Popular Resistance Is Building Up, from Hunger Strikes to Democracy Protests Across the Planet
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This week, there were many lessons in courage from people who overcame fears and created winning situations by turning power on its head and building the movement.
On Wednesday morning, attorney Lynne Stewart’s compassionate release from prison was denied. Stewart is suffering from breast cancer. Her husband, Ralph Poynter, stood vigil in DC to push for a decision, and then the decision came, with a result they did not want to hear. Stewart should not be in prison at all for her act of assisting her client with a press statement, but she continues to serve a 10 year sentence.
By her grace and strength Stewart turned a seemingly devastating decision into a victory. The abusive reality of the US government was laid bare as she responded with an open letter to her supporters entitled “ Disappointed, Not Devastated.” She included a photo of her in prison, obviously suffering from cancer, but smiling broadly. She showed her humanity, writing about her children and grandchildren, her Ralph and promised to continue the struggle. She concluded:
“Fight On — All of Us or None of Us. An affront to one is an affront to all.”
She created a victory for all of us, pulled us together in a struggle for justice that affects each of us; she helped to build the movement.
Wednesday was also a day of inspirational protest in solidarity with Guantanamo prisoners. The shame of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp is pushing more and more Americans to stand with the prisoners, including Diane Wilson, a fourth generation shrimper from the Gulf Coast who was on her 57th day of a hunger strike. She was the first to begin a solidarity hunger strike with the more than 100 prisoners who have refused to eat in Guantanamo, some for 147 days. The contagious courage of her actions can be seen as there are now 13 long-term hunger strikers. Who knows how this will grow? Perhaps soon there will be one solidarity hunger striker for each Guantanamo prisoner on a hunger strike. Wouldn’t that be a message to the world that people in the United States are not in lockstep with their government? And, a message of support for the Guantanamo prisoners?
Before the protest began, Wilson was asked whether she had any fear and she answered that she did, but her approach to fear was to confront it and walk through it. Elliot Adams, another long-term hunger striker, also confronts fear and does so with pragmatism, step-by-step, realizing along the way the fear was greater than the actual risk. Tarak Kauff, a board member of Veterans for Peace who has not eaten for nearly three weeks, says he sees great benefits from confronting fear and taking risks as doing so increases confidence and maintains youth. He notes that “young people take risks and taking risks keeps you young.”
During the Close Guantanamo protest, Diane Wilson decided to go over the White House fence. Her goal was to show President Obama and the world that there are people who hold him responsible for the prison camp remaining open, for keeping 86 prisoners who have been cleared for release in prison. Every day President Obama delays is another day of torture for the prisoners.
When Wilson confronted her fears and went over the fence, the fear by the power structure was evident. An attack dog and police pointing assault rifles rushed toward her – even though she displayed her peaceful intentions immediately with hands up and getting down on her knees. The fear of the police was also seen in their over-reaction when they arrested Medea Benjamin, who confronted Obama several weeks ago about Guantanamo and drones, putting her on the ground, knee on her back with multiple officers participating. Their unnecessary, over-reaction displayed their fear.
The paradox of power is that abuse of police power grows protest movements. This was evident recently in Brazil and Turkey. It was evident during Occupy when police used tear gas, creating iconic images for protesters to rally around. Over and over the use of tear gas has grown protests. The police do not win when they use their power; paradoxically they lose as opposition grows.
The Edward Snowden saga demonstrates how a well-planned strategic action can create a no-win situation for the power structure. Snowden released documents showing a vast array of domestic and global spying on phone calls and Internet communications; documents that reveal the UK has a global intelligence system gathering virtually every phone call and Internet communication. As the time the US was charging him with espionage, he fled Hong Kong reportedly en route to a third country through Russia. Despite being told by President Vladimir Putin that Snowden was in the Moscow airport, and despite their vast global surveillance capability, the US has been unable to get their hands on Snowden or even find him.
Instead those in power have taken their usual tactic of changing the subject by trying to make Snowden the issue and attacking his supporters. Snowden is not the issue, NSA spying is the issue. The power structure has also gone after perceived Snowden allies like Glenn Greenwald with attacks on him and threats that he should be arrested. Two corporate media figures, David Gregory of NBC’s “Meet the Press” and Andrew Ross Sorkin of the New York Times, and CNBC embarrassed themselves when they mused about arresting Greenwald. The comments backfired, forcing Sorkin to apologize for his comments.
Once again, the paradox of power – the vast US surveillance state has outsmarted by Snowden every step of the way. Even if they catch him, it is going to backfire as Snowden now has global public support and has provided the documents to others who will release them if he is arrested or harmed. President Obama is now in the hypocritical position of trying to prosecute the person who started the debate he says the public needs to have.
Advocates for change succeed with tactics that put the movement in a win-win situation and the power structure in a lose-lose situation. These tactics are called Paradox Actions. When Rosa Parks sat in the front of the bus she won. If she was allowed to violate Jim Crow segregation, she beat the law. If they arrested her, they created an opportunity for the movement to grow – and it did.