Why Supporting Activists Matters (and What You Can Do) – Thoughts on the Toronto G20

July 14, 2010 at 1:10 pm (Actions, Events) (, , , , , , , , , , )

At the end of June, people from all over Canada and the U.S. gathered to protest outside of the G20 meeting of world leaders in Toronto, Ontario. In a heavy handed, and mostly unprecedented (especially in Canada) way, the police arrested over 1,000 people in the streets, and targeted a small group of organizers by preemptively arresting them, “snatching” them off the street, or charging them with serious crimes such as conspiracy. Some of those activists are still in jail, weeks later.

Why the arrests matter, and what you can do

Most of the thousand people arrested have been released, however, about a dozen remain in jail, charged with conspiracy and other crimes. Some of those people are my friends. I’ve been spending time this last week raising money for their legal defense because what happens in these cases matters. Whether or not you agree with what or how they were protesting, these types of cases are an attempt by law enforcement to take long-term and effective community organizers and activists out of circulation by tying up their time as well as personal and community resources, for months and years. Most of those arrested were not caught in the act of doing something criminal (like setting a fire) but for organizing. See this post by Harsha Walia for more on that.

The outcome of these cases matters. One of the simplest things you can do is to donate to the G20 Legal Defense Fund. These activists don’t have the support of big NGOs and sharing the financial burden of providing them with a strong legal defense is part of sharing in an outcome that will impact us all.  I made a donation and then sent a personal appeal to everyone I know who I thought might give even $5, urging them to donate. I hope that you will do the same.

Please make a donation and follow the updates at the G8/G20 Toronto Community Mobilization page as well as the Toronto Media Coop.

Have we seen this before? In the last decade of protest in the US there has been some use of these types of charges against activists, but it appears that it is happening more, and going to trial more often. For example, as far as I know there weren’t any conspiracy charges for Seattle in 1999 or A16 (2000?) – but there were elevated charges for the RNC in Philadelphia in 2000. Another recent case is the RNC8 – activists charged with conspiracy for organizing around the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis/St. Paul.  Their trial is starting at the end of October, and supporters are traveling the US in July and August on a “Conspiracy Tour” to educate people. Info and their schedule is here.

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Five Minutes in Detroit

July 6, 2010 at 10:56 am (Events, Places) (, , , , , , , )

The USSF opening march in Detroit as it arrived at Cobo Hall

At the end of June, I traveled, with thousands of others, to Detroit, Michigan for the second U.S. Social Forum. When I talk to people who weren’t involved about what the goal of the forum was, I say that in the US, so many community organizers and social justice activists are focused on specific issues (immigration, the environment, labor, etc) that the USSF is like an opportunity for everyone to look at the bigger picture, to see where those issues intersect and interact and to focus on opportunities. While the organizers haven’t posted any summary yet (or at least I couldn’t find one on the site), I’ve heard estimates that there were between 18 and 25,000 people registered throughout the week. That’s a lot of opportunities for cross-pollination.

Back in January, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to or could afford to attend the Forum. I wrote in my journal that two things which I thought could possibly come out of the Forum would be (1) a critique of capitalism – in the current economic crisis, this is a moment when more and more people are questioning the status quo – how can we take advantage of that? and (2) a critique of Obama.

Now, after attending the forum, I think that US movements are a long way off from developing those kind of unified messages, but that providing the space for US movements to co-mingle is a necessary step in the direction of building a more unified voice. I’ve had a couple of conversations over the last few days about how the left generally and anarchists specifically have failed to focus on where we agree with each other, choosing instead to focus on where we disagree. Maybe the US Social Forum is one step in the long road to correcting that? And this is not a new criticism. I clearly remember this same criticism, for example, from the beginning of George Lakoff’s “Don’t Think of An Elephant.”

At the very least, an event like the USSF is movement-strengthening because for those who attend, it’s a visual reminder that we are not alone, that there is strength in numbers. When you think about all the hundreds of thousands of people who are doing similar work but couldn’t or didn’t want to attend the USSF, that number is even larger. I’d like to see and hear people talking about what is next after Detroit – is there momentum now? How can it be harnessed and or built on? Because the cynical part of me says that if there are all of these amazing people doing amazing things, why aren’t more amazing and liberating things happening in the US right now aside from on a super small scale?

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Facebook, Privacy, and Organizing

May 18, 2010 at 1:36 pm (Actions, Things) (, , , , , )

Dude. *Everyone* is freaking about about Facebook. Seriously. I mean, the NY Times is publishing multiple stories and info-graphics about it. People are attempting to delete their profiles. It’s crazy!

And while all this talk has caused me to question my participation in the social networking giant, there are two things I want to talk about – the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and how Facebook has impacted activism.


The recent privacy changes at Facebook have inspired an unusually high volume of really great reporting on the subject:

Long before that, the Electronic Frontier Foundation was raising the red flags high (like these posts from December and April. I mean, no one else was talking about this in December).

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On Anniversaries, Part Two: Seattle

December 4, 2009 at 11:32 am (Actions) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

The first Clamor cover, featuring the 1999 WTO Protests

Last year on the anniversary of the 1999 Seattle anti-WTO protests, I wrote “Self-reflection is an important part of developing movements for social change, and I hope that as the 10th anniversary approaches, more long term activists will publish/post their reflections on this critical time.” I am happy that many of them have, and quite a few are linking the Seattle anniversary to the upcoming protests at the UNFCC climate talks in Copenhagen, saying that this is a “Seattle-type moment.” Naomi Klein recently published a widely distributed article on this topic called, “Copenhagen: Seattle Grows Up.

Lessons from Seattle

One of these people is my old friend David Solnit, who I have mentioned a lot before and interviewed for the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest earlier this year. Along with his sister Rebecca Solnit, Stephanie Guillioud, Chris Dixon, and Anuradha Mittal, he has produced a book called “The Battle of the Story of the Battle of Seattle,” which looks at the struggle to claim and control the narrative of what happened there over the last 10 years. I’ve been working with them a bit to help publicize the book, because I think it is important. As David says, what people think happened in Seattle shapes what they believe about protest, direct action, social change movement, corporate globalization and capitalism.  David, and many others, believe that the fight against the WTO in 1999 has never stopped, and is linked to continued struggles against corporate power.

The booklet is great. In the section on lessons for organizers, they discuss what made Seattle so successful, including: clear what and why logic; broad publicity/outreach; mass training and mass organization; decentralization; action agreements; open organizing; and media & framing. While the booklet has a lot of historical reflection, it is so focused on helping social movements go forward, confronting myths within the activist community about how Seattle was organized and what made it successsful.

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On Money and Power

August 12, 2008 at 2:20 pm (Announcements) (, , , , )

OK, so we’re gonna have few posts in reverse order here.

Last week I spoke at the Black Rose bookstore in Portland, Oregon. First of all, thanks to Kevin for setting it up and the crew at the bookstore for hosting, and for running a great space.

Ostensibly, the talk was about two projects I’ve worked on recently: the Clamor pamphlet, and the article I wrote on independent media for In The Middle of A Whirlwind. I chose to focus on two issues common to these pieces: money and power.

In both, I talk about how I feel that within activist culture, we focus on the evils of money and power, and often resist understanding them and using them to our advantage. I know that because our knowledge of financial matters was so limited, we made many mistakes at Clamor that hurt us later. This is perfectly illustrated by Stephen Duncombe, whom I quote in the Whirlwinds article: “Progressives worry about abuse of power before we have it, this is a sign of our reluctance to pursue it.” When I asked Duncombe to expand on this point, he replied:

Power is scary. With it comes responsibility. As with leadership, if you don’t acknowledge that power is necessary then you won’t do anything about re-imagining it. I think leftists have gotten very comfortable being critics of power. Criticism on the road to power may be useful, but criticism by itself, in our day and age, is actually an attendant to dominant power. “Look,” the powers that be argue, “we have critics, that means you have freedom and democracy, right?” Criticism, by itself, is just self-serving politics: it makes the critic feel better about their non-compliance but changes nothing. Therefore I’m interested in moving past criticism and really thinking about what is necessary to win power. For without power you can’t change things. And I’m in this game to change the world, not just comment about how bad it all is.

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