It’s been years!

10 08 2017

Hey Friends, turns out I’ve only made one post in the last 4 years. Considering coming back…more soon?

In the meantime here’s an interview I did just after Trump’s inauguration. It was published at Medium, as an excerpt from a forthcoming book Radical Democracy: an inventory of transformational ideas, documents, quotes and conversations

xo,

Joshua

Radical Hope: Life During the Climate Apocalypse

Global organizer Joshua Kahn Russell on the shifting terrain of climate justice, the need for spiritual perspective in the movement, and learning to love contradiction in the age of Bernie and Trump.

joshua interview radical democracy

Part of our series of interviews with transformative activists, organizers, writers and dreamers from the New Left and Freedom Movement of the 1960s through radical social and political movements of today. From the soon to be published Radical Democracy ebook.

Joshua Kahn Russell is a long-time movement facilitator. He’s a core trainer and action coordinator with The Wildfire Project and the Ruckus Society, and currently serves as the Global Trainings Manager at 350.org. He has helped lead winning campaigns against banks, oil companies, logging corporations, and coal barons. Joshua has trained thousands of activists around the world, including Brazil, Turkey, Vietnam, Australia, Canada, Peru, Poland, Thailand, Spain, Denmark, Jamaica, Guatemala, Mexico, and the US. His recent books include A Line In The Tar Sands: Struggles for Environmental Justice , Beautiful Trouble with Andrew Boyd, and Organizing Cools the Planet: Tools and Reflections to Navigate the Climate Crisis, with Hilary Moore.

“Stopping the climate crisis is impossible to strategize, because stopping it is impossible. But navigating the climate crisis to a place of stability and the new way of life it will demand — that’s not only easy for me to imagine, it’s easy to get excited about envisioning it.”

Radical Democracy: Since you started doing environmental work many years ago, the context for your work — the climate itself — has been changing drastically. How has that impacted the scope and strategy of your work?

Joshua Kahn Russell: I’ve spent the last twelve years with my face deep in the science of the apocalypse, including working on an international level at the U.N. with scientists who are talking about the basic survival of our species. It can be overwhelming.

We live in a time of denial about the crisis, but also coming out of a cultural amnesia in regards to social movements and how change can happen. We need to recognize that we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors; there are real lessons to learn from the past. But there is also something fundamentally new about this crisis, which requires real innovation. Both sides of the generational equation — movement veterans who have so much to teach us, and newly radicalized young folks with fresh thinking — are beginning to walk with more humility to reflect together to face this challenge.

Read the rest of this entry »





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.