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Liberty Plaza prevails over provocation

By: Eric Stoner Wednesday September 21, 2011 2:13 pm

by Nathan Schneider

Originally published at Waging Nonviolence

The sun rose this morning—behind clouds—on a tent city in occupied Liberty Plaza/Zuccotti Park in New York’s Financial District, where protesters entered their fourth day of encampment. A farmer’s market was setting up alongside the usual food trucks. Although police had already intervened in taking down a tent on the occupation’s first night, the prospect of early morning rain today made many decide around midnight to set up tarps over media and food supplies, as well as to erect several of the tents that had been donated by the rapper Lupe Fiasco to sleep in themselves. This made for some of the protesters’ most trying confrontations yet with those sworn to serve and protect them.
While few were yet awake, a motorcycle police officer could be heard saying on his cell phone, “That’s my plan. To have them down as soon as possible.” On the north side of the plaza, where the morning before there had been three TV news trucks, there was now an NYPD Communications Division Command Post truck. In it was at least one officer with “COUNTERTERRORISM” on the back of his uniform.

 

How We Made the Media Pay Attention

By: Eric Stoner Friday September 16, 2011 2:14 pm

by Mary Elizabeth King

Originally published at Waging Nonviolence.

Communications are extremely important for civil resistance. At the most fundamental level, when a group has decided that it must try to halt certain practices, start specific reforms, change the policies of an unresponsive system, clean up democracy, bring down a despot, or lift a military occupation, it is critically important to convey the grievance with clarity. Yet attentive news coverage can never be taken for granted or assumed. It must be won. Gaining the attention of the news industry is one of the central functions that must be planned by a nonviolent movement that hopes to succeed.

The Brazilian filmmaker Julia Bacha’s captivating TED Talk, “Pay Attention to Nonviolence,” has attracted wide interest. Her presentation is thoughtful and powerful, as is her film, Budrus, a documentary case study on how civil resistance can sometimes be effective despite daunting odds. The Palestinian village of Budrus stood to lose 40 percent of its land by the construction of an Israeli “separation barrier,” but through nonviolent action it was successful in persuading the government of Israel to move the Wall off their land and to the Green Line, the internationally recognized armistice line.

The Making of a ‘Prolific Criminal’

By: Eric Stoner Friday September 16, 2011 8:32 am

by Frida Berrigan

Originally published at Waging Nonviolence.

Bonnie Urfer exudes calm and strength. Her eyes twinkle and her voice stretches o’s like a Wisconsinite. On Wednesday, Judge Bruce Guyton called her a “prolific criminal.”

Prolific? Sure. Bonnie has been an activist since the 1980s. Working with a group called Nukewatch out in the forests of Wisconsin, Bonnie has tracked nuclear waste and materials shipments, cut down the Extremely Low Frequency poles that studded her sylvan landscape to communicate the first strike orders to nuclear submarines, and been arrested dozens of times. Criminal? Not when nuclear weapons are illegal (at least according to international law—which by treaty is our law too), immoral and just plain useless.

But Bonnie is prolific in her artistic gifts as well as in her resistance.

For #occupywallstreet, Dispersion Is Part of the Plan

By: Eric Stoner Thursday September 15, 2011 11:59 pm

by Nathan Schneider

Originally published at Waging Nonviolence.

The signature tactic of this revolutionary year, it would seem, is a mass protest in a large, symbolic public space. We saw it in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Bahrain’s Pearl Roundabout, and then in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol and Syntagma Square in Athens. Now, in the U.S., the October 6 movement is planning to take over Washington’s Freedom Plaza, while another coalition has been planning to do the same on Wall Street on September 17—tomorrow. (For a basic account of what’s going on with the latter, see my report from earlier this week.) If you want to get something done, apparently, the way to do it is to take the square. And this is exactly what the people at Adbusters had in mind when they made their initial call to occupy Wall Street, observing that “a worldwide shift in revolutionary tactics is underway right now that bodes well for the future”; they continued, “We want to see 20,000 people flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months.”

Who Will Occupy Wall Street on September 17?

By: Eric Stoner Tuesday September 13, 2011 8:21 pm

When the culture-jamming activist group Adbusters put out a call on July 13 for “20,000 people” to “flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months,” it never said who those people would be. Now, the question on the minds of everyone from the Department of Homeland Security to the Lower East Side anarchist set is just who and how many will actually show up.

The simplest cop-out of an answer is to say that nobody exactly knows. To an extent, it’s true. The large, established, membership groups—unions, lobbies, etc.—have kept quiet about it, so their rank-and-file can’t be counted on en masse. There’s no central planning committee, no permit with the city, and not even an official website, so there’s no obvious person to ask for a prediction or a figure. (Adbusters continues to say 20,000, though its role in organizing is, according to Senior Editor Micah White, solely “philosophical.”) Saturday, among other things, will be a test of the scattered American grassroots—their ability to mobilize against the outsized power of corporate elites, and their inclination to do so.

Some on the right-wing’s most lunatic of fringes have taken advantage of the information vacuum with headlines declaring “Wall Street Targeted for Britain-Style Riots” (along with thoroughly fictitious links to ACORN, SEIU, and even President Obama), a claim which has already turned into a fundraising scheme for Republican political candidates. Imaginative, but false.

Breaking the Silence on Race

By: Eric Stoner Monday September 12, 2011 6:52 am

by Mary Elizabeth King

Originally published at Waging Nonviolence.

Desmond King and Rogers Smith, writing in The New York Times of our current bipartisan silence on matters of racial equality, argue that the economic calamity of the United States is also a racial crisis. They say that it is not only justifiable, but also necessary, to evaluate policy choices partly on the basis of whether they are likely to reduce or increase racial inequalities.

King and Smith note the findings of the Pew Research Center that in 2009, the U.S. median household net worth was $5,677 for blacks, $6,325 for Hispanics and $113,149 for whites. In the same way, in July of this year the unemployment rate was 8.2 percent for whites, yet 16.8 percent for blacks. African Americans and those of Hispanic descent started far behind and they continue to trail. Democrats now rarely broach the subject of race, leaving “modern Republicans with little to criticize, lest they appear to be race-baiting, so they too keep quiet.” King and Smith contend that political leaders must openly recognize that neither ignoring race nor concentrating on it exclusively will bring progress.

This almost conspiratorial silence reminds me that there was a time when race was at the core of the U.S. national conversation. No citizen could ignore it. The nonviolent activism of the civil rights movement had roused the entire nation. The opponents of racial equality were not silent either—they dismissed civil rights workers as “outside agitators.” By their calculation, I was an outside agitator too, even though my father’s family had emigrated from England to colonial Virginia in the 1600s.

Did the Libyan uprising have to be violent?

By: Eric Stoner Thursday August 25, 2011 5:51 am

by Erica Chenoweth

Originally published at Waging Nonviolence.

Current map of ongoing fighting in Libya, via Wikipedia.

Could nonviolent resistance have succeeded in Libya? Here are four points worth considering.

1) The movement was fairly spontaneous, unlike the highly coordinated campaign in Egypt. As Peter Ackerman consistently points out, planning is an essential element to a successful nonviolent revolution. As with any battlefield, a nonviolent campaign requires extensive preparation. But reports seem to indicate that Libyans began protesting in earnest around Feburary 15th, likely inspired by events in neighboring Egypt and Tunisia. Qaddafi seemed prepared for this and immediately cracked down using overwhelming violence. By February 19th, the movement had become violent in response to these crackdowns. Four days of civil resistance doesn’t give it much time to work. Egyptian pro-democracy activists struggled for years before seeing Mubarak fall. Syrian oppositionists, thousands of whom have been killed by Bashar al-Assad’s regime, have toiled along for the past six months. So, we can’t really say whether or not nonviolence would have worked in Libya. It never had a chance to materialize in the first place.

2) The peaceful part of the Libyan campaign primarily consisted of protest activity. Such tactics are visible and disruptive, but also highly vulnerable to repression. In Unarmed Insurrections, Kurt Schock argues that when movements rely too much on rallies or protests, they become extremely predictable. Successful movements will combine protests and demonstrations with well-timed strikes, boycotts, go-slows, stay-aways, and other actions that force the regime to disperse its repression in unsustainable ways. During the Iranian Revolution, oil workers went on strike, threatening to cripple the Iranian economy. The Shah’s security forces went to the oil workers’ homes and dragged them back to the refineries, only for the workers to work at half pace before staging another walk-out. This type of repression is untenable because it requires a massive coordination of regime resources and effort. The bottom line is that nonviolent movements always have options when they face violent repression—options that do not involve selecting violence. The downside is that these methods take time to plan and coordinate. But choosing violence carries just as many downsides—including the fact that violent rebellion tends to succeed about 50% less often than nonviolent resistance.

Can Unions Wean the US off Military Spending?

By: Eric Stoner Tuesday August 23, 2011 11:21 am

by Nathan Schneider

Originally published at Waging Nonviolence.

In Andover, Mass., IBEW members at the defense contractor Raytheon yell at workers crossing the picket line during a strike over job security and benefits. Photo via In These Times.

The coming months appear to hold the best hope for cutting United States military spending that we’ve seen for a decade. Spending cuts are in the air generally, and, if the recent debt deal’s “super committee” doesn’t come to agreement about other things, $600 billion stands to be pulled from the Pentagon’s budget. Even Colin Powell said earlier this year that the time for such cuts has come, and that it can be done. We’re spending more than ever, and it doesn’t seem to have made us any safer.

The question, though, is exactly how to make such cuts happen, when defense contracts have become such a cornerstone of the country’s gasping-for-dear-life manufacturing sector, strategically placed among congressional districts to ensure political support locally and in Washington. If this stranglehold is to be broken, it will take more than mere deficit-reduction fever; it will take alternatives—proof, for these communities, that they can get by by making something else.

At The Nation, the Institute for Policy Studies’ Miriam Pemberton eulogizes Claudette Munson, a factory worker for Unisys Corp. who fought to mobilize union power to convert American industry away from building weapons. She and other workers organized and brainstormed to try to stop their factory from making parts for nuclear submarines.