Waging Nonviolence

How dancing in the streets is saving democracy

As poll workers meticulously counted votes in the days following the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 3, demonstrators flooded the streets in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and other cities across the country. Wearing costumes, playing instruments and chanting “count the vote,” these crowds created a groundswell of joyful, enthusiastic energy for four days of waiting before Joe Biden was named the projected winner on Saturday. The positive messaging of these demonstrations — and an emphasis on core democratic values rather than anti-Trump rhetoric — created a powerful contrast to the angry, right-wing rallies demanding “Stop the count.”

This didn’t happen by accident. For the past couple months, groups like Hold the Line, Protect the Results and Choose Democracy have prepared thousands of people to defend the election. Thanks to all the Zoom trainings, action pledges and local coordinating hubs, the strategic importance of celebrating Biden’s lead in the polls last week was clear, particularly once Trump launched his first accusations of fraud on Wednesday morning. 

Previous Coverage
  • Unf*ck the vote! 3 ways creative action can win the election
  • By taking to the streets, activists got a head start on shaping the messaging of the moment. From labor unions to faith leaders, the diverse mobilizations made it clear that any attempt to manipulate the election would be challenged. The overwhelmingly positive, celebratory nature of the protests showed that Trump’s supporters would not get to dominate media coverage or intimidate people to go along with his efforts to discredit the results.

    With hashtags like #JoyToThePolls and #CountEveryVote, organizers cut the tension of the post-election waiting period by throwing block parties and parading through the streets. Some incorporated other tactics to demonstrate grassroots power — including sit-ins and threats of a general strike — to urge accountability from elected officials. The Center for Artistic Activism assembled a toolkit of ideas for amping up the creativity at count-the-vote rallies, such as new protest chants, flags, songs and guerilla projections

    The real center of this joyful multi-day block party was Philadelphia, a city that has been the site of recent mass protests after the police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr. Activists danced and partied in the streets for several days, with people in Elmo and Gritty costumes leading the “Cha Cha Slide” and the “Cupid Shuffle.”

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    Some of these actions had a specific aim, like the DJs who blasted Beyoncé to drown out a press conference touting Republicans’ one minor legal victory thus far. Others entertained the crowds, as groups like Positive Music Entertainment performed for onlookers, and more people brought instruments, played trombones and accordions, and marched with drumlines to cheering bystanders.

    The People’s Kitchen set up a stand to feed protesters, the Resistance Revival Chorus danced in all-white, and faith leaders with Power Interfaith held a prayer circle outside the Philadelphia Convention Center. Some dressed as giant puppets in the shape of post office boxes and the White House while joining the dancers. 

    A bike caravan in Washington D.C. on its way to the White House on Thursday. (Twitter/ShutDownDC)

    Washington D.C. also erupted in dance parties and go-go music concerts, as activists gathered in crowds outside the White House, marched through the streets and drove a pickup truck through the city singing into megaphones. A bike caravan rode alongside protesters, people choreographed music videos and dance groups performed for crowds. 

    Other cities saw a range of actions, including mass marches in New York — which were met with police violence — and a 240-foot-long mural in San Francisco on the sidewalk in front of the Jones Day law office, which represents Donald Trump. In Boston, a group called Jews Against Facism organized a sit-in outside Gov. Charlie Baker’s house demanding that he choose between facism and democracy. In Chicago, seven unions made a joint statement pledging to engage in mass nonviolent disobedience and a general strike if the election results are not respected. Asylum seekers in Mexico’s Matamoros refugee camp sang and clapped while waiting for the results. When the results were announced, they erected a string of balloons that spelled out “BYE TRUMP” along the Rio Grande, facing the U.S. border.

    Activists in San Francisco painting a #CoutEveryVote mural in front of the law office representing Donald Trump. (Twitter/Brooke Anderson)

    A number of groups, many Black-led, organized for weeks and months leading up to the election to promote positive messaging and joy to get out the vote. The Working Families Party started a project called Joy To The Polls in Philadelphia, which then spread nationwide as people shared videos of themselves dancing while waiting in line for early voting, and live bands played for voters waiting in line on Election Day in places like Flint, Michigan and Pennsylvania. This was part of a massive get-out-the-vote effort in which celebrities, businesses, sports teams and grassroots organizations used positive messaging and voter education to increase turnout.

    When Biden was announced as the projected winner on Saturday, the party atmosphere continued as people in cities across the country banged pots and pans, cheered in the streets, honked their horns and blasted music from balconies. 

    Sun Ra Arkestra perform on a #JoyToThePolls float Philadelphia. (Twitter/KishaBari)

    While activists are still preparing for the possibility of Trump and Republican leaders rejecting a peaceful transfer of power, these post-election rallies and dance parties are a first step toward organizing popular resistance in the event of an attempted coup. They are keeping people engaged and hopeful, and helping to control the messaging and media portrayal of protests. 

    At the same time, they are getting people organized and ready for the work that lies ahead under a Biden administration.

    As Waging Nonviolence contributor and Choose Democracy trainer Kazu Haga has advised, “Let’s celebrate and dance in the streets … But let’s also stay vigilant and keep organizing.”

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    Poems to get out the vote

    In times of unprecedented destruction, we need to activate unprecedented levels of creativity. During this election cycle, the widespread anxiety is begging us to initiate or deepen our practices of connection. One of those practices is poetry.

    I’m a co-creator and cultural worker with The Peace Poets, a hip hop crew from the Bronx that uses music and poetry to celebrate, examine and advocate for life. In this historical moment, we are creating art for necessary healing, rebellious hope and the sustenance of the social movements of our times. 

    Previous Coverage
  • ‘Music is a living thing’ — a conversation on movement music with the Peace Poets
  • We believe that poetry is an invitation to let the song of our souls emerge. We write poems as prayers of protection for our people and the land. We write poems with the hope that you too might put pen to paper or voice to wind and spit truth into this hurricane. Countless experiences of profound healing and connection remind us, it’s worth it.

    Here we offer two videos of poems about voting, followed by two pieces of written poetry about this election season. (We will be releasing a playlist of songs and chants on Waging Nonviolence within the next few days that can be used in efforts to defend elections and stop a coup. Stay tuned.)

    The first video (above) is called “Poem on the Ballot,” and it’s a celebration of the people’s creativity and a vote of confidence for our dreams of liberation. The second (below) is titled “Listen,” which is a plea to take action to face climate chaos, performed amidst the ashes of a neighborhood burned by recent fires that devastated two towns in Southern Oregon.

    As for the written poems, the first is called “Vote AND…” Its purpose is to remind us to attend to the physical, spiritual and emotional needs of our loved ones and ourselves amidst the madness of election time. And also, of course, to vote.

    The second poem is called “The Mourning After the Inauguration,” and it emphasizes the extent of what’s at stake and encourages all people to get out the vote as an act of love for all that they love.

    I hope these poems reach out and connect to you, and that you will give voice to the radical honest poet in you during these times. The people around you surely need the poem of you. And you’re the only one who can write that.

    Vote AND…

    History called…
    She said,
    Vote, but don’t just vote,
    Vote and don’t be afraid
    She said vote and sharpen the blade
    Of the way that you love and the way that you pray
    Vote and learn how to finally say:
    Salaam alaykum, to all our neighbors
    Vote and know that, we all creators
    Of the world we deeply need
    So vote and fight to get free
    She said
    Vote and laugh and vote and work,
    Vote and heal where you feel it worst,
    Vote and love on the earth
    Vote and respect all moms
    Vote and connect to your calm
    Vote and commit to a grassroots org,
    Maybe even vote and meditate more,
    I’ma try to Vote and hate a little less,
    Cuz I know we stressed but we all gotta flex
    To learn how to give and get respect,
    It’s a process, but let’s all be honest,
    We gotta stand up and make a promise
    To vote And protect the results
    To Vote and protect our people
    To Vote and protect our hope,
    Its a long long walk to freedom,
    But on the way make sure you vote.

    The Mourning After the Inauguration 

    Young folks need to vote like a gun the size of the sun is pointed at their face.
    Like trump got the trigger pulled back and he’s grinning
    Thinking about winning four more years.
    The ballot should read: the apocalypse in your mirror is closer than it appears.

    What I’m trying to express is that there may not be another chance,
    Climate crisis is so advanced, that four more years of this administration
    Will produce a devastation that will be beyond what we have the capacity to heal.
    If I could reach inside your heart and mind, grab you by the soul and make you know this is real…
    I would.
    This is actually me trying,
    Cuz there is no reason to keep lying.
    A genocidal narcissist is selling millions of people death,
    and apparently millions are undecided as to whether or not they want that yet.
    So I guess, all that all have left
    Is a tired, humble invitation,
    to go so hard for the vote
    that when all is said and done
    On the morning after
    January 20, 2021…
    you will know,
    you did everything
    in your power
    to fight
    For everything
    you love.

    Why ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’ deserves praise – from an antiwar organizer who was there

    At last Hollywood has produced a film about the Vietnam War that lionizes rather than caricatures the antiwar movement. Granted, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” takes some questionable liberties with the facts — which I witnessed up close as a young antiwar organizer in Chicago at the time — but it’s not a documentary. Like other feature films based on a novel or on historical events, it shouldn’t be judged solely on its literal accuracy.

    Almost every feature filmmaker wants to produce an entertaining film that appeals to a broad audience. There’s no question that writer-director Aaron Sorkin (of “The West Wing” and “A Few Good Men” fame) has achieved that objective. But “The Trial of the Chicago 7” does something much more significant. The film exposes an unjust and racist legal system, and it vindicates those who protested a senseless and immoral war. The movie concludes with a scene that can only be described as an inspiring call for resistance, perfectly attuned to a year that’s seen some of the largest street protests in American history.

    “The Trial of the Chicago 7” also marks a significant departure from Hollywood’s embrace of a false narrative about the Vietnam War era — first propagated by Richard Nixon, who claimed that the antiwar movement was a bigger enemy than the Vietnamese communists. Ronald Reagan and his right-wing allies proclaimed the war a “noble cause” and turned the actual history on its head. America’s defeat was blamed on the antiwar movement and wimpy liberals who kept the United States from effectively using its firepower to turn Vietnam into a parking lot (ignoring the fact that the United States dropped more bombs on Vietnam than were dropped by all combatants in World War II). By 1991 the United States overcame what was known as the “Vietnam Syndrome,” and the country again asserted its exceptionalism — first in Iraq, then in the forever wars in Afghanistan and throughout the Middle East.

    Hollywood became a willing accomplice in this effort to rewrite history. It has produced more than 100 films about the Vietnam War over the past half century, many typical war movies with heroic American GIs fighting in blood-soaked rice paddies and jungles of Southeast Asia. Others tell stories of returning vets. Several won Oscars, including “Apocalypse Now,” “The Deer Hunter,” “Platoon,” “Coming Home,” “Forrest Gump” and “Full Metal Jacket.” Yet many, if not most, Vietnam War films dehumanize the Vietnamese people, and/or show Vietnam vets as psychopaths, and/or present a grossly inaccurate view of the antiwar movement.

    The supposed hostility between returning Vietnam veterans and antiwar protesters became a staple in these films. Several Hollywood films, such as the Rambo blockbusters, depicted antiwar protesters spitting in the faces of GIs at airports on their return. In “The Spitting Image,” sociologist Jerry Lembcke debunks the myth that the war’s opponents spat at returning vets. Rather than being antagonistic to war veterans, the antiwar movement welcomed tens of thousands of them into their ranks. By 1971 groups such as Vietnam Veterans Against the War became the most effective part of the opposition.

    But Hollywood’s distortions stuck. In “American Reckoning,” historian Christian Appy explains the impact: “As a result, several generations of American students came of age with only the vaguest idea of why so many people had opposed the Vietnam War, and thus it became all the easier to breathe new life into the myth that the peace movement was full of self-righteous and cowardly draft dodgers.”

    Previous Coverage
  • Ken Burns’ powerful anti-war film on Vietnam ignores the power of the anti-war movement
  • Some fine documentary films have presented a fuller picture of the movement: “The War Within,” “Sir! No Sir! Berkeley in the Sixties,” “The Camden 28,” “The Most Dangerous Man in America” and “Hit and Stay.” (Three previous documentaries were also made about the trial, most recently “Chicago 10” in 2007). But the audience for all of these documentaries combined was probably less than the viewers of Ken Burns’ and Lynn Novick’s “The Vietnam War.” First shown on PBS in 2017, this $30 million, 18-hour PBS extravaganza reinforced the established view of the antiwar movement as an impotent sideshow.

    “The Trial of the Chicago 7” humanizes the peace movement by telling the story of the most colorful courtroom drama of the era. To set the context, Sorkin begins with a sober President Lyndon Johnson announcing that he is increasing draft calls to augment the number of U.S. forces in Vietnam. Throughout the film, we are reminded repeatedly that the war is continuing, and the film ends on that note.

    Within these brackets, Sorkin dramatizes the confrontation between the government (the Nixon Justice Department and Chicago Mayor Daly’s minions) and eight antiwar activists charged with conspiring to start a riot at the Democratic Party’s convention in 1968. Sorkin tells the story from the viewpoint of the defendants. But even viewers predisposed against the anti-warriors cannot help but root for them as they face the totally biased Judge Julius Hoffman. Sorkin didn’t have to embellish history to convey the unfairness of the proceedings as most of the courtroom dialogues were taken verbatim from trial transcripts.

    Sorkin also didn’t exaggerate what happened to defendant Bobby Seale, then chairman of the Black Panther Party. Because of his demands to be represented by his own lawyer, Seale is gagged and chained to his chair at the defense table. It’s gut-wrenching to watch. Echoes of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin and countless others is inescapable.

    Dellinger wouldn’t have supported a quasi-military organization like the Boy Scouts. And he definitely did not punch a marshal in the courtroom. He was a courageous exponent of nonviolence throughout his life.

    Much of the criticism of the film revolves around its depiction of the principal characters. Since I spent the entire summer of 1968 in Chicago as an organizer, and I knew and/or worked with five of the defendants either in Chicago or in subsequent demonstrations, I certainly have opinions. Sacha Baron Cohen gives what I consider a fairly accurate portrayal of the puckish Abbie Hoffman. (I wound up in the same jail cell in Chicago as Hoffman. He had the word “Fuck” written on his forehead with which he baited the guards every time they passed by. I found it cute at first. He was probably too stoned to notice that it soon became a tiresome gag.)

    I thought the film’s Jerry Rubin was mostly on target — though his supposed romance with an undercover female FBI agent is pure fantasy. The Rennie Davis character was much nerdier than the charismatic Rennie I knew. Sorkin talked with Tom Hayden at length about the film before Tom’s death in 2016. He captures that Hayden was a complex and thoughtful guy. But I recall a kind of underlying anger in Hayden’s character at the time that doesn’t show up in the movie. Perhaps another actor could have brought this out more.

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    Despite these mostly small discrepancies, Sorkin completely missed the mark with David Dellinger. I can understand that he was trying to make Dellinger seem more sympathetic by portraying him as a suburban dad and Boy Scout leader. The truth was that Dellinger’s family — with five children — lived hand-to-mouth in an intentional community in rural New Jersey and later in a small apartment in Brooklyn. (I went to college with his eldest son, Patch; the youngest, Michele, is depicted in the movie as a boy.)

    Dellinger wouldn’t have supported a quasi-military organization like the Boy Scouts. And he definitely did not punch a marshal in the courtroom. He was a courageous exponent of nonviolence throughout his life. Dellinger interposed himself between the marshals and Bobby Seale during the trial, but he definitely did not strike anyone then or any other time that I’m aware of. As I said earlier, I expect such films to alter real events to tell a dramatic story, but this scene was a travesty that made one of the most principled people I’ve ever known into a hypocrite.

    It’s important to put into perspective the fact that the protests at the Democratic Convention did not have the full support of the antiwar movement, as evidenced by the poor turnout.

    The movie accurately conveys the pervasive sexism of the Vietnam antiwar movement. It’s no accident that the Chicago 7 defendants and their two lawyers were white males. (Seale was ultimately severed from the case.) And the movement’s only woman character is a receptionist. In reality, women played significant roles in the defense of the Chicago 7 (including Dellinger’s daughter Natasha) as well is in the broader peace movement. Still, very few women occupied any of the key leadership positions. Many feminists cite the antiwar movement’s sexism as one of the factors that led to birth of the Women’s Liberation Movement. (Sorkin throws in a gratuitous bra burning incident during the convention, something that simply didn’t happen in Chicago.)

    In one key scene, Hayden and Hoffman voice their political differences that had been simmering throughout the movie. Hayden had earlier voiced his belief that Hoffman was more concerned about publicity than ending the war. When Hoffman challenges him, Hayden doubles down by saying that 50 years from then people will remember the Hoffman and his Yippie escapades, which will make it harder for progressives to win elections that would enable them to have the power to end poverty, fight racism and militarism. Hoffman’s only comeback was that his approach was helping the defense raise money. Such an argument probably didn’t take place, certainly not as portrayed in the movie. But the tension was real between the Yippies’ guerrilla theater antics and the more conventional tactics represented by Hayden, Davis and Dellinger.

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    The movie doesn’t address, however, the friction between the Chicago defendants and the broader peace movement in 1968. That is an understandable omission, as it doesn’t directly relate to the trial. Still, it’s important to put into perspective the fact that the protests at the Democratic Convention did not have the full support of the antiwar movement, as evidenced by the poor turnout — estimated to be between 5,000 and 10,000 participants (hundreds of whom were undercover agents). The previous year, two national demonstrations each attracted well over 100,000 — more than 10 to 20 times the size of the convention protest.

    The defendants subsequently argued the paltry showing was due to Mayor Daly’s refusal to grant permits. That explanation doesn’t hold water since most potential attendees would not have known the details of the permit negotiations. What’s more, a year later, more than a half-million folks showed up for the Nov. 15 rally in Washington, even though the Nixon administration didn’t issue a permit until the day before the rally.

    There is a big difference between wanting to have a demonstration that is “not violent” and one that is “nonviolent.”

    A better explanation for the low turnout can be traced to the lack of clarity about the purpose of demonstrating at the Democratic Convention. Was it to protest the war? To support the antiwar candidates Eugene McCarthy or George McGovern? To convince the convention to adopt an antiwar plank? To express opposition to the imperialist and racist American system? These were some of the different possible objectives, and the last one was a distinctly minority view within the overall movement at the time.

    An even more significant reason for the low attendance can be attributed to the provocative and/or violent rhetoric employed by organizers of the protests, which was well-known throughout the movement. Throughout the film, the prosecution points to various statements or actions by the defendants to bolster their case — Rubin showing a class of students how to make a firebomb, Hayden appearing to advocate blood flowing in the streets, the constant talk of police as “pigs,” etc.

    None of this talk merited a criminal trial let alone a conviction for conspiracy to start a riot. As Hoffman repeatedly says, this is a “political trial” meant to stifle dissent. Nor should they have been convicted for precipitating any of the violent confrontations. I was there for the incident recreated in the film where demonstrators supposedly rushed the police lines. Quite the opposite happened: We all fled to avoid having our heads cracked open by the club-swinging cops. Not all succeeded, and the film correctly shows that many wound up with serious head injuries.

    Previous Coverage
  • How anti-Vietnam War activists stopped violent protest from hijacking their movement
  • Still, just as the violent rhetoric kept many people away from Chicago, it also gave prosecutors a lot of material to bolster their legally dubious case. Throughout the trial, various defendants insisted that they planned for peaceful, nonviolent demonstrations. That may be entirely true. But there is a big difference between wanting to have a demonstration that is “not violent” and one that is “nonviolent.” To be nonviolent, organizers must communicate clearly that violent rhetoric and retaliatory violence is not acceptable. Without such clarity, it’s difficult to recruit large numbers of people, and the wrong people (government provocateurs and those only interested in disruption) can be attracted. Second, there must be a serious attempt to make sure the tactical objectives are well-communicated and some form of discipline expected. Third, people need to understand that part of the objective of the protest is to win over others to your position.

    In Chicago, we chanted “The Whole World is Watching” in response to the police riot. Unfortunately, subsequent polls showed that the vast majority of those watching sympathized with the police, not with us. And many historians believe that the Chicago riots helped elect Richard Nixon after his call for “law and order.”

    It’s impossible to change the past, but we can learn lessons from history. I wonder whether it would have been possible to create street protests in Chicago like the ones King led in Birmingham five years earlier. In that campaign, people could see that the police’s use of fire hoses on children was unjustified and it exposed the violence implicit in Jim Crow. That was possible because the movement’s commitment to nonviolence provided a dramatic contrast between the demonstrators and the police.

    None of these comments is meant to take anything away from the courage shown by all eight of the defendants at the trial in the face of an outrageous use of government power to intimidate lawful protest. They should be congratulated for standing up for their rights — and for the rest of us. And Aaron Sorkin should be congratulated for creating a film that lets us see how truly admirable these eight men were, as well as their lawyers and their supporters.

    How military veterans are answering the call to defend Black lives

    This past month, the news seemed filled with veterans involved with right-wing armed extremists — whether Marine Corps veteran Daniel Harris, one of the Boogaloo Bois arrested this month in Michigan for plotting to kidnap the governor or their role in the Nazi-leaning Oath Keepers. This coverage portrays veterans as all on one side of the uprising that began on Memorial Day with the death of George Floyd.

    But veterans have also played an active role in the uprising led by the Movement for Black Lives. And thousands of veterans have formed a Frontline Election Defenders team to use skills honed in the military to protect polling stations and post offices. “Right now, our veteran members are mobilizing as part of the largest united front effort in U.S. history to protect the election and fight for our future regardless of the outcome,” read one email from About Face, formerly known as Iraq Veterans Against the War.

    Previous Coverage
  • Inside the sudden, rising wave of military and veteran dissent
  • This summer’s uprising sparked the creation of new groups by veterans — some of whom had never thought of themselves as activists — such as Wall of Vets and Continue to Serve. The movement they were joining is nonpartisan. It includes veterans groups on the left, like About Face and the Working Families Party-affiliated Vets For the People, as well as the Republican-leaning “Veterans Coalition” convened by the Lincoln Project. Somewhere in the middle — in partisan affiliation and tactical approach — are VoteVets, Common Defense and Vets for Responsible Leadership. Quietly active in some of the latter groups are members of Veterans for Peace, which has been supportive of Black Lives Matter from the beginning. Their combined membership is in the tens of thousands.

    Veterans have been involved in the movement since before June 1, when protesters were tear-gassed in multiple cities, including in front of the White House, where National Guard troops were deployed. National Guard Maj. Adam DeMarco was one of the soldiers who was sent to respond. On Sept. 16, DeMarco spoke to Congress about that day under the protection of the Military Whistleblower Act. He described a largely peaceful protest aggressively disrupted by the Secret Service, the D.C. Park Police and other unidentified law enforcement agencies. Since that day, we’ve learned about the vicious braid of federal law agencies tapped by Trump to “restore order” by stomping out protest.

    Watching the events that day was young Marine David Smith, a corpsman who’d deployed to Afghanistan before coming home and joining the reserves. He never expected such a warlike deployment in his front yard. “I watched those people get gassed, and I burst into tears,” Smith said. “Then a buddy of mine called and said, ‘We have to get out there,’” referring to the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue now known as BLM Plaza.

    Smith organized another march for June 6, using the hashtags #Vets4BLM and #ContinuetoServe. “Veterans from upstate New York drove to D.C. to be a part of this protest,” Smith said. “Veterans from across the country have been messaging me this week, asking about the organization, who to contact, how to find people in their communities, what I am doing to organize a group here, how to donate, and on and on.”

    Thus was born ContinuetoServe.vet, which now has dozens of members and works closely with D.C.-based Black organizations. Continue To Serve is also the D.C.-area branch of the national group now known as Wall of Vets, born from the literal line formed by veterans at protests in Portland in August.

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    The Wall of Vets was first imagined by Christopher David, the 53-year-old Navy veteran. David was beaten by federal forces in Portland on Aug. 26, just three days after Jacob Blake was shot and nearly killed by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin in front of his children. Portland was just one epicenter of protest that week, but the city made headlines for the deployment and behavior of agents from the Department of Homeland Security. David had asked them, “I still honor the oath I took. Why don’t you?” In response, two officers assaulted him, breaking all the bones in his right hand.

    When David was interviewed by TV reporters that week, he told them that more veterans needed to step up for peaceful protesters. Noting that organizers had formed a “Wall of Moms” between protesters and police, he said that there should be a similar wall of veterans supporting Black Lives Matter.

    Portland veterans answered that call with some vigor. African-American Navy veterans Leshan and Tessa Terry, had been protesting daily with the local Black Lives Matter. They put up a notice on Facebook and organized a Wall of Vets, along with fellow Navy veteran Dan Nisevich and ally Kim Holloway. A line of veterans formed and stood between the federal forces and protesters. Holloway said that they knew that “the feds are more likely to talk to us than beat on us.” Some of the veterans involved believe their presence contributed to the withdrawal of the federal agents.

    That line also attracted national press: Former Army infantryman Clint Hall told the New York Times that the federal response was “over the top,” and that what they sprayed “felt worse than the tear gas he recalled from his time in the Army.”

    Vets all around the country followed suit, forming their own walls of veterans at protests. Speaking at a “Save the U.S. Postal Service” rally in upstate New York on Aug. 19, Army veteran Colleen Boland wore a “Wall of Vets” T-shirt and told the crowd: “I am here today to say [that] the nation’s veterans are here to fight for safe and secure voting for our black and brown brothers and sisters.” Wall of Vets now boasts 22 chapters across the country, and Dan Nisevich serves as its executive director.

    The Wall of Veterans reached out to Smith’s D.C.-based Continue to Serve, and together they mobilized a contingent of veterans for the Aug. 28 March on Washington. The event, long planned to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the iconic 1963 march, featured the families of those shot or killed by police officers, including relatives of George Floyd, Jacob Blake and Breonna Taylor. Her killing by police in March sparked activism before the death of George Floyd.

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    Soon after that march, a 29-year-old Black cyclist named Dijon Kizzee was shot and killed by L.A. County sheriffs. Wall of Vets Los Angeles responded immediately, first exposing the fact that many L.A. sheriffs and police officers are members of cliques — often called gangs — with names like “Vikings” and “Executioners.” Using the #JusticeForDijon hashtag on Twitter and Instagram, Wall of Vets called on veterans to support protesters who were already filling the streets. As vets were doing so in mid-September, the LA Wall’s main organizer put her own body between LAPD and protesters, suffering a leg wound from a rubber bullet.

    Over the months that followed, multiple peaceful demonstrations were met with similar “nonlethal munitions,” tear gas and the so-called “kettling” of protesters, which involves surrounding them with large cordons of officers to control their movement. As police riots swamped cities from Portland to Rochester, New York, veteran volunteers continued to show up — documenting police misbehavior on video and sometimes serving as liaison between protesters and police.

    Even as they joined other progressive campaigns, like actions against voter suppression, veterans always dialed back to Black Lives Matter — especially when the Kentucky grand jury failed to indict a single police officer for killing Breonna Taylor.

    Most were careful to stay out of the limelight. In response to the “police-involved killing” of Deon Kay, David Smith said that Continue To Serve took the lead from other organizations in the D.C. area, such as DC Protests and The Palm Collective. “Our role in all of the BLM events is to support these organizations however they need — from medical, security, logistics, supplies and manpower,” he added.

    Veterans for Peace gather to support the Black Lives Matter movement on the National Mall. (Facebook/Veterans for Peace)

    Long before other veterans mobilized, the 35-year-old organization Veterans For Peace, or VFP, has been wrestling with how they can best support Black lives. After the 2014 killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, VFP changed its mission to “Peace Abroad, Peace at Home.” Michael McPhearson, who was VFP’s executive director at the time, still remembers some veterans asking “What does police brutality have to do with our mission?” Six years later, those who still did not understand the new focus have left the group, and the rest speak eloquently about the connection between racism and militarized police.

    In Tulsa, Oklahoma during Trump’s June 20 visit, About Face and VFP were there to provide on the ground training for the local “Unify Tulsa” coalition — along with Grassroots Global Justice, Climate Justice Alliance, It Takes Roots, BlackOut Collective and the Ruckus Society. 

    McPhearson’s successor as VFP director, Garett Reppenhagen, was among those arrested for climbing the flagpoles at the BOK Center to raise a Black Lives Matter flag. While the majority of veterans were escorted out, four people were arrested attempting to raise flags that said “End the war on Black people” “Defund the police” and “Invest in Black communities.”

    In August, Reppenhagen said that VFP still had a steep “learning curve” about the role of police and settler-colonialism in both policing and the military itself. Since the uprising began, the organization has commenced weekly “Stand Down” webinars to keep educating themselves and reach out to veterans and active-duty servicemembers about intersecting oppressions and opportunities for action.

    Meanwhile, individual members are connecting with local Black Lives Matter groups to see what’s needed on the ground. David Smith of Continue to Serve said that he and VFP share a common commitment. “The deaths continue to occur,” Smith said. “And we will not stop in our support of the BLM movement until all citizens are treated equally.”

    We need to build a movement that heals our nation’s traumas

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    As we head into what may be the most chaotic election in our lifetime, many people on all sides of the political aisle are reeling from anxiety and responding from a place of panic. With many of us on the left organizing for mass mobilizations and actions in the post-election season, we must make sure that we are doing so from a grounded place to ensure that we are not adding more panic to the world.

    To ensure this, we have to have some understanding of how panic and trauma work in our own bodies, and then see what we can learn from that about how trauma is working in our collective body — this thing we call the United States of America.

    Panic and trauma

    “It happened 20 years ago, I’m over it.”

    For most of my life, that’s what I had told myself about some traumatic experiences I went through as a child. “That was ages ago.” “It wasn’t a big deal.” “I’ve moved on.”

    That changed when I spoke about it out loud for the first time. I was attending a week-long transformative retreat called a Jam, and was moved to share my story in a circle, not thinking too much of it. As soon as the words came out of my mouth, they fell onto the floor with the weight of an anvil. I completely broke down. I went into panic, and I could barely get a breath in while I was trying not to choke on my own tears.

    I had no idea. No idea how much pain I was still holding over these experiences, and no idea how heavy the weight of shame was that I had been carrying for all of these years. How could I not have known? And how did this unknown weight impact my health, all of my relationships, my abilities for intimacy and authenticity? How could I have even thought about what would bring me healing if I didn’t even realize that I needed healing in the first place?

    We need to have the courage to speak our deepest truth and excavate the darkest parts of our country’s history.

    From that moment, I realized that this was a conversation that I needed to have with my family. A conversation that had remained hidden in open sight for two decades. I knew that opening up this conversation would be the start of a healing process in my own family that we all desperately wanted. And I was scared out of my mind. Out. Of. My. Mind.

    For years, I knew this was something I needed to talk to them about, and for years, it was the scariest thing I could think of in my entire life. For about eight years, I carried that with me while I worked on my own healing. Therapy, writing, group processes, holding space for others to heal through their traumas. All the while, I knew I was preparing myself for “the conversation.” And it took eight years of hard work before I was in a place where I was ready to open it up, and confident enough in my ability to hold a container for my family’s response to it.

    When I finally had that conversation with them, I was still scared out of my mind. Looking back at it, I can still feel the tension in my body. There was no way to know how they would respond. But I had an unwavering faith that if I was able to stay true to myself, and to speak honestly and vulnerably about my experience and the impact that it had on me, that it would bring about healing.

    It was a conversation about our core, childhood trauma. About what seeded so much of the pain and separation that we would all experience as a family. In some ways, it was the thing I least wanted to talk about.

    And that is what this country is needing to do, and attempting to do right now. To excavate and look at our collective core, childhood trauma. To face the reality that in the early, formative years of the founding of this nation-state, we experienced two of the grossest forms of violence human beings can enact on each other — genocide and enslavement. And both of these things were carried out on a systemic level.

    As a family, we had never talked about the traumatic years of my early childhood. Sure, in some small, hidden ways there were whispers of it. I would share my story with friends. My sisters would mention something to each other in passing. There would be murmurs and rumors spoken one-on-one. But as a family, we never dove into it. And so the trauma that we all experienced got frozen and stuck.

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    As a family, we don’t argue much, and we all deeply love and care about each other. And yet, because there was a pervasiveness to the unhealed trauma that we all carried, our relationship never felt as deep or authentic as we wanted. There were countless ways in which we continued to reenact that trauma, by harming each other as well as ourselves.

    As a nation, we have never talked about the traumatic years of our collective childhood. Sure, in some small, hidden ways there were whispers of it. We would talk about it in activist spaces. Radicals would read books about it and have healing rituals. There would be murmurs and rumors spoken in progressive circles. But as a nation, we have never dove into it. And so the trauma that we all experienced got frozen and stuck.

    As a nation, that trauma has led to generations of cycles of harm. Slavery of African peoples gave way to the convict leasing system, which gave way to Jim Crow, which gave way to mass incarceration. Everything from racial microaggressions to the killing of unarmed Black people grows out of this context.

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    Physical genocide of Indigenous peoples gave way to cultural genocide through boarding schools, spiritual genocide through the destruction of scared land, and economic genocide through the reservations system. Standing Rock and the battles to change racist names and mascots of sports teams comes out of this context.

    We need to have the courage to speak our deepest truth and excavate the darkest parts of our country’s history, to talk about the things that this country least wants to talk about.

    Bad healing is re-traumatizing

    The willingness to open up a hard conversation alone is not necessarily healing. In fact, when done poorly, it can be re-traumatizing. It can isolate people even more, bring up more shame, cause more harm and shut people down.

    About a year before my experience at the Jam, I began to have an inkling that there was some stuff that I needed to work through around my childhood. Not knowing what would happen, I shared a little bit of my story with a friend. Unfortunately, that friend was deep in her own trauma and did not have the skills to hold me in that moment. It’s possible that my story may have even triggered her own trauma, and she responded by saying something that was deeply hurtful to me.

    I was devastated. The message I told myself in that moment? Never again. Fuck that, I am never being vulnerable again. I am never sharing this story again, and it is not safe to open up.

    It was the safe container created at the Jam that gave me the courage to try again. It was the fact that it was happening in a contained space, with skilled facilitators holding each conversation with great care and compassion among people who had been building deep trust over a period of several days.

    Whether we all want it or not, whether we’re ready for it or not, we are having a very public conversation about the historical traumas of this nation. The bandages that have been keeping these wounds hidden are being ripped off every time a confederate monument is torn down.

    And from a trauma healing perspective, I am concerned that we may not be responding to it in the way that gives us the most potential for healing.

    An operation needs a skilled surgeon, and the conversation that this country desperately needs right now requires skilled healers and grounded energy.

    When a conversation is opened up about a historical harm that caused trauma, responding with a sense of blame and shame is not conducive to healing. I work with people in prison who have caused incredible harm. And if I went into any of those spaces pointing my fingers, calling them criminals and shaming them for their actions, they will never heal. Therefore they will never be able to hold themselves truly accountable, since they will always be shut down and defensive.

    What is the energy that is driving a lot of our movement spaces and our public discourse? Do we experience energies of blaming, shaming and even dehumanizing the “other side”?

    Part of it is that people — marginalized Black and Brown communities the most — are experiencing harm right now, and we need power and assertiveness to stop the harm. Stopping the immediate harm is a prerequisite to healing, which is a long-term process.

    But we are so used to only seeing examples of “power over,” that we often times conflate “power” with “abuse.” We mistakenly believe that having power means being able to force our will over another.

    Part of it is also that if we are experiencing a trauma response ourselves, we are not in a place to be able to hold space for the healing of other people’s traumas. For so many of us, 2020 has been a series of traumatic events. And again, if you come from a marginalized identity, you didn’t need 2020 to remind you that you are carrying trauma.

    I knew that until I got to a certain place in my own healing journey, I was not going to try to open up this conversation with my family. If I got too triggered and was not able to stay grounded, rather than speaking vulnerably from a place of truth, I may have spoken unskillfully from a place of trauma. There was no way that I was going to be able to be in service to our collective healing if that was the case.

    An operation needs a skilled surgeon, and the conversation that this country desperately needs right now requires skilled healers and grounded energy. The deep levels of state violence that this country has continually perpetuated has been building up so long that we require immediate triage. The disease of colonization and white supremacy has boiled over. We may not be completely prepared and the conditions may not be ideal, but we need to operate right now.

    Nonviolent action as trauma healing

    This operation is happening all over the country, in skillful and unskillful ways. Every protest and direct action is an attempt at opening this dialogue. Public discourse is opening this dialogue. Social media is opening this dialogue.

    It doesn’t take a lot of skill to open up a wound, but it requires great care to dig around inside the wound, cut out the disease and stitch that wound back up. Anyone can ask or even force a person to talk about their most painful experience. But it takes great care to move that conversation in the direction of healing.

    What do we need to do to build a movement and engage in a discourse where we are moving in the direction of healing our nation’s traumas?

    1. Do our own work: trauma, grief and rage

    We need to be doing our own work. In the long-term, that means doing the hard work of excavating the darkest corners of our own hearts, having the conversations that we least want to have, healing ourselves from our childhood traumas, holding ourselves responsible for the ways in which we’ve internalized white supremacy, patriarchy and other patterns that cause harm.

    The more trauma we hold, the easier it is for us to get triggered and thrown off-kilter. And in escalated spaces — be it at a demonstration or in a heated debate on social media — we are even more likely to be triggered.

    Previous Coverage
  • Fighting injustice can trigger trauma — we need to learn how to process it and take healing action
  • If the doctor who is performing your operation is sick with a high fever, that’s not ideal. As social change advocates, we are doctors trying to heal the wounds of a sick society. And we need to be right ourselves so that we can be in a position to help heal others.

    On a collective level, this means that we need to create more spaces for collective healing and the tending and honoring of grief and rage. We are harmed in community, and therefore the healing should also be in community. If we do not create safe containers to process and release our rage and grief, they could be released in the streets or in some online debate. Neither are places that are conducive to healing, so we need to be more intentional about creating spaces that are explicitly for working with unprocessed rage and grief. 

    Grief and rage are powerful emotions, and as scary as it can be to feel into them or to hold space for them, we cannot turn away from them. We need to honor them. In many nonviolent spaces, I too often see a fear of dealing with grief, or judgment against expressions of rage. But they are both legitimate responses to injustice.

    Sometimes, a fire is so powerful that we need to create space for an inferno to rage. And if that can happen in a safe container, that inferno can burn down into a charcoal, and it’s that charcoal that we carry into direct action with us. A charcoal still connects us with our righteous indignation, but it is now safer for us to hold and easier for us to channel in the right direction. It is focused. It is concentrated. And it requires us lighting a blaze to create.

    2. Practice emotional regulation

    Second, in the short term we need to be practicing emotional regulation tools. This has to start with learning to have awareness of our bodies so that we can notice when we are triggered. Mindfulness and somatic practices can be great for this.

    Take a moment right now. See if you can notice your body. How are you seated? Can you feel the weight of your body against the chair? Are you breathing slowly or taking short breaths? Are you hot? Where are you feeling heat? Are you holding any tension? Or perhaps lightness? If so, where? See if you can sit for a minute and focus all of your attention on the area in your body where you feel it. Breath into it.

    Taking even just 30 seconds to notice how you’re feeling multiple times throughout the day can help you build awareness about how you are in this exact moment.

    Once we begin to identify the moments when we are triggered, we can bring in our emotional regulation tools. They can include things like taking a few deep breaths, talking to somebody or naming things out loud that you see around you. Check out this two-page handout that lists several more strategies that you can implement on the spot to help you regulate.

    It’s important to note that the more we practice these regulation tools before heading to an action, the more effective they are. After years of meditation practice, I can get a lot more out of one deep, intentional breath than I was able to before.

    I want to see movements that are grounded enough that we never lose our creativity.

    Have you ever been in a tense moment, when the simple presence of somebody with a deeply loving, grounded energy helped to release your tension? This is because we all have what are called mirror neurons. Many animals have the ability to sense another being’s emotions and mirror them, to feel the way they do even if you have not had the same experience. So if one person has a very strong, grounded energy, it can literally fire neurons in our own brains that can ground us.

    Now imagine what kind of an energy field might be generated if 10, 15, 20 people can bring that kind of grounded energy into the midst of an escalated direct action. How might that influence the field of that action space?

    What if we can engage in an escalated form of direct action with 200, 300 or 1,000 people who can all bring that kind of grounded energy into the occupation of a government building or public space? What kind of field could be generated then? And what kind of transformation could that lead to?

    3. See beyond the binary

    When we are acting out of our trauma response, we are unable to see nuance and complexity, everything becomes black and white, we lose access to creativity and compassion, our heart rate increases and we become less grounded. None of those things are ideal for healing.

    Once we start working on our own shadows, we may realize that we are not as “woke” and unassailable as we thought. We may see how much violence we’ve internalized, and how much harm we ourselves are causing. This humility can help us see beyond the good vs. bad binary, where we are the “good” people trying to fix the “bad” racists over there.

    This simplistic, binary way of thinking is oftentimes a sign of stress or trauma, and it is, as one Indigenous teacher once told me, “the most pervasive way our minds have been colonized by the state.”

    4. Reimagine direct action

    Another thing that happens when we are operating from our trauma response is that we lose our creative energy. When we are operating from our survival mechanism, we don’t have the time to be creative. We respond with fight, flight or freeze.

    I want to see movements that are grounded enough that we never lose our creativity.

    My friend Nirali Shah has been teaching me a lot about the importance of beauty in activist spaces. That we need to create movements that embody the thing we want to see in the world. And how often do we see beauty in spaces of resistance?

    Of course there are countless examples of this throughout history. But I also know that during the most heightened times in our society, when the battles escalate and there is more tension in the air, beauty tends to decline.

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    I have noticed over the years that the more we escalate our tactics of nonviolent action, the more we tend to escalate the binary black/white, us vs. them worldview — the very worldview that is, in my opinion, at the heart of what is destroying our planet. 

    And yet these escalated times require an escalated response. So how do we escalate our tactics while remaining grounded enough to double down on healing, beauty and reconciliation? How do we use tactics of “shutting it down” while leading with an spirit of “opening things up”? As the elders at Standing Rock reminded us, how do we make direct action ceremony?

    That kind of action requires a creativity that is only accessible to us when we are grounded.

    5. Commit to healing

    Above all else, I long to be in resistance spaces that have an unwavering commitment to healing. Of healing our own traumas, of healing our relationships to each other within movements, of healing our relationships to each other as peoples and of healing our relationship to the Earth.

    An incarcerated trainer that I work with in Soledad State Prison once told me that “resolving a conflict is about fixing issues, and reconciling a conflict is about repairing relationships.” We can fix all the issues we want, pass all the laws and policies we can imagine, but until we are committed to the healing of relationships, we will always be in crisis.

    So even as we may need to use escalated tactics to stop the immediate harm that is happening, I want us to always remember that our North Star is a reconciled world with justice for all people.

    Unf*ck the vote! 3 ways creative action can win the election

    Turnout, especially in polarized times like these, wins elections. The stakes in this election — whether we have a livable planet, whether kids are incarcerated in detention centers and, perhaps, whether we continue to have a functional democracy — are high. And when the stakes are this high, it’s time to get creative. 

    While many means are necessary to combat a potentially devastating blow to American democracy (which would certainly send shockwaves around the world), creative, visionary tactics are fundamental. They capture people’s attention, provide an on-ramp for education, speak to the urgency of the moment and help us overcome potentially paralyzing fear.

    Embracing a creative and playful strategy is essential to the development of a critical mass of political power. Check out the inspiration below from the Beautiful Trouble toolbox on how to win the numbers game, defend democracy and challenge business as usual to build for the fabulous future we all deserve.

    1. Winning the election
    It’s a numbers game, after all

    Across the country, people are channeling the revolutionary spirit of Beautiful Trouble by using creative tactics to do more than simply get out the vote. They’re showing solidarity and strength in numbers by Dragging Out The Vote, Chalking The Vote with their kids and organizing with friends to deliver pizza to voters waiting in line to cast their ballots. [See BT Principle: Breakfast is Persuasive]. 

    A poster for Busk The Ballot, which is organizing musicians to perform for lines at polling stations. (Twitter/@busktheballot)

    Performers are making plans to Busk the Ballot by entertaining voters at the polls, while Songs for Good held a competition for musicians to motivate the vote. Lift Every Vote 2020 is also encouraging musicians to perform every day in the 30 days leading up to the election, engaging the tactics of creative disruption and artistic vigil. Activists and accomplices are creating new art to fund the cause, creating murals, merch and artistic communities.

    Celebrities are doing their part too. When Pennsylvania threatened voter suppression a la “naked ballots,” actors Mark Ruffalo and Chris Rock got naked on camera to explain how to get your vote counted. A great way to capture attention is to show you have skin in the game.

    These actions use online/offline synergy to reach voters where they’re at. As the coronavirus pandemic makes door knocking and other get-out-the-vote tactics like tabling and rallies potentially life-threatening, using innovative approaches to reach voters is crucial. Creativity also helps reach people who are not actively engaged in politics — according to the New York Times, 80 to 85 percent of Americans follow politics casually or not at all.

    All elections are important, but this one in particular may be the most critical opportunity in our lifetimes to change course on climate, racism and corporate control. We will not be able to move beyond the current degenerating political and environmental situations until we can (re)integrate culture into politics and build community. According to CTZNWELL, “There is no apolitical, there is only not paying attention. And that has cost us too much. Where your attention goes, energy flows. So let us channel our attention and energy towards building the future that we all deserve.” 

    2. Protecting the election
    Shifting gears to democracy defense

    Motivating people to vote is only the first step of defending democracy. Repeat after us: First participate, then protect. Centuries of struggle have taught us that if we don’t exercise our freedoms, they disappear; if we don’t vote, the right to vote will be threatened. The more we engage, the more we win. But engagement doesn’t stop at the ballot box, it continues until every vote is counted, which could be days if not weeks after Nov. 3.

    Screenshot from ShutDownDC’s infographic: Timeline to a Meltdown

    Authoritarian leaders thrive on chaos and count on shock to paralyze mass action. So if we take POTUS’ word that he won’t accept the results of the election, we must prepare for organized response and resistance — at a scale that matters. In this worst case scenario, winning looks like mobilizing millions to contest an authoritarian threat to vote counting. 

    If we suspect foul play in vote counting, our first step is to mobilize pressure on elected officials to guarantee a full vote count. If this arm of democracy fails, we must be prepared to intervene to ensure the safety of ballot counting machines and access to legal recourse. 

    But what if these limited tactical “election protection” actions are not enough? What if the fraud is wide-scale, at a national level?

    Disrupting business as usual in unusual ways

    If we have a “stolen election” scenario — where ballots are seized and not counted, where there are discrepancies between the state certifiers and the Electoral College delegates, or when the loser refuses to concede — then we must exercise our full people power to right the wrongs. 

    Previous Coverage
  • What’s the game plan if Trump really does try to steal the election? 7 tactics to stop a coup
  • One of the main reasons that so many injustices persist is not that the powerful can simply do whatever they want with impunity, but that most people are ignorant of their power. If we understand that we, the people are governed only by giving our consent to those that govern, we recognize that we can withdraw that consent [see BT Tactic: General strike] and collectively wield power. Using the Pillars of Power analysis, we can imagine our government as the roof of a building, held up by pillars such as the education system, the courts, the military, federal employees, media and so on. Each institutional pillar that has the power to uphold or neglect counting votes is made up of real people. We can reach these people and get them to walk away from their role, weakening and possibly crumbling this pillar, thus bringing down the whole structure. 

    There may be a moment where we all need to register our support for counting all ballots by withdrawing our consent from daily life continuing on as if nothing is wrong. We have recent muscle memory of this kind of action by ceasing business as we know it during the COVID-19 pandemic, and this summer’s mass actions during BLM protests. Even large, established non-governmental organizations that are typically risk averse are recognizing that we may need to mobilize widespread noncooperation or civil disobedience.

    Artists with League of Women Voters paint a mural in Massachusetts. (Instagram/@lwvfalmouth)

    Applying innovative lessons from around the world  

    A pipedream, you say? Not so fast. People all over the world have risen up to disrupt fraudulent elections and secure their democratic rights many, many times.  

    A webinar hosted by Beautiful Trouble & Nonviolence International one month before the U.S. election highlighted several stories of creative resistance from Serbia, the Philippines, Gambia, and elsewhere that demonstrate how to prepare for a possible stolen election scenario using humor and hopeful action. 

    Ivan Marovic — a founder of the Otpor student collective central to the overthrow of Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosovic in 2000 — noted how crucial it is to set up structures and messaging that directly address people’s fears, especially through creative means. In one classic creative “dilemma action” [Principle: Put your target in a decision dilemma], the collective placed a big barrel and a bat in the street and invited the public to put a coin in to help pay for Milosevic’s retirement. If they were broke because of the dictator’s policies, they could just hit the barrel with the bat instead. The Serbian police couldn’t win: Either they let crowds gather to bang on the barrel, ridiculing the regime and making it look weak, or they themselves looked foolish arresting the barrel! This caused the police to question their own role in enforcement, helping shift their allegiance away from the regime and towards family and friends who were part of the protests.

    Joaquin Gonzalez, an organizer in the uprising to defend democracy in the Philippines, recalled the critical presence of religious leaders on the front lines of the struggle during the Filipino Yellow Revolution. Their impassioned prayers calmed soldiers and inspired protesters to remain peaceful yet determined while surrounded by military tanks. This points to the strength of cultural grounding and ritual as part of your creative toolbox to build people power. In a country where religious leadership was a key part of the cultural fabric of society, the church also had a huge role in preparing the masses to practice nonviolent resistance through trainings they hosted around the country.

    In Gambia, a 22-year-long dictatorship was voted out, only to have the dictator reverse his decision to step down a week later. Muhammed Lamin Saidykhan and his fellow activists were ready with #GambiaHasDecided, a hashtag that went viral and was plastered across billboards and T-shirts. The message was intentionally positive to help keep their eyes on the prize, as was the decision to replace every destroyed billboard by two more billboards. In this way, Gambian activists continued to promote the people’s decision, make the inspirational statement visible everywhere and keep the country focused on winning.

    Official logo of Chile’s NO campaign during the Chilean national plebiscite in 1988. (Wikimedia)

    Another strategic campaign that harnessed the power of positive messaging encouraged masses of Chileans to vote and end the vicious Pinochet dictatorship in 1988. Campaigners integrated criticism of the regime with an optimistic vision of the future — mobilizing people out of despair with a colorful rainbow symbol, bright music and happy commercials for the future. 

    “Those of us engaged in creative activism need to be able to navigate the broader cultural landscape in which we wage our campaigns, and use it to our advantage,” writes Stephen Duncombe in BT Principle: Know your cultural terrain. “Marketing campaigns, for instance, are developed to exploit emotion in order to sell product, but to do this they need to tap into the deep-seated dreams and nightmares of large numbers of people. Sometimes these desires are scary and reactionary (brush with Pepsodent or you will die a spinster), but they also tap into positive, often utopian dreams (drink this beer and you will be surrounded by a beloved, albeit tipsy, community).” 

    Such creative tactics can also be used in our current, uncertain period to anticipate, deflect and undermine violence. They can also provide ways to keep demonstrators upbeat, on-issue, focused on goals and engaged with appropriate strategic responses.

    Previous Coverage
  • Why Nazis are so afraid of these clowns
  • White power supremacist violence has been effectively deescalated and undermined by gaggles of clowns throwing “white flour” while men and their brides yelled in support of “wife power.” Check out the out and proud reclaiming of #ProudBoys from the right wing by the LGBTQ movement recently with inspirational viral images.

    Giant street murals — Black Lives Matter, Climate Action Street Mural Action, chalking outside McConnell’s house and more — have offered a way to focus the energy of a crowd and make a huge statement, even while shutting down an intersection. In Ferguson, Missouri, during a march honoring Mike Brown, protesters carried a mirrored coffin “to evoke reflection and empathy for the deaths of young people of color who have lost their lives unjustly in the U.S. and worldwide … and to challenge viewers to look within and see their reflections as both whole and shattered, as both solution and problem, as both victim and aggressor.”

    Imagine at this moment a classic dilemma action: A public campaign to pledge $1 for every minute or every right-wing person who showed up to intimidate or thwart free and fair access to voting, with the money donated to groups defending democracy and building an anti-racist future. It’s a win-win for democracy: If the right-wing aggressors stay, we increase funding for groups working on a better future; If they leave, we gain a peaceful voting place!

    Let us state the obvious. Creativity must come with good planning and training. Masses of people all over the United States are doing a variety of education and training. Particularly worth a read are guides such as: Stopping the Coup, The Count and Hold the Line. There’s also a new Resistance Hotline to support those who want coaching on how to put in place effective actions. The hotline invites activists to call, email or post to Facebook their questions about finding direct action training. Ask for information about finding a direct action training, a checklist for action logistics, or coaching on unique action ideas. Creative innovation is a key part of a winning campaign strategy. 

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    3. Depolarizing post-election

    Flex our muscle in November, then power-lift for the next four years

    Let’s imagine a scenario where Biden and Harris are installed in the White House. (Deep breath. Shelve your anti-anxiety meds.) Let’s be honest, the pandemic and white supremacist violence will still be very much alive in 2021. We will have witnessed (and been part of) the efficacy of creative action to increase voter turnout and stop election suppression, and it will be time for the next layer of innovative action. 

    In polarized societies, the role of creativity and culture workers becomes ever more crucial to repair and heal society. Cultural action engages and allows dialogue, reaches hearts, gets us out of the purely intellectual realm and demonstrates patriotism by making visible the heart and soul of a nation. [See BT Principle: Re-capture the flag.]

    A beautiful example of harnessing culture is the Myanmar Flower Speech campaign that began in 2014 during an uptick in anti-Muslim violence. Activists launched a social media campaign showcasing images of people holding flowers — a traditional Buddhist symbol of peace — in their mouths to call for purity of speech. These flowers became a viral symbol online, and led to a traveling education program as well. Recently in Slovakia, The Peace Sofas project helped launch dialogue around polarizing and controversial topics from the comfort of one’s own sofa.

    As Joaquin Gonzalez shared on the Democracy Defense webinar, “The people power we showed cannot stop. It’s a continuing revolution. Whenever there is a threat we must come back to the streets and protect the ballot boxes again.” 

    But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Before we can meaningfully talk about depolarization, we need to get in formation and win (and protect) this election. So find a group to work with, and call the Resistance Hotline at 1-800-NVDA-NOW with your questions. Trusted professional troublemakers are standing by to support you. 

    Keep in mind this is not a finite struggle for the immediacy of the POTUS election; this moment is hopefully part of a longer-term movement toward systemic change. The problems didn’t start with #45 and they won’t end with #46; we must build people power for the long haul. Now is the time to shore up personal reserves, form an affinity group, make plans where you are (see an ambitious plan from a local group here) and get your creative juices going. Let’s remember all that’s at stake in this moment and get busy. We all have a part to play.

    Additional support for this piece was provided by Jessica Lipsky and Andrew Boyd.

    What’s the game plan if Trump really does try to steal the election? 7 tactics to stop a coup

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    It’s Nov. 4. Votes are still being counted in dozens of states and election results are not final. But Trump tweets that he won while claiming massive fraud from mail-in ballots. Trump loyalists prepare to ignore election results. What do folks do next? 

    Before talking tactics, it’s worth asking: Is a coup really possible? 

    There is growing evidence that Biden’s lead is durable. A blow-out Democratic victory makes a Trump coup harder to pull off. But relying on the Democratic Party alone is a dubious position. That’s why people are voting (of course) and signing up to be poll workers, be poll monitors or handle intimidation at the polls

    The potential for a coup is increased when people aren’t on alert. Trump’s near consistent refusal to promise a peaceful transfer of power has bought us time. Even business leaders are organizing for core democratic values like counting every vote. The country no longer expects results on Election Day and media knows to cover this as a whole election season.

    This is all good news for coup prevention. 

    Another positive development comes from Pennsylvania. House Republicans proposed an open-ended, subpoena-wielding commission with potential authority to seize uncounted ballots. This provided a clear mechanism for the GOP to claim fraud and derail the election. But within days of becoming public, moderate Republicans bailed and killed the plan.

    Let this be a reminder that Republicans are not in lock-step on this. There are allies in many places.

    Previous Coverage
  • 10 things you need to know to stop a coup
  • With news stories flying fast, it’s hard to keep a grounded sense of how close we are to a coup or whether democracy is winning the day. This balance is considered on the new website IsThisACoup.com — with a handy “coup-a-meter” that shows where we are. Currently we’re in “Preparing for a coup” but not yet in “Attempted coup.”

    A Trump-led coup seems somewhat less likely than a month ago, but not impossible. If my house had an equivalent chance of burning to the ground, I’d make sure to find my fire extinguishers.

    In that spirit, based on lessons from past coups and a scan of the organizing horizon, here are some tactical fire extinguishers — actions likely to be more effective than others. 

    This list isn’t meant to be exhaustive. It highlights actions that regular folks can take based on the premise of influencing a “pillar of support.” In a pyramid model, all power flows down from the top; in this model, power also resides in the pillars that hold that top up. Rulers cannot do all the work of making a country run. If the people who are doing this work stop, the ruler cannot rule. So when enough pillars of support refuse to go along with a coup, it inevitably fails. 

    Tactic #1: Strengthen election officials’ backbones

    One key pillar of support is election officials. As an example, Protect Our Election has launched a letter-writing and call-in campaign to encourage election officials to do their jobs. 

    I rarely recommend a petition campaign. But when trying to stop a coup, you need people ready to defect if given illegal orders. The likelihood increases when they feel support and sense they are siding with a broad citizenry.

    The goal here is to let election officials know we are watching them — in affirming ways that side with their better angels. In a time of COVID, this is an action that is easy to take.

    Tactic #2: Get democracy pledges from elected officials

    Elected officials are another key pillar. The failed Pennsylvania commission shows that power — and that they can be moved. 

    Previous Coverage
  • What will it take to defend the election? Here’s one winning strategy
  • One tactic to apply pressure on elected officials is getting them to take a pledge (before and after the election) affirming basic democratic principles: assuring every vote is counted and respecting the outcome of the election. Although there are many, the most strategic pledge I’ve seen comes from Hold the Line, whose wording is accessible: “All eligible ballots are counted, the election results are respected.” Their pledge is easy to pick up and run with.

    However, the Hold the Line campaign isn’t just a request. If folks won’t sign immediately, they encourage continued pressure for the pledge with tactical escalation, like bird-dogging and confrontational nonviolent direct action that has worked in other cases to get reluctant elected officials to otherwise commit.

    Tactic #3: Local rallies on Nov. 4

    The Protect the Results coalition has put out a call to join their 100-plus groups in the streets on Nov. 4. This is a critical moment to test our ability for mass action in the streets. Their organizing page makes it easy to find a group and host a local action.

    The timing is just right: Use action to set the tone, rather than waiting for the Trump administration to cross a “red line” by halting the vote count.

    Coups are never stopped by holding any building or location, but instead by winning defectors and stripping away legitimacy.

    On this date people from many walks of life will be in the streets. Don’t worry that the signs, dress code and chants will be wide and varied. The general message of “count every vote” will make its way through.

    One messaging point: If the election is a Biden sweep, it’s still a bad idea to demand Trump concede. He may not be psychologically able to concede. So getting a concession cannot be a condition of a peaceful transfer of power.

    If things go well, we’ll have lots of people on the streets, which is really important — because it makes the next steps more feasible to take. 

    Tactic #4: Organize actions at local board of elections and elsewhere

    After Nov. 4 there will be lots of actions around the country. That is good and actually more strategic than concentrating our efforts on one place, like a national march to Washington, D.C. The dispersal allows us to respond to the chaotic and fast-paced environment, rather than putting all our eggs in one basket. 

    One place very likely to be important: local election offices.

    Recall the Bush-Gore election in 2000. While election officials began a recount, a group of Republican operatives were ordered to “stop them.” They attempted to bully their way into a Florida election office, trampling and punching people. This became known as the “Brooks Brothers riots,” with unusual protesters who were “50-year-old white lawyers with cell phones and Hermès ties.”

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    The bourgeois riot’s pressure on the election officials — which included both an inside strategy of lawsuits and the outside strategy of protests — resulted in them ceasing the recount and changed the course of the national outcome. 

    The Brooks Brothers riots worked in large part because there was no meaningful counter-narrative of street protests. We’re already neutering that by being in the streets, even if we don’t end up confronting every regressive action to support a coup.

    So our goal isn’t round-the-clock occupations to stop election offices from those kinds of riots. Tactically, that kind of occupation is likely a mistake — one where it attracts political die-hards on our side, violent counter-protesters who choose the time and place to show up, and then an ensuing confrontation that isn’t about democracy but street confrontations.

    Coups are never stopped by holding any building or location, but instead by winning defectors and stripping away legitimacy. That means showing up at election offices with a tone to match: Bring the kids, balloons, order pizza for poll workers and so on.

    In that way, our actions aim for greater legitimacy in the election process and give election officials all the cover they need to keep doing their jobs.

    And if all this doesn’t stop a coup situation, where does the movement go? All the experts I consulted suggested the same destination: some kind of “national strike.” The following tactics head towards a series of rolling strikes that force remaining fence-sitters to join sides, threaten business leaders who prefer stability over chaos and apply pressure on all parts of society to disallow a coup.

    Tactic #5: Preparation and youth strike

    National strikes don’t just happen. In fact, one way to shoot ourselves in the foot is for tiny groups to announce a “national general strike.” We would be much wiser to follow the organizing smarts shown by Rochester’s AFL-CIO. They are the first regional AFL-CIO body to urge a general strike to be called if Trump refuses “a Constitutionally-mandated peaceful transition of power.” It prepares people while keeping our powder dry.

    Wall Street hates chaos. And a Trump coup would be highly chaotic.

    During this phase of preparation it’s about starting union and community-organized strike funds, discussing strategies and readying people for the impacts. Thankfully, the research on coups shows we’re most likely talking about days or weeks, not months.

    One sector of society appears ready to be the bulwark: youth. A national youth coalition is putting in place plans — if necessary — to call a nationwide youth strike. As is often the case, young people from around the country may be the vanguard to withdraw from schools and workplaces, and go into the streets in protest.

    Tactic #6: Consumer strikes

    Waves of protests and escalated actions will continue across the country, gaining public sympathy and showing we have large numbers of people on our side. But that’s not the only tool in our toolbox.

    Even now, the business class is extremely shaky on Trump. Wall Street hates chaos. And a Trump coup would be highly chaotic. But business as usual will try to keep going. Large national effort will be needed to make that impossible. 

    One way to further swing business and middle-class America is withdrawing as consumers from the marketplace until we have a peaceful transfer of power. Two tactics have been floating around in anti-coup circles: a consumer strike refusing to buy holiday gifts unless all the votes are counted or a strike against any state that sends two electorate slates to the Electoral College on Dec. 6.

    The goals and tactics will depend heavily on the timing and how things have unfolded. But the action is clear: using consumer power to make it too costly and forcing widespread segments of society to disallow a coup.

    Tactic #7: Rolling strikes

    Calling a “general strike” may be overly ambitious. “Rolling strikes,” where various sectors withdraw their consent, are more likely. A lot of the strategy is up to organized labor, but with just over 10 percent of the workforce in unions, a lot of the efforts may be wildcat strikes, walk-outs and sit downs.

    With rolling strikes multiple pillars of support get targeted in rapid succession. Some workplaces shut down for an hour while others stay in the dark for a week. 

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    In “Civil Resistance Against Coups: A Comparative and Historical Perspective,” Stephen Zunes notes that almost all anti-coup resistance involves strikes. That’s for a reason — striking is the ultimate withdrawal of our consent, our bodies, our labor and our money.

    With widespread striking, the likelihood of defection increases, building pressure for more people to refuse to carry out orders by a tweeting ex-president.

    So these are seven tactics we can add to our arsenal. Some of them we can act on right now; others may be right for later. You can get links at Choose Democracy’s Action Center as you consider which ones might be a fit for you (or sign our pledge for updates). 

    If a coup doesn’t happen, is the preparation worth it?

    Absolutely. I’ve been part of efforts where our preparation alone kept the opposition from mobilizing against us. 

    Further, we’re teaching how power works. Trump’s tweets don’t determine the outcome of the election. People do. Our job isn’t over when the election is over — we need to understand how power works to make change for the future. Because the fight to save our country and the planet is just beginning.

    Here is a proven formula for protecting the vote while keeping the peace

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    With millions of votes being cast across the country, President Trump, faring badly in the polls, is working overtime to undermine voter confidence in the election. From attacking mail-in ballots to refusing to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, he is behaving like any wannabe autocrat. For anyone familiar with the authoritarian playbook, Trump’s attempts to cast doubt on the election, suppress votes, foment violence, and insist that he can only lose the election if it’s rigged are all too predictable. So, too, is the time-tested formula for preventing a stolen election while keeping the peace: winning decisively at the polls, protecting the results through organized civic pressure and disrupting violence through active nonviolence.  

    That strategy may be pivotal here. Fortunately, there is a long history of mobilizing in the face of repression in the United States and great deal of recent international experience to draw on, as the popular campaigns to resist stolen elections in Serbia, Ukraine and the Gambia show us.

    In the lead-up to the 2000 presidential election in Serbia, a pro-democracy movement called Otpor knew that President Slobodan Milosevic, then deeply unpopular, would attempt to lie, cheat and bully his way to victory. He ordered police and paramilitary groups to beat up, arrest and imprison dissidents and publicly declared Otpor a terrorist organization. Otpor, meanwhile, trained its members in nonviolent discipline, had a strategy for fraternizing with police and deployed women to the frontlines of protests. As expected, following a massive get out the vote effort, Milosevic declared victory over the opposition candidate, Vojislav Koštunica, amidst evidence of widespread vote tampering confirmed by thousands of poll monitors. Otpor organized nationwide protests, many laden with humor, and coal miners launched a massive strike, creating economic pressure and prompting Milosevic to step down.

    Previous Coverage
  • How to face right-wing violence while defending the election — a conversation with George Lakey
  • Something similar happened in Ukraine’s 2004 presidential election pitting the popular opposition leader, Victor Yushchenko, against the Russian-backed Prime Minister, Viktor Yanukovic. Yanukovic declared victory in the run-off election despite contradictory evidence from exit polls showing Yushchenko the clear winner. As evidence of ballot tampering emerged — and after the compromised Central Election Commission declared Yanukovic the winner — over a million people rallied in Kiev and strikes were launched across the country. Faced with overwhelming numbers of peaceful protesters, members of the security forces defected and refused to obey orders to crack down. The parliament eventually sided with the people and the Supreme Court declared Yanukovic’s victory fraudulent, paving the way to a new run-off vote, which Yushchenko won handily. 

    In the Gambia, the people voted out strongman President Yahya Jammeh in the 2016 presidential election, choosing opposition leader Adama Barrow. After Jammeh initially said he would accept the results of the election, he then changed his mind and refused to concede power. In response, activists adopted the hashtag #GambiaHasDecided. They plastered the streets with billboards and leaflets and used creative nonviolent tactics to send a clear message that it was time for Jammeh to go, in accordance with the country’s constitution. The movement maintained a peaceful posture despite widespread state repression and shrinking civic space. Jammeh was forced to leave power.

    Although the U.S. context is very different, how people in those countries achieved free and fair elections is very relevant, particularly given Trump’s autocratic inclinations and the erosion of democratic norms and institutions over the past few years: They voted the incumbent leaders out, exposed cheating and then used disciplined nonviolent mass action to defend the legitimate results. Keys to the pro-democracy movements successes were an enthusiastic get out the vote effort, the presence of skilled and trained election monitors, nonviolent mass action that moved from street protests to mass non-cooperation tactics, and violence mitigation efforts that muted the impact of state and paramilitary violence. 

    The only way real or would-be autocrats can steal an election — at home or abroad — is if ordinary people allow it.

    Analysts and scenario planners in the United States have suggested that Trump could try to claim victory before votes are counted, try to stop counting, or refuse to accept defeat. He could prevail upon GOP legislatures to send an alternative, pro-Trump slate of electors in defiance of the popular vote. Such attempts would constitute an autogolpe, where those in authority attempt to expand their power.

    In response, civic groups like Choose Democracy, Fight Back Table and Protect the Results — while keeping the attention focused on a robust electoral process — are training thousands of people in how to resist an executive power grab or coup. They are preparing activists for disciplined nonviolent action, rooted in local communities, that could include acts of mass non-cooperation like sit-ins, stay-at-homes and labor strikes.

    A grassroots campaign launched by Hold the Line is calling on elected officials, military and police chiefs to publicly commit to ensuring that all votes are counted, to protect peaceful protesters and to refuse unlawful or unconstitutional orders. The bipartisan National Council on Election Integrity is urging peace and patience while mail-in votes are being counted after Nov. 3.

    Anticipating, preventing and resisting political violence will be critical to protecting the vote and ensuring a continuation of the democratic experiment in this country. Given the rise in violent attacks committed by far-right and white supremacist groups and the potential for election-related violence, groups like Nonviolent Peaceforce, Cure Violence, DC Peace Team, Portland Peace Team, Mediators Beyond Borders and Pace e Bene are leading trainings in violence de-escalation, active bystander intervention and unarmed civilian protection.

    A network of peacebuilding organizations and data scientists, called the Trust Network, is developing an early warning and early response platform to help communities prevent and mitigate election-related violence. The Bridging Divides Initiative is partnering with the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project and the Carter Center to map potential hotspots and to connect people to groups working locally to keep the peace. Over Zero, which has developed a globally-informed action guide for building resilience to political violence, is working with local communities to employ communications tools to counter violence, hate speech and disinformation.  

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    Central to all of these efforts is planning for violence, training people in violence disruption and de-escalation techniques, and getting accurate and timely information to trusted community organizations and leaders, who are in the best position to mitigate violence. Knowing that there will be attempts by agents provocateur and others to foment violence in order to justify “law and order” crackdowns, many activist groups have adopted codes of conduct grounded in nonviolence and have trained marshals to promote protest safety and to maximize participation in their actions.

    The only way real or would-be autocrats can steal an election — at home or abroad — is if ordinary people allow it. We have all the power necessary to defend the integrity of the election and to ensure that the new government sworn in reflects the will of the people. Our current moment demands an active synergy of nonviolent action and peacebuilding tools, techniques and approaches to help protect the vote, uphold our democracy and keep the peace. Strengthening this synergy through active dialogue and partnerships between the social justice and peacebuilding communities in the United States is important now and will be key to building a more just, inclusive and peaceful society in the future.

    How to face right-wing violence while defending the election — a conversation with George Lakey

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    When Donald Trump won in 2016, Americans took to the streets in unprecedented number. What will we do this year if Trump refuses to accept defeat — something half of all Americans currently fear?

    According to George Lakey, a highly-respected organizer and trainer whose impressive activist resume dates back to the civil rights movement, “We don’t want large mass demonstrations and everybody going to Washington.” That type of action, Lakey argues, can help spark social change, but it’s not up to the task of stopping a coup — which is what it would be if Trump refused to accept a loss and a peaceful transfer of power.

    “This is a different game that we simply haven’t experienced in the United States,” Lakey says. “The game we need to play focuses not on one particular foe, but rather the people who favor the stability of the system for the longer run. And we can learn it by studying those who have experienced a coup and won.”

    Previous Coverage
  • Mass direct action might be the only way to stop Trump from stealing the election
  • For the paste few months — ever since Trump started building his case for rejecting election results — Lakey has been hard at work getting Americans up to speed. In a series of articles for Waging Nonviolence, he’s discussed leading anti-coup research, how to win over the political center and one strategy that could be easily deployed across the country.

    At the same time, he’s joined with other experienced trainers to launch a new group called Choose Democracy, which is preparing people to defend against a coup. In just a matter of weeks, over 25,000 people have signed their pledge of resistance. Meanwhile, 3,300 have taken their “How to Beat an Election-Related Power Grab” online training. With demand continuing to grow, they could be training as many as 5,000 people a week through the election.

    Yet, for all this excitement and eagerness to stop a coup, Lakey and his fellow trainers are also hearing people express a lot of fear — specifically for their safety. “One of the most frequent questions we get in our early trainings is: How do we protect ourselves against violent repression, whether from law enforcement or the right-wing?”  

    While it’s touched upon in the trainings, there typically isn’t enough time to go into the kind of depths Lakey has explored over the years in Waging Nonviolence. So, we decided to have a conversation, where he could share some of his favorite stories and strategies for taking precaution, while also taking direct action. [Our full archive on this subject is available here.]

    So, getting right to it, what do you tell someone who is worried about facing violent opposition?

    Previous Coverage
  • What will it take to defend the election? Here’s one winning strategy
  • There are a number of things we can do that minimize the chance that violence will come at us. Not [eliminate] the chance, just minimize. One thing is to choose tactics that make it harder for them to attack us. For example, there’s the strategy that I offered in Waging Nonviolence of going after elected officials and demanding that they insist on every vote being counted and that they state it publicly.

    How do we go after them? Well, we could go after them in a big rally outside their office building. But a big rally is kind of tempting for anybody who wants to rumble. So, instead, we can do a car caravan passing their homes and we can go to their church, synagogue, mosque or wherever they worship. We can send small teams into their office and do a sit-in. We can organize that in ways that minimize the risk of COVID.

    The idea is to keep coming up with tactics that are taking place in a particular place or are organized in such a way as to make it harder [for them to use violence]. We do it with bands playing, with majorettes, whatever it takes to not be the bait in front of Pavolv’s dog.

    You have described fear as “a story that we make up.” Explain what you mean by that.

    Previous Coverage
  • Ingredients for building courage
  • It helps me to realize that my fear is Fantisized Expectations Appearing Real. Because I realize it’s all about what might happen, not what is certain to happen. So it’s a fantasy in my mind — and it may happen or it may not. I need to act on the basis of reality, not on my fantasy about what could happen.

    Another big thing I can do is notice my body, that it’s charged up when I’m feeling fear, that lots of energy is available. I can decide that that’s a good thing. I can press the button that switches that from fear to excitement. Ever since a concert pianist told me that I’ve been telling myself [things like] “You are so ready. You’re on it. This is exciting. This is a story you will tell your grandchildren.” Reframing is magical, but you may need practice doing that. You may not be successful the first time.

    One thing many people are afraid of is conflict — particularly those of us with comfortable, middle-class lives. What’s one strategy for overcoming that aversion?

    You see two people arguing — great, get closer. If that’s taking two steps closer, good for you. If it is taking four steps closer, awesome. Absolutely celebrate each one of these ways that you are putting yourself in training because we can actually recondition ourselves and change [our relationship to conflict].

    There was a guy who worked with Dr. King on his national staff who happened to have claustrophobia. And so when they were getting ready for the next campaign, he would spend time in a closet every day to prepare for spending time in a jail cell. For him, that was way, way bigger than for most people who didn’t suffer from claustrophobia. So he would do this de-conditioning in order to get ready.

    You’ve written about this idea of “moving closer to conflict,” and how it can even help a situation from turning violent.

    Previous Coverage
  • Defense on the streets — stepping into conflict
  • Absolutely. A former student called me out of the blue and told me that he, just the other day, did exactly that. He took steps closer to what looked like a guy getting prepared to beat up a woman across the street because he had read the article in Waging Nonviolence, where I describe helping a woman in distress by simply yelling at her would-be attacker from my porch, until others more brave than me came to her rescue. This former student did the same thing. He took steps closer and stared at the couple, but didn’t feel courageous enough to say anything. As he stood there, though, two people saw what he was doing and joined him. So then there were three of them lined up on the sidewalk, watching this conflict just across the street. So finally, this former student finds his voice because of solidarity — that’s another big ingredient — and says, “We’re watching you!” Which is what I said in my story, and it worked!

    Now, of course, you don’t want to move toward conflict every time. There are times when you wouldn’t want to do that, because it would be dangerous. This reconditioning exercise isn’t an invitation to endanger oneself.

    What about when you don’t have the choice to move toward conflict? What do you do when you are in the middle of it?

    I’ve been looking for peacekeepers around the country [who point to what we can do in these situations]. Rita Archibald is one of them. She lives in Chicago, and she has become a very effective peacekeeper in demonstrations that become turbulent. She got started one day when she happened to be near the front of a large mass of demonstrators who were being blocked by a large mass of police. They had occupied the street. And the very front line of demonstrators was a bunch of young men who were yelling taunts at the police and escalating.

    She had no idea what to do, and then she thought, “Well, I could at least do something. It’s more important to do something than nothing.” So she went to a couple of people that were right behind the guys who were yelling and said, “Excuse me, would you mind moving back a little bit? I think they need a little space. Let’s give them a little space.” And the people readily did it because in situations of conflict people are very open to suggestions. And so they moved back, and she thought, “That was easy.” So she did it again. She kept inviting people to move back. And when they reached a certain point where there was an actual visible distance between the second line and the first line, the guys calmed down and de-escalated because they didn’t feel the support.

    You’ve also talked about the importance of refusing to accept an attacker’s script. Why is that another important strategy for de-escalation?

    Previous Coverage
  • Re-writing an attacker’s script — getting in practice
  • Well, they often expect immediate pushback from you and are really surprised when they don’t get it, which can give you a margin of safety. The most dramatic way that you can not push back is to just sit down. I first learned about that in France in the early ‘60s when I was talking to French activists who were involved with the movement against the French Empire’s presence in Algeria. They told me the best way to respond when the police are charging you is to just sit down. A year later, I found out that was also standard practice on the part of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and others in the civil rights movements in the South.

    When I talked with Rev. Andrew Young about it, he said, “You probably figured that we preachers are always having people get down on their knees because they need to pray for God’s intervention, and that’ll save them. Well, prayer is a good thing to do. But the main thing to remember is if you get people on their knees, the police are more likely to back off. Or at least not hit people. Whereas if you keep them on their feet, they’re much more likely to get hurt.” So I realized that’s two very different cultures [using the sit-down technique].

    We are talking about something that is way deeper than words and concepts. This is primal. This is sub-verbal. This is a kind of language of gesture. This is in the realm of body stuff. Dancers understand this better than we do. But it seems like in multiple cultures, that’s what happens when people sit down.

    That’s interesting because you often hear — talking about a primal kind of feeling — fight or flight.

    This is neither. This is a direct contradiction to that bifurcation.

    And the flight response can be more damaging.

    Way more. As Andrew Young also said, “If they’re on their feet, they’re more likely to run. And if they run, they get chased and they get really slaughtered.” We saw in Chicago in 1968 police chasing people into the Hilton Hotel, clubbing them and they’re bleeding all over the Hilton rugs. Running is a terrible, terrible thing to do, which is, again, contrary to this primal fight or flight thing.

    On the other hand, teargas is something else. When a big number of Black Lives Matter activists found themselves occupying an interstate that runs through Philadelphia this summer, and the police decided to get them out of there with teargas, some friends of mine had the presence of mind to put their arms in the air and very slowly start walking away from the teargas. At the same time, they chanted together, “Slowly, walk, slowly, walk, slowly, walk.” They were demonstrating the way to do it and saying it very loudly. More people picked it up, and in that part of the crowd there were no injuries. Whereas in the other parts of the crowd, where people simply ran, there were injuries.

    Have you ever experienced this dynamic yourself?

    In North Philly, a huge demonstration of Black people in a Black neighborhood were furious that white construction workers had been hired to build a new school for Black children. And so the whole block was full. At the far end of the block was the school construction site, and people had arrived early to block the workers from entering the site. Police, meanwhile, were there to make sure that workers could enter the site. I came a little late and was in the middle of the block.

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  • How a neighborhood in Philadelphia learned that real safety lies in solidarity
  • Now, I had forgotten another rule for safety: Go with a buddy or go with an affinity group. Shame on me. So there I was, by myself. But whenever I’m by myself in a demonstration, or even when I’m with somebody, I look around. What are the resources around me? I spy another guy who looks like his head is screwed on right. So I eye him. He eyes me. He’s scoping the ground too. But we don’t get to talk. We just know where we are. And then the construction workers arrive in buses. So they’re being unloaded at the end of the block. We can’t even see that. I just know that’s what’s going on because there’s an enormous roar at that end of the block. The other end of the block hears that roar and wants to rush to the scene. So they start running, and I’m seeing a riot in my head. So I look at the guy. The guy looks at me. I reach out my hand. He reaches his out. We grab hands like crazy, and we stretch out our other arms and we stop the stampede.

    Just the two of you?

    Yes, because crowds are so suggestible. It’s amazing. It’s also frightening how suggestible they are. But anyway, it wasn’t a physical blockade. Just, you know, us looking very determined. So, yeah, we held people back. Scoping out other people where you are is a good thing.

    Discipline is frequently cited as one of the keys to successful nonviolent action. You’ve also said that it can be a deterrent to violence. Why is that?

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  • 5 ways movements can handle threats and attacks
  • There’s another story Rev. Young tells about when he was a Methodist preacher in southwest Georgia and heard that the local Ku Klux Klan was getting excited because it looked like the civil rights movement was headed there. And so they were going to have, out in the woods, a traditional big bonfire and get all revved up to take on Black people. So what did Young do? He got a bunch of people from his congregation to go out and visit the Klan! So they did that. They went out in the woods in the dead of night, fanned out and talked in pairs with Klan members. It was the last thing the Klan expected. They effectively defanged the Klan in that locality!

    The people on the right who play that kind of roles today — baseball bat carriers or whatever they are — their whole deal is courage. That’s the biggest thing. And they compete with each other. Who’s braver? And so you do something that is braver than what they’re doing. I mean, it just blows them away. It’s a deterrent, and that’s what the southwest Georgia Black people did: They deterred the worst possible thing the Ku Klux Klan could do against them. And deterrence really works. Their commitment to nonviolence was what carried the day. It’s an extreme form of nonviolence to just wade into that completely without arms.

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    As much as we can try to minimize risk, not every attack can be averted. So what happens when tragedy does strike? Are there ways to prepare to act in that moment?

    Absolutely. Take your smartphone. Photographs and video are really important because if it’s coming anyway, then we want to make the most of it in order to stimulate more people to support us. There’s this phenomenon that some writers called backfire. Others call it paradox of repression. The idea is that our opponent’s violence works against them, by stimulating larger numbers of our people to join us. That was the secret of the civil rights movement. After violence was done to them more people would come out, again and again. And that’s happened all over the world.

    After Black Lives Matter Minneapolis was attacked in 2015, they organized a huge march. They essentially doubled down and increased their level of nonviolent confrontation. That’s not something a lot of people would think of doing after being shot at.

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  • How Black Lives Matter came back stronger after white supremacist attacks
  • The Minneapolis BLM movement gives a fine example of strategic thinking. Strategists get inside the head of their opponent. They know the opponent uses violence to try to get us to stop our movement, from fear.  So if we back off, they win. We concede that their violence is more powerful than our conviction and our belief that Black Lives Matter.  
    So instead we need to show them that they are wrong. They use violence — we come back stronger! We come back bigger. We won’t escalate in the sense of using violence, but instead in bigger numbers. And show even more courage. It actually pays off in terms of our reducing the chance of them continuing to oppose us, because we get stronger when they do that. This is the value of our having fun with strategy.

    What about unarmed civilian peacekeeping? Can you explain what that is and how it could help in a potentially violent conflict like the election and its aftermath?

    Well, as a systematic thing, it goes way back to when Gandhi was concerned about the riots that were happening between Muslims and Hindus. He would get tons of volunteers, mostly young Indians, to agree to be peacekeepers. And he would sort of deputize them, train them a little bit and say, “Get out there.” They often carried a sort of bandana, which they could either wrap around their heads or unwrap and wave to each other to indicate fighting happening on one end of a demonstration. They could move swiftly and de-escalate.

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  • How civilian peacekeeping can help stem violent conflict on an ever-hotter planet
  • This sort of practice can be used today by protest marshals or peacekeepers. They can show their presence by something visible, like the same T-shirts or headbands or armbands. Time and again, they have reduced the risk of violence and, when it happened, reduced injury. Lately it seems that organizers of demonstrations have forgotten their value. Even the sheer presence of marshals — helping people in a march to cross the street at street corners in an organized and safe way, for example — reduces the anxiety that prompts over-reactions to threat. And because it builds the unity of the demonstrators, it makes us a more formidable presence, difficult for attackers to break apart and for the media to confuse and call “a riot.”

    So be prepared go to any demonstration with a batch of armbands in your pocket, so if the organizers forgot to get marshalls, you can ask anyone you know who is thoughtful and grounded to take an armband and join you in wearing it. Tell them their “job” means no longer chatting with friends but instead keeping an eye out for trouble, hugging the margins of the demonstration where trouble is more likely to surface (and where you’re more visible), and remembering a formula or two, like “De-escalate!” “Slow down!” “Walk now!” “Sit down!”  And remember that if you reach out and grab hands of people around you to isolate a violent incident, others will most likely take your hand and do the same. Crowds are so suggestible in those situations. That’s when they will pay attention to an arm band, even if they never saw you before.

    There may be an impulse among activists at some demonstrations to kind of categorically reject or villainize certain sectors of society, like law enforcement or others who work to uphold the system. Why might that be unwise or even dangerous?

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  • Finding allies in unlikely places
  • The people who are endangering us by their threats are playing a role. And there’s always a potential difference between what people do within that role and what they are really like. And we know that in our own lives we’ve sometimes done things in a role that we later think, “Oh but that’s not me.” So we need to learn to assist people whose role is to be menacing and to hurt us, to separate themselves from that role even on the scene and say “I’m bigger than that. I’m different from that.” And that might mean lots of different changes of behavior right there on the spot. It might mean instead of hitting someone very hard, that police officer simply goes through the motions. It might be turning their back. It might be “not seeing” something that the role says they should see. There’s all kinds of inefficiencies and ways of giving us a break that they can do when they are more than just their role.

    If, on the other hand, we villainize them, what we’re really doing is freezing them to their role. We’re saying “all you are is your role.” And that’s pretty much guaranteeing that we’re going to get the worst that their role provides. So it’s definitely in our interest to do that.

    Finally, as you’ve explained here, there are lots of ways people can train to deal with the threats and attacks that come with confronting injustice. But one of the simplest ways you’ve noted before is simply seeking out more stories — more examples of how to act in these tough situations. Why is that?

    Storytelling was the main thing the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s training team was doing. I was on the training team. I was doing role plays and all that. And I was paying attention to what they were doing. And they were telling stories up the wazoo. And they always had a crowd of young, white, North college students absolutely absorbing those stories as if their lives depended on it. And, indeed, their lives may have depended on it.

    A full archive of stories on nonviolence in the face of violent attack is available here.

    How Hitler found his blueprint for a German empire by looking to the American West

    Native peoples in the United States continue to struggle for justice. While this year brought some important victories, such as Washington’s NFL team finally dropping its racist name and logo, and a landmark win in the Supreme Court for Native rights in McGirt v. Oklahoma, the difficult work of recognizing and redressing the country’s legacy of oppressing its first inhabitants continues.

    Efforts by Native and allied activists to spread observance of Indigenous Peoples’ Day as an alternative to Columbus Day is an important part of this work. The day is an opportunity not only to celebrate Native voices and culture, but for the country to rethink its own history in light of Indigenous American experiences. While much of this rethinking, as it should, centers on the brutal treatment of Native peoples across American history, Indigenous Peoples’ Day also offers an opportunity to reflect on less well-known legacies of this brutality beyond the United States itself.

    Perhaps the most appalling of these legacies is the way Adolph Hitler and his regime consciously drew on U.S. actions toward Native Americans as a model for their murderous campaign in Eastern Europe during World War II. This is a connection explored by recent historians of Nazi Germany and detailed most comprehensively in Carroll Kakel’s “The American West and the Nazi East.” (For a related account of how American immigration, segregation and eugenics policies influenced the Nazis, see James Whitman’s fascinating “Hitler’s American Model.”)

    Hitler’s overriding strategic goal in launching World War II was stretching Germany’s borders eastward to encompass most of Europe. This quest for Lebensraum, or living space, to the east was his central preoccupation. He envisioned a vast German empire extending through the Baltics, Poland, Ukraine, Belarus and Russia — all the way to Europe’s end at the Ural Mountains. This empire would be gradually cleared of its former inhabitants and populated instead by rugged, self-reliant German farmers growing food to feed a great continental power.

    World War II, then, was above all a war of colonial expansion. At a time when European countries still ruled much of the world, justifying such rule by claims of racial superiority and using brutal methods to extract wealth and crush dissent, Hitler had many models to look to for inspiration. Belgium, for instance, killed or worked to death an estimated 10 million people during its four decades ruling Congo.

    His focus, however, was not on overseas colonies, which Germany had never acquired to the same extent as other powers, but on a contiguous, land-based empire annexed to the German homeland itself. As Hitler said, “Our colonial territory is in the east.” His was a vision of what historians call “settler colonialism,” in which an area’s original inhabitants may be exploited temporarily but are ultimately replaced by the conquering country’s own people.

    This form of colonialism is inherently “eliminationist” — in that, one way or the other, native peoples, considered racially inferior, become superfluous and “disappear” in order to clear the land for settlers from the imperial power. This is why the United States was Hitler’s chief inspiration. It was, according to the Holocaust historian Timothy Snyder, “the exemplary land empire” on which the Nazis based their vision of colonizing Eastern Europe.

    Hitler praised the way the “Aryan” America conquered “its own continent” by clearing the “soil” of “natives” to make room for more “racially pure” settlers.

    What did Hitler see when he looked to America for inspiration? After pioneering settler colonialism in Ireland, the British brought it to North America with devastating effect as colonists displaced Indigenous inhabitants. These same colonists made more rapid westward expansion a primary justification for the Revolutionary War against Britain, citing it specifically in the Declaration of Independence. Indeed, one of the largest military actions of the war was the Continental Army’s attack on the Iroquois Confederation. After George Washington ordered the “total destruction and devastation of their settlements” so they would be “driven” out by “terror,” the American military established its pattern for the next century by expelling Native people from their homeland through a campaign of brutally indiscriminate violence.

    After independence, Thomas Jefferson popularized his vision of an agrarian empire of virtuous yeoman farmers gradually overspreading the entire continent. As for what he called the “doomed red race,” Jefferson wrote that those not willing to leave would “be exterminated, or driven beyond the Mississippi.”

    He and political leaders who followed him used threats of war, or war itself, to acquire new territories from France, Spain, Britain and Mexico, opening them up to white settlers. As these newcomers moved in, a combination of regular army troops, paramilitary units called “rangers” and vigilante groups of settlers themselves pushed Native peoples off the land. Their methods included mass shootings, rape, burned villages, destroyed food supplies and forced marches. The result was rapid depopulation by murder, starvation, disease, exposure and expulsion.

    As this pattern moved beyond the Mississippi and land grew scarce for further removals, the American government began concentrating the remaining Natives on “reservations.” On this marginal land, unsustainable living conditions continued to dramatically reduce their numbers. One government official called the reservation system “the legalized murder of a whole nation.” 

    Aside from Native peoples themselves, this process enjoyed wide public support. It was, in Jane Cazneau’s famous formulation, part of the country’s “Manifest Destiny.” As racially inferior, uncivilized “savages” who did not make productive use of the land, it was inevitable that they would “disappear” as white settlers moved in. As an 1854 article in DeBow’s Review put it, their “race is run” and are “gradually disappearing, to give place to a higher order of human beings.” Andrew Jackson viewed Native Americans as a “disease” that was “constantly infesting our frontier” and needed eradication. In the 19th century, white Americans commonly used the term “extirpate,” meaning to clear away by uprooting, destroying or annihilating, when referring to Native Americans.

    All of this makes it unsurprising that in looking for a blueprint for the European East, Hitler found it in the American West. In Snyder’s words, the American example was one of the “source mythologies” of the Nazi’s eastern project.

    German author Karl May dressed as his famous character Old Shatterhand, in 1896. (Wikimedia Commons)

    Hitler grew up reading Karl May’s American western novels for young people, which featured tales of taming the “Wild West” through “Indian wars.” He also regularly re-read them into adulthood, even recommending them to his generals as sources of creative ideas. Writing in “Mein Kampf” in the 1920s, Hitler praised the way the “Aryan” America conquered “its own continent” by clearing the “soil” of “natives” to make room for more “racially pure” settlers and lay the foundation for its economic self-sufficiency and growing global power. Indeed, the concept of Lebensraum was coined and popularized by Friedrich Razel, who said his theory of colonization and racial replacement drew inspiration from the American historian Frederick Jackson Turner’s “frontier thesis” and its identification of “colonization of the Great West” as central to American history and identity.

    Once the Nazis gained power in Germany, Kakel details how the American West became an “obsession” for Hitler and his closest followers, such as SS leader Heinrich Himmler. Their goal was to remake the demographics of Europe the same way the United States remade the demographics of North America. The Nazi leadership routinely referred to Eastern Europe as “the German East” or the “Wild East,” and its inhabitants as “Indians.” Admiring how the United States had “gunned down the millions of Redskins to a few hundred thousand, and now keep the modest remnant under observation in a cage,” Hitler spoke of his intention to similarly “Germanize” the east “by the immigration of Germans, and to look upon the natives as Redskins.” Echoing American justifications for westward settlement, he stated, “It is inconceivable that a higher people should painfully exist on a soil too narrow for it, whilst amorphous masses, which contribute nothing to civilization, occupy infinite tracts of a soil that is one of the richest in the world.” His answer? “Here in the east a similar process will repeat itself for the second time as in the conquest of America.” For Hitler, “Our Mississippi must be the Volga.”

    As in the American case, Hitler used threats of war and then war itself to gain territory in the east. Then regular army troops, paramilitary units called “Einsatzgruppen,” and collaborating locals began killing, terrorizing and expelling inhabitants considered racially inferior. A “Hunger Plan” envisioned mass starvation, mainly of Slavs. Meanwhile, the SS drew up plans to expel all European Jews to a massive Judenreservat, or “Jewish reservation,” either in Madagascar (once British control of the sea lanes was defeated) or Siberia (once the Soviet Union was defeated). Most were expected to die of disease and starvation.

    After the invasion of Poland, Germany quickly annexed part of the country and began the process of moving in ethnic German and other sufficiently “Aryan” settlers. Nazi propaganda showed photos of German colonists departing in covered wagons and described the lands to the east as the “California of Europe.” German newspapers featured headlines such as “Go East, Young Man!” — an imitation of Horace Greeley’s famous advice to American settlers to seek their fortune in the west. As for resistance by those being conquered, killed and cleared? Hitler compared it to “the struggle in North America against the Red Indians.” After all, he said, “who remembers the Red Indians?”

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    Of course, Hitler never realized his full vision. As the tide of war turned, and the vast former Soviet lands he planned to colonize slipped from his grasp, the Nazi strategy shifted away from the traditional “eliminationist” methods of settler colonialism based on the American model — mass shootings, terror, expulsion and depopulation by disease and hunger — and toward their own innovation of mechanized murder in the death camps, now targeting almost exclusively Jews.

    Having tried his project in a much more densely populated area, over a much shorter timeframe, and during a war he failed to win, Hitler did manage to kill millions, displace millions more and change the demographics of Europe. Yet, his colonization goals never reached more than around a half million settlers in parts of Poland, most of whom were themselves expelled or killed with the war’s end.    

    In contrast, the United States played a much longer game — a gradual but relentless expansion and depopulation of Natives over wider spaces and more decades, and without rival military powers seriously threatening the project. Like Hitler, the United States killed and displaced millions and changed the demographics of a continent. Unlike the Nazis, the country largely completed the process of racial replacement and continental dominance, while at the same time creating a powerful national myth of frontier heroism and progress. It is a myth Americans are still struggling to come to terms with, and the work of those who spread observations of Indigenous Peoples’ Day is an important part of this task.

    What activists who fought the AIDS crisis can teach us about organizing during a pandemic

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    During the peak of the coronavirus pandemic in New York, Avram Finklestein was inundated by the blaring noise of ambulance sirens outside his apartment. “Just day and night … it was constant,” he said. “Even though I’ve been social distancing, I have not been able to escape this pandemic, not for one second.”

    For Finklestein, a 68-year-old artist and activist who lives in Brooklyn, witnessing the U.S. government stand by as the death toll climbs to over 200,000 is especially painful. As a survivor of the AIDS crisis, the current pandemic has been what he calls “a revisitation of suffering that can only be triggered by America at its most cruel.”

    At the height of the AIDS epidemic, Finklestein was galvanized into action by the death of his partner, Don. In 1987, Finklestein helped found the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, or ACT UP, a grassroots direct action group advocating for AIDS research, treatment and policy change. “We were fighting for our lives first,” he said. “It was a moment that was enraging, terrifying, solidifying.”

    The “Read My Lips” poster by Gran Fury ACT-UP! (Flickr/Banana Leaf)

    Finklestein was also a founding member of Gran Fury, a guerilla art collective that sought to bring attention to the crisis through provocative graphic design, most notably the iconic Silence = Death poster, which urged passersby to “Turn anger, fear, grief into action.” 

    “The poster had to do with who is allowed to die — whose lives were valued and whose lives were considered expendable,” he said. “Which isn’t that different from the questions of social justice in America now.”

    Lawyer Terry McGovern, who has spent much of her life providing legal advocacy for low-income HIV positive individuals, describes the U.S. government’s catastrophic response to COVID-19 as “completely predictable.”

    “So many times throughout this whole experience, I thought about those early days of AIDS,” she said. “There is something about the absolute scrounging around to get thermometers and masks for healthcare workers, and iPads so people can say goodbye to their loved ones,” McGovern said. “You just have to wonder, ‘How could we have not learned anything?’”

    Seven months since the nation entered lockdown, tales of resistance, mutual aid and solidarity are more crucial to survival than ever — and the work of ACT UP has much to teach organizers about the months that lay ahead.

    “It’s an ongoing struggle to get these stories told,” McGovern said. “But I think that they’re very important because, ultimately, they’re hopeful stories.”

    Utilizing ‘every tool in the toolbox’

    When ACT UP first formed in 1987, the AIDS crisis had been going on for six years. Nearly 41,000 people had died and more than 50,000 people had been diagnosed. The Reagan administration, which was recorded laughing about the epidemic behind the scenes, did not publicly acknowledge the virus until there had been four years of casualties.

    “Just like with coronavirus, there were two aspects to the AIDS epidemic,” said Jim Hubbard, a filmmaker whose documentaries chronicle queer life and resistance. “There’s the disease itself, and there’s the way the society deals with it. And the government, when it wasn’t being openly hostile, was simply ignoring the situation.”

    The callous indifference of the U.S. government took on many forms: politicians of the era banned HIV-positive individuals from entering the country, refused to update the sex education programs being taught in schools, failed to establish needle-exchange programs and did nothing to curb drug profiteering

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    Zidovudine, commonly known as AZT, had just become the first anti-HIV drug to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration — and at $10,000 a year, it was the most expensive drug in history.

    Hubbard’s introduction to ACT UP was when he spotted a poster on the subway advertising the March 24 demonstration on Wall Street. “At first, I didn’t understand why they were demonstrating there,” Hubbard recalled. “I thought, ‘Well, it’s the government that’s the problem.’ But that was my misunderstanding. Because the AIDS crisis was a crisis of capitalism.”

    This analysis was critical to the work of ACT UP, which took on many forms — from working with scientists around the world to mass protest in the streets.

    Members of ACT UP  interrupted news broadcasts, covered a homophobic senator’s house with a giant condom, chained themselves to a balcony at the New York Stock Exchange and staged a die-in during mass at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral to protest the church hierarchy who condemned contraception. 

    “When it comes to resisting late capitalism, I have always felt that you really need to try every tool in the toolbox,” Finklestein said. “I mean, we were driven by rage over the fact that people were literally dying in the corridors of hospitals. There wasn’t anything we considered off the table.”

    At one point, the Women’s Caucus of ACT UP registered as Republicans so they could attend a Republican fundraiser. For the dessert table, they supplied fortune cookies that contained clinical data about immunosuppression in women. In another instance, activists broke into New York’s Centers of Disease Control, where they inserted fact sheets about AIDS into every single file folder and book in the director’s office, so that he couldn’t open anything without seeing their demands. 

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    In October 1992, over 300 people marched from the Capitol Building to the White House, chanting “Bring the dead to your door, we won’t take it anymore.” There, activists staged a political funeral for those who had been “murdered by AIDS and killed by government neglect,” scattering the ashes of their loved ones on the White House lawn. 

    “We did everything possible,” Finklestein said. “The nature of [fighting against] late capitalism is constant engagement. Not engagement once. Not engagement over one incident. It’s constant.”

    Though members of ACT UP were trained in nonviolent civil disobedience, many approached nonviolence as a tactic rather than as an absolute philosophy. As the death count grew and desperation mounted, a small but significant segment of ACT UP began to consider employing body bombs to draw attention to the cause by taking their own lives. “It’s not surprising that some more radical questions arose,” Finklestein said. “Many of us felt that we were dying and were going to die anyway.” 

    Ultimately, the direct action campaigns employed by ACT UP succeeded in drastically changing the U.S. government’s response to the epidemic. Their victories included ensuring that HIV-positive individuals were included in clinical trials, changing the procedures of the FDA to speed up the release of experimental drugs, developing a condom distribution plan that was approved by the NYC Board of Education and significantly lowering the price of life-saving drugs.

    The fight for accessibility 

    According to Hubbard, one of the most devastating similarities between AIDS and COVID-19 has been the disproportionate effect on low-income people of color. 

    Partnering with Occupy Wall Street, ACT UP marked its 25th anniversary on April 25, 2012 with a march and direct action demanding a tax on Wall Street transactions to fund global AIDS treatment, prevention and care. (Flickr/Michael Fleshman)

    “Sometimes, at the ACT UP meetings, people would get up and talk about things, and other people would scream out, ‘What does that have to do with AIDS?’” Hubbard remembered. “But if you’re a homeless person with HIV, it’s not only about the treatment, it’s about a home. It’s about a place to sleep. It’s about food. Not everybody is in the same situation. And things that don’t seem to be connected may be intimately connected for other people.”

    In 1989, McGovern founded the HIV Law Project to provide legal services to HIV positive individuals from underserved communities, particularly low-income women of color who had nowhere else to turn.

     “There was so much rampant discrimination,” she said. “I remember the receptionist spraying Lysol when my clients would come in. A lot of lawyers didn’t even want to take on cases of people with HIV.” 

    Early on, McGovern represented a closeted man who was gravely ill. His lover had died of the virus — and because his partner’s name had been on the lease of the apartment and public housing’s definition of family did not include gay couples, the man was facing eviction.

    “When we went to the housing authority to advocate for family status, they were very homophobic and basically kicked us out,” McGovern said. Shortly after, her client died by suicide. The tragedy prompted activists to organize a demonstration outside his housing project, which secured a number of changes prohibiting HIV discrimination in public housing. 

    A turning point in AIDS activism took place in 1990, when McGovern filed a class action lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services to expand the Social Security Administration’s definition of AIDS. 

    At the time, the definition included symptoms predominantly found in gay men, whose diagnosis automatically qualified them for disability and an array of housing benefits. Meanwhile, women and IV drug users with the virus were being denied Social Security and Medicaid and didn’t qualify for disability, even as they were dying. Many lived in public housing and faced eviction. Some were facing court battles with the city to prevent their children from being taken away. 

    “The biggest lesson that I learned from ACT UP is that a small group of people — extremely focused on analysis and practical solutions to the problem — can change the world”

    The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, some of whom chose to remain anonymous, were made up mostly of queer women of color, including Iris De La Cruz and Phyliss Sharpe, whose 5-year-old daughter also had the virus. “They were all extremely powerful women, and very brave,” McGovern said. “For many of them, this fight was going on in the last year of their lives.” 

    Among her clients was Katrina Haslip, a Black Muslim woman, former sex worker and jailhouse lawyer who was beloved by her fellow inmates. During her time at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York, there was an outbreak of HIV behind bars — and after months of falling asleep listening to others die in their cells, Haslip became an AIDS educator and advocate. 

    Two weeks after being let out on parole, Haslip violated her probation by heading to Washington, D.C. to protest at the Department of Health and Human Services. There, she publicly shared her story. 

    “She was very, very ill in the last part of her life,” McGovern said. “It was very upsetting and engaging. She died without ever qualifying for disability.” 

    Haslip died in December of 1992, just one month before the CDC announced an expanded definition of the virus to include symptoms commonly found in women, enabling thousands of women to get the services they desperately needed. None of the eight women involved in the lawsuit survived to see the treatment breakthrough of 1995.

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    For McGovern, the current race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine raises similar questions of accessibility. “Say we do get a vaccine that works — who gets it? How do we make sure there’s equity in distribution?” McGovern asked. She fears that due to the history of medical experimentation on people of color, many underserved communities may regard the vaccine with suspicion. “We’re going to need public health leaders who people really trust, who have an intersectional analysis of things.” 

    Reasons to hope

    Finklestein has spent the past few months serving on the organizing committee of Free the Vaccine for COVID-19, a coalition of artists, students and medical workers fighting to ensure equitable distribution of a COVID vaccine. As the global community grapples with an uncertain future, he believes it is imperative to study social movements of the past in all of their complexity.

    “The historiography of ACT UP goes something like this: A community acting in solidarity on its own behalf protested, and it led to the release of drugs that eventually made AIDS a chronic manageable position,” he said. “The actual story is much more vast and disturbing and complex than that. But it suits capitalism to tell that first story, because it indicates that the system works.”

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  • Amid the coronavirus crisis, mutual aid networks erupt across the country
  • What’s often left out of the story is that the release of AIDS drugs being accelerated went hand-in-glove with the right-wing movement for deregulation during the Reagan era. “Life-saving medications were expedited as a result of ACT UP,” said Finklestein. “But if you think about it in context, people were asking for expedited release of drugs, and pharmaceutical companies love that.” 

    Still, Finklestein believes there are reasons to be hopeful — among them, the uprisings around the world in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. “It may be a reflection of my own privilege to say that I find this moment of resistance in America inspiring when so many people are suffering and dying, but it is inspiring,” he said. “Watching this political moment is like a master class in organizing.” 

    McGovern, too, has been moved by the protests. “What I loved about ACT UP was that it was completely filled with artists,” she said. “And there have been lots of incredible creativity throughout the Black Lives Matter movement. So I would say that activism is alive and well, it’s just taking a different form.”

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    Among the veterans of ACT UP is an awareness of the long road that lies ahead. Between battling evictions and securing workplace protections to ensuring equity in vaccine distribution and access to healthcare, the next few years will hold a lot of work to be done. 

    “The biggest lesson that I learned from ACT UP is that a small group of people — extremely focused on analysis and practical solutions to the problem — can change the world,” Hubbard said. “We don’t need millions of people to change the momentum of the coronavirus pandemic. A small, intense group of people can do it. And I think that happens over and over again.”

    As the smoke subsides, West Coast climate activists show what an effective response looks like

    When the Almeda Fire started in the southern Oregon community of Ashland on Sept. 8, it quickly grew and spread up the Highway 99 corridor. After devastating the small towns of Talent and Phoenix in the Rogue River Valley, it eventually reached the larger city of Medford. By the time it was contained on Sept. 15, more than 2,300 homes were destroyed, 80,000 people had been evacuated and 3,200 acres had burned. At least three people died in the fire.

    Many similarly destructive fires raged up and down the West Coast this month. Although the causes of the inferno are complex, the role of climate change stands out. “Scientists have been projecting increased wildfire intensity due to climate change for years,” said Allie Rosenbluth of Rogue Climate, a grassroots organization whose office in Phoenix, Oregon burned to the ground. “This year’s fires are a result of conscious decisions made by polluting industries and politicians to push continued reliance of fossil fuels.”

    Damaging as it was, Almeda was far from the largest recent blaze. According to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, over 150,000 acres have burned in Oregon in 2020. More than three million acres burned in California so far. Other large fires have swept through parts of Washington, Idaho, Colorado and Utah. Across the United States, approximately a million more acres have been consumed by wildfires this year than the 10-year average.

    “We’re trying to connect the sense of urgency from the fires to actions people can take.”

    In major West Coast urban areas thick clouds of smoke produced pollution levels normally associated with cities like Beijing and Delhi. On Sept. 14, Portland, Oregon registered the worst air quality anywhere in the world, reaching a particulate level of 516 on a pollution index that only goes up to 500. The fires provide a glimpse of life in a world altered by human-caused climate change.

    However, even as communities begin picking themselves up after the devastation, West Coast climate activists are experimenting with what an effective response to such crises looks like. Some are fighting back against fossil fuel companies with a heightened sense of urgency. Others — especially in severely affected communities like Rogue Valley — quickly organized mutual aid for those displaced by the flames.

    The politics of a climate crisis

    “The day the Almeda Fire started was the windiest I’d ever seen in southern Oregon,” Rosenbluth said. “We were all on high alert,” due to a combination of high winds and abnormally hot, dry conditions. On Sept. 8, the worst happened: A fire sparked in north Ashland quickly grew and roared up Highway 99. While the Almeda Fire is being investigated as a possible case of arson (though there is no evidence it was politically motivated), those who blame this year’s blazes on human carelessness or malice miss the point. Were it not for extreme weather conditions like those in the Rogue Valley, recent fires like Almeda would never have achieved such size and destructiveness.

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  • How Generation Z is leading the climate movement
  • By mid-September, the region was blanketed in smoke. “The sky turned yellow,” said Seattle organizer Ivy Jaguzny of the youth-led climate activist group Zero Hour. “Even if you shut all the windows and doors, you could smell smoke from in the house. I couldn’t go outside for days.”

    Zero Hour is channeling its energy into the upcoming election and getting out the youth vote. “We’re trying to connect the sense of urgency from the fires to actions people can take,” Jaguzny explained. “While our air is being polluted by smoke, the Trump administration is rolling back nearly 50 years of environmental regulations — and that’s in the middle of a respiratory pandemic. Now we’re dealing with terrible air quality, COVID-19 and industries getting the go ahead to pollute at unsafe levels.”

    In response, Zero Hour is mobilizing young people around the election through its non-partisan #Vote4OurFuture project, run in partnership with the National Children’s Campaign. Zero Hour fellows are organizing on the ground in Pennsylvania and Michigan to turn out youth and marginalized groups at the polls.

    Meanwhile, Sunrise Movement — the organization that helped popularize the idea of a Green New Deal — is also connecting the fires to grassroots organizing. On Sept. 12, with smoke-clouded skies in the background, a group of young people from Sunrise Movement Seattle unfurled a banner reading “Fight for the Air We Breathe” in the city’s iconic Gas Works Park. The image went viral on Instagram.

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  • How young activists turned the old idea of a Green New Deal into a powerful movement
  • Sunrise Seattle recognizes the interconnectedness between climate change impacts, racial justice and other issues facing local communities. “We’ve done banner drops advocating for defunding police, as well as asking our elected officials to take action on climate change,” said Chloe Yeo, the hub’s outreach team leader. The fires — along with other recent crises like police shootings — have spurred more young people to get involved in politics.

    “We’re seeing a massive surge in youth engagement right now,” said Seattle high school student Emma Coopersmith. She and other local high schoolers, most of whom are too young to cast ballots, are organizing virtual phone banks to get out the vote locally and in presidential swing states. “Our generation knows that just because the smoke is now mostly gone or because the latest act of police violence wasn’t caught on camera this time, doesn’t mean we can let up.”

    Mobilizing mutual aid

    When the Almeda Fire died down, communities in Rogue Valley assessed the damage. Along with thousands of homes and many businesses in downtown Talent and Phoenix, the office shared by Rogue Climate and the grassroots advocacy group Rogue Action Center was destroyed. “That office was a hub for organizing in our community,” Rosenbluth said. “It’s really sad to see it gone, but now the community is rallying to make sure we show up for the folks who need help most after the fire.”

    The morning after the fire was put out, activists from diverse local environmental and social justice groups were on the phones discussing how to respond. “By that afternoon there were donation sites for supplies set up and people on the ground getting a sense of who had been affected, where they were and what kind of help was needed,” said Siskiyou Rising Tide member Holly Mills.

    In addition to Rising Tide and Rogue Climate, the long list of organizations involved in relief efforts includes Rogue Action Center, Southern Oregon Coalition for Racial Equity, Beyond Toxics and the farmworker justice group UNETE. That such a large coalition could mobilize quickly was thanks to years of solidarity work between groups working on multiple issues. “From the beginning, Rising Tide has known our climate work needed to be part of local struggles led by people who are most affected by injustice,” Mills said.

    The fire crisis has underscored how people displaced by extreme weather often find themselves with nowhere to go.

    Founded in 2015, Siskiyou Rising Tide’s top priority has long been stopping the Jordan Cove LNG export terminal on Coos Bay and its associated Pacific Connector fracked gas pipeline. Work on this campaign led the organization to partner with leaders from the nearby Klamath Tribes, who oppose the project because it threatens water and cultural sites in their traditional territory. More recently, Rising Tide activists began organizing alongside the local houseless community that is disproportionately affected by extreme weather.

    “For years we’ve been building relationships with frontline communities and other climate and social justice organizations,” Mills said. “When the fires came through, all these groups were the same people who mobilized from day one to coordinate mutual aid.”

    Of the thousands affected by Almeda and other fires, those hit hardest include low-income, predominantly Latinx neighborhoods in places like Talent, Phoenix and the houseless community. These marginalized groups were a major priority for mutual aid from the beginning. However, as larger organizations like the Red Cross moved in after the fire, local grassroots groups shifted their work to focus even more specifically on people who are often left out of mainstream aid efforts.

    In Medford, the Bear Creek Greenway — where houseless community members pitch their tents — was destroyed by the fire. About 100 affected people moved the camp to Hawthorne Park, about five miles away and closer to the center of town. Local organizers began serving daily meals in the park, while other groups distributed supplies.

    “A non-hierarchical camp sprang up, co-organized by houseless people living in the park out of necessity, and housed folks working with them in solidarity,” Mills said. “Some people stayed overnight. Others came during the day for supplies.” The decentralized organization of the encampment meant people could come and go as they pleased without the bureaucratic restrictions that prevent some from accessing official shelters and relief centers. But it soon attracted the ire of some Medford residents and law enforcement.

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    On Sept. 22, police began leveling the tents in Hawthorne Park after serving a 24-hour eviction notice. Eleven houseless individuals and mutual aid volunteers were arrested for refusing to leave. While such sweeps had been conducted in Medford’s Greenway before, the fire crisis has underscored how people displaced by extreme weather often find themselves with nowhere to go.

    Despite such challenges, Rogue Valley’s mutual aid network hasn’t given up on working to assist those most affected by the fires. “We’re focused on people who don’t have access to things like homeowner’s insurance,” Mills said. “That tends to be Native, Latinx, BIPOC and houseless folks.”

    Pushing for a just recovery

    While local activists mobilize in places like Rogue Valley, climate organizers less directly affected by the fires have been working to get help to the frontlines. Revolution Coalition Network, a college student-led group that focuses on intersectional climate work, ran a successful fundraising drive earlier this month to purchase 600 bags of personal hygiene equipment to send to people displaced by the fires.

    “We’re a small organization led by students in college, and there’s only so much we can do,” said Revolution Coalition Network’s Executive Director Lena Rodriguez, who is based in Las Vegas. “But we’re going to keep fundraising and continue sending even more supplies.”

    “We need state-level policy changes like an Oregon Green New Deal that includes a shift to sustainable forestry and clean energy technologies.”

    Bianca Ballará and her partner, who live 45 minutes outside Medford, welcomed fire evacuees from Rogue Valley — as well as people from as far away as Oakland, California — to the 23-acre property where they live. Ballará hopes to transform the land, which has served as a rural refuge for lesbian women since the 1970s, into a center of community called Nativewomanshare, where Indigenous women will reclaim traditional land practices. “Being queer, Indigenous Latinx women ourselves, we wanted to create a space for displaced queer and BIPOC folks when the fires hit,” Ballará said.

    Initially, seven evacuees stayed on the land as Ballará and her partner helped coordinate the distribution of food donated by local businesses to hundreds of evacuees and volunteer firefighters. Later, two more evacuee families joined them. All have recently found longer term living situations, but Ballará anticipates offering her home up again. “These fires happen every year now,” she said. “We plan to continue serving as a resource for the community, while returning to traditional land practices that retain water to help end years of drought.”

    Previous Coverage
  • For climate activists, coronavirus lockdown means more time to organize
  • As rebuilding begins, activists are pushing for a just recovery. “Our number one priority is to ensure everyone who was displaced can come back to their communities,” Rosenbluth said. “In the Rogue Valley we’re already facing a severe housing shortage with less than 1 percent vacancy rates, and that’s been exacerbated by the Almeda Fire. If we don’t make a conscious decision to rebuild with low-income housing, people are going to be pushed out of our communities.”

    Climate groups will also continue higher-level policy work that addresses the root causes of the fires. “We need state-level policy changes like an Oregon Green New Deal that includes a shift to sustainable forestry and clean energy technologies,” Ballará said. In the community networks that sprang up to coordinate relief from the fires — as well as other crises like COVID-19 and racial injustice — she sees hope for a long-term movement that can create such a future.

    “We need people to continue awakening to the reality that it’s our Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people who are hit hardest by these types of disasters and need the most relief,” Ballará said. “That means supporting communities on the ground and organizers of color who are stepping up to lead.”

    Meet the students organizing the first campus-wide undergraduate union

    This article was originally published by In These Times.

    On Aug. 31, stu­dents at Keny­on Col­lege, a pri­vate lib­er­al arts col­lege in Gam­bier, Ohio, announced their intent to union­ize with the Unit­ed Elec­tri­cal, Radio and Machine Work­ers of Amer­i­ca, or UE, in an open let­ter to the school’s pres­i­dent and board of trustees. Stu­dents have request­ed vol­un­tary recog­ni­tion through a card-check neu­tral­i­ty agree­ment with the school’s admin­is­tra­tion. If suc­cess­ful, the Keny­on Stu­dent Work­er Orga­niz­ing Com­mit­tee, or K‑SWOC, will become the first union to orga­nize its entire under­grad­u­ate work­force, which will include all 800 stu­dent work­er posi­tions avail­able on campus.

    “This is a his­to­ry mak­ing cam­paign,” said Dan Nap­sha, a senior major­ing in polit­i­cal sci­ence. ​“If we win, it real­ly does send a mes­sage that this is pos­si­ble and that stu­dent work­ers should be ask­ing for more.”

    Labor Day wrapped up a week of action by stu­dent orga­niz­ers, which includ­ed tes­ti­mo­ni­als from stu­dent work­ers, pan­els on inter­na­tion­al labor and racial jus­tice and vir­tu­al socials and con­clud­ed with endorse­ments from Sens. Sher­rod Brown and Bernie Sanders. In a let­ter of sup­port to Keny­on stu­dent work­ers, Sanders wrote, ​“When you and your col­leagues join togeth­er as a union, the admin­is­tra­tion will be required to bar­gain with you in good faith… I respect the crit­i­cal work you do and wish you the very best in your efforts to cre­ate a demo­c­ra­t­ic work­place where your voice has a seat at the table.”

    Dis­rup­tion in cam­pus employ­ment due to the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic sparked new urgency for stu­dents’ abil­i­ty to bar­gain with the school. When Keny­on closed its cam­pus and switched to remote learn­ing in March, many stu­dents had their work hours cut or stopped work­ing entire­ly. Under­grad­u­ate jobs include work­ing in the din­ing hall, library, admis­sions office and as research assis­tants. Stu­dents say there was a lack of cer­tain­ty around their employ­ment sta­tus or work­ing con­di­tions that has car­ried over into the Fall semes­ter which start­ed Aug. 31 and has about half of the stu­dent body on cam­pus and the oth­er half learn­ing remotely. 

    “The pan­dem­ic real­ly served as the cat­a­lyst for us and basi­cal­ly was a sig­nal that enough is enough — that we’re fed up,” said Napsha.

    In late March, a peti­tion signed by over 200 mem­bers of the col­lege com­mu­ni­ty and spon­sored by Keny­on Young Demo­c­ra­t­ic Social­ists of Amer­i­ca, or KYD­SA, to secure stu­dent pay for the rest of the school year proved suc­cess­ful. Though the admin­is­tra­tion did not acknowl­edge the peti­tion, stu­dents were paid for their aver­age week­ly hours regard­less of their abil­i­ty to work remote­ly. A few months lat­er, when the admin­is­tra­tion announced it would be sus­pend­ing retire­ment ben­e­fits for Keny­on staff due to a $19.3 mil­lion deficit in the school’s oper­at­ing bud­get, anoth­er peti­tion, again ini­ti­at­ed by KYD­SA, was cir­cu­lat­ed to ​“stop the cuts.” With the sup­port of stu­dents, UE, which rep­re­sents the main­te­nance work­ers on cam­pus, was able to come to an agree­ment with the admin­is­tra­tion that the major­i­ty of the missed retire­ment ben­e­fits be refund­ed to employ­ees over a peri­od of three years. 

    “Both of those [peti­tions] prompt­ed more con­ver­sa­tions about some of the broad­er, more struc­tur­al issues with stu­dent employ­ment,” said Nathan Geesing, a senior major­ing in his­to­ry. ​“That was a sign to orga­niz­ers that col­lec­tive action real­ly had an impact.” 

    See­ing the out­come of both peti­tions reaf­firmed to stu­dents that a union would be the best way to move for­ward. Geesing says a union is ​“a mech­a­nism to bar­gain with the admin­is­tra­tion, to not have to rely on the admin­is­tra­tion’s end­less slew of task forces and work­ing groups that con­stant­ly promise change, but rarely, if ever, deliv­er.” Right now, wages for stu­dent work­ers fall into a three-tier wage sys­tem start­ing at $8.70 an hour and capped at $11.17 an hour. Stu­dents say these rates are arbi­trary and do not reflect the nec­es­sary labor they per­form on cam­pus and instead reflect a desire to save the school mon­ey. The wage sys­tem was deter­mined joint­ly by a now dis­band­ed ​“Stu­dent Employ­ment Task Force.”

    “The admin­is­tra­tion has nev­er real­ly tak­en stu­dent demands or stu­dent con­cerns seri­ous­ly,” said Geesing. K‑SWOC’s demands include greater involve­ment in work­place deci­sion-mak­ing, greater pro­tec­tions and acces­si­bil­i­ty for work-study stu­dents, jus­tice for inter­na­tion­al stu­dent work­ers and a liv­ing wage, among oth­ers. Though stu­dents have not agreed on a dol­lar fig­ure, they say a liv­ing wage would be high enough that stu­dents don’t have to feel like they’re choos­ing between work and their aca­d­e­m­ic stud­ies. ​“The union could actu­al­ly give us the bar­gain­ing pow­er that we need, espe­cial­ly in a time like this, where not hav­ing a say in your reopen­ing plan can lit­er­al­ly be a mat­ter of life and death,” Geesing said. 

    Keny­on stu­dents, who are both orga­niz­ing under unprece­dent­ed cir­cum­stances and break­ing new ground by orga­niz­ing their entire under­grad­u­ate work­force, have lim­it­ed exam­ples to point to as a mod­el. Most stu­dent work­er unions are con­cen­trat­ed among grad­u­ate stu­dents in pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties, though Uni­ver­si­ty of Mass­a­chu­setts Amherst and Grin­nell Col­lege, which man­aged to orga­nize indi­vid­ual shops among under­grad­u­ate res­i­dent advi­sors and din­ing work­ers, has served as a source of inspi­ra­tion for K‑SWOC organizers. 

    “I imag­ine that if we suc­ceed, you’ll be see­ing a lot more unions on col­lege cam­pus­es,” said Nap­sha. ​“Part­ly because we are build­ing off of the Grin­nell mod­el and we are build­ing off of the UMass Amherst model.” 

    “In a larg­er sense,” Geesing said, ​“hav­ing a union at Keny­on could serve as a source of inspi­ra­tion for stu­dent work­ers in oth­ers places in the coun­try to say if they can do it, why can’t we.”

    A major source of sup­port has come from the main­te­nance work­ers on cam­pus, a stu­dent-labor alliance that dates back to 2012 when the admin­is­tra­tion attempt­ed to out­source main­te­nance jobs to Sodexo, a food and facil­i­ties man­age­ment com­pa­ny with near­ly half a mil­lion employ­ees world­wide. ​“They’ve giv­en us a kind of men­tor­ship that’s real­ly valu­able,” said Dani Mar­tinez, a senior major­ing in Eng­lish. ​“They def­i­nite­ly want the best for us because they have sim­i­lar things that they have fought for in the past and can give us guid­ance on those things too.”

    The main­te­nance work­ers, who are rep­re­sent­ed by UE Local 712, helped ini­ti­ate a rela­tion­ship between stu­dents on cam­pus and UE, with whom they are now orga­niz­ing with. The main­te­nance work­ers, Nap­sha said, have ​“been part­ners with us through this entire process. The rea­son why we have been so suc­cess­ful — get­ting close to 200 cards signed, hav­ing hun­dreds of peo­ple orga­nized and hav­ing a 60 per­son strong orga­niz­ing team is because of the strength of our rela­tion­ship with UE.”

    As of Labor Day, K‑SWOC has sent two requests for vol­un­tary recog­ni­tion of their union and the response from the admin­is­tra­tion has most­ly been silence. Mean­while, many stu­dents whose jobs can­not be per­formed remote­ly lack clar­i­ty around their employ­ment sta­tus for this semes­ter and next. Mar­tinez believes that stu­dents who can­not work remote­ly should be trans­ferred and trained in a dif­fer­ent depart­ment with pri­or­i­ty giv­en to stu­dents with work-study, a fed­er­al­ly-fund­ed pro­gram that is sup­posed to guar­an­tee cam­pus employ­ment as part of their finan­cial aid package. 

    Mar­tinez, who has worked in library and infor­ma­tion ser­vices since she was a fresh­man, says her employ­ment sta­tus is still up in the air. With Kenyon’s admin­is­tra­tion ulti­mate­ly decid­ing on a sys­tem of teach­ing fresh­man and sopho­mores on cam­pus and teach­ing juniors and seniors remote­ly, many in-per­son jobs will not be avail­able this semes­ter and union organiz­ing con­tin­ues to be almost entire­ly remote — a strat­e­gy Nap­sha and Geesing say may be play­ing in their favor espe­cial­ly with many stu­dents now stuck at home with lim­it­ed in-per­son distractions. 

    Those stu­dents who are work­ing remote­ly and are liv­ing out­side of Ohio are now being paid accord­ing to the state min­i­mum wage where stu­dents are based if it exceeds Keny­on wages. Geesing, who is liv­ing in Mary­land where the min­i­mum wage is high­er, says he got an email from the career devel­op­ment office over the sum­mer inform­ing him that he’d be paid a bonus to make up the wage dif­fer­ence. Geesing says it ​“just shows you how com­plete­ly arbi­trary the tiered sys­tem has been and how they could have paid us more the entire time.”

    10 cosas que debes saber para detener un golpe de estado

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    This article is also available in English.

    Tenemos un presidente que ha dicho abiertamente que podría no respetar el resultado de las elecciones. Tenemos que prepararnos por si declara su victoria antes de que se cuenten los votos, por si intenta detener el conteo de votos o por si se niega a aceptar la derrota.

    Algunos días tengo confianza en que esto sucederá. Una encuesta mostró que más del 75 por ciento de los demócratas creen que esto es posible, ¡y un sorprendente 30 por ciento de los republicanos también lo creen!

    Otros días estoy seguro de que se trata de la mano dura de un presidente que no planifica. Aún así, él es muy bueno en este tipo de despiste que puede mantenernos en una posición confiada y reaccionaria, lo que podría llevarnos a dejar de hacer el importante trabajo de base para conseguir el voto, proteger la oficina de correos y luchar contra la represión del voto.

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  • We need a plan to prevent a Trump takeover — and this anti-coup research shows the way
  • Lo que sugiero no es que dejemos de hacer lo que estamos haciendo ahora. De hecho, soy parte de un esfuerzo colectivo llamado Choose Democracy, que está preparando a la gente para la posibilidad de un golpe de estado, al tiempo que la mantiene enfocada en un proceso electoral sólido y fuerte. Después de todo, la mejor manera de detener un golpe es evitarlo.

    Estas pautas provienen de un número amplio de experiencias y evidencias de los muchos países que han experimentado un golpe de estado desde la Segunda Guerra Mundial. Algunos casos de estudio detallados pueden encontrarse en Choose Democracy o en un manual más extenso basado en evidencias, pertinente para el momento presente, llamado “Hold the Line: A Guide to Defender Democracy.”

    1. No espere resultados la noche de las elecciones.

    La temporada de elecciones 2020 se perfila bastante extraña. Es posible que muchas papeletas enviadas por correo no se cuenten hasta días o semanas después del día de las elecciones. Ya que se espera que los demócratas utilicen el voto por correo con más frecuencia que los republicanos, se espera que el conteo de votos por correo se mueva hacia el lado demócrata la noche después de las elecciones (lo llaman un “cambio azul”). Como resultado, una ola de confusión puede desarrollarse a partir de la noche de las elecciones.

    El extraño Colegio Electoral crea múltiples puntos de intervención. Después de la noche de las elecciones (3 de noviembre), la denuncia falsa de votos fraudulentos puede ocasionar que un fiscal general descarriado u otros funcionarios gubernamentales intenten detener el recuento o excluir los votos.

    A medida que los resultados de las elecciones comiencen a llegar, el mensaje debe ser alto y claro: cuenten todos los votos y respeten el resultado.

    El 14 de diciembre, los delegados del Colegio Electoral se reúnen y votan por el resultado de su estado. Por lo general, esto se hace sin fanfarrias, pero en los estados en disputa, es posible que veamos a los gobernadores y legisladores estatales declarando resultados diferentes: uno que refleje los resultados de los votantes; el otro que reclame que “es un fraude” y “nosotros sabemos más”. Esto es preocupante en estados “oscilantes” como Pennsylvania, donde el gobernador y la legislatura estatal son de partidos diferentes.

    El nuevo Congreso resolverá todos estos problemas el 6 de enero. Y si la Cámara de Representantes y el Senado no están de acuerdo con el resultado, entonces se desarrolla un proceso complicado en el que la Cámara recién asentada, a través del proceso de un estado/un voto, determina al presidente. Mientras tanto, el Senado (por mayoría) vota por el nuevo vicepresidente. (#ShutDownDC proporciona un desglose visual paso a paso de este proceso).

    Durante este tiempo, espere afirmaciones falsas y extravagantes. Tenga mucho cuidado con las noticias. No se limite a transmitir cualquier cosa que parezca un ejemplo dramático de irregularidades, pero tómese el tiempo para verificar que la noticia sea cierta, ya desacreditada o de una fuente en la que no confía. Anime a las personas de su comunidad a prepararse para algunas semanas de incertidumbre. A medida que los resultados de las elecciones comiencen a llegar, el mensaje debe ser claro: cuenten todos los votos y respeten los resultados.

    2. Llámalo un golpe de estado.

    Una de las razones por las que es importante usar el lenguaje de un golpe de estado es que la gente sabe que está mal y que es una violación de las normas democráticas, incluso si no están familiarizados con la definición exacta de golpe de estado.

    Tenemos que estar preparados para declarar alto y claro: esto es un golpe de estado.

    Expresiones como “manipulación electoral” o “supresión del voto” señalan el deterioro del proceso democrático. Pero si entramos en un escenario de golpe (donde Trump simplemente no dejará la presidencia) debemos ayudar a otras personas a facilitar a nuestro país esta entrada en una crisis.

    Sabemos que es un golpe de estado si el gobierno:

    • Deja de contar votos;
    • Declara ganador a alguien que no obtuvo la mayor cantidad de votos; o
    • Permite que permanezca en el poder alguien que no ganó las elecciones.

    Estas son líneas rojas que la gente puede captar de inmediato (y en las que la mayoría de los estadounidenses sigue creyendo).

    Las personas que toman el poder de manera autoritaria reivindican que lo hacen para salvar la democracia o afirman que conocen los resultados electorales “reales”. Así que esto no tiene por qué parecer un golpe militar con un líder ordenando el arresto de la oposición. Si alguno de esos tres principios es violado, tenemos que declarar alto y claro: Esto es un golpe de estado.

    3. Sepa que la gente común ha detenido golpes de estado.

    Se han producido intentos de golpe en todo el mundo y más de la mitad han fracasado. Eso es porque los golpes de estado son difíciles de orquestar. Son una violación de las normas que requieren la rápida toma de múltiples niveles de las instituciones del estado con el reclamo de que son los herederos legítimos.

    Los golpes tienden a fracasar cuando se confía en las instituciones gubernamentales (como las elecciones), hay una ciudadanía activa y otras naciones están listas para participar.

    El papel de la ciudadanía es fundamental. Eso se debe a que, durante el período inmediatamente posterior a un intento de golpe de estado, cuando el nuevo gobierno afirma que es el gobierno “real”, todas las instituciones tienen que decidir a quién escuchar.

    Para comenzar a prepararse, hable con al menos 5 personas que irían a la calle con usted; la forma más segura de salir a la calle es con personas que conoce y en las que confía.

    Un golpe fallido en Alemania en 1920 nos sirve de ejemplo. La población se sintió abatida por la derrota en la Primera Guerra Mundial y el alto desempleo. Los nacionalistas de derecha organizaron un golpe y consiguieron la ayuda de algunos generales para apoderarse de los edificios gubernamentales. El gobierno depuesto huyó, pero ordenó a todos los ciudadanos que les obedecieran. “Ninguna empresa debe funcionar mientras reine la dictadura militar,” declararon.

    Rápidamente comenzó una resistencia pacífica generalizada. Las imprentas se negaron a imprimir los periódicos del nuevo gobierno. Los funcionarios públicos se negaron a cumplir las órdenes de los golpistas. Y se difundieron en avión y a mano folletos que pedían el final del golpe.

    Hay una historia del líder golpista deambulando por los pasillos buscando en vano una secretaria que mecanografíe sus proclamas. Los actos de resistencia crecieron y finalmente el gobierno democrático (que aún tenía graves problemas) recuperó el poder.

    Los momentos posteriores a un golpe son momentos de heroísmo de la población general. Así es como la democracia se hace real.

    4. Prepárese para actuar con rapidez – y no lo haga solo.

    Normalmente, las tomas de poder se organizan en secreto y se lanzan de repente. La mayoría de las campañas que derrotan los golpes de estado lo hacen en días: la Unión Soviética, en 1991, tomó tres días; Francia, en 1961, tomó cuatro días, y Bolivia, en 1978, tomó 16 días.

    Previous Coverage
  • Mass direct action might be the only way to stop Trump from stealing the election
  • Es raro que el líder de un país admita públicamente que tal vez no respete los resultados de una elección. Esto es una buena noticia, porque las personas que detienen los golpes rara vez tienen la oportunidad de recibir entrenamiento, una advertencia o preparación alguna. De esta manera, les llevamos la delantera.

    Un grupo de expertos de D.C. llamado Transition Integrity Project ejecutó múltiples simulaciones, como lo que podría suceder si Biden gana por un pequeño margen o si Trump simplemente declara la victoria sin que haya un ganador claro. En cada simulación concluyeron que una “cantidad importante de personas en las calles puede ser decisiva”. Las personas comunes marcan la diferencia.

    5. Enfóquese en los valores democráticos compartidos por todos, no en valores individuales.

    En Argentina, en 1987, se inició un golpe de Estado cuando un alto mando de la Fuerza Aérea, resentido por los intentos de democratizar al ejército y ponerlo bajo el control civil, organizó a cientos de soldados en su base.

    Mientras el gobierno civil intentaba negociar discretamente un acuerdo, la gente salió a las calles. Contra las súplicas del gobierno, 500 ciudadanos comunes marcharon a la base con el lema “¡Viva la democracia! ¡Argentina! ¡Argentina!”. Podrían haberse dedicado a atacar directamente al alto mando. En cambio, estaban apelando a sus conciudadanos para que eligieran la democracia.

    El militar trató de mantenerlos alejados con un tanque de guerra, pero los manifestantes entraron a la base de todos modos, y él sabía que disparar abiertamente contra civiles no violentos le haría perder más credibilidad. Pronto 400.000 personas salieron a las calles de Buenos Aires para manifestarse en contra del golpe.

    Los golpes no son un momento para quedarse mirando y esperando hasta que “alguien más” decida qué hacer. No importa quién sea, usted puede ser una parte en el rescate de la democracia.

    Esto dio fuerza al gobierno civil (que en gran parte había estado ausente). Las organizaciones civiles, la iglesia católica, los grupos empresariales y los sindicatos se unieron bajo el compromiso de “apoyar de todas las formas posibles la constitución, el desarrollo normal de las instituciones de gobierno y la democracia como la única forma de vida viable”. Los golpistas perdieron su legitimidad y pronto se rindieron.

    Este enfoque es diferente al de los manifestantes que salen a la calle con una lista de problemas o una queja contra un líder vilipendiado. En cambio, es una exaltación de valores democráticos fundamentales ampliamente compartidos. En nuestro proyecto usamos la expresión “elegir la democracia”.

    Esto afirma otro hallazgo de la investigación antigolpista: debido a que los golpes son un ataque a la institución actual, las personas leales a la forma tradicional, quienes quizás nunca se unan a otras causas del movimiento, están abiertos a unirse a acciones directas en la calle. Eso pasará si basamos la invitación en la importancia de cuidar los valores democráticos con los que se conectan.

    6. Convenza a la gente de que no se congele o simplemente siga adelante.

    Imagine que en su trabajo despiden a un jefe corrupto y traen a uno nuevo. Y en lugar de irse, su antiguo jefe dice: “Todavía estoy a cargo. Haz lo que te digo”. Un grupo de tus compañeros de trabajo dicen: “Sólo recibimos órdenes del antiguo jefe”. En ese momento, surge la duda.

    Esa duda es la que hace que los golpes triunfen. Demasiada gente se congela. Incluso cuando solo unas pocas personas están de acuerdo con el golpe y actúan como si fuera normal, la gente puede llegar a aceptarlo de mala gana como inevitable.

    En toda la investigación sobre la prevención de golpes, hay un tema en común: la gente deja de hacer lo que los golpistas le dicen que haga.

    Previous Coverage
  • Mass direct action might be the only way to stop Trump from stealing the election
  • En Alemania, desde los comandantes militares hasta los secretarios, se negaron a obedecer las órdenes del golpe. En Mali convocaron una huelga nacional. En Sudán, los manifestantes cerraron estaciones de radio respaldadas por el gobierno y ocuparon pistas de aeropuertos. En Venezuela todas las tiendas estaban cerradas.

    Esto es muy diferente a las marchas masivas en la capital o las protestas callejeras que cierran las intersecciones. No se trata de protestar, sino de lograr que la gente reafirme valores fundamentales, como presentarse ante las oficinas de los funcionarios electos para que estos hagan respetar los resultados de las elecciones. No se trata de acciones concretas como marchas en D.C., sino de acciones como huelgas masivas de jóvenes y estudiantes que se niegan a ir al trabajo o la escuela hasta que se cuenten todos los votos.

    Los golpes no son un momento para quedarse mirando y esperando hasta que “alguien más” decida qué hacer. No importa quién sea, usted puede ser una parte importante en el rescate de la democracia.

    7. Comprométase con acciones que representen el estado de derecho, la estabilidad y la no violencia.

    Detener un golpe depende del tamaño de las movilizaciones y de ganar al centro. Se trata de una lucha por la legitimidad. ¿Qué voz es legítima? Algunas personas ya habrán tomado una decisión. El objetivo, entonces, es convencer a quienes no están seguros, que pueden ser un número más sorprendente de lo que espera.

    La resistencia masiva a los golpes gana mediante el uso de paros y huelgas, rechazando órdenes y cerrando la sociedad civil.

    Para ponerlos de nuestro lado, ese centro incierto tiene que estar convencido de que “nosotros” representamos la estabilidad y “los golpistas” representan la hostilidad a las normas democráticas de las elecciones y el voto.

    Prevenimos esa posibilidad cuando deshumanizamos a los potenciales desertores, cuando hacemos declaraciones radicales como “la policía no ayudará”, cuando no alentamos a la gente a unirse a nuestro lado y cuando creamos escenas caóticas en la calle.

    Históricamente, el lado que más recurre a la violencia tiende a perder. En un momento de incertidumbre, la gente elige el lado que promete la máxima estabilidad, respeta las normas democráticas y parece ser la apuesta más segura. Es un concurso por qué lado es el más legítimo.

    La resistencia masiva a los golpes gana mediante el uso de paros y huelgas, rechazando órdenes y cerrando la sociedad civil hasta que se instale al líder legítimo elegido democráticamente. Para que los movimientos de masas tengan éxito contra los golpes de estado, deben negarse a ser violentos con el otro lado.

    8. Sí, puede ocurrir un golpe en Estados Unidos.

    Puede ser difícil imaginar que pueda ocurrir un golpe en este país. Pero siempre que se dé una orden para dejar de contar votos, lo llamamos golpe.

    Incluso según la definición más estricta de golpes de estado, ya ha habido un golpe militarizado en Estados Unidos. En 1898, después de la reconstrucción en Wilmington, Carolina del Norte, viendo el surgimiento de una población negra próspera y exitosa, los racistas blancos organizaron un golpe. Dieron gritos de guerra como: “Nunca nos rendiremos a un grupo salvaje de negros, incluso si tenemos que llenar el río Cape Fear con cadáveres.”

    A pesar de una campaña de terror antes de las elecciones, la participación de la población negra fue alta y se votó a una lista de candidatos negro. El poder negro se enfrentó con la violencia de la supremacía blanca, con escuadrones blancos que mataron de 30 a 300 personas, incluidos funcionarios recién elegidos. Más de 3,000 negros huyeron de esta violencia extrema y comenzó la era de Jim Crow.

    9. Manténgase en la calma, no en el miedo.

    Da miedo pensar que tenemos que hablar de un golpe federal en Estados Unidos. Y sabemos que es menos probable que las personas con miedo tomen buenas decisiones.

    Practiquemos la calma y evitemos la hipérbole. Sea una fuente confiable al verificar los rumores y difundir hechos probados. Por supuesto, lea las redes sociales … pero pase algo de tiempo, ya sabe, haciendo cosas reales que le alimenten.

    Respire profundamente.

    Recuerde cómo maneja el miedo.

    Prepárese para diferentes escenarios, pero no se deje atrapar por ellos.

    Estamos haciendo esto para prepararnos, por si acaso.

    10. Prepárese para disuadir un golpe antes de las elecciones.

    La mejor manera de detener un golpe es nunca tenerlo. La gente está trabajando duro en cuestiones del derecho al voto, instando a la participación, deteniendo la represión, descubriendo el fraude y haciendo que la gente se comprometa con la democracia. Eso puede ser suficiente.

    La mejor manera de detener un golpe es evitar que suceda.

    Otra forma de prepararse es hacer que las personas adopten la mentalidad de actuar para que no se queden paralizadas. La formula clásica de esto es el modelo “si-esto-entonces-aquello” diseñado por el Compromiso de Resistencia. En ese modelo, la gente se prepara para una acción diciendo “Si se viene algo malo, actuaré”. Firmar un compromiso antes del momento decisivo lleva a una aceptación más amplia.

    Con ese espíritu, Choose Democracy ha creado un compromiso:

    1. Votaremos.
    2. Nos negaremos a aceptar los resultados de las elecciones hasta que se cuenten todos los votos.
    3. Saldremos a las calles de manera pacífica si se intenta un golpe de estado.
    4. Si es necesario, cerraremos este país para proteger la integridad del proceso democrático.

    ¡Puede firmar el compromiso de Choose Democracy (Elija la democracia) y unirse a personas de todo el espectro político! Estos compromisos públicos previos aumentan el coste político de intentar un golpe, porque la mejor manera de detener un golpe es evitar que suceda.

    Traducido por Ana Cornide y Ana María Vásquez.

    10 things you need to know to stop a coup

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    We have a president who has openly said he might not respect the outcome of our election. We have to be ready if he claims victory before votes are counted, tries to stop counting, or refuses to accept a loss.

    Some days I feel confident it will happen. A poll showed over 75 percent of Democrats think this is possible — and a shocking 30 percent of Republicans do too!

    Other days I feel confident this is tough talk from a president not good at planning ahead. Still, he is good at the kind of misdirection that can keep us complacent and reactionary — which could lead us to stop doing the important groundwork of getting out the vote, protecting the post office and fighting voter suppression.

    Previous Coverage
  • We need a plan to prevent a Trump takeover — and this anti-coup research shows the way
  • So what I’m offering isn’t asking us to stop what we’re doing now. Instead I’m part of an effort called Choose Democracy, which is prepping people for the possibility of a coup while keeping people focused on a strong, robust election process. After all, the best way to stop a coup is to not have one.

    These guidelines are drawn from the wide body of experience and evidence from the many countries that have experienced a coup since World War II. You can read some fuller case studies from Choose Democracy or a longer evidence-based handbook for this moment from “Hold the Line: A Guide to Defending Democracy.”

    1. Don’t expect results election night.

    Election season 2020 is shaping up to be very unusual. Many mail-in ballots may not be counted until days or weeks after Election Day. Since Democrats are expected to use them more frequently than Republicans, voter tallies are expected to swing towards Democrats post-election night (they call it a “blue shift”). As a result, a wave of confusion may unfold starting election night.

    The strange Electoral College creates multiple intervention points. After election night (Nov. 3), trumped up claims of fraudulent ballots may cause a wayward attorney general or other government officials to try halting counts or excluding ballots.

    As election results start coming in the message needs to come through loud and clear: Count all the votes and honor the result.

    On Dec. 14, the delegates of the Electoral College meet and vote for the state’s outcome. This is typically done without fanfare, but in contested states we might see governors and state legislatures sending in different results — one reflecting the results from voters, the other claiming “it’s a fraud” and “we know best.” This is worrying in swing states like Pennsylvania, where the governor and state legislature are of different parties.

    All these issues then get resolved on Jan. 6 by the new Congress. And if the House and Senate don’t agree about the result, then a convoluted process unfolds where the newly seated House — via one state, one-vote — determines the president. Meanwhile, the Senate (by majority) votes for the new vice president. (#ShutDownDC provides a visual break-down of these steps.)

    During this time expect false flags and outlandish claims. Be very cautious with news. Don’t simply pass on whatever seems like dramatic examples of wrongdoing — but take the time to check if it has been verified, already debunked, or from a source you don’t trust. Encourage people in your community to prepare for some uncertain weeks. As election results start coming in the message needs to come through loud and clear: Count all the votes and honor the result.

    2. Do call it a coup.

    One reason to use the language of a coup is that people know it’s wrong and a violation of Democratic norms — even if they’re not familiar with the exact definition of a coup.

    We have to be ready to declare loudly and strongly: This is a coup.

    Language like “election tampering” or “voter suppression” signal deterioration of the democratic process. But if we get ourselves into a coup situation — like where Trump just won’t go — we need to help people help our country move into a psychic break.

    We know it’s a coup if the government:

    • Stops counting votes;
    • Declares someone a winner who didn’t get the most votes; or
    • Allows someone to stay in power who didn’t win the election.

    These are sensible red lines that people can grasp right away (and that the majority of Americans continue to believe in).

    People who do power grabs always claim they’re doing it to save democracy or claim they know the “real” election results. So this doesn’t have to look like a military coup with one leader ordering the opposition to be arrested.

    If any of those three principles are violated, we have to declare loudly and strongly: This is a coup.

    3. Know that coups have been stopped by regular folks.

    Coup attempts have happened all over the world, and over half have failed. That’s because coups are hard to orchestrate. They are a violation of norms that require quick seizure of multiple levels of institutions with a claim that they are the rightful heir.

    Coups tend to fail when government institutions (like elections) are trusted, there is an active citizenry and other nations are ready to become involved.

    The role of citizenry is crucial. That’s because during the period right after a coup attempt— when the new government is claiming it is the “real” government — all the institutions have to decide who to listen to.

    To start preparing, talk to at least 5 people who would go into the streets with you — the safest way to take to the streets is with people you know and trust. 

    A failed coup in Germany in 1920 gives an example. The population felt beaten down by defeat in World War I and high unemployment. Right-wing nationalists organized a coup and got the help of a few generals to seize government buildings. The deposed government fled but ordered all citizens to obey them. “No enterprise must work as long as the military dictatorship reigns,” they declared.

    Widespread nonviolent resistance quickly began. Printers refused to print the new government’s newspapers. Civil servants refused to carry out any orders from the coup. And leaflets calling for an end to the coup were spread by airplane and by hand.

    There’s a story of the coup leader wandering up and down the corridors looking in vain for a secretary to type up his proclamations. The acts of resistance grew and eventually the democratic government (which still had grave problems) was returned to power.

    The moments after a coup are moments for heroism amongst the general population. It’s how we make democracy real.

    4. Be ready to act quickly — and not alone.

    Typically power grabs are organized in secret and launched suddenly. Most campaigns that defeat coups do so in days: The Soviet Union in 1991 took three days, France in 1961 took four days and Bolivia in 1978 took 16 days.

    Previous Coverage
  • Mass direct action might be the only way to stop Trump from stealing the election
  • It’s rare for any country’s leader to publicly admit they might not respect the results of an election. There’s some good news in that — because people who stop coups rarely have the chance to get training, warning or preparation. In that way, we’re ahead of the game.

    A group of D.C. insiders called the Transition Integrity Project ran multiple simulations, such as what might happen if Biden wins by a slim margin or if Trump simply declares victory when there’s no clear winner. In every simulation they concluded that a “show of numbers in the streets may be decisive.” Regular people make the difference.

    To start preparing, talk to at least five people who would go into the streets with you — the safest way to take to the streets is with people you know and trust. Talk to people you know in civil service and various roles about how they could non-comply with coup attempts. Use this time to get yourself ready to act.

    5. Focus on widely shared democratic values, not on individuals.

    In Argentina in 1987, a coup got started when an Air Force major, resenting attempts to democratize the military and bring it under civilian control, organized hundreds of soldiers at his base.

    While the civilian government tried to quietly negotiate a settlement, people took to the streets. Against the government’s pleading, 500 regular citizens marched to the base with the slogan “Long live democracy! Argentina! Argentina!” They could have spent time attacking the major. Instead, they were appealing to their fellow citizens to choose democracy.

    The major tried to keep them away with a tank, but the protesters entered the base anyway, and he knew that open firing on nonviolent civilians would cause him to lose more credibility. Soon 400,000 people took to the streets in Buenos Aires to rally in opposition to the coup.

    Coups are not a time to just watch and wait until “someone else” figures it out. No matter who you are you can be a part of choosing democracy.

    This gave strength to the civilian government (which had largely been absent). Civic organizations, the Catholic church, business groups and labor unions united under a pledge to “support in all ways possible the constitution, the normal development of the institutions of government and democracy as the only viable way of life.” The coup plotters lost their legitimacy and soon surrendered.

    This approach is different than protesters going in the street with a list of issues or a grievance against a vilified leader. Instead, it’s exalting widely-shared core democratic values. In our project we use the language of “choosing democracy.”

    This affirms another finding from the research on anti-coups: Because coups are an attack on the current institution, loyalists to the traditional way — who may never join other movement causes — are open to joining actions in the street. That’s if we make the invitation about democratic values they can connect with.

    6. Convince people not to freeze or just go along.

    Imagine that at your job a corrupt boss gets fired and a new one is brought in. Instead of leaving, your old boss says, “I’m still in charge. Do what I say.” A bunch of your co-workers say, “We only take orders from the old boss.” At that point, doubt arises.

    That doubt is how coups succeed. Enough people freeze. Even when only a few people go along with the coup and act as though that’s normal, people may reluctantly accept it as inevitable.

    In all the research on preventing coups, there’s one common theme: People stop doing what the coup plotters tell them to do.

    Previous Coverage
  • What will it take to defend the election? Here’s one winning strategy
  • In Germany, from military commanders to secretaries, they refused to obey the orders of the coup. In Mali they called a nationwide strike. In Sudan protesters shut down government-supported radio stations and occupied airport runways. In Venezuela all shops were closed.

    This is very different than mass marches at the capital or street protests shutting down intersections. It’s not about protest but about getting people to reassert core values — like showing up at elected officials’ offices to get them to agree to honor election results. And it’s not about single points of actions like marches in D.C. — but instead actions like mass strikes from youth and students refusing to go to work or school until all votes are counted.

    Coups are not a time to just watch and wait until “someone else” figures it out. No matter who you are you can be a part of choosing democracy.

    7. Commit to actions that represent rule of law, stability and nonviolence.

    Stopping a coup is dependent on the size of mobilizations and winning over the center. It is really a fight for legitimacy. Which voice is legitimate? Some people will have already made up their minds. The aim, then, is convincing those who are uncertain — which may be a more surprising number than you expect.

    Mass resistance to coups wins by using walk-outs and strikes, refusing orders and shutting down civil society.

    To swing them to our side, that uncertain center has to be convinced that “we” represent stability and “the coup plotters” represent hostility to the democratic norms of elections and voting.

    We prevent that possibility when we dehumanize potential defectors, make sweeping statements like “the police won’t help,” never encourage people to join our side and create chaotic scenes on the street.

    Historically, whichever side resorts to violence the most tends to lose. In a moment of uncertainty, people pick the side that promises maximum stability, respects democratic norms and appears to be the safer bet. It’s a contest of who can be the most legitimate.

    Mass resistance to coups wins by using walk-outs and strikes, refusing orders and shutting down civil society until the rightful democratically-elected leader is installed. For mass movements to succeed against coups, they should refuse to do violence to the other side.

    8. Yes, a coup can happen in the United States.

    It may be hard to imagine that a coup could happen in this country. But whenever there is an order to stop counting votes, we call it a coup.

    Even by the strictest definition of coups, there has been a militarized coup in the United States. In 1898 after reconstruction in Wilmington, North Carolina, seeing the rise of a prosperous and successful Black population, white racists organized a coup. They gave rallying cries like, “We will never surrender to a ragged raffle of Negroes, even if we have to choke the Cape Fear River with carcasses.”

    Despite a terror campaign before the election, Black turnout was high and a slate of Black candidates was voted in. Black power was met with white supremacist violence, with white squads killing 30 to 300 people, including newly elected officials. Over 3,000 Blacks fled this extreme violence, and the era of Jim Crow began.

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    9. Center in calm, not fear.

    It’s scary to believe we’re having to talk about a federal coup in the United States. And we know that fearful people are less likely to make good decisions.

    Let’s aim for calm and avoid hyperbole. Be a reliable source by double-checking rumors and spreading high-quality facts. Sure, read social media… but spend some time, you know, doing real things that ground you.

    Breathe deeply.

    Remember how you handle fear.

    Play out scenarios, but don’t become captured by them.

    We’re doing this to prepare, just in case.

    10. Prepare to deter a coup before the election.

    The best way to stop a coup is to never have one. People are doing lots of good work on issues of voting rights, urging turn-out, stopping repression, uncovering fraud and getting people to commit to democracy. That may be enough.

    The best way to stop a coup is to deter it.

    Another way to prepare is to get people into the mindset of taking action so they don’t freeze. The classic formulation of this is the “if-this-then-that” model designed by the Pledge of Resistance. In that model people prepare themselves for an action by saying “If it comes to this bad thing, then I’ll act.” By signing a pledge before the crunch moment, you get wider buy-in.

    In that spirit, Choose Democracy has created a pledge:

    1. We will vote.
    2. We will refuse to accept election results until all the votes are counted.
    3. We will nonviolently take to the streets if a coup is attempted.
    4. If we need to, we will shut down this country to protect the integrity of the democratic process.

    You can sign the pledge to Choose Democracy and join with folks across the political spectrum! These public commitments ahead of time increase the political cost of attempting a coup — because the best way to stop a coup is to deter it.

    How protesting nuclear weapons helped me find my community, sexual identity and sense of purpose

    Author Stephanie Davies (left) with a fellow Greenham woman in London in 1985. (Ming de Nasty)

    With nuclear treaties expiring and a new arms race under way, the threat of nuclear annihilation seems more possible today than it has since the Cold War. It was because of a dread of nuclear war that I joined the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp in 1984 to protest the siting of American cruise missiles at a U.S. Air Force base in Newbury, England — not far from where I had once lived.

    The origins of the peace camp date to 1981, when a group called Women for Life on Earth marched from Wales to the military base, where they chained themselves to the fence and set up camp permanently. Over the next several years, tens of thousands of women joined them to take part in this mass women’s peace movement that swept the United Kingdom. We set up camps at several of the entrances to the base, all around the nine-mile perimeter fence, naming these gates after the colors of the rainbow.

    We broke into the base regularly to spray paint warplanes and lie down in front of military vehicles, stopping them from entering or exiting the base. Right from the start, the women attracted a great deal of media attention. I will never forget the iconic image of women dancing on the silos housing the cruise missiles the New Year’s Eve before I moved there. It happened just days after an infamous speech by Margaret Thatcher’s Minister of Defense, declaring them the most secure silos in Europe.

    The cruise missiles were eventually removed from Greenham Common in 1991, and the camp dismantled not long thereafter. I seldom hear mention of the Greenham Common women any more, yet we were a vital part of the peace, women’s and queer movements.

    In addition to protesting nuclear war, this women-only space was a place of refuge and discovery. That’s why I decided to write my memoir, “Other Girls Like Me,” which centers on my time at the peace camp, where I found community, sexual identity and a sense of purpose through activism.

    The following excerpt describes my arrival at the base for my first prolonged visit and an initial foray into nonviolent direct action — which didn’t end well, but nevertheless initiated me into years of resistance work.

    I was washing dishes in our kitchen when I heard them on the radio. Women singing, chanting and yelling, as the police dragged their deliberately-limp bodies from the gates of the military base. I put down my sponge, wiped my hands, sat at the kitchen table and turned up the volume. Greenham women were in the headlines pretty much every day those days. They lived in makeshift camps outside the U.S. military base at Greenham Common in Newbury, close to my childhood village, and regularly broke into the base or lay down together in the road in huge, singing, laughing piles to stop military vehicles from entering or exiting the base.

    It was the height of the Cold War, and the United States had 102 bases in the United Kingdom — a country the size of the state of New York. Imagine if the British government set up 102 bases in New York to reciprocate. The Royal Air Force Base at Greenham Common was loaned to the Americans during the Second World War but was not returned to the local community at the war’s end. It sat on hundreds of acres of what was once — and still should have been — common land, dating back to Roman times, a place for the local townspeople to walk their dogs and water and graze their animals, disturbing only the occasional wild deer, rabbit or pheasant. Now, it was closed off by wire fences, scarred with concrete bunkers and tarmac roads, and protected by fresh-faced young British soldiers, while further inside the camp steely-jawed American soldiers were poised to launch cruise missiles, first strike nuclear weapons, at the Soviet Union at any moment.

    I had been to Greenham twice already on demonstrations, once with my mother in December of the year before. I’d arrived on a bus from Bath filled with women in multi-colored clothes carrying hand-made banners, and my mother and I had met at one of the gates to the camp. I carried a constant feeling of dread deep inside me about nuclear war, and often woke in the night covered in sweat from nuclear nightmares. I felt a surge of belonging and hope holding hands in a chain of 30,000 women as we formed a circle around the nine-mile perimeter fence, while others attached homemade patchwork banners to the fence — “Women Say No to the Bomb,” “Take the Toys from the Boys.”

    Since then, I had followed the antics of the Greenham women avidly in the news. They weren’t able to stop the missiles arriving, but they certainly knew how to bring attention to them. I thought back to the famous photograph that had graced the front pages of our newspapers — and many around the world — the previous New Year’s Day, when dozens of women broke through the fence and made it to the silos being prepared to house the cruise missiles.

    The haunting and inspiring image showed dozens of women holding hands and dancing in a joyous circle on top of a silo at midnight to ring in the New Year, jubilant and triumphant. Silhouetted against the bright lights of the base were huge rolls of barbed wire that had been no match for their bolt cutters. It was an image that made my heart race just that little bit faster whenever I thought of it, as if the peace activist seeds it had planted all across the country were also taking root inside me, waiting for their moment to rise into the sun.

    “We need more women to join us.” A passionate Greenham woman’s voice filled my lifeless kitchen.

    The next morning, I rushed to my new job at Wigan Women’s Aid, an organization that ran a battered women’s shelter and hotline, and asked my co-workers Meg and Briana, if they fancied visiting Greenham Common with me. They both said yes and days later, we hitchhiked to the small market town of Newbury. It was late afternoon, and a cool drizzle brushed across our faces as we completed the last mile or so of our journey on foot, through housing estates dotted with red phone boxes, across smaller and smaller roundabouts, until we reached Greenham Common, on Newbury’s outskirts. I was just 15 miles from my family home in St. Mary Bourne with its thatched cottages, watercress beds, three pubs and three churches, but I could have been on another planet. The vast grey military base with its wire fencing topped with rolls of razor wire stretched before me, with muddy pathways along its perimeter where thousands of women’s feet had walked in protest.

    Previous Coverage
  • How militarism manipulates the lives of women — an interview with feminist scholar Cynthia Enloe
  • A handful of uniformed policemen were standing in front of the gate chatting with some British soldiers who were behind the gate. Outside the gate, dozens of confident looking Greenham women with playful faces and wearing big boots and heavy jackets were milling about. Some were sitting around the fire and singing, while a Goth, looking like a witch from a fairy tale with her jet-black hair and clothes, was stirring a massive pot of bubbling stew that was balanced precariously on a metal grill sitting over the fire. I could easily tell who the visitors were — there were men, for one thing, but also women whose hands were clean, like mine, who were wearing conventional clothes, and whose shoes were not encrusted with mud. They were wearing sensible anoraks as they unpacked gifts of clothing, firewood, food and bedding from the backs of cars and vans, watching over children in yellow and red wellingtons splashing in the recently formed puddles. Like me, they had come in answer to the women’s call for support in the face of imminent eviction. I heard them thanking the women for what they were doing, saying they wished they could do more.

    Standing alone in front of this bustling scene, I was at a complete loss. I had borrowed a tent, but I didn’t know how to put it up. I hadn’t been allowed to join the boy scouts, only play football for them, so I didn’t know one end of my tent from the other. These women seemed to be capable of anything, and I wondered how I would ever dare speak to any of them. I resisted the temptation to ask a passing man to help me out.

    “Welcome to Blue Gate.” A woman with long, wild, dirty-blond hair with shaved sides and multiple ear and nose piercings, was striding toward me. Before I knew it, my tent was being erected, a word I soon learned was very funny here, because this was a women’s peace camp, with a lot of lesbians, and a local law had just been passed banning “erections on the common” — hence the recent attempts at eviction.

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    “My name’s Elena,” she said in a broad Yorkshire accent as she pushed the last tent peg into the ground and stepped back to admire the now upright orange tent that would be my home for the next week. “Come and have some tea at the fire.”

    I followed her shyly to the fire pit, where we squeezed between two visitors who moved apart to make room for us. A posh-sounding woman with a deep voice and short hair dyed to look like camouflage was speaking to a rapt group of visitors. She was talking about her hair.

    “It’s a spider’s web gone wrong,” she said. “I’m waiting for it to grow out. I feel the worst about Biscuit.” She pointed to the kitchen where a large, white, wiry-haired dog was looking for scraps. The dog had bright blue ears.

    The next morning, I was in a deep, dreamless sleep when I was jolted awake by someone whooping loudly. I opened my eyes, wriggled onto my belly in my sleeping bag, and poked my head blearily out of the tent flap. Silhouetted against the base in the pink morning light, three large bin lorries were discharging several bulky men. It was an eviction.

    The men raced around the camp, grabbing anything they could get their hands on, throwing tents, sleeping bags, food and clothes into the back of the lorries, while the policemen looked on. Women raced behind them, pulling on their belongings, while two women, one of them Trish, the witchy Goth who had cooked the night before, were dragging the kitchen supplies cabinet out onto the road on wheels — how ingenious, I thought, as I pulled on my jeans and sweatshirt, jumped out of my tent, and started to take it down, following the lead of the women around me, who were hurriedly dismantling tents and rolling up sleeping bags. My heart was racing, not with fear or anger, but with a kind of joyful excitement. I was being evicted along with the Greenham women. This was why I was here. I was one of them!

    When they were done, the fire stamped out, and the camp erased, we gathered at the top of the hill, on the pavement at the side of the road, and stood in an indignant group clutching our remaining belongings, yelling a favorite singing taunt:

    “Which side are you on, boys/Which side are you on?/Are you on the side that don’t like life?/Are you on the side of racial strife?/Are you on the side that beats your wife?/Which side are you on?”

    Between each verse, we turned and laughed to each other, breathless, then took a collective deep breath to deliver the final verse in even louder roars: “Are you on the side of suicide?/Are you on the side of homicide?/Are you on the side of genocide?/Which side are you on?”

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    Eventually the police and bailiffs moved on. And then we went back and set up camp again. Elena was already at my side, smiling. While Trish the Goth and Lucy of the camouflage hair re-started the fire, and women all around us started to rebuild the camp, Elena and I put up my tent to the sound of women singing softly in the background.

    As we worked together, giggling and tripping over the ropes, Elena told me that, until recently, most of the women had lived in handcrafted shelters made of plastic sheeting draped over bent tree branches. They covered the soft green moss on the ground with plastic sheeting to keep out the damp, then lay their sleeping bags on top, while candles balanced on homemade shelves of stone or wood made for cosy, glowing, hobbit- like homes at night. They called these structures benders, because the tree branches only needed to bend a little to give shelter. I imagined how lovely it would be to sleep on the moss in a bender deep in the woods, my new friend, Elena, at my side.

    Elena told me the women were always making up names for themselves — like Anna Key, Eva Brick and Freda People — when they were arrested. It seemed English law allowed you to use any name you liked when you were arrested, and when I was arrested the next day for breaking into the base, nobody asked me for any ID. When dozens of women called themselves Karen Silkwood after the American anti-nuclear activist and broke into the base on the anniversary of her death, that wasn’t questioned by the authorities either.

    On my second night at Blue Gate, I sat shyly at the campfire next to a woman called Diana who was visiting from Oswestry on the Welsh border, and her quiet friend, Linda. At the fire, we all jostled for warmth as we listened to the Greenham women sharing stories of actions and arrests. Trish the Goth was there, with her strong Northern Irish accent and twinkly smile; and Lucy, too, her large dog, Biscuit, sitting adoringly at her side; while Elena sat across from me. I could have told who the seasoned Greenham women were even without their grubby fingers, smoke-smelling rainbow clothes, and big boots, by their raucous, unselfconscious laughter.

    Diana turned to me, her strong face shining in the orange glow of the dancing flames. “I have some bolt cutters. Want to break in?”

    I swallowed hard. I couldn’t think of any good reason why not, so I said in a voice that I hoped was not as small as how I was feeling, “OK.”

    I knew that breaking into the base was a regular nighttime activity for the women. Sometimes they went for a pint to one of the two pubs in Newbury that still served Greenham women, where some played pool with local men in tense games filled with a rare mutual respect. And sometimes they found a patch of fence and cut it down and saw how far they could get into the military base without being arrested. They were like American groundhogs, but instead of looking for food, they were deliberately being a nuisance, and making a political point at the same time. I would rather have been going to the pub to play pool, even though I was not very good at it. But instead, I was about to do my first action, and my heart felt as if it had broken loose and was battering on my chest to find its way out.

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    We stepped away from the comfort of the fire and made our way to Diana’s tent, where she crawled inside to extract three pairs of bolt cutters. She smiled as she handed a pair to me and to Linda, and said, “They are gifts for the camp, but we can try them out first, right?”

    She was fearless and I smiled wanly. It felt like the rite of passage to being a true Greenham woman. And of course the famous image of the women dancing on the silos was at the back of my mind. But there were only three of us right now, and there’d been almost 50 of them, and it was only my second day and already I was about to break the law, and I didn’t feel the least bit prepared. Diana and Linda were only visitors too, and I wondered at their bravado.

    As we made our way along the fence, I glanced back at the women at the fire. Some of them would be up all night, on the lookout for local men who sometimes came to trash the camp, driving their bikes through the kitchen area knocking things over, calling the women names. Once, someone stuck a knife through a woman’s tent while she was sleeping, and ever since, all the gates around the base were aglow at night with night watch fires, small groups of women huddled around them drinking tea, smoking, and telling whispered stories into the early hours, while their sisters slept.

    I wanted to tell the night watchers what we were doing, so that someone knew, but I was too shy, and I didn’t know what the protocol was and didn’t want to appear foolish, so I said nothing. It was midnight as we walked around the perimeter fence past Turquoise Gate and toward Green Gate, the darkness of the forest on our right, the floodlights of the base to our left.

    “Here,” Diana said, pointing confidently, and the three of us set to work with the bolt cutters, snipping away at a section of the fence, which came away easily as we pulled it toward us. We crouched low and climbed through the fence, looked around us at the emptiness, crossed the brightly lit road that ran along the edge of the fence, and set off on the grass and into the base. There were buildings ahead of us on an incline, and we set off toward them, with no real plan in mind but to get in as far as we could.

    There was no moon, and thin clouds created a veil across the sky, obscuring then revealing the stars. But our way was well lit from the floodlights of the base, as the dark of the forest, the safety of the women’s dwellings, and the glow of the fire pits slowly receded behind us.

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    We hadn’t gone very far when we heard a shout, then another, and suddenly several British soldiers in full uniform were running down the hill toward us, yelling. There was no time for us to turn and run as they surrounded us, a pack of young, angry men carrying guns.

    “Keep walking,” one said, “to the top of that hill.”

    We obeyed, glancing at each other nervously. When we arrived at the top, the ringleader, a Londoner with straw-colored hair and small blue eyes, ordered us to lie belly down on the grass.

    “In a star shape!” he yelled. “Open your arms. Open your legs.”

    The soldiers laughed out loud. We obeyed, arms and legs splayed flat on the ground, our faces pressed into the damp earth. Then they stood around us, their guns pointing down at us. All I could see was their big boots.

    “We’re not calling the police, you know,” the ringleader said. “We’ve got our own way of dealing with sluts like you.”

    “No one knows you’re here,” another said with a sneer. “We’re gonna rape you and kill you and throw your dead bodies into the lake.”

    I turned my head in panic to look at my new friends, and the ringleader yelled, “Don’t move!”

    I squashed my face back into the grass. Lifting my head ever so slightly, I could see the barrel of his gun and his boots.

    “Don’t move an inch, just do what they say,” a whisper came to us from one of the soldiers, while his mates laughed raucously, discussing what other horrors they planned to inflict on us. He had a Northern Irish accent, like Trish’s. “Don’t move and you will be alright.”

    We lay frozen to the ground in silence for a long while, the soldiers’ scenarios getting uglier, their laughter louder. The soft-spoken soldier whispered reassurances to us, becoming my anchor, my only hope.

    I was shivering uncontrollably, from being so close to the ground, from the crisp night air, from terror, and then I heard the sirens, saw the blue flashing lights of a police car, and hoped with all my heart it was coming to arrest me. I heard tires crunching over the gravel, doors opening, low male voices talking. Then I heard and saw boots approaching, appearing and disappearing in the flashing strobe lights of the car.

    “You can get up now,” a voice said, in the Berkshire accent I knew so well.

    I got to my feet and glanced at the others, mouthing, “Are you OK? Yes, Yes.” We followed the officers to their police car, our heads down, not daring to look at the soldiers. I sneaked a quick glance, hoping that the one who had become our ally might make himself known, but none of them gave me eye contact. We climbed into the back seat of the police car, its lights creating flashes of blue trees and bushes in the surrounding countryside. I grabbed Diana’s hand and she grabbed Linda’s and we sat in shocked silence as we were driven to Newbury Police Station, where the police officers on duty put us in separate cells. No one said a word about finding us lying on the ground at the feet of the soldiers, and we were too traumatized and grateful to be rescued to mention it. None of the Greenham women had ever talked about this kind of treatment. They appeared that much braver to me now.

    What will it take to defend the election? Here’s one winning strategy

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    How would you like a strategy that does all of the following?

    Enables you and your friends to act close to home.

    Gives you some “wins” on the way to the big goal of defeating a power grab.

    Is easy to explain to your friends.

    Allows any number of people to participate because it will all add up.

    Reduces the risk of violent confrontations.

    Can be calibrated to the amount of risk of arrest that you can handle.

    Can be done in-person in a way that keeps the pandemic at bay.

    Targets a set of people who especially have a personal stake in the elective process.

    Takes on the politically powerful who are hesitating to commit, pressuring them to do the right thing.

    Draws on the strengths that already exist in our political system.

    Puts us on the offensive instead of merely protesting.

    Invites the 30 percent of Trump supporters polled who fear that Trump won’t obey the law and leave if he loses the election.

    Doesn’t add to the polarization that already has our country in overload.

    Maximizes the number of people who participate in the movement.

    Doesn’t have to be the only strategy being carried out in order to be successful.

    OK, here’s the idea: Go to people who hold elective political power near you, in your town, county, city, state. Urge them to “Join us in demanding every vote be counted.”

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  • Mass direct action might be the only way to stop Trump from stealing the election
  • Wait for them to join our demand, then issue a press release telling how they did so. Wait in their office, in the corridor outside, on the sidewalk, at their place of worship, at their child’s school, at their home, at a meeting where they plan to speak. Share the results with ChooseDemocracy.us — a new website founded by Daniel Hunter, me and others that offers a unity-building pledge, strategy development and training.  We’ll publicize the actions and keep track of the “wins.”

    Don’t assume that Democratic office-holders already agree. Some might be ready to compromise. Insist they find ways to beat their own drum louder.

    You have options. Your team can be there 24/7. You can barge in and refuse to leave. You can sing, dance and bring your brass band. You can bring your children and your aged relatives. You can sell crafts and goodies to eat. You can rotate kinds of people who do the action: one day youths, then workers, then religious leaders, then elders, then Rotarians.

    You’re not protesting. Protest may make sense when someone does something wrong and you know that, if you protest, they’ll change and fix it. Trump will not change his mind because we protest! Actually, he’ll double down.

    The way to meet a possible disaster with strength and confidence is to have a plan.

    Instead of protesting something the elected official is doing wrong, you’re insisting they do something right. Something that is as American as the flag. If they refuse, they’re the ones trying to justify an impossible position. Instead of complaining, moaning or otherwise creating the drama of exasperation, all you need to do is insist (boldly, nonviolently, firmly) that they do the right thing, the fair thing. (If you’re OK to put it this way, “the American thing.”) Your tone is full expectation that they’ll figure out sooner or later that it’s wise for their future as politicians to say yes.

    Notice this is not about opinions on Trump’s politics — pro-Trump politicians can agree that every vote should be counted, that the election should be concluded fairly.

    Notice also that this strategy need not wait until November, though it can be highly effective if started then. Hardy Merriman, author of the new handbook “Hold the Line: A Guide to Defending Democracy,” points out that starting to implement it early might get media attention — especially the more dramatic tactics — and encourage others to do likewise.

    It’s a big country. As the strategy spreads in October, it could influence the DNA of the mass November upsurge that happens if Trump makes a power grab. That would be good because this strategy minimizes violent attack on us. After all, who would invade the office of a town council member to beat us up? Yet, were that to actually happen, the positive value of a beating would be maximized. As Merriman says, “The messaging, tone, levels of organization — all of that may be noticed by the wider movement.”

    The thinking behind this approach

    This is not the only strategy needed. Others can also be used, even simultaneously. Hopefully those strategies will also be clear, coherent, with specific objectives. This proposal has the following strategic objectives:

    Previous Coverage
  • We need a plan to prevent a Trump takeover — and this anti-coup research shows the way
  • 1. To maximize participation, throughout the country. Anti-coup research suggests it helps to have size — participation “beyond the choir.” A recent example is the participation by small-town America in this spring’s Black Lives Matter movement, generating responses even by NASCAR and the National Football League! Obviously, having a target that is geographically within reach of nearly everyone is an easy way to maximize participation.

    2. To step aside from the polarized Trump mania, which will only increase in the fall, with its accompanying violence. We like safety not only to maximize participation but also for its own sake: Haven’t we had enough injury and death in this country in 2020?

    3. To encourage tactics that include a range of risk while harmonizing for maximum impact.

    4. To disperse the places where the actions can happen (office, outside, the office-holder’s home, religious place, golf course where they play, etc.) That reduces the chance of violence, which would confuse the message we’re sending.

    5. To invite creativity and life affirmation, one of the American strengths that goes overlooked in too many earnest activist initiatives, and again changes the subject from the toxic shame-and-blame cloud that pollutes our political discourse.

    6. To present as soon as possible to nervous Americans a strong, do-able strategy that gives them a vivid, clear sense of how they can make a difference if that moment comes. The way to meet a possible disaster with strength and confidence is to have a plan. Don’t worry that no plan is ever complete. When we have a plan, we can move into a challenging situation with the presence of mind needed to deal additionally with the unexpected.

    And perhaps most importantly…

    7. To exert maximum pressure on the political center that would rather not commit during chaotic polarization, to commit to fair play. We know, again from coup research, that the outcome of an attempted power grab is often decided by whether the center commits and, if so, which way it commits. This strategy is dedicated to influence this crucial variable.

    Why say this proposal is only one strategy among several?

    A broad struggle often needs more than one strategy. During the American Revolution, Bostonians were prepared for British invasion: “One if by land; two if by sea.” An analogous strategy to this proposal might be developed targeting the financial and economic elite, who have a vested interest in an outcome that promises stability so they can make money. We leave it to people in that world to develop a strategy for that.

    This may be the big chance for activists to enter the wonderful world of strategy. Gamers, this is your moment!

    While this strategy pointedly ignores Washington, D.C. — in favor of the many advantages that come with reaching this country’s somewhat decentralized political structure — a strategy also needs to be proposed for the federal level.

    The advantages of getting strategy proposals out in September include anxiety-reduction, helping people “wrap their minds around” the practical needs for possible action, and stimulating other strategy-creation.

    The worst thing that could happen would be for activists to continue in knee-jerk “protest mode” — therefore easily manipulated by Trump and even contributing toward a situation verging on civil war.

    The election threat is nothing that can be handled by protest. Period. Therefore this may be the big chance for activists to enter the wonderful world of strategy. Gamers, this is your moment!

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    A model for other strategies

    This strategy proposal suggests how people can do actions/tactics to accomplish specific objectives that in turn contribute to an overall purpose.

    Its strength is that the strategy is specific, targeting a particular pillar that currently supports Trump: politicians accessible on state and local levels who won’t directly challenge a power grab, but can’t oppose calls to count every vote. The strategy is limited, clear, internally coherent, practical and do-able!

    We need the same thing for the other pillars that might support or resist a power grab — for example, federal government workers in Washington, D.C.

    If you’re reading this and want to do something, you might try to assemble a team to create another strategy proposal that meets criteria important to you, stimulating discussion and debate. Show how it will achieve your objectives and the overall result that we want when we choose democracy.

    Let’s create a multi-prong “grand strategy” by the end of October. If it’s strong enough and meets people’s needs it might make quite a difference.

    After 4 decades of Plowshares actions, it’s nuclear warfare that should be on trial — not activists

    “Nuclear warfare is not on trial here, you are!” said Judge Samuel Salus, in exasperation.

    Before him were eight activists, including two priests and a nun. As Judge Salus tried to preside over the government’s prosecution of them for their trespass onto — and destruction of — private property, the eight were trying to put nuclear warfare, nuclear weapons, nuclear policy and U.S. exceptionalism on trial.

    That was 40 years ago this week — ancient history by some measures. And no one reading this will be surprised to find that the eight were found guilty and the human family is still threatened by almost 15,000 nuclear warheads. So, four decades later, why isn’t nuclear warfare on trial?

    They are the crime responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians 75 years ago. They have littered the landscape with radioactive waste. They have cost the United States more than $5 trillion from the public coffers. They are the apocalyptic nightmare on hair-trigger alert that haunt our children’s dreams.

    The Plowshares Eight, from left to right: Fr. Carl Kabat, Elmer Maas, Phil Berrigan, Molly Rush, Fr. Dan Berrigan, Sr. Anne Montgomery, John Schuchardt, Dean Hammer.

    On September 9, 1980, my father, Philip Berrigan, along with his brother Daniel, John Schuchardt, Dean Hammer, Elmer Maas, Molly Rush, Sister Anne Montgomery, and Father Carl Kabat, gained entry into the General Electric plant in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. Once inside the complex, they poured blood over two nuclear weapons’ nose cones, and used household hammers to dent the metal. They came to be known as The Plowshares Eight. They were motivated by the prophets of the Hebrew scriptures who enjoined that “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

    As we mark this 40th anniversary in a strange and fearful time of pandemic, white violence, political instability and economic insecurity, it is heartening and instructive to reflect back on the origins of the Plowshares movement. It was largely white, largely Catholic and relatively small. Their purpose was to take personal responsibility for nuclear weapons — these implements of mass destruction shrouded in almost mystical secrecy and reverence — and label them improper property, converting, transforming, exposing and ultimately abolishing them. Plowshares activists don’t just hold these views or espouse these beliefs. They conspire. They pray. They act through nonviolent means.

    People are attracted to, and inspired by, the alchemic mixture of symbolic disarmament and real transformation that carries through the action, jail witness, courtroom saga and time in prison.

    Over and over in the last 40 years, small groups of activists have gained entry to military installations, warships, submarines, missile silos, weapons manufacturer’s office parks and warehouses, air shows, communication hubs and other sites. They have carried bibles and banners, densely researched indictments, blood, hammers and other household tools. More than a hundred of these actions have happened since the Plowshares Eight, and the activists involved have cumulatively spent lifetimes in jails and prisons.

    As a priest, my dad has resisted the Vietnam War, trespassed and destroyed property — at that earlier time, it was the draft records that were calling young men to the killing fields of Indochina. While inviting his older brother Daniel into this new nuclear age conspiracy, Dad called it “a second Catonsville,” referring to their May 1968 draft board raid. In a letter included in Daniel Cosacchi and Eric Martin’s “The Berrigan Letters,” Dad wrote to Dan that; “Quite nearby and we hope, accessible, lies a noxious toy assembly line to which stalwarts may gain entry for an admiring view and perhaps something more.”

    It is a testament to their well-honed connection and commitment that Uncle Dan did not need a decoder ring to parse out the meaning here. That letter was written on March 4, 1980, and after just six months of planning, the eight acted. In their action statement they declared: “We come to GE to beat swords into plowshares and to expose the criminality of nuclear weapons and corporate piracy. We want to expose the lethal lie spun by GE through its motto ‘we bring good things to life.’ At GE, darkness shuts out light, death reigns over life. GE is helping the Pentagon prepare for atomic holocaust.”

    Previous Coverage
  • Nuclear weapons ruined my life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way
  • Arrested and jailed, tried and found guilty, my father and his friends faced 25 years in jail. My brother Jerry and I were 5 and 6 years old at the time, and our sister Kathleen was conceived in the midst of the trial. The dire consequences did not temper the activists’ spirits or dull their courage. In fact, they were so adamant that they carried their resistance into the courtroom, turning their backs on Judge Salus when he refused to admit some of their expert witnesses and walking out of the court house and heading back to General Electric for a demonstration. When they refused to return to court the next day, vigiling again at the gates of GE instead, they were arrested there and brought back to court in cuffs. In the end, four of the eight received sentences of 3-10 years, three were sentenced to 1.5 -5 years, and Molly Rush, a first-time offender, got 2-5 years.

    That first Plowshares action set off a chain reaction. Over the last 40 years, there have been more than 100 similar actions. People are attracted to, and inspired by, the alchemic mixture of symbolic disarmament and real transformation that carries through the action, jail witness, courtroom saga and time in prison. It is a long haul commitment that measures effectiveness in the ineffable stirrings of conscience, the trim-tab turnings toward nonviolence, new strands of conversation and musings — rather than in Senate bills passed, dollars raised or ground gained.

    Arthur Laffin, who compiled “Swords Into Plowshares: Nonviolent Direct Action for Disarmament, Peace, Social Justice,” writes of the process of community building and prayer that is a key component of the Plowshares witness, sharing that “People who have been involved in Plowshares actions have undertaken a process of intense spiritual preparation, nonviolence training and community formation, and have given careful consideration to the risks involved. Plowshares activists, accepting full responsibility for their actions, remain at the site of their action so that they can publicly explain their witness.”

    Indeed, many see the prayer and preparation as the piece of the work that “makes the magic happen.” My Uncle Dan recalled the furor around the action as they were first arrested. How did they gain entry? How did they know about the weapons? Was there a leak? Was there inside information? In “Swords Into Plowshares” Dan wrote “Of course we had inside information; of course there was a leak — our informant is otherwise known in the New Testament as Advocate, Friend, Spirit. We had been at prayer for days.”

    From King of Prussia to Kings Bay, Georgia

    Previous Coverage
  • How do you tell the kids that Grandma is in jail for resisting nuclear weapons?
  • My mother, Elizabeth McAlister, is a veteran of two Plowshares actions herself. Jonah House — the community she, my father and their friends founded in the early 1970s — was the incubator of countless others. Mom’s most recent Plowshares action took place in April 2018, at the Kings Bay Naval Base in Georgia. She and six others gained entry to the 16,000-acre base on the 60th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. They trekked through the night to reach sites on the base where nuclear weapons are celebrated and memorialized. Four of the group dismantled the memorials and marked office buildings with blood and messages. Mom and two others were apprehended as they tried to reach bunkers where Trident submarines are stored. Their banners read: “Nuclear Weapons: Illegal – Immoral” and “‘The Ultimate Logic of Racism is Genocide’ Dr. Martin Luther King” and “The Ultimate Logic of Trident is Omnicide.”

    Six Trident submarines operate out of Kings Bay, and they are the likely launchers of a first-strike nuclear attack. They are armed with D5 missiles capable of traveling over 1,370 miles in less than 13 minutes, allowing for a U.S. nuclear strike anywhere on planet Earth within 15 minutes. The Navy plans to replace its aging fleet of Tridents with the Columbia-class submarine. These new submarines are estimated to cost $122.3 billion. In the indictment they carried on to the base, the Kings Bay Plowshares activists highlighted that “each day this program steals from all in our nation and world by its theft of much-needed resources.”

    In October 2019, they were tried and found guilty in relatively short order. The judge was willing to engage with the activists about their conscience and formation, but would not allow expert testimony about nuclear weapons, foreign policy or international law. In the end, it took her longer to instruct the jury than it took for the jury members to find the defendants guilty.

    We can also draw a line of inspiration and mutual respect between the actions of religiously-motivated nuclear disarmers and the (perhaps more secular) racial justice activists who are toppling, dismantling and replacing racist statues and monuments.

    In January 2020, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the hands of the Doomsday Clock 20 seconds closer to midnight. We stand at 100 seconds to midnight, closer than ever before, because they say “Civilization-ending nuclear war — whether started by design, blunder, or simple miscommunication — is a genuine possibility. Climate change that could devastate the planet is undeniably happening. And for a variety of reasons that include a corrupted and manipulated media environment, democratic governments and other institutions that should be working to address these threats have failed to rise to the challenge.”

    Most of the Kings Bay Plowshares still await sentencing. Mom was sentenced to time served by video conference in June — a surreal and dislocating experience that is now more and more common in our criminal justice system. Her co-defendants opted to postpone sentencing in hopes that it could be in person, but it is unclear if that will happen.

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    Reaping the peace dividends

    Last week, my mom and I sat at the edge of a playground watching my 6 and 8 year olds climb and jump. I asked her what she remembered of September 1980. “I remember the feeling of utter relief when I heard that your dad and the rest of the eight were still alive. I felt such gratitude that they were able to do the action without being hurt or damaged. Your dad, when I finally talked to him from jail, was tired but satisfied. He was prayerfully grateful.”

    My mom, who has spent years in prison after following her conscience, mused, “No one in their right mind wants to take these weapons on. No one wants to take on the consequences. Jail is dehumanizing and removes you from the people you love. Going up against that which defines the United States of America as ‘number one’ is terrifying. But, I think, that we can address these weapons of mass destruction and help people understand how wrong they are, how destructive they are. We can show people that these weapons take away from every good effort people engage in. They undercut everything we try to do. Nuclear weapons forfeit our future. But our ‘no’ is heard and inspires others.”

    Just as there is a direct line between King of Prussia and Kings Bay, we can also draw a line of inspiration and mutual respect between the actions of religiously-motivated nuclear disarmers and the (perhaps more secular) racial justice activists who are toppling, dismantling and replacing racist statues and monuments.

    We hope that by the time we mark 50 years since the Plowshares Eight, we are erecting windmills for energy, planting sunflowers to detox the soil, practicing mutual aid, building community and finally prosecuting nuclear warfare and reaping the peace dividends that flower from global nuclear abolition.

    In a time of unprecedented protest, Belarus’ uprising is exceptional

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    Often referred to as “Europe’s last dictator,” Aleksander Lukashenko has said that only the “unemployed” and “people with a criminal record” are participating in the mass pro-democracy protests in Belarus. If this were true, then Belarus would break the world record in the number of “unemployed criminals” per capita, as the nationwide protest movement against the dictatorial regime of Lukashenko continues for the fourth consecutive week.

    While many political commentators and journalists predict that the protests will weaken — or warn about the possibility of Russia’s military interference, such as in Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine in 2014 — the people of Belarus continue to surprise everyone with their persistence. Even if it is still difficult to measure the potential success of Belarus’ civil uprising, Belarusians have already shown the world that Belarus will walk its own unique path towards democracy.

    The dictator who is afraid

    The last time Belarus had free and fair elections was in 1994. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Lukashenko, who had worked at a collective pig farm, became the independent country’s first president. This was the first and only time the European Union and the United States recognized the results of Belarusian elections as legitimate. After holding onto power for 26 years, Lukashenko still refuses to step down.

    By preserving elements of the Soviet system in Belarus like no one else in the post-Soviet states, he has maintained power over the state media. At the same time, most of the manufacturing industry has remained in state ownership, and the secret service agency (the infamous KGB) officially remained in place. Lukashenko also changed the national flag of the independent Belarus Republic — the white-red-white flag currently used by the opposition protesters — back to the red-green flag of Soviet Belarus, and marginalized the Belarusian language in favor of Russian.

    After a night of interrogation and threats, we were brought to a forest, tortured and threatened to be raped and murdered.

    Over the years, Lukashenko intensified his authoritarian rule with violent crackdowns on the opposition, involving numerous cases of torture and disappearances of his critics. Even though many Belarusians, until recently, accepted Lukashenko’s claim of being a strong leader who defends the interests of 9.5 million citizens against dangerous “foreign powers,” the support for his regime has been in decline for a long time.

    After he was traditionally declared the winner of the presidential elections in 2010 with over 79 percent of the votes, spontaneous and unexpected protests took place in Minsk, challenging the official results. The protest however was swiftly and violently suppressed by riot police the night after the elections and all seven opposition candidates were arrested.

    Andrei Sannikov, who received the second-highest percentage of voters’ support was among the imprisoned. “Lukashenko has been scared to lose his power since 2010,” he said. “Back then, he staged a crackdown on the opposition in front of the whole world for the first time. Before 2010, the persecutions were hidden from the media and international community. But when he saw people were suddenly gathering in the streets following the election fraud in 2010, he decided to use violence right away, even despite the presence of some international observers and foreign press.” And since then, the regime has used only more violence against the opposition, fearing a larger civil uprising, similar to what transpired in neighboring Ukraine.

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    A year after the first public crackdown during the elections of 2010, I myself experienced the fear of Lukashenko. As members of the Ukrainian protest movement FEMEN at that time, Oksana Shachko, Aleksandra Nemchinova and I staged an action in Minsk to show solidarity with hundreds of political prisoners like Andrei Sannikov. In FEMEN’s provocative and spectacular manner, the three of us mocked Lukashenko in front of the KGB headquarters in Minsk, while demanding the release of political prisoners. Our fragile voices screamed the patriotic motto used by pro-democracy opposition “Жыве Беларусь!” or Long Live Belarus!” surrounded by the silence of semi-empty streets.

    Following the ironic theatrical action, Shachko, Nemchinova and I were kidnapped by a group of KGB agents at a bus station on our way back to Ukraine. After a night of interrogation and threats, we were brought to a forest, tortured and threatened with rape and murder. After the hours of the most cruel experiences in my activist life, we were abandoned in the forest near the Ukrainian border.

    Women made the change

    For the fourth week in a row, tens of thousands of voices are shouting “Long Live Belarus!” all across the country, and protesters are filling Minsk’s streets with white-red-white flags promising to never be silent again. The country has changed and that is largely thanks to women.

    This year ahead of the presidential elections, Lukashenko’s popularity was swiftly declining, in part due to the disastrous mismanagement of the coronavirus crisis. As a result, Lukashenko decided not to wait and began the repression two months before election day. All independent opposition candidates were imprisoned, except one: Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who registered as a candidate in place of her arrested husband Sergey Tikhanovsky. The opposition formed a female trio against Lukashenko, as Svetlana Tikhanovskaya was joined by the representatives of other persecuted opposition candidates, Maria Kolesnikova and Veronica Tsepkalo.

    Lukashenko, who positioned himself as the “father of the nation,” did not consider a woman as a threat to his leadership. “Our constitution is not suitable for a woman,” Lukashenko ensured back in May, at the beginning of the presidential campaign. “Our society is not ready to vote for a woman.”

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    Nevertheless, once the authorities released the official election results on Aug. 9 suggesting that Aleksander Lukashenko had won with 80 percent of the vote, while Tikhanovskaya received only 10 percent, few could believe these numbers. The opposition trio pointed out that all independent exit polls were predicting a victory for Tikhanovskaya with 60-70 percent of votes. Disbelief in the results manifested itself immediately in the streets, as thousands went out to protest the election fraud on the night after election day.

    The protesters were met with violence, as police did not hesitate to use tear gas, rubber bullets and even stun grenades against the peaceful protesters. Thousands were detained and mistreated. As the heartbreaking testimonies of women and men who experienced humiliation and violence in detention centers were spreading, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya announced in an emotional video addressed to the nation that she was forced to flee the country as a result of threats and pressure from authorities.

    Following the violent crackdown on protesters during the first two nights after election day, thousands of women spontaneously self-organized a march against violence. As the images of extreme brutal force used by the police against the peaceful protesters were spreading all over the international press, Belarusian women went to the streets to face the police and the special KGB forces responsible for those crimes. Holding hands, wearing white clothes and carrying flowers, the women shouted “Do not beat us,” “We demand peace” and “You are someone’s child too” to the masked and heavily-equipped riot policemen.

    Taking its own path towards democracy

    The nationwide civil uprising started with cars honking in solidarity with a few thousand protesters in Minsk and grew to large protests taking place in more than 30 cities. They were then joined by workers, who went on strike at the major state owned factories, including 15,000 employees of the Minsk Tractor Works. The strike was then supported by more than 300 state media employees, who finally refused to continue spreading the regime’s propaganda, as well as some diplomats and numerous artists. And since Aug. 9, Belarusian citizens tirelessly protest everyday in small groups all across the country, while every weekend hundreds of thousands protest in Minsk.

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    In the time of the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement, the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States and the gilets jeunes, or yellow vests in France, the Belarusian protests are exceptional in a number of aspects.

    The nonviolent nature of every demonstration that took place across the country in August was both impressive and effective. Even after being targeted with rubber bullets, surrounded by riot police and experiencing physical violence and humiliation during detention, the protesters continued to patiently sing, dance or clap in response to the brutality of the regime. Such attitude does not only result in admiration of the democratic world, but also paralyzes the authorities who seek to discredit and repress the movement.

    Taking place at all times across the country — and without defined organizers — the decentralized protests are a sign of their exceptional scale. This fact emphasizes that we are not witnessing yet another activist movement against a political leadership of the country. In Belarus, it is the whole nation that protests against the dictator Lukashenko, who refuses to step down and keeps the nation hostage. During the weekdays, people self-organize and gather for protests and symbolic actions near their workplaces, in front of churches and in others public spaces — while on weekends, hundreds of thousands of protesters rally in the capital. People shout “Everyday!” and “See you tomorrow” to encourage each other to continue the uprising.

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    The lack of political colors, political leaders and identity politics make the Belarus uprising radically different from many other recent protest movements and the latest revolutions in neighboring Eastern European countries. The streets are crowded with people, most of whom weren’t interested in politics until this summer. Unlike in Ukraine, where the Maidan revolution took place in 2014, people do not express pro-Russian or pro-West sentiments, and do not carry any ideological slogans or symbols. Their demands are simple, coherent and clear: They demand Lukashenko to step down, the organization of new free and fair elections and the release of all political prisoners.

    However, Lukashenko has not given into these popular demands yet. He has not only intensified the repression with a brutal crackdown on protesters and the press, he has also refused any dialogue with the opposition and international community. He still relies on the support of the riot police and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, the only foreign leader he will talk with. Therefore, even if the peaceful civilians are powerful enough to stop the police violence, effective action by the international community, using instruments like the Magnitsky Act, will still be required to prevent bloodshed or another hybrid war staged by Putin and Lukashenko in Belarus.

    How Black-led resistance movements are paving the way for reparations

    Months after the police killing of George Floyd sparked racial justice protests around the world, Black Lives Matter activists are once again flooding the streets — this time in response to the recent police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Among the demands that continue to ring out is the call for reparations, or payment to people of African descent. Several African countries — including Namibia, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo — have also joined the call, demanding reparations from European countries for the perpetration of genocide under colonialism.

    For many U.S. communities, these questions have been the subject of debate and discussion for years. In Ferguson, Missouri, one group of community leaders came together in 2014 after the police killing of Mike Brown to found the Truth-Telling Project — an initiative to share stories, educate communities and drive structural change against racism and systemic violence. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Truth-Telling Project has been working on a COVID-19 Community Story Project to lift up the stories of how the pandemic has affected the lives of people of color.

    Co-Founder David Ragland has witnessed the movement for reparations transform over time — from the streets of Ferguson to the recent Congressional victory of Black Lives Matter activist Cori Bush. I spoke with Ragland about the role of resistance in the fight for reparations, and the changing landscape of racial justice organizing at this historic moment. 

    You worked closely with Cori Bush in founding the Truth-Telling Project. What does her victory over William Lacy Clay in St. Louis signify for the role of movement leaders to shift political power in the United States?

    Truth-Telling Project Co-Director David Ragland.

    Cori is bringing the movement to Washington, D.C. to explain why people go to the streets. Clay represented the class strivings of the baby boomers, who often sought to become a part of the system without challenging it enough. Our parents wanted us to be a part of the system so we could have a better life. Cori’s vision demands a better life, while also demanding economic, social, ecological and political justice.

    I believe that hope is emerging to challenge the issues that our generation is grappling with, like climate change, racial justice and gender identity. We also see the global issues that connect the injustice here with injustice abroad. 

    You have written about the “Four Rs” of reparations: resistance, repentance, restitution and reconciliation. What is the role of resistance specifically in the movement for reparations? 

    This moment of resistance is opening the door to things people wouldn’t even consider just six months ago. When the protests began around the country, people thought, “Oh, these are new ideas.” But to some extent they’re just new to the larger American public. 

    “This society is irredeemable unless it pays the bill for what it’s done.”

    In South Africa, you wouldn’t have had Truth and Reconciliation without resistance to bring attention to what was happening. But as we resist, our resistance has to be able to educate. Some civil rights-era policies like affirmative action benefit more white women than Black people, and the Fair Housing Act is currently part of the legislation fueling gentrification in urban communities for the last three decades, if not more. If we create a reparations program, for example, we have to make sure that racist banks are not benefitting [from that program]. So resistance is part of the continuum of making people aware with truth-telling.

    As co-founder of the Truth-Telling Project, what are some of the things that have changed in the context of Black Lives Matter organizing since the shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson?

    Truth-telling really came along as a way to reinforce some of the experiences that were coming out of Ferguson, as well as places like Baltimore and Minneapolis, where Freddie Gray and Phillando Castille were murdered. We had people from around the country come to share stories, and we created an online curriculum called “It’s Time to Listen.” We partnered in solidarity with a number of groups, including Indigenous folks and Latinx folks, to add voices telling stories and shifting narratives.

    [The Truth-Telling Project has] always been rooted in this truth and reconciliation framework, asking ourselves what kind of process can help our society get from where it is to where it needs to be. Over time, the hearings helped us see that stories weren’t enough — that we needed reparations. 

    “[Reparations] also entail measures like defunding the police, for which there is urgent importance, especially if you think about police as descendants of slave catchers.”

    Indigenous land and Black bodies fueled [American capitalism]. They were the first inputs, they’re the people who maintained it and made this country possible. If you go to any major city in the United States and look at a building or structure, some person of color helped to create it. They didn’t get credit for it, and they were underpaid and abused while doing it. If many churches in Maine were built [on the profits of] mercenaries who sold the scalps of Indigenous people for $1,000 each, reconciliation is over. Reconcile with what? Pay reparations. Give back land. Restore sovereignty. It’s that simple for me. It’s a debt and it has to be paid.

    If we ever want to get to reconciliation, you have to set it right. That’s gonna have a cost, and it shouldn’t just be on the government. Reparations have to be from both white institutions and white individuals, whether their relatives benefited from slavery or not. This society is irredeemable unless it pays the bill for what it’s done. I was a little bit more hopeful that peoples’ stories would change the way people behaved, that we would be able to connect on an empathetic level, and that people would be able to feel the pain we were experiencing and want to change. Then I realized the only God in this country is money. So that’s where we’re at.

    I wonder if you could speak more about the role of faith communities and religious institutions in paying reparations. Archbishop Desmond Tutu played such an important role in the truth and reconciliation process in South Africa, and you’ve written about the role of faith communities in the history of slavery and oppression. Why is the role of religious institutions so important?

    Religion was one of the core methods used to maintain slavery. Churches operated as slush funds for slaveholders who essentially brought wealth into these institutions. In 1805, the Anglican Church created what they called the Slave Bible. They removed all passages about liberation and freedom and justice from it, and they promoted it around the Caribbean and southern states where slavery was happening. 

    So there is a long legacy of faith communities not just selling slaves and owning slaves, but propagating the institution of slavery, benefiting from discrimination and reinforcing neighborhoods’ segregation codes. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said that Sunday was the most segregated day in America.

    When it comes to reparations — if not churches, if not mosques, if not temples, then who? God’s justice has to begin somewhere, and it begins with God’s people. So it is an urgent moral and spiritual responsibility that I believe is connected with the salvation of not just individual white folks, but with the entire nation.

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    You have also written about enacting reparations through measures like a gentrification tax, or looking at income and land to create a land trust that benefits people historically impacted by violence. What are some of the other policies that movements are advocating to be part of a national reparations process?

    [What we need are ways for] people to redistribute wealth, allowing them to begin making what we call interpersonal repair. But reparations are rooted in what the communities need, not what people want to do. This also entails measures like defunding the police, for which there is urgent importance, especially if you think about police as descendants of slave catchers and the way they operate in our communities. Defunding the police would contribute to mental health and community [well-being] because people have so much fear of how police deal with certain situations. 

    We can shift to think more about the role of social workers and educators in our communities, while acknowledging that both of those fields also need to be decolonized. We need a Black parent-to-teacher pipeline, because most new teachers are likely white, and most new white teachers go to Black neighborhoods without a background in restorative justice. I don’t know if I want those people teaching my kid.

    Then we have the food supply, and the importance of supporting community gardens and garden-shares. We need legislation so people can grow their own food locally in their communities. 

    But this reparations process is going to look different in different communities. In St. Louis, churches and universities owe a great deal. Washington University has completely gentrified University City, where Black people lived and hung out. So it’s real. It is putting the truth at these peoples’ feet and asking them to respond to it. There are various policies like ending the military transfer of weapons to local police departments, cutting support for the Pentagon, ending weapons manufacturing — it all has to be on the table now. That’s what makes this moment so important, and that’s why we can’t stop now.