Keep an Eye on Some of the Best Organizing Going On in America: 6 Activist Projects to Watch
As the date to go to the polls comes near, many seasonal activists will lace up their sneakers and do the work of knocking on doors to lend an aid to high-profile and local campaigns alike.
Getting out the vote is great, but year-round, season in and out, grassroots activists create campaigns whose wins and losses don’t get trumpeted across all the news networks. But their work is just as vitally important to local and national communities, very often with lives and safety at stake.
From the arts to local ballot initiatives to radical environmental activism, these are just a few of the many, many cool projects, ideas and campaigns that might be worth a minute of your attention this fall.
1. Documenting local resistance across the country with The Radical Resistance Tour. Two former occupiers from New York City, Amelia Dunbar and Kathleen Russell left town and spent the summer criss-crossing the country to spend time in local communities resisting corporate and political dominance. Their stops included mountain defense in West Virginia, protesting coal exports in Montana, direct action against the Keystone pipeline in Texas, pushing back against corporate takeover of housing in Chattanooga, Tennessee and Indian reservation defense against local businesses in South Dakota among others. They tried to focus on loci of activity that did not center around "straight white male" activists, they told me, because they'd been turned off by the too-often white male face of the Occupy movement.
Many of the local hubs of resistance the two visited were recommended to them by activists they met along the way, as they discovered an already extant network of solidarity. And while some of the projects they came across were Occupy-affiliated most were not. They documented many communities where the local activists had learned to let the least privileged, most directly threatened activists make decisions while more privileged people served in a supportive role and even at times volunteered to take risks and get arrested on their comrades' behalf. “People were supporting each other and fighting the same battle,” Dunbar, one of the project's creators, told me. Through a blog and a series of videos that are going up one per week, they hope to spread awareness of these successful models of local activism and help build solidarity across the different causes and geographical area.
2. Using Art to Activate Change: "Searching for American Justice" is a performance art project conceived and acted by Kanene Holder, another Occupier who memorably played the Goldman Sachs “squid” during last year’s protests. Holder quotes Alexander Hamilton in declaring that the first duty of a nation is to justice, but her aims are more radical than Hamilton might have envisioned. Her project uses a mix of performance art and digital media to focus on injustices in housing, healthcare, the economy, law enforcement, gender rights, immigration and education. Holder specifically aims to remind viewers and participants that after the election, there is still work to be done. As Holder told me, "when we buy a car, we don’t expect to just leave it for four years--we consider it an investment that we check in on regularly and get inspected." Democracy, she noted, should be the same--and by personifying the missing figure of justice, Holder hopes to inspire voters to perform regular inspections of their republic. Holder will be performing at the Art in Odd Places Festival and appearing at the Imagining America conference.
3. Ensuring the rights of domestic workers: Nannies, cleaners and home health aides, under the umbrella of the awesome and indefatigable Domestic Workers United, have made strides across the country, and in New York the passage of the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights was a notable step forward.
But as this Nation article details, passage is one thing while enforcement is another--many employers don’t know or about the new regulations, while it’s hard to enforce violations that occur in private homes. Still, many folks are doing continual on-the ground work work. The locus of much hat work is the socially-conscious, family-friendly neighborhood of Park Slope, Brooklyn, which DWU and others want to make into a pilot “domestic work justice zone.” One group organizing towards this end (on the employer side) is Jews for Racial and Economic Justice’s Shalom Bayit Campaign, aiming to mobilize employers, churches and synagogues and community groups, and explore the potential for collective bargaining in the industry once a “critical mass have come together and publicly committed to a set of standards, paving the way,” says Rachel McCullough of JFREJ. Collective bargaining for nannies: imagine that.
JFREJ, DWU and many other partners are also working a national campaign called "Caring Across Generations" to improve the lot of home care workers which spotlights the rights of immigrants, aid workers, the elderly and the disabled in a way they hope will bring those groups together--particularly given the challenge of the aging baby boomer generation.