Waging Nonviolence https://wagingnonviolence.org/ People-Powered News and Analysis Tue, 28 Mar 2023 01:52:09 -0400 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=6.1.1 https://wagingnonviolence.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/cropped-WNV-Favicon-1-32x32.png Waging Nonviolence https://wagingnonviolence.org/ 32 32 This film tells the little-known story of the Vietnam protests that gave peace a chance https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/03/the-movement-and-the-madman-pbs-documentary-vietnam-antiwar-protests-nixon/ https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/03/the-movement-and-the-madman-pbs-documentary-vietnam-antiwar-protests-nixon/#respond Thu, 23 Mar 2023 15:20:15 +0000 https://wagingnonviolence.org/?p=67331

When Robert Levering was a young antiwar organizer planning and training mass demonstrations against the Vietnam War in late 1969, he never could have imagined one day finding out that he — and millions of others protesting across the country — had played a role in averting a possible nuclear attack. 

At the time, the antiwar movement had just pulled off two of the largest demonstrations in U.S. history. First was the one-day strike on Oct. 15, 1969, known as the Moratorium, which drew more than two million participants nationwide. Then, one month later, on Nov. 15, another half million people flooded the nation’s capital for the Mobilization. 

Despite these successes, however, the war continued to rage on for several more years, making it easy for many of the record number of protesters to wonder if their actions were having any kind of impact. The ensuing decades, which saw movies and popular culture often denigrating or belittling the antiwar movement, did little to further a true understanding of its vital role in ending the war.

Now, over 50 years later, the astonishing evidence of what these historic protests accomplished is finally clear thanks to a new documentary film executive produced by Robert Levering called “The Movement and the ‘Madman.’”

By focusing on little-known declassified documents and testimonies from Richard Nixon’s own advisors, “The Movement and the ‘Madman’” uncovers the former president’s horrifying plans to escalate the war — which included nuclear weaponry — and how the antiwar movement stopped it all from ever happening.

With the film set to premiere on May 28 (at 9 p.m. EST) on the PBS series “American Experience,” I spoke to Levering — a frequent Waging Nonviolence contributor — about the process of making this documentary and how it’s presented in the style of a “political thriller.” Levering also honed in on the film’s important lessons for activists today — namely never losing hope in a movement’s ability to create change.

How did this film come about?

My life was not filmmaking. I started into the film world at age 75. And the first film that I worked on was “The Boys Who Said No,” which was about the draft resistance movement. I was one of the team of draft resisters, who basically gave advice and counsel to the director about shaping the film, accuracy and so on. While working on that film, I thought that it’s really a shame that there’s no film about the broad cross section of the antiwar movement, or the main part of the antiwar movement. There have been — in addition to this draft resistance movie — a couple of films about the GI resistance movement. And lord knows how many there have been about the Weather Underground, and then also about the Chicago Seven and the Chicago police riot in ’68. But there’s been nothing about the broader movement. 

Previous Coverage
  • How anti-Vietnam War protests thwarted Nixon’s plans and saved lives
  • Initially, I started thinking that maybe it’s possible to actually do it — make one that tells the story of the antiwar movement. Well, we’re talking about a 90 minute or 60 minute movie, not an 800-page book. It’s just impossible to cover something that [took place] over a 10-year period. So, I thought about one of the stories I heard [renowned whistleblower and antiwar activist] Daniel Ellsberg mention a number of times when I’ve been with him, which is that, in 1969, the big demonstrations actually averted possible nuclear war, or use of nuclear weapons. I thought that would be an interesting story to focus on. Then I did more research for an article I wrote on Waging Nonviolence about the events of 1969, the two demonstrations: the Moratorium in October and the Mobilization in November. That’s when it became clear to me that there could be a film.

    You also reviewed the Ken Burns Vietnam series for Waging Nonviolence around that time as well. Your analysis on what was missing from that must have inspired you to make this film as well.

    That’s correct. The Ken Burn 18-hour series on PBS had just aired, and I wrote an article for Waging Nonviolence where I basically said it’s a great antiwar film — in that it depicted how fruitless and pointless the war was. I’d say probably half of the 18 hours showed battlefield scenes. At least that’s what I think most people come away remembering. However, the very small part of it that did talk about the antiwar movement was very negative, and it included some former antiwar people being critical of it. So, it was not a fair depiction.

    How did you come to be involved in the antiwar movement?

    I graduated from college in 1966, which was a terrible time if you were a healthy male, because the Vietnam War had cranked up and the draft calls were very high. All of my peers and I were very concerned about the military, about whether or not we’d have to go. Should we go? Should we go to Canada? Should we become conscientious objectors? The position I ultimately took was the draft resistance position — not to cooperate with Selective Service. 

    In addition to that, my profession until 1973, was that of an antiwar organizer. I was mostly working with the American Friends Service Committee and other Quaker groups. I worked basically on nonviolent training — both smaller civil disobedience demonstrations and larger demonstrations with coalitions. In 1969, I worked with the New Mobilization Committee. I was one of their staff members, and my particular function was the training of the marshals for [the Nov. 15 Mobilization demonstration]. My colleagues and I actually trained between 4,000-5,000 marshals [to serve as nonviolent peacekeepers during the demonstration].

    Now that you’ve talked a bit about the movement, can you say a little bit about “the madman” and what that’s referring to?

    The madman in our title is in quotes. We’re not saying Nixon was a madman. We’re saying he had a madman strategy, and that is what he himself called it. The strategy was basically: If he threatened the North Vietnamese and the Soviets with enough pain, they would cave and give in to the American demands. The film describes this in some detail with a number of people who were on the staffs of Nixon and [National Security Advisor] Henry Kissinger. [Nixon] at various points threatened the North Vietnamese and the Soviets that he would unleash great damage to their country. And the underlying thing, which one of Kissinger’s people says, is that he was threatening nuclear weapons against them, as well. 

    Previous Coverage
  • Ken Burns’ powerful anti-war film on Vietnam ignores the power of the anti-war movement
  • More than just making threats, however, he actually made specific plans — and we show the declassified documents for this plan, which was called Duck Hook, in the movie. He was planning to knock out the dikes in North Vietnam, which would have flooded the country and probably killed hundreds of thousands of people, as well as destroyed all the cities. The plan also included use of tactical nuclear weapons near the Chinese border, to knock out the rail links between China and Vietnam. So, it wasn’t just bluffing. Nixon even had a date for when he would unleash this plan: Nov. 1 1969.

    Now, why didn’t it happen? It was because of the Moratorium demonstration on Oct. 15, 1969, which involved between two and three million people in 200-plus cities and campuses across the country. Nixon could see that this would undercut his threat. So he called it off — and that is not just a supposition on our part. He says it explicitly in his memoirs. He called it off because he believed that his credibility with the North Vietnamese wouldn’t be sufficient if he didn’t have the support of the American people.

    What was it like for you and other activists to learn about your impact directly from Nixon in his memoirs?

    Let me just clarify that, in his memoirs, Nixon says he called off a planned escalation of the war because of [the protests]. It wasn’t until more recently [through declassified documents] that we actually knew what he called off. So it wasn’t something that you could focus on that much. You couldn’t hang very much on it, because you didn’t know exactly what he was talking about. Now, we know exactly what he was talking about — and that’s what the film reveals. This will be the first time this whole story is being told to a mass audience.

    You interviewed some 30 people for this film. Obviously, you can’t name them all here, but what are some of the names that stand out?

    Let me just say that the film’s director, Steve Talbot, and I have spent our careers as journalists. I was a print journalist, and Steve was a documentary journalist. We both approached this story as journalists, trying to get the points of view of the main players of it. We weren’t trying to make a “movement” film. This is a film that’s meant to be a documentary of these events. So from a journalistic point of view, you don’t just talk to people that you agree with, you talk to a wide spectrum of people who — in addition to Ellsberg — had actually worked on Kissinger’s staff. 

    Two of the people we interviewed [Roger Morris and Anthony Lake] actually worked on the Duck Hook plans. So, they were intimately familiar with this. Another person we spoke to [Stephen Bull] was Nixon’s personal aide, and that’s a very important part of our film because we alternate between what was going on inside the White House and what was going on on the street. We tell both sides of the story.

    Was there anything surprising that stood out to you from those interviews, where you learned something new?

    Well, frankly, I’d only sort of generally heard what had happened. I didn’t understand what people who were actually working on the inside were thinking. So I thought it was very interesting [to learn their perspectives]. One of them [Morton Halperin] was real clear that he didn’t think the Vietnam War was winnable. Right from the time he started working with Kissinger he said that. And even though that was his opinion, and Kissinger knew it, he still worked on [the plan]. I think that was surprising. They realized how serious Kissinger and Nixon were about this madman strategy, because they were trying to implement it — or trying to create something that would scare the other side.

    Did any of them acknowledge the impact of the movement?

    I can’t say that I remember if they did. But one of the things that was very telling, which we have in the film, is that one of them [Anthony Lake], when the March Against Death was marching in front of the White House and the demonstrations were going on, said that his wife, children and friends were out there on the streets. He was in the White House, but would have preferred being out in the streets. I think that was probably the most surprising thing that I heard, and that’s a very important realization for people that are involved in nonviolent movements: You can’t assume that everybody on the other side is monolithic. There are a variety of opinions and sometimes people are much more sympathetic to you than you think they are. That’s probably the single most telling comment, in terms of something that’s important for people involved in social change movements. You just can’t assume that you’re not reaching people. The overall theme of the film is that we didn’t know until decades later what impact we had. But at the time, some of the individuals [on the other side] were very sympathetic to us.

    What about the people from the movement you interviewed? Any takeaways that stand out to you?

    There were four main Moratorium organizers, and one has passed away. We were very fortunate that we were able to interview the remaining three [Sam Brown, David Hawk and David Mixner]. So they tell the story of how the idea for a nationwide moratorium came about and just a lot of details, like who came up with the idea and why they changed it from the original idea of a general strike. We were also able to talk to two of the main organizers of the Mobilization, Cora Weiss and Dick Fernandez. Unfortunately, most of the other steering committee members have already passed away. 

    In addition to that, we talked to a number of people at my level of organizing — the rank-and-file organizers and participants. I also think it’s important that we talked to Congress members [Reps. Pete McCloskey and Donald Riegle] who reflected on the impact of the antiwar movement on Congress. I think only one of them is actually in the film, but we did talk to two of them. Then we also talked to about a half dozen historians who gave more context for what was going on.

    Support Us

    Waging Nonviolence depends on reader support. Become a sustaining monthly donor today!


    What challenges did you run into while making the film?

    We did our first interviews in the fall of 2019, at a gathering of the Vietnam Peace Commemoration Committee in Washington, speaking with a couple of historians and three people that were involved in the antiwar movement. Then, two months later — at the end of February — we interviewed Daniel Ellsberg. And then we all know what happened in March of 2020.

    We had already begun to set up in-person, on-camera interviews with all of the people, as we had done for the first half dozen. But then, when it became clear that COVID wasn’t going to just blow over, we had to figure out another way of doing the interviews. So we decided to do audio only, which means that — in the film — you don’t see any of the people we interviewed as they are today. In the typical documentary film you almost always have whoever is being interviewed on camera, and then you go to archival footage. You sort of go back and forth through the present day to the past. But by doing it the way that we did this film, you are always looking at something that was in the past. Aesthetically, this was something we’re very pleased with. 

    Our director, Steve Talbot, was influenced by the Peter Jackson film “They Shall Not Grow Old,” which is about World War I. It’s a very powerful movie, and it’s audio only. Jackson used interviews with people that fought in the war. So, the whole idea is that people will feel like they are immersed in that year, 1969. All of the archival footage, the photographs, everything, is from 1969.

    And if I could just add one other thing: Part of what we had in mind was to do what you could call a political thriller. That’s not so easy to do if you’re constantly jerking back and forth [between archival footage and interviews]. 

    It’s rare to see a film focused on a movement on national television.

    Other movements have gotten a lot of primetime coverage — in particular, the civil rights movement and the women’s suffrage movement. But not the Vietnam antiwar movement, even though it was larger in terms of the number of participants, its scope, and its duration, at least in comparison to the main part of the civil rights movement. Both the Moratorium and the Mobilization were by far the largest political demonstrations that ever happened to that date in American history. So it was a huge movement, a very significant movement. For people who are of my age, it was definitely central to our lives. There were just over 2 million men who actually served in Vietnam. Meanwhile, according to “The Boys Who Said No,” there were about a half million who resisted the draft in one form or another. There were actually more people on the streets in October 1969 than served in Vietnam during the entire 10 years of the war. It was massive, and that was just one day. There were demonstrations over a 10-year period. So it was a huge movement, and yet there were virtually no films made about it.

    How does that make you feel on a personal level to be able to get this film aired on PBS, the same outlet that aired the Ken Burns series?

    Well, of course I’m delighted. But more than just my personal reaction, it’s really important to change the narrative about the Vietnam antiwar movement. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, there were a whole lot of films that were very disparaging of it, like the Rambo films and “Forrest Gump.” The scenes from the antiwar movement, they’re just caricatures. 

    Previous Coverage
  • Why ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’ deserves praise – from an antiwar organizer who was there
  • Unfortunately, what people remember most is the Chicago demonstrations. Yet, most of the antiwar movement didn’t go to Chicago. I was there. So I know. There were maybe 5,000-10,000, at most. And that was after the Pentagon demonstration the year before, when there were over 100,000 people. But that’s not what people talk about. They talk about what happened in Chicago, about the Yippies, the police riot and so on. That’s one image. The other one has to do with the Weather Underground, about the bombings and that kind of thing. And then there’s the way the right wing of the country has cultivated things like the idea that antiwar people spit on servicemen when they came back from Vietnam. That’s an image many, many people have. There’s actually a great book on the subject called “Spitting Image” that refutes the whole thing. But it’s still what sticks in people’s minds. 

    The idea that the antiwar movement was something that involved millions of people from all walks of life [just isn’t talked about]. I think our film really shows a whole other side of what was going on. So, I’m delighted that we’re helping to rewrite the narrative.

    To what extent does the film get into the specifics of organizing?

    The film shows a variety of ways that people were involved in trying to make a massive movement, and how it doesn’t just start on the day of the demonstration — that there’s a lot of planning and training that went into it. Because of the length of the movie, we couldn’t get into a lot of the details. But I think that people get a good sense of what it took to pull off these huge demonstrations. The overall theme of the movie is that you never know what impacts you’re going to have at the time. 

    It’s so common that after a big rally or march, or almost anything, people feel as if no change happened — that it didn’t have any impact. But in this case, because the documents are declassified, and information has come out, we know what kind of impact we had. That’s a very rare thing. It’s not something that happens fast either, particularly when the stakes are so high. 

    If you look at all of human history, the Vietnam antiwar movement is one of the very few massive movements within a country at war. Throughout American history, when there have been actions against wars, the people opposing the war have been squashed. That’s certainly what happened in World War I. It’s just a very unusual thing that we were able to do what we did — to be able to build as massive a movement as we could. Look at what’s going on with Ukraine. It’s not even our country involved, and the war hysteria in this country is off the charts. That’s what happens when countries are at war. Patriotism to a lot of people means that they need to fall in line, support our troops. That opposition was true at the beginning of the Vietnam War, but we were able to overcome that.

    What can those organizing against war and militarism today learn from this story?

    I think any social change movement can learn from this. The biggest hurdle that a lot of people have is that they feel helpless. They feel like they’re not having any effect, that it’s easy to become cynical. But you have to have hope in order to keep at it year after year after year — particularly when you’re up against a major opponent.

    “The Movement and the ‘Madman’” will be available for streaming on PBS.org during and after the broadcast.

    https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/03/the-movement-and-the-madman-pbs-documentary-vietnam-antiwar-protests-nixon/feed/ 0
    How movements can keep politicians from selling out https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/03/how-movements-can-keep-politicians-from-selling-out/ https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/03/how-movements-can-keep-politicians-from-selling-out/#comments Wed, 22 Mar 2023 14:29:23 +0000 https://wagingnonviolence.org/?p=67324 Embed from Getty Images

    It is a pattern we see again and again: New political hopefuls are elected to office espousing progressive values and vowing to challenge the status quo in Washington, D.C. They are sent off with high hopes. But then, over time, the change they promise never materializes.

    Worse yet, the politicians themselves begin to change. They become more distanced from the supporters who first put them in power. They aspire for a higher office and assert their “independence” by bucking their base and playing to the center. They make amends with key commercial interests in their district. They become apologists for “the way things work,” and they criticize those wanting bolder action as naive and unduly impatient.

    But does this have to be the case?

    In recent years, social movements have taken increasing interest in engaging the electoral system and electing champions to office. They have done so with the recognition that we need inside players to amplify and respond to pressure generated by activists on the outside. And yet, we know that many inside players — even ones who initially seem sympathetic — end up getting co-opted and becoming part of the system.

    Facing this reality, movements do not need to give up on the prospect of an inside-outside strategy. But they do need to look carefully at a central problem: How do we keep those we send into the den of Beltway politics from selling out? What factors allow for an exceptional minority to remain true to their democratic base?

    Previous Coverage
  • Should we disrupt the Democratic Party or try to take it over?
  • The goal for progressive groups seeking to intervene in electoral politics has been to elevate “movement candidates” or “movement politicians”people who can operate differently than the typical politicians who are prone to careerism and driven by oversized egos. And yet, the idea of what constitutes a movement candidate can be amorphous.

    In giving the concept more clarity, it is important to emphasize that a movement candidate is not just someone who speaks up in support of causes of social and economic justice, or whose innate integrity makes them stay true to their values. Nor is it simply a matter of an individual’s background, with the politician coming out of a marginalized community. Fundamentally, what defines someone as a movement politician is more structural. Movement politicians do not act alone. Rather, they rely on grassroots organizations as an institutional base of strength and support to help them reject the ingrained norms and culture of mainstream politics. They stay accountable not just because they are believers, but because movements offer them an invaluable foundation from which to operate.

    In order to effectively combat the corrupting pressures of mainstream political culture, it is first necessary to name these forces — to account for why so few are able to navigate the norms of Washington politics without being pulled into treacherous currents. With a detailed concept of the institutional pressures at work clearly in mind, we can then understand how movements can help politicians resist.

    How Washington co-opts

    For his 1988 book “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media,” renowned linguist and political thinker Noam Chomsky teamed up with University of Pennsylvania professor Edward Herman to analyze the culture and institutional structures of mainstream media in the United States that dominated during the Cold War. Chomsky and Herman sought to determine how — in the absence of formal systems of state censorship — the mass media could nevertheless be relied upon to serve the interest of dominant elites, making sure that viewpoints that were truly critical of corporate capitalism and Washington militarism would remain ostracized.

    Sketching what they called the “propaganda model,” Chomsky and Herman argued that five “filters” were in place through which “money and power are able to filter out the news fit to print, marginalize dissent, and allow the government and dominant private interests to get their messages across to the public.” First, the media was owned by the rich, with mergers consolidating firms into ever fewer hands. Second, publications relied on ad revenues as a primary source of income, making them dependent on corporate advertisers for their sustenance and profit. Third, the media accepted a culture of “expertise” which deferred to official sources from business and government. Fourth, reporters who stepped out of line would be disciplined by flak from those in power. And finally, the ideology of anti-Communism could be used to push certain viewpoints off-limits for mainstream discussion.

    Support Us

    Waging Nonviolence depends on reader support. Become a sustaining monthly donor today!


    With these filters in place, there was no need for oligarchs or government officials to officially censor the press. Instead, the filters created a media culture that would do this for them. In spite of occasional exposés that revealed corporate or political misbehavior, expressions of dissent from the tenets of the “free enterprise” system or the assumptions of Cold War foreign policy could be kept to a minimum. In Chomsky and Herman’s words, the filters worked effectively to “fix the premises of discourse and interpretation.”

    For each of the five filters that Chomsky and Herman identify in their analysis of the mass media, an analog can be found in the ways mainstream political culture bolsters status quo norms and places constraints on politicians seeking change. These norms can be found throughout U.S. politics, including at the state and local levels. But they are most pronounced in Washington, D.C.

    So what, then, are the filters in mainstream politics that weed out dissenters?

    1. Party structures

    A first filter in Washington political culture is the formal structure of the two-party system. Although U.S. political parties are weak compared with many European ones, the Democrats and Republicans still have carrots and sticks they can use to discipline their members. The parties control committee assignments in Congress, with senior members securing powerful chairmanships. Newly elected officials who aspire to greater influence quickly learn that deference to party leaders can result in valuable perks, while outspoken criticism brings impediments to career advancement.

    An obsession with having “access” and being on good terms with powerful people does not affect only junior party members. It shapes the entire milieu of progressive advocacy in Washington, D.C. In a 2022 Twitter thread, Evan Sutton, a Democratic political operative and former trainer for the Obama-era New Organizing Institute, described how such preoccupation becomes toxic: “Access is a plague,” he wrote. “During the Obama administration, I sometimes attended meetings organized by the White House Office of Public Engagement. The groups invited would almost never say boo, because in D.C. the most important thing is being invited to the meetings and the Christmas party.”

    Embed from Getty Images

    The slights that come when an upstart politician refuses to defer can impose significant costs. The parties run big-money committees to oversee efforts to win seats in both the House and the Senate — bodies such as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, or DCCC. These institutions have influence in determining which candidates will be recruited and backed in various districts, and whether they will be deemed worthy to receive millions of dollars of support for their campaigns.

    In addition to determining priority races and giving their blessing to selected candidates, the parties’ campaign committees help to determine who can get jobs working in politics — at the level of campaign managers, strategists and media consultants. In 2018, shortly after veteran Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley was defeated by the insurgent campaign of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York, and after incumbent Mike Capuano similarly lost to Ayanna Pressley in Massachusetts, the DCCC implemented a new rule designed to send off such grassroots primary challenges. Specifically, it announced a ban on doing business with political consulting operations that took on incumbents — effectively freezing out some of the most mobilized forces at the party’s base.

    Ocasio-Cortez would later rail against the logic of the decision: “If you are the DCCC, and you’re hemorrhaging incumbent candidates to progressive insurgents, you would think that you may want to use some of those firms,” she said. “But instead, we banned them. So the DCCC banned every single firm that is the best in the country at digital organizing.”

    2. Campaign finance

    The second filter that colors Washington culture is money, specifically the massive amounts that fuel U.S. campaigns and end up infecting the political system as a whole. Officials in both major parties have described the current structure of American democracy as “a system of legalized bribery and legalized extortion.” The costs of contesting for elected positions in the United States is astronomical. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the combined total of all spending in House and Senate campaigns came to more than $4 billion in 2016 — almost double the inflation-adjusted total from 2000. Tasked with raising thousands per day throughout the length of their terms, sitting representatives spend lengthy sessions “dialing for dollars” from wealthy donors at party-sponsored call centers just blocks from Congress.

    In a 2016 interview with 60 Minutes, then-Rep. Steve Israel explained that these demands sharply escalated after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision opened the floodgates for spending in elections: In the early 2000s, “I’d have to put in about an hour, maybe an hour and a half, at most, two hours a day into fundraising,” he said. “And that’s the way it went until 2010, when Citizens United was enacted. At that point, everything changed. And I had to increase that to two, three, sometimes four hours a day[.]”

    Elected officials themselves widely dislike such fundraising burdens, and beleaguered staff members often have to cajole their lawmakers to stick to scheduled “call time.” Nevertheless, if politicians wish to rise through the ranks of their party, they must excel at the task. In addition to raising money for their own campaigns, elected officials are expected to contribute to organs such as the DCCC or its Republican equivalent — payments known as “party dues.”

    A 2017 report by the reform group Issue One explained, “although they do not often admit it publicly, party leadership, in private, explicitly ties congressional committee assignments to members’ dues.” The report quoted Rep. Thomas Massie, a Republican from Kentucky, who stated: “They told us right off the bat as soon as we get here, ‘These committees all have prices and don’t pick an expensive one if you can’t make the payments.’”

    Embed from Getty Images

    Trey Radel, a former Republican representative from Florida, described the none-too-subtle mechanisms through which expectations are conveyed: “Every time you walk into a [National Republican Congressional Committee] meeting, a giant goddamn tally sheet is on prominent display that lists your name and how much you’ve given — or haven’t,” he writes. “It’s a huge wall of shame. The big players, people in leadership positions and chairs of powerful committees, always dominate the board, raising millions[.]”

    To secure these funds, lawmakers lean on not only wealthy individuals but also on businesses. As the Issue One report further argued, “chairs are often reliant on money from lobbyists and special interests, frequently pressuring and cajoling those working in the industries they regulate to donate generously to their campaigns.” The impact, as former Democratic Rep. Jim Jones of Oklahoma described it, is that “Big money doesn’t come in casually. It wants to have its point of view prevail, whether it’s to block legislation or to promote legislation.”

    In principle, politicians are not personally enriched by campaign contributions: the money goes to fund their campaigns, and it is not bribery in the sense that the cash is pocketed by an overtly corrupt official. Yet financial largesse both enhances their job security by allowing them to get reelected, and it heightens their power and standing among their peers. Moreover, should they ever decide to “retire” from public service, cozy relationships with lobbyists mean that plush boardroom appointments and handsome consulting contracts await them through Washington’s infamous “revolving door.”

    In the end, money permeates nearly every aspect of Beltway culture and profoundly shapes the strategic vision of the major parties, including how they relate to their bases of support. “I go to the Democratic caucuses every week,” Sen. Bernie Sanders explained in a 2013 interview, “and every week there is a report about fund-raising … In the six years I’ve been going to those meetings, I have never heard five minutes of discussion about organizing.”

     3. Experts, consultants and staffers

    Mainstream political culture takes cues from a relatively small network of think tanks, legislative advisors and technocrats. This class of policy experts, staffers and political consultants create a third filter that enforces politics as usual and screens out wayward viewpoints. They make up the “adults in the room” whose sensibilities help set the “Overton Window,” or the range of policy positions that are regarded as realistic for elected officials to pursue.

    Not surprisingly, within these ranks, representatives of poor and working-class people tend to be few and far between, as are critics of the military-industrial complex. Meanwhile, business leaders and economists directly or indirectly backed by corporations are considered credible voices on a wide range of public affairs, and the selection of Wall Street veterans for government posts related to the economy is regarded as reassuring to markets. Foreign policy positions are passed between neocons and reliable centrists who can be counted on to endorse American exceptionalism and support the spread of “free markets.”

    Embed from Getty Images

    In December 2018, newly elected members of Congress were invited to a week-long training at the Harvard’s Institute of Politics meant to ease their transition into Washington life. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted of the event: “Invited panelists offer insights to inform new Congressmembers‘ views as they prepare to legislate: # of Corporate CEOs we’ve listened to here: 4. # of Labor leaders: 0”

    In a 2018 article in the Nation, journalist Joseph Hogan cited former U.S. representative and current Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who cautioned that constantly standing up to consensus opinion can be a wearying prospect: “You are surrounded 24-7 by colleagues and lobbyists who are constantly telling you how things work. You know they’re wrong but after a while you halfway believe their BS.”

    Community organizing leader George Goehl echoed the sentiment: “[P]rogressives who get elected and go into the halls of power quickly realize that neoliberalism is the baseline, the dominant politic. Quickly, their radical imagination starts to fade,” he explained. Elected officials “need to learn to be able to spot the way neoliberal assumptions and compromises can creep in,” he argued. “Otherwise, we elect people with great intentions, good politics, who still get swept up by the machine.”

    Even with Democrats in power, neoliberal economic groupthink has prevailed at critical moments. In her 2014 memoir, “A Fighting Chance,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren wrote of the Obama administration’s failure to create any serious accountability for the financial sector in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis: “The president chose his team,” she argued, “and when there was only so much time and so much money to go around, the president’s team chose Wall Street.”

    In retrospect, Obama himself has been willing to acknowledge that the biases of prevailing wisdom in Washington limited the policy options his administration was willing to consider. “I think there was a residual willingness to accept the political constraints that we’d inherited from the post-Reagan era — that you had to be careful about being too bold on some of these issues,” he stated in a 2020 interview with New York magazine. “And probably there was an embrace of market solutions to a whole host of problems that wasn’t entirely justified.”

    Of course, many progressive groups — including ones that contributed to the unusually robust grassroots drive that put Obama into office — were telling the administration at the time that Wall Street’s irresponsibility in creating the financial crash should be the occasion for a major break from past economic orthodoxy. But these people were not seen as the “serious” voices that the president needed to heed.

    Embed from Getty Images

    Elizabeth Warren relates that she was explicitly warned against disparaging those in power upon arriving in Washington. In April 2009, when she was serving on the congressional oversight panel monitoring the Treasury Department’s economic rescue plan, Warren was taken to dinner by President Obama’s chief economic adviser, Larry Summers. “Larry leaned back in his chair and offered me some advice…” she writes. “I had a choice. I could be an insider or I could be an outsider. Outsiders can say whatever they want. But people on the inside don’t listen to them. Insiders, however, get lots of access and a chance to push their ideas. People — powerful people — listen to what they have to say. But insiders also understand one unbreakable rule: They don’t criticize other insiders.”

    4. Flak

    The fourth filter in Chomsky and Herman’s model, known as “flak,” consists of the negative responses that a reporter or news organization would receive if they stepped out of line. Advertisers could pull their sponsorship. Access could be withdrawn. And irate administration officials could complain to a reporter’s editors. All of these served to illustrate that it was less painful to follow the path of least resistance.

    A similar type of flak can be directed at officials who place themselves at odds with the norms of mainstream political culture. While the first three filters can be subtle and preemptive, setting boundaries so as to stop wayward action from ever taking place, flak comes later and is less subtle. It is the retribution experienced by those who persist in spite of implicit warnings. It is losing a committee assignment, being denied campaign funding from the DCCC, or, as per Larry Summers, being expelled from the circles of “insiders” given influence over policy deliberations.

    Evan Sutton notes that “The Biden White House has made no bones about its willingness to cut people off” and that having the “temerity to publicly challenge the president lands you on a permanent shitlist.” He adds, “The Hill is no better. Pelosi’s office and many others will burn your number for stepping out of line. Funders will cut you off if you’re perceived to be crossing the president or the speaker.” As a result, Sutton explained, “very few are willing to risk it.”

    Industry produces flak of its own. In describing the system as “legalized bribery and legalized extortion,” Sen. Russ Feingold emphasized that the second part was just as relevant as the first: those who refuse to play along face a threat of something bad happening. Often, this takes the form of opposition groups funding primary challenges by rivals, or running well-resourced recalls or referendum campaigns that cripple efforts to pursue progressive policy.

    In a 2013 interview, Bernie Sanders described situations in which fellow lawmakers would express sympathy for legislation he proposed, but were cowed by the promise of flak. “If there’s a tough vote in the House or the Senate — for example, legislation to break up the large banks — people might come up and say, ‘Bernie, that’s a pretty good idea, but I can’t vote for that,’” he explained. “Why not? Because when you go home, what do you think is going to happen? Wall Street dumps a few million dollars into your opponent’s campaign.”

    Nor can those who are challenged count on the support of their party. There have been numerous incidents where Democratic organs have opted not to endorse their own incumbents who are seen as too progressive. And although flak is not always decisive, the constant need to combat it can be a serious drain on time and energy — as well as a deterrent to others who are not willing to brave the same treatment.

    5. Ideologically imposed limits to debate

    A final filter identified by Chomsky and Herman pertains to how ideological labeling and scaremongering could be used to impose boundaries on public debate and mark certain positions as impermissible. Specifically, writing in the 1980s, they highlighted how the ideology of anti-communism was deployed. The fact that left-leaning policy aims — whether foreign or domestic — could be denounced as signs of creeping socialism “helps fragment the left and labor movements and serves as a political-control mechanism,” they argued.

    Twenty years after the original publication of “Manufacturing Consent,” Chomsky and Herman revised their framework slightly to note how other ideologically laden charges — particularly those related to “anti-terrorism” and the “war on terror” — could be used to push dissenting opinions outside the bounds of acceptable debate.

    In today’s context, the filter of ideology might be applied to a diversity of issues — limiting what is acceptable in discussions of immigration, policing and prisons, or a range of other topics. Examples would include the ways accusations of radicalism were used to force the resignation of “Green Jobs Czar” Van Jones from the Obama administration. Or one could point to the concerted attacks on Rep. Ilhan Omar, which sought to characterize her criticisms of Israeli policy and objections to AIPAC stances as antisemitic and beyond the pale.

    While this filter can be interpreted in a more expansive way, the extent to which specifically anti-communist dogma and red-baiting tactics have lingered long after the Cold War is noteworthy. Among Republicans, the line of attack remains ever-pertinent. Just in the past few years Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has used red-baiting language to denounce everything from the Green New Deal (a “radical, socialist” policy) to student debt forgiveness (“student loan socialism”) to statehood for the District of Columbia (“full-bore socialism“) to pandemic social spending (“a Trojan Horse for permanent socialism”). In early February 2023, House Republicans made a point of passing a resolution stating that “Congress denounces socialism in all its forms, and opposes the implementation of socialist policies in the United States of America.”

    Perhaps more distressing is the number of Democrats who play into the attack — or fumble when responding to it. While the success of Bernie Sanders and the Squad in recent years has changed the political landscape, party leaders remain defensive and fearful. In 2017, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a point of stating, “We’re capitalists, and that’s just the way it is.” And, for their part, 109 Democratic members of Congress voted with the Republicans in support of their February resolution.

    How movements break the filters

    Chomsky and Herman argued that the filters on the mass media rarely needed to be imposed in an overt manner. Over time, the biases they created became so embedded in the professional culture that practitioners internalized them. “The elite domination of the media and marginalization of dissidents that results from the operation of these filters occurs so naturally that media news people, frequently operating with complete integrity and goodwill, are able to convince themselves that they choose and interpret the news ‘objectively’ and on the basis of professional news values,” they wrote.

    Likewise, within Washington politics, the cultural norms are pervasive enough that those who are primed to succeed are the ones who have habituated themselves in advance. They have accepted the way in which the game is played, and they are comfortable embarking on a quest to gain power within the confines of the existing system.

    Meanwhile, those who try to retain their integrity by denouncing the system find themselves constantly repulsed. In November 2020, as she reached the end of her first term, Ocasio-Cortez had been remarkably successful by conventional standards, solidifying her support in her district, achieving widespread celebrity, and gaining a large platform from which to advance her views. Yet she stunned a New York Times interviewer by reporting that she regularly considered getting out, saying “I don’t even know if I want to be in politics.”

    “Externally, there’s been a ton of support,” she explained, “but internally, it’s been extremely hostile to anything that even smells progressive.” She made clear that it was not just violent threats and demonization from the right that were disconcerting, but also the behavior of fellow Democrats: “It’s the lack of support from your own party,” she said. “It’s your own party thinking you’re the enemy.”

    When we wonder why once-hopeful political champions bow out, or why politicians elected to take on the system acculturate themselves to it over time, the combined power of the five filters provides a compelling explanation. Left on their own, individual elected officials have slim hope of standing up to the institutional forces arrayed against them. Although some exceptional individuals may be able to sustain themselves, most need significant help if they are to survive.

    This is where movements come in. Having a base of grassroots institutions to back movement candidates gives them a grounding they can use to sidestep Washington norms, wage insurgent campaigns and govern in a manner that shows accountability to their core constituencies rather than to wealthy elites. Instead of relying solely on personal values to remain principled, they make this challenge into a collective task. With regard to the five filters, movements provide tools for resistance, offering infrastructure, resources and conscious strategy for counteracting each of them in turn.

    Previous Coverage
  • Can social movements realign America’s political parties to win big change?
  • In terms of party structures, movements help politicians form effective factions and allow them to join organized attempts to create realignments in party composition and ideology. While groups including Justice Democrats work at such tasks in Washington, D.C., more developed structures exist at state and local levels. In some cities, central labor councils have significant influence in nominating or approving candidates for party leadership. In some instances, progressive caucuses have created unity and allowed for mutual support among elected officials who may be to the left of their party’s local leadership. In others, bodies such as the Working Families Party or New York DSA’s Socialists in Office committee have provided alternate quasi-party structures that can provide a home for lawmakers who may otherwise be marginalized.

    When it comes to campaign finance, technologies of small donor fundraising have given grassroots campaigns the ability to compete with more conventionally funded candidates. (Bernie Sanders, for one, raised more than $231 million from 2.8 million donors in 2016.) Furthermore, the ground game and volunteer muscle of movement field operations — drives that knock thousands of doors to reach local voters — have sometimes given progressive candidates the edge over more lavishly endowed opponents who rely on the “air war” of political attack ads. While neither solution is perfect, movements offer candidates the option of trying to win by energizing the base, rather than triangulating toward the center.

    To disrupt a culture of insider expertise, movements can both inoculate incoming officials and elevate alternate sources of policy know-how. Networks such as People’s Action have invested in political education trainings for rank-and-file members and prospective candidates alike. Others, such as Movement School and re:power (formerly Wellstone Action), have invested in creating pipelines for campaign managers and legislative staffers rooted in movement values. Finally, community-based groups can organize progressive academics to craft alternative proposals for public policy.

    When flak comes in, having a movement at your back can make the difference between robust defense and abandonment by your own party. And, ideologically, movements create a new sense of the possible. They work to move the Overton Window and bring ideas that might initially be considered verboten into acceptable public discussion: Same-sex marriage, millionaires’ taxes, the Green New Deal, a $15 minimum wage, and student debt cancellation are just a few such ideas.

    As bolder demands are mainstreamed, attempts to ostracize their advocates as radical extremists lose their potency — to the point where even politicians who were once fearful to be associated with a cause may suddenly “evolve” in their consciousness, as a wave of public officials did in 2013 after same-sex marriage was shown to be a winning issue. Movement politicians who share in a set of collective beliefs are less likely to back down from principled positions, because they have a clear sense that these stances are rooted in the values of their community.

    A basic tenet of social psychology is that if someone is surrounded by others who accept the same set of norms and rules of behavior, that person will find it very difficult to avoid internalizing this dominant set of values. “Honestly, it is a shit show. It’s scandalizing, every single day,” Ocasio-Cortez has reported of her experience in Washington. “What is surprising to me is how it never stops being scandalizing. Some folks perhaps get used to it, or desensitized to the many different things that may be broken,” she says. And yet she emphasizes the need to guard against such desensitization and resist deferring to the supposed “adults in the room” who have made their peace with the system. “Sometimes to be in a room with some of the most powerful people in the country and see the ways that they make decisions — sometimes they’re just susceptible to groupthink, susceptible to self-delusion,” she notes.

    That this conventional groupthink prevails is no accident. It is a product of political economy and cultural influence, the forces that make up the five filters. Movements provide a structural counterbalance that makes resistance possible. The institutional support of grassroots organizations gives movement politicians a chance to avoid being absorbed into the system. And for those interested in social change, it is likely the best chance we have.

    https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/03/how-movements-can-keep-politicians-from-selling-out/feed/ 1
    Inside the underground network supporting asylum seekers in Scotland https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/03/inside-underground-network-supporting-asylum-seekers-scotland/ https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/03/inside-underground-network-supporting-asylum-seekers-scotland/#respond Fri, 17 Mar 2023 20:39:25 +0000 https://wagingnonviolence.org/?p=67275

    Every Sunday for the past six weeks, far-right protesters have been gathering in the small Scottish town of Erskine to complain about plans to house some 200 asylum seekers in a local hotel. However, they are not alone. Asylum seekers in Scotland and their local allies have also been protesting the use of these hotels, and for a much longer time.

    Scotland takes in thousands of asylum seekers each year: 4,000 in 2019. Normally Scotland is not the first stop for asylum seekers. The Home Office — the arm of the U.K. government that deals with immigration — processes most asylum seekers in England, and spreads people out around the U.K. Since the pandemic, it has become harder to ascertain exactly how many asylum seekers are in Scotland at the moment, likely because local governments are given less control in the matter. 

    The pandemic also marked the start of hotel detention, the practice of putting asylum seekers into hotels in Glasgow for an indefinite period of time. Whereas conservatives protested that these hotels were an extravagant waste of taxpayer money, the reality of poor, cramped conditions led to the June 2020 George Square protest against hotel detention. It was interrupted by counter-protesters who feared the statues in George Square were at risk, after a statue of slave trader Edward Colston was toppled in Bristol. The Park Inn tragedy also happened in June 2020, when a man in hotel detention stabbed several other residents and was then shot dead by police. 

    In May 2021, the community peacefully stopped an immigration van from deporting two men in the Kenmure Street raid. An older English man named Nick was one of three people who first blocked off an immigration van set to deport two men on Kenmure street. (Nick and the other activists I spoke to for this story preferred to go by their first names only.) Like many Glasgow locals, Nick speaks about the action, which received significant mainstream attention in Scotland, with a pride for his community. 

    Protesters surround and stop a U.K. Home Office van from deporting two men on Kenmure St. in Glasgow in May 2021. (Twitter/@JCWI_UK)

    Along with the current protests in Erskine, these major events have dominated the media coverage of asylum seekers in Glasgow. However, the media has overlooked an overarching narrative. Starting with the Home Office’s decision to send asylum seekers from other parts of the U.K. to Glasgow, conditions and policies have gotten progressively worse, especially following the introduction of lock-change evictions and the use of hotels as long-term accommodation. Speaking to three grassroots groups in Glasgow revealed insidious and consistent patterns of abuse and injustice of asylum seekers by the Home Office and its subcontractors. It also revealed an underground network of support that is having a tremendous positive effect within Glasgow’s immigrant community. 

    In May 2012, the Home Secretary Theresa May declared to The Telegraph that she wanted to create a “really hostile environment” for irregular migrants in the U.K. With a majority of the resulting policies approved in law, hostility towards immigrants has become an integral piece of the architecture of the U.K. immigration system as it stands today. 

    Asylum seekers arrive here in the clothes they left home with — normally thinner, lighter clothes than what is needed to live in Scotland, sometimes wearing flip-flops. If you were sent by the Home Office to Glasgow from another part of the U.K., you might not even know where you are headed until the doors of your transport open.

    The person who brought up the flip-flops was Nick, who is involved with No Evictions Glasgow and has been an activist for nearly 50 years. As its name suggests, No Evictions has a core aim, which has shifted and expanded over time. It is led by people with lived experience of the asylum and immigration system.

    No Evictions started in 2018 in response to the Serco lock-change evictions. Serco, a housing company on-hire from the Home Office, was doing the dirty work of changing the locks on evicted asylum seekers, leaving many homeless with little notice. “They would come back from a doctor’s appointment or shopping or signing at the Home Office, to find that their stuff was gone, the locks were changed, they couldn’t get back in,” Nick said. 

    Asylum seekers are not legally allowed to claim benefits and housing assistance, like a U.K. national faced with sudden homelessness. This means that if you aren’t granted asylum status, you can end up on the street with no support overnight. 

    At first, members of No Evictions would respond by volunteering to sit in peoples’ homes while they were out. Soon No Evictions began instead to place emphasis on building community awareness on the issue. Nick explained that if the housing community showed up when the locksmiths came, “just the very fact of our presence was preventing people being evicted.” Beyond evictions, housing was often in very poor condition, with leaks, mold or a total lack of insulation, posing health risks. Group members would assist in submitting complaints to Serco, and connect them with organizations for housing help.

    At the start of the pandemic, in an apparent victory, the lock-change evictions were paused. This was after repeated appeals from Glasgow City Council to the Home Office, citing health concerns and the council’s inability to offer support. Failed asylum seekers, along with any new arrivals, were then moved en masse into local budget hotels. Some people were also forced from apartments they had lived in for several years into hotels. “They said that was because of COVID, and that they couldn’t source enough apartments,” Nick explained. “I don’t think it really added up.” 

    The hotels, thought to be temporary, came with myriad problems. Like the apartments before, rooms were kept in poor conditions with very slow or no response to maintenance issues. The food provided tended to lack nutrition or be culturally inappropriate. Layout and organization of hotels made social distancing difficult or impossible. And most things a person might need besides food — like toiletries, clothing, phone top-ups and child-care necessities — were not provided. 

    Whereas the weekly allowance for an asylum seeker staying in an apartment was over $40, once they were moved to a hotel it dropped to less than $9. For context, a day’s bus pass, which costs more than $5 is out of reach — as are shoes that aren’t flip-flops. “I think some people, the [right-wing] Daily Mail readers, have got this idea that asylum seekers are living in the lap of luxury in hotels with … room service,” Nick said. 

    People in hotel detention are also kept ill-informed of their rights. Many are not told how to access health care, or that they can access health care. Several people mentioned having to ask permission to even leave the building. Nick described one call No Evictions Glasgow got from a man having serious chest pains. He had been told by hotel staff to just lie down, and that a nurse would be called after the weekend. He was not aware that he was within his rights to call an ambulance. 

    Yvonne Blake speaks at a march for migrant justice during COP26 in Glasgow. (#COPCollab26/Lauren Waterman)

    Migrants Organizing for Rights and Empowerment, or MORE, another prominent grassroots group in Glasgow, responded quickly to hotel conditions at the start of the pandemic. Yvonne Blake, one of MORE’s founding members, describes it jokingly as a “military operation.” She is hard to pin down, good-humored and deadly serious at the same time. Along with other MORE founders and members, Yvonne has lived experience of the asylum system. 

    Yvonne explains how MORE was the first on the ground, quickly setting up a fundraiser that raised roughly $37,000. They then gave people staying in the hotels $30 each. They also arranged dignified access to food, topped up phones, shopped for people in quarantine and distributed funds. There was an incoming call handler and a befriending team. MORE also quickly set up cycling groups that would visit the hotels, and a bike library so that anyone could access a bicycle. This was done with speed and efficiency, involving as many people as possible to provide a holistic network of meaningful support. 

    Times were also dark. People were growing desperate with their situations. Some families crowded into single rooms, with low morale and no word on how long anyone might be stuck there. “People would call us and say that they’re on the verge of committing suicide,” Yvonne said. She told one story of having to stay on the phone with a person who had sent a photo of himself with a rope around his neck, while a colleague took a taxi to intervene. Looking at the tragedies in the hotels during that time period, it is easy to imagine how it could have been much worse without a network of support. 

    On June 17, 2020, MORE planned a protest with No Evictions in Glasgow’s George Square. Word spread that a far-right group was planning to attend, but demonstrations went ahead as planned. According to Nick, police did not keep the “fascists” down on one end, and were more concerned about protecting the statues in the square. Bottles were being thrown by the far-right group at protesters, and scuffles broke out. What had been intended as peaceful protest quickly became dangerous. Police marched through the crowd, separating the groups and drawing the protest to a premature end. 

    On June 26, 2020, a man named Badruddin Abdalla Adam stabbed six people in the Park Inn Hotel in Glasgow, and was shot dead by police. He had sought help with his mental health 72 times. The night prior to the attack, Adam had told another resident that he wanted to stab people, and the resident reported this to hotel management, who took no action. 

    After the attack at 12:50 p.m., residents were evacuated onto the streets, many in thin clothing. At 10:30 p.m. that evening, MORE reported on their Facebook page that people were still waiting outside, with no food or water, and no word on where they would be sleeping that night. Support fell again to grassroots groups, who gathered donations of food and warmer clothing. Although it was widely described as an “avoidable tragedy,” the Home Office and the housing company Mears did not implement any significant changes. 

    Previous Coverage
  • We must turn solidarity with Ukraine into the new normal for all refugees
  • With the Glasgow City Council seeking to distance itself from the scandals and misery of the hotels, routine dispersal was halted in 2021. In practice, this meant that the city no longer had plans to accommodate asylum seekers who continued to arrive. Mears was supposed to halt the use of hotels. However, MORE, Unity Sisters, No Evictions and other voluntary organizations are still providing support to asylum seekers being kept in hotels long-term in Glasgow. 

    Although the Home Office states that asylum requests are normally granted within six months, independent inquiry by the Refugee Council shows requests are taking an average of one to three years to be processed. It is not unheard of to wait upwards of a decade. I spoke to Virginie, one of the founding members of Unity Sisters, a group of women going through the asylum and immigration system. The group is both a support group and a campaigning group. By holding workshops on public speaking, guiding members to ESL classes, facilitating translation and funding peer research, Unity Sisters are aiming to speed up the asylum process for those in hotel detention. 

    Unity Sisters is often welcoming new arrivals, as well as saying goodbye to those who have had their status approved. As a community group, they hold sewing groups and collect donations for specific cases. Group meetings serve as a kind of therapy, and also a way of spreading important information — from where to buy food or learn English, to explaining legal rights. New asylum seekers are not given much information, although there are serious repercussions for things like working illegally. For issues with Mears or Serco, they often refer members to No Evictions, which might then refer women-specific issues to Unity Sisters. Children are a common concern. 

    Families are often given one room for everyone to share, making it difficult for children to nap or parents to get time apart. Food is an issue — with three meals at set times, it is hard to accommodate for a child that might need snacks or milk in between meals or during the night. Schooling becomes difficult as well, Virginie explains. She described to me how one of the Unity Sisters was moved into a hotel, after the apartment she was living in had become flooded and full of mold. The hotel was very far away from her childrens’ school, and without money for transport it became a major issue to get them there and back every day. Asylum seekers are also not allowed to pursue higher education, something Unity Sisters are actively campaigning about through social media, educational videos and protests, together with MORE. 

    From her work at Unity Sisters, Virginie seems most worried about the amount of time people are spending in limbo, something Nick and Yvonne echoed as well. They have all seen first-hand how years of waiting to be granted asylum can impact people. “Sometimes I’ve noticed that after people get granted [asylum], you wouldn’t believe that these are the strong resilient people that you knew previously,” Yvonne said. She describes how people become withdrawn and can take years to recover from the physical and emotional toll of the process. “So people’s lives have kind of evaporated in front of them, because it’s not something that you can claim back.” 

    “Little Amal,” a 12-foot puppet of a Syrian refugee child made an appearance at a protest in Glasgow in November 2021. (Facebook/No Evictions Glasgow)

    Issues with hotel detention cannot be chalked up simply to an overloaded system, as the Home Office often claims. They reflect a more sinister mechanism, designed to dissuade people from coming to, or staying in the U.K., and whose cost is human lives. Lives lost in tragedy, like in the Park Inn case, and lives lost in endless waiting. 

    Following Glasgow City Council’s withdrawal from the dispersal system, the Home Office began to open up hotels outside of the city, without notifying local authorities as is customary. That means that local doctors, schools and other public services are not prepared for a large influx of people. A letter from a member of the Scottish parliament to the Home Secretary in October 2021 complained that Scottish Ministers had not been informed of the plans, and were only informed by local authorities concerned about essential services like health care. Clandestine hotels have been confirmed by members of MORE and No Evictions in East Kilbride, Falkirk, Aberdeen, Paisley and Greenock. 

    The practice of clandestine hotels makes it harder for asylum seekers to access already limited support. MORE’s biking volunteers for example cannot make it much further than Paisley. Isolation from immigrant communities also means new arrivals are less likely to hear about groups that provide support. Nick didn’t even know there were hotels outside of Glasgow until he got a call from a young man looking for medical help in East Kilbride. He added that it becomes a lot harder to find a sense of belonging, to use the bus, or participate in social events, meetings and community meals when you’re in East Kilbride. 

    The ineffectiveness of the new system casts suspicion on the intentions behind it. The small towns and cities opening clandestine hotels have strained resources and infrastructures compared to Glasgow, and are likely to be facing their own challenges. Yvonne feels this makes inhabitants less likely to be sympathetic to refugees and asylum seekers. “So for me, that’s just a technique from the home office to isolate and further dehumanize the community, instead of ensuring that they’re in places where they can be supported to participate fully in the society.” 

    On top of moving new arrivals to clandestine hotels, a MORE Facebook post from September 2022 notes that many people in hotel detention “are afraid to complain formally or submit a relocation [request] because they say ‘it is the practice of [Mears] to transfer people who complain to hotels outside of Glasgow.’” Just the presence of these new hotels then could be enough to discourage people in unsafe housing to reach out for help. 

    Support Us

    Waging Nonviolence depends on reader support. Become a sustaining monthly donor today!


    Despite the mounting difficulties for asylum seekers in Glasgow, grassroots groups here seem to be just as busy as the Home Office is. Unity Sisters is launching their Community Peer Advocacy project which aims to empower women who are refugees and asylum seekers to communicate their experiences with their wider community. They also plan on continuing their sewing meetups, as well as campaigning for faster asylum processing, for including refugee topics in school curriculums and for access to higher education for asylum seekers. After various initiatives aimed at helping members communicate more confidently, the hope is that members’ protests, social media and raising awareness by word-of-mouth start to affect change in these areas. 

    Bolstered by donations, No Evictions is also continuing their work as before. Their presence at the Kenmure Street raid has increased their visibility, although they are currently fighting legal implications for some protesters involved. Instead of simply changing locks, the group is concerned that Mears plans to un-pause evictions, now with police and court orders, and they are currently arranging an urgent action plan. 

    Yvonne’s plans with MORE in the coming year include starting a blog with weekly stories told by asylum seekers on their experiences to ensure a paper trail. “I feel like these stories are lost — they are being told, but they’re not being recorded,” she explained. MORE is also planning a demonstration at the August 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships in Glasgow, to raise visibility on the issue of freedom of movement. After learning to cycle out of necessity during the pandemic, Yvonne has discovered a love of long-cycle. 

    “I think the beautiful thing is sometimes you stop and just listen to the birds. And it’s really an empowering thing that you are making your own decision,” she said. “Sometimes we talk about resistance as chaining ourselves outside the Home Office. But resistance is having the mindset that I’m going to be free, in spite of the barriers that you erect around me. So I’m still going to cycle and enjoy this beautiful landscape in spite of what is happening. That is one of the greatest forms of resistance.”

    https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/03/inside-underground-network-supporting-asylum-seekers-scotland/feed/ 0
    Louisville’s multiracial tenant union is at the forefront of a growing national movement https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/03/louisville-tenant-union-at-forefront-of-growing-national-movement/ https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/03/louisville-tenant-union-at-forefront-of-growing-national-movement/#comments Fri, 10 Mar 2023 20:11:02 +0000 https://wagingnonviolence.org/?p=67243

    Private police officers guide a line of late-model SUVs through the January morning’s cold rain into a lane of Louisville’s Grinstead Avenue, specially cleared to ease their path to the entrance of Collegiate School. Brake lights shine through the gloom as children in plaid uniforms climb out and head inside. Collegiate, founded by a plantation-owning Kentucky family and led by a board president who is the heir to the Brown-Forman liquor dynasty, has an annual tuition of $26,000 per year.

    Just to the west of a new, modern Collegiate playground is the Yorktown Apartments, separated from school grounds by a chain link fence topped with barbed wire. Outside one of the Yorktown buildings, where the monthly rent averages $845, two dozen people stand in the rain. Jasmine Harris, her winter coat partially open to show a crimson red Louisville Tenants Union T-shirt, steps to a microphone facing a couple of television cameras.

    “Everyone deserves a home that is safe, but too many of us are choosing between medicines and food and paying the rent,” she said. “And that ain’t right!”   

    “That ain’t right!” repeat the people assembled behind Harris. Most of them are wearing the same shirts.

    “Landlords think they can treat us however,” Harris continued. “They keep us living in terrible conditions, and evict us if we speak up!”

    “That ain’t right!”

    “Our landlords are nameless, faceless corporations like Collegiate School, and they want to demolish our homes to build parking lots!”

    That, it turns out, is why these people are gathered this morning. A few years ago, Collegiate purchased Yorktown, which has 35 low-cost apartments in a community with a need for 31,000 more affordable housing units. But Collegiate has other priorities: It is seeking government permission to tear down the Yorktown Apartments to clear the way for a 56-car parking lot.

    This time, the reply chant to Harris includes a guy with a bullhorn, and is a lot more specific.

    “We need housing in this spot. Not a rich kid parking lot!”

    Previous Coverage
  • How activists are making the right to housing a reality
  • Harris introduces several of the Yorktown residents, who speak facing a ground level apartment with a 2 foot-by-3 foot hole in its front door and broken windows surrounding it. The residents show the media mold, rodent tracks, water and fire damage, and describe futile efforts to get maintenance responses from Collegiate. “Since we got the notice in October that they want to tear the buildings down, they just quit taking care of the place,” Yorktown resident Patrick McCarthy said.

    Harris returns to the microphone, changing the theme from grievance to power. This press conference was scheduled to be a prelude to a show of resistance later that day at a local architectural review commission meeting set to review Collegiate’s demolition application. But Collegiate pulled its request the day before, the second time it has done so when word of a protest was leaked.

    Harris lists the demands of Collegiate — help tenants with moving costs and the likely increased rents for nearby living, and stop demolition plans until all are safely relocated. These demands will be met, Harris insists. (Collegiate responded to a request for comment for this article by saying it has pushed back the tenant relocation date and is offering to help residents with their moves, including some costs. On March 8, at a meeting attended by Yorktown residents and other Louisville Tenant Union members, a local architectural review committee voted 3-2 to deny Collegiate’s request to demolish the Yorktown buildings.

    “We are poor, we are working class, we are old, young, Black, brown, white and everything in between. We are organizing across lines others use to divide us,” Harris said. “We know the people who run Collegiate are the descendants of wealthy plantation owners and they are used to pushing people like us out of the way.”

    ‘Tenants will no longer be silent’

    The March 2020 killing of medical worker Breonna Taylor in her apartment by Louisville police led to months of demonstrations, along with renewed charges that the area’s police violence and the raid on Taylor’s apartment were fueled in part by government-funded gentrification and displacement in Louisville’s historically Black neighborhoods. The response to Taylor’s killing also brought together a group of advocates who found that they shared deep and personal interests in the rights of tenants.

    Harris and her children had been struggling to get their landlord to respond to unsafe conditions. Shemaeka Shaw had been assaulted by law enforcement during an eviction. Josh Poe from rural Kentucky and Jessica Bellamy from Louisville’s Smoketown neighborhood had endured their own housing insecurity and were already organizing Black and white tenants. They and several others had been pushing for housing rights on their own or in smaller groups. In early 2022, they came together to form the Louisville Tenants Union, or LTU.

    The original plan was to do a policy-focused effort, likely around a tenants’ bill of rights with a right to counsel in eviction proceedings. But as they talked through these ideas, several of the LTU members reported problems they faced with the CT Group, a Maryland-based private corporation that had a contract with the Louisville Metro Housing Authority, or LMHA, to manage two of the city’s largest public housing sites. LTU members and others were dealing with flooding, mold, rodents and broken lights in parking areas, with little to no response to their outreach to management.

    “We organize through struggle,” Josh Poe said. “Our vision as part of the national tenants movement is a homes guarantee, but when we get a group of tenants together we have to deal with their immediate issues. That is how we build a powerful base — which ties into the larger goals.” So the tenants’ bill of rights plans were put on hold, and the fight to improve public housing conditions began.

    Louisville Tenants Union members delivered petitions to the CT Group’s rent office in May 2022. (Twitter/Louisville Tenants Union)

    So LTU shared tenant complaints on social media, used public records requests to document the pattern of neglect, and staged a “walk in” to present demands at a March 2022 LMHA board meeting. At a demonstration and press conference outside the CT Group’s local offices, Shemaeka Shaw said, “As an impacted resident, my mission is to create housing for every tenant in Louisville that is safe, decent and permanently affordable. We believe that housing is a human right, not a commodity.”

    Shaw describing herself as an impacted tenant was an understatement. After growing up in Louisville, and never having been evicted or arrested before 2016, she endured a nightmarish sequence of events. First, she alleges that she was sexually assaulted by her landlord, who had a Section 8 housing contract with LMHA. When Shaw reported the assault, the landlord retaliated by filing a court action for eviction, despite Shaw being current on her rent.

    A mediation agreement with the landlord gave Shaw and her two-year-old son 30 days to move. But, just 10 days later, the landlord and two deputy sheriffs showed up at the home to put her out. When Shaw tried to explain the agreement, one of the deputy sheriffs knocked her to the ground, carried her out of her home — in her nightgown and without underwear — and charged her with criminal trespassing and resisting arrest.

    A jury eventually exonerated Shaw on all charges, and the sheriff deputy was later convicted of perjury and tampering with evidence on multiple cases. But Shaw had already spent time in jail and then the hospital for the injuries she sustained, and lost most of her possessions in the process. She and her son were homeless for eight months. “We were pillar to post, just living with what family would take us in,” she said.

    Shaw’s next rental home failed four inspections for exposed wiring before catching fire in April 2018. Again, she lost all of her belongings. Remarkably, her renting troubles were still not over. Shaw and her son, along with a teenage niece, moved into yet another Section 8-subsidized home. Her landlord, who owned hundreds of properties, had been branded Louisville’s worst landlord by a local television station investigation a few years earlier. When Shaw filed complaints about serious mold and mildew problems, the windows being nailed shut and some of the electricity was not functioning, her landlord responded with an eviction filing.

    In mid-May 2019, Shaw was forcibly removed from the home and the locks changed. When she and some family and friends tried to pack up some of her items the landlord and deputies had thrown into the yard, Shaw was again arrested, this time charged with felony burglary. Shaw spent six days in jail and is still fighting the criminal charges, which are set for trial in April. Shaw and other LTU members point out that these were acts of state-sponsored violence visited on Shaw when she challenged real estate capital, a response they say is part and parcel of the structural violence routinely visited on Blacks in U.S. communities.

    Shaw and her son now live on Louisville’s west side. She is convinced that tenants coming together is the best way to prevent what happened to her from being inflicted on others. “I’ve learned to redirect my trauma into fire,” she said. “I would have had different outcomes if I had the tenant union behind me. The powers that be told me I was crazy, but that’s harder to say when I am standing next to 100 other people who have gone through the same thing.”    

    So Shaw and other LTU members kept up the pressure on CT Group and LMHA. When they made a presentation to the Louisville Metro Council about the crisis, they gained the attention of Metro Councilor Jecorey Arthur. Arthur ended up joining LTU members at an August press conference to announce he was filing a resolution calling for LMHA to terminate its contract with the CT Group.

    “The LTU is showing tenants they have power,” Arthur said. “I’ve seen tenants who were hopeless about change get motivated by the union. Even if they haven’t joined it yet, they are seeing a group of people who live where they live and go through what they go through get wins.”

    On Oct. 19, the Metro Council unanimously passed Arthur’s resolution. Less than a week later, CT Group announced it was walking away from its contract with LMHA. The city’s top newspaper, the Louisville Courier-Journal, made it clear that the decision was due to “consistent pressure from members of the Louisville Tenants Union.”

    Arthur agrees. “The LTU made an example out of the CT Group,” he said. “The example was that tenants will no longer be silent about housing injustice. They believed in a better future, organized for it and won.”

    Demanding a ‘Fair Lease’

    Jasmine Harris’ path to a microphone in front of Yorktown Apartments traveled through her own housing struggles. She and her children have endured homelessness, including a period of several nights where the only spot they could find was the lobby of a family shelter where every bed was already full. Harris, then eight months pregnant, and her infant daughter huddled up in a chair, with Harris’ coat for a blanket. Finally, she persuaded a relative to let them sleep on her couch, and eventually got an apartment owned by an organization called New Directions.

    Support Us

    Waging Nonviolence depends on reader support. Become a sustaining monthly donor today!


    The apartment was better than being homeless. But, from day one, when her daughter crawled on the carpet and came up with her leggings stained black from the dirt, Harris experienced problems with the home. She and other residents called for maintenance help with mold, discolored tap water, and roach, mice and bed bug infestations. They say the responses were slow at best, and Harris received the same reaction when she notified management about her ceiling caving in and clothes being ruined by water damage. “At one point, the manager told me, ‘Ms. Harris, if you don’t like it here, you can just turn in your keys.’”

    Harris had a better idea. She already had experience as a community activist in campaigns against police brutality and for healthy food options in the neighborhood. “I knew that the more people who speak up, the better,” she said. “I knew there was power in numbers.” She began reading about the history of tenant organizing, and then pulled her neighbors together to form the New Directions Tenant Union.

    They began by putting together a list of demands, mostly focusing on maintenance response. Harris had learned that the landlord-tenant transaction is at its core a contractual relationship, so they decided to start changing the terms of that contract. “The landlords have tons of lawyers who write up the leases in a way that gives them all the power and nothing to the residents,” Harris said. So they began organizing over the demand that the landlord sign a new, “Fair Lease.” The lease, variations of which have been included in demands in other national tenant campaigns, limits rent increases to no more than 2 percent each year, requires fast and full response to maintenance requests, and provides tenants with automatic renewal to prevent against eviction by lease non-renewal.

    The union gathered together other tenants and community supporters and held a rally, marching to the complex office to present the Fair Lease, waving signs like “No more bugs/No more mold/Bring our buildings up to code.” A New Directions spokesperson reached for this article denied Harris’ claims that it did not respond to tenants’ complaints, and pointed out that its properties pass regular federal housing inspections.

    The Fair Lease has not yet been accepted, but the New Directions union has had other victories. It fought off the landlord’s plans to allow police unrestricted access to enter the residents’ apartments, and it helped one union member resist three separate attempts to evict her. “I have never had anyone to support me like this,” she told a local television station as the union members occupied the complex office until her new lease was signed. “If things aren’t right, speak up,” she said to the TV cameras. “There are people out here who have your back.”

    The brutal legacy of plantation culture

    Jessica Bellamy grew up on Lampton Street in Smoketown, a neighborhood southeast of downtown Louisville where thousands of formerly enslaved Black people moved from rural areas after the Civil War. Her mother owns Shirley Mae’s Café, a soul food restaurant on the corner of Clay and Lampton streets, where Bellamy has worked off and on since she was 12 years old. The restaurant founded by Shirley Mae Beard, Bellamy’s grandmother, is well known for hosting the Salute to Black Jockeys festival during Kentucky Derby week, which has attracted the likes of B.B. King, Morgan Freeman and Whoopi Goldberg. “I grew up seeing what is possible when people come together in community,” Bellamy said.

    But when the notorious HUD HOPE VI program triggered the 2012 demolition of more than 300 units of public housing in Smoketown, gentrification forces emerged from the rubble. “Developers started swarming the community,” Bellamy said. Trained in design at the University of Louisville and bolstered by years of working at the school’s Neurodevelopmental Science Lab, Bellamy started researching her neighborhood and organizing residents under the umbrella of a social enterprise she created called Grassroots Information Design Studio, or GRIDS.

    “In Louisville, they like our Black smiling faces. They will paint pictures of us on murals but take no steps to prevent our displacement.”

    The experience provided Bellamy with a surprising realization: Community members were often at odds with churches, schools and other non-profits that were tearing homes down and flipping others to the highest bidder. “It turned out that the main gentrifiers are non-profit developers funded by the city,” she said. Bellamy points to multi-million dollar projects in historically Black neighborhoods where city dollars were going to developers aiming to create market-rate housing, despite that housing being unaffordable for current residents. She points to Census figures showing that one historically Black neighborhood in Louisville, Russell, lost almost 2,500 Black residents from 2010 to 2020, with a corresponding influx of white, likely wealthier, residents.

    Bellamy and Josh Poe co-founded the Root Cause Research Center, where they created story maps like “Public Lands to Private Hands” chronicling the way Black families were being displaced, and an ambitious report, “Redlining Louisville: Racial Capitalism and Real Estate.” Their work tracks the connection between private discrimination and the public policy that sustained and even encouraged it, from the pre-Civil War era to today.

    “Louisville, Kentucky is one of many cities throughout the South that still celebrates the brutal legacy of plantation culture,” Bellamy and Poe write on the Roots Cause Research Center site. “From an economy dominated by the plantation dynasties of bourbon, horse racing and tobacco, to the centering of bourbon whiskey as a culturally significant economic development engine and tourist attraction.”

    “In Louisville, they like our Black smiling faces,” Bellamy said. “They will paint pictures of us on murals but take no steps to prevent our displacement.”

    So community members have teamed up with Councilman Arthur to propose a Historically Black Neighborhood Ordinance, which would require review of any proposed development projects in the designated neighborhoods. Any projects with a potential to cause displacement, including projects that would create housing unaffordable to most of the community residents, would be blocked from any local government assistance, in particular land grants or financing. The ordinance would also create a process for Black residents to file claims for land and properties already taken from them by the government, along with home repair, downpayment and business investment assistance for those who establish claims for prior displacement.

    “Neighborhoods like Smoketown need protection from exploitation and a way out of this extractive economy,” Bellamy said. “The city needs to stop giving away our land, money and staff time to support development projects that will directly or indirectly displace us.”

    ‘Shared self-interest’ from Appalachia to Louisville

    Poe was born in the Appalachian region of eastern Kentucky when his mother was just 15 years old. Raised mostly by his grandparents, Poe lived in a home without an indoor bathroom and started working in the tobacco fields at the age of seven. But none of that prevented his family and community from providing him a model of advocacy and solidarity. Tobacco farming, Poe points out, was essentially a socialist enterprise with price supports and quotas that benefited smaller farmers. “That did not come from any big farmer’s benevolence, it came about because farmers organized. And that shaped my understanding of political power,” he said.

    Poe eventually made his way to Seattle, where he organized housing and labor campaigns. Upon his return to Kentucky, he met Bellamy, and they bonded over how their seemingly dissimilar backgrounds were not so different after all. “I learned the geography of Smoketown and Appalachia have a lot of material commonalities,” Poe said. “It just showed how much shared self-interest poor white people have with Black people.”

    Although many of LTU’s current campaigns center around historically Black communities, it has several white members and has helped organize mostly white trailer park residents on Louisville’s south side and elsewhere in Kentucky. LTU member Steph Smith grew up poor in Appalachian eastern Kentucky, where her family was often forced to move from dilapidated trailers when lot rental fees spiked or mold or other conditions got too bad. They often slept in other family members’ living rooms or in an old church.

    “I come from ‘Trump country,’ and I know some people hear my accent and wonder if I am racist,” she said. “But it became clear to me that poor white people in Appalachia being taught to hate Black people was a way to make it easier for the capitalist ruling class to exploit all of us generation after generation.”

    The LTU meetings feature testimonials, where Black and white tenants have the opportunity to see their own experiences reflected in other people’s stories, including people they have been taught to see as their enemy. LTU members says their experience gives lie to any narrative that Blacks and whites can’t be organized together in a tenant movement. “That is why the LTU and tenant organizing in general is so dangerous, “Smith said. “I’ve never been a part of something that gives me so much optimism and keeps racking up tangible, material wins.”

    Even Bellamy and Poe, who created the wealth of material under the Root Cause Research Center banner, say this LTU multiracial organizing is the real key to reform. “There is not a report that Josh and I have written that brought material change,” Bellamy said. “It is going to take people standing up as their own political class to get these wins.”

    ‘We are the ones to keep us safe’

    When the LTU stands together in that advocacy, they do so on the shoulders of several generations of tenant activists. The 20th-century tenant rights movement in New York City was arguably the most consistent and insistent such movement in the U.S., using tactics from rent strikes to lobbying to win multiple individual struggles with landlords on issues of rent increases and poor conditions, as well as the enactment of broader rent regulation and tenant control of housing. After the 1963 March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s final Poor People’s Campaign both featured demands for housing rights, the St. Louis Rent Strike of 1969 helped create changes in federal housing law that reduced public housing rents. Then, successful rent strikes and other actions across the country in the 1970s led to the forming of the National Tenants’ Union.

    Now, a current wave of campaigns, including those led by LTU’s partners at KC Tenants in Kansas City, are winning rent control measures, affordable housing fund commitments, and tenants’ bill of rights. They have a model to follow beyond our borders: Activism by tenant and labor unions have helped cause housing rights to be far more developed internationally than in the U.S., with nations like France, Germany and South Africa all enforcing a human right to affordable housing.

    Outside the White House, LTU leader Shemaeka Shaw joined dozens of tenant organizations from across the country to demand (Homes Guarantee)

    LTU is affiliated with the People’s Action Home Guarantee campaign, which mobilizes tenants across the country under the “Rent is Too Damn High” banner to demand a tenants’ bill of rights. LTU members including Shemaeka Shaw traveled to the White House with People’s Action to demand that President Biden issue an executive order on rent control and other tenant relief measures. Biden responded with a “Blueprint for a Renter’s Bill of Rights” that was short on tangible guarantees but a statement of federal commitment to protecting tenants that organizers believe can serve as a foundation for continued pressure.  

    Tara Raghuveer, the leader of the national Homes Guarantee campaign and of KC Tenants, says that LTU is at the core of the national movement, proving that tenants can have success even in the challenging political geography of a southern city. “The Louisville Tenant Union represents a new edge to the tenant movement, with deepening roots throughout the South and the Midwest,” she said. “They are building durable infrastructure that is already transforming political terrain in Louisville and will continue to set the pace for tenants across the country.” 

    So the LTU has kept one eye on its broader goals, even as it was winning the CT Group campaign and other interim victories for local tenants. In addition to their national work, they push for statewide laws instituting rent control, good-cause requirements for evictions and a block on landlords with pending code violations being allowed to evict tenants. They aim to transform the community’s landlord-tenant dynamic so they can start dictating the terms of the relationship, especially through the Fair Lease terms.

    Almost every LTU leader has experienced homelessness and retaliation for speaking up for tenant rights, so they have too many battle scars to harbor any illusion that the process will be an easy one. In a conversation among LTU leaders, Shaw swept her hand toward the entire group: “We are all traumatized,” she said. The others nod in agreement. But their response is to tangibly embrace the power of a union. “We are the ones to keep us safe,” she added.     

    Back at the Yorktown Apartments, Harris describes to the crowd how LTU members were part of the Home Guarantee campaign that traveled to Washington D.C. multiple times to pressure the Biden administration to take action on rents, which led to the president’s promise to institute new federal protections for tenants. “If we can take on the White House, we are not afraid to take on wealthy Louisville elites,” Harris said into the microphone. “We are here to promise that if Collegiate does not meet the tenants’ demands, the next time we will be back with hundreds of our neighbors from across the city. That’s right: We are here now, and we will keep coming back until we win!”

    https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/03/louisville-tenant-union-at-forefront-of-growing-national-movement/feed/ 1
    We need a climate movement that addresses the trauma of fighting for a burning planet https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/03/we-need-a-movement-that-addresses-the-trauma-of-fighting-for-a-burning-planet/ https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/03/we-need-a-movement-that-addresses-the-trauma-of-fighting-for-a-burning-planet/#comments Fri, 03 Mar 2023 16:54:30 +0000 https://wagingnonviolence.org/?p=67186

    I used to think trauma was something that only applied to people exposed to extreme situations like war, genocide, abuse or crime. Yet, living on planet Earth pretty much guarantees you some trauma. 

    Trauma comes from the Greek “traumat,” which means “wound.” It is an emotional wounding that results from experiencing or witnessing a highly stressful, horrifying event or series of events where one feels a lack of control, powerlessness and threat of injury or death. This sounds disturbingly similar to what humans are increasingly living through with climate change. 

    Being pushed beyond my own limits by the climate crisis forced me to take its traumatic impacts more seriously. As I witnessed the continent where I live burn to the ground during one of Australia’s worst bushfire events, I felt utterly overwhelmed. I’d spent the past decade helping to build the power of the climate movement, hoping to avert disasters like these. It was as though everyone’s work was burning to the ground, taking lives, homes and livelihoods with it. 

    The months that followed were like a dream. I moved through the world numb, unaware that the trauma of the experience had sent me into a dissociative state. As often happens in trauma, my brain switched off my capacity to feel as a way of trying to protect me. 

    Previous Coverage
  • There’s no place for burnout in a burning world
  • I struggled to know what to do or how to respond. Decisions about tiny things felt momentous, and yet nothing felt like it really mattered anymore. Just months before, I had helped organize the largest national climate mobilization in Australia’s history. As people around me exclaimed that maybe this was the social movement tipping point we had been waiting for, I couldn’t feel a thing.

    I kept believing I was OK, as I watched my body break down. It, more than I, knew I couldn’t keep going. As trauma expert Bessel Van Der Kolk teaches, “the body keeps the score.”

    But trauma is not felt equally. There is a deep inequity in its distribution. In his book “My Grandmother’s Hands,” therapist and somatic abolitionist Resma Menakem reminds us of the greater trauma load being carried by bodies of color. The trauma of oppression doesn’t disappear upon death. It carries on across generations. As such, people from marginalized backgrounds tend to have a much bigger load to bear. 

    If I, a middle-class white person living in an affluent country, could experience what I did during the bushfires, I could only begin to imagine the trauma experienced by those on the frontlines of climate injustice — the Black, Indigenous and People of Color facing climate impacts first and worst, who are also being required to forge some of the most courageous solutions. 

    Experiences of trauma are becoming all too common among those of us working on climate change. Being repeatedly exposed to an existential threat takes a toll. The trauma of this experience needs somewhere to go. If it isn’t processed or given an outlet, it stores in our bodies, layering atop trauma we had already accumulated prior to arriving at this work. 

    The four trauma responses in a movement context

    There is scant understanding of trauma in the climate movement. Consequently, people are seldom provided with the support to recognize and process their trauma in a healthy way. And so it builds, eventually manifesting in one or more of the following ways:

    1. Fight. This occurs when someone responds aggressively to something they perceive as threatening. That could be climate change itself, people they perceive as obstacles or a particular experience that triggers past trauma. Examples of a fight response in a movement context include: attacking or blaming, bullying or gaslighting, power-hoarding, unhelpfully polarizing situations or campaigns, and discriminating against people (consciously or unconsciously). 

    2. Freeze. The freeze response is where someone, realizing that resistance is futile, gives up, numbs out into dissociation and/or collapses as if accepting the inevitability of being hurt (much like the overwhelm I felt during the fires). Movement examples of the freeze response include: decision/analysis paralysis, scarcity mindsets, stagnation, complacency, apathy, hopelessness and depression. 

    3. Flight. The flight response is where someone responds to a perceived threat by fleeing from it, or symbolically, by launching into a state of hyperactivity, in an effort to ward off the threat. Movement examples of the fleeing mode include: avoidance of feedback/conflict, burnout and quitting. Examples of the hyperactivity mode include: workaholism, urgency/crisis mindsets, pursuing extreme tactics and strategies, anxiety and obsessive/compulsive tendencies. 

    4. Fawn. The fawn response kicks into gear when someone responds to a threat by trying to be pleasing or helpful in order to appease and forestall an attack. In a movement context, this often manifests as putting the advancement of others’ needs — or the causes’ needs — ahead of one’s own wellbeing. Examples include: code-switching (particularly among folks from marginalized backgrounds responding to discrimination and/or micro-aggressions), people-pleasing, over-working, marginalizing one’s own needs and chronic issues with boundaries. 

    As I reflected on these four responses, I realized that aspects of the climate movement’s culture can inadvertently encourage or incentivize at least three of these responses — fight, flight and fawn — more so than freeze.

    With fight, belligerent language is peppered, almost subliminally, throughout our vocabulary: “fight,” “battle,” “weaponize.” With flight, we are constantly in motion, unintentionally or otherwise, glorifying over-work. And with fawn, we love people who are willing to “step up” to the challenge, to be of service, contribute their all. Putting the issue ahead of the individual is our currency, even when doing so jeopardizes that individual’s wellbeing.

    Over time, as more trauma builds and more people respond in the four ways outlined above, movements come to perpetuate the very systems they exist to transform. Trauma begets more trauma. Hurt people, hurt people. People burn out and leave. Unresolved conflict ends groups. Campaigns stagnate. Activists, now jaded and exhausted, settle for centrist, complacent outcomes rather than the transformative change that movements seek.

    Building a culture of care and healing from movement trauma

    We need movements that support people to process and heal from their own trauma so that we can bring transformed mindsets to the work of transforming injustice. As the saying goes “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” To build an impactful climate justice movement, we must first build cultures that care for the people doing the work.

    Already, there are so many amazing people, programs and groups working to weave cultures of care and wellbeing into systemic justice work — much of it led by First Nations people, people of color, women, gender-diverse folk and others on the frontlines of injustice. What would it look like to lean into their wisdom, to grow care rather than illness, stress and burnout? 

    The origin of the word “care” is from the proto-Germanic karo meaning “sorrow, cry” and the proto-Indo-European gehr, meaning “shout, call.”

    Previous Coverage
  • As we confront the climate crisis, is bigger and faster always better?
  • Riffing off this etymology, to center care in the climate movement’s culture, surely we need to create space for people to healthily navigate their emotions about climate injustice. We also need to ensure people, particularly those marginalized by the mainstream, feel seen, heard and valued. And we need an active commitment to repairing and not perpetuating further harm and injustice.

    In trying to sketch out the different ingredients that a culture of care might center, a few elements emerged. This is just the beginning of a recipe. As we add more ingredients, the outcome gets richer: 

    1. Space. One of the most damaging aspects of unjust systems and trauma is the lack of spaciousness. The renowned psychologist Victor Frankl once said: “Between stimulus and response is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” 

    A culture of care would protect time and space for people to rest, reflect, recover and repair. As emergent strategist adrienne maree brown says: “There is always enough time for the right work,” and Nap Ministry Founder Tricia Hersey reminds us: “Rest is resistance.” 

    What could this look like in the climate movement?

    • Shorter working hours / 4-day work weeks
    • 80/20 time for reflection, experimentation and creativity
    • Campaign plans and timeframes with ebbs and flows
    • Communities of practice and learning circles
    • Sabbaticals and long service leave for both staff and volunteers

    2. Love. Cornell West said that “justice is what love looks like in action.” At the heart of injustice is an absence of love. Healing climate injustice requires us to love ourselves, others and the earth. bell hooks reminds us: “to begin by always thinking of love as an action rather than a feeling.” It is, as M. Scott Peck says, “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” If we don’t act with love towards ourselves and others in our work, we can’t bring more love to the systems causing climate injustice. 

    What could this look like in the climate movement?

    • Regular praise, positive feedback and celebration of people and their work (I distinguish people from their work, as we need to get better at celebrating people’s inherent worth, independent of their work)
    • Investing more capacity in people’s leadership, growth and development
    • Regularly checking in on people’s wellbeing and building communities of support for people when they are going through difficult times
    • Time and space for people to attend to their own inner work 
    • Eldership, mentoring and buddies

    3. Diversity. Diversity is life. Insight and learning lies in understanding not just the things we share in common but how each of us is beautifully unique. According to social movement research, a few people connected across difference have greater potential for creating the social growth of an idea or process than large numbers of people who think alike. 

    Diversity enables greater sense-making, because it widens the pool of vantage points and sense-makers. This is especially beneficial when navigating the complexity of climate change. A culture of care would encourage and celebrate diversity in all its forms — race, class, gender, sexual orientation, body type, health and all their intersections. It would also actively encourage divergence of opinion, rather than rushing to convergence and unity. 

    What could this look like in a movement?

    • Leaders from a wide range of different backgrounds
    • Time and space given to building relationships across difference
    • A movement ecosystem comprising a diversity of theories of change, strategies and groups, each of which is respected by the other
    • Actively encouraging a diversity of perspectives, feedback and opinions 

    4. Boundaries. Therapist and political organizer Prentis Hemphill defines a boundary as “the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.” We have arrived at the unjust juncture we find ourselves in today precisely due to a lack of boundaries — of treating the world and ourselves as limitless resources. A culture of care would celebrate and foster a practice of boundary-setting to help bring us all back within happy and healthy limits.

    What could this look like in a movement?

    • Respecting work hours and supporting people to switch off when not working
    • Asking rather than assuming someone can take on more work/responsibility
    • Limiting exposure to vicarious climate trauma 
    • Setting and holding clear goals to avoid feeling the need to do everything
    • Encouraging everyone to set their own personal boundaries and communicate these to those they work with

    5. Awareness. We can’t change what we can’t see, yet our most painful trauma is often stored subconsciously — our worst biases often hidden from view. A culture of care would provide support and space for everyone to build greater individual and collective awareness of their blindspots and pain, so that we can move forward in the world with more holistic perspectives. 

    What could this look like in a movement?

    • Providing support and resources for everyone to process their trauma. In certain sectors this takes the form of supervision. We need a version of this for climate trauma, and we need to build networks of climate-informed mental health practitioners to support those who spend their days addressing climate injustice
    • Training and communities of practice to address unconscious bias 
    • Creating space for regular feedback and reflection

    6. Compassion. Compassion is the sense of concern that arises when we are confronted with another’s or our own suffering and feel motivated to see that suffering relieved. It has four components: 1. noticing; 2. feeling; 3. caring; and 4. doing. Compassion is different to empathy in that it moves beyond feeling to doing, however it is not about fixing others’ suffering for them, rather creating the conditions for suffering to be alleviated. Like love, a lack of compassion is at the heart of injustice. By building a movement’s compassionate capacity, we strengthen its capacity for justice.  

    What could this look like in a movement?

    • Seeing mistakes as a crucial part of learning, rather than fuel for shame 
    • Being clear about each other’s needs and supporting one another to ensure those needs are met
    • Learning to let go of judgement — of ourselves and others; in Buddhism, negative judgement about our feelings (the “second arrow”) is viewed as more damaging than the original feelings themselves
    • Checking in when we can see someone is struggling
    • Coaching to help people build capacity for their own solutions

    Support Us

    Waging Nonviolence depends on reader support. Become a sustaining monthly donor today!


    7. Vulnerability. When we share deeper parts of ourselves, the parts that are not “resolved,” we open up a door in other people’s hearts to feel a little more able to do the same. And in the sharing of the deepest parts of ourselves, we build greater compassion, space for diversity and in turn more transformative movements. Vulnerability also calls on us to work on/for the things we know are needed, even if we know these things are likely to be attacked or ridiculed by the mainstream.

    What could this look like in a movement?

    • Leaders who act with radical honesty about when they are struggling, have made a mistake or don’t know what to do 
    • Properly welcoming new people into movement spaces, taking time to really understand and support the whole person — their strengths, fears and needs 
    • Campaigns and movements that demand and strive for what is needed, not just what they think they can get, despite fear or external attack

    8. Joy. Why do this work if not to generate joy? How we feel when we work matters. It determines whether or not people keep showing up for the long arcs required to sustain social change. In her book “Pleasure Activism,” adrienne maree brown says: “Pleasure is the point. Feeling good is not frivolous, it is freedom.” 

    What could this look like in a movement?

    • Building play — defined as “time without purpose” — into work
    • Regular social time and celebration
    • Identifying the feeling states associated with different types of work and ensuring that everyone has plenty associated with pleasure and joy 

    9. Fluidity. Change is constant. The most effective movements seek to “be like water,” evolving as the issue does. But movements only evolve as effectively as their members do. Cultures of care ensure space and support for everyone to evolve and grow over time, avoiding the creep of stagnation and resentment.

    What could this look like in a movement?

    • Strategy, groups and campaigns that have ambitious goals but are always open to change and responsive to what is going on around them
    • Reflective practices to learn and iterate strategy
    • Support for people to develop in their roles and evolve over time
    • Sharing and learning to enable cross-pollination of knowledge and skills

    10. Imagination. Imagination is an act of both courage and intelligence. Far from naivety, it arises from a place of deep sensing — of how the world is, how it was and how it could be better. Imagination can never end at the point of sensing, it must extend to action, not only one’s own, but the inspiration of others to act collectively. Imagination is a form of care because it refuses to accept the way things are, and instead dares to both dream of and create different systems, structures and worlds. 

    What could this look like in a movement?

    • Celebrating ambitious ideas and plans and those who generate them
    • Creating space in our work to dream, reflect and co-create new ideas together
    • Welcoming more art and artists into movements
    • Seeking to learn from spaces outside of our immediate circles

    This is just a starting point. Building more of these 10 ingredients into the climate movement will be an iterative and emergent process. But one thing’s for sure, we can’t afford to shy away. The more traumatic load we build, the more conflict, burnout and status quo outcomes we will get. Showing the climate crisis the care it is calling for starts with caring for ourselves and each other. 

    https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/03/we-need-a-movement-that-addresses-the-trauma-of-fighting-for-a-burning-planet/feed/ 1
    How to beat the ‘fracking frenzy’ — lessons from the campaign that ended fracking in Ireland https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/02/lessons-from-the-campaign-that-ended-fracking-ireland-tamboran/ https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/02/lessons-from-the-campaign-that-ended-fracking-ireland-tamboran/#comments Tue, 28 Feb 2023 19:27:43 +0000 https://wagingnonviolence.org/?p=67164

    The reality of the climate crisis makes it clear that we must leave the “oil in the soil” and the “gas under the grass,” as the Oilwatch International slogan goes. The fossil fuel industry knew this before anyone else. Yet the industry continues to seek new extractive frontiers on all continents in what has been labeled a “fracking frenzy” by campaigners. 

    In Australia, unconventional fossil gas exploration has been on the rise over the last two decades. Coal seam gas wells have been in production since 2013, while community resistance has so far prevented the threat of shale gas fracking. The climate crisis and state commitments under the Paris Agreement means that the window for exploration is closing. But the Australian economy remains hooked on fossil fuels and the industry claims that fossil gas is essential for economic recovery from COVID, “green growth” and meeting net-zero targets.  

    The Northern Territory, or NT, government is particularly eager to exploit its fossil fuel reserves and wants to open up extraction in the Beetaloo Basin as part of its gas strategy. The NT recently announced a $1.32 billion fossil fuel subsidy for gas infrastructure project Middle Arm and greenlighted the drilling of 12 wells by fracking company Tamboran Resources as a first step towards full production. 

    Gas exploration is inherently speculative with high risks. The threat of reputational damage is high enough that large blue chip energy companies like Origin Energy — a major player in the Australian energy market — are turning away from shale. This leaves the field to smaller players who are willing to take a gamble in search of a quick buck. This is precisely how Tamboran came to prominence in Australia. After buying out Origin Energy in September 2022, Tamboran is now the biggest player in the Northern Territory’s drive to drill. 

    NT anti-fracking campaigner Hannah Ekin described this point as “a really key moment in the campaign to stop fracking in the Beetaloo basin.” For over a decade, “Traditional Owners, pastoralists and the broader community have held the industry at bay, but we are now staring down the possibility of full production licenses being issued in the near future.”  

    Despite this threat, Tamboran has been stopped before. In 2017, community activists in Ireland mobilized a grassroots movement that forced the state to revoke Tamboran’s license and ban fracking. Although the context may be different, this successful Irish campaign has many key insights to offer those on the frontlines of resistance in Australia — as well as the wider anti-extraction movements all over the world.


    Tamboran comes to Ireland

    In February 2011, Tamboran was awarded an exploratory license in Ireland — without public knowledge or consent. They planned to exploit the shale gas of the northwest carboniferous basin and set their sights on county Leitrim. The county is a beautiful, mountainous place, with small communities nestled in valleys carved by glaciers in the last ice age. The landscape is watery: peat bogs, marshes and gushing rivers are replenished by near daily downpours as Atlantic coast weather fronts meet Ireland’s western seaboard. Farming families go back generations on land that can be difficult to cultivate. Out of this land spring vibrant and creative communities, despite — or perhaps because of — the challenges of being on the margins and politically peripheral.

    The affected communities first realized Tamboran’s plans when the company began a PR exercise touting jobs and economic development. In seeking to understand what they faced, people turned to other communities experiencing similar issues. A mobile cinema toured the glens of Leitrim showing Josh Fox’s documentary “Gasland.” After the film there were Q&As with folks from another Irish community, those resisting a Shell pipeline and gas refinery project at Rossport. Out of these early exchanges, an anti-fracking movement comprised of many groups and individuals emerged. One in particular — Love Leitrim, or LL, which formed in late 2011 — underscored the importance of a grassroots community response.

    Resisting fracking by celebrating the positives about Leitrim life was a conscious strategic decision and became the group’s hallmark. In LL’s constitution, campaigners asserted that Leitrim is “a vibrant, creative, inclusive and diverse community,” challenging the underlying assumptions of the fracking project that Leitrim was a marginal place worth sacrificing for gas. The group developed a twin strategy of local organizing — which rooted them in the community — and political campaigning, which enabled them to reach from the margins to the center of Irish politics. This combination of “rooting” and “reaching” was crucial to the campaign’s success. 

    5 key rooting strategies

    The first step towards defeating Tamboran in Ireland was building a movement rooted in the local community. Out of this experience, five key “rooting strategies” for local organizing emerged — showing how the resistance developed a strong social license and built community power.

    1. Build from and on relationships. Good relationships were essential to building trust in LL’s campaign. Who was involved — and who was seen to be involved — were crucial for rooting the campaign in the community. Local people were far more likely to trust and accept information that was provided by those they knew, and getting the public support of local farmers, fishers and well-known people was crucial. Building on existing relationships and social bonds, LL became deeply rooted in local life in a way that provided a powerful social license and a strongly-rooted base to enable resistance to fracking.

    2. Foster ‘two-way’ community engagement. LL engaged the community with its campaign and, at the same time, actively participated as volunteers in community events. This two-way community engagement built trust and networked the campaign in the community. LL actively participated in local events such as markets, fairs and the St. Patrick’s Day parade, which offered creative ways to boost their visibility. At the same time, LL also volunteered to support events run by other community groups, from fun-runs to bake sales. According to LL member Heather (who, along with others in this article, is quoted on the condition of anonymity), this strategy was essential to “building up trust … between the group, its name and what it wants, and the community.”

    3. Celebrate community. In line with its vision, LL celebrated and fostered community in many ways. This was typified by its organizing of a street feast world café event during a 2017 community festival that saw people come together over a meal to discuss their visions of Leitrim now and for their children. LL members also supported local renewable energy and ecotourism projects that advanced alternative visions of development. Celebrating and strengthening the community in this way challenged the fundamental assumptions of the fracking project — a politics of disposability which assumed that Leitrim could be sacrificed to fuel the extractivist economy. 

    4. Connect to culture. Campaigners saw culture as a medium for catalyzing conversations and connecting with popular folk wisdom. LL worked with musicians, artists and local celebrities in order to relate fracking to popular cultural and historical narratives that resonated with communities through folk music and cultural events. This was particularly important in 2016, the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, which ultimately led to Irish independence from the British Empire. Making those connections tapped into radical strands of the popular imagination. Drawing on critical counter-narratives in creative ways overcame the potential for falling into negative activist stereotypes. Through culture, campaigners could present new or alternative stories, experiences or ideas in a way that evocatively connected with people.

    5. Build networks of solidarity. Reaching out to other frontline communities was a powerful and evocative way to raise awareness of fracking and extractivism from people who had experienced them first-hand. As local campaigner Bernie explained, “When someone comes, it’s on a human level people can appreciate and understand. When they tell their personal story, that makes a difference.” 

    Perhaps the most significant guest speaker was Canadian activist Jessica Ernst, whose February 2012 presentation to a packed meeting in the Rainbow ballroom was described by many campaigners as a key moment in the campaign. Ernst is a former gas industry engineer who found herself battling the fracking industry on her own land. She told her personal story, the power of which was heightened by her own industry insider credentials and social capital as a landowner. Reflecting on the event, LL member Triona remembered looking around the room and seeing “all the farmers, the landowners, who are the important people to have there — and people were really listening.”


    4 key reaching strategies 

    With a strong social license and empowered network of activists, the next step for the anti-fracking movement was to identify how to make their voices heard and influence public policy. This required reaching beyond the local community scale to engage in national political decision making around fracking. Four key strategies enabled campaigners to successfully jump scales and secure a national fracking ban.

    1. Find strategic framings. Tamboran sought to frame the public conversation on narrow technical issues surrounding single drilling sites, pipelines and infrastructure, obscuring the full impact of the thousands of planned wells. As LL campaigner Robert pointed out, this “project-splitting” approach “isn’t safe for communities, but it’s easier for the industry because they’re getting into a position where they’re unstoppable.” Addressing the impact of the entire project at a policy level became a key concern for campaigners. LL needed framings that would carry weight with decision makers, regulators and the media. Listening and dialogue in communities helped campaigners to understand and root the campaign in local concerns. From this, public health and democracy emerged as frames that resonated locally, while also carrying currency nationally.

    The public health frame mobilized a wide base of opposition. Yet it was not a consideration in the initial Irish Environmental Protection Agency research to devise a regulatory framework for fracking. LL mobilized a campaign that established public health as a key test of the public’s trust in the study’s legitimacy. The EPA conceded and amended the study’s terms of reference to include public health. This enabled campaigners to draw on emerging health impact research from North American fracking sites, providing evidence that would have “cache with the politicians,” as LL member Alison put it. Working alongside campaigners from New York, LL established the advocacy group Concerned Health Professionals of Ireland, or CHPI, mirroring a similar, highly effective New York group. CHPI was crucial to highlighting the public health case for a ban on fracking and shaping the media and political debate.

    2. Demonstrate resistance. Having rooted the campaign in local community life, LL catalyzed key groups like farmers and fishers to mobilize their bases. Farmers in LL worked within their social networks to organize a tractorcade. “It was all word of mouth … knocking on doors and phone calls,” said Fergus, the lead organizer for the event. Such demonstrations were “a show of solidarity with the farmers who are the landowners,” Triona recalled. They were also aimed at forcing the farmer’s union to take a public position on fracking. The event demonstrated to local farmers union leaders that their members were opposed to fracking, encouraging them to break their silence on the issue.

    Collective action also enforced a bottom line of resistance to the industry. Tamboran made one attempt to drill a test well in 2014. Community mobilization prevented equipment getting to the site for a week while a legal battle over a lack of an environmental impact assessment was fought and won. Reflecting on this success, Robert suggested that communities can be nodes of resistance to “fundamental, large problems that aren’t that easy to solve” because “one of the things small communities can do is simply say no.” And when frontline communities are networked, then “every time a community resists, it empowers another community to resist.”

    Support Us

    Waging Nonviolence depends on reader support. Become a sustaining monthly donor today!


    3. Engage politicians before regulators. In 2013, when Tamboran was renewing its license, campaigners found that there was no public consultation mechanism. Despite this, LL organized an “Application Not to Frack.” This was printed in a local newspaper, and the public was encouraged to cut it out and sign it. This grassroots counter-application carried no weight with regulators, but with an emphasis on rights and democracy, it sent a strong signal to politicians. 

    Submitting their counter application, LL issued a press release: “Throughout this process people have been forgotten about. We want to put people back into the center of decision making … We are asking the Irish government: Are you with your people or not?” At a time when public sentiment was disillusioned with the political establishment in the aftermath of the 2011 financial crisis, LL tapped into this sentiment to discursively jump from the scale of a localized place-based struggle to one that was emblematic of wider democratic discontents and of national importance.

    Frontline environmental justice campaigns often experience procedural injustices when navigating governance structures that privilege scientific/technical expertise. Rather than attempt an asymmetrical engagement with regulators, LL forced public debate in the political arena. In that space, they were electors holding politicians to account rather than lay-people with insufficient scientific knowledge to contribute to the policy making process. The group used a variety of creative tactics and strategic advocacy to engage local politicians. This approach — backed up by a strongly rooted base — led to unanimous support for a ban from politicians in the license area. In the 2016 election, the only pro-fracking candidate failed to win a seat. Local democratic will was clear. Campaigners set their sights on parliament and a national fracking ban.

    4. Focus on the parliament. The lack of any public consultation before exploration commenced led campaigners to fear that decisions would continue to be made without public scrutiny. LL built strategic relationships with politicians across the political spectrum with the aim of forcing accountability in the regulatory system. A major obstacle to legislation was the ongoing EPA study, which was to inform government decisions on future licensing. But it emerged that CDM Smith, a vocally pro-fracking engineering firm, had been contracted for much of the work. The study was likely to set a roadmap to frack. 

    Campaigners had two tasks: to politically discredit the EPA study and work towards a fracking ban. They identified the different roles politicians across the political spectrum — and between government and opposition — could strategically play in the parliamentary process. While continuing a public campaign, the group engaged in intensive advocacy efforts, working with supportive parliamentarians to host briefings where community members addressed lawmakers, submitted parliamentary questions to the minister, used their party’s speaking time to address the issue, raised issues at parliamentary committee hearings, and proposed motions and legislative bills. 

    While the politicians were also not environmental experts, their position as elected representatives meant that regulators were accountable to them. Political pressure thus led to the shelving of the compromised EPA study and paved the way for a ban. Several bills had been tabled. By chance, the one that was first scheduled for debate was from a Leitrim politician whose bill was backed by campaigners as the most watertight. With one final push from campaigners, it secured support from lawmakers across parties and a government motion to block it was fought off. In November 2017, six years after Tamboran arrived in Leitrim, fracking was finally banned in Ireland. It was a win for people power and democracy.  

    Love Leitrim supporters showing solidarity with Standing Rock water protectors. (LL/Rob Doyle)

    Building a bridge to the Beetaloo and beyond

    Pacifist-anarchist folk singer Utah Phillips described folk songs as “bridges” between past struggles and the listener’s present. Bridges enable the sharing of knowledge and critical understanding across time and distances. Similarly, stories of struggle act as a bridge, between the world of the reader and the world of the story, sharing wisdom, and practical and ethical knowledge. The story of successful Irish resistance to Tamboran is grounded in a particular political moment and a particular cultural context. The political and cultural context faced by Australian campaigners is very different. Yet there are certainly insights that can bridge the gap between Ireland and Australia. 

    The Irish campaign shows us how crucial relationships and strongly rooted community networks can be when people mobilize. In the NT, campaigners have similarly sought to build alliances across the territory and between traditional Indigenous owners and pastoralists. This is crucial, suggests NT anti-fracking campaigner Hannah Ekin, because “the population affected by fracking in the NT is very diverse, and different communities often have conflicting interests, values and lifestyles.” 

    LL’s campaign demonstrates the importance of campaign framings reflective of local contexts and concerns. While public health was a unifying frame in Ireland, Ekin notes that the protection of water has become “a real motivator” and a rallying cry that “unites people across the region” because “if we over-extract or contaminate the groundwater we rely on, we are jeopardizing our capacity to continue living here.”  

    The Beetaloo is a sacred site for First Nations communities, with sacred song lines connected to the waterways. “We have to maintain the health of the waterways,” stressed Mudburra elder Raymond Dimikarri Dixon. “That water is alive through the song line. If that water isn’t there the songlines will die too.” 

    In scaling up from local organizing to national campaigning, the Irish campaign demonstrated the importance of challenging project splitting and engaging the political system to avoid being silenced by the technicalities of the regulatory process. In the NT, the government is advancing the infrastructure to drill, transport and process fracked gas. This onslaught puts enormous pressure on campaigners. “It’s death by a thousand cuts,” Ekin noted. “We are constantly on the back foot trying to stop each individual application for a few wells here, a few wells there, as the industry entrenches itself as inevitable.” 

    In December 2022, Environment Minister Lauren Moss approved a plan by Tamboran Resources to frack 12 wells in the Beetaloo as they move towards full production. But campaigners are determined to stop them: the Central Australian Frack Free Alliance, or CAFFA, is taking the minister to court for failing to address the cumulative impacts of the project as a whole. By launching this case CAFFA wants to shift the conversation to the bigger issue of challenging a full scale fracking industry in the NT. As Ekin explained, “We want to make the government listen to the community, who for over a decade now have been saying that fracking is not safe, not trusted, not wanted in the territory.”

    Hannah Ekin of the Central Australian Frack Free Alliance and Love Leitrim contributed to this article.

    Correction 3/3/2023: An earlier version of this story misspelled Hannah Ekin’s last name as Mekin.

    https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/02/lessons-from-the-campaign-that-ended-fracking-ireland-tamboran/feed/ 2
    Prisoners reignite movement to end mass incarceration https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/02/prisoners-reignite-movement-to-end-mass-incarceration/ https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/02/prisoners-reignite-movement-to-end-mass-incarceration/#respond Fri, 24 Feb 2023 11:46:46 +0000 https://wagingnonviolence.org/?p=67118

    On Dec. 5, I sat in a circle with 30 prisoners at the Washington Correction Center in Shelton, Washington. As we looked around the room, anticipation, resolve and relief reflected in our eyes — yet we were all eager for this moment.

    Unable to meet due to COVID restrictions, we watched the world change around us for nearly three years. During this time tragedies like the murder of George Floyd, Brianna Taylor and countless others took place, and justice reform became a dinner-table conversation for many Americans. As incarcerated activists, we sat silenced, unable to convene — even though, as stakeholders, experts in the field and leaders in justice reform efforts in Washington state, we have a lot to contribute. Nevertheless, our passion for the work smoldered, and this circle was the oxygen needed to light the fire of our movement once again.

    I looked around the room with pride, then uttered the most powerful five words I will ever speak, “Welcome to Concerned Lifers everyone.” To those of us familiar with this call-to-order, they were words we thought would never be spoken again.

    This circle, a true microcosm of America, was filled with people of every ethnicity and representatives from various socially active groups. As we introduced ourselves, people in the circle identified themselves by name, membership and other affiliations.

    Represented amongst the prisoners were members of the Black Prisoners Caucus, Tribal Sons, Asian Pacific Islanders, Look2Justice and Liberation Media. Among the groups’ sponsors (free citizens who come into the prison and share our circle) were representatives of the University of Washington, the Washington Sentencing Guidelines Commission, and United Church of Christ In Works.

    We met with ambitious goals in mind: to end mass incarceration, redress grievances of marginalized groups and form community, against all odds.

    The Concerned Lifer’s Organization, or CLO, last met in the spring of 2020 at the Washington State Reformatory, or WSR, in Monroe — where it had existed since its founding in 1972. Over the years, thousands of prisoners have been CLO members, with Monday night meetings attended by 30 people or more. After COVID shut meetings down — but before the veil of lockdowns lifted — WSR unexpectedly closed in 2021. This left CLO members without hope we would ever meet again. Despite its 50-year history in Washington state, no other prison had ever allowed the CLO or any kind of organizing among Lifers (people serving life without parole and sentences that they cannot outlive). But now that’s finally changing.

    Breaking into a new prison puts CLO on unfamiliar territory, a fact not lost on the members who have been around a while. While some contemplate whether this precedent represents a sea-change in correctional philosophy or is just an anomaly, others prefer to focus more on the work ahead.

    The need for the CLO today is just as strong as it was a half century ago. Henry Grisby, a founding member of the CLO, recalls that initially the group met as a way to establish positive relationships with prison administrators in hopes to improve prison conditions. Over the years, CLO has successfully advocated for higher quality food and mattresses, while also helping facilitate access to rehabilitative and educational programs. Now 82-years-old, Grisby slightly closes his eyes as he discusses the early days of the CLO. He recalls that it didn’t take long for early members to realize that “in order to get change it would have to come from the outside.” And in order to enact change from the outside, prisoners needed to engage with the public.

    Towards this goal, no single person worked harder — or longer — for the CLO than the late Rev. Jonathan Nelson. He would incessantly advocate for the Lifers. Originally coming to the prison as a Lutheran Minister, Nelson quickly realized people inside needed more than spiritual food. Through his advocacy in the community, free citizens would learn about the CLO and be invited into the circle. By word of mouth, Nelson would invite curious people in and they would be blown away by the sincerity and fellowship of the prisoners they found inside. Through a model of meeting with people and sharing their stories, the CLO grew in community.

    Rev. Corey Passons was a young citizen — not yet on a path of public service — when he heard a man at church named Darel Grothaus give thanks for the time spent in a CLO meeting. Interested in his experience, Passons accepted an invitation to WSR. On his first ride into the prison, he met Nelson, and soon after was moved to become a sponsor for the group. Passons sponsored the CLO from 2004-2016 and asserts that the CLO was a learning experience for him. He also says learning about the justice system — the biases and racism in society — changed his life trajectory and put him on a path of public service. Now, with the CLO restarting, he is once again a sponsor.

    Recalling his first meetings back in 2004, Passons said “I had never heard stories like these, and it didn’t take me long to realize that if I grew up in a setting like those it could just as easily be me staying behind when the sponsors walked out of the room.” Through interactions with regular people, professionals and other organizations in the community, the CLO has impacted society in countless positive ways.

    As stakeholders and impacted people, the CLO serves as a resource for professionals and works with them to enact change. Katherine Beckett, who heads the Law Society and Justice program at the University of Washington, has been a sponsor of the CLO since 2014. In her time with the organization she works alongside the CLO to raise public awareness and further understanding on the human cost of mass incarceration. Beckett says that her work is undoubtedly inspired by the time she has spent in the CLO, and members of the CLO say that their work would be much harder without the ardent support of professionals like Beckett.

    The fruits of this relationship can be seen in the About Time report, published in collaboration with ACLU Washington. This report proves racial bias in Washington’s judicial system with regard to long-term and life sentences. Beckett credits the CLO and Black Prisoners Caucus as instrumental allies in compiling the stories and data for this report. Working relationships like the one formed between the CLO and professionals like Beckett are critical to achieving informed social policies that work towards equitable solutions that dismantle mass incarceration.

    In addition to reports, Beckett points to the work done within the CLO to dismantle the foster-care-to-prison pipeline as another example of the organization’s impact. In 2016, Arthur Longworth, Jeff Fox and other prisoners (including me) founded the State Raised Working Group as a committee within CLO to address disproportionate representation of former foster youth among the prison population.

    As the founders of the committee, and former foster youth ourselves, we knew all-too-well the trappings of the “state raised” experience. Reaching out to community members, community organizations, politicians and professionals, we raised awareness of the intersection between foster care and mass incarceration. This work culminated in strong relationships with organizations like Treehouse — which helps foster youth navigate educational development and graduate high school — and people like Secretary Ross Hunter of the Washington Department of Children, Youth and Families. Working with Treehouse and Secretary Hunter, the State Raised Working Group helped develop and fund a mentorship program for at-risk foster youth that aims to pull those youth out of the foster-care-to-prison pipeline.

    Over the years the CLO community has grown strong — in true grassroots fashion, by word of mouth, by personal connection and by achieving consensus on principled positions with a view towards reform.

    The CLO held yearly conferences at WSR titled “Ending the Crime Cycle.” Every year these conferences would feature lawmakers, policy wonks, lawyers, advocates, community organizers and concerned citizens. Around 150 people who had shared Monday night meetings throughout the year fill these conferences. Speakers, both prisoners and free professionals, would give talks, and people would leave with a call to action — simple steps to take to achieve change.

    In 2018, the CLO had built enough political capital to push post-conviction relief legislation. The CLO Legislative Committee drafted a bill, and the community mobilized around it. Senate Bill 5819 (SB5819), as it came to be called, would have created a post-conviction review process for prisoners who had served over 15 years in prison. Prior to the bill being voted on, members of the CLO gave public testimony via Zoom on the impact this bill would have on society and on the criminal justice system. Although the bill did not succeed, valuable lessons were learned that day.

    Nick Hacheney, then-chair of the CLO Legislative Committee, notes that we had stuck together through a tough time, kept our word to each other, and maintained solidarity based on our principals. From this moment Hacheney was sure we could “build upon that foundation and keep pushing for comprehensive sentencing reform for all.”

    With lessons learned from the fight for SB5819, the CLO was more determined than ever. The organization went to work on new strategies to push for much needed change. On Jan. 20, 2020, the CLO, in collaboration with Prison Voice Washington, organized the Rally to End Mass Incarceration on the steps of the Capital building in Olympia. That night we held a candle light vigil for the 1,300 people sentenced to die in Washington prisons. A candle for each person lined the steps, guest speakers addressed the crowd, and live music was performed for the nearly 400 people who attended that cold winter night.

    “That night was a moving experience,” recalled, Chelsea Moore, executive director of Look2Justice, an organization focused on civic education started by members of the CLO advocacy community. “It was great to see so many people that have been working on criminal justice reform all there looking to further the movement. Knowing we were there because of the work the guys inside did to organize it made the night even more powerful.”

    The Rally to End Mass Incarceration was a first step in an escalated strategy for the CLO — a strategy that the organization intends to pursue as it begins to work again. This strategy focuses on wielding political capital in ways that are impossible for lawmakers to ignore, like rallies in public spaces. It is not enough to bring reasoned arguments for change if those arguments can then be ignored by people with power. While one way to achieve change is to disrupt spaces, another is to fight battles asymmetrically — changing the conditions around the issues to achieve desired outcomes, as opposed to tackling the issues head-on.

    This year, Rep. Tara Simmons, the first formerly incarcerated member of the state legislature, introduced HB 1024, a law that will stop forced labor and pay prisoners minimum wage in Washington prisons. This legislation is yet to pass, and while we remain hopeful, the CLO is currently developing an asymmetric strategy to achieve the same result.

    Our approach will first be to reach out to free citizens in the community and educate them on the 13th Amendment, which allows for those convicted of crimes to be slaves under the U.S. Constitution. Next, we are going to draft legislation that proposes an amendment to the Washington constitution prohibiting all forms of slavery, since state constitutions can be more — just not less — protective than the federal constitution. Therefore, the amendment would supercede provisions for legal slavery currently carved out in U.S. Constitution’s 13th Amendment. We then plan to collaborate with lawmakers like Simmons to introduce our legislation in the next session.

    This approach will change the legal landscape, in effect producing the same conditions that HB 1024 is now attempting to create. It is easy for lawmakers to oppose a law paying prisoners minimum wage, and much harder for those same lawmakers to stand against prohibiting slavery.

    Support Us

    Waging Nonviolence depends on reader support. Become a sustaining monthly donor today!


    According to longtime CLO member Look2Justice co-founder Christopher Blackwell the pendulum is swinging back. “The narrative around crime now in local and national news is reminiscent of that from the early 1990s. This narrative was foundational in the construction of the carceral state. Countering this narrative is our number one goal.”

    Members of the CLO agree that the tide is turning. But there is yet time to stall, or disrupt its pull. For Lifers, this is more than a matter of right and wrong; it’s a matter of life and death.

    Our backs are truly against the wall. We fight for change, or we roll over on a bunk and wait for a miracle — for mercy — while hoping not to die in prison. We Lifers know the difference between a life sentence and a death sentence: merely duration and method. In Washington State, we have death by hanging, death by lethal injection and death by incarceration — the most prevalent and most overlooked form of state sponsored execution. They call it a life sentence, but that is a misnomer. Any prison sentence that a person cannot outlive is a sentence to death.

    As long as there is a CLO, we will fight to end mass incarceration. We will fight because it is the right thing to do and because we are fighting for our lives. We will do it as we always have done — by connecting with people, sharing our humanity, working for and with community, and holding true to principals that allow diverse people to coalesce and have unity. There is work to be done.

    https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/02/prisoners-reignite-movement-to-end-mass-incarceration/feed/ 0
    There’s a big pot of climate bill money waiting to be seized — activists can’t miss the opportunity https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/02/inflation-reduction-act-climate-bill-money-waiting-to-be-seized-activists-opportunity/ https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/02/inflation-reduction-act-climate-bill-money-waiting-to-be-seized-activists-opportunity/#comments Wed, 22 Feb 2023 15:44:33 +0000 https://wagingnonviolence.org/?p=67105

    Yes, the Inflation Reduction Act is the most consequential piece of climate legislation in the U.S. Yes, it’s also the only federal legislation. Yes, it’s imperfect. Yes, parts of it are downright vile. Yes, the negotiations exacerbated tensions between insider green organizations and those on the frontlines. 

    But let’s be real, nothing more is going to pass at the federal level in the foreseeable future. So now that the IRA is the law of the land, how do organizers and movement players work with it? 

    As long-time organizers and climate justice activists, we see organizing opportunities in the roughly $390 billion in climate funding available. As an analysis from Just Solutions points out, the bill was not written for climate justice. But there’s a ton of money that suddenly we can access for poor and disenfranchised communities — and it would be a wasted opportunity to leave that money on the table.

    With all its limitations, the IRA can further our campaigns if we use the opportunity.

    The public knows there is a problem

    Bills are like an ecological indicator species — in this case, showing how the times have changed on climate. The bill was not passed because of Democrats’ deep commitment to climate justice — otherwise they would not still be offering up public lands for oil and gas, begging Saudi Arabian tyrants for discounts, or entertaining fast-tracking provisions written by fossil fuel companies. If they understood climate justice, they’d be declaring that fossil fuel companies should save the globe and kill themselves.

    But like a creaky weathervane, Democrats are following the changing winds. People know climate change is a problem and are ready to see action on this.

    In his Movement Action Plan, movement organizer and activist Bill Moyer charts the course of major social movements. He talks about three times the public must be convinced: 1. that there is a problem; 2. that current conditions and policies created this problem and have to be opposed; and 3. that alternative policies need to be embraced and implemented. 

    Somewhere in the last couple of years there’s a marked change where it’s now clear that we are winning the first two. Though your county or state may be a little further behind or ahead than others, the overall shift has accelerated. U.S. polling shows consistently wide support for climate policies. The largest investment firm, BlackRock, says it’s time to start preparing for a net-zero economy. Amazon is throwing up advertising touting climate action. After each climate disaster, mainstream media are more quickly linking it to climate change and local politicians are often urging climate action afterwards.

    This greenwashing creates new problems as it advances false solutions — but it is also a signal that the weathervane has shifted. Even though some remain climate change deniers, the majority of the country has shifted.

    Democrats sensed this and cobbled together a bill. 

    The bill is remarkable, given the givens

    To understand what’s in the IRA, it’s wise to respect the political conditions that shaped it. 

    Previous Coverage
  • Why climate activists need to celebrate — even if we’re not feeling like it
  • We have to start with the grassroots groups who built the political pressure. The Sunrise Movement spent its entire organizing cycle fighting for a (better) version of this bill. They engaged in direct action, smart electoral campaigning and built a huge organization with hundreds of hubs. More importantly, they changed the zeitgeist and made the Green New Deal something that cool young elected officials saw as vital.

    This led to the “inside ball game,” where the designers of the bill knew they would get no Republican support. That made the bill very vulnerable to being undone whenever Republicans retake the House, Senate and/or presidency.

    Not that getting the support of Democrats was easy. Sen. Joe Machin’s highly reluctant vote required accommodations and a promise from Sen. Chuck Schumer for a bill — the so-called “side deal” to fast-track his pipeline and other preferred projects — which is currently dead but risks a zombie-like reintroduction. At the same time, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s vote required major carve outs for the business community (largely in the non-climate portions of the bills).

    The bill’s creators accommodated this political reality in a couple of ways. One, they made this bill all carrots. There were almost no sticks (apart from a minor methane fee under specific circumstances). Early drafts to punish coal plants pollution were discarded — and only financial encouragements for doing the right thing remained. 

    This made the bill easier to digest. Even climate skeptics will take the money. It is a vast experiment in modern day neo-liberal industrial policy. Government creates the incentives, and they are flowing primarily to major corporations alongside tiny amounts to consumers, places of worship and school districts.

    In this sense, the bill buys constituents. It spreads money to solar and wind companies, carbon capture researchers, heat pump manufacturers, investors to retrofit schools, communities living near climate disaster zones, home energy efficiency auditors, and the list goes on and on

    The IRA could be one pathway to delivering something real and tangible in communities where progressives do not usually organize.

    These benefits are not spread evenly, and that’s an important criticism. The largest chunks of money go toward large corporations and flow to regular people when they’re acting as consumers. But from the perspective of establishing a bill that can withstand Republican opposition, buying new constituents makes it harder for Republicans to kill it. Any Republican changes to the bill require taking money from people.

    The second method was that the law’s creators never made it implemented by a single body or policy change. It is a hard-to-kill multi-headed hydra. Think about how the Affordable Care Act, despite being wildly popular as policy, was regularly on the chopping block by Republicans. Only a lack of a political alternative prevented Republicans from killing the popular bill. 

    Instead, the Inflation Reduction Act is more like 50 bills packed into one. Each one is targeted differently and moves differently. Bureaucratically, money moves through the EPA (like the Green Bank), the IRS, the Departments of Interior, Energy, Labor, Transportation, Agriculture, FEMA, the USPS ($3 billion for their electric fleet), and even the Department of Defense gets $500 million to grow their “clean technology manufacturing.”

    This makes a lot of targets — a maze of funding rabbit holes, which will be a challenge for even the aggressive Republican machinery to catch them all.

    This bill was designed to survive.

    Another key note here: Regularly the bill is described as somewhere between $369 and $390 billion. That isn’t a hard limit. It’s based on estimates on how the bill will play out by the Congressional Budget Office, or CBO.

    Certain parts of the bill are capped, such as the $4.3 billion to states to provide rebates for home energy upgrades (like getting better insulation in houses) or the $50 million in grants to address air pollution in poor and low-income areas.

    But the cost of many of the bill’s provisions are estimates and have no upper limit. For example, the “Clean Energy Production Tax Credit” gives bonuses for new energy projects that do not contribute to carbon emissions. It offers 0.05 cents per kilowatt hour that each project produces. But if more projects come online, then the government will pay more than the $62.2 billion projected by the CBO. 

    For the savvy long-term organizer, targeting these “no upper limit” areas avoids the zero-sum game of fighting for limited resources.

    Some people believe the CBO’s figures are low. The investment bank Credit Suisse took a look at the numbers and said actual costs would be double. They contend that the bill will actually lead to over $800 billion in spending, largely because they believe the private sector is going to rush into these new profitable areas far faster than the CBO estimates. This bill “definitively changes the narrative from risk mitigation to opportunity capture,” the Credit Suisse report claims.

    However it unfolds, this bill was designed to survive and massively shift our economy.

    What is an activist to do?

    Activists are already experimenting with some ways to leverage that money on the table. 

    Previous Coverage
  • How young activists turned the old idea of a Green New Deal into a powerful movement
  • Comrades over at Sunrise Movement have charted one pathway: building local Green New Deals and investing in the people and political power to make the next iteration of big policy possible. 350 Minnesota thinks that IRA funds can be leveraged as part of a Peoples Climate Equity Plan in Minneapolis that will actually implement a local Green New Deal prioritizing African-American neighborhoods in North Minneapolis first.

    In Detroit, organizers right now are door knocking low-income and working-class folks with offers to help deliver weatherization and solar. Since those benefits can only be accessed when taxes are due, they are working on upfront financing. By receiving those services, people are being brought into an organizing model that teaches about our unfair tax system and politicizes them for more organizing power.

    And there are many more doors available. The IRA offers money that liberal, urban-centered organizations can use to move out of our progressive big city organizing bubble and organize different constituencies. The IRA could be one pathway to delivering something real and tangible in communities where progressives do not usually organize. 

    Even in places that are often densely organized, there are opportunities that may get missed. Nonprofits and churches now can benefit from the bill’s uncapped solar funds (no longer do they have to pay taxes to get their savings). Or cities and school districts can get access to pools of money for renewable energy, weatherization and dealing with air pollution. 

    As organizers we can help deliver particular benefits situated in a larger campaign around educational justice or policy changes at the city or county level. 

    Coming out of labor, a group called Bargaining for the Common Good provides a good template for campaigning not just on the specifics of your “targeted win” but incorporating community demands. In 2019, the teachers union in Los Angeles entered into testy contract negotiations. Rather than just ask for better wages and health care for their own members, the teachers union demanded changes in class size, green spaces, health and how students were policed.

    Support Us

    Waging Nonviolence depends on reader support. Become a sustaining monthly donor today!


    Following this model, school unions could demand that the district transition to solar, provide easier pathways for local solar jobs, and create a community-owned solar project on school district-owned land, as part of contract negotiations. 

    Accessing the money around the IRA puts us in a little bit of a footrace with the corporate sector. Would we rather have JP Morgan Chase or British Petroleum accessing the tax incentives to convert to renewable energy, or city governments and school districts across the country? Our ability to come out of the gate fast and get that money is critical here.

    If we make things work, we can build relationships not just with the most progressive of governments, but with political leadership that wants to do right by their people. We can work with government to do door-to-door outreach and help folks access benefits, but we can also provide a push for the direct pay provisions, where school districts can get up to half of their solar installation paid for directly by the government.

    Despite the lack of strong climate justice provisions inside the bill, as organizers we can use this moment to center racial and economic justice in our work. BIPOC and Indigenous led Groups like the Climate Justice Alliance are both pushing the administration to ensure that racial justice is centered in implementation and helping their groups capture the money needed for community run transitions.  

    While utilities are going to continue resisting rooftop solar, stymying community-owned projects, and engaging in price-gouging — we can keep organizing. Even as we propose using the IRA’s carrot, we encourage wielding our sticks, challenging utility companies to democratize their governance, preventing people from getting their energy shut off and enabling all the new solar to sell energy back to the grid. 

    The IRA has something for movement groups of all sizes and shapes. We can use it to expand and educate our base while still increasing our militancy and relational power. We want to hear what others are doing and keep sharing our experiments — but most importantly let’s not miss the opportunity.

    https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/02/inflation-reduction-act-climate-bill-money-waiting-to-be-seized-activists-opportunity/feed/ 1
    Northwest climate activists fight a new front in the movement to stop fossil fuels https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/02/northwest-climate-activists-fight-gtn-xpress-pipeline-new-front-in-movement-stop-fossil-fuels/ https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/02/northwest-climate-activists-fight-gtn-xpress-pipeline-new-front-in-movement-stop-fossil-fuels/#comments Fri, 17 Feb 2023 15:48:38 +0000 https://wagingnonviolence.org/?p=67038

    On Monday, people across the Pacific Northwest convened online and at two in-person gatherings for a “people’s hearing” on what has become the latest front in the resistance to large fossil fuel projects in the region: a proposed massive capacity expansion of the Gas Transmission Northwest, or GTN, pipeline. Operated by Canadian corporation TC Energy, GTN connects to natural gas fracking fields in British Columbia and stretches across 1,354 miles of Idaho, Washington and Oregon. It is already one of the largest existing fossil fuel pipelines in the region. However, a new proposal called GTN Xpress would see the volume of gas flowing through GTN expand dramatically by 150 million cubic feet per day, an amount roughly equivalent to 26,000 barrels of oil.

    “The same company that’s behind the Keystone and Keystone XL pipelines now wants to use GTN Xpress to increase its transport of fracked gas into the Pacific Northwest,” said Audrey Leonard of Columbia Riverkeeper at the hearing. “We’re fighting this dangerous proposal because our climate cannot afford to lock in more fossil fuels.”

    Activists and concerned members of the public assembled for the hearing at in-person locations in Phoenix, Oregon and Sandpoint, Idaho, or tuned in via Zoom to register their concerns. Comments recorded from the event will be delivered to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, which is soon expected to make a decision on whether or not GTN Xpress can move forward. The people’s hearing — convened in response to the fact that FERC has declined to hold any official public hearings on GTN in the Northwest — put a spotlight on how energy companies are trying to get around grassroots opposition to fossil fuels in the region and how activists are fighting back.

    In fact, the natural gas industry’s focus on expanding the capacity of the existing GTN pipeline can in many ways be seen as a response to activists’ successful efforts to oppose new fossil fuel infrastructure in the region. Since the beginning of last decade, climate groups, Indigenous nations and their allies have defeated over 20 proposed new fossil fuel transportation projects in the Northwest, including coal and oil export terminals, natural gas pipelines and methanol plants.

    The efforts of climate activists have contributed to establishing Oregon and Washington State’s reputations as places where new climate-wrecking projects will be challenged through the official permitting process, lawsuits and even with direct action. That development is one of the great climate success stories to come out of the region in recent years — however, it is now provoking a new response from industry, as companies like TC Energy shift their focus to trying to expand existing projects.

    A GTN Xpress protest banner. (Facebook/Rogue Climate)

    A new kind of pipeline fight

    “Unlike with new pipeline projects, GTN Xpress doesn’t need many permits from state or local government,” said Maig Tinnin of Rogue Climate in Southern Oregon. “The decision on permitting is really up to FERC, which has a history of rubber-stamping fossil fuel projects. That makes this a different kind of animal from other pipeline fights we’ve been part of.”

    Although GTN Xpress wouldn’t require laying any new pipe, the impacts for communities along the pipeline route would still be profound. The proposed expansion involves building a new gas compressor station in northern Oregon and upgrading existing stations in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. This would increase the volume of gas TC Energy can send through the pipeline, leading to greater potential for leaks and other accidents. In a worst-case scenario, a major gas explosion along the pipeline route could cause widespread destruction in areas ill-equipped to respond to such an emergency.

    “GTN passes very near to residential areas and tourist attractions in Idaho,” said Helen Yost, an organizer with Wild Idaho Rising Tide. “In the community of Sandpoint, it goes directly under the parking lot at the base of the popular Schweitzer Ski Resort. This project is a dire threat to the Idaho tourism and recreation industries if anything goes wrong.”

    Then there is the climate impact of transporting and burning so much extra gas, a process expected to result in 3.47 million metric tons of new carbon emissions per year, equivalent to adding 754,000 new cars to the roads. It is this danger to the climate, more than anything, that has galvanized opposition to GTN Xpress — not only from grassroots organizations but from top elected officials in a region that is doing more than almost any in the country to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels.

    A region transitioning to renewables

    “All along the pipeline route, our Northwest communities are already seeing the impacts of climate change,” Tinnin said. “The climate crisis is here now, and we’re trying to make the changes needed to prevent it from getting worse. GTN Xpress would undermine those efforts.”

    Tinnin was inspired to get involved in climate organizing after devastating wildfires swept through Southern Oregon in 2020, destroying more than 2,300 homes and forcing tens of thousands of people to evacuate. In addition to longer, more intense fire seasons, the Northwest has suffered in recent years from record-smashing heat waves and reduced snowpack that contributes to lower water flow in streams used by salmon. For over a decade, activists have fought back by working to stop new fossil fuel projects and close existing coal-fired power plants. More recently, these efforts have been bolstered by a raft of groundbreaking climate policies enacted by state and local government decision makers.

    In 2019, Washington’s legislature passed what was at the time one of the strongest renewable energy laws in the country, mandating electric utilities source 100 percent of their energy from carbon-free sources by 2045. In 2021, Oregon passed its own, even more ambitious law requiring all renewable electricity by 2040. Both states have taken a variety of other steps to curb their carbon emissions, including incentives for home renewable energy installations, efficiency standards for buildings and appliances and regulations to encourage the shift to electric vehicles.

    Last November, the Washington State Building Code Council passed one of the nation’s strictest regulations to prevent natural gas hookups in new residential buildings, a move coming on the heels of similar standards for commercial structures. If implemented as planned, these policies will result in dramatically reduced demand for fossil fuels, including natural gas, over the next couple of decades.

    Support Us

    Waging Nonviolence depends on reader support. Become a sustaining monthly donor today!


    Oregon and Washington policymakers’ push for renewable energy also aligns with the goals of many Indigenous governments. For example, the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission has announced its own vision for a renewable energy future in the region and opposes the GTN expansion. “This project threatens our way of life,” said Alysia Aguilar Littleleaf of Littleleaf Guides, an Indigenous-owned flyfishing guiding business on the Warm Spring Reservation. “Our guide service allows us to continue living off the land and sustain ourselves as Indigenous tribal members. GTN Xpress puts that in danger.”

    Such concerns have prompted high-ranking elected officials to raise objections to the pipeline expansion. Last summer, the state attorneys general of Oregon, Washington and California filed a motion requesting FERC deny GTN Express’ permit, arguing the project’s draft environmental impact statement fails to adequately consider climate impacts and a lack of public need for the project. Both of Oregon’s U.S. senators, Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, also oppose GTN Xpress.

    Yet, despite such wide-ranging opposition, the fate of efforts to stop the pipeline expansion remains unclear. This underscores the difficulties involved for grassroots organizations seeking to pressure a remote federal agency with little built-in accountability to the broader public.

    Growing the fossil fuel resistance

    “There are challenges involved in grassroots organizations in the Northwest trying to interact meaningfully with federal agencies based on the other side of the country,” said Yost of Wild Idaho Rising Tide. “Still, we believe FERC has a responsibility to consider whether the GTN expansion and its global impacts are truly in the public interest.”

    The controversy over GTN is not the first time Northwest climate activists have struggled to influence FERC, an agency many climate groups say is beholden to fossil fuel interests. In 2020, the agency approved the Jordan Cove LNG export terminal in Southern Oregon, which climate groups had been fighting for more than a decade. In a major climate victory, Jordan Cove’s developer later withdrew its permit application after failing to obtain key approvals from Oregon state agencies. However, the fact that states have little authority to stop GTN’s expansion gives climate groups and their allies more limited options for stopping the project.

    Activists celebrate the defeat of the Jordan Cove LNG export terminal. (Facebook/Rogue Climate)

    Even so, FERC’s soon-to-be-announced decision on GTN Xpress is unlikely to be the last word on the project, regardless of the outcome. “Thousands of people have already weighed in to FERC by signing petitions, submitting comments and calling on the agency to do its job by listening to Northwest communities,” said Dan Serres of Columbia Riverkeeper, an organization that has played a key role in the regional fossil fuel resistance. “All along the pipeline route we’re raising the alarm about GTN Xpress, and we’re not going to stop.”

    Exactly what the next stage of the resistance to GTN Xpress looks like remains to be seen. However, developers of other major fossil fuel projects in the Pacific Northwest have been met with large protests and even civil disobedience. Climate groups can also petition FERC for a rehearing or challenge the pipeline expansion in court, which would further delay work on the project and allow additional time for organizing.

    “At a time when our region is moving away from fossil fuels, the gas industry is trying to push its stranded industry on the Northwest with GTN Xpress,” Yost said. “If FERC rubber stamps this project, we’ll keep fighting it.”

    Correction 2/18/2023: Audrey Leonard is with Columbia Riverkeeper, not Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility.

    https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/02/northwest-climate-activists-fight-gtn-xpress-pipeline-new-front-in-movement-stop-fossil-fuels/feed/ 1
    To avert crisis, UK health care workers stage largest strikes in NHS history https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/02/uk-health-care-workers-stage-largest-strikes-in-nhs-history/ https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/02/uk-health-care-workers-stage-largest-strikes-in-nhs-history/#comments Wed, 15 Feb 2023 20:57:51 +0000 https://wagingnonviolence.org/?p=67026

    For the first time in the 75-year history of the U.K.’s National Health Service, nurses and ambulance workers held strikes on Feb. 7 — and members of the Royal College of Nursing, the nation’s largest nursing union, went on its first ever walk-out. Tens of thousands of nurses went on strike and picketed in favor of an increase in wages, which are 10 percent less today in real terms than in 2011. 

    Every ambulance service in the U.K. has also had an active strike mandate as of Feb. 8, according to the general trade union GMB.

    “We’re trying to keep maximum pressure on the government, but also have to pace ourselves a little bit so it’s not too much pressure on the members in terms of the amount of money they’re losing, and also pressure on the service,” said Jamie Brown, regional manager and head of health for London Ambulance Service branch of Unison, the U.K.’s largest ambulance workers’ union.

    Brown’s branch has recruited about 800 new members in the last six weeks and a higher percentage of workers have turned out on each successive strike date. At first, they began with road crews only but expanded to include emergency call handlers, education teams and non-urgent call handlers.

    Physiotherapists also held their first ever strikes last month, with 4,200 workers in 33 medical districts walking out.

    While government and many larger media outlets frame the issue as a pay debate, health workers are calling for safe staffing levels and improved provision of patient care. But better pay is the means to correct the crisis in staffing. 

    “Yes, there’s hospital beds, there’s ambulances, but if you don’t have people to drive them or to attend to patients then you can’t deliver the care that people should expect from the NHS.”

    “The pay is really the main thing, because it’s the incentive for retention and new recruitment,” explained a dermatology nurse protesting outside St. Thomas’ Hospital in London during her scheduled clinic shift. According to the 20-year veteran of the National Health Service, or NHS, who cares for patients with severe skin diseases and cancers, caseloads for nurses are more than double the normal amount and many nurses died during the pandemic. “If they’re stressed and exhausted, then that takes a toll on their mental health and performance,” she added. 

    More people are staying longer in hospitals with 94 percent of beds in the country occupied in the last week of January, and ambulance response times continue to rise, according to the NHS. 

    “The way that the service is run at the moment, they can’t provide the care that they were employed to provide, and therefore they can’t do their jobs,” Brown said. “So it’s as much about protecting the service and sounding an alarm to the general public that there’s a crisis in the service, which is largely a staffing crisis.” 

    There are currently 145,000 job vacancies across the NHS, and 25,000 nurses left just last year. Aside from attrition, the service has also struggled to recruit new employees. This is borne out by new figures showing a 19 percent decrease in applications to nursing school over the past two years. 

    Despite the pandemic inspiring many people to become health care workers, they’ll need a minimum of three years of education, which current nurses don’t feel is reflected in their pay.

    “If you didn’t have a workforce there wouldn’t be a service,” Brown said. “Yes, there’s hospital beds, there’s ambulances, but if you don’t have people to drive them or to attend to patients then you can’t deliver the care that people should expect from the NHS.” 

    Support Us

    Waging Nonviolence depends on reader support. Become a sustaining monthly donor today!


    While care has suffered, so have the workers, both through mental and physical exhaustion on the job and from increasing financial insecurity with inflation currently over 10 percent in the U.K.

    Burnout in the ambulance corps is constant, and workers fear for their immediate financial needs and future prospects, according to Jess, a paramedic in Waterloo, London who declined to give her full name. “That’s a very scary feeling not knowing where your next meal is going to come from,” she said. “Having been there myself, it’s just a terrifying experience.”

    Still, she always wanted to serve on an ambulance team and couldn’t imagine doing anything else, but she said she never expected to have to turn to collective action. 

    Although she’s only been on the team for four and a half years, she says the extraordinary turnover rates have made her a senior team member. “It shouldn’t be like that. I shouldn’t be seen as one of the more experienced members because I’m not; I haven’t been out there for long enough.”

    For the 2022-2023 fiscal year, the government offered a pay raise of 4 percent for the NHS, but organizers consider it an effective pay cut in light of current inflation.

    The Royal College of Nursing, or RCN, initially wanted 5 percent above inflation but has since said it would accept an offer of 7 percent, which would still amount to a 3 percent cut in real terms. 

    But the government has so far refused to even discuss the current year’s pay with unions.

    A recent letter by the RCN General Secretary Pat Cullen concerning the care and staffing crisis received no answer at all from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, prompting her to retort that perhaps the government itself is on strike. 

    Therefore, the current situation is at a standstill, with the government waiting for what organizers described as a miracle in the economy and various unions voting on additional strike actions.

    In the meantime, the government issued recommendations that citizens not engage in potentially dangerous activities on strike days.

    A growing threat to the right to strike

    The government has proposed new legislation that would make it harder to strike by setting “minimum safety levels” for workers in essential services like ambulances, firefighters and some transportation workers. The January 2023 bill had its roots in the Conservative Party’s 2019 election manifesto, but has expanded its initial focus on transportation to other sectors.

    Ambulance workers on strike in February. (Twitter/Marcus Chown)

    Organizers consider it ironic and insulting that the government wants to mandate minimum staffing on strike days when low staffing on normal days is a main reason they are striking in the first place. And they certainly consider this move a threat to their ability to protest.

    “If they get it their own way, it will be horrendous for us because we won’t be allowed to do anything,” said Eddie Brand, a 37-year EMT veteran and trade union representative for 25 years, now Unison branch secretary at the London Ambulance Service. “This government is finished. I’ve never seen such hatred toward a government.”

    Brown also made the case that the bill would effectively destroy the right to strike, since it seeks to prevent any disruption to entire essential sectors. It also sets no standard for dispute resolution between unions and governments and allows ministers to determine who the concerned parties are for conversations.

    The existing strike legislation in the country is already very strict, particularly when it comes to coordinated action. “Both the general strike but also secondary picketing was banned by Margaret Thatcher in the 80s, so it’s very difficult to coordinate unions to take strike action,” Brown explained. 

    Different departments must also share the work that remains while workers strike. 

    “We’re trying our best not to put people at risk, but we’ve got no choice. We’ve got to stand up for ourselves at the end of the day and fight back against this government.”

    According to Brown, responders at the Waterloo branch of London Ambulance Service had to cancel their participation in strikes planned for Feb. 22 because they’ll have to balance out the workload of departments striking in other parts of the country.

    Departments in different locations also have different caseloads, so the minimum service that needs to be maintained during industrial action must be negotiated locally. 

    All of this complicates industrial action and especially the prospects for cooperation across units and industries. 

    Unison members have arranged for a strike fund to pay striking workers at a rate of 50 pounds per day. That’s far less than they would make during a full day’s work, “but it will ease the burden,” Brown said.

    So far, ambulance workers are only going out for half of their scheduled shifts on strike days.

    “As it goes on it’s tricky cause not everyone can afford to strike, and that’s completely fair,” Jess said. “I feel like those of us who are standing on the picket line, we’re standing for everyone, whether they want to strike or can strike, and that’s definitely the mentality that I feel from pretty much everyone.”

    Government miscalculation

    Previous disputes like the ones over NHS pensions didn’t resonate as much with the public because they seemed remote, Brown said. But the current strike over preserving the popular NHS and fairly rewarding those who helped save lives throughout the pandemic is garnering more sympathy.

    Brown said the government has accused the ambulance services of not providing “life and limb cover” during strikes, meaning that it is not responding to the most extreme calls where lives are at immediate risk. 

    “[That] is an utter, total lie, because basically the leaders of this ambulance service branch have negotiated with the employer very, very strict life and limb cover,” Brown said.

    “They don’t wanna put people at risk,” Brand said. “We’re trying our best not to put people at risk, but we’ve got no choice. We’ve got to stand up for ourselves at the end of the day and fight back against this government.”

    At the moment, ambulance departments are waiting for other groups that very narrowly missed the 50 percent legal threshold for strike action to vote again. 

    Brown explained that it’s better for the departments to wait for others to ballot so they can strike together on the same day, which is now planned for March 8. With strikes becoming more frequent the longer the government withholds an offer, strikes by different groups will be more likely to coincide. Junior doctors, for instance, are also balloting now.

    He predicts the dispute will continue to escalate, since the unions are demanding an acceptable pay raise by April 1 for both this year and 2024. 

    Alongside continued balloting, Unison will continue encouraging members and citizens to write letters to their government and keep turning up the pressure. Brown thinks the government miscalculated, hoping the public would turn on — or slowly forget about — the striking workers, but he feels support remains high in the country. 

    For Brand, the best hope may be for an eventual general election to discard the proposed strike law and enact necessary pay raises. 

    Workers are also thinking long term. “It’s really about the future and the youth,” said Abdul Faruk, a manager in ambulance maintenance services striking alongside paramedics. While noting that he was fortunate to be more established, Faruk is still worried for the future of the service. “My daughter is training to become a midwife. She wants to help in that way. But I’m not sure she’s made the right choice.”

    Outside of St. Thomas’ Hospital a striking nurse named Mark said, “It’s given me hope for the profession, standing up for ourselves for the first time.”

    https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/02/uk-health-care-workers-stage-largest-strikes-in-nhs-history/feed/ 2
    Harnessing the enormous untapped power of celebrity to help social movements https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/02/harnessing-the-enormous-untapped-power-of-celebrity-to-help-social-movements/ https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/02/harnessing-the-enormous-untapped-power-of-celebrity-to-help-social-movements/#respond Tue, 14 Feb 2023 17:33:24 +0000 https://wagingnonviolence.org/?p=67002

    Today there exist significant numbers of celebrities with progressive politics and a desire to support movements for social justice. These people bring unique resources to the table, including the capability to activate new bases and access new sources of power. Given the immense cultural power of celebrities in our society, and the degree to which artists of all kinds skew progressive, one would think that this would be a great advantage for progressive movements.

    And yet, something seems to be missing. Why don’t social movements get more traction from their association with celebrities who are willing to move from being mere spokespeople for charity into positions of genuine solidarity?

    Addressing this issue requires action on both sides of the equation: Movements need to think more carefully about why and how they might collaborate with celebrity allies to advance their work; and, for their part, well-known artists and musicians who want to support change must invest in building the relationships that facilitate long-term engagement.

    On the movement side, organizers are often averse to thinking about celebrity power for a variety of reasons. Grassroots groups are based on the idea of organizing ordinary people, giving voice to the voiceless, and coming together to collectively lift up those without fancy connections or insider influence. Feeding into a culture of celebrity is antithetical to this orientation. Even if they wanted to enlist well-known supporters, most groups have little to no access to rarified celebrity circles. Moreover, movements based on people power take pride in distinguishing themselves from glitzy, star-powered charities that exist to raise money for feel-good causes but do not take on structural issues of corporate power, racism or patriarchy.

    All of these concerns are valid. But there is good reason for movement leaders to take a second look at the issue, and for organizers to consider whether the influence afforded to celebrities can be used in the service of social and economic justice.

    Organizers should recognize that many performers come from creative subcultures which are generally progressive and bohemian, or from countercultures that celebrate non-market values.

    Since the early days of Hollywood, studio executives have understood that stars possess extraordinary charisma and ability to attract a devoted following. The market is adept at learning how to commodify celebrity to affect consumer behavior, using endorsements and the allure of association with fame to build brand identities and sell products. This influence has only grown in the past decade with the rise of social media. Today’s celebrities are no longer just distant, idealized figures whose public identities are carefully controlled by corporate managers. Instead, they now have a two-way relationship with their public that is historically unique.

    Social media platforms allow them to influence behavior and markets by communicating directly with fans, and by inspiring large numbers of fans to communicate with one other. More easily than ever, bands, artists, and “influencers” are able to create new social bases and to affect the behavior of these bases. Compared with how the commercial mainstream has deployed celebrities to advance its interests, the potential power that celebrities might lend to social movements has barely been tapped.

    Celebrities are often not asked to show up for movements, because grassroots groups lack the relationships and capacities to make these requests. Still, the willingness among actors, artists and musicians is often there. Organizers should recognize that many performers come from creative subcultures that are generally progressive and bohemian, or from countercultures that celebrate non-market values.

    Conservatives are well aware that creative communities tend to be aligned against them, which is why they blast those actors, artists, athletes and musicians who dare to speak out on social and political issues — except in the relatively rare cases when celebrities support the right, and then are eagerly embraced (for example, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dr. Oz, Kanye West or Donald Trump). Learning from these adversaries, progressive social movements should think creatively about how to leverage the advantage that prominent supporters can provide.

    Rev. Jessie Jackson and actor Mark Ruffalo show their support for the Indigenous-led protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. (Twitter/@AmericanIndian8)

    If the previously mentioned issues represent hurdles for movements to overcome, there are two key challenges on the celebrity side. First, well-known entertainers are surrounded by handlers and associates who in most cases do not want them to spend their social capital helping movements, because it does not increase the bottom line for everyone who is getting a cut of their profits. Yet many celebrities manage to work around that, hiring teams who are aligned with their political and social values. The second problem is that there has not been enough strategic thinking on the real nature of celebrity power and how those with it can most effectively help make social change. As a step toward addressing this, it is worth mapping out some key opportunities for collaboration.

    Five opportunities for action

    Among prominent entertainers, there are already a variety of individuals who are well known as progressive activists — think Tom Morello, Jane Fonda, Talib Kweli or Mark Ruffalo — and who are making significant contributions to social justice causes. There is much to be learned from their examples. And yet, we must recognize that they are the exception to the rule.

    While a great number of celebrities aim to somehow “give back” to the community, their default actions involve charity and social service that is generally apolitical in nature. Not many celebrities speak loudly on social justice. Among those who try to take stands on social media, show up at benefits, wear branded clothing in public, or mention social justice issues in interviews, most are only loosely connected with organized movements — if they are linked at all. Because their actions are not part of coordinated movement strategies, their actions have limited consequence.

    Support Us

    Waging Nonviolence depends on reader support. Become a sustaining monthly donor today!


    Actors, artists, athletes and musicians who want to maximize their impact — as well as the movements that want to join with them in using celebrity power to advance campaigns for social justice — have a variety of intriguing options for how to remedy this lack of coordination and devise effective action. Five areas they can explore in developing more creative and impactful interventions are:

    1. Making better political endorsements

    One common form of celebrity engagement involves entertainers making endorsements of individual candidates for elected office. This form of action is tied to what is sometimes called the “monolithic view of power.” A mainstream understanding of history, which is widely reinforced in the American media, teaches that change comes about through the actions of a small number of powerful individuals — senators and generals, presidents and CEOs who hold positions of great consequence.

    The best way to affect change, in this view, is to lobby those in charge and urge them toward a personal epiphany. Following this model, celebrities are enlisted to use their access and nudge the positions of prominent individuals in the right direction. Or, in the case of electoral campaigns, famous friends are used to bolster the credibility and glamor of monolithic leaders, who are meant to “do the right thing” once in office.

    Social movements look at the process of change in a different way, and therefore possess a different vision of how to best take action. In contrast to the monolithic view of power, the social view of power understands that those in positions of authority are dependent upon the cooperation and support of the governed. It recognizes that the major egalitarian changes of the past century have come about through popular mobilization — through organized people confronting the power of organized money.

    Accordingly, movement activists emphasize how the combined efforts of grassroots organizations and disruptive protest can set the terms of debate and compel authorities to respond in ways they would not otherwise. While it is true that politicians sometimes change their minds in ways that lead to progress, evidence suggests that they are more often followers than leaders. Their views typically ​“evolve” only after a shift in public opinion alters the political calculus of what stance might advance their political careers. It is social movements that are decisive in prompting such shifts.

    Those who are armed with a social view of power will approach their activism differently — and this extends into how they look at making political endorsements. If an endorsement is merely tied to the advancement of a single, monolithic candidate who is meant to enact changes once elected, the impact of these endorsements is limited. We know all too well that candidates who profess social justice values commonly do not live up to those ideals when they are in office. How then, can we develop better criteria for choosing endorsements, so that they have the greatest impact in propelling movement causes?

    In 2019, Cardi B endorsed Bernie Sanders for president and interviewed him. (Twitter/@FemaleRapRoom)

    Celebrities should aim to support electoral interventions that attempt to bring social power into the realm of mainstream politics. To this end, they can look to social justice organizations for guidance as to which candidates have listened to them and committed to processes to govern in the best interest of their communities. They can focus in particular on supporting the campaigns of “movement candidates” that come from the ranks of these organizations rather than through conventional party channels.

    They can publicize their partnership with grassroots groups, signaling that politicians who want their support need to seek approval from movement and social justice organizations. And if celebrities are meeting the candidates, they can bring leaders from these movements with them to further drive home this point. Celebrities can also encourage their followers to give donations to these organizations in connection with an appeal to vote for a candidate. These actions are a way of transferring some of the celebrity’s power to organizations representing people on the ground, thereby boosting their efforts.

    Electoral campaigns oriented toward building social power have several distinctive traits: They champion politicians that attempt to realign local, state or national party structures to be more responsive to poor and working-class constituencies. They seek to leave behind organizational infrastructure after the end of a particular political cycle. And they focus on volunteer organizing and field mobilization, rather than just expensive ad buys. Celebrities that look for these qualities and grant endorsements based on them have the ability to contribute to important electoral upheavals, rather than being just another famous name shaking hands with a potential senator or president.

    2. Amplifying trigger events

    Occasionally a highly publicized event — whether a political scandal, natural disaster, viral footage or shocking incident — captures the public spotlight and shines attention on an unresolved social problem. These incidents, known to social movement scholars as “trigger events,” can draw people with no prior interest or experience in politics into mass protests. They create periods of intense consciousness-raising in which new bases of potential allies emerge and become ripe for politicization. The murder of George Floyd in May 2020 was one such recent trigger, and the election of Donald Trump in 2016 was another — prompting the expansive Women’s March the day after his inauguration.

    Trigger events provide organic opportunities for engagement and mobilization. In each of the previously mentioned cases, the protests featured participation from many celebrity supporters, which helped to increase overall turnout. That said, more should be done to realize the full potential of the whirlwind moments that can emerge in the wake of prominent trigger events.

    Tom Morello plays at Occupy Wall Steet in New York City. (Twitter/@dhimsums)

    On the celebrity side, there are several things that famous supporters can do: For one, they can try to intervene earlier, so that nascent protests have a better chance of reaching a critical mass. Second, beyond showing up themselves, they should try to actively mobilize their fans and get them involved. (Musicians inviting their followers to join them for impromptu performances in Zuccotti Park during Occupy Wall Street was an example of this type of contribution.) Finally, it is helpful if celebrities take steps to integrate their actions with the efforts of an organization, so that the loose ties that are temporarily organized in the wake of a trigger event can be absorbed into more lasting structures — whether through something as simple as a mailing list or as robust as a mass training program that provides an onramp for new recruits into future activism.

    On the movement side, it is crucial for organizers to learn how to harness the spontaneous responses of well-known supporters in order to make them deeper and more sustainable. And it is also important to think ahead and develop relationships in advance. Although some public crises are truly unpredictable, we know that other types of triggers are likely to recur — whether the rolling back of previously won rights, a natural disaster prompted by climate change, a graphic video of police abuses, or gross impropriety from an elected official. Knowing that these are uniquely powerful moments in terms of shaping public opinion, movements can work to anticipate future triggers and plan how to maximize their potential.

    3. Boosting organizing campaigns

    Separate from spontaneous trigger events, there are occasional strikes and demonstrations that benefit from gaining public attention. Structure-based organizations such as unions and community groups generally focus on organizing their core constituencies, and they are often not concerned with reaching out beyond that. However, there are times when these groups arrive at key points in their campaigns and need to make their case to wider audiences. At these pivotal junctures, celebrity power can be very important.

    It can be difficult to convince the media or outside participants to take interest in a local protest or workplace picket line. Having a star with a large following show up to such an event can make a world of difference, with a celebrity potentially drawing hundreds or even thousands of people and widely increasing the popular appeal of an action. In these cases, the presence of a famous person can do much to elevate other speakers — including movement leaders and other voices from the grassroots. 

    Some celebrities already make these sorts of appearances, but this type of involvement could be greatly ramped up. This would involve both celebrities and movement organizations investing in developing the types of relationships that make this possible. One challenge here is that social movement organizations often do not know how to reach out or where to market their events in order to draw attention from those outside of their base.

    The Beastie Boys perform at the first Tibet Freedom Concert in 1996. (Twitter/@JackCanalPlus)

    Some of the most powerful examples of mobilizing “outside of structure,” as this type of outreach might be called, have come when celebrities themselves help create and publicize an event, with input from movement leaders. The involvement of the Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch in creating the Tibetan Freedom Concert in the late 1990s serves as just one example. It is important to note that celebrities need not — and often should not — present themselves as issue experts or spokespeople for a cause; their role, instead, is to use their platform to legitimize and amplify frontline leaders that may otherwise be ignored.

    4. Shifting the Overton Window

    The Overton Window refers to the range of public policy positions considered ​“acceptable” to politicians who want to stay in power. Stances outside of this window are typically marginalized and considered “out of bounds.” The window shows what is seen as politically possible in a given moment; at the same time, the view it offers is not permanently fixed. Changes in public opinion — whether initiated by historical events, gradual cultural shifts or active agitation — can move it.

    Celebrities typically lend their support to causes that are already popular. But the potential for impact is greater when they lend their support to causes and movements that exist outside of current norms, and thereby work to expand the bounds of public acceptance. Celebrities coming out, standing up for LGBTQ rights, or supporting activism around AIDS in the 1980s helped those causes to gain more widespread acceptance. At a time when bigotry was rampant and ingrained public taboos surrounded these issues, these actions contributed to shifting the window of possible political responses.

    Today, for example, forward-thinking celebrities can help raise awareness of ideas such as restorative justice as an alternative to our broken criminal justice system. By supporting non-mainstream causes that align with their values, they can help pry open the artificially narrow window of debate. Understanding this strategy and joining with groups that are consciously trying to move ideas from the fringes into the mainstream of political discussion allows celebrities to be a part of long-term transformations in public attitudes.

    5. Fueling boycotts

    Celebrities have enormous untapped power to influence consumer behavior. This power can be used to supercharge boycott campaigns aiming to put pressure on corporations.

    Historically, left movements have been more inclined to focus on production (through strikes and other workplace actions), rather than consumption (through actions such as consumer boycotts). As a result, boycott strategies remain seriously underdeveloped, even as the potential power of the tactic has grown. In recent decades, strike power has declined due to factors including globalization, changing patterns of corporate ownership, and unfavorable labor law; and yet, the ability to turn consumers against a company and to inflict serious “brand damage” has in many ways expanded, with social media providing an important assist. The creation in the early 2000s of the Business Ethics Network — an effort to enhance the strategic sophistication of anti-corporate campaigns — was a promising development. But it was also a short-lived one, and conversations in that network revealed that the field was still in its infancy.

    Today, there are only a handful of people in progressive circles capable of running large, sophisticated brand campaigns. There is now enormous potential for such campaigns to wield celebrity power more effectively, but the right relationships are not yet in place to make this possible.

    Dogging a brand is far more powerful when followers can be pointed to groups that are organizing around corporate abuses and have a strategy in place to win concrete concessions.

    It can be extremely powerful when a celebrity suggests that their fans boycott a particular organization. For example, when musician Harry Styles urged fans to boycott SeaWorld in 2015, groups such as PETA amplified his remarks and the company’s reputation took a major hit. Some even claimed that the stock price of the company collapsed after Styles’ remarks. The support of Rage Against the Machine was important to the success of a 1997 anti-sweatshop campaign that targeted the clothing maker Guess. As Hillary Horn, then spokeswoman for the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees, or UNITE, explained at the time, the band’s involvement had “been a boost to the campaign because Guess has been trying to market their clothes to the same type of people who listen to their music.”

    Notwithstanding these examples, this kind of celebrity power is massively under-used. Brands have done a far better job of harnessing celebrity power to burnish their reputations and maximize their profits than organizers have of using the same power to take on exploitative companies. Partly, this is because movement organizations with limited capacity are not asking celebrities to do enough. Expanding the ability to collaborate with well-known supporters should be a part of the effort to increase boycott capabilities more generally.

    For their part, celebrities should recognize that boycotts work much better when they are collectively organized efforts, rather than framed as expressions of individual preferences. Dogging a brand is far more powerful when followers can be pointed to groups that are organizing around corporate abuses and have a strategy in place to win concrete concessions.

    How are celebrities organized into activism?

    Actors, artists, athletes and musicians developing relationships with movements is an important first step in exploring these avenues for engagement. Another key step is when celebrities organize one another.

    In his book “When Movements Anchor Parties,” political scientist Daniel Schlozmann emphasizes the historic importance of “brokers” or bridge figures who could mediate between social movements and political parties. These individuals, who have one foot in the world of social movement activism and one foot in the party structures of mainstream politics, have played a critical role in serving as an interface between the two worlds.

    Harry Belafonte and Joan Baez perform during the March to Montgomery in 1965. (Twitter/Charles Moore)

    A similar argument might be made about the importance of bridge figures who historically have been vital in connecting activists and celebrities. Some of these figures have been well-known entertainers themselves: For example, Paul Robeson, Eartha Kitt, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee and Harry Belafonte were among those who played important roles in the civil rights movement, just as performers including Joan Baez, Pete Seeger and Jane Fonda were prominent figures in anti-Vietnam War activism. In the 1980s, Martin Sheen was an outspoken supporter of the Central American Solidarity movement, while Danny Glover and Bruce Springsteen bandmate Steven Van Zandt became leaders in organizing artists against South African apartheid.

    There are countless other examples, of course, of celebrities taking political stances. But the distinction between a bridge figure and a star who might occasionally speak out on an issue is that bridge figures maintain long-standing commitments, cultivate connections with grassroots organizations and leaders, see themselves as accountable to a movement base, and — crucially — persuade their peers to participate in activist causes.

    A celebrity who wants to grow into the role of being a bridge figure first needs to seek out opportunities to deeply learn about issues alongside movement organizers who are working intensively on them. They should ask questions about the structural impediments to change, as well as how they can use their power and access to help remove those blocks.

    In addition, progressive organizers and movements need to start thinking about how to cultivate more bridge figures and create the kind of long-term relationships that can serve as pipelines for future engagement among new generations of artists and entertainers. It is important that the consultants who sometimes facilitate relationships between artists and social causes are not people who have a monolithic view of power, but instead that more brokers emerge from community organizations that are thinking about using celebrity power in creative ways.

    In the social media era, organizers have only barely begun to think about the prospective ability of celebrities to widen the reach of social movements. And even celebrities wishing to support social justice causes frequently have little idea of how they can use their prominence and influence to elevate grassroots voices. Nevertheless, the possibilities for partnership — and the models of past artists who have moved from charity to solidarity — are potent enough that they should not be ignored.

    https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/02/harnessing-the-enormous-untapped-power-of-celebrity-to-help-social-movements/feed/ 0
    How worker ownership builds community wealth and a more just society https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/02/how-worker-ownership-builds-community-wealth-and-more-just-society/ https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/02/how-worker-ownership-builds-community-wealth-and-more-just-society/#comments Fri, 03 Feb 2023 17:35:41 +0000 https://wagingnonviolence.org/?p=66937

    A recent help-wanted ad for a laundry worker in Cleveland contained some unusual language, asking prospective candidates: “Have you ever wanted to work for a company that is 90 percent employee-owned? What about a company that offers a program to help you become a homeowner?” The ad went on to identify Evergreen Cooperative Laundry as the only employee-owned commercial laundry firm in the country, citing a commitment to building the wealth and careers of its employees.

    Founded in Cleveland in 2009, Evergreen laundry lies at the heart of a movement that has now spread around the world. This attention to community wealth building is providing a 21st century model for Gandhi’s “constructive program,” which — along with nonviolent direct action — powered his overall campaign to overcome the political and economic oppression of colonialism.

    The cooperative movement in the Rust Belt city of Cleveland has deep roots in community struggle for shared wealth. Its earliest origins are in the Mondragon co-op movement of the Basque Country in northern Spain, where tens of thousands of workers are organized into a vast co-op network that has flourished since the 1950s. Here in the U.S., when steel companies were closing down throughout the Ohio Valley in the 1970s — and moving to non-union, lower-wage regions in the south, and then overseas — a small band of activists promoted the idea of worker ownership.

    Previous Coverage
  • It’s time for a new political and economic system – A conversation with Gar Alperovitz
  • Gar Alperovitz, a key player in that campaign, traces its origins to the 1977 shuttering of the Youngstown Sheet and Tube steel mill, which threw 5,000 steelworkers onto the streets, with little retraining help and no other jobs available. A plan by an ecumenical religious coalition for community-worker ownership of the giant mill captured widespread media attention, significant bipartisan support and an initial $200 million in loan guarantees from the Carter administration.

    According to Alperovitz, “Corporate and other political maneuvering in the end undercut the Youngstown initiative. Nonetheless, the effort had ongoing impact, especially in Ohio, where the idea of worker-ownership became widespread … because of all the publicity and the depth of policy failures in response to deindustrialization throughout the state.”

    Now, nearly half a century later, the Evergreen laundry and its sister solar and greenhouse coops are at the heart of the model around which the theory and practice of community wealth building have grown. Developed by the new economy research center Democracy Collaborative, the model is a simple one: First, identify anchor institutions — hospitals, universities, seats of government — that are not going to relocate in search of higher profits and incentivize them to do their procurement of supplies and services locally, so that those dollars stay at home. Then, make regulatory, financing and policy changes that support the growth of cooperatives to supply their needs, so that the business profits stay with the workers. This model has been quietly gaining attention and putting down roots in other places — starting with a jump across the Atlantic Ocean.

    Community wealth building in the UK

    In 2012, it seemed like the run-down industrial city of Preston, in northern England, had come to the end of the road. Its economic base had been bleeding away for years, and the last gasp attempt — a deal to lure in a mall developer — had fallen through. Fortunately, a deep-thinking member of the Preston City Council, Matthew Brown, had heard of an innovative model of community wealth building based in Cleveland, Ohio.

    “Crucially, we need to have more democracy in Preston’s economy — we can’t be at the whims of outside investors who’ll want to extract as much wealth from our community as possible,” Brown told the Lancashire Post. He reached out to Ted Howard from the Democracy Collaborative and, looking back on the last 10 years, the resulting collaboration can be seen as transformative.

    Preston City Council started by working with its own anchor institutions, getting them to prioritize contracting with local companies. It began creating worker cooperatives and paying a real living wage. The city’s government pension fund is now investing locally. Plans for a community bank are in the works. Employment and affordable housing rates are up; child poverty is down.

    Procurement dollars that stayed within the city have risen from $46.8 million to $138.4 million; anchor institutions are more connected to the local economy; and its residents and experience in supporting the development of new businesses and cooperatives have grown. According to Ted Howard of the Democracy Collaborative, the impact and potential of these combined efforts is “creating an ecosystem of change that will be the engine for a new, fairer economy.” 

    In a stunning turnaround, Preston was named the most improved city in the U.K. in 2018, and the “Preston Model” has become a household word. The Centre for Local Economic Strategies, or CLES, which was active in Preston, is now working with dozens of local authorities, anchor institutions, and U.K. nations to develop community wealth building approaches that are appropriate to the context of their place. At the same time, it is also supporting similar efforts across Europe and as far afield as Australia and New Zealand.

    Keeping small businesses alive in Denver

    Back in the U.S., where similar models are spreading, Denver’s Center for Community Wealth Building, or CCWB, has just received a $360,000 economic development grant for a three-year initiative to launch six to nine new cooperatives in Denver and neighboring Aurora. Such worker cooperatives can stabilize jobs and income for those who might otherwise be displaced by gentrification, while also help to keep small businesses — the heart of these communities — alive.

    CCWB Executive Director Yessica Holguin was first hired as a fellow to work on building opportunity in low-income neighborhoods. Coming from a community organizing background, her first step was to go out and talk to the community. “I wanted to understand the experience of gentrification from the perspective of the residents. And I wanted to hear what solutions resonated with them,” Holguin explained in a press release. “When people own their jobs, when they own their businesses, own their lives, the ripple effects are felt throughout the community.”

    Worker co-ops clearly resonated, and she jumped in to help launch two of them — both of which remain successful today: Mujeres Emprendadores, a catering service started by immigrant women, and Satya Yoga Cooperative, a yoga school run by and for people of color.

    CCWB’s three-pronged strategy is modeled on the Evergreen co-ops: democratize ownership through worker co-ops, strengthen entrepreneurial opportunities for people of color and encourage anchor institutions to become local economic engines. To help the University of Denver shift its spending on catering from national chains, for example, CCWB organized a tasting event where over a hundred university event planners met and began building relationships with 11 community caterers.

    To ensure that cooperatives can flourish, CCWB has developed a roadmap to guide various city departments to support awareness, skills and access. “It’s not just potential worker-owners who need to see the benefits of cooperative businesses” Holguin said. “We want the community to understand how widespread democratic ownership will benefit everyone.”

    Support Us

    Waging Nonviolence depends on reader support. Become a sustaining monthly donor today!


    An economy like a little stream

    This approach is proving flexible, resilient and effective. It is putting down roots and beginning to have an impact not only in Cleveland, Preston and Denver, but in an ever-growing number of cities around the world. It consistently supports both political and economic democracy, while also addressing the needs for better pay and a sharing of our common wealth.

    We can use the analogy of water to think about how money moves in an economy. One model is like a storm water system, efficiently gathering water from many small sources, with the goal of consolidation and steady movement toward a central location. A very different model is like a little stream meandering through a wetland, cleansing and nourishing everything it touches — an integral part of the ecosystem, not trying to get anywhere else.

    In our current economic system, money functions like the former, steadily being siphoned from the hands of individuals and communities into those of great financial interests. Community wealth building is all about the latter — circulating and recirculating money in the local economy, in no hurry, allowing its benefits to serve all.

    By offering a powerful framework and lever for moving toward greater local control over wealth, community wealth building is simply another way of getting to the roots. It provides an alternative to moneyed interests being in control and their bottom line trumping the common welfare.

    Reflecting on the role of the Evergreen Laundry — established in a neighborhood of Cleveland where the average income is lower than 93.4 percent of U.S. communities — Howard told The Guardian: “A job is not enough. For people to stay out of poverty they need to be able to acquire assets.” Along with a job, the co-op offers pension payments and profit sharing, and has brought the possibility of home-ownership within reach.

    From a new homeowner in Cleveland, to growing connections between university staff in Colorado and local catering co-ops, to the turnaround of a struggling city in northern England and beyond, the promise of community wealth building appears boundless. Bringing together Gandhi’s strategy of nonviolent direct action to confront injustice with a constructive program of steadily diverting resources from the powers-that-be back to the people, this model offers a powerful framework for reclaiming our democracy and our economy.

    https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/02/how-worker-ownership-builds-community-wealth-and-more-just-society/feed/ 4
    What determines the success of movements today? https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/01/what-determines-the-success-of-movements-today-social-change-lab/ https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/01/what-determines-the-success-of-movements-today-social-change-lab/#comments Tue, 31 Jan 2023 15:45:55 +0000 https://wagingnonviolence.org/?p=66899 Embed from Getty Images

    Anyone who has come across “Why Civil Resistance Works” by Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan will be familiar with the idea that size matters for social movements. Their highly cited “3.5 percent rule” says that once movements actively involve at least 3.5 percent of the population they will inevitably succeed. 

    The idea that this is a cast iron rule has been contested — including by Chenoweth — on the basis that it was a description of the past rather than a prediction of the future. Others have shown that the rule has been broken in at least two cases. And although it was extracted primarily from a Global South context for countries resisting regimes, it has since, controversially, been applied to the strategy documents of prominent activist groups like Extinction Rebellion and been widely quoted in the media, including by the BBC, The Guardian and The Economist

    Far less contested, however, is another of the book’s major takeaways, which is the idea that nonviolence brings a higher success rate. Looking at civil resistance focused on regime change between 1900 and 2006, they found that nonviolent campaigns were more than twice as likely to succeed as violent ones: 53 percent of nonviolent campaigns led to political change, while the same was true for only 26 percent of violent campaigns. 

    As a nonprofit that helps inform advocates, decision-makers and philanthropists on the best ways to accelerate positive social progress, Social Change Lab was interested in seeing how the Chenoweth/Stephan findings hold up in today’s movement landscape. We wanted to see if the evidence from their historical data translated to the present, particularly as it relates to campaigns focused on more limited, area-specific goals rather than the high level goal of regime change. We also wanted to see what other factors might help bring about protest movement wins. 

    Our team has spent the last six months researching these questions. We did public opinion polling; interviewed academics, social movement experts and policy makers; and reviewed the literature. What we found — and published in our full report — not only underscores the recommendations of Chenoweth, Stephan and other movement strategists, but also builds upon them, offering insights into other key factors that determine the success of movements today. 

    What are the most important success factors?

    Movements or social movement organizations optimize for different outcomes  — whether it is changing public opinion, campaigning on a particular policy, prompting public discourse or something else. So a “success factor” is variable, and it can be hard to compare them. 

    Nevertheless, we wanted to try to give a sense of the relative importance of different ingredients of success — so we did this by combining and weighing evidence from multiple sources, beginning with data from existing experimental studies. We weighted our estimates based on the strength of evidence behind them. For instance, if most studies on a particular topic had similar results — and our experts also agreed — that would be strong evidence. Less agreement between studies, or a lack of studies, or disagreement amongst experts would be weak evidence.

    What emerged from our findings were two tiers of success factors: one that showed a clear and distinct impact on a successful outcome and another whose impact was, though still important, less decisive.

    The top three factors

    1. Nonviolent tactics. Even though there is historical evidence for nonviolence being the best way to go, this tactical question is still widely discussed within social movements. Many activists are tempted to adopt more violent tactics because they think it’s a more expedient way of addressing the urgent problems we’re facing. There’s also debate about what other types of tactical actions might be most effective. Our own research has suggested that having a radical flank that uses more shocking tactics (like throwing soup at paintings) can actually increase support for more moderate groups focused on the same cause. 

    Previous Coverage
  • Radical tactics are likely to help the climate movement, not hurt it
  • Our research here suggests that nonviolent tactics are more likely to lead to successful outcomes relative to violent outcomes. The experts we consulted were reasonably confident that violence is a less effective approach and the literature supported their view.

    Omar Wasow, at Princeton University, published research in 2020, based on studying civil rights protests in the U.S. from the 1960s. He found that states where nonviolent protests occurred went on to see increased votes for Democrats (more-or-less in line with what protesters were aiming for). Violent protests, on the other hand, led to increased votes for Republicans. 

    Ruud Wouters, from the University of Amsterdam, used Charles Tilley’s Worthiness, Unity, Numbers and Commitment framework to conduct empirical research. In this framework, “worthiness,” which is a measure of “the absence of disruptiveness,” is a rough equivalent of nonviolence. Wouters’s 2019 study looked at support for asylum demonstrators in a sample of Belgian citizens and found big differences in support depending on whether protesters were seen to have “high” or “low” worthiness. He suggests that low worthiness alienates the public. A further Wouters study showed a similar effect — of the greater appeal of nonviolence — on elected representatives. 

    The violence/nonviolence question has been widely studied by academics, and most studies reach similar conclusions, which is why we give this finding strong weight. 

    2017 Women’s March in Washington, DC. (Flickr/Vlad Tchompalov)

    2. Larger numbers. Again, we found our evidence supported Chenoweth’s idea that size is really key, with bigger protests meaning a better chance of policy changes and other desired outcomes. Some interviewees suggested that although politicians invest a lot in learning about public opinion, they often don’t really understand the public — so big numbers at a protest give them a clear signal of public opinion. There might also be a virtuous circle here: As a protest gets larger, people think it’s more likely to succeed, so they feel more enthusiastic about joining it. So it gets larger, more people join and so on. Whether or not this is the explanation, we think the evidence for size being important is causal: A larger protest really will increase your likelihood of success.

    In 2017, Ruud Wouters and Stefaan Walgrave looked at the attitudes of elected officials in response to protests. They found that officials were much more likely to take a position closer to the protesters when protest numbers were high. This change in their thinking also translated into behavior change and taking action, such as proposing a bill or asking a question.

    Bouke Klein Teeselink and Georgios Melios also considered whether mass mobilizations bring about social change — this time by looking at the effect of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, following the death of George Floyd. Their research found that wherever large numbers participated in protests, the result was a greater increase in the Democrat share of the vote. In fact, for every 1 percent increase in the fraction of the population who protested, there was a raise in the Democratic vote share of 5.6 percent. Another study found that killings by police decreased by as much as 20 percent in municipalities where BLM protests occurred, and that police departments were more likely to adopt body cameras and community-policing initiatives.

    In 2012, Stefaan Walgrave and Rens Vliegenthart looked at Belgian protests that had taken place between 1993 and 2000. Their analysis included more than 4 million people participating in almost 4,000 demonstrations. They too found a highly significant impact of protest size on legislation outcomes, suggesting this effect comes in part through bigger protests being associated with more media coverage.

    3. Favorable sociopolitical context. There are other factors more outside the control of protesters — things like pre-existing public opinion, the response of the media, whether there are elites (like politicians or celebrities) who support the cause, as well as blind luck. This isn’t great news in terms of actionable evidence, as it can be hard to know what constitutes the right conditions and even harder to judge best timing. On top of those uncertainties, movements themselves have their own seasons and cycles, as Carlos Saavedra from the Ayni Institute has noted. There is little direct evidence on the effect of elite allies, but few would argue with a “best bet” of trying to win over influential people to your cause. Our experts agreed that winning a positive reception from elites was a really important factor — one even claiming that this factor alone explained 80 percent of the variance in outcomes. 

    Previous Coverage
  • Movements and leaders have seasons — it’s important to know which one you are in
  • Some researchers have tried to get a firmer empirical handle on the influence of elites, such as Marco Giugni and Florence Passy in Switzerland. Their 2007 research looked at the impact of elite allies and the effect they can have, over and above that of public opinion. They found that it was a combination of protest, supportive public opinion and the presence of political allies that led to policy wins. They also found that this combination of factors led to increased spending on environmental protection and reduced spending on nuclear energy (in line with protester demands).

    Legislators adapt their policies and positions in response to public priorities — and the typical way to represent public priorities is through surveys. But protests offer another way to represent public views, and protests can also amplify public priorities. Luca Bernardi, Daniel Bischof and Ruud Wouters analyzed a data set covering nearly 40 years in four Western countries, looking at policy maker agendas, protests and public opinion. They concluded that it is very rare for protest alone to have an effect on legislators. Only when protests interact with the priorities of the public will legislators be moved to change their agendas. 

    Beyond the top three

    So we know that numbers, nonviolence and a conducive climate are crucial ingredients for success. But there were other — albeit less well-evidenced — factors that also emerged as potentially important and worth the consideration of social movements.

    Students on climate strike. (Unsplash/Callum Shaw)

    Diversity. Striking school children are not something you see every day. According to our experts, the arresting images of children waving banners gave a particularly strong signal to politicians. Protests felt inherently less political given that it was children, rather than experienced activists, who were protesting. These were not the “usual suspects.”

    The school strikes were a particularly strong example of diversity of protesters (diversity, in this case, from protester norms), but more generally we also found that greater diversity is likely to increase the chance of protest success. This might be because greater diversity appeals to more of the public — meaning there’s more chance they will support or join a movement. It also gives a clear signal to policy makers that the issue has broad public support. 

    We think it’s interesting that — while most of the social movement experts we interviewed didn’t talk about diversity — all the policy makers thought that it was important. The three U.K. civil servants thought diversity was the second most important protest factor after size. They also felt that unexpected protesters — or people who don’t often protest, like school children — give a much stronger public opinion signal than so-called typical protesters. 

    A nonviolent radical flank. The “radical flank effect” refers to the influence that a radical faction of a movement can have on support for more moderate factions. It can be positive or negative. Overall, we believe a violent radical flank is likely to have negative overall consequences, while the effects of a nonviolent radical flank are more likely to be positive. 

    Evidence from a recent 2022 experimental study from Brent Simpson, Robb Willer and Matthew Feinberg supports the idea that radical flanks can have positive effects. They found that having a radical flank that uses radical tactics leads to a better impression of a more moderate flank, whereas a flank with a radical ideology (but not radical tactics) has no impact on the more moderate flank. 

    Other research by Eric Shuman and colleagues at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands found that actions that break social norms — like being disruptive or radical — may be the most effective way to persuade those who are resistant to change. They tested this idea of “constructive disruption” in a variety of experimental settings and found that it was more persuasive than either violent or typical (non disruptive) nonviolent actions. Evidence that radical flanks can also carry a cost comes from work by Elizabeth Tompkins. She found that a radical flank increases state repression, which in turn decreases mobilization — though she also points out that these effects are not “necessarily detrimental” to the overall success of a campaign. 

    Trigger events. These highly visible, often shocking actions that vividly reveal an existing problem to a wider public can have a significant impact. The arrest of Rosa Parks in 1955 and the murder of George Floyd in 2020 were very potent trigger events, both of which led to dramatic widespread protests. This suggests that it is important for protest groups to build the groundwork so that if an opportunity comes, they can grasp it and use the chance to build momentum. 

    There is very little direct research on trigger events, partly because their unpredictability makes them hard to study, but many of the experts we spoke with mentioned their importance. If they are right, social movement organizations would be wise to plan and organize for the need to respond speedily and convincingly, mobilizing in large volume at short notice. 

    Support Us

    Waging Nonviolence depends on reader support. Become a sustaining monthly donor today!


    Numbers really count… but they’re not the whole story

    In their 2016 book, “This Is an Uprising,” authors Mark Engler and Paul Engler wrote persuasively of the impact mass movements can have when pursuing strategic nonviolence. Our previous research has also found that social movement organizations that use protest as a main tactic can significantly impact public opinion, voting behavior, public discourse and to a lesser degree, direct policy outcomes. 

    If protest is an important tool of influence, it is important to think about how best to go about it. Some of our key findings are not a total surprise: numbers matter and nonviolence is the best strategy. These findings support recommendations of many social movement thinkers and help to build a clear set of guidance as to some of the key decisions social movement strategists should take to make their campaigns effective. Our evidence also points to some less well known factors that are worth considering. Being able to act on trigger events, adding to the diversity of your protester base and expanding your movement to incorporate a nonviolent radical flank might all be valuable strategic additions.

    One important note, however: Our research is not an exhaustive guide to what protest movements should do to be successful. Instead it should be seen as a summary of the current available evidence. Some factors are easier to measure than others. For example, it is a lot easier to get an idea of protest size than it is to assess an organization’s internal culture. So, there could be a bias towards some factors in the research. 

    Additionally, there are some pieces of evidence that are hard to act upon. The importance of timing, external factors and luck certainly leave some open questions. And while social movements may ebb and flow in cycles, it’s not clear what grassroots organizations should be doing in their fallow periods. Should they be focusing on internal organizational improvements or concentrating on building the sort of supporter base able to mobilize at short notice? These are areas where we think we could explore further.

    As protests grow and spread around the world, becoming an ever more popular tactic for achieving social change, we need to understand them better. We hope that our research has added value in addressing some unanswered questions about the best approaches for protest movements in their efforts to improve the world.

    https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/01/what-determines-the-success-of-movements-today-social-change-lab/feed/ 3
    How Russians, Indigenous people and Belarusians are uniting to resist the war in Ukraine https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/01/russians-indigenous-belarusians-are-unite-to-resist-war-in-ukraine/ https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/01/russians-indigenous-belarusians-are-unite-to-resist-war-in-ukraine/#comments Thu, 26 Jan 2023 15:37:54 +0000 https://wagingnonviolence.org/?p=66844

    Anastasia Witts, a U.K.-based arts producer, wasn’t yet out of bed on the morning of Feb. 24 when her phone buzzed with news notifications of Ukraine being invaded. Despite the shock, the first thing she did was post on Facebook: “This war is not in my name.” Looking back, she said she felt “compelled to react immediately, to show I understand what is going on, and I am not part of it.” 

    Witts left Russia years ago, after Putin became president, knowing what an ex-KGB officer in power meant for the future of the country. In the U.K., she found herself straying from the everyday politics of her homeland. “Half of my life is in Britain, I don’t ‘feel’ Russian on a daily basis. I am only reminded if someone asks where my accent is from.” 

    This understanding quickly eroded as bombs fell over Ukrainian cities. Witts soon became entangled in a situation where her identity as a Russian carried a different weight now, and she decided to act. Within a month of the war, Witts had set up The Voice Of Russia, or TVOR — a nonprofit comprised of Russian creatives around the world, standing united against the war in Ukraine.  Witts also volunteers with Ukrainian refugees in the U.K. with the “Homes for Ukraine” project.  

    Witts is hardly the exception among Russian expats scattered around the world. Even as diaspora Russians often find themselves on the receiving end of scornful sentiments, many are joining with antiwar activists in Russia and neighboring Belarus to form a growing global network of resistance that’s gone largely overlooked. Despite the intense repression — where even a city council official can receive a 7-year prison sentence for criticizing the war —  antiwar Russians and Belarusians can be found everywhere, engaging in resistance activities under the unifying phrase of “Free Russia, victory to Ukraine, justice for Belarus.” It’s these demands and a strong belief in people power that keep the movement alive despite adversity.

    Anastasia Witts speaking at a protest in the U.K. (WNV/Anastasia Witts)

    Polling dissidence  

    With Russia’s best weapon being its control over the narrative, activists gather evidence to counter disinformation. Alexey Minyaylo is an opposition politician who has been detained for his activism in the past, but that hasn’t slowed him down. On the day the war started, Minyaylo called friends and colleagues to make plans. “People wanted to rally in Moscow,” he explained. “I persuaded them not to go because it was dangerous. We took the responsibility to do something more than going to street protests.”  

    Ever since, Minyaylo and his colleagues have been collecting statistics and scoping public opinion for the Chronicles project they founded. The idea was conceived out of the need to address Putin’s propaganda and weaponization of false polls, which has led to the Kremlin falsely citing that 70 percent of Russians support the war. According to Minyaylo, this number is significantly inflated due to the inclusion of troops sent to the frontline and those who fear the consequences of saying otherwise. “Dictatorships rely on the ‘illusion of majorities,’ and people think the majority shares the goals of the state, approving its actions,” said Minyaylo, whose project has enabled antiwar Russians to address the Kremlin’s false consensus. 

    Alexey Minyaylo

    Since February, the Chronicles team has conducted seven polls, with findings that paint a very different picture. The data was collected by questioning a representative sample of 1,800 people each time. In the Chronicle polls, when those who said they support the war were asked “should the special operation end as soon as possible without reaching military goals or should the Russian army fight until Ukraine is defeated,” only 36 percent said that the “special operation” should continue. “After multiple experiments, we found the real level of support being somewhere around 25-35 percent, which is a more realistic level of declared support for the war,” Minyaylo said.  

    Crucially, since March, Chronicles has noted a turnaround in people’s attitudes towards the war. “Support is dropping, and we don’t see any factors that would change this,” Minyaylo said, noting that supporters have indicated prolongation of the war or incompetence might change their attitude. “Every day the war gets longer, and people see the incompetence, if not crimes.” This is also corroborated by recently-leaked Kremlin documents showing that support for the war is fading.  

    While Chronicles sparked discussions domestically and abroad — receiving quite a bit of publicity as a result — Russians, in particular, have shown their support. “It’s heartening for people to know they’re not alone,” Minyaylo said, recognizing that amid the propaganda, it is hard to know what the next person is thinking.  

    Diaspora at the front lines of dissent 

    Diaspora groups are essential in coordinating antiwar action. Among them is the young activist Vladislava Petrova. Although her family left Russia in the 1990s for Italy, she was always connected to Russia, being vocal on issues such as LGBT discrimination. It was when the war started that Petrova became an “all-out activist.” As she explained, “Everyone with a glimpse of consciousness couldn’t just stay silent. So many of us started organizing without prior knowledge of how to do so.” She is now co-organizing the activities of the Russian Democratic Society, which — since February — has led protests, supported fundraisers and facilitated a global network of antiwar Russian groups “from New York to Seoul,” as Petrova described it.  

    Previous Coverage
  • ‘A flame was lit in our hearts’ — How Ukrainians are building online networks for resistance and mutual aid
  • Initially, Russian activists were joining protests organized by Ukrainian diaspora groups, but eventually they decided to conduct their activities separately — in part because, as Petrova explained, “We understood it might be painful for Ukrainian people to see us there.” These diaspora groups are able to connect to each other and pursue action away from the suppression they’d be facing inside Russia. Petrova said this is unprecedented because Russian emigrants don’t have a culture of “sticking together” and lack strong community structures abroad. Given that the war came as a shock to many, they had to mobilize quickly to create these networks from scratch. “We’re more united than ever,” she said. “It makes me sad this had to happen as a result of war, but I hope it means change is coming.” 

    These networks are important for providing a much-needed common space. Petrova shared her experience of attending antiwar meetings in Italy where Belarusian, Ukrainian, Russian and local groups came together under one roof, which left her with a feeling of empowerment. Similarly, Witts also found a way to help amplify the voices of Ukrainian artists by helping with the publication of a special issue for a Belgian magazine dedicated to Ukrainian artists. “We don’t leave our footprint on this project,” Witts said.

    In these spaces, Russian Indigenous and ethnic minority groups have a strong presence. Tuyara is an ethnic Sakha from Yakutia, Siberia. [Her real name has been withheld for safety reasons.] While studying in Moscow, the racism and discrimination Tuyara faced, played a part in her decision to leave the country. She initially joined the protests of other Russian groups, but after seeing the devastating impact of  Putin’s mobilization on minorities, she decided ethnic people should organize separately to bring attention to their cause.

    The Free Buryatia Foundation found that ethnic Buryats are eight times more likely to be killed in the war — and Tuva people 10 times more likely — than Slavic Russians.“ Seeing other ethnic minorities face the same problem means we must be united,” said Tuyara, who set up the London branch of Indigenous Minorities of Russia Against the War along with other minority individuals living in exile. “A lot of ethnic women went to protest because if we don’t speak out the Russian army will take our men. We go by the saying ‘It’s 10 or 10.’ Either 10 years in prison or 10 minutes in the war,” Tuyara said. For some, cooperating with other Russian antiwar groups is important to their cause. “The relationship between us is great, and when we organized our first protest, the other groups supported us a lot.” They spread the word, brought microphones and speakers, took photos and provided a steward to ensure everyone kept safe. 

    Indigenous people in exile — apart from protesting outside Russian embassies — also organized various international actions such as “Salam of Peace and Friendship.” Inspired by ancient Indigenous traditions, they tied multicolored ribbons on a rope with the word “peace” in the different languages of the peoples of Russia. Recently, Indigenous groups sent an appeal to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, bringing attention to the threats facing Indigenous antiwar activists.  

    Vera Horton at a Belarusian diaspora women’s protest in London last year. (WNV/Vera Horton)

    Antiwar Belarusians are facing a similar situation, as the country’s dictator Aleksander Lukashenko is supporting Putin while intensifying opposition crackdowns within Belarus. Many activists have been forced out of the country and are now compelled to operate from exile. One such person is Vera Horton, a U.K.-based Belarusian actress, who, like Witts, had left much of her homeland life behind. Horton’s life as an activist started two years earlier when Belarus was shaken by anti-regime protests. They were a culmination of the very reasons she left in the early 2000s: fizzled out post-90s reforms, crushing authoritarianism, dependence on Russia and no real hope for change. “In 2020 my belief that Lukashenko will remain in power forever ended as Belarusians fought for freedom,” Horton said. “A new generation has grown wanting change, including the diaspora. My idea ‘we shouldn’t worry about it’ completely transformed into me becoming an activist.”  

    Since then, Horton has gotten involved with opposition groups in exile, such as Our House, a collective of Belarusian civil rights defenders campaigning against Belarus’s involvement in the war, while also supporting Ukraine. “Russian aggression in Ukraine opened the eyes of many because we suddenly realized we are already occupied and our establishment is dominated by Russia.” Belarusians have been attending marches and protests organized by Ukrainians and helping with other cultural actions, such as readings, theatrical performances and exhibitions. Moreover, Belarusian activists in exile — including those in Ukraine — also preoccupied themselves with fundraising or volunteering. “Belarusians help Ukrainians despite their government’s stance,” Horton said. “We’re united in how we see the situation.” 

     Supporting resistance inside Russia and Belarus 

    In order to circumvent online repression, activists like Minyaylo and his team have leaned on tactics that allow Russians to take a stand without opening themselves up to prosecution and detention, such as sending antiwar appeals to local deputies. The first such appeal was launched in April 2022, urging deputies to accept a law that conscripts won’t be sent to the “special operation.” The second appeal, launched in July, was about helping refugees. They created a database of 6,000 regional deputies and more than 45,000 letters were sent through this platform. “We formulated the appeals in a way the police could not use them to start a criminal case,” Minyaylo said.  

    Similarly, Witts’s TVOR project also aims to maintain the links of communication with Russians inside the country. “We received massive support from Russian people, who were delighted that we talk with the rest of the world on their behalf and kept this thread of communication for them,” Witts explained. She added that there are many artists who sent TVOR work to publish because they couldn’t do so back home, or many who approached them just to help with the project. “I want to hear from everyday people living with the shame of the war and need to protest. It’s important to support them and show them they’re not alone. I am proud of what we’ve done because someone somewhere will be able to say ‘When I felt forgotten I had this channel.’”  

    Meanwhile, Indigenous groups protesting within Russia have created a network of support with minority groups in exile. These organizations are a lifeline for Indigenous people at risk. Their activities involve educating people about their rights, spreading real time information about the war and mobilization for military conscription — such as how to avoid it or how to convince their close ones not to enlist. Some groups also help evacuate people in risk of conscription by providing logistical and financial support.  

    Previous Coverage
  • ‘Poison for the people’ — How an exiled activist is countering Russia’s propaganda machine
  • Spreading this information has been challenging due to media censorship, making it almost impossible for people in the Indigenous regions — known as the Republics — to read anything other than Kremlin-controlled news. Still, some use VPNs to access social media, which is one place where activists can try to get their attention. “Our priority is to inform as many people as possible. We circulate these materials not only because they can help someone in need but also to ring the alarm for those who avoid reality, thinking the war won’t affect them,” Tuyara said.  

    In Belarus, even Lukashenko supporters acknowledge the risks of sending their kids to war — and war, according to Horton, is one thing most Belarusians agree they don’t want. However, with Russian recruiters overpromising lucrative salaries or easy pathways to Russian citizenship, many were tempted to enlist. “For us, this situation is a new Afghanistan,” Horton explained. “The ‘80s Afghan war hit Belarus severely. I remember coffins coming in the neighborhood blocks and cemeteries filled with the bodies of young boys.” As a result, many Belarusian groups are waging an effort to prevent others from going to war, such as Our House, which started a campaign around denying forcible conscription called No Means No. There are also groups that help deserters or conscripts run away. “We do anything possible to make sure people who don’t want to go to war won’t go to war,” Horton said.  

    Another sustaining component of the antiwar movement in Russia and Belarus is the effort to support political prisoners. Both Horton and Tuyara gave accounts of Putin and Lukashenko going not only after activists but also their families, with the prison complex and judiciary being weaponized to suppress the movement. Groups such as the Yakutia Foundation and OVD-Info are invaluable resources for those detained due to their participation in antiwar activities. Russian Democratic Society also regularly fundraises for these groups, organizing letter-writing sessions for political prisoners in Russia and helping to raise awareness of their condition. At the same time, Horton and her community also organize public protests demanding freedom for political prisoners. 

    What is standing in the way?  

    Amid this oppressive reality, morale is low. According to Minyaylo, “The main problem is not that Russians are ‘blood-thirsty’ but that Russians do not believe they can change anything.” Witts also sees these tendencies in many Russians, even those who oppose the regime and the war. “They feel that nothing depends on them, and they succumb to this sentiment.”  

    While Horton also acknowledged this trend, she was quick to point out that “Belarusians were in a similar situation prior to 2020, so Russians might also wake up.”   

    Vladislava Petrova at one of the first Russian protests in front of Russian Embassy in London last April. (WNV/Vladislava Petrova)

    One thing that isn’t helping is the loss of experienced activists — via imprisonment and exodus — who can guide younger activists within Russia and Belarus. Communication links are thinning out, leaving those inside the country with slimmer resources to pursue antiwar activities. Symbolically, one of the last major actions the Kremlin took before the war to was shut down Memorial, a prominent human rights organization that kept inquiring about Russia’s conduct during military operations abroad. Reflecting on the situation, Petrova said, “The generation born in the 2000s never knew anyone in power other than Putin or what it is like to live without a dictator.” Petrova, for example, was four when Putin was elected, and now she is 28. “It’s a really long time, and now young people don’t have anyone to guide them because everybody who was experienced is in jail or in exile.”  

    Similarly, polarization obstructs activists trying to concentrate their efforts as a group. Witts says she is pessimistic about the unification of the antiwar movement. “Russians have a lot to learn from the Belarusian and Ukrainian opposition managing to drop their differences for the sake of a united action.” She traces this issue to the lack of national unity, a byproduct of deep divisions within Russian society, embedded in social, economic, political and historical structures. 

    “To put it crudely, half of the country’s ancestors were gulag prisoners and the other half’s ancestors were the ones guarding them,” said Witts, who added that there has never been consensus on how to act even among democratic forces. Beyond activism, divisions are exacerbated by the people who are “inbetween,” as outside hostility has given Putin an opportunity to swing them to his side by instilling in them the notion that the West hates them. 

    Things are slowly changing thanks to efforts to bring people under one umbrella. “Younger generations start from grassroots movements, uniting on the basis of feminism, LGBTQ rights or democracy,” Witts said. “I think younger Russians show more ability to self-organize and come to terms with their differences. I hope they will push things further than my generation of the ‘90s did.” 

    Still, structural issues are enormous barriers to movement-builders operating from within Russia or Belarus. Petrova explained that while a lot of organizations have horizontal structures — meaning if one person gets detained the whole organization won’t cease to exist — the main problem is the need to be secretive because the Federal Security Service has insiders everywhere. “You can only achieve things when there is trust,” she said. “Those who were trust-worthy have mostly left Russia. The ones left behind can’t be sure about the next person. It’s hard to organize on a mass-scale when much energy and resources are spent on verifying those around you aren’t spying.”  

    In Belarus, activists also face structural paralysis over how to proceed in an environment of uncertainty. According to Horton, Lukashenko’s stance on the war is inconsistent and while he doesn’t want to be part of it, he is subservient to Putin and relies on him to stay in power. “We try to go toward elections even from exile, so we can form a group of elected reps,” Horton said. “We can’t make Lukashenko step down without having someone to replace him.” The uprising of 2020 continues despite repression, but according to Horton, Belarusians don’t communicate as much as they should — meaning those who move in political circles make different kinds of friends, and the movement remains divided with multiple different actions happening simultaneously.  

    Vera Horton marching against the war in London last year. (WNV/Vera Horton)

    Broken glass too sharp to pick up

    The war has tremendous consequences on how activist communities interact. People inside Russia have no contacts with the Ukrainian side because it is dangerous, according to Minyaylo. Many Ukrainian activists also consciously decided not to engage with Russians. Though understandable, Horton said, “It is difficult to get across the notion that there are people in Russia who oppose the war and stand with Ukraine.”  

    Outside of Russia, Witts said her community does experience examples of solidarity with some groups of the Belarusian and Ukrainian diaspora, which is surprising to them. “It is necessary to continue trying to approach Ukrainian people, carefully and with honesty,” she explained. “One must be prepared to hear certain unpleasant things or walk away when they’re asked to.” 

    As for Belarusians, dealing with Russians is complicated. “I’m personally happy they’re there despite how things stand at the moment,” Horton said, explaining that while many Belarusians disagree with Russian politics, they do think that somebody needs to influence the situation. “I believe we should encourage antiwar forces in Russia. We can teach them, because Russian activism, in terms of organizing, is two years behind us.”   

    However, like Ukrainians, Horton believes Belarusians will also go their separate way, and working with the Russian opposition will remain an undercover activity only few will be willing to do. “The war has awakened in us a ‘genetic memory,’” she said. “We’re uniting against Russia as our ancestors did. Russians — activists included — don’t understand why they’re treated as an ‘enemy’ because they don’t consider themselves one. They believe Putin is the enemy of the Russian people as well. They have a long way to go.”  

    Relations among Russian people aren’t much better than those described above. Petrova observed how the war has only widened gaps. “My friends hold the same views,” she said. “Yet, we had to cut ties with a part of my family in Russia because they believe in Kremlin propaganda, and we couldn’t convince them otherwise.” With many activists having similar experiences to share, Witts noted that Russians who condemn the war often do not want to even acknowledge those who support it. However, she explains for Russia to move on from these atrocities they should be considered. “Without understanding and working with these complexities we won’t find a way out.”  

    An ethnic Sakha protests the war in Ukraine in London. (Indigenous in London/Anita Berkhané)

    Minority groups within Russia also saw relations altered in various ways. According to Tuyara, minorities see Russia as a multicultural state — even though many don’t share this view because they have never been in the Republics. “I believe the war started because of the Russian imperialist mindset,” she said. “Russia has a long history of colonization, but no one talks about it or knows the facts.” As a result, Indigenous groups must battle erroneous narratives about why Russia is fighting in Ukraine, with some seeking to blame ethnic minorities for war crimes committed. “They’re saying that we’re ‘uncivilized village-dwellers.’ They’re once again throwing our people under the bus.”  

    Yet, the war has also strengthened solidarity among Indigenous people and their sister nations in the post-Soviet bloc. “We believe in the values of community and helping each other,” Tuyara said. She acknowledged that Central Asian and Caucasus countries help Russians escaping conscription, even though in these countries there are still people who have memories of Russian repression. Nevertheless, they understand the position Russian minorities are in and unite across borders to support them.  

    Petrova also reiterated that there needs to be big structural change on how Russia deals with its colonial legacy. “Russia needs to acknowledge its mistakes,” she said. “Countries like Kazakhstan support us by letting in Russian people escaping conscription or persecution, and I am sad Russians haven’t returned this kindness. Decolonization is a generational project.” 

    Support Us

    Waging Nonviolence depends on reader support. Become a sustaining monthly donor today!


    The way ahead  

    The legacy of this war will be a hefty burden, and with no end in sight, activists prepare for any scenario. According to Horton, many people are waking up from Russian propaganda, and the war reminded them why they must fight to break free. “This is a new beginning because the generations before us didn’t think that way. Belarusians needed time to recognize themselves as occupied people because if you have handcuffs on and you don’t move your hands, you don’t realize they’re there.”  

    This also means that Belarusians can flip the narrative against Russian propaganda. As Horton noted, there needs to be more discussions initiated by antiwar forces and communities of the post-USSR bloc since Putin has already gone to extraordinary lengths to set up his propaganda machine. “He has created this Russian narrative that completely overtook anything else. We should talk about how everyone in the Eastern bloc is now helping Ukraine.” 

    Many antiwar Russians themselves count on a Ukrainian victory. For Petrova, it’s the only way she can return to her home country “without risking detention.” Meanwhile, as Witts explained, “A Ukrainian victory is necessary for Ukraine and for Russia. Russia needs to go through that pain to be reborn and, believe me, I do not wish this lightly: Reparations must be paid.”

    Despite oppressive pessimism, in a plea to people still in Russia, Horton urges them not to give up. “Despite the pressure, I hope none of the people I care for will have to compromise their conscience to stay alive and out of prison.” Importantly, Minyaylo believes that supporting the democratic forces of Russia is the only hope for peace. “People will fight harder for democracy if they see support,” he said. “Saying ‘all Russians are Putin’s accomplices’ slows down the efforts of those risking their freedom and lives to stop Putin. Any democratization efforts should happen from the inside, and this isn’t possible without constructive dialogue with Western and Ukrainian leaders.”  

    For Indigenous and ethnic minorities like Tuyara, supporting antiwar voices in Russia also becomes a matter of survival. “Ethnic minorities don’t have a voice, and no one is going to fight for justice on our behalf,” she explained. “Our local governments support Putin, contributing not only to the genocide of Ukrainians but also to the ethnic cleansing of native populations in Russia. If this doesn’t change, Russia will remain a threat for the world.”

    Ultimately, in terms of ending the war, Witts concluded that “it’ll take years of selfless and methodical work,” and they will succeed only if “the antiwar forces can unite.” Along the way, people will also need to realize that small actions performed by many will make a difference. “It’ll mean we’ll have preserved our ability to resist and created a society that cares. Preserving humanity is the most important action one can take in impossible situations like this.”

    https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/01/russians-indigenous-belarusians-are-unite-to-resist-war-in-ukraine/feed/ 1
    How New Yorkers can remove George Santos and root out Trumpism https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/01/how-new-yorkers-can-remove-george-santos-root-out-trumpism/ https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/01/how-new-yorkers-can-remove-george-santos-root-out-trumpism/#comments Mon, 23 Jan 2023 19:21:17 +0000 https://wagingnonviolence.org/?p=66816

    In the wake of the many lies Rep. George Santos told to grab power, it’s clear that the failure to properly expose and confront Trump Republicans during the election campaign is just a symptom of a larger problem in New York.  

    Across the country, voters who saw this election as a choice between freedom and fascism defied expectations, history and mass voter silencing efforts by keeping Democrats in control of the Senate and flipping several statehouses and governor’s mansions. This is a midterm outcome for an incumbent party that’s happened only twice in the last century.

    The one glaring exception amid all this historic success was New York.

    In contrast to much of the nation, many Democrats in my home state underperformed and lost, jeopardizing the governor’s race and costing Democrats the House by losing seats they should have won, including the one Santos seized on Long Island. 

    So what went wrong in New York and how do we get it right in our state moving forward?

    I grew up in a multiracial family on Long Island, a battleground region that voted nearly identical to the nation as a whole in the 2020 presidential election. It’s a place where I’ve seen neighbors show up for each other to weather storms and hard times. But it’s also the home where I learned by age 10 to fear for my Nicaraguan father’s safety when a few kids told me he should be deported, repeating the hatred certain politicians stoked against immigrants. And it’s where a powerful few stoked fears and resentment against Black people to justify destroying social supports and programs my white mother’s family also relied on. 

    The crises we face today are in fact the legacy of the laws and lies manufactured by a powerful few throughout our history. Railroad barons removed Montauketts from their homes, wealthy politicians created whites-only Levittown, and unelected power brokers like Robert Moses bulldozed Black and brown neighborhoods and used highways to segregate our communities.

    The truth is there’s always been a supremacist faction here that has tried to grab and hold onto power by controlling who we can be, what we can do and who we can love. So last year, when I saw Trump Republicans like Lee Zeldin and George Santos try to seize congressional districts by supporting those who attacked our Capitol on Jan. 6 — and whipping up racial fears about “violent criminals ruling our streets” — I recognized their playbook.

    At the same time, however, the Long Island I know also holds an antidote to this politics of deliberate racial division and control. After the Black Lives Matter mobilizations of 2020, I worked with friends in my hometown to create Reimagine Babylon, a group devoted to electing leaders who will make Babylon a place where everyone can thrive, no exceptions. 

    In less than two years, we won two Library Trustee seats, elected a new school board member in collaboration with alumni survivors of sexual violence, and made competitive a race for municipal office that others had long written off. By organizing a choir of local leaders to repeat and spread our message consistently — from posting in neighborhood Facebook groups, flyering main street storefronts, and door knocking in every corner of our community — we demonstrated that we could activate our base and persuade the conflicted by rooting ourselves in racial solidarity and inoculating against scapegoating.

    The approach we used in Babylon is based on the Race Class Narrative, a proven messaging and organizing framework that weaves together race, class and gender, advances our progressive worldview, and counters the right-wing divide and conquer strategy. This involves mobilizing and persuading people to our cause by following a specific architecture to communication that leads with values shared across identities and backgrounds. We then explain how a handful of villains are deliberately dividing people by race to hoard wealth and power, and close with an aspirational vision we can achieve through cross-racial solidarity. 

    In my day job at the progressive messaging firm ASO Communications, I’ve supported successful campaigns across the country in using Race Class Narrative — first in key battlegrounds in 2020 and again in 2022. 

    In this past midterms election, we worked with Way to Win Action Fund to launch a massive campaign to “Protect Our Freedoms” on the ballot, utilizing a narrative that centered the values that Americans share across race, place and party — and that have been core to progressive efforts from the abolitionist movement to FDR’s four freedoms to the freedom to marry. 

    Hand-in-hand with progressive organizations nationwide, we created a consistent drumbeat of this narrative through campaigning and organizing on and offline. We echoed each other by posting shared content, messages and ads across social media, by engaging celebrities and influencers to amplify and further mainstream our story of the midterms, and most importantly, by engaging with voters in person and in our communities. 

    Activists with One PA rallied rallied in front of the Republican Party’s center in Germantown on Nov. 4. (Instagram/One PA)

    In Pennsylvania, a group we worked with called One PA drove mobile billboards through Philly and Pittsburgh. Referring to civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hammer, the billboards mobilized residents with a call to “Fight like Fannie for Freedom For All,” as part of a larger push that registered thousands to be voters in the election. They also used creative actions along the campaign trail where they hijacked attention from candidates like Doug Mastriano — the GOP’s fascist candidate for governor — to create a clear contrast between voters’ desires and the efforts of Trump Republicans. 

    When Trumpists in Arizona attempted to intimidate and scare voters of color from using drop boxes and early vote sites, local organizers could have focused on raising alarms and amplifying the threats. Had they done so, they would have further cemented voters’ fears and kept folks at home. Instead, our partners at Community Change Action and LUCHA organized joyous visits to the polls. People buddied up to cast their ballots and modeled active defiance for the young, Black and brown voters that MAGA Republicans were hoping to silence. 

    When Democrats replicated our efforts and made their campaigns about protecting our freedoms and confronted Trump Republican efforts to fuel divisions, they won in many tough contests. Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro triumphed by making “real freedom” the core of his argument to voters. In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer won re-election by significant margins over a race-baiting, anti-trans fearmonger by emphasizing our freedom to decide when and if to grow our families. And in the Hudson Valley of New York, voters elected Pat Ryan, running on protecting our freedoms, in his swing House district, as well as Sarahana Shrestha, who led a future-oriented campaign rejecting fear and division, to the State Assembly.

    Support Us

    Waging Nonviolence depends on reader support. Become a sustaining monthly donor today!


    Unfortunately, elsewhere in New York, such as further down the Hudson, on Long Island, and even in New York City, too many Democrats ceded the terms of the debate to Trump Republicans. They amplified their dog whistles around crime and failed to expose their real motivations, as well as the danger that figures like George Santos pose to our freedoms and families. They ignored the energy of voters demanding our children’s freedom to live, learn and love and relied on simply refuting (and in doing so, repeating) their opponent’s lies.

    The only path forward for New York is race and values-forward. From Seneca Falls to Stonewall, from winning higher wages and workplace protections to creating the food, music and art that defines us today, New Yorkers have stood arm-in-arm to realize liberty and justice for all. We’ve always determined what’s possible — and we have the power now to make clear the criminal conspiracy at the center of the Trump Republican Party, to demand the removal of the likes of George Santos, and to elect new leaders who will govern for all of us. By replicating and expanding upon the successes made in Babylon and the Hudson Valley, we can reshape our island, our state and our nation for the better.

    https://wagingnonviolence.org/2023/01/how-new-yorkers-can-remove-george-santos-root-out-trumpism/feed/ 3