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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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.





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 »





Environmentalists say: stop ALL of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law

29 07 2010

Today, Arizona’s “show me your papers” anti-immigrant law SB1070 goes into effect. Across the country, July 29th has been declared a national day of action for Human Rights. Phoenix is ground zero for the collective outrage and protest that this bill has inspired. Here thousands of people are in the streets, many showing their courage by participating in civil disobedience across the city. In particular, downtown Phoenix has been transformed into a temporary “Human Rights Zone” with public promises from communities, businesses, and police to not comply with the law. It is an inspiring moment of solidarity and protest during a very dark time. Don’t let the partial-injunction fool you, most of this law has been allowed to continue, and we all know there are no half-measures when it comes to human rights. The hate and racism we are seeing in Arizona is only the latest, in a long series of escalating demonization of brown communities.

There is one unlikely group that has joined in protest against the anti-immigrant law: Environmentalists.

As I am practicing civil disobedience in Phoenix today, I’m proud to be a part of the new generation of eco-activists who see the forests for the trees (and the people). We believe the fate of our planet intimately depends on how we treat our brothers and sisters, and that standing up for Immigrant Rights is a central element of our task.

These new environmentalists represent a new way of thinking. We’re connecting the dots: an ecosystem is your home. Economy is the management of your home. When you globalize your economy, you globalize your ecosystem. Here’s the frank outcome: the ecological systems that support life on our planet have been pushed to the brink by an economy that trashes natural resources and destroys relationships between peoples across the planet in the process. When you convert forests into paper, mountains into coal, and oceans into oil, you force people off their land and deprive those land-based peoples of the resources they depend on to survive. A key lesson from the Environmental Justice movement is that supporting those communities in protecting their land and their livelihoods is one of the most strategic ways to fight the drivers of climate change. The root cause of environmental degradation and climate change is the root cause of forced migration. Read the rest of this entry »





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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Don’t get caught in a bad hotel

13 05 2010

9,000 hotel workers in San Francisco have been struggling for a fair union contract since August 2009.

Some of my friends hatched this idea of a Lady Gaga flash mob inside two of the boycotted hotels. 4 days ago the video went up of the action’s kickoff in the Westin St. Francis hotel – it already has 100,000 views! Props to Pride and Work and One Struggle One Fight.

Never underestimate the power of a fun and creative action – especially one that can ride pop culture momentum. The video has gone viral and is not just shining a spotlight on the campaign, but inspiring lots of others to get into the streets (or corporate offices) and have some fun.





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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Bangkok: Rich countries try to kill the Kyoto Protocol, International Youth declare “No Confidence” in road to Copenhagen

7 10 2009

cross posted from Grist.

Today marked one of the final days of the Bangkok UN Climate Negotiations. With the end of this intersessional in sight, the International Youth Delegation (IYD) has officially declared “No Confidence” in the road to Copenhagen.

With youth delegates from over 30 countries engaging in the Bangkok process, the IYD cited pathetically weak targets from the North, alarm that a second commitment period in the Kyoto Protocol will not be secured, and a lack of guarantees for protection of Indigenous peoples’ rights and interests, in its Declaration. The current text of the draft climate deal is so weak and so full of “false solutions” (measures like offsetting that actually make the problem worse) it is unacceptable.

Youth delegates representing each continent addressed the U.N. today, detailing the urgency of the crisis as it affects their communities currently, telling stories of their hope and organizing alongside their denunciation of the state of play in the UN Negotiations.

This week the Annex 1 (rich countries), attempted to kill the Kyoto Protocol (KP). We are nearing upon the end of the current KP term, and a lack of renewing it means that the world would lose the few legally binding international climate agreements it has (as insufficient as they are). The excuse is that the United States will not sign, and therefore the whole thing should be scrapped and an entirely new deal can be struck on its own. It is lunacy to think that this will yield a stronger outcome, and the G77 (the rest of the world) countries are furious. We have always known the US wont sign the KP; the world cannot continue to wait for the US to get on board. In Bali, the U.S. already committed to setting comparable targets to other Annex 1 countries, so the world could deal with the U.S. in the LCA (Long Term Cooperative Action).

This all amounts to a shell game: more dirty delaying tactics from self-interested countries who are content to strip away basic attempts at an international agreement (for example “compliance” – meaning that the U.S. would have international oversight of its targets, or “top-down target setting” – meaning the international community sets carbon targets together based on science, rather than each countries independently setting their targets based on what their fossil fuel extraction industries dictate).

Allowing the U.S. to drag the world out of existing legal obligations is disgraceful. These negotiations are going backwards.

Make no mistake: Our future is being held hostage to interests that have consistently thumbed their noses at the international community and their obligations to the rest of the world. This process has been polluted by self-interested corporations and nations looking to profit off of our crisis. They have been pushing false solutions that exacerbate rather than fix the problem. Not only are the targets set by rich countries weak, but they are deceptive. Rather than representing actual emissions reductions, they contain unacceptable proportions of offsets, which do not reduce emissions, and displace the burden back onto the developing countries of the world.
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What do immigrant rights have to do with the youth climate movement?

1 11 2008

Melting the I.C.E.

Yesterday was a Halloween to remember. I had the honor of participating in an inspiring action organized and led by Bay Area Latino & Latina youth. Over 400 high school students walked out of school on Halloween to protest the vicious I.C.E. raids that have terrorized their communities, violently ripped apart their families, traumatized children, racially profiled neighborhoods, and demonized hard working people in the Bay Area and across our country.

When speaking at a convention the National Council of La Raza, even Barack Obama, who sharply pulls to the center on this issue, has said: “The system isn’t working, when 12 million people live in hiding…when communities are terrorized by ICE immigration raids; when nursing mothers are torn from their babies; when children come home from school to find their parents missing; when people are detained without access to legal counsel.” And yet we see no action being taken on a national electoral level. So yesterday young folks have decided that they must act directly, challenging the concept that a human being can be “illegal”.

When initially writing this post describing the day, I thought about posting it in Its Getting Hot In Here, and realized that the connections between immigrant justice and the youth climate movement may not be obvious on their surface. Here’s just a couple of ways that they intersect…

Yesterday I felt the power of youth, and the moral legitimacy of young people speaking truth to power – of being bold and not letting injustices stand; of offering leadership; of youth organizing for a better world. A Youth Climate Movement holds this same power, and as young climate activists strive to integrate a deep understanding of power, race, class, and gender into that growing movement, we would do well to explore the links between our work and the struggles of immigrant youth and their families across the country.

We in the U.S., as principal carbon emitters, have a responsibility when it comes to this issue. The young people in our immigrant rights demonstration held signs that said “our immigration is forced migration” – articulately making visible the effects of policies like NAFTA, and the havoc they have wreaked on Latin American countries, creating the economic hardship that forces families to move in order to survive.

We know that as Climate Crisis intensifies, millions will be displaced from their homes – especially along the equator (and disproportionately in countries that are not responsible for the crisis).

Where will they go?

Will our country be the beacon of hope it has aspired to, a refuge for tired, huddled masses, yearning to breathe free? Unless we sharply move toward a sane and humane immigration policy, we will see an acceleration of barbaric dehumanization of people searching for a better life, as more and more people are displaced, forced to adapt to a changing climate.

The political challenge of transforming our immigration policy to one that is compassionate and human will only grow more difficult as more people search for a new place to call home. Let’s work for immigrant justice now.

Yesterday morning was kicked off when hundreds of East Bay youth were prevented from riding BART to cross into San Francisco for the event. Some were detained. Ironic, huh? Several BART stations in poor neighborhoods were temporarily closed down. The students rallied outside the BART stations, and started making news headlines for the disruption.

Meanwhile in SF (and eventually joined by some of the East Bay youth who made it across), hundreds of young folks and allies, mostly Latino/a, gathered and rallied in downtown SF. We honored the dead and disappeared by painting our faces as skulls or wearing masks, and dressing in black. Traditional Cherokee and Aztec blessings, prayers, and drums were offered, grounding participants in the large Native presence and solidarity there, and casting the hypocrisy of the U.S. immigration debate itself into sharp perspective. Signs crying out “I am indigenous to this land!”, “We didn’t cross the borders, the borders crossed us!” were held alongside “Immigrant rights are human rights.”

We began to march to the I.C.E. building, circled it while chanting and asserting that no human being is illegal, while out front of the building people spoke out, including social movement veteran and Latino/a rights activist Betita Martinez. After, Danza Azteca as well as others offered traditional dances and prayers.

As we circled the building again, students aged 18-21 non-violently locked themselves to barrels and lock-boxes, forming two blockades on each side of the I.C.E. alleyway that deploys their vans for raids and to transport prisoners. It was a beautifully and gracefully executed non-violent direct action. Until the facility closed at 6 pm, two groups of demonstrators supported the blockaders, sharing stories of their fathers being taken away in the middle of the night, poetry, music, and chants of justified and palpable pain and anger. At the close of the building, blockaders declared victory and peacefully left the area, no arrests were made.

Their words were far more powerful than anything I could write here. The young folks who blockaded wrote a letter to San Francisco. I’ve shared it below, along with more pictures. Please read it.

All Hollow’s Eve, 2008.

Our Dear San Francisco,

It has begun. Last week we saw government officials blow open people’s doors in the middle of the night to kidnap so called “gang members.” They came for us. Each night we wait in panic, waiting to see who next of our friends and family will be disappeared. But today is something else.

Today, a day when we celebrate the dead and disappeared – a day when we don masks to make the real monsters tremble in their empty coffers – it begins.

CLICK BELOW FOR THE REST OF THE LETTER AND PHOTOS FROM THE DAY

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SF Security Strike continues!

1 10 2007

Last week Security Workers in San Francisco went on strike. Members of SEIU Local 24/7 (awesome name for a Local) have been fighting for a decent wage and healthcare, against a system that treats them without dignity or respect.

Security Workers in the Bay make $5 an hour less than janitors.

The strike has been dynamic and inspiring. The union has embraced a range of tactics, like flying squads, rotating pickets, marches, rallies, demonstrations, actions, fliers, postering etc, all coordinated to keep up energy and build momentum.

It has completely shaken up all of downtown San Francisco, and won public sympathy in the process.

And now we’re escalating.

I’ve been doing a bit of support work throughout the week last week and have been absolutely inspired by the determination and energy of SF security workers. The picketing and marching was fun, but didn’t compare to just getting to hang out with workers and hear their stories and hear folks talk about how they have never been involved in anything like this before, but that they are fighting for their kids and their families and they aren’t going to back down, even in the face of giant companies like Securitas, ABM, and Universal Protection Services. They’re fighting back against intimidation, harassment, racism and cycles of dead-end poverty-waged jobs that have high turnover rates, and ironically, very little security.

Read more by clicking below…

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the US Social Forum.

1 08 2007

Another World Is Possible; Another U.S. Is Necessary.

Well, I’m inspired.

July 10, 2007

A week after the US Social Forum I am just barely regaining my energy to engage in the world again. It was a week and a half long marathon – first with an organizer training camp I had the privilege of helping coordinate with RAN, then with the four days of the Forum itself, and then the post-forum meetings and networking in Atlanta.


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defend woodfin workers!

18 06 2007

Repost from my old blog, from May 20, 2007

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

After feeling victorious from shutting down the port this morning, someone in our affinity group got a call that a group of racists were harassing the Woodfin Workers picket.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Woodfin is a hotel in Emoryville, about 15 minutes from my house. Last Christmas, several immigrant workers were unjustly fired without notice in retaliation for organizing to obtain their rights under the local living wage and workload protection ordinance that EBASE passed last year. They have been tremendously courageous in organizing ever since.

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May Day!

18 06 2007

Repost from my old blog, from May 2nd, 2007.

Happy May Day!

In case you are curious, here is the Incomplete, True, Authentic and Wonderful History of MAY DAY
http://www.midnightnotes.org/mayday/green.html

Yesterday I found myself in San Francisco’s Dolores park, marching behind the “gringos para la justicia inmigratoria” banner. Thousands marched in the Bay – in SF, Oakland, and San Jose. For more info see: http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2007/05/01/18408028.php

here are some photos

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