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.





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.





BREAKING: Keystone XL Denied!

18 01 2012

In case you haven’t heard the thunderous celebration by the North American climate movement, today the State Dept is set to outright reject the Keystone XL pipeline. #booyah

This is a reminder that people power works. Direct Action works. Social movements work. Grassroots organizing works. Lets take some time today to celebrate another huge victory.

Every time we win, it builds our resolve for the next fight. We know the fossil fuel industry owns Congress, and so far the Keystone XL campaign has been like playing Whack-A-Mole, or kinda like going to battle with a zombie who just won’t die. There may yet be another stage of the fight, and there will definitely be other theaters of engagement heating up in the Tar Sands fights, like the Enbridge Northern Gateway. I’m confident we’ll be ready to take em on. Moments like this help us remember our power, and that its worth all the headaches and stress of movement building. So lets keep winning.

If you’re in DC, help build the momentum by joining 500 referees blowing the whistle on congress being soaked in big oil Jan 24th. Or this friday, you can join the J20 (January 20) #occupy actions all around the world mobilizing to take on dirty corporate interests. Here in the Bay Area we will be shutting down the SF financial district with nonviolent direct action (check out the hot Lady Gaga outreach flashmob video here).

Here’s a quick sampling of the breaking coverage of the Keystone XL victory from Bill McKibben, and on Globe and MailWashington Post, Mother Jones, Huffington Post, ThinkProgress, Grist, Daily Kos, and Politico.

Congratulations, climate movement. What a great way to kick off the new year, eh?





Breaking: Tim DeChristopher sentenced to 2 years in prison, taken immediately into custody

26 07 2011

Tim DeChristopher was sentenced to 2 years in prison today at the Salt Lake City federal courthouse. He was taken immediately into custody, being denied the typical 3 weeks afforded to put his affairs in order and say goodbye to his friends and family.

Federal prosecutors asked for Tim to receive an extra harsh prison sentence in an effort to intimidate the movement that stands with him. They hoped that by condemning him to years behind bars, they would “make an example out of him” and deter all of us from taking meaningful action. But Tim is already an example. He’s an example of the courageous acts that people across our movements are taking to fight for justice and a liveable future. We support Tim by continuing to organize. Our response to this sentence is an affirmation: we will not be intimidated.  What’s your response?

The government’s statement is clear. Tim has been sentenced to 2 years as punishment for his politics; for the uncompromising content of his speeches and organizing in the two years sincehis act of civil disobedience protected 150,000 acres of land. Ironically, his principled views and motivations behind his actions he took were never allowed to enter a courtroom, due to their “irrelevance.” In a highly political trial, the jury was unjustly stripped of its right to be their community’s conscience and manipulated into making a political prisoner of a peaceful and concerned young man.

Tim DeChristopher

Author and activist Terry Tempest Williams said, “To think that a young man in an act of conscience might [do any amount of time] in a federal prison for raising a paddle in an already illegal sale of oil and gas leases, compared to the CEO of BP or the financial wizards on Wall Street who have pocketed millions of dollars at our expense  – and who will never step into a court of law to even get their hands slapped, let alone go to jail, is an assault on democracy.”

She’s right. But we have the power to turn this assault on democracy into a battle for democracy. Today the Salt Lake City community is expressing both their love and their outrage.

Fossil fuel lobbyists knew that Tim would be indicted the evening before it was officially filed, Jury members explained that they were intimidated throughout the process. The fossil fuel industry should not control our justice system.

Unless we decide to respond accordingly, as Tim serves his time, the real criminals — the fossil fuel industry wrecking our planet and our communities — will continue to run free, unaccountable for the countless oil spills, asthma attacks, contaminated waterways, cancer clusters, and carbon seeping into the air we breathe every day. If the justice system is intent on prosecuting the people protecting rather than pillaging the planet, we must confront the real criminals ourselves. With our heads held high, we continue to stand on the moral high-ground – and will do what’s right, despite the consequences. We know that mother nature’s consequences of inaction are far harsher than any imposed by a court system.

But we are not isolated individuals. We come together with our communities as groups of empowered agents of change who know our system is broken and does not represent us. Our communities represent us, and our vision of a resilient, just, and sustainable world that we are fighting for.

Tim’s sentence is a call to action.

For those of us who’ve been following his story fervently, our hearts were broken today. It is a sad moment. But we now have an opportunity and a responsibility to act on those feelings of hurt and outrage. For Tim’s sacrifice to truly mean something, for the spark it ignites in each of us to burn, we all must take action.

2011 has already become a year of peaceful uprisings around the country. As Tim once said, we were never promised that it would be easy. We know it will take courage, sacrifice and a willingness to sustain our resistance in our fight for real Justice. Tim has taken a step and we will take the next thousand.

Here are a few upcoming action opportunities to join:

We’ll see you on the streets,

Peaceful Uprising and Tim’s community of courage.





I’m on tour with the beehive collective!

29 03 2011

Animals strategizing at the Highlander Folk School

Whew! What a whirlwind it’s been. I’ve been doing a collaborative tour with the Beehive Design Collective for the last month! We’ve been in West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and North Carolina so far. We’re so grateful to so many people in the coal fields sharing their stories with us. We’ve stood on top of mountains where we could see 3 mountaintop removal moonscapes at once; given workshops for a middle school girls afterschool program; presented alongside frontline coal community advocates; facilitated interactive organizing trainings at community spaces; given keynote talks at conferences; hung out at community colleges; and had so many generous people open up their homes to us and share with us raw and painful accounts of the challenges they’re up against in their fights for justice.

It has been absolutely exhausting, but deeply politically fulfilling.

We’re leaving coal-affected regions now, and excited to come to Pensylvania, Washington DC, New York, Connecticut, Massachussets, New Hampshire and more. You can check out some of our upcoming dates at Aid and Abet’s site.

It’s been exciting experiment so far that I hope I’ll have more time to reflect on in the near future: mixing beehive style storytelling and graphic presentations with interactive training content on organizing, social movement strategy, campaign strategy, action design, and more. In some cases we’ve been tag-teaming trainings with an organization during the day, and a public beehive presentation at night, but mostly we have been mixing the two somewhat fluidly. It’s felt engaging and a much more accessible format than your standard training OR your standard lecture-style presentation.

For a full listing of our dates (some have info forthcoming), click below:

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SF to Cancun: Social Movements Bring Hope as COP16 Falters

7 12 2010

Thousands of community activists around the world take action to promote Local Solutions to the Climate Crisis


The tone inside the conference center at the U.N. Climate Negotiations in Cancun has been a bit dismal this past week. Yet despite the reduced expectations inside, this morning the international peasant movement La Via Campesina gave us a new injection of hope and vision with a vibrant march of thousands of small farmers, Indigenous peoples and community activists through the streets in Mexico. It kicked off today’s international day of action – “1,000 Cancuns” – where grassroots organizations across the world demonstrated local resiliency and real solutions to the climate crisis. 30 coordinated events took place in the U.S. and Canada today, anchored by the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance.

Here in San Francisco, more than a dozen local community organizations joined forces to help convert a Mission District parking lot into a community garden and park with affordable housing units. Click here for photos.

“This action demonstrates a tangible solution to the climate crisis by promoting local food production, challenging our dependence on automobiles and strengthening bonds within the community,” explained Teresa Almaguer of People Organizing to Demand Environmental & Economic Rights (PODER) “The climate crisis requires community-based solutions and an end to corporate influence within the UN climate negotiations.” In addition to planting vegetables, participants enjoyed live music, theatrical performances and speakers all focusing on solutions to the climate crisis. A common theme at the event was increasing local food production in the fight against climate change, in contrast to the corporate-driven false solutions being put forth inside the U.N. negotiations.

“Industrial agriculture is one of the top three sources of greenhouse gas emissions,” said Michelle Mascarenhas-Swan of Movement Generation. “Agribusiness corporations profit from everything from fertilizer and pesticide sales to control of what goes onto supermarket shelves. The people are left paying the true costs in polluted water, depleted soil, diet-related diseases, and climate disruption. Meanwhile, U.S. agribusiness harms small farmers, farm workers and consumers – in the U.S. and around the world.” Read the rest of this entry »





At COP16 Cancun: Canadian First Nations Representatives Deploy Giant Human Banner Demanding End to Tar Sands Development

2 12 2010

Cancun, Mexico, Dec 2, 2010 — Indigenous Peoples of Canada and their allies from around the world are in Cancun at the COP-16 climate summit demanding real action to reduce fossil fuel pollution. Over twenty people with color-coded T-shirts that spelled out the words “Shut Down the Tar Sands” in both English and Spanish gathered in front of the Maya building to directly deliver their message to UNFCCC delegates. Participants included Indigenous community representatives from fossil fuel impacted community across Canada and the U.S., many carrying personal banners linking tar sands with the destruction of their territories.

Melina Laboucan-Massimo of the Lubicon Cree comes from a community impacted by tar sands. “We have seen the destruction of our lands happen right before our eyes. Our water is being contaminated and we are seeing droughts throughout the region. My family used to be able to drink from our watershed, and now within my lifetime we can no longer do so. Young and old people alike have developed respiratory illnesses as neighboring plants emit noxious gases into the air. First Nations and farming communities have reported health effects to the wildlife and livestock. The area is drastically changing – I fear for the future of my homeland.”

The tar sands are the fastest growing source of GHG emissions in Canada. Unless Canada changes track emissions from the tar sands industry are set to triple to over 120 millions tonnes. Clayton Thomas-Muller of the Indigenous Environmental Network said, “Our communities demand real solutions to address the climate crisis and that means shutting down the tar sands and a moratorium on new fossil fuel development.”

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Open Letter to Board and Staff of 1 Sky

23 10 2010

I was asked to post the letter below (to Grist, Znet, & Rabble), written by grassroots organizations engaged in climate justice organizing across the United States (including Grassroots Global Justice, Movement Generation, Indigenous Environmental Network, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives etc – full list at the end).We are at a critical moment for reflection on movement strategy. Perspectives from the front-lines are illuminating and offer us direction. – JKR

To the Board and Staff of 1 Sky,

We are grassroots and allied organizations representing racial justice, indigenous rights, economic justice, immigrant rights, youth organizing and environmental justice communities actively engaged in Climate Justice organizing.

Given the very necessary discussion spurred by your recent public letter (August 8, 2010), we wanted to share with you some of the work we have been doing to protect people and planet, as well as our reflections on a forward-thinking movement strategy. Your honest reflections on the political moment in which we find ourselves, alongside the open invitation to join in this discussion, are heartening.

Organizing a Powerful Climate Justice Movement

Like you, we recognize Climate Disruption as a central issue of our time. With the right set of strategies and coordinated efforts we can mobilize diverse communities to powerful action. Our organizing strategy for climate justice is to: 1) Organize in, network with and support communities who have found their frontlines[1] of climate justice; 2) Organize with communities to identify their frontlines of climate justice, and 3) Coalesce these communities towards a common agenda that is manifested from locally defined strategies to state and national policy objectives through to international solidarity agreements.

Community-Led Climate Justice has been Winning

In assessing the broader landscape of climate activism it is critical to recognize that despite the failure of DC policy-led campaigns, there have also been significant successes on the part of grassroots climate justice campaigns across the U.S.

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Root Causes of the BP oil disaster

9 08 2010

Recently here in the Bay Area, Mobilization for Climate Justice-West held a Teach In on the BP oil disaster, to prep for an upcoming action on the Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Here’s an excerpt from Carla Perez from Movement Generation, talking about root causes:





Why Climate Activists should care about Immigration and Arizona

13 05 2010

Like many people, I’ve been deeply disturbed at the recent racial profiling and deportation laws passed in Arizona, as well as the recent ban of ethnic studies. Its clear that Arizona is our new battle ground. Immigration is going to be front and center for Climate Justice, particularly in the coming years when there are increasing numbers of climate refugees and migrants. I’m in the process of getting my thoughts together for a call-out to the climate community to throw down for a “Freedom Summer” style push to organize in Arizona, but in the meantime wanted to share this recent post by Jason from Movement Generation.

Lets Get This Right: Why We All Need to Stand up for Immigrant Rights Now!

By Jason Negrón-Gonzales

(photo by Marisa Franco, Right to the City Alliance)

Events in recent weeks in Arizona should be a cause for concern for all people who seek justice and progress in the US, and they have special significance for those of us who call the climate justice, environmental justice, and environmental movements our home.  These events call for a principled stand and action on our part, in defense of communities that have been displaced by economic and ecological crises, and against the racist and bigoted institutions that we also confront in the fight for a sustainable future.

In the words of Pablo Alvarado, the Director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Committee (NDLON), “this week, the Arizona legislature passed the most anti-immigrant legislation the United States has seen in a generation.”  This legislation, SB 1070, will:  1. legislate racial profiling by requiring police to arrest and detain people based on a “reasonable suspicion” that they are undocumented, 2. make it a state crime to be unable to produce legal residency documents, and or to transport or shelter undocumented people, and 3. ban day laborers by making it a crime for anyone to “pick up passengers for work” and penalizing anyone seeking work at a day labor site, or those contractors who hire them.

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How Bolivia celebrates Earth Day

22 04 2010

This morning my email inbox was full of advocacy groups commemorating the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. As the ecological systems that support life are reaching their brink, there is certainly a good reason to use this opportunity to shine a spotlight on a range of issues and challenges. But activist organizations aren’t alone in commemorating today.

Today I was struck even more by corporations trying to capitalize on Earth Day to green their images. As Becky Tarbotton observed in the Huffington Post, the New York Times summarized the situation well: “So strong was the antibusiness sentiment for the first Earth Day in 1970 that organizers took no money from corporations and held teach-ins ‘to challenge corporate and government leaders’… Forty years later, the day has turned into a premier marketing platform for selling a variety of goods and services, like office products, Greek yogurt and eco-dentistry.”

Photo by Diana Pei Wu

Against this backdrop, World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba today is a breath of fresh air.

The Indigenous Environmental Network celebrated today by explaining that “this morning Bolivian President Evo Morales was joined by representatives of 90 governments and several Heads of State to receive the findings of the conference on topics such as a Climate Tribunal, Climate Debt, just finance for mitigation and adaptation, agriculture, and forests. The working group on forests held one of the more hotly contested negotiations of the summit, but with the leadership of Indigenous Peoples, a consensus was reached to reject REDD and call for wide-scale grassroots reforestation programs.”

Jason Negrón-Gonzales of Movement Generation elaborated on how they do Earth Day in Cochabamba: “…from now I’ll be talking to my children and 2010 will be remembered as the year that Earth Day took on new meaning.  It will be the year that humanity turned a corner in our relationship to Mother Earth and began struggling along a new course…more than politics, the conference in Cochabamba brought to the table humanity’s relationship with Pachamama.  This question, raised most pointedly by the Indigenous communities present, was reflected in the project of creating a declaration of Mother Earth Rights, but also went way beyond it.  Can we really reach a sustainable relationship with the Earth unless we stop looking at it as something to be conquered or fixed that is outside of us?  How would it change our lives and our struggles if we thought, as Leonardo Boff of Brazil said, ‘Todo lo que existe merece existir, y todo lo que vive merece vivir (Everything that exists deserves to exist, and everything that lives deserves to live)’?  Or if we understood the Earth as a living thing that we are a part of and that, ‘La vida es un momento de la tierra, y la vida humana un momento de la vida (Life is a moment of the earth, and the human life is a moment of life)’?”

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Dispatch 1: Rumbo a Cochabamba

19 04 2010

The historic gathering of the worlds most affected by climate change is kicking off in Cochabamba this week. Delegations of grassroots activists from the U.S. are going to help give a voice to the “South within the North” – communities on the frontlines of the impacts of climate change and resource extraction and fossil fuel development. Below is the first blog from Jason Negrón-Gonzales of the Movement Generation Justice & Ecology Project on his way down to Bolivia. For up-to-the-minute reports back from Cochabamba check out Global Justice Ecology Project’s Climate Connections Blog.
Dispatch 1: Rumbo a Cochabamba
Jason Negrón-Gonzales

I’m writing from the plane in route to Cochabamba for the People’s World Conference on Climate Change and Rights of the Mother Earth. For those who aren’t familiar with the conference, it was proposed by Bolivian president Evo Morales in the aftermath of the COP15 conference in Copenhagen last December. While that conference was billed early as “Hopenhagen”, this week’s meetings in Cochabamba, Bolivia hold the real seeds of hope for a global response to climate chaos that is rooted in justice, equity, and historical accountability, and led by global social movements of workers, farmers, and the poor.

What’s at stake?

While the world needed and hoped for a responsible and sufficient (if not radical) response to climate change, or at least a solid step in that direction, instead what we got in Copenhagen was more of the same: corporations and developed countries trying to extend their advantage and wealth. The class character of the debate was striking. One the one hand, delegates from Global South and Indigenous communities who are least to blame for emissions and are facing the loss of the livelihoods and homelands were demanding strong action now. On the other, economic powerhouses like the US, which consumes about a quarter of the global energy supply, refused to be accountable for the environmental impacts of their economies and way of life.

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Reparations for Climate Chaos

2 10 2009

Think Climate Finance is boring? Think again.

cross posted from Grist.

Remember when the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, and International Monetary Fund were constantly making global headlines for their fierce opposition from people’s movements around the world? Well, international Finance Institutions (including the World Bank) are rearing their ugly heads again – this time with the U.N. as their vehicle.

Today, more than 50 social movements, trade unions, environmental groups and NGOs from 17 countries issued a statement at the United Nations in Bangkok, where UNFCCC climate negotiations move into their fifth day.

The groups, which include several large international networks, said that rich countries should acknowledge their historical responsibility and the “ecological and climate debts” they owe to developing countries. “Deep, drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, through domestic measures is part of reparations,” the statement said. “They took much more than their fair share of atmospheric space, and in the process denied the people of developing countries – the people of the South – their rightful share. They must give it back.”

photo: Janet Redman

And they’re right. As colleagues here in Bangkok talk about their newly-homeless families from the floods earlier this week in the Philippines, it is undeniable that the economic prosperity of the North is the gift-that-keeps-on-giving to the South – this time around in the form of devastating climate change. Tom Pickens from Friends of the Earth described it like having a fancy four course meal in an expensive restaurant – and then forcing someone walking by on the street outside to pay.

Reparations for these debts, according to Fabrina Furtado from Jubilee South, also include the “complete restoration of territories and ecosystems, reconstruction of basic infrastructure, recovery of social rights, and the restoration of the well being of the peoples of the South.”

Reparations must come from public sources.

The groups decried alleged attempts by Annex 1 (Northern) countries to “avoid taking full responsibility” for the consequences of their excessive emissions. In their statement, groups expressed strong opposition to giving any role in climate finance or climate programs to the World Bank, regional development banks and other international financial institutions – and emphasized the need for “a new global fund.”

These views are similar to those of the G77 plus China group, a bloc of more than 130 developing countries in the climate negotiations that considers the World Bank inappropriate for channeling developed countries’ financial obligations under the Convention – largely because of its undemocratic and unaccountable governance structure.

The group’s critique of the World Bank and related financial institutions goes even further. Elena Gerebizza of the Italian NGO Campaign for the Reform of the World Bank said, “The World Bank and other international financial institutions are in large part responsible for the current economic, financial and climate crises. We cannot expect them to play a positive role nor to contribute to real solutions.” “On the contrary,” she added, “these institutions have been pushing false solutions, such as the expansion of the carbon market, which increase financial instability and take away space for serious thinking about real solutions for the climate crisis.”

Whew. United States, ready to listen yet?





U.N. Climate Talks Bangkok day 3: Filipino activists call for justice as Manila floods

29 09 2009

Cross Posted From Grist.

Flooding in the Philippines yesterday displaced over 600,000 people. As if we didn’t need more of an urgent call to solve the climate crisis.

Increased intensity of flooding is among one of the may well-documented impacts of global warming. The implications have hit our organizing here at the UN in Bangkok too – as some activists had to go to support their families amidst crisis.

But Filipino groups are still here in full force, emboldened to call for the solutions their communities need – this morning The Peasant Movement of the Philippines and the National Federation of Peasant Women in the Philippines held a demonstration in front of the United Nations Climate Change Negotiations in Bangkok.

With vivid street theater, the groups called to abandon false solutions to climate change – such as biofuels.

Demonstrators this morning said “Climate change is not only jeopardizing our future but is being used by multi-national and trans-national corporations who are the main contributors to global warming to rake in more profit from our misery…vast tracts of agricultural lands around the world are being controlled and converted by plunderers into cash-crop plantations such as biofuels and other corporate schemes that forcibly drives us out from our land.”

Their calls for climate equity in negotiations were echoed by even more demonstrators today from Jubilee South and many others, calling on rich countries to pay their ecological and climate debt to the rest of the world. Activists from Thailand, Nepal, Philippines, Malaysia, Pakistan, Indonesia, Africa, and Latin America mobilized to push Northern countries to recognize their historical and disproportionate contributions to climate change, and the disproportionate negative impacts suffered by the Global South. This concept of climate debt is increasingly gaining traction among international civil society, flipping on its head the idea of the debt owed by the South to the North from loans from international finance institutions.

As civil society groups call for financing and compensation for the averse affects of climate change for affected peoples, delegates inside the UN continue to debate on our 3rd day of the climate talks. The pressure is on, and the 600,000 people displaced in the last day only add to the urgency.





Climate Justice and Coal’s Funeral Procession

2 05 2009

I wrote a movement strategy piece that is the cover story for the May issue of Z Magazine.

Climate Justice and Coal’s Funeral Procession
Learning from the Capitol Climate Action

The snow was 4.5 inches deep and it was 23 degrees out when our action started at 1pm. We could already hear the Fox News commentators making the usual absurd statements: “A global warming protest in the snow?! Maybe this climate change stuff isn’t real after all, ha ha ha.” But by the end of the day, even Fox News gave positive coverage to the largest protest in history demanding solutions to the climate crisis.

On March 2nd, around 4,000 people came to the Capitol Power Plant in Washington DC, over 2,000 of whom risked arrest through civil disobedience. The vast majority had never been to a demonstration of any kind before, let alone engaged in non-violent direct action. People from communities most directly impacted by coal’s lifecycle — from Navajo reservations in the Southwest to Appalachian towns in the Southeast — led the march. With vibrant multicolored flags depicting windmills, people planting gardens, waves crashing, and captions like “community,” “security,” “change” and “power,” we sat-in to blockade five entrances to the power plant that literally fuels Congress. We called the whole thing the “Capitol Climate Action” (CCA).

The belching smoke stacks just two blocks from the Capitol building made a fitting target for a national flashpoint. They symbolize the stranglehold that the dirty fossil fuel industry – and coal industry in particular – has on our government, economy, and future. Burning coal is the single biggest contributor to global warming. We will not be able to solve the climate crisis or build a clean energy economy without breaking its hold.

Read the rest of this entry »





Indigenous Peoples’ Summit on Climate Change – Final Declaration

28 04 2009

Indigenous peoples from across the Americas gathered in Anchorage, Alaska to address the climate crisis last week. Below is their final declaration. See Ben Powless’ photos here.

The Anchorage Declaration

24 April 2009
From 20-24 April, 2009, Indigenous representatives from the Arctic, North America, Asia, Pacific, Latin America, Africa, Caribbean and Russia met in Anchorage, Alaska for the Indigenous Peoples’ Global Summit on Climate Change. We thank the Ahtna and the Dena’ina Athabascan Peoples in whose lands we gathered.

We express our solidarity as Indigenous Peoples living in areas that are the most vulnerable to the impacts and root causes of climate change. We reaffirm the unbreakable and sacred connection between land, air, water, oceans, forests, sea ice, plants, animals and our human communities as the material and spiritual basis for our existence.

We are deeply alarmed by the accelerating climate devastation brought about by unsustainable development. We are experiencing profound and disproportionate adverse impacts on our cultures, human and environmental health, human rights, well-being, traditional livelihoods, food systems and food sovereignty, local infrastructure, economic viability, and our very survival as Indigenous Peoples.
Mother Earth is no longer in a period of climate change, but in climate crisis. We therefore insist on an immediate end to the destruction and desecration of the elements of life.

Through our knowledge, spirituality, sciences, practices, experiences and relationships with our traditional lands, territories, waters, air, forests, oceans, sea ice, other natural resources and all life, Indigenous Peoples have a vital role in defending and healing Mother Earth. The future of Indigenous Peoples lies in the wisdom of our elders, the restoration of the sacred position of women, the youth of today and in the generations of tomorrow.

We uphold that the inherent and fundamental human rights and status of Indigenous Peoples, affirmed in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), must be fully recognized and respected in all decision-making processes and activities related to climate change. This includes our rights to our lands, territories, environment and natural resources as contained in Articles 25–30 of the UNDRIP. When specific programs and projects affect our lands, territories, environment and natural resources, the right of Self Determination of Indigenous Peoples must be recognized and respected, emphasizing our right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent, including the right to say “no”. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agreements and principles must reflect the spirit and the minimum standards contained in UNDRIP.
Calls for Action
1. In order to achieve the fundamental objective of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), we call upon the fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC to support a binding emissions reduction target for developed countries (Annex 1) of at least 45% below 1990 levels by 2020 and at least 95% by 2050. In recognizing the root causes of climate change, participants call upon States to work towards decreasing dependency on fossil fuels. We further call for a just transition to decentralized renewable energy economies, sources and systems owned and controlled by our local communities to achieve energy security and sovereignty.




SmartMeme analysis on Capitol Climate Action

19 03 2009

Wanted to share a reportback on CCA from Doyle Canning from SmartMeme, an amazing strategy, communications, and training organization.


Reportback: Capitol Climate Action

Doyle Canning, SmartMeme

Two weeks ago I was in the streets with thousands of friends, old and new, for the historic Capitol Climate Action (Check out my pics on FLICKR!) SmartMeme endorsed this action, and I was excited to support the effort by helping to create messages for the action’s banners, training participants in nonviolent direct action , and being a “contingent coordinator” with the awesome Blue Team.

Honestly, I had a ball! The action was well organized, colorful, and upbeat despite the cold temperatures. My nonviolence training session was packed – with a dozen participants showing up 30 minutes early to ensure they got a spot, and a line going out the door when the room was full. 95% of that group were first timers to nonviolent protest, and they were fired up and ready to stop coal and solve global warming.

The action was endorsed by a large and diverse community of organizations, and attention was made to amplifying the voices of directly-impacted people. Leading the march were residents of Appalachian communities being blown-up by the Coal Industry; Indigenous delegations from Black Mesa and Michigan (where five new coal fired power plants are proposed), and leaders from Chicago’s Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, who are fighting for clean air against coal fired power plants. They were joined by celebrities and prominent environmental leaders like Bill McKibben and Wendell Berry, and the executive directors of the convening groups. The majority of participants were students (mostly white), many of them taking action in the streets for the first time.

Action Logic

The Capitol Coal Plant was a smart venue for this event. It comes with built in symbolism and implicit story-based strategy. The plant is powered by coal to warm and cool our nation’s Capitol building. The concept of the action was to draw attention to the fact that coal-fired power is fueling climate destabilization, and highlight the utterly destructive life cycle of coal, from mining to slurry to smog. It was also a way to point to the heavyweight influence that the coal industry has over all of Capitol Hill. Symbolically this was a perfect stage for our play.

But two unexpected things happened that took the story off the script.

1. Days before the protest, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Leader Harry Reid released a letter asking the Capitol Architect to switch the Capitol Power Plant from coal to 100 percent natural gas by the end of 2009.

Organizers responded saying that this was a victory, showing the power of grassroots mobilization to get the attention of power holders. This hardly took the wind out of our sails, but did complicate the frame. The discussion emerged in my nonviolence training about whether this shift even was a victory: “Natural gas is also a fossil fuel.” “The problem is the whole coal/oil/fossil fuel paradigm.” “One symbolic concession is a dangerous victory to claim, given the stakes.”

So the question is, what would a real victory look like? What if we’d pressed Pelosi further, and said “If you want to make a statement, put solar panels on the Mall and windmills along the Potomac, and kick Coal Inc. out of Congress.” As the climate fight intensifies, we cannot settle for half-hearted victories or afford to celebrate false solutions. We’ve got to shift our thinking and get ahead of the curve with visionary, foreshadowing stories and strategies. Bolder demands can be made of the new political establishment, and now is the time to make them.

Read the rest of this entry »





Our Capitol Climate Action Victory: in context

4 03 2009

Yesterday thousands of people converged on the Capitol Power Plant to engage in mass civil disobedience, shutting it down for the afternoon to demand clean energy solutions to our economic and climate crises.

Check out the recent media coverage in Associated Press (AP), TIME Magazine, CNN, Huffington Post, The Hill, Alternet, and USA Today.

See lots of pictures here.

There is already a lot being written about how this action achieved our goals in building outside pressure, political will, and urgency to change the national conversation around the climate crisis and get bold policy in 2009. The announcement three days prior to our action that the Capitol Power Plant would be switched off coal validates the power of mass pressure and people power, as we push on to fight for truly clean energy. The amazing media (over 400 stories) we have already gotten have helped shape the national conversation.

I want to talk about another goal we had: movement building – and how we can make the most of it.

Through organizing this action, nearly 2,000 people were trained in non-violent direct action. Hundreds of people stepped into roles like peacekeepers, contingent leaders, artists, trainers, media runners, tablers, scouts, chant leaders, media wranglers, technical communications, police liaisons, worker liaisons, trash clean up, medics, support (bringing people food, water, blankets, and hot chocolate), online support, photographers and videographers, spokespeople, and many many others. Our resolve and determination not only brought many to risk arrest, but all of us to brave harsh weather. Speakers ranging from Dr. Vandana Shiva, to Bobby Kennedy, to DC Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, to Dr. James Hansen took the mic to support this movement and action.

We certainly surpassed our expectation of 3,000 people participating, some are estimating many more than that.

But here’s the inside scoop: it’s important to be real about this action, what it is, and what it isn’t.

This action was a national flashpoint to get together and help move our country forward on a federal level. It was also an “outside strategy” that gave leverage to the thousands who were inside Congress lobbying for clear and specific policy.

But we all know that civil disobedience and non-violent direct action is just one tool of many – sometimes it’s strategic, sometimes its not. We are honored and excited that so many thousands of people have had a transformational experience yesterday and are energized to go home and use these tactics. That was a goal.

But to get excited about tactics for their own sake – devoid of strategic context and community accountability – would be to take the wrong lesson home.

We believe in direct action that is community led, and part of ongoing campaigns where directly affected people are in leadership positions and making decisions. These kinds of direct actions are often smaller and much less “sexy” and “flashy” than national convergences like Capitol Climate Action. The role of national convergences like CCA is specific and rare – and the real work happens when we go back home.

While yesterday’s action was endorsed by over 100 organizations, including many from impacted regions throughout the continent, the convening organizations who made up our organizing group (along with allies) – Rainforest Action Network, Greenpeace, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and the Ruckus Society – are justice-minded organizations that are national or regional in scope, but are not community-based groups. We want to be transparent about that. We believe in supporting such groups and their leadership in our movement. We were honored to be able to support Native, Appalachian, and urban communities affected by the life cycle of coal in leading our march and being spokespeople for the action. But people wanting to engage in tactics like this should seek local community support and build with one another to craft a smart, thoughtful intervention and escalation with people who live in the impacted area. Read the rest of this entry »





Horror in Plain Sight

15 01 2009

In 2009 we see our institutions unmasked, from Gaza to Oakland to Tennessee
This originally appeared in WireTap Magazine and later Znet.

My heart hurts.

14 days into 2009 and what a year it’s been. Recent highlights include a young unarmed black man who was placed onto the ground, with his hands behind his back, shot and killed by an by a white police officer in an Oakland BART station; levees breaking in Tennessee, flooding communities with a billion gallons of toxic coal ash that is 40 times larger than the Exxon Valdez spill; and of course, the unrelenting assault on Gaza that in the last 19 days has claimed the lives of 919 Palestinians, including 384 children and women. Not to mention an economic crisis that has precipitated the layoffs of paid organizers around the country – many of my friends finding themselves unemployed, and important organizations (like COV records) needing to close their doors.

josh-kefiah-tzedek

My tattoo says "tzedek" which means "social justice" in Hebrew, and embodies a long history of civic engagement and solidarity with oppressed peoples within the Jewish tradition.

As a young Ashkenazi Jewish man, I’ve been particularly shaken seeing some members of my Jewish community attempt to rationalize or justify the murder of children, the use of illegal biological weapons like White Phosphorous, and blocking of humanitarian aid. I feel unsafe as a Jew in a world where militarists and demagogues commit genocide and pretend it is in my name or the name of my people. What is happening in Gaza is a political, not a religious conflict, as decried by Jews around the world who stand in solidarity with the people of Palestine (including some of the most religious and traditional Hasidim). Even Jon Stewart took a political risk in condemning the attacks.

What links many of the above events is their overt brazenness. The massacre of Palestinian people, wanton environmental destruction to power our fossil fuel addiction, and police shootings are certainly not new phenomena, and are a logical extension of many of the way our institutions function. But what is both remarkable and terrifying is how naked and unabashed these recent horrors have been.

Oscar Grant was murdered by police in front of a full BART subway car, as onlookers filmed the entire thing. Dozens of youtube videos were up within hours for the entire world to see an unarmed cooperative man shot in cold blood. There was no attempted justification, no way to sweep it beneath the rug. It was in plain sight.

The attacks on Gaza were done in a manner that produced millions of heartbreaking photos of the carnage circling the globe in an instant, accompanied by graphic descriptions from international doctors in Gaza. What is happening right now is not a “war” – it is, after penning people in a cage, starving them and depriving them of all basic resources, blowing apart entire communities in what is the most densely populated area of the planet. That the Israeli government claims that this is in retaliation for Hamas rockets is a transparent joke, as more Palestinians died in the first 5 days of the assault than Israelis did from the last 5 years of rocketfire. And now the Israeli Right Wing political parties are attempting to ban Arab parties from running in upcoming elections. Its almost as if they wake up in the morning and say to themselves “how can we further delegitimize ourselves, make Jews around the world less safe and more hated, and kill as many brown people as we can in the process?” Massacres are no stranger to the Israeli military, but this kind of action with this kind of visibility marks a new chapter in the “we do whatever the fuck we want and don’t care what anyone thinks” book of the conflict. It’s all in plain sight.

The TVA coal ash spill, while not covered by the media very extensively, again reveals the extension and overt consequences of longtime policies that had previously been easier to cover up and hide from the public.

So what is this all about? It seems like 2009 is in many ways a year of honesty. Our institutions are unmasking themselves and behaving in ways that perhaps have always been typical, but are often sugar-coated with a smiley face on top. No more pretense or sugar. It’s been amazing to me how many people lately have been talking about how in the face of increased resource scarcity, economic collapse, and a climate crisis that threatens the very survival of our species, the major institutions in our society are freaking out. Like a convulsing creature gasping for breath, they lash out and crush things around them, revealing how they really are. There is a growing understanding that “continuing business as usual” is the most unlikely and unrealistic of all futures we could chose.

There is of course, a whole lot of reason to hope. For real, I’m not just saying that to end on a positive note. I have been walking with deep gratitude lately, not just for my own life, but for the courage of regular people across the globe. People around the world are organizing in response to these tragedies and are joining a new wave of political activism and organizing worldwide. I’ve seen more conversation and public debate about these issues than ever before (even if its often among Palestinian and Israeli friends on my facebook page over my status updates). The progressive shifts in our country and internationally are still strong – and if anything, strengthened – by these tragedies, as we have an opportunity to more clearly put our finger on the roots of our problems and join together to fashion just and sustainable solutions.

Stay involved. You can find great Gaza updates at War Times and End The Occupation, plus a friend’s commentary at Shadia Fayne Wood’s blog. ColorofChange.org is running a campaign for Oscar Grant that you can support online here. Stay up to date with the TVA Tennessee ash spill at itsgettinghotinhere.org. You can also buy “Gaza on my mind” shirts as a fundraiser for medical supplies.

Also, War Times has spread the word that The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) has developed on online Resource Center at www.adc.org. This new tool, designed to serve as a primary source of information, incorporates several resources on the Gaza attacks including:

  • A factual timeline of the events leading up to the Israeli attacks.
  • Reliable articles on the situation in Gaza.
  • A list of UN responses and statements on the tragedy.
  • A list of credible media sources.
  • A continuously updated resource on the numbers of killed and injured.
  • An instructive link on contacting the media about the tragedy in Gaza.
  • An instructive link on contacting elected representatives including President-elect Obama.
  • A list of protests, rallies, and vigils taking place nationwide.

Thats all for now.





beyond polar bears

12 10 2008




Wise Up Dominion!

16 09 2008

The Beginning

We woke up at 3:30am, but few of us had slept the night before. You’d think we’d be groggy, but the adrenaline and excitement propelled us into action. By 5:30am two trucks holding steel barrels reading “good jobs, healthy communities: we deserve a clean energy future” and “prosperity without poison” pulled into the rendezvous point. My heart was pounding as I pulled a van full of concerned citizens and young activists to meet them, two more cars trailing me. A half hour later we all jumped out at the entrance to Dominion’s new $1.8 Billion coal-fired power plant in Wise County VA. Within seconds we had a blockade. Nine people were connected to concrete-filled barrels, two of which donned six large solar panels illuminating the sun in the background of a large banner reading “Renewable Jobs to Renew Appalachia.” Two more chained themselves to gates, keeping them closed. Our solar lit banner stretched out above the rosy smiles of visionaries young and old. It was a true privilege to work with such skilled organizers and help coordinate one of the most fluid, tight, and positive Nonviolent Direct Actions I’ve ever been a part of.

We watched the sun rise together.

CHECK OUT OUR VIDEO HERE:

Solidarity

I’m not from Appalachia. I’m here because I’ve been deeply inspired by coal-field residents who have spent their lives standing up for clean air and water, good green jobs and a better future for their families. And it’s made them subject to intense harassment and intimidation. Wise County citizens have been fighting this Dominion plant for over two years; they’ve spoken out at every public hearing, filed ever paper and lawsuit possible, and gotten 45,000 people to sign a “mile long” petition to the governor. And now many took the next step and invited friends from around the region and country to join them in solidarity for the first ever protest at this plant. Nonviolent Direct Action is about risking one’s own personal safety for the greater good. It is an act of courage that can come with some severe consequences. That people travel from all around to support this local struggle is emblematic of the world we are fighting for – one in which we look out for one another and support each other, even when that comes at personal cost. 11 of the activists today were arrested and are currently navigating their way through the labyrinth that is the U.S. legal system. We have a vigil setting up for them as I type this.

Intergenerational

Alongside those (mostly young people) who chose to put their bodies on the line, came a contingent of cheering protesters of all ages, including a nun, ex coal miner, veteran, schoolteachers, and students. The positive energy was infectious: there was a sense of agency and empowerment shared among all of us, even as we choreographed an elaborate and potentially dangerous dance between police and Dominion employees. The action was courteous, respectful, and residents who were new to this type of action kept remarking about how it was a “class act.” The words “classy,” “beautiful,” “reasonable,” and “respectful” were constantly heard both from Wise County residents, passers-by in cars and trucks, and even the police.

It’s no surprise people were ready to take such a step – and to take it so seriously. Wise County has already had 25% of its historic mountain ranges destroyed forever to mountaintop removal mining. We’re not just talking about saving the environment here, we’re talking about cultural survival for one of the poorest regions of the country.

Click below for more story, pictures, & media links.

Read the rest of this entry »





on megacamps and imaginal cells.

20 08 2008

I just got back from seven days that reminded me why youth are gonna save the world. I had the privilege of helping train and learn from 200 brilliant young organizers in Minneapolis Minnesota at the Energy Action Coalition Power Vote camp.

It was the most fluid and well organized training I had ever been a part of. More striking than the hard organizing skills, the web2.0 tech saavy, the smart message, strategic approach or visionary ideas, was the overwhelming sense of being called to duty.

Over and over again I heard college students telling stories about how something deep inside of them is telling us that our planet – our ecosystems, our economic, and social systems – is on the brink of collapse, and that it’s our generational challenge to steer our society and world back to sanity.

One of the most enduring metaphors of the week was shared by a young organizer: when a caterpillar is about to encase itself in a cocoon it becomes over-consumptive. It eats more than its share of leaves on the tree and grows fat and sluggish. At the moment of its developmental excess, a group of specialized cells called “imaginal cells” gravitate toward one another and find each other. Even though they are in the minority, they flow through the “nutritive soup” that has become of the rest of the caterpillar, and then they steer the caterpillar’s development until it eventually breaks through its cocoon as a butterfly.

I had heard activists of various kinds share this metaphor before. But never had I seen it catch with such resonance as this week. It struck a deep chord with participants, who were grounded in their knowledge that this is our moment and our movement. These young folks are helping usher in a new era of civic engagement with revolutionary ideas like climate justice, clean energy, sustainable communities, economies, and self determination.

The current call-to-action is called Power Vote. The idea is to build a youth voice to hold our leaders accountable by getting 1 million young people to pledge making climate a priority in the presidential election AND afterwards…

That in itself would be a remarkable feat. But we’re not stopping there. With our ‘organizer hats’ on, we see these elections as an opportunity: right now everyone in our country is talking politics. We view the elections not as an end in of themselves, but as a chance to build connections between young progressives across the country to join the youth climate movement and engage in work long after the elections. We’re leveraging our political moment to build lasting power from the ground up, strengthening local organizing across the country where it matters: in our communities.

Many students told me that for the first time, they genuinely feel a part of a movement. The energy was infectious and boundless. Trainers from Wellstone Action!, Energy Action Coalition, EAC Partners (like me!), and the Georgetown Day School Diversity Coordinators, helped set the stage for something beautiful. In particular if you ever get the chance to experience Wellstone Action, it may just change your life. I know it did for so many young visionaries this week.