Building a Smarter, Stronger Democratic Movement in the Face of Opposition

As we see each week, the revolt in the U.S. and around the world was very busy on many fronts, from low-wage workers to protests against solitary confinement in support of hunger strikers, to environmental justice and healthcare reform to Bradley Manning and protests in state capitols and so much more. We want to focus on lessons people are learning about effective strategy. Knowing where we are going and how to get there will lift up the actions of all of us.

The following video depicts a protest in the Senate building against solitary confinement and the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, which resulted in arrests:

As one would expect, the opponents of change have developed strategies to undermine social movements. Steve Horn reports, based on leaked documents from the private security firm StratFor, that their strategy is to divide activists into four groups: Radicals, Idealists, Realists and Opportunists. Opportunists are in the movement for themselves and can be pulled away for their own self-interest. Realists can be convinced that transformative change is not possible and settle for what is possible. Idealists can be convinced they have the facts wrong and pulled to the Realist camp. And finally, Radicals see a corrupt system that requires transformation. They work to isolate and discredit this last group. Using false charges to assassinate character is a common tactic. They divide and weaken movements to protect the status quo. 

There is much discussion of strategy among people in the forces for change as well. Popular Resistance dedicates a page to strategy that will expand as more materials are developed. We published the overall strategy we support in “History Teaches That We Have the Power to Transform the Nation, Here's How,” which discusses building a mass movement that weakens the power structure by working on two tracks: protesting what we oppose and building what we want.

This week a video called “Revolution, An Instruction Manual” by Storm Clouds Gathering provided a well-informed basic discussion of strategy. Their approach was very consistent with the strategy we put forward: develop a common vision, build a movement that takes control of the narrative and mobilizes people within a common strategic framework that weakens the pillars of power. Both their approach and ours leaves people with lots of flexibility as there are at least 200 tactics reviewed on various websites that have proven to be effective in other resistance movements. They also recommend further reading to get more in-depth knowledge on strategy and tactics.

Often one of the turning points in a successful resistance campaign is when the security state begins to support the movement.  Regimes have fallen when the police or military refused to follow orders to act against their families and communities. This scene from the recent protests in Brazil of police joining a sit-in while in uniform is the kind of development governments fear most. During the occupation of the capitol in Madison, WI in 2011, the local sheriff refused to deploy his force to guard the capitol, and police would join the protesters after their shifts.

But Egypt teaches us a different lesson: that when a movement gets too close to the security state, it can undermine the movement. It is important to remember the military and police may have their own agenda that is usually not consistent with the movement. Erica Chenoweth reviews the history of how the security state and resistance movements interrelate around the world and points out that the Egyptian slogan, “the people and the military are always one hand,” is mistaken. As we see in the slaughters carried out by the military in Egypt and the return of the abusive SSI secret police, social and economic justice is not on their agenda.

In Egypt, we are pleased to see that some in the resistance movement realize the military is not the same as the movement. In particular, unions are striking against the current transition government because like the Morsi and Mubarak regimes before them, they are not treating workers fairly. Indeed, the rights of workers and their fair treatment has been a key component of resistance movements around the world; and are a key component in the United States where there has been an assertive week of actions by low-wage workers.

Noam Chomsky made an important point this week that we should never forget: governments fear their people. Governments know that they behave in unethical and often illegal ways and work for the richest in the nation, and therefore they want to keep the people ignorant, or worse, filled with myths and misinformation, which is why they intimidated journalists at the Manning trial. They know that 8 out of 10 Americans suffer economic insecurity and fear poverty and joblessness; and that this is a recipe for revolt.

We can see their fear of the truth in the reaction to Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden and other whistleblowers. Manning, a prisoner of conscience, exposed important truths about illegal and unethical actions of U.S. foreign policy. The list of the crimes exposed is impressive and they demonstrate the importance of a free press. His conviction on espionage charges, the first time a whistleblower has been found to be a spy, is a threat to the First Amendment and to investigative journalism. As Julian Assange wrote in reaction to the verdict, “journalism is now espionage.”

Edward Snowden exposed the dragnet spying program of the NSA. He let the American people know that the NSA is keeping all of their Internet records as well as telephone call data. Because of his revelations, a political protest movement against the NSA is growing and more Americans are concerned about government spying than they are about terrorism.

In addition, we hope to see new technologies developed that will make the Internet private, as this article suggests. This is creating a new world where people have privacy in their communications; no doubt there are activists in our movement who can accomplish this feat.

And, people learned another lesson this week – neither of the corporate-dominated political parties is an ally of the people. When Congress voted on whether to end the funding for NSA spying, a close look at the votes showed it was the progressive Democrats who ensured the vote’s failure. We have seen this before when it came to the bailout of the big banks, the health insurance giveaway known as Obamacare, and the funding of the Iraq war. Repeatedly, the members of the Progressive Caucus gave just enough votes to the leadership of their party to ensure the corporate-security state was not challenged. 

The lesson: we need an independent movement. When Martin Luther King, Jr. faced two segregation parties, he remained independent, saying: "I feel someone must remain in the position of non-alignment, so that he can look objectively at both parties and be the conscience of both—not the servant or master of either." Today, we face a corporate political duopoly when the issue of the times is corporate power. We too must remain independent and challenge both dominant parties.

Snowden learned lessons from the prosecution, and now verdict, of Bradley Manning. He knows that if he were to stand trial in the United States, it would not be a fair trial. His rights would be abused and he would be subjected to a show trial. Snowden warned President Obama that prosecuting whistleblowers will not stop people of conscience from letting the truth out, but it will make them smarter.

Manning and Snowden exposed ways that our government’s actions contradict what most people value in the U.S., and call on us to demand different behavior. Their disclosures challenge the security state, the military industrial complex, transnational corporations and an empire-based foreign policy. As a result they are being treated as enemies of the state while those whose crimes they have exposed go uninvestigated and unprosecuted. 

Indeed, the attack on our privacy is the hallmark of an abusive government. As Edward Snowden’s father’s lawyer, Bruce Fein wrote in a letter to President Obama, Justice Robert Jackson of the US Supreme Court, who served as the chief prosecutor in Nuremberg, wrote of the importance of the Fourth Amendment: “Among deprivations of rights, none is so effective in cowing a population, crushing the spirit of the individual and putting terror in every heart. Uncontrolled search and seizure is one of the first and most effective weapons in the arsenal of every arbitrary government.”

The spirit for change in our nation is very high. This was also a week of growing environmental protests as ecological devastation from extractive energy sources was again highlighted. These images of beautiful beaches in Thailand destroyed by an oil pipeline leak, this mystery in Canada of a nine-week-old tar sands leak that no one can explain or stop, and the report from the Earth Policy Institute that climate change gases are at new highs remind us of the urgency of our struggles.

Environmental activists know that the planet cannot speak for itself, so they must act, resist, trespass and blockade as these activists did at the Brayton Coal Power Plant in Massachusetts. And, there were hundreds who were on the Columbia River, hanging from and standing on a bridge to blockade the transport of carbon energy. There were also these Appalachia Justice protesters who blockaded a road to stop the transport of coal from mountain-top removal who are now facing jail time and fines. And we are seeing Native Indian groups blockading pipelines, others joining together in a 1,000-person Native Healing Walk for the planet; and scores participating in the Two Row Wampum Epic Canoe journey down the Hudson River. There is an escalation of environmental justice activism across the country as people see the corruption of government preventing environmental justice.

Many Americans see their right to protest as essential to change as the electoral system has been too corrupted by money, the media controlled by concentrated corporate interests and no other avenue available. Some of the actions this week to protect our Right to Assemble have been occurring in Madison, WI where scores have been arrested while singing protest songs in the capitol.

The lessons of history apply to the movement for transformation today. We need to develop a mass movement of people committed to ending the rule of money and building power in the people. That requires action. Edmund Burke, a political philosopher of the 18th century spoke a truth that still applies today: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

And, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. recognized the same truth during the Civil Rights Movement when he said: “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it.”   

Now is the time for action. We will not be deterred, as modeled here by Food Not Bombs, by those who try to stop us. And we will find more effective and strategic ways to create a world based upon our values. We are popular resistance, and we will persevere.

This article is produced by in conjunction with AlterNet. It is based on’s weekly newsletter reviewing the activities of the resistance movement.

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