Activism

Be Prepared for the Inevitable and Unpredictable Mass Movement

People who seek justice and an end to militarism feel like they are laboring in relative obscurity, organizing seemingly unnoticed actions, but at some point a wave of mass resistance arises.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Mohamed Elsayyed

The surprise events in Turkey show how unpredictable mass movements are.  Turkey, which is in a difficult geographic neighborhood, with economically distressed Greece and Cypress nearby and Syria and Iraq on its border, seemed to be fairly stable with five percent economic growth in recent years.  But, obviously that was not the whole story. 

In recent years there has been growing opposition to the commercialization of Turkey and the crackdown on freedom as well arrests of journalists. So, when Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan announced the development of a park, in a city of declining green spaces, into a shopping area, the people revolted. The government’s response has been brutal with 1,700 injured and 1,900 arrested, but it has led to larger revolts. 

The unions joined and many civil-political groups have joined as well. A coalition of 180 groups now call themselves Taksim Solidarity and are starting to form demands. There are protests in 67 cities involving hundreds of thousands of people. A protester told Sky News: “This is no longer about these trees.”Turkish protesters sought international solidarity through a twitter campaign to overcome the lack of mass media coverage (TV continued to broadcast regular content such as the Turkish Beauty Pageant).  There were at least 2 million tweets, sometimes at 3,000 every minute. Prime Minister Erdogan called tweeting “a menace” and people were arrested for tweeting. International solidarity followed with Occupy protesters in New York, Boston, Seattle, Chicago, Austin and other cities around the world as well such as in London, Amsterdam, Germany, Egypt, Canada, Helsinki and Cyprus.  On Reddit people posted helpful advice such as how to respond to tear gas.

The eruption in Turkey seemed spontaneous, as most uprisings do. But the reality is that in case after case momentum builds for a while, sometimes under the surface, until it reaches a tipping point and an event lights the spark that sets off mass protest. Nobody can predict what the event will be or when it will occur.

So often, people who seek economic and social justice and an end to militarism feel like they are laboring in relative obscurity organizing seemingly unnoticed actions, but at some point a wave of mass resistance arises. We sense the United States is at that stage once again. Protests on various issues are occurring throughout the country, more people are getting active, and the undercurrent is once again forming a wave.  What will grow that wave to a tidal force? We don’t know.  But, we can prepare for it so when it does, the people are more effective.

One key to building the movement is rejoicing in our successes.  There were two we want to highlight this week. First, protesters in Canada scored a major victory against the Alberta Tar Sands shutting off their route to the Pacific when the British Columbia government rejected the pipeline because of the dangers of oil spills.  The second victory came against Monsanto, which has given up plans to bring its products to Europe. These victories remind us once again of something that has been shown throughout history – people organized, acting strategically with uncompromising pressure can win against the power structure, today in the United States it is a conflict between the people and planet and concentrated corporate power. 

The long history of social movements and transformation guide our philosophy of how we can win which we describe on PopularResistance.org and plan to write about in detail next week.  One of the goals of PopularResistance.org is to provide tools so that as people’s anger grows and as they become ready to get active, they are able to do so more easily and be as effective as possible.  We also hope to provide encouragement by showing that we are not alone in our anger at the mistaken direction of government and the economy.  There is a growing movement that seeks an end to the rule of money so people and planet come before profits.

As we announced last week, stopping the TransPacific Partnership (TPP) is going to be the first major campaign of PopularResistance.org.  We are more confident than ever that this is a winnable battle.  The secret Obama trade negotiations over the last three years are coming to light, as this op-ed in the New York Times shows, and the former US Trade Representative, Ron Kirk, said that if the text was made public there would be such opposition, the agreement would be impossible to sign.  Stopping the TPP will be a major defeat for transnational corporate power on which we can build.

The horrible costs of “free” trade agreements was shown in a report this week from Colombia were US corporations are aligning with death squads in the murder of union leaders and human rights workers. Farmers are seeing lost income as Colombia is flooded with subsidized US food. And whole villages are being cleared for development with support from the police. Colombia has the world’s largest number of internally-displaced people, 5.4 million.

So-called free trade only helps the oligarchs and transnational corporations. And the TPP is about much more than trade. Most of the chapters contain policies that corporations have wanted but couldn’t pass through Congress such as internet privacy restrictions, patent protections, increased legal rights and further financial deregulation. The TPP is expected to go before Congress for a vote in October, so stopping the TPP is an urgent priority.

As the impact of austerity is hitting the United States, it may be that the economic hardship and unfairness of it will cause the next wave of rebellion. Although the word austerity is avoided in the mass corporate media, masked as a false debate on cutting the deficit by DC bipartisans, what we are seeing is austerity. Students certainly feel it and the effects of an unfair economy. Two students who are members of the Green Shadow Cabinet recently called for rejection of indentured servitude and for debt emancipation.

In Europe austerity is resulting in mass unrest with protesters taking to the streets in Spain, Portugal and Greece to direct their anger against the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank.  Thousands of protesters with “Blockupy” surrounded the European Central Bank in Germany.  Will austerity turn the undertow of protest into the next tidal wave of revolt in the US?

Or, will it be the horrors being done to the environment by the radical energy development that is occurring.  The extractive economy that is resulting in tar sands for oil, hydro-fracking for methane gas, off-shore oil drilling and mountain top removal is causing escalating environmental resistance this summer.  The Idle No More movement of North American Indians, announced sovereignty summer – a summer of actions protesting destruction of the environment.  And, front-line environmental protesters in the US have announced Fearless Summer, a summer of epic actions. Students in Chicago protested the KXL pipeline at an Obama fundraiser this week while activists in Springfield, the Illinois capital, continued to protest fracking. We published an article this week exposing how abandoned open pit uranium mines are “America's Secret Fukushima Poisoning the Bread Basket of the World.”

The history of movements shows that there is no super organization that can direct a movement, but rather movements are made up of a series of communities joining together around issues and taking actions.  That is happening around many issues, but also in local areas.  This was the fifth week of a “Moral Monday” action against regressive policies in North Carolina that started with dozens of protesters and this week had 1,600 people participating and 150 arrests. Rev. William Barber, a key organizer of the protests said “The people are awake now, and we have decided to stand up. We are a movement. This is not a moment.”

In addition to protest, the path to social transformation includes the development of alternative systems to replace the current dysfunctional systems. This is well underway in the US as Carl Gibson writes that cooperative economics is replacing big finance capitalism.  He focuses on cooperative housing, food, workplaces and banks – all growing in today’s economy.

And, Lyle Jeremy Rubin writes about the political agenda that can help bring a new democratic economy to an even larger reality in the United States.  He reviews two books written by Gar Alperovitz, “America Beyond Capitalism” and “What Then Must We Do?” which describe how deep the new economy is becoming – with 130 million Americans already involved in some kind of cooperative, including credit unions – and then discusses strategies that could put this new economy in place. David Schweickart in “After Capitalism,” puts forward a 13 point agenda for reform that would really be a transformation in the lives of American workers.

In this interview, Noam Chomsky describes the political philosophy of anarchism, which is widely misunderstood and misreported in the media. Chomsky describes anarchism as suspicious of hierarchy, and puts the burden of proof on those who claim hierarchy is necessary.  Where it cannot be justified, it should be dismantled and replaced by something more free and just.  Chomsky also explains how we have made tremendous progress in his lifetime, but these changes did not come “as gifts from above” they came through struggle from below. That is what is needed today, as Chomsky says “It’s never going to be easy.  There’s going to be repression.  There’s going to be backlash.  But that’s the way society moves forward.”

Finally, we want to highlight an article by Robert Jensen in YES! Magazine that explains why our era should be a time when radical is the new normal. He points out: “The climate crisis is spinning out of control, and the gap between the rich and poor continues to grow unabated. It’s time to let the radical uncertainty of this moment enlarge our sense of possibility.”  He recognizes that the results of our actions are uncertain, that we need “a revolution—many revolutions” and that our work for change will strengthen our networks and our communities while building a base for radical change.  He concludes, were we will conclude today, quoting author James Baldwin who wrote in 1962:

“Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

We are thankful to the growing number of people who have the courage to face the urgent challenges of our times, take action and inspire others to join the popular resistance of which we are all a part.

This article is produced in partnership with AlterNet and is based on the weekly newsletter of PopularResistance.org.You can sign up to receive the newsletter here

Kevin Zeese is a coordinator of PopularResistance.org and serves as the Attorney General in the Green Shadow Cabinet.