Waging Nonviolence – Informed Comment https://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Thu, 24 Nov 2022 03:59:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.7.8 How young Climate Activists built a Mass Movement to be Reckoned With https://www.juancole.com/2022/11/activists-movement-reckoned.html https://www.juancole.com/2022/11/activists-movement-reckoned.html#respond Thu, 24 Nov 2022 05:04:54 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=208343 By Nick Engelfried | –

( Waging Nonviolence ) – When I became a climate organizer in college in the early 2000s, the words “youth climate movement” referred more to something activists hoped to bring into existence than a real-world phenomenon.

Whatever came out of the UN climate talks won’t be as important as the next steps of a youth-led movement strengthened by two decades of transformative action.

Growing numbers of young people were concerned about the climate crisis and had begun organizing in small groups on college campuses and in communities throughout the U.S. But as much as we talked about building a mass movement, it was mainly just a dream at that point.

Almost 20 years later it’s impossible to deny a very real, vibrant youth climate movement has become an important force in national politics. With the rise of campaigns like the Fridays for Future school strikes a few years ago, it burst into the public spotlight in an unprecedented way. This year the United States passed its first major piece of national climate legislation. Much work remains to be done, but the rise of a youth-led mass movement for a livable future has to be considered one of the most important positive developments in 21st-century politics.

I have a unique perspective on how this movement came into being, because for the last two and a half years I’ve been researching and writing a book on the growth of youth climate activism in the U.S. I interviewed over 100 past and current movement leaders for this project, with a majority of interviews occurring in 2020 soon after the largest, most transformative climate protests in our country’s history. “Movement Makers: How Young Activists Upended the Politics of Climate Change” was released earlier this month.

Working on this book taught me valuable lessons about how social movements rise and create change, which are more relevant now than ever. This week, all eyes are on world leaders meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt for the latest round of international climate talks — but whatever agreements come out of that gathering will ultimately be less important than how activists respond. This makes now a particularly good time to share some lessons from the last two decades of climate organizing.


Via Pixabay.

1. Well-designed actions can have huge ripple effects. I began writing “Movement Makers” after working on a series of stories at Waging Nonviolence on the climate strikes and related strands of modern youth climate activism. I was intrigued to discover that while Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg famously founded the strike movement, its origins were tied to developments in the United States — specifically a day of marches organized by the teen-led organization Zero Hour in July 2018.

Previous Coverage
  • How the youth-led climate strikes became a global mass movement
  • The Zero Hour marches, which included a flagship action in Washington, D.C., represented one of the first national days of climate action coordinated almost entirely by Generation Z. Despite heavy rain on the day of the march, Zero Hour drew hundreds of teenagers to the National Mall to get involved in politics — no small feat. Yet, some of the organizers I interviewed mentioned they had hoped for even larger crowds.

    “As 16 and 17-year-olds, we wanted thousands or millions of people to show up,” said Sohayla Eldeeb, who was Zero Hour’s global outreach director when I spoke with her in early 2020. “Maybe that wasn’t realistic—and then it literally rained on our parade. But it felt powerful to go through with our march anyway.”

    Zero Hour’s day of action was certainly not a failure; in fact, it generated national media headlines. Still, compared to other mass protests like the 2017 Women’s March, it was relatively small. A reasonable assessment at the time might have been that the action would help temporarily increase public attention to the climate crisis and get some policymakers’ attention, but that the long-term effect on national politics would be minimal. This couldn’t have been more wrong.

    Zero Hour’s leaders put forward a vision for a youth-led mass movement around climate change that resonated with Generation Z, and which they skillfully spread on social media. Their efforts got the attention of Greta Thunberg and — along with other movements like the March for Our Lives — helped inspire her to launch Fridays for Future later that year. In 2019, Zero Hour was a key player in organizing strike events for what became the largest global day of climate protests in history. The takeaway: Actions with a well-articulated, inspiring message can have ripple effects that are hard to predict and may extend far beyond the day of protest itself.

    2. Ask for the whole thing. In another illuminating interview I conducted, Sunrise Movement co-founder Will Lawrence told me, “The only credible approach to climate policy is to actually ask for the whole thing.” We were discussing Sunrise’s 2018 sit-ins at the offices of Nancy Pelosi and other Congressional leaders, which catapulted the idea of a Green New Deal into the national spotlight.

    Previous Coverage
  • How young activists turned the old idea of a Green New Deal into a powerful movement
  • For years prior to Sunrise’s sit-ins, conventional climate movement wisdom held that campaigning for national legislation was pretty much pointless, with failure all but assured. Yet, Sunrise took the position that addressing the climate crisis requires big, bold ideas equal to the scale of the challenge. It will take “dozens of pieces of legislation over the course of years,” Lawrence said. “We have to completely overhaul the electricity, agriculture and transportation systems. We’re talking about reinventing society.”

    Even with climate change-denying Republicans controlling the Senate and presidency, Sunrise pushed climate forward on the political agenda to the point where talks about federal legislation began soon after President Biden and a Democrat-controlled Congress took office last year. This eventually led to the passage of far-reaching climate legislation in the Inflation Reduction Act. The IRA is far from perfect, but represents the first major climate law in U.S. history. This victory might never have happened had groups like Sunrise not changed the terms of political debate about climate.

    3. Movements succeed by building on one another. While writing about the climate strikes, Sunrise Movement, and other recent climate campaigns, I noticed a problem with how media narratives frequently talked about the movement. Too often, the surge in youth activism was portrayed as a new phenomenon that seemingly arose from nowhere. When older climate groups came up in news articles, the focus tended to be on how young organizers were abandoning them. For example, an otherwise insightful early New Republic story on Sunrise described its founders as “refugees from more mainstream climate organizations,” implying a process by which activists flee old, “unsuccessful” movements and join or start new “successful” ones.

    In reality, I am convinced the wave of youth climate activism from the last few years would never have been as successful had it not been preceded by an older generation of climate organizations. These groups — including 350.org, Energy Action Coalition (now Power Shift Network) and the Sierra Student Coalition — sometimes made serious mistakes, and activists of Generation Z have rightly tried to learn from where they went wrong. But without them, the new generation of climate organizations could not have spread so fast and effectively.

    Existing organizations like the Pacific Northwest-based Cascade Climate Network helped Sunrise Movement take root in places far from the East Coast population centers where it had its origins. And when Zero Hour needed a fiscal sponsor to help process tax-deductible donations for its day of marches, it found one in Power Shift Network.

    Rather than a succession of groups that arise, succeed or fail, and replace one another, successful social movements are communities of intertwined organizations engaged in learning from each other, improving on old practices, and fostering the growth of new members. It’s a messy process, and occasionally groups compete for space or interact in other nonproductive ways. But Generation Z skillfully built on the work of activists who came before them. Similarly, the next wave of climate organizing will almost certainly learn from and be inspired by groups now at the movement’s vanguard.

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    4. Center justice. Probably the single biggest mistake made by mainstream organizations that dominated the national youth climate scene when I joined the movement was a failure to prioritize diversity and justice. “There was a sense from some groups that we needed to cut carbon emissions before anything else, and a reluctance to look at issues of justice or race,” said Arab American activist Shadia Fayne Wood, one of a relatively few organizers of color who participated in early Energy Action Coalition, or EAC, meetings.

    This reluctance alienated the very people who are most impacted by fossil fuel extraction and disrupted weather patterns. It was an untenable situation, and in 2015 EAC hired Lydia Avila, its first executive director of color, who charted a new path forward. Avila shepherded EAC — which originally served as a steering committee for a large coalition of climate groups—through a transition to become the more decentralized, justice-focused Power Shift Network. According to PSN’s current executive director, Dany Sigwalt, 60 percent of participants at the organization’s 2020 annual meeting for member organizations were young people of color.

    Despite real progress in some cases, the fight for an inclusive climate movement has not been a linear march forward. To the contrary: dynamics Wood observed in the movement’s early days continue to play out in many climate groups today, at both the national and local levels. History shows the solution is to actively center the needs of frontline communities of color and prioritize anti-oppression work within the movement itself. Today, groups like PSN are set up to help other organizations make this transition, and activists should take advantage of this resource.

    5. There’s no substitute for direct action. Almost every major successful social movement has used a spectrum of tactics — from lobbying to nonviolent direct action. Yet, for years the youth climate movement and U.S. climate groups more broadly were reluctant to embrace disruptive protest on a large scale.

    “The movement’s strategy was one of appeasement, appealing to people in power and trying to convince them we could have a world that’s cleaner and greener but leaves existing social structures in place,” said Tim DeChristopher, who was arrested for derailing an oil and gas auction as a University of Utah student in 2008. “It wasn’t working. Successful movements have always had a big, radical vision that threatens the top of the power structure.”

    Nonviolently breaking the law to interfere with fossil fuel extraction or combustion brings home the moral urgency of the climate crisis while causing disruption to systems that make it possible to destroy the planet for profit. DeChristopher took this kind of action when he walked into a Bureau of Land Management auction and outbid every oil company in the room, “winning” rights to $1.7 million worth of land he couldn’t pay for. His actions violated the federal Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act, and he was sentenced to two years in prison after bringing his case to trial.

    Today, direct action is much more widespread in the climate movement — from Sunrise’s Capitol Hill sit-ins, to divestment campaigns that disrupt university board of trustee meetings. But the road to a bolder movement willing to take such risks wasn’t easy. The failure of a key U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen in 2009 made the radical message of people like DeChristopher begin to resonate with more activists. And over a decade later, there’s still plenty of room for experimentation when it comes to strategically applying direct action to an intransigent political landscape.

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    6. Confront the fossil fuel industry. During the soul-searching period after the collapse of the Copenhagen talks, youth-led climate groups began realizing they had underestimated the fossil fuel industry’s political power. If national climate legislation were ever to cross the finish line in the U.S., the movement needed to weaken the control coal, oil and gas companies exerted over political institutions. Frontline communities had been challenging these industries for decades, but one of the first fossil fuel projects the national youth climate movement as a whole took on was the Canadian tar sands and its network of associated oil pipelines.

    The anti-Keystone XL pipeline struggle — the most iconic tar sands campaign — involved thousands of people and included national groups like 350.org as well as Indigenous communities in the pipeline’s path. In 2013, a series of Indigenous-led trainings called Moccasins on the Ground taught direct action skills to pipeline fighters and allies. “It was great seeing Indigenous people empowering Indigenous people,” said Joseph White Eyes, a young organizer from Cheyenne River Sioux territory along Keystone XL’s proposed path. “There was no outside white influence telling us what to do. It was just us, creating our own plan to stop the pipeline.”

    Previous Coverage
  • Overwhelming odds, unexpected alliances and tough losses — how defeating Keystone XL built a bolder, savvier climate movement
  • Had Keystone XL broken ground in a major way, it likely would have faced one of the largest direct action resistance campaigns in climate movement history, similar in scale to the 2016 protests against the Dakota Access pipeline at Standing Rock. As it turned out, smaller-scale direct action combined with more conventional tactics were enough to stop Keystone XL — and the pipeline’s rejection by two Democratic presidents showed how the fossil fuel industry’s fortunes had fallen. Meanwhile, organizing against Keystone XL helped catalyze a national movement made up of people fighting fossil fuel infrastructure in their communities.

    By the late 2010s, the national youth climate movement had grown to the point where a once seemingly invincible fossil fuel industry was losing its grip on control of events in Washington, D.C. The stage was set to make actual progress on proactive climate legislation that encouraged a mass shift to renewables — if the movement could mobilize supporters in large enough numbers.

    7. Mass street mobilizations work. The huge climate strikes of a few years ago subsided in 2020, largely due to COVID restrictions on large gatherings. Still, the memory of these mobilizations remained fresh enough in the public consciousness to influence events as Congress debated climate policy in 2021 and 2022, and climate remained a priority for leaders in Congress in a way that had never happened before. If the very real concessions to polluters in the Inflation Reduction Act are a reminder that the fossil fuel industry is still powerful, the fact that far-reaching climate legislation passed at all is a testament to how youth activists have reshaped political discourse in the last few years.

    Previous Coverage
  • Why climate activists need to celebrate — even if we’re not feeling like it
  • Compare this and last year’s political events with 2009-2010, the last time federal lawmakers debated major climate legislation. Despite holding much larger majorities in Congress, Democratic leaders failed to get a climate bill over the finish line, largely because of opposition from senators in their own caucus who represented fossil fuel-dependent states. In contrast, this year every Senate Democrat eventually supported climate legislation, even if begrudgingly and in a watered-down form. This almost certainly would not have happened without years of organizing that left the fossil fuel industry weakened and climate activists in a stronger position than ever before.

    It took nearly two decades to build a youth climate movement powerful enough to pass a federal climate bill. However, despite the ups and downs, young activists never stopped organizing. “Movements have arcs,” said Will Bates of 350.org. “They have highs and lows. They’re going to have perceived failures and need to build something new from there. At those moments you don’t stop, you double down.”

    Today the movement faces new challenges, from the possibility of new COVID waves to a more hostile U.S. House of Representatives. However, the pieces are in place for it to go on building power and experience future resurgences. That’s essential — because there is still plenty of work for climate activists to do.

    The movement of the future

    Of course, passage of the IRA does not mean the youth climate movement’s work is over. Rather, now is the time to build on recent successes and continue pushing for the kind of transformative change Sunrise’s Lawrence spoke of. However, going forward, U.S. climate activists’ work will look more like that of their European colleagues, who are trying to convince leaders to follow through and build on existing climate commitments rather than commit to doing something in the first place. By taking to heart lessons from the past, we can ensure the climate movement has a vibrant, powerful future. That is why I decided to write “Movement Makers.”

    The last few years of researching and writing about the youth climate movement have left me more inspired than ever by a phenomenon that really has upended politics as usual. The insights and quotes in this piece represent just a tiny sampling of the wisdom shared with me by activist leaders while I worked on the book, which is designed to serve as a valuable resource for today’s organizers. However, my hope is not that activists will simply try to replicate actions and campaigns from the past — but that lessons like those summarized above help inform new approaches to organizing that may be different from anything seen so far.

    What’s clear is that, armed with wisdom from the past and a willingness to experiment that has long been a hallmark of youth climate activism, the movement of the future has potential to further re-shape politics in ways most of us can’t even imagine.



    Nick Engelfried is an environmental writer, educator, and activist living in the Pacific Northwest. He is the author of Movement Makers: How Young Activists Upended the Politics of Climate Change.

    Via Waging Nonviolence

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    The Fossil Free Research Movement is taking Universities by Storm https://www.juancole.com/2022/10/research-movement-universities.html Thu, 27 Oct 2022 04:02:37 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=207819 By Nick Engelfried | –

    ( Waging Nonviolence ) – When over 40 Cambridge students and academics occupied the elite U.K. university’s BP Institute earlier this year, they were escalating one of the newest, fastest-growing campaigns focused on dissociating higher education institutions from fossil fuels. For just over an hour, activists from the grassroots initiative Fossil Free Research held a sit-in inside the building named after one of Europe’s largest oil producers, while making speeches and staging a street theater production that called attention to links between BP and the school.

    A student-led effort to get fossil fuel money out of university research is building on the divestment movement’s biggest successes.

    “We’re drawing attention to how the fossil fuel industry continues to infiltrate prestigious academic institutions, mooch off their credibility, and even exert influence over the production of knowledge crucial to shaping climate policy,” said Ilana Cohen, a lead organizer for the international Fossil Free Research campaign, who is currently a senior at Harvard.

    Fossil Free Research launched earlier this year and aims to build on momentum from the successful fossil fuel divestment movement at universities in the U.S., U.K. and beyond. It is pushing higher education institutions to commit to not taking money from coal, oil and gas corporations for research, particularly that relates to climate science. “These companies shouldn’t be shaping research when they have a clear incentive to distort it,” Cohen said.

    As it has spread to colleges and universities across the United States and Europe, Fossil Free Research has effectively utilized existing communication channels and networks developed by the campus-based divestment movement. It all started when students on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean began talking about how to continue momentum from some of the biggest divestment wins so far.

    Building on divestment momentum

    Last October, Cohen and other Harvard students were celebrating a victory years in the making. After almost a decade of student campaigning, the Ivy League school announced it would allow fossil fuel investments in its $42 billion endowment to expire — effectively divesting from the industry.

    Even mere months earlier, this development would have seemed nearly impossible. The school’s administration had repeatedly refused to divest in response to calls for action from students. But the Divest Harvard campaign, of which Cohen was a leader, continued to escalate, drawing support from Harvard faculty and alumni. In one of the campaign’s most iconic moments, students from Harvard and Yale stormed the field during a football game between the two schools, unfurling pro-divestment banners as 30,000 surprised football fans looked on. This and other high-profile actions put pressure on the administration, eventually leading to Harvard’s October 2021 divestment announcement.

    Previous Coverage
  • How a new generation of climate activists is reviving fossil fuel divestment and gaining victories
  • In fact, last year saw a wave of victories for the campus-based divestment movement — not just at Harvard, but at higher education institutions across the U.S. including Columbia, Tufts, Rutgers, University of Southern California, University of Michigan and Princeton. In 2020, Cambridge, one of the United Kingdom’s most exclusive schools, had also announced it would divest. All of this progress left students like Cohen wondering what came next for their movement.

    “Soon after Harvard’s divestment announcement, our campaign went on a strategy retreat to decide on our next steps,” Cohen said. “Winning on divestment was huge. But our movement’s theory of change goes beyond that. Our goal is to stigmatize the fossil fuel industry to the point where its political power is diminished so we can finally see renewable energy deployed on a massive scale.”

    Cohen and other Divest Harvard organizers were in touch with students at other schools who had also recently won divestment campaigns and found themselves trying to chart a path forward. When Cohen did a semester abroad at Cambridge that spring, she was able to further strengthen ties and communication between Harvard and the U.K. school, where students were looking into the influence fossil fuel companies exert through entities like the BP Institute.

    Meanwhile, students at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., were investigating the money behind their school’s Regulatory Studies Center, or RSC. A report released by Public Citizen accused the RSC of promoting anti-regulation views that often seemed to have little grounding in data but matched the ideology of donors like the Koch Foundation. Like Cambridge, George Washington had committed to divest its endowment from fossil fuels in 2020. But now, concern that companies like the oil-rich Koch Industries were shaping the school’s research priorities led students to scrutinize this additional link to the industry.

    “It’s hugely problematic to have an institute at our university accepting money from actors like Koch,” said George Washington senior Jake Lowe, who was inspired to get involved in this new effort after seeing the divestment campaign win. “The divestment victory made me realize students have real power to make an impact on these kinds of issues at our university.”

    In early 2021, Lowe did a fellowship with Sunrise Movement focused on uncovering and shining a light on corporate influence at the RSC. This led to him and other George Washington students having conversations with organizers at Cambridge and Harvard about a coordinated effort to get fossil fuel research money off college campuses.

    “We quickly realized we were onto something that was even bigger than our three universities,” Lowe said. Soon, the students were drawing up plans for a true international campaign.

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    Getting fossil fuels out of research

    The reality is that while university endowments are important, they represent only one of the ties the academic world has to the industries most responsible for causing the climate crisis. At many colleges and universities, fossil fuel companies help pay for construction of new buildings, donate to academic programs and even fund climate research through entities like the BP Institute — whose projects have included work on carbon sequestration technology. A 22 million pound donation from BP (equivalent to more than $30 million at the time) helped establish the institute in the early 2000s, and the center has borne the oil giant’s name ever since.

    In March, Fossil Free Research released a letter signed by almost 500 U.S. and U.K. academics calling on higher education institutions to refuse fossil fuel money for climate research, with signatories including renowned climate researcher Michael Mann, NASA scientist Peter Kalmus, and philosopher and social justice advocate Cornel West. The letter now has over 730 signers from more than 130 educational institutions. The document was meant to show that prominent figures in the academic community support the goals of Fossil Free Research — but it had a much larger impact than even the campaign’s organizers had predicted.

    “Releasing the letter was the moment we really went public with our campaign, and it kickstarted movement momentum to a degree that we honestly couldn’t have foreseen,” Cohen said. “Students were really excited to get involved.” Soon decentralized Fossil Free Research organizing hubs were taking root at colleges all over the U.S. and U.K., many of them schools where students had already won divestment victories.


    Via Pixabay.

    At this point, Fossil Free Research was still a campaign in its infancy without an official board, the ability to accept tax-deductible donations or other organizational infrastructure available to more established nonprofits. Even so, the movement started growing at a speed that quickly outpaced efforts to set up a more formalized organization.

    “Because our leaders were involved in previous divestment organizing, we were already connected to a network of students across the country who became interested in this new campaign,” Cohen said. By using the divestment movement’s email lists, social media platforms and Slack channels, Fossil Free Research leaders spread their campaign much faster than would otherwise have been possible.

    The sit-in inside the BP Institute at Cambridge last spring was one of the new movement’s most confrontational actions yet, and coincided with solidarity events at Oxford and George Washington. All of this organizing has already had an effect. In July, Cambridge announced it would rename the BP Institute — a blow to the public image of the largest U.K.-based oil giant. Even more significantly, faculty at the school will hold a binding vote this fall on a proposal to ban research money from companies involved in building new fossil fuel infrastructure, exploring for fossil fuel reserves or lobbying against climate action.

    At George Washington, according to Lowe, the Women’s, Gender and Sexualities Studies Department has become the first university department to take a pledge to ban donations from the fossil fuel industry — and student activists hope the School of Public Health will vote on a similar policy soon.

    “That would be a really big deal,” Lowe said. “As other departments and schools within GW show their support for fossil free research, pressure will build for institutes who are deeply connected to the fossil fuel industry, like the RSC, to act.”

    Each step a college or university takes to distance itself from coal, oil and gas research money tarnishes fossil fuel companies’ image in the public sphere, moving the industry closer to pariah status. This has been the goal of the divestment movement all along — and the growth of Fossil Free Research shows how years of divestment organizing have laid the groundwork for climate organizing with effects that reach far beyond higher education institution endowments.

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    Growing a movement

    When students on a handful of U.S. college campuses launched the country’s first fossil fuel divestment campaigns over a decade ago, it took years for their efforts to grow into a true mass movement. This made sense; after all, early divestment leaders had to build a network of communication channels that served as hubs for organizing almost from the ground up. National organizations like 350, Divest Ed and the now-disbanded Divestment Student Network supported this effort by providing training, paid organizing fellowships and other resources.

    Fossil Free Research began with almost none of these advantages. However, relying on the divestment movement’s existing communications infrastructure — as well as support from organizations like Sunrise Movement, whose missions overlap with that of the new movement — has allowed it to spread with astonishing speed. This illustrates something important about how climate campaigns led by members of Generation Z grow in the age of Slack, Zoom and social media. It also shows how initiatives like divestment advance the larger climate movement’s goals — not just by winning their own campaigns in the short term, but by laying a strong foundation for future organizing.

    This fall, Fossil Free Research is focusing on continuing to grow the movement by recruiting new schools, while also setting up the organizational infrastructure it has so far lacked. “Our goal is to have a staff composed mostly of recent college graduates or other young people,” Lowe said. “And a board with students from different schools giving input in a way that aligns with our values of democratic participation.”

    With such a base of support, Fossil Free Research leaders hope other schools will soon see the kinds of successes campaigns at Cambridge and George Washington have begun to experience. “Fossil fuel divestment at universities should mean complete, true divestment from all aspects of the industry,” Cohen said. “That means separating yourself entirely from the companies driving climate breakdown and not allowing them to have a role in research that’s critical to our future. Students overwhelmingly support this. Now it’s up to institutions to understand and recognize that.”



    Nick Engelfried is an environmental writer, educator, and activist living in the Pacific Northwest. He is currently working on a book about the youth climate movement.

    Via Waging Nonviolence

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    What the historic women’s Uprising in Iran teaches us about resisting Authoritarianism https://www.juancole.com/2022/10/historic-resisting-authoritarianism.html Sun, 16 Oct 2022 04:06:32 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=207583 By Nilofar Sakhi | –

    The death of Mahsa Amini, who was detained and beaten by Iranian morality police due to a violation of “Iran’s dress code or mandatory hijab rules” has caused unprecedented nationwide protests against the Islamic Republic of Iran. Her death is a blatant sign of Iran’s ongoing oppression and violence against women. But we should not be surprised. The code, rules and actions were caused by an authoritarian government and show how a regime’s longstanding atrocities and long-held restrictions against women can lead to collective grievances.

    Iran’s courageous women are showing the power of symbols, decentralized protest and legitimate grievances in challenging authoritarian regimes.

    Iran has witnessed many waves of protests against its authoritarian government in the past. Though it is still early to measure the effectiveness of the ongoing protests that began in September 2022, the significance of the nationwide protest contains important lessons, particularly with authoritarian governments on the rise in the region.

    Women’s leadership and symbols

    Women in Iran have been the victim of Iranian authorities’ repressive policies since the inception of the Islamic Republic in 1979. The exclusion of women, the enforcement of the hijab (veil) and the ultraconservative dress code have caused women’s resistance against the regime for decades.

    The killing of Mahsa Amini has connected women across and outside of Iran to react to this atrocity based on their collective identity as women. Women can be transformed from being mere victims to being a forceful power that challenges the authoritarian system and mobilizes men and women from different segments of society for collective action. Women themselves bring social capital to the movement due to their vast and active presence in the protests and the unity among women in acknowledging the importance of the issue.

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    Indeed, the participation and leadership of women in nonviolent movements increase the likeliness of success. Though there are many forms of repression that need to be highlighted under any authoritarian system, a consistent focus on legitimate grievances of people, particularly women, can become a forceful power to challenge the regime.

    Symbols play a significant role in making people relate to things that they are connected to socially and historically. Symbols have the power to evoke psychological triggers and create a sense of belonging. The cutting of hair by Iranian women has been a symbol to show the rage and anger of the female protesters against the “hijab rule.” This has also created a sense of connection among women from across the country.

    Collective action

    Three causes of grievance — clerical control, economic tensions and repression — have persisted in Iran since the Islamic Republic was created 43 years ago. Ultimately, collective grievances can cause collective resistance. With nonviolent movements taking place outside of traditional political processes such as lobbying and legislation, these collective movements have the power to draw attention to issues and their underlying causes. In Iran, individuals and groups see a common cause for resistance – victimization by the regime. If the movement and protests remain nonviolent and maintain a consistent focus on people’s grievances and government atrocities, it will increase its odds of causing a breakdown of support among the regime’s supporters.

    The men who are joining and standing side by side with women in these protests send a signal to others that this fight for freedom is a collective action that can lead to mass mobilization. A nonviolent movement that utilizes various methods has a better chance of success than violent resistance. The violent or nonviolent nature of collective action will often play an important role in determining the chances of success and sustainability of the movement.

    Decentralized protests

    Nationwide protests, even in small numbers, demonstrate the people’s readiness and desire for change. Here, timing is important. A fast expansion of protests and campaigns in different parts of the country, even in small numbers, can transform the protests into national resistance.

    Within a couple of days, there have been widespread nationwide protests in the south, east, north and west of Iran, including its remote towns. Keeping protests and campaigns close to the capital of the country and central provinces is a strategic move. However, the expansion of the protests into remote parts of the country can help mobilize marginalized communities who have rarely have a voice in politics. The representation of a range of issues, the growing number of people involved, and the decentralization of the protests can also help leverage more internal support for the movement — both financial and technical — and could contribute to its sustainability and effectiveness.

    Leveraging sources of power

    The diaspora or allies outside of the country can play a significant role in supporting nonviolent movements, particularly with communication and outreach. The global Iranian diaspora is providing their overwhelming support for the protests on international platforms and through the media. Highlighting the violent tactics of the authorities against nonviolent protesters can attract the world’s attention and leverage the support of external actors for the movement. The amplification of people’s voices and grievances on international platforms could be a successful strategy to pressure the authoritarian rulers for policy change inside the country.

    Embed from Getty Images

    With that said, external supporters are often complicated and interest-oriented, particularly when states from the outside get involved in such processes. In countries with longstanding complex and contentious interstate relationships, leaders of nonviolent movements should be extra cautious not to be influenced by outside forces. The political interests and international politics of regional countries may open up space for spoilers. This can lead to divisions in the movement and cause its failure, especially if outside sources are providing resources and money for their own interests.

    The last key lesson to be drawn from the Iranian resistance is that people have power and are the only force that can challenge authoritarian and repressive systems. The desire for change should arise from within the country and people should be the leading force to demand change. Changes imposed by outside influences are almost impossible to root in society and will not be sustainable. Authoritarian systems can be challenged by investing in the people, by educating, informing, sensitizing and empowering them.

    This story was produced by IPRA Peace Search



    Nilofar Sakhi is a visiting research fellow at the Kroc Institute of International Peace Studies of Notre Dame University.

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    The climate Movement was built for a World before Climate Change — it’s Time for a new Approach https://www.juancole.com/2022/10/climate-movement-approach.html Tue, 11 Oct 2022 04:02:17 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=207506 By Cam Fenton | –

    ( Waging Nonviolence) – We are past the point where “stopping” climate change is really possible. With global temperature rise already above 1 degree Celsius and the window on keeping warming below 1.5 degrees rapidly closing, the consequences of decades of political inaction and corporate malfeasance are already making themselves known. Every month it seems like another part of the world is being hammered by one catastrophic climate impact or another, from flooding in Puerto Rico and Pakistan to the extreme heat that melted asphalt in Europe this past summer to the wildfires raging across western North America.

    We need a mass movement that can deal with climate disasters. That means training people to both protect and mobilize their communities.

    In the face of this new reality, climate organizing needs to evolve. For me, this reality really struck home last summer when extreme heat and wildfires ravaged the part of Canada that I call home. Watching devastation in my own backyard in real time, I realized that spending most of adult life as climate organizer had done little to prepare me to support my community in actually dealing with the impacts of climate change. Sure, we could organize around these impacts to demand more from the government, but that didn’t feel like enough. I spent a lot of sleepless nights thinking about this and, eventually, it led me to head back to school to become a paramedic.

    Previous Coverage
  • Meet the volunteer brigades and artists fighting forest fires and deforestation in Brazil
  • Through my schooling, and now working as a first responder, I came to another realization: If we want to build the kind of mass movement that can tackle this crisis, we need to think about equipping communities with the skills and tools to deal with climate impacts. What’s more, we’ll need to do this in a way that empowers local solutions and forces governments to do what’s necessary to meet the climate emergency. There’s no single silver bullet to make this happen, but one place to start is by training people to respond to the disasters on the ground and leveraging these response networks to build lasting power.

    The idea is pretty simple. When climate impacts happen, they tend to quickly overwhelm emergency services. Floods and fires can shut down roads, cutting communities off from emergency medical and rescue services. Like COVID-19 did, extreme climate events create more patients than emergency services can handle. The result is loss of life and livelihoods, some of which could be protected if community level responders were prepared to step in.

    Volunteer responders save lives

    Take, for example, last fall’s severe flooding in the Fraser Valley region of British Columbia, Canada. In November 2022, an extended period of heavy precipitation, called an atmospheric river, delivered unprecedented rainfall all over the Pacific Northwest. Major highways were washed away, towns and farmland were submerged and people were stranded on patches of pavement caught between rockslides and new raging torrents. But despite this massive climate disaster, there was minimal loss of life. One explanation is that the region’s paid emergency services did a monumental job of responding. That is without doubt. However, that’s only part of the story.

    The major cities in southwestern BC are surrounded by a lot of wilderness. The mountains, rivers and forests of this part of the world are renowned for their potential for outdoor adventure, and every year tens of thousands of people venture into them. That leads to hundreds of mountain rescues, and thanks to that, this part of BC has one of the most robust networks of volunteer Search and Rescue teams anywhere on earth.

    In almost every community that was impacted by this flood there were dozens of well-trained volunteers who could provide emergency medical, rescue and evacuation services to their communities. These volunteers — deployed by boat, helicopter and everything in between — worked around the clock, playing a critical role in minimizing loss of life and supporting people and families forced from their homes.

    In the end, fewer than 10 lives were lost during this disaster. That’s extremely low when compared to flooding of this scale in other parts of the world, where death tolls can be in the dozens or even hundreds.

    With the threat of climate disasters on the rise, as the result of our governments’ inaction, BC’s model of volunteer first response is worth studying and replicating. It has the potential to both save lives and build the kind of community networks that the climate movement desperately needs to scale up its power.

    Every single community is going to be exposed to its own unique risks when it comes to climate impacts. In some places fires and smoke may be the main risk, in others it could be rising seas and super storms or floods and water-borne illness or extreme heat and droughts. In some parts of the world, the risk may even be extreme cold events, such as in places where the temperature has rarely ever dipped below freezing.

    Given this reality, efforts to prepare for climate impacts will need to be strongly informed by the local context. Nevertheless, despite the range of risks, there is a common denominator. Every one of these disasters either cut people off from, or overwhelm, emergency medical services — and when that happens, preventable losses of life occur.

    During the 2021 heat dome in BC, hundreds of people died preventable deaths. Many experienced heat illnesses, where the body’s core temperature rises so high that it interferes with proper bodily functions. The immediate life-saving intervention for heat illness is actually pretty simple: aggressively cooling the person down. But, that wasn’t widely known during BC’s heat emergency. Had it been — and had organized and trained first aid responders been acting as an auxiliary to emergency medical services — a lot of lives might have been saved.

    Think about it like this: In the same neighborhoods in Vancouver, BC, where a lot of deaths occurred during the heat dome, there is a toxic drug crisis. Opioid overdoses, which can lead to respiratory arrest and death, are a regular occurrence. While too many people still die due to the toxic drug supply, there are a lot fewer deaths than there used to be because of a simple intervention. Community members have been trained to administer Naloxone, a life-saving drug that reverses an opioid overdose.

    Now instead of only relying solely on first responders and an underfunded, overstretched medical system, bystanders can save a life immediately and buy time for the medical system to catch up. Community efforts to train individuals and groups in Naloxone administration and establish a reliable supply in these communities has saved hundreds of lives. Training cadres of “climate first responders” to provide immediate life-saving and stabilizing first aid in climate disasters could do something similar.

    The good news is that much of the training already exists. We already have a litany of curriculum to train the public to perform bystander first aid in situations where responders have limited resources and where additional help may be hours or days away. These are the exact same situations that communities find themselves in during a climate disaster. Though we don’t have data on how much loss of life could be prevented with trained first aid responders in a climate disaster, things like the heat dome and flooding in BC do at least give us the basis for the hypothesis that training communities in remote first aid could save lives.

    This same hypothesis could also extend to other skill sets in rescue and disaster preparedness and prevention. Many communities already have and train volunteer fire departments in skills like fire and flood response, and no doubt some of those skills could be trained up in communities facing increasing risks due to climate change.

    Previous Coverage
  • Occupy Sandy, from relief to resistance
  • This isn’t an entirely new idea. In the Pacific Islands, climate organizers have pioneered a project to create and distribute small solar power packs that can keep communities powered during extreme storms. In Turkey, community members figured out how to build effective volunteer community auxiliary units to support responders dealing with extreme wildfires. In the U.S., Occupy Sandy emerged and provided necessary relief to communities in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

    From emergency response to political power

    As climate impacts become more common, the number of people concerned about the climate crisis is rising. But, that rise in awareness is coming alongside a rise in climate anxiety. While in the past we may have struggled to get people to care about climate politics because of dozens of other concerns and distractions, we now struggle to get people to care about climate politics because of the urgent threats that climate change is posing to their lives, livelihoods and homes. It’s hard to get people to sign petitions or show up to rallies when they’re stacking sandbags or packing go bags to flee a wildfire.

    Simply building up the capacity of communities to respond to climate impacts won’t be enough. Without more action from our governments, these crises are just going to get worse. Governments need to do more to stop global temperature rise and to prepare for the climate impacts we’ve already baked in. This means aggressive legislation to end fossil fuel use and a just transition for communities and workers. It also means expanding emergency services to deal with climate disasters and upgrading and rebuilding infrastructure to weather the storms to come. And, lastly, it means rethinking our approaches to migration — both within and across borders, as climate impacts forcibly relocate millions of people.

    As we’ve seen, none of this seems to be what our governments actually want to do. The limited wins we’ve seen on climate change have come from people organizing to force them to happen, and the next phase of wins won’t be any different.

    That means we need to build a bridge between responding to ongoing climate impacts, preparing for future impacts and organizing to stop them from getting worse. In other words, we need to build movements that have the tangible, hands-on skills to protect their communities in the case of climate disasters, but can also turn around and mobilize those same communities to force the government to act.

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    This bridge could be built on three pillars:

    1. Preparation. Climate organizers need to find ways to provide the support and training communities need to feel prepared to respond to climate impacts. This might mean providing it themselves, or finding local partners and allies who can do so. This would build resilience, connection and empower both individuals and communities to feel equipped to protect themselves in the case of climate disasters, providing tangible tools for overcoming climate anxiety.

    2. Local power. Organizers need to find ways to support communities to campaign for local climate solutions that truly serve their needs. As we just saw when Hurricane Fiona hit Puerto Rico, community solar projects provided power when the rest of the grid started to fail. This kind of community solution takes the empowerment and connection from the first pillar and turns it into localized, systemic community power and resilience.

    3. A bigger, louder movement. Weaving these local fights together into regional, national and international movements that can demand the highest levels of action from the highest levels of government is critical. These wins take local resilience and spread it as wide as possible by forcing governments with the greatest amount of power and resources to deploy it at the scale a climate emergency demands.

    Put another way, organizers need to be training people to treat their community for burns and smoke inhalation during a wildfire. Those same people need to be supported to organize their community to demand more funding and resources for fire prevention in their community. And, that community needs to be part of a national movement that is connecting the dots between worsening wildfires and governments continuing to finance and allow fossil fuel expansion. In a lot ways, this would be borrowing from the model that migrant justice organizers have worked off of for years, responding to direct threats to their communities and building that into the long-term power needed to win systemic changes to immigration policy.

    We are long past living in a world where trying to stop the climate crisis altogether is possible. The climate has changed, and we need to change our organizing and movements to deal with this new reality. That’s a frightening reality, especially when each day the news seems to bring a fresh story of climate disasters happening somewhere around the globe. Yet, it can also be empowering.

    In a disaster, communities pull together like never before. The power that exists in those moments has the potential to be transformative. What’s more, at a time where the climate movement feels a little bit like treading water, that might be precisely the kind of energy that’s necessary to gain some new momentum. We can harness that power by acknowledging that, if we’re in a climate emergency, maybe we need some climate first responders.

    Cam Fenton is a climate organizer, paramedic and first aid instructor. He works for 350.org and a local ambulance service. He lives in Squamish, BC.

    Via Waging Nonviolence

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    I saw what turning the Palestinian Village of Masafer Yatta into an Israeli Military ‘Firing Zone’ Means https://www.juancole.com/2022/09/palestinian-masafer-military.html Tue, 27 Sep 2022 04:04:43 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=207204 By Mahmoud Soliman | –

    ( Waging Nonviolence) – Since a ruling of the Israeli Supreme Court on May 4, the Israeli military has been actively training in Masafer Yatta, in the middle of eight villages and hamlets where more than 1,100 Palestinians are living. More than half of the residents are children.

    On a recent trip, I witnessed how Israeli military training is making life unlivable for Palestinians in Masafer Yatta. But they are more determined than ever to resist.

    Masafer Yatta covers more than 210 square miles, an area about the size of the Gaza Strip. It is located 16 miles south of Hebron down to the 1949 Armistice Line and consists of a collection of 33 villages and hamlets that go back to 6,500 years, with around 3,000 Palestinians living there as shepherds and farmers.

    The region has been under the risk of forcible expulsion since 1948. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Israeli occupation authorities bombed Masafer Yatta villages and expelled some of the resident families. In 1980, 12 villages had been declared a zone for Israeli military practice. Firing Zone 918, they call it.

    During this period the Israeli authorities started building settlements at the edge of the firing zone and continued to demolish the houses and shelters of the residents. They were laying the groundwork for the forcible expulsion of the people to Yatta city.

    In November 1999, the Israeli military authorities expelled 750 Palestinians from 15 villages and hamlets. The people managed to sneak back to their villages and a few months later they got a court decision to come back to their village, but it remained a firing zone.

    In May 2022, the Supreme Court of Israel rejected the appeal by residents of eight villages of Masafer Yatta to overturn this designation of the area as a practice firing zone and let the Israeli occupation forces decide when they will expel the residents from their villages.

    Troops established checkpoints to restrict the movement of the residents, aiming also to prevent other Palestinians, Israeli activists and internationals from coming to stand beside the people of Masafer Yatta.

    At the beginning, the Israeli occupation army surveilled and counted the villagers. They followed the shepherds and farmers in the fields and prevented them from practicing their daily routines. Then they started live ammunition practice, three days a week. This disrupts the life of the villages and is especially frightening for children.

    Last month I was there in the village of Al Majaz, one of the eight villages located in “Firing Zone 918.” The army arrived to locate the targets that they will start shooting at, which are essentially cartoons in the shape of human beings mounted on pillars. They put the targets at the entrance of the village, less than 100 feet from people’s homes.

    I asked the soldiers why they are shooting here at the road of the village. When the commander arrives, he will not allow the soldiers to talk to me, so I take the opportunity to approach to the young soldiers —most of whom are 18 years old — when the commanders are not there because they usually have no idea what is going on. If someone needs to go to the hospital while you are shooting, I asked, how we will take them to the hospital? One solider told me, “You are right, that’s why we put the targets at the road of the village.” Then I asked, why they are conducting military training? He said, “We want to protect our state from the enemies.” Which enemies, he did not say. Iran? Gaza? Arabs?

    It is a scary scene when you see the live ammunition everywhere and hear the sounds of shooting. And they do physical damage too. One house ceiling in Khaleit Al Dabi’ village was smashed by the army’s bullets during the training.

    Israeli training is taking place three days every week. That means no movement three days a week. The occupation forces established checkpoints in strategic locations to prevent people from entering the areas. Shepherds are unable to go out and graze their livestock because the army will not allow them. They are scared that if they try they will put themselves and their sheep at risk.

    The military training in Masafer Yatta is part of a systematic policy to forcibly expel the people. Most of the people’s work is outdoors, in the fields and with their sheep, and the military training is jailing the people in their homes. There are no other homes for these people, because the Israeli authorities are demolishing any construction.

    According to the mayor of Masafer Yatta, more than 40 brick rooms, shelters, and tents were demolished since May 2022. The only safe space left for them is to live in caves as their ancestors did. There are now more than 200 families living in caves.

    After more than 70 years, military training is the final step toward expelling the people. For the people, military training means no movement, no cultivation of the land, no grazing of their sheep, no life in the villages. They are only able to stay in their caves. The Israeli occupation authorities want people to sell their sheep, stop cultivating their land, and leave the area for Yatta, the closest urban area controlled by the Palestinian Authority.

    Embed from Getty Images

    But the military training in Masafer Yatta is also sparking backlash on the occupation authorities. Masafer Yatta residents have been resisting the forcible expulsion through different nonviolent tactics for decades. Now they are managing to gain media coverage and network with internal and external solidarity groups. International delegations have visited the area.

    International solidarity and the Israeli activists play a crucial role in documenting, protecting and advocating for the people’s rights. The local struggle has also mobilized Palestinians from all over Palestine to come and support the residents of Masafer Yatta. The new generation of Masafer Yatta is more committed to stay there with their parents and families than any time before. The determination of the new generation to stay is cumulative, fostered by years of resistance, the resilience of the Palestinian people and their belonging to their families and the land.

    Since the writing of this article, attacks by the Israeli military have continued in Masafer Yatta. including an assault on the author’s friend and activist, Hafez Hureini, on Sept. 12. Details of this incident can be found here.

    This story was produced by Resistance Studies

    Mahmoud Soliman is a Palestinian nonviolent activist and academic. He has over 15 years of experience organizing nonviolent campaigns, and is a founding member of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee. Mahmoud is an affiliate faculty member with UMass Amherst Sociology department. His PhD focused on mobilization of Palestinian society towards nonviolent resistance from 2004-2014.

    Via Waging Nonviolence

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    Community Groups and Activists pivot to Mutual Aid amid ongoing Water Crisis in Jackson, Mississippi https://www.juancole.com/2022/09/community-activists-mississippi.html Tue, 06 Sep 2022 04:04:36 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=206803 By Sara Herschander | –

    ( Waging Nonviolence ) – After major flooding last week and years of infrastructural neglect, 150,000 residents of Jackson, Mississippi have been left without safe drinking water, leaving community groups scrambling to address the crisis.

    With 150,000 residents still lacking safe drinking water, grassroots organizations are scrambling to address a crisis decades in the making.

    “We’re always on alert, and we’re always in the community,” said Efren Nuñez, an organizer with the Jackson-based Immigrant Alliance for Justice & Equality, while distributing donations of drinking water in the city. “They call us right away when there’s an emergency.”

    The Immigrant Alliance for Justice & Equality was founded after the largest single-state immigration enforcement action in U.S. history led to the detainment of nearly 700 undocumented Mississippi workers in 2019. The group provides vital immigration, labor and health services to the predominantly Black city’s small Latino immigrant community.


    Volunteers in Jackson, Mississippi distribute free water. (Facebook/Immigrant Alliance for Justice & Equality).

    But lately, organizers have been focused primarily on getting water to community members, many of whom have struggled to find information and support on the crisis in Spanish.

    “They’re not doing well, because there’s no water anywhere,” said Nuñez, who also noted that residents are still struggling with the impact of extreme flooding on their own homes. “They don’t have water to boil or cook, or bathe. Right now, we only have enough for drinking water. And, the schools are closed, so they’re also struggling to get to work.”

    Yet, for organizers, the sudden emergency in Jackson has been building up for years, if not decades.

    Officials and residents had long been aware of the issues and disruptions plaguing the city’s water treatment facilities, which include chronically low water pressure and dangerous levels of pollution. Yet, officials have been slow to make the necessary fixes in Jackson, which led to an acute crisis after major flooding last weekend disabled the city’s main water plant.

    Advocates in the city have largely attributed the slow response to longstanding racial injustice and environmental racism, citing the fact that Jackson is over 82 percent Black — the result of decades of white flight that drove out white residents, and deeply crippled the city’s infrastructure. Nuñez also noted that the crisis has been amplified by political conflicts between the Democrat-led city, and the state’s Republican Gov. Tate Reeves.

    Other local grassroots groups have also begun distributing water as part of a makeshift mutual aid effort, as residents struggle to cope with the crisis. The Mississippi Rapid Response Coalition, made up of over 30 organizations in the state, has been distributing bottled water daily in affected neighborhoods.

    “It’s been chaos,” Sarah Stripp, managing director of the Jackson-based nonprofit Springboard to Opportunities, told the Washington Post. “There has been varying water pressure depending on where folks are in the city. It’s gone up and down in all the communities we work in. There’s been times it runs clear, times it runs brown.”

    As for Nuñez, who lives in Jackson himself, there’s still access to water in his home. He attributes his luck to his neighborhood’s proximity to Jackson’s wealthier and whiter suburbs, whose water supplies have not been affected by the crisis.

    “They had a similar situation where their treatment plants broke down, but they fixed it right away,” he said of the suburban water supply. “That’s the thing — they had the money. Jackson doesn’t have that.”

    Sara Herschander is a freelance journalist and audio producer based in New York City. Her work has appeared in The American Prospect, Documented NY, and Univision, among other publications.

    Via Waging Nonviolence

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    Why Climate Activists Need to Celebrate the Inflation Reduction Act, a major Turning Point despite its Warts https://www.juancole.com/2022/08/activists-celebrate-reduction.html Sat, 13 Aug 2022 04:04:49 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=206331 By Daniel Hunter | –

    ( Waging Nonviolence) – Congress just passed a major $375 billion climate bill, and it will be signed by the president. Yet, when I texted long-standing colleagues in Sunrise Movement, climate justice groups, Sierra Club, local pipeline fights and elsewhere, I found the mood to be… ambivalent, cautious, and non-celebratory.

    The Inflation Reduction Act is not the best we can do for the climate, but claiming its success builds a more powerful movement for future wins.

    Like many, I am sorting my feelings about the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, or IRA. Even writing this last sentence, I’m angry that they’ve disguised the biggest climate legislation the U.S. has ever taken with a pitiful title.

    Amidst a summer of record-breaking heatwaves, my patience is thin. In my city, we’re in another heat advisory and my yard flooded twice in the last year. A lifetime of activism has resulted in too much hand-wringing, broken promises and aspirational international agreements. I want change. I can’t celebrate if this is the best we can do. 

    At the same time, I lose something if I can’t acknowledge and mark this achievement. I lose a piece of myself, a chance to heal that hyper-fueled cynic inside me, and I undermine the movement and our ability to take credit for our progress. So here’s me writing how I found some space to celebrate the movement’s impact.

    The bad

    It’s easy to see this is not a great piece of legislation. The last-minute twists made me ill — Sen. Kyrsten Sinema protecting rich hedge fund managers by keeping the carried interest loophole

    But for the climate, there are poison pills, largely concessions made to Sen. Joe Manchin. There’s a “dirty-for-clean” deal, where any new wind or solar projects on federal public lands cannot be approved until a million acres of public land have been offered up to oil and gas leases. It’s like offering to save everyone in a school, but murdering a few children.

    I am in a cynical mood these days. It feels in keeping with my cynicism to see billions spent on boondoggles like earmarked funding for hydrogen gas development and carbon capture and sequestration, or CCS. Both are preferred capitalist “climate solutions.” They offer no proven track record, but polluting industries can use them to continue their devastation by saying they’re “offsetting” their harm. 

    After Manchin’s pet project, the Mountain Valley Pipeline, was stopped by state courts, he apparently feels assured by a side deal that would “streamline” regulations on 25 projects (including his own) by giving them the designation of “strategic national importance.” His draft legislation requires five of these projects to be fossil fuel-related (or their ilk) and two for CCS.

    These latest twists feel like the insider D.C. deal-making that disgusts everyone courageous enough to review details.

    Never enough

    One reason I rely so much on history is to help normalize what’s happening inside of me. 

    Taylor Branch wrote a 2,800-page totem on the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr. One of the most amazing things to me in that journey was I never saw King satisfied. That’s just not a characteristic of activists. He saw the passage of the Civil Rights Act, and he went back to work. He kept going.

    Cheap history books and sappy national days make people feel like clean victories are achieved. But King was in the lineage of activists for whom political wins are never enough, because justice demands more.

    Surely this is even more so in the face of climate despair and a litany of lies. Future promises are never enough. Only concrete change matters.

    We will feel a modicum of success when the air is clearer. When our emissions levels plunge downwards. When my land isn’t threatened by floods. 

    Actually, that’s not totally true either. 

    When the air is clearer, I’ll look to the poisoned soil. When the water tides go down, I’ll rally on economic injustice. 

    The activist community does not cultivate words like enough. We always want more. And that’s a positive value to be treasured. But not if we can’t also pause it long enough to note our hard-won achievements. Even if we’re deeply unhappy with the bill, there are major victories despite a phenomenally hostile political environment. These victories against odds help show people the wins that can be made possible and the work it takes.

    Embed from Getty Images

    You don’t get this bill without the losses of Build Back Better or the Green New Deal. And those don’t emerge without Sunrise, the Climate Justice Alliance, or the myriad communities and groups fighting for a better world.

    Those of us who’ve been around for a while have experienced much loss. And those losses don’t go away. They creep into our souls and whisper doubts whenever a possible success comes along. They urge us to look around the corner for catches and be cautious around words like hope.

    Yet, if we’re not careful, losing can cultivate a self-fulfilling prophecy where that’s all we see.

    My dear friend pops into my mind. Like me and my wife, she suffered multiple miscarriages. After years of losses, she was offered a possibility of adoption through family. Through tears she said, “I just can’t believe this is true. I can’t be happy about this until it’s all final.” The muscle tenses to protect us. My wife wisely counseled her, “Yes, but you also get one chance to be excited. This is that moment. You can handle disappointment; now you find out you can handle hope, too.”

    Our movement cannot thrive if we’re nothing but a puddle of doubt and denial. Us getting locked into a commitment to doomism may allow us to emotionally self-congratulate ourselves about being right — but it will burn out movement energy. The wise choose a path of #NotTooLate.

    Affirming progress helps with that. 

    The good

    Manchin is proud that the end result is fiscally sound. The bill pays for everything primarily by taxing the richest corporations (with a 15 percent minimum tax). It leaves around $300 billion to pay the federal deficit

    But with the climate crisis, the yardstick isn’t GDP. As Greta Thunberg has said over and over. It’s CO2e: carbon dioxide equivalents.

    Progressive think tank Energy Innovation said that even when all the bad things are factored in: “For every ton of emissions increases generated by IRA oil and gas provisions, at least 24 tons of emissions are avoided by the other provisions.” 

    They estimate the bill prevents 870-1,150 million metric tons of CO2e. They estimate that by 2030 the legislation will add 1.5 million new jobs and save 3,900 people’s lives from the better air we’ll breathe.

    Their bottomline is being echoed by other analyses by Princeton University’s REPEAT and Rhodium Group: By 2030, the IRA bill will reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to 37-41 percent below 2005 levels.

    For the first time in my lifetime, it gets us in the race on climate. It won’t get the United States to uphold its end of the Paris Climate Agreement — but there’s been no pathway without it. Now, with aggressive local and state action, it’s a winnable achievement. But that’s no guarantee.

    Embed from Getty Images

    I still don’t sound solidly happy about this step forward, do I?

    Unnoticed by most mainstream press is $60 billion for climate justice priorities — funds specifically for block grants, green banks and clean energy emissions for low-income and disadvantaged communities. This is a major shift in tone, funding and priorities. It’s one where the devil lives very much in the details — but it’s a far cry from climate bills a decade ago which had none of this.

    This is significantly better than the status quo. And that does not just happen. That is power conceding because there was a demand. Even if it’s not a complete climate win.

    And now I’m beginning to remember that movements don’t ever win. At least, not in the sense that most of us typically think about.

    EQAT’s win

    Earth Quaker Action Team, or EQAT, asked me to facilitate on the heels of a major announcement in 2005. They are a direct action campaign in Philadelphia that fought for four years to get PNC to stop funding mountaintop removal coal mining. PNC had just given in to their demand.

    So there I was, leading about 40 campaigners in a stuffy third floor room. I put up a single piece of newsprint and waited as people arrived. I could tell it was a mix of emotions. 

    Leaders told me the policy from PNC Bank was good, but felt murky. Essentially PNC said they’ll stop funding any projects that have investments up to a certain percentage of mountaintop removal coal mining. Rainforest Action Network, which had done the hard work of negotiating the deal behind-the-scenes, said this was a very strong deal. Even with that reassurance, leaders of the group still had mixed feelings.

    They had fought PNC Bank for a long time, and they knew people who had died from PNC’s banking practices. Where was justice? What would the impact really be? 

    This was not the image most people picture of a group after winning a victory following a multi-year campaign. Yet, my memory of past campaign wins was that it was actually a typical moment. So I led the group through a simple exercise, asking people to share how they felt. I put the feeling up on the newsprint as best as I could:

    – Happy
    – Disappointed
    – Really confused about what this means
    – Still trying to process
    – So pleased
    – Stunned
    – Worried about what our allies think
    – Worried what I think
    – Worried about what others in this room think
    – Proud and confused why anyone is worried
    – Angry — they shouldn’t just get out of the business without picking up their messes
    – Pissed off they didn’t do this sooner

    The list continued until we had filled up the newsprint. 

    Then I announced that I wanted to share with them about how people are when social movements achieve wins. They trusted me and waited.

    I scribbled on top of the newsprint: “Daniel’s Theory of Social Movements Wins.” I then re-read all the feeling states — normalizing each one as a natural reaction.

    I explained this feeling of being internally torn is natural. “We run campaigns because of values, like environmental sanity and freedom to choose our futures. Values aren’t reflected into policy. We don’t run campaigns because we want a 5 percent increase in affordable housing funding or simply because we wanted a single bank to stop funding mountaintop removal coal mining. We want justice. But there’s no moment when we see our values are suddenly acted upon by all. It’s a process.”

    The great historian Vincent Harding was right in describing movements as rivers. We step into the river, give our contribution, and the river keeps moving on and on. “Winning” is a foreign concept to a river and does not speak to how movement rivers turn, bend and flow.

    I told the group of my own past campaign wins. When we won a big pot of funding for affordable housing, not one person we knew had a home yet. So it was a mixed blessing — a promissory note that felt like another long fight to actually get people homes, all while people needed roofs over their heads.

    Achieving a campaign victory, even as cleanly as EQAT did, doesn’t mean it’s over. It’s a moment to note how the course of the river has changed. To acknowledge the ancestors upstream and to make an invitation for others to join the stream too.

    And this is where celebrating is so crucial. Who will want to join the river if it’s all sadness and misery? Who will acknowledge our contributions if we fail to name it ourselves? 

    With that, I asked the group if it would be okay to give themselves permission to celebrate their accomplishments. We cheered amidst tears and relief. We weren’t cheering PNC, or even the policy change, but the web of communities and practices of resistance that were building a better world, inch by inch.

    Claim your role

    When talking about this bill, the New York Times will not mention Standing Rock or the Global Climate March. They will scrub the movement’s role away and focus on the political intrigue around Sinema and Manchin. 

    That makes this moment crucial to acknowledge the pieces you like about this bill and note you and your group’s efforts in the movement ecosystem. There are many roles that got us the pieces of the wins that matter to us. Claim them. Nobody else is likely to do it for you.

    When you do, that makes more space for future activists to believe that bigger changes can also happen. Show the movement stream that leads to the $37.5 million to reduce air pollution in schools located in low-income and disadvantaged communities and $400 million to upgrade school buses in overburdened communities. Let people see how protests in the streets, organizing in communities and turnout at the polls adds up.

    If you’re not excited about it for you, then do it for the next generation. They’ll need it. 

    Do it because naming and reviewing the movement’s progress helps build momentum for the next win and the win after that. People want to join positive teams that burst with love and energy. 

    Actually, if you’re not excited about doing it for you, still do it for you. I remember at the end of a decade-long campaign trudging through the winter snow to go to a victory party. I swear I didn’t want to do it — until I arrived. I needed to be with my people to allow space inside myself to adjust, make meaning and unburden a place inside of me where I secretly feared we would never win anything.

    It feels good to let ourselves feel good about an achievement.

    So, after all this, I am going to organize a little party to teach what we won, honor what’s good that we like and commit to continue on the struggle. I hope you’ll join me with your own form of celebrating, too.

    Daniel Hunter is the Global Trainings Manager at 350.org and a curriculum designer with Sunrise Movement. He has trained extensively from ethnic minorities in Burma, pastors in Sierra Leone, and independence activists in northeast India. He has written multiple books, including the “Climate Resistance Handbook” and “Building a Movement to End the New Jim Crow.”

    Via Waging Nonviolence

    Featured Image: Courtesy Pixabay

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    How Tunisians can instill Democracy in the Face of growing Authoritarianism https://www.juancole.com/2022/08/tunisians-democracy-zuthoritarianism.html Tue, 02 Aug 2022 04:02:04 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=206129 By Craig Brown | –

    ( Waging Nonviolence ) – As Tunisia’s president Kais Saied takes the country down the path of authoritarianism, opponents faced a quandary about what to do during the July 25 referendum, on a constitution that will hand Saied significant power. Political opponents and civil society organizations considered whether it was better to vote “no” in the referendum, or boycott it completely. Different organizations started to push for the latter, albeit with little confidence it would seriously scupper Saied’s moves.

    With president Saied grabbing more power and the parliamentary system in crisis, people’s councils could defend Tunisia’s democratic gains.

    Even with an underwhelming turnout of around 27.5 percent — not necessarily due to boycott, but possibly popular disillusionment, which is no less political — Saied will introduce the new constitution regardless, with 94.6 percent who voted supporting the new constitution, and no minimum participation threshold. Meanwhile, protests have faced the problem of disunity and dispersed opposition. Political parties that should be mobilizing popular opposition and advocating for a return to the parliamentary system remain tainted by perceptions of ineptitude.

    So, what could be done to keep Tunisia on the democratic path?

    Even if the political opposition could unite, a mass protest is unlikely to achieve much tangible change — despite the assumption that a protest like this on Jan. 14 is what removed Ben Ali from power during the 2010/11 revolution. The revolution involved weeks of serious unarmed struggle against security forces, complex machinations by those security forces, and the emergence of organized and increasingly coordinated opposition. Which is to say nothing of the months and years of opposition preceding the revolution.

    The sense of alarm and lack of options could be a time to think outside the box; what about grassroots democratic councils? These could at least be a way that the democratic opposition in civil society could connect to the many ordinary Tunisians who are disillusioned with Tunisia’s political system and do not know what to do about it — but who should not just be dismissed as indifferent or apathetic to it, which remains a tired refrain.

    Before considering this idea seriously, it must be acknowledged that ironically, Saied has proposed the “New Foundation,” a system of councils that would purportedly decentralize decision making and enable citizens to participate in a form of direct democracy. He even attracted the support of, and consulted with, participants in the councils for the protection of the revolution, or CPRs, which emerged during Tunisia’s 2010/11 revolution.

    Notably, some of these participants may now be feeling Saied has been disingenuous. Yet irrespective of Saied’s own ambitions, and the fact his “New Foundation” may manifest more along the lines of Gaddafi’s people’s committees in Libya — a masquerade of democracy hiding a brutal authoritarian regime — it is important to note Tunisia’s own recent history of democratic experimentation (some say expedience) in the CPRs.

    The CPRs during the 2010/11 revolution

    The CPRs were a fundamental part of the constructive resistance that emerged in Tunisia during and after the 2010/11 revolution. One participant, Noman, clarified that the CPRs started “from Sidi Bouzid and later became in all of Tunisia.” Another participant, Ayoub, characterized them as a form of “direct democracy,” established in “every city and neighborhood,” He explained:

    It’s the whole militant parties [which] organized. The adherent of the union of the student [UGET] and general union [UGTT], we make some kind of council […] every neighborhood had its council, every town composed of neighborhood had big council. To rule the affairs of the towns of the neighborhood.

    The CPRs were considered as exemplary of Tunisians’ unity and solidarity during the period. As Noman described: “In those days it was really good solidarity. Nothing politics. No politics. They all like each other, all the people.”

    Sghiri recalled how he and his associates considered there to be an opportunity to “renew the social contract and revolutionize its socio-political structures.” Tunisians I spoke to, including Nader and Ayoub, also reflected this view, yet felt Tunisia’s formal political parties squandered this unity and potential, co-opting the revolutionary legitimacy of the CPRs and pushing younger participants out of the process.

    This is best reflected in the Kasbah protests shortly following Ben Ali’s departure, which interlinked with the CPRs in terms of participants, ideas and demands. There were two main sit-ins in the political district in Tunis, between Jan. 24-28 and the second from Feb. 20 to March 4. There were also demonstrations, strikes and sit-ins across the country, with solidarity caravans travelling to the capital.

    Participant Achraf again emphasized the unity of Tunisians against the regime remnants, while Noman stressed the efforts to form “a revolutionary government, coming from the people who made the revolution. To take power and really rule and take out all the system.”

    This challenges the assumptions of the participants being satisfied with interim prime minister Ghannouchi’s resignation on Feb. 27 and the promise of establishing a Constitutional Assembly, meaning they packed up and went home. Instead, Gana pointed to the serious brutality with which the security forces broke up the second Kasbah sit-in, which Noman believed ultimately “made Mohammed Ghannouchi resign.”

    Noman also noted that people in Kasserine, Gafsa and Sidi Bouzid continued strikes for days after to “oppose the idea of a constitutional assembly,” and just 23 percent of the electorate there ultimately voted to approve it.

    The interim government’s acquisition and institutionalization of revolutionary legitimacy intersected with political parties’ activities during this time. On Jan. 20, 2011, the January 14 Front was formed including left-wing parties, the Tunisian General Labor Union, or UGTT, and the Bar Association, which subsequently adopted the Kasbah protesters’ demands. Later in February, they took on the nomenclature of the CPRs, forming the National Council for the Protection of the Revolution, or CNPR. That they did not necessarily reflect the bottom-up activities of the revolution’s participants was suggested by Achraf, who during the Kasbah protests found that “we admitted two [political] parties without our consent.”

    This party-political process was institutionalized further, as well as revolutionary demands diluted, when Ghannouchi’s replacement, Beji Caid Essebssi, formed the 170-member High Authority for the Achievement of the Objectives of the Revolution, Political Reform and the Democratic Transition on March 14, 2011. In the wake of the Higher Authority’s establishment, Honwana explained that the CNPR ended up splitting: “major parties such as Ennahdha, Ettakatol and the CPR and some civil society associations joined the Higher Authority, other CNPR members, especially those of the radical left, were against this move.”

    The further unfortunate dynamic was how these developments played out as exclusion at a more localized level, among the young and ordinary participants of the revolution. Ayoub, a member of the General Union of Tunisian Students, or UGET, explained how he and his colleagues tried to:

    Create a citizenship culture, to talk with people and to mobilize people and to work in the streets, creating pressure and writing stuff and giving it to the people and talk with people in the coffee shops and the streets and many places. To make them realize what is democracy, political system, presidential regime, parliamentary regime, what’s this Westminster regime […] all this stuff we’re trying to make it easier to understand.

    Yet Ayoub recounted how many “leftist leaders” among the UGTT and political parties — who would have participated in the CNPR — dismissed the concerns, role and participation of the youth. He was told condescendingly, “not to confuse his law education with the reality on the ground.”

    Likewise, Emna, former vice president of the UGET, explained that the youth who helped make the revolution were being marginalized: “In civic society and political society, we are only a force of protestation. We haven’t a place, a leadership place in the government.” While an element of this appeared to be divisions and apparently a lack of leadership among the youth, she largely pointed to how “the government marginalize us politically, [as do] even political parties and opposition.”

    Therefore, if the CPRs genuinely enshrined a deeper movement for systemic change, solidarity and unity that Tunisians valued, their missed and undermined potential should be reconsidered. What might it have meant to many marginalized and desperate Tunisians had there been an enduring space where they could have directly contributed to political and economic processes, giving them a stake and a role while reducing their alienation from such processes?

    Re-establishing the CPRs in the present

    The most powerful impetus to new councils being established would be if marginalized and unemployed people, including youths, were to take the lead. They are typically disparate individuals and groups, yet periodically come together in demonstrations and more violent clashes with security forces. They bear the brunt of Tunisia’s ever-worsening economic situation and are increasingly desperate; they must be listened to and recover real agency.

    However, activists also need to go back to basics of engagement with fellow citizens at the local level, like Ayoub described in the aftermath of the revolution. Initiatives could be adopted by individuals and groups in civil society, unaffiliated and networked activists and independent trade unions, which oppose Saied’s authoritarianism and want to maintain Tunisia’s democratic gains. This could include the UGET, the Union of Unemployed Graduates, iWatch, the National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists, among others. The crucial action of any of these organizations would be to engage with ordinary people to encourage their participation.

    During the COVID-19 pandemic, Tunisia saw various mutual aid efforts, what Henda Chennaoui referred to as “community solidarity” efforts that were “directly managed by women. This happens at the neighborhood level, especially in poor areas of Tunis and its surroundings. There we witnessed solidarity actions, not only among women, but also involving families, children, men, everybody.” The legacy of these connections could be a further basis to feed into new CPRs.

    Returning to local councils established from the bottom-up could also avoid problems of Tunisian society fracturing along support for Saied and those against him. In contrast, Saied’s rhetoric about excluding enemies from the political space, usually leveled at the Islamist party Ennahda, and actions against its leaders, could automatically alienate ordinary Tunisians. For example, there are those affiliated with or inclined towards Ennahda, yet who remain critical of its leaders and have no direct responsibility for the political and economic crisis with which the party has been associated.

    If local councils were a space where ordinary people — including those with party affiliations or inclinations — could come together to highlight their problems and concerns, it seems reasonable to think that conflicts are more likely to be resolved, as proponents of council systems such as Hannah Arendt have argued. And they would find that they have much in common, whether their personal economic plight, that of their daughters and sons, neighborhood concerns and everyday struggles.

    Jørgen Johansen and Brian Martin have defined social defense as opposition not only to external aggressors but state violence and repression, a “defense of society or community, not necessarily of territory.” This involves defending — indeed creating — “practices and institutions that enable people to live cooperatively. This can include political practices such as free speech and assembly, economic practices such as production and distribution of goods and services, and social practices such as care for children.”

    The political significance of this in the Tunisian context is clear, and a council system could contribute to the defense, organization and enactment of the democratic political practices that are threatened by Kais Saied’s authoritarian regression. More than that, practical solutions to the economic crisis could be proposed and organized.

    The Tunisian revolution created a space with a conception of the political that prioritizes freedom and dignity — the latter encapsulating the political, economic and social spheres. Tunisia’s democratic gains are under imminent threat, so these priorities must be directly reasserted by Tunisians. One way is through a tangible system of councils.


    Craig Brown is a Sociology departmental affiliate at UMass Amherst. He is an Assistant Editor of the Journal of Resistance Studies and board member of the European Peace Research Association. His PhD assessed the methods of resistance during the 2011 Tunisian Revolution

    Via Waging Nonviolence

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    ‘Waste no more time’ — a teacher’s call to act on gun violence https://www.juancole.com/2022/07/waste-teachers-violence.html Wed, 13 Jul 2022 04:02:02 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=205758 By Michael Nagler and Francesca Po | –

    ( Waging Nonviolence) – Given the almost inconceivable tragedy that has been visited on our schools — and believing that no democracy can survive without a viable education and a safe space for children — Michael Nagler spoke with career teacher, peace activist and Metta Center board member Francesca Po to get her perspective.

    Educator and peace activist Francesca Po discusses the need for gun safety laws and a change in the culture of policing.

    Michael: Francesca, as we are all grieving over the shooting of children and terrified that it seems to go on and on, I’m wondering what your feelings are.  First of all, what drew you to the noble profession of teaching?

    Francesca: The actual teaching itself is why I am an educator and why it’s meaningful work for me.  I teach in the department of religious studies in a high school and thrive on discussing “the big questions” about the universe and existence with teenagers.  I believe this is the age when these questions are most influential in life and it’s a privilege to be able to be the one to introduce these concepts to them.

    Michael: With the dreadful rise in school shootings, how has that affected the mental states of your students, classroom, and the school in general?  Are students more afraid, or grieving?  What about teachers, and school staff? 

    Francesca: Everyone’s mental and emotional states have absolutely been negatively affected by the rise in school shootings.

    To put this all in perspective, firstly, know that my school is a well-funded, private high school, and boasts a population of the top 5 percent of the county.  We have our own private security team, 24-hour surveillance of campus, and we are enclosed by two security gates: one on the outside perimeter of campus, and another inner gate on the actual school grounds.  Of all schools, it should feel safe and secure.

    However, just this past month, before Uvalde, we had a “non-credible” shooter threat which resulted in: 1. having local police officers on campus, 2. multiple students getting pulled off campus by their guardians and 3. a number of faculty and staff excusing themselves and going home for their own peace of mind.

    A week after Uvalde, as if tensions weren’t high enough, our school received a “credible” threat, we had to evacuate campus halfway through the school day and shut down all operations on campus for the remainder of the week.  The school has been reopened since, but many are on the verge of tears — if not completely in tears — yet having to move forward in an atmosphere of fear. 

    Michael: They sense what we have lost.

    Francesca: I trust that our administration is doing everything they can to keep us safe, and really just taking extra precautions considering the landscape of our country, but considering the troubling statistics of school shootings in the U.S. compared to all other developed countries in the world, it seems rational to be fearing for our lives. Again, this is the level of tension at a very privileged school — I can’t even imagine how others feel at more under-served schools.”

    Michael: Gun violence, horrific as it is, is a symptom of something even larger that’s gone awry.  What are some of the underlying issues you see contributing to this kind of violence? 

    Francesca: First and foremost, gun safety laws: They are evidently much too lenient on a national level.  We need more reasonable laws so guns don’t get into the hands of those who abuse them.

    Second, the culture of policing. Studies demonstrate that campuses that have a focus on policing and punishment actually have an opposite effect from the very thing that it’s trying to do: It brings about a culture of tension and fear, resulting in more reactive and aggressive behavior in students and staff alike. The evidence-based alternative would be a focus on counseling, mental health and restorative justice.

    Michael: Do you see any role that nonviolence can play in addressing these underlying causes, and any role that teachers and administrators can play? 

    Francesca: I think the second point above is the most obvious nonviolence tactic we can employ in the field of education at the moment.  However, this should go hand-in-hand with the first point – pressuring civil authorities to develop gun laws immediately.  With the lives lost already, and that we’re losing every day, we should waste no more time and take action.

    ——

    Michael Nagler is Professor emeritus of Classics and Comparative Literature at UC, Berkeley, where he co-founded the Peace and Conflict Studies Program. He is also the founder of the Metta Center for Nonviolence and author of the award-winning Search for a Nonviolent Future. His latest book is “The Third Harmony: Nonviolence & the New Story of Human Nature.”

    Francesca Po, DPhil (Oxon), is a scholar of religion specializing in contemporary religion and nonreligion. She is currently a member of the Board of Directors at the Metta Center for Nonviolence in Petaluma, CA, USA, and an educator at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, CA, USA. She previously served in the US Peace Corps as well as a high school campus minister, and is the co-editor of “The Study of Ministry” (2019) and “The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Religion and Peace” (2022).

    Via Waging Nonviolence

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