Friday, 29 May 2015

Hawaii to Norway to Scotland: Divestment Movement Racks Up Wins: Leaders Cite Destructive Nature of Coal and Oil Industries in Decision to Divest from Fossil Fuels

Fossil Fuel Free Rally (Friends of the Earth Scotland/flickr/cc)
 
Rack up some more wins for divestment: the University of Hawaii System, the University of Edinburgh, and the Norwegian wealth fund have all within the last week answered the growing global call for institutions to cut ties with the fossil fuel industry.

Norway's parliamentary parties announced on Thursday that the government would divest its $900 billion sovereign wealth fund from coal, citing the industry's impact on climate change. According to the Associated Press, environmentalists estimate that about $11 billion of that fund - the largest endowment in the world and often referred to as the oil fund - is currently invested in coal.

Greenpeace Norway activist Truls Gulowsen told the AP, "We expect that billions of euros will be withdrawn from the coal industry, when this happens... This is a huge win for the divestment movement and a real sign of hope that investment patterns can be changed."

The rule is expected to be formally approved on June 5 with the full support of both the government and opposition parties. Norway's decision comes just days after the University of Edinburgh announced its plan to divest from three of the world's largest fossil fuel producers within six months.

Organizers with the Edinburgh People & Planet student group campaigned for three years to convince the university to divest its $455 million endowment fund from fossil fuels. Following a 10-day student occupation of its finance department, University of Edinburgh officials said on Tuesday that the school would pull funds from coal and tar sands, although they would grant the targeted companies four weeks to respond.

"Companies involved in coal and tar sands extraction are irrevocably damaging our climate and attempts to engage with them to mitigate their climate impacts have failed," Miriam Wilson, Fossil Free campaign coordinator at People & Planet, said at the time.

"Eighty-percent of coal reserves and all of the Canadian tar sands need to stay in the ground to avoid catastrophic climate change. We urge the University of Edinburgh to go beyond today's announcement and commit to full divestment within 5 years - nothing short of this is enough."

If nothing short of full divestment is the goal, the University of Hawaii heard that message loud and clear. The school last week announced its plan to end all of its fossil fuel holdings by 2018, which make up 5 to 7 percent of the school's $66 million endowment.

UH officials said they chose to divest for both economic and environmental reasons, but also cited "a moral and leadership rationale" in their final report (pdf) detailing the decision.

"If we need to reduce our footprint to prevent humanity from significant damage, we shouldn't invest in companies that continue to benefit from [carbon dioxide]," UH chair Randolph Moore told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. "We shouldn't bet against ourselves."

The move makes UH the largest higher education institution in the U.S. to divest from fossil fuels. In a press release, Dr. Joe Mobley, a marine biology professor and a faculty representative representative on the task group for divestment and sustainability, said the decision was "the perfect model of climate activism."

"Regents, faculty and students alike came together, shared their concerns over the scope and speed of climate change, particularly as it affects the Hawaiian Islands, then did something about it," Mobley said.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Ten Demonstrations That Changed the World: As the 20 June Demo Approaches, it’s Worth Remembering That Mass Marches Have Been Crucial to All the Most Important Struggles

Hyde Park, February 15, 2003
Hyde Park, February 15, 2003
by Chris Nineham, Counterfire: http://www.counterfire.org/articles/analysis/17835-ten-demonstrations-that-changed-the-world

The role of street protest is often written out of history and sometimes even questioned by people on the left.

But, as the 20 June demo approaches, it’s worth remembering that mass marches have been crucial to all the most important struggles.

Demonstrations almost always help strengthen and focus a movement and keep an issue in the public eye. But they have also helped launch campaigns and revolutions, win the vote, overturn hated laws and bring down regimes.

Marches are always part of a wider process of organising and resisting, but as this (by no means definitive) list shows, they can be a catalyst for strikes, occupations and all sorts of civil disobedience. They are an indispensible method of bringing activists together with the much wider social base necessary for real change.

No doubt I have missed many of the best examples. Send us suggestions and we will publish a master list!

1 The right to vote | 6 May, 1867 | Clerkenwell to Hyde Park, London

Panicked by the growing influence of the Reform League's campaign to widen the vote to include at least some of the working class, the government banned this demonstration, claiming it would interfere with ‘the enjoyment of the Park by the people, and is calculated to endanger the public peace’. They summoned the Hussars, drafted thousands of special constables and had Woolwich Arsenal working overtime making staves and pikes.

On the day, according to author Paul Foot, the government had to back off:
‘There were so many demonstrators, so many gates to the park, so many separate meetings planned there. The troops, the police and the special constables kept their distance. Vast crowds flocked into the park through all the entrances … this was the first time that any political organisation representing the working class had openly and successfully defied the law of their masters, and the effect on the masters was catastrophic.’
Two weeks later the proposed electoral reform bill was amended and the number of people enfranchised was quadrupled.

2 ‘Women’s Sunday’ | 21 June 1908 | Embankment to Hyde Park, London

The conventional history of the Suffragette movement focuses on dramatic acts by prominent individuals. But the women’s suffrage movement also held monster demonstrations, the first and biggest of which was in 1908. The Times newspaper reported that 750,000 people attended.

As one historian of the period explains the demonstration was key to popularising the movement by ‘bringing new people in, inspiring them at a time when they could see how broad the support is for a cause they are beginning to identify with.’

Change came a few years later at the end of WW1 in 1918 when legislation gave about 8.4 million women the vote. Women were properly enfranchised in Britain in 1928.

3 Toppling the Tsar | 23 February 1917 | St Petersburg

On international Women’s Day 1917 in Russia, a strike wave started with a demonstration. The protest was organised by women, mainly at factory level. As one participant explained, 'the idea of going into the streets had long been ripening among the workers; only at that moment nobody imagined where it would lead.'

Leon Trotsky described how the demonstration became a catalyst:
‘A mass of women, not all of them workers, flocked to the municipal Duma demanding bread. It was like demanding milk from a he-goat. Red banners appeared in different parts of the city, and inscriptions on them showed that the workers wanted bread, but neither autocracy nor war. Woman’s Day passed successfully, with enthusiasm and without victims. But what it concealed in itself, no one had guessed even by nightfall.’
Next day, St Petersburg was paralyzed by a strike wave and continuous street demonstrations. Three days later the Tsar was forced to abdicate. The revolutionary cycle of 1917 had begun.

4 Breaking British rule | 17 March 1919 | Cairo

In response to the British arrest of Egyptian leaders, more than 10,000 teachers, students, workers, lawyers, and government employees set off for Al Azhar in Cairo in Egypt’s biggest demonstration. They wound their way to Abdin Palace and were joined by thousands more, who ignored British roadblocks and bans.

Cairo’s lead was taken up around the country. Demonstrations, strikes and occupations followed in a national movement against British rule which reverberated around the colonial world.

The British responded with violence. By the summer, more than 800 Egyptians had been killed.But the movement was too strong to be repressed and in 1922 the British had to grant Egypt nominal independence.

5 Freedom road | 24 March, 1964 | Selma to Montgomery, Alabama

After months of campaigning and a brutal response by state police, 8,000 black and white activists set out on the fifty miles from Selma Alabama to the state capital Montgomery, demanding black voter enfranchisement. The support the campaign had built up over the months had forced President Johnson to federalize the Alabama National Guard and allow the demonstration to go ahead.

By the last day the crowd had swelled to 30,000 including a raft of celebrities. The march electrified the country. A few months later, Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act which forced all states in the US to register black voters. Selma transformed Southern politics and was followed by a wave of black militancy.

6 ‘Demanding the impossible’ | 6 May, 1968 | Paris

After the hated CRS riot police occupied the University of the Sorbonne in Paris, the largest student union in France and the union of university teachers called a march to protest against the police action.

More than 20,000 students, teachers and supporters showed up. Buoyed by the turnout, they marched through Central Paris to gain support, chanting ‘Sorbonne for the students! CRS = SS! And Down with police repression.’ According to one account ‘The general public was rather sympathetic. There was occasional applause and no boos”.

The situation changed when the marchers approached the university. The police attacked with unexpected savagery, and their action sparked ‘a real battle, with charges and counter-charges, cobblestones versus grenades. The air was thick with teargas, yellowish with a sweet and acrid taste’.

Images of street fighting and police brutality flashed around the country and the world that night. The confrontation led to a month of insurgent protests and the longest general strike in history. The French ‘May events’ helped ignite years of radical struggle around the world.

7 The March against death | 15 November, 1969 | Washington and San Francisco

These demonstrations against the Vietnam war were the biggest up to that time in both cities. Organisers estimated there were a quarter of a million in San Francisco and three quarters of a million in Washington.

Historian of the movement Tom Wells wrote that in Washington ‘thousands of demonstrators tired of waiting to move up the Avenue and simply streamed across the Mall’s grassy acres towards the monument’.

Publicly the government was dismissive, privately it panicked. Senior officials admitted the administration felt threatened and isolated. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger ‘repeatedly referred to the fate of Weimar Germany as the streets around the White House filled with marchers.’

The Vietnam war dragged on for four and a half more years and there were further huge mobilisations. But from this point on President Nixon knew the game was up and he began limiting conscription and withdrawing troops. 50,000 were pulled out in December 1969 alone.

8 Toppling Thatcher | 31 March, 1990 | Kennington Park to Trafalgar Sq

200,000 people marched from to Trafalgar Square against Thatcher’s flagship poll tax. The police attacked demonstrators as they paused outside Downing Street leading to a riot across the area.

The demonstration dominated the news agenda and took the already powerful movement to a higher level, giving a huge boost to the non payment campaign. In the weeks after the riot some council workers struck and refused to collect the tax.  By June a third of people in England and Wales hadn’t paid the tax.

Crowds of protesters besieged the hearings and people stopped bailiffs seizing the belongings of non-payers. The poll tax was a disaster for Thatcher. On 22 November she resigned. The tax was scrapped before the 1992 election.

9 Overturning a coup | April 13, 2002 | Caracas

Hundreds of thousands marched on the presidential Palace in the centre of Caracas when they heard that President Hugo Chavez had been removed by a coup led by big business and covertly supported by the US.

A journalist at the scene reported:
‘They were chanting slogans in favor of Chavez, and carrying portraits of the deposed president. This march was clearly headed towards the city centre, as were a stream of buses apparently commandeered by other chavistas. Neighborhood police were eyeing them carefully, but letting them pass’
The scale of the protest didn’t just paralyse the police, it broke the military support for the coup. The next day Chavez was returned to the Presidential Palace where he was ‘mobbed as soon as he left his helicopter by the thousands of supporters who were now in a state of near delirium.’ 13 April, 2002 gave the left a huge boost throughout Latin America.

10 ‘The second superpower’ | 15 Feb, 2003| Global

15 February, 2003 was the biggest mass protest in history with demonstrations in around 800 cities worldwide and the participation of around 30 million people.

The protests didn’t stop the war on Iraq, though they caused consternation in British government circles. Just eight days before the invasion, British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon phoned his US opposite number Donald Rumsfeld and told him Britain might not be able to participate in the invasion. Tony Blair himself admitted later that "I thought these really could be my last days in office".

But 15 February, 2003 and the subsequent marches and protests helped turn whole populations against the West’s foreign wars. British opposition reached over 50% in the days around the demonstration, and the day after the demo the New York Times called anti-war public opinion ‘the second superpower.’

After a series of further demonstrations, Tony Blair was eventually forced to resign over the war. Anti-war public opinion has since become a major inhibitor for more foreign interventions.


Chris Nineham

Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Why Sacred Places Matter

Shasta Dam under construction, California
Shasta Dam under construction, California (Wikipedia)
by Christopher McLeod, Earth Island Journal: http://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/elist/eListRead/sacred_places/

Film series tells the stories of eight embattled indigenous communities around the world. This story originally appeared in Triple Pundit

In the last month, Native Hawaiians blockaded construction machinery headed for the top of sacred Mauna Kea, where a 30-meter telescope is to be built. Thirty-one people were arrested.

In Arizona, members of the San Carlos Apache Tribe walked 45 miles to Oak Flats and occupied a ceremonial initiation site that the US Congress has handed over to a London-based mining company for a copper mine.

In California, the Winnemem Wintu Tribe continues their fierce opposition to government plans to raise the height of Shasta Dam, which would flood Winnemem sacred sites.

photo of Chief Caleen Sisk 
Photo by Christopher McLeod Chief Caleen Sisk of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe is fighting US government plans to raise the height of Shasta Dam.

Sacred places are alive in the hearts and minds of native people around the world. Mountains, springs, lakes, rivers, trees, groves, caves - these are sites of ceremony, inspiration and learning for human cultures throughout time. From Mt. Fuji to Uluru, from Taos Blue Lake to the Grand Canyon, sacred lands anchor peoples’ souls to earth.

The public relations push to proclaim national parks as “America’s Best Idea” missed an important historic fact: sacred places are the oldest protected areas on the planet. This is an old idea. Perhaps it has been buried by monotheistic Christian ideals that instruct man to dominate nature, or capitalist market values that dictate extraction and profit off land that is bought and sold.

But long before there was a “protected area movement” to counter environmental threats, there were culturally protected places on every continent. And there still are.

Photo of Sacred Land Film Project Meme 
By Christopher McLeod As Standing on Sacred Ground continues to broadcast around the US, the Sacred Land Film Project has mounted a social media campaign to publicize the film series. The above meme has been especially popular, with 56,000 views and 818 shares so far.

Sacred lands are more than esoteric, spiritual sanctuaries. These places protect biodiversity. The World Bank reports that indigenous people make up 4% of the world’s population and control 22% of the earth’s surface - and on that land is 80% of the planet’s remaining biodiversity. People whose connection to land goes back centuries and who have maintained cultural value systems rooted in sacred places have a superior land ethic. Period.

Over the last ten years I have traveled around the world documenting the uniqueness of indigenous cultures and the universality of values that honor the sacred spiritual dimension of land and water. Reciprocity. Reverence. Respect. Relationship.

Yet everywhere I go, aboriginal lands are under siege, as new technology and energy addictions push corporations into more and more remote places to satisfy global consumer demand.

Photo of Sacred Land Film Project Meme 
By Christopher McLeod Cultural values, oral tradition, and respect for nature's power, all add up to one of humanity's best ideas.

The resulting film series, Standing on Sacred Ground, shows Altaians in Central Asia fighting Russia and China’s plan to build a natural gas pipeline across a sacred burial ground on the Ukok Plateau, a World Heritage site.

In Alberta, Canada, First Nations people suffer an epidemic of cancer, pull deformed fish from rivers and lakes, yet face a government that is totally supportive of a tar sands industry it helped create.

In Peru, the Q’eros make pilgrimage to sacred mountains, their apus, but see glaciers - their water source - disappearing before their eyes as far-off carbon emissions warm the Andes.

Sacred places are important to hundreds of cultures that have suffered at the hands of missionaries who have warned them of their sins - including veneration of nature. As Winona LaDuke says in the film, “Sacred places are spiritual recharge areas, places of reverence where we are not only careful, but prayerful. In those places we reaffirm our relationship to our relatives, to spiritual beings, and to the land that is the source of our power.”

Ceremony, prayer and ritual still connect families and communities to land in a bond of love, affection and spiritual obligation. It’s what many in urban industrial civilization now crave.

Sacred places should be at the heart of every region’s sustainability plan for the future, with indigenous people leading the way to create a new economic model and a new land ethic that can help heal our alienation from nature.  

The tipping point that will signal the transition back to honoring land as sacred could come with the denial of the Keystone XL pipeline, not just because it is a climate killer that threatens the Ogallala Aquifer. Keystone should be denied because it is dirty oil destined for the US that is killing people, wildlife, rivers and forests in Alberta. It is unethical, immoral oil. It’s a violation of all that is sacred.

Davianna McGregor is one of a band of Native Hawaiians who created the Protect Kaho`olawe Ohana in the 1970s and successfully won a sacred island back from the US Navy, which had used Kaho`olawe as a bomb testing range for 50 years. McGregor says, “Christianity severed the relationship of our soul to the land. Kaho`olawe gave us a connection to our ancestors and spiritual beliefs, and we were able to call back our gods.”                      

In addition to legal protection for sacred places, what we need is an apology, from the US government to Native Americans and indigenous people elsewhere whose lands have been violated. We need reconciliation between cultures and with the land. This could unleash a cultural renaissance for indigenous people, and also for western civilization, painfully disconnected from nature but fully capable of remembering we are part of this Earth, not superior to it.

The award-winning Standing on Sacred Ground, tells the stories of eight embattled indigenous communities around the world. It is now airing on public television stations around the country.

Don’t miss the national broadcast premiere of the second film in the series on The PBS WORLD Channel, Sunday, May 24 at 9 PM ET. Check local listings. Read more at: StandingOnSacredGround.org, and check out the trailer below.
 
Christopher “Toby” McLeod directs the Sacred Land Film Project.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Portland, Oregon is the Alternative Commuter’s Paradise

Portland Oregon from the east. By User:Fcb981
Portland Oregon from the east (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by John McDuling, Quartz: http://qz.com/409967/portland-oregon-is-the-alternative-commuters-paradise/

Portland, Oregon is known for its coffee, its hipsters,  generally being a nice place, and, umm, the comedy series Portlandia.

But it’s also becoming known as an alternative commuter’s paradise (and not just because of events like the Next Big Ride, where thousands of people cycle around the city naked).

According to a new study by Michal Sivak, director of the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, of the 30 biggest cities in the US,  Portland and its hipster peer, Austin, Texas, have the highest proportion of workers who don’t commute at all.

Proportion_of_workers_that_work_from_home_Selected_US_cities_chartbuilder













Unsurprising to anyone who has ever visited, Portland also has a higher proportion of people that commute to work on a bicycle.

 














The Pacific Northwestern enclave is also in the top 10 cities for using public transport (the city is known for its excellent light rail and streetcar systems) and walking to work. Conversely, it’s in the bottom 10 cities for driving to work alone - which is still the way most Americans (76.4% of them, according to this study) get to work.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

These Minnesotans Boosted Walking in Their Small Town by 70% - Here's How

Image result for walkable cities
ndy.com
by http://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/these-minnesotans-boosted-walking-in-their-small-town-by-70-percent-heres-how

On a gray and chilly weekday afternoon in Albert Lea, Minnesota, the new five-mile trail around Fountain Lake draws more walkers and bikers than you’d expect in a town its size.

The small downtown is filled with people walking between the bank, library, shops, churches, schools, restaurants, and - in a perfect Prairie Home Companion touch - the Sportman’s Tavern, which advertises a “cabbage roll hotdish” as the daily special.

It’s often mistakenly assumed that no one walks in small towns, except maybe from their pickup truck to the Wal-Mart entrance. But walking is more common in smaller communities than people think.

In towns with populations between 10,000 and 50,000, more than 8% of all trips are made on foot. That’s second only to “urban core” communities, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Albert Lea, population 18,000, is working to prove that healthy lifestyle choices can be small town priorities. “We’re not a resort town or a college town,” explained former City Councilwoman Ellen Kehr. “We’re an ag-based rural city promoting healthy living because it’s the right thing to do and it’s how we want to live and want our children to live.”

In 2009, Albert Lea adopted a community-wide approach to wellness laid out in Dan Buettner’s best-selling book Blues Zones. In the book, he examines the places around the world where people live the longest and healthiest lives. “The idea is to make the healthy choice the easy choice,” Buettner said.

So how did Albert Lea get more people walking in a rural region where driving is deeply embedded in the fabric of everyday life? The program consisted of three main steps:

1. Creating a public education campaign

The program generated a community-wide campaign around the importance of physical activity. Local businesses, schools, public agencies, the media, and citizens were asked to continually reinforce the idea that people should get outside and walk. “It has reconnected our community in a way that I never thought possible,” notes Randy Kehr, the executive director of Albert Lea’s chamber of commerce. “Sociability is as important to health as exercise and eating.” 

2. Organizing social groups to walk or bike regularly

Residents were encouraged to create informal exercise groups. Planning activities with other people can add extra incentive and accountability, making it easier to get off the couch. Albert Lea’s residents formed about 30 different walking and biking groups that met three to seven times a week during the program. About half of those groups are still going strong five years later. 

3. Making public spaces more appealing for pedestrians

Albert Lea’s downtown area was made more walkable by eliminating unnecessary street lanes, widening sidewalks, restoring diagonal parking, replacing some stoplights with stop signs, and extending sidewalks at intersections to shorten the crossing distance on busy streets. Sidewalks were added to more than six miles of city streets in areas near schools, senior centers, and businesses. And the city built a new bikeway that connected a nearby state park to Albert Lea’s downtown and commercial district.

Around one-quarter of adults in Albert Lea were involved in the Blue Zones project, along with half of local workplaces, and nearly all kids in grades three through eight. According to the National Vitality Project, walking has increased in Albert Lea by 70% and bicycling by 74% in the past five years. Buettner reports that residents who participated in the program together lost nearly 8,000 pounds.

City Councilmen Al Brooks, who now walks two and a half miles every day, credits the campaign with big improvements to his own health. “When I started four years ago, I had high cholesterol and high blood pressure,” he said. “Now my cholesterol is lower, my blood pressure is 116/70, and I lost 15 pounds.”

"Small towns can reinvent themselves as places faster than big towns,” says Dan Burden, one of America’s foremost authorities on walkable communities. Burden helped map out Albert Lea’s original strategies in 2009. He’s also the former bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for the state of Florida, and has brought innovative ideas on walkability to thousands of communities.

“When I first came into Albert Lea, I’ll be honest, it looked like the downtown was closed,” he said to a room of local officials in Albert Lea’s City Hall. “There were businesses but there was no life in the streets. That’s changed now.”

Jay Walljasper wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Jay writes, speaks and consults about how to create more healthy, happy, enjoyable communities. He is the author of the Great Neighborhood Book. His website: www.JayWalljasper.com

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Marshall Ganz on the Power of Social Movements


Ganz began by highlighting how the American government has historically been better at inhibiting change than enabling it: “Deep reform has rarely emerged from within government.”

As a result, movements of moral reform have often emerged from outside government, through social movements, which Ganz believes are “a uniquely critical and important mechanism of change and deep reform in our country.”

As examples, Ganz highlighted the movements for the abolition of slavery, temperance and agrarian reforms, women’s rights, gay rights, and others. These movements have come from people and leaders who are responding to unjust circumstances by asserting new values and mobilizing political power to translate those values into action.

Leadership for social movements requires learning how to translate our values into the emotional resources that enable us to respond to challenge with courage rather than fear.

Ganz’s personal introduction to organizing came in the summer of 1964, when he left Harvard to volunteer for the Mississippi Summer Project, an effort to register African-American voters during the Civil Rights Movement. There, Ganz saw that “people of the problem have to be authors of the solution. … What we learned is that there is a difference between resources and power.”

The movement showed that people who seemingly are without resources (such as money) have other resources (such as personal will and moral authority) that can be used to expose the fact that power is always dependent to some degree on those whom it exploits. Ganz later took these lessons to work with Cesar Chavez’s National Farm Workers Association (later the United Farm Workers union) in California.

Throughout his career in organizing and work at Harvard University, Ganz has developed a framework for social action based around the heart (narrative), the head (strategy), and the hands (action). Taken together, this framework can help leaders build a successful movement around some moral dilemma.

By heart, Ganz refers to capturing human will through the emotional power of narrative: “Leadership for social movements requires learning how to translate our values into the emotional resources that enable us to respond to challenge with courage rather than fear.”

Through this translation, done principally via narratives and storytelling, we can assert why we care about the outcomes of any given movement. Narratives, and especially their emotional components, allow us to confront challenges, find hope, and resist reacting with fear. Stories are a source for translating values into hope and self-efficacy, which allows leaders to engage others in purposeful collective action.

By head, Ganz means the strategy that allows one to “turn what we have into what we need in order to get what we want.” Leading change requires challenging the status quo, being resourceful with one’s assets, and understanding the interdependent or relational character of power.

As in the Civil Rights Movement, leaders of social movements generally must figure out how to leverage the resources that are more widely held, such as time and people, rather than narrowly held, such as money and property. In education, Ganz showed that while educators might believe they are powerless against  external forces, the challenge is to discover how the resources they do possess can permit them to assert power.

By hands, Ganz refers to the action that comes from a willing group of people with a coherent strategy: “Action must be clear, measureable, and specific if progress is to be evaluated.” It is not enough to have convinced a large group of supporters. Instead, the strategy must be paired with measurable goals in order to learn what works and track progress towards a well-defined aim.

Lastly, Ganz spoke of the leadership that is required in order to move hearts, heads, and hands. A single leader giving orders does not lead to change. Rather, collaborative leadership based on interdependent leadership teams can create stability, motivation, and adaptation and exercise of agency by all those involved.

Ganz said, “Structure based on team leadership rather than individual leadership, when combined with shared purpose, clear norms, well-defined roles, frees creative liberty rather than constraining it.”

Ganz’s framework for social action presented Summit attendees with a way in which they can help contribute to a much-needed movement around quality improvement in our nation’s schools.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

How to Build Thriving, Resilient Communities


PART ONE - GETTING STARTED
  1. Online Resources. The Internet is a giant repository of information with answers to just about any question. Some of TRCC's recommended sites include Bioneers Media Center, Great Transition Stories, ShareableThe Oil Journey, The Shift Network, and Visualizing a Plenitude Economy.
  2. Publications & Films. Oftentimes seeing the possibility of a transition in words or images really helps bring it to life. Some of TRCC's go-to inspirations include The Abundant Community, Climate After Growth, In Transition 2.0, Pedagogy of the Poor, Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back, Sustainable World Sourcebook, and The Transition Handbook.
  3. Training & Events. Nothing can replace actually talking one-on-one with people who have taken steps in their own communities. The four recommendations in this area are Awakening the Dreamer Symposium, National Bioneers Conference, Transition Launch Training, and Generation Waking Up’s workshops and trainings.

Photo credit: epSos.de

PART TWO - LIFESTYLE CHANGES
  1. Build community. Because relationships are a community's bedrock, plan a potluck or a block party and get to know your neighbors.
  2. Grow some of your own food. Whether you plant your own herb bed or break dirt on a community garden, growing your own food is rewarding in myriad ways.  
  3. Share and repair. You can go all the way and set up a tool library and a repair café, if your community needs those resources. Or you can just borrow, loan, and fix stuff in a more casual arrangement with your neighbors. To quote Rachel Botsman, "You don't need a drill, you need a hole."
  4. Minimize waste. 'Reduce, reuse, recycle' continues to be a worthy mantra. Add 'compost' to it and you're off to the waste reduction races. 
  5. Help keep wealth in your community. Spending your money locally keeps that cash flowing within your community, as does utilizing a local bank or credit union.
  6. Reduce home energy use. Insulation, clotheslines, energy efficient appliances and fixtures... all these things add up and contribute to your resilience.
  7. Conserve water. This is another area where reducing and reusing comes into play. Make sure you don't have water leaks anywhere; set up a greywater or rainwater harvesting system; and shorten your showers to achieve your conservation goals.
  8. Green your ride. Most people drive because of habit and convenience. But a little planning can go a long way in this area. Walking, biking, carpooling, and taking public transit may mean rethinking your commute, but they are huge factors in a resilient community.
  9. Build inner resilience. Don't forget to forge meaningful relationships with the people and the world around you.
  10. Join a Transition town or community resilience initiative near you, and start transforming your community!

Photo credit: Mosman Council

PART THREE - PRACTICAL PROJECTS
  1. Economy. TRCC has pulled together a number of practical guides and webinars to meet your objectives, including Guide to Going Local, Guide to SharingHow to Start a TimebankHow to Start a Tool LibraryReconomy, and Think Outside the Boss Manual.
  2. Energy. Because a community's energy resilience gets into public policy, TRCC looks to these three sources for the best information: Community Renewable Energy Webinar from Sustainable Economies Law Center, How to Start a Solar Co-op webinar from Center for a New American Dream, and Power from the People webinar from Post Carbon Institute, Transition US, and Chelsea Green.
  3. Food. Rethinking our food systems is integral to building resilient communities. Here are TRCC's top five recommendations: How to Host a PermablitzHow to Start a Seed LibraryRebuilding the FoodshedStart Your Own Food Rescue, and Your Community Garden: Tips for Success.
  4. Community & Society. In the end, it always comes back to the people, and the children, in particular. TRCC offers these thoughts: Compassion Games, a designated week of service; How to Start a Babysitting Co-op, a webinar from Center for a New American Dream; Summer of Solutions, a summer-long program for young people to develop projects that address social justice, economic instability, and environmental sustainability; and Transition Streets, a program for small, social groups to take effective steps toward sustainability (and there's always the How to Share guide on Shareable for advice on just about everything else).
PART FOUR - BUILDING A MOVEMENT: TOOLS FOR EFFECTIVE COLLABORATION

Working together is, perhaps, the number one priority for the building of a resilient community, especially if you want it to thrive. Therefore, developing skills to effectively communicate and collaborate is imperative to success. To that end, TRCC suggests checking out Art of Hosting Trainings, Asset Mapping Toolkit, Community At Work, Community Resilience Toolkit, Community Strategic Visioning Workshops, Designing a Resilient Community, Effective Groups, Loomio, Open Space, and World Café.

PART FIVE - SHIFTING THE SYSTEM
  1. Best Practices & Policy/Legal Resources. When shifting toward a new paradigm, it's important to know about things like zoning laws and business models. TRCC recommends checking out sites and publications like CommunityCurrenciesLaw.orgCommunity-Wealth.orgDig, Eat, & Be Healthy: Guide to Growing Food on Public LandsInstitute for Local Self-RelianceOn the CommonsPracticing Law in the Sharing Economy: Helping People Build Cooperatives, Social Enterprise, and Local Sustainable EconomiesPolicies for Shareable Cities: A Sharing Economy Policy Primer for Urban Leaders; and Raising Student Voices: Student Action for University Community Investment.
  2. Campaigns & Organizing. To paraphrase Forrest Gump, community organizing is as community organizing does. So, to help get all the ducks in a row, TRCC has gathered up a bunch of resources, including 350 Workshops Toolkit by 350.org; Democracy School by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund; the Most Amazing Online Organizing Guide by Green Memes; and Thrive Hub Organizing Guide from Generation Waking Up. 
  3. Mapping. Knowing what you have and what you want to do with it is yet another important part of the planning process. Here are some TRCC suggestions on that front: Community CommonsDreaming New MexicoGetting Your Green-Collar JobGuide to Developing an Energy Descent Action Plan, and Regional Calculators for Local Investment and Job Creation.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Latin America: Women in Resistance and Resilience

Photo: Peruvian activist Maxima Acuña de Chaupe
by Leny Olivera, Upside Down World:  http://upsidedownworld.org/main/bolivia-archives-31/5330-latin-america-women-in-resistance-and-resilience

Climate change impacts more on women. It has a direct and amplifying effect on the violence that intersects their lives, despite the fact that women have less impact on the environment than their male counterparts.

Women have historically resisted against the root causes of the climate crisis - from local, everyday efforts through to directly confronting corporations, mining companies and the governments who threaten their communities and their bodies. 

Such resistance is a rejection of the impacts of a patriarchal, capitalist system: war, deep poverty, social injustice, exploitation, and the forced occupation and despoliation of land and air by extractive industries and a fossil-fuel based economy.

These impacts now include climate change and its related disasters. After such disasters it is women who take on more responsibilities and work in order to survive. 

As Silvia Federici puts it so well: “[Women] are those who have been made to feel most responsible for the reproduction of their families. They are the ones who have to make sure that the children have food, often themselves going without it, and who make sure that the elderly or the sick are cared for.”

Living in areas of disaster and extractive activity doesn’t only imply more work on the shoulders of women, but it also exposes them to more dangers - such as harassment, sexual violence and people trafficking. 

What does it mean for women to fight back? 

Margarita Aquino, a member of the Network of Women in Defence of Mother Earth in Bolivia, who is herself directly affected by mining, has said that “We women are willing to defend the land and put our bodies on the line. We can’t allow that this system of extractive and patriarchal development imposes decisions on our territories, the same as decisions are imposed on our bodies.”

In Latin America, where “development” so often implies such relations of aggression towards land and people, women are choosing to fight back - even if it means risking their lives - because with so much violence already around them they know they have nothing to lose. 

Doña Máxima lives beside Laguna Azul, near one of the largest gold mines in South America, the Yanacocha mine in Peru. The mining company has tried to violently displace locals because there is gold on their land, and Maxima has been fighting the displacement through the courts for four years, risking her life in the process. “I am poor and illiterate”, she says, “but I know that our lake and mountains are a true treasure, and I will fight to stop the Conga project from destroying them.”

Not all women are as directly threatened by the dynamics of an extractivist economy as Maxima or Margarita, but there are many who face, and are resisting, multiple other forms of violence under this system because of their economic, social and ethnic situations, as well as their gender. 

Joining Forces in María Auxiliadora 

In Bolivia, where we are struggling to deal with both violence against women and with climate change impacts, the community of María Auxiliadora provides a different kind of example of women in resistance.

My photographer colleague Carey and I spent time there last year, in order to understand and document the experiences of four women living in and leading the community. The women of María Auxiliadora are fighting for a collective territory as an alternative to the commercialization of land, the crisis provoked by the capitalist development model, the violence that women experience, and the multiple and complex impacts of climate change.

This initiative came about as a result of the violence that women experience, especially those that don’t own their own home - they and their children are more disadvantaged and more exposed to possible violence at the hands of their partners.

So the women of María Auxiliadora instead chose to live in a collective territory, guided by certain principles: no selling or renting of homes, and no division of the property in the case of a couple separating; social control exists within the community to intervene when a woman is being assaulted; community decisions are made in assembly and people are required to work together on community tasks.

On top of these, the community has an environmental focus - community food-growing in urban gardens, their own water management system, and composting toilets.

Any effort to put a brake on climate change impacts and find alternatives in order not to reproduce those impacts requires true participation by women and men. Although the Bolivian Constitution contains a commitment to gender parity, in practice women have a physical presence but decisions depend upon men (from the organisation, political party or what have you).

In María Auxiliadora it was decided that women should hold the most important leadership positions in the community in order to make sure that their needs are met - although it isn't easy. 

María Eugenia, ex-president of the community, told us: “You might think that being a leader is something important, but it is more responsibility, and it can turn bitter with problems. I am happy to participate in the struggle and I feel that people value me, but at the same time I feel hurt, I’ve been discriminated against. The struggle of a leader isn’t easy; there are rocks in the path.”

These “rocks” include an increased threat of violence towards María Eugenia and her fellow-leaders: “They shouted at me because I didn’t have a partner, they said I wasn’t a family woman, that I’m a woman on the look-out for men, they insulted me, discriminated against me, even in front of a police officer a man punched and hit me.”



Photo: Maria Eugenia at work in her garden. Credit: Carey Averbook


The fact that a woman is busy with meetings and trips, or that she interacts with others, can incur such violence, as María Eugenia experienced: “[My ex-husband] was a selfish person, he wanted help for himself and not for others. One night I had a meeting and he locked me out because I arrived back at 10pm. As my neighbour was doing building work there was straw under her stairs and that’s where I slept with the dog.”

Such behaviour is indicative of very prevalent attitudes - deeply embedded into societies - which regard women as property, and available for exploitation. The struggle over the ownership, exploitation and invasion of women’s bodies can be likened to the threats our earth faces from our current rapacious economic model.

Similarly the violence that women in resistance (like María Eugenia) experience both inside and outside their homes, and the violence they are exposed to when they struggle for a collective territory, are two sides of the same coin. 

Growing Resistance 

The capitalist model of development exploits the earth and its resources in order to make huge profits for a small number of people, depriving the majority of a stake in our common wealth in the process. Urban gardens and allotments present an alternative, promoting sustainable and healthy food and farming for collective benefit.

In poor, urban areas like María Auxiliadora they are increasingly important as climate change impacts drive more people to migrate to periurban areas like these. María Eugenia and the other women we spent time with in the community all grow their own food and are passionate about the added benefits and food security that their huertos provide.

The struggle for urban gardens in a collective territory, the struggle for real and active participation by women in society, the struggle against violence against women and the struggles against climate-changing extractive industry are all acts of resistance against a patriarchal system that devalues and abuses women just as it does the Earth and its resources.

Women like those of María Auxiliadora, or those resisting extractivism in the global South, are the most affected by this structural violence. As the climate threat grows so do the risks women must take, but the struggles of María Eugenia and of the many women in resistance is worth the continuing battle.

Being able to live in a self-organised, economically accessible territory creates the material and emotional conditions that have changed many of the women’s lives. As María Eugenia concluded, “Sometimes people say the community is not worth the struggle, but I say despite everything it is worth it because here we live better than in other places.” 

For more information, see the Democracy Center’s site: Climate Change is About ... Women

Sunday, 17 May 2015

The ‘What’ and the ‘Why’ of Social Enterprise

Photo: The Nation
by Khizr Imran Tajammul, The Nation: http://nation.com.pk/columns/15-May-2015/the-what-and-the-why-of-social-enterprise

Pakistan is in dire need of channeling talent towards social enterprise development.

Unfortunately, few people understand what the sector entails. This is not surprising since we do not even recognize the space between a ‘for-profit’ and a ‘not-for-profit’ organization.

It is in this space that a social enterprise exists; where societal gain provides a healthy and necessary counterweight to financial gain and where businesses spawn to accrue and prioritize public goodwill over wealth.

To illustrate further, a social enterprise will meet the need for potable water, or energy, through a sustainable revenue generation model that does not fixate on profit maximization. It is a concept that was born many years ago but has only managed to gain currency in recent years, especially after the 2007-2008 financial crisis that forced the world to rethink business.

One notable pioneer of social enterprise development is Nobel Laureate, Professor Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank. Working in rural Bangladesh, Yunus understood that the only obstacle between an enterprising but poor talent and a bank loan was the absence of collateral.

So Yunus replaced that collateral with a ‘peer-group-pre-requisite’, which essentially meant that any single borrower would get clubbed with four other borrowers who would collectively act as a support network and enhance the sense of accountability amongst the borrowers.

Also, if any member of the peer group defaulted, Grameen Bank would not take the borrower to court nor would it hold the group liable for default. The loan would simply be written off.

You are probably wondering like many others before you: How can such a forgiving loan policy even work? What’s the catch? Did we miss something in the fine print? Sadly, the only thing we missed, or perhaps underestimated, was the power of human behavior and the role it can play in the success of a social enterprise.

The Grameen microfinance model thrives on the relationships borrowers develop in their peer groups. Nobody wants to be seen or known as a failure in his or her community.

Furthermore, when people assume collective responsibility of a certain debt, they have a stake in the performance of other peer members; and that is when competition turns to collaboration. Suddenly, the need for collateral evaporates into thin air. A leap of faith Yunus was able to take because of his ‘faith’ in human behavior.

To date, Grameen Bank has catered to more than 7 million borrowers and 97% of the borrowers are women. Since its inception, Grameen has disbursed loans worth USD$625 billion across 78,101 villages, out of which USD$5.58 billion have been recovered, with a loan recovery rate of 98.28%. The numbers say everything.

So where do social entrepreneurs like Muhammad Yunus come from? Do they fall from the sky when you and I are asleep at night? Or do they blossom only once in a blue moon? I like to think there is a social entrepreneur in each one of us.

A social entrepreneur is deeply affected by the inadequacies of the state and chooses to bridge the gap with the resources that are available to him or her. A social entrepreneur can identify and harness the potential of an untapped social asset, just like Muhammad Yunus harnessed the potential of human behavior.

Above all, a social entrepreneur invests profit back in to the enterprise, and is not motivated by the accumulation of personal wealth. Again, Grameen Bank, 94% of which is owned by its borrowers, works as a prime example of this.

Like Bangladesh, we face a plethora of unaddressed social needs and luckily an equally large number of social assets we can use to meet those needs. Indeed, we have not been able to produce a social entrepreneur like Muhammad Yunus but that does not mean we lack the potential to do so.

Half of Pakistan’s population is still under the age of 25, and the bulk of their opportunities lie in the days ahead of them. Our youth and its potential is probably our greatest social asset - if we choose to channel it in the right direction - and our greatest liability if we fail to do so.

The other reason why social entrepreneurship can flourish in Pakistan is because the next best alternative of joining the civil service is now a dead option.

There was a time when the civil service absorbed Pakistan’s brightest talent. Young men and women who wanted to help with the affairs of the state competed for a select few, highly coveted positions in government each year.

But over the years, the growing strength of the executive threatened the prowess of the legislature and thus the role of the executive gradually languished against the hostility of successive regimes.

Today, our bright talent is lining up outside the corporate sector, competing for a position to sell detergent, biscuits, chewing gum, fizzy drinks, mobile phones, LCD screens, cars, motorbikes, credit cards and water to a sea of hapless consumers.

Either that or they are carefully considering the possibility of expatriation - the life of a second-class citizen in another nation. Very few, if any, are seriously considering entrepreneurship, let alone social entrepreneurship.

A reality that shines a dim light on our collective mindset, which follows: one, we see more people as more liabilities and not more assets; two, we are averse to the uncertainty of entrepreneurial life and perhaps ill-equipped to balance its highs and lows with an unsupportive government, spouse, family and community at large; three, we feel abundant natural resources like wind, water and sunlight are best left to large businesses and the government to harness; four, we do not have enough faith in our own ability to help ourselves; and five, we lack the courage to fail, the courage to gather ourselves from the wreckage of our failure, and to start all over again.

Muhammad Yunus has shown us how one minor social innovation can influence millions of lives. He has convinced us that social entrepreneurs can solve problems where unwieldy bureaucracies fail.

Now it is our job to recognize and reward the right talent from amongst our own lot - no-one can do this better because no one understands us like we understand ourselves.

Friday, 15 May 2015

INTERVIEW: Nicole Peterman: Founder of "Help Me With It"

Social enterprise association
Social enterprise association (Wikipedia)
by Ideas Hoist: http://ideashoist.com.au/nicole-peterman-founder-of-help-me-with-it/

Nicole is a social entrepreneur who is focused on recapturing the essential element of traditional communities - people lending a hand whenever it is needed.

Nicole’s long-term involvement in education and community has motivated her to ensure that everyone who asks for help will find it.

With postgraduate studies in business management and entrepreneurship - she is motivated to create a new way to increase connections between people who need help with those who can help.

Nicole established Help Me With It - a national social enterprise and registered charity with headquarters in Brisbane. Nicole was one of three national winners of Macquarie Bank’s 2014 Kick Starter grant - an award for innovative enterprises addressing social and community needs. 

Can you tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?

The mission of Help Me With It is to connect individuals who need help to do one-off tasks, with people who can volunteer their time to fix, clean, care, shop, transport, garden, sort, teach and more.

The service will directly connect thousands of people who need help with people who can help. It also addresses issues associated with traditional volunteering including the fact volunteers want more choice in what they do, and more flexibility around when they volunteer and for how long.

Community organisations and volunteering centres recruit people to volunteer their time on a regular basis. This excludes the majority of would-be volunteers in this country. The issue for many volunteers is that they have specific skills and knowledge they want to use when volunteering, and they also want flexibility in when they volunteer (i.e. not always weekly). This model therefore doesn’t require funding to be allocated to extensive training for volunteers as they can use their own skills and experience.

This service is a digital disruption in the volunteering and social service sectors. There is no organisation like it in the not-for-profit sector, although numerous for-profit organisations have similarities to Help Me With It. However there is no other not-for-profit that offers the same service that Help Me With It will offer.

I have been thinking about this idea for a few years, so the recent “plunge” was overdue in one aspect, but also timely given the focus on digital disruptions and also the way social enterprises can provide solutions to major societal issues.

Please explain your business model.

Help Me With It is a national charity and a social enterprise. We are in start-up phase now, raising seed funding. Eventually though, our profits will be reinvested so more people can use the service.

People who need help with day-to-day tasks will use the Help Me With It platform to be connected to people willing to help them. These users join for free and can post tasks for free. They will pay a single-digit fee to be connected to a volunteer.

Volunteers will help by using their skills, knowledge and time to be connected to people who need help. We’ll ask our volunteers to pay a once a year single-digit membership fee. This small fee will allow us to provide the service and cover insurance.

Volunteering centres and community organisations will refer some of their clients who are seeking help, or those who want to volunteer to Help Me With It. More information about ‘How it works’ is on the Help Me With It website, including a pictorial Business Model Canvas.

What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next year?

The Help Me With It Directors are focused on raising seed funding to pilot the service on a live platform for six months. We’re also forming national corporate partnerships.

Establishing a new national charity is a big project! There is significant interest and investment for commercial digital disruptions like Uber and Airbnb. I think it is harder to seek funding for a not-for-profit enterprise that is similarly disrupting traditional services without the offer of equity. There is however more opportunities to impact social change and support people in our community who need help the most with organisations like Help Me With It.

The demand for our service is clear from extensive research and consultation … we need to find suitable funders to support this new way for people to get help and to help out. It’s still early days for Help Me With It.

Could Help Me With It be a service people can use after a natural disaster?

Yes. Usage of this service will swell after a natural disaster. It will enable emergency relief and mean support for people who need help is sustained beyond the very short term. 

How do you make ideas happen?


I’ve committed to a year with no pay, as well as committing my own finances to this project to make it happen. I’m focused, thorough and optimistic, but a realist too! Ideas are easy. Making it happen and executing an idea is the hard part.

What does your typical day look like?


I’ve consulted widely in my home town (Brisbane) and interstate over the last six months, so there are many meetings, plus of course time spent applying for grants. I also spend time buried in forecast financial statements and technical specifications!

Seeker_and_Helper_2_photos (1)

What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business/organisation in Australia? 

A founder of a new organisation needs to be across everything … and think through everything, simultaneously! The task of identifying agencies to work with is challenging - sometimes it’s hard to determine what they specialise in and what elements of the project would ‘fit’ best with which agency. For example, design verses development, and traditional media verses social media.

What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia at the moment?


Help Me With It doesn’t fit well into one ‘industry’. It’s a tech startup and a national charity in the not-for-profit sector. I’m continually inspired by entrepreneurs in many industries. I’m envious of their ability to seek equity investment which isn’t possible for a charity.

Corporates who are supporting innovation such as NRMA and Telstra are impressive - keeping an eye on what they are doing, along with other community minded organisations such as Australia Post, is worthwhile too. 

Speaking of affecting social change, we’ve teamed up with Shout for Good to encourage readers to ‘shout a coffee’ to charity by clicking the button below. Is there a particular charity you’d like to support?

Secondbite

Name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers.

TuShare
Shelter BOX Australia
Vinomofo

Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)? 

The Help Me With It Directors would appreciate introductions to people - philanthropists or corporate executives who may be interested in talking about collaborating to support us.

We’re aiming to build a community of Australian idea makers helping each other. If you could have one question answered about startups, marketing, social media, accounting, monetization, product development etc. What would it be?

I’m intrigued - what is in the water in Victoria? I take my hat off to Victorian philanthropists and bureaucratic organisations. There is considerable support for social enterprise and innovative projects in Victoria. More so than other states and territories it seems.

What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?

Any restaurant on the water!

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Scientists: Earth Endangered by New Strain of Fact-Resistant Humans

Photograph by NASA EO/Rex/Features via AP
by , The New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com/humor/borowitz-report/scientists-earth-endangered-by-new-strain-of-fact-resistant-humans

Andy Borowitz is a New York Times best-selling author and a comedian who has written for The New Yorker since 1998. He writes the Borowitz Report for newyorker.com.

Scientists have discovered a powerful new strain of fact-resistant humans who are threatening the ability of Earth to sustain life, a sobering new study reports.

The research, conducted by the University of Minnesota, identifies a virulent strain of humans who are virtually immune to any form of verifiable knowledge, leaving scientists at a loss as to how to combat them.

“These humans appear to have all the faculties necessary to receive and process information,” Davis Logsdon, one of the scientists who contributed to the study, said. “And yet, somehow, they have developed defenses that, for all intents and purposes, have rendered those faculties totally inactive.”

More worryingly, Logsdon said, “As facts have multiplied, their defenses against those facts have only grown more powerful.”

While scientists have no clear understanding of the mechanisms that prevent the fact-resistant humans from absorbing data, they theorize that the strain may have developed the ability to intercept and discard information en route from the auditory nerve to the brain. “The normal functions of human consciousness have been completely nullified,” Logsdon said.

While reaffirming the gloomy assessments of the study, Logsdon held out hope that the threat of fact-resistant humans could be mitigated in the future. “Our research is very preliminary, but it’s possible that they will become more receptive to facts once they are in an environment without food, water, or oxygen,” he said.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Make the Rich Panic

Protesters in Philadelphia on Thursday (AP / Matt Rourke)
by Chris Hedges, Truthdig: http://www.truthdig.com/report/print/make_the_rich_panic_20150503

It does not matter to the corporate rich who wins the presidential election. It does not matter who is elected to Congress. The rich have the power. 

They throw money at their favorites the way a gambler puts cash on his favorite horse. 

Money has replaced the vote. The wealthy can crush anyone who does not play by their rules. And the political elites - slobbering over the spoils provided by their corporate masters for selling us out - understand the game. 

Barack and Michelle Obama, as did the Clintons, will acquire many millions of dollars once they leave the White House. And your elected representative in the House or Senate, if not a multimillionaire already, will be one as soon as he or she retires from government and is handed seats on corporate boards or positions in lobbying firms. 

We do not live in a democracy. We live in a political system that has legalized bribery, exclusively serves corporate power and is awash in propaganda and lies. 

If you want change you can believe in, destroy the system. And changing the system does not mean collaborating with it as Bernie Sanders is doing by playing by the cooked rules of the Democratic Party. Profound social and political transformation is acknowledged in legislatures and courts but never initiated there. Radical change always comes from below.

As long as our gaze is turned upward to the powerful, as long as we invest hope in reforming the system of corporate power, we will remain enslaved. There may be good people within the system - Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are examples - but that is not the point. It is the system that is rotten. It must be replaced.

“The only way you can get the parties’ attention is if you take votes away from them,” Ralph Nader told me by phone. “So,” he said of Sanders, “How serious is he? He makes Clinton a better phony candidate. She is going to have to agree with him on a number of things. She is going to have to be more anti-Wall Street to fend him off and neutralize him. We know it is bullshit. She will betray us once she becomes president. He is making her more likely to win. And by April he is done. Then he fades away.”

We must build mass movements that are allied with independent political parties - a tactic used in Greece by Syriza and in Spain by Podemos. Political action without the support of radical mass movements inevitably becomes hollow, and that, I think, will be the fate of the Sanders presidential campaign. Only by building militant mass movements that are unrelentingly hostile to the system of corporate capitalism, imperialism, militarism and globalization can we wrest back our democracy.

“The gates are controlled by two parties indentured to the same commercial interests,” Nader said. “If you don’t go through those gates, if you do what [Ross] Perot did, ... you [might] get 19 million votes [but] not one electoral vote. If you do not get electoral votes you don’t come close. And even if you do get electoral votes you are up against a winner-take-all. This means if you lose you don’t build for the future as you would with proportional representation. The system is a locked-out system. It is brilliantly devised. It is pruned to perfect a two-party duopoly.”

We have to organize around a series of non-negotiable demands. We have to dismantle the array of mechanisms the rich use to control power. We have to destroy the ideological and legal system cemented into place to justify corporate plunder.

This is called revolution. It is about ripping power away from a cabal of corporate oligarchs and returning it to the citizenry. This will happen not by appealing to corporate power but by terrifying it. And power, as we saw in Baltimore, will be terrified only when we take to the streets. There is no other way.

“The rich are only defeated when running for their lives,” the historian C.L.R. James noted. And until you see the rich fleeing in panic from the halls of Congress, the temples of finance, the universities, the media conglomerates, the war industry and their exclusive gated communities and private clubs, all politics in America will be farce.

It is apparent to most people across the globe that organizing political and social behavior around the dictates of the marketplace has proved to be a disaster for working men and women. The promised prosperity that was to have raised living standards through trickle-down economics has been exposed as a lie.

The corporate state, understanding that it has been unmasked with the rise of unrest, has formed militarized police forces, stripped us of legal protection, taken over the legislative bodies, the courts and mass media, and built the most intrusive system of mass surveillance in human history. Corporate power, if unchecked, will suck every last bit of profit out of human society and the ecosystem before collapse. It has no self-imposed limits. And it has no external limits. Only we can create them.

To save ourselves from impending financial and environmental catastrophe we need to build movements that have as their uncompromising goal the abolition of corporate power. Corporation after corporation, including banks, energy companies, the health care sector and defense contractors, must be broken up and nationalized.

We must institute a nationwide public works program, especially for those under the age of 25, to create conditions for full employment. We must mandate a $15-an-hour minimum wage. We must slash our obscene spending on defense - we spend $610 billion a year, more than four times the outlay of the second-largest military spender, China - and cut the size of our armed forces by more than half.

We must rebuild our infrastructure, including mass transit, roads, bridges, schools, libraries and public housing. We must make war on the fossil fuel industry and turn to alternative sources of energy. We must place heavy taxes on the rich, including a special tax on Wall Street speculators that would be used to wipe out the $1.3 trillion in student debt. We must ensure that education at all levels, along with health care, is a free right of all Americans, not something accessible for the wealthy alone.

We must abolish the Electoral College and mandate public financing of political campaigns. We must see that the elderly, the disabled, poor single parents and the mentally ill receive a weekly income of at least $600, or we must find them space in state-run institutions if they require daily care. We must institute a moratorium on foreclosures and bank repossessions.

We must end our wars and the proxy wars in the Middle East and bring home our soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors. We must pay reparations to Iraq and Afghanistan, and to African-Americans whose ancestors largely built this country as slaves who never were compensated for their labor.

We must repeal the Patriot Act and Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act. We must abolish the death penalty. We must dismantle our system of mass incarceration, release the vast majority of our 2.3 million prisoners, place them in job-skill programs and find them work and housing.

Police must be demilitarized. Mass surveillance must end. Undocumented workers must be given citizenship and full protection under the law. NAFTA, CAFTA and other free-trade agreements must be revoked. Anti-labor laws such as the Taft-Hartley Act, along with laws that criminalize poverty and dissent, must be repealed.

All this is the minimum. Do not expect the corporate masters of war and commerce to willingly let this happen. They must be forced.

Revolutions take time. They are often begun by one generation and completed by the next. “Those who give the first check to a state are the first overwhelmed in its ruin,” Michel de Montaigne wrote in 1580. “The fruits of public commotion are seldom enjoyed by him who was the first mover; he only beats the water for another’s net.”

Revolutions can be crushed by force, as amply demonstrated by history. Or they may be hijacked by individuals such as Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky and Josef Stalin or movements that betray the populace. There are no guarantees that we will move toward a worker’s paradise or socialist utopia - we might move toward the most efficient form of totalitarianism in human history.

Radical movements are often their own worst enemies. The activists within them have a bad habit of fighting over arcane bits of doctrine, forming counterproductive schisms, misreading power and engaging in self-defeating and ultimately self-destructive internal power struggles. When they do not carefully calculate their power and the moment to strike, they often overreach and are crushed.

The state uses its ample resources to infiltrate, monitor and vilify groups and arrest or assassinate movement leaders - and all uprisings, even supposedly leaderless ones, have leaders. Success is not assured, especially given the endemic levels of violence that have characterized American society.

But no matter what happens, the chain reaction that leads to revolt has begun. Most people realize that our expectations for a better future have been obliterated, not only those for ourselves but also for our children. This realization has lit the fuse. There is a widespread loss of faith in established systems of power. The will to rule is weakening among the elites, who are entranced by hedonism and decadence. Internal corruption is rampant and transparent. Government is despised.

The nation, like many pre-revolutionary societies, is headed into crisis. Lenin identified the components that come together to foster a successful revolt:

"The fundamental law of revolution, which has been confirmed by all revolutions, and particularly by all three Russian revolutions in the twentieth century, is as follows: it is not enough for revolution that the exploited and oppressed masses should understand the impossibility of living in the old way and demand changes, what is required for revolution is that the exploiters should not be able to live and rule in the old way. Only when the “lower classes” do not want the old way, and when the “upper classes” cannot carry on in the old way - only then can revolution win".

When I was a foreign correspondent I covered revolts, insurgencies and revolutions, including the guerrilla conflicts in the 1980s in Central America; the civil wars in Algeria, Sudan and Yemen; and the two Palestinian uprisings or intifadas, along with the revolutions in East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Romania and the war in the former Yugoslavia.

I have seen that despotic regimes collapse internally. Once the foot soldiers of the elite - the police, the courts, the civil servants, the press, the intellectual class and finally the army - no longer have the will to defend the regime, the regime is finished.

When these state organs are ordered to carry out acts of repression - such as clearing people from parks and arresting or even shooting demonstrators - and refuse their orders, the old regime crumbles.

The veneer of power appears untouched before a revolution, but the internal rot, unseen by the outside world, steadily hollows out the state edifice. And when dying regimes collapse, they do so with dizzying speed. Upheaval is coming. The people must be prepared. If we are, we will have a chance.