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.



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.


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.

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Giving Form to a Stampede

28 08 2008

Last Spring Brian Kelly and I wrote an essay for Upping The Anti about the first two years of the new SDS. It was later recirculated on Znet, but I realized that I had not put it up here. This is likely only interesting to radicals who are trying to build mass-organization or folks interested in dissecting the influence of youth subculture on social movements. Not for the layreader.

Giving Form to a Stampede:
The First Two Years of the New Students for a Democratic Society

By Brian Kelly and Joshua Kahn Russell

“Opportunities multiply as they are seized.” – Sun Tzu


At a party recently, one of us was introduced as an organizer trying to launch the “new” Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). The person raised her eyebrows. “I don’t know anything about the new SDS,” she said, “but it makes me think of a Beatles reunion tour with none of the original members. Why would I want to see that?”

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The Party Crashers

22 08 2008

I’m in Minneapolis, shortly before the 2009 Republican National Convention…and the gigantic protest spectacle here to greet it. But I don’t think I’m even going this year. Not to dis all the good folks who will be pouring into town in the coming week to express their dissatisfaction with that last 8 years of the Bush regime, or the hard working organizers who are coordinating it all, I’m just not sure what my role would be beyond feeling some catharsis in screaming my politics real loud.

4 Years ago I was in New York City gearing up to protest the same convention. The logic of our message was compelling: the Republicans were trying to exploit the memory of 9/11 by holding a convention in NYC, and we were going to expose their fearmongering. New Yorkers overwhelmingly wanted them as far away from their city as possible. It was a great narrative to tell the U.S. public.

Within hours I ended up in handcuffs on a curb, baking in the hot sun. My crime? Riding my bike. Legally. The officer explicitly told me “you’re being arrested for exercising rights you thought you had, but I guess you didn’t have em, didja?” I guess not. They took hundreds of us to a toxic, chemical-oozing bus depot called Pier 57 and held us in detention. I left with my body covered in a rash. I still have a pending lawsuit against the NYPD. At that moment I was more disillusioned with symbolic mass mobilizations than I had ever been – mostly because it just seemed like a scripted game. I saw my fellow arrestees wearing their day-in-jail as a ‘badge of honor’ – like some kind of protest cred. I kept reminding people that getting captured, in most cultures, is seen as a bad thing. It was embarrassing. Even with a clear message and vibrant participation, I wasn’t sure what the point of expressive protest was anymore.

I have since softened up, and I do admit that my heart sings when I see large diverse groups of people demonstrating their power using public space, even if it has no instrumental or concrete goal.

In The Nation yesterday, Michael Gould-Wartofsky wrote an article called The Party Crashers. Its a well written survey piece, getting a pulse of the youth movement protesting the RNC and the DNC. I’m quoted. What I was trying to express was the basic intention of organizing being relevant to society, rather than simply antagonistic. Symbolic protest can have meaning, but only if it engages our political moment. Unfortunately, it seems like much of the convention protests this year are approaching this election like all the others. The article’s tagline asks “In the age of Obama, is street protest still relevant?” My answer is that it can be, if we think differently than we have been. While dissent in the streets is healthy for any democracy, savvy dissent can help move whole society forward. Even though in The Nation article I talk about the role of activists engaging the current progressive wave and “pulling it to the left”, I may have confused readers with my use of the word “left” – all I mean is that community-based organizers, who have their feet rooted on the ground and dirt under their fingernails, have a crucial role to play in grounding our new progressive majority in the needs of oppressed communities from Appalachia to New Orleans, in orienting a politics that is accountable to people and creates long-lasting change. Anyway, check out the article below.

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Chevron, this weekend!

13 03 2008

Join us (Bay Rising affinity group) and about a million other groups in saying…

Saturday, March 15th – 11.00am RALLY, 1pm DIRECT ACTION
For more info: www.actagainstwar.net; 510 984 2566

* End the War and Occupation in Iraq and the Policies of Empire Behind the War; TROOPS HOME NOW!.
* Stop Chevron’s Plans to Expand their Richmond Refinery to Refine Dirty Crude!
* ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE, CLIMATE JUSTICE & HUMAN RIGHTS NOW! From Richmond to Burma, from Ecaudor to the Philipines, from Alaska to Nigeria
* Create Just, Democratic REAL Green Energy, Transportation, Jobs and Economy!
Join us.

11am. Rally. Judge G. Carroll Park, W. Cutting Blvd & S. Garrard Blvd, Richmond. Community groups from Richmond and other impacted communities will be speaking. Speakers at the rally include Henry Clark of West County Toxics Coalition, Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, and Jessica Tovar from Communities for a Better Environment. Performers include DJ Jermiah and Afrobeat Nation, DJ Zeph and Azeem, spoken word artist Ariel Luckey, and the Raging Grannies.

1pm. Nonviolent Direct Action. Chevron Refinery, 100 Chevron Way, Richmond. Our goal is to stop all stolen Iraqi oil from exiting and entering the refinery by land, by boat, by bike. We’re also planning a street party with awesome DJs, bands and local artists.

This action is cosponored by West County Toxics Coalition, Richmond Greens, Richmond Progressive Alliance, Community Health Initiative, Direct Action to Stop the War, Amazon Watch, Rainforest Action Network, Bay Area united for Peace and Justice, ANSWER SF, Greenaction and many more

Here’s our press release:

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Off the Page and Into the Streets: A Graphic History of SDS

21 02 2008

My friend Dan recently wrote a review for Toward Freedom of Paul Buhle’s new Graphic novel Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic History.

Off the Page and Into the Streets: A Graphic History of SDS
Dan Berger

From Art Spiegelman’s Maus to Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, the graphic form has proved a powerful narrative tool. Combining memoir and social commentary in a visually appealing package, such illustrated stories blur the boundaries of art and history, reality and fantasy. It should be no surprise, then, that social movements—those rare hybrids of reality and fantasy—are finding themselves increasingly illustrated. Walter Benjamin’s
argument that radicalism politicizes art
seems more relevant now than ever.

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Northeast SDS convention reportback

19 12 2007

The recent Northeast SDS convention in Philly signaled a new stage of maturation and growth for SDS. It was a huge step forward for the organization and the most collectively organized SDS gatherings yet. It was super exciting to participate in.

Here is a reportback from Robin Markle (college student with Drew SDS) and Becca Rast (highschool student with Lancaster SDS), published on Znet.

Students For a Democratic Society Northeast Convention – Winter 2007

On December first and second, over 150 youth converged on the campuses of the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University for the new Students for a Democratic Society’s fourth Northeast Convention, hosted by Philly SDS. This convention was a landmark event for northeast SDS. Read the rest of this entry »

Highlights from the Day of Action Against Coal Finance

20 11 2007

From Scott Parkin

The Day of Action Against Coal Finance has been great, over 40 cities and towns did well over 100 actions against Citi and Bank of America (with a couple of actions against Duke and Peabody).

The movements to stop destructive coal extraction and coal-fired power plants is building momentum. These are a few highlights from the Thursday, Friday and Saturday’s activities.

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