Activism

Rising Up! The Growing People-Powered Movement Is Showing Power

A report shows that we are seeing the largest protests in world history, with a steady increase in the overall number of demonstrations annually.

TORONTO-JUNE 25: An angry woman protester chanting slogans with a microphone during the G20 Protest on June 25, 2010 in Toronto, Canada.
Photo Credit: arindambanerjee/shutterstock

Last week was the one year anniversary of our project Popular Resistance. Daily news updates on the website report on what is occurring in the movement for social, economic and environmental justice in the United States and around the world. We see this movement growing, becoming more creative and people power succeeding on critical issues.

At the turn of the year we published two articles on where the movement is along the timeline of successful movements and what the tasks are now. The quick summary: we are in the phase of grass roots activity to build national consensus on the issues raised during the “take-off” of the movement (the occupy phase). The core issues are the unfair wealth divide in an economy designed to benefit the wealthiest; and the dysfunctional government corrupted by wealth.

In the last year there have been some significant victories. To those who rely on the corporate media for their news this statement may sound disconnected from reality because the corporate media’s role is primarily to distract Americans from knowing there is a movement for social, economic and environmental justice. Thousands of people are working on multiple issues, often joining together across issues as a movement of movements.

The #WorldwideWaveOfAction that began on April 4th and finishes on July 4th issued its first progress report this week. In the report they highlighted “An extensive report by the Initiative for Policy Dialogue analyzing 843 protests in 87 countries from 2008 – 2013 [which] revealed that we are currently seeing the largest protests in world history, with a steady increase in the overall number of protests every year and a growing number of internationally coordinated actions. They also concluded that a ‘demand for real democracy’ was the primary driver of actions, with people from all age groups and walks of life participating.” They reported that in 2006 there were 59 protests and in mid-2013 there were 112 protests events in only half a year. The #WorldWideWave reports 150 actions happening since it began on April 4, 2014. The United States would certainly look different if the media covered people protesting government and corporate policies. It would look like America was in revolt.

Despite the lack of media coverage of this reality, people are noticing. For example, last month Citi Group published a report “Vox Populi: Taking It To The Streets.” Citi was not advocating in favor of people power. In fact, the quotation at the beginning of the report shows their bias: “And those people should not be listened to who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riotousness of the crowd is very close to madness. -- Alcuin to Charlemagne, 798 A.D.” This is the classic battle of who should rule, the people or the elites, and how.

Citi sees “political risk on the front pages every day: crowds of protesters gathering, a rally calling for independence, a military coup or scenes of civil conflict.” They see the Vox Populi as “shifting and more volatile public opinion that poses ongoing, fast-moving risks to the business and investment environment.” They report a 54% increase in the Vox Populi this decade compared to the last decade and report that now revolt is taking place in “high income developed markets and middle income developing markets, many of which have enjoyed a sustained period of growth and improvements in living standards — and are integrated into the global economy and financial system.”

Why would people protest when they live in economies that are wealthy or becoming wealthy, with improved living standards? To Citi it is the “perception” of disparities in wealth and income and “anxiety” about globalization.

Perception? Anxiety? Maybe when the investor class faces the reality of this disparity and realizes that the reason for it is structural, they will begin to understand why people are resisting. Anxiety about globalization is understandable because when trade agreements are designed to help the wealthiest, transnational corporations at the expense of other businesses and the people, it adds to the structural unfairness.

Research shows that corporate trade results in greater disparities, more wealth and income going to the top while workers in the US and abroad are underpaid and mistreated. Growth in the economy is expanding disparities because many laws, among them corporate trade agreements, are designed to make the wealthier continue to receive an unfair share of economic growth. It is this foundation of corruption which people revolt against.

Citi describes the “Vox Populi risk” as “a structural change and that it will be a risk factor affecting both the investment and business environment for the foreseeable future.” In fact, according to the eight stages of successful social movements, we are at the beginning of a broadening mass movement. It will grow because government corrupted by the rule of money is unable to work on behalf of the interests of the people or to protect the planet.

The People Are Beginning To Show Their Power

There have been some important, if unheralded, victories in the last year for the movement for social, economic and environmental justice that should give all of us confidence to increase our involvement and persuade others to join the movement.

Three recent examples:

Saving The Internet. Within weeks after the leak of FCC Chair Tom Wheeler’s plan to create a tiered Internet based on fees, people who want the Internet to be open to all without discrimination were able to build enough pressure to get the real solution on the FCC’s agenda. Wheeler wants to avoid reclassifying the Internet as a common carrier which would prevent Internet discrimination. However, after two weeks of online and in-person protests, he included that option as one alternative to be discussed in the rulemaking process currently taking place. This is a major initial victory. Now people are submitting public comments in support of reclassifying the Internet as a common carrier. Already 50,000 comments have been received, dwarfing any other issue the FCC is considering; and more protests are planned. Coming up is a street theater performance outside the FCC on July 1 at noon called “Which side are you on, Tom?” You can find out how to participate in the “show” as well as submit comments to the FCC here.

Stopping Corporate Trade Agreements. Not long ago nobody had heard of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive trade agreement being negotiated by President Obama. It is being negotiated in secret, except for 600 corporate advisers who are helping to write it, thanks to a media blackout and intentional secrecy by the administration. Secrecy is critical to passing the TPP because it contains provisions that are unpopular with the public. While the corporate media has continued its blackout, you can find lots of articles and information about the TPP in the independent and social media. Not only do people know about the TPP, but enough people have mobilized so that progress is stalled. Congress refuses to move forward in granting the Obama administration “fast track” trade authority that is needed to complete the process. Fast track will also be necessary for the Atlantic agreement with Europe, TAFTA. There are now thousands of Americans who are watching, continuing to act and ready to escalate their opposition if there is any inclination of Congress allowing fast track to proceed.

Winning The Battle For Raising The Minimum Wage. There have been a series of separate but related campaigns against poverty wages. The “Our Walmart” and “Fight for 15” are two leading examples. They have resulted in increased support for raising the minimum wage and actual increases in the minimum wage at the state and local level. However, there is still more to be done to reach a living wage.

Last week we wrote about successful environmental battles and pointed to research that showed blockades and other aggressive protest actions work – they can stall or stop extreme energy extraction. And, we have reported on repeated efforts by the Obama administration, with congressional leadership, to try and cut Social Security where the people have stopped him.

None of these successes are complete. The movement has had some successes but must keep organizing and mobilizing to ultimately succeed. This work is part of the process of building broad national consensus that will ultimately lead to transformational change.

From Stopping Harmful Policies to System Change

Stalling or stopping bad policies is necessary, but working for positive transformative change is also important. People are creating new institutions by working outside of government, some with enabling legislation.

For example, economic democratic institutions are beginning to take root across the country with an increase in worker-owned cooperatives, land trusts to control housing costs and increased use of wind and solar energy. There is an expansion of organic gardening, including in urban areas. And, people are also developing new currencies that are complementary to the dominant currency while others are creating their own credit unions so they can have greater control over community wealth. Rethinking money and remaking the finance system are two parts of an overall movement toward economic democracy.

This weekend there is a conference in Boston, Commonbound, where hundreds will gather to examine how to build a new economy based on democracy, sustainability and community. We recently held a similar conference in Baltimore, Building our New Economy Together, which continued efforts to create new economic institutions locally. In Jackson, MS the Jackson Rising Conference brought together hundreds of people from across the nation to make Jackson a center of cooperative businesses. These events build on a long history of cooperatives and worker ownership.

This is the one year anniversary of Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks that exposed dragnet surveillance by the NSA. In response, people are trying to make legislative change but that is showing itself to be challenging with members of Congress working more to protect the NSA then to protect the people’s privacy. People are also working outside of legislation to put in place privacy protections as part of the Reset The Net campaign. And, ExposeFacts.org is seeking to expand whistleblowing by putting in place new versions of Wikileaks-type software, SecureDrop, that will allow safe government and corporate whistleblowing.

This week a new campaign is being announced “The Rolling Rebellion for Real Democracy.” The first phase of the campaign will go from July 5 to 12. People are encouraged to plan events in their communities that will focus on the threats to our democracy posed by money being treated as speech, corporations being treated as humans and recent court decisions that have opened the floodgates of money into elections. Ending the “rule of money” has always been a key part of the vision of Popular Resistance and we are participating in this campaign. We urge you to plan an event in your community and put it on this map of actions as part of the Rolling Rebellion.

After three decades of corporate trade agreements (falsely called “free trade”) failing, people working to stop the TPP and TAFTA see an opportunity to move the debate on trade in a positive direction. This would build on work done in the 1990s around the Seattle WTO protests where people began to develop fair trade practices that put people and the planet before profits. At the local level people are working on TPP Free Zones with help from the Alliance for Democracy. These efforts not only oppose the TPP and other corporate trade agreements, but also define what type of trade would be good for local economies.

Transformation Takes Time

The changes being sought are monumental: creating a new political economy based on democracy rather than big finance capitalism; creating a government not ruled by money but by people who participate in decision-making beyond voting for representatives; and facing up to age old problems of divisions based on race, class and gender that have resulted in generations of oppression.

While the crisis situations we face are immediate with millions in poverty, climate change bearing down on the planet, destructive war and militarism taking place – the reality is change is slow.

People need time for political education so that when a wave of propaganda comes they question, consider and look for alternative information. This week that election-year wave was President Obama’s new rules for power plants. Cited as the greatest environmental steps in history by some, in reality they are inadequate, slow and rely on approaches like cap and trade that have not worked. On top of that, the Friday before the announcement, Obama approved off-shore oil and gas leases for Exxon-Mobil.

We must take time to build our political education so we are not easily fooled. As the movement for social, economic and environmental justice grows, the people in power will try to appease us with solutions that sound satisfactory but are inadequate. Transformation can be easily taken off course if those seeking it are not vigilant.

We need time to build alternative systems, test them, improve them and show that they can work. This is more of an evolutionary process than a revolutionary one, but it can result in a solid transformation to a new system that reflects shared values.

And, we need to build relationships as we educate, organize and mobilize to achieve deep national consensus that all of our movements are connected and that we are seeking holistic change because the corruption is systemic. This “intersectionality” is what Brooke Anderson of the Oakland-based Movement Generation Justice and Ecology Project describes as facing up to the challenge:

“We can either keep fighting for the five cents here and the ten cents there … or we can view this as an opportunity to pick our heads up from those very small contract fights that we’re struggling so hard on and look around and say: What’s the broader system, the reason why our … wages are going down?”

Past movements have been divided over the two tracks we recommend in our strategy for change: Stop the Machine and Create a New World because some get so focused on creating their new world that that they look inward and do not connect with those working for societal change with protest, sit-ins and other tactics. But, as Mark and Paul Engler conclude in their discussion of this divide, we can balance these approaches and “experience the power of a community that is committed to living in radical solidarity, as well as the joy of transforming the world around us.”

In the last year we have seen various sub-movements come together over issues like stopping the TPP and keeping the Internet free of discrimination because these are issues that affect us in obvious and direct ways. These are first steps in developing the kind of movement of movements that can be a building block to the mass movement we need to succeed.

This article is produced by Popular Resistance in conjunction withAlterNet.  It is a weekly review of the activities of the resistance movement.Sign up for the daily news digest of Popular Resistance, here.

Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers are participants in PopularResistance.org. They also co-direct It’s Our Economy and are co-hosts of Clearing the FOG, shown on UStream TV and heard on radio. They tweet at @KBZeese and MFlowers8.