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How to support Standing Rock and confront what it means to live on stolen land

Berkley Carnine and Liza Minno Bloom - Waging Nonviolence, October 13, 2016

A month after President Obama told the Army Corps of Engineers to pause construction on the Dakota Access oil pipeline, the Standing Rock Sioux and those supporting them still find themselves in a dire struggle to protect their water and land. With winter approaching, the 300 tribes that are now represented at the Camp of the Sacred Stone in North Dakota are preparing for a lengthy battle.

In their effort to protect water, life, ancestors and future generations, indigenous peoples are also demanding that corporations, the U.S. government, and settlers respect the treaties and indigenous self-determination. This is widening an existing dialogue and expanding ties of solidarity to include more of us who are of white European descent occupying indigenous land.

As support for those at Standing Rock grows, it is important that allies also confront the fundamental questions of what it means to live on stolen land and how to transform colonial relations in a way that creates a viable and just future for all communities and the planet. After almost a decade of engaging in request-based, volunteer solidarity organizing with indigenous groups fighting relocation in Black Mesa, Arizona due to coal mining, we have learned and honed a list of action steps for non-Native individuals just getting involved, as well as a set of best practices for activists already working on other organizing efforts.

As people of European descent who benefit from both white privilege and settler privilege, we understand that our work and writing is most effective when it is developing and acting upon a mutual stake in decolonization. This means focusing on the responsibilities specific to our position, which is inherently different from that of indigenous and non-Native people of color. Nevertheless, their organizing, along with much activist scholarship — some of which is linked to below — has helped inform this list of action steps and set of best practices.

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.

EcoDefense Radio: Alex Lotorto on Supporting Frontline Communities

By Ryan Clover - Eco Defense Radio, September 8, 2016

Audio File

Bio:

Alex has been the Shale Gas Program Coordinator for Energy Justice Network since 2011. Outside of his professional capacity, he has worked extensively as a volunteer organizer fighting for environmental justice in communities facing rural poverty.

Alex also has a labor union background and has been a union activist in both the private and public sectors, is a union delegate for the Industrial Workers of the World, and represents workers in unemployment compensation appeal hearings on a volunteer basis.

Main Message :

Foundations and major environmental groups (Big Greens) aren’t situated to help the people most in need and Organizers need to build their own support network if the most difficult and important work is going to get done.

What we talked about :

In this conversation Alex shares his experience working with his friends in Northeastern Pennsylvania. From working in rural communities, and with a history in labor organizing, Alex understands the importance of building support networks of our own – and not relying on large foundations or major environmental groups (Big Greens).

At first I was uncomfortable when Alex started sharing examples of how organizations like the Sierra Club can actually perpetuate the problems of fracking – I didn’t want this episode to come across as cynical. But Alex’s message isn’t cynical, it’s critically important – it’s empowering. He shares some concrete examples about how we can build support networks of our own, and has suggestions for how people working within large environmental organizations can help steer them toward supporting the front lines.

Links to stuff we talked about:

Still Standing or Standing Still?

By Robert Lambert - New Internationalist, September 1, 2016

A cheer goes up every time a taxi driver honks his horn in solidarity. Passers-by stop to sign our petition and ask questions. A couple of well-heeled women hurry towards the hotel entrance, averting their eyes from the cluster of hospitality workers waving flags and chanting: ‘What do we want? Fair tips and a union! When do we want it? Now!’

We’re here on a busy London street, as the evening rush hour gridlocks the city, to support Robert, a Hungarian waiter at the luxury five-star Melia hotel, who has been sacked. His crime? To question the restaurant’s unfair practice of sharing tips – on which waiters depend to top up their low wages – between senior managers as well as waiting staff.

Robert had joined the London Hotel Workers branch of Unite, Britain’s largest trade union, and through its support found the courage to speak out. There is a lot to speak out about, because the capital’s hotels and restaurants are getting away with murder, exploiting the fact that most hospitality workers are migrants, desperate for jobs and unaware of their rights. ‘Hotel workers in the Philippines have more collective bargaining rights than those in London,’ says an exasperated Dave Turnbull, Unite regional officer.

Over 1,000 kilometres away in Barcelona, undocumented street vendors from Senegal are also fighting for their rights. As illegal migrants they cannot join an established union, so they have come together to create one for themselves: the Sindicato Popular de Vendedores Ambulantes (Popular Union of Street Vendors). Its activity, concedes Clelia Goodchild, whose documentary film El peso de la manta features Barcelona’s street vendors, is chaotic, because it has no experience, no contacts and often fails to communicate with its members properly – but it is a start. And it has already had some success, with the city council recently offering five street vendors the opportunity to attend a fishing course, which will then lead to papers and a regular job.1

Organizing and collective action – whether with the backing of a national union, like Robert, or the support of a handful of co-workers, like the Senegalese street vendors – is a must in the 21st-century fight-back against rapacious employers and neoliberal governments. But it is not easy. In many countries of the Global South, trade unionists put their lives on the line every day to fight injustice, and many are murdered.

The power of transnationals is increasing, thanks to free-trade agreements signed behind closed doors by governments either in cahoots with the companies or lacking the political clout or will to object. The globalization juggernaut, in which profit is king and to hell with the workers, is dragging down industries from manufacturing to healthcare in a race to the bottom: zero-hours contracts, outsourcing, privatization and sub-contracting are all weapons in the transnationals’ armoury. Previously hard-won workers’ rights – gains we in the West take so much for granted we barely register that they were fought for at all – are being shot to bits.

Though trade unions have been standing up for workers for nearly 200 years, it’s fair to say that they have been on a roller-coaster ride. There have been highs: winning an eight-hour day and a five-day week; the golden age of the 1930s and 1940s, when employees’ rights were enshrined in law in the US and Britain. But there have also been lows. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher systematically dismantled trade unions in a full-scale attack on workers’ rights, as part of their neoliberal free-market agenda. Australia’s John Howard followed suit, introducing draconian legislation at the turn of this century which resulted in many unions losing half their membership.2

Trade unions also have a proud history of international solidarity. In the 1860s, Lancashire cotton workers supported the unionists in the US Civil War. In 1997, dock workers in 27 countries struck for a day in solidarity with the Liverpool Dockers, who had been on strike for two years. But there have also been moments when corruption, poor leadership and infighting have risked bringing the whole movement into disrepute.

These days, the lows seem to outnumber the highs. Trade unions, it would appear, have their backs to the wall just when we need them most. Governments continue to pass anti-union laws: between 1982 and 2012, 200 restrictive labour laws were passed by federal and provincial governments in Canada, and after 9/11 the US used the ‘war on terror’ as an opportunity to deny many federal employees the right to unionize – threatening to invoke anti-terrorism laws to stop strikes.3,4

But all is not yet lost. After a period of introspection in the 1990s, when the battered and bruised Western trade unions mutated into little more than a mediation service between employer and employee, offering member benefits such as cheaper insurance on the side, the movement has begun organizing again. There is a new sense of urgency and optimism among many unionists, who have dusted themselves down and are ready to resume the fight. But which battles? And with which weapons?

No Badjacketing: The State Wants to Kill Us; Let’s Not Cooperate

By the members - The Twin Cities GDC, Local 14, August 16, 2016

We prepared this short piece after several comrades were badjacketed in public and with pictures on social media at the 4th Precinct Shutdown. We believe those individual cases have been dealt with, and don’t wish to cause unnecessary division by complaining, or publicly calling any group or individual out. Instead, this is intended to provoke reflection, and conversation, amongst all of us, as to how to deal with the suspicions we may have of people we don’t know in our growing movements, without creating the sorts of divisions among ourselves that does the work of the State and the police for them. We intend to act in solidarity with those who know how to act in solidarity.

We ask that all organizations and groups working for a better world in which we have killed White Supremacy, Capitalism, and all other forms of oppression, consider that (1) none of us represent the mandate of all the people, (2) that we may have instead genuine and important strategic and tactical differences between ourselves about the best ways to accomplish that world, (3) that we will not win by pretending these differences do not exist, or dictating against difference, but instead by engaging on these differences in the most democratic and least hierarchical ways possible.

Therefore, we ask that groups and individuals read this document against the practice ofbadjacketing, discuss it, and consider publicly endorsing here that we will refrain from the practices of badjacketing. This is not a call to be lax about security; indeed, many of us have been very involved in the provision of security at the Fourth Precinct. Instead, it is a call to be democratic and accountable about our security practices.

After Bern: An Open Letter to the Newly Disheartened

By unknown - It's Going Down, June 8, 2016

Several years ago, I worked as an after school program teacher. In the 3-4 hours I spent with kids before their parents arrived, instead of playing outside or relaxing after a long day at school, I helped administer tests, monitored performance, oversaw homework, and handed out worksheets. The school I worked at didn’t have much money; neither did the kids or the people who worked there, and due to low test scores we were threatened with being taken over by the state. Administrators wanted to get these scores up and looked to the after school program to raise performance. The kids of course, had other ideas.

The kids wanted to do anything but be in another 3-4 hours of school. Once, we did an activity where they made posters about how they would change the school for the better if they had the power to do so. Almost every kid in the classroom of about 20 drew the school on fire. The natives, as they say, were restless.

When I did attempt to implement instruction the kids would goof off, talk back, or sometimes exploded by flipping over their desks or walking out of the room. The stress of almost 10 hours of schooling was too much for many of them, who also had to go home to blue-collar families that were often struggling.

In order to better manage this chaotic and stressful situation, bosses and specialists gave us a set of tools which by all accounts were completely, ‘democratic.’ We would start by “making agreements” with the kids and creating “buy in” for activities and completed work. In order to further create an environment of law and order, I often would appoint student helpers from the class that worked as an auxiliary police force in exchange for special privileges or candy.

In many ways, this classroom environment mirrored the creation of the United States. A powerful elite helped to manage and shape a unruly population of indentured servants, slaves, and indigenous people. But to do so, it needed a police force. In order to get there, it gave privileges to some (what became white people) while curtailing them for others (everyone else).

The colonial powers used anti-Blackness and white supremacy, I used Skittles and extra hall passes.

But government is much more than carrots and sticks, politics involves overall the spectacle and myth of democracy. For instance, in our training sessions we were told, “Get them to create a set of agreements around rules and behavior in the classroom, but make sure you shape and guide these rules. Obviously, don’t let them get out of hand.” Meaning, we were to help give the appearance of the students shaping the guidelines for their behavior, however at all times we (who were ruled over by the administration and them by the US government) in actuality were there to create the physical framework. But moreover, we existed to guard against school and thus government authority being attacked by the unwashed young masses hell bent on doing zero work and collectively singing J-Lo songs.

Lastly, in the eyes of the school powers that be, the ultimate goal of such a project was that the kids would essentially grow to govern themselves, but always how we wanted them to be governed. To keep them from agreeing to actually set the school on fire, we had to make them think that they were the ones organizing their day to day activities which they hated so bitterly. In short, we had to make them appear as the chief architects in their own immiseration.

What makes me tired when organising with middle class comrades

By Nicole Vosper - The Guardian, June 8, 2016

have many middle class friends and comrades whom I adore, this post certainly isn’t directed at everyone. But after years and years of organising, coming up against similar frustrations, and after lots of conversations between working class mates, I want to write about what is draining about working with some middle class activists.

It’s important to flag up that I’m writing this as a white, cis woman in England and I’m aware of the privilege that carries. I’m worried this piece will ignite a backlash, so I’m asking middle class folks that are triggered by this to perhaps talk to other middle class people and not email me about it. For once, please, just listen and reflect.

Also, because I want to be as constructive as possible, at the end of the post I’ve listed some of the character traits of middle class friends and organisers who don’t drive me up the wall.

Anyhow, here goes …

Can the Climate Movement Break Free From the 'Jobs vs. Environment' Debate?

By Kate Aronoff - Common Dreams, April 30, 2016

For two weeks this May, organizers across 12 countries will participate in Break Free 2016, an open-source invitation to encourage “more action to keep fossil fuels in the ground and an acceleration in the just transition to 100 percent renewable energy.” Many of the month’s events — pulled together by 350.org and a slew of groups around the world — are set to take place within ongoing campaigns to shut down energy infrastructure, targeting “some of the most iconic and dangerous fossil fuel projects all over the world” with civil disobedience.

The Break Free site’s opening page invites viewers to “join a global wave of resistance to keep coal, oil and natural gas in the ground.” And that’s where some unions have taken issue.

The United Steelworkers, or USW, this week released a response. “Short-sighted and narrow-focused activities like 350.org’s ‘Break Free’ actions,” they write, “make it much more challenging to work together to create and envision a clean energy economy.” Three of the locations targeted — in Pennsylvania, Indiana and Washington — are USW-represented refineries. The union argues that, despite record growth in renewables, the economy will continue to be reliant on fossil fuels for some time. “Shutting down a handful of refineries in the United States,” they say, “would lead to massive job loss in refinery communities, increased imports of refined oil products, and ultimately no impact on global carbon emissions.” Rather, refineries and their workers should be brought into the clean energy economy.

The statement ends arguing that, “We can’t choose between good jobs or a healthy environment. If we don’t have both, we’ll have neither.” In more familiar terms, Breaking Free — for the USW — sounds like a case of jobs versus the environment.

While similar releases are standard fare for other unions, the 30,000-member USW is one of the country’s most progressive — even when it comes to environmental issues.

“People assume that because we’re an industrial union that our leadership doesn’t care about the environment,” Roxanne Brown told me. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Brown is the assistant legislative director at USW, and emphasized the union’s long history of work on environmental issues. The USW hosted a conference in support of air pollutant regulations in the late 1960s, early on rejecting the kind of weaponized jobs versus environment rhetoric that has cropped up around the Keystone XL pipeline and other extraction fights.

Why We Withdrew Sponsorship from the Sierra Club’s Rally in Hartford, CT: Comfort Letter, Censorship, and Compromise!

A Statement by Capitalism vs. the Climate, April 21, 2016

We reluctantly withdrew our sponsorship from an April 20th rally against fracked-gas infrastructure in Connecticut, organized mainly by the Sierra Club. While we found actions by the national Sierra Club leading up to the rally to be inexcusable, this statement should not be seen as a criticism of the Connecticut state chapter or its volunteer members. We have reached out to the national Sierra Club and chapter staff and attempted to discuss our concerns regarding the rallies mentioned below in Bridgeport and Hartford, but we have only received evasive responses and claims that our concerns are misled.

The Sierra Club’s call for an April 20th rally against fracked-gas infrastructure in Connecticut said:

“…methane gas is worse at causing climate change than burning oil or coal, because methane produces more global warming than carbon dioxide does. We MUST convert to 100% renewable energy immediately”.[1]

But… the Sierra Club does NOT speak out against PSEG’s proposed fracked-gas plant in Bridgeport, CT.

The Sierra Club campaigned for several years against a coal plant in Bridgeport operated by PSEG. When PSEG offered to switch from burning coal to burning fracked gas, the Sierra Club decided to tacitly accept this awful compromise and not speak out loudly against construction of the gas plant, abandoning local residents and grassroots campaigners who wanted to keep fighting fracked gas. Of the Bridgeport residents who testified on the issue at city hall on February 1st, all but one of them strongly opposed the gas plant.[2]

The Sierra Club admits that they sent a “comfort letter” to PSEG in January that promised they will not take legal action against PSEG’s proposed gas plant.[3] To this day, the Sierra Club refuses to share a copy of the letter with local residents affected by the compromise.

The Sierra Club has also been censoring its own members who try to protest PSEG. According to an email we received from an executive committee member, the Connecticut chapter has been “muzzled” and “can only very quietly and not publicly fight the B-port gas plant.”[4]

  • Earlier this month, likely because of pressure from the national Sierra Club, the Connecticut chapter would not endorse an environmental justice rally organized by residents of Bridgeport. When the chapter did circulate an invitation to the event, they edited out the mention of “PSEG’s proposed fracked-gas plant” from the original event description.[5] Connecticut chapter members say the national Sierra Club pressured them to make such redactions.
  • Our press release on the February 1st public hearing (correctly) stated that “members of…the Connecticut Sierra Club also showed up to support Bridgeport residents fighting PSEG’s coal and gas power plants.”[6] Shortly afterwards, another member of the chapter’s executive committee emailed us and said that due to pressure they receive from the national Sierra Club, the chapter should not be publicly named as protesting the gas plant.[7]

We do not claim to speak for Connecticut Sierra Club members, and they have not asked us to make this statement. Nonetheless, looking in from the outside, we see the national organization interfering with local members who want to support Bridgeport residents fighting against environmental injustice. We see similarities to troubling instances in the past when the national Sierra Club has tried to silence principled chapters who dared to speak out against the Iraq War and against the greenwashing of Clorox.[8]

When it comes to Bridgeport, the Sierra Club’s silence and censorship reveals an ugly double standard. While the Sierra Club devotes resources to supporting campaigns against fracked-gas infrastructure in Connecticut’s wealthy and white communities, they will not vocally oppose fracked gas in the predominantly low-income, black and brown city of Bridgeport. Even if the Sierra Club’s legal agreement with PSEG was not motivated by racist intentions, we are concerned that the Sierra Club’s double standard, on where they will and will not protest fracked gas, could deepen Connecticut’s racial and class disparities in pollution. Since the Sierra Club would not endorse anti-gas testimonies and protest in Bridgeport, we could no longer in good conscience support the Sierra Club’s own anti-gas rally.

That’s not all… the Sierra Club kicked Beyond Extreme Energy out of the rally.

Beyond Extreme Energy (BXE) has been taking admirable direct action to stop fracking and plans to protest outside the homes of FERC’s pipeline rubber-stampers. BXE was originally one of the co-sponsors of the rally in Hartford. Against the wishes of the CT Sierra Club members, the national Sierra Club gave an ultimatum: either kick out BXE or the Sierra Club would withdraw their sponsorship (effectively canceling the rally). The Sierra Club believes (as stated in a conference call[9]) that BXE’s non-violent tactics are too confrontational… in fighting the biggest existential threat to our planet.

While non-violent home demonstrations are controversial, various campaigns have found the tactic very effective in the past (for example, in confronting animal cruelty and the logging of old growth forests[10]). The protests do not physically harm anyone, whereas the same cannot be said about high-level FERC officials who approve flammable fracked-gas pipelines in human and nonhuman communities and even adjacent to the Indian Point nuclear power plant, despite severe social, ecological, and climate risks.

It is appalling that a powerful Big Green group tried to use the Hartford rally to pressure BXE’s courageous campaigners into watering down their tactics. This is especially true at a time when a rapidly warming planet reminds us how insufficient (at best) the Big Greens’ prevailing tactics of compromise and capitulation have been. We believe that environmental organizations with different strategies and tactics should find ways to work together rather than take deliberate actions to exclude and marginalize activists. We felt that withdrawing from the rally was necessary in order to not be complicit in the exclusion of BXE.

The Sierra Club’s kind of green…

As mentioned earlier, the Sierra Club itself admits that fracked gas is not an acceptable bridge fuel. Some scientists say that fracked gas cooks the climate significantly more than coal and oil do. Surveying water contamination, air pollution and ecosystem destruction, a recent report by Environment America found that “fracking poses grave threats to the environment and public health”.[11]

We are concerned, therefore, that the Sierra Club has put money before social justice and climate protection. From 2007 to 2010, the Sierra Club took $25 million from the fracked gas industry. Since 2011, the Sierra Club has taken $80 million from the pro-fracking billionaire Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg’s fortune is managed by Willet Advisors, which according to BusinessWeek, “invests in real assets focusing on oil and natural gas areas.”[12] Because of this funding, it is not surprising to us that the national Sierra Club has been very slow to protest consistently against fracked gas.

Real solutions will not come from alliances with the richest 1%, no matter how much money they contribute. There is no time to waste compromising core values as the planet burns and communities of color suffocate.

Transphobes Still Welcome at Public Interest Environmental Law Conference

By Trans and/or Women’s Action Collective - Earth First! Journal, March 29, 2016

EUGENE, OR – Members of the Trans and/or Women’s Action Collective are no strangers to direct action. Since the early formation of TWAC from amongst the membership of groups like Earth First!, the collective – which was created initially to address patriarchal behavior, misogyny, and transphobia within the radical environmental movement – has been involved in campaigns against resource extraction, corporate prisons, trans-exclusionary legislation, ICE raids, destruction of public and Native lands, criminalization of sex workers, wildlife culling, and police brutality and racism. On March 5th, TWAC activists and allies found themselves once more embattled as they confronted members of the transphobic group Deep Green Resistance at the annual Public Interest Environmental Law Conference at the University of Oregon.

Deep Green Resistance, a group founded by trans-exclusionary radical “feminists” Lierre Keith and Derrick Jensen, has been a bone of contention in the radical environmental scene for many years, contention which came to the fore again in 2013 with the release of DGR member Rachel Ivey’s video monologue “The End of Gender”  in which she reiterates the radical feminist rhetoric that transgender people (or, “people who call themselves transgender”) are in fact champions of the patriarchal gender binary, as well as deeply dangerous to feminism and women. This video, Ivey’s public speaking tour, and the continued presence of Deep Green Resistance in environmentalist spaces such as the Law & Disorder Conference and PIELC, spurred protest from trans activists and allies around North America.

In 2014, the PIELC organizers were protested for inviting Lierre Keith to be one of their keynote speakers, despite her well-known anti-trans rhetoric and the very public transphobic views of DGR as a group. Over 1,000 emails expressing concern over Keith’s presence were sent to the University prior to the event, and local and national environmental groups petitioned PIELC and UO to cancel Keith’s talk with a letter signed by more than 30 organizations across a broad spectrum of social and environmental causes. Protests culminated in a collective walk-out during Keith’s keynote speech. PIELC organizers have not yet apologized or addressed the issue, though DGR has been invited back every year since.

On Saturday March 5th, dismayed at DGR’s increased presence at PIELC this year, activists and their allies covered the DGR table with a banner declaring “DGR Not Welcome! No Transphobia in Defense of Mother Earth” and stood by their words as conference organizers tore the banner in half and demanded that the protesters leave the area. The protesters remained by the DGR table even after their banner was destroyed, engaging with the public and holding space for conversations about transphobia and trans rights. 

“Deep Green Resistance entwines their transphobic views with their vision of an ecologically healthy future,” says trans activist Shane Lenartz, who has worked with groups such as Earth First!, Rising Tide, and the Trans and/or Women’s Action Collective (TWAC). “Their degrading and dehumanizing attitude towards trans people, especially trans women, is not a new thing, and it’s not excusable. We have been fighting this issue for years. As environmental activists, we are sick and tired of having to come to conferences like this and see transphobic groups like DGR being openly represented and given space.”

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