Newsletter: When People Mobilize, We Can Win

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Above: Protest sign being held in Ferguson City Hall.

This week was a busy one for Popular Resistance as three key campaigns had major updates.

Victory: The Campaign to Save the Internet

FCC Encampment 14

The first tent at the encampment at the FCC before the rulemaking proceeding began.

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. While widely reported, not all the reports described how the movement actually achieved it or what it means.

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 in May of 2014 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.

The blockade of Tom Wheeler's driveway on November 10, 2014 by Elias Weston-Farber

The blockade of Tom Wheeler’s driveway on November 10, 2014 by Elias Weston-Farber

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.

At the opening session of the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) Board of Trustees Winter Full Board Meeting, 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.  Source Media Mobilizing Project.

At the opening session of the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) Board of Trustees Winter Full Board Meeting, 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. Source Media Mobilizing Project.

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.

Three participants in the "Drop In and Hang Out" protest.

Three participants in the “Drop In and Hang Out” protest.

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 then 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.

Meme warning Sen. Wyden if he co-sponsors Fast Track, his career is toast.

Meme warning Sen. Wyden if he co-sponsors Fast Track, his career is toast.

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, malistar@umich.edu. 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 one charge, 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 the communities where gas is fracked and where pipelines transport the gas.

Cove Point protectors after appearing in Calvert County District Court.

Cove Point protectors after appearing in Calvert County District Court.

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.”

Steve Norris and Clark Herbert  lock down Kiewit Construction. Norris was the only person to go to jail as a result of charges then went to trial this week.

Steve Norris and Clark Herbert lock down Kiewit Construction. Norris was the only person to go to jail as a result of charges then went to trial this week.

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.

Dominion Headquarters blocked in Richmond. Source: Richmond People’s Climate March.

Dominion Headquarters blocked in Richmond. Source: Richmond People’s Climate March.

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.

We have 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.

  • cruisersailor

    I wish these demonstrations would get more press.