legal limitations or right participation by others. The entry continues by pointing out that an autocratic ruler may have gained the position through heredity or violent seizure of the state but can also do so through bureaucratic manipulations. Boris Johnson was elected not through a general election, but through an internal ballot of the governing Conservative Party, following the destabilization of the former Prime Minister Theresa May. In such light the definition is too close for any comfort.

    To the supporters of the prime minister he is the opposite — a champion of the people who is doing whatever it takes to enact the result of the 2016 referendum on membership of the European Union, in which the population narrowly voted to leave. Ironically the centerpiece of that campaign’s promise was the sovereignty of the same U.K. Parliament that opposes “no deal” and is now being overridden. And as protesters point out, leaving without a deal — widely expected to have significant detrimental effects — was not one of the options on the voting paper.

    Some spokespeople for the pro-Brexit cause have claimed that it is they who represent the nonviolent independence movement, who are liberating the United Kingdom from Europe. In reality, violence has rarely been far from the surface of the campaign and has sometimes spilled over. The 2016 campaign was characterized by anti-immigrant rhetoric and warlike analogies. As the campaign reached fever pitch, Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered by a right-wing terrorist who later gave his name in court as “death to traitors, freedom for Britain.” Shortly after the result, hate crime spiked. When asked what he would do if Brexit wasn’t delivered, one of the campaign’s most prominent spokespeople said he would “don khaki, pick up a rifle and head for the front lines.”

    For proponents of peace, these are anxious times. Once considered on the fringes of political discourse, architects of the Brexit campaign now have significant institutional power and considerable political influence, whether in or out of government. Some commentators are now beginning to talk of a “civil war state of mind.” More immediately, the likelihood of “no deal” creates the strongest possibility yet of a militarized border being imposed between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, in a region where the comparative peace enjoyed in recent years is still relatively fragile.

    But is it a coup? Sharp’s entry suggests such a seizure of power would usually take place through military force, but does point to the phenomenon of the “self-coup,” in which an existing ruler unconstitutionally claims greater powers. Even if temporary, such a definition lends credence to the words of the protesters, and most likely will be how this action will be remembered.  

    There is a continuum of severity. There are authoritarian regimes with which we cannot compare the United Kingdom at present. But everywhere some basics help protect civil liberties and democracy: distribution of power across institutions, noncooperation with injustice, solidarity with protesters who are attacked and civil resistance.

    Already there are politicians speaking of taking their places in parliament regardless of the decision and others talking of strikes. Major faith figures have spoken out. The protesters blocking the roads include well-turned out office workers wearing suits with tucked in shirts. A wide constituency of people stands ready to resist. What comes next is too difficult to predict.  

    To preserve democracy, the UK needs a mass movement both inside and outside Parliament

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    Thousands of people poured onto the streets of the United Kingdom on Wednesday evening to challenge Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan to suspend Parliament.

    Seasoned activists, used to the difficulty of persuading people to turn up at demonstrations, were taken aback by how many people appeared. Some had never been to a protest before.

    Journalists reported that the protests had been “organized on social media.” This is only half-true. While thousands turned up outside Parliament from late afternoon onwards, lists of planned protests elsewhere in the United Kingdom appeared on Twitter and Facebook. They were not all consistent, as people rushed to arrange resistance with almost no notice.

    In some places, even social media gave way to the power of people simply turning up. In small cities such as Oxford, it was possible to just go into the city center and look for other people with “Stop the coup” written on cardboard placards. As they found each other, more people joined spontaneously and together they managed to make collective decisions about where to march. Like many such protests around the United Kingdom, it may have looked a bit amateur, but it happened less than three hours after Buckingham Palace approved the suspension of Parliament.

    Meanwhile, over a million people signed a petition against the suspension. This is about 10 times the previous record for the most people in the United Kingdom to sign a petition in one day.

    Nevertheless, we need more than petitions. To be effective, we need to continue to resist, to be nonviolent and to prevent particular groups or factional interests from taking over.

    What we really need is for members of Parliament to refuse to leave the chamber when Parliament is suspended the week after next, and to attempt to carry on their proceedings without government approval. MPs will return from their summer recess next week, and if Johnson gets his way, they will sit for only a few days before disappearing again.

    According to Johnson, Parliament will then re-open in mid-October. During this time, Johnson’s government would make key decisions on Brexit without parliamentary input or oversight, ensuring that the arrangements benefit the rich and powerful, whose interests he so unashamedly serves.

    But over 100 MPs have already signed the “Church House Declaration” promising that any attempt to prevent Parliament from sitting will “be met by strong and widespread democratic resistance.”

    This is encouraging, but what do they mean? One possibility is that anti-Johnson MPs would meet somewhere else and continue to act as Parliament, carrying on with their proceedings without recognition from government or monarchy. It is no coincidence that they made the declaration in Church House: This is where MPs met during the Second World War, after Parliament was bombed.

    Another possibility, which would perhaps have a more immediate impact, would be for MPs to refuse to leave the House of Commons on the day.

    “The police will have to remove us from the chamber,” tweeted Labour MP Clive Lewis after Johnson’s announcement, promising that he would not leave voluntarily. “Same here,” replied another Labour MP, Lloyd Russell Moyle, known for his campaigning against militarism and the arms trade. Green MP Caroline Lucas tweeted that “MPs must refuse to the leave the chamber and continue to sit as a #PeoplesParliament.”

    Johnson would be forced to choose between allowing this to happen, or coping with the fallout as the world watches footage of police dragging elected politicians from their seats in what many still like to call the “Mother of Parliaments.”

    But how many MPs will refuse to leave? Only a few have mentioned it explicitly. We need mass nonviolent pressure from outside Parliament to give courage to these MPs to stick to this promise, and to urge others to join them. If it is to have an effect, an MPs’ sit-in must be a real act of nonviolent resistance. Little would be achieved by two or three MPs staying for a symbolic half-hour and then wandering off.

    Many activists are used to calling on politicians to make particular decisions. Many are used to taking direct action. But it is almost unheard of to be calling on politicians to take direct action themselves.

    The chances of successful nonviolent resistance lie in part on recognizing what we are up against. Many progressive activists rightly have little confidence in Parliament — but government without Parliament would be far worse. Some are already suggesting that the suspension might not really happen. However, many said that they didn’t really think Johnson would become prime minister, and later that he wouldn’t really try to suspend Parliament, and then that royal approval wouldn’t be given. All these things have happened in the last few weeks. The next two weeks could be vital in preserving the limited democracy that we have in the United Kingdom — and in building movements that can build greater democracy.

    One of the problems is the way the issue is linked with Brexit. With some of the impetus for protests coming from anti-Brexit groups, it’s vital that people who voted to leave the European Union are not deterred from joining the resistance to Johnson’s coup. While there were many EU flags at Wednesday’s anti-coup protests, this risks playing into Johnson’s hands by allowing him to present himself as the champion of the 52 percent who voted for Brexit in the 2016 referendum.

    It is not simply that Johnson wants Brexit. He wants a no-deal Brexit. That is, a situation in which the United Kingdom leaves the European Union without any sort of alternative arrangements in place. Laws that the U.K. observes as part of the European Union — including a long list of rules on workers’ rights and environmental protection — would not be transferred into U.K. law, trade between the U.K. and the rest of Europe would plummet and Britain would be thrown into the hands of the United States, as Trump promises trade deals that are likely to rely on Britain giving up ethical and environmental standards. It’s not hard to see why financially comfortable right-wingers are so keen on a no-deal Brexit.

    The effect it would have on peace in Northern Ireland — with the likely return of a hard border between the Republic and the North — seems to be of little concern to them.

    Johnson’s decision to prorogue Parliament appears to have been triggered by the news that his opponents in Parliament had finally managed to co-operate with each other. It looked like enough moderate members of Johnson’s Conservative Party might work with the opposition to push votes through Parliament preventing a no-deal Brexit or even passing a motion of no confidence in the government. Johnson has suspended Parliament so he can rule without them.

    There has been lots of talk this week about the 17th century. In 1629, King Charles I ordered Parliament to dissolve. In response, radical MPs held the speaker in his chair while they passed motions critical of the king’s policies. In 1642, the king entered the House of Commons to arrest his opponents and was met with a refusal to hand them over. He fled London, and the English civil war began between king and Parliament. Charles was convicted of treason and tyranny and beheaded in 1649.

    We don’t need civil wars or executions now, but we need to recapture the spirit of mass noncooperation, both inside and outside Parliament. Johnson might think that’s unlikely. So did King Charles.

    Right-wing media is creating the ‘antifa shooter’ narrative out of thin air

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    Right-wing media and political figures have set their sites on “antifa,” the decentralized movement against fascism, alleging everything from terrorism to criminal conspiracy and playing on the current political tribalism motivating the Republican base. Just last month, Sen. Ted Cruz introduced a resolution to label the movement as “domestic terrorists” — something Donald Trump then supported via tweet, setting up a false dichotomy that has since been used to make broad attacks against activists and journalists.

    For the record, antifascist activists have never killed anyone. They are usually on a mission to protect community members from the threat of white nationalists, whose ideology — conversely — can actually be connected to the murder of more than 175 people worldwide over the past eight years.

    The most recent example of white nationalist terror is, of course, the mass shooting that took place in El Paso, Texas earlier this month. The shooter opened fire on a multiracial crowd in a Walmart, killing 22 people. In the manifesto he left behind, the shooter used standard white nationalist talking points — like the demographic replacement of white people by non-white immigrants — to explain his motivation.

    Less than 24 hours later, a shooter in Dayton, Ohio took aim at a crowd of people, including his sister, killing nine. While his motives were less clear, since he didn’t leave behind a manifesto, that didn’t stop right-wing figures from suggesting that the killer was associated with antifa. They immediately seized upon some vaguely leftist opinions on his Twitter account as proof that he was politically motivated and associated with antifascist organizations.

    The New York Post even published a story saying the Dayton shooter “may be antifa’s first mass killer.” Meanwhile, other right-wing outlets ran stories focused on what they saw as the shooter’s left-wing orientation, picking out Twitter posts as clear motivating factors for his violence. In one instance, the white nationalist podcast “The Daily Shoah” went so far as to say that the shooter was “definitely” a member of an antifascist gun club — an unsupported conspiracy theory first forwarded on 4Chan and other web forums.

    Twitter as evidence

    Right-wing media commentator Andy Ngo is perhaps the loudest voice spreading the false connection between antifa and terrorism. He wrote the New York Post story and has been generally outspoken on Twitter, where he has nearly 200,000 followers.

    While Ngo has never once mentioned the white nationalist shooter in El Paso, he has made a point of reaching out to some of the activists and writers supposedly followed or retweeted by the Dayton shooter. (Those follows and retweets can no longer be seen, as Twitter has since removed the shooter’s account.) Among those Ngo targeted was organizer and researcher Emily Gorcenski, asking her the seemingly ludicrous question “Did you know him?” — simply because he had interacted with a few of her tweets. Of course, as is the case with most of her 62,000 followers, Gorcenski did not know him.

    “Andy Ngo reached out because he is doing the bare minimum journalism to generate a whataboutism story,” she said. “He knows that the legitimate criticisms of right-wing pundits radicalizing terrorists hurt them, and he’s trying to do anything to return the favor. He also desperately wants to sell the narrative that antifa is a terror group, so he’ll latch onto anything vaguely resembling an act of leftist violence, even though the Dayton attack had no apparent political motivation.” 

    Gorcenski has been targeted heavily by the far right in the past, and when major right-wing media figures single her out it can guarantee an increase in violent threats. “[I] have to stay vigilant in case Tucker [Carlson] or, God forbid, the president ever decide to speak the names of any of my friends or me.”

    Ngo later tweeted out links to a number of Twitter accounts that the shooter had supposedly interacted with. One of them was the account belonging to journalist Kim Kelly, who had not interacted with the shooter in any way.

    Ngo’s accusation is only the latest right-wing attack Kelly has suffered. Earlier this year, she was added to a neo-Nazi-inspired kill list targeting journalists who — because of the accounts they followed on Twitter  — were believed to be secret antifa supporters. Having received threatening messages from right-wing trolls, Kelly now fears increased harassment because of Ngo’s tweet.

    “It is so, so dangerous [for Ngo to link the shooter to reporters],” Kelly said. “We know what kind of unhinged fascists he associates with and aligns himself with. We know how they feel about the press and antifa, and we know that their goal is, above all, violence. They want us dead, and Ngo just put out a handy little list of new targets.” 

    The fear is that far-right people with violent inclinations will see these associations being made and use it to validate an already maligned view of antifascist activists. Then they might see the reporters Ngo is identifying as potentially responsible, and act out with targeted violence.

    False framing has real consequences

    Donald Trump has now moved on to saying that he is concerned both about white supremacists and antifa, creating a false binary whereby they are presented as two threats of equal, yet opposite, importance. This also frames the recent mass shootings as the result of political extremism on two competing sides.

    The reality is that there’s no actual connection between the Dayton shooter and antifascist organizing, other than the possibility that the shooter went to a protest and expressed progressive views on Twitter — something millions of people have done since Trump’s election. At the same time, the El Paso shooter left a 2,300-word manifesto that clearly outlined his goals and motivations, which were expressly white nationalist, while the Dayton shooter offered no formal insights into his motivation. The best clue as to what fueled the latter’s rage may end up being the lyrics from his “pornogrind” band, which were laced with misogynist venom and align with the ideology of the Men’s Rights and “Incel” communities.

    “In a broader sense, this whole episode is an obvious and craven effort to distract from the role [Andy Ngo] and his fascist allies play in enabling, propping up, and in some cases, participating in the horrors of white supremacist terror,” Kelly said. “He is trying to force the same flawed, bad faith ‘violent antifa’ narrative upon which he’s built his career, because to do otherwise would be to admit that he is part of the problem. It is cowardly, malicious and evil.”

    Scare tactics

    Aside from receiving threats or becoming potential targets for violence, the demonization of antifascist activists without cause will also lead to chilling effects throughout antiracist and left-wing political movements. Journalists who have been targeted are having to deal with the insinuation that they are aiding a movement that is being alleged to have mass murder in its sights, which is untrue on all counts. This broad net of accusation could have very real consequences, leading potentially to indictments, increased police repression, and grand juries for activists, as well as death threats and career consequences for reporters.

    Organizers who are part of the larger antifascist movement have worked hard to state their intentions and ideological commitments openly and honestly, and to build a broad-based social movement that average people can relate to. These movements will find it important to keep that public face and separate themselves from any falsehoods that are being perpetuated by far-right media, giving people access to a more grounded narrative of strategy and tactics.

    The reality is that the associations that are being made between antiracist activism and the shooting are fabrications, and so the best way to counter these false perceptions is by presenting the real picture of the organizing as plainly as possible. Journalists around the country have been writing articles and creating viral social media posts attempting to counter Andy Ngo’s messaging, giving another angle to the way he has spun these stories. This does not, however, come without its challenges, as trolls and right-wing pundits are able to dominate the online media cycle, and therefore shape the subjective understanding many people have of the world around them.

    How movements build strength through training

    It’s no accident that much of the leadership of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, came from the Nashville, Tennessee sit-in campaign — and that SNCC’s young people were frequently pace-setters in the civil rights movement. We can even now watch a short film documenting the process: the careful, step-by-step training workshops led by the Rev. James Lawson for black students.

    A similar under-the-radar training process preceded the overthrow of dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines in 1986. That struggle gave us a new term for nonviolent struggle: “people power.” A violent insurgency had been going on for years in the Philippines, but Marcos — with the help of the United States — had been able to contain it. He was not, however, able to hold back a nonviolent direct action campaign and was ultimately forced to flee to the haven of the United States.

    It’s not that movements can’t win without building in a training dimension. The Global Nonviolent Action Database includes successful direct action campaigns dating from times before training, as we know it, had been invented. Even then, however, innovative leaders sometimes developed an equivalent when they knew they were facing a tough opponent.

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  • Who was Badshah Khan?
  • One such example is Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a leader from what is now Afghanistan and Pakistan, who wanted to free his Pathan people from the British Empire. From watching Gandhi’s “experiments with truth” in the region south of him, he could see the potential of nonviolent struggle even when the British troops came down hard on Indian Hindus. He could expect that the British would be even more violent against Muslims like himself. There are, after all, shades of racism and prejudice.

    So he organized marching drills for his nonviolent army, who he called the Khudai Khidmatgar, or Servants of God. Although it wasn’t like the role-playing that Rev. Lawson later used, it probably helped bolster their confidence and solidarity in two ways. First, the strenuous marching helped strengthen their ability to withstand violence. Second, it enabled them to practice their unity and commitment to nonviolence — which in turn would reduce, though certainly not eliminate, the level of violence levied against them.

    And so it proved to be. A British journalist reported harsher repression used against the Pathans than the Hindus — “wholesale shootings and hangings.” Nevertheless, the nonviolent movement stayed the course, and the British retreated. Gandhi later praised the Pathans’ role in helping to throw out the mightiest empire the world had ever known.

    People of color and the choice of nonviolent struggle

    One function of training is revealed by these examples: It reduces the effectiveness of violent repression from the opponent.

    In this article, I intentionally cite campaigns by people of color. The Global Nonviolent Action Database tells hundreds of stories of wins by peoples of color. One reason people of color so frequently choose nonviolent confrontation is that it offers that chance to win, while also lowering the amount of violence from the opponent — as compared to what happens when violent means are chosen.

    The database has a searchable field showing whether the opponent uses violence to try to shut down the campaign. Although there are cases in which opponents don’t use violence, it does show up frequently. Training helps campaigners get ready for the possibility, and one problem that’s tackled in training is the problem of fear.

    In struggles between people of color and white opponents, the people of color often have a history of white violence against them, giving them every reason to bring to their campaign a level of fear. The sit-in organizers of the civil rights movement had to take that into account.

    Danny Glover’s excellent film “Freedom Song” shows graphically how SNCC’s training worked to support young people to face the near-certainty of white violence with the expectation of winning and the ability to handle the pain that may accompany the struggle. It’s not unlike people who train for athletic competition: Pain is inevitable, and it’s the conditioning of mind, body and heart that makes winning possible.

    To my surprise I got a personal glimpse of this on a trolley ride in downtown Philadelphia many years ago, when my son was 12 years old. I started a conversation with a man on the seat beside us. He, warming to my black son, said, “You know, when I was your age I did the best thing I ever did in my life!”

    Peter leaned in, his eyes intent on the man’s.

    “I’m from Birmingham,” he continued, “and I was in the children’s march with Dr. King! That was some heavy shit, man. One day firefighters came along with the police and got out their hoses and shot water at us to stop our march.”

    The man chuckled when he saw Peter hold his breath.

    “Yeah, they got me. That water just knocked me off my feet. You’ve never seen anything like it. All of us just got knocked over. Well, the hoses didn’t get everybody — they started singing ‘Ain’t gonna let nobody turn us around!’

    “But some of us were hurting and most of us were soaked. So you know what? The next day we did come back — even more of us kids, and some grown-ups there, too.”

    Peter looked at me to see if he should believe this fantastical tale. I nodded, realizing that we were hearing one of the most dramatic stories of the civil rights movement.

    “Were you hurt?” Peter asked.

    “Nah, just some bruises,” the man said. “We just came back the next day, even though now we knew what was goin’ down, and some of our parents said no but we did anyway. You know, going down singing that song about not being turned around.”

    “Did you get any training before you started your day’s march?” I asked the man.

    “Yeah, we had to have that, because we met first at the Baptist church, and Jim Bevel and other grown-ups trained us to be nonviolent no matter what happens — police dogs or whatever.”

    He smiled proudly. “We were brave, man, and I’ll remember those songs forever. Shit, we won that battle!”

    Glancing up, the man saw his stop was coming, jumped up, gave my son another smile, and gave us a wave as he got off the trolley.

    I finished the story for Peter: The young people won that particular battle in the 1963 Birmingham campaign because the day came when police commissioner ”Bull” Connor ordered the firefighters to turn on the hoses — and the men refused.

    The white economic elite began to negotiate with the campaign leadership and forced politicians to make an agreement. Birmingham, Alabama, in the heart of the confederacy, began to desegregate.

    A new training workshop for this political moment

    The struggles for justice in many countries are facing critical political situations that require additional skills — more than just the kind of tactical training discussed here so far. Those struggles also need organizational training, which shows how to build effective, diverse, leaderful groups and grow the kinds networks and coalitions that can scale up. In societies that are polarizing, such as the United States and Britain, these skills are especially useful because movements can grow rapidly under these circumstances. One organizing resource in this area is something I co-authored with Berit Lakey and others, called “Grassroots and Nonprofit Leadership: A Guide to Organizations in Changing Times.”

    Along with organizing skills and tactical strength, we need the ability to strategize for nonviolent direct action campaigning. After all, successful nonviolent movements generally use campaign technology to win. The Global Nonviolent Action Database is based on campaigns, along with books like “This Is an Uprising” by Mark Engler and Paul Engler, and “Why Civil Resistance Works” by Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan.

    Many well-informed people who participate in protests, however, have no idea that there is such a thing as direct action campaign technology — let alone that winning depends on understanding and using that technology well. This means vast reservoirs of energy and talent aren’t being fully used.

    When I woke up to this realization, I invented a new, brief training that introduces people to campaign technology. I’ve tested it 15 times, on both coasts and the Midwest, with people active in racial and economic justice, climate, immigrant rights, affordable housing, indigenous rights, healthcare and other issues.

    People reported more clarity and increased ability to see the possibility of positive change. They especially appreciated the easy-to-remember framework for formulating a winning campaign, and that it made strategizing more accessible. Some found that the workshop put them more fully in touch with their own strength and power.

    I’ve decided to turn this training over to those who can help spread it further. Two educational centers — Pendle Hill (near Philadelphia) and The Resource Center for Nonviolence (in Santa Cruz, California) — are now sponsoring workshops that train other experienced facilitators to lead my training.

    Successful movements have a learning curve

    As far as I can tell from six decades of studying and participating in movements, the most successful ones excel in learning from their unfolding experience. Those that value empowerment of their participants like to find ways to build the learning curve of the “troops on the ground.”

    In the 1930s, training resources in the United States included the Brookwood Labor College. The Highlander Research and Education Center came along around that time and continues today. In the ‘60s new ones appeared, including the Martin Luther King School for Social Change, where I once taught. Now there are still more, including Momentum, Wildfire and Training for Change. At a time when even movement media soak us in bad news, it’s all the more important that we remember to build our resilience and keep on learning.

    Meet the Parkland father keeping his son’s message alive through art

    Joaquin Oliver loved basketball, the music of Frank Ocean and his family. On February 14, 2018, only a few months before he was supposed to graduate high school, he was shot down with an AR-15 in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas massacre. He was 17 years old.

    The massacre became a turning point for the gun control movement, sparking conversations on bump stocks, background checks, and eliminating NRA money from politics. It also ignited nationwide school walkouts and the March for Our Lives, which became the largest youth-led demonstration in U.S. history, drawing nearly 1.2 million people from across the country. 

    Before the shooting, Joaquin’s father, Manuel Oliver, was an artist who had immigrated from Venezuela to pursue a safer life for his family. Today, Manuel is dedicated to exposing NRA corruption, empowering young activists and honoring Joaquin, who he says was not only his son but his best friend.

    Since Joaquin’s death, Manuel has traveled across America with his organization, Change the Ref, to continue the conversation on gun violence through urban art. The organization, founded by him and his wife Patricia, takes its name from a conversation Manuel had with his son shortly before his death. After a referee made an unfair call during a basketball game, Joaquin told Manuel, who coached his team, that they would not be able to win unless they “changed the ref.” 

    To date, Manuel has created 30 murals — what he calls “graphic activism”— in cities devastated by gun violence, from Chicago to El Paso. He’s celebrated what should have been Joaquin’s 18th birthday by leading protesters in singing “Happy Birthday” outside the NRA headquarters. He’s also made headlines for putting a bulletproof vest on Wall Street’s famous “Fearless Girl” statue, and for 3D-printing sculptures of children cowering under desks, hiding from a school shooter. More recently, he’s produced a one-man show about his son’s life, called “Guac: My Son, My Hero.” The show will be debuting at the Colony Theater in Miami Beach on Sept. 20 before going on a national tour

    The organization you and your wife started, Change the Ref, is known for using unconventional methods to get your point across. How do you approach spreading your message, and why do you think it’s effective?

    I try to do things that haven’t been tried yet. Our methods are nontraditional, because I’ve seen traditional methods failing. We’ve had a blue Senate, we’ve had a blue house in Congress, and we didn’t see those results. Relying on politicians isn’t always the answer. Politicians will always tell you what you want to hear, but not necessarily what they’re going to do.

    A 3-D printed statue of Joaquin created to protest 3-D printed guns. (WNV/Change The Ref)

    The only thing I know how to do is art, which also happens to be an nontraditional way of hitting this, because I haven’t seen it before. I’ve seen it before from artists, but not from fathers of victims. So we have a way to impact people in a legit way. What we do is often more social than political. I really believe in social movements as a way to change our problem from the roots. 

    We did it with the tobacco industry. That, more than a political decision, was a community decision. A civil decision. We found it disgusting, and now you don’t see the tobacco lobby showing their power over politicians. I think that the NRA and the gun lobby are going towards the same destiny that the tobacco industry had. But the only way to do that is with the right message — very disruptive, very nontraditional, and sometimes uncomfortable for some people. 

    Because of your murals, there are thousands of people across America who feel like they know Joaquin. Why is it important to portray Joaquin’s personality through your art?

    My first role here is to be Joaquin’s dad. This is not about people knowing about me, I don’t give a shit about people knowing me. I try to make sure people know all the elements that made my son such a great person. Joaquin was a natural born activist before the shooting. We had amazing conversations about civil rights and social issues and injustice. He was very concerned about gun violence. Really concerned. The sad part was that he was murdered. He became a target. We cannot have that powerful voice with us anymore, unless we do what we’re doing. I’m here to share his message, in the most rapid way, to everybody. We work together in this, me and Joaquin. This is more his statement than my art. 

    By knowing about Joaquin, you will understand that a nice, beautiful person was shot down in the most unfair way that you could ever imagine. Inside his school, walking as a student, making sure that he had a good education, being happy on Valentine’s Day, giving flowers to his girlfriend. He had a coffee that morning with his dad. So I can make sure people know all that.

    One of your most powerful murals was painted on the US-Mexico border. What was your experience creating that mural, and why did you decide to make a mural there?

    Everyone was talking about building a wall, so we went to Tijuana, Mexico. And we wrote on the border wall, next to Joaquin’s image, “Del otro lado tambien matan a nuestros hijos,” [which means, “On the other side, they also murder our kids.”] 

    Manuel Oliver with his mural on the U.S.-Mexico border. (Twitter/Manuel Ayala)

    I was trying to put together two things that really affect me. One is gun violence, because I lost my son. And the other one is the way people treat immigrants like me and my son and my wife. Those two things motivated me to do whatever it takes to make a statement. 

    I remember the border patrol on the American side wondering what I was doing, because they cannot access the other side. Now, when I go out of the country and then back, they ask me a lot of questions. I had a nice conversation with an immigration officer who said, “You understand that I have to ask you questions, because you were actually painting on a property of the United States government, and this is my job.”

    I told him, “Well, you have to understand that this is my job. I’m trying to save your kid. Because it’s too late for me to save my kid.” And that always ends in a handshake, or a “keep on doing what you’re doing.” I really find a lot of support. You’d be surprised where the support is coming from. 

    Your latest project is an interactive one-man show called “Guac: My Son, My Hero” that tells the story — equal parts joyful and devastating — of your family and your son’s life. How have you approached theater as a tool to advocate for social justice?

    The murals, they involve public speaking. So I understand that you have to have an active presence with communities to let them know what’s going on. It’s a really powerful way of approaching the problem. Theater is just another tool to empower and make the message even more accessible to people. In a way, I’m entertaining people, and I’m fine with that, because while I’m entertaining you, I’m also letting you know what’s going on. 

    Manuel Oliver in “Guac: My Son, My Hero.” (WNV/Al Noelle)

    Making the show interactive wasn’t a decision, it was something I discovered through doing different events. It is a natural feeling, in all of us, to want to be a part of things. We want to be there in the first row, and we want to hang out with whoever is taking the lead. I love that interaction with people, the mutual feeling of supporting each other. 

    I also want people to see that there’s another side in all this, which is way more important than being mad and not being part of the solution — that is remembering how great the victims were, how wonderful their lives were and how much we miss them. Joaquin danced and laughed all day long, and he deserves to be remembered and honored and supported in a happy way. A lot of people will identify with that. A lot of viewers of the play will see themselves. You’ll probably be thinking that it could happen to you at some point, so you better be part of the solution.

    Women lead struggle to preserve Indian democracy in face of rising Hindu nationalism

    After the Indian government’s decision to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, people across India answered a nationwide call for protests issued by left-wing parties on Aug. 7. Article 370 had provided the state with considerable autonomy and was one of the conditions for its accession to the Indian union in 1947.

    Shabnam Hashmi, social activist and co-founder of the non-governmental organization Act Now for Harmony and Democracy, or ANHAD, livestreamed the protests from New Delhi.

    She panned her camera to show protesters restricted by barricades at Jantar Mantar, a site where regular protests occur in the capital. “As you can see, the space — which has already been confined so much for protests — even in that area we are not being allowed to enter,” she commented. “This is the state of Indian democracy now.”

    Previous Coverage
  • As repression worsens, Kashmiri activists call for international solidarity
  • Hashmi wasn’t being melodramatic by calling the current state of Indian democracy into question. A government-imposed curfew and communications lockdown has been in place in Indian-controlled Kashmir since Aug. 5, politicians have been placed under house arrest, and tens of thousands of soldiers have been deployed as reports of the region turning into an “open-air prison” emerge.

    Hashmi has been a vocal critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party long before he assumed office for the first time in 2014. In 2003, she co-founded ANHAD in the aftermath of the deadly 2002 Gujarat riots that occurred during Modi’s tenure as chief minister. In Kashmir, the organization has worked towards empowering women and youth in remote areas, and has helped over 20,000 women become functionally literate.

    Eradicating fear

    In June, I headed to Delhi’s Nizamuddin neighborhood to meet Hashmi in ANHAD’s basement office. Hashmi has been a social activist and human rights campaigner for nearly 40 years. Her brother, playwright and director Safdar Hashmi, was an ardent critic of the Congress party and was killed in 1989 after he was attacked by Mukesh Sharma — a Congress-backed candidate in the local municipal elections — and his aides while performing a street play titled “Raise Your Voice” in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh.

    Shabnam Hashmi speaking at an event. (WNV/Shabnam Hashmi)

    Since its inception, ANHAD has concentrated on fostering communal harmony and raising awareness on constitutional and human rights issues. Headquartered in Delhi, the organization has been actively involved in Gujarat, Kashmir and other regions of the country, facilitating numerous grassroots-level campaigns, conventions, vocational training programs, reports and meetings.

    In May, ANHAD hosted a “non-political” press conference at New Delhi’s Press Club of India. A crowd of around 150 people — mostly women of all ages, occupations and parts of society — gathered to address the matter of safeguarding their constitutional rights. The reference to it being “non-political” was a dig at Modi’s “non-political interview” with Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar in April, days after the 2019 Indian general elections began. Modi, who is notorious for avoiding press conferences, steered clear of serious topics, speaking instead with Kumar about his love of mangoes and his preferred way of eating them.

    Outside of the Press Club, leaflets hung from the trees containing questions for the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, government, including: Why has the government stopped publishing data on farmer suicides since 2015? Why is the government suppressing official data on unemployment? Why did the BJP introduce electoral bonds which allows for anonymous donations to political parties? Why has there been deafening silence from the government on the rising hate crimes against minorities, especially Muslims?

    A month earlier, on April 4, as part of the Women March for Change campaign, over 30,000 women marched in 20 states across the country to protest government policies and the prevailing atmosphere of hate and violence.

    Hashmi believes that the organization’s greatest impact has been in eradicating fear and informing people of their democratic rights, as well as enabling discourse on essential topics. This was evident at the press conference in May, where a diverse panel of women spoke about difficulties in receiving pensions, lack of access to water, rations and medical treatment, insufficient funds for education, and the curbing of sex workers’ rights, among other concerns.

    “Sex workers don’t own [identifaction] cards — they cannot even enroll their children in schools,” said Kusum, a 41-year-old sex worker who goes only by her first name and is the president of the All India Network of Sex Workers. These cards, known as Aadhaar, enable citizens to open bank accounts and receive subsidies and pensions, among other uses. At the same time, however, they come with myriad problems that have led to the further exclusion of marginalized groups.

    The consolidation of the right

    Following the BJP’s resounding victory in the 2019 general elections, Modi was reelected prime minister in May. A number of factors contributed to Modi’s win, including his party’s hyper-nationalist rhetoric, a calculated exploitation of the Balakot airstrikes for political gain, as well as the lack of an effective counter-narrative by opposition parties. The BJP’s parent organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS, employed a door-to-door campaign strategy that focused on the remotest areas of the country in an effort to achieve maximum voter turnout.

    Previous Coverage
  • Activists challenge World Hindu Congress over links to global fascism
  • The Hindutva ideology advocated by the BJP, RSS and the Sangh Parivar — a family of Hindu nationalist organizations — has infiltrated nearly all of the country’s democratic institutions. Reports have emerged of university and school textbooks being rewritten, journalists and activists steadily coming under threat, the Supreme Court reeling under pressure from the government, and a rising acts of cow vigilantism — where violent right-wing Hindu mobs attack minorities under the pretense of protecting cows from slaughter.

    According to one analysis of home ministry data, in the three years after the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance came to power in 2014, communal violence in India increased by 28 percent. A Huffington Post report ranked India fourth in the world in 2015 for the highest social hostilities involving religion, after Syria, Nigeria and Iraq.

    According to IndiaSpend’s Hate Crime Watch tracker, which analyzed 254 incidents of hate crimes that took place between 2009 and 2018, nearly 90 percent occurred after 2014 and a large percentage of the victims were minorities. As recently as June 24, another Muslim man was lynched by a mob in Jharkhand.

    “There is of course a lot of fear. And more and more people are going to become silent,” Hashmi said in June, referring to the milieu in the country.

    Gauhar Raza, Hashmi’s spouse, is a scientist, Urdu poet and documentary filmmaker. “Most of us realized in 2014 that something has cracked, something has changed in India. But we didn’t have an idea about what shape it would take or what would be the extent of it,” he said.

    Referring to this year’s elections, Raza said, “It’s not only the consolidation [of votes] but the kind of confidence that fascist forces have got — it’s huge.”

    Critics view the latest move in Kashmir — perhaps an indicator of this confidence — as a blatant attempt to alter the demographic composition of the Muslim-majority region.

    Grassroots empowerment

    Much of ANHAD’S work has been carried out at the grassroots-level, focusing on mass mobilization campaigns. The organization’s reputation, as well as Hashmi’s work in the social sector, have enabled them to have a certain reach across communities. Issues of communalism, violence against women and minorities, and gender-based discrimination are regularly addressed.

    During the protests in April, women gathered on the streets to demand protection of their constitutional rights, which they believed were endangered under the ruling “anti-women, anti-Dalit, anti-worker” government. In the capital, the crowd marched to Parliament Street, calling for “azadi,” or freedom, and urging citizens — particularly women — to utilize their right to vote in order to counter the current climate of growing intolerance and sectarian politics.

    Previous Coverage
  • Temple controversy sparks quiet revolution by women for religious equality in India
  • The idea for the Women March for Change movement originally stemmed from the women-led Baatein Aman Ki campaign of September-October 2018, where caravans of around a hundred women traveled across the country — starting from Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Kerala and Tamil Nadu — to hold discussions on peace, harmony and the safeguarding of constitutional values in the run-up to the 2019 elections. The women conducted some 500 programs in 200 cities. The need to maintain the focus on women arose from the fact that Indian women are particularly vulnerable in times of conflict; they are conditioned to remain silent and frequently discouraged from participating in political matters.

    The BAK campaign was initiated by Hashmi and a few other prominent female activists and carried forward with the help of local women’s groups and non-governmental organizations in the different states. Hashmi tells me that the response was overwhelming, and that women from across communities — including those who didn’t realize they had a say — came forward to participate. But the organizers had a taxing time leading up to the campaign, scrambling to raise funds before it began.

    Funding challenges

    Non-governmental organizations in India have taken a financial hit ever since the Foreign Contribution and Regulation Act, or FCRA, was amended in 2016, making it harder or altogether impossible for them to acquire foreign funding. The new law targets “organizations of a political nature,” but the definition of this term is vague and may include farmers’ organizations and youth forums and organizations based on caste, language, religion or community.

    Since 2014, around 20,000 non-governmental organizations — many of which are rights-based advocacy groups — have had their FCRA licenses canceled, including Greenpeace India, Citizens for Justice and Peace, and ANHAD.

    Ever since the Home Ministry cut off ANHAD’s foreign funding in December 2016, citing “undesirable activities against public interest,” the organization has been functioning with the help of personal contributions from its members, friends, family and supporters. But resources are slowly drying up, posing a serious challenge to the future of the organization.

    Previous Coverage
  • Modi’s McCarthyist attack on left-leaning intellectuals threatens India’s democracy
  • “Civil society organizations will be crippled, one after the other,” Raza warned. “In my opinion, [the government] can manage media, they can manage institutions, fudge data and run dubious campaigns. But when all is said and done, they will not be able to manage the economic crisis that will hit the country badly in the upcoming years — which means that the peasantry will rise. The working class will organize themselves, they will protest because of economic conditions rather than social engineering.”

    India’s unemployment rate is at a 45-year high, and demonetization and the introduction of an exorbitant Goods and Service Tax has drawn intense criticism. In November, scores of farmers and laborers marched from across the country to New Delhi to demand minimum wage, food security and effective implementation of labor laws.

    Moving forward

    “One of our most important roles has been to provide young minds with the right information so that they’re able to form their own opinion,” said Anil Panikkar, psychologist and one of ANHAD’s core members. “And that is very much required now, more so than at any other time. If they are forced to think, there will be change. We need to work on creating the alternative.”

    ANHAD knows that it is crucial to protect and amplify the voices of minorities, forge alliances with different groups and facilitate conversations between them, highlight regional concerns, and bring environmental issues to the forefront. Their strategy includes political training at the community level — hundreds of training camps have been conducted over the years.

    Caravans of women traveled across India as part of the Baatein Aman Ki campaign of September-October 2018. (WNV/Shabnam Hashmi)

    “Over the last four years, due to paucity of funds, they stopped,” Hashmi said. At an organizational meeting at the ANHAD office in mid-June, plans were drawn up to regroup, raise funds and implement newer, more effective state-specific strategies moving forward.

    Training camps are residential in nature, lasting five to seven days, where in-depth talks are held on the Constitution of India, the legacy of the freedom struggle, the vision of an equal society, as well as discussions on caste, gender, globalization and pluralism. Prevailing myths and prejudices against minorities and other difficult subjects such as the 2002 Gujarat riots, the conflict in Kashmir, fascism and terrorism are also addressed.

    “At the moment, political parties are in a form of slumber — they are stunned,” Raza said. “They are unable to really analyze the situation. And those who have been able to [do so] are unable to suggest corrective measures. Therefore, the duty of civil society organizations is even greater than in 2014.”

    Soon after the election results were announced on May 23, ANHAD called for a public meeting. Most women did not show up because they were simply too disheartened. “Earlier, they had hope. Now they have none,” Hashmi said. Hashmi stresses, however, that it is especially in times like this — when civil liberties are increasingly under threat — that it is crucial that the work goes on and safe spaces remain accessible.

    Five years after Ferguson Uprising, Michael Brown’s death continues to be a catalyst for change

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    This story was first published by YES! Magazine.

    Michael Brown Sr. lies stock-still on his back on the floor of an art studio in St. Louis as an artist layers papier-mache on his arms, chest, and torso.

    Brown Sr. is a stand-in, the model for a life-size replica that St. Louis artist Dail Chambers is creating to represent Michael Brown Jr. — his deceased son.

    In the days and weeks that followed, other artists added their own interpretations to the cast, and community leaders, family, friends, and activists affixed messages of remembrance, of hope, as well as photos and tributes to Brown Jr.

    “Although everybody else has left since your death, we are still here fighting,” one 16-year-old girl wrote.

    The final exhibit, called “As I See You,” will be part of a memorial Aug. 9–11 for Brown Jr., five years after a police officer took the 18-year-old’s life in Ferguson, Missouri.

    The memorial weekend’s events will include a private unveiling of the exhibit for the family members of 25 victims of police killings across the country, and will coincide with the first national reparations convening in Ferguson, beginning Aug. 8.

    Brown Jr. was not the first unarmed black man killed by a white police officer. But his death on Aug. 9, 2014, grabbed the world’s attention, exposing long-festering issues of race and inequality in the United States and bringing new energy to a simmering Movement for Black Lives.

    In death, Brown Jr. became a household name, and the small, mostly black city where he died became the movement’s ground zero. Both will be forever linked to the tragedy and trauma around police shootings and the will of a frustrated people to rise up against injustice.

    For more than four hours, Brown Jr.’s lifeless body lay uncovered on the street where he fell, blood flowing from his head as bystanders watched in horror and outrage. For weeks following the shooting, and months after a St. Louis grand jury failed to indict officer Darren Wilson, protests and demonstrations engulfed the region.

    Images on television and on social media caught the sporadic violent clashes between demonstrators and police, who used tear gas and armored vehicles intended for war zones to try to control the crowds.

    “People, protestors were coming in from all over … coming to ground zero to stand up for what they believed in,” Brown Sr. says. “We are so grateful to them for making this happen, for having the courage to know it was wrong and to stand up for their beliefs. Before Mike, this kind of thing was mostly swept under the rug; now it’s happening almost all the time.”

    The Ferguson Uprising raised awareness around the level of racial disparity on issues from policing and mass incarceration to economics — not just in that region, but across the country.

    And in the months and years afterward, protests and demonstrations elsewhere would follow police shootings of other black people whose names many have now come to know: Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Eric Harris, Terence Crutcher, Walter Scott, Sandra Bland, Antwon Rose, and on.

    David Ragland, cofounder of the Truth Telling Project of Ferguson, which got its start in the early days of the uprising, described the spontaneity of protests that grew out of the shootings as moments that built into movements.

    “Each generation has its own way, and Ferguson questioned the entire American project,” Ragland says. “These were people from marginalized communities demanding human rights, human dignity … They were average people — nurses, postal workers, people who came out because they were tired — saying we are good people, we deserve dignity.”

    Father for son

    For years, Cal Brown thought about how she might honor and keep alive the memory of her stepson, who was a recent high school graduate and had been preparing to begin vocational training classes just two days before he was killed. At the same time, she wanted to acknowledge and give voice to those who saw his death as a catalyst for change.

    As the fifth anniversary neared, she searched for ways to do both.

    “The media had spent so much time dehumanizing Mike, people forgot he was somebody’s brother, somebody’s son, somebody’s cousin,” Brown says. “So many people say, ‘I love Mike Brown; he belongs to me.’ I wanted to take the time and show people why they love this young man.”

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    Collaborating with Elizabeth Vega, a St. Louis “artivist” (artist and activist) who uses art to empower and inspire change, she settled on the idea of using Brown Jr.’s father as the model for a body cast of his son. Chambers, a local artist, would create the cast.

    The new exhibit would also help to counter a controversial one in a Chicago museum in 2015 that graphically depicted Michael Brown Jr.’s death scene. Already, Brown says, other venues across the country have started requesting “As I See You.”

    Brown Sr. recalls his reaction when his wife first suggested the idea of using his body as a model for the cast. “It took me a minute,” he said. “I went outside and smoked a cigarette to get my mind together, get myself together to prepare for it.”

    Not the first or last

    Police have been shooting unarmed people long before cases like Brown Jr.’s called attention to the injustice of it. A Washington Post database has recorded about 1,000 fatal police shootings each year since 2015, when the paper first began tracking them — 4,453 fatal shootings in total. Just under one-quarter of the victims have been black.

    In that time, 58 officers were charged and 13 convicted of murder or manslaughter, says Philip Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green State University who tracks and studies arrests of police nationwide.

    “Between 900 and 1,000 times each year, on-duty police officers across the U.S. shoot and kill someone,” Stinson says. “And yet, only a few times each year is an officer charged with murder or manslaughter resulting from one of those shootings.”

    Based on his research, Stinson says the number of officers charged since 2005 in any given year has varied from zero to 18; any increase in recent years is not statistically significant. Basically, he says, “it’s business as usual in the police subculture.”

    Just last month, after a five-year civil rights investigation, federal prosecutors announced they would not bring charges against Staten Island police officer Daniel Pantaleo, who applied a department-banned chokehold, killing Eric Garner a month before Brown Jr. was shot in 2014.

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    With a grand jury also declining to bring charges, the most severe punishment Pantaleo faces is termination from his job. He was suspended after an administrative judge recommended he be fired.

    The dying gasps of “I can’t breathe” by the father of six became a rallying cry in nationwide protests.

    Five years later

    In the five years since Garner’s and Brown Jr.’s deaths, heightened activism by the Movement for Black Lives and more extensive national discourse have raised awareness around issues of police accountability and use of force — particularly when it comes to people of color.

    President Barack Obama, who appealed for calm following Brown Jr.’s death and the nonindictment of Wilson, created the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing in December 2014. The following spring, it issued a report that called for the removal of policies that reward police for producing more arrests and convictions, and for independent prosecutors to investigate civilian deaths in police custody or in officer-involved shootings.

    In 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a scathing report on Ferguson, highlighting how disproportionate enforcement by courts and the police, intended to generate city revenue, targeted African Americans. In a city where black people make up two-thirds of the population, the 54-person police force had only four African Americans.

    That report led to a consent decree between the Justice Department and the city requiring body camera use for police officers, use-of-force policies, and a municipal court overhaul.

    The police chief in place during the Uprising and the city manager and municipal judge were all forced out of their jobs. In 2015, residents elected two black city council members, and last year replaced the prosecutor who declined to charge Wilson in Brown Jr.’s death.

    In his place, they elected Wesley Belle, a progressive African American lawyer who understood the system needed to “change from the inside.”

    Last June, the city appointed a black police chief — a police captain from the Atlanta suburb of Forest Park.

    Residents appear to have mixed feelings about how far the city has come in five years.

    Cathy “Mama Cat” Daniels of the activist group Potbangerz, whose organizing around housing and feeding the unhoused began with the Uprising, says she’d hoped the community would be further ahead given “all that we did on the streets and are still fighting for.”

    She feels hopeful, though. “We have a lot of young black folks who went from protest to politics and doing some dope, amazing stuff,” she says. “They are fighting hard, but we need some people power behind them.”

    And while applauding the political progress, Ragland says that real substantial change has yet to be seen. Black people in the region are still more likely to be targeted for enforcement, he says.

    Pointing to the recent decision in the Garner case, Ragland adds: “We now have a federal government that is less willing to hold law enforcement accountable.”

    “I think there’s a deep power imbalance between law enforcement and everyday citizens,” he says. “And I don’t think it’s helpful for a democracy.”

    In Mike Brown’s name

    Brown Sr. is also working to help empower and uplift young people through the Michael Brown Chosen for Change Foundation, which he and his wife, Cal, formed the year after his son’s death.

    It is one of many ways the elder Brown is working to preserve his son’s memory.

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    Through the group Conscious Campus, Ragland and Brown Sr. have been working together to take the story about what happened in Ferguson five years ago to college campuses across the country. The idea is to fill the gaps and correct the misinformation that exists, Brown Sr. says.

    He and Brown Jr.’s mother, Leslie McSpadden, were featured in the 2017 documentary about the shooting, Stranger Fruit. And in 2014, the two traveled to Geneva to testify before the United Nations Committee Against Torture.

    Brown Sr. is hopeful that the sculpture will be a lasting reminder of the promise of youth and the potential for change.

    “Everything is a process,” he says. “Just us making noise and standing together and getting in the right rooms and having these discussions, I can see it moving forward. But there’s still a lot of work to be done.”

    Opposition to Trump’s migration deal has sparked a growing student occupation in Guatemala

    Late in the afternoon on July 29, students from Guatemala’s only public university, the University of San Carlos, took control of the university’s museum in Guatemala City’s historic center. Their goal was to block the country’s congress from holding sessions there, as the congressional building undergoes remodeling. 

    “The facilities of the university are part of our heritage. Here great thinkers were formed,” said Lenina García, the general secretary of the Association of University Students Oliverio Castañeda de León, or AEU. “It is despicable that the congressional representatives want to meet here when they have supported laws that are regressive. We believe that it isn’t correct, and we do not want to be on their side of history.”

    The occupation was launched in part due to fears that the Guatemalan Congress could hear debates and possibly pass the controversial “safe third country” agreement with the Trump administration, which was signed in the White House by Guatemalan Minister of the Interior Enrique Degenhart on July 26. The agreement will require asylum seekers from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to apply and wait in Guatemala for their cases to be approved in the United States. 

    The signing of the agreement was the last straw in increased tensions at the university. The occupation quickly brought up other frustrations with university Director Murphy Paiz, who took the position in 2018. Students accuse the director of treating the university as his personal plantation.

    “The agreement was the last drop that overfilled the cup,” said Amparo Gómez, the secretary of university affairs for the student association of the School of Political Science. “We have seen that there is not a willingness to address the problems that the country and the university faces.”

    In the hours that followed the occupation, the Guatemalan Congress issued a statement that it would relocate the sessions that were scheduled for Tuesday. Yet, in spite of this announcement, students maintained their occupation, calling on other students to join. 

    Students hang a banner over the University of San Carlos’ museum that reads “I refuse to live in a dictatorship” on July 29. (WNV/Jeff Abbott)

    While the occupation was sparked by the proposed congressional session in the university’s museum, it became a catalyst for action by students across the country who are upset about the politics and conditions of the University of San Carlos. The occupations of other universities quickly expanded in the days that followed. By Aug. 3, students had occupied 24 campuses of the university in 19 of Guatemala’s 22 departments, including centers in Guatemala City, Huehuetenango, San Marcos and Quetzaltenango. 

    The AEU and other student organizations have called on other students to join in the protest against the privatization of the country’s only public university. The student groups have built off the occupation of the museum and organized a national movement for access to public higher education. 

    “Our occupation is permanent until they respond to the demands,” García said. “We are calling on other students to join in the defense of higher education.”

    Expanding protests against privatization

    Founded in 1676 during Spanish colonization, the University of San Carlos is a historic institution in Guatemala. Over the centuries access to higher studies was opened to more and more students, and to this day it remains the only public university in the country.

    Upon taking control of the museum, students accused officials of attempting to “privatize the university” through cost increases — which have steadily risen — and transforming the university’s culture by signing agreements that students argue cede more space to private companies. 

    “Since Paiz became director, he has pushed politics of privatization of the services of the university,” Gómez said. She points to the fact that prior to the appointment of Paiz, students paid 350 Quetzales (or about $46) for the Preparatory Academic Program — a nine-month program with physics, language classes, mathematics and chemistry that prepares students for university classes. Following the appointment, Paiz increased costs of the program to 1,000 Quetzales (or roughly $130).

    “These courses are optional, but we consider it to be a right to higher education that they are violating,” Gómez said. “This cost is extremely high. It restricts access to higher education for many students.”

    Nearly 60 percent of Guatemala’s population suffers from poverty, according to 2014 data from the World Bank. This high cost for entry-level courses especially affects students from rural areas and those living in poverty from accessing the university. 

    Students are rejecting other actions of the university director, including the signing of an agreement with the Chamber of Industries of Guatemala, which will require students to do their internships and investigations — known as Ejercicio Profesional Supervisado, or EPS, in Spanish — with private companies. The program was set up in the 1970s and placed students in public institutions and organizations to investigate and respond to problems in forgotten parts of the country. It was meant to be a program that exposed the students to the situations that exist in the country. 

    “The EPS is meant to return something to the people of the country,” said Gabriel Morella, a 27-year-old engineering student from Guatemala City who was part of the occupation of the museum building. “But [the agreement] breaks apart the program.”

    The students entered into a dialogue with Paiz on Aug. 2. The dialogue is being mediated by the country’s Human Rights Ombudsman, Jordan Rodas. Students have maintained that they will continue their occupation until Paiz meets their demands.

    ‘Guatemala is not a safe third country

    While the occupation has brought to light deep frustrations within the national public university, the root cause of the current occupations remains the “safe third country” agreement with the United States. For students, this agreement will only exacerbate the social crisis that exists in Guatemala. 

    Faced with the occupation of the museum in Guatemala City’s historic center, the country’s congress moved sessions to the Westin Camino Real hotel in an affluent part of Guatemala City. The session on July 31 was met by a group of nearly 30 students from the Strike Committee of the School of Agronomy, who were joined by urban collectives and other organizations outside the hotel.

    Students from the School of Agronomy drive a bus to block the road in front of the Camino Real hotel in Guatemala City’s Zona 10 on July 31. (WNV/Jeff Abbott)

    The protest was organized due to fears that the country’s congress was to discuss the “safe third country” agreement with the Trump administration. Students chanted “we do not want to be a colony of the United States” as congressional representatives met inside the hotel. 

    The agreement is being met by outrage on social media and in the national media. Many argue that the agreement is illegal due to the fact that the agreement was signed without the country’s congress and violates a court order against the agreement. Furthermore, many point out that Guatemala cannot be a safe country for migrants. 

    “The agreement puts Guatemala in a state of destabilization,” Morella said. “Migrants will come to the country and there will need to be the guarantee for certain rights, including health, work and housing. If Guatemala cannot provide these basic things for its own population, how will it do it for the migrants who arrive?”

    While the congress did not discuss the agreement in the July 31 session due to the fact that they have not officially received the accord, it remains a looming threat in future congressional sessions.

    Guatemala continues to suffer from poverty, lack of access to health care and education, high rates of crime and violence, and corruption. Yet, in spite of this, the Morales administration signed the agreement after Trump threatened to block Guatemalan exports and to enact tariffs on remittances sent to the country by families living in the United States.

    This is especially troubling after the Morales administration evoked sovereignty in their struggle against the U.N. backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, which has investigated and led to the arrests and prosecutions of officials, drug traffickers, and business leaders accused of corruption and illicit activity. 

    In August 2018, Morales announced he was not renewing the commission’s mandate after it opened an investigation into him and his family. The commission is set to end on Sept. 3. Morella and others have accused Morales of selling out the country.  

    “Now where is the sovereignty of the country?” Morella asked.

    Violent repression only weakens Putin, not Russian calls for democracy

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    After police in Moscow brutally cracked down on pro-democracy protests last weekend — arresting more than 1,300 people and possibly poisoning one of its most prominent critics — Simon Tisdall made an insightful argument in The Guardian about its origin and meaning.

    His point was captured best in the headline: “Putin’s treatment of protesters and rivals shows weakness, not strength.” He then proceeds to offer a litany of developments within Russia and recent moves by President Vladimir Putin that reflect his “growing political weakness” and “rising panic” in Moscow.

    Tisdall’s analysis is consistent with a counter-intuitive understanding of the relationship between power and violence that was perhaps best articulated by the German philosopher Hannah Arendt. In her classic study “On Violence,” she dismantles the conventional wisdom that violence and power are one in the same — that the greater the capacity for violence the more power one possesses.

    To the contrary, Arendt boldly argues that power and violence have an inverse relationship. She writes that “it is insufficient to say that power and violence are not the same. Power and violence are opposites; where one rules absolutely, the other is absent.” Thus, she continues, violence enters the picture only “where power is in jeopardy.”

    It’s often argued that no one anticipated the fall of the Soviet Union, but Arendt may be one of the lone exceptions. As Jonathan Schell explained in “The Unconquerable World,” it was Arendt’s unique insights on violence that allowed her “to perceive that each time the Soviet Union used its tanks to crush a rebellion in Eastern Europe, it was diminishing its power, not increasing it, as most observers thought.”

    This was Arendt’s takeaway when the Soviet Union violently put down the rebellion in Hungary in 1956 and then, 12 years later, sent half a million troops to thwart the Prague Spring — a creative, nonviolent movement to liberalize communism in Czechoslovakia.

    “The head-on clash between Russian tanks and the entirely nonviolent resistance of the Czechoslovak people is a textbook case of a confrontation between violence and power in their pure states,” Arendt argued. And while it ultimately put down the challenge, the show of force revealed “the shrinking power of the Russian government.” It was, in effect, more a show of the loss of its influence and authority.

    There is some evidence that this dynamic was not lost on Soviet leaders, even at the time. János Kádár, who the Soviet Union chose to lead Hungary after the 1956 revolution, cautioned Moscow against a military invasion. “The morale of the communists will be reduced to zero,” he warned, and “the authority of the socialist countries will be eroded.” This prediction proved prescient.

    As Stefan Auer wrote on the 50th anniversary of Hungary’s uprising, the decades that followed “can be seen as being characterized by the ongoing, protracted crisis of legitimacy of the communist rule in central and eastern Europe.” The experiences in Hungary and Czechoslovakia also had a direct bearing on Mikhail Gorbachev’s decision to not use the military in an attempt to reassert control when nonviolent movements erupted across Eastern Europe in 1989 — leading in short order to the disintegration of the entire Soviet Union.

    “While the Soviet Union still had the military capacity to prevent these developments from happening,” Auer writes, “its leaders no longer shared the conviction of their predecessors that their power could be maintained by violence.”

    This shift in thinking is clear in a 1988 memo to Gorbachev by Georgy Shakhnazarov, one of his closest aides, which said that “in the future, the prospect of ‘extinguishing’ crisis situations [in Eastern Europe] through military means must be completely ruled out.” In the end, Gorbachev agreed with this assessment, telling a Czech friend, “violence never provides a lasting solution.”

    With the Russian opposition calling for another protest on Aug. 3, Putin would be wise to learn from this history and heed Arendt’s prophetic warning. “To substitute violence for power can bring victory,” she writes, “but the price is very high; for it is not only paid by the vanquished, it is also paid by the victor in terms of his own power.”

    Climate activists set sights on ending fossil fuel exports in Pacific Northwest once and for all

    When federal regulators came to Southern Oregon in June for hearings on a massive gas export project, they were greeted by a grassroots resistance movement 15 years in the making. About 800 people attended a series of four hearings put on by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC. Those speaking out against the gas project represented rural landowners, local governments, fisheries interests, tribal governments, and climate activist groups.

    “This project has brought people together from across the political spectrum,” said Rogue Climate campaigns director Allie Rosenbluth. “Whether people speak out against the threat of eminent domain or climate change, we all know it isn’t good for our communities. That’s why so many people have been coming out year after year for over a decade to oppose it.”

    Southern Oregon is one of the most important remaining battlegrounds for a movement that has defeated coal, oil and gas terminals up and down the Pacific Northwest Coast. The region is home to the proposed Jordan Cove LNG export terminal (LNG being short for liquefied natural gas) and the Pacific Connector pipeline that would connect to it. Together, they are among the last major Northwest fossil fuel export proposals still moving forward. With permitting processes for these related projects entering a critical phase, the resistance is ramping up for a decisive battle.

    The growing resistance that seeks to prevent the Northwest from becoming a major fossil fuel export zone is known informally as the Thin Green Line.

    The stakes are high both for the climate and locally impacted communities. The 229-mile-long Pacific Connector pipeline would span four counties and cut through hundreds of private landowners’ property, leading many rural residents to join hands with climate activists in fighting it. The pipeline would also cross land owned by the Klamath Tribes, which formally oppose the project because of impacts on the environment and ancient burial grounds. Other tribes whose ancestral territory would be affected — including the Yurok, Karuk, and Tolowa Dee-ni’ nations — have also spoken out.

    In a letter to FERC announcing the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Tribal Council’s opposition, Council chairperson Denise Richards-Padgett highlighted threats to the Rogue River headwaters, writing, “Water is a life source to the Tolowa people and the integrity of any water flowing into the Tribe’s aboriginal lands and territory may not be compromised.”

    The climate implications of liquefied natural gas have been another concern since the beginning. While natural gas is often touted as a lower-carbon alternative to coal, super-cooling and transporting it across the ocean in giant tankers adds significantly to its carbon footprint. A recent report from Oil Change International estimates all emissions associated with Jordan Cove LNG would amount to 15 times the carbon footprint of Oregon’s Boardman Coal Plant, currently the state’s biggest polluter.

    “This terminal and pipeline would create seismic climate justice, economic, ecological, health and safety problems well beyond the four directly impacted counties,” said Bonnie McKinlay, a volunteer with Stop Fracked Gas-PDX — a Portland-based group that organizes in solidarity with frontline communities affected by natural gas projects, including Jordan Cove.

    Previous Coverage
  • Big Coal faces big opposition in Pacific Northwest
  • Due in large part to its climate implications, Jordan Cove LNG has been a focus of climate activists throughout the Northwest since it was proposed 15 years ago. Over that time, the diverse coalition that came together to oppose it expanded and took on other fossil fuel projects, helping lay the foundation for a mass grassroots movement that has turned the entire Pacific Northwest region into a hub of anti-fossil fuel resistance. Yet, even as other fossil fuel export proposals were put forward and defeated, final victory over Jordan Cove has remained elusive. Now, activists hope they finally have an opportunity to end this 15-year fight conclusively.

    Paving the way for the Thin Green Line

    The origins of Jordan Cove LNG date back to 2004, when the U.S. energy landscape looked dramatically different from today. That year Colorado-based Energy Products Development LLC announced plans to build a liquefied natural gas import terminal on Coos Bay in Southern Oregon. The company submitted a notice of intent to the state, kicking off a permitting process that would drag on for years, as ownership of the project changed hands and its purpose switched from importing to exporting liquefied natural gas.

    Previous Coverage
  • The extraction backlash — how fossil fuel companies are aiding their own demise
  • At that time, the U.S. fracking boom and later dramatic growth of renewables had not yet transformed the economics of energy in this country. The United States was still a net fossil fuel importer, and Jordan Cove LNG was one of three projects proposed in Oregon by different companies to import super-cooled liquid gas from overseas before re-gasifying and sending it through pipelines to major U.S. energy markets — mainly in California.

    Early resistance to liquefied natural gas from the public confronted all three projects: Jordan Cove, Bradwood Landing LNG near Astoria, and Oregon LNG near Warrenton. In 2010, Bradwood became the first project to fold when its corporate backer, NothernStar Natural Gas Company, filed for bankruptcy and liquidated its assets. Bradwood LNG was partly a casualty of the fracking boom — which, by that time, had undermined the rationale for new gas imports. However, other effects of fracking would play out in the Pacific Northwest in ways much more sinister for the climate.

    A combination of low natural gas prices and grassroots opposition to coal led to a shift away from coal combustion and caused U.S. coal producers to eye overseas markets. At the same time, the unexpected glut of gas and oil from fracking put pressure on companies to export those fuels. Over the course of a few years, coal and oil export proposals popped up in port towns up and down the Oregon and Washington coasts. Around the same time, backers of both Oregon LNG and Jordan Cove LNG changed their proposed business models from importing to exporting natural gas.

    In an iconic protest against fossil fuel exports in July 2013, climate groups — including Rising Tide Portland and 350 Portland — dropped a massive banner from a bridge above the Columbia River reading “Coal, Oil, Gas: None Shall Pass.” It was something of a coming out moment for a new type of movement in the Pacific Northwest focused on opposing not just any one type of fossil fuel exports, but all of them.

    That growing resistance — which seeks to prevent the Northwest from becoming a major fossil fuel export zone — came to be known informally as the Thin Green Line. This movement had the benefit of being able to learn from the model for diverse coalition-building and grassroots organizing developed in the already years-old fight against liquefied natural gas.

    Resisting gas exports in the Trump era

    In order to break ground, Jordan Cove LNG — now owned by the Canada-based Pembina Pipeline Corporation — needs a series of permits from the state of Oregon, local governments and FERC. In 2012, when Jordan Cove officially switched to an export project, FERC vacated an earlier permit that hinged on being a gas importer. In 2016, FERC twice denied new applications from Jordan Cove LNG.

    It was almost unheard of for FERC — an agency notorious for rubber-stamping permits — to actually say no to a major fossil fuel project. But this was during the late months of the Obama administration, when high-profile protests against projects like the Dakota Access pipeline seemed to be causing the federal government to re-think its attitude toward new fossil fuel infrastructure. Then Donald Trump became president and everything changed again.

    In February 2017, under the new fossil fuel-friendly administration, FERC allowed a new permit application for Jordan Cove LNG to move forward. This initiated a new phase of permitting at both state and federal levels, as well as a new wave of grassroots resistance that reached a crescendo this summer.

    In January 2019, the Oregon Department of State Lands held public hearings in Southern Oregon and the capital city of Salem on a “remove and fill” permit Jordan Cove needs from the state to move forward. “Over 3,000 people showed up to the hearings,” Rosenbluth said. “Now we’re keeping pressure on Gov. Kate Brown. We believe it’s really critical that a governor who claims to be a climate champion reject projects like Jordan Cove.”

    While Brown has pushed climate bills in the state legislature and issued executive orders meant to curb Oregon’s carbon emissions, her stance on Jordan Cove LNG has been non-committal so far. “We’ve had folks showing up at her speeches, fundraisers and public appearances to confront her on this project,” Rosenbluth added. “We hope Gov. Brown stands with communities in Southern Oregon who’ve been asking her to stop Jordan Cove LNG for as long as she’s been in office.”

    Activists call on Gov. Brown to support clean energy and reject Jordan Cove LNG. (Bonnie McKinlay)

    Climate activists throughout Oregon are also doing their part to pressure the state and Brown, who plays a critical role in decisions about Jordan Cove — both as a member of the State Lands Board and the ultimate overseer of all state agencies. “We carpool to Salem for hearings and rallies at the State Lands Board office and the Capitol building,” McKinlay said. “We bird-dog elected officials with ‘We Want Clean Energy, Not Fracked Gas!’ signs. We collect signatures and comments and host comment-writing workshops.”

    While state permitting decisions move forward, FERC is engaging in a parallel review process — one that includes the June hearings in Southern Oregon.

    More than a dozen major proposed fossil fuel export projects have been abandoned. Almost none of the largest facilities have broken ground.

    Opponents of Northwest fossil fuel exports have had plenty of practice turning out to hearings over the last 15 years. Public hearings on coal, oil and LNG have attracted hundreds or thousands of people, with participation coming to seem like something of a civic duty for climate activists. An almost carnival-like atmosphere prevails at many such hearings where people from across large geographic areas come together for what feels like a celebration of the resistance to fossil fuels. The events often include lively rallies outside the hearing venue, public art installations and packed auditoriums where activists give verbal comments in front of hundreds of people.

    In an apparent effort to avoid such public spectacle, FERC chose a new format for its Jordan Cove hearings. Those who signed up to give comments were called one by one into a “private” hearing room to deliver their testimony to a single court reporter. But that didn’t stop activists from finding other ways to draw attention to their cause.

    “At each hearing, we held block parties outside while FERC took comments,” Rosenbluth said. “There was lots of music and art. Then we held a rally later in the evening so people could come after work. We were determined to make our voices heard.”

    A last stand for Northwest fossil fuel exports?

    More than a dozen major proposed fossil fuel export projects have been abandoned by their corporate backers or rejected by regulators in Oregon and Washington over the last 10 years. Almost none of the largest facilities have broken ground. A handful of projects remain, including a proposed gas-to-methanol plant in Kalama, Washington; an oil-by-rail facility expansion in Portland; a liquefied natural gas project proposed in Tacoma in 2014; and Jordan Cove LNG with its associated Pacific Connector Pipeline. The latter is by far the oldest of these surviving proposals.

    Despite fatigue from a decade-and-a-half-long fight, the big turnout at the recent FERC and Department of State Lands hearings shows that grassroots resistance to fossil fuel exports in the Pacific Northwest is as strong as ever. If and when Jordan Cove is defeated, the moment could be remembered as the point when the Thin Green Line beat back one of the last major attempts by the fossil fuel industry to use the Northwest as an export hub.

    “Right now this is the largest LNG proposal on the West Coast of the United States,” Rosenbluth said. “If we in the Northwest want to stop fossil fuel exports in our communities, this project must be stopped as well. This movement is building and if we continue to come together and find common ground, we can make sure there are no fossil fuel exports on our coast.”

    Leading Puerto Rican activists celebrate governor’s resignation, talk next steps

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    By all accounts, the shutdown of Puerto Rico’s industries, schools, government and business-as-usual on Monday was an unexpected show of popular sentiment against ruling Gov. Ricardo Rosselló. It was a true national strike, spreading from the capital in San Juan to all other major cities like Mayaguez, Ponce and Aguadilla.

    While Rosselló was resistant to the initial calls and protests demanding his immediate resignation last week — following leaks that revealed misogynist and homophobic remarks he had made in private — the embattled leader finally succumbed on Wednesday night, announcing that he would step down next Friday.

    Despite this success for half a million people who made Monday’s national strike possible, longtime Puerto Rican activists have been quick to assert that Rosselló’s resignation — and the fissures revealed by his blunders — will not easily be reconciled by minor reforms or proclamations.

    “In our history, I don’t think there has been a moment like this one,” noted 76-year-old Oscar Lopez Rivera, widely regarded as the elder statesman of the island. “Even before the governor announced his resignation, the fact is that he was not governing Puerto Rico.” 

    Lopez Rivera, who was called the “Mandela of the Americas” throughout Latin America during his more than 35 years behind bars for supporting independence, has been living and working in San Juan since winning clemency in 2017.

    “Many members of Rosselló’s own party, the pro-statehood New Progressive Party were not responding to him,” Lopez Rivera said. “The demands Puerto Ricans are making right now go beyond the call for his resignation: Puerto Ricans want the house of corruption, known as the legislature, to be cleaned out. They want the elimination of the Fiscal Control Board [created by the Obama administration to oversee the island’s economic affairs] and for the odious debt to be audited. Puerto Ricans want all public schools to remain public and those that were closed to be re-opened.”

    Women’s rights organizer Onelia Perez Rivera agreed that Rosselló’s resignation would not stop the momentum behind these struggles, noting “This protest movement isn’t headed by traditional leaders or by conventional left sectors. Young people are here, but also entire families have responded to the call with great creativity!”

    Perez Rivera, a leading force behind the long-standing empowerment association Centro Mujer Barranquitas, said that while she and other well-known progressive voices were consulted — due to their longstanding and respected critiques of the colonial and capitalist system that rules the island — it was the youth who made the protests happen. They were the originators, and their outrage was centered on a clear understanding that the people will not stand for the corruption and indignities of the past.

    “Even though we still may not know how to build the new society we want to freely live in, we are feeling it! And it feels good,” she said.

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    Campaign for Human Rights activist Luis Rosa echoed Perez Rivera’s sentiments, saying, “Rosselló’s resignation must be seen as a victory for the will of the people, a newly found or rediscovered victory of a new generation.”

    The former political prisoner — who was freed in 1999 after a massive international campaign — then offered some perspective: “Those seeking to replace Rosselló will promise a world of change, creating compacts with community base organizations and proposing everything right up to the border of revolutionary change. But the people are clear that the core of what we need are three basic things: decolonization, an end to our colonial status through a constitutional assembly; health care, free for all Puerto Rican citizens; and free public education up through the university level.”

    Rosa is calling for the creation of a far-reaching think tank that could script out a strategy for the work of achieving liberation. “Let us create projects that can take independence out of the realm of the abstract and intangible or unexplainable,” he said. “We are building something we can use to break the fear of change.”

    With a national general strike being arguably the greatest weapon an occupied and oppressed people can use to overthrow repressive regimes, Monday’s dramatic strike was not the only contemporary Puerto Rican demonstration numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Huge mobilizations have also taken place in response to the privatization and selling of Puerto Rico’s nationalized electric industry, U.S. military bombings of neighboring Vieques and the incarceration of Puerto Rican political prisoners.

    While the hyper-colonial nature of Puerto Rico’s specific relationship to the United States may lead the course of “regime change” down a convoluted path, there are few Americans who understand the intricacies of Puerto Rico’s current “free associated state” status. Even most progressive people are barely aware that the U.S. occupation of Puerto Rico began with direct marine intervention in 1898, and that the U.S. military still occupies choice lands throughout the archipelago.

    What’s more, Puerto Ricans have been drafted to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces and sent disproportionately to the front lines of U.S. wars — despite the fact that they cannot vote in U.S. presidential elections, have no representation in Congress, and face harsh and extreme repression when they exercise rights that may contradict the wishes of Washington, D.C. As recently as June 24, the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization noted that “political insubordination” on the part of the colonial United States “impedes Puerto Rico’s ability to tackle its serious economic and social problems.”

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    It is therefore not difficult to sympathize with Oscar Lopez Rivera in his assertion that those who took part in the strike — led in large part by young women — understood that “they were the majority” and that, by shouting for an end to the ways things have been, “they were decolonizing themselves.”

    According to Lopez Rivera, Puerto Ricans are calling for “a total transformation towards a free and independent nation. And what we are witnessing is a movement that can’t be stopped.” Ultimately, he concluded, “Puerto Rico will be the nation it has the potential of becoming.”

    Can a podcast show us how to change our hearts and minds?

    Stephanie Lepp has long been fascinated by the question, “How do we change our hearts and minds?” As an artist, Lepp seeks to inspire transformative self-reflection. Her most recent endeavor is a podcast called “Reckonings,” which challenges the audience to listen to — and develop empathy for — people who have done or participated in terrible things, from sexual abuse to white supremacy.

    In “Reckonings,” Lepp records hour-long stories, told firsthand, of people who have undergone a dramatic transformation of their behavior or beliefs. One episode features a former health insurance executive who left the industry after learning of a young girl who died after being denied life-saving treatment. In another, two people share their experiences with sexual abuse in the Catholic Church: one, a woman abused by a nun when she was a girl; the other, a priest who abused young boys.

    In some cases, these episodes create a space in which a transformative encounter takes place between two people. One of the most powerful stories is told by two people named Anwen and Sameer. Each person shares their perspective on an experience they had together as freshmen in college, when Sameer sexually assaulted Anwen after a party. They talked about going through a restorative justice process together at their university and the profound, transformative process of “reckoning” with each other through this experience.

    In this clip from episode 21, Lepp asks Anwen and Sameer if restorative justice is too lenient.

    In our interview, Lepp offered her reflections on how a process of “reckoning” holds up a mirror, asking listeners to examine their own assumptions about how far they can stretch their empathy. Lepp highlights the wider need as a society to reckon with perpetrators in a way that allows people to grow and change, particularly in the case of public figures who have committed sexual assault.

    What compelled you to start asking this question of “How do we change our hearts and minds?”

    “Reckonings” producer Stephanie Lepp.

    Throughout college and into my early professional life, I was involved in various social issues and social change — and the question always came up for me: Am I changing anyone’s mind? Am I actually influencing anyone? Whether on climate change, mandatory minimum sentencing — whatever I was focusing on at the time. And this begged the question, how do people actually change their hearts and minds?

    That question became a fascination of mine. I started trying to research it, but I didn’t even know what research terms to look up. “World view transformation?” Is that even a thing? Behavioral economics came to mind, but I wasn’t trying to figure out what makes people floss their teeth more often. I want to know what moves people in really fundamental ways.

    So I had been sitting with this question for many years, and I finally realized it could be really powerful to explore this within the context of stories of people who have made these kinds of transformative changes as a podcast. A couple years ago, I launched “Reckonings” to explore this question of how people change and, more specifically, how do people change in ways that connect to broader social or political change?

    Telling stories in this way creates a space for the apology, or the reckoning, to take place. It’s not as compelling if it’s a soundbite or a tweet. Hearing the entire story is what helps answer the most burning question, which is the question of why. Why did you do that? We don’t know why unless we go back and hear where this person came from and what got them there. And audio is a really intimate medium. It just allows you as the listener to connect the story to yourself and reflect on your own life.

    Anwen and Sameer’s story has had this really tangible impact, with some high schools now using that episode to teach young people about sexual assault. What are some of the other ripple effects you have seen from these stories?

    Episodes have a life of their own. I hear from teachers who share the episodes in their classrooms, but of course I also hear from people who have personal relationships with the issue. One person who reached out to me had flirted with white supremacy at a young age and responded to [an episode about a former neo-Nazi] in thinking back to that time. It sounded like he hadn’t fully processed what attracted him to that in the first place, and the episode inspired him to do that further.

    With Anwen and Sameer, a lot of what I wanted to do was put a model out there for other young men. We don’t know what it sounds like, for the most part, for men to take responsibility for sexual abuse of power. Men don’t necessarily know what to say or how to approach something like this. I wanted to put a model out there of Sameer, who does skillfully and graciously take responsibility. I hope that this stands as an example that men can learn from.

    Another clip from episode 21, where Sameer explains his transformation.

    I can also say that part of what I want to do with the show is to inspire reckonings in real time. I want to help create a place where Al Franken and Mark Zuckerberg can go to confront some things in a public way, and where we make room for them to do that; where Joe Biden can clean up his history with Anita Hill, and where we let him learn and grow and change in public.

    That makes “Reckonings” less of a podcast and more of a place in our public sphere where we make room for our public figures to take a look in the mirror and grow from what they see. Imagine what it would have been like if something like that existed when Brett Kavanaugh came along. I see it as a real missed opportunity of leadership. But it’s not just him, it’s also a question of whether there was space in our public sphere for that kind of growth and change in public. Would he have done something differently? Maybe. We should at least make that space so we can make more room for ourselves to grow.

    When you first started this podcast, did you intend for it to be playing into the public conversation in this way, or has it transformed since you stared it?

    It’s definitely evolved since I started it. Initially, it was the fascination with how people change, but it’s not all kinds of change. It’s not just left-to-right or right-to-left, it’s just conscious evolution. And as I understood the kind of change I was interested in, how people learn and grow, I made the connection to what that would mean in our public sphere. Even just the term flip-flopper — we have such a thing about people changing. And yet I hope my representatives continue to change and grow. Certainly there are changes that can be considered flip-flops if you’re just doing it for short-term political gain, but there’s a difference between a flip-flop and evolution. And may we all continue to evolve, including in public.

    But I do think specifically the #MeToo movement has a particular resonance with the public sphere, because it’s a conversation we’re having right now in public. If Anwen and Sameer’s story was what we were hearing on NPR or seeing on CNN — or even on FOX News — I think we would be having a refreshingly different conversation around #MeToo.

    How does the notion of restorative justice explored in “Reckonings” allow us to bring a wider range of people into our movements for social change?

    As an operating philosophy, the goal should be to bring everyone in to be part of the solution and the evolution. I do believe none of us are free until all of us are free, so you have to free us all — including the tyrant. The tyrant does need to be liberated.

    A clip from episode 23, where a woman named Susan explains why she forgave the nun who abused her.

    But restorative justice is not mutually exclusive with traditional criminal justice. People who commit offenses should be served their due consequences. And yet, just because you’re sitting in jail doesn’t mean you can’t work to repair the harm you caused. You can be part of the solution.

    I might not have compassion for what someone did, I might not be able to relate or might recoil at the things people have done, but every time I interview someone, I have been able to relate to or understand or have compassion for why they did it.

    Will the real Gene Sharp please step forward?

    In a recent interview with Jacobin, lawyer and political activist Marcie Smith expands on an essay she wrote earlier this year calling Gene Sharp — the late founder of nonviolent theory — “one of the most important Cold War defense intellectuals the U.S. has produced.” Unfortunately, the interview, much like her essay, miss him by a mile.

    To be fair, I’ll admit that Gene — a mentor and friend from when we were both young adults — was not an easy guy to figure out. Both his role and his project puzzled many. Peace studies academics expected him to join them, but couldn’t understand his obsession with conflict and the fact that he hardly mentioned peace. Pacifists knew he’d been in prison for refusing military conscription, but were puzzled by his reluctance to identify with them. And while he was a trained sociologist who researched social movements, that wasn’t the right niche for him either.

    Previous Coverage
  • Gene Sharp — the lonely scholar who became a nonviolent warrior
  • Nevertheless, Sharp made a global impact on political movements — something Marcie Smith knows and understands. But she didn’t know him personally, and she makes a guess about the role he chose. There’s no suggestion that she interviewed his colleagues, who are easily available — and that got me wondering why Jacobin would turn to her as an authority on him.

    Smith assigns him the role of a public intellectual, then criticizes him for not doing what he “should” have done: jumped into the arena of left politics and acted like a movement thought leader. With a tone of accusation she demands, “What is your affirmative program? What are your ideas about how the economy should be organized and are they historically informed?”

    Was Sharp a ‘Cold War intellectual?’

    Smith calls Sharp a Cold Warrior, lining him up with Harvard’s Thomas Schelling, who consulted with the Department of Defense. Her evidence is that nonviolent struggle was used to hasten the unraveling of the Soviet empire. While that is true, nonviolent struggle has also been used to overthrow regimes that were part of the U.S. empire — most notably the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. Additionally, Sharp’s advances in nonviolent theory have been used by Palestinians in their revolt against the occupation of U.S. ally Israel.

    Because Smith doesn’t understand the role Sharp actually played, she gets confused about the nature of his project, which was to amplify the power of nonviolent struggle for whoever chooses to try it instead of using violence. Some groups did choose civil resistance instead of armed struggle to elude the grasp of Russia. Others chose it to abolish apartheid in U.S.-allied South Africa. It is available for all.

    Believing it is actually leaders of movements who need to devise a specific strategy, Sharp tried to be helpful by explaining how the technique of nonviolent struggle works, when it does.

    As someone who detested violence, Sharp believed that political actors should know about an alternative way to fight their battles that didn’t bring the terrible suffering of war.

    A real Cold Warrior would give his weaponry to one side and deny it to the other. He would keep it secret and, in that way, make it all the more powerful. Sharp, of course, prodigiously published his work, translated it into many languages and media, and encouraged everyone else to do the same.

    My own fight with Sharp over the question of strategy

    Referring to Sharp’s conceptualization of nonviolent struggle, Smith demands, “Has this strategy been developed with any awareness of the reality of class struggle?”

    For one thing, Sharp did not offer a “strategy.” Believing it is actually leaders of movements who need to devise a specific strategy, he tried to be helpful by explaining how the technique of nonviolent struggle works, when it does. It was on the leaders to create strategy for their people and circumstance.

    If Smith actually understood his role she would see why Sharp didn’t write about the topic of class struggle even though he researched labor and peasant struggles relentlessly and his three-volume masterwork is chock full of them. His purpose was simply other than Smith’s — he wanted to learn about working people’s choice to differ sometimes from the conventional wisdom that to become powerful it is necessary to be violent. Those working people who chose nonviolent struggle were (and are) innovators, something that was of abiding interest to Sharp.

    Previous Coverage
  • How ‘Strategy for a Living Revolution’ came to life
  • In the early ‘70s, we had quite a passionate argument when I published a book with the title “Strategy for a Living Revolution.” [Now available under the title “Toward a Living Revolution.”] It was sponsored by an academic think tank and introduced important new concepts like “the dilemma action.” It was also full of evidence-based knowledge that supported a revolution in our country.

    Because Sharp had mentored me for so long, I was upset that he wasn’t pleased. Finally, though, he got through to me a subtle but important distinction that had to do with my being known in academia as a nonviolent researcher. He worried that the then-fledgling field of nonviolent theory wouldn’t get the space it needed to develop if it got distracted by books that wrapped nonviolent studies into the author’s radical politics.

    Sharp deliberately chose not to become a political leader. It makes no sense to criticize his not acting like one.

    Sharp wanted to develop theory focused on a technique of struggle, free of my book’s questions of “Which side are you on?” If he could prevent his theoretical work from getting “captured” by any one political stance, he reasoned, theory would develop more fully and become more useful to diverse movements with a variety of goals.

    While I doubted that my book was dangerous in that way — since it wasn’t polemical, and I believed our new field was not that fragile — I came to understand Sharp a little better. He saw himself as a scientist building theory that would lend itself to applications that others could figure out how to use in their contexts. He wanted me to continue theory-building with him.

    Of course Sharp had opinions of his own regarding political issues. Some of these showed up in his writing. For starters, he loved democracy, self-determination and power from below — so he judged negatively the Soviet model and its variations, along with the variety of imperialisms. Nevertheless, Sharp deliberately chose not to become a political leader. It makes no sense to criticize his not acting like one.

    Who, then, was he?

    The best metaphor I can think of is to imagine a botanist who, as a young man, discovers that the jungles of the world are a fantastic resource for human health and survival. Even though jungles may be out of sight and out of mind for city-dwellers, he becomes fascinated with how much he’s finding that was previously not known.

    Almost none of his peer botanists “get it” — they are busy with research in known varieties of plants and possibilities of hybrids. But our lonely botanist plugs away, exploring distant jungles and making finds that dramatically extend what has been known. He sees he needs to make a taxonomy of his own, then finds it steadily growing.

    Sharp gave himself the (probably hopeless) task of asking people to identify conflict behaviors like botanists identify plants, asking about their characteristics and function rather than their worthiness.

    Bit by bit his published work gets known and medicines are made from the “new” plants. Major money gets made, but he doesn’t see it, busy exploring a yet more distant part of the jungle. He is learning about jungle ecology and daring to guess its larger contribution.

    Finally, our botanist’s lifetime achievement coincides with a new urban consciousness of need. The planet is about to choke itself to death from carbon overload. The botanist celebrates the awakening realization even in the cities that jungles are the lungs of the world.

    Civilization will never look at jungles the same way again. The botanist’s hunch has led to a paradigm change.

    Is ‘nonviolent’ Sharp’s god-term?

    In casting Sharp as a political thought leader, Smith makes a common error: imagining him offering us moral guidance, as political leaders do, defining “nonviolent action” as an ethical term rather than simply behavioral.

    Sharp gave himself the (probably hopeless) task of asking people to identify conflict behaviors like botanists identify plants, asking about their characteristics and function rather than their worthiness. His taxonomy invites us to put aside our rush to moral judgment for a moment in order to agree that when we see a group of people moving back and forth repeatedly in front of a store, we’re seeing “picketing” and that it’s a method of “nonviolent action.”

    White people have picketed to support racial segregation; in our field we still call their method “nonviolent action,” even though morally deplorable. Making definitions that make such observations possible is what sociologists do.

    It is possible to make such observations with reasonable accuracy — something we found at Swarthmore College, where Sharp’s taxonomy is used for the Global Nonviolent Action Database. Because of the database’s operational need for a description, we used a variation of Sharp’s definition of “violence,” again emphasizing observable phenomena.

    While knowing there are linguistic difficulties lingering under the surface, we found it easy to get agreement on observations among student researchers, and since definition is about communication, agreement among observers is the bottom line.

    For Marcie Smith, on the other hand, definitions based on observable behaviors is not the bottom line — morally-based political judgments are. (She projects Sharp, after all, as a political leader.) The taxonomy is not a useful sociological device for her. Instead, she sees it as a dramatic reveal of just how subtly Sharp plays his role as a neoliberal Cold Warrior.

    In just a few words, what can I say? For many of us leftist anti-imperialist revolutionaries, Sharp’s taxonomy works just fine, and we understand it is there for good reasons of scholarship.

    Is Sharp’s theory anti-state?

    “In Sharp’s schema, the state is not something to contest for, the state is not something to try to take over. It is something to dissolve and destroy.” This assertion of Smith’s actually contradicts her view of Sharp as Cold Warrior — since Cold Warriors very much wanted to support the security of their state.

    That being said, I happen to agree with Smith’s concern about overthrowing dictatorships with no preparation for the aftermath. In fact, that concern was a major motivation for my 1973 book on revolution. In those pages, I pointed out that precise deficiency, citing some of the spontaneous nonviolent insurrections that had occurred years earlier. I also offered a model of stages through which a grassroots revolutionary movement could prepare, so it could enter the power vacuum it generated already having a new political and economic order “good to go.”

    Smith’s “anti-state” assertion actually flies in the face of a significant part of Sharp’s work. At Sharp’s invitation I participated in the 1964 Civilian Defense International Study Conference at Oxford University. I was surrounded by people on very friendly terms with their national governments, including the famous Captain B.H. Liddell-Hart, who made his living consulting with ministries of defense.

    Yes, Sharp influenced politics in the world. We cannot rightly evaluate him, though, until we understand him, his choice of role and his life project.

    There were also activist-academics like me present. What drew us together was the idea of applying nonviolent struggle to the problem of national defense. We commonly assumed that, in case of an aggression by another nation, it would be the state that led the people in a nonviolent defense, as had happened after World War I when French and Belgian troops invaded Germany and the German state led the nonviolent resistance.

    Sharp continued to develop civilian-based defense, or CBD, for years — even consulting with Baltic and other governments that were investigating that policy for their own defense. Neutral Sweden and Austria did incorporate some elements of CBD into their planning. Later in his career he published a book called “The Anti-Coup,” which was meant to help states use nonviolent means to defend themselves. All of this contradicts Smith’s assertion that Sharp was keen to undermine all state authority.

    Where does her charge come from? A close reading suggests a fear that people power might prevail over the military power of a state she supports. If governments she supports do get overthrown nonviolently, she’s clearly ready to lay that at Sharp’s door, even though people have been nonviolently resisting governments long before anyone ever heard of him.

    It’s certainly her privilege to have opinions about, say, Zimbabwe’s Mugabe, Venezuela’s Maduro and others who over the years are subjects of debate among us on the left. Some, for example, may deplore much about a government and still consider it the lesser-of-two-evils, the greater evil being domination by an imperialist power.

    Marcie Smith wants to force Sharp to weigh in on such questions, teasing out inferences from his writings, but he was interested in quite a different question: “If the people decide to overthrow their government, would you want them to consider using nonviolent direct action to do it?” Sharp said two things about that question for as long as I knew him: While it wasn’t his job to tell people whether they should change their government, it was his job to develop a sound theory — so that they could create a nonviolent strategy, if that was their desire.

    Yes, Sharp influenced politics in the world. We cannot rightly evaluate him, though, until we understand him, his choice of role and his life project.

    His choices were both modest and bold. He was modest about telling people what to do — that’s why Smith’s picture of him is so off the mark. His boldness was in daring to find and assemble nonviolent tools that empowered others, whatever their decision, to act.

    Professors and students unite to oppose cuts to Lebanon’s only public university

    Over the last month and a half, a strike by faculty and student-led sit-ins and demonstrations against austerity measures effectively shut down Lebanese University, Lebanon’s only public university. 

    Regular protests — drawing hundreds of students, faculty members and organizations from different schools, cities and political affiliations — took place in downtown Beirut. 

    On June 18, students, joined by supporters from independent clubs, demonstrated in front of the Lebanese Ministry of Education and Higher Learning, marching from there to the headquarters of the League of Lebanese University Full Time Professors, a state-led organization in a neighborhood south of Beirut.

    The demonstrations stood in support for the professors’ right to strike. Teachers and supporting students held banners with slogans such as “We oppose paying the price of Lebanese University’s corruption.”

    Not backing down

    A statement issued by Lebanese University president Fouad Ayoub on June 19 warned professors against continuing their strike. In addition, the statement limited professors’ travel during the school year, telling them that they need “special permission” to travel and that it will be approved only in “special cases.”

    The statement said all deans and managers should “take all academic measures to facilitate the resumption of instruction” and requested that the names of professors who decide to continue protesting be recorded. 

    This prompted another round of student-faculty demonstrations over the course of the week in front of the university’s central administration building. 

    Classes resumed June 20 following a decision to end the strike — something numerous leaders from the government and university administration had been demanding — at a meeting of the League of Lebanese University Full-Time Professors.

    However, two days later, professors in Lebanese University’s general assembly council voted overwhelmingly to continue their six-week strike. They were joined by scores of student supporters, cheering the results of the vote.

    One professor, Bassel Saleh, who is an activist and advocate for teachers’ rights, recognized the importance of the vote in building power among staff. “We must strengthen our victories by building an independent free trade union movement within the Lebanese University,” he said. 

    After the mounting pressure — from the more than six-week strike, coupled with the success of the teachers’ vote to continue the strike — the Education Minister Akram Cheyhab promised to address the teachers’ demands on June 28. University administrators are currently scrambling to make concessions, however, it is still uncertain whether their demands will be met. 

    Tired of austerity

    Professors went on strike on May 6 in opposition to the Lebanese government’s 2019 draft budget, which proposed major wage cuts to those working in the public sector. Submitted to Prime Minister Saad Hariri in April, it was finalized by the Lebanese cabinet in late May. It was an effort by the government to follow through on promises to the international community, which agreed to loan Lebanon $11 billion last year if it could fix its growing deficit and pass a budget.

    However, there is widespread concern that the measures in the budget target public sector employment and services. They would threaten professor’s wages, raise the minimum years of public sector service needed for retirement from 20 to 25, impose a tax on pensions, and lower the number of full-time hires. Lebanon’s political establishment is widely regarded as highly corrupt, with public money and loan dollars systematically ending up in the pockets of the establishment.

    Professors are accustomed to being among the hardest-hit victims of austerity measures. Lebanon’s public education sector is already dangerously underfunded, only receiving around two percent of GDP. The annual budget of the university, which has an estimated 80,000 students, is just $250 million. 

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    Opposition to the draft budget’s austerity measures spans sectors, with public-sector employees all across Lebanon also striking against austerity and the threats the budget poses to their wages and benefits. 

    Despite the education minister’s promises, members of parliament have held off on making an agreement to exempt teachers from the requirement to serve 25 years to retire in the draft budget, and cancelling the teacher exemption on income taxes on pensions.

    Student-faculty solidarity

    The strikes have impacted students, who have had to indefinitely put their studies on hold. Nevertheless, many students have stood in support of their teachers, recognizing their shared struggle.

    “People in charge want to put the professors against the students to make it look like the students are their last concern,” said Zeinab, a student at Lebanese University who has participated in the demonstrations and chose to not disclose her last name. “It’s not right. When [the administration] wanted to raise the tuition the professors refused [the proposal] because students would not be able to pay the amount.”

    Ultimately, students, who are affected by missed travel plans, cancelled summer opportunities and strenuous summer make-up semesters, also demanded the resumption of classes. Yet, they insist this must not come at the expense of professors.

    “Every time there is a strike, of course, as students we demand that the university opens up and resumes sessions,” Zeinab said. “We do demonstrations, we set up camp in front of the university and sleep there. But of course, we and the [professors] are on the same page. They should have their rights.”

    Pushing forward

    Despite voting to continue the strike, teachers have put a pause on their action, pressured by the negative effects they have on students. Lessons will continue into the summer to make up for missed coursework. As the teachers protests have scaled down, student voices remain persistent.

    The Lebanese University Student Union, an independent student group formed early on in the teacher strikes, plans to continue mobilizing, by demonstrating in front of the Education Ministry and regularly posting updates on the status of the university. 

    A June 29 post by the student union called for protests every Monday, yet few have decided to heed this week’s call for massive demonstrations. However, student activists are continuing to push for solutions and decent conditions for students and faculty. 

    The group plans to join with students and faculty in negotiations over what the “post-strike phase” of their struggle will look like. While their demands have yet to be met, the strikes did demonstrate the success public sector professors have had in breaking away from sectarian party politics. 

    While their demands have yet to be met, their struggle is not lost. The striking professors have decisively broken away from sectarian party politics — and students and public sector workers are expected to continue confronting the effects of austerity on their professions.

    How movements can use drama to seize the public imagination

    Drama is useful in getting attention for our issues. The Sunrise Movement is only one of the recent movements that grew by seizing the public imagination through drama. How do activists come up with direct action tactics that reach, in author Jonathan Smucker’s useful phrase, “beyond the choir”?

    Here we’re entering the realm of creativity. Television shows relying on drama create writers’ rooms where a group of creative people swap ideas and generate options. Activists who expect wonderful ideas to emerge during a large meeting in a dreary church basement after a long workday may not be setting themselves up for success. Kibitzing with creative friends in a bar after the meeting might work better.

    Creativity can also be an individual thing. A great idea may come in the shower, while walking along the river, in a worshipping community, while staring out of the window after reading about other actions. One friend of mine likes to scan in a relaxed way Gene Sharp’s list of almost two hundred nonviolent methods.

    Drama feeds on uncertain outcomes

    While it’s true that a clash with others, including authorities, is an invitation to drama, a conflict can easily be a dud through repetition. Consider the period after the Battle of Seattle in 1999, when a mass of global justice advocates brought the meeting of the World Trade Organization to a premature close. The word went out: Gather at a spot where powerholders meet, generate chaos and get publicity for your cause. The clashes happened at political conventions and elsewhere. While they were exciting for many participants and sometimes got local coverage, the outcomes often turned out to be predictable. The result: little attention for the issue.

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  • 3 ways Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats are changing what is winnable
  • When the Sunrise Movement’s young people occupied House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office in November no one could know what would happen, Sunrise spokesperson Stephen O’Hanlon told me. Sunrise demanded she support the Green New Deal. The big question, however, was: Would she meet that demand, or at least support the formation of a select committee? (Ultimately, she did allow a select committee on the climate crisis.)

    Other questions emerged: Would she have them arrested? (In the end, she did not.) Would the Green New Deal attract an enormous buzz? (When all was said and done, it received such enormous mainstream media attention that early opinion polls showed majority grassroots support from Republicans as well as Democrats.)

    What worked was the suspense built into the action.

    Stakes can be life or death

    Even a small group can sometimes use this dynamic on a large scale. In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson, the “peace candidate” in the 1964 election, escalated the Vietnam war. At that time the wider public had only a dim awareness of where Vietnam was and how that small country might be suffering. In fact, the Vietnamese experienced a bombing campaign that was more massive than that unleashed on all of Europe by the allies during World War II.

    In 1966 Ohio Quaker Horace Champney had an idea for an action, just when the new organization A Quaker Action Group, or AQAG, was looking for one. Horace proposed to put the federal government in a dilemma by trying to take medical supplies to North Vietnamese civilians suffering under the bombing.

    Americans support disaster relief, but didn’t realize that in Vietnam our taxes were paying for the disaster instead of the relief. Creating drama by attempting to bring relief might shift public opinion. True, the government did justify the bombing by painting North Vietnam as the enemy, but Quakers were widely seen as “good guys,” maybe naïve yet sometimes on the right side of history.

    AQAG — of which I was a member — decided that a sailing ship physically attempting to bring medical supplies might show the war in a new light, opening new doors to the growing peace movement. That would be our strategic objective.

    AQAG co-chair George Willoughby knew that a sailing ship “takes the time it takes” to get somewhere, producing a continual drumroll and building suspense. In 1958, he’d sailed on the Golden Rule toward the Pacific’s nuclear testing zone for the Committee for Nonviolent Action. The voyage reaped wide attention, helping build the successful campaign against nuclear testing in the atmosphere.

    In 1966, almost 10 years after George’s voyage, Earle Reynolds offered his ketch-rigged sailing ship Phoenix for AQAG’s project. What would make this voyage dramatic was that no one could predict what would happen. U.S. destroyers and aircraft carriers occupied the South China Sea, blockading North Vietnam.

    Could the Phoenix sail through the U.S. Seventh Fleet? Would the United States stop the ship and crew in Hiroshima or Hong Kong, our departure points? Would it seize the Phoenix on the high seas? Would it stage an “accident” such that the Phoenix was mysteriously lost?

    We needed a crew whose members realized they might not return. Crew member Betty Boardman recounts in her book “The Phoenix Trip” the moment when a U.S. jet did in fact dive at them, pulling out of its dive only a short distance from the main mast.

    The crew of the first Phoenix voyage to North Vietnam to deliver medical supplies. Left to right: Phil Drath, Betty Boardman, Earle Reynolds, Akie Reynolds, Bob Eaton, Horace Champney, Ivan Massar. (Swarthmore College)

    I’ll never forget our meeting in Washington with officials from the Departments of State, Treasury and Defense. We knew we were already surveilled and the feds knew what we were planning, but we liked the assertiveness of our seeking a meeting — the better to tell them to their faces.

    In that meeting they threatened us with multiple consequences, such as seizing our bank account, fining us and arresting the crew. As it turned out, however, the three federal departments couldn’t themselves agree on what to do with the Phoenix.

    Instead, they kicked the decision upstairs to the White House. There it was decided to allow the Phoenix to get to Haiphong harbor in North Vietnam, and National Security Advisor Walt Rostow was assigned the task of making sure that the Phoenix remained safe.

    I learned more about that decision later. While making a cross-country speaking tour I was confronted by an angry Navy pilot. The buzz-cut, heavily muscled young man stopped me before I could enter the Midwest campus chapel where I was to speak.

    “I was a pilot on the aircraft carrier near you guys on the Phoenix,” he said, mistaking me for a crew member for that voyage. (I was actually on a later crew, for the voyage to South Vietnam with aid for the anti-war Buddhists.)

    The upset young man continued by saying, “We were scheduled to fly that day for a training exercise. We were laying bets with each other about which one of us would sink your boat. Then, just when we were getting ready to take off, there was a command on the loud speaker cancelling the exercise. They said the command came directly from the White House.”

    This man was still angry at having missed his chance, and saw me as one of the betrayers of his country. I invited him into the chapel to join the meeting, telling him I’d give him a chance to say his piece. Surprised, he hesitated, then abruptly turned and left.

    The Phoenix voyage to North Vietnam was widely reported on nightly TV news, newspapers and magazines. On return to the United States, crew members were in demand as doors swung open in religious institutions and civic groups. Middle America was waking up to what was going on.

    Today’s campaigns for the Green New Deal, Medicare for All and other bold proposals will increase their chances by organizing more nonviolent direct actions to grow their movements. Such campaigns need tactics that break through in the media, clear messages delivered by disruptive actions that build suspense — endings not easily predicted.

    Slowing down to build greater suspense

    As the ‘60s wore on, liberals who supported the empire began to describe the Vietnam war as a “tragic mistake,” implying that mass destruction in Vietnam was unique. Larry Scott, AQAG’s lead organizer, suggested we counter these opinion leaders by exposing the U.S. investment in biological warfare, grisly weapons intended for mass destruction.

    Almost no one knew, for example, that the Edgewood Arsenal in Northern Maryland was actually stockpiling anthrax.

    In 1970, AQAG launched a walk from the Capitol steps in Washington, D.C. to Edgewood, about 60 miles. The walkers carried seedlings and young pine trees, symbols of the U.S. colonial struggle, as well as life and ecological sanity.

    To increase uncertainty, they said they would try to plant the trees on the grounds of the Arsenal in order to confront death with life and expose the hidden reality.

    The drumroll started at the steps of the Capitol, then increased each day as the walkers stopped at multiple points and explained what they were doing and why.

    The media asked the commander of the Arsenal: would the Arsenal allow the pine trees to be planted there? It was a classic dilemma action, because the commander was damned if he allowed the plantings, and damned if he didn’t. (Side note: I invented the concept “dilemma demonstration” for my book “Toward a Living Revolution.” Many writers have since picked up the concept.)

    The numbers in the walk grew along with the publicity. The walkers were in no hurry. Discussion grew in the media: What is actually going on at Edgewood?

    Finally, the walkers arrived with the commander refusing permission to plant the trees on Arsenal grounds. The walkers proceeded to try to plant the trees, and arrests were made one day after another. By the end of a week, 29 campaigners and even several pine trees were arrested.

    Finally, unable to tolerate the growing heat, the commander told the media, “We’ll accept the tree as a tree.”

    That’s when the Baltimore Evening Sun editorialized, “The wonder is that it took Edgewood a week of confrontations with peace marchers, 29 arrests, endless humiliating pictures of husky [military police] glaring at the offensive seedlings to get the point. The point is that, if rival symbols were to be juggled, the tree had them licked before they started. In symbol language, when the tree said life, all Edgewood could say back was death, no matter how daintily it picked its phrases.”

    Many activists now understand that clear messaging and unusual and colorful actions are a plus when growing a campaign. A third element adds still more to an action’s power: the uncertainty of outcome. If we simply rush into the streets in a traffic blockade, everyone knows what’s going to happen and media coverage focuses on how disruptive we can be instead of our message. With creativity, we may design actions that build drama through presenting a dilemma to the target and over time maintain suspense about the outcome.

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