This week, there were many lessons in courage from people who overcame fears and created winning situations by turning power on its head and building the movement.
On Wednesday morning, attorney Lynne Stewart’s compassionate release from prison was denied. Stewart is suffering from breast cancer. Her husband, Ralph Poynter, stood vigil in DC to push for a decision, and then the decision came, with a result they did not want to hear. Stewart should not be in prison at all for her act of assisting her client with a press statement, but she continues to serve a 10 year sentence.
By her grace and strength Stewart turned a seemingly devastating decision into a victory. The abusive reality of the US government was laid bare as she responded with an open letter to her supporters entitled “Disappointed, Not Devastated.” She included a photo of her in prison, obviously suffering from cancer, but smiling broadly. She showed her humanity, writing about her children and grandchildren, her Ralph and promised to continue the struggle.
She concluded: “Fight On — All of Us or None of Us. An affront to one is an affront to all.”
She created a victory for all of us, pulled us together in a struggle for justice that affects each of us; she helped to build the movement.
Wednesday was also a day of inspirational protest in solidarity with Guantanamo prisoners. The shame of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp is pushing more and more Americans to stand with them, including Diane Wilson, a fourth generation shrimper from the Gulf Coast who is on her 57th day of a hunger strike. She was the first to begin a solidarity hunger strike with the more than 100 prisoners who have refused to eat in Guantanamo, some for 147 days. The contagious courage of her actions can be seen as there are now 13 long-term hunger strikers. Who knows how this will grow? Perhaps soon there will be one solidarity hunger striker for each Guantanamo prisoner on a hunger strike.
Before the protest began, Wilson was asked whether she had any fear and she answered that she did, but her approach to fear was to confront it and walk through it. Elliot Adams, another long-term hunger striker, also confronts fear and does so with pragmatism, step-by-step, often finding the fear was greater than the risk. Tarak Kauff, a board member of Veterans for Peace who has not eaten for nearly three weeks, says he sees great benefits from confronting fear and taking risks as doing so increases confidence and maintains youth. He notes that “young people take risks and taking risks keeps you young.”
During the Close Guantanamo protest, Diane Wilson decided to go over the White House fence. Her goal was to show President Obama and the world that there are people who hold him responsible for the prison camp remaining open, for keeping 86 prisoners in the prison who have been cleared for release. Every day President Obama delays is another day of torture for the prisoners.
When Wilson confronted her fears and went over the fence, the fear of the power structure was evident. An attack dog and police pointing assault rifles rushed toward her – even though she displayed her peaceful intentions immediately with hands up and getting down on her knees. The fear of the police was also seen in their over-reaction when they arrested Medea Benjamin, who confronted Obama several weeks ago about Guantanamo and drones, putting her on the ground, knee on her back with multiple officers participating. Their unnecessary, over-reaction displayed their fear.
The paradox of power is that abuse of police power grows protest movements. This was evident recently in Brazil and Turkey. It was evident during Occupy when police used tear gas, creating iconic images for protesters to rally around. Over and over the use of tear gas has grown protests. The police do not win when they use their power; paradoxically they lose as opposition grows.
The Edward Snowden saga demonstrates how a well-planned strategic action can create a no-win situation for the power structure. Snowden released documents showing a vast array of domestic and global spying on phone calls and Internet communications; documents that reveal the UK has a global intelligence system which gathers virtually every phone call and Internet communication. At the time the US was charging him with espionage, he fled Hong Kong reportedly en route to a third country through Russia. Despite being told by President Vladimir Putin that Snowden was in the Moscow airport, and despite their vast global surveillance capability, the US has been unable to get their hands on Snowden.
Instead those in power have taken their usual tactic of changing the subject by trying to make Snowden the issue and attacking his supporters. Snowden is not the issue, NSA spying is the issue. The power structure has also gone after perceived Snowden allies like Glenn Greenwald with attacks on him and threats that he should be arrested. Two corporate media figures, David Gregory of NBC’s “Meet the Press” and Andrew Ross Sorkin of the New York Times, and CNBC embarrassed themselves when they mused about arresting Greenwald. The comments backfired, forcing Sorkin to apologize for his comments.
Once again, the paradox of power – the vast US surveillance state has been outsmarted by Snowden every step of the way. Even if they catch him, it is going to backfire as Snowden now has global public support and has provided the documents to others who will release them if he is arrested or harmed. President Obama is now in the hypocritical position of trying to prosecute the person who started the debate he says the public needs to have.
Advocates for change succeed with tactics that put the movement in a win-win situation and the power structure in a lose-lose. These tactics are called Paradox Actions. When Rosa Parks sat in the front of the bus she won. If she was allowed to violate Jim Crow segregation, she beat the law. If they arrested her, they created an opportunity for the movement to grow – and it did.
Veterans will be going to trial on July 8 as a result of a Paradox Action last October in which they read the names of the war dead at the Vietnam War Memorial in New York City. They went past the selectively-enforced curfew, putting the police in a position to either not enforce the curfew or arrest them during a solemn ceremony. The police made the mistake of picking the latter, now a campaign is building around the veterans.
This week the Fearless Summer campaign began in earnest. Frontline environmental justice activists are challenging extreme energy sources like methane gas (we don’t call it the PR term “natural gas”) from hydrofracking, oil from tar sands and coal from mountain top removal, among others. These are people who are working through the fear of direct action against the militarized extraction industry.
Their first week of actions included road blockades and pipeline occupations, locking down a KXL pipeline pump station, the targeting of the Peabody Coal CEO’s home, blocking an entrance to a Petroleum Coke waste area and joining with Native Indians in their Sovereign Summer campaign to lock down the Enbridge 9 Tar Sands pipeline despite threats from the court. These are just a few examples of many in a first week bursting with actions to stop radical energy produced in the extreme extraction economy. President Obama’s climate speech, which ensures climate disaster, will not stop Fearless Summer from going forward because the president gave the green light to hydrofracking, nuclear energy, clean coal and was unclear about the KXL pipeline and tar sands.
Another campaign that shows how courage builds is the “Moral Mondays” campaign in North Carolina. After two months, protests swelled to their largest yet with 120 arrested this week, bringing the total to 600. Gradually more and more have joined the protests and risked arrest to say no more right wing extremism. Next week will be the final Monday before a legislative break, so we expect an even bigger protest.
More Americans are saying what a Brazilian recently said during the uprising against the country’s ruling class; they refuse to be taken for ‘suckers.’ Whether it was Obama’s energy speech that continues the environmentally-devastating ‘all of the above’ energy strategy, the failure to prosecute bankers or more unfulfilled promises to close the Guantanamo prison, people are no longer suckers for flowery rhetoric.
One North American recently wrote about having Brazilian envy, as he watched millions of Brazilians standing up and wondered why not North Americans? Of course, if you review the pages of PopularResistance.org, you will see many thousands of Americans standing up all over the country on a wide range of issues. And, Brazilians report that in fact the uprising in Brazil has been simmering for years until finally Brazilians rose up against the country’s ruling class.
Activists in Brazil consistently protested for years. They were small but persistent, and then finally the public joined them – and you could see the joy on the faces of Brazilians when they did. It felt good to stand up for fairness, justice and equity; against corruption and abuse. Our sense is that more Americans are aware they are being taken for suckers. More are simmering and the US is a tinderbox ready for mass protest.
Transformation is not easy. We see that in Egypt where protesters are building up to a mass protest on June 30, the one year anniversary of President Morsi’s rule. The ruling class is afraid, as evidenced by the Egyptian military’s threats in advance of the protest. But activists have confronted that fear and are holding a week of actions already resulting in clashes with the government and the US Embassy being closed. People are talking about what happens to Egypt when Morsi leaves.
Tariq Ali wrote about the flames of resistance and hope he witnessed in Turkey that will not only help Turkey challenge neoliberal economics, but will also help Europe. We see similar courage by many in the United States who persistently challenge the power structure and reveal its fear of the people.
The paradox of power is that the real power is with us if we have the power to use it..