When we review all that is going on the resistance movement – people protesting the policies we oppose and building the world we want to see; we want to celebrate. And, when we review how movements transform nations in revolutionary ways, we want to celebrate even more because thousands of people are doing so much right.
We have no doubt that many who are working for change feel despair because the country continues to be off track on so many issues. As long-time activist and social change teacher George Lakey wrote this week in Waging Nonviolence: “Early on in a movement, participants often see victory just around the corner. In their euphoria they imagine walls crumbling and victory within reach.” He goes on to describe how movies and historic events influence the common theory of change by turning the persistent hard work into a magical moment, citing Dr. King’s “I have a Dream” speech or Rosa Parks sitting on a bus.
In fact, change takes time and is not linear; it is not an ever-rising crescendo but in fact comes in stages. Lakey describes this as a “Living Revolution” and sees five stages:
Mass political and economic noncooperation
We see aspects of all of these going on at the same time right now. There is no question that the zeitgeist of the culture has changed with the Occupy Movement creating a much clearer understanding of the unfair wealth divide and class conflict between the 1% and the rest of us.
We see a lot of organization-building going on in our efforts at Popular Resistance trying to cover the daily news of an active and expanding movement (sign up here for a daily news digest). New organizations like Strike Debt, Occupy Our Homes, Tar Sands Blockade, Occupy Money Cooperative, Our WalMart, Fast Food Forward, March on Monsanto are developing and older organizations are finding new energy – the list could go on for paragraphs, with groups covering many of the crisis issues faced by the country. Even so, we see a need for more work on organization building, clarifying our vision for the future and developing a strategic framework that allows a nationally networked movement of local, regional and issue-focused groups to work together toward a common goal with independence, creativity and diversity.
Of course, there is also confrontation, and that will exist consistently throughout the stages as transformation takes root and the power structure fears its loss of control. This week, veterans and their allies in New York City marked the twelfth anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan by taking a stand against war and challenging New York’s unusual curfew on the Vietnam War Memorial – a curfew almost unheard of throughout the country and only enforced when people are exercising their constitutional rights. This protest was about protecting our rights to Freedom of Speech, Assembly and to petition for a redress of grievances as much as it was about opposing war. Tarak Kauff, one of the organizers of the protest, reports that one interesting outcome was many police officers thanked the vets for doing what they were doing, showing solidarity with the action and apologizing for having to make arrests. When police understand a protest movement is working to make the world better for them and their families, we are on the right path to success.
We also saw confrontation in Wisconsin where Governor Scott backed down in the face of constant protests and litigation and agreed the people had the right to protest in the Capitol Building without a permit. It took hundreds of arrests but in the end, the right to assemble won. In fact, Wisconsin will pay $88,000 in legal fees to the ACLU.
And, there was a victory in Portland, where Occupy protesters won a case in the state Supreme Court that guaranteed them a right to a lawyer and a jury trial and told prosecutors and police that they could not reduce the charges to deny those constitutional rights to protesters.
Protecting our Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Assembly, right to petition the government for redress of grievances and for Due Process of law is an essential part of our work in creating the kind of world we want to see.
We see some of our colleagues taking incredible risks, for example Transform Now Ploughshares protesters opposing nuclear weapons are facing decades in jail, among them an 83 year old nun. You can take action to support them here.
There have been many conflicts between the power structure and Americans who oppose torture and want to see the Guantanamo Bay prison closed. Officials have been confronted when they testify; protesters have been arrested outside the White House and around the country, national days of action and solidarity hunger strikes have occurred. We saw small steps of progress this week when President Obama appointed a new envoy to work to close the prison.
Pressure and conflict are key steps on the way to making change.
One group that has seen more than its share of conflict is Native Indians. They have faced a brutal ethnic cleansing by European colonizers. They continue their struggle. This week was a national day of action called for by Idle No More to recognize the sovereignty and human rights of Native Indians. Also, this week the Leonard Peltier Tribunal issued its findings calling for the restoration of justice in Indian County. The fight for sovereignty on Indian lands is about very real issues of environmental destruction like the more than week long shale gas blockade in Elsipogtog, which has caused politicians to listen as the blockade continues.
The earth-protecting activities of Native Indians have coincided in a synergistic way with a re-energized Earth Justice movement that is challenging extreme energy extraction. People are taking bold actions like this long-term, multi-week tree sit in Pennsylvania to block the destruction of a forest for hydro-fracking. If you’re an artist, you can participate in the Earth First! art auction. Greenpeace activists who protested off-shore oil drilling are being treated by Russia as Pirates. As a result there have been worldwide protests demanding their release. The Utah Tar Sands Resistance has announced a camp to block oil shale in Utah on October 25 to 27. And, Mountain Resistance has announced its Spring Break from March 9 to the 16 to train people and work to stop mountain top removal, fracking and ensure climate justice in the Appalachian Mountains.
There is more good news. A small group of land owners and downstream Native Indians were able to stop a tar sands strip mine with the strategic use of data, facts and “information stingers,” especially when they targeted investor forums and pushed the stock value down rapidly. This week 36 people risked arrest at John Kerry’s Boston office – none were arrested, perhaps a sign at how popular the movement against the Keystone Pipeline has become. And activists in New England celebrated a major victory with the announcement that the largest coal plant in the region will be closed.
The hydro-fracking movement, which has grown rapidly in the last two years, is about to grow even more as new information was published this week that showed the damage done to the environment by hydro-fracking was even worse than advocates had been saying: land destroyed, water polluted, air polluted and carbon gases emitted. The real shocker was the radioactive nature of the immense amount of wastewater produced – one year produced enough to flood all of Washington, DC. But this may not be the worst of the extreme excavation realities. In Alberta, 90% of the Tar Sands are too deep to reach by open pit mining; their insane solution: put nuclear power plants on top of the tar sands to send steam below ground to release the bitumen oil.
The extremism of the carbon-nuclear energy economy has created a vibrant environmental movement. There are healthy debates about the way forward, whether to focus on pipelines or the energy excavation itself, whether capitalism is consistent with a healthy environment and whether ecosocialism is the solution. There are big issues that people need to consider. Of course climate change is dominant for many, but the oceans and forests are at serious risk and need to be healthy as foundations for the environment. Even our food supply is at risk thanks to profit-focused food producer Monsanto. Join the March Against Monsanto this Saturday, World Hunger Day.
One of the big immediate issues is Fukushima where radioactive water is leaking into the sea and a risky maneuver to remove 1,300 fuel rods is planned to start in November. There is a growing worldwide demand for an independent engineering firm with expert and civilian oversight taking charge. Pressure is needed but Japan may be open to outside help. Sign the petition, Fukushima: A Global Solution to a Global Threat, here.
Another key part of George Lakey’s stages of revolt is building alternative institutions. A resistance movement can remove a leader or a government but if alternatives have not been developed, then the void can be filled in ways that undermine the transformation. Egypt may be the best example of this phenomenon; today Egyptian revolutionaries continue to work to create the government they want – non-military, secular and democratic – after playing a major role in twice removing governments.
New alternatives are being developed on many of the critical issues we face. More work is needed but there is a lot of positive progress. People are finding that local energy policies can boost the economy and as a result mayors are involved in putting in place green policies. New innovations are being developed like this vertical food farm that brings locally grown, organic food to the urban market. Of course, there is pushback from utility companies and other existing profiteers against change. Conflict is part of the process. Utility companies are fighting back against rooftop solar. They see distributed energy produced on roofs of homes, businesses and public buildings as a threat to the model that sends energy wealth to the 1%.
The environment and economy are closely linked. There is deep corruption in each and it infects US politics. One example that has disgusted us for some time is the destruction of the US Postal Service, one of the most loved institutions in the United States. It is particularly grotesque when a US senator profits from the sale of prime real estate land where post offices are currently located. These sales should not even be taking place, but when the husband of Senator Diane Feinstein is the sole real estate agent for the sales – sales that will make her family hundreds of millions of dollars – it is a conflict of interest of immense proportions. We appreciate Ralph Nader sharpening the focus by urging Senator Feinstein to introduce legislation to stop the rape of the post office from which she is profiting. In a real democracy she would be thrown out of office, but we know in our rigged democracy that is unlikely. The destruction of the Post Office is part of the craze for privatization which, despite its failures, continues to be pushed by bought off politicians doing favors for their donors.
The center of corruption is the big finance based economy based on Wall Street. The corruption of the big banks is described well by Matt Taibbi and Sam Seder in this, definitely-worth-the-view, video play-by-play commentary about JPMorgan’s Jaime Dimon where they conclude anyone could do his job better than he has. People have seen how Iceland resurrected itself from financial collapse by refusing to work with big bank investors and the IMF. And, with banking expert Ellen Brown warning of the Homeland Security preparing for the next Wall Street collapse, Americans are looking for alternatives. More Americans are learning about public banks and how they will benefit cities and states that put them in place because they keep dollars at home, rather than sending them to Wall Street. Some activists are not waiting for legislation but are creating their own bank, like this cooperative credit union started in Puget Sound. And, in previous weeks we’ve reported on the Occupy Money Cooperative which is developing the Occupy Money Card as its first project.
The deep corruption in Wall Street banking impacts all aspects of our lives from health care to housing, work rights to media. Activists working to prevent foreclosure are confronting financial titans who profit from the housing crisis. A McDonalds’ worker confronted the CEO of McDonalds saying she can’t feed her family on McDonalds’ wages. Workers are learning they can fight back and win as nurses in California did.
There are opportunities by building the low-wage worker movement to rebuild the labor movement and improve the lives of millions. In fact, President Obama could improve the lives of 560,000 low wage workers by giving them a living wage, and he could also shrink the wealth divide by putting a cap on the maximum salary of CEO’s receiving federal contracts. He could do all of this without Congress by using an executive order. He could lead the way out of the McJobs economy which people want ended.
There are many solutions to the unfair economy but they are not considered by the US Government. In Switzerland they are taking multiple steps to reduce the wealth divide. Switzerland has a tradition of direct democracy where people vote for many changes in law. Already the Swiss have voted for one of the strictest limits on executive pay where shareholders set the salary of executives. Next month they vote on the 1:12 law, limiting the ratio of worker pay to executive pay to a 1 to 12 ratio (in the US it is 1 to 354). Last week signatures were submitted for another initiative guaranteeing an income to everyone in Switzerland of $2,700 per month. (The per capita income in Switzerland is about $78,000, in the US it is $50,000.)
But, people are not waiting for laws to change to put in place institutions that produce economic democracy, like worker-owned cooperatives. There are multiple types of co-operatives for food, manufacturing, services, housing, healthcare and other activities. Many are worker-owned and worker-run, others are run by consumers. This is just one example of the new economy being developed. Laura Flanders of GritTV is working with Yes! Magazine on a series they are calling “Commonomics” economics based on the concepts of the commons and commonwealth, highlighting local economic institutions that are democratically run to build wealth in workers in communities.
There is a rapidly growing new economy that has been developing under the radar of the corporate media. To celebrate and highlight it next week is New Economy Week. People across the country will be focusing attention on economic democracy, sustainable energy, worker and consumer owned cooperatives, credit unions, alternative currencies, farmers markets and consumer supported agricultures and new forms of transportation. This is a desperately needed movement. While the current economic crisis created by the dysfunctional Congress has our attention; in truth, the US economy has been stagnant for a majority of Americans for four decades. The economy does not work for most of us. A new economy is desperately needed.
While this positive economic work is being done, we see strong signals from Congress that immediate resistance is going to become an imperative on several key issues. The drama in the Congress over the government shutdown and the debt ceiling was something planned for months by conservatives. The initial target was Obamacare, but now it seems the focus is broader – cuts to Social Security, Medicare and overall austerity. This will be the fourth time that President Obama has been part of an effort to cut Social Security and Medicare (previous efforts were his Deficit Commission, the Supercommittee and the Grand Bargain negotiations). Each time he and the Congress were stopped because the people mobilized. We can mobilize again to stop these unnecessary cuts. Get ready to fight for basic necessities.
Another big fight that we can win is stopping the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This corporate power grab would do nothing for the economy but would reduce the wages of most workers by forcing them to compete with countries that pay wages of $0.35 to $1.50 an hour. The Center on Economic and Policy Research concludes the TPP would only produce a 1/10th of 1 percent annual increase in the GDP, but 90% of Americans would see their wages go down. We’re on Capitol Hill every week for TPP Tuesday working to stop this agreement and making solid progress. Call your representatives and tell them “no to fast track for the TPP.” (The number for Congress is 202-224-3121, for more info, visit www.FlushTheTPP.org.) Stopping the TPP will be a victory of the people against transnational corporate power, but also could end the abusive economic domination of the United States globally.
Whenever we start this weekly report, we begin by listing all the articles related to the movement each week. It is usually about 120 articles because there is so much good work going on. You can see some of the material we could not cover in this article by going to Popular Resistance and if you want to keep up, sign up for our daily news digest – it is a great way to start the day.
As we said at the outset, when we look at what is being done we want to celebrate. People have woken up and are doing great work, and more people are joining the resistance movement every day. We are stopping the machine and creating a better world. It is hard to see when you are in the midst of it, but we will look back at these times as historic moments of change and will have been glad to have been part of them.