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Below & Beyond Trump: Power & Counter-Power in 2017

By Black Rose Anarchist Federation - It's Going Down, December 23, 2017

This analysis was developed by ongoing discussions among members of the Black Rose / Rosa Negra (BRRN) Anarchist Federation’s Analysis and Strategy Committee and sent as a discussion document to our August 2017 convention, where it generated deep discussion and further feedback.  It is organized into four sections: an analysis of ruling class power, an analysis of social movements, a statement of basic organizing principles in light of the current moment, and some suggestions for the federation moving forward.

Its main points are that we see real potential to build popular power and social anarchism in the coming period. The U.S. ruling class is fractured, the political terrain has shifted dramatically, and there is mass discontent with corporate politics as usual. This provides numerous opportunities for pro-organizational revolutionary anarchists to intervene as social movements arise. At present the mass discontent is being channeled by the institutional left – unions, non-profits, and other institutions traditionally aligned with the Democrats — into explicit reformism and electoral politics. We argue for promoting independent social movements outside of the institutional left while putting forward within new and existing social struggles the need to advance class struggle, collective direct action, direct democracy, and a vision of libertarian socialism.

Anything is possible when the multitude assembles

By Ben Trott - Red Pepper, October 25, 2017

From the Arab Spring and Occupy to the mass protests in Hong Kong in 2014, we have seen numerous recent movements and uprisings addressing people’s needs and desires, variously for democracy, for freedom, unshackling the people from the forces of reaction. And yet, they have failed to deliver on these radical desires; failed to create lasting change or a more democratic form of society. It is with this observation that Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri open their compelling and provocative new book, Assembly. It confronts a history of failure that has dogged leftwing movements, often framed as a problem of ‘effectiveness’, and particularly the much-debated ‘problem of leadership’. Hardt and Negri root their analysis in contemporary social reality, asking the question – given these historic disappointments, what should a new left do if it is not altogether to abandon faith in social movements?

Hardt and Negri’s best-known book, Empire, was published at the turn of the century, just after the alter-globalisation movement had taken to the streets of Seattle, disrupting the World Trade Organisation’s ministerial meeting. It argued that nation-states had become unable to guarantee and regulate capitalist production and accumulation, which were becoming truly global following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the opening of the Chinese economy. According to the authors, sovereignty itself was shifting to the global level of Empire itself: a network of supranational organisations (including the WTO), transnational corporations, state and non-state actors.

One of the book’s distinctive characteristics was its break with what Walter Benjamin, and more recently the political theorist Wendy Brown, have described as ‘left melancholia’. This is the tendency for some on the left to attach themselves to particular political ideas – and even to the failure of these ideas – rather than seizing the present possibilities for transformation. By offering a radical re-thinking of democracy, and indeed of communism, Empire served as an antidote to left melancholia at the supposed ‘end of history’ – the moment when all thought of political alternatives have been rendered useless or meaningless by the overwhelming power of the contention that ‘There Is No Alternative’ to capitalism.

It cast the emerging Empire as destructive, but resisted nostalgia for earlier forms of domination. Moreover, it argued that ‘the multitude’, or the labour that animated the ‘postmodern’ global economy, worked in increasingly creative and collaborative ways, and that the multitude itself could potentially become capable of creating a ‘counter-Empire’, inventing new democratic forms and ‘an alternative political organization of global flows and exchanges.’

Assembly follows their books Multitude (2004) and Commonwealth (2009) in developing some of Empire’s arguments and conceptual categories, although it dedicates comparatively little space to geopolitics and global order. It offers instead the authors’ most detailed discussion of the present prospects for transformation, and in light of the movements that have emerged since the global crisis of 2007/8. Its chapters are punctuated by ‘calls’ and ‘responses’ that present an approach to thinking how the multitude can assemble more effectively. And indeed, how it can ‘take power’, not by winning elections but through the invention of new institutional forms, and through cooperation in social production.

Why campaigns, not protests, get the goods

By George Lakey - Waging Nonviolence, October 29, 2016

After the election there will be many things to protest, no matter who wins. This is the time to figure out how to amplify our power and maximize the chance of winning victories.

To do that, we can start by freeing up the energy devoted to one-off protests, rallies and demonstrations. When I look back on the one-off protests I’ve joined over the years, I don’t remember a single one that changed anything. The really spectacular failure was the biggest protest in history, in February 2003. I joined millions of people around the world on the eve of George W. Bush’s war on Iraq. We did get a huge front-page headline in the New York Times, but Bush only needed to wait until we went home.

The Times said the protest indicated a “second global superpower,” but the Times was wrong. A one-off protest is for venting, not for exerting power. I realized even at the time that the protest wouldn’t prevent Bush’s war, because the protest’s leadership didn’t tell us what we could do next, and how we would escalate after that.

Bush had a plan to persist. We did not. The peace movement never recovered in the years since, despite the American majority’s fairly consistent opposition to the war. Because of the poor strategic choice to mount a one-off protest, discouragement and inaction followed.

Movements, Not Presidents: The Nationwide Fight Against Neoliberalism

By Jake Johnson - Common Dreams, Spetember 29, 2016

Just months after becoming president of the United States, Barack Obama met with some of the world's most powerful executives.

It was a time of crisis: The economy was wavering dangerously in the aftermath of the housing bubble's great burst, and many of the nation's largest financial institutions had just been yanked from the brink of collapse.

Though the effects of the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression were disastrous for countless Americans, the executives with whom the president spoke on that day in March of 2009 were doing just fine. In fact, many were doing better than ever.

While millions faced the prospect of losing their homes, their jobs, and their life savings, the same CEOs that helped spark the crash were paying themselves and their employees lavish bonuses.

The executives reportedly "offered several explanations" for their salaries, but the president quickly reminded them, "The public isn't buying that."

"My administration," Obama famously added, "is the only thing between you and the pitchforks."

It was a striking, even prescient, remark. Having ascended to the White House on a wave of grassroots support, the president was expected to take a stand for the public—it was expected that those guilty of wrongdoing would be held to account, that those harmed by Wall Street's rampant fraud would receive the full support of the administration.

But such high hopes were quickly dashed.

Or perhaps they were, from the start, misplaced. While President Obama did indeed ride a wave of grassroots support into the White House, that wave, it must be remembered, was generously bolstered by Wall Street cash.

And while the hopes of the millions who voted for change they could believe in may have, in the last analysis, been ill-advised, Wall Street certainly got its money's worth.

"Obama had a clear mandate to rein in Wall Street," Matt Taibbi noted in 2009. "What he did instead was ship even his most marginally progressive campaign advisers off to various bureaucratic Siberias, while packing the key economic positions in his White House with the very people who caused the crisis in the first place."

The Obama administration quickly downplayed such concerns, attempting to foster a genial relationship between the winners and losers of the crisis.

"The President emphasized that Wall Street needs Main Street, and Main Street needs Wall Street," Robert Gibbs, Obama's press secretary, said after the high-profile meeting.

Thankfully, the public didn't buy that either.

“Energy Without Injury”: From Redwood Summer to Break Free via Occupy Wall Street

By Desiree Hellegers - Counterpunch, May 23, 2016

On Sunday, May 15, more than a hundred climate change kayaktivists took to the waters of Padilla Bay in Anacortes, Washington, risking arrest to land on the banks of the Tesoro oil refinery. In the shadow of the refinery smoke stacks, they unfurled banners calling attention to the potentially lethal risks that fossil fuel workers confront each day on the job. “Seven Dead, No More Casualties, Tesoro Explosion April 2, 2010” read one banner focused on Tesoro’s checkered workplace safety record. “Solidarity is Strength, We are all workers,” read another banner. Yet another called for a “Just Transition,” as kayaktivists knelt on the ground, paddles in hand, in what organizers described as a demonstration of respect for the workers killed at the refinery, and for those still working in the refinery. The messaging on the banks of the refinery signaled the central challenge that climate change activists confront in trying to find common ground—if not common cause–with refinery workers.

The Anacortes actions were part of a global two-week wave of activism spanning six continents under the shared rallying cry to “Break Free” from fossil fuels. As actions unfolded in the U.S. from Albany, NY and Washington, D.C. to Chicago, Denver and Los Angeles, more than a thousand activists converged on Anacortes, just south of the Canadian border. The aim of activists was to confront, by land and sea, the role of big oil in rising global temperatures and sea levels–and to disrupt the flow of oil to the Shell and Tesoro refineries.

In the face of activists’ resolve to blockade the oil shipments to the port, both Shell and Tesoro suspended tanker and rail transport for the duration of the three-day action. Nonetheless, an estimated 150 activists camped out on the rails for two nights before the police moved in in the early hours of Sunday, May 15, arresting 52 activists and charging them with criminal trespassing.

In a phone interview, Eric Ross, organizing director of the Backbone Campaign out of Vashon, Island, WA, which handled much of the logistical planning and coordination for the water-based Break Free events in Anacortes, indicated that the workers at Tesoro, who daily face toxic exposure on the job, are among the many “casualties of extractive industries” and the byproduct of the “reckless endangerment” that defines the behavior of multinational corporations, whose main focus is on “extracting money.” “They’ve chosen to make their billions by extracting resources from communities that don’t consent to that reckless endangerment of our children, our communities and our climate,” Ross observed. Ross heralded the three-day cessation of oil transportation as a victory for Break Free: “I think it’s a really impressive show of the power of our movements and just how afraid these extractive industries are of organized people.”

Zarna Joshi, an activist with the grassroots group Women of Color Speak Out, was one of several speakers who addressed kayaktivists on the banks of Fidalgo Bay before they struck out for the banks of the Tesoro refinery. In a phone interview, Joshi described the Break Free action as the culmination of “a real building of momentum” over the past two years. She indicated that in the Pacific Northwest, climate activists have been “building relationships with people in labor, building relationship with people in the First Nations—particularly Salish Sea First Nations—building community and building trust.”

In fact, an entire day of the three-day event was devoted to a Native-led march and ceremonies at March Point in the shadow of the Shell refinery. While the 1855 Point Elliott Treaty included March Point within the boundaries of the Swinomish Reservation, an executive order by President Ulysses S. Grant in the 1870s redrew the boundaries of the reservation to exclude March Point, ultimately opening it up for development by Shell and Tesoro. Last year, Shell was “fined $77,000 by the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries for an uncontrolled release of toxins that sickened residents and sent at least two people to the hospital.”

Skagit County, Joshi observed, “has one of the highest levels of cancer in the entire state, and those levels of cancer are linked to the pollution coming from the refineries.” Activists, Joshi said, “were standing in solidarity with workers, and not just with workers at these refineries, but with workers around the whole region whose jobs are being threatened by the fossil fuel empire, by climate change, by health crises.”

Among the participants in the Anacortes actions was Laurie King, former long term organizer with Portland Jobs with Justice, now retired, who planned to attend one of a number of workshops focused on effecting a “just transition” for workers currently employed in the fossil fuel industry. “I’m a union activist, so I’ve been asking a lot of questions about what do the workers think and what kind of jobs do people think of fighting for for the workers. I think that this whole movement has to be a two-pronged movement and that the same energy that goes into the desire to save the planet for everyone also has to be into a just transition with the same fervor, the same degree of planning and we have to figure out really concrete ways to have a just transition.” Over her decades of union organizing, King observed, “I’ve talked to many, many workers, and if they had a choice, of course they’d rather be doing things that are not hurting themselves or the planet. The thing is that it isn’t easy to find another well paying job, and we environmentalists have to deal with that in the most deep way and not just slough it off.” King went on to observe, “I think we have to be just as fervent about fighting for jobs for the workers who are in the fossil fuel industries at the same time that we’re fighting against fossil fuel structures.”

What Became Of Occupy Wall Street?

By Arun Gupta - Telesurtv.net, November 5, 2015

Far from fizzling, the movement has a contested legacy that continues to shape the political landscape One of the more puzzling aspects about Occupy Wall Street is not that there was a moment when millions of people hoped or feared it might overthrow the rule of the banks, but that so little is said about it four years on.

Its anniversaries come and go without comment: Occupy’s founding on September 17, 2011, the high-water mark of the Oakland general strike on November 2, the eviction of of the New York camp on November 15, the creation of Occupy Sandy after the superstorm walloped the Northeast on October 29, 2012.

Occupy lost its luster because most people concluded it was a failure. It failed to articulate demands, failed to create a lasting impact, failed to spark a revolution. The haters dismiss Occupy as the “Frenzy that Fizzled.” True believers maintain Occupy triumphed for shifting the conversation from economic austerity to inequality, while ignoring the lack of infrastructure to carry its work and ideas forward. Many who joined or were inspired by it would up feeling confused, bitter, or disappointed at losing a once-in-a-generation opportunity to upend the status quo. Others blame Occupy’s dissolution on police forces that aggressively swept out all the major encampments. But it’s defeatist to say Occupy was vanquished “by a concerted government effort to undo it.” State violence is a given, and some radical movements still succeed.

Occupiers tried repeatedly to resurrect the movement after the main bastions in Oakland and New York City were evicted in November 2011. But it never regained its footing despite the national May Day general strike, protests against a NATO summit in Chicago, the Occupy Our Homes anti-foreclosure movement, Occupy Sandy, and attempted re-occupations of parks, plazas, and buildings across the country.

No, Occupy Wall Street did not fizzle or fail. Its outsized ambitions were destined to crash as there are no left forces strong enough in the United States to keep a mass movement flying high. Occupy is as relevant as ever; the difficulty in coming to terms with it is because of its mixed legacy. When radicals lost the initiative against a bankrupt political system, liberals stepped in to divert energy back into the system.

Prefiguration or Actualization? Radical Democracy and Counter-Institution in the Occupy Movement

By Daniel Murray - Berkeley Journal of Sociology, November 3, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Comparing Occupy Wall Street and an outgrowth of the movement in the SF Bay Area called Occupy the Farm, participant-researcher Daniel Murray argues that the movement for radical democracy must do more than create spaces for discourse and dissent. It must be a movement of democratic counter-institutions.

The Occupy movement emerged in response to a devastating economic crisis, bringing economic inequality to the center of political discourse. But it also emerged in response to a wave of social movements around the world that toppled dictators, asserted the power of the people and demonstrated their desire to take control of the decisions that affect their lives. In Occupy, as in all of these movements, the economic and the political were linked. Participants did not merely demand an end to foreclosures or new redistributive policies to address economic inequality; they also saw these grievances as symptomatic of a fundamentally undemocratic political system. Though the interests and motivations of participants in the Occupy movement were highly diverse, at the core it can be read as a movement for radical democracy – the underlying goal was to actualize the ideal of self-organizing communities of free and equal persons, expand and deepen democratic participation in all spheres of life, and increase individuals’ and communities’ power over social, economic and political institutions.[1]

But in many ways, Occupy also sought to be a movement of radical democracy. Rather than petitioning politicians to bring about democratizing reforms or building a party that would hopefully instate democracy after the revolution, activists hoped to bring about a radically democratic society through radical democratic practice. They sought to prefigure a democracy-to-come, by actualizing radical democracy in the movement itself. They claimed public spaces as venues in which experiments in radical democracy could be developed, tested, and propagated. They were spaces in which to organize political action and in which all were free to participate in agenda-setting, decision-making, and political education through the process itself.

Based on fourteen months of participant-research in two Occupy sites – Occupy Wall Street and an outgrowth of the movement called Occupy the Farm – this paper evaluates the different forms prefigurative politics has taken within the movement.[2] Many commentators have lauded the movement as an example of prefigurative politics, which they see as the cutting edge of contemporary radical politics.[3] However, an overemphasis on the value of prefiguration can be debilitating, leading to a focus on internal movement dynamics at the expense of building a broader movement, and a focus on symbolic expressions of dissent as opposed to the development of alternatives to actually replace existing political, economic and social institutions. Occupy Wall Street (OWS) suffered this fate, partly due to the perception that the encampment and the decision-making procedures were prefigurative, and the perception that prefigurative politics itself will lead to revolutionary transformations in the political, economic and social structure.

While Occupy Wall Street foundered on the prefigurative obsession with movement process, a group of activists, students and local residents in the San Francisco Bay Area have sought to overcome these challenges. Since 2012, they have worked under the banner of Occupy the Farm (OTF) to create an agricultural commons on a parcel of publicly owned land. Unlike OWS, OTF has worked to establish a counter-institution grounded in material resources and production, that is ultimately meant to increase participants’ autonomy from the state and capitalism. In this way it has been able to link radical democracy and economic justice in a material way, rather than merely symbolically. As it is generally practiced and conceptualized today, prefigurative politics is an inadequate framework for developing radical democratic political strategy. Instead of prefiguration, we should redirect our efforts toward developing and linking democratic counter-institutions that produce and manage common resources. Occupy the Farm illustrates some of the potential and the challenges of such a strategy.

Naomi Klein: ‘We Can’t Dodge This Fight’ Between Capitalism and Climate Change

Naomi Klein interviewed by Micah Utrecht - In These Times, September 18, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

That the clock on climate change is ticking—and louder by the day—is not news to anyone. Like many people, journalist Naomi Klein spent years feeling overwhelmed by scientists' increasingly apocalyptic pronouncements about impending planetary doom, and largely opted to ignore them. She had her hands full exposing the abuses of multinational corporations like Microsoft and Nike in her first book, No Logo (1999), and the imposition of free market policies and expanding inequality on unwilling populations around the globe in her 2007 book, The Shock Doctrine.

But Klein came to realize not only that climate change was so all-encompassing and urgent that it couldn’t be ignored, but also that it creates a unique opportunity. Climate change “could be the best argument progressives have ever had,” she says, to create the kind of bottom-up mass movements that can not only force action on the environment, but fight economic inequality, create more democratic societies, rebuilding a strong public sector, addressing historical gender and racial injustices, and a litany of other issues.

Doing so, however, won't simply require changing a few lightbulbs. “We have not done the things that are necessary to lower emissions because those things fundamentally conflict with deregulated capitalism,” Klein writes. In This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, she explores the failures of “Big Green” environmental groups and supposedly benevolent CEOs, the right-wing climate deniers who actually understand the stakes of climate change better than many progressives, and the grassroots movements coalescing to fight climate change. Klein spoke with In These Times from her home in Toronto.

Join Us As We “Flood Wall Street” in New York City on Sept 22 at 9am

By Occupy Wall Street - September 11, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

~ STOP CAPITALISM. END THE CLIMATE CRISIS ~

As world leaders meet in New York for a historic summit on climate change, communities across the globe will flood financial centers to confront the corporate and economic systems that are causing the climate crisis.

Join a united global movement to attack the root causes of the climate crisis and build an economy based on justice and sustainability. We need climate justice. Take action in solidarity with communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis for a day of:

Massive Coordinated Direct Actions
Against Climate Profiteers
NYC Sept 22
In financial and political centers around the world – Flood, blockade, sit-in, and shut down the institutions that are profiting from the climate crisis.

Wear BLUE.

THIS IS PART OF THE WEEK OF ACTION FOR CLIMATE JUSTICE
September 17-24, 2014

RSVP HERE

People's Climate March: An invitation to change everything?

By Brad Hornick - rabble.ca, Jun 24, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

A very large and loud event is about to reshape New York City once again this September and likely propel social change across the continent. A convergence of organizations under the banner of the "People's Climate March," have pledged to make this event in New York City an opportunity for an unprecedented climate mobilization. Offering no less than an "invitation to change everything" and to "take a stand to bend the course of history", hundreds of diverse organizations (green NGOs, academic, peace, religious, labour, civil-rights, etc.) have already lent their names to the initiative.

The target date is September 19, 2014, when United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is organizing Heads of State and Government, along with corporate and civil society leaders to discuss climate change. This is the first global climate meeting since the disastrous UN climate conference in Copenhagen in 2009. The meeting is not officially part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), but is a call by Ban Ki-moon to "scale-up, cooperate and deliver concrete action" and will come one year before countries attempt to conclude another global climate agreement in 2015.

The rationale for Ban Ki-moon is to sidestep the formalized discussions within regular UNFCCC processes and to challenge "those who make the decisions" which for the organizers means a heavy corporate presence. Ki-moon is providing a stage for individual leaders to make individual pledges, and declare their own ambitions (in the midst of hopelessly inadequate official response to massive evidence of impending global ecological catastrophe in the our short-term future). For organizers of a counter climate demonstration, this has all the ingredients of a perfect storm.

To gauge the Peoples' Climate March's potential to "change everything" it is critical to understand the context in which this is all occurring. History produces moments when objective conditions are more propitious, yet never determinative, of revolutionary change. It takes human agency to animate history, but acting in the right moment helps. In terms of objective conditions on the economic front, one need not look any further than the recent and now ubiquitous words of Thomas Piketty who explains that "when accumulated wealth grows to extreme proportions…it becomes especially destabilizing" and that since the 1980s we have had "powerful forces pushing towards divergence… towards extremely high levels of inequality."

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