Tuesday, May 21, 2013 4:40 PM
Rebecca Solnit on
injustice, struggle, and the hope that pushes us to action. “Everything is in
motion,” she writes, “and sometimes we are ourselves that movement.”
As in 2004
and 2008, Rebecca Solnit and her blue-state henchwomen and men will probably
invade northern Nevada
on election week to swing with one of the most swinging states in the union.
She is, however, much more excited about 350.org’s
ten thousand faces of Occupy
now changing the world.
Rebecca Solnit is the author of 15 books, including two due out next year, and a regular contributor to
She lives in San Francisco, is from kindergarten to graduate school a
product of the once-robust California public educational system, and her
A Paradise Built in Hell
is the One City/One Book choice of the San Francisco Public Library this fall.
Solnit’s latest book,
The Faraway Nearby
will be published in June. She was named an Utne Visionary in 2010.
This post originally appeared at Tom
Ten years ago,
my part of the world was full of valiant opposition to the new wars being launched
far away and at home -- and of despair. And like despairing people everywhere,
whether in a personal depression or a political tailspin, these activists
believed the future would look more or less like the present. If there was
nothing else they were confident about, at least they were confident about
that. Ten years ago, as a contrarian and a person who prefers not to see others
suffer, I tried to undermine despair with the case for hope.
A decade later,
the present is still contaminated by the crimes of that era, but so much has
changed. Not necessarily for the better -- a decade ago, most spoke of climate
change as a distant problem, and then it caught up with us in 10,000 ways. But
not entirely for the worse either -- the vigorous climate movement we needed
arose in that decade and is growing now. If there is one thing we can draw from
where we are now and where we were then, it’s that the unimaginable is
ordinary, and the way forward is almost never a straight path you can glance
down, but a labyrinth of surprises, gifts, and afflictions you prepare for by
accepting your blind spots as well as your intuitions.
The despairing of May 2003 were convinced of one true thing, that we had
the invasion of Iraq, but they extrapolated from that a series of false
assumptions about our failures and our powerlessness across time and space.
They assumed -- like the neoconservatives themselves -- that those neocons
would be atop the world for a long time to come. Instead, the neocon and neoliberal ideologies have been widely reviled and
renounced around the world; the Republicans’ demographic hemorrhage has weakened them in this country;
the failures of their wars are evident to everyone; and though they still grasp
fearsome power, everything has indeed changed. Everything changes: there lies
most of our hope and some of our fear.
extraordinary change in my lifetime, some of it in the last decade. I was born
in a country that had been galvanized and unsettled by the civil rights
movement, but still lacked a meaningful environmental movement, women’s movement, or queer rights
movement (beyond a couple of small organizations founded in California in the 1950s).
Half a century ago, to be gay or lesbian was to live in hiding or be treated as
mentally ill or criminal. That 12 states and several countries would legalize same-sex marriage was beyond imaginable then. It wasn’t
even on the table in 2003. San Francisco’s spring run of same-sex weddings in
2004 flung open the doors through which so many have passed since.
If you take the
long view, you’ll see how startlingly, how unexpectedly but regularly things
change. Not by magic, but by the incremental effect of countless acts of
courage, love, and commitment, the small drops that wear away stones and carve
new landscapes, and sometimes by torrents of popular will that change the world
suddenly. To say that is not to say that it will all come out fine in the end
regardless. I’m just telling you that everything is in motion, and sometimes we
are ourselves that movement.
history are sisters: one looks forward and one looks back, and they make the
world spacious enough to move through freely. Obliviousness to the past and to
the mutability of all things imprisons you in a shrunken present. Hopelessness
often comes out of that amnesia, out of forgetting that everything is in
motion, everything changes. We have a great deal of history of defeat,
suffering, cruelty, and loss, and everyone should know it. But that’s not all
There’s the people’s history, the counterhistory
that you didn’t necessarily get in school and don’t usually get on the news:
the history of the battles we’ve won, of the rights we’ve gained, of the
differences between then and now that those who live in forgetfulness lack.
This is often the history of how individuals came together to produce that
behemoth civil society, which stands astride nations and topples regimes -- and
mostly does it without weapons or armies. It’s a history that undermines most
of what you’ve been told about authority and violence and your own
is our power, our joy, and our possibility, and it has written a lot of the
history in the last few years, as well as the last half century. If you doubt
our power, see how it terrifies those at the top, and remember that they fight
it best by convincing us it doesn’t exist. It does exist, though, like lava
beneath the earth, and when it erupts, the surface of the earth is remade.
And people sometimes have the power to make that happen, if and when they come
together and act (and occasionally act alone, as did writers Rachel Carson and
Harriet Beecher Stowe -- or Mohammed Bouazizi, the young man whose suicide triggered
the Arab Spring).
If you fix your
eye on where we started out, you’ll see that we’ve come a long way by those
means. If you look forward, you’ll see that we have a long way to go -- and
that sometimes we go backward when we forget that we fought for the eight-hour workday or workplace safety or women’s rights or voting rights or
affordable education, forget that we won them, that they’re precious, and that
we can lose them again. There’s much to be proud of, there’s much to mourn,
there’s much yet to do, and the job of doing it is ours, a heavy gift to carry.
And it’s made to be carried, by people who are unstoppable, who are movements,
who are change itself.
Too Soon to Tell
Ten years ago I
began writing about hope and speaking about it. My online essay “Acts of Hope,”
posted on May 19, 2003, was my first encounter with Tomdispatch.com, which
would change my work and my life. It gave me room for another kind of voice and
another kind of writing. It showed me how the Internet could give wings to
words. What I wrote then and subsequently for the site spread around the world
in remarkable ways, putting me in touch with people and movements, and deeper
into conversations about the possible and the impossible (and into a cherished
friendship with the site’s founder and editor, Tom Engelhardt).
For a few
years, I spoke about hope around this country and in Europe.
I repeatedly ran into comfortably situated people who were hostile to the idea
of hope: they thought that hope somehow betrayed the desperate and downtrodden,
as if the desperate wanted the solidarity of misery from the privileged, rather
than action. Hopelessness for people in extreme situations means resignation to
one’s own deprivation or destruction. Hope can be a survival strategy. For
comfortably situated people, hopelessness means cynicism and letting oneself
off the hook. If everything is doomed, then nothing is required (and vice
Despair is often premature: it’s a form of impatience as
well as certainty. My favorite comment about political change comes from Zhou
En-Lai, the premier of the People’s Republic of China under Chairman Mao. Asked in
the early 1970s about his opinion of the French Revolution, he reportedly
answered, “Too soon to tell.” Some say that he was talking about the revolutions of 1968, not 1789, but even then it provides a
generous and expansive perspective. To hold onto uncertainty and possibility
and a sense that even four years later, no less nearly two centuries after the
fact, the verdict still isn’t in is more than most people I know are prepared
to offer. A lot of them will hardly give an event a month to complete its
effects, and many movements and endeavors are ruled failures well before
Not long ago, I
ran into a guy who’d been involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement, that great
upwelling in southern Manhattan
in the fall of 2011 that catalyzed a global conversation and a series of
actions and occupations nationwide and globally. He offered a tailspin of a
description of how Occupy was over and had failed.
But I wonder:
How could he possibly know? It really is too soon to tell. First of all, maybe
the kid who will lead the movement that will save the world was catalyzed by
what she lived through or stumbled upon in Occupy Fresno or Occupy Memphis, and
we won’t reap what she sows until 2023 or 2043. Maybe the seeds of something
more were sown, as they were in Czechoslovakia during the Prague Spring of 1968
and Charter 77, for the great and unforeseen harvest that was the Velvet Revolution of 1989, the nonviolent overthrow of the
Soviet totalitarian state in that country.
began to say what needed to be said about greed and capitalism, exposing a
brutality that had long been hushed up, revealing both the victims of debt and
the rigged economy that created it. This country changed because those things
were said out loud. I can’t say exactly how, but I know it mattered. So much
that matters is immeasurable, unquantifiable, and beyond price. Laws around
banking, foreclosure, and student loans are changing -- not enough, not
everywhere, but some people will benefit, and they matter. Occupy didn’t cause
those changes directly, but it did much to make the voice of the people audible
and the sheer wrongness of our debt system visible -- and gave momentum to the
ongoing endeavors to overturn Citizens
United and abolish corporate personhood.
Third, I only
know a little of what the thousands of local gatherings and networks we mean by
“Occupy” are now doing, but I know that Occupy Sandy is still doing vital work
in the destruction zone of that hurricane and was about the best grassroots
disaster relief endeavor this nation has ever seen. I know that Strike Debt, a direct offshoot of Occupy
Wall Street, has relieved millions
of dollars in medical debt, not with the sense that we can fix all debt
this way, but that we can demonstrate the malleability, the artifice, and the
immorality of the student, medical, and housing debt that is destroying so many
lives. I know that the Occupy Homes foreclosure defenders have been doing
amazing things, often one home at a time, from Atlanta
(Last Friday, Occupy Our Homes organized a “showdown at the Department of
Justice” in Washington, D.C.; that Saturday, Strike Debt Bay Area held their
second Debtors' Assembly: undead from coast to coast.)
Fourth, I know
people personally whose lives were changed, and who are doing work they never
imagined they would be involved in, and I’m friends with remarkable people who,
but for Occupy, I would not know existed. People connected across class,
racial, and cultural lines in the flowering of that movement. Like Freedom
Summer, whose consequences were to be felt so far beyond Mississippi in 1964, this will have reach
beyond the moment in which I write and you read.
was great joy at the time,
the joy of liberation and of solidarity, and joy is worth something in itself.
In a sense, it’s worth everything, even if it’s always fleeting, though not
always as scarce as we imagine.
Climates of Hope and Fear
I had lunch
with Middle East and nonviolence scholar Stephen Zunes the other day
and asked him what he would say about the Arab Spring now. He had, he told me,
been in Egypt
several months ago watching television with an activist. Formerly, the news was
always about what the leaders did, decided, ordained, inflicted. But the news
they were watching was surprisingly focused on civil society, on what ordinary
people initiated or resisted, on how they responded, what they thought. He
spoke of how so many in the Middle East had
lost their fatalism and sense of powerlessness and awoken to their own
society remains awake in Egypt
and the other countries. What will it achieve? Maybe it’s too soon to tell. Syria is a
turbulent version of hell now, but it could be leaving the dynasty of the
Assads in the past; its future remains to be written. Perhaps its people will
indeed write the next chapter in its story, and not only with explosives.
You can tell
the arc of the past few years as, first, the Arab Spring, then extraordinary
civil society actions in Chile,
Quebec, Spain, and elsewhere, followed by
Occupy. But don't stop there.
came Idle No More, the
Canada-based explosion of indigenous power and resistance (to a Canadian
government that has gone over to the far right and to environmental destruction
on a grand scale). It was founded by four women in November of 2012 and it’s spread across North
America, sparking new environmental actions and new coalitions around
environmental and climate issues, with flash-mob-style powwows in shopping
malls and other places, with a thousand-mile walk (and snowshoe) by seven Cree
youth this winter. (There were 400 people with them by the time they arrived at Canada’s
Parliament in Ottawa.)
Idle No More
activists have vowed to block the construction of any pipeline that tries to
transport the particularly dirty crude oil from the Alberta
tar sands, whether it heads north, east, or west from northern Alberta.
Each of those directions takes it over native land. This is part of the reason
why tar sands supporters are pushing so hard to build the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast.
push back is also strong. Our fate may depend on it. As climate scientist James
Hansen wrote a year ago, “Canada’s tar sands, deposits of
sand saturated with bitumen, contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted
by global oil use in our entire history. If we were to fully exploit this new
oil source, and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas, and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the
atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more
than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it
The news just
came in that we reached 400
parts per million of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, the highest level in more than five million years. This is
terrible news on a scale that eclipses everything else, because it encompasses
everything else. We are wrecking our world, for everyone for all time, or at
least the next several thousand years. But “we” is a tricky word here. Some of
the people I most love and admire are doing extraordinary things to save the
world, for you, for us, for generations unborn, for species yet to be named,
for the oceans and sub-Saharan Africans and Arctic dwellers and everyone
in-between, for the whole unbearably beautiful symphony of life on Earth that
Part of what
sustains me in the face of this potential cataclysm is remembering that, in
2003, there hardly was a climate movement. It was small, polite, mostly
believed the troubles were decades away, and was populated with people who
thought that lifestyle changes could save the planet -- rather than that you
have to get out there and fight the power. And they were the good ones. Too
many of us didn’t think about it at all.
Only a few
years later, things have changed. There’s a vibrant climate movement in North America. If you haven’t quite taken that in, it
might be because it’s working on so many disparate fronts that are often
treated separately: mountaintop coal removal, coal-fired power
plants (closing 145 existing ones to date and preventing more than 150
planned ones from opening), fracking, oil exploration in the Arctic, the Tar
Sands pipeline, and 350.org’s juggernaut of a campus campaign to promote disinvestment from oil, gas, and
coal companies. Only started in November 2012, there are already divestment
movements underway on more than 380 college and university campuses, and now
cities are getting on board. It has significant victories; it will have more.
-- notably Germany, with Denmark not far
behind -- have done remarkable things when it comes to promoting
non-fossil-fuel renewable energy. Copenhagen,
for example, in the cold gray north, is on track to become a carbon-neutral city by 2025 (and in the meantime reduced
its carbon emissions 25% between 2005 and 2011). The United States has a host of
promising smaller projects. To offer just two examples, Los Angeles has committed to being coal-free by 2025, while
San Francisco will offer its citizens electricity from 100% renewable and
carbon-neutral sources and its supervisors just voted to divest the city’s fossil-fuel stocks.
There are so
many pieces of the potential solution to this puzzle, and some of them are for
you to put together. Whether they will multiply or ever add up to enough we
don’t yet know. We need more: more people, more transformations, more ways to
conquer and dismantle the oil companies, more of a vision of what is at stake,
more of the great force that is civil society. Will we get it? I don’t know.
Neither do you. Anything could happen.
But here’s what
I’m saying: you should wake up amazed every day of your life, because if I had
told you in 1988 that, within three years, the Soviet satellite states would
liberate themselves nonviolently and the Soviet Union
would cease to exist, you would have thought I was crazy. If I had told you in
1990 that South America was on its way to liberating itself and becoming a continent of
progressive and democratic experiments, you would have considered me
delusional. If, in November 2010, I had told you that, within months, the
autocrat Hosni Mubarak, who had dominated Egypt
since 1981, would be overthrown by 18 days of popular uprisings, or that the
dictators of Tunisia
would be ousted, all in the same year, you would have institutionalized me. If
I told you on September 16, 2011, that a bunch of kids sitting in a park in lower Manhattan would rock the country, you’d say I
was beyond delusional. You would have, if you believed as the despairing do,
that the future is invariably going to look like the present, only more so. It
I still value
hope, but I see it as only part of what’s required, a starting point. Think of
it as the match but not the tinder or the blaze. To matter, to change the
world, you also need devotion and will and you need to act. Hope is only where
it begins, though I’ve also seen people toil on without regard to hope, to what
they believe is possible. They live on principle and they gamble, and sometimes
they even win, or sometimes the goal they were aiming for is reached long after
their deaths. Still, it’s action that gets you there. When what was once hoped
for is realized, it falls into the background, becomes the new normal; and we
hope for or carp about something else.
The future is
bigger than our imaginations. It’s unimaginable, and then it comes anyway. To
meet it we need to keep going, to walk past what we can imagine. We need to be
unstoppable. And here’s what it takes: you don’t stop walking to congratulate
yourself; you don’t stop walking to wallow in despair; you don’t stop because
your own life got too comfortable or too rough; you don’t stop because you won;
you don’t stop because you lost. There’s more to win, more to lose, others who
You don’t stop
walking because there is no way forward. Of course there is no way. You walk
the path into being, you make the way, and if you do it well, others can follow
the route. You look backward to grasp the long history you’re moving forward
from, the paths others have made, the road you came in on. You look forward to
possibility. That’s what we mean by hope, and you look past it into the
impossible and that doesn’t stop you either. But mostly you just walk, right
foot, left foot, right foot, left foot. That’s what makes you unstoppable.
Rebecca Solnit’s first essay for Tomdispatch.com turned into the book
Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities
, since translated into eight languages. Portions
of this essay began life as the keynote speech at the National Lawyers' Guild
gala in honor of attorney and human rights activist Walter Riley, whose own
life is a beautiful example of unstoppability.
Image by David Shankbone,
licensed under Creative
Wednesday, May 15, 2013 11:44 AM
Originally intended to protect defendants from unnecessary indictments,
grand juries have recently been used to investigate and intimidate innocent activists.
New York City legal
activist Jerry Koch is only the latest victim.
It might seem ironic that the
only place you can’t practice your 5th amendment right would be a federal
courtroom, considering its just such a place the amendment was designed for. It
might seem ironic that a process designed to protect people accused of serious
crimes can be used to imprison people for up to 18 months who have committed no
crime without bringing charges against them. It might, unless you know about
Grand juries are an old feature
of the English common law, and were originally designed to make sure that
prosecutors couldn’t bring cases about serious crimes against people without
evidence. The grand jury determines, before the trial, whether the prosecuting
attorney has enough evidence to continue with the case. Since it is an
evidentiary hearing that could effect the outcome of the trial, the grand jury
is completely secret, usually just with the prosecutor, the jury and the
witness giving testimony in the room.
But throughout the 20th century,
grand juries were used to bully political “enemies” of the state. From union
organizers to Communist Party members to Black Panthers to enivronmental
activisits, federal grand juries have been used by the government as a tactic
of harrasment and information gathering. Witnesses subpeonaed to the grand jury
cannot have their lawyer with them, and cannot refuse to testify. Despite fifth
amendment rights, refusing to speak to the grand jury can result in contempt of
court charges and the resister spending the length of the grand jury in jail,
which can be as long as 18 months.
Thus, by acting on one of your
most basic and core rights, in a room with no judge and no council present, you
can be de-facto convicted of contempt (the prosecutor would need to bring you
in front of a judge to rubberstamp the contempt charge) and thrown in jail to
languish for the duration of the grand jury process.
Just such a prospect is facing a
New York City
legal activist and anarchist: Gerald Koch is being subpoenaed regarding a
bombing in 2008, a bombing that broke a window and hurt no one, and that he was
subpoenaed for once before, in 2009. Not because they suspect him of being
involved, but because they think he may have overheard information about it in
a bar. As Jerry has put it in a public statement:
Given that I
publically made clear that I had no knowledge of this alleged event in 2009,
the fact that I am being subpoenaed once again suggests that the FBI does not
actually believe that I possess any information about the 2008 bombing, but
rather that they are engaged in a ‘fishing expedition’ to gain information
concerning my personal beliefs and political associations.
Last year, four anarchists in
the Pacific Northwest faced a similar grand jury over vandalism on May Day 2011: two
spent five months in jail, a third spent seven, all of them spending much of
that time in solitary confinment, despite the fact that they committed no
crime. Jerry faces a similar possibility of jail time. By refusing to speak to
a grand jury, they stand up for the safety of their friends and for their
rights, and they face serious consequences for doing so. What does it say about
our “free society” when it jails citizens for asserting their rights in a
completely closed process absent a judge or a lawyer?
If you're in the New York area, Jerry's
subpoenae date is 10:00am on May 16th, and people are going to pack the court
room at 500 Pearl St.
You can learn more about Jerry’s case, and how you can support him, at Jerry Resists.
Image by Brian
Turner, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, May 07, 2013 3:04 PM
After a modified, anti-fracking Smokey
the Bear went viral, the U.S.
Forest Service threatened legal action against
the activist who created it. The case now revolves around fair use, culture
jamming, and just whose side the Forest
Service is really on.
This article originally appeared at Waging Nonviolence.
Smokey the Bear thought he smelled a fire in the woods. But as he approached
the clearing and saw a giant derrick jutting out into the sky, he realized that
what his nose had picked up was the scent of hydrocarbons. It was another piece
of evidence that the increasingly widespread method of oil and gas extraction
known as fracking was poisoning the environment that he and his human friends
depend on. He decided something must be done.
At least that’s the way that artist, Occupy Wall Street veteran and
environmental activist Lopi LaRoe
sees it. But last week she received a letter threatening her with jail time and
thousands of dollars in fines for enlisting Smokey to the anti-fracking cause.
In the fall, LaRoe created an image of Smokey that altered his famous
invective “Only you can prevent forest fires” to “Only you can prevent faucet
fires” — a reference to the phenomenon of flaming taps
that occasionally occur near where fracking takes place. The adjustment seemed
to her in line with the message of conservation Smokey has come to embody.
“This is the radicalization of Smokey the Bear,” said LaRoe. “This is Smokey
waking up and saying, ‘Oh you didn’t do that to my environment.’ Smokey wants
to fight the corporations and protect the air and the water and the plants and
the animals and the people.”
Her parody went viral. She began printing T-shirts at the insistence of
friends on Facebook, but demand quickly surpassed those in her immediate circle
of contacts. Soon she was packing Smokey in FedEx envelopes and sending him off
and other far-flung terrains. There are also tote bags and patches with the
Smokey meme available at LaRoe’s website.
(The tote bags, she advertises, are “great for dumpster diving.”) LaRoe says
she’s not out to become rich and the money she charges customers goes toward
covering her costs so that she can keep spreading the message of faucet-fire
prevention far and wide.
“It spread like wildfire,” she said, grinning ear to ear.
Not everyone is amused. LaRoe received a cease-and-desist letter from the
Metis Group, which serves as legal counsel for the U.S. Department of
Agriculture’s Forest Service division. The letter informs LaRoe that Smokey,
his character and his slogan are property of the U.S. government and warns that she
has until May 2 to halt the use of Smokey on her “products” and to stop
distributing electronic copies of the meme. Otherwise, she faces up to six
months in prison and a penalty as high as $150,000.
“Any time anybody uses Smokey’s image for anything other than wildfire
prevention,” said Helene Cleveland, fire prevention program manager for the
Forest Service, “it confuses the public. What we’re trying to do is keep Smokey
on message.” Cleveland
added that the 1952 Smokey
the Bear Act takes the character out of the public domain and “any change
in that would have to go through Congress.”
Two other entities besides the Forest Service claim joint rights to Smokey.
The National Association of State Foresters — a non-profit organization
consisting of directors of U.S.
forestry agencies — and the Ad Council.
Remember “This is your brain on drugs”? Or the Indian
weeping over pollution? They were the Ad Council’s handiwork. A non-profit,
it describes itself as a promoter of “public service campaigns on behalf of
non-profit organizations and government agencies” with a focus on “improving
the quality of life for children, preventive health, education, community well
being and strengthening families.” Smokey the Bear was born at the Ad Council,
on the desk of abstract
expressionist and Marx-influenced art critic Harold Rosenberg, who had a
part time job there in the mid-1940s.
Council’s board of directors is a conflagration of representatives of the
world’s wealthiest corporations, including representatives of such companies as
General Electric, which announced
plans last month to spend $110 million on a research lab devoted to the
study of fracking, and finance giants such as Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase. On
Citibank advertises an “extensive array of deposit, cash management and credit
products” for oil and gas drillers, while
a JPMorgan Chase subsidiary boasts its “Oil & Gas Investment Banking
group covers the complete oil and gas value chain, which includes exploration
and production, natural gas processing and transmission, refining and
marketing, and oilfield services.”
LaRoe believes that those who claim to own Smokey “don’t care that I’m
selling a few T-shirts. They’re out to crush the meme.”
Both the Ad Council and the Metis Group declined to comment for this story.
Despite the warnings in the cease-and-desist letter she received, the May 2
deadline to shut down her site and retire her anti-fracking Smokey came and
went; LaRoe has not ceased or desisted. Instead, she enlisted the help of her
own legal counsel, who fired back with a letter to the Metis Group on Friday.
In it, attorney Evan Sarzin argues that LaRoe ‘s culture-jam
appropriation of Smokey is permissible under the fair-use exemption to
exclusive copyright ownership and chides the the Forest Service for attempting
to infringe on LaRoe’s First Amendment rights.
Sarzin also points out that this is not the first time the Forest Service
has sought to silence environmentalists for appropriating Smokey’s image. In
the early 1990s, the Forest Service demanded reparations from the Sante
Fe-based conservation group LightHawk after it used Smokey’s likeness in ads
critical of the agency’s practice of auctioning off land to timber companies.
(The Forest Service, as part of the Department of Agriculture, makes its land
available for commercial use.) Unlike LaRoe’s Smokey, LightHawk’s black bear
appeared angry and wielded a chainsaw. “Say it ain’t so, Smokey,” read the ads.
With legal funds provided by the Sierra Club, LightHawk sued
the Forest Service in 1992 for infringing on its freedom of speech. The court
eventually sided with the plaintiffs, noting that “the satirical use of Smokey
the Bear to criticize Forest Service management techniques is unlikely to cause
confusion or to dilute the value of Smokey the Bear to help prevent forest
fires. Thus the Forest Service cannot have a compelling interest in prohibiting
Sarzin also calls attention to the fact the Forest Service’s own research
points to environmental degradation caused by fracking. A 2011 study
published in the Journal of Environmental Quality by Forest Service
frack fluid to the death of 150 trees in West Virginia’s
Monongahela National Forest. Despite their findings,
the Forest Service is considering approving fracking leases in the nearby George Washington
National Forest. The
Southern Environmental Law Center, which opposes the plan, says
it represents a threat to local wildlife — including the black bear.
released last month by the the National Parks Conservation Association warns
that fracking for oil is decimating the ecosystem surrounding Theodore
Roosevelt National Park, named after the Republican president who founded the
Forest Service. “Unless we take quick action,” the report warns “air, water and
wildlife will experience permanent harm in other national parks as well.” Thus,
Sarzin writes, LaRoe’s Smokey meme “is a message that the Forest Service should
LaRoe hopes that by gaining publicity she can force the Forest Service to
take a stand against fracking. In order to continue the fight, however, she
says she needs the support of groups whose mission it is to defend civil
liberties or protect the environment to provide legal defense funds — just as
the Sierra Club did for LightHawk.
“This about more than me as an artist,” LaRoe said. “This is about
everybody’s right to freedom of speech and a healthy environment.”
Her childhood memories of Smokey, she explains, are compelling her to keep
raising faucet-fire prevention awareness despite the threat of jail time. “When
we were little kids we were taught that there is this bear out there that wants
to protect our forests. Smokey is our bear. He belongs to the people.”
Images of Smokey the Bear meme and
T-shirt by Lopi LaRoe/WePay.
Friday, March 08, 2013 10:01 AM
Following the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, an OWS offshoot called Occupy Sandy quickly made headlines through its rapid response relief efforts, often beating out official relief agencies, like FEMA. Organizers Leah Feder and Devin Balkind discuss how open-source technology can help organize communities, solve problems collectively, and build democratic movements.
This post originally appeared at Waging Nonviolence.
have been a lot of exhausting debates in recent years about the role of online
social media in resistance movements, about whether these technologies really
help or hurt, and how. Some commentators have even gone so far as to hand
credit for home-grown uprisings around the world to the wonder-kids of Silicon Valley, and it can be tempting to believe them.
Once there was Gandhi and King; now there is Facebook and Twitter.
just-so stories, of course, leave out the in-person, on-the-ground organizing
that is still at the heart and center of movements everywhere. But they also
cause us to miss what may be the most important questions to ask about
movements and new technology: Who made the technology, who controls it, and
and Twitter are only the most visible ways that technology is transforming how
ordinary people build power — a visibility aided by a media culture eager to
promote all things corporate. But perhaps even more important in the long run
is how free and open-source software can help create transformative
institutions. Such software — which much of the back-end of the Internet
already relies on, including Waging
Nonviolence — is produced through self-organized communities of
developers working in collaboration, rather than competition. These communities
rely on values like transparency, consensus-seeking, decentralization and broad
participation. Yet they’re hardly utopian; they do this because it works.
Occupy Sandy, Occupy Wall Street’s relief and recovery
effort after Hurricane Sandy last fall,
open-source software tools like WordPress, Sahana and CiviCRM
helped to mobilize thousands of volunteers in affected areas throughout New York City, and to do
so faster and more efficiently than official agencies could. Leah Feder and
Devin Balkind were among the organizers of this effort, and they have been
working to make open-source tools available to the Occupy movement ever since
the initial occupation of Zuccotti
Park. They are also
directors of Sarapis, a non-profit that promotes
free and open technologies for the public good.
Feder and Balkind, these tools are proof that a more collaborative and
sustainable world is possible; I spoke with them recently about why.
How did you become interested in
LF: When Occupy Wall Street first
started, I was going down to the park but not finding a way to get involved or
seeing the revolutionary potential in what was happening. I thought it was
exciting, and fun, but beyond that I didn’t see where it could go. It was
through being exposed to open source there that I was finally moved to engage
on a much deeper level in Occupy, because I saw that there was a theory of
change. I saw how continuing on a specific path could take us into a
fundamentally different paradigm. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that? I was
in grad school in media, culture and communication at New York University
at the time, but thinking through ideas is fun only insofar as you can’t do
anything. Once I saw that there was a possibility of doing something, I dropped
DB: I started on that path in college.
Some friends and I put together a proposal to create a crowdfunding platform
called Beex for charity walks and things like that.
Did you have a software background
DB: I was a history and film major; we
definitely botched the development of the thing. But it brought me into contact
with large nonprofits, and I realized that the non-profit sector was a
disaster, primarily because organizations weren’t collaborating with each
other. They basically mirrored the corporate model. That made me curious about
good models for collaborative problem-solving. At the same time, I was dealing
with a software project that was proprietary, and I was finding that it was a
terrible, terrible way to go. So I was learning about the open-source software
movement while I was recognizing the need for it in the non-profit sector. That
led me down the path of developing a generalized understanding of open-source
software for community organizing.
LF: I’m not a techie, either, and as a
non-techie one can only get so deep into open-source software. I can’t really
contribute to open source projects, for instance. I can use open source tools,
though, and that increases my capacity as an individual tremendously. I can
spin up a WordPress site and make it look pretty nice, really, really quickly.
But then, once I learned more about the open-source model and realized that
it’s also an organizing model for doing a lot of other things that can increase
our capacity collectively, I saw more of an entry-point for myself in the
broader peer-to-peer revolution. What it’s really about is changing the way
that we organize ourselves, as individuals and as a society. Occupy could be
the overtly political manifestation of this phenomenon, whereas open-source
software is how the tech world takes on these same principles.
Devin, how did you first make the
connection between open source and Occupy?
DB: By the fall of 2011 I had
incorporated Sarapis and was writing a plan to bring open source to community
organizations in Brooklyn. I had already done
research on constituent-relationship
management systems, or CRMs, and on mailing lists. I had written guides for
the organizations about how to use open-source technology most effectively.
Then I thought I was going to have to raise tens of thousands of dollars to get
people excited about the program — until Occupy Wall Street happened. It was
basically free enthusiasm for deploying the ideas. Those of us in the Occupy
tech group have spent 18 months building infrastructure. And then moments like
the Hurricane Sandy relief effort give us the opportunity to see it work.
What in particular has worked especially
DB: The biggest victories are the ones
that no one sees. Occupy Wall Street was this huge movement, but no one was
collecting email addresses at first — which is insane. But for Occupy
Sandy, there was one email-collection system with one form for volunteers. It
all went into our CiviCRM system, which had already been configured, and which
a lot of people knew how to use. That became the basis for systematized
volunteer outreach, where people have been receiving mailings consistently to
see when they can come out to do volunteer work. Right now we’re looking at a
sustainable volunteer infrastructure that we never had for OWS.
Why does it matter that these tools are
free and open source?
DB: This is part of a revolution in what
I call, maybe wrongly, the means of production. That’s what open-source
software is. And not just open-source software, but also hardware, and data,
and knowledge, and how we collaborate. There are so many differences between
open-source and proprietary systems; it’s like how you used to be able to take
apart a car engine, and anyone who had basic mechanical skills could replace an
air filter. Now, though, there’s plastic sheeting over the whole thing. It has
been designed so that people can’t fix their own cars. In open-source systems,
the flow of data is of paramount importance. In a proprietary system, the flow
of data is something that you lose money on. Go to Facebook, for instance, and
try to export your friend network — not easy, because that means you could
LF: When we solve problems with
open-source tools, we deliver the solutions back to the global information
commons, and we build capacity for anybody who wants to do this in the future.
Any such group that wants to arise and start collecting contacts can do the
same, and it’s free. We have a whole bunch of tools to use, and we can grow
ever more quickly on tools that we own ourselves.
So it’s a matter of self-reliance and
DB: For the people in the open-source
movement who realize where this is going, the next step is to replicate what
the government does, but better. How do we out-compete the government using
open-source tools? I can tell you that with Occupy Sandy we already did it. We
had a better system up within a month — for managing work orders, inventory,
requests, workflows. What if we had had that during the occupation? How much
easier would life have been for managing the Zuccotti Park
experience if there had been people trained in such a system? We’d have had
vehicles, warehouses and kitchens all coordinated in a way that was sustainable
and easy to plug into. If we can do that, it’ll become competition between us
and other systems. Then we’re on the path to the type of changes that people in
the open-source world realize is coming.
We’re using the term “open source” now,
by the way, but usually I use the term “FLO,” which means “free/libre/open
source.” There’s a whole political dimension to these words.
What do you think it will take for more
people to recognize this potential?
DB: Open-source projects, as an
organizing endeavor, pose an integration challenge. The question is always how
to get one plugin to work with another. When we’ve conditioned ourselves to
think more in terms of plugin architecture, our projects will inevitably plug
into other projects, and when that happens we’re going to have a whole new set
of functionality that’s possible. Once we’re at a certain level of advancement,
we get to merge. I think that what’s going to happen is a wave. For instance,
when open-source technology merges with open-source ecology in order to produce
hardware locally, you’re going to see a tremendous sea-change. You’ll see, say,
a new type of open-source tractor that starts selling like hotcakes. That
convergence isn’t so far away, and when that happens it’s going to feel
different. It is going to feel like a flick of a switch for a lot of folks.
How important is it for people in the
Occupy movement to know about this broader process?
DB: Open-source software itself exists
because other models for software production didn’t meet the need. Similarly, I
think the Occupy movement’s effectiveness depends on how quickly it recognizes
that the best community-organizing practices are rooted in free/libre/open
source. In the beginning of Occupy Wall Street, the leaders tended to be people
in the Direct Action Working Group, which was organizing the actions and
marches. But it was never very effective. Protest loses to production any day
of the week. That’s why the Black Panthers had a breakfast program. Give people
what they want if you want to be an effective movement. With Occupy Sandy,
because there was such a strong demand for relief from the community, we saw
the effectiveness of open-source tools. Documentation became more important. A
shared Google Docs folder was the center of productivity within Occupy Sandy,
and lots of people were realizing, “If I don’t share my docs as widely as
possible, and if I don’t orient people to these docs, this falls apart.” That
But Google Docs isn’t open source. Where
are the lines to be drawn?
DB: I like to say “practically possible.”
Use freely-available, open-source solutions whenever practically possible.
Google Docs isn’t open source, but sharing data on spreadsheets is about as
open-source as you can get. Any absolutes about this stuff aren’t particularly
useful. What’s useful is recognizing the purpose of the activity as being new
forms of productivity, not merely creating a spectacle. But this takes a lot of
practice to do right. It’s hard. By the time of Occupy Sandy, there were a lot
more people who understood how to do this kind of thing than during the
original occupation, and they started out-performing the people who don’t work
Was your experience with free-software
communities in some ways preparatory for knowing how to participate in Occupy Wall Street’s
DB: Yes. Philosophically, for sure. The
media would say, “They communicate over Facebook and Twitter,” but if you’re
involved in organizing, you’re emailing all day. It’s emails, and it’s
listservs. I came in knowing how to have intense decision-making conversations
on email lists, while the vast majority of people did not. By now, the growth
of people’s aptitude for that type of communication has been stunning.
LF: Although we’re still not there!
DB: No. But we’re so much further along.
LF: Whatever the political intentions of
the open-source community, it models a different way of working together. Last
fall, a lot of people were down with the idea that “shit is fucked up and
bullshit.” But people will only go so far if you don’t show them something
better. There’s a portion of the population that will really be galvanized by
marches and occupations, but if you want many more people to get excited about
your political project, you need to provide an alternative — alternatives.
That’s what drives the politics forward, because there’s a limit to the horizon
of possibility when it’s a politics of protest. But once it’s a politics of
solutions and alternatives, you’re playing in a different field, and a lot more
Does that help you when you’re opposing a
system backed up by state violence?
DB: During the early months of Occupy, I
would have experiences where I’d be talking to a cop who didn’t look like he
was enjoying being a pawn to suppress protest, and I said to him, “Hey dude,
have you ever talked about getting some land and going to a farm? If you ever
need some help acquiring land, we’ve got a bunch of acres upstate, we have
training, and Occupy Farms can get you up there, and you don’t have to do this
anymore.” I’ve had cops say to me, “You show me that, and we can have a
conversation.” The existing system is just not that competitive. It’s more
competitive than chaos, or anarchy or protest, sure. But how good, really, is
our suburban lifestyle, or our urban-ish suburban existence? At some point, the
other option is going to look better, and then the air starts coming out of the
How close are we to that point, do you
DB: A lot of the software, for instance,
is still a disaster in terms of usability and other capacities. That’s just
where we are as a society. We’re using it at just about 5 percent capacity. But
what’s fun about this stuff — and I think this is really how good software gets
made — is that you cobble together solutions, and everything kind of sucks, and
you evaluate how each piece works, and then you roll it all into one. If our
movement worked like a big open-source software project, there would be an
extensive wiki and forums and trainings to on-board people. There would be an
issue-tracker and requests for help, for what you can do at various different
engagement levels. An assembly could be happening in some place like Trenton,
N.J., and someone there might say, “I work in case-tracking for a homeless
shelter, and it would be better if x happened,” and then bam, it
would be tagged in the minutes of the meeting, and the developers somewhere
else would have a filter for whatever code was used to keep the minutes, and
they’d implement the suggestion in the next update. That’s the type of
performance we’re going to be able to achieve.
We’re not that far away from being able
to allow people to unplug from the proprietary information ecosystem. And once
we get there, we’re talking about real political change. The best part of the
whole open-source thing is recognizing that we can see into the future and
recognizing that it’s not all crazy. It’s just going to require a lot of people
to work. And that makes it a lot easier to be an activist.
Image of Occupy Sandy volunteers by Erin O'Brien (Occupy Sandy Facebook page).
Friday, March 01, 2013 10:57 AM
This post originally appeared at Shareable.
percent of the food in the U.S. goes to waste. Let’s sit with that for a
minute. Almost half of what we produce is going to the landfill. Meanwhile, over 50 million Americans live in food-insecure households.
There are changes we can
make in our own lives to adjust those numbers. By looking with a critical eye
at what gets thrown away and reducing our own food waste we can raise awareness
about the issue. We can also contribute to, volunteer with, support, and start
organizations that save food from landfills and get it into the hands, and
stomachs, of those going without.
Boulder Food Rescue
is one such project. Powered 90% by bicycle--that figure only drops to 80%
freezing winters--BFR picks up food that would otherwise end up in dumpsters
and distributes it to over 40 organizations including soup kitchens, low-income
schools, elderly homes, low-income family units and homeless shelters. In the
last year and a half, the organization has rescued over 250,000 pounds of food.
Boasting a team of over
120 volunteers, BFR has its system down to a science and those involved with
the project would like to see their food rescue model adopted by other cities.
They’ve created what they call The Package Deal; a step by step guide to starting a food
rescue program complete with tips, resources and materials. Issues addressed
include coordinating with stores, building a team of volunteers, finding
recipients, utilizing the media, finding bikes and equipment, and creating a
plan for long-term success.
An inspiring example of
what’s possible with some planning and a lot of human-power, BFR is
transforming its community and demonstrating the potential of resource sharing,
starting with the food we eat.
Image by Boulder
Food Rescue. Used with permission.
Follow Cat Johnson on Twitter.
Tuesday, February 19, 2013 12:23 PM
From climate science to grassroots organizing, for 350.org founder Bill McKibben, it's all about the numbers.
This article originally appeared at Waging Nonviolence.
You can’t build a movement without
numbers. If anyone understands that, it’s 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben.
Standing in front of an estimated crowd
of 50,000 people gathered for the Forward on Climate rally yesterday on the
National Mall in Washington,
D.C. he said, “All I ever wanted
to see was a movement of people to stop climate change, and now I’ve seen it.”
Billed as “the largest climate rally in U.S. history,”
the event was intended as one final push to convince President Obama that his
environmental legacy hinges on whether he rejects the Keystone XL pipeline — a
conduit to what has been called by NASA scientist James Hansen “the world’s
largest carbon bomb.” To underscore this point, 350.org has consistently made
an effort to quantify its achievements into superlatives, ready-made for
Yet, had they not put so much effort into
creating the perception of a powerful movement, they might not have ever built
one. According to political scientist Erica Chenoweth, co-author of Why
Civil Resistance Works, “There is power in numbers, and the more people
participate, the more likely the movement is to effect real change.
Interestingly, this may lead more people to participate because they want to
join a movement that will ultimately be successful.”
Patrick Reinsborough of the Center for Story-Based Strategy (formerly smartMeme),
which trains activists to use narrative as a tool, agrees. “The most important
thing to communicate is that this movement is growing, and that everyday
citizens are willing to step out of their comfort zone in order to be seen and
heard,” he said.
For more than six years, McKibben has
been at the forefront of efforts to create a broad-based movement that can
create the pressure for policies that would bring carbon emissions to a safe
upper limit. According to James Hansen, that limit, which was long ago
surpassed, is 350 parts per million — a number so important to McKibben, he
named his group after it.
While this decision has led some to
criticize 350.org for having a name that’s too ambiguous or scientific for the
average person, McKibben
has long argued, “Arabic numerals are the one thing that cross globally.”
This fact seems to be guiding his broader belief in the power of numbers as
“The hardest thing about climate change
is the sense that one is too small to make a difference,” McKibben told Waging
Nonviolence. “So we’ve helped people to understand that they’re part of
something large, maybe large enough to matter. That helps them feel engaged, I
think, and has the advantage of being the truth.” McKibben’s
feature article for Rolling Stone last summer — one of the most-read
in the magazine’s history — and his recent 21-city
sold-out speaking tour had the word “math” in the title.
Even before the debate over its name,
when 350.org was just six students and a professor at Middlebury
College in Vermont, the focus was on numbers — numbers
that set records, showed the scale of an action or quantified an achievement.
For instance, in 2006, the group
successfully pressured Middlebury to commit to carbon neutrality by 2015. Soon
after that, it organized a five-day march across Vermont to demand action on global warming.
Nearly a thousand people took part, and many newspapers called it the largest
climate change demonstration in America.
Then, in 2007, with a campaign called Step It Up, which sought to visually
depict the concept of an 80 percent carbon reduction by 2050, 350.org organized
a day of action that netted 1,400 demonstrations across all 50 states, calling
it, “the first open source, web-based day of action dedicated to stopping
Since becoming 350.org a year later, the
group has had a string of even more impressive achievements. In 2009, it
organized 5,200 actions in 181 countries for “the most widespread day of
political action in the planet’s history.” The following year saw two other
landmark actions: the Global Work Party and 350 EARTH. The former generated
more than 7,000 climate solutions projects in 188 countries and has been called
the most widespread day of climate action in history. Meanwhile, 350 EARTH,
which took place a month later, managed to gather tens of thousands of people
for several of the biggest
art projects ever seen — so big they could only be seen from space.
If there was any criticism of 350.org at
this point, it was that that the organizers were having too much fun. During
those two years of dramatic actions, Congress and the United Nations failed to
pass binding climate legislation. Many activists were beginning to wonder
whether the impressive showing by 350.org was anything more than just a show.
Leading voices within the climate
movement, such as Tim DeChristopher — who famously disrupted an oil and gas
lease auction in 2008 and spent
the last two years in prison as a result — wanted to see the group leverage
the power of its growing base by engaging in civil disobedience. McKibben
eventually heeded the call and in August and September of 2011, 350.org — under
the guise of Tar Sands Action — held two weeks of sit-ins outside the White
House, calling on President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. Despite
some initial uncertainty about whether arrests would scare people away, the
campaign proved to be yet another historic moment for the climate movement.
Over 1,200 people were arrested and McKibben called it “the largest civil
disobedience action on any issue in 30 years.”
Since then, there has been a boom in
civil disobedience and nonviolent direct actions against the pipeline, from grassroots
activists in Texas and Oklahoma
to mainstream environmentalists like Sierra
Club executive director Michael Brune. McKibben has also recently hinted at
another mass civil disobedience, possibly this summer, telling a crowd of
students in New York City
a couple weeks ago to “keep an eye on 350.org and save up bail money.”
In order to get to this point, 350.org
has had to slowly build upon action after action, finding the right way to
frame its accomplishments for maximum effect. Other successful movements have
done the same, such as the Serbian student movement Otpor!, which started with
just 11 people and used graffiti and small, clever actions that never revealed
their numbers until they had grown enough to topple dictator Slobodan
More recently, in Egypt, says
Erica Chenoweth, “groups of activists would deliberately make their way down
small alleyways to give the impression that there were many more people
participating. It created something of an optical illusion — a small number in
a small space looks bigger than a small number in a big space.”
While the climate movement may be close
to toppling a pipeline, it’s far from toppling the dictatorship of the
fossil-fuels industry. Chenoweth has a number of her own for what major
systemic change requires. “If you buy the
5 percent rule — that if 5 percent of the population mobilizes, it’s
impossible for the government to ignore them — then in the U.S. context it
would mean mobilizing well over 15 million people in a sustained way,” she
When asked what he thought winning would
require, McKibben said, “I’ve got no idea. It will take more than any of us can
imagine.” That might be surprising coming from a man so concerned with numbers
and so good at making them compelling. But right now, the only math that seems
to matter to him is how long it has taken to get to this point. And for that
reason, he’s savoring the moment.
“I waited a quarter century since I wrote
the first book about all this stuff to see if we were going to fight,” McKibben
told yesterday’s crowd. “And today, I know we are going to fight. The most
fateful battle in human history is finally joined, and we will fight it
Image of Bill McKibben at Sunday's Forward on Climate rally in Washington, DC by Josh Lopez, 350.org.
Thursday, February 14, 2013 10:05 AM
How could the State of the Union message reflect deeper values
of equality and compassion for those in need? In a call to action, Starhawk demonstrates
how to make that message a reality.
During Obama’s State of the Union
message, I was scheduled to give a talk at Northern Arizona
University on “Women
Taking Action: Using the Insights of the Feminist Movement.” As part of it, I
decided to write the State of the Union as if
Obama were suddenly possessed by the spirit of the nurturing, caring,
life-sustaining values that women have often carried. Here it is—you can
compare his speech and see how well he measures up! I am indebted to astrologer
Caroline Casey, the brilliant host of the Pacifica
radio show Visionary Activist, with whom I spent much of the weekend at the
Conscious Life Expo in L.A.,
for the phrase “until now!” She uses it as a mantra when people get all caught
up in how bad it is and how wrong we all are and how doomed we are—she just
adds “until now!” Try it when you get caught in a downward vortex!
My sisters, brothers, frères and
The State of the Union
is not well. We have defined aggression as strength and poured our resources
into killing, starving everything that serves and supports life. We have served
the greedy at the expense of the needy, allowed children to go hungry, the poor
to lack shelter, the sick to lack care, the wounded from our wars to go
unhealed, the aged to be abandoned. And we have utterly failed to address the
greatest challenge of our age, the destruction of the earth’s climate and the
meltdown of our global life support systems.
For now we will work together to heal
We will siphon away money and
resources from war and death to life, to health care and education that
inspires and empowers, to arts and imagination and invention and research, to
the protection and regeneration of our wildlands and farmlands, to things that
enrich our lives and help us to thrive. No longer will we meet the dangers of
the world with brute force and firepower—but instead we will look at the causes
of violence and change the conditions that breed hate.
Now we will feed the hungry and house
the homeless, care for the sick and the wounded, assure the comfort and the
security of the elders, because that’s what decent people do. And if our
society can’t do this, it’s not worth protecting.
We will cease rewarding greed. Those
who benefit from the system will now pay their fair share to support it. We
will change the laws that in the past have allowed them to control it, and
return power to the people. And—here I’m speaking to the 1 percent—you know
what? Your lives will actually be better. You might have somewhat less stuff
but richer relationships, less control but more time, more sense of wonder,
more peace of mind. And if you really need it, we’ll name some bridges after
you and let you cut some ribbons and open some health care clinics and child
care centers, just like the Queen of England.
Most importantly, we’re going to
address the destruction of the living systems of the planet. No longer will we
allow practices that imperil our climate or our aquifers, or threaten to
release radioactive poison over the land. We know that we must make big
changes: in our energy systems, our technology, our economy, our food growing
systems, our ways of living. But we also know that together, we can do this! We
can work together and make the shift to a new world in balance with nature.
We already have the technologies we
need—solar, wind, renewables. We can make the transition wisely and swiftly.
And we will invest in the research that will bring a thousand new ideas into
production, using the resources we still have to create what we need for the
We will protect our forests and wild
lands, our arctic wastes and our desert refuges. This year we will plant
millions of trees, to suck up carbon and to provide shade and habitat, fruit
and nuts, wood and mulch, quiet and beauty.
We will nurture our soil, for
building healthy organic soil is the best and fastest way to broadly and safely
sequester carbon. That soil will grow healthy food close to where we live,
creating true abundance. We will support our farmers to make the transition to
humane, organic agriculture, and support our young people to connect to land,
to start urban farms and schoolyard gardens, to plant groves of fruit trees and
food forests, to grow true abundance for us all.
We will root our industries and
enterprises back into local communities. No longer will we subsidize, with
cheap fossil fuels and tax breaks, their flight to far-off places with the
cheapest labor and the most lax environmental and safety standards. Instead we
will demand that they provide for real needs in ways that assure lives of
dignity and security to those who do the work. We’re redesigning our cities so
that people can live and work, learn and enjoy their pleasures in true
We can do this—and more! Imagine how
it will be, next year and in years to come, when I can stand before you and
This is the State of our Union—we have fed the hungry, cared for the sick,
comforted the aged, restored the homeless to their homes, sent our young people
forth into life well-educated and debt-free, built thousands of acres of
healthy soil, planted a billion trees. We are still challenged by the results
of generations of degradation, but we have turned the corner. We’re well on
track to an energy-rich world of 100 percent renewables. We’re happier,
healthier, more creative, more inventive, safer and more secure. And most of
all, we have that wonderful feeling of unity and enthusiasm that comes when we
God—Goddess, Creator, Great
Spirit—whatever you want to call it, including our collective human power—bless
this great country, and blessed be you all!
Starhawk, committed global justice activist and organizer, is the author or
coauthor of twelve books, including
The Spiral Dance, The Fifth Sacred
The Earth Path. Her latest is
The Empowerment Manual:
A Guide for Collaborative Groups. She is a veteran of progressive movements,
from anti-war to anti-nukes, is a highly influential voice in the revival of
earth-based spirituality and Goddess religion, and has brought many innovative
techniques of spirituality and magic to her political work. Her web site is www.starhawk.org. Starhawk was recognized as an Utne Reader Visionary in 1995.
Editor's note: This post originally appeared at Dirt Worship, Starhawk's blog on earth-based spirituality, permaculture, magic, politics, activism, and Paganism.
Above image of Capitol Dome by Bob Jagendorf,
licensed under Creative
Commons. Slideshow image of Occupy Wall Street prayer by David Shankbone, also licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, January 18, 2013 2:49 PM
This post originally appeared at ZNet.org.
When the Palestinian leadership won
their upgrade to non-member observer status at the United Nations in November,
plenty of sceptics on both sides of the divide questioned what practical
benefits would accrue to the Palestinians. The doubters have not been silenced
Palestinian Authority President
Mahmoud Abbas has done little to capitalise on his diplomatic success. There
have been vague threats to "isolate" Israel,
hesitant talk of "not ruling out" a referral to the International
Criminal Court, and a low-key declaration by the Palestinian Authority of the
new "state of Palestine".
At a time when Palestinians hoped for
a watershed moment in their struggle for national liberation, the Fatah and
Hamas leaderships look as mutually self-absorbed as ever. Last week they were
again directing their energies into a new round of reconciliation talks, this
time in Cairo,
rather than keeping the spotlight on Israeli intransigence.
So instead, it was left to a group of
250 ordinary Palestinians to show how the idea of a "state of Palestine" might be
given practical meaning. On Friday, they set up a tent encampment that they
intended to convert into a new Palestinian village called Bab al-Shams, or Gate
of the Sun.
On Sunday, in a sign of how disturbed
is by such acts of popular Palestinian resistance, Israeli prime minister
Benjamin Netanyahu had the occupants removed in a dawn raid -- despite the fact
that his own courts had issued a six-day injunction against the government’s
Intriguingly, the Palestinian
activists not only rejected their own leaders’ softly-softly approach but also
chose to mirror the tactics of the hardcore settlers.
First, they declared they were
creating “facts on the ground”, having understood, it seems, that this is the
only language Israel
speaks or understands. Then, they selected the most contentious spot imaginable
for Israel: the centre of
the so-called E-1 corridor, 13 square-kilometres of undeveloped land between
East Jerusalem and Israel's
strategic city-settlement of Maale Adumim in the West Bank.
For more than a decade, Israel has been planning to build its own
settlement in E-1, though on a vastly bigger scale, to finish the encirclement
of East Jerusalem, cutting off the future capital of a Palestinian state from
the West Bank.
had stayed Israel's
hand, understanding that completion in E-1 would signal to the world and the
Palestinians the end of a two-state solution. But following the UN vote,
Netanyahu announced plans to build an additional 4,000 settler homes there as
punishment for the Palestinians' impertinence.
The comparison between the Bab
al-Shams activists and the settlers should not be extended too far. One obvious
difference is that the Palestinians were building on their own land, whereas Israel is breaking international law in allowing
hundreds of thousands of settlers to move into the West
Another is that Israel’s
response towards the two groups was preordained to be different. This is
especially clear in relation to what Israel
itself calls the “illegal outposts” -- more than 100 micro-settlements, similar
to Bab al-Shams, set up by hardcore settlers since the mid-1990s, after Israel promised the US it would not authorise any new
Despite an obligation to dismantle
the outposts, successive Israeli governments have allowed them to flourish. In
practice, within days of the first caravans appearing on a West
Bank hilltop officials hook up the “outposts” to electricity and
water, build them access roads and redirect bus routes to include them. The
spread of the settlements and outposts has been leading inexorably to Israel’s de facto annexation of most of the West Bank.
In stark contrast, all access to Bab
al-Shams was blocked within hours of the tents going up and the next day
Netanyahu had the site declared a closed military zone. As soon as the Jewish
Sabbath was over, troops massed around the camp. Early on Sunday morning they
Netanyahu was clearly afraid to allow
any delay. Palestinians started using social media over the weekend to plan
mass rallies at road-blocks leading to the camp site.
However futile the activists' efforts
prove to be on this occasion, the encampment indicates that ordinary
Palestinians are better placed to find inventive ways to embarrass Israel than the
hidebound Palestinian leadership.
Senior PLO official Hanan Ashrawi
extolled the activists for their "highly creative and legitimate
nonviolent tool" to protect Palestinian land. But the failure of PA
officials, including Saeb Erekat, to make it to the site before it was cordoned
off by Israel
only heightened the impression of a leadership too slow and unimaginative to
respond to events.
By establishing Bab al-Shams, the
activists visibly demonstrated the apartheid nature of Israel’s rule
in the occupied territories. Although one brief encampment is unlikely by
itself to change the dynamics of the conflict, it does show Palestinians that
there are ways they themselves can take the struggle to Israel.
Following the Israeli raid, that
point was made eloquently by Mohammed Khatib, one of the organisers. “In
establishing Bab al-Shams, we declare that we have had enough of demanding our
rights from the occupier -- from now on we shall seize them ourselves.”
That, of course, is also Netanyahu’s
great fear. The scenario his officials are reported to be most concerned about
is that this kind of popular mode of struggle becomes infectious. If
Palestinians see popular non-violent resistance, unlike endless diplomacy,
helping to awaken the world to their plight, there may be more Bab al-Shamses
-- and other surprises for Israel
-- around the corner.
It was precisely such thinking that
attorney-general, Yehuda Weinstein, to justify Netanyahu's violation of the
injunction on the grounds that the camp would “bring protests and riots with
national and international implications”.
What Bab al-Shams shows is that
ordinary Palestinians can take the fight for the “state of Palestine” to Israel
-- and even turn Israel’s own methods against it.
Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn
Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel
and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq,
Iran and the Plan to Remake
the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine:
Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His new website is www.jonathan-cook.net.
Image of the wall dividing East Jerusalem by Trocaire, licensed
Monday, December 31, 2012 3:11 PM
This article originally appeared at WagingNonviolence.org.
are about to take this house over, okay?” shouted Reneka Wheeler, speaking
slowly and emphasizing each word as she stood in front of a vacant house in
southwest Atlanta two weeks ago. It wasn’t really a question; the home had
already been cleaned up and secured, and the only thing left to do was turn the
key. It was a small, pastel-pink bungalow in the middle of the Pittsburgh
neighborhood in Atlanta,
the type of community where more plywood boards than children’s faces peek out
from first-floor windows.
small crowd gathered in front of Wheeler cheered in affirmation. The woman —
flanked by her partner, Michelene Meusa — bounded up the front steps and
entered her new home with a quick jangling of her wrist. Their children, Johla
and Dillon, soon followed. Dillon exposed a buck-teeth smile and Johla’s pink
hair beads tossed from side to side. The last six months hadn’t been easy for
the two children; since July, the family had been shuffling from shelter to
shelter, where Dillon and Johla often found that other adults didn’t approve of
their mothers’ relationship.
M&T Bank — a commercial bank
headquartered in Buffalo, N.Y. — claimed to own the house, an
allegation it would soon enforce. But, for the moment, Meusa and Wheeler had
enacted a new vision and definition of housing rights — not by petition or
proposal but by altering the reality on the ground.
going to change the way we do business,” declared Doug Dean, a former state
representative from Pittsburgh,
Ga., on the women’s new front
lawn. “Whether you agree with how we’re doing it, the fact of the matter is
that freedom is not free. We must take back our community.”
December 6, the one-year anniversary of the Occupy Homes movement, Meusa and
Wheeler were only two among thousands of people who gathered for coordinated
direct actions focused on the human right to housing. Building on a year filled
with eviction blockades, house takeovers, bank protest and singing auction
blockades, the anniversary of Occupy Homes demonstrated that the groups were
still committed to risking arrest to keep people sheltered. Yet, even more
significantly, the day’s events demonstrated a crystallization of the
movement’s central message: that decent and dignified housing should be a human
right in the United States.
Alma Ponce and supportive community members from various Occupy groups rallied
inside and outside Ponce’s
home, which was scheduled for eviction on December 6. In Minneapolis,
John Vinje, a veteran who had been evicted from his family’s home by U.S. Bank
and Freddie Mac earlier this year, worked with Occupy Homes MN
to take over a bank-owned home on the south side of the city. In St. Louis, a
handful of housing advocates temporarily occupied a Wells Fargo branch and
began auctioning off the contents of the bank — including the Christmas tree,
paintings and computers, chanting, “Hey hey, ho ho! Corporate greed has got to
go!” Other actions occurred in Detroit, Chicago, Denver, Mendham, N.J., and cities
actions appear to be snowballing. In Atlanta,
Occupy our Homes took over a second house on December 8. In Minneapolis, the group opened up another
house on December 23 in an action led by Carrie Martinez, who refused to
celebrate Christmas with her partner and 12-year-old son in the car where
they’d been living since their eviction in October.
the first Occupy Homes day of action on December 6, 2011, the events
demonstrated a high level of coordination and communication among housing
groups in various cities — this time drawing on the language and tactics that
had been successful throughout the past year.
the small crowd marched to Meusa and Wheeler’s new home, for instance, people
chanted, “Empty houses and houseless people — match them up!” This was a
refrain that echoes the rallying cry commonly used by J.R. Fleming, chairman of
Anti-Eviction Campaign. (His wording is to match “homeless people with
peopleless houses.”) Later, after much of the fanfare had died down, Johla and
Dillon began planting flowers and vegetables in the front yard, an action that
is reminiscent of when Monique White, a mother in Minneapolis, planted a massive garden in the
weeks before her scheduled eviction to demonstrate that she was not leaving.
(U.S. Bank caved and canceled the foreclosure.)
in Woodland, activists covered Alma Ponce’s lawn
with tents — an allusion to the fall 2011 occupations that has also been used
in eviction blockades in Alabama and Georgia over
the last year. Ponce’s
home had been the site of successful eviction blockades in May and, given the
heavy activist presence on December 6, the sheriff refused to show up.
important shift evident on the anniversary is that Occupy Homes groups have
started rallying more and more behind a rights-based framework to explain why
they are pursuing direct action.
is a human right, not for the banks to hold hostage,” Michelene Meusa said a
few days after the action, when, at M&T Bank’s request, the Atlanta Police
Department arrested her and three others for criminal trespassing. When she
refused to leave, she made an explicit comparison between her civil
disobedience and the actions of the civil rights movement.
shift towards a human-rights framing of the housing movement and away from
following the Occupy movement’s focus on economic unfairness — i.e., “Banks got
bailed out, we got sold out” — is significant. The human rights framework is
often more powerful in movements led by people of color, drawing strength, as
Meusa did, from the civil rights era and cutting through the class divisions
that plague housing in a way that movements focused only on mortgage loan
get explosively excited about organizing to protect their rights,” said Anthony
Newby, one of the organizers with Occupy
Homes MN. A year ago,
Newby and the Minneapolis
campaign were more focused on organizing for principal reductions and holding banks
accountable while setting aside more confrontational actions like outright home
liberations for a later date. Yet, as John Vinje’s home liberation in south
Minneapolis on December 6 showed, the group had transformed over the course of
the year into one that is willing to challenge the logic of class-based housing
discrimination: a logic that denies that access to decent housing is, in fact,
a right to be protected rather than a privilege to be bought — on credit, of
she waited for the sheriff inside her home in Woodland, Alma Ponce expressed a similar
commitment to the rights-based framework. Explaining that the rest of her
family doesn’t speak English, she said, “They’re very scared and I know I’ve
been — what is that word? — taken advantage because I am Latina, and they think I’m not going to be
able to defend myself.” Switching to Spanish, she later added, “We Latinos have
to come out and defend our rights. Because we do have rights here in California, and if we
unite, we can keep moving forward.”
the continued onslaught of foreclosures across the United States, the question
remains: How much will these movements have to scale up to make structural
changes, rather than just individual changes?
organizing during the Great Depression provides some instructive parallels. The
economic devastation since 2008 has been quite similar to what the nation
experienced throughout that period. In 1933, for example, banks foreclosed on
an average of 1,000 homes every day. In 2010, the rate of displacement was
comparable: The average number of foreclosures was more than 2,500 homes a day,
and the population has increased two-and-a-half fold.
scale of housing organizing during the early 1930s, however, dwarfs what we
have seen so far today. Crowds of hundreds, and sometimes even thousands of
people, mobilized to stop evictions in New York,
other urban centers, mostly under the direction of the Communist Party. As in
much of current housing organizing, women were often on the front lines. Masses
of these women filled the streets as others climbed to the roofs and poured
buckets of water on the police below. Women beat back the police officers’
horses by sticking them with long hat pins or pouring marbles into the streets.
If the police were successful in moving the family’s furniture out to the curb,
the crowd simply broke down the door and moved the family’s belongings back
inside after the police had left.
were times that landlords were saying, ‘You can’t evict anymore in the Bronx. These people control the streets,’” says Mark
Naison, a professor at Fordham
University and one of the
nation’s leading researchers about housing organizing during the Depression.
communities also formed anti-foreclosure organizations, combining the fight for
housing with the fight for fair wages, especially in the sharecropping South.
Hundreds of thousands of farmers came together to form anti-eviction and
tenants-rights groups like the Farm Holiday Association in the Midwest, the
Alabama Sharecroppers Union in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, and the
Southern Tenant Farmers Union, which stretched from Tennessee to Texas. The
groups descended on farm auctions en masse to intimidate investors and speculators
and then bet on the property with absurdly low prices — a penny, a dollar —
until the property was returned to the owner. They also banded together to do
eviction defense, which, in rural areas, was simple and classically Southern.
was people with rifles standing there and defending the house,” said Naison.
encampment protests called Hoovervilles spread across the country, entirely
built, governed and populated by the displaced. Accounts of the mutual aid and
self-governance in these encampments testify to the similarities between
Hoovervilles and the Occupy encampments in 2011. The only difference, perhaps,
is the former’s longevity; one of the largest Hoovervilles, located in Seattle, stood for 10
years, housed more than 1,000 residents at its peak and held its own elections
for the community’s mayor.
movement achieved substantial legislative gains. Housing policy became a major
part of the New Deal, culminating in the National Housing Act of 1934, which
established the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to provide affordable
loans to spur homeownership, and the Housing Act of 1937, which established
public housing authorities across the country.
the era’s housing activists like Catherine Bauer were involved in the drafting of
this new legislation, the laws were far from full victories. The FHA, in
particular, was a highly conservative and often racist lending agency whose
main objective was reigniting housing construction rather than helping
individual homeowners — a mission that led to massive and ongoing federal
handouts to industry. Still, the establishment of public housing systemically
changed the landscape and ideology around housing in the United States
and was “one of the most successful federal programs in the 20th century,”
according to Damaris Reyes, the executive director of the public housing
advocacy group Good Old Lower East Side.
this measure, the Occupy Homes network and aligned housing movements still have
light-years to go — a reality that many organizers acknowledge. Yet the
conditions have changed since 1930s, suggesting that what we need are not
massive federal construction and lending programs, but rather a shift in the
way housing rights are perceived and enacted in the U.S. Rather than coping
with the scarcity of the 1930s, the United States now confronts vast,
unprecedented wealth and gaping economic inequality — a condition that is
perhaps best illustrated by the fact that there are upwards of a dozen empty
and unused houses for every homeless person in the nation.
more than enough wealth and roofs to provide safe and dignified homes for the
country’s population, the challenge today is to demonstrate that this situation
of desperate need coexisting with wasted excess is not one we need to accept.
Doing so requires the protests of people like Reneka Wheeler, Michelene Meusa,
John Vinje, Alma Ponce and Carrie Martinez who are willing to defy the law — on
camera and unafraid. And it will take these actions happening again and again.
As John Vinje in Minneapolis explained, “If the police come and decide that
they’re going to kick us out, we’ll make our stand up to the point where if we
have no option but to retreat, we’ll just go and find another one. And take it
over. And hopefully we’ll wear them down to the point that they’ll quit trying
to come and kick us out.”
resilience is just what the Occupy Homes network showed on December 23, with
the city’s second home takeover led by Carrie Martinez. And, while questions of
strategy and ability to scale remain, Martinez
reminds us that the purpose is always to enact the human right to housing — one
family at a time.
happens, we’re just grateful not to be living out of our car and to have
somewhere warm to spend our holidays,” Martinez
Mark R. Brown/mrbrownphoto.com.
Wednesday, December 26, 2012 4:10 PM
As in 2004
and 2008, Rebecca Solnit and her blue-state henchwomen and men will probably
invade northern Nevada
on election week to swing with one of the most swinging states in the union.
She is, however, much more excited about 350.org’s
ten thousand faces of Occupy
now changing the world.
Rebecca Solnit is the author of 15 books, including two due out next year, and a regular contributor to
She lives in San Francisco, is from kindergarten to graduate school a
product of the once-robust California public educational system, and her
A Paradise Built in Hell
is the One City/One Book choice of the San Francisco Public Library this fall. She was named an Utne Visionary in 2010
As this wild year comes to an end, we return to the
season of gifts. Here’s the gift you’re not going to get soon: any conventional
version of Paradise. You know, the place where
nothing much happens and nothing is demanded of you. The gifts you’ve already
been given in 2012 include a struggle over the fate of the Earth. This is probably not exactly what you
asked for, and I wish it were otherwise -- but to do good work, to be
necessary, to have something to give: these are the true gifts. And at least
there’s still a struggle ahead of us, not just doom and despair.
Think of 2013 as the Year Zero in the
battle over climate change, one in which we are going to have to win big, or
lose bigger. This is a terrible thing to say, but not as terrible as the
reality that you can see in footage of glaciers vanishing, images of the entire surface of the Greenland Ice Shield melting this summer, maps of Europe’s future in which just being in southern
Europe when the heat hits will be catastrophic, let alone in more equatorial
For millions of years, this world has been a great gift
to nearly everything living on it, a planet whose atmosphere, temperature, air,
water, seasons, and weather were precisely calibrated to allow us -- the big
us, including forests and oceans, species large and small -- to flourish. (Or
rather, it was we who were calibrated to its generous, even bounteous, terms.)
And that gift is now being destroyed for the benefit
of a few members of a single species.
The Earth we evolved to inhabit is turning into something
more turbulent and unreliable at a pace too fast for most living things to
adapt to. This means we are losing crucial aspects of our most irreplaceable,
sublime gift, and some of us are suffering the loss now -- from sea snails
whose shells are dissolving in acidified oceans to Hurricane Sandy survivors
facing black mold and bad bureaucracy to horses starving nationwide because a devastating drought has
pushed the cost of hay so high to Bolivian farmers failing because the glaciers that watered their valleys
have largely melted.
This is not just an issue for environmentalists who love
rare species and remote places: if you care about children, health, poverty,
the economy, you really have no choice but to care about
The reasons for acting may be somber, but the fight is a
gift and an honor. What it will give you in return is meaning, purpose, hope,
your best self, some really good company, and the satisfaction of being part of
victories also to come. But what victory means needs to be imagined on a whole
new scale as the news worsens.
Unwrapping the Victories
“Unhappy is the land that needs a hero,” Galileo famously
says in Bertold Brecht’s play about that renegade scientist, but at least, the
hero has the possibility of doing something about that unhappiness, as, for
instance, the Sierra Club has. It’s led the fight against big coal,
helping prevent 168 coal-powered plants from opening and retiring 125 dirty
coal plants. The aim of its Beyond Coal campaign is to retire all 522 such
plants in the United States,
which would be a colossal triumph.
Its victories also capture what a lot of our greenest
gifts look like: nothing. The regions that weren’t fracked, the coal plants that didn’t open, the mountaintops that weren’t
blasted by mining corporations, the children who didn’t get asthma
or mercury poisoning from coal emissions, the carbon that stayed
in the Earth and never made it into the atmosphere. The Keystone XL tar sands
pipeline bringing the dirtiest of dirty energy from Canada to the Gulf Coast might have
already opened without the activists who ringed the White House and committed themselves across the continent.
In eastern Texas,
for instance, extraordinary acts of civil disobedience have been going on
continuously since August, including three blockaders who this month crawled inside
a length of the three-foot-in-diameter pipeline and refused to leave. People
have been using their bodies, getting in the way of heavy equipment, and going
to jail in an effort to prevent the pipeline from being built. A lot of them
are the same kind of robust young people who kept the Occupy encampments going
earlier in 2012, but great-grandmothers, old men, and middle-aged
people like me have been crucial players, too.
Meanwhile in British
Columbia, where pipeline profiteers were looking into
alternate routes to transport their climate-destroying products abroad, members of the Wet’suwet’en nation evicted surveyors and politely declared war on them. In Ohio and New
York, the fight against fracking is going strong.
Across the Atlantic, France
has banned fracking, while Germany has made astounding progress toward using carbon-neutral energy
sources. If solar works there, we have no excuse. And as Ellen Cantarow wrote at TomDispatch of the anti-fracking movement in New
York State, “Caroline, a small hamlet in Tompkins County (population 3,282), is
the second town in the state to get 100% of its electricity through wind power
and one of the most recent to pass a fracking ban.”
Everywhere people are at work to build a better world in
which we -- and some of the beauty of this world -- will be guaranteed to
survive. Everywhere they are at war with the forces threatening us and the
planet. I usually avoid war metaphors, but this time it’s barely a metaphor.
Our side isn’t violent, but it is engaged in a battle, and people are putting
their bodies on the line and their lives behind the cause. The other side is
intent on maximizing its profit at the cost of nearly everything.
My father, a high-school student during the Second World
War, followed the campaigns closely with pins on a wall map to represent troops
and battles. You could map North America that way now and see, when you added
up the struggles against drilling in the Arctic, fracking, mountaintop removal, and
the various other depredations of big coal and big oil, that remarkable things
are already being done. In this war, resistance has been going on for a long
time, so overlooked by the mainstream media it might as well be as underground
as the French Resistance back then.
A lot of it is on a small scale, but if you connect the
pieces you get a big picture of the possible, the hopeful, and the powerful.
Think of each of those small acts of defending the Earth as a gift to you. And
think of your own power, a gift always latent within you that demands you give
If you’re reading this, you’re already in the
conversation. No matter who you are, or where, there is something for you to
do: educate yourself and others, write letters, organize or join local groups,
participate in blockades and demonstrations, work on divestment from oil
corporations (if you’re connected to a university), and make this issue central
to the conversations and politics of our time.
I’ve started working directly on various projects with 350.org, whose global impact and
reinvention of activist tactics I’ve long admired. Its creator Bill McKibben has evolved from a merely great writer to a
pivotal climate organizer and a gift to all of us.
The world you live in is not a given; much of what is
best in it has been built through the struggles of passionate activists over
the last centuries. They won us many freedoms and protected many beauties.
Count those gifts among your growing heap.
Drawing the Line
Here’s another gift you’ve already received: the lines in
the battle to come are being ever more clearly drawn. Clarity is a huge asset.
It helps when you know where you stand, who stands with you -- and who against
We have returned to class war in conflicts around the
world -- including the Chicago Teacher’s Strike of 2012 and the Walmart protests in this country (which led to 1,197
actions nationwide in support of that company’s underpaid workers on Black Friday), as well as the great student uprisings in Quebec and Mexico City.
There has, of course, been a war against working people
and the poor for decades, only we didn’t call it “class war” when just the rich
were fighting hard. We called it corporate globalization, the race to the
bottom, tax cuts and social-service cuts, privatization, neoliberalism, and a
hundred other things. Now that the poor are fighting back, we can call it by
its old name. Perhaps what the conservatives have forgotten is that if you
return us to the grim divides and dire poverty of the nineteenth century, you
might also be returning us to the revolutionary spirit of that century.
This time, though, it’s not only about work and money.
The twenty-first century class war is engulfing the natural world on which
everything rests. We can see how clearly the great environmental battle of our
time is about money, about who benefits from climate destruction (the very few)
and who loses (everyone else for all time to come and nearly every living
thing). This year, Hurricane Sandy and a crop-destroying, Mississippi-River-withering drought that had more than 60% of the nation in its grip made it clear that
climate change is here and it’s now and it hurts.
In 2012, many have come to see that climate change is an
economic issue, and that economics is a moral and ecological issue. Why so
little has been done about the state of the climate in the past three decades
has everything to do with who profits. Not long ago, too many Americans were on
the fence, swayed by the oil companypropaganda war about whether climate change even exists.
However, this month, according to the Associated Press, “Four out of every five
Americans said climate change will be a serious problem for the United States
if nothing is done about it.” That widespread belief suggests that potentially
broad support now exists and may be growing for a movement that makes climate
change -- the broiling of the Earth -- central, urgent, and everybody’s
Ten years ago too, many people thought the issue could be
addressed, if at all, through renunciatory personal virtue in private life:
buying Priuses, compact fluorescents, and the like. Now most people who care at
all know that the necessary changes won’t happen through consumer choice alone.
What’s required are pitched battles against the most powerful (and profitable)
entities on Earth, the oil and energy companies and the politicians who serve
them instead of us.
That clarity matters and those conflicts are already
underway but need to grow. That’s our world right now, clear as a cold winter
day, sharp as broken glass.
Putting Aside Paradise
When I remember the world I grew up in, I see the parts
of it that were Paradise -- and I also see all
the little hells. I was a kid in California
when it had the best public education system in the world and universities
were nearly free and the economy was not so hard on people and the rich paid a
lot of taxes. The weather was predictable and we weren’t thinking about it
changing any time before the next ice age.
That was, however, the same California where domestic
violence was not something the law took an interest in, where gays and lesbians
were openly discriminated against, where almost all elected officials were
white men, where people hadn’t even learned to ask questions about exclusion
Which is to say, paradises are always partial and, when
you look backward, it’s worth trying to see the whole picture. The rights
gained over the past 35 years were fought for, hard, while so much of what was
neglected -- including public education, tuition, wages, banking regulation,
corporate power, and working hours -- slid into hell.
When you fight, you sometimes win; when you don’t, you
Here’s another gift we have right now: the young. There
are quite a lot of heroes among them, including the Dreamers or Dream Act
activists standing up for immigrants; the occupiers who challenged Wall Street in its home and
elsewhere around the country, became the unofficial first responders who aided the
victims of Hurricane Sandy, and have camped out on the doorstep
of Goldman Sachs’s CEO these last few months; the young who blockaded that
tar-sands pipeline, supplied the tremendous vitality of 350.org globally, and
have just begun to organize to pressure universities to divest from fossil fuel companies on 192 campuses across
In 2012, they rose up from Egypt
and Russia to Canada and Chile. They are fighting for
themselves and their future, but for us, too. They have remarkably few
delusions about how little our world is prepared to offer most of them. They
know that the only gifts they’ll get are the ones they can wrestle free from
the powers that be.
overrated. We dream of the cessation of misery, but who really wants a world
without difficulty? We learn through mistakes and suffering. These are the
minerals that harden our bones and the milestones on the roads we travel. And
we are made to travel, not to sit still.
Take pleasure in the route. There is terrible suffering
of many kinds in many places, but solidarity consists of doing something about
it, not being miserable. In this heroic age, survival is also going to require
seeing what fragments of paradise are still around us, what still blooms,
what’s still unimaginably beautiful about rivers, oceans, and evening skies,
what exhilaration there is in witnessing the stubbornness of small children and
their discovery of a world we think we know. All these are gifts as well.
Ice Breaking Up
As you gear up for 2013, don’t forget that 2012 has been
an extraordinary year. Who ever thought we’d see Aung San Suu Kyi elected to
office in her native Burma
and free to travel after so many years of house arrest? Who expected that the
United Nations would suddenly vote to give Palestine observer state status? Who foresaw
that the silly misinterpretations of Mayan prophesy would be overtaken by the
Mayan Zapatistas, who rose once again last Friday? (Meanwhile, Canada's Native people started a dynamic movement
around indigenous rights and the environment that has led to everything from flash-mob dances in an Edmonton Mall to demonstrations in Ottawa.)
Who thought that Occupy Wall Street, roundly dismissed by
the mainstream on its one-year anniversary, would spawn two superhero projects,
Occupy Sandy and Strike Debt? (Who among the police officers clubbing and
tear-gassing the young Occupiers in 2011 thought that a year later these would
be the people with the power and the generosity to come to their aid when a
climate-fed storm wrecked their homes?) Keep it in mind: the future is not
predictable. Sometimes, the world changes suddenly and in profound ways.
Sometimes we make it do so.
Steven Spielberg’s new film Lincoln is a reminder about what it
means to fight for what matters most. Permanently freeing five million slaves
and abolishing slavery forever meant renouncing a cheap power source in use for
more than 200 years. Doing so was initially inconceivable and then a matter of
indifference except to the slaves themselves and small groups of abolitionists.
Next, it was daringly radical, then partisan, with the whole nation taking
sides, the fuel for a terrible war. Finally, it was the law of the land. Today,
we need to give up on, or at least radically reduce our reliance on, another
set of power sources: oil, coal, and natural gas.
This is, among other things, a war of the imagination:
the carbon profiteers and their politicians are hoping you don’t connect the
dots, or imagine the various futures we could make or they could destroy, or
grasp the remarkably beautiful and complex ways the natural world has worked to
our benefit and is now being sabotaged, or discover your conscience and voice,
or ever picture how different it could all be, how different it will need to
They are already at war against the wellbeing of our
Earth. Their greed has no limits, their imagination nothing but limits. Fight
back. You have the power. It’s one of your gifts.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on
Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy
Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.
Copyright 2012 Rebecca Solnit
Image by Nattu,
licensed under Creative
Thursday, December 20, 2012 10:51 AM
This post originally appeared at WagingNonviolence.org.
year ago around this time, Occupy Wall Street was celebrating Advent — the
season when Christians anticipate the birth of Jesus at Christmas. In front of
Trinity Church, right at the top of Wall Street along Broadway, Occupiers set
up a little model tent with the statuettes of a nativity scene inside: Mary,
Joseph and the Christ child in a manger, surrounded by animals. In the back, an
angel held a tiny cardboard sign with a verse from Luke’s Gospel: “There was no
room for them in the inn.” The reason for these activists’ interest in the
liturgical calendar, of course, was the movement’s ongoing effort to convince
Trinity to start acting less like a real estate corporation and more like a
church, and to let the movement use a vacant property that Trinity owns.
year later, even as a resilient few continue their 24-hour vigil on the
sidewalk outside Trinity, churches and Occupiers are having a very different
kind of Advent season together. Finding room in churches is no longer a problem
for the movement.
The day after Hurricane Sandy struck New York in late
October, Occupiers hustled to organize a massive popular relief effort, and
Occupy Sandy came into being. By circumstance and necessity, it has mostly
taken place in churches; they are the large public spaces available in affected
areas, and they were the people willing to open their doors. Two churches on
high ground in Brooklyn became organizing hubs, and others in the Rockaways,
Coney Island, Staten Island and Red Hook
became depots for getting supplies and support to devastated neighborhoods. To
make this possible, Occupiers have had to win the locals’ trust — by helping
clean up the damaged churches and by showing their determination to help those
whom the state-sponsored relief effort was leaving behind. When the time for
worship services came around, they’d cleared the supplies off the pews.
Sandy has been miraculous for us, really,” said Bob
Dennis, parish manager at St. Margaret Mary, a Catholic church in Staten Island. “They are doing exactly what Christ
preached.” Before this, the police and firemen living in his neighborhood
hadn’t had much good to say about Occupy Wall Street, but that has changed
leaders are organizing tours to show off the Occupy Sandy relief efforts of
which they’ve been a part, and they’re speaking out against the failures of
city, state and federal government. Congregations are getting to know Occupiers
one on one by working together in a relief effort that every day — as the
profiteering developers draw nearer — is growing into an act of resistance.
that’s only one part of it. Months before Sandy, organizers with the Occupy
Wall Street group Strike Debt made a concerted effort to reach out to religious
allies for help on a new project they were calling the Rolling Jubilee; by
buying up defaulted loans for pennies on the dollar, and then abolishing them,
organizers hoped to spread the spirit of jubilee — an ancient biblical practice
of debt forgiveness.
religious groups jumped at the chance to help. Occupy Faith organized an event
in New York
to celebrate the Rolling Jubilee’s launch. Occupy Catholics (of which I am a
part) took the opportunity to reclaim the Catholic concepts of jubilee and
usury for the present economic crisis and released a statement in support of
the Rolling Jubilee that has been signed by Catholics across the country.
Rolling Jubilee idea has been hugely successful, raising more money more
quickly than anyone anticipated — around $10 million in debt is poised to be
abolished. But now Strike Debt, too, has turned its attention to working with
those affected by the hurricane. On Dec. 2, the group published “Shouldering
the Costs,” a report on the proliferation of debt in the aftermath of Sandy. The document was
released with an event at — where else? — a church in Staten
newfound access to religious real estate is not merely a convenience for this
movement; it has implications that a lot of people probably aren’t even
thinking about yet. Occupy Wall Street has learned from the Egyptian Revolution
before, and now, even if by accident, it is doing so again.
Tahrir Square was still full of tents and tanks, and Hosni Mubarak was still in
power, the editors of Adbusters magazine were already imagining a “Million Man
March on Wall Street,” the idea that led to what would become their July 13,
2011, call to #occupywallstreet. More than a year after the occupation at Zuccotti Park began, though, and nearly two years
after crowds first filled Tahrir, neither revolt very much resembles its
origins. The Egyptian Revolution, first provoked by tech-savvy young activists,
has now been hijacked as a coup for the Muslim Brotherhood, a conservative
religious party; its only viable challenger is none other than Mubarak’s ancien
regime, minus only Mubarak himself. Occupy, meanwhile, has lost its encampments
and, despite whatever evidence there is to the contrary, most of its enemies in
power deem it no longer a threat.
many U.S. activists even today, the dream of creating a Tahrir-sized rupture in
this country persists — of finally drawing enough people into the streets and
causing enough trouble to make Wall Street cower. But what if something on the
scale of Tahrir really were to happen in the United States? What would be the
was thinking of this question recently while on an unrelated reporting mission
at a massive evangelical Christian megachurch near the Rocky
Mountains. Several thousand (mostly white, upper-middle-class)
people were there that day, of all ages. They had come back after Sunday
morning services for an afternoon series of talks on philosophy — far more
people than attend your average Occupy action.
time I step foot in one of these places, it strikes me how they put radicals in
the United States
to shame. These churches organize real, life-giving mutual aid as the basis of
an independent political discourse and power base. Church membership is far
larger, for instance, than that of unions in this country.
there were a sudden, Tahrir-like popular uprising right now, with riots in all
the cities and so forth, I can’t help but think that it would be organizations
like the church I went to that would come out taking power in the end, even
more so than they already do — just as the Islamists have in Egypt.
the idea of occupying symbolic public space was the Egyptians’ first lesson for
Occupy Wall Street, this is the second: Win religion over before it beats you
religion, again and again, people in the United States have organized for
power. Religion is also the means by which many imagine and work for a world
more just than this one. Just about every successful popular movement in U.S. history
has had to recognize this, from the American Revolution to labor, and from
civil rights to today’s campaigners for marriage equality — and now Occupy.
I stop by the Occupy Sandy hub near my house — the Episcopal church of St. Luke
and St. Matthew — and join the mayhem of volunteers carrying boxes this way and
that, and poke my head into the upper room full of laptops and organizers
around a long table, and see Occupiers in line for communion at Sunday
services, I keep thinking of how Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12-step program ends.
The 12th step is where you cap off all the self-involved inner work you’ve been
doing, and get over yourself for a bit, and heal yourself by helping someone
who has been around Occupy Wall
Street during the year since its eviction from Zuccotti Park knows it has been in need of
healing. Whether through flood-soaked churches, or on the debt market, this is
how the Occupy movement has always been at its best, and its most exciting, and
its most necessary: When it shows people how to build their own power, and to
strengthen their own communities, this movement finds itself.
Image by Poster Boy NYC,
licensed under Creative
Friday, September 21, 2012 3:48 PM
Last Saturday, Hispanic
Heritage Month officially began. For 25 years, the Library of Congress, the
Smithsonian, and a host of other museums and groups have celebrated Hispanic and
Latino contributions to American history and culture. But this year’s
celebrations are especially bittersweet, says Jose Miguel Leyva in the Progressive, when we consider the realities
immigrants continue to face. After years of soaring rhetoric and patient
activism, Latinos are “still being
taken for granted by politicians of both parties.” The Obama administration
in particular, despite inclusive language and a recent much-touted executive
order, has pursued some of the most draconian immigration policies in decades,
Leyva says. Most young immigrants lacking papers will be ineligible for
“deferred action,” as well as Obamacare. “Latinos deserve substantive actions,”
says Leyva, “not the hollow promises of politicians trying to curry favor with
us at election time.”
Want to protect voting
an app for that, says Maegan E. Ortiz in Colorlines. Pennsylvania’s
voter ID law might
well be toast, but laws in other states could still disenfranchise millions
of voters. That’s why minority communities across the country are using
social media to register, inform, and support as many voters as possible
between now and November, says Ortiz. Campaigns like Native Vote use Facebook
and webinars to boost Native Americans’ typically low turnout, while Nuestra
Elección! aims to target eligible Spanish-speakers and
curb voter suppression.
Despite the unprecedented
drop in immigration from Mexico
since 2000, deportations have reached an all-time high. A new report from the
Department Homeland Security shows that last year, the government deported nearly
400,000 undocumented immigrants, says Common
Dreams. According to ICE records, that number has been growing
quickly in recent years, up from 291,000 in 2007.
Video: author Junot
Diaz on immigrant rights and why Americans are still in a state of denial
about the contributions of undocumented immigrants. “We should be able to
recognize as a community the people who do the heavy lifting, and stop
afflicting them,” Diaz says. “Our contributions have to be honored.”
On May Day 2006, millions
of undocumented protesters breathed new life into an old, largely forgotten
holiday. That day, the Day Without
Immigrants, the streets of dozens of U.S. cities erupted with marches
and actions as immigrants called for humane laws and treatment and raised
awareness of their importance to American society. The 2006 actions, which
marked a turning point in the immigrant rights movement, also signaled a new
chapter in labor history. Since then, May Day has begun to approach its
historical significance among American workers, from the 2008 West
Coast port shutdown to this year’s mass
demonstrations in support of Occupy and workers’ rights. Not to mention the
one million immigrant rights activists who took to the streets on May Day
Immigrants and workers are
natural allies, say Ana Avendaño and Charlie Fanning in Dissent, and they’re now coming together in a big way.
While some of the most high profile immigration activism in recent years has
centered on the DREAM Act, many activists are now embracing a broader set of
goals, and using organized labor to make them a reality. From the CLEAN Carwash
Campaign in Los Angeles
Papers No Fear, immigration activists are increasingly seeing workplaces as
battlegrounds and unions as natural partners. What’s more, these alliances have
expanded their scope to questions of community organizing and social justice, and
in some ways resemble a burgeoning social movement, say Avendaño and Fanning. “This kind of grassroots mobilization holds much promise for those who dream
of a more democratic future,” they say.
Bertron, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, September 14, 2012 4:25 PM
This post originally appeared on Shareable.net.
Last year, on September 17, a
group of about 1000 people gathered in Bowling
Green to attempt to Occupy
Wall Street, whatever that meant. For those of us who’d been participating
in the planning assemblies all August, well, it went a little better than any
of us imagined it would. 2012 has seen less world-changing protest than 2011,
with Arab Spring, Walkerville in Wisconsin, the Indignados
movement in Spain, the uprisings in Greece and Israel, the London riots, the
Wukan commune and of course, Occupy. Still, 2012 has seen Occupy Nigeria, huge student movements in Chile and Quebec,
Mayday, corruption protests in India,
organizing around Trayvon Martin, and, with the escalating teachers’ strike in Chicago and a potential
East and West coast port shutdown, a still developing but potentially powerful
chain of strikes. The world is changed, changed utterly, and there is no doubt
in my mind that the next decade will see increasingly wild and escalating
peoples’ movements throughout the globe.
But as Occupy Wall Street ‘turns one year old’,
the vision for the movement is shakier. This weekend, leading up to a mass
day of action for September 17, Occupy organizers have planned a series of
events: an open ended educational
rally at Washington Square Park and an anti-capitalist
march uptown on September 15th, a march and party at Foley Square and Zuccotti on the 16th,
and an “anarchists against capitalism” march and rally on the big day,
Monday, 9/17, at Zuccotti park, including an attempted shut down of Wall
Street. Not to be flanked or caught off-guard again, the NYPD have already installed
cement barriers around Zuccotti, making it look more like a security checkpoint
in the Middle East than a public park in downtown Manhattan.
As we move towards OWS’ first
big day since the lukewarm success of Mayday, it seems like there’s a lot at
stake, and it's hard to imagine how we can turn it into something lasting. For
one thing, it’s clear that the militarized, misanthropic police forces of
America (perhaps even the world) will never let people establish another
occupation in a public park—from the spring’s attempted re-occupations of a
series of parks in Manhattan to the Gill Tract farm occupation in Berkeley,
police and owners have shown an absolute unwillingness to allow another
occupation to take hold. Even building occupations, like the 888 Turk
occupation in San Francisco,
have been responded to with immediate crackdown.
And while this behavior of the
police’s is vile and authoritarian, they’re strategically right not to allow an
inch. OWS produced a rupture in the ‘post-political’ ‘after-history’ narrative
that Neoliberalism loves to tell itself, and proved that resistance to
austerity and marketization is a real force, both here and abroad. And Occupy
opened up new communities of resistance and new territories for struggle across
the country while radicalizing thousands. The media narrative that “OWS changed
the dialogue” is a purposefully miniscule claim. The real effects of Occupy are
harder to nail down but much more meaningful.
Still, what of September 17th?
It’s hard to say. In some ways, the feeling is similar to that we were
experiencing this time last year: how many people will show up? Will we be
immediately shut down by the NYPD? What will it end up meaning? But there’s a
lack now too: an original energy, an excitement that marked last summer is
missing. We want a new rupture to explode, but no one agrees on how to make it
Until the 17th, it seems, there
will be more questions than answers. What does it mean to ‘celebrate’ a year
since Occupy’s appearance? Is Occupy still a meaningful force in people’s
lives? In America?
Can September 17th lead to a new phase of struggle in New York, or will it be the end to a
movement that was always hard to capture under a single rubric anyway? Even the
impulse towards prognostication seems to portend an unhappy result.
But this pessimism of the
intellect also hides something fundamental about Occupy. While we may never
have a camp in downtown Manhattan
again (or, at least, not until we’re much more powerful) the downstream effects
and inspiration of Occupy are everywhere. The militancy of the Chicago
Teacher’s Strike, the biggest such strike in generations, reflects a new
capacity for grassroots struggle inspired by Walkerville in Wisconsin and by Occupy. (Of course, it also
reflects a tremendous amount of hard work and organization within the union by
its new leading coalition, which should not be overlooked). Occupy has helped
open up a space for radical action in America, and that space still has
not closed. Whatever the future holds for Occupy Wall Street, whatever the
results of September 17 (and, if you’re in New York, I hope to see you there!) we live
in a new phase of grassroots action and social struggle.
A few more
Occupy articles to read: Solidarity During Wartime in the Streets of Chicago, Occupy Main Street: Reports from the Front-Lines, From Foreclosure to Occupation, The Park and the Protests
Image by DoctorTongs, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, August 17, 2012 4:42 PM
Our weekly guide to what you may have missed.
“A science fiction fantasy from
the sixties with a view to the sea.” We tend to forget about the Olympics once
they’re over, but the games often leave behind quite a lot. In a series of
vignettes in Granta, writers living
in Beijing, Athens, and elsewhere recall the changes the
Olympics brought to their
communities, and what remains of the spectacle. “I happen to live in the
Olympic neighborhood, built twenty years ago for the games,” says Santiago
Roncagliolo, from Barcelona.
“This is the point where past meets present, and you wonder which is the real
one. I still have no answer.”
And check out this Sociological
Images post on “the
life of Olympic infrastructure once all the spectators pack up and go home,”
from John Pack and Gary Hustwit’s Olympic City Project.
One thing that’s clear about post-Olympic London, however: “the gloves come
off,” says Dave Zirin in Edge of
Sports (thanks, ZNet). International
spectacle could hardly distract many Londoners from a crumbling economy, harsh
austerity, and a blossoming national security state, and London politics are
about to get messy. What will the city remember 20 years from now?
Video: The Center for Investigative
Journalism takes on industrial ag in The
Hidden Cost of Hamburgers, a new animated short (reposted by Civil Eats). Bottom line: beef
is a big rip-off. For every ounce of beef that’s made, a pound of
greenhouse gases are also produced. And that says nothing for other
externalized costs, like health risks, water pollution, and mistreatment of
workers, to name a few. Oh, and we’re addicted to it.
From Colossal: Recreating Van
Gogh masterpieces with colored newsprint and pieces of wood.
Climate change has been the forefront of a lot of people’s minds this
summer, along with a lot of very difficult questions about our role in
confronting crisis and adapting to change. But for Sarah Gilman, one of the
biggest questions is how to deal with a loss of this magnitude. Writing in High Country News, she wonders how we
“grasp the obliteration of so much we have
known and loved,” as we move very quickly from world to another entirely
different one. Reflecting on creative responses like Maya Lin’s “What
is missing” project, Gilman’s own answer points toward the future. “Looking forward, grieving for
what has been,” she says, “we must remember that loss is not new to the world,
and that loss is also possibility.”
President Obama may have put the kibosh on Keystone XL, but that didn’t
stop TransCanada from trying to make it happen in smaller pieces, especially in
the southern plains. But activists in Texas
have no intention of letting that happen, says Forrest Wilder in The Texas Observer. Construction on the
pipeline could begin very soon, which is why Tar
Sands Blockade got into gear on Thursday with “a sustained campaign of
civil disobedience” to block the project in East Texas.
Dozens of people have signed on, marking a new chapter in what Wilder calls “one of the biggest environmental fights of
The blockade in Texas makes a powerful
statement, says Bill McKibben in Think
Progress (via Grist), and
invokes the civil disobedience last year that eventually spurred action from Washington. What’s more,
the actions come at an appropriate time, as similar protests have erupted in
places like West Virginia, Montana,
and the Pacific Northwest over coal exports
and mining. The fight over Keystone XL united a lot of disparate groups of
people last year, says McKibben, and that can happen again.
Image by Kiko Alario Salom,
licensed under Creative
Friday, May 18, 2012 9:18 AM
“Most lucky reporters get
to see one major movement in their lifetime,” Chris Faraone wrote in early
October 2011. “Occupy is shaping up to be the most intense beast I’ve ever
witnessed.” At that time, Faraone was in southern Florida, seeing the earliest days of Occupy
Miami, and coming to terms with his initial skepticism. “I’m becoming convinced
that of all the mass movements I’ve covered,” he says, “this one will grow the
quickest, and become the biggest.”
In his new account of the Occupy movement, 99 Nights With the 99 Percent, it’s fair to say that
Faraone approaches his subject from a unique angle. Like many veteran
activists, he has deep roots in the precursors to Occupy. 99 Nights’ first two chapters cover this world of high morale and
low turnout, from spirited actions in front of Bank of America branches to
anti-foreclosure neighborhood barbecues. If this portion of the book is gritty
and loose, it is also infused with the same tough spirit that Faraone encounters
throughout the next three months. It is this spirit that allows him to overcome
his early reservations about Occupy’s procedural tedium and its tendency to
overshadow other ongoing struggles.
Faraone’s book, like the
movement itself, is diverse and challenging. The structure is strictly
chronological, but swings wildly between a number of different occupations,
personalities, and events. During the first three months of Occupy, Faraone
crisscrossed the country at a dizzying pace, and his writing manages to capture
at least some of that madness. In between working groups and flash-bang grenades,
the book overflows with interviews, photos, and blistering first-hand
At the same time, there is
little that Faraone romanticizes about the movement. Though it’s clear he is
energized by what he sees, the book maintains a critical tone that gives his
narrative a good deal of authority. Faraone pulls no punches in describing
camps’ lack of diversity, internal violence, and complicated relationships with
police and other movements. Faraone’s furious attention to detail presents an
absorbing, immediate account infused with red-eyed sincerity.
It’s that sincerity in
fact that makes 99 Nights a less than
complete history. But if we don’t get a full picture of a disparate and complex
movement, we do get a vivid sense of the passion and energy that pervaded
Read an excerpt of 99 Nights With the 99 Percent, right here.
Image by Katie Moore. Used with permission.
Monday, March 26, 2012 9:25 AM
This post originally appeared on Tom Dispatch.
Pepper spray. SWAT teams. Twitter trackers. Biometrics. Student security
consultants. Professors of homeland security studies. Welcome to Repress U,
class of 2012.
Since 9/11, the
homeland security state has come to campus just as it has come to America’s towns
and cities, its places of work and its houses of worship, its public space and
its cyberspace. But the age of (in)security had announced its arrival on campus
with considerably less fanfare than elsewhere -- until, that is, the “less lethal” weapons were unleashed in the fall of 2011.
Today, from the
City University of New York to the University of California, students increasingly find
themselves on the frontlines, not of a war on terror, but of a war on
“radicalism” and “extremism.” Just about everyone from college administrators
and educators to law enforcement personnel and corporate executives seems to
have enlisted in this war effort. Increasingly, American students are in their
In 2008, I laid out seven steps the Bush administration had taken to create a
homeland security campus. Four years and a president later, Repress U has come
a long way. In the Obama years, it has taken seven more steps to make the
university safe for plutocracy. Here is a step-by-step guide to how they did
Had there been
Davis, no Lt. John Pike, no chemical weapons wielded against
peacefully protesting students, and no cameras to broadcast it all, Americans
might never have known just how far the homeland security campus has come in
its mission to police its students. In the old days, you might have called in
the National Guard.
Nowadays, all you need is an FBI-trained, federally funded, and “less lethally”
armed campus police department.
pepper-spraying of students at UC Davis was only the most public manifestation
of a long-running campus trend in which, for officers of the peace, the
pacification of student protest has become part of the job description. The
weapons of choice have sometimes been blunt instruments, such as the extendable
batons used to bludgeon the student body at Berkeley,
Baruch, and the University of
Puerto Rico. At other times, tactical officers have turned to “less-lethal”
munitions, like the CS gas, beanbag rounds, and pepper pellets fired into crowds
at Occupy protests across the University of California system this past
everything we see of the homeland security campus, there is a good deal more that
we miss. Behind the riot suits, the baton strikes, and the pepper-spray cannons
stands a sprawling infrastructure made possible by multimillion-dollar federal
grants, “memoranda of understanding” and “mutual aid” agreements among law enforcement agencies, counter-terrorism
training, an FBI-sponsored “Academic Alliance,” and 103 Joint Terrorism
Task Forces (which provide “one-stop shopping” for counterterrorism operations
to more than 50 federal and 600 state and local agencies).
“We have to go
where terrorism takes us, so we often have to go onto campuses,” FBI Special
Agent Jennifer Gant told Campus Safety Magazine in an interview last
year. To that end, campus administrators and campus police chiefs are now known
to coordinate their operations with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “special advisors,” FBI “campus liaison agents,” an FBI-led National Security
Advisory Board, and a Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, which instructs
local law enforcement in everything from “physical techniques” to “behavioral
science.” More than half of campus police forces already have “intelligence-sharing
agreements” with these and other government agencies in place.
a SWAT team
campus police forces have decisively escalated their tactics, expanded their
arsenals, and trained ever more of their officers in SWAT-style paramilitary
policing. Many agencies acquire their arms directly from the Department of
Defense through a surplus weapons sales program known as “1033,” which offers, among other things, “used grenade launchers (for the deployment of less lethal
weapons)... for a significantly reduced cost.”
the most recent federal data available, nine out of 10 campus agencies with
sworn police officers now deploy armed patrols authorized to use deadly force. Nine
in 10 also authorize the use of chemical munitions, while one in five make
regular use of Tasers. Last August, an 18-year old student athlete died after
being tased at the University
campus police squads have been educated in the art of war through regular
special weapons training sessions by “tactical officers’ associations” which
run a kind of SWAT university. In October, UC Berkeley played host to an “Urban
Shield” SWAT training exercise involving local and campus agencies, the
California National Guard, and special police forces from Israel, Jordan,
And since 2010, West Texas A&M has played host to paramilitary training programs for police from Mexico.
In October, the
University of North
Carolina at Charlotte
got its very own SWAT team, equipped with MP-15 rifles, M&P
40 sidearms, and Remington shotguns. “We have integrated SWAT officers into the
squads that serve our campus day and night,” boasted UNC Charlotte Chief of
Police Jeff Baker. The following month, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina,
a SWAT team staged an armed raid on an occupied building, pointing
assault rifles at the heads of activists, among them UNC students.
The long arm of
Repress U stretches far beyond the bounds of any one campus or college town. As
reported by the Associated Press this winter, the New York City Police
Department (NYPD) and its hitherto secret “Demographics Unit” sent undercover operatives to spy on
members of the Muslim Students Association at more than 20 universities in four states across the
Northeast beginning in 2006.
None of the organizations or persons of interest were ever accused of any
wrongdoing, but that didn’t stop NYPD detectives from tracking Muslim students
through a “Cyber Intelligence Unit,” issuing weekly “MSA Reports” on local chapters of the Muslim Students
Association, attending campus meetings and seminars, noting how many times
students prayed, or even serving as chaperones for what they described as “militant paintball trips.” The targeted institutions ran
the gamut from community colleges to Columbia
the AP’s investigation, the intelligence units in question worked
closely not only with agencies in other cities, but with an agent on the
payroll of the CIA. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, facing mounting calls to
resign, has issued a spirited defense of the campus surveillance program, as has
Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “If terrorists aren't limited by borders and
boundaries, we can't be either,” Kelly said in a speech at Fordham Law
The NYPD was
hardly the only agency conducting covert surveillance of Muslim students on
campus. The FBI has been engaging in such tactics for years. In 2007, UC Irvine
student Yasser Ahmed was assaulted by FBI agents, who followed him as he was on his
way to a campus “free speech zone.” In 2010, Yasir Afifi, a student at Mission College
in Santa Clara, California, found a secret GPS tracking device affixed to his car. A half-dozen agents
later knocked on his door to ask for it back.
the undocumented out
students are followed closely by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
through its Student and
Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). As of 2011, the agency was
keeping tabs on 1.2 million students and their dependents. Most recently, as
part of a transition to the paperless SEVIS II -- which aims to “unify
records” -- ICE has been linking student files to biometric and employer
data collected by DHS and other agencies.
information stays forever,” notes Louis Farrell, director of the ICE program.
“And every activity that’s ever been associated with that person will come up.
That’s something that has been asked for by the national security community...
[and] the academic community.”
Then there are
the more than 360,000 undocumented students and high-school graduates who would
qualify for permanent resident status and college admission, were the DREAM Act ever passed. It would grant conditional permanent
residency to undocumented students who were brought to the U.S. as
children. When such students started “coming out” as part of an “undocumented
and unafraid” campaign, many received DHS notices to appear for removal
proceedings. Take 24-year old Uriel Alberto, of Lees-McRae College, who recently went on
hunger strike in North Carolina’s Wake County jail; he now faces deportation
(and separation from his U.S.-born son) for taking part in a protest at the
Since 2010, the
homeland security campus has been enlisted by the state of Arizona to enforce
everything from bans on ethnic studies programs to laws like S.B. 1070, which makes it a crime to appear in public
without proof of legal residency and is considered a mandate for police to
detain anyone suspected of being undocumented. Many undocumented students have
turned down offers of admission to the University of Arizona since the passage of the law, while
others have stopped attending class for fear of being detained and deported.
an eye on student spaces and social media
and undocumented students are particular targets of surveillance, they are not
alone. Electronic surveillance has expanded beyond traditional closed-circuit
TV cameras to next-generation technologies like IQeye HD megapixel
cameras, so-called edge devices (cameras that can do their own analytics), and
Perceptrak’s video analytics software, which “analyzes video from
security cameras 24x7 for events of interest,” and which recently made its
debut at Johns Hopkins University and Mount Holyoke College.
At the same
time, students’ social media accounts have become a favorite destination for
everyone from campus police officers to analysts at the Department of Homeland
In 2010, the DHS National
established a Media Monitoring Capability (MMC). According to an internal
agency document, MMC is tasked with “leveraging news stories, media reports and
postings on social media sites… for operationally relevant data, information,
analysis, and imagery.” The definition of operationally relevant data includes
“media reports that reflect adversely on DHS and response activities,”
“partisan or agenda-driven sites,” and a final category ambiguously labeled
With the Occupy
movement coming to campus, even university police departments have gotten in on
the action. According to a how-to guide called “Essential Ingredients to Working with Campus Protests” by
UC Santa Barbara police chief Dustin Olson, the first step to take is to
“monitor social media sites continuously,” both for intelligence about the
“leadership and agenda” and “for any messages that speak to violent or criminal
Coopt the classroom and the laboratory
At a time when
entire departments and disciplines are facing the chopping block at America’s
universities, the Department of Homeland Security has proven to be the
best-funded department of all. Homeland security studies has become a
major growth sector in higher education and now has more than 340
certificate- and degree-granting programs. Many colleges have joined the Homeland Security and Defense
Education Consortium, a spinoff of the U.S. Northern Command (the
Department of Defense’s “homeland defense” division), which offers a model
curriculum to its members.
discipline has been directed and funded to the tune of $4 billion over the last five years by DHS. The goal,
according to Dr. Tara O’Toole, DHS Undersecretary of Science & Technology,
is to “leverag[e] the investment and expertise of academia… to meet the needs
of the department.” Additional funding is being made available from the
Pentagon through its blue-skies research arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects
Agency, and the “intelligence community” through its analogous Intelligence
Advanced Research Projects Activity.
At the core of
the homeland security-university partnership are DHS’s 12 centers
of excellence. (A number that has doubled since
I first reported on the initiative in 2008.) The DHS Office
of University Programs advertises the centers of excellence as an “extended
consortium of hundreds of universities” which work together “to develop
customer-driven research solutions” and “to provide essential training to the next
generation of homeland security experts.”
But what kind
of research is being carried out at these centers of excellence, with the
support of tens of millions of taxpayer dollars each year? Among the 41 “knowledge products” currently in use by DHS or being
evaluated in pilot studies, we find an “extremist crime database,” a
“Minorities at Risk for Organizational Behavior” dataset, analytics for aerial
surveillance systems along the border, and social media monitoring
technologies. Other research focuses include biometrics, “suspicious behavior
detection,” and “violent radicalization.”
Privatize, subsidize, and capitalize
Repress U has
not only proven a boon to hundreds of cash-starved universities, but also to
big corporations as higher education morphs into hired education.
While a majority of the $184 billion in homeland security funding in 2011 came
from government agencies like DHS and the Pentagon, private sector funding is
expected to make up an increasing share of the total in the coming years,
according to the Homeland Security Research Corporation, a consulting firm
serving the homeland security industry.
Each DHS Center
of Excellence has been founded on private-public partnerships, corporate
co-sponsorships, and the leadership of “industry advisory boards” which give big business a direct
stake and say in its operations. Corporate giants allied with DHS Centers of
Martin at the Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to
Terrorism (START), based at the University
of Maryland at College Park.
and AT&T at the Rutgers University-based Command, Control,
and Interoperability Center for Advanced Data Analysis (CICADA).
Con Edison at the Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE),
based at the University
of Southern California.
Boeing, and Bank of America at the Purdue University-based Center for Visual Analytics for Command, Control, and
Interoperability Environments (VACCINE).
Cargill, Kraft, and McDonald’s at the National Center for Food Protection and Defense (NCFPD),
based at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.
universities have struck multimillion-dollar deals with multinational private
security firms like Securitas, deploying unsworn, underpaid, often
untrained “protection officers” on campus as “extra eyes and ears.” The University of Wisconsin-Madison,
in one report, boasts that police and private partners have been
students have gotten into the business of security. The private intelligence
firm STRATFOR, for example, recently partnered with the University of Texas
to use its students to “essentially parallel the work of… outside consultants”
but on campus, offering information on activist groups like the Yes Men.
Step by step,
at school after school, the homeland security campus has executed a silent coup
in the decade since September 11th. The university, thus usurped, has
increasingly become an instrument not of higher learning, but of intelligence
gathering and paramilitary training, of profit-taking on behalf of America’s increasingly embattled “1%.”
Yet the next
generation may be otherwise occupied. Since September 2011, a new student movement has
swept across the country, making itself felt most recently on March 1st with a national day of action to defend the right
to education. This Occupy-inspired wave of on-campus activism is making visible
what was once invisible, calling into question what was once beyond question,
and counteracting the logic of Repress U with the logic of nonviolence and
education for democracy.
For many, the
rise of the homeland security campus has provoked some basic questions about
the aims and principles of a higher education: Whom does the university serve?
Whom does it protect? Who is to speak? Who is to be silenced? To whom does the
of Repress U are uninterested in such inquiry. Instead, they cock their
weapons. They lock the gates. And they prepare to take the next step.
Alexander Gould-Wartofsky is a writer from New York City
and a MacCracken Fellow in Sociology at New York University.
His writing has received Harvard’s James Gordon Bennett Prize and the New York Times James B.
Reston Award, and has appeared in the Nation, the Harvard Crimson,
The Huffington Post, and Monthly Review, along with TomDispatch. He is
currently writing a book about Occupy
Wall Street. His website is
TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on Facebook.
Monday, March 12, 2012 8:34 AM
The whole Kony 2012
debate has gotten me thinking about how activism has changed over the past few
years, especially with the explosion of social media use. Back in 2010, Malcolm
Gladwell wrote a much-read piece in The New
Yorker about the so-called “Twitter
Revolutions” in Moldova and Iran the previous year. Many observers had
jumped to the conclusion that social media had reinvented grassroots activism,
that, of all things, Facebook and Twitter were now powerful tools for populist
change. But as Gladwell argued, activists’ use of Twitter in both countries had
been way overblown, and in fact, it
was hard to see how social media could ever live up to claims like that.
Historically, most social movements, like civil rights in the U.S., had been
based on what sociologists call “strong ties”—activists were more likely to
commit time, energy, and personal safety, if they belonged to a strong,
cohesive group of like minded friends. By contrast, social media are based on “weak
ties” with very low personal commitment required of participants. Facebook
users were more likely to belong to a “Save Darfur” online group than to make
protest signs or risk arrest. If social media were having an impact on young
people, it was not in terms of civic engagement.
A lot of things have happened since then, most importantly
the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement. Both made heavy
use of social media to organize, communicate, and get the word out to a
larger public. Facebook allowed activists in Tunisia to coordinate and plan
the radar of a clueless and very 20th-century regime. A new
smartphone app allowed activists in the U.S. to broadcast episodes of
police brutality as they were happening. And, yes, Twitter let demonstrators
communicate in mass numbers quickly and effectively (some state prosecutors
have even subpoenaed
Occupy protesters’ Twitter feeds in recent months).
But, in spite of those developments, Gladwell’s argument
still has a lot of validity today. The fact is that the basic elements of
grassroots activism have not changed since the invention of Twitter. The role
social media played in Zuccotti Park and Tahrir Square was to facilitate and
streamline on-the-group organizing, not to take its place. The important
flashpoints in those movements were still physical, and involved the same
dynamics as previous grassroots struggles. And as The Atlantic’sNathan
Jurgenson has argued, Occupy
was in many ways explicitly low-tech, from the (entirely print) People’s
Library, to general assembly hand signs, to the iconic human microphone. While
Occupy made use of new media to organize and coordinate with itself, once
organized, it behaved much more traditionally.
And yet there are many activists and groups that still seek
to address very real issues entirely through social media. Over the past decade
or so, Facebook has probably been the most notorious. Especially in the U.S.,
issue-oriented Facebook groups have a history of being very popular, very good
at raising awareness, but
very bad at raising cash and affecting change, says Evgeny Morozov in Foreign Policy’s Net Effect blog. Like Gladwell, Morozov points to a brand of
activism that is low-risk and essentially unconnected with larger groups or
experiences. A powerful illustration is the group a Danish psychologist started
in 2009 to address a problem that didn’t actually exist (the group opposed a
never-planned dismantling of a fountain in Copenhagen). Within a week, the
group had 28,000 members. And interestingly, activists in the Global South seem
to be much better at translating digital participation into physical action. An
Facebook group in Colombia got hundreds of thousands of people to march
against the guerilla force in almost 200 cities in 2008. This may be because while joining a political Facebook
group from Bogota or Cairo can be a brave act of personal conscience, in the
U.S., there is very little danger. And in a network of weak ties, low personal risk means low personal investment.
This brings us to the now-ubiquitous Kony 2012 campaign, a
movement that has generated quite a bit of awareness
and controversy over the past few days. A viral video on the group’s
website has already garnered tens of millions of views, but many observers have
criticized the film’s overly
simplistic portrayal of Ugandans and the larger conflict. Spending only a
few of its thirty minutes on East Africa, the film’s moralistic message seems more
akin to White Man’s Burden than humanitarianism—and many have criticized its
commodification of the conflict, especially in light of Invisible Children’s allegedly
shady finances. The group has certainly accomplished its stated goal of
raising awareness about Kony, the LRA, and child soldiers in Africa, but it is
hard for many to connect the film’s slick simplicity and the group’s
consumerist message with facts on the ground.
But more broadly, Invisible Children’s use of social media
has much more in common with groups like “Save Darfur” than with genuinely
grassroots battles like Occupy. In the film, the campaign’s founder Jason
Russell talks about the need to “make Joseph Kony a household name.” To do
this, they want to get the attention not only of the American public, but also
of “20 culture makers” and “12 policymakers,” including Bill Gates, Lady Gaga,
and Ban Ki-moon. While Russell urges ordinary people to call their
representatives and poster their neighborhoods, it’s these 32 people that he
believes will have the most impact. “We are making Kony world news by
redefining the propaganda we see all day, everyday, that dictates who and what
we pay attention to,” he says.
But it’s hard to see how this redefinition plays out,
especially as the campaign relies almost exclusively on the “weak ties” and
low-risk participation that generally have very little social impact. If it’s
our job to spread the video, buy
the “Action Kit,” get the attention of celebrities, and not much else, what
exactly are we redefining? In the film, Russell laments that “the few with the
money and the power” tend to frame and address issues in their interests, but
that’s exactly what Invisible Children is seeking to do. In encouraging young
people to participate in clearly delineated ways for clearly delineated
reasons, the group ignores the critical thinking and bottom-up organizing that
made other movements so successful—with or without social media.
Of course, all this has to do with what Invisible Children
hopes to accomplish. If their goal is to “make Joseph Kony a household name,”
then they did a fine job. The popularity of the group’s film was unprecedented,
speed with which it spread was astounding. As a result, tens of millions of
people know more about Uganda and East Africa than ever before. However, if the
group wants to work out some of the complicated questions that have surfaced
over the past week about Uganda’s own
poor human rights record, or the U.S.’s equally poor history of
humanitarian intervention, or the neocolonial
dimensions the campaign has assumed, then more bottom-up methods of
organizing may be a good place to start. As Occupy and the Arab Spring have
shown, young people have a lot more to offer than their money and their
Sources: Kony2012.com, Christian
Science Monitor, The
New Yorker, Wired,
Jazeera English, Huffington
Daily Beast, Amnesty
Friday, September 03, 2010 2:59 PM
Guerrilla warfare just got a little bit easier. Guerrilla war, that is, against empty fields
and urban blight. Thanks to Greenaid, a landscape beautification project started by the
Commonstudio design firm, you can now purchase seedbombs from vintage gumball
machines. Seedbombs are little eco-grenades packed with seeds and compost—lob one
of them into a vacant lot, cram it into a crack in the sidewalk, or leave it in a neglected
public park, and in a few days watch for a green explosion of regionally tailored
wildflowers and grasses. Not only does Greenaid incrementally garnish the concrete
jungle with shoots, leaves, and petals, it also spares gumball machines from the
Listen to designers Daniel Phillips and Kim Karlsrud talk about grassroots activism, empowering
people with design, and public spaces in the video below.
For another instance of creative retrofitting, check out this project to convert legally obsolete cigarette vending machines into art dispensaries in Montreal.
Image courtesy of Commonstudio.
Friday, March 26, 2010 12:01 PM
This looks like a heartbreaking and daring documentary on Burma's resistance...
Monday, January 04, 2010 1:44 PM
In August the Iranian regime put 100 activists on trial for the massive summer street protests. Prosecutors insisted that the street actions were "planned in advance and proceeded according to a timetable and the stages of a velvet coup [such] that more than 100 of the 198 events were executed in accordance with the instructions of Gene Sharp."
Who is this Gene Sharp? If you don't know the man's work, you've probably never attempted to overthrow your government. A Christian Science Monitor profile calls Sharp "the godfather of nonviolent resistance" and describes the nature and impact of his work:
His work has served as the template for taking on authoritarian regimes from Burma to Belgrade. A list of his 198 methods for nonviolent action can be downloaded free of charge, along with his seminal work, “From Dictatorship to Democracy,” which has been translated by his Albert Einstein Institute into two dozen languages ranging from Azeri to Vietnamese.
Hailed as the manual by those who conducted people-power coups in Eastern Europe, its contents were no secret in Iran, where authorities have obsessed for years about their vulnerability to a “velvet revolution.” In fact, a few years ago they requested—and were sent—hard copies of Mr. Sharp’s works. Officials saw this summer’s unrest as the fruit of his strategies.
Sharp dismisses accusations by the Iranian regime that he had any direct role in the unrest. Iranians, he explains to the Christian Science Monitor, citing “the 1905-06 constitutional revolution, and the 1979 Islamic revolution against the shah.”
Source: Christian Science Monitor
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Wednesday, May 20, 2009 2:52 PM
Thousands of inmates in three Phoenix-area jails are on lockdown—an attempt to force an end to a two-week old hunger strike among mostly immigrant detainees who have not yet been convicted of any crime.
Valeria Fernandez, a reporter for Inter Press Service, writes:
The Maricopa County jail system, administered by Sheriff Joseph Arpaio, holds about 9,000 inmates, 70 percent of whom are pre-trial detainees.
The country’s self-proclaimed "toughest" sheriff is famous for housing prisoners in tents, giving them pink underwear and feeding them what he claims are 30-cent meals. But he’s recently been in the spotlight of a national uproar over his tactics to crack down on illegal immigration by conducting traffic stops and raiding businesses.
The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office is currently under investigation by the federal Justice Department over allegations of racial profiling and civil rights violations. It is also the subject of a 30-year-old lawsuit over jail conditions, including the quality of the food.
Family and supporters of the striking detainees have been holding candlelight vigils outside the jails.
Source: Inter Press Service
Monday, March 16, 2009 12:35 PM
In the latest issue of Sojourners, Onleilove Alston lays out a brief how-to guide to mindful and inclusive organizing against poverty and racism. Her model is a group called The Poverty Initiative, formed at Union Theological Seminary in Manhattan.
“I have experienced well-meaning Christians from more privileged backgrounds who feel called to serve poor people,” she writes, “but instead end up negating their autonomy and enacting charity, as opposed to justice.”
She writes her “seven ways” in frank Christian language, but her wisdom could easily be adapted to secular groups. Here is an excerpt from her list:
Make a habit of supporting indigenous leaders: If you are called to relocate to serve a different community, first seek out existing local leaders in that community. No one can be “given” a voice; instead, those of privilege must step aside so that everyone’s voice is heard.
Socially locate yourself: In my work with the Poverty Initiative, we talk about our experiences with poverty or privilege and what has brought us to this work. Within the Poverty Initiative’s work, this practice has given a voice to white poverty, an issue ignored by many anti-poverty movements.
Find strong, detail-oriented critics who will judge your actions, not just your intentions; listen to criticism without panic or anger: We need to have people around us who can gently critique our actions to ensure that we are not operating in racism, classism, sexism, or some other “ism” that will hinder the movement.
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