This week, leaders of twelve pacific rim countries signed the TransPacific Partnership (TPP) agreement in the Sky City Casino in Auckland, New Zealand amid mass protests. Thousands of people turned up early in the morning to shut down major intersections and a bridge in the Central Business District. In the evening, tens of thousands marched through the city.
There were also protests throughout the United States and in five other TPP countries (see reports here). Popular Resistance and allies kicked off the actions with a ‘TPP is Betrayal‘ protest in front of the White House. What began as a call in the US for nationwide actions around the signing spread through social media to become international. Anti-TPP activists in the US connected with activists in other countries and worked together to amplify the actions. Following the signing, a dominant theme in the media was the opposition to the TPP.
Global Solidarity is Possible
A key ingredient of previous successful campaigns to stop ‘free trade’ agreements is cross-border solidarity. Uniting struggles globally, as well as locally, is critical for other issues as well. Via Campesina, a movement started by peasants in 1993, has grown to become a global movement that recognizes the intersectionality between food security, land rights, the climate crisis and transnational corporate power. They work together to both resist harmful policies and to create necessary alternatives by organizing seed exchanges and impacting public policy.
Similarly, global solidarity is increasing around the climate crisis. Following on the networking and collaboration of climate justice activists in Paris last December, there will be a week of global actions to break free of fossil fuels in May. Locally, activists will hold an action camp in Cove Point, Maryland to bring together people whose fights against fracking, compressor stations and pipelines (and allies) are connected to the gas refinery and export terminal being built in Southern Maryland. Support is needed for local activists who are being intimidated by county sheriffs who are paid by the gas company, Dominion Resources.
Throughout history transformational global moments have occurred, e.g. to end serfdom, end monarchy, populism against banks, ending colonialism; we are once again in a global moment and the internet and social media are new powerful tools that allow us to easily communicate and form relationships with people around the world. Jeremy Gilbert encourages us to embrace the technology available to us and use it for social change. He presents the idea of “potent collectivities”, which are “groups on various scales that are capable of making some shared decisions and acting on them in ways that change something”, and says that the internet is a powerful tool for enabling them.
China Okasi describes examples of how social media not only allows widespread collaboration to occur rapidly and sometimes have an impact, but it is also broadening peoples exposure to new ideas and forcing people to have a deeper understanding of their beliefs. Okasi writes that social media has led to “protests that have become less binary, more dynamic, more open to global participation, and more subject to endless and concentrated critique.”
Diversity of Roles
A critical piece of solidarity is understanding the various roles that people play within a movement. The great activist and social change teacher George Lakey wrote this week about the various roles in a movement for individuals and organizations. He based his writing on the late Bill Moyer’s Four Roles of Activists.
We have relied on Moyer’s work to help analyze where we are as a movement and what our tasks are. Lakey describes four roles that are needed in movements and how they relate to each other. The roles are advocate, helper, organizer, and rebel. They need to be understood so that people who gravitate to one do so in an effective way that works with the others.
We have constantly seen this in our work. As an organization Popular Resistance works with a wide range of organizations, some who are inside-lobby groups, others who are trainers, or creators of new systems; we tend to find the most common role we play is the rebel. We tend to take a position that highlights the difference between what is and what should be and seek to keep the coalition pushing for what should be without compromise. We also tend toward street actions and pressure tactics to empower those working on the inside of the power structure. This is not the only role we play, we also play an organizer role as we did in the most recent TPP week of actions and as advocates as we do when we write about the TPP.
In the current battle over water, brought to the surface by the Flint water crisis, these roles are being played in Flint and on broader concerns over water quality. We’ve reported how Flint activists have played the advocacy role by sounding the alarm and as helpers refusing to be poisoned along with other helpers, people from outside Flint who have brought water to the city. People have been playing the role of advocates suing the government and urging criminal investigations, now bringing in the FBI. Advocates are also going more deeply into the Flint water crisis showing where it came from, while others are broadening the debate to show how the lead water crisis impacts many cities and how other pollution impacts cities too.
Indigenous peoples have taken the moment created by Flint to further educate the public on how the decades-long poisoning of their rivers and aquifers by uranium and other toxic metals are poisoning their people. Others are pushing the power-holders, as Bill Moyer calls them, in Washington, DC to do their jobs under current law and are pushing for stronger laws to clean up abandoned uranium mines. This is all resulting for calls for a new water strategy for the 21st Century.
In the movement against extreme extraction for energy resources which has created mobilizations around fracking, tar sands, pipelines, export terminals and compressor stations, organizations have also been playing these roles. Sometimes it has created tensions between what we call the “big greens” and the “fresh greens” because the big, established environmental groups tend to play the insider advocate role, working inside the government in ways that sometimes compromises more than the on-the-ground blockaders and others would; and the established environmental groups sometimes are uncomfortable with the aggressive civil resistance actions happening on the ground.
This is the kind of destructive conflict that can occur if people in a movement do not communicate enough, understand their roles or recognize that success depends on finding ways to work in synergy with each other. One problem is too often the insiders think they are the ones with the power because they talk to elected officials and discount the reality of where their power comes from — the mass movement pushing for change outside of Washington, DC.
These movement roles are evident in the beginnings of a revolution against FERC for their pro-oil and gas positions, that disregard the communicide as well as impact on climate change. We are in the early stages of a revolt against FERC which began with rebel advocates and organizers’ constant and aggressive protests at FERC, organized by Beyond Extreme Energy.
The roots of this revolt can also be seen in front line communities across the nation standing up to pipelines, export terminals and issues like eminent domain to take land for infrastructure. This week people organized against fracking in the Everglades. People are effectively playing their advocacy role in the courts like the litigation against Exxon/Mobil over climate denialism and litigation over various pipelines. People succeeded in getting the police to keep pipeline builders off their property. Just this week we saw a fracking moratorium going into effect off the California coast.We are seeing successes because people are playing all the necessary roles in a movement.
The Ongoing Quest for Economic, Social, Racial & Environmental Justice
Last week was the fifth anniversary of the Arab Spring. This week what some are calling the second Tunisian Revolution began. Tunisians are angry with the slow pace of change, the unfair economy and the lack of jobs. On Wednesday a young merchant set himself on fire after his goods were confiscated by the authorities, reminiscent of the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, whose act kicked off the Arab Spring on December 17, 2010. This time, the protest started in central Tunisia after a 24 year old young man, Ridha Yahyaoui, who was threatening to kill himself because his name had been deleted from a list of hirings, got struck and died when climbing an electricity pole. Protests spread the across the nation, the slogans of five years ago returned: work, freedom, dignity. This is not history repeating itself, but the ongoing narrative of history’s continuation, of an unfinished global rebellion against a corrupt economy that serves the wealthiest.
In the United States where protests against poverty wages, polluted communities and racial unfairness in the economy and justice system continue after the 2011 Occupy Movement, some of the issues are being played out in a limited way in the presidential primaries. Senator Bernie Sanders has put forward a modest program of economic reform mistakenly see as radical or even revolutionary; and he has spoken against racial injustice. Secretary Hillary Clinton echoes, more mildly, the same issues, pushed to do so by Sanders’ connection with youth and popular social movements of our times. In fact, as Ellen Brown points out neither has put forward the kind of truly populist agenda that is needed. It is fine to advocate for breaking up the big banks but how about building alternatives like public banks or treating banks as public utilities that serve the people’s needs. It is fine to advocate for a partial audit of the Federal Reserve but how about taking back the constitutional power to create money that is debt-free and stop giving that power to the banks who create crippling debt.
A new Bank Whistleblowers Group made up of five financial fraud experts points to the failure to get corruption out of the finance system since the 2008 economic collapse. Despite fraud being rife throughout the finance system and massive fines being paid, the fraud continues because of the failure to criminally prosecute the fraudsters. The Whistleblower Group has put forward a 19 point agenda that could be put in place in 60 days by a president without having to go through Congress. They are seeking to have candidates running for office support their plan (Maryland Senate candidate Margaret Flowers was the first to do so) but no one running for president from the two parties, including Senator Bernie Sanders, has endorsed the plan. Jill Stein, running for president as a Green, wrote Black last week expressing general support of the plan and promised that she expected to provide a formal endorsement soon.
Will the US system be able to respond to the corruption in the economy perpetrated by big finance and big business? Can it put forward the populist agenda that is necessary or is the political system of the two parties so deeply corrupted by money that it is unable to respond? We suspect the latter and as a result we expect to see the resistance movement growing in 2016 and beyond.
It is difficult to resolve current conflicts because historic misdeeds have never been fully acknowledged or corrected. This week in Europe the issue of the history of colonialism and its relation to the migrant crisis and the growing war against ISIS are bubbling up. A poll found that 43% of Britons thought the British Empire was a good thing. This has led to discussions in the traditional media and on social media about some of the horrors of the British Empire, behavior akin to what ISIS is criticized for today. And, the migrant crisis that is overwhelming Europe is being discussed as the ongoing impact of the colonial era and how it ended — with dividing colonized areas in ways that pitted people against each other as well as new ways of theft from poorer peoples.
No doubt the inability of the United States to face its historic ethnic cleansing of Indigenous Peoples makes it difficult to deal with the continuing decimation of Indigenous peoples through poisoned water, the government’s failure to live up to treaty obligations and incarceration of political prisoners like the 40 year imprisonment of Leonard Peltier.This is part of a failure to face historic and present realities and provide reparations for the stealing of land and ethnic cleansing of hundreds of millions of Indigenous Peoples. Similarly, the failure to face up to economic injustice and police violence against African Americans grows out of the US not facing up to slavery and brutal segregation or providing reparations for those injustices, except in narrow cases like police torture in Chicago.
In addition to understanding our individual and organizational roles and how that fits into the current movement, we have to recognize we are in a long campaign against the power structure that is designed for the wealthiest and answers to the oligarchs. We will see progress in our life times but we may not see complete fruition of the seeds being planted for a new economy based on principles of building community wealth for all, democracy and sustainability or for a new form of governance that will emphasize participation and direct democracy, ending the rule of oligarchs.
As this long struggle continues our roles will change as will our strategies and tactics. The important lesson is to remember that all of these roles are necessary and not to let different tactics divide us. We are building a global solidarity movement.