Why We Should Stop Using The Word “Activist”

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By Jonathan Matthew Smucker for In These Times – One way that progressive political groups create barriers between themselves and society is through the construction of a relatively new category of political actor: the activist. The word activist was first used about a century ago to describe those Swedes who advocated for Sweden to abandon neutrality and enter World War I on the side of the Kaiser. But as it is now used, the term became part of our lexicon in the 1960s. Today, activist carries important meanings absent in words that described earlier manifestations of collective action. Classifications like abolitionist, populist, suffragette, unionist or socialist all referenced specific contents. Activist, on the other hand, is a “contentless” label that traverses political issues and social movements. Negative stereotypes about activists can negatively affect opinions about a given political issue once the issue is associated with activism. Consequently, because the term repels many people, it cognitively blocks their entry into collective action. Yet, some people are attracted to activism for that very reason. Many activists take pride in activism partly because it is an expression of their willingness to do something that is unpopular. Indeed, some come to see their own marginalization as a badge of honor, as they carve out a radical oppositional niche identity

Citizen Activism And The Courts

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By David Cole for The American Prospect – David Cole’s Engines of Liberty is a welcome corrective to a conventional way of narrating constitutional law as being the work of federal courts, especially the Supreme Court, whose justices are nerd-celebrities, internet memes, and partisan heroes or villains. Cole argues that constitutional law comes from sources that are more democratic, and more obscure, than judges. It begins in the work of citizen activists, quixotic lawyers, and legal scholars willing to buck mainstream views and take unfamiliar ideas to their logical conclusions. If progressives hope the courts will stand in the way of Donald Trump’s enormities, Cole’s arguments suggest, they had better mobilize now for the constitutional values they hope to see judges protect in a few years. Cole makes his arguments by telling the background stories behind three important legal developments of the last 15 years: the Supreme Court’s embrace of same-sex marriage in 2015, its announcement of a constitutional right to individual gun possession in 2008, and its pushback against George W. Bush’s “War on Terror” in a series of cases concerning the rights of detainees and other targets of that “war.” In each instance, courts behaved surprisingly.

Manifesto For A Naïve Activism

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By Rev. Billy Talen for Common Dreams – It is the darkest of times; it is the brightest of times. A mentally ill President slouches toward the nuclear suitcase to mistake a Twitter feed for the big one. But he can see in the windows of the Oval Office, out in streets, the 99% and the Black Lives and the Kayaktivists and the Pussy Power and the Dreamers and the Water Protectors at Standing Rock. This succession of startling movements are the seeds of our revolution. The pattern over the five plus years since Occupy Wall Street is one of peaks and valleys. Up in the visionary light of a life-saving rebellion and then down into the aftermath of months and months of organizing, meetings and marches and rallies…

Activism Then & Now: Organizing In The Pre-Twitter Era

Today's protests bring about memories of student activism in the 60s. Photo by AP

By John Eklund for Portside – There’s no question that social and digital media are transforming the way movements are built and organized. But technology by itself has never overthrown a tyrant nor seized state power. Self-expression is a potent thing, but as a plan of action it’s just a start. Progress demands that the contemporary social media-based resistance overcome its fear and loathing of leadership, organization and ideology. Recently a contemporary member of the new resistance asked me- a veteran of the 1960s resistance- how we managed to organize a movement without social media. How indeed? I came of political age in the late 1960s, when my Milwaukee high school was consumed by movements for change…

Should Scientists Engage In Activism?

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By Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus for The Conversation. Have you heard that scientists are planning a march on Washington? The move is not being billed as a protest, but rather as a “celebration of our passion for science and a call to support and safeguard the scientific community,” although it comes as a direct response to recent policy changes and statements by the Trump administration. Not everyone thinks the nonprotest protest is a good thing. It’s “a terrible idea,” wrote Robert Young, a geologist at Western Carolina University, in The New York Times. The march, Young said, will just reinforce a belief among some conservatives that “scientists are an interest group,” and polarize the issue, making researchers’ jobs more difficult. Others find that argument less than convincing, pointing out that science and politics have always been intertwined.

Only One Way To Come To Grips With Climate Crisis

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By John Foran for Popular Resistance. First, let’s please just acknowledge there is a crisis. I’m afraid any reasonably educated, rational, and unbiased adult (or younger) can understand what the climate science has been telling us now for two decades: the Earth is warming, slowly but surely (so far by about 1 degree Celsius since 1800), due to humans’ putting carbon dioxide and other “greenhouse gases” into the atmosphere, mainly through burning fossil fuels (gas, oil, and coal) and the byproducts of large-scale and animal-based agriculture. A good primer on this is Danny Chivers’ No-Nonsense Guide to Climate Change. Second – and it only takes a bit of sociological thinking here – we see that this is already having massive negative effects on people’s well-being: floods, droughts, superstorms, rising sea-levels, loss of biodiversity (species extinction), polluted cities, rivers, and oceans.

In DC, Voices Of Resistance Are Everywoman/man

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By Bonnie Darves. Washington, DC – On the Washington, D.C., streets this week, it’s already looking like Pick-Your-Protest-Land, and even Trump can’t tweet fast enough to respond to the torrent of backlash that’s broadening with each new insult he issues. I’m here from Seattle to participate in the Refuse Fascism movement, which seeks to stop the Trump-Pence regime from taking power. It’s a long shot, but anything that might stop this disaster in the making or potentially mitigate its damage is worth the effort. The Trump Defense Camp claims that the resistance organizations that have formed since the election represent only jargon-spouting leftists on the fringe. That’s not what I’ve seen. The protesters I’ve encountered are schoolteachers, IT workers, scientists, paralegals, health care professionals, business owners, film makers and restaurant managers.

The Strange Case Of Tennie White

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By Sharon Lerner for The Intercept – ON A MUGGY Thursday morning in June, I drove through the gates of the Federal Correctional Institute in Tallahassee to meet a convicted criminal who, as far as I can tell, is the only person connected to two huge environmental contamination cases in Mississippi to ever serve prison time. Yet, strangely, the convicted felon I was on my way to meet wasn’t a polluter. On the contrary, Tennie White, who was prosecuted by a joint team made up of attorneys from the Environmental Protection Agency and the environmental crimes division of the Justice Department, had spent her professional life exposing contamination.

Tom Hayden: How I Became An Activist

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Peace activist Tom Hayden, left, and actress Jane Fonda inn 1987.

By Alexander Reed Kelly for Truth Dig – Left-wing activist Tom Hayden, who died Sunday at age 76, once told an interviewer of his reluctant transformation from journalist to activist after an encounter with Martin Luther King Jr. “Whether he meant to or not,” Hayden said of King, “he started me questioning whether I should keep writing about these things for my career or whether I should shut my notebook and join the picket line. … I eventually found it possible to do both. But the effect was enormous and gradual.”

Chris Hedges And Robert Scheer On Activism

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By Emma Niles for Truth Dig – Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer sat down with journalist Chris Hedges on Monday for an intimate, salon-style conversation in Los Angeles. They discussed everything from religion and social control to war and police brutality. First, Hedges explained how his father influenced his participation in reform efforts by encouraging him to begin an LGBT activist group at his conservative college campus.

The Radicalism Of Black Lives Matter

Demonstrators marched through downtown Philadelphia during the Democratic National Convention on July 26.
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By Martha Biondi for In These Times. Three years have passed since the July 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin prompted Oakland, Calif., organizer Alicia Garza to write an anguished Facebook post ending with the words “Black lives matter”—words that would channel an outpouring of outrage on social media. A year later, the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., ignited a local rebellion of Black citizenry, and a social movement took shape. That the Ferguson Police Department left Brown’s fatally wounded body on the street for hours encapsulates the disregard for Black suffering that continues to drive protest nationwide. Already, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and the violence it exposes feel like a fixture of our media and social landscape, the images jarring and unrelenting

Peace Boat Golden Rule Sails Into A New Era Of Nuclear Activism

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By Dawn Stover for Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists – Dwarfed by the ships from the US Navy, the Royal Canadian Navy, and the US Coast Guard that visited Portland, Oregon, for Fleet Week last month, the 30-foot-long Golden Rule looked like it was from another era. And it was. The boat, sporting a 6-foot-wide peace symbol on one of its sails, is the same wooden ketch once crewed by pacifists who tried to sail it to the Marshall Islands in 1958, to protest US atmospheric testing of large nuclear bombs. They were prepared to sacrifice the boat and their own lives in an attempt to stop the tests, which were devastating the islands and sending radioactive fallout around the globe.

Lessons in Activism: Middle School Students Advocate For Syrian Refugees

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By Carolina Drake for Truthout – On the last day before spring break at Manhattan Country School, a progressive school in New York City, the 7th and 8th graders were busy at work with their activism campaign, “Build Bridges, Not Borders.” In one classroom, a group of students gathered near the phone, waiting for their turn to call Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office to encourage the resettlement of Syrian refugees in New York. In another room, students practiced their talking points and arguments in anticipation of their lobbying trip to Washington, DC, where they would ask congressional representatives to oppose bills that would block the refugee resettlement process

The Activist As A Young Girl

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By David Swanson for Let’s Try Democracy. Clare Hanrahan’s memoir The Half Life of a Free Radical: Growing Up Irish Catholic in Jim Crow Memphis is a remarkable feat: part Jack Kerouac, part Dorothy Day, part Howard Zinn, and a bit of Forest Gump. First and foremost this is an entertaining and irreverent tale of childhood and adolescence told with great humor, honesty, and empathy. But it’s also told by someone who became a peace and justice and environmentalist activist in later life, someone able to look back on the poverty, racism, consumerism, militarism, sexism, and Catholicism of her youth with passion and perspective — even appreciation for all the good that was mixed in with the bad. Hanrahan writes what in outline form would read like an endless tale of misfortune, and yet leaves you with the thought of how much riotous fun she and her eight siblings and other acquaintances had.

Speaking Mirth To Power

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By Lorna Garano for Truthout. L.M. Bogad’s artful activism blends the strategies of civil disobedience with heaping doses of Harpo Marx. As a professor and “tactical performer, Bogad says he is committed to “speaking mirth to power.” In his long career he has staged outrageous theatrical spectacles to skewer governments, corporations and power brokers of all sorts. Bogad has worked with the Yes Men and with unions and human rights groups on picket lines and occupations around the world. He helped to create and train the spectacular Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army (CIRCA) and to make the street theater organization known as Billionaires for Bush — which calls for “Government of, by, and for the Corporations” — a fixture at the protests that shadowed George W. Bush’s time as president. All of this “serious play” is informed and inspired by constant research into the long history of creative resistance.