Time To Get Off The Fence

2 12 2015

Why Climate Justice connects us all to the Black Lives Matter activists shot by white supremacists in Minneapolis.

Last night, Andy Pearson of MN350 was with the Black Lives Matter protesters at the #4thPrecinctShutDown when shots were fired. The encampment was demanding accountability (eg: names of the officers, and the release of police videotape – the names have since been released, and the video tape remains a demand) after the killing of unarmed black man Jamar Clark at the hands of police.

Andy heard the shots and saw people running. 5 protestors were shot by white supremacists. The injured protesters were taken to the hospital and one underwent overnight surgery. Andy noted that people were not just running away from the shots – many were running towards them to help. The next day he challenged all of us, “If you’ve ever wondered what you’d do if you were alive during the civil rights era, now’s the time to find out.”

white supremacists mlps

Photo of two white supremacists, one carrying a pistol, who came to #4thPrecinctShutDown. Photo: @BlackLivesMLPS

It should be no secret that we are in a heightened level of racist backlash in this country — and around the world. In the last two weeks alone, we have witnessed the terrorist attacks in Paris, Beirut, and Mali, and the violent and xenophobic backlash in its wake, often emerging as fear and hate crimes against Syrian refugees.

We have footage of people at a recent Trump rally beating and choking a Black man — all while calling him the n-word and “monkey” for saying “Black Lives Matter.” The man was arrested while the attackers went free. Trump later bragged about the violence saying “he deserved to get roughed up” and after his supporters beat a homeless Latino man, he called them “enthusiastic.”

These are only a few of the many forms of insidious threats against communities of color, particularly Black people, that persist in our justice system, that create inequities in access to clean air and water, and that feed a cycle of division and prejudice.

Addressing climate change means replacing the old unequal systems with a new world; it requires us to fight racism and climate change hand-in-hand. Our movement gets weaker when we talk about climate change only through the lens of saving the environment. It gets stronger when we can talk fluidly about how climate change is impacting our people, is about racial and economic justice, is about reconnecting to our spiritual roots, is about the daily problems people face.  For us, fighting climate change is about fighting against a system that devalues the Earth, treats all natural resources as commodities, devalues individuals, and refuses to see each person as sacred.

That is why we join MN350 in their declaration:

“MN350 organizes for climate justice: We recognize and seek to address the deep connections between the injustices that perpetuate racism, inequality, and runaway climate change.  Today, the leaders, staff and activists who work with MN350 send their thoughts and prayers to the family of Jamar Clark and those who were the victims of white supremacist violence last night and too many times before. ‪#‎Justice4Jamar‬”

justice for jamar

Prayers for justice from Minneapolis. Photo: @BlackLivesMLPS

 

If you have been “on the fence” on this issue — depending on where you and your family are coming from in experiencing and confronting racism, whether by lack of action or feeling disconnected from it — now is the time to get off the fence.  This Thursday, as many of us gather to give thanks with our families, is a great opportunity for all of us to help our relatives understand why climate justice work is work for peace and racial justice.  Wherever you are, really talk about why racial justice matters — talk it out with others, even those who disagree with you.

Looking for resources to take a stand right now?  Today Chris Crass published a free e-book calledTowards the “Other America”: Anti-Racist Resources for White People Taking Action for Black Lives Matter. 350 staffer Daniel Hunter has also released free copies of the organizing guide: Building a Movement Against the New Jim Crow.

Also, consider making a donation to Black Lives Matter Minneapolis as a way of expressing gratitude this Thursday.

We’ll close with more encouragement for boldness from Andy: “I wasn’t alive in the 1960s and so don’t know what that time in our history felt like. When white terrorists can hang out at a police precinct, shoot a bunch of black people, and walk away into the night, we have a deep and systemic problem.  I know that what happened last night is wrong, profoundly wrong, and makes me think on how much work there still is to do. ”

With love and justice,

 – Everette R. H. Thompson, Daniel Hunter, Joshua Kahn Russell, and Yong Jung Cho





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.

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