Newsletter: Protest Becomes More Sophisticated

| Newsletter

In the last few months multiple groups of people have been discussing how to escalate, link issues and build the protest movement’s power even more. We have heard the same conversation in different circles multiple times. We have seen this before and know it means another big wave is coming. We want to alert you to it because to make it as impactful as possible, we all need to be prepared to do all we can. People across the country should be asking their friends and colleagues: what can we do to grow the movement for transformative change?

In this week’s newsletter, we are going to report on recent actions that show the movement getting more sophisticated, effective and organized. Before we do so, we want to let you know about a new tool that could be very helpful in building your actions and making them more effective.

1asAction Switchboard: The Kickstarter + For Activists

The Yes Lab, which grew out of the creativity of the Yes Men, has developed a new tool that can be used to lift the work of all activists. They call it Action Switchboard and it allows you to post an action or campaign, which they call a Scheme, to the site so others can see it and provide whatever help you need. Action Switchboard is not a single issue tool but can be used to fight climate change, extreme energy extraction, racist policing, banking abuse, militarism – really every major economic, social and environmental issue we are confronting.

We really want to encourage you to use Action Switchboard. It is a tool that can lift your actions to a higher level.  When you post a Scheme to Action Switchboard you can tell people what you need: skills, resources or funding. People can offer support or sign up to follow your Scheme and get updates so they can participate when they are needed.  You can also create an internal group that can communicate in private.

1yesBeyond these normal functions, they provide additional help when requested. For the last 15 years the Yes Men have developed a list of people who are activists with particular skills. This means if you need a certain type of skill, e.g. videographer, banner maker, PR person, in a particular part of the country they may have someone on their list who can help.

The Action Switchboard also has a page they call The Cookbook that helps you design your scheme from the initial brainstorming to its final success.

Check out Action Switchboard and start to use it.

Actions Demonstrating Our Increasing Capacity

Just in the last week there have been a variety of areas where we are seeing an escalation of the sophistication and effectiveness of direct actions campaigns. We review a few here that we can all learn from and that provide inspiration.

1frackcuomoThe Anti-Fracking Campaign in New York: Governor Andrew Cuomo banned fracking in New York this week. This would not have happened without the ongoing, multi-year campaign against fracking by New Yorkers Against Fracking and others, as well as the current campaign of We Are Seneca Lake. Commentators on the Cuomo decision described the campaign as “unrelenting” and “focused on Cuomo” and how they brought the research and science together with public pressure.

A key feature of this campaign was that it was ongoing. The campaign built over a six year period. Even on the day that Cuomo announced the ban, activists were preparing to protest the announcement they expected – pilot fracking projects in several parts of the state. Instead, they got a tremendous victory, which reminds us that we never know how close we are to success.

The campaign built a strong base of support that included residents who would be directly impacted by fracking, communities that voted to ban fracking and scientists and health experts who could factually explain why fracking was bad for New York. Cuomo was joined by governments in Quebec and New Brunswick in rejecting fracking this week. The tide is turning for anti-fracking campaigns. Let’s build on these successes and stop fracking throughout the country.

Spectra Energy Shutdown TripodThe Multi-State Coordinated Actions Against Pipelines:  Last week four states joined together to protested a pipeline that would go through New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The protests seek to stop the Algonquin Pipeline Extension and involves 14 organization. They called it “A Week of Respect and Resistance to Stop the Spectra Pipeline.” The week produced some great individual events and lots of phone calls and other contacts to elected officials.

We hope this kind of coordination between groups and across states continues. Even coordination intra-state is effective. A campaign in Massachusetts against a Kinder Morgan pipeline was successful in forcing them to re-route the pipeline. Now the campaign needs to block Kinder Morgan in New Hampshire. The Massachusetts campaign included a rolling protest from town to town ending in the Boston Common.

Protests Against Police Abuse: There have been many outstanding protests against police abuse after the grand jury decisions in Ferguson and Staten Island. We wrote about some of these protests in a recent newsletter highlighting the ability of mobilized people to shut down business as usual. Worth noting has been the significant leadership by women in these protests; indeed it was female leaders who took the stage from Al Sharpton’s DC rally demanding to be heard. This was an important protest of new black leadership separating itself from the inside-the-Democratic Party misleadership.

Across the street from the police station banners making key points and showing images of those killed by the police. Source Wild Tiger.

Across the street from the police station banners making key points and showing images of those killed by the police. Source Wild Tiger.

This week we were particularly impressed by a well-organized protest in Oakland that shut down the police headquarters for 4 hours and 28 minutes. Four hours for the time Mike Brown was left in the street, and 28 minutes because every 28 hours in the US a Black person is killed by police, military, security or vigilantes.  The protest was led by African American groups and supported by Asian and White groups. It featured large banners, climbing a flag pole to fly a flag of people killed by police, blockades of roadways and entrances and powerful chants making clear political points. The groups working together showed exceptional solidarity and coordination. This is definitely an event others can learn from.

Another important aspect of the police abuse and racism protests is their ongoing nature. Protests are being planned for January around Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday and weekly Justice Monday protests are planned at the US Department of Justice.

Single payer activists tell Shumlin his career is toastImmediate Reaction To Denial Of Universal Healthcare in Vermont: We were very pleased to see the immediate reaction from the grassroots to Governor Shumlin’s announcement that he would not be going forward with the universal healthcare plan in Vermont. (Note: We do not call this single payer because it was always a less efficient and more costly multi-payer system.)  The Vermont Workers who were the grassroots support for the push to provide healthcare to all in Vermont, immediately responded to Shumlin’s announcement. The next day they were at the State House protesting outside and inside. They called it a “Shame On Shumlin” protest and went to his office to tell him “Your career is toast.”

We’ve always been impressed by the grassroots organizing of Vermont Workers. It was important for Shumlin to immediately hear the unforgiving voice of people who had been promised that their human right to healthcare would be recognized. Politicians who do not fulfill their promises need to be held accountable and told that their decision will impact their career. Shumlin has also seen protests over pipelines in Vermont.

Ensuring the Future of an Internet For All: In a previous newsletter we reviewed the campaign to save the Internet. Popular Resistance was part of this campaign along with Internet advocacy groups. The coalition has been able to make the politically impossible inevitable – reclassifying the Internet as a common carrier under Title II of the Federal Communications Act. Reclassification is essential to putting in place net neutrality rules as the courts have said, without reclassification the FCC does not have the authority to prevent a tiered Internet based on fees and equal access for all through net neutrality.  We have not won yet so sign up to stay involved in this campaign to bring it to its ultimate successful conclusion.

1HandsUpDCFoundation to Build On

Here are important lessons we can learn from each other:

The importance of solidarity: we need to work across geographic areas, coordinate nationally, work across issues and unite despite differences in race, age, sex and class. We are stronger when we are united.

Ongoing campaigns build our power: Change is not going to come from one event; it takes a series of events that are part of a campaign. Campaigns allow us to build and create power among mobilized people.

Linking street action with the facts: The facts are on our side on every issue we are working on but the facts alone are not enough. The people are also on our side, but they need to be mobilized. When we combine people power and the facts, we have the ingredients for success.

From WPTZ.

From WPTZ.

Hold people accountable, personalize protest: Those in elected office or other positions must be held accountable for their actions. By focusing on Governor Cuomo, the fracking campaign in New York put consistent pressure on him so wherever he went he knew there was opposition. Vermonters have started the process of holding Governor Shumlin accountable for not fulfilling his promise of universal healthcare – which is a basic human right. If they build this into a campaign, they can turn this decision around, or if necessary, elect a new governor who will ensure their healthcare needs are met.

Spectacle protests builds our movement: We are building a transformative mass movement. For every action we should keep in mind that the goal is to draw more people to the movement, show them that what we stand for will benefit them and their families as well as highlight the failures of current policy. People need to know that there are others working for positive change and if we join together we can win.

In recent years, the movement for social, economic and environmental justice has built a foundation on which to grow. We are hearing from activists on a variety of issues – police abuse, fracking, climate change, economic justice among them – that 2015 is a year to escalate. We are also hearing, consistently across all issues, people need to unite and recognize we are one movement of movements.

We are on the right path to shaping our own destinies, despite the deep corruption of dysfunctional government and an unfair economy. People mobilizing can build their power and shape the future.

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  • Beverly Ann Rupp

    What happens if we are successful? Who might be waiting in the wings to co-opt our “American Spring” and turn it into some kind of totalitarian nightmare. We have seen this type of thing happening all over the Middle East lately. What can we do now to prevent it from happening to us?

  • Jon

    Great post, Kevin and Margaret! Love it! And Beverly, you raise an important question. Totalitarian governments are always in the form of a hierarchy, like a corporation (no surprise here!) The antidote is what we learned from Occupy–horizontal leadership so that no one rises to a level that can dictate. Further, the original principle of separation of powers remains valid. What has happened is the corporate interests have captures all 3 branches of government. This accumulation of power must be precluded with certain structural changes, for instance, a law that prohibits any company from owning another company. Another possibility is to institute a maximum income tied to minimum income by percentage. A law that prevents corporations from influencing elections, and making it a felony, is another. Citizen review of police departments with power to hire and fire is another, and so on.

  • Beverly Ann Rupp

    You’re right Jon. But I was thinking more in terms of what happened with the Arab Spring movements that were basically swallowed whole by radical Islamist sects who piggy-backed onto their successes and turned them into something the original protesters had never intended.
    We certainly have more than a few of our own militant groups here in America. I believe this type of thing is a common danger, especially to non-violent groups. I want to believe there are ways of dealing with such people without resorting to the use of force ourselves. I suspect it isn’t easy, but I think it’s worth the effort to try and find ways to protect the integrity of our dreams without sinking to the level of those who would use us to spread violence. Egypt and Syria are in a terrible mess. But both protests began in innocence. They got blindsided.

  • Jon

    Beverly, Your concern is fully justified, but I think that we can learn from history. We have a long tradition of activism–like myself from 1966 onward as one of millions. I concur with your assessment of Egypt and Syria, and praise their bravery in the face of increasing brutal repression. Clearly there are pitfalls and obstacles, but I am impressed with the direction being cited in the article.
    I use an analogy: visualize a modern army tank thundering across terrain at 40- MPH, loaded with weaponry,both offensive and defensive. But if it runs straight into 20 feet deep of quicksand, it is instantly useless. What we need to figure out is what is the poltical equivalent of quicksand. I suspect it has to do with economic viability of the empire, which is brittle, hard but fragile. We need to internalize that the empire is not sustainable, and will fall in some form. How? When? “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind . . .”

  • kevinzeese

    There is a lot that is needed to avoid the fate of Egypt. First, we need deep political education so people see how easy it is to be taken off course.

    Second,, we cannot only go on the path of protest, we also must simultaneously build alternative democratic institutions in our economy, e.g. worker ownership and direction of business, employee-owned cooperatives, land trusts to control land development, democratization of energy through dispersed energy (e.g. rooftop solar) and public ownership of utilities. We need to have things take take the place of the existing order.

    Third, there are several ways that movements achieve ultimate victory. The rapid revolution, as was attempted in Egypt is the easiest to throw off because things are moving quickly. In Egypt the military had deep control of all institutions and much of the economy, so they were in good position to take charge.

    Two other ways transformations happen, one is “victorious retreat.” This is when the power structure realizes that they cannot win and says — we always wanted to end our dependence on oil or we always wanted to raise wages to a living wage etc. This also does not change the underlying power dynamic so can reset back to the problems. This is kind of what happened with the New Deal — capitalists agreed to share the wealth, but they have gradually taken it back.

    The final path to victory is “attrition.” This is the best but slowest approach. You build your new system while you protest the old and gradually the new system takes over. It is kind of like during feudalism when markets developed inside the feudal economy and gradually overtook it and created the capitalist economy.

  • Ghost

    “When we combine people power and the facts, we have the ingredients for success.”

    We also need a narrative, a story that captures people’s attention and imagination. Imagine a just world of peace….

    We’re working on a narrative that reflects upon the Second American Revolution, and we’ll be publishing The Third American Revolution soon. We escalate in 2015 with a call for revolution in the U.S. and around the globe, just as Occupy took place around the globe.