Resistance in real-time — Global Power Shift kicks off in Istanbul

28 06 2013

by Joshua Kahn Russell

This article was originally published by Earth Island Journal and Waging Nonviolence.

It’s an auspicious time for 500 young climate activists from around the world to be gathering in Istanbul. Just a few weeks ago, an effort to save the city’s Taksim Square and Gezi Park (one the last green spaces in the city center) from development sparked a full fledged people-powered movement across the country. When 350.org and our allies envisioned convening this broad movement convergence two years ago, we never could have imagined that we would be holding this event in the midst of a popular uprising. Still, it feels appropriate (if a bit surreal). After all, this Global Power Shift convergence is aimed at helping catalyze a new phase of an international climate movement that will be able to put on such a massive and sustained show of force that it disrupts the status quo and captures the public imagination. Just like the Taksim Square activists have done.

With our strategy meetings here in Istanbul having just begun, I have been deeply inspired and humbled by the people I am meeting and their commitment to addressing the climate crisis. There are young climate activists here from the plains of East Africa, from the farthest reaches of the Canadian Arctic, from the altiplano of Bolivia and from Russian Siberia. About 70 percent of the participants come from the Global South. Landry Ninteretse from Burundi took a 16-hour bus ride to the Turkish embassy in Uganda to get a tourist visa to come to Istanbul, and then had to wait for 8 days in Kampala to receive his paperwork. Sao Sotheary from Cambodia spent months fighting the Turkish government bureaucracy to get permission to come to Istanbul. Our team of Turkish coordinators have been organizing Global Power Shift amid tear gas and water cannons, in the midst of what 350.org’s Turkish coordinator, Mahir Ilgaz, calls “the most politically significant development in Turkey in a generation.”

GPS dance

It’s no exaggeration to say that this is an historic meeting: Global Power Shift marks the first international gathering organized by young climate activists, for young climate activists, that has taken place outside of the United Nations climate negotiations.

Last June, I was in Rio de Janiero, just before the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Earth Summit. We at 350.org had jumped on the opportunity to bring together our Latin American activist networks for strategizing and collaboration. Frankly, we didn’t expect much progress coming from the U.N. conference itself. We had become accustomed to the cycle of low-expectations and disempowerment that the U.N. climate talks have devolved into. Yet the annual U.N. conferences also have left us buoyed by the feelings of inspiration we felt watching young people come together to build a global movement, regardless of what was on the official agenda. We all agreed that in order for the U.N. to have any relevance in addressing climate change, grassroots progressive social movements around the world needed to be stronger, better organized, locally rooted, and more successful at changing the game of what governments considered “politically realistic” and in their “interests.”

As organizers from Bolivia to Argentina shared stories in Rio, we brainstormed an idea that had been percolating within 350.org for a while: creating a truly international youth convergence outside the U.N. process that could serve as a space for aligning strategies, sharing ideas, and building concrete skills to wage and win campaigns to halt greenhouse gas emissions. Young people aren’t waiting for governments to catch up — they’re taking the lead and organizing their own communities. And now here we are, in Istanbul.

We kicked off our opening night with cultural performances from peoples all over the world — it was breathtaking to feel the thunder of youth shake the plenary hall. Mikaele Maiava shared a story about his community in Tokelau fighting to maintain traditional ways of living in the face of rising sea levels that threaten land-based peoples around the world. The Global Power Shift Pacific team offered us a traditional Haka warrior dance, and connected stories from islands around the world. Check out a video they shared here:

The 500 young activists in Turkey this week are working together to navigate a common challenge we all confront in the course of our climate justice organizing, no matter where we come from: How to balance breadth and depth as we work in our communities. That is, how do we organize with the millions of people needed to address the scale of the climate crisis, and do so in a way that is rooted, transformational, and engages us in our own hope and humanity? How can we navigate the psychological burden of this generational challenge? And how can we successfully confront an adversary as powerful as the fossil fuel industry?

To help navigate those questions, we recruited a remarkable international facilitation team that designed a unique curriculum that meets the varied needs of young people from more than 135 countries. We have a geographically diverse “Listening Team,” with skill sets around cross-cultural dialogue and mediation in order to be responsive to participant needs. Workshops will include week-long sessions on “hard skills” like grassroots campaigning, policy advocacy, nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience coordination, creative arts, digital innovation, and media outreach. During the course of the week we hope to foster an understanding that movements in different places have different needs and circumstances, but can also work together in shared frameworks to build a movement that is greater than the sum of its parts. Together we can build synergy to face a common foe — the fossil fuel industry — and create a shared vision of local clean energy solutions that takes power away from corporations and puts it in the hands of people.

GPS PHOTO 2

It isn’t easy. We are inheriting all sorts of old divisions of power built by the generations before us: economics, race, colonial legacies, gender and many more. One manifestation of this is language — English is the “language of empire” that these sorts of international convenings are conducted in. Without the resources to simultaneously translate to dozens of languages, our entire convergence is proactively grappling with creative facilitation techniques to make the conversation accessible to those who speak English as a learned language. Every day, participants self-organize and make plans in regional groups, some of which are facilitated in different languages. The effort to democratize communication is itself a mirror of our work here — it’s messy and imperfect, but it’s an honest attempt at overcoming the barriers that separate us and gives us the skills we need to genuinely collaborate and empathize with one another. Trainings like this don’t just teach us how to be skilled in activism — they also teach us to be better people. I was struck by a comment a participant made after our opening night – “we all belong here because we are all different. Yes, we all belong here.” This is a new stage of our movements’ growth.

The gathering in Istanbul is just Phase One of a multi-year plan to challenge the power of the fossil fuel industry and demand climate sanity. While 500 young people are here in Turkey, more than 5,000 others have committed to participating in Phase Two. The second stage has three central goals: directly targeting the fossil fuel industry and its dangerous business model; connecting the dots between extreme weather events and global climate change while also creating community resilience to weather disasters; and building local, community-controlled renewable energy systems.

We will kick off this second stage with at least 70 national and regional convergences and summits taking place over the next 18 months. The world will witness a new wave of events and mobilizations that embody the renewed spirit of our evolving movements. The mobilizations will look different in different places, reflecting local needs and leadership, but will share the culture collectively built here at Global Power Shift.

A community of more than 45 organizational partners will spearhead the upcoming mobilizations. Partners include The Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice (a network of more than 250 frontline community groups, mostly from the Global South), Jubilee SouthGreenpeace and Friends of the Earth International. These groups and others are offering support and coaching for youth back in their home countries. Additionally, we will be working with Global Greengrants to administer small grants for each summit, with an emphasis on supporting youth to do their own fundraising to help them develop autonomous financial capacity so our movements can resource themselves and reshape the landscape of nonprofit funding models.

We see Global Power Shift and its follow-up as a proactive response to the situation the global climate movement found itself in after 2009. Four years ago, there was tremendous focus on passing comprehensive climate legislation in the United States and also on creating a new binding global treaty to slash greenhouse gas emissions. As we all know, those efforts ended in disappointment. Those goals were important — and continue to be — but a main lesson for the movement was that it lacked the national political power to hold politicians accountable. The movement learned from groups organizing in directly-affected areas that we do have power — the power of our own communities. During the last several years, local community-based organizing has kept more carbon in the ground than any other effort. With Global Power Shift, the current generation of activists is leapfrogging that stage into a place of more sustainable and skilled leadership. Maybe — just maybe — these and other efforts will also shape a new political paradigm going into the next wave of international climate negotiations in Paris in 2015.

GPS Photo 1

Meanwhile, the situation here in Istanbul offers one hopeful example of how citizen protests can disrupt the status quo in just a short amount of time. Many of Global Power Shift’s Turkish organizers are closely involved in the protests here, and they say the street mobilizations have renewed the spirit of Turkish civil society.

Last week, for example, the governor of Istanbul called on the parents of young people occupying Gezi Park to get their kids and bring them home. Instead, mothers came out en masse, encircling the park to protect their children from police. Mothers brought mixtures to heal tear gas-burned eyes and other supplies.

It’s a wonderful real-time lesson in popular mobilization, and it’s just what we need in the global climate justice movement: Widespread, cross-generational solidarity that can stand up to the structures of power and put in place the new systems we need to survive and thrive on this planet. One of our panels today was entitled “a movement of movements”: with stories from Idle No More’s indigenous resistance in Canada, the Indignados in Spain, the Arab Spring in Egypt, uprisings in Brazil, Occupy Wall Street, and of course, the Turkish uprisings. We’re making connections.

The problems that caused climate change separated us. We believe that coming together to solve a global problem can set the world right. Climate change isn’t just the biggest problem humanity has ever faced, it’s also our biggest opportunity to rethink the way we live, rethink our economic system, and rethink the way we treat each other and the planet. In fact, we will have to have these new systems in place in order to survive on this planet.





Today would have been Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 84th birthday

15 01 2013

Today would have been Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s 84th birthday. Check out this billboard of him participating in a direct action training at the Highlander Center. The training was infiltrated by the Right Wing Georgia Commission on Education to smear him as a Communist. The more things change, the more they stay the same. By the end of his life he was in fact strong critic of war and talked about our economic system as a root of the problem, though that is not what he is remembered for.

 

MLK communist





Rest in peace and power Becky. I love you.

1 01 2013

becky RIP

becky memorial





We Are Unstoppable, Another World is Possible!

21 11 2012

Its been a long time since I’ve updated here – excited to reflect on the last several months, because they’ve been really hopeful and inspiring to me. So grateful to work wish such remarkable people. For now, I wanted to share a keynote talk I gave at Power Shift Canada – its one of my first times telling more personal stories with strategy and organizing lessons in them.

Part 1

Part 2





In Ohio, the People Push Back on Fracking

27 06 2012

Tired of waiting for their leaders to ban the destructive drilling practice, citizens passed their own resolution—and took over the Statehouse to make it heard.

By Joshua Kahn Russell. Originally published in Yes! Magazine

Last week an estimated 1,000 people took over the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio to protest the destructive practice of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” Joined by others from neighboring states facing similar issues, this “People’s Assembly” rallied and marched to the Capitol building—without a permit—to decide how they, the people, could end the practice in their state.

Jamie Frederick was one of them. She had been told by doctors that it was safe to drink her well water, despite the presence of gas wells surrounding her home. She later discovered the water was contaminated with chemicals used in the fracking process. As a result, she says, she has lost her gall bladder and can’t risk having children because of fatal health risks and potential birth defects.

“If there had been solar panels and wind turbines surrounding my home instead of gas wells, I never would have gotten sick, and I would be called ‘Mom’,” she told the crowd. These days, she said, her mouth bleeds and it’s difficult to talk: “I am losing my voice more all the time. But I seem to have found it today.”

As the Assembly convened, the rotunda, filled to capacity, thundered with stomping, clapping, and chanting that was hushed when families shared experiences of being devastated by the side effects of fracking, as Frederick was. Some had been invited to testify at the Statehouse in the past, only to find empty rooms and legislators who, they felt, did not respect their concerns.

These stories had been shared throughout the lead-up to the action, with three full days committed to workshops, trainings, and cross-movement strategy sessions. Teri Blanton, of Appalachia, connected fracking to another highly destructive extraction process she has been fighting in her own neighborhood: mountaintop coal removal. “They’re trying to do to you what they’ve done to us,” she said. “‘Regulation’ just gives them permission to do it. If you think regulation works, take a look at the West Virginia strip mining.”

The Ohio Assembly ended with the passage of a “people’s legislation” to ban fracking. Though no actual law backs this resolution, it signifies a commitment by many in the state to oppose further development of fracking wells.

This July will see thousands more mobilize in Washington, D.C. for the Don’t Stop the Frack Attack rally. Grassroots communities across New York State are already speaking out against Governor Andrew Cuomo’s attempt to turn the Southern Tier of New York into a sacrifice zone for fracking. This creative, nonviolent action bubbling across the United States may turn out to be the most powerful way of halting extreme energy development at the expense of both people and the planet.





New Radical Alliances for a New Era

9 05 2012

How the Left’s talk of co-optation missed the real critical questions that 99% Spring offers our movements

This post originally appears on Znet

By Joshua Kahn Russell and Harmony Goldberg.

Last month, a broad alliance of organizations from across the progressive spectrum came together to train 100,000 people in nonviolent direct action in the hopes of supporting a wave of action targeting corporations and the politicians that own them. It was called 99% Spring. Some also called it “co-optation.” We call it “alliance building.” 

The conversation within the movement has been fascinating, and reveals some key pitfalls that the resurgent U.S. Left might fall into if we’re not careful.

Grassroots groups that organize primarily in working class and communities of color such as National Peoples Action and the National Domestic Workers Alliance helped lead the 99% Spring process. Despite this, the terms of the debate have almost exclusively centered on the participation and limits of MoveOn.org (as a symbol and stand-in for more moderate liberals, the institutional left, and the nonprofit industrial complex). “Are the liberals co-opting Occupy?” or “Is Occupy co-opting the liberals?” There is indeed a historical precedent of radical peoples’ movements becoming de-fanged by the status quo. And yet, too often, the historic limits of the Left in the United States has been connected to its internal tendency towards sectarianism and the politics of purity. At this moment, our own circular firing squads may be a deeper threat to the viability of our movements than “outside” groups.

ImageIt is precisely because of our long-term work with radical grassroots movements that both of us dove into helping organize 99% Spring. We were each involved in writing the curriculum and designing the trainings. We were challenged by, and learned a lot from, the process. Our organizations (the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the Ruckus Society) are both movement groups that support frontline communities speaking and acting for themselves, and we were both part of the left wing of the 99% Spring alliance. 

We are living in an incredible time. Occupy has helped us all re-imagine political vision and strategy. 99% Spring was a bold effort with a lot of success, real limitations, and some mistakes. We want to share our experiences from the heart of 99% Spring project to help our movements think more clearly about alliances, and some of the challenges that our political moment presents us.

At a Crossroads
We are at a crossroads as a movement.  Many have been slogging away in the trenches for years, pushing against the political winds and doing the slow work of organizing to build popular power within communities hit hardest by the economic and ecological crises. It was hard work, and it moved slowly. Last fall, Occupy exploded on the scene and challenged many of our assumptions about what was possible. By offering both an inspiring political tactic (“occupy”) and a unifying frame (“We are the 99%”), the Occupy movement was able to tap into the mass anger about the crisis that had been brewing for years. Occupy showed that it was possible to have an explicitly radical message, to engage in confrontational action and still speak to millions of people in this country. It became acceptable to talk about economic inequality, corporate greed and capitalism, and that changed the context for all of our work in important ways. It was a humbling moment for many long-term organizers. It also helped reveal some of the shortcomings of the institutional left.

But now what? Like all movements, we have challenges. Most physical occupations have been evicted by the police, removing the ongoing public spaces that made us visible, and the ongoing police confrontations aren’t tapping into organic mass anger in the same way. Many of our internal challenges make it difficult to do the big-picture strategic thinking we need to envision the next steps. This offers us all a moment of experimentation and innovation. In order to engage it, we need to seriously reflect on our circumstance.

Read the rest of this entry »





Shift the Spectrum of Allies

7 05 2012

I am excited and honored to be one of 60 contributors to a new book called Beautiful Trouble: A Toolbox for the Revolution. The book reads as an activists manual, weaving together case studies, principles, theories, and tactics, distilled from years of working in many movements for social change. Here is one of my entries in the book, based on lessons from Training for Change, the Highlander Center, Ruckus Society, and others.

Shift the Spectrum of Allies.

In sum: Movements seldom win by overpowering the opposition; they win by shifting the support out from under them. Determine the social blocs at play on a given issue, and work to shift them closer to your position.

Activists are often good at analyzing systemic social problems, but less good at thinking systemically about organizing.

Activism is about using your power and voice to make change. Organizing is about that, too, but it’s also about activating and empowering others. It helps to think in terms of groups. Successful movement-building hinges on being able to see a society in terms of specific blocs or networks, some of which are institutions (unions, churches, schools), others of which are less visible or cohesive, like youth subcultures or demographic groupings.

Analyzing your spectrum of allies can help you to identify and mobilize the networks around you. A spectrum-of-allies analysis can be used to map out a local campaign or to strategize for a whole social movement.

Here’s how a spectrum-of-allies analysis works: in each wedge you can place different individuals (be specific: name them!), groups, or institutions. Moving from left to right, identify your active allies: people who agree with you and are fighting alongside you; your passive allies: folks who agree with you but aren’t doing anything about it; neutrals: fence-sitters, the unengaged; passive opposition: people who disagree with you but aren’t trying to stop you; and finally your active opposition.

Some activist groups only speak or work with  those in the first wedge (active allies), building insular, self-referential, marginal subcultures that are incomprehensible to everyone else. Others behave as if everyone is in the last wedge (active opposition), playing out the “story of the righteous few,” acting as if the whole world is against them. Both of these approaches virtually guarantee failure. Movements win not by overpowering their active opposition, but by shifting the support out from under them.

For example, in 1964, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a major driver of the civil rights movement in the U.S. South, conducted a “spectrum-of-allies style” analysis. They determined that they had a lot of passive allies who were students in the North: these students were sympathetic, but had no entry point into the movement. They didn’t need to be “educated” or convinced, they needed an invitation to enter.

To shift these allies from “passive” to “active,” SNCC sent buses north to bring folks down to participate in the struggle under the banner “Freedom Summer.” Students came in droves, and many were deeply radicalized in the process, witnessing lynching, violent police abuse, and angry white mobs, all simply as a result of black people trying to vote.

Many wrote letters home to their parents, who suddenly had a personal connection to the struggle. This triggered another shift: their families became passive allies, often bringing their workplaces and social networks with them. The students, meanwhile, went back to school in the fall and proceeded to organize their campuses. More shifts. The result: a profound transformation of the political landscape of the U.S. This cascading shift of support, it’s important to emphasize, wasn’t spontaneous; it was part of a deliberate movement strategy that, to this day, carries profound lessons for other movements.

Further insights:

Explanation of the “Spectrum of Allies,” from NewTactics

Strategy tool for “Spectrum of Allies,” from Training for Change

Douglas McAdam, Freedom Summer. Oxford Univ. Press, 1988.








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