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.





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?





Defusing the Carbon Bomb

22 08 2011

Wanted to make a quick personal update – shortly after leaving Salt Lake City to train & help coordinate actions for Tim Dechristopher’s trial, I am now in Washington DC for the next few weeks. We are coordinating sit-ins for 14 days in a row, where 50-100 people are risking arrest each day at the White House to draw attention to, and ultimately stop, the Keystone XL Pipeline. Thousands have signed up to participate, and we’ve already seen overwhelming media attention. This pipeline would another tentacle on the largest fossil fuel development on the planet, the Alberta Tar Sands, and NASA climatologist James Hansen calls it “game over for the planet” if it goes through. So we’re drawing a line in the sand for Obama.

I’m here as a trainer and action coordinator, helping organize and prepare participants to commit an act of civil disobedience, and help navigate & facilitate the experience with them. Many are risking arrest for the first time. It’s an honor to support them through it, and even though we are just beginning, this action already feels historic. It’s particularly nourishing to me that so many of the participants are of an older generation – its a thrill getting to train people twice my age. On our first day, the youngest person arrested was 17, and the oldest was 71.

There is of course a lot more to say, but unfortunately we don’t get time to write much these days… though I am updating twitter regularly. In other brief news, my booklet/organizing manual Organizing Cools the Planet, co-authored with Hilary Moore, comes out in a couple weeks. I can’t wait.

Here’s a video from the first day of our action:





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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Campement d’Action Climatique!

2 09 2010

Co-written by Maryam Adrangi and Joshua Kahn Russell
Last week saw the culmination of the Quebec Climate Action Camp, the most recent in a series of similar events around the world. Climate Camps look different in different places, but the general idea is to bring together like-minded people from around a region to build common strategies, share skills, and take ACTION!

The Tar Sands have been a focal point this year; in the UK Climate Camp brought together activists challenging the Royal Bank of Scottland’s investments in the Canadian gigaproject. Here in Dunham, Quebec, climate camp was set up to challenge a pipeline coming through this community. The proposed pipeline is called the Enbridge Trailbreaker project, and would bring dirty tar sands bitumen to Montreal and then down to Maine, eventually ending on tankers heading to refineries in the Gulf Coast.

The camp brought together activists from across Quebec, Ontario, the Northeastern US, and beyond, to learn about the intersections of climate and social justice issues, and plan out how to best work together in the coming year. Participants cooked, fed, and set up camp outside and were able to build lasting relationships between various communities to talk about how to build a climate movement.

Resistance to tar sands projects has been growing in Canada and people are taking action locally to end the addiction to fossil fuels and the injustices facing communities because of the dirty industry.

The two-week climate camp ended with a march to the proposed pumping station for the pipeline. Local community member and climate camp participants rallied at the proposed site. “Our objective is to unite in order to act on the root causes of climate change. It is the right time to denounce and block the Trailbreaker project. Local communities and ecosystems cannot afford more oil spills, like that in the Gulf of Mexico.” says Pierre-Olivier Parent, a Climate Action Camp organizer.

Check out some of the media stories about the camp here, and stay up on Quebec action from Climate Justice Montreal

Moments like this are just another signal of increasingly mobilized action-oriented groups who are supporting communities resisting point-source fossil fuel destruction. A couple days ago in the Bay Area, 150 people took action on BP, Chevron, and the EPA, with 26 participating in civil disobedience. Its an exciting moment – lets keep building.





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:





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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Propagandhi wants you to stop the Tar Sands

2 03 2010

Last fall I went on tour with Propagandhi to recruit people to join a campaign to stop the Tar Sands. We created this video to connect with their fans and get them to sign up.





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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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.





BREAKING – activists drop 70′ banner off of NIAGARA FALLS to tell Canadian PM: NO TAR SANDS oil!

15 09 2009

Rainforest Action Network drops Seventy-Foot Banner Over Niagara Falls to Welcome Prime Minister Harper to the U.S.
Canadian Tar Sands Oil Undermines North America’s Clean Energy Future
See more photos here.
update: video below, and climber interview here.

Before dawn this morning, a small team of climate and Native Rights activists rappelled from the US observation deck at Niagara Falls. Dangling hundreds of feet above the ground, they sent a special welcome message to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper ahead of his first official visit to the White House to push dirty Tar Sands oil.

Not that he’s feeling so welcome anyway. Obama limited the meeting to just one hour. While some have called it a slap in the face, Aides say Harper will turn the other cheek. “The economy, and the clean-energy dialogue,” one aide told the Globe and Mail, “will dominate the discussions.” Obama needed to dodge controversy over oil imports from Canada’s tar sands in the midst of the Climate Legislation debate. Harper needed a story to go with his photo-op.

During Harper’s first official trip to meet Obama in the U.S., the two leaders are expected to discuss climate change and energy policy ahead of the upcoming G20 Summit. Canada supplies 19% of U.S. oil imports, more than half of which now comes from the tar sands, making the region the largest single source of U.S. oil imports. The expansion of the tar sands will strip mine an area the size of Florida. Complete with skyrocketing rates of cancer (by 400%!) for First Nations communities living downstream, broken treaties, toxic belching lakes so large you can see them from outer space, churning up ancient boreal forest, destroyed air and water quality, the tar sands have been called the most destructive project on Earth.

Tomorrow’s visit to the U.S. by Prime Minister Harper is the latest attempt by Canadian Federal and Provincial officials to lock in subsidies for 22 new and expanded refinery projects and oil pipelines crisscrossing 28 states, which would transport and process the dirty tar sands oil. Many are concerned that Prime Minister Harper wants to protect the tar sands oil industry from climate regulation, even though it is one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.

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Mrs. Nixon, Please Help us Stop the Tar Sands

29 07 2009

I originally posted this on itsgettinghotinhere. We’re still reeling from our success yesterday.

During rush-hour commute this morning, two Indigenous Canadian women – Eriel Tchekwie Deranger, and Heather Milton-Lightening – scaled flagpoles in front of the main entrance of Royal Bank of Canada’s (RBC’s) headquarters in Toronto, dropping a banner reading “Please Help Us Mrs. Nixon.com” – appealing to the bank to pull its massive investments in Alberta tar sands projects. Supported by RAN, the Ruckus Society, and their Indigenous People’s Power Project, they were joined by dozens of Toronto RAN activists, swarming entrances to ensure every RBC employee heard our appeal Mrs. Janet Nixon, the wife of RBC CEO Gordon Nixon, to lend her strong and influential voice to those fighting to protect Canada’s clean water and respect Indigenous rights by pushing RBC to stop bankrolling the tar sands. They handed out flyers, held banners, and even circled the building on bikes with “Please Help Us Mrs. Nixon.com” flags.

RBC is the ATM of the Tar Sands.

They are a leading investor in what has been called the dirtiest project on Earth and is one of the greatest social and ecological injustices of our time. Unless they’re stopped by grassroots pressure, oil companies will transform a boreal forest the size of Florida into an industrial sacrifice zone – complete with lakes full of toxic waste that are so big that you can see them from outer space. Tar sands projects poison First Nations Communities, pollute precious water resources, kill wildlife, and are the single biggest contributor to global warming from Canada.

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At the same time as the banner was being unfurled, thousands of RAN supporters and allies began emailing a video to key RBC executives – in which RAN’s Michael Brune appeals to Mrs. Nixon to help RBC offer leadership by withdrawing its funding for the tar sands. (If you haven’t participated in this online action yet, it’s not too late! Click here to view the video and email it to RBC executives.)

You can also view the video on YouTube (be sure to go to PleaseHelpUsMrsNixon.com and take action when you’re done watching):

Check out ongoing news coverage that is just starting, from Bloomberg, CBC, Toronto Star, Toronto Sun, Canadian Press, Daily Kos, Financial Post, Canada.com, Brandon Sun, Stockhouse, KBS Radio, New Brunswick Business Journal, AM 1150, Canadian Business, Vancouver Sun, and much more.

See lots of photos of the action here.

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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.

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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.




Toronto activists award RBC “fossil fool of the year” for Tar Sands financing

2 04 2009

Five actions in one day in downtown Toronto? No foolin!


Today Rainforest Action Network activists kicked Fossil Fools Day off with a bang, dropping banners off of a highway, greeting over 4,000 cars stuck in deadlock traffic over a period of two hours. From bridges, we broadcast messages about Royal Bank of Canada (RBC)’s financing of the Canadian Tar Sands from our makeshift Pirate Radio station. Our banners read “Pirate Radio 89.9 FM Tune in now” and “Royal Bank creates climate chaos. Renewables not tar sands.” The pouring rain didn’t block our view of car after car reaching for the radio dial as they drove under us. Listen to the audio broadcast we played here!

We moved on to RBC’s headquarters downtown, and throughout the day were joined by over 30 activists filtering in and out for the festivities.

We began by dressing up and impersonated bank employees. About 16 of us rode elevators for up to two more hours, chatting up other RBC personel – “Hey, on my way to work today I heard about how RBC is financing the destruction of Native territories in Alberta, causing people cancer and polluting the water! Tar Sands are the world’s dirtiest oil. Did you know that? I had no idea! I’m telling my manager right away!”

Meanwhile, outside the HQ, several more of us leafleted and held banners reading “RBC Creates poisoned water in our community,” “Renewables not tar sands” and “RBC: financing cancer and toxic sludge.”

Back inside, a lone Torontan walked inside the main office with a beautiful bouquet of balloons. I don’t know where he got the idea to release them in the atrium, or how a banner reading “ROYAL BANK CREATES CLIMATE CHAOS” got attached….I also don’t know how they’re gonna get it down. We have undercover footage of the prank here:

Later that evening, dozens of activists reconvened outside RBC headquarters alongside “Tarbie,” an oil-soaked version of RBC’s prized mascot “Arbie” who explained to passersby that he and RBC are helping finance one of the fastest growing sources of water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions on the planet, and how they conflict with the financial giant’s PR promises to promote clean water.

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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.

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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.





International Youth call for a Climate Rescue Plan at the UN

5 12 2008

The economic crisis is an opportunity to transform our economy
Cross Posted from Grist

It’s day four of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations in Poznan Poland, but it feels like I’ve been here for months. I’m up before the sun rises and in bed after midnight – and the action is nonstop. I with 500 youth delegates here from over 54 countries across the globe, from India to Peru, to Australia. Young people have been meeting with governments, participating in negotiations, harassing corporations, training each other in everything from climate justice to organizing skills, and speaking clearly and loudly: young people are collaborating across borders and have a shared vision. We want binding, equitable, science-based targets, and we’re going to fight for them.

One of the ways that we’ve been telling our story is through actions – we’ve been coordinating two per day! This afternoon, we hosted a “Who Wants To Be a Trillionaire?” game show. One contestant was the “big banks,” who have recently won 4.1 trillion dollars in government bailouts from the E.U. and the U.S. The other was a “climate rescue plan” which got over 40 times less – a measly 13.1 billion (if that doesn’t sound like a big disparity, check out the graph on this report here: http://www.ips-dc.org/getfile.php?id=314). The United States Congress has committed zero dollars (http://www.ips-dc.org/articles/913). Despite getting all the questions wrong, the “big banks” got all the money anyway. A rambunctious game show audience held a banner that said: “EU Bailout: $2.8 Trillion. US Bailout: $1.3 Trillion. Climate Rescue: Priceless”

Our point was simple: the same people who have spent decades telling us they can’t afford to save our planet, can clearly move trillions of dollars within weeks (when their own pocketbooks are directly affected). The issue is not lack of resources, its lack of political will. Youth are demanding our governments invest in a strong green economy, our planet, and our future.

Lucky for us, this economic crisis presents us with a wonderful opportunity. The opening day here in Poland, the UNFCCC said that the economic crisis is no excuse for inaction. We are saying that in fact, it’s the best reason in the world to invest in clean energy now, creating green jobs and sparking opportunity worldwide.
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