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strategic nonviolence

Popular Enforcement of International Law from Vietnam to Gaza

Cop City Protesters Tried to Plant Trees. Atlanta Police Beat Them for It

By Natasha Lennard - The Intercept, November 15, 2023

Dozens of protesters began gathering early Monday morning in a small, unremarkable park in southeast Atlanta. By 9 a.m., over 400 people — a coalition of local Atlantans and visiting activists from around the country — had assembled to attend a day of protests dubbed “Block Cop City.” The event was just the latest mass demonstration in over two years of resistance against the construction of a vast police training facility, known as Cop City, over hundreds of acres of Atlanta’s forest land.

Cops reacted to the day of action by attacking a slow-moving, peaceful march with tear gas and rubber bullets, just the latest reminder of why the compound, designed to further militarized counterinsurgency policing, should never be built.

Organizers were clear from the start: The protest activities — as had been agreed on in hourslong meetings in the prior days — would not involve property damage to construction vehicles at the site of the planned police facility. The tactic had been tried before, when a small amount of vandalism during a March day of action led to indiscriminate arrests and overreaching state domestic terrorism charges against 42 activists.

Monday’s participants planned simply to march, carrying banners and giant handmade puppets, to the Cop City construction area in the Weelaunee Forest, where they would plant nearly 100 saplings on cleared forest land.

Class Politics in a Warming World

A Frontline Response to Andreas Malm

By Madeline ffitch - Verso, April 22, 2023

Earth First! activist Madeline ffitch responds to Andreas Malm: "What if the mass climate movement was focused on supporting frontline direct action?"

By the time I read How to Blow Up a Pipeline, I had already seen its neon cover around, the unmistakable title plastered across the front in large block print. I had seen activists reading it, but not the activists I’d expected. These were well-heeled and buttoned-up types, people from environmental nonprofits, people I would associate with a permitted rally rather than an act of eco-sabotage. When I showed the book to one of my movement elders, a far less well-heeled person, they grimaced. “Who the hell comes up with a title like that?” they asked. “Does he think this is a game?” This movement elder, known for being grumpy and speaking plainly, is a decades-long veteran of direct-action eco-defense, a walking repository of tactical knowledge and movement history. They’re also an old Earth First!er. I’m a slightly younger one.

In his sensationally titled book, Andreas Malm tells us that between 1973 and 2010, Earth First!, the Earth Liberation Front, the Animal Liberation Front, and related groups pulled off 27,100 separate acts of direct action and sabotage. These would seem to be laudable examples in service of Malm’s central proposal, which is that climate activists must be willing to escalate tactics and consider property destruction. Yet Malm includes these actions only in order to disqualify them. “All those thousands of monkeywrenching actions,” he writes, “achieved little if anything and had no lasting gains to show for them. They were not performed in dynamic relation to a mass movement, but largely in a void.” Malm goes on to say that these actions “petered out just as the climate movement came into its own.”

Malm gets a lot right in his slim neon polemic, but when he dismisses existing traditions of militant eco-defense, he undermines his own good ideas. Direct action is not made relevant by its link to mass movements. It is the other way around. The more out of touch the climate movement is from what is happening on the frontlines, the more irrelevant it becomes. The frontline might sound to some like revolutionary jargon, but it’s simply another name for the often rural and sparsely populated places where people must defend their homes and lifeways from being sacrificed to industrialization. Here, theory is put into practice. There is real work to do—dishes, chopping wood, hauling water, physically stopping a pipeline from being built—and this means that the abstractions that bog down mass movement participation (ideological pacifism, climate fatalism) are less likely to gain a foothold. If the climate movement is looking for direction, as Malm claims, it would do well to pay attention to the tactics and strategies of those who defend the land and water far away from major centers of commerce and policy, often with only a handful of people and by whatever means necessary. In comparison to mass movement maundering, the ethical and strategic clarity on the frontlines is bracingly refreshing.

What It Really Takes To Save the Planet

How To Combat The Cumbria Coalmine and Other Retrograde Energy Projects

“Total, BP or Shell will not voluntarily give up their profits. We have to become stronger than them...”

By Andreas Malm - International Viewpoint, September 12, 2022

Andreas Malm is a Swedish ecosocialist activist and author of several books on fossil capital, global warming and the need to change the course of events initiated by the burning of fossil fuels over the last two centuries of capitalist development. The Jeunes Anticapitalistes (the youth branch of the Gauche Anticapitaliste, the Belgian section of the Fourth International) met him at the 37th Revolutionary Youth Camp organized in solidarity with the Fourth International in France this summer, where he was invited as a speaker.

As left-wing activists in the climate movement, we sometimes feel stuck by what can be seen as a lack of strategic perspectives within the movement. How can we radicalize the climate movement and why does the movement need a strategic debate in your opinion?

I share the feeling, but of course it depends on the local circumstances – this Belgian “Code Red” action, this sort of Ende Gelände or any similar kind of thing, sounds promising to me, but you obviously know much more about it than I do. In any case, the efforts to radicalize the climate movement and let it grow can look different in different circumstances.

One way is to try to organize this kind of big mass actions of the Ende Gelände type, and I think that’s perhaps the most useful thing we can do. But of course, there are also sometimes opportunities for working within movements like Fridays for Future or Extinction Rebellion for that matter and try to pull them in a progressive direction as well as to make them avoid making tactical mistakes and having an apolitical discourse. In some places, I think that this strategy can be successful. Of course, one can also consider forming new more radical climate groups that might initially be pretty small, but that can be more radical in terms of tactics and analysis, and sort of pull others along, or have a “radical flank” effect. So, I don’t have one model for how to do this – it really depends on the state of the movement in the community where you live and obviously the movement has ups and downs (it went quite a lot down recently after the outbreak of the pandemic, but hopefully we’ll see it move back up).

Finally, it’s obviously extremely important to have our own political organizations that kind of act as vessels for continuity and for accumulating experiences, sharing them and exchanging ideas. Our own organizations can also be used as platforms for taking initiatives within movements or together with movements.

Blockade Australia: Our Perspective

By staff - Black Flag Sidney, July 27, 2022

Blockade Australia (BA) is a climate activist group whose primary strategy is to shut down activity at fossil fuel sites and disrupt the economy as a form of protest. So far, they have coordinated two major blockades in NSW: in November 2021, they disrupted $60 million worth of coal exports for eleven days in the Port of Newcastle; in March 2022, activists blockaded terminals for five days at Port Botany; at the end of June, they attempted a six-day blockade of Sydney’s economic centre.

Their activism has been met with alarming state violence. Earlier this month, around one hundred police raided a BA camp of activists and made several arrests. The Port Botany blockade earlier this year triggered the bipartisan enactment of new laws in NSW Parliament, increasing the penalty for protesting without police or state approval to up to $22,000 in fines and/or two years’ imprisonment. These laws will affect all protests which are unapproved by police, and should be fiercely opposed.

BA doesn’t formally adhere to a specific political ideology, although their social media activity suggests anti-capitalist and anti-electoral leanings. They aim to create a “consistent and strategic” disruption “that cannot be ignored,” to temporarily shut down the fossil fuel industry’s operation and force a “political response,” though BA does not define what this would look like concretely.

Overall, BA’s strategy relies on small affinity groups rather than a political organisation to coordinate individual non-violent disruptive stunts, a strategy which places them outside of the mass movement for working class liberation. It’s important to note here that we condemn in the strongest terms the state violence against BA activists. We express our solidarity to activists who, like us, are interested in building “power… opposing the colonial and extractive systems of Australia.” We argue, though, that BA cannot build this power with isolated actions and sporadic disruption alone.

War in Ukraine: reflections and proposals for internationalist union action

By Simon Pirani - Europe Solidaire Sans Frontières, March 31, 2022

From the Solidaires Union web site. These notes from the Solidaires Union bureau set out its approach to building solidarity with Ukrainian working-class resistance to Russian military aggression. They are a useful starting point for discussion.

This statement is based on the assessment made during the Solidaires national board meeting in March, the contributions of our member organizations, the work of our international commission, and inter-union exchanges both nationally, through the inter-union CGT/FSU/Solidaires, and internationally, through the International Labour Network of Solidarity and Struggles. All of this has also been fuelled by the exchanges and reflections held within larger unitary frameworks in which we take part. [1]

Beyond producing assessments and analyses, union commitment is about action. The following proposals are based on the international work that Solidaires has been doing for years and are expressed in the initiatives, connections and publications of recent days. They aim to respond – on the basis of concrete actions and not useless polemics – to the sectarianism displayed by some statements from other trade union organisations, and especially to the hypocrisy of government and employers’ declarations.

The introductory statement to the debate of the national board the 9th March recalled the position of the Solidaires union from the first day of the war (actually even before the start of this war, since all that follows is part of the tradition and practice of internationalist unionism that we try to implement):

□ The immediate withdrawal of Russian troops – the right of peoples to self-determination – the need for an immediate ceasefire and for building a negotiated peace – supporting people fighting against war, especially in countries at war – the dignified and massive reception of all refugees, regardless of their origin, and the fight against all inequalities and discrimination – taking part, on our own terms, in mobilisations and demonstrations for peace – (joint) participation in the initiatives of solidarity with the Ukrainian people, such as the “union convoy” which aims to provide Ukrainian workers with relief supplies – denouncing nationalism and capitalism as the causes of war – internationalism, as an alternative to nationalism – fighting to end tax havens – the urgency of an ecological transition towards the end of the massive use of fossil fuels.

Understanding Sunrise, Part 2: Organizing Methods

By Dyanna Jaye and William Lawrence - Convergence, March 24, 2022

Sunrise melded mass protest, electoral work, and distributed organizing to great effect, but 2020 upended its plans and forced a reassessment.

Sunrise Movement grew from a labor of love by 12 young people, including the two of us, into the most prominent climate justice organization in the country. We put the Green New Deal on the map, strengthened the Left insurgency in the Democratic Party, and helped drive youth turnout to defeat Trump in 2020. Climate change became a political priority for the Democratic Party, and Sunrise directly influenced Biden’s Build Back Better agenda.

In the last year, though, despite a few impactful protests demanding ambition and urgency from Congress, Sunrise members and observers alike have noted a loss of strategic clarity and organizing power compared to 2017 through 2020. And it’s not just Sunrise: the entire Left has struggled to make the jump from punching upwards in the Trump era to winning material reforms in the Biden era.

In this essay, we’ll pull back the layers of Sunrise’s organizing model: how we actually recruited young people and united them in a structure for collective action. We’ll first discuss the major influences on Sunrise’s organizing and run through how it all played out in practice, the good and the bad.

We share a diagnosis that a central shortcoming in Sunrise’s organizing model was the absence of a sustained method of mass organizing at a local level, which left us nowhere to go once we could no longer rely on the fast-but-shallow growth of distributed organizing methods. We’re proud of the movement’s accomplishments while humble about its shortcomings. We offer our reflection in the practice of learning together in public; we hope our transparency can empower the next generation of movement builders—in Sunrise and across movements—to lead transformative organizing for the next era.

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