Showing posts with label democracy movements. Show all posts
Showing posts with label democracy movements. Show all posts

1.16.2019

what i'm reading: occupy nation by todd gitlin

Occupy Nation: The Roots, the Spirit, and the Promise of Occupy Wall Street is a history and ethnography of Occupy Wall Street, and the Occupy movement. Author, sociologist, and longtime leftist activist Todd Gitlin has written an account of how a social movement was born, grew, and died. After reading it, I felt utter despair at our ability to create a more democratic political system, and a more just economic system. I'm pretty sure that's not what Gitlin was going for!

It's easy to forget how present the Occupy movement became -- how quickly it spread, the attention it drew, how it forced a change in the terms of the debate. Hundreds of thousands of people in nearly 1,000 cities around the globe took part in Occupy demonstrations. The expression "the 99%" entered a common vocabulary. Occupy focused public and media attention on income inequality in a way I had not seen in my lifetime. Together with the Fight for 15, Occupy made labour and economic issues truly visible for the first time in many decades.

Gitlin does a good job of situating Occupy within the context of other progressive movements in the US, and to some extent, globally. I was most interested in his analysis of Occupy's inner workings. How did the movement grow? How was it governed? How were ideas put forward, how were actions chosen, who created the strategy, and how was it carried out? That's what I found so depressing. Occupy was strangled by its own ideals.

Occupy organizers wanted to create a participatory (as opposed to representative) democracy; they had a strong commitment to a leaderless structure where all voices were equal. It was meant to be a "prefigurative" movement -- a movement that reflects the world it wants to build.

Occupy's commitment to participatory democracy helped it quickly spread and grow, as people felt included and heard. But movements need goals, agendas, strategies. Movements need mechanisms to build consensus, to break bottlenecks, to ensure participation while still moving forward. And movements need leaders. Leaders arise very naturally in all situations; processes are needed to allow those leaders to lead, while still ensuring constant communication and participation at every level.

The "interminable meetings of fractious and dogmatic Occupiers" (as a Kirkus review puts it) eventually became unsustainable. There was no direction or plan for moving forward. There were too many ideas for forward movement, but no road taken.

None of this means Occupy was useless or accomplished nothing. I've written a lot about that and I don't want to repeat it all here. Occupy was an incredibly positive phenomenon. But it was unsustainable.

It's easy to create change from the top down -- to impose a strong will on others -- at least for a short period of time. But change from the ground up, a true grassroots movement, is infinitely more time-consuming and exponentially more difficult to build. It's also incredibly fragile, especially if the movement insists on being democratic and inclusive.

After reading this book, I felt, and certainly not for the first time, that building a new social system is all but impossible.

Of course, reform is possible. We can force reforms onto the present system, tiny bits of social democracy grafted onto a grossly capitalist system -- social security, public education, minimum labour standards. Everything that comprises the social safety net is such a reform. But reform is always too weak. Reforms leave too many people out, and they prop up a corrupt and unjust system. And as we know, those reforms can be withdrawn, or weakened so badly that they might as well not exist.

Moving from a nominally representative democracy to authoritarianism of any stripe is so easy. The playbook perfected in the 20th century has never gone out of fashion. Lies, propaganda, scapegoating -- create and sustain fear -- suppress the opposition -- repeat repeat repeat. The recipe is so effective, because it asks so little -- follow me blindly -- and apparently is very satisfying to large numbers of people.

Moving from that nominally representative democracy to something truly democratic and responsive to the needs of the people can never be accomplished through reforms. But is reform all we can get?

I know how almost everyone reading this answers that question. And I hate when I answer it the same way. Gitlin's book reinforced that dreaded answer for me. The answer I (try so hard to) refuse to believe.

1.05.2018

required reading for revolutionaries: jane mcalevey and micah white

I've wanted to write about these two books for a long time, but adequately summarizing them is a daunting task. I just want to say to every activist and organizer: READ THESE BOOKS. I don't want to represent the authors' ideas, I want you to read them yourself.

No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age by Jane F. McAlevey and The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution by Micah White are both aimed at activists and organizers -- people who already believe in the need for social change and are trying to influence the world in a progressive direction. Both books identify pitfalls and shortcomings in the current ways we approach our activism, and they offer concrete ideas for change, along with theory and philosophy to guide our decisions. Both are beautifully written, powerful, and essential.

No Shortcuts focuses on the labour movement, but McAlevey's analysis could apply to any movement. The labour movement is an excellent lens through which to view activism generally, since, if practiced well, it activates people across the political spectrum, and has a direct impact on the everyday reality of people's lives.

Advocacy vs. Mobilizing vs. Organizing

McAlevey, a long-time organizer and labour educator, identifies three systems of organizing, distinguished by the extent to which the workers themselves create a new reality, that is, worker agency.

The Advocacy model, where paid union staff, professional lobbyists, and lawyers work alongside the employer to dictate the terms of employment, is the least effective. Indeed, this model is not only ineffective, it is downright dangerous. It often results in concessions and wage freezes, and even more damaging long-term results. It poisons the very concept of union, teaching workers that unions are just another powerful force benefiting an elite few at the expense of the many. It's the perfect scenario for employers, and unfortunately is the norm in many unions.

Turning to the more positive approaches, McAlevey differentiates between Mobilizing and Organizing. In Mobilizing, a group of leaders make decisions and activate the workers to support them. All campaigns depend on some amount of mobilizing, but if the entire campaign is based on a mobilization model, a great potential is lost. The campaign may make some material gains, but it will fail to change the workers' relationship to their employer and their work; it will have failed to challenge the power structure. Any gains made will be superficial and short-term.

McAlevey shows that only the Organizing model builds worker agency to make significant, potentially long-term progress. McAlevey didn't invent this method, of course, but she's illuminating it and analyzing it for us -- showing us how it's done and why it works.

In Organizing, workers themselves create their own change. Workers make the decisions, learn from their own experiences, and build strength together. Organizing creates massive pressure on the employer, builds allies in the community, and -- most importantly -- creates confident leaders who can then organize others.

Given this analysis, it's no surprise that McAlevey champions the most powerful of all workers' tools: the strike. Strikes not only demonstrate and leverage workers' greatest value, by withholding their contributions, they demonstrate to the workers themselves how powerful they can be. A successful strike is a transformative event, as the confidence it builds becomes deeply embedded in the workers' consciousness. Successful strikes lead, McAlevey writes,
to the ability of the workers to win for themselves the kinds of contract standards that are life-changing, such as control of their hours and schedules, the right to a quick response to workplace health and safety issues, the right to increased staffing and decreased workload, and the right to meaningful paid sick leave and vacation time.
To wage a successful strike, workers must be both organized and active. So the very tools needed to create the strike build the potential for success, in both the short-term and the long-term.

Case studies: the book's greatest strength and contribution to our movements

McAlevey offers many practical examples of the process of Organizing, such as transparency in bargaining and identifying leaders. These examples are beyond useful -- they are essential. But where No Shortcuts shines brightest, where it is the most useful and the most inspiring, is in the case studies.

McAlevey tells five stories -- four successes and one horrible shame. As a union activist, I found the stories of the Chicago Teachers' Union and the lesser-known campaign by workers at Smithfield Foods thrilling. Reading about them, I was filled with that sense of pride and joy that only the people's power can bring.
King County, Washington, has a population of two million. Ninety-three percent of its people are city dwellers; most of them live in Seattle. At the time I am writing this, the median household income is $71,175, and the average rent for a two-bedroom house is $1,123 per month. In 2014, there was a successful campaign to increase Seattle's minimum wage to $15 an hour by the year 2022 (by which time, incidentally, that $15 will not be $15; it will be worth less, since Seattle didn't index it to inflation). The story was banner news worldwide in print and broadcast media, and a cause celebre for many liberals.

Meanwhile, without the fanfare of a single national headline, another kind of contract in a very different region also introduced a wage of $15 an hour. Bladen County, in southeastern North Carolina, has a population of 35,843. Ninety-one percent of those people live in the countryside; the rest are in the county's few small towns. Thirty-five percent are African American. At the time of writing, the median income is $30,031, and the average rent for a two-bedroom house is $637 per month.

In 2008, in the county's tiny town of Tar Heel, 5,000 workers at the Smithfield Foods pork factory voted to form a union with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). It was the single largest private-sector union victory of the new millennium, and it happened in the South, in the state with the lowest rate of union membership in the entire country: 3 percent. The new, ratified contract not only guaranteed a $15-an-hour wage but also paid sick leave, paid vacation, health care, retirement benefits, overtime pay, guaranteed minimum work hours, job security through a "just cause" provision, and tools to remedy dangerous working conditions. The wage alone far outranks Washington's: given the dollar's buying power in Bladen County, King County workers would have to earn $26.40 an hour to equal it.
The story of how these workers organized themselves and achieved these gains is one of the most exciting labour stories I've ever read. It will astonish you.

In "Make the Road New York", McAlevey tells the story of serious, strong, and sustained community organizing, not only for labour, but for an improved quality of life for the entire community.

Finally, McAlevey tells two stories about private-sector nursing homes. Incredibly, the examples stem from two locals in the same parent union -- one working within an Organizing model of true worker agency, the other run by a cadre of professionals who maintain comfortable conditions for the employer. What these so-called union leaders are is downright criminal. The expression "selling out" is too mild. They are every employer's and anti-union politician's dream. (Curious? Read the book!)

For several years now, we've been witnessing the re-emergence of organized labour as a vital force in our society. Inspired by the Fight For 15 fast-food workers, working people are fighting back, gaining public support, and activating themselves in great numbers. McAlevey's book is a road map to more of those victories -- which means it's a road map to a better world.

The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution takes a broader view through a very wide lens.

Micah White is a creative thinker, an excellent writer, a social theorist, and an activist. He is the co-creator of Occupy Wall Street (although this was not revealed at the time) and the originator of the idea that became the Rolling Jubilee debt forgiveness. He has been a human shield in the West Bank and an astute critic of clicktivism. He was named one of the most influential young thinkers alive today by Esquire magazine. He's a visionary, and you should read his book.

Is this thing on?

The premise of The End of Protest resonated deeply with me. Ever since February 15, 2003 -- the largest public demonstration in human history, which was ignored by mainstream media, and failed to prevent the US invasion of Iraq -- I have been frustrated and dissatisfied with the standard methods of public protest. The disastrous G20 demonstrations in Toronto in 2010 further confirmed my discontent.

Holding pens, free-speech zones, kettling, pre-emptive arrests, paid provocateurs, violent infiltrators, mass surveillence -- the ruling class has learned how to effectively neuter public demonstrations. The demos and the responses are predictable. They are theatre. They have symbolic value, they may build solidarity, and they may make us feel good. But they don't sustain movements and they don't create change.

There is value in being in the streets, especially when public protest occurs spontaneously. But many activists and organizations seem obsessed with how many people attend any given demonstration, as if a larger head-count somehow correlates with a greater likelihood of change. I've been involved in planning large-scale demos, so I've seen the vast amount of resources they consume. For what? Again, I'm not saying there is no value. But... can't we do better?

The End of Protest argues that our methods of protest are outdated, and that in order to be truly effective, we need to "break the script" of protest. We need to create fresh tools.

A framework for revolution

In the first part of the book -- "Today" -- White analyzes Occupy Wall Street, which he calls "a constructive failure". He beautifully articulates what was great about OWS, where it was successful, where and why it failed, and what lessons we can draw from it. He explores why dissent is necessary, and expands into a unified theory of revolution.

White creates a matrix -- or a Cartesian coordinate system (a term that was new to me) -- as a framework for analyzing different methods of protest, using four descriptors: voluntarism, structuralism, subjectivism, and theurgism. He describes each one in detail with very useful real-world examples. (A one-sentence definition cannot do justice to these ideas, hence I am refraining from doing so.)

In the book's second part -- "Yesterday" -- White analyzes protests from the recent past and the very distant past, situating each in his framework. The historic examples past are fascinating -- the massacre at Wounded Knee (1890), the Nika Revolt (532 CE), the Conversion of Constantine (312 CE), and the victory of Arminius (9 CE). In the modern examples, White trains his analysis on Palestinian solidarity, democracy movements in Greece and Spain, and the Rolling Jubilee.

In the final section -- "Tomorrow" -- White riffs on what is and may be possible. Very briefly, he offers a vision of a dystopian future, "an eco-fascist nightmare" that is all too easy to imagine. In fact, I found it much easier to visualize that potential reality than White's predictions of a unified, global, progressive revolution -- and it breaks my heart to realize that.

But White also reminds us that the future has not been written, and the path to that revolution is unknown. In fact, in White's view, it must be unknown, because we need to invent entirely new tools: "Innovation that breaks the fundamental paradigms of the protest model is the only way forward." White offers eight principles of revolution, realizing there are probably many more, but these eight were derived from his own lived experience.

What doesn't work

In case you are concerned, White eschews violence, believing that political terrorism is a dead end. He doesn't make a big deal about this, doesn't harp on and on about peaceful protest and a commitment to nonviolence -- a performance leftist activists are expected to make for the mainstream. He merely states, deep into the book, that political terrorism doesn't advance our goals, and we must look elsewhere for solutions. But although we reject militarism and terrorism, the far greater enemy is inertia.

Two bits from The End of Protest that I really appreciated are repudiations of both clicktivism and the so-called ladder of engagement. Clicktivism, White writes, encourages people to believe that "political reality can be altered by clicking, sharing, and signing petitions". It creates a false theory of social change, and deepens entrenched complacency.

About the ladder of engagement, White writes:
The dominant paradigm of activism is the voluntarist's ladder of engagement. In this model, there are a series of rungs leading from the most insignificant actions to the most revolutionary, and the goal of organizers is to lead people upward through these escalating rungs. This strategy appears to make common sense, but it has a nasty unintended consequence. When taken to its logical conclusion, the ladder of engagement encourages activists to pitch their asks to the lowest rung on the assumption that the majority will feel more comfortable starting at the bottom of the protest ladder, with clicking a link or signing a virtual petition. This is fatal. The majority can sniff out the difference between an authentic ask that is truly dangerous and might get their voices heard and an inauthentic ask that is safe and meaningless. The ladder of engagement is upside down. Activists are judged by what we ask of people. Thus, we must only ask the people to do actions that would genuinely improve the world despite the risks. Rather than pursuing the idea of the ladder of engagement, I live by the minoritarian principle that the edge leads the pack.
I've learned a lot about the edge leading the pack through my leadership role with my own local union. Many people told me our members weren't ready to strike. But how would they ever be ready if no one led them to the barricades? Would there be a magical moment when members woke up suddenly organized and ready to walk? And how would we recognize that moment when it came? Our leadership evaluated the situation, assessed the risks, and articulated both risks and potential rewards to our members. After that, democracy ensured that our members were ready, with a 98.7% vote to strike. As our parent says, "Be Bold. Be Brave." Those of us who have a fervor to be bold, brave revolutionaries have an obligation to lead from that edge.

Never be afraid of ideas

I fear that the lessons of The End of Protest may dismissed by the people who most need to contemplate them. White challenges several core beliefs of modern-day activism, and many of us cannot tolerate that kind of challenge. Organizers and activists may read this book, consider, and then reject all or some of White's ideas. But dismissing or ignoring those ideas would be a grave error. If our goal is to create revolutionary change, we owe it to ourselves and the world to read this book and engage with its ideas.

10.06.2015

votepopup: voter education at the library

On the long list of anti-democratic policies the majority Harper Government has enacted, the Orwellian-named Fair Elections Act ranks near the top. More properly called a voter suppression law, the Act effectively disenfranchise tens of thousands of Canadians.

The Council of Canadians has taken the issue to court, including an ongoing Charter Challenge, but those won't affect the upcoming election. That means there's only one way to lessen the effects: voter education. 

Last night at the Malton Library, we contributed to that effort, with #VotePopUp, a voter education program for new Canadians. 

Some weeks ago, I learned that one of our libraries had hosted this program, and jumped onboard. I worked with an amazing community organizer, who has a bit of funding from Samara Canada and Elections Canada, and copious amounts of know-how through the Peel Poverty Action Group and her own nonprofit, Building Up Our Communities.

I promoted the program through various community organizations in Malton, and by chance it was scheduled on the same night as a newcomer ESL class, known here as LINC: Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada. These programs have been hit hard by Conservative and Liberal budget cuts (do you see a pattern here?), but thanks to dedicated teachers and social workers, they survive.

So last night, 39 adults crowded into a room in the Malton Community Centre to talk about voting. 

Why vote? Am I eligible to vote? Where do I vote? What ID do I need? How do I mark the ballot? ... and a few dozen similar questions were answered. Many of the students have voted in their original countries and are very keen to do so in Canada. Many of their original countries make voting much easier; others, more difficult. 

The program is completely nonpartisan, of course. By another excellent coincidence, there is an all-candidates meeting in Malton tonight, the night following the program. We were able to distribute flyers and explain what would happen at that meeting.

The presenter had prepared a mock ballot, and students chose the issue most important to them: jobs, transit, education, healthcare, and so on. Jobs won by a landslide. Using that, I was able to demonstrate how this would tie in with an all-candidates meeting: "What will your party do to bring more jobs to my community?" 

The library is the perfect place for a program like this. Our customers can use free, public computers to register to vote or look up their polling station. They can ask experts for free (and friendly!) help. They can use their library cards as a piece of voting ID. The public library is all about democracy and levelling the grossly unfair playing field. Voter education is naturally a piece of that picture.

2.28.2015

update: mississauga library workers vote to form independent cupe local

When people are denied independence and told that they cannot govern themselves, it only makes them more determined to achieve their independence.

This simple principle repeats itself in matters large and small, throughout all history and all cultures.

The struggles of 430 library workers in the sprawling suburban city of Mississauga, Ontario are not exactly global news. But in the microcosm, we rocked the world. Our members voted overwhelmingly - 98.6% - to separate from the larger, merged local and become our own CUPE local.

As I mentioned a while back, the composite local was pulling out all the stops to try to prevent us from separating. Dues from our unit represent about 15% of their revenue. Without us, some serious lifestyle changes will be needed. They weren't going to let us go without a fight.

When we first planned our separation informational meetings and the vote, we envisioned an all-day "walk-in" vote, where members could show up at their convenience, show identification and be checked in, drop their ballot, and leave. This is how the Toronto Public Library Workers Union held their separation vote, over two days and in four different locations. 

TPL workers were forced to hold some voting in non-library locations, but we didn't get the walk-in vote at all. We were told that all voting must take place at an official meeting, where there is quorum, minutes are taken, the motion is read and seconded, and so forth - the trappings that constitute a formal meeting. 

At first, I was told that all voting must take place at only one meeting. Our members work in more than 20 different locations, in a variety of shifts and hours. If all voting was held at one meeting, we would have 30 or 40 people making a crucial decision for 430 members. Not only would this be completely undemocratic, denying access to the vote for hundreds of members, the vote itself would appear less legitimate. We would be open to charges of initiating a coup, and the National Executive Board might not accept the vote and issue us a new charter. Which was exactly the point.

As an alternative, I lobbied for a series of vote meetings - short meetings held throughout the day and evening, at which quorum would be achieved, the motion read, and so forth. At these meetings, members would cast ballots in one ballot box, to be counted after the final meeting of the day. 

These meetings would be timed to afford every member an opportunity to vote. No matter what shift and in what location a member worked, there was at least one meeting time she or he could attend. 

Explaining this to national representatives and waiting for their decisions was a bit nerve-wracking! But it worked. 

Next I explained to our membership that we were denied the walk-in vote, and how voting would work instead. This turned out to be a crucial turning point. Our members were furious that obstacles were being raised in what should be an open and democratic process. Members who had been undecided shifted strongly in favour of separation. Members who had previously supported separation now become vocal, making their support public. 

I asked a few members who have great respect and credibility for statements that I could publicize. I invited members to attend multiple meetings, to ensure quorum, so that if a member chose an unpopular meeting time, she would not be denied the opportunity to vote. Many members volunteered for this, and it became another channel through which people could demonstrate their support for separation and their solidarity with their union.

Through email and Facebook, and in our own workplaces, we campaigned.

The result was the biggest turnout we've ever seen outside of a contract ratification vote. 

In a series of seven meetings, 98.6% of voting members voted to separate from the merged local and form our own independent local.

It was an exhilarating - if exhausting! - outcome. But the true outcome was larger than separation: it was the process that engaged so many more members. It raised the profile of the union in members' lives. It brought us together. It built solidarity.

This year we will be bargaining for a new contract, at a time when library workers, like workers everywhere, are facing very difficult conditions. Full-time jobs are disappearing. Professional jobs are being de-skilled. Part-time workers face increasingly precarious conditions. Services are suffering, as budgets are balanced on the backs of people who can least afford the burden.

If ever a time was needed for solidarity, this is it. The larger local tried to scare our members into believing that being overseen by a larger, outside body would be safer and more secure. But we understood that no one can ever represent us better than we can represent ourselves.

11.29.2014

what i'm reading: this changes everything by naomi klein, one of the most important books you'll ever read

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, by Naomi Klein, is incredibly difficult to write about. I've been putting sticky notes beside important paragraphs as I read, and my copy now looks like an art project, bristling with coloured paper squares. I can say without exaggeration that this is one of the most important books you'll ever read.

In her clear, readable prose, Klein demonstrates exactly what is destroying our planet: unregulated, unchecked capitalism, brought to you by the scourge of our era: neoliberalism. (US readers may be more familiar with the term neoconservatism.)

In her 2007 book The Shock Doctrine, Klein showed us how corporate interests exploit crises to enact policies that enrich a small elite, using the holy trinity of neoliberalism: privatization of the public sphere, deregulation of the corporate sector, and lower corporate taxation, paid for with cuts to public spending. Now Klein widens her lens to demonstrate how that same orientation actively prevents us from taking the necessary steps to halt and reverse climate change, and with it, the impending destruction of a habitable Earth.

To reverse warming, reverse course

Klein succinctly and precisely diagnoses the root problem. In order to challenge climate change, in order to reverse a course that threatens billions of lives and is ultimately suicidal for humanity, radical change is required. We must stop living as if infinite growth is possible on a finite planet. This goes way beyond separating our trash into different bins and using more efficient light bulbs. It means dismantling the fossil-fuel industry, powering our entire society with renewable energy sources (it is possible!), and ultimately, abandoning the idea of growth as the basis for our economies.

Tackling climate change means, ultimately, dismantling neoliberalism itself.
A belief system that vilifies collective action and declares war on all corporate regulation and all things public simply cannot be reconciled with a problem that demands collective action on an unprecedented scale and a dramatic reining in of the market forces that are largely responsible for creating and deepening the crisis.
This means rethinking the false notion of "free" trade. Ontario, for example, would be decades ahead in wind and solar production, not to mention good, green jobs, but for the crippling mandates of free-trade agreements. "Free" deserves scare quotes.
Not only do fossil fuel companies receive $775 billion to $1 trillion in annual global subsidies, but they pay nothing for the privilege of treating our shared atmosphere as a free waste dump.
Klein reminds us that if free-trade regulations block our ability to disrupt our dependence on fossil fuels, then those regulations must be rewritten. And so it goes for any number of policies that express the neoliberal ideology, which, as Klein writes, "form a ideological wall that has blocked a serious response to climate change for decades."

Of course, nothing is free; the question is who pays the price. The price may be unemployment, or jobs that can't sustain a decent life, or overcrowded classrooms, or a generation condemned to poverty-stricken old age. The price may be flammable drinking water, or whole villages beset by rare cancers. The neoliberal agenda wreaks its havoc in ways seen and unseen. Shell's Arctic oil rig ran aground when it braved impassable winter weather, attempting to beat a timeline that would trigger additional taxes. In Montreal, the MM&A rail company received government permission to cut the number of staff on its trains from five to a single engineer: thus the Lac-Megantic disaster. However measured, it's a price paid by ordinary people, while corporations wallow in profit.

Less carbon means more democracy

In turn, dismantling neoliberalism would mean rethinking our governments, too, as democracies driven by lobbyists, corporate donors, and industry interests - valuing profits over people - pave the way for policies that are killing us all. Can a society where this can happen be rightly considered democratic?
...the most jarring part of the grassroots anti-extraction uprising has been the rude realization that most communities do appear to lack this power; that outside forces - a far-off central government, working hand-in-glove with transnational companies - are simply imposing enormous health and safety risks on residents, even when that means overturning local laws. Fracking, tar sands pipelines, coal trains, and export terminals are being proposed in many parts of the world where clear majorities of the population has made its opposition unmistakable, at the ballot box, through official consultation processes, and in the streets.

And yet consent seems beside the point. Again and again, after failing to persuade communities that these projects are in their genuine best interest, governments are teaming up with corporate players to roll over the opposition, using a combination of physical violence and draconian legal tools reclassifying peaceful activists as terrorists.

....Only two out of the over one thousand people who spoke at the panel's community hearings in British Columbia supported the project. One poll showed that 80 percent of the province's residents opposed having more oil tankers along their marine-rich coastline. That a supposedly impartial review body could rule in favor of the pipeline in the face of this kind of overwhelming opposition was seen by many in Canada as clear evidence of a serious underlying crisis, one far more about money and power than the environment.
When reviewing the proposed solutions to climate change, Klein skewers the chimeras that don't and can't work, from the corporate boondoggle known as cap-and-trade, to various technological fixes that would take our fantasy of controlling nature to bizarre new heights.
Indeed, if geoengineering has anything going for it, it is that it slots perfectly into our most hackneyed cultural narrative, the one in which so many of us have been indoctrinated by organized religion and the rest of us have absorbed from pretty much every Hollywood action movie ever made. It's the one that tells us that, at the very last minute, some of us (the ones that matter) are going to be saved. And since our secular religion is technology, it won't be god that saves us but Bill Gates and his gang of super-geniuses at Intellectual Ventures.
Klein also heaps contempt on the so-called partnerships between large environmental organizations and the fossil-fuel industry, which are something like the partnership between the pig and Oscar Mayer. As Klein puts it, "the 'market-based' climate solutions favored by so many large foundations and adopted by many greens have provided an invaluable service to the fossil fuel sector as a whole."

Already changing everything: Blockadia

This Changes Everything illuminates an impressive array of activism, introducing most readers, I'm guessing, to a new expression: Blockadia. Blockadia represents the global, grassroots, broad-based networks of resistance to high-risk extreme extraction. From Greece to the Amazon to New Zealand to Montana to British Columbia, the resistance is in motion. Taking many forms - the divestment movement pressuring institutions to sever economic ties with the fossil-fuel industry, the towns declaring themselves "fracking free zones", the civil disobedience that physically slows the building of pipelines while court challenges continue - Blockadia is creating space for public debate and the possibility of change.

In many places, Blockadia is led by people from indigenous communities. Not only are indigenous peoples often the first victims of climate destruction - witness, for example, the off-the-chart cancer rates of First Nations people living downstream from Canada's tar sands - but their worldviews may form the basis of our way forward. On a Montana reservation where young Cheyenne are learning how to install solar energy systems - cutting residents' utility bills by 90% while learning a trade, creating an alternative to a life spent working for the coal industry - a female student makes this observation:
Solar power, she said, embodied the worldview in which she had been raised, one in which "You don't take and take and take. And you don't consume and consume and consume. You take what you need and then you put back into the land."
I despair. But it doesn't matter.

I want everyone to read this book, and because of that, I hesitate to share this unfortunate truth: ultimately, This Changes Everything filled me with hopelessness and despair. I wouldn't say it made me pessimistic, as I am optimistic about humankind's ability to change ourselves and our systems, if we choose to. Rather, the book filled me with outright hopelessness, because I don't believe we will even have the opportunity to make that choice. The forces aligned against the necessary changes are massive, and massively powerful. Untold profits depend on the system not changing, and what's more, gargantuan profits are being reaped off the destruction itself. The oligarchs who profit from climate change are associated with the most powerful tools of violence ever known - the mightiest armies and the greatest amorality.

Adding to the difficulty, our society clings to what Klein calls "the fetish of centrism": of the appearance of reasonableness, of "splitting the difference, and generally not getting overly excited about anything". This is the illogic that dictates we must "balance" the interests of the petroleum industry with our need for clean water, or the profits of real estate developers with the human need for shelter. This fetish of centrism allows the government and its partners in the media to label as "extremists" people who want to protect water and land from catastrophic oil spills.

Added to this, huge numbers of ordinary people, led by corporate media and astroturf faux activists, align themselves against their own interests, stoked by fears of imagined foes (be they communists, immigrants, or feminists) and cling to notions of a supposedly free market, which in reality is heavily subsidized by taxpayers. This global market is anything but free: the risk is socialized in every way possible, but the returns are strictly privatized.

If you've read Jared Diamond's Collapse, you are familiar with the concept that societies don't always do what's best for them. Societies make choices that ultimately chart their own demise. I do not despair of our ability to remake our world, but I know that the forces aligned against us will stop at nothing to prevent us from doing so. The most powerful people on the planet can shield themselves from the effects of climate change until it is too late for the rest of us.

And yet... and yet. I feel hopeless, my feelings don't matter.

What matters is this: we have little time, and we must try. Resistance movements have changed cultures. Resistance movements have brought mighty empires to their knees, have ended deeply entrenched systems: slavery, colonialism, apartheid. For centuries, there was something called the Divine Right of Kings, a concept which must have seemed permanent and immutable. Now it does not exist. Capitalism, as currently practiced, is killing our planet - killing us. We cannot shrug our shoulders.

If you agree - and more importantly, if you disagree - read this book.

10.13.2014

rest in peace, canine with a brave rebel heart


When I blogged about him a few years back, he was called Kanellos, the Greek rebel dog. Somewhere along the way, English-language media dubbed him Riot Dog. He was also called Louk, short for Loukanikos. Louk, Kanellos, and also Thodoris may or may not have been the same dog.

Whatever his name, he was brave, loyal, and handsome, and he stood on the side of the People. His health was diminished by tear gas, but he soldiered on. He died recently at the home of a person who cared for him. He was thought to be about ten years old.




8.19.2014

revolutionary thoughts of the day: kareem abdul-jabbar, the new yorker, howard zinn

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has an excellent essay in Time, something only a big-name writer can get away with in the mainstream media. Abdul-Jabbar names the stark truths behind the uprising in Ferguson, Missouri. And the mere fact that this appears on Time.com is reason for hope.
This fist-shaking of everyone’s racial agenda distracts America from the larger issue that the targets of police overreaction are based less on skin color and more on an even worse Ebola-level affliction: being poor. Of course, to many in America, being a person of color is synonymous with being poor, and being poor is synonymous with being a criminal. Ironically, this misperception is true even among the poor.

And that’s how the status quo wants it.
Solidarity with Ferguson in Times Square, NYC

The U.S. Census Report finds that 50 million Americans are poor. Fifty million voters is a powerful block if they ever organized in an effort to pursue their common economic goals. So, it’s crucial that those in the wealthiest One Percent keep the poor fractured by distracting them with emotional issues like immigration, abortion and gun control so they never stop to wonder how they got so screwed over for so long.

One way to keep these 50 million fractured is through disinformation. PunditFact’s recent scorecard on network news concluded that at Fox and Fox News Channel, 60 percent of claims are false. At NBC and MSNBC, 46 percent of claims were deemed false. That’s the “news,” folks! During the Ferguson riots, Fox News ran a black and white photo of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with the bold caption: “Forgetting MLK’s Message/Protestors in Missouri Turn to Violence.” Did they run such a caption when either Presidents Bush invaded Iraq: “Forgetting Jesus Christ’s Message/U.S. Forgets to Turn Cheek and Kills Thousands”?

How can viewers make reasonable choices in a democracy if their sources of information are corrupted? They can’t, which is exactly how the One Percent controls the fate of the Ninety-Nine Percent.
This excellent essay from The New Yorker recognizes what's coalescing beneath the so-called riots.
In the eight days since Michael Brown, an eighteen-year-old, was killed by a police officer named Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, what began as an impromptu vigil evolved into a sustained protest; it is now beginning to look like a movement. The local QuikTrip, a gas station and convenience store that was looted and burned on the second night of the protests, has now been repurposed as the epicenter for gatherings and the exchange of information. The front of the lot bears an improvised graffiti sign identifying the area as the “QT People’s Park.” With the exception of a few stretches, such as Thursday afternoon, when it was veiled in clouds of tear gas, protesters have been a constant presence in the lot. On Sunday afternoon the area was populated by members of local churches, black fraternity and sorority groups, Amnesty International, the Outcast Motorcycle Club, and twenty or so white supporters from the surrounding area. On the north side of the station, a group of volunteers with a mobile grill served free hot dogs and water, and a man stood on a crate, handing out bright yellow T-shirts with the logo of the National Action Network, the group led by Al Sharpton.

Solidarity with Ferguson in Howard University, Washington DC
The conversation here has shifted from the immediate reaction to Michael Brown’s death and toward the underlying social dynamics. Two men I spoke with pointed to the disparity in education funding for Ferguson and more affluent municipalities nearby. Another talked about being pulled over by an officer who claimed to smell marijuana in the car as a pretense for searching him. “I’m in the United States Navy,” he told me. “We have to take drug tests in the military so I had proof that there were no drugs in my system. But other people can’t do that.” Six black men I spoke to, nearly consecutively, pointed to Missouri’s felon-disfranchisement laws as part of the equation. “If you’re a student in one of the black schools here and you get into a fight you’ll probably get arrested and charged with assault. We have kids here who are barred from voting before they’re even old enough to register,” one said. Ferguson’s elected officials did not look much different than they had years earlier, when it was a largely white community.
Last year, I made a list of these disparate, but related events.
The Occupy movement

The uprising in Wisconsin

The Arab Spring: Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, and other countries

The Quebec student strikes and demonstrations

Walmart workers organizing and striking

Fast-food workers in New York City organizing and striking

Ongoing mass demonstrations and general strikes throughout Europe

Miners in South Africa on a wildcat strike

100 million people striking in India

The Chicago teachers' strike

The global environmental movement

Idle No More
Some of these now seem bittersweet. The Arab Spring cycled into militarism and repression, but that story is still being written. Other movements - like low-wage workers organizing in the US - have burgeoned and thrived. Now we add Ferguson, Missouri, and the solidarity demonstrations we're seeing all over the world.

I remind myself that no one can predict the future.
There is a tendency to think that what we see in the present moment will continue. We forget how often we have been astonished by the sudden crumbling of institutions, by extraordinary changes in people's thoughts, by unexpected eruptions of rebellion against tyrannies, by the quick collapse of systems of power that seemed invincible.

Howard Zinn

2.10.2014

today: call your m.p.! stop the (un)fair elections act!

I trust by now you've all heard about Stephen Harper's latest plan to undermine democracy in Canada, his electoral reform bill that the chief electoral officer of the country has called an affront to democracy.

Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand told CBC: "My reading of the act is that I can no longer speak about democracy in this country." Now, as per usual, the Harpercrats want to pass the bill before it can be properly debated. It was just introduced a few days ago, but could be adopted by the House of Commons as early as today or tomorrow.

The so-called Fair Elections Act would:


- make it more difficult for people to vote,

- would disproportionately impact students and youth, Indigenous people, seniors, people on low-incomes, and people who didn’t vote Conservative in previous elections,

- do nothing to bring to justice the people behind the widespread election fraud in 2011, and

- would actually make it harder to catch perpetrators of election fraud.

The Council of Canadians sent an action alert about this on Friday, and in just 24 hours, an astounding 20,000 people signed a petition calling on Stephen Harper to "investigate and prevent electoral fraud with a truly fair Elections Act". You can sign the petition here.

Now the Council is asking us to (literally) voice our concerns. Today, Monday, February 10, there will be a mass call-in to all Members of Parliament, asking them to take the time to properly study this bill and address its many shortcomings.

If you live or work in Ottawa, you can grab your cell phone and join the Council of Canadians at 12:30 p.m. on Parliament Hill. MP Craig Scott, Official Opposition Critic for Democratic and Parliamentary Reform, will be there to accept the petition.

Everyone else, please take a few minutes today and call your MP. Tell her or him you expect to see open debate on a bill of this importance, and you want to at least see the worst aspects of the bill scrapped.

Click here to find your MP using your postal code.

12.05.2013

nelson mandela, 1918-2013


"The time comes in the life of any nation when there remain only two choices – submit or fight.

That time has now come to South Africa.

We shall not submit and we have no choice but to hit back by all means in our power in defence of our people, our future, and our freedom.

Firstly, we believed that as a result of Government policy, violence by the African people had become inevitable, and that unless responsible leadership was given to canalise and control the feelings of our people, there would be outbreaks of terrorism which would produce an intensity of bitterness and hostility between the various races of this country which is not produced even by war.

Secondly, we felt that without violence there would be no way open to the African people to succeed in their struggle against the principle of white supremacy. All lawful modes of expressing opposition to this principle had been closed by legislation, and we were placed in a position in which we had either to accept a permanent state of inferiority, or take over the Government.

We chose to defy the law.

We first broke the law in a way which avoided any recourse to violence; when this form was legislated against, and then the Government resorted to a show of force to crush opposition to its policies, only then did we decide to answer with violence."

-- Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom

11.07.2013

more moyers: democracy and plutocracy don't mix

I found the preceding rtod post buried in Blogger drafts, something Allan saved there years ago. I never got around to posting it, but I never had the heart to delete it, either.

If you're not familiar with Bill Moyers, he is an American independent journalist, producer, and public intellectual. Earlier in his career, Moyers served as White House Press Secretary under the Johnson administration, but he's better known for the many shows he has produced and hosted on PBS.

Moyers has always been liberal, but over the past decade, he has become increasingly radicalized as he reacts to the excesses of endless war and unchecked capitalism. (That's my own observation. I've never heard Moyers describe himself as radicalized, and I doubt he would.)

The thing about Moyers is he rarely thinks or speaks in sound bites. To follow him, you must be willing to read or to listen at length. In that sense, he reaches a small minority. On the other hand, the more that minority - i.e., us - understands these issues, the stronger it becomes.

I encourage you to read or listen to the Moyers' 2010 Howard Zinn Lecture in its entirety. Moyers writes from a US context, but in our global economy, these ideas are relevant to everyone on the planet. Here's a good excerpt.

* * * *

Between 2001 and 2008, about 40,000 US manufacturing plants closed. Six million factory jobs have disappeared over the past dozen years, representing one in three manufacturing jobs.

. . . .

They found that from 1950 through 1980, the share of all income in America going to everyone but the rich increased from 64 percent to 65 percent. Because the nation’s economy was growing handsomely, the average income for 9 out of l0 Americans was growing, too – from $17,719 to $30,941. That’s a 75 percent increase in income in constant 2008 dollars.

But then it stopped. Since 1980 the economy has also continued to grow handsomely, but only a fraction at the top have benefited. The line flattens for the bottom 90% of Americans. Average income went from that $30,941 in 1980 to $31,244 in 2008. Think about that: the average income of Americans increased just $303 dollars in 28 years.

. . . . .

Matt Krantz reports in USA TODAY that "Cash is gushing into company’s coffers as they report what’s shaping up to be a third-consecutive quarter of sharp earning increases. But instead of spending on the typical things, such as expanding and hiring people, companies are mostly pocketing the money or stuffing it under their mattresses." And what are their plans for this money? Again, the Washington Post:
Sitting on these unprecedented levels of cash, U.S. companies are buying back their own stock in droves. So far this year, firms have announced they will purchase $273 billion of their own shares, more than five times as much compared with this time last year… But the rise in buybacks signals that many companies are still hesitant to spend their cash on the job-generating activities that could produce economic growth.
That’s how financial capitalism works today: Conserving cash rather than bolstering hiring and production; investing in their own shares to prop up their share prices and make their stock more attractive to Wall Street. To hell with everyone else.

Hear the chief economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Ethan Harris, who told the Times:
There’s no question that there is an income shift going on in the economy. Companies are squeezing their labor costs to build profits.
Or the chief economist for Credit Suisse in New York, Neal Soss:
As companies have wrung more savings out of their work forces, causing wages and salaries barely to budge from recession lows, “profits have staged a vigorous recovery, jumping 40 percent between late 2008 and the first quarter of 2010.”
Just this morning the New York Times reports that the private equity business is roaring back:
While it remains difficult to get a mortgage to buy a home or to get a loan to fund a small business, yield-starved investors are creating a robust market for corporate bonds and loans.
Now, most people know what plutocracy is: the rule of the rich, political power controlled by the wealthy. Plutocracy is not an American word and wasn’t meant to become an American phenomenon – some of our founders deplored what they called “the veneration of wealth.” But plutocracy is here, and a pumped up Citigroup even boasted of coining a variation on the word— “plutonomy”, which describes an economic system where the privileged few make sure the rich get richer and that government helps them do it. Five years ago Citigroup decided the time had come to “bang the drum on plutonomy.”

And bang they did. Here are some excerpts from the document “Revisiting Plutonomy;”
Asset booms, a rising profit share and favorable treatment by market-friendly governments have allowed the rich to prosper… [and] take an increasing share of income and wealth over the last 20 years. . . .

…the top 10%, particularly the top 1% of the United States – the plutonomists in our parlance – have benefitted disproportionately from the recent productivity surged in the US… [and] from globalization and the productivity boom, at the relative expense of labor.” . . . 
… [and they] are likely to get even wealthier in the coming years. Because the dynamics of plutonomy are still intact.
I’ll repeat that: “The dynamics of plutonomy are still intact.” That was the case before the Great Collapse of 2008, and it’s the case today, two years after the catastrophe. But the plutonomists are doing just fine. Even better in some cases, thanks to our bailout of the big banks.

As for the rest of the country: Listen to this summary in The Economist – no Marxist journal – of a study by Pew Research:
More than half of all workers today have experienced a spell of unemployment, taken a cut in pay or hours or been forced to go part-time. The typical unemployed worker has been jobless for nearly six months. Collapsing share and house prices have destroyed a fifth of the wealth of the average household. Nearly six in ten Americans have cancelled or cut back on holidays. About a fifth say their mortgages are underwater. One in four of those between 18 and 29 have moved back in with their parents. Fewer than half of all adults expect their children to have a higher standard of living than theirs, and more than a quarter say it will be lower. For many Americans the great recession has been the sharpest trauma since The Second World War, wiping out jobs, wealth and hope itself.
Let that sink in: For millions of garden-variety Americans, the audacity of hope has been replaced by a paucity of hope.

Time for a confession. The legendary correspondent Edward R. Murrow told his generation of journalists that bias is okay as long as you don’t try to hide it. Here is mine: Plutocracy and democracy don’t mix. Plutocracy too long tolerated leaves democracy on the auction block, subject to the highest bidder.

[Read the lecture here.]

9.21.2013

hedges: "when harper passes right-to-work, you must go on a massive general strike, or you're finished"

Last night, I heard author, journalist, and activist Chris Hedges speak at the Bloor Street United Church in Toronto, sponsored by the excellent Canadian Dimension.

Hedges is a radical intellectual, in the Chomsky vein, also compassionate and fearless, in the mode of Howard Zinn. He touched on many subjects - and credited the work and thoughts of many others. I can only hope to impart a few snippets of the many threads Hedges wove.

"A seismic moment"

Hedges called the recent US debate on Syria a "seismic moment". The Obama administration pulled out all the familiar mechanisms used to sell wars to the public: the ruthless dictator, the weapons of mass destruction, the atrocities. It invoked the Normandy invasion, the liberation of Europe. It did the usual war dance... but none of it worked. The ploys, usually so effective, failed both internationally and domestically, blindsiding the Obama administration.

Hedges compared the distaste for war on Syria to the turning-point in the US's war on Vietnam. Remember, he said, that war enjoyed majority support for 10 years. Only after 10 years - the "quagmire", the middle-class draft - did the narrative shift from myths about war to the brutal facts. And once the myth falls away, the country wakes up from its drunken reverie and sees the war for what it is. Hedges says that shift has occurred in the United States today.

Hedges linked the total invisibility of the underclass in the US to the terror we should all feel about climate change: both are the products of uncontrolled corporate capitalism. At this moment, he said, we either transform our relationship to the natural world, or we die. And he pointed out that Harper has shifted Canada to that same relationship: a government dominated by the interests of the fossil fuel industry.

He spoke of how, after September 11, 2001, the United States "drunk deep of the intoxicating elixir of nationalism," along with heavy doses of nationalism's constant partner, racism. He spoke of the "plague of nationalism" - something I was very moved by in one of Hedges' books, which I wrote about here and here - and how the "virus that gripped the United States after 9/11" was finally broken by the debate on war on Syria. And with that debate, he feels the US may have woken up from its "long drunken revelry of war".

Hedges also noted that the US's plans for Syria would have dropped incredibly huge numbers of bombs, inflicting untold numbers of deaths. As he was a war correspondent for many years and has seen the devastation of war firsthand, Hedges always includes not only the dead, but the permanently wounded, the traumatized, the brain-injured, and the famine, the destruction.

The collapse of the liberal establishment...

Hedges spoke on several points from his book Death of the Liberal Class. The liberal establishment - the media, the church, government regulation, the social safety net - has been destroyed or has been rendered completely ineffectual.

Hedges - whose father was a Presbyterian minister, and who studied at Harvard Divinity School - lambasted the church (as an institution) for not denouncing the radical Christian right as heretics. He noted that one needn't have studied at Harvard Divinity School to know that Jesus didn't preach about how to get wealthy, and never talked about abortion, and that the gospel wasn't about "how to make everything good for me".

The media has been destroyed by corporate ownership and conglomeration, a consequence of deregulation.

The effectiveness of the US labour movement was destroyed by the purposeful purging of radicals from its leadership. And the same is coming any minute now in Canada. Hedges said, "It's amazing. We do everything wrong in the United States, and 10 years later, Canada copies us."

The US, Hedges pointed out, had the most radical labour movement in the world. The birth of organized labour in the US is the bloodiest in modern history. (I love US labour history, so this was exciting for me.) It was through radical politics that the US labour movement pushed back against the robber barons, and through those same movements, always opposed war. Compare organized labour's fierce opposition to the US entering World War I with its stance on the Vietnam War: "these colours don't run" and get the hippies out of the streets.

Hedges touched briefly - quickly, and a bit confusingly, tossing out a long ribbon of names and influences - on the roots of "manufactured consent" (Walter Lippman, Dwight Macdonald, Macdonald's work radicalizing Chomsky), and the "psychosis of permanent war", the state keeping the populace always on edge, always in fear, and the constant need to ferret out enemies both external and internal. There was no popular support in the US for World War I; Woodrow Wilson passed the Espionage and Sedition Acts in order to squelch dissent and make room for the war propaganda.

The liberal class, Hedges notes, is a safety valve. When pressured by radical movements, the liberal class can adjust the system to prevent further suffering of the underclass... and so, they save capitalism. (Think Franklin D. Roosevelt. Think New Deal. That was the closest the US had ever come to revolution... and FDR himself said his greatest achievement was preserving capitalism.)

Hedges said that the greatest difference between Canada and the US - universal health care - exists because in the US, the labour movement is divorced from its radical politics. From the Palmer Raids of the 1920s, up through the McCarthy era of the 1950s, radicals and leftists were systematically purged from the United States. The Hollywood purges are perhaps the most famous, but leftist intellectuals were rooted out and destroyed from every field and facet of American life.

And that, says Hedges, is how you get "freaks like the Clintons," supposedly liberal politicians who laid the groundwork for everything from which we now suffer. NAFTA and other so-called free trade agreements. (Goodbye economy, labour laws, and environmental laws.) The explosion of the prison population. (2.2 million, or 7 million if you count everyone on probation or suspension.) Deregulation of the FCC. (Media conglomeration.) Deregulation of the banking industry. (Robber barons gambling with citizens' money, and everything that led to.) The end of the federal guarantee of welfare. (Seventy percent of those thrown off welfare rolls were children.)

You want freaks? Hedges detailed how Obama, supposedly a liberal, has mounted "a far more grievous assault on civil liberties than George W. Bush did": the NDAA, the kill lists, the indefinite detentions, the unprecedented resurrection of the Espionage Act, the persecution of whistleblowers, the insane sentence for Chelsea Manning. About Manning, Hedges said, "When the true account of the country is written, she will be remembered as one of the most heroic figures in United States history."

Hedges, who covered the revolution in Eastern Europe for many years, said the current surveillance state dwarfs anything dreamed of by the infamous Stasi.

...not be confused with radical movements for change

The collapse of the liberal establishment should not be confused with a dearth of radical people's movements. Hedges noted that Howard Zinn always taught that radical movements never achieve formal positions of power, nor should that be their aim.

He talked about the need to recapture and rebuild the strength of radical movements, rather than put our faith in the political system. (Obama voters, please take note.) Hedges quoted Karl Popper (paraphrased here): The question should not be how to get good people in power, but how to make those in power afraid of the people.

Hedges related an anecdote from Henry Kissinger's biography (with a warning that we shouldn't waste our time reading it!) that sees Nixon in the White House, utterly terrified of the protests going on outside. And that is what we want.

Power, Hedges noted, is the problem. It's not what we should be after. We who care about social justice must accept that our goal is not to put one of our own in power, but to push power from the outside.

During the Q&A portion of the evening, Hedges had an opportunity to expand on this. He said he always votes for a radical party, but "voting is a small part of what I do," quoting Emma Goldman: "If voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal."

To my delight, Hedges talked a bit about how the Democrat party furiously tried to shut down Ralph Nader and the Green Party, and dismissed the ridiculous myth that Nader gave the 2000 election to Bush, mentioning briefly what really happened in Florida. He noted surprise at how many people actually believe that nonsense. Like me, Hedges is unable to say that George W. Bush was elected. He is not afraid of facts.

Mount a resistance

While talking about the differences between Canada and the US, and the relative strength of organized labour in each country, Hedges asked, "Do you have 'right-to-work' laws here yet?" The audience answered that we do not. And Hedges replied: "The minute Harper passes those laws, if you guys don't have a massive general strike, you're finished." He said, "You still have enough organized labour in Canada to mount a resistance."

When asked about the general strike during the Q&A, Hedges said that any and all civil disobedience is important. He mentioned the organizing fast-food workers as an important piece of resistance. "Anything that messes them up is good," he said. "Anything that interrupts the mechanisms of how they make money."

Again invoking the image of a terrified Nixon, Hedges wondered, what would happen if the French government announced that university tuition was now $50,000 per year? We don't have to look all the way to France for the answer: look at Quebec.

"At least they tried"

Hedges spoke a little about the Hedges vs. Obama lawsuit (Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg are also plaintiffs in the case), and spoke about despair. Climate change. Corporate capitalism. The largest surveillance state in history. Humankind on the cusp of the most catastrophic moment of its history. Hedges, who has four children, could only say that it is incumbent on all of us, especially elders, to stand up, so at least the next generation can say, "At least they tried."

"I CAN'T"

Hedges related some amusing anecdotes about road trips with Cornel West. He noted how we must destroy the Harper Government before it destroys Canada. And he closed with the People's Trial of Goldman Sachs, and linked uncontrolled corporate capitalism to the famine and death he has witnessed around the globe. He ended with a painful memory - he was too choked up to speak - of dying children, corporate capitalism's most vulnerable victims.

But for me, and perhaps for my friends from the War Resisters Support Campaign with whom I was sitting, the most piercing moment came a bit earlier. Hedges said: "Courage is not about saying 'This is wrong,' or 'We shouldn't do this'. The most courageous words we can say are: I can't."

7.01.2013

happy canada day, a/k/a national stop harper day

This week, pollster Nik Nanos revealed that 51.5% of Canadian voters would not consider voting for the Conservative party, compared to 36.4% only seven months ago.

I don't play the national pastime - election prediction - so I won't speculate about if or how this poll will translate on the ground. Whether we'll have to wait until 2015 to get rid of this corrupt, fraudulent, anti-democracy, anti-human, anti-labour, anti-environment, corporate government - and whether Canadian voters will be hoodwinked by another party with almost identical policies but a friendlier face (and famous last name) - remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, all we can do is educate and mobilize. In Egypt yesterday, nearly as many people as live in our entire country were in the streets, demanding the "president" resign. In Brazil, people who live in the vast favelas (shantytowns) joined the massive, ongoing protests that overshadowed the football tournament. Compared to these inspiring examples, the organizing in Canada is microscopic. On the other hand, 2012 National Stop Harper Day saw events in 11 cities; this year that number is 22.

Some sources give June 28 as National Stop Harper Day and July 1 as Save Canada Day; others only use the July 1 date. I'm just glad people are organizing. One way to get involved is to support the Democracy 24/7 campaign. Demand fair elections. That would be a start.

6.29.2013

my journey to palestinian solidarity and the myth of the self-hating jew, part 3 and final

Part 1 here.

Part 2 here.

By now it should be clear that my abandonment of my ties to Israel, and my support for the liberation of Palestine, are not based on denial of my Jewish heritage or on anti-Semitism. This is a political issue, and a moral one. Jewish people cannot be - and should not be - expected to adhere to some kind of party line of political views. I am heartened that increasing numbers of Jewish people are making their own journeys away from unconditional support for Israel - away from nationalism and towards justice - and I'm frustrated and saddened that so many others are completely entrenched in their loyalties.

In this post, I try to address some of the issues many Jewish (and many non-Jewish) people raise when explaining their support for Israel, and their negative beliefs about the Palestinian cause. If you recognize yourself in this post, be assured that whatever conversation I may have had with you, I've had with many others, and I've read and heard many more.

Your response, from any point of view, is welcome, as long as it falls within my comment guidelines. And, as always, I do not wish to debate.

Violence

For many people, the biggest obstacle to support for the Palestinian cause is the use of violence by some portion of the Palestinian people. I want to try to unpack this.

What is terrorism?

Most of us, when we hear about terrorism, feel sympathy and empathy for the victims, and feel only antipathy and alienation, or worse, towards the perpetrators. Most of us do not support groups that use violence, especially violence against civilians - people who, we feel, are innocent victims who have not wronged the other party in any way.

Palestinian violence is almost always characterized as terrorism, and therefore is almost always condemned. But what is terrorism?

Here's one definition, from Merriam-Webster:
The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons.
Even using this strict dictionary definition, many military actions - such as the US-led invasion of Iraq - qualify as terrorism.*

In the media, violence is characterized as terrorism when it is perpetrated by people outside the structure of an organized, state military. Thus, Afghans defending their land are terrorists. US and Canadian forces occupying that land are not. Some call the US's actions "state terrorism".** If we distinguish between terrorism and state terrorism, state terrorism is by far the more dangerous and lethal, as it draws upon enormous, unmatched resources that are impossible to repel.

Which of these is terrorism?

A roadside bomb.

A bomb planted on a bus.

Bombs falling from jets.

House raids: doors blown off with explosives, male occupants rounded up and disappeared, home ransacked, family terrified; male occupants never seen again.

The destruction of homes, either by aerial bombing or by bulldozer.

Mass round-ups and imprisonments.

The widespread use of torture.

Imprisonment without charges, and without access to representation, defense, or a judicial system.

I maintain these are all terrorism.

Hiroshima was terrorism. Guernica was terrorism. Gaza was terrorism.

Colonialism is violent. Imperialism is violent. These are by definition brutal, repressive systems. A system that can only be maintained through violence will be resisted by violence.

Many of us recoil at the acts of a suicide bomber, but ignore or dismiss widespread destruction, imprisonment, and extra-judicial killing - although the latter is more lethal, exponentially so. Bombs on buses evoke a particular kind of horror. Should not indefinite detentions, torture, destruction, and murder of civilians by an army evoke horror, too?

All people deserve autonomy and self-rule.

You may abhor Palestinian violence, but Palestinians have human rights.

Many people claim that if only the Palestinians would cease the use of violence, then Israel could and would allow them to live in peace. But Palestinians are not children. We cannot require them to behave - to be passive and compliant - before granting them the same rights and freedoms we take for granted for ourselves. They are human beings who must be free. You may disapprove of their methods, but that does not diminish their claim.

This may seem like a strange analogy, but some of the rhetoric I hear around this issue reminds me of society's judgements of women. The "good girl" who is raped is a victim, but the slut brought it on herself. A teenager who was raped deserves the right to choose abortion. A woman with multiple partners who never uses contraception doesn't.

Rights are rights. If some Palestinians don't appear to be "good victims", holding sit-ins and singing "We Shall Overcome," that doesn't make their rights any less urgent or less deserved. The Black Panthers were also part of the freedom struggle.

There is no liberation without violence.

This, to use an overused phrase, is an inconvenient truth that many first-world people prefer to deny.

No unwilling colony, no occupied country, no oppressed people has ever achieved freedom without the use of violence. There have been nonviolent movements, of course. But no nonviolent movement was ever successful without the existence of some alternative organization that used violence and the threat of violence. In other words, nonviolence, when it succeeded, was never the only factor. The riveting nonviolent resistance of Martin Luther King, Jr. would not have succeeded without Malcolm X's "by any means necessary". Gandhi's powerful methods of nonviolent resistance worked alongside many militant independence movements. Would Britain ever have sat at the negotiating table with Ireland had it not been for the IRA? (If you believe the answer is yes, ask yourself, Why would they?)

Nelson Mandela, now at the end of his life and justly celebrated the world over, has been transformed through celebrity into a man of peace. This sleight of hand omits Mandela's true role as a leader of the African National Congress, a group that engaged in armed resistance against the apartheid regime. Mandela's long imprisonment was not for his political beliefs; it was for acts of political violence. Mandela himself was instrumental in the ANC's adoption of armed struggle after nonviolent methods failed to move the white ruling class.

While in prison, Mandela never renounced violence. When South Africa offered to release Mandela from prison if he would sign a statement condemning terrorism, he refused, saying that armed resistance was legitimate when other channels of free political activity were no longer available.

คาสิโนออนไลน์ แจกเครดิตฟรี 2019One observer writes, "Mandela was more the Rory O'Brody than Gerry Adams of the ANC." The quote comes from an interesting blog post describing Mandela's role in the use of violence. The writer says:
This, I believe, is really the principle that articulates the natural law right to engage in armed struggle against oppression when other forms of resistance are no longer available. And, perhaps more importantly, to support publicly the rights of others to engage in armed struggle against state ideology which condemns all political violence as "terrorism", and therefore de-facto illegitimate. Thinking seriously and honestly about conflicts in the world today means not ignoring the potential legitimacy of armed struggle, and not white-washing revolutionary leaders in the past in order to put up their posters in public schools whilst no one is offended.
Imagine the situation reversed.

If we swap the Israelis' and Palestinians' positions - if your people were in Gaza, being held in the world's largest open-air prison - would you support the armed struggle? Would you understand it? Would you agree that a government has the right to force you to live behind a wall, to pass through checkpoints, to live under a surveillance state, in order to survive?

Under this imagined scenario, if your sympathies change, I suggest those sympathies are based not on morality or justice, but on nationalism.

When can the use of violence be condoned?

I realize that many, maybe most, Western Jews - and many first-world people of any background - will never support the armed struggle of Palestinians against Israel. I wonder, though, if the same people condemn the use of violence in all resistance movements. Would they, I wonder, condemn or condone the use of violence by black South Africans under apartheid? By Native Americans as Andrew Jackson's armies rode in? In the Warsaw Ghetto uprising?

If you draw a moral distinction between these examples and Palestine, what is it? Are Palestinians less deserving of their freedom? Do Israelis deserve to be shielded from the human consequences of their government's policies?

Or does Jewishness trump all?

To achieve a goal, people will use whatever means are available to them.

Israel seeks to expand its borders, and to control and subjugate the Palestinian people. To do so, it employs a powerful military and a brutal police state.

The Palestinian people seek to regain their occupied territory and expel their oppressors. What means are available to them?

To me there is a moral distinction between violence in the service of state repression and violence committed by people trying to resist and retaliate against state repression.

To alleviate the effect, remove the cause.

The achieve certain political, economic, and military goals, the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003.

When some Iraqis fought back - physically resisting the invasion and occupation of their country - the US labelled them "insurgents", then used the presence of this "insurgency" to justify its continued presence.

To condemn Palestinians' violent resistance, but not to recognize and condemn the systemic, continued violence against, and persecution of, Palestinians by Israel can, at this point, only be an act of wilful blindness.

If one condemns the violence of the oppressed against their oppressors, and not the violence of the oppressor against the oppressed, one is siding with P.W. Botha, with George Wallace, with the Raj, with the Conquistadors. With Israel.

"Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East"

File this with George W. Bush bringing democracy to Iraq.

Was the United States a democracy when about 15% of the country's population - one-third of the population in the southern states - were owned as property? The US called itself a democracy before the emancipation of slavery. Was it?

Was apartheid South Africa a democracy?

Those who call Israel a democracy are either narrowly defining Israel to exclude the occupied territories, or parrotting something they have heard but not investigated, or believing propaganda disguised as news reports.

What's more, the Palestinian territories hold elections, too.

Here I can only urge you: please educate yourself. One place to start might be The Only Democracy in the Middle East?, a project of Jewish Voice for Peace.

If you wonder why you and I have such different views on this "democracy," you might be interested in Muzzlewatch, also from JVP.

For a perspective from a South African, you might want to read the series of wmtc posts that begins here: "is israel an apartheid state? a south african perspective, part 1".

"Palestinians and their supporters are anti-Semitic"

Many Jewish people believe that Arabs and others in solidarity with the Palestinian cause are anti-Semitic. They may have heard or read anti-Semitic statements, or they may be basing their feelings on assumptions.

Jewish friends have said to me, "Palestinians hate Jews. They are taught to." I'm not sure how they possess this information, where it comes from, or how much or little it represents reality. My own liberal, suburban, Jewish parents taught me to look down on Arabs, to see them as violent, lawless, ignorant, "backwards", dirty (yes, physically dirty). Is it possible that the idea of Arab children being taught to hate Jews is part of that same bigoted stereotype? Or do Arab families actually teach hatred towards Jews? Do Jewish families do the same, in reverse?

I personally have encountered no anti-Semitism in the pro-Palestinian movement; indeed, I have seen quite the opposite, a great multicultural solidarity in the struggle for justice. On the other hand, I hear casual Islamophobia on a regular basis both in person and online.

Of course, one can find a flood of anti-Semitism online without too much difficulty. And some Jew-haters use the Palestinian cause as cover for their own hatred.

So let's assume all this is true. Let's assume that at least some Palestinians are anti-Semitic and some Jews are anti-Arab or anti-Muslim. So what? It may be true, but it's irrelevant.

You may believe that the pro-Palestinian cause is rife with anti-Semitism. But what does that have to do with the Palestinian people's right to autonomy and self-determination?

Some Black people may hate all white people, but could that have been used as a moral justification for Jim Crow? If you read a Black South African's rant against his white oppressors, would that have caused you to support South African apartheid?

Human rights belong to all people, without exception. There are bigots everywhere. There are good people everywhere. If you've heard or read anti-Jewish rhetoric within the pro-Palestinian cause, would you really use that to justify the continued repression of millions of people?

An Israeli friend once said to me, "How long will we use real or imagined anti-Semitism to justify The Occupation?"

Israel's "right to exist"

One often hears the expression, "Israel has a right to defend itself" and "Israel must use violence or it will cease to exist." Many people claim that Israel must act aggressively to contain and neutralize the Palestinian people, or its existence will be threatened.

Every Israeli person and every Palestinian person has the right to exist.

People have an inherent right to exist.

Regimes do not.

The apartheid regime in South Africa no longer exists. Jim Crow no longer exists. The Raj no longer exists.

If the survival of your state - your state, not your people - depends on the subjugation of others, can you credibly plead self-defense? The survival of the Confederacy depended upon slavery. The survival of Afrikaan South Africa depended on apartheid.

The westward expansion of the early United States was predicated on genocide. Did the US have a right to that expansion? How can expansion be equated with survival?

How can this


be considered survival?

If Palestine is free, can Israel continue to exist? If Israel the state, acting in concert with all the people who live in its territory, can figure out a way to become a democratically ruled country, equally open to all people, equally governed by all people, granting the same inalienable rights to all people, regardless of origin or heritage, then it will continue to exist, as South Africa has done, as the US did after its Civil War.

But if by Israel's "right to exist," we mean its self-proclaimed right to be exclusively governed by, and grant exclusive rights to, one set of people but not another, based on hereditary, then no, it has no right to exist.

If you support Israel's right to maintain itself as a Jewish state, do you also support other exclusive states? An exclusively white state? An exclusively blond and blue-eyed state?

Here are two premises I think we would all support.

1. A government that can only maintain power through force and violence and repression is not a legitimate government.

2. All people have the right to be free.

Why should Israel be an exception?

"Without Israel, Jews cannot be safe, and there could be another Holocaust"

I'm very familiar with this argument, and I used to believe it. Under closer scrutiny, however, it fell apart.

The existence of a Jewish state cannot prevent anti-Semitism. Indeed, I would argue that it does just the opposite. The Jewish claim to special status and the insistence of a birthright, a claim we would view as illegitimate from any other people, is the perfect fodder for anti-Jewish feeling.

Recognizing that a certain degree of bigotry will always exist, our goal should be to prevent such bigotry from resulting in discrimination, persecution and, ultimately, genocide. But our goal cannot be merely to protect Jews. We must protect all people from discrimination, persecution, and genocide - or what are we?

What's more, continued segregation will only perpetuate bigotry, on both sides. In the US, we've seen that the key to dispelling bigotry and helping people recognize our common humanity has been integration. Integrated workplaces have probably done more to normalize (so-called) "race relations" in the US than anything else. (Of course, integrated workplaces would not have been possible without court-ordered desegregation of education and other civil rights legislation.) If we want to reduce both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, segregated nation-states should not be our goal. Until Israeli and Palestinian, Jew and Arab and Christian, co-exist in one country, as equals, there will never be peace.

But is peaceful coexistence your goal? Perhaps you're less concerned with the prevention of another genocide than with the prevention of another Jewish genocide - not a holocaust, but only The Holocaust.

As Jews, do you really feel that your own safety and the safety of other Jewish people are more important, more valuable, than the safety of people who are not Jewish? Can you admit such a thing, even to yourself?

How much repression is your safety worth? How many deaths? How much oppression should be tolerated so that our people can have a "homeland"?

Why do I have more rights to live freely in Israel, a country I have never even visited, than someone whose family has lived there for generations?

If a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto calls for continued Palestinian resistance, if the child of two Holocaust survivors knows that Israel maintains an apartheid state and it must end, how can you continue to close your eyes?

How can you, as a Jew, tolerate this?

* * * *

The following is excerpted from a report by Richard Falk, UN special rapporteur on the Palestinian territories.
Israel continues to annex Palestinian territory; Israel persists in demolishing Palestinians' homes and populating Palestine with Israeli citizens; Israel routinely detains Palestinians without charges; Israel maintains an policy of collectively punishing 1.75 million Palestinians through its imposition of a blockade on the Gaza Strip; and Israel prosecutes its occupation with impunity, refusing to accept the world’s calls to respect international law.

The Israeli population registry confirms that around 650,000 Israelis had settled in the occupied Palestinian territory by the end of 2012. Just last week Israel took another step toward building the 3,000 additional settlements authorized by Prime Minister Netanyahu in November, even as Israeli leaders pay lip service to peace negotiations.

In the first three months of 2013, Israel demolished 204 Palestinian homes, and violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians is an everyday occurrence, with 146 incidents documented through April.

[According to the independent expert designated by the UN Human Rights Council, Israel is actively confiscating Palestinian water and land, having seized an additional 60,000 square meters of land near Nablus just this week.]

My new report reminds the Human Rights Council that a Security Council report raised these same concerns in 1979, but 34 years later Israel remains committed to ignoring international law and pursuing its own set of facts on the ground.

. . . since the occupation began 46 years ago, Israel has detained approximately 750,000 Palestinians, equaling nearly 20% of the entire Palestinian population. At the end of May Israel had 4,979 Palestinians, including 236 children, in its prisons. Another fact is that Israel constantly holds around 200 Palestinians in so-called administrative detention, which is a euphemism Israel uses for detention without charges.

[Turning to the situation in the Gaza Strip, Mr. Falk recalled that, in mid-June, Palestinians in Gaza will enter the seventh year of living under Israel's oppressive and illegal blockade.]

My report discusses my visit to Gaza last December, just after Israel's last major military operation. In short, Israel's blockade is suffocating Palestinians in Gaza, with an incredible 70% of the population dependent on international aid for survival and 90% of the water unfit for human consumption.

These violations deprive Palestinians of hope and make a mockery of revived peace negotiations.
I ask you again: as a Jew, and as a human being, how can you continue to support this?



-----
* For some people, the word "unlawful" in the above definition is a sticking point. Internationally, the US's invasion and occupation of Iraq were and are unlawful. But the US makes its own laws. It invades countries at will, using whatever pretext or contrived incident is convenient, and using the media as its propaganda agent. For more on this pattern, please read Overthrow by Stephen Kinzer, an excellent and very accessible book.

** For a discussion on varying concepts of terrorism, including the concept of "state terrorism," try this article by John Sigler: "Palestine: Legitimate Armed Resistance vs. Terrorism".