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An American Uprising: Assessing Opportunities for Progressive Political Change

By Anthony DiMaggio - CounterPunch, April 20, 2017

We live in a time of tremendous instability and change. Concerns about growing authoritarianism in American politics – as reflected in the rise of corporate power in politics, the intensification of militarism, and the diversion of the masses from political participation – are legitimate. There’s always been negativity on “the left” regarding American politics and society, and for good reason. We live in a time of ecological unsustainability that threatens human survival. Record inequality means a growing number of Americans are economically insecure and struggling to pay for basic goods such as health care and education. The threat of militarism is real, with the Trump administration’s saber rattling against Russia and North Korea. Militarism was a problem under Obama as well, although many Americans held out hope based on Trump’s rhetoric that he’d cool relations with Russia.

Progressives are right to spotlight the dangers to democracy and human survival we face, and to condemn a political-economic system that’s engaged in an all-out assault on the public. But these dangers are far from the whole story when we talk about American politics today. There’s also a pathology that defines much of left discourse, marked by a fixation on condemning the political system, independent of any constructive effort to develop positive suggestions for transforming politics. This negativity suggests a refusal to recognize the unique moment we find ourselves in regarding the rising intensity of social protests over the last decade. Simply put, we are in the middle of what I’d call a second renaissance of social movement activism, equaled only by the social movements of the 1960s and early 1970s. This earlier period was a time of rapid change. Activists came together to protest state repression on many fronts, in opposition to America’s racial caste system, to resist an imperialist, murderous, immoral war in Asia, in support of challenging misogynist patriarchal norms, in opposition to environmental degradation via air pollution and nuclear power, and in pursuit of basic consumer protections.

We find ourselves in another critical and historic juncture today. Post-2008, we see movement after social movement emerge to assault a political-economic status quo that is rejected by the vast majority of Americans. Citizens are realizing that U.S. political system is working only to benefit the wealthy few. Gallup found in 2015 that less than one-in-four Americans trusted the national government “a great deal” or a “fair amount” – a record low since the organization started tracking this question in 1972. Just one-in-five Americans said in 2015 that government was “run for the benefit of all,” rather than for the few. As the Washington Post reported that year, “across party lines, Americans believe our economic system is rigged to favor the wealthy, and big corporations, and that our political system is, too – so much so that by nearly a 2-to-1 margin, Americans believe their ‘vote does not matter because of the influence wealthy individuals and big corporations have on the electoral process.’”

As a young, idealistic undergraduate college activist 15 years ago, I would have died if this many Americans had articulated such distrust of government. This is fertile ground for organizing, and progressives should rejoice at this historic opportunity. Young Americans are increasingly estranged from an economy that provides income gains only to the top one percent, while assaulting the rest of the population. This anger was on display in a 2016 Harvard Survey finding that just 42 percent of Millennials expressed support for capitalism. Young Americans aren’t stupid. They can read the writing on the wall, and they recognize that our economy is broken, functioning for the affluent few at the expense of the many. And young Americans will be vital to producing structural political or economic change in the coming decades.

We don’t have to wait to see growing pressure for change. A mass public uprising has been going on for years. I’m reluctant to say it started with the “Tea Party,” since polls demonstrated that these protesters were largely nativist, racist reactionaries who were preoccupied with preventing future tax increases and stifling efforts to repair our country’s broken health care system. Polls from the early 2010s found that Tea Partiers were quite privileged economically speaking, earning incomes well above the national average, and benefitting from high education levels. And there was no evidence that these individuals were more likely than other Americans to have been hurt by the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs. Since the decline of the Tea Party, however, many progressive waves of protest have emerged. Some are now gone, others remain. These include the Madison uprising against Governor Scott Walker (2011); Occupy Wall Street (2011), “Fight for $15” (2013 to present); Black Lives Matter (2013 to present); the Sanders uprising within the Democratic Party’s base (2016), and the anti-Trump protests (2016 to present), not to mention the environmental movement, which has remained relevant on numerous fronts over the last few decades.

Prospects for Social Democracy in the US: Insights From a Syndicalist in Sweden

By Enrique Guerrero-López and Adam Weaver - Truthout, April 10, 2017

In the era of Trump, there's a clear and growing interest in socialism, especially among young people. The first measurable shift began to peek over the horizon in polling data done in the wake of the Occupy movement, showing 49 percent of people ages 18-29 favored socialism over capitalism. The political terrain of the US was rocked to such a degree that even the Republicans took "capitalism" out of their talking points. As the narrative of free markets and unquestioned neoliberalism publicly unraveled, we reached the point in 2016 where a majority of those under 30 rejected capitalism and had a positive view of socialism. This crisis of the political establishment was further deepened by the emergence of Black Lives Matter. Ferguson became symbolic of the deep racial inequality that exists across the US, but it was also the rebellion of urban centers like Baltimore -- traditionally Democratic and with significant Black elected leadership -- which melted away the "post-racial" mythology that took hold during the Obama years.

So when Bernie Sanders stepped into the ring for the 2016 presidential election as the anti-establishment candidate building a "political revolution," he slid through the door kicked open by social movements, exceeding even his own expectations and gaining unanticipated popularity. The Sanders campaign simultaneously popularized and clouded understandings of socialism. When asked about his vision of socialism during a CNN presidential debate, Sanders responded that we should "look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway," conflating a social democratic welfare state with the anticapitalist core of socialism.

Taking a cue from Sanders, we decided to "look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway" to take a deeper look at social democracy from the perspective of those who live in "actually existing" social democratic countries. We recently spoke with Gabriel Kuhn, an Austrian-born author living in Sweden and involved in radical labor and migrant solidarity efforts, about his analysis and experience of social democracy. Kuhn, the author of numerous books including Antifascism, Sports, Sobriety: Forging A Militant Working-Class Culture, is a member of the syndicalist SAC (Sveriges Arbetares Centralorganisation) and has in recent years mainly been involved in migrant solidarity projects. 

Why the NGOs won't lead the revolution

By Leela Yellesetty - Socialist Worker, March 29, 2017

FOR MANY who are outraged and want to do something about the human suffering and environmental devastation wrought by capitalism, volunteering or working for a nonprofit or non-governmental organization (NGO) is a natural place to turn. So why do socialists think this isn't the best way to address the problem?

There is no shortage of such organizations today. Most of them are engaged primarily in direct service work, providing a whole spectrum of needed resources such as housing, food, health care, child care, legal defense and so on. Often, these services fill the gap left by cuts in government funding and are a lifeline for those who otherwise couldn't afford or wouldn't have access to a basic necessity.

There are, of course, problems with some of these organizations: Many overwork and underpay their employees while executives award themselves fat paychecks. Unlike governmental agencies, they are free of any democratic accountability and can choose to impose their religious or political views on those they serve or employ.

But even for organizations which do good, needed work and genuinely attempt to be responsible and accountable to the communities they serve and the people who labor for them, there is a built-in limitation: They are only addressing the symptoms and not the cause of the problems.

Beyond Protest in the Age of Trump

By Black Rose Anarchist Federation - It's Going Down, March 25, 2017

In the early days of the Trump administration, we are seeing Trump’s utilization of executive orders to initiate and/or implement a wide array of right-wing policies.  He is starting to make troubling organizational moves, such as the appointment of Steve Bannon- the former executive chairman for Breitbart News, a platform for the Alt-Right- to his National Security Council.  We are seeing the emboldenment of the far right and the rising possibility of international warfare with nuclear capable countries such as China.  Many are feeling overwhelmed and questioning the best way to resist.  None of us has the power to resist these attacks individually; but we do have the power to resist collectively.

We have been engaged in protest actions across the nation mobilizing large numbers of people; but this is not enough. Now is the time to build and strengthen groups in our schools, communities and workplaces to not only resist the far right agenda, but to move on the offensive while building bottom-up popular power in the process.  There are three ways we can do this and all of them are necessary: 1) maintain the protest mobilizations, 2) engage in efforts to criticize the right and put forward alternative ideas, and 3) build collective sites of popular power for resistance, as well as going on the offensive towards a more free and egalitarian society.

The Struggle Against the Dakota Access Pipeline Has Linked Indigenous Communities Across the World

By Jeff Abbott - Truthout, March 2, 2017

The defense of water knows no borders, according to the Mayan Ancestral Authorities, the communal authorities and elders of Mayan towns across Guatemala. This reality has led the Mayan leaders to work in solidarity with the Lakota Sioux as they challenge the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline.

The conflict in North Dakota between the Lakota Sioux and the company over the construction of the 3.6 billion dollar Dakota Access pipeline began in April 2016. The Sioux communities began their protest following the failure of the company to consult the tribe over the use of their tribal lands -- despite multiple requests by tribal leaders -- and a demand that the company preform an honest environmental impact report for the project.

On February 23, the National Guard and police raided the Oceti Sakowin camp, evicting the protesters. But despite the eviction, the example of Standing Rock continues to mobilize Indigenous activists across the world in defense of water. Thousands of supporters had traveled to the encampment to support the Sioux and their defense of water.

"When everybody showed up, including the clergymen of the world, I stood up on the bridge and I felt the meshing of all the religions, all the spirits, all the creators of all nations, and all the colors meshed as one people," Eddie P. Blackcloud Sr., a Sioux leader who was among the first to stand against the pipeline at Standing Rock, told Truthout. "This is more than just about Standing Rock; this is about the world."

The international support for the resistance will only strengthen as the United States Army has given the project the green light, despite the company's failure to consult the Indigenous populations impacted by the project's development.

Standing Rock and the struggle against Dakota Access pipeline have become the international example and rallying point for the defense of Indigenous territory. This resistance has brought Indigenous leaders together in solidarity from across the globe.

"Every community must arrive at its own means of struggle," Ana Lainez, an Ixil Maya spiritual guide and member of the Ixil Maya Ancestral Authorities told Truthout. "It is time for them to organize and move forward in the struggle."

Among those that traveled to Standing Rock to stand in solidarity with the Sioux were five representatives from the National Council of Ancestral Authorities of Guatemala. It was raining on October 12, 2016, when the representatives of Mayan political and spiritual leaders arrived at Standing Rock to stand in solidarity with the Sioux. The trip was organized by the International Mayan League, an advocacy group based in Washington, DC.

"We went primarily to stand in solidarity with the Sioux communities in resistance to the construction of the pipeline," Diego Cotiy of the Council of Indigenous Authorities of Maya, Xinca and Garifuna, told Truthout. "As members of the Ancestral Authorities of the Maya, Xinca and Garifuna, we are working to strengthen the movements and resistance against transnational companies that are violating the collective rights of our peoples, as well as violating our rights to land without any collective authorization to do so."

The leaders arrived to share experiences and have an interchange between the elders, which also included the sharing of different ceremonial performances and practices.

"When we arrived, a member of the tribe stood up and offered to sing for us in his language," Lainez told Truthout. "We felt incredibly welcomed."

The Maya of Guatemala have a long history of struggle, which they shared with their brethren at Standing Rock. Since the end of Guatemala's 36-year-long internal armed conflict in 1996, the Maya communities of the highlands have resisted the increased threat of the dispossession of Indigenous communal lands by transnational capital for the expansion of mining interests, the generation of hydro energy, and the expansion of export agriculture.

"We told them that they are united in the struggle, and that they are not the first or the last to be attacked," Lainez explained to Truthout. "They are defending the river. It is [a] point of unification of many Indigenous peoples in the United States, and the world, because the water is calling us."

"Without water, even the rich leaders of the United States cannot survive," Cotiy told Truthout. "We must respect water, and where it comes from. It is a spring of life. Water is the blood of our mother earth."

Others who have traveled to Standing Rock could feel this connection as well. Pamela Bond, the Fish and Wildlife coordinator for the Snohomish tribe, was present the nights of the visit by the Maya Ancestral Authorities of Guatemala, and pointed to the way in which the visitors brought the force of their own struggle to the NoDAPL camps.

"They all brought their songs and their prayers. It is like waiting for someone to come home, and to say, 'we support you,'" Bond explained to Truthout.  "There are no English words [that] can describe the feeling of your spirit, and the knowledge that people are uniting for a cause, for our first mother."

Outcry Kills Anti-Protest Law in Arizona, But Troubling Trend Continues Nationwide

By Lauren McCauley - Common Dreams, February 28, 2017

Rash of anti-protest laws and effort to dismiss demonstrators as 'paid agitators' are 'standard operating procedure for movement opponents,' says expert.

An Arizona bill that sought to prosecute protest organizers like racketeers is officially dead after widespread outcry forced state lawmakers to put that effort to rest, marking a victory for the national resistance movement currently facing a rash of legislation aimed at stifling dissent.

Arizona House Speaker J.D. Mesnard announced late Monday that the bill, SB 1142, would not move forward in the legislature.

"I haven't studied the issue or the bill itself, but the simple reality is that it created a lot of consternation about what the bill was trying to do," Mesnard, a Republican, told the Phoenix New Times. "People believed it was going to infringe on really fundamental rights. The best way to deal with that was to put it to bed."

Indeed, the legislation, which would have expanded state racketeering laws to allow police to arrest and seize the assets of suspected protest organizers, made national headlines last week after passing the GOP-led Senate.

However, according to The Arizona Republic, the bill's "fate was sealed over the weekend" as Mesnard "fielded phone calls from the public to complain about the bill. The House leader's personal cellphone number is listed on his personal website. As he listened to the callers, Mesnard realized their belief that the legislation was intended to curb free-speech rights outweighed any merits its supporters might put forward. He carefully read the legislation and by the time he returned Monday to his office, where there were more than 100 messages about the bill awaiting him, he decided he would kill the measure."

The so-called "Plan a Protest, Lose Your House Bill" was the most recent state-level attempt to crackdown on the growing protest movement and opponents celebrated its defeat.

"Thanks to everyone who spoke out against this terrible proposal!" the ACLU of Arizona wrote on Twitter. "Continue fighting for our civil liberties!"

A recent analysis by the Washington Post found that "Republican lawmakers in at least 18 states have introduced on voted on legislation to curb mass protests," which includes bills that would "increase punishments for blocking highways, ban the use of masks during protests, [and] indemnify drivers who strike protesters with their cars."

As Common Dreams has previously observed, most of these anti-protest bills have sprouted up in Republican-dominated states that have seen a flurry of demonstrations and civil disobedience.

The Trump presidency: A blessing in disguise for climate activism?

By Álvaro Robles Cartes, Francisco Seijo, and Josetxu Guijarro Urízar - Green European Journal, February 22, 2017

Beyond the tit-for-tat factional politicking that we have come to expect of North American democracy and its complex cryptic political rhetoric, the Trump presidency may ultimately prove to be the most unwillingly transformative administration yet regarding the unfolding global warming drama. For the first time since 1969 an American president has fearlessly decided to skip over mountains of scientific evidence and decades of politically correct platitudes to place the issue at the centre of his presidency’s political agenda; albeit if only in an effort to deny it. Trump may, however, prove to be a blessing in disguise for climate activism; a singular turning point for the largely inconsequential political strategies that activists have conceived to advance their cause so far.

As the classic protest song from the 1960s would have it, “There’s battle lines being drawn and nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong”. Indeed, Trump has managed to draw, in only a few weeks’ time, new lines in the climate change political battle with bold, abstract expressionist strokes that may have an initially shocking aesthetic effect but may prove, ultimately, to be only intelligible as a representation of Trump’s peculiar personality. Propagandistically, no doubt, Trump has been astute in reducing a complex scientific and intellectual debate to 140-character Twitter sound bites suggesting geopolitical conspiracy theories that have undoubtedly resonated with politically sceptical and economically depressed working and middle class Americans. Tellingly, Trump’s campaign spin that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by China with the goal of making American industry non-competitive is vaguely reminiscent of German nationalists’ concerns in the 1970s that the Nixon administration was trying to use the issue to check Germany’s emerging industrial power. In due course, this politically clever tweet could come back to bite Trump since the relaxation of American environmental legislation to regain industrial competitiveness can only result in more climate induced environmental disasters for the American workers whose interests he claims to prioritise. A form of socio-environmental dumping that Trump, ironically, accuses his main commercial rivals of inflicting upon America.

To Halt the Slide Into Authoritarianism, We Need a General Strike

By The Shutdown Collective - Truthout, February 11, 2017

In the weeks immediately after Donald Trump won the presidential election, many people expressed serious concern about the content of his policies and platform. This isn't surprising. Having lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million, Trump had the thinnest support of any incoming president in modern history. However, in the two weeks since he has taken office, these concerns have moved into a whole new realm. Widespread opposition to his administration is mobilizing now not merely around the content of his policies (what he does), but also the manner in which he is governing (how he does it).

President Trump has begun his term by governing by executive order, launching a rapid series of initiatives that threaten the democratic constitutional structure of the United States. These include: repeated attacks on the institutions of a free and independent press; silencing and summary dismissal of government employees, including the Attorney General; failure to divest personal business interests from the office of the presidency, or release his tax statements; the consolidation of power in a small circle of close friends (e.g., dismissing top military officials from the National Security Council to make room for political advisor and Breitbart executive, Stephen Bannon) and family (e.g., the appointment of his son-in-law Jared Kushner as a senior White House adviser). Perhaps most infamously, the administration has moved forward with a wide-reaching immigration and refugee ban that specifically targets people based on their religion and country of origin. Taken together, these signal a dangerously anti-democratic, even authoritarian impulse at the heart of the Trump administration.

We have seen this before. In other times and other places, authoritarian leaders have come to power through the manipulation of democratic institutions, often by exploiting major divisions within the general electorate. Even though they come to power in this semi-democratic manner, such figures recognize that they will not be able to maintain the broad-based support needed to remain in power, or accomplish anything while there. As a result, they frequently work to undermine the basic institutions of democracy, such as independent electoral commissions, the judiciary, and a free press.

Trump and Climate Catastrophe

By John Bellamy Foster - Monthly Review, February 2017

This very expensive GLOBAL WARMING bullshit has got to stop. Our planet is freezing, record low temps, and our GW scientists are stuck in ice.

Donald Trump, January 2, 20141

Beyond Resistance: Defeating Trump’s Burgeoning Dictatorship

By - CounterPunch, January 31, 2017

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a dictator is “a ruler or governor whose word is law.” And whether it’s via Trump’s tweeted word, which triggers stocks to rise or drop across the planet, or via his signature on an executive order that just banned over 100 million people, including legal residents, from entering the U.S., Trump seems to be just that. Despite its lack of constitutionality, his word functions as the law. Although his Muslim ban (which discriminates against people based on national origin and religion, and is therefore a breach of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution) was temporarily stayed by the courts, Trump released a statement shortly afterward announcing that it remains in complete effect. In this defiance of the law he seems to be following the example of Andrew Jackson. For let us recall that Jackson notoriously defied the Supreme Court’s ruling in Worcester v. Georgia, which held that the Indian Removal Act was unconstitutional, and that the brutal removal of the Cherokee people via the infamous Trail of Tears to Oklahoma be stopped. Jackson (whose portrait was recently hung in Trump’s Oval Office) ignored the Court, permitting the ethnic cleansing of Georgia to continue.

While it isn’t clear whether Trump or the courts will prevail over the issue of the Muslim ban, it seems clear that the constitutional crisis posed by Trump’s presidency will only intensify (just as the economic crisis, and the ecological crisis, and the refugee crisis that stems from these, will only intensify). And though defensive protests against this burgeoning dictatorship are crucial, and the turnout in airports across the country on Saturday were key to blocking part of Trump’s ban (in law if not in fact), defensive protests alone are insufficient. Offensive actions must also be waged, or those who wish to stop Trump will always be a step behind a movement committed to rapidly gutting society, eliminating basic democratic norms, and instituting barbarism across a wide range of fronts. As when Hannibal marched his elephants and army over the Alps toward Rome, and Scipio defeated him by taking the offense, attacking Carthage and forcing Hannibal to retreat, the opposition to Trump must take the offense. The focus of the resistance ought to be the removal of Trump from power, as well as his accomplices, though this must not be the sole goal. The resistance must also not allow power to revert to those whose policies created the misery that gave rise to Trump in the first place.

As many have pointed out, Trump’s victory can be understood as stemming from a rejection of neoliberalism, particularly the neoliberalism of Clinton and Obama (a political-economic order characterized by permanent war, permanent unemployment, privatization, austerity, and free trade agreements that have hollowed out and impoverished much of the country). Deeply unpopular and mistrusted, most Trump supporters did not support him for positive reasons. One of the most unpopular people to ever run for president of the US, he was supported because he loudly and clearly rejected the miserable neoliberal status quo. It is crucial to point out, however, that Trump was not rejecting the status quo in favor of creating anything genuinely new. As his campaign slogan made patently clear, he was not rejecting the status quo in order to go beyond it. He was rejecting it in order to return, to regress, to a time before neoliberalism (and not just before neoliberalism but before environmental regulations, labor laws, occupational safety and health regulations, rights for women, rights for African-Americans, and other social advances introduced over the past century).

While Trump’s Secretary of State, who represents the interests of Exxon foremost, is overjoyed to roll back environmental laws that infringe upon corporate profits, Trump’s white nationalist (aka alt-right) supporters (who have an accomplice in the White House in the person of Steve Bannon), would like to regress even further back in time, to before modernity itself. Though it may be understated, we can characterize this tendency as reaction. And, because much of the reaction is animated by a rejection of neoliberalism, which it shares with the left, the left ought to make an effort to strengthen itself, and weaken Trump, by encouraging this anti-neoliberal faction of the Trump coalition (many of whom were Bernie Sanders supporters) to switch allegiances. To be sure, according to the legendary military strategist Sun Tzu, the supreme strategy of warfare, after attacking strategy itself, is attacking alliances.

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