It’s been years!

10 08 2017

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

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

xo,

Joshua

Radical Hope: Life During the Climate Apocalypse

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

joshua interview radical democracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest of this entry »





Time To Get Off The Fence

2 12 2015

Why Climate Justice connects us all to the Black Lives Matter activists shot by white supremacists in Minneapolis.

Last night, Andy Pearson of MN350 was with the Black Lives Matter protesters at the #4thPrecinctShutDown when shots were fired. The encampment was demanding accountability (eg: names of the officers, and the release of police videotape – the names have since been released, and the video tape remains a demand) after the killing of unarmed black man Jamar Clark at the hands of police.

Andy heard the shots and saw people running. 5 protestors were shot by white supremacists. The injured protesters were taken to the hospital and one underwent overnight surgery. Andy noted that people were not just running away from the shots – many were running towards them to help. The next day he challenged all of us, “If you’ve ever wondered what you’d do if you were alive during the civil rights era, now’s the time to find out.”

white supremacists mlps

Photo of two white supremacists, one carrying a pistol, who came to #4thPrecinctShutDown. Photo: @BlackLivesMLPS

It should be no secret that we are in a heightened level of racist backlash in this country — and around the world. In the last two weeks alone, we have witnessed the terrorist attacks in Paris, Beirut, and Mali, and the violent and xenophobic backlash in its wake, often emerging as fear and hate crimes against Syrian refugees.

We have footage of people at a recent Trump rally beating and choking a Black man — all while calling him the n-word and “monkey” for saying “Black Lives Matter.” The man was arrested while the attackers went free. Trump later bragged about the violence saying “he deserved to get roughed up” and after his supporters beat a homeless Latino man, he called them “enthusiastic.”

These are only a few of the many forms of insidious threats against communities of color, particularly Black people, that persist in our justice system, that create inequities in access to clean air and water, and that feed a cycle of division and prejudice.

Addressing climate change means replacing the old unequal systems with a new world; it requires us to fight racism and climate change hand-in-hand. Our movement gets weaker when we talk about climate change only through the lens of saving the environment. It gets stronger when we can talk fluidly about how climate change is impacting our people, is about racial and economic justice, is about reconnecting to our spiritual roots, is about the daily problems people face.  For us, fighting climate change is about fighting against a system that devalues the Earth, treats all natural resources as commodities, devalues individuals, and refuses to see each person as sacred.

That is why we join MN350 in their declaration:

“MN350 organizes for climate justice: We recognize and seek to address the deep connections between the injustices that perpetuate racism, inequality, and runaway climate change.  Today, the leaders, staff and activists who work with MN350 send their thoughts and prayers to the family of Jamar Clark and those who were the victims of white supremacist violence last night and too many times before. ‪#‎Justice4Jamar‬”

justice for jamar

Prayers for justice from Minneapolis. Photo: @BlackLivesMLPS

If you have been “on the fence” on this issue — depending on where you and your family are coming from in experiencing and confronting racism, whether by lack of action or feeling disconnected from it — now is the time to get off the fence.  This Thursday, as many of us gather to give thanks with our families, is a great opportunity for all of us to help our relatives understand why climate justice work is work for peace and racial justice.  Wherever you are, really talk about why racial justice matters — talk it out with others, even those who disagree with you.

Looking for resources to take a stand right now?  Today Chris Crass published a free e-book calledTowards the “Other America”: Anti-Racist Resources for White People Taking Action for Black Lives Matter. 350 staffer Daniel Hunter has also released free copies of the organizing guide: Building a Movement Against the New Jim Crow.

Also, consider making a donation to Black Lives Matter Minneapolis as a way of expressing gratitude this Thursday.

We’ll close with more encouragement for boldness from Andy: “I wasn’t alive in the 1960s and so don’t know what that time in our history felt like. When white terrorists can hang out at a police precinct, shoot a bunch of black people, and walk away into the night, we have a deep and systemic problem.  I know that what happened last night is wrong, profoundly wrong, and makes me think on how much work there still is to do. ”

With love and justice,

 – Everette R. H. Thompson, Daniel Hunter, Joshua Kahn Russell, and Yong Jung Cho





Resistance in real-time — Global Power Shift kicks off in Istanbul

28 06 2013

by Joshua Kahn Russell

This article was originally published by Earth Island Journal and Waging Nonviolence.

It’s an auspicious time for 500 young climate activists from around the world to be gathering in Istanbul. Just a few weeks ago, an effort to save the city’s Taksim Square and Gezi Park (one the last green spaces in the city center) from development sparked a full fledged people-powered movement across the country. When 350.org and our allies envisioned convening this broad movement convergence two years ago, we never could have imagined that we would be holding this event in the midst of a popular uprising. Still, it feels appropriate (if a bit surreal). After all, this Global Power Shift convergence is aimed at helping catalyze a new phase of an international climate movement that will be able to put on such a massive and sustained show of force that it disrupts the status quo and captures the public imagination. Just like the Taksim Square activists have done.

With our strategy meetings here in Istanbul having just begun, I have been deeply inspired and humbled by the people I am meeting and their commitment to addressing the climate crisis. There are young climate activists here from the plains of East Africa, from the farthest reaches of the Canadian Arctic, from the altiplano of Bolivia and from Russian Siberia. About 70 percent of the participants come from the Global South. Landry Ninteretse from Burundi took a 16-hour bus ride to the Turkish embassy in Uganda to get a tourist visa to come to Istanbul, and then had to wait for 8 days in Kampala to receive his paperwork. Sao Sotheary from Cambodia spent months fighting the Turkish government bureaucracy to get permission to come to Istanbul. Our team of Turkish coordinators have been organizing Global Power Shift amid tear gas and water cannons, in the midst of what 350.org’s Turkish coordinator, Mahir Ilgaz, calls “the most politically significant development in Turkey in a generation.”

GPS dance

It’s no exaggeration to say that this is an historic meeting: Global Power Shift marks the first international gathering organized by young climate activists, for young climate activists, that has taken place outside of the United Nations climate negotiations.

Last June, I was in Rio de Janiero, just before the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Earth Summit. We at 350.org had jumped on the opportunity to bring together our Latin American activist networks for strategizing and collaboration. Frankly, we didn’t expect much progress coming from the U.N. conference itself. We had become accustomed to the cycle of low-expectations and disempowerment that the U.N. climate talks have devolved into. Yet the annual U.N. conferences also have left us buoyed by the feelings of inspiration we felt watching young people come together to build a global movement, regardless of what was on the official agenda. We all agreed that in order for the U.N. to have any relevance in addressing climate change, grassroots progressive social movements around the world needed to be stronger, better organized, locally rooted, and more successful at changing the game of what governments considered “politically realistic” and in their “interests.”

As organizers from Bolivia to Argentina shared stories in Rio, we brainstormed an idea that had been percolating within 350.org for a while: creating a truly international youth convergence outside the U.N. process that could serve as a space for aligning strategies, sharing ideas, and building concrete skills to wage and win campaigns to halt greenhouse gas emissions. Young people aren’t waiting for governments to catch up — they’re taking the lead and organizing their own communities. And now here we are, in Istanbul.

We kicked off our opening night with cultural performances from peoples all over the world — it was breathtaking to feel the thunder of youth shake the plenary hall. Mikaele Maiava shared a story about his community in Tokelau fighting to maintain traditional ways of living in the face of rising sea levels that threaten land-based peoples around the world. The Global Power Shift Pacific team offered us a traditional Haka warrior dance, and connected stories from islands around the world. Check out a video they shared here:

The 500 young activists in Turkey this week are working together to navigate a common challenge we all confront in the course of our climate justice organizing, no matter where we come from: How to balance breadth and depth as we work in our communities. That is, how do we organize with the millions of people needed to address the scale of the climate crisis, and do so in a way that is rooted, transformational, and engages us in our own hope and humanity? How can we navigate the psychological burden of this generational challenge? And how can we successfully confront an adversary as powerful as the fossil fuel industry?

To help navigate those questions, we recruited a remarkable international facilitation team that designed a unique curriculum that meets the varied needs of young people from more than 135 countries. We have a geographically diverse “Listening Team,” with skill sets around cross-cultural dialogue and mediation in order to be responsive to participant needs. Workshops will include week-long sessions on “hard skills” like grassroots campaigning, policy advocacy, nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience coordination, creative arts, digital innovation, and media outreach. During the course of the week we hope to foster an understanding that movements in different places have different needs and circumstances, but can also work together in shared frameworks to build a movement that is greater than the sum of its parts. Together we can build synergy to face a common foe — the fossil fuel industry — and create a shared vision of local clean energy solutions that takes power away from corporations and puts it in the hands of people.

GPS PHOTO 2

It isn’t easy. We are inheriting all sorts of old divisions of power built by the generations before us: economics, race, colonial legacies, gender and many more. One manifestation of this is language — English is the “language of empire” that these sorts of international convenings are conducted in. Without the resources to simultaneously translate to dozens of languages, our entire convergence is proactively grappling with creative facilitation techniques to make the conversation accessible to those who speak English as a learned language. Every day, participants self-organize and make plans in regional groups, some of which are facilitated in different languages. The effort to democratize communication is itself a mirror of our work here — it’s messy and imperfect, but it’s an honest attempt at overcoming the barriers that separate us and gives us the skills we need to genuinely collaborate and empathize with one another. Trainings like this don’t just teach us how to be skilled in activism — they also teach us to be better people. I was struck by a comment a participant made after our opening night – “we all belong here because we are all different. Yes, we all belong here.” This is a new stage of our movements’ growth.

The gathering in Istanbul is just Phase One of a multi-year plan to challenge the power of the fossil fuel industry and demand climate sanity. While 500 young people are here in Turkey, more than 5,000 others have committed to participating in Phase Two. The second stage has three central goals: directly targeting the fossil fuel industry and its dangerous business model; connecting the dots between extreme weather events and global climate change while also creating community resilience to weather disasters; and building local, community-controlled renewable energy systems.

We will kick off this second stage with at least 70 national and regional convergences and summits taking place over the next 18 months. The world will witness a new wave of events and mobilizations that embody the renewed spirit of our evolving movements. The mobilizations will look different in different places, reflecting local needs and leadership, but will share the culture collectively built here at Global Power Shift.

A community of more than 45 organizational partners will spearhead the upcoming mobilizations. Partners include The Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice (a network of more than 250 frontline community groups, mostly from the Global South), Jubilee SouthGreenpeace and Friends of the Earth International. These groups and others are offering support and coaching for youth back in their home countries. Additionally, we will be working with Global Greengrants to administer small grants for each summit, with an emphasis on supporting youth to do their own fundraising to help them develop autonomous financial capacity so our movements can resource themselves and reshape the landscape of nonprofit funding models.

We see Global Power Shift and its follow-up as a proactive response to the situation the global climate movement found itself in after 2009. Four years ago, there was tremendous focus on passing comprehensive climate legislation in the United States and also on creating a new binding global treaty to slash greenhouse gas emissions. As we all know, those efforts ended in disappointment. Those goals were important — and continue to be — but a main lesson for the movement was that it lacked the national political power to hold politicians accountable. The movement learned from groups organizing in directly-affected areas that we do have power — the power of our own communities. During the last several years, local community-based organizing has kept more carbon in the ground than any other effort. With Global Power Shift, the current generation of activists is leapfrogging that stage into a place of more sustainable and skilled leadership. Maybe — just maybe — these and other efforts will also shape a new political paradigm going into the next wave of international climate negotiations in Paris in 2015.

GPS Photo 1

Meanwhile, the situation here in Istanbul offers one hopeful example of how citizen protests can disrupt the status quo in just a short amount of time. Many of Global Power Shift’s Turkish organizers are closely involved in the protests here, and they say the street mobilizations have renewed the spirit of Turkish civil society.

Last week, for example, the governor of Istanbul called on the parents of young people occupying Gezi Park to get their kids and bring them home. Instead, mothers came out en masse, encircling the park to protect their children from police. Mothers brought mixtures to heal tear gas-burned eyes and other supplies.

It’s a wonderful real-time lesson in popular mobilization, and it’s just what we need in the global climate justice movement: Widespread, cross-generational solidarity that can stand up to the structures of power and put in place the new systems we need to survive and thrive on this planet. One of our panels today was entitled “a movement of movements”: with stories from Idle No More’s indigenous resistance in Canada, the Indignados in Spain, the Arab Spring in Egypt, uprisings in Brazil, Occupy Wall Street, and of course, the Turkish uprisings. We’re making connections.

The problems that caused climate change separated us. We believe that coming together to solve a global problem can set the world right. Climate change isn’t just the biggest problem humanity has ever faced, it’s also our biggest opportunity to rethink the way we live, rethink our economic system, and rethink the way we treat each other and the planet. In fact, we will have to have these new systems in place in order to survive on this planet.





Today would have been Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 84th birthday

15 01 2013

Today would have been Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s 84th birthday. Check out this billboard of him participating in a direct action training at the Highlander Center. The training was infiltrated by the Right Wing Georgia Commission on Education to smear him as a Communist. The more things change, the more they stay the same. By the end of his life he was in fact strong critic of war and talked about our economic system as a root of the problem, though that is not what he is remembered for.

 

MLK communist





Rest in peace and power Becky. I love you.

1 01 2013

becky RIP

becky memorial





We Are Unstoppable, Another World is Possible!

21 11 2012

Its been a long time since I’ve updated here – excited to reflect on the last several months, because they’ve been really hopeful and inspiring to me. So grateful to work wish such remarkable people. For now, I wanted to share a keynote talk I gave at Power Shift Canada – its one of my first times telling more personal stories with strategy and organizing lessons in them.

Part 1

Part 2





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.

Read the rest of this entry »





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.





We published a little book!

17 11 2011

It’s finally out! Actually it’s been out for a month, but we’ve been so busy WINNING battles against Fracking hearings and Tar Sands pipelines I haven’t posted. Hilary Moore and I spent the last year working on a booklet for activists who don’t come from “frontline communities” but want to be part of a powerful climate justice movement. We consulted with over 60 frontline community organizers in its creation, and landed on a booklet that is 1/3 refletions & stories, 1/3 organizing tools, and 1/3 analysis. Check it out:

ORGANIZING COOLS THE PLANET: Tools and Reflections To Navigate the Climate Crisis
By Hilary Moore and Joshua Kahn Russell
PM Press 2011

Organizing Cools The Planet offers a challenge to all concerned about the ecological crisis: find your frontline. This booklet weaves together stories, analysis, organizing tools, and provocative questions, to offer a snapshot of the North American Climate Justice movement and provide pathways for readers to participate in it. Authors share hard lessons learned, reflect on strategy, and grapple with the challenges of their roles as organizers who do not come from “frontline communities” but work to build a movement big enough for everyone and led by the priorities and solutions of low-income people, communities of color, Indigenous, youth, and other constituencies most directly impacted by the crisis. Rooted in the authors’ experiences organizing in local, national, and international arenas, they challenge readers to look at the scale of ecological collapse with open eyes, without falling prey to disempowering doomsday narratives. This booklet is for anyone who wants to build a movement with the resiliency to navigate one of the most rapid transitions in human history.

Order copies from PM Press here

Free PDF download here

Praise:

“Joshua and Hilary’s manual will be useful to all who want to make change creatively and peacefully in our brutal times.”
—Dr. Vandana Shiva

“There is no task more urgent than to organize a mass popular movement to deal effectively with the looming environmental crisis. The barriers are high, the forces opposed powerful. All the more reason to dedicate ourselves to the kinds of efforts outlined Joshua Kahn Russell and Hilary Moore’s booklet.”
—Noam Chomsky

“In an atmosphere heavy with doomsday predictions and fear, this booklet is a breath of fresh air. Joshua Kahn Russell and Hilary Moore weave together stories and organizing tools to create a vision for practical transition amid the climate crisis. Organizing Cools the Planet confronts pressing questions of our time.”
—Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Founding Director, Indigenous World Association

“This booklet comes from people who do what they’re talking about, and do it well. If we’ve got a hope, it lies in organizing–in reaching ever broader circles of our civilization and getting people to take action in their common interest. If you want to be a part of that, this guide is a good place to start.”
— Bill McKibben

“As the climate crisis becomes increasingly unignorable, our movements must learn to navigate a rapidly changing and high-stakes political landscape. Our times demand we think bigger, push harder, and reimagine the possibilities for twenty-first-century movement building. This potent booklet is a great place to begin the conversation. Authored by two visionary young leaders who share their personal struggles and hard-earned lessons from organizing at the intersection of justice, ecology, and change, Organizing Cools the Planet is required reading for anyone who gives a damn about the future. Tune in for some indispensable analysis, provocative thinking and a healthy dose of people-powered optimism.”
—Patrick Reinsborough, cofounder, smartMeme Strategy & Training Project

“This is a rigorous and useful tool for teaching and learning the architecture of organizing, a valuable nourishment for climate justice activists and change agents.”
—Dorothy Guerrero, Focus on the Global South

“It is an erudite manual, spirited and consistently engaging.”
—Andrej Grubačić, author, Don’t Mourn, Balkanize! and Wobblies and Zapatistas

“Still young and developing, the climate justice movement has already shaken up politics with its holistic perspective and fresh energy. Organizing Cools the Planet offers a set of tools to help this dynamic new movement sharpen its strategies, promote frontline leadership, and realize its tremendous potential.”
—Max Elbaum, cofounder, WarTimes/Tiempo de Guerras; author





@occupyWINNING

31 10 2011

So much going on, that in typical fashion, I’m not posting. But I am thoroughly inspired by our country getting into motion right now, and the synergy between different movements, campaigns, and long-term fights. Spending time right now trying to serve the #Occupy effort around the country, continuing to push full-force on this Keystone XL Tar Sands pipeline fight, fracking organizing, and how to make our new booklet, Organizing Cools the Planet, useful to folks on the ground.

But until I write more I want to share an excellent resource from Beyond the Choir for the occupy movement. Its called @occupyWinning, which you can follow on twitter, or check out at www.occupywinning.com

Here are some recent posts, tools, and analysis:

#OWS: Not “No Leaders”, but “We are All Leaders!”

The Political Identity Paradox

#OWS: Welcome New Visitors and Plug In Participants

#Occupy Tactic Star





#OccupyMovementStrategy

10 10 2011

“Change happens slowly. Except when it happens fast!” – Tom Hayden

One of my favorite things about #OccupyWallStreet is that its turning everyone into a movement strategist. Everyone has advice or criticism. The fact that its a large-container has made everyone wanna talk about organizing, strategy, analysis, message, demands, direction, etc. Getting thousands to think critically about movement building is a gift.

Here are some great strategy pieces on the #occupytogether phenomenon by organizers contributing to building it:

Boston shows us how to #Occupy with purpose and political vision.

Three Reasons Why I Love Occupy Wall Street.

Occupy Wall Street: Perfectly Coherent.

In Front and Center: Critical Voices in the 99%.

Base Building organizations in the Bay Area came together this week to shut down Wells Fargo world HQ. http://www.foreclosewallst.org/





Nonviolent Direct Action to Defuse the Carbon Bomb

7 09 2011

note – I wrote this for the Ruckus Society blog to clarify our involvement in the Tar Sands Action for our own network. Enjoy! – JKR

This weekend marked the end of the Tar Sands Action in Washington DC, and the beginning of a renewed surge of civil disobedience and action against fossil fuel extraction in the United States. A coalition from across the continent came together to sustain 14 days of sit-ins in front of the White House to pressure President Obama to veto a proposal for the Keystone XL pipeline. The Keystone XL threatens to split the U.S. from Canada down to Texas, all to ship the dirtiest crude oil from the Alberta Tar Sands down to the Gulf Coast for export to international markets. It spells trillions of dollars for big oil, death for Indigenous communities in Canada, displacement and poisoned air, land, and water for those living along the pipeline route, and disaster for the climate. In fact, Dr. James Hansen said if the pipeline goes through, it is essentially “game over” for the planet.

Outcomes

In the last two weeks 1,252 people were arrested sitting-in at the White House, and thousands more came out to support, rally, and build connections across movements. The vast majority of participants had never taken action before. Delegations of frontline communities came on different days to speak their truth directly to the White House, including a large delegation of Native American and Canadian leaders with Indigenous Environmental Network & Indigenous Peoples Power Project (IP3), communities from Appalachia, the Gulf Coast, and along the proposed pipeline route from Idaho, Nebraska, Montana, and Texas. Climate scientists, teachers, mothers, farmers, senators, and celebrities participated. The action persisted through both an earthquake and a hurricane, highlighting the message that the earth is in crisis and extreme weather patterns will only increase if this goes through. There were over 4,500 media hits, including every major media outlet in the United States and Canada (Wall Street Journal, AP, Reuters, CNN, NBC, Fox, CBC, NPR, Huffington Post, etc) and on the day of Hurricane Irene, we made the front page of the New York Times.

Through the process, nightly action briefings/trainings introduced thousands to Nonviolent Direct Action as a tool for change and as an orientation to movement strategy. The experience of these participants is one of the ways we measure success in the action.

The Tar Sands Action was thoroughly an intergenerational effort – on the first day the youngest person to be arrested was 17 and the oldest was 82. On the third day, an 84 year old woman greeted me as she was getting out of jail and said:

“When I saw all you young people leading trainings, I thought ‘yes! The youth will save us.’ But as I sat in with so many people in their 70s and beyond, I thought ‘no, we all have to do it together!”

Other participants shared insights like “It seems like this action was the training wheels I needed – and now I’m ready to ride the bike!”

The action was not just designed to pressure Obama and make a strong stand against the pipeline, but to offer a pathway into sustained organizing and action for people across the country.

Ruckus’ Involvement

The Ruckus Society’s network offered much of the training, facilitation, action coordination, and jail support. Our teams included Ruckus and Indigenous Peoples Power Project members: Rob C, Madeline G, Heather ML, Joshua KR, Hannah S, Jack D, Omi H, Gitz C, Adam T, Levana S; the art was coordinated by Cesàr M; and one of the action’s core coordinators was Matt L.

Mohawk activist and Ruckus member Ben P, took a photo of NASA’s Dr. James Hansen getting arrested, which Rolling Stone magazine called “Iconic” and the most important photo since the 1970’s “Blue Marble” photo, depicting Earth as a lonely sphere adrift in space.

Check out a video of Hansen’s statement at the White House.

It was an honor for Ruckus to support so many different groups and people from across the country, helping offer a pathway into movements for change.

Supporting Indigenous Leadership

One of the most powerful aspects of the action for a lot of the trainers was including testimonials and presentations from impacted peoples in each training. In addition to training, our organizational role was to help support Indigenous People’s Power Project (IP3) and Indigenous Environmental Network’s delegation to have a series of actions, including a statement at the Canadian Embassy, meetings with officials, public presentations, and of course, participating in the civil disobedience.

Strategic Questions

The scale and scope of this action raises many movement strategy questions for us that we’re excited to explore. While the “arrest count” was highly visible, we do not measure success in arrests, but in more qualitative measures such as:

1)   Of the thousands who participated in this action, did we prepare them enough and offer them clear next steps to take their organizing and action to the next level beyond this action? Was it truly a doorway into sustained action, or just a flash-in-the-pan?

2)   How much did the attention this action gave to frontline voices create capacity for their ongoing work?

3)   What new alliances were born out of this work between the environmental and other movement sectors? For example, Ben Jealous, the head of the NAACP came and spoke at one of the trainings – what are the next steps for us to build deeper relationships?

4)   How does the media success of this action open up space to popularize Nonviolent Direct Action not just as a pressure-tactic, but as a strategic approach to campaigning?

5)   How do we measure political success when the final week of the action saw a number of disappointing moves by the Obama administration, including his caving-in on Ozone standards. How do we understand this pipeline, whether its approved or not, as a piece of a larger puzzle of shifting the balance of forces in our society?

What’s next

In the wake of the action, communities around the country have a renewed sense of energy for their own local fights, and Ruckus is excited to support them though that. In Montana, a group of grandmothers, including Margot Kidder (who played Lois Lane in the Superman films), and Tantoo Cardinal (a Cree actress who grew up in Alberta and starred in Dances With Wolves, and many other Hollywood films) will be working with Ruckus trainers to engage in direct action to stop the pipeline from coming through their homes. This action has made a national issue of the Tar Sands, which previously few people in the United States knew much about. It has offered an opportunity for continued pressure on Obama around pipeline approval, which Ruckus will stay involved with. It is also an injection of new support for the longstanding and ongoing Tar Sands fights, including the Heavy Haul, which Rising Tide activists in the US have recently been laying their bodies in front of trucks to stop, Indigenous Tar Sands campaigning in Canada, and finance campaigns in Europe.





Lessons from Tea Party Tweets

13 06 2011

What I learned from spending 5 minutes looking at a Tea Party twitter feed.

cross-posted from Beyond the Choir

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the activist filter bubble, the reverberating echo-chamber of insular social media and political networks that keeps progressives marginal and talking to ourselves. Recently, I’ve had several different Tea Party twitter accounts follow me (at least four this week alone) and began talking to friends about whether or not this means they are 1) building lists of progressive activists for potential future smear-campaigns; 2) following their opposition so they can Retweet things out of context to scare/outrage their base; or 3) genuinely interested in hearing perspectives outside their own echo-chamber. Whatever their purposes, it reminded me that we can learn a lot from the way our opposition presents itself through social media forums (of course there is a lot of deception and other missteps that we don't  want to emulate, but there are some transferrable best practices mixed  in too – here’s some of both).

A few minutes ago I got an email notice that @TheTeaParty_net is following me.

1) Their twitter profile (which I see in the notification email) succinctly states the values they profess to hold: “Limited federal government • Individual freedoms • Personal responsibility • Free markets • Returning political power to the states and the people”

I already know what they stand for and I haven’t even looked at their twitter feed yet. In fact, their statement of values is likely the thing that will make me choose to look or not look.

And here’s what I notice from literally 5 minutes of browsing their twitter feed:

2) Constant creation of an “us vs. them” narrative, inviting people to identify as part of their group (“us”) and asking people to take a small action (retweeting) to signal their insiderness. A kinestetic action simple as pressing a button helps solidify the choice that was made by the tweeter. It asks them to take a stand, pick a side, and then reinforces that choice with a physical action that their peers can see. They ask their tweeps to do this on a regular basis.

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Activists Caught in the Filter Bubble

2 06 2011

How personalization helps activists find each other while losing society
By Jonathan Smucker. Cross Posted from Beyond the Choir.

Eli Pariser’s new book The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You is a must-read for pretty much anyone who uses the Internet. Eli breaks down troubling trends emerging in the World Wide Web that threaten not only individual privacy but also the very idea of civic space.

Of key concern to Eli is “web personalization”: code that maps the algorithms of your individual web use and helps you more easily find the things that the code “thinks” will pique your interest. There’s a daunting amount of information out there, and sometimes it can feel overwhelming to even begin sorting through it. Personalization can help. For instance, I can find music that fits my tastes by using Pandora, or movies I like through Netflix. The services provided by companies like Pandora, Netflix, Amazon, et al are designed to study us—to get to know us rather intimately—to the point where Netflix can now predict the average customer’s rating of a given movie within half a star. Eli paints a picture of your computer monitor as “a kind of one-way mirror, reflecting your own interests while algorithmic observers watch what you click.”

Whatever the benefits, the intent of these services isn’t just to benevolently help us find the things we’re looking for. They’re also designed to help companies find unwitting customers. When you open your web browser to shop for a product—or really for any other reason—you yourself are a product whose personal information is literally being sold. Companies that you know, like Google and Facebook, and companies you’ve probably never heard of (e.g. Acxiom) are using increasingly sophisticated programs to map your personality.

And it’s not just creepiness and individual privacy that’s at issue here. Personalization is also adding to a civic crisis. It’s one thing for code to help us find music, movies and other consumer products we like. But what about when code also feeds us our preferred news and political opinions, shielding us from alternative viewpoints? Personalization now means that you and your Republican uncle will see dramatically different results when you run the same exact Google news search. You’re both likely to see results that come from news sources that you prefer — sources that tend to reinforce your existing opinions. Maybe your search will pull articles from NPR and Huffington Post, while his will spotlight stories from FOX News. Both of you will have your biases and worldviews fed back to you — typically without even being aware that your news feed has been personalized.

Web personalization is invisibly creating individual-tailored information universes. Each of us is increasingly surrounded by information that affirms—rather than challenges—our existing opinions, biases, worldviews, and identities.

This filter bubble impacts everyone. And it poses big challenges for grassroots activists and organizers in particular.

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Look mom! I’m in a new book!

19 05 2011

Cross posted from Beyond the Choir.
Look mom! I’m in a book! It just came out. Its called The Next Eco-Warriors and is an anthology of young activists working on environmental issues. While I have contributed chapters to “activist anthologies” before, this project excited me because it is designed for a popular audience. My mom could find it in a random bookstore. It’s being released in multiple countries. And most of the people reading it are likely not active themselves…yet.

Most chapters are personal stories of overcoming difficult odds in service of protecting Mother Earth. The challenge, as I saw it, was to write a personal story that could be accessible and digestible to the (likely older, white, middle class) audience, many of whom have an existing political frame of a “conservation movement.” The task was to then shift that story by underscoring concepts of economic and racial justice, privilege, solidarity, movement building, and collective organizing. I chose to write about my experience helping organize the Capitol Climate Action (CCA). While I have written reflections on this complicated action for other organizers before (here and then here), most of these accounts were analytical; they didn’t actually tell the story at all, they just explained outcomes. Even those accounts felt a little too celebratory – they didn’t fully get into the behind the scenes coalition drama, the challenges around community accountability, or ways the action itself could have better embodied climate justice. I was hesitant to write another “victory” account that didn’t interrogate these real concerns, even though its mostly “insider” debate amongst organizers. I was even more hesitant about writing a first-person narrative about a group effort – a common challenge for organizers writing about collective process to an audience who has a default framework of honoring individual efforts.

And yet, because the Capitol Climate Action was designed to mobilize thousands of “passive allies” – people who agree with us but aren’t yet organizing alongside us – the story of CCA itself seemed a useful narrative to communicate those ideas. No one had simply told the story – and used it as an opportunity to highlight and explain key justice-based concepts to the very audience that was the key demographic CCA tried to mobilize. Despite all the way I might organize the action differently next time, it was a beautiful story that was well positioned to teach some of these lessons.

So here was my attempt at it, direct from the book (also check out chapters by my friends Ben Powless and Enei Begaye):

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I’m on tour with the beehive collective!

29 03 2011

Animals strategizing at the Highlander Folk School

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

It has been absolutely exhausting, but deeply politically fulfilling.

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

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

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

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SF to Cancun: Social Movements Bring Hope as COP16 Falters

7 12 2010

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


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

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

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

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





VIDEO: our opposition

30 11 2010

I’ve spent most of my life learning to organize with the following premise: social movements are won not by beating and overpowering your opposition, but by shifting the support out from under them. This involves providing action-opportunities to help “passive” allies become “active” ones, and media-strategies to help transform “fence-sitters” into passive allies.

Depending on the campaign, we often must confront our opposition, but this usually means targeting power-holders; for example, when fighting to end Mountaintop Removal, we need to deal with Massey Energy and other coal companies directly. That’s not exactly the same thing as being over-consumed by focusing on our ideological-opposition – the loudmouths who happen to have a different world-view than we do.

But with the rise of the “populist” Right wing backlash that has gotten so much attention in the last year, I have been more and more drawn to studying some of our most vocal (and often ideologically fanatic) opponents. They’re effective at fear-mongering for sure, but their rhetoric is powerful – even when wildly inaccurate – because they have a well-organized base that is rooted in institutional relationships. Talking points aren’t just repeated on Fox News and the message-disciplined Right Wing noise machine, but also every week in churches across our country and other institutions that offer meaning to people’s lives in a holistic way.

It is in that context that I want to share this video, which is being viewed across our country by churches who are reinforcing its anti-poor, anti-environmental, anti-earth message. Its a short clip of a 12 part DVD series.

Their website says: “One of the greatest threats to society and the church today is the multifaceted environmentalist movement,” says Cornwall Alliance founder and national spokesman Dr. E. Calvin Beisner. “There isn’t an aspect of life that it doesn’t seek to force into its own mold.” Whew!

As Dangerous Minds noted, this is so ridiculous that it may be the “Reefer Madness” of our generation…but I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss it. As long as the Environmental movement fails to speak to the concerns of faith-based people, poor and working people, and the needs of communities hurting, dominant narratives like this will continue to compel people.

There has been much hand-wringing about the dramatic poll drop in the U.S. public’s belief in climate change, and how “environmentalists” are losing the battle of the story on climate science. A lot of this shift, I think, is not exactly that we’re losing this specific battle of public opinion. It’s that climate denial is just a small part of a broader “populist-Right” platform that has swept the country; people who used to default on the side of real climate science, are now defaulting on the side of the denial-fantasy because its built into a larger world view that makes meaning in their lives. In that context, it makes sense that now we are seeing a much stronger issue-based conspiracy-theory oriented push from our opposition on climate, because their ideas fit in with a broader orientation of the Tea Party platform.

Its clear by now that policy progress won’t happen on a national level until climate is just one element of a broader progressive platform that gains momentum (led primarily by other concerns, like the economy and health care). So where are the national spokespeople articulating such a platform in a compelling way? Until climate advocates are unafraid to speak boldly and directly to other progressive issues, we will be stuck in issue-based silos that the progressive movement desperately wants to move beyond, but is still struggling to figure out how to do it. That “how” has to go beyond media-saavy messaging and must be rooted in organizing the institutions that people belong to that give our lives meaning – church groups, unions, schools, base-building political organizations, etc.

This video is one example of how people aren’t compelled by facts, but by meaning. On the Left we still seem to think that because what we’re saying is true, that it will automatically be meaningful. The Christian Right proves that the opposite tends to be the case: if something is meaningful to people, they believe it to be true. The old axiom of the “truth will set you free” is only one part of the story. Meaningful stories set us free, if they happen to also be true. That’s our task.





Open Letter to Board and Staff of 1 Sky

23 10 2010

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

To the Board and Staff of 1 Sky,

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

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

Organizing a Powerful Climate Justice Movement

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

Community-Led Climate Justice has been Winning

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

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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.





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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