George Lakey – Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Sun, 15 Nov 2020 04:31:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 What Trump’s claim of a ‘stolen election’ means for activists today Sun, 15 Nov 2020 05:02:25 +0000 ( Waging Nonviolence ) – I’m encountering a great deal of alarm among progressive activists regarding continued Republican claims of a stolen election. Do these anti-democratic efforts mean a coup attempt is under way?

Despite being among the first to write about the possibilities of a coup, I have to say (as of this moment) the answer is “No.” My colleagues at Choose Democracy — who have been preparing Americans to defeat a power grab for the past several months — have also stopped short of describing what we’ve seen and heard this week as a coup. In a release today, they said: “What we have seen has been slow, poorly rolled out, and has none of the surprise elements associated with a traditional coup.”

So what are we to make of the Trump campaign’s lawsuits, Republicans refusing to honor the election results and the Department of Justice looking into “allegations” of supposed voter fraud? If this isn’t a coup, then what is it?

The politics of grievance

I believe Trump’s “stolen election” claim is a choice to continue a kind of politics that has served him well in the past — so well that he’s re-shaped the Republican Party in its image. Trump specializes in the politics of grievance.

Millions of words have been written since 2016 about manipulating grievance to gain political power. The question for the politics of grievance is never whether or not something is true — it can be laughably untrue. The claim that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States was obviously bogus, but it was useful as a way to reduce his legitimacy as president and fit nicely into the politics of grievance.

I believe the point of claiming a stolen election is not to set the stage for a coup, but to add more juice to the right’s list of grievances for building political power in the future. The bigger the publicity that’s produced around this claim, the more juice is created — and that’s what they are trying to do now.

Count on it: the juice will ferment in 2021 and be stronger in 2022. Everything that hurts Americans will be laid on the door of Biden, “who was fraudulently elected!”

What can we do about it?

First, as the Choose Democracy team advises, “Breathe.” Our anxiety doesn’t actually serve us in this case. Additional immediate action steps are also recommended on the site, including writing elected officials and supporting and thanking poll workers.

Second, in the coming months pay attention to the grievances that arise from the circumstances of living in a declining empire. It’s no accident that exit polls showed more people who earned less than $50,000 favored Biden than those with higher incomes. That was also true for those who didn’t work full time. More people also favored Biden who saw the nation’s economy as “not good” or “poor.”

It makes sense: More well-off people supported Trump more often because they are more able to insulate themselves from the deteriorating conditions of American life.

The Green New Deal is a vision that pays attention to some of the real grievances: job insecurity, climate disasters, neglected infrastructure, exploding rents.

The third thing we can do is build a liberatory political culture that substitutes empathy for political correctness. The electoral map makes plain the results of bi-coastal condescension. If you were looked down on, why wouldn’t you want a champion who says “Fuck you” to elitists? This is a grievance that’s within the power of progressives to do something about. As I’ve explained many times, the make-over starts with a sober examination of how classism distorts our understanding of oppression.

A great place to start is with sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild’s beautifully-written book about Republicans in Louisiana, “Strangers in their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right.”

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We have momentum

In some ways we’re in good shape for growing in numbers and power in the Biden years. On multiple issues we’ve been on the move, and we’re not likely to make the tragic mistake of progressives in the Obama years of expecting the Democratic Party to do the job for us. The neoliberal Democratic Party leadership will do what Democrats did last time: allow conditions to grow that invite a grievance-based Republican take-over in the next election.

Empathic social movements that retain a big picture of our country and world — and stay independent of co-optative moves from the Democrats — can grow rapidly by developing visions like Medicare for All that respond to the real needs of people, especially in rural areas, who otherwise are tempted by the grievance party. Police and public safety are one example of an issue mired in the dynamics of racism until more work in alternative visioning is done.

We can do all this. The workshops of Choose Democracy were designed to help prepare for movement-building on the chance we wouldn’t need to defeat a serious coup attempt. That chance has arrived.

Via Waging Nonviolence

Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Inside Edition: “Trump’s Team Keeps Claiming Voter Fraud Despite No Evidence”

We need a plan to prevent a Trump takeover — and this anti-coup research shows the way Fri, 14 Aug 2020 04:01:48 +0000 ( Waging Nonviolence ) – I’m hearing a range of views on the likelihood of President Donald Trump refusing to leave office if Joe Biden wins in November. Some don’t believe that even the reckless Trump would go that far, no matter how messed up mail-in ballots become and how close the vote is. Others point out that Trump has surprised observers again and again with bizarre behavior, doubling down even on nonsense regarding COVID-19. And he’s stated numerous times his envy of other heads of state who’ve been appointed president for life.

Fortunately, we needn’t agree that a Trump coup attempt is likely in order to prepare for the possibility. We can think of it like insuring a house, not because it’s likely to catch on fire but “just in case.”

Actually, a plan against a coup is better than insurance, as it can reduce the chance that we’ll face a coup attempt. The better prepared we are to counter it, the more likely that wiser heads in the Trump camp will realize that a coup is futile, and not attempt it.

In July the well-known Harvard civil resistance researcher Erica Chenoweth joined two colleagues, Maria J. Stephan and Candace Rondeaux, in urging that democracy-loving Americans prepare for a possible “November surprise.”

There are many aspects to preparation, and they include developing an overall strategy, a handy list of tactics that are mutually supportive and a communication network. It will help to train as many as possible because at a time of crisis, people look to the “early responders” for a way forward.

The more that preparation is informed by research, the better. Donald Trump may scorn evidence-based conclusions, but most of us actually believe rationality is a good thing. Fortunately, some researchers have already found out how people in other countries handled coup attempts.

In 2003, Bruce Jenkins worked with nonviolence studies founder Gene Sharp to analyze the most important features of successful defenses against a coup. The authors suggested specific preparations activists and social institutions can make ahead of time to be ready.

In 2011, writer-activist Richard K. Taylor, who served on Martin Luther King Jr.’s national staff, wrote a research-based manual for trainers wanting to help groups in a possible pre-coup situation.

Most recently, in 2017, political scientist Stephen Zunes studied 12 attempted coups around the world since 1958 and found that eight were defeated by nonviolent resistance. He then examined what made the difference between those eight victories and the four where the people lost.

Altogether, the research shows that the best strategies are the ones that make the most of our strengths and the opponent’s weaknesses. At the same time, it’s clear that we also need to fix our own weaknesses, if we can, and get ready to handle the strengths of the opponent.

What we have going for us

We’ve recently seen enormous numbers of people in motion: Black Lives Matter, action for climate justice, the immigrant rights movement, the movement to end gun violence, teachers and other workers’ strikes, rent strikes and more. The studies of successful resistance to power grabs find that where the people won, large numbers were willing to participate in direct action. Many in the United States have already shown their readiness to act.

Another strength we have here is that political power is not highly centralized. The federal system gives states, and even cities and towns, some flexibility. Trump unwittingly reinforced that flexibility through his irresponsibility in dealing with the pandemic. The states that wanted to had the ability to take over public health management, and many cities did as well.

States have been stepping up in other areas. To Trump’s horror, California famously went its own way on auto pollution control measures, with other states joining it. Combinations of states are frequently in federal court on multiple issues. States and cities have defied Trump’s war on immigration.

The recent Portland example — where the state intervened to get Trump to pull back federal troops — shows the usefulness of popular nonviolent pressure. Such action has the ability to motivate power centers near the grassroots to assert themselves.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown may have been quick to issue a statement opposing Trump’s attack, but it was grassroots pressure extending “beyond the choir” of the usual Portland street activists that enhanced her power in the subsequent negotiation. If the fires and projectiles of some protesters in front of the courthouse had been the only story, Brown’s negotiating power would have been weak or nonexistent. The larger picture was always the mass nonviolent action — as described by the mainstream media — which continued to grow as the confrontation continued.

Even though the large influx of local white allies brought a problem as well (shifting focus away from Black Lives Matter to defending against Trump’s attack), movement growth always brings problems. In fact, the history of social movements shows that one job of movement leadership is to solve problems as they come up, confident that new problems will continue to emerge as growth continues. Bigger movements face bigger problems, and a mass revolutionary movement will face the biggest problems of all.

While the tendency is often to complain when problems appear — and then criticize instead of solve them — life for movements is, in that way, the same as life for individuals. As author and activist adrienne maree brown might put it: power comes with learning to meet our challenges with “emergent strategy.”

In any case, one lesson from Portland’s experience is that it can be useful, when the feds attack, that other centers of legitimate power exist. And that’s only one of many strengths movements possess.

What’s special about a coup

Activists are used to spotlighting problems that have been around for a while — such as fossil fuels, inadequate schools or cash bail — and developing campaigns to take them on. But it may take a while to pull the pieces together in order to wage a vigorous campaign.

What else works to defeat a power grab?

In addition to widespread participation in direct action and building alliances, Zunes found it was effective to flat-out refuse to recognize illegitimate authority. That can be difficult for many — not just politicians — whose careers have depended on their negotiation skills. They may think they can temporize and negotiate their way through the next “hard patch.”

What works is the opposite, Zunes found. Refusing from the outset to recognize the authority of Trump’s claim to office — or the authority of anyone who answers to him — is key. The more public the refusal, the better, because it stimulates others to do likewise. For example, the immediate start of a general strike of government workers, powerful by itself, would also be a signal to everyone else to act.

When? The sooner the better, because case studies suggest that coups are weakest in their first hours and days. After all, the plotters know they are taking a big chance, and they have no guarantees of success. Trump’s success depends on others complying, but will they?

One tactic for accelerating resistance and building confidence would be to circulate a “pledge of resistance,” in which people sign on to the pledge to resist if the unexpected happens and Trump refuses to leave office. Unionized workers have an advantage: They can get a resolution of that kind passed in their union.

That doesn’t mean Trump can only be defeated through swift action. Some coups were defeated after protracted struggle. So, a slow start is no reason to give up — it’s just simply to our advantage to act quickly.

Most Americans will be surprised, even shocked

Most Americans will of course be initially surprised by an attempted coup, as has been the case with Trump’s previous deviations from the norms of expected presidential behavior. Bold activists will become the “first responders.”

Such activists are legendary for running toward disaster while others are running away. They are people who accept risk in extraordinary situations.

In the attempted Russian coup in 1991, people climbed on the barricades and faced tanks even though they believed an attack was coming and that they might well be killed.

As Taylor noted in his manual, women linked arms and created a “sisters and mothers chain” in front of the tanks with a placard saying: “Soldiers, don’t shoot at your mothers.” Three people were killed in confrontation with the tanks. Thousands more quickly joined the nonviolent struggle and defeated the coup.

When the French people faced a coup attempt in 1961 the workers — unlike the Russians — had independent trade unions. The French workers’ high degree of organization and experience in striking paid off: 10 million workers participated in an immediate general strike, not long enough to hurt the economy but big enough to persuade the army that it was better off not siding with the military leaders of the coup. The plotters were defeated.

What if Trump’s forces use violence?

In struggle after struggle a win for the people comes after the power grabbers try violence. Thailand offers one example. People there resisted a coup attempt in 1992 with public hunger strikes and major street protests of hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, according to Stephen Zunes. Opposition groups quickly formed an alliance that crossed class lines.

When half a million people nonviolently protested in Bangkok, the army tried to stop the movement’s growth with violence. Some activists responded with projectiles and started fires.

The government then used that as an excuse to crack down more. At the next large demonstration the government upped the repression, including shooting into crowds of nonviolent demonstrators.

As a result the movement grew: more boycotts, strikes, withdrawal of money from military-controlled banks. Other sectors of society joined in. The movement won.

Some researchers call this phenomenon “backfire,” others call it “the paradox of repression,” but all agree that movement growth in response to violence is more likely the more nonviolent the movement remains.

Whatever an activist’s personal code of morality about violence and property destruction is, this question is a collective and strategic one. Evidence-based knowledge shows more allies are stirred to act when we heighten the contrast between our tactics and the tactics of our opponent.

Even though I don’t in general regard property destruction as violence, my personal definition is not what matters here. What matters is the perception of those we seek to win over to support our side. If they see the fires I set as “violence,” I’m giving them a reason not to support us. The Trumpists are delighted.

Our opponents know that, are pleased, use it to justify increased violence, and may even win.

The research of Zunes joins other researchers in their conclusion: nonviolent discipline is one of the predictors of success in stopping a power grab. The way a movement can maximize the chance of winning, then, is to train participants to remain nonviolent in the face of violence used against them. Training adds skills and builds courage. We’ll need all of that for the times we now live in.

Via Waging Nonviolence


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

WATE 6 on Your Side: “Trump opposes USPS funding, says mail voting hard without it”

The US Public Now Wants Medicare for All and the Nordic Model– But a Social Movement is Needed Sun, 05 Apr 2020 04:03:06 +0000 ( Waging Nonviolence) – Surprisingly, for a mainstream daily newspaper, the Philadelphia Inquirer ended its March 22 editorial on the coronavirus by calling for system change, writing, “This crisis has laid bare some hard truths: that we’ve built a society that has removed protections for workers, supported the creation and growth of the gig economy, kept wages low and has continued to shrink basic supports for essential needs.”

The editorial went on to call the COVID-19 epidemic “a public health emergency that has exposed the weaknesses inherent in the system as a whole,” and say “It’s clear the system will have to be rebuilt. We only hope that can begin in the near future.”

A big-city, mainstream editorial board is talking “system change.” We activists need to be able to answer such an invitation not with piecemeal policies, but with a system alternative — one that delivers what the pandemic has shown that we need.

The most attractive starting point in such a discussion, I’ve found, is the political economy of the Nordic countries. They’ve generated more shared prosperity, justice, climate adaptation and individual freedom than anybody.

In response to the coronavirus, Denmark reached into the socialist planning toolkit to take a bold economic initiative. The Danish plan to maintain jobs — which I described in my first article of this series — was lauded the next day by The New York Times!

The editorial board prefers Denmark’s employment “freeze” strategy to that of the U.S. government’s bailout approach, which has an almost-equivalent price tag. The editorial’s headline is a direct challenge to Congress: “Why Is America Choosing Mass Unemployment?

It can be hard for activists to keep track of how the ground is shifting beneath our feet, giving us a new opportunity. Some of us who want more radical change than the Nordics have so far achieved may fall back on our critiques of those countries: not racing fast enough to zero carbon emissions, still retaining armies, not yet fully empowering workers in firms outside the coop sector.

But the Scandinavians are the first to tell you they don’t live in utopia, and radicals there work to leap even farther ahead. Consider the remarkable initiative of Greta Thunberg.

In the United States, where activists are embedded in a climate-denying empire that structures in poverty and entrenched domination by the economic elite, the awakening of our fellow citizens to the possibility of something much, much better offers a breakthrough moment.

It’s in the interests of the 1 percent that we not use the Nordic model as a way to talk about vision. They’ve watched with alarm the growing public appeal of Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, which are partial versions of the Nordic model. Especially now, they don’t want us to expand, to talk in an appealing way about system-change.

Efforts to ‘head us off at the pass’

Seeing the attractiveness of the Nordics to Americans, liberal establishment pundits have been swinging into action. In the first article of this series I described their new rhetorical strategy. Here, I want to analyze another example of that strategy: a famous journalist — Thomas Friedman of The New York Times — claiming that “Joe Biden, not Bernie, Is the True Scandinavian.”

Co-optation seems to be the goal of Friedman’s recent column. He argues that the United States and Nordic countries already share the same model: a market economy. He acknowledges that Denmark, for example, has a superior social safety net compared to ours, but sees such an arrangement within our reach if led by liberals like Biden who believe in the wealth-producing character of free enterprise.

In his column, Friedman doesn’t explain why Denmark — with historically far less wealth than the United States — has enjoyed its safety net for over half a century while the United States doesn’t even try to build it here. Biden, for example, opposes the Danish single-payer healthcare system for Americans despite its consistently superior results.

A false choice

Friedman demands that Bernie Sanders choose either the free enterprise system or central planning, i.e. “socialism.” By posing this either/or, Friedman claims something he wouldn’t do in describing an automobile: Cars must be powered either by gasoline or by electricity — no hybrids allowed.

Happily for Nordic economists, Friedman’s either/or is a false choice. Nordics mix what they see as the positive features of both approaches. They believe a market for trading some goods and services can be a good thing; it’s flexible and doesn’t ask planners to be God. For some purposes, like health care, a market is terrible. Be pragmatic: Research to find out where the market can be useful.

Planning is also a good thing, because it can set goals that support the well-being of the whole, and can structure the market in a way that prevents it from wrecking people’s lives.

For example, the Nordics redesigned their economies with a goal of abolishing poverty, realizing, as I show in a chapter in my book “Viking Economics,” that no one method will do the job. They replaced means-tested services — what we call “welfare” — with universal services, and a whole lot else besides. Through evidence-based planning, they’ve almost abolished poverty, while the free-market United States, mired in poverty for all its wealth, has an establishment that vetoes what works.

In another example of planning, the Norwegians distinguish between what they call the “real economy” and the financial sector. Norway designed its hybrid so its stock market stays small and can’t distort the real economy. There’s also the precaution of Norwegian public entities like governments owning about a third of the stock market.

Norway refuses to join the European Union partly because of EU loyalty to the free market. Norwegian family farmers would virtually disappear. A majority of Norwegians value their family farmers, for cultural reasons and food security.

For the Nordics these are design decisions, like hybrids and plug-in cars are. A professional association of Nordic economists invited me to Norway to keynote their international conference, and I found them to be very pragmatic. They appeared to me to be people who would rather be like engineers or architects than preachers.

Like architects, they ask their client what its priorities are. In actual free market countries like the United States, the client is capital. In the Nordic model, however, the client is the common good, as expressed through democratic discussion and decision.

Friedman quotes former Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen saying at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, “I would like to make one thing clear: Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy.”

It’s strange to hear a Danish leader resort to that false dichotomy. But the Nordics are small countries trying to manage alliances with large countries in a complex world. Their spokespeople are usually diplomatic, minimizing differences and maximizing commonalities.

Their political discourse is also quite different from ours because their spectrum is skewed to the left. To over-simplify a bit, among the major players in Nordic politics, the so-called “right wing” has the politics of the Democratic National Committee in the United States.

I wish journalists reporting from the Nordic countries made that clear to U.S. listeners. After a Nordic election, when journalists report that “the political right gained seats in parliament,” it’s the equivalent of saying that “the election showed growing strength by moderate Democrats” in the United States.

I remember a Norwegian Conservative Party leader telling me she wished Barack Obama were Norwegian since he would be a splendid member of her party.

A century ago Denmark was, in truth, a free market economy, like the United States. Rasmussen’s modern-day political economy is hugely different from those days, but it’s understandable that he would minimize the difference from the United States when he was speaking at Harvard.

Friedman tells us he was invited to a Danish retreat at the prime minister’s residence where he found “all the country’s stakeholders — corporate leaders, national union leaders, educators, social entrepreneurs and cabinet ministers” gathered to think together about the future of Denmark. He was amazed by a conversation that took into account the “balancing of all their interests” and wishes he could find that here.

A century ago Friedman would not have found that assembly in the prime minister’s house. In 1920 the Nordics genuinely had free market economies. The economic elites ran those countries, with no intention of giving up their privilege and dominant position.

Mass struggle created the Nordic model

What changed? Friedman claims the Nordic model is a triumph of evolution, not revolution, but the real story is quite different.

In Nordic history as in our own, the economic elite used every trick — even calling out the troops — to maintain its power and privilege. (See my description of the Danish mass struggle in my first article in this series.)

The history of the largest of the Nordics, Sweden, also contradicts Friedman’s impression. In the early 1900s farmers organized co-ops and industrial workers organized unions. When Swedish employers decided to reduce wages in 1909, hundreds of thousands of workers resisted by going on strike, without success. Conflict continued between the rich, who made the decisions, and the farmers and workers, who were tired of insecurity, long work days and poverty. Unwilling to give up, socialist-inspired workers discussed their emerging vision of an alternative, just system — with input from outstanding economists like Nobel-prize winning Gunnar Myrdal.

In 1931, in southern Sweden, 4,000 striking lumber mill workers picketed the owners and the political authorities who backed them. National soldiers were mobilized to crush the strike, killing five and injuring five more. Thousands attended funerals of the slain workers.

The workers’ grief and outrage might have become a moment to turn to violence, but instead the alliance of labor unions called a massive general strike throughout Sweden. The government fell.

An election was called and Swedes elected the Social Democrats in 1932, who began to implement the Swedish version of the hybrid Nordic model. They proceeded to lead the country almost without a break until 1976.

In short, the conversation among stakeholders that Friedman enjoyed, now common in all Nordic countries, was made possible by successful nonviolent campaigns against the economic elite and the free market system that it owned. The common people and their allies, inspired by a democratic socialist vision, needed to generate a power shift that forced a compromise and the implementation of the hybrid model.

If Friedman wants that enjoyable stakeholder conversation in the United States — and believes it won’t take a power shift — he first needs to read the Princeton “oligarchy study,” which found that the United States makes nearly all its major decisions according to the wishes of its economic elite. To import the hybrid Nordic model to this country, Friedman would find the same resistance here that the Scandinavians tackled there.

I doubt that waging a nonviolent revolution to overthrow the dominance of the economic elite is what Joe Biden has in mind.

Reprinted with permission from Waging Nonviolence


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Rebel HQ: “Medicare For All’s Popularity SURGES”

Social Democracy has made Nordic Countries Happy and Prosperous: Americans should Learn from Them Sun, 09 Feb 2020 05:01:42 +0000 ( Yes! Magazine ) – The U.S. opioid crisis has been unfolding for years and shows no signs of stopping. As we reach for solutions, we can do more than regulate the pharmaceutical companies. Fresh research provides the clue: we can tackle a root cause of opioid deaths while creating a greener and more just economy.

A new University of Pennsylvania study reported by The Washington Post in December 2019 shows that opioid overdoses spiked in communities where automobile factories have closed. According to Atheendar Venkataramani, the study’s lead author and a professor in the university’s Perelman School of Medicine, economic instability can affect people’s mental well-being and drive up the risk of substance abuse.

“Our findings confirm the general intuition that declining economic opportunity may have played a significant role in driving the opioid crisis,” Venkataramani wrote.

The new finding raises a severe challenge. Our hearts may go out to the individuals and families caught in this tragedy. But how can we deal with a public health crisis rooted in modern economics? Aren’t factory shut-downs the result of globalization and accelerating technological change? What can we do about that?

Denmark, Norway, and Sweden have highly successful economic policies that reduce addiction and suicide.

I found good news in researching some small countries that are even more at the mercy of global market forces than we are: Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. These countries have highly successful economic policies that reduce addiction and suicide. Although it’s hard to believe considering that the Nordics live through long, dark winters, they even top the charts as “the world’s happiest peoples.” How do they do this?

A century ago they were in such economic trouble that they hemorrhaged their own people, with Scandinavians fleeing to Canada and the U.S. Those who remained decided to innovate, big time. They tried what today’s entrepreneurs might call “creative destruction,” reorganizing their economies to put the people first. Outsiders looking at the Scandinavian innovations as “lab experiments” might find ideas we can use.

Denmark, Sweden and Norway chose in the 1920s and ’30s to invent an alternative economic model that put the well-being of the people first, instead of the well-being of capital; economists call it “the Nordic model.”

The idea was that if a country’s working families were backed by assured health care, free education, good affordable housing and childcare, healthy environments, time for leisure, and job security, they would be productive workers. The money to pay for this investment would come from those with far more money than they needed.

The result was shared prosperity.

On many economic indicators, Nordic social democracies out-performed the countries that adhered to a free-market capitalist approach. Far from the stereotype of becoming “nanny states,” the Nordics have had higher participation in the labor force than the U.S. and higher labor productivity; Norway even has more start-up companies per capita than the U.S.

If an economy isn’t working well, change it!

This experiment worked to produce a lot of “get-up-and-go” workers who, with high rates of unionization and abundant support for technical education, became the “goose that laid the golden egg.”

I interviewed one Norwegian CEO who told me how pleased he is with the system: “I can count on my workers to come through when I promise to meet deadlines, because we’re a team and they’re well-treated and know what they’re doing.” An Inc. Magazine reporter asked a Norwegian CEO who pays about half his yearly income in taxes what he thought about that. “The tax system is good—it’s fair,” he said. “What we’re doing when we are paying taxes is buying a product. So the question isn’t how much you pay for the product; it’s the quality of the product.”

The principle of job security was bedrock. Free vocational training and higher education upgraded the skills of the labor force and supported workers who wanted to move to new jobs. Families had something to count on and could plan their futures. The broken dreams and grim prospects of workers in the U.S. Rust Belt didn’t show up in Scandinavia.

However, by the 1980s the world was changing for Scandinavia, too. Technological development and globalization accelerated. Goods made elsewhere became cheaper than the Scandinavians could make them. Nordic governments found themselves subsidizing local industries in order to prevent factory shutdowns. Yes, they were prioritizing workers ahead of capital, as the model promised, but at an increasing cost to the nation as a whole.

Denmark was the first country to try something different. Borrowing from a Dutch idea and making it more robust, in the 1990s the Danes adopted “flexicurity.” The government would no longer subsidize a factory to keep it open. The factory owners would be free to take their capital and do something else with it. The Danes’ new deal was that if a factory closed, direct support for workers would come from the government.

Flexicurity meant job training for other jobs, a high level of wage maintenance while workers were training and looking for their new jobs, and relocation support if they needed to move. In other words, even for 50-year-olds, job loss did not mean permanent unemployment for the rest of the workers’ lives. For many workers, it meant a fresh start.

It reminds me of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s thinking in the 1930s with his New Deal: If an economy isn’t working well, change it!

Once Denmark adopted flexicurity, Sweden and Norway followed. In 2007 the Council of the European Union took a hard look at results and recommended flexicurity for all the EU member countries.

Although the Green New Deal as it was proposed in 2019 was seen as a way to deal with the climate emergency, it’s sufficiently holistic to be a possible bridge to flexicurity for the U.S. The bottom line is the same: hope for those at risk of being left behind.

The American opioid epidemic and rising suicide rates need an energetic response.

The U.S. is far wealthier than the Nordic countries were when they decided to restructure their economies. The Scandinavians had less to spread around for their vision of shared abundance, but they decided to think big and risk by acting on their deepest values.

Can we be that bold?

Via Yes! Magazine

. Creative Commons License Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Democracy Now! “Sweden Provides Free Higher Education, Universal Healthcare, Free Daycare — Why Can’t the U.S.?”

The World’s Happiest People Already have a Green New Deal, and they Love It Tue, 30 Apr 2019 04:03:51 +0000 (Waging Nonviolence ) – Green New Deal advocates in the United States should look to the Nordic countries for inspiration on how to overcome the 1 percent and address climate change.

According to the latest report from the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network, the Nordics are once again in the top tier of the World’s Happiest People. This year’s report, which came out March 20, pulled together the scores from the last three years to build a composite score, revealing that the four happiest countries from 2016-2018 are Finland, Denmark, Norway and Iceland, with Sweden coming in seventh.

The researchers combine a number of indicators to define “happiness.” One especially interesting for Americans is “freedom to make life choices,” since we like to think of ourselves as leaders in liberty. The index, however, places the United States at 62 (narrowly ahead of the United Kingdom), while the Nordics remain in the top 10 countries in freedom.

Other research methodologies line up with these findings on freedom. In 2018, Freedom House rated countries by degree of political freedom. Norway, Sweden and Finland tied for first, while the United Kingdom was 27th and the United States came in at 58 and dropping.

Our relative lack of freedom makes getting a Green New Deal for the United States look like a hard slog, but we may get some clues from others — including from the time when they were less than free.

Do the Nordics have a ‘green new deal’?

The two main goals of the Green New Deal are to address climate change and economic inequality. Why combine the two? After all, there are some Democratic Party leaders and even some environmentalists who prefer to split those goals.

I found one connection in Denmark’s recent history. When the left coalition of labor and other egalitarian parties is in power Denmark surges ahead in addressing climate change. When the centrist coalition is in power, Denmark’s commitment to climate slows down. That’s because the Danish centrists, like the Democratic Party in the United States, include the 1 percent who find it against their financial interests to reduce carbon emissions. Canada provides another example: centrist Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talks a good game about climate but reportedly committed over $7 billion in federal funds to purchase the failing Kinder-Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline.

The Nordics have for half a century been in the top tier of nations for equality because they adopted a radically different economic model — one that puts the workers, farmers and professionals first, using capital as a tool to advance the common good. To ensure this, Norwegians have majority public ownership of most corporations and the public completely owns Norway’s largest bank. As I describe in my book “Viking Economics,” the Nordics have used heavily-regulated markets for some purposes, and they gave up completely on markets for other sectors.

Poverty was widespread in the Nordic countries a century ago, so the Nordics designed poverty out of their systems. And even though they were small nations living in what was for them a globalized world, they empowered themselves to protect against cycles of boom-and-bust.

While Iceland flirted with neoliberalism in the early part of this century — resulting in an economic collapse in 2008 — they came to their senses, defying the International Monetary Fund and returning to their people-first leftist model. As a result, they recovered from their Depression more quickly than the capital-first centrist United States did from its less-severe 2008 recession.

Using a Green New Deal for abundance

The Nordic model pays off for equality, but how about the other focus of the Green New Deal: meeting the challenge of climate change? U.S. critics of the Green New Deal try to scare us with the prospect of scarcity.

That’s an old game. The Danish economic elite did the same when it promoted nuclear power in the 1980s. However, after the people’s movement mounted a nonviolent direct action campaign, the government turned to wind for electricity. It began licensing decentralized coops for local energy, while also investing in massive wind farms in coastal waters. As a result, Denmark became a world leader in renewable energy technology, and its economy grew.

While Finland and Denmark are both aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050, Sweden has its sights set on 2045 and Iceland is saying 2040. Each of them had major poverty a century ago but today enjoy shared prosperity with free higher education and universal healthcare.

Norway is a special case among the Nordics because it’s the only one that has significant oil and gas. A growing minority wants to stop extracting entirely, but a majority is not yet convinced. In the meantime, Norway takes other steps: charging drivers around $7 per gallon for gas, leading the world in electric cars and bicycle highways per capita, and spending over $3 billion so far to combat deforestation in the Amazon. The country is moving up the ranks of Yale’s Environmental Performance Index, now placing 11th. To make up for its continuing oil extraction, parliament plans to use offsets to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030.

All the Nordics have found that their focus on climate coinciding with growth in the common good. Consistent with the American advocates of the Green New Deal, the Nordics’ investment in people’s health and well-being, jobs and education, yield benefits in abundance and innovation.

Nordics don’t waste money on crime-fighting because they reject poverty and mass incarceration. Sweden welcomed more immigrants fleeing the Middle East during the Syrian exodus than any other European nation, per capita, and recently adopted Norwegian best practices for integrating the refugees. One in five Swedes and Norwegians is foreign-born. While Nordics will tell you that they are far from utopia, they learn from each other while continuing to invest in social justice.

How they made space for their version of the Green New Deal

Grassroots movements forced a power shift. In each case the people created a multi-dimensional strategy for empowering themselves. They educated each other so they could see through the pretense of democracy that protected 1 percent-rule, building prefigurative institutions like co-ops that taught individualists the value of collective effort.

The movement involved intellectuals so they could together design a vision of the kind of economy they wanted, enabling them to also attract people who had doubts and hesitations. In this way they avoided the trap of becoming protesters who simply react against injustice. They put forward a program, and their positivity won increasing numbers of allies.

Once disunited, they built unity across the urban/rural divide and other lines that divided them. Having watched the civil war in Russia that accompanied the Bolshevik revolution, they trained themselves to use nonviolent struggle, employing the technology of campaigns. Small farmers took over landed estates in Denmark. When the Swedish state called out the troops to protect the 1 percent by shooting unarmed demonstrators, the people responded nationally with a general strike that forced out the old regime.

Is Scandinavian success relevant to us?

Although Americans generated mass movements in the same time period as the Nordics, Americans faced greater challenges, including our inheritance of racism. That’s one reason why, in the 1920s and ‘30s, we couldn’t keep pace with our sister movements abroad — although this fact doesn’t diminish the brilliance of their own strategic breakthroughs.

Circumstances change. Americans now have some advantages the Nordics didn’t have a century ago. One of our advantages now is that the U.S. civil rights movement learned many lessons about what works in tough situations — much tougher than we face now. These lessons are easily available to us, even in movie formats.

Another advantage we have now is in economic lessons we can adapt from other countries. No country prior to Denmark and Sweden had invented and practiced “the Nordic model” — who knew ahead of time that it would even work? We now have the easier task of adapting the model to our circumstances.

Thoughtful people around the world look for “best practices” to improve outcomes in their work. People in other countries have adapted innovations first tried in the United States, and we have already adopted from other countries’ practices, including Social Security and Medicare.

What strikes me about the “happiest peoples” is their understanding that analysis of what’s wrong cannot create what’s right. Analysis is only the first step: Just as important are vision and strategy. The ingredients of their winning strategy are not strange to Americans: education and culture work; leadership development; a platform or vision; coops and other structures that align with the vision; community organizing for growth and unity; nonviolent direct action campaigning to force the issue; building to scale in a movement of movements; and keeping our eyes on the prize. The art is putting the ingredients together in this political moment.

The opportunity for us is to work together toward this end.

Via Waging Nonviolence


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Total: “Europe: A ‘wind power hub’ to supply 100 million people with renewable energy | Sustainable Energy”

Defeating Fascism: What a Danish Woman Imam and Swiss Progressives can teach us Wed, 20 Feb 2019 06:20:08 +0000 (Waging Nonviolence) – The growth of white supremacy and fascism has been noticeable in a number of countries lately, prompting the question: What can we learn from each other? Each country might find “best practices” elsewhere that could be applied at home, in addition to learning from its own past successes.

Americans might be especially drawn to the Swiss example because what has been working for that country addresses not only our current immigration crisis but also the need among progressive U.S. movements to re-learn how to go on the offensive.

According to Flavia Kleiner, a young leader in the movement Operation Libero, the right wing grew steadily for two decades in Switzerland using the issue of immigration. The right-wingers cleverly introduced a series of modest anti-immigrant initiatives — each of which contained some common-sense logic — and used their successes to become the largest political force in Switzerland.

My impression is that the Swiss right-wing’s strategy was like the movement against reproductive choice in the United States — a series of steps designed to chip away at a woman’s right to choose. Switzerland’s established parties reacted to this offensive in the way the Democrats do in the United Sates: by going on the defensive and trying to hold on to previously-won gains. In both countries, the largest parties operate contrary to the folk wisdom that “the best defense is a good offense.”

Kleiner and her friends, however, knew better, and they launched a grassroots initiative. Their crowd-funded, volunteer-based campaign defeated the Swiss People’s party in four major referendum battles from 2016-2018.

Operation Libero did this by ignoring the established parties’ strategy of defending existing immigration policies. Instead, the movement put forward a vision that stressed Switzerland’s progressive values. In their cultural context, they framed the vote as an affirmation of their pluralist constitution, “a pillar of the liberal democracy” that the vast majority of Swiss are proud of. They were so effective at re-framing the referenda that the right wing had to change its own argument and go on the defensive. As a result, the anti-immigrant cause lost its referendum for the fifth time in November.

Can individuals also go on the offensive?

In Denmark, where neo-fascism has been on the rise, Sherin Khankan was getting abusive letters and implied death threats. She led the Mariam mosque in Copenhagen, and was the first female imam, or cleric, in Danish Islam.

From her start in February 2016, she knew her position would arouse controversy in that country. She also expected to be pressured from inside Islam, since one of her major objectives was to use her leadership to challenge patriarchal structures in religious institutions. The result: she didn’t know who would have her back.

Embed from Getty Images

Khankan’s Muslim father is a refugee from Syria who came to Denmark after being imprisoned and tortured for his opposition to the regime. She knew from his experience what courage looked like. But still, the threats worried her.

One person she turned to for advice was Jacob Holdt, an internationally known Danish artist who owned the building she used for the mosque. A few months afterward, my partner and I happened to be visiting Holdt in Copenhagen. I asked the artist what happened to the threats against Khankan.

Jacob chuckled and said, “She was very surprised with my answer, but she trusted me enough to try it. She used her networking skills to track down some of the extremist leaders of the anti-immigrant movement, then she went to see them. She knocked on their doors at their homes, talked with them, let them see her courage and what she’s made of.”

The fascists were, of course, startled. What’s more, as Jacob explained, “They were so impressed by her boldness that they agreed to put the word out that she shouldn’t be hurt or threatened.”

Now the mosque is flourishing with a female co-leader Saliha Marie Fetteh, offering mixed-gender services on most days and a women’s service on Fridays. Taking the offensive seems to be the way to go.

What’s going on in public confrontations?

Right-wing extremists have two main strategies for public actions. One is to set up situations where they can play the victim and increase sympathetic interest in their cause, or at least to polarize and confuse the issues — something Richard Spencer has done on college campuses.

I’ve also seen that approach used in my own neighborhood park in West Philadelphia. It happened last year, during a Pagan Pride festival, when a few right-wing evangelicals showed up on the edge of the park to do street speaking against feminism, gender diversity, homosexuality and of course paganism.

My neighborhood is full of progressive and radical activists. Enough of a crowd gathered, so the police showed up.

At first some of my neighbors, understandably upset by the inflammatory denunciations being made by the evangelicals, argued back. I watched, ready to intervene if no one else would. Happily, several people in the crowd began to explain the game the evangelicals were playing, urging that our neighbors not cooperate with that game. My neighbors “got it,” and stopped. The evangelicals, clearly disappointed, soon departed. They didn’t manage to look like victims after all.

The other favorite tactic of right-wing extremists is to threaten and use violence to increase the fear level of their opponents. Symbols are less costly than actually injuring and killing, and so they like to use symbols like clubs, tiki torches, burning crosses, or dressing in sheets or military-style uniforms. By getting there first, they set the tone, but they don’t win just by doing that. Their victory comes when their opponents respond in a like manner and try to out-intimidate the intimidators.

The threat of counter-violence reinforces the “action logic” of the fascists: we are the framers of this contest, and our opponents concede by following our lead. The confrontation has become a contest about who is best able to scare the other side into changing their behavior.

Not only have the right-wing extremists succeeded in getting progressives to copy their tactics, but the nature of the tactics used by both sides drain the contest of its ideological content. It’s violence vs. violence — fear vs. fear. That’s why Donald Trump and others could claim that, in Charlottesville, both sides were to blame. In Germany and Italy in the 1920s, the bystanders to street fighting between fascists and leftists came to the view that what was needed was a strong state to stop the violence. (And we know who the economic elite in both countries chose to lead the state: Hitler and Mussolini!)

Alternatives to playing the fear game

The grassroots progressive Swiss solution was not only to go on the offensive with visionary content. They re-framed, set a different tone, confounded the right-wingers, and won over and over. What’s the equivalent on the streets?

In a number of countries grassroots people have been experimenting with re-framing and sending a message that strongly contrasts with the right-wingers. In Sweden the Clowns against Racism confronted a spring rally last year of the extreme-right Nordic Resistance Movement in the town of Ludvika. The clowns became so popular, exceeding numbers that can march without a permit, that the police announced they needed to pay a fine. That announcement gained even more publicity for their refusal to follow the neo-fascist’s tactical lead.

Clowning has also shown up in Finland and Scotland. In her delightful article for Waging Nonviolence, Sarah Freeman-Woolpert describes clowning in a number of U.S. localities. In Knoxville, Tennessee, the clown brigade was so effective that the neo-Nazi group called off their demonstration several hours early.

In Wunsiedel, Germany, some merry pranksters who oppose neo-Nazi ideology came out to cheer the marchers. Why? They’d turned it into a fundraising event: local residents and businesses pledged to donate 10 euros for every meter the white supremacists marched. The funds raised went to an anti-fascist group helping people leave right-wing organizations.

Where does activist creativity come from?

The strategic initiatives in Switzerland and Denmark — as well as the tactical innovations in multiple countries — come from activists who turn from the reactive part of their brain (fight, flight or freeze) to the creative side, even in the face of danger. Humans, including top athletes, are simply more effective when we visualize the result we want, tapping the resource of vision.

The decades of defensiveness of the Democrats, copied by most major progressive movements, rendered our country vision-averse. The big signal of change was the Movement for Black Lives’ 2016 release of a vision for the United States that, for the first time, gives us a chance to move past racism.

That same year, visionaries in the Northwest proposed a huge, solar-based reinvention of transportation across the northern tier of the country called “Solutionary Rail.” And, in 2017, Popular Resistance convened a gathering that wrote “The People’s Agenda.”

In 2018, a grassroots group of Vermonters, after reading about the Nordic countries’ success in turning their countries around, realized that collective vision was a critical ingredient. The group called for a statewide “Vermont Vision Summit.” A hundred people came together from all parts of Vermont, deciding to tackle a vision on the state level.

Now the Sunrise Movement and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have made the Green New Deal a buzzword among progressives.

Is our political discourse getting ready for vision? I hope so, because not only does it anchor us in a place of creativity — where we can give up playing the fear game with the neo-fascists — but it also invites the possibility of a movement of movements that could actually take on the dominance of the 1 percent. A vision helps because it shows how the disparate groups struggling on their own issues can share a vision that will liberate all from the ability of the economic elite to veto each of our separate group’s hopes.

All substantial progressive goals are now vetoed by the economic elite that controls both the Republican and Democratic parties. Only a people’s movement of movements can scale up nonviolent direct action to the level where it can force a power shift. Each movement needs the others in such an undertaking. Each deserves the reassurance that its priority goals will be achieved in the new society.

The lesson is clear, whether learned by grassroots movements in Switzerland or elsewhere: Without a vision, the people perish. We don’t need to build our political identities around what we’re against. It’s time we align our tactics, strategies, and organizing approaches with a positive, common sense vision that inspires us.

George Lakey has been active in direct action campaigns for six decades. Recently retired from Swarthmore College, he has facilitated 1,500 workshops on five continents and led activist projects on local, national and international levels — most recently with Earth Quaker Action Team. Among many other books and articles, he is author of “Strategizing for a Living Revolution” in David Solnit’s book Globalize Liberation (City Lights, 2004). His 2016 book is “Viking Economics,” and in December 2018 Melville House will release “How We Win: A Guide to Nonviolent Direct Action Campaigning.”

Via Waging Nonviolence

Republished under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Euronews: “Is Europe still facing a migration crisis? UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi speaks to Andrew Neil”