At the beginning of 2014, we wrote about the tasks of the movement for the year to work towards the goal of building a mobilized mass movement. Progress was made this year on a number of fronts where not only did greater numbers of people mobilize, but people also made connections between issues and worked in solidarity.
We’ll look back at some of the tasks we identified and how we did:
Build unity around the values of the movement – a primary task is identifying not just what we are against but defining what we are for, what kind of society we hope to build. In 2014, there were conferences held across the country where people discussed how to build a new economy that creates and maintains wealth locally, empowers people and decreases the wealth divide. Cities like Jacksonville, FL are creating roadmaps to the new economy by building on successful models elsewhere. Seattle, WA is working towards a public bank that keeps public dollars from feeding Wall Street.
In 2014, hundreds of thousands mobilized in New York for climate action, which is significant for its groundbreaking precedent. But even more significant was the growing breadth of the climate movement linking people concerned with labor, finance, opposition to war, food and water and the growing understanding that capitalism is a root cause of the crisis (as it is for many crises we face). Also significant is that communities are activated across the country to stop new fossil fuel infrastructure, end extreme energy extraction and demand climate justice, and the movement is having an impact.
And in the later part of 2014, the massive and sustained response to the killings of unarmed Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and the continued killing of people of color has changed the conversation about systemic racism and its impacts on people and communities. The Black Lives Matter movement has drawn people from all sectors of society, even within the ranks of police. Officers of color report that when they are off duty, they are mistreated by white officers. That police officers could join the movement reminds us that this is a fight against institutional violence, not against individuals. And, we recognize the immense consciousness-raising needed for the country to face up to racially unfair policing.
Exposing the myths and explaining the reality – changing the conversation is essential to show the failures of current systems and the necessity of replacing them. In our highly-propagandized environment, this is accomplished by exposing the ‘official policies,’ meaning what lawmakers say that a policy does, and the ‘actual policies,’ what policies actually create.
From trade agreements that exploit workers and the environment for the benefit of the wealthy to the health law that was written to preserve the profits of the medical industry while patients continue to forego care due to cost to the myth of humanitarian war, the public is waking up to the concept that many of our policies are not what they say they are.
This is not surprising. Important studies this year proved that government policies are written by and for the 1% at the expense of the rest of us. The democratic legitimacy of the government is undermined when it does not serve the people. And that brings us to the next task.
Changing the political environment instead of succumbing to it – for a long time people viewed elections as the most important tool for changing the political environment, but this year the election turnout showed that many recognize voting as ineffective in the current environment. Fear tactics are used in each election cycle to divide the people into red and blue teams and pit them against each other. The dismal turnout and significant losses for the Democrats show that many people see the reds and blues as one team that pushes us further towards wealth inequality, war and climate chaos.
We are not saying don’t vote, but the message is clear that the most important task is to build the people’s movement. That is where we must put our energy and resources until we create an electoral climate that is more democratic and that allows participation by more people, particularly those who are most affected by unjust policies.
Another task is to recognize that we must not allow ourselves to be bound by the political options that we are given when we know that they are inadequate. We can’t accept what is “on the table” when those who set the table fail to represent our needs. An excellent example of re-setting the table so our issue is included has been the battle for the future of the Internet, where reclassification of the Internet as a common carrier under Title II of the Telecommunications Act was deemed politically impossible, now it is politically inevitable. This was a good year for Internet freedom. The people are calling for real solutions to the crises we face, not the false solutions put forth which maintain the status quo. We are so often told to accept compromise, but we cannot compromise when, as Gandhi said, “It is all give and no take.”
Keep the moral high ground – This brings us to the next task which is to maintain a position of principled dissent. We must fight for what is right and do what is necessary to attain it. There were several clear examples of that occurring this year.
The President and the CIA did all that they could to suppress information about the CIA’s illegal torture program, but the Senate Intelligence Committee’s redacted report was finally released. Although the President is publicly advocating that nothing is done to hold those responsible for the program accountable, law suits are in the works. If we want to prevent further torture and its spread, we must continue to demand accountability. We learned in our most recent radio program that CIA agents are being warned not to travel. Those agents who do travel are urged to take more steps to hide their identities.
Recently when #BlackLivesMatter advocates met with President Obama they stuck to their high moral ground, demanding action on injustice. When President Obama told them to go slow, they stood firm: “If we don’t get what we came for, we will shut it down. President Obama knows that and we know it. No meeting can stop that.”
For every crisis we face, our job is to stay focused on the end goal and work to achieve it. Others will follow. We must not accept false solutions although there will certainly be attempts to encourage us to do so, even by groups who consider themselves to be progressive. The only way we will reach real solutions is by fighting for them.
Emphasize our roles as change agents – during this phase of the movement, we are tasked with deep organizing to build national consensus. We must grow the movement by reaching out to those both outside and inside the power structure to draw them to us. When we draw those within the power structure to our side, we weaken that structure.
One caveat, when we reach out to lawmakers, we must remember that our role is not to appease them but to do what it takes to achieve our demands. In The Activist’s Handbook, Randy Shaw states that the best relationship with public officials is “fear and loathing.” This was clearly evident in the New York battle to ban fracking. Activists hounded the governor with their anti-fracking message wherever he went and no matter what he was talking about to the point where he hated them. In the end, because of the persistence of activists, New York became the first state to ban fracking.
This is a marathon, not a sprint – And that brings us to the final point, that we must not become discouraged when we do not see quick results. We are in a huge struggle, but we are on the right side of history. If we persist, we will win eventually.
David Bronner recently reported on the huge gains made in the movements for cannabis reform and GMO labeling this year, even though there is more to do. And there have been significant gains in the work to end the fossil fuel era and move to clean and sustainable sources of energy. More communities are fighting new infrastructure and that’s making investors worry about being stuck with ‘stranded assets’. Dr. Nafeez Ahmed writes that the fossil fuel age will end within the next 15 years.
2014 was a year of significant growth for the movement in both numbers of people involved and in political education. As author Rebecca Solnit writes, as everything is falling apart, we are coming together. And that is what it will take.
We see some important battles looming in 2015.
- In the early part of the year, we will need to mobilize for net neutrality. Click here to get involved.
- We will also need to mobilize quickly to stop Congress from passing Fast Track legislation that would allow him to sign damaging trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Click here to join that work.
- We will need to work both within the US and in cooperation with international movements for climate justice to either force governments to take appropriate action in the next climate treaty or to stop them from causing more harm. Click here to join Popular Resistance’s climate justice group.
- We will need to continue to demand real solutions to end racist and militarized policing. In DC, groups are holding weekly actions at the DOJ and are urging solidarity actions. Click here to learn more.
We want to wish each of you a Happy New Year and we look forward to continuing our work. It has been such a busy year that we have not had time to raise funds to continue our operations as we had hoped to do. So, we’ll just remind you that if you are looking to make a year-end tax-deductible donation, we would appreciate your support. We have very low overhead, so every dollar goes to support organizers and materials for actions and educational events as well as keeping the website running. Click here to donate.