"For me, the most important lesson
[of the Freedom Movement] is that by respecting the fact that fellow activists could passionately disagree over strategy and tactics—yet remain allies—they strengthened SNCC and the Movement as a whole."
From Bruce Hartford's article in the current issue of Urban Habitat.
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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Firefighters versus Police in Spain - a division within the regime?

The picture of firefighters skirmishing with riot police in Spain made me think of the effectiveness of widespread and DIVERSE civil disobedience.  See where I made the connections below in boldface.

Chenoweth and Stephan conclude in their study of nonviolent (v. violent) movements (Why Civil Resistance Works):
In all cases, nonviolent campaigns have succeeded in generating mass mobilization, whereas violent campaigns have relied on smaller numbers.  People who sympathize with violent opposition movements often express reluctance to participate because of fear of regime reprisals.  Although participating in a nonviolent campaign is frequently quite dangerous, ordinary citizens perceive it to be safer than participating in a violent campaign.

The diversity of participants has been as important  as the numbers of participants.  Some violent campapigns, like the Philippine insurgency, mobilized tens of thousands of members.  However, most of these participatnts were young men who rallied around the Marxist ideology, thus exluding those who found that ideology unattractive.  Perhaps more important from a strategic perspective, the reliance on a single opposition ideology cut the Marxist insurgents off from the opponent regime.  More diverse campaigns, which include multiple age groups, class, occupations , ideologies, and genders, are likelier to have links to members  of the regime, such that opportunities to create divisions  within the regime become more ubiquitous.

. . . In the [Iranian Revolution, the first Intifada, and overthrow of Marcos] the nonviolent campaigns applied sufficient pressure to begin dividing the regime from its main pillars of support.  One of the most visible outcomes of this strategy was loyalty shifts among security forces, an outcome that would be difficult to imagine if the campaigns had been violent.  Once security forces refused to obey the regime, the state  was forced to capitulate to the campaign's demands......

And this reminds me of a great movie, Children of the Revolution, in which Joe strategically focuses on recruiting the police as part of his successful revolutionary activity.  You can apparently watch this movie for free online.  I highly recommend it -- it has a Monty Python like satiric story line with a killer cast (Judy Davis, Geoffrey Rush, Sam Neill, F. Murray Abraham).  It is funny and serious at the same time....much like Life of Brian as a good critique of leftist ideologues.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Peter Ackerman on Syria

Peter Ackerman and Jack Duvall are co-authors of A Force More Powerful, case studies (stories) of how people power prevails over violence and oppression.

excerpts from A Tyrant's Worst Nightmare: People Power

. . . . Conventional wisdom has said that oppressed people have two choices: either accept the status quo or mount a violent insurrection. My dream is that the day will come when people in all parts of the world will turn to civil resistance rather than rely on armed revolt. . .

The Syrian example

As an example, just consider the effects of the two phases of the Syrian conflict: First, a campaign of civil resistance was waged from March to September 2011, during which the Assad regime was weakened more than at any other time over the previous 40 years - and fewer than 3,000 people died from its repression.

That campaign's success emboldened a large part of the Syrian military to defect, joining impatient activists to form the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Tragically, in the next phase of the conflict, civil resistance was marginalized because many falsely believed that "nonviolence doesn't work," and violence against the regime intensified.

Now, with 70,000 more fatalities and no end in sight to a war of mutual destruction, Assad's opponents have proved just the opposite - that violent insurrection doesn't work. . .

. . .  Armed struggles aim to kill anyone in power without discrimination, but effective civil resistance distinguishes between the relatively few power-holders in a society and the larger coterie (bureaucrats, military, business) who obey those in power.

With tactics such as strikes, boycotts, and mass demonstrations, civil resistance spurs defections among those supporters and can force changes at the top. This strategy of dissolving an oppressor's capacity to use power is more likely to work against a well-armed dictatorship than a strategy of mutual annihilation.  Civil resistance is also more likely to produce a democratic outcome. . .

Most analysts argue that certain structural conditions which a movement can't control - such as a ruler's willingness to use repression, the degree of digital freedom, or whether the society has a middle class - determine the outcome.

My research and that of others have found that there is no correlation between such conditions and the outcomes of nonviolent conflicts. Just the opposite: a movement's choices - its strategy, messages, discipline, tactics, coalition-building, and other actions - are far more influential than the perceived initial impediments. . . .

Since I wrote my doctoral dissertation on this subject 35 years ago, I've witnessed dozens of breakthroughs by home-grown, nonviolent movements organized by people who refused to tolerate repression any longer. Many times I've seen how an organized, disciplined movement can develop strategies of mass resistance to put intolerable pressure on brutal power-holders and dissolve their legitimacy.

The international community must stop being mesmerized by the false choice of accommodating or attacking tyrants and should pay attention to history's verdict:

The very people who are oppressed, if they know how to use civil resistance, can win their rights through their own initiative. The violence they have feared does not require violence to end it. The freedom they crave, they can have - if we help them obtain the knowledge of how to do so.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Citizen Journalists, Video and the Internet - A NEW PROJECT

A new internet video project announced on the Global Voices Advocacy website:
In recent years, few major catastrophes have taken place without being captured through video, pictures, or tweets by ordinary citizens. Citizen journalists have reported on everything from the civil war in Syria, to natural disasters such as the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan, to incidents of police brutality at Occupy protests.

This kind of raw documentation brings new complexity to the information landscape. It has created new avenues for news dissemination, and as more mainstream media outlets include citizen media in their reporting, it has changed and enhanced their coverage. However, there still is a gap between the mainstream media, with their large audiences, and these citizen journalists that must be bridged.

The newly launched project Irrepressible Voices (IV) aims to fill this gap by creating a platform that will connect online activists, bloggers, and citizen journalists with the mainstream media as well as with policy and decision makers.
 This video is a one minute "call to action" by citizen journalists, asking people to upload videos of human rights abuses to their cite.

WATCH SAMPLE VIDEO HERE about the Philippines.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Rebecca Solnit post on Tomdispatch - what comes after hope

Tom introduces Rebecca's post by saying, "Rebecca Solnit... taught me how to hope in a world that seemed dismal indeed . . . . Like Studs [Terkel, Hope Dies Last], she taught me that acting, even while not knowing, is a powerful antidote to despair."

Rebecca writes
If you take the long view, you’ll see how startlingly, how unexpectedly but regularly things change. Not by magic, but by the incremental effect of countless acts of courage, love, and commitment, the small drops that wear away stones and carve new landscapes, and sometimes by torrents of popular will that change the world suddenly. To say that is not to say that it will all come out fine in the end regardless. I’m just telling you that everything is in motion, and sometimes we are ourselves that movement.

Hope and history are sisters: one looks forward and one looks back, and they make the world spacious enough to move through freely. Obliviousness to the past and to the mutability of all things imprisons you in a shrunken present. Hopelessness often comes out of that amnesia, out of forgetting that everything is in motion, everything changes. We have a great deal of history of defeat, suffering, cruelty, and loss, and everyone should know it. But that’s not all we have.
Not long ago, I ran into a guy who’d been involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement . . . . He offered a tailspin of a description of how Occupy was over and had failed. But I wonder: How could he possibly know?

[What I know is that] Occupy began to say what needed to be said about greed and capitalism, exposing a brutality that had long been hushed up, revealing both the victims of debt and the rigged economy that created it. This country changed because those things were said out loud. . . . I know people personally whose lives were changed, and who are doing work they never imagined they would be involved in, and I’m friends with remarkable people who, but for Occupy, I would not know existed. . . . . there was great joy at the time , the joy of liberation and of solidarity, and joy is worth something in itself. In a sense, it’s worth everything, even if it’s always fleeting, though not always as scarce as we imagine.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Labor Chorus Performance May 16th 7 pm CCSF

A Performance Piece performed by the Labor Heritage/Rockin’ Solidarity Chorus on

Thursday May 16 at 7:00 pm. The location is City College of San Francisco, Creative Arts Building, Room 133. There will be a pot luck dinner served at 6:30. Admission is free.

The Great Migration was the biggest under-reported story of the twentieth century. Over the span of six decades, around six million African-Americans left Jim Crow behind and started over in northern and western cities. In the process they transformed this country.

The chorus tells the story in words and songs, including some reworkings of classics from Motown, a record label built by children of the migration. This presentation will be a slightly shorter version of the complete script which will be presented at Labor Fest on July 26. However, there will be a lot to enjoy and think about on Thursday. Please come .