Occupy Portland / The 99% / Occupy Wall Street Interoccupy
This week was a busy one for Popular Resistance for three key campaigns.
Victory: The Campaign to Save the Internet
The success of the ten-month campaign to reclassify the Internet as a common carrier under Title II of the Federal Communications Act to ensure net neutrality has been widely reported.
One of the better reports was published in Waging Nonviolence where Jay Cassano wrote “How activists won real net neutrality.” He describes “one of the most sustained and strategic activist campaigns in recent memory.” He wrote about this campaign near its beginning last May and writes that our goals seemed “impossible at the time.” Indeed, that was the consensus view of the media and public officials. He describes how the campaign strategy we described to him was followed “to the letter: having a clear and concise demand from day one, creating synergy between online and offline organizing, and framing net neutrality as a social justice issue.”
He describes how we created a “public spectacle and media event when dozens of activists protested and camped out in front of the FCC.” This drew national media attention and was the “first moment that net neutrality really captured the attention of people other than technology policy wonks.” It energized the Internet base and caused the Chairman of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, to say when he announced the rulemaking process that “he specifically wanted to hear if people thought Title II was the way to go.” We were on the political agenda and the movement went through that crack in the door and submitted nearly 4 million comments in support of reclassifying the Internet as a common carrier.
Cassano correctly describes an ongoing synergy between grassroots pressure on the street all over the country with netroots activism online. This campaign was a case study in people power defeating corporate power. Unlike many who describe this as President Obama determining the future of the Internet, Cassano describes how a massive outpouring of grassroots pressure moved President Obama to urge the FCC to reclassify.
What do the new rules mean? Under Title II the FCC has the power to regulate companies like Comcast and Verizon who bring the Internet to your house. The FCC can put back in place the net neutrality rules that ensured equal access and no discrimination on the Internet. Cassano summarizes the rules “will require all traffic on the Internet to be treated equally. There will be no fast lanes for large corporations and slow lanes for independent voices.” Dominic Rushe of The Guardian described it as a “landmark victory” as “broadband will now be regulated under Title II of the Communications Act – the strongest legal authority the FCC has available.” There are still battles ahead. Some in Congress are threatening to reverse the rule. We will keep you informed about what you can do to protect this victory.
Protests also continued against telecoms this week. More than a dozen Penn students conducted a direct action aimed at David L. Cohen, Executive Vice President of the Comcast Corporation, and Chairman of the Penn Board of Trustees. Captured on video - students interrupted the meeting, dropping a banner that read#Don’tBlockMyInternet, in front of the Penn trustees in attendance. Students demanded that Comcast stop its advocacy and lobbying against Title II net neutrality at both the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and in Congress; they also spoke out against Comcast’s push to merge with its biggest competitor, Time Warner Cable. Other activists went to the storefront of telecom giants to protest claiming that equal Internet access was a civil rights issue and was essential for black communities in “Don’t Block My Internet Access” protests.
This is a historic victory that gives us a tremendous tool to communicate, educate, organize and mobilize people. Now, we have to use this tool to advance the causes of the movement for social, economic and environmental justice.
Progress on the Campaign to Stop Fast Track for the TPP and other corporate trade agreements
Our campaign to stop Fast Track trade authority was linked in an unusual way with the net neutrality campaign. On the day when the FCC announced the new rules, Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese went to the FCC to watch the grand finale only to be told by the FCC police that we were a threat to the security of the building and were banned from entering. If we breached the building, the head of FCC security would call Homeland Security and have us arrested. This was in response to three nonviolent protests we held at previous meetings. At the most recent one, FCC security acted like thugs, assaulted us and threw us to the ground.
We decided that we had better things to do and joined the final day of a three-day sit-in at Senator Ron Wyden’s office. We are focused on Wyden because he is negotiating with Senator Orrin Hatch on Fast Track legislation. If Wyden joins with Hatch he will provide cover to other Democrats by making this a bi-partisan bill. If Wyden does not join, the bill will be a Republican bill and they will have to push it through Congress on their own.
Hatch had intended to introduce the bill this week and a hearing was scheduled for Thursday in the Senate Finance Committee on trade. Pressure was on Wyden through actions in his home state, at his home in New York City and in his office, as well as tons of phone calls. The hearing was cancelled Wednesday night reportedly because Wyden did not want it. Wyden slowed things down but is still negotiating and there continues to be a high risk that he and Hatch will reach agreement.
As part of our sit-in, which we called “Drop In and Hang Out,” we were able to meet with Wyden’s chief of staff for more than an hour. We found out that while Wyden wants to find agreement with Hatch, there are some outstanding issues that need to be resolved. We told him that we’d prefer to have Wyden’s back if he is attacked for not agreeing to Fast Track than to go to war with Wyden if he supports Fast Track. Democracy for America has announced it is looking for someone to challenge Wyden in the primary because of this issue.
On Thursday, in place of an announcement of Fast Track legislation and a hearing focused on the issue, there was an excellent op-ed by Senator Elizabeth Warren in the Washington Post and eight senators took to the senate floor to express their opposition to Fast Track and the TPP.
Next week, we will be continuing the occupation of Senator Wyden’s office. The theme this week builds on a recent poll which indicates 73% of Oregonians oppose Fast Track. The week will be a “Toast In” because we want Wyden to know that if he co-sponsors Fast Track, his career is toast.
To sign up for our rapid response team visit here; to join in the 'Toast In' contact Mackenzie Williams, email@example.com. You can also support it by calling Wyden’s office next week. Members of Congress go on recess March 6. We must keep the pressure on to stop the introduction of a fast track bill. Organize an action in your area during the recess, March 6 to 15. If you need help, join our Wednesday night organizing calls by registering: Click here to register.
Update on the We Are Cove Point campaign
The campaign to save Cove Point from a Dominion Resources’ fracked gas export terminal had a major event this week when 24 people went on trial, last Friday, February 20, and Monday, February 23rd. They went on trial for four protest actions taken in recent months. On Monday, these protectors of Cove Point sought to present a necessity defense, i.e. showing that the harm that they were trying to prevent was greater than any harm caused by the action they took. While this is a legitimate defense in Maryland, the judge refused to hear it.
While the Cove Point protectors were found not guilty on more than half the charges brought by the prosecutor, each of the defendants was found guilty of trespass. During their sentencing statements it became evident that they moved people in the courtroom and the judge with the sincerity of their actions and the seriousness of the health and safety impacts of Dominion’s fracked gas export terminal on the community of Cove Point as well as on the issue of climate change and harm to communities where gas is fracked and where pipelines transport the gas.
Elisabeth Hoffman wrote about how testimony moved the courtroom like this exchange between Margaret Flowers and Judge Saunders:
“Dr. Margaret Flowers, a co-director of Popular Resistance who for 15 years was a practicing pediatrician, called on Judge Saunders to help expose the secrecy around Dominion’s project. She said the company lied about the number of people nearby, about the families across the street and the 2,365 homes, 19 home day-care centers and two elementary schools within 2 miles that have no evacuation route.
“‘There’s nothing I can do about that,’ Judge Saunders said, and those concerns ‘are not for this forum.’
“’I disagree,’ said Flowers, who was acting as her own attorney. ‘You could allow the necessity defense and call in experts to testify. ‘I appeal to you as a leader in the community to not allow this severe lack of democracy to take place. … I see the truth. … I ask you to bring that truth to light.’
“At that, several spectators applauded but were immediately told to be quiet.”
The trial was covered in both newspaper outlets in Cove Point, the BayNet and Calvert County Recorder. They reported on the reasons for the protest with Marty Madden of BayNet reporting on some of the testimony: “I acted to prevent a greater crime,” declared Berenice L. Tompkins, 19 of Hastings on Hudson, NY, who added she was “protecting children” and “acting out of love.” “The Dominion Cove Point project is like the last straw,” stated defendant Elias Weston-Farber of Baltimore. “I have to prevent a greater harm, in my view.”
And, Andrea Frazier of the Calvert Recorder reported on the risks to the community: “Dominion’s terminal is the first one of its kind in the world to be placed in a densely-populated residential area [and] that it endangers the public in many ways including the emission of cancerous and toxic air pollutants and the risk of a catastrophic event such as a chemical spill, fire, explosion or terrorist attack.”
Everyone convicted was sentenced to pay a fine and three years’ probation – the length of time needed to complete work on the terminal. Steve Norris was also sent to jail for three nights because he had recent prior arrests in North Carolina. Many hoped to serve time in lieu of probation and the fine, but that right was denied.
Faith Meckley a student from Ithaca active in the We Are Seneca Lake movement wrote about what she observed in the courtroom: the repression, the special ops officers dressed in military-like garb, the aggressiveness of court personnel. She concluded writing:
“As I started up the car and pulled away from the courthouse, aiming north to New York, I couldn’t help but think to myself that this whole mess with Dominion at Cove Point made dealing with Crestwood at Seneca Lake look like a walk in the park.
“After a few hours of driving, my tears evaporated into renewed resolve.”
That renewed resolve she felt is how all the people involved in We Are Cove Point feel. If you live in a community impacted by fracking or its infrastructure, or care about climate change, please join us. We can stop this export terminal but we need your help to do so.
Campaigns against Dominion projects were protested this week in Richmond at their headquarters. Ten were arrested in a creative protest against the 550 mile long Atlantic Coast Pipeline with a blockade as part of the Richmond People’s Climate March. The protesters demanded “stop selling our future” and with puppets, costumes, holding banners and a banner hanging from an overpass blockaded roads leading to Dominion’s headquarters. There has also been opposition to this pipeline from residents who do not want Dominion to come onto their property or use their land.
Protests also continued at FERC, where members of Beyond Extreme Energy, interrupted the FERC meeting with songs and echoes criticizing gas as a dirty energy whenever it was mentioned. Click here to join actions at the FERC in May.
We won a major victory this week. The three year campaign against the TPP and corporate trade agreements is at a critical moment and victory is within reach. The Cove Point campaign is also a winnable one. These are all major-impact campaigns. They can be won but only if people participate and join the efforts. Get involved in any way that you can. We’ll keep you updated.
This week marks the fifth anniversary of the death of Howard Zinn who is best known for his “People’s History of the United States” which looks at history from the bottom up, through the lenses of classism, racism and sexism.
Bill Bigelow writes about Zinn’s concerns about nationalism, American exceptionalism and militarism. Zinn said that patriotism does not mean blind obedience to government because that is “the definition of patriotism in a totalitarian state.”
Zinn believed it was essential for students to learn the true history of the US so that they could question and debate whether they want to stay on that same path. Those in power work to hide this true history and to foster obedience without questioning so that the machine of American empire continues to run.
We remember Zinn for the advice he gave activists a year before his death. When he was asked what should people be doing, he gave advice that is good no matter what the era:
Confronting the War Culture
CODEPINK exposed truth this week in Congress when they attempted a citizen’s arrest of Henry Kissinger who was testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Kissinger is responsible for hideous war crimes in Chile, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and East Timor. Senator McCain who chairs the committee called CODEPINK “low life scum” and the audience obediently applauded Kissinger in a display of the topsy-turvy world we live in where war criminals are heroes.
The current film, “American Sniper,” is a propaganda piece that is being used to glorify war and murder which will draw our youth into the military. Fortunately there are former snipers like Garett Reppenhagen who tell students the truth that there is no glory in taking another’s life, only a sense of loss. There are counter-recruitment efforts in the US by groups such as NNOMY which provides materials for people to use.
Hollywood is not the only war propaganda tool. The commercial media, in particular the New York Times, feeds a narrow one-sided narrative of US foreign policy. Robert Parry dissected the NYT coverage of the situation in Ukraine including its lack of historical context.
Ukraine and Russia
The broader view of the crises in Ukraine and Russia requires looking at the role of US involvement and the expansion of NATO. For more information, we recommend these articles by Andrew Coburn, Diana Johnstone and William Boardman. Johnstone has an excellent analysis of how Ukraine is being used to further antagonize Russia. She writes:
“NATO leaders are currently acting out a deliberate charade in Europe, designed to reconstruct an Iron Curtain between Russia and the West. With astonishing unanimity, NATO leaders feign surprise at events they planned months in advance. Events that they deliberately triggered are being misrepresented as sudden, astonishing, unjustified ‘Russian aggression’.”
Boardman explains how the US has taken control of Ukraine’s financial affairs:
“The new Ukrainian finance minister, Natalie Jaresko, is an American citizen who managed a Ukrainian-based, U.S.-created hedge fund that was charged with illegal insider trading. She also managed a CIA fund that supported ‘pro-democracy’ movements and laundered much of the $5 billion the U.S. spent supporting the Maidan protests that led to the Kiev coup in February 2014. Jaresko is a big fan of austerity for people in troubled economies.”
And what is behind this charade? Corporate interests as usual. The Oakland Institute outlines the ways that corporations like DuPont, Monsanto and Cargill are profiteering in Ukraine by acquiring land and decreasing regulations and corporate taxes. And of course it is also about oil. A few months after the 2014 coup, Joe Biden’s son Hunter and Devon Archer, a friend of the Kerry family, joined the board of the Ukrainian gas company Burisma Holdings Ltd.
Oil is often the reason for wars and aggression. This new independent study from the UK shows that foreign intervention is usually for economic gain, and “foreign intervention in a civil war is 100 times more likely when the afflicted country has high oil reserves than if it has none.”
Of course we’ve known for a long time that wars are fought for oil. And we know that the next wars will be over water, food and land as the climate crisis makes large areas uninhabitable. Our activities to end war, mitigate climate change and move to sustainable, renewable sources of energy are closely intertwined.
Daily we receive stories of communities that are fighting extreme energy extraction and the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure. In Saskatchewn, the Northern Dene Trapper Alliance has been holding a checkpoint for more than two months to keep uranium and oil explorers out. In Vancouver, Rising Tide members disrupted a dinner being hosted by Kinder Morgan which is trying to build a pipeline.
The people of Forks Township in Pennsylvania are protesting a compressor station that will be used to move fracked gas. And the first watershed to sue over fracking is in Grant Township which passed a Community Bill of Rights Ordinance which recognizes the rights of nature. Communities in other states such as Kentucky and Louisiana and the UK are also fighting fracking.
There have been some recent victories. After his inauguration was disrupted by anti-fracking protests, the new Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf banned fracking on public lands. Scotland placed a moratorium on fracking this week.
Young Dine women and their supporters are walking a thousand miles this year to protest extreme energy extraction and promote alternatives. One organizer of the “Journey for Existence”, Paige Eldridge says, “We are being told to invest in our own destruction in the name of the economy. People say we need these jobs, but we don’t. To take care of ourselves it will take a tremendous amount of work, but it is a beautiful dream and it is so possible.”
Alternatives are essential and possible. The Fight for 15 has made progress in the fight for a living wage and they have plans for more gains in 2015. Madison, WI, home of many cooperatives already, is investing $5 million to create more cooperative businesses. The work to stop trash incinerators has been very successful and is now becoming a movement for zero waste.
As the crisis of plutocracy escalates, alternative economies and political systems become imperative. Just five years ago, 388 people controlled half of the world’s wealth, but now that has declined to a mere 80 people (here are their names). Many of these people not only control the money, but they control the US government. The history of high attendance at the World Social Forum shows that there is a strong desire to build alternatives to the current neoliberal model of globalization.
In the US, the fight against neoliberal trade agreements is coming down to the wire. We’ve been working to expose and delay the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) for years. Supposedly, negotiations are nearing completion and the president is asking for Congress to give him Fast Track legislation so he can finish the deal. The US Trade Ambassador Michael Froman testified in the House and Senate this past week, or we should say he testi-lied. The Popular Resistance team and allies were on hand to call him and members of Congress out for selling out our economy and democracy in this huge corporate power grab. Read our analysis here about why we must stop Fast Track and how we can do it. Go to www.StopFastTrack.com and use the easy call-in tool to contact your member of Congress.
Greek voters made a shift to a coalition of the radical left, Syriza. Greece has been treated as a debt colony with European and US financiers demanding intense austerity and the selling off (aka privatization) of public assets. Many in Europe see the revolt in Greece as the beginning of a series of revolts against European austerity that makes the wealthy wealthier and everyone else poorer. Spain may be next to revolt at the polls. As the revolt spreads it may threaten the existence of the European Union as people call for European-wide change.
The new Greek leader, Alexis Tsipras, started aggressively. His first meeting was with the Russian diplomat, not any European leaders. He appointed a radical academic, who called austerity “fiscal waterboarding” as finance minister, stopped two massive privatizations of a port and Greece’s biggest utility, and pledged to raise pensions and rehire fired public sector workers. Greece is on a collision course with Europe, in particular with Germany.
We are pleased to see people around the world instinctively following the advice that Howard Zinn gave to US activists. Across the world, people are facing governments corrupted by money and not representing their needs and they are fighting back.
We close with a quote from Zinn: “But remember, this power of the people on top depends on the obedience of the people below. When people stop obeying, they have no power.”
‘Low-life scum’ of the world – Unite!
In 2004, Sam Smith gave this talk, “On Becoming and Being an Activist,” at a teen conference. The essence of his message is that we are facing serious crises and we have to make a choice of whether we will act or not. We are on a dangerous path and it takes courage to see that and not be paralyzed into inaction. It is easier to ignore the truth and succumb to the many distractions in our lives.
“It is this willingness to walk away from the seductive power of the present that first divides the mere reformer from the rebel — the courage to emigrate from one’s own ways in order to meet the future not as just a right but as a frontier.”
Smith goes on to describe that traditional tools for social change, such as working within the system, are not effective in this time. We must raise our voices, do the unexpected and try the improbable. We need to use our passion, our energy, our magic and music to burst the illusion being hand fed to us in the media and taught in our schools. He describes multiple instance where small numbers of people created radical transformation.
There is evidence that the mirage of democracy in our country is disappearing and that people are taking bold action. There were so many actions in the past week that we cannot hope to include them all in this newsletter.
Democracy in crisis: Plutocracy is a mainstream concept
The World Economic Forum, a global neoliberal institution, is currently meeting in Davos, Switzerland. Tom Keene of Bloomberg News asked in an interview, “How big is the Plutocracy Effect in 2015?” And the response was “It’s significant,” that it is taken for granted by people all over the world that the US is run on “legalized corruption.” The ‘Plutocracy Effect’ is a recognized entity. Think about what that means.
This week was the fifth anniversary of the Supreme Court decision on Citizens United which expanded the concepts of corporations as people and money as speech by opening the floodgates of independent political expenditures. Actions took place across the country on Wednesday to protest and call for a constitutional amendment that would reverse this case law. In New Hampshire, hundreds of people marched 185 miles in the snow to protest at the State House. And in Washington, DC, eight people were arrested for disrupting the Supreme Court calling for a reversal of Citizens United.
The President delivered his State of the Union Speech on Tuesday with the usual theatrics and propaganda. In response, Green Party past presidential candidate Jill Stein delivered her own state of the union and others including Cheri Honkala, Howie Hawkins, Shamako Noble and Margaret Flowers commented as well. This “People’s State of the Union” provided facts about the economic, social and environmental crises and solutions to them. A “State of the Black Union” was written by the Black Lives Matter movement too.
The President pushed the Trans-Pacific Partnership in his SOTU claiming that it would increase jobs. The reality is that similar trade agreements caused the massive loss of jobs and suppression of wages and worker rights. Comedian Abby Feldman urges people to wake up while there’s still time stop the TPP. Congress is moving quickly to give Fast Track to the President. And just as quickly people are mobilizing to stop it.
Join the Emergency protest in New York City this Monday at noon at the Sheraton Hotel near Times Square (7th and 53rd).
This was also inaugural week for many state governors. Anti-fracking protesters disrupted the swearing in of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf who wants to link education funding to fracking revenue. And anti-fracking protests took place at the inaugural events for Maryland Governor Larry Hogan. People from across Alabama disrupted Governor Robert Bentley’s inauguration which was held on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and displaced the annual activities.
In many cities across the country, MLK Day was celebrated in a new way. People rejected the watered-down and dreaming version of Dr. King and embraced him as the radical activist that he was. Demonstrators in Oakland shut down the Federal Reserve for four and a half hours to represent the time that Mike Brown’s body was left on the street after he was killed. Why focus on the Federal Reserve? As this annual report by United for a Fair Economy shows, people of color are “underbanked and overcharged.”
We spoke with organizers from Washington, DC, Pittsburgh and Oakland on MLK Day about the rising awareness of the connections between racism, capitalism and militarism and the work that is being done to counter them on Clearing the FOG Radio. Click here to listen to that program.
The Right to a Livable Future
One of the greatest threats we face is the climate crisis. The failure to take effective action to mitigate it also has its roots in racism, capitalism and militarism. That right to a livable future is under attack in neoliberal trade agreements like the TPP and TAFTA. In their zealous drive for profits, Big Energy is using every tool they have to extract the last bits of carbon from the Earth, but the people are not deterred.
The Oceti Sakowan issued a call to protect Mother Earth by stopping the Alberta tar sands extraction and the Keystone XL Pipeline. Now that the NE Supreme Court ruled against the people, Keystone is moving to use eminent domain to seize property for the pipeline, but Nebraskans are not giving up. And Canadians are organizing a #ShutDownCanada day of action on February 13 for many reasons including to protest dirty energy.
Virginians are fighting a similar battle with Dominion which is suing for access to people’s land for pipelines to carried fracked gas. As in the Midwest, this pipeline fight is uniting uncommon allies. And the same is happening in Seneca Lake in the struggle to stop a fracked gas storage facility. There have been more than 200 arrests to stop Seneca Lake; this week the mom’s took on Crestwood.
We know that fracking has caused an unprecedented number of earthquakes in Oklahoma, and a new study shows the same happening in Kansas too. Fracking pipelines and facilities also emit hazardous chemicals and can explode. Oil pipelines leak as this one did this week in Montana, dumping tens of thousands of gallons of oil into the Yellowstone River for the second time.
Despite these environmental catastrophes, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission continues to rubberstamp permits for new oil and gas infrastructure. This week, activists with Beyond Xtreme Energy disrupted FERC’s monthly meeting causing the commissioners to leave the hearing room. We are at an energy crossroads and the people are saying stop investing in fossil fuel infrastructure and move to renewables instead. Studies show that solar is cheaper in almost all US cities. Iowa City is the latest to announce an effort to increase solar capacity.
People everywhere are not only resisting the continuation of the old era of fossil and nuclear fuels, but are working together to create alternatives to move us into the era of clean and just energy sources. There are numerous groups networking at present to collaborate on work to make this transition. If you want to be informed about those efforts,sign up for the Popular Resistance climate justice affinity group here.
Find Your Path To A Just Society
Sam Smith encourages each of us to find a way to contribute to our transformation to a just society, to find our path and walk it. He writes:
“Above all, we must understand that in leaving the toxic ways of the present we are healing ourselves, our places, and our planet. We must rebel not as a last act of desperation but as a first act of creation.”
And that is what we mean when we say, “Stop the machine and create a new world.”
This is an important reality to consider. The reaction to the grand jury in 170 cities included people blocking major roadways, highways, bridges and tunnels. The police were unable to stop mobilized people working together to stop traffic. Those involved in the protest were still a small number, perhaps 200,000 people, but even this small percentage of the population had the power to #ShutItDown. In most instances protests were met with support even by people who were inconvenienced by traffic.
Now that we know that even a small percentage of Americans, well under .1%, have this power, how do we grow this capacity?
Growing the Movement
Research over the last 100 years of resistance movements shows that when just 3.5% of the public mobilizes to support a movement for social, economic or environmental justice, it always wins.
One way to look at the movement is like an archery target, a series of concentric circles. At the center is the core group of people who feel strongly about a particular issue, often those directly affected. There are many who have been working on police abuse, racial injustice and militarization of police long before Ferguson, just as there have been Michael Brown-like incidents across the country. With Ferguson, a whole new group of people joined, the circle grew as people were horrified that an unarmed teenager could be killed by police and his body left lying in the road for 4.5 hours. As publicity about the case grew, more people joined the circle of concern seeking Justice for Mike Brown. Then, there were more police killings in additional cities throughout the country and the circles grew larger; and after the grand jury reached its decision, more people joined. When people heard of the grand jury decision, and now as they learn about how the grand jury was manipulated to protect the killer of Mike Brown, more joined.
One of the keys to building the movement against racially unfair policing is to bring other social justice activists into it. All of our issues are connected and that includes the racial unfairness, not just in the criminal justice system but also in the economic system as well as the reality of environmental racism. The black community is in a state of emergency and the government is ignoring it. No progress has been made under the first African American president and attorney general.
One example of doing this is how the Ferguson protests joined with Walmart protests to undermine Black Friday consumerism in thousands of protests across the nation. Racial injustice is intertwined with economic injustice. Militarized policing is intertwined with militarization abroad.
It is important for those most directly impacted to speak out. People from communities of color, families who have lost loved ones to police violence, young people who have been harassed because of the color of their skin must be in the lead. Their voices must be at the forefront so that people begin to understand the injustice faced by millions every day.
The other key to growing the movement is raising consci ousness. Whenever people are taking action in a public protest it is critical to remember that the primary target of our protest is the public. As Bruce Gagnon wrote about a protest at a mall in St. Louis, the people in the mall “would be too afraid to ever go near such an action but here today they suddenly were right in the middle of the whole event. They had to see the spirited non-violent protest was in fact not nearly as dangerous as corporate media keeps telling them.”
We want people to see we have power and they will also have power if they join the movement. It is mass movements that create change, not fringe movements.
Finally, a brief comment on leadership: One of the great strengths of the post-Ferguson protests has been the diversity of leadership throughout the country. No one person or organization is directing these protests. All of us who care about racial injustice are playing our role. The lack of hierarchy has been one of the keys to making it difficult for the government to respond or predict what was going to happen next. The role played by Ferguson Action was also important. Their gentle form of leadership, i.e. suggesting targets, themes, messages and tactics as well as types of spokespersons, gave people working throughout the country a common framework to work in with the flexibility appropriate for their community. People were able to join together in loose affiliation working toward a common goal within a common strategic framework.
Now That We Have Your Attention: What Is Our Message?
When an action like shutting down major roadways gets public attention we need to be clear in our messaging. It is an opportunity to raise awareness of an issue and change the consciousness of many. We need to be very conscious of our messages and our actions. One well-crafted sign can often pierce people’s thinking and break through.
There is a lot of room to raise the consciousness of Americans, in particular white America, regarding the racially unfair police practices in the nation. Multiple polls show that whites and blacks see the killing of Michael Brown, the grand jury decision and justice in America very differently. The differences can be 40% to 60% between how whites and blacks view issues of justice. The view of whites regarding racial disparity diverges far from reality. These misperceptions can change very quickly because they are inconsistent with reality.
The facts are stark showing injustice at every stage of the criminal process from arrest through incarceration. There are so many examples of racial injustice. People now understand terms like “driving while black” or “stop and frisk” and how those types of practices result in widespread harassment of African Americans who are merely driving or walking through a community. These practices have widespread impact on communities of color and when they are publicized or result in litigation, they educate the community.
The emotional impacts of these practices also need to be shown. Many people are not moved by facts no matter how stark they are, but when they hear personal stories they can be reached. For example, a mother describing how she worries about her son coming home from school safely because of police harassment or a young man describing how he was degraded by the police when he was stopped and searched in the street for no reason.
We now have tools that no other generation has had to get our message out. While the mass corporate media continues to mislead more often than not, we now have the Internet, a tool that democratizes the media and builds our voices. People can become news photographers, writers and even create their own video outlet. They can video police as they interact with citizens. The people’s media is reaching a tipping point where it can become the most powerful source for information.
We saw this during the recent Ferguson protests. One media outlet, live streamer Bassem Masri, was sharing video with 90,000 viewers after the Ferguson grand jury decision was announced. He had as many viewers as cable television outlets. And, he was just one of many sources of livestream. Masri was such a serious threat to the Ferguson power structure that they fought back against him. First his phone, used to livestream, was stolen and then he was arrested. He was charged with driving on a suspended license, when he was a passenger in a car, and then he was held on $15,000 bond. The police and judge obviously wanted to keep him off the street and prevent him from showing the truth of what was occurring in Ferguson. A crowd funding campaign quickly raised the bail funds. There are video activists like Masri across the country in virtually every city. This means that the police do not control the narrative and citizens media can get out the story, with much greater credibility than the corporate media. (This is why another campaign that unites us is for the future of the Internet and net neutrality.)
In the case of Masri, we expect the injustice he has suffered because of the unnecessary arrest and extreme bond will have two impacts. First, it will strengthen Masri as he is now better known and has more public support. Second, it will undermine the justice system further. To take this journalist off the streets – violating not only his rights but our right to knowledge – required the collusion of the police, prosecutor and judge in St. Louis County. As people learn more about cases like these, it further undermines the power structure.
A more challenging example of that is the grand jury in Ferguson. The police and prosecutors used the grand jury as a way to justify not prosecuting Officer Darren Wilson. A countercurrent is growing as people learn about how the grand jury was misused. How the prosecutors, rather than really seeking indictment, warped the grand jury to ensure it prevented an indictment. The mistakes of the grand jury are legion and significant, and more people are talking about it. If we can get our message out about how the grand jury was a rigged farce, it to will undermine the justice system in Ferguson.
The key strength of our consciousness-raising efforts is that we are trying to show people reality. This is important because when they hear our facts or personal stories, then it will be reinforced by their experiences. When people’s experiences match the messages of the movements, they are on the path to having their consciousness raised.
End Game: How Do We Win?
In any campaign we need to envision what victory looks like. In the Ferguson-Police Brutality campaign activists have put forward specific goals for both Ferguson and the nation. See Ferguson Action Demands. These demands are being carried by activists across the country, see e.g. the Hands-Up Coalition DC which is organizing a weekly protest at the US Department of Justice on Pennsylvania Ave at 4:00 pm every Monday beginning on December 1. People are beginning to write about how we can end abusive policing. Some cities, like Baltimore, have held town hall meetings on the issue. People are uniting to transform policing.
Some of these demands are reforms that can begin the transformation, but we recognize that racism and police abuse are long-term problems that will require time to change. We will win when it becomes politically untenable for people to oppose the justice we seek. When 75% or more of the population agrees injustice exists and that action must be taken to correct it, then we become an unstoppable political force. In this process we will also win over many police officers as well.
People involved in Ferguson Action and other allied groups across the country realize this needs to be an ongoing campaign, not a burst of energy that dissipates.
Resistance campaigns have won important victories in our history – for worker’s rights, women’s rights, ending segregation and recognizing equality for gays. Currently we are seeing resistance movements working to win increased wages, stop extreme energy extraction, protect the future of the Internet, stop corporate trade agreements, win rights for immigrants and a multitude of economic issues.
Across the country and around the world, people are building their power. And when we see that our issues are connected and work across issues and act strategically, our power grows. Now that we have a taste of what we can accomplish together, let’s keep building and walking on the path to justice.