Brutal Evictions 9/11/19

Sparking change: How movements pass on inspiration  – by Rivera Sun

Rivera Sun

Change doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Resistance is a continuum. Nonviolent movements arise amidst the efforts of many other struggles. The knowledge of how to organize for change is a global legacy passed between movements and generations of activists through lineages of inspiration that stretch through hundreds of years. (The first recorded strike happened in 1170 BC when Egyptian pyramid builders refused to work until they were paid; they’ve been happening much the same way ever since.) We learn from one another both directly and indirectly. We mimic creative tactics. We replicate strategies. We learn from mistakes. We are emboldened by others’ courage.

I collect 30-50 stories of nonviolence in action each week for Nonviolence News, a news round-up that shows how people around the globe are making change. In the news articles, I often notice clear examples of knowledge-sharing and inspiration passing between global movements.

Wunseidel, Germany’s 2014 involuntary walkathon pledged money to social justice causes for every alt-right marcher that showed up for the march, thereby making them fundraise for causes they hate. This inspired a similar action in Portland, OR, that raised $36,000 for immigrants’ rights groups during a mass rally for the alt-right. Recently, Hong Kong protesters deliberately organized a 28-mile human chain inspired by the 1989 Baltic Way – a human chain involving 2.2 million people that stretched hundreds of kilometers across Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. They even named it the Hong Kong Way. When migrant rescue boat captain Carola Racketewas arrested for saving lives, the crew of a second ship, the Alex,was inspired to defy the law as well.

While the Internet has aided this phenomenon, the way ideas leap from one movement to the next is not new. Throughout history – albeit at a slightly slower pace – this has occurred. The word “boycott,” for example, was coined in 1880 when Irish tenants launched a campaign of social ostracizing against Captain Charles Boycott for his role in brutal evictions. Within six weeks, newspapers as far away as New York City were using the term. A few years later, as the term continued to rise into popular usage, guess which student in Britain was reading the British newspaper reports on the Irish and other struggles? A young guy named Mohandas K. Gandhi.

This was far from Gandhi’s only inspiration as he mobilized mass strikes, boycotts, and civil disobedience in the struggle for India’s independence from British rule. He was both highly innovative and a deep thinker and strategist. He clearly learned from the struggles of his time. He drew ideas for nonviolent action and philosophy from a wide range of global writers and thinkers, both Eastern and Western. His unique stamp would have, in its own turn, global impact.

Some of this was spontaneous – but much of it occurred through direct connection. African-Americans, for example, had a long and well-documented exchange with both Gandhi and his successors. Letters and essays on nonviolent struggle were published in African-American newspapers and journals.

In the early 1950s, Rev. James Lawson traveled to India just after Gandhi’s assassination to deepen his study of nonviolent resistance. Upon his return, he became one of the foremost strategic architects of the US Civil Rights Movement. In later years, he has worked with numerous labor justice and other movements. He has also taught countless organizers throughout his long life and emphasizes the importance of training and study to movement success.

Movements share tactics and strategies, and they also share artistic themes. When I wrote my novel, The Dandelion Insurrectionusing the dandelion as a symbol of resistance, numerous readers wrote to me about its use by movements as disparate as Norway’s resistance to joining the European Union, the United States’ 1970s Movement for a New Society, the recent Black Lives Matter Movement, and even the global climate justice movement. Like its namesake, it’s a symbol that continues to pop up all over the place.

Music, art, slogans, and imagery circulate between movements in innumerable ways. To highlight one example, the iconic song of the Civil Rights Movement, We Shall Overcomehas had many incarnations. The first version was written in 1900 by African-American Rev. Joseph Tidley under the name, I’ll Overcome Some Day. This version was well-known throughout the labor movement of that decade. A second version, I Will Overcome, was sung in a 1945 cigar workers strike in Charleston, South Carolina. Pete Seeger and Zilphia Horton (music director of the Highlander Center) included this version in a book of folk songs they published. It was rekindled within the Civil Rights Movement at the Highlander Center. Guy Carawan is credited with selecting it as the closing song of a training attended by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King. From there, they and many other folksingers helped to popularize it in the movement.

There are dangers with superficially mimicking movements, however. One of the assessments of the Arab Spring uprisings is that later movements failed because they learned largely from watching television and Internet footage of Tunisia and Egypt’s mass demonstrations. Replicating only the mass street protests, movements in other countries failed to see – and use – the strikes, boycotts, and mass noncooperation campaigns that had effectively eroded the regimes’ power in the first two countries. When protesters flooded the streets in subsequent countries, the brutal repression of police and military was able to crush the movements because other strategies – especially economic resistance – that could have been shifted to had not been developed.

Some important aspects of struggle – such as organizational infrastructure, widespread training programs, acts of noncooperation, and covert resistance – tend not to be as visible to people from the outside. Studying nonviolent movements helps to illuminate these aspects beyond what we see in the news.

It is undeniable that media coverage of movements helps to inspire subsequent uprisings. The Arab Spring is cited as one of the main inspirations for the Occupy protests in the United States. The Occupy protests launched in New York City in September 2011, in part because of an Adbusters Magazinecall-to-action. Within two weeks, 951 Occupy encampments had sprung up across 82 countries, 600 in the United States . . . and a new phrase had entered movement organizing circles: multi-nodal actions.  In a country with the geographic expanse of the United States, the notion – while not new – was a revelation for many. Instead of organizing people to go to big city demonstrations, actions in every city and town were organized.

In the United States, this tactical approach has been replicated continuously since the Occupy protests of 2011. The 2017 Women’s March, for example, mobilized one million people in the streets of DC and another 2.7 million across 500 other locations. One out of every 100 Americans participated in either the Women’s March or the Sister Marches (as the multi-nodal actions were called). This multi-nodal organizing approach also lies at the heart of the Student Climate Strikes, which organize weekly student walkouts and days of larger mobilizations.

The stories continue: global labor movements; women’s suffrage movements in the UK and US; Indigenous solidarity movements around the globe; intersectional movements of the 70s and 80s; anti-globalization protests at major trade conferences that shared tactical philosophies; environmental movements that adapted blockades and tree-sits from forest protection to blocking pipelines; and so much more. Each one of these examples deserves a full article. Both contemporary and historical strands of learning and inspiring can be traced through movements.

The circulation of texts, books, and manuals on nonviolent struggle has played a major role in the ways movements share tactics and strategies. The works of M.K. Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Gene Sharp have had global impacts. The advent of the Internet made accessing knowledge and following contemporary movements even more common. Current campaigns seem to draw knowledge from a wide variety of sources, including traditional cultural references, organized training programs, current and recent movements, previous campaigns in their history, and local innovation.

In collecting and circulating the weekly Nonviolence News, one of my goals is to help light the sparks between people working for change. By reading about creative actions, wise strategies, and courageous resistance, we can learn from the endeavors of our fellow human beings. The more we learn, the more the sparks of inspiration lead to robust, strategic, and powerful movements for change.

Rivera Sun, syndicated by PeaceVoicehas written numerous books, including The Dandelion Insurrection. She is the editor of Nonviolence Newsand a nationwide trainer in strategy for nonviolent campaigns.

People Power Works 8/21/19

Tapping into People Power – by Rivera Sun

Rivera Sun

In times like this, many of us feel powerless to do anything about the political, social, and environmental injustices we face. But, power is everywhere. Like sunlight and solar panels, it’s a question of tapping into it. Accustomed to the top-down power of presidents and CEOs, most of us have no idea where to plug in and connect to the phenomenal people power that exists. As the editor of Nonviolence News, I collect 30-50 stories of nonviolence in action each week. These stories are inspiring examples of how people like us are finding unexpected sources of strength, creativity, resistance, hope, and yes, power. Beyond protests and petitions, there are hundreds of ways to work for change. Here are seven ways we can connect to the power of removing our consent and cooperation, refusing to go along with injustice, and intervening in the destructive practices that cause harm. I’ve included several examples in each section – a total of 28 amazing stories – that illuminate how and where people can find the power to make powerful change.

Pocketbook Power: Hollywood’s Brunei Boycott

In early 2019, Brunei’s government passed a law calling for adulterers and homosexuals to be stoned to death. Actor George Clooney called for a Hollywood boycott of Brunei’s hotels. Within two months, the government backed off from enforcing the law. What worked here? It’s not just about star power. It’s about wallet power. Clooney’s boycott slashed the profits of a multi-million dollar industry. By organizing his Hollywood friends and associates, the economic impact forced Brunei’s leaders to re-think the law. We may not be millionaires or movie stars, but all of us have the ability to reach for our wallets and mobilize our coworkers, friends, and communities to do the same. This is one type of power we can all use. Every penny counts when working for change.

This article on how to organize a boycott looks at several recent examples of boycotts and shares some tips for success. You can also learn a lot from following current boycotts, like the American Federation of Teachers’ call for a Back-To-School Boycott of Walmart over gun sales, or the massive South Korean boycott of Japanese companies due to an on-going trade war. The most creative example I’ve seen is Extinction Rebellion’s global fashion boycott to cut down on waste and pollution in a time of climate crisis.

Podium Power: Climate Crisis Commencement Speakers

To speak up when silence is expected . . . to deviate from the acceptable speech: these are sources of power in our world. The climate justice movement is putting them to work. Class of 0000 (pronounced Class of Zero) organized hundreds of college and university commencement speakers to address climate change in their speeches. These bright students addressed captive audiences of hundreds to thousands of people all across the country, devoting part of their speeches to dealing with the climate crisis. In some places, the administration banned the speeches or swapped out student speakers, showing their draconian suppression of free – and truthful – speech. By speaking up where silence was expected, these students shifted the script and changed the narrative around the climate crisis.

There are many ways to use our voices, podiums, and platforms to speak up for justice. Speaking up doesn’t just happen on a stage. Recently, Icelandic scientists wrote a public eulogy and held a funeral for the first glacier lost to climate change.  In Russia, 17-year-old Olga Misik gained international attention by reading the Russian Constitution – which granted her the right to protest – as Russian riot police arrested her at a pro-democracy demonstration. In Boston, Massachusetts, baseball fans unfurled a giant bannerat Fenway Park in support of migrant rights and closing the detention centers. Last spring, I interrupted a hotel breakfast buffet to announce the top headlines in Nonviolence News because the enormous corporate media televisions behind us weren’t covering these important stories. Breaking the silence and deviating from the script is something we all can find a time and place to do.

Common Ground Power: Christians opposing Christian nationalism

At a time when extremists (particularly white nationalists) are causing hate crimes, mass shootings, unjust policies, and violent rallies, these Christians are stepping up to denounce Christian Nationalism. 10,000 of them signed a declaration against the ideology and are preparing to take further action to rein in the abuses of people who claim to share their faith. They’re tapping into the power of faith – but not in the way we usually mean that phrase. Our faith groups are large networks of people. When we take responsibility for the manner in which those networks behave, we can stand up against abuse in powerful ways.  This is true for religions, races, classes, businesses, unions, neighborhood associations, academic institutions, cultural identities, ethnicities and more. Take a look at all the networks that contribute to who you are – you’ll find plenty of opportunities to organize with others who share those beliefs to hold your circles accountable.

Organizing around common ground and shared identities can be very powerful. Recently, Japanese-Americans protested migrant detention centers, denouncing the system of internment camps during WWII, leading to the decision not to use a former Oklahoma internment camp as a migrant detention center. This action was also supported by people of Jewish faith – who have been increasingly organizing together. For example, #IfNotNowmobilizes Jewish Americans to oppose Israel’s apartheid system and oppression of Palestinians. Our faith groups, in particular, have many important social justice issues to take responsibility on. Check out this story of how a group of Christians surprised Pride Parade marchers with signs that apologized for the anti-LGBTQ views of other Christians.

Creative power: Artists withdraw works from Whitney Museum

When these eight artists realized that one of the board members of the prestigious Whitney Museum made his fortune selling tear gas and riot gear, they pulled their piecesout of the Whitney Biennial. Along with a protest action campaign, these efforts succeeded in getting the donor/board member to resign. This type of power has to do with refusing to offer one’s labor, intelligence, creativity, and abilities to an institution engaging in or supporting an injustice. Many of us have labor or creative capital – and we can choose to lend our names and skills to an organization or refuse to be associated with it.

In the opposite way, here’s a story about a museum leveraging its prominence to support a movement: this famous London museum decided to show an exhibit of Extinction Rebellion’s “artefacts” to raise awareness about the need for climate action. Artists can also leverage their creativity for memorable protests, such as the Australians who used art instead of written comments to oppose a mine. Upset at their government’s support of the toxic industry, Australians sent 1400 paintings of a bird species endangered by a proposed mine to the public officials.

Worker Power: Belfast “Titanic” shipyard workers occupy for green energy

After failing to find a buyer for the insolvent and privately-owned shipyard that built the Titanic, the factories in Belfast, Ireland, were slated to be closed. Then 130 workers occupied the yards with a rotating blockade, denying the foreclosure officials access. Their demand? Nationalize the facilities and convert them to building renewable energy infrastructure. For weeks, the workers have maintained the occupation and blockade. Their example is a reminder to all of us that we have more power than we think. These Irish workers faced unemployment – instead, they grasped their collective power to intervene with a new solution.  Can you imagine if you and your coworkers organized such visionary action?

Labor organizing has a long and impressive history of action. Even beyond union strikes, workers have banded together to work for change. Recently, Walmart workers held a walk-out in protest of company’s continued gun sales. The Swedish women’s hockey team boycotted trainings over an unsettled pay dispute. Portuguese fuel truck drivers went on strike, leading to nationwide fuel shortages. And in Taiwan, the first flight attendant strike in their nation’s history grounded 2,250 flights in a struggle to gain fair pay. All over the world, people are organizing the workplace to work for change.

 City Power: Denver dumps private prison contracts

In 2019, as the #NoKidsInCages movement decried migrant child detention, Denver, CO, cancelled two city contracts totaling $10.6 million in opposition to the companies’ involvement in private, for-profit, migrant child detention centers. This is just one of the numerous instances and ways municipal bodies have been leveraging their authority, power, and clout to make a difference in social justice issues. By organizing for our cities to take a stand, we can push for change with the collected might of the city. It’s bigger than our household, but often easier to shift than our federal government.

The amount of recent municipal action deserves its own article, but here are three great examples of city power. In Prague, the mayor refused to deport a Taiwanese man despite China’s pressure and threats to cut financial investments in the city. Berkeley, CA, concerned about the climate crisis, banned fracked gas infrastructure in new construction, prompting three other Bay Area cities to take similar action. And, three mass shootings in one week in the US prompted the city mayor of San Rafael, CA, to order the flags to be kept at half-mast until Congress acts to stop mass shootings.

Block & Stop Power: Boats blockade against rising seas

In a dramatic and memorable street action, the climate justice group, Extinction Rebellion, used five boats to stop traffic in Cardiff, Glasgow, Bristol, Leeds, and London. The action halted fossil fuel powered cars with an ironic reminder that life-as-usual is causing global warming, climate catastrophe, and rising sea levels. This action tapped into our power to nonviolently interrupt and disrupt using blockade actions. In efforts to stop fossil fuel pipelines, this tactic has been used so frequently that the hundreds of efforts have been dubbed “Blockadia”.

Blocking and stopping injustice from carrying out its plans is a powerful – and risky – type of action.  But if you can pull it off successfully, it’s one of the best examples of applied people power. In Seattle, citizens formed a rolling picket line to block ICE from driving out of their headquarters to conduct immigration raids. In Appalachia, protesters decided to lockdown to equipment to stop construction of a fossil fuel pipeline. And in Kentucky, unpaid coal miners blockaded the coal trains for weeks in demand for unemployment compensation.

These are just a few examples of the hundreds actions – involving millions of people – that have occurred in the past few months. These seven categories offer a glimpse of the many places we can find the power to make a difference. This kind of power isn’t the strength of individual superheroes, saints, or political leaders. This is the kind of power that we all wield, together, when we find ways to shake up life-as-usual in order to work for change. With nonviolent action, we can find hundreds of ways to influence our world in the social, cultural, spiritual, political, financial, economic, industrial, and educational spheres. We have more power than we think . . . we just have to tap into it.

Rivera Sun, syndicated by PeaceVoice, has written numerous books, including The Dandelion Insurrection. She is the editor of Nonviolence News and a nationwide trainer in strategy for nonviolent campaigns.

Bottom of Money 5/29/19

The bottom line: Go for the money   by Rivera Sun

Rivera Sun

It’s rare to hear business magazines admit the power of nonviolent action. As the editor of Nonviolence News, a service that collects and shares 30-50+ stories of nonviolence in action each week, I often see business journals minimizing the effect of activism.

Usually, industry tries to conceal the impact nonviolent action has on their bottom line by chalking it up to market pressures — as with the case of Shell’s Arctic drilling rig. Business magazines credited falling fossil fuel prices with the decision to withdraw from drilling in the Arctic. Beneath that story, however, the reality was that hundreds of kayaktivists in the Shell No campaign blockaded the oil rig all the way from Portland, OR to Seattle, WA, to Alaska, eventually succeeding in stopping the drilling project.

That’s why I was glad to see an honest admission of activists’ impact in Newsweek recently. An article blared the news that a first quarter securities filing from private prison company GEO Group warned their investors that activism poses a risk to their bottom line. Due to widespread resistance to mass incarceration and the school-to-prison pipeline to nationwide outrage over family separation policies, private prisons and detention centers are facing the heat of a (rightfully) outraged public.

GEO Group’s admission offers an important reminder to activists: go for the money. Unlike politicians (whose risks are measured in two-four-six year election cycles), businesses measure their risks and profits every day, and report to financial committees every three months. The knowledge of how activists can impact industry is powerful, especially if used strategically. In Quebec, after learning how much money per day activists could cost a fracking company, an anti-fracking campaign drafted a plan of action, calculated the multi-million dollar price tag, and circulated that information to the press and shareholders. For years, the fracking industry stayed out of Quebec.

Shareholders and investors are particularly important targets for activist groups. Unlike industry professionals, their interest – and loyalty – lies with profit, not the industry itself.  Shareholders are fairly responsive to activist campaigns, voting to halt or change company policy to respond to the demands. An on-going, decades-long campaign against Monsanto has Bayer shareholders screaming over the “nightmare” of the Monsanto merger as 500 protesters showed up to demonstrate outside the meeting. Potential investors watch the risks posed by public dissent and often withdraw from a controversial and embattled industry. The Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline led directly to three major banks pulling out the project and triggered a global wave of fossil fuel related divestments.

Divestment campaigns are powerful. Organized among colleges and universities, retirement and public funds, and religious and faith institutions; divestment campaigns pressure organizations to withdraw their investment funds from certain industries (ideally moving the money into more ethical and just investments). In 2015, the Earth Quaker Action Team won a campaign to stop PNC Bank from bankrolling mountaintop removal, getting them to divest from coal mining.

Beyond shareholders and investors, industry also faces myriad pressures from concerned consumers, organized workers, and suppliers with ethical concerns. Italian dock workers refused to load a Saudi arms ship headed to Yemen, stating that they refused to be complicit in the conflict. Tech workers forced Google to drop a major military surveillance contract called Project Maven. Over 6,000 Amazon employees called on Jeff Bezos and the company’s board to adopt a climate plan that will transition the company to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. Across the United States, strikes are on the rise: 2018 was a record-breaking year and 2019 is on track to exceed those numbers.

These campaigns are changing the face of industry far more effectively — and swiftly — than government policy, legislative changes, or regulatory enforcement. Citizens are finding creative and powerful ways to pressure business, target destructive practices, and stop abuses. Using the tools of nonviolent action, people have hundreds of tactics at their disposal. More and more, we’re seeing people put these tools and tactics to use as they strive for real change in our world. The bottom line of all these stories is: go for the money. With divestment, strikes, boycotts, shareholder action, and more, find strategic and creative ways to pressure business into taking more ethical, just, peaceful, and sustainable practices.

Rivera Sun, syndicated by PeaceVoice, has written numerous books, including The Dandelion Insurrection. She is the editor of Nonviolence News and a nationwide trainer in strategy for nonviolent campaigns.

Walk the Talk 12/12/18

Rivera Sun

The End of the NRA? Business magazines tell activists: The strategy is working

by Rivera Sun

Good news for humanity: the NRA is weakening. The gun-lobbying group is in “deep financial trouble,” Fortune Magazine reported, and warns that the NRA may not be able to keep going. “The group says it is under such financial distress because New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has convinced a number of financial service providers, banks, and insurance providers against doing business with the gun-advocacy group. As a result, the NRA claims that it will be forced to end its magazine publishing and television services, and will be forced to curtail rallies and potentially shutter some of its offices.”

Governor Cuomo got a lot of credit for what, in reality, took an entire movement comprising hundreds of organizations. (For many reasons, business magazines tend to downplay the powerful role of social movements in economic shifts.) The reality is clear to those who have been following the Parkland students and movement groups like #NotOneMore and Everytown for Gun Safety: their strategies are working and the governor is a welcome ally.

Symbolic protests work best when they are used to galvanize acts of economic noncooperation like boycotts, divestments, and severing business ties. The strength of such protests lies in their ability to raise the stakes of inaction for power holders. By compelling power holders to rise out of complacency, silence, and avoidance of the issues, movements can pressure power holders to use their leverage for tangible social justice changes. When people like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo throw their clout into getting businesses and organizations to withdraw economic and social support from the NRA, the impact is immediate. By highlighting that the choice is between kids (and others) lives and the greed of the NRA and gun industry, the youth-led protests, marches, speeches, and rallies have led to increasing numbers of people and businesses cutting ties with the NRA.

Many companies have dumped the NRA over the years: the National Teachers Uniondumped Wells Fargo over NRA ties. Enterprise, Avis, Budget car rentals, Delta and United airlines, and Wyndham and Best Western hotels have all stopped offering NRA discounts. The NRA claims that losing “perks” will not deter their members from pushing for their constitutional rights and civil liberties. Many people involved in the movement to end gun violence, however, feel it is important that NRA members aren’t being rewarded by corporations. In their minds, those who actively block legislation for gun control of automatic assault weapons shouldn’t enjoy special privileges while our children are being massacred.

You can find a full list of companies that dumped the NRA in 2018 at

Gov. Cuomo’s efforts go beyond the small perks of NRA membership and target the bigger deals, financial backing, and even the top donor circles of the NRA. This has the gun-lobby behemoth running scared. The take-home for ordinary citizens is to amplify, escalate, and leverage our actions into larger, richer, and more powerful action. The Parkland students have done excellent work in that department—and their efforts have been backed up by hundreds of growing groups that work to end gun violence, virtually all of which have identified the NRA as a barrier to this goal.

Business is responsive – and vulnerable – to the actions of ordinary citizens on the issue of the NRA. Your feedback, emails, phone calls, and boycotts of banks and businesses make a difference. In many cases it’s far more effective than calling your senator (hint: do both!). The effects of movement pressures are often felt more swiftly in the business world. Politicians can only be changed every 2-4 years; businesses have to deal with quarterly reports every three months.

Pressuring leaders who want to do the right thing—elected, corporate, or government agency—gives those leaders cover. Pressuring the ones who are indifferent helps them realize they need to take a stand. Pressuring the hardline opponents can drive them to make costly errors leading to their replacement.

Indeed, business magazine articles on the anti-NRA actions reveal that companies listen when we take action. First National Bank in Nebraska – one of the 15 largest credit card issuers in the nation – ended its NRA benefits because of customer feedback. As reported: “The First National Bank of Omaha tweeted last Thursday that ‘customer feedback has caused us to review our relationship with the NRA,’ and that it would not be renewing its contract to produce NRA-branded Visa cards.”

All of this information gives us a strategic memo: the strategy is working. The question of whether to support human life, particularly kids, or a powerful lobby group is shifting in favor of the kids. And the NRA is weakening. There’s no need to wait for the next mass shooting or for an organization to tell you to take action: find a company, write an email, and ask your friends to join you in pressuring them to drop the NRA. You can find a full list of companies that give NRA benefits and discounts on ThinkProgress.

The Fortune Magazine report on the NRA’s financial crisis also tells us another important message: keep going. Instead of waiting for the next tragedy to galvanize a fresh burst of action, use this moment to continue to drive support away from the NRA. They’ll be rallying to rebuild; our task is to continue to call companies to walk their talk, stand up for our kids, and dump the NRA.

Rivera Sun, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of The Dandelion Insurrection, The Roots of Resistance, and other books, including a study guide to making change with nonviolent action. She is the cohost of Love (and Revolution) Radio, and a trainer in strategy for nonviolent movements.

Live Differently 11/28/18

The Time Is Up. The Time Is Now.

Rivera Sun

An Essay of the Man from the North – by Rivera Sun

[Editor’s note: The Man from the North is a fictional character from Rivera Sun’s first series of novels. She has him offering essays beyond her novels.]

The time is up. The time is now. Gather the people to do the work: the healing, transformative, deepening work of building community, solutions, understanding, skills, knowledge, and hope. You must be the one to make a change, to step out of the rutted tracks of the looming train wreck that is our culture. You must have the courage to walk into the wilderness of what you don’t know and embrace the solutions that will save our lives.

All quests and hero’s journeys begin with this: the yearning for change; the hope of saving graces; the long shot of wished-for miracles. In each of us, our willingness to make a change begins with equal measures of fear, courage, and purpose rolled into an electric jolt to the soul . . . a spark that launches you toward danger and potential.

Our world will be saved by billions of ordinary heroes and sheroes who decide to do hundreds of humble and extraordinary actions. Hour by hour, minute by minute, we change our world by withdrawing our support, cooperation, and participation from old destructive systems. By making these shifts, we starve the monster we have become. We share with neighbors to dismantle consumer-capitalism. We gather to tell stories and unplug the corporate media. We build solar panels and shut off the switches of fossil fuels. One small action multiplied by millions of people adds up quickly to massive change. One small action done strategically by a small group of people can catalyze a hundred million more.

Change requires that we live differently. All of us must make changes: from the most committed activist who knows she must reconnect to her heart; to the average citizen who suspects he could be doing more; to the terrified investors in fossil fuels who must choose between their industry and their planet; and everyone in between. Real change is never handed to us on a silver platter, nor served by powerful people. When suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton wanted to vote, she strode into the polling place and cast her ballot. When Rosa Parks wanted to desegregate the Montgomery buses, she sat down and refused to give up her seat. When tribes among the Anishinaabe wanted to use their promised treaty rights, they walked on to the land to hunt, fish, and gather traditional foods and medicines.

All of them faced violence, danger, arrest, and even death threats. All of them organized, mobilized, struggled, and ultimately prevailed. None of them sat on the couch waiting for the right people to be put into the right offices to do the right thing. Deep, meaningful change is not handed to us. We wrest it out of the unknown and bring it into existence in our lives.

As Thomas Paine wrote, “we have it in our power to begin the world over again.” Our actions, day in and day out, shape this ever-evolving world. We are the potter’s hands forming the wet clay vessels of our existence. We are the weavers at the loom, casting the threads of our lives through the wool of the world. We are the stone cutter with chisel and hammer, chipping away at the hard realities that block our forward progress. With such power to shape our world comes the responsibility to wield our lives with intention and skill.

If you want change, live differently. But remember, you alone are not enough. One of our changes is that we must work together. We must reach out from our isolated lives. We must join hands with millions and take collective steps toward the future. You cannot go on a hero’s journey alone. Not this time. You must ask others – many others, millions of others – to change their lives, too. Ask your family, friends, and colleagues. Use outreach and organizing tools to ask your neighbors, faith communities, and co-workers. Put nonviolent action to work to compel our society to adopt a change for justice. Mobilize to demand that institutions and industries shift their massive resources into systems that are just, fair, sustainably, and non-harming. In this way, our ordinary actions – multiplied by millions – add up to extraordinary change.

Do not wait another minute to change your life. The time is up. The time is now.

Author/Activist Rivera Sun, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author ofThe Dandelion Insurrection and the sequel, The Roots of Resistance, and a nationally known movement trainer in strategic nonviolence. The essays were originally published on Dandelion Salad, and are reposted with permission.

All of US 11/21/18

A Revolution of Democracy – An Essay of the Man from the North by Rivera Sun

Rivera Sun

[Editor’s note: The Man from the North is a fictional character from Rivera Sun’s first series of novels. She has him offering essays beyond her novels.]

What do we do when we finally understand that the elections really are stolen? Or rigged? Or thrust out of our reach by the manipulations of rich and powerful people? Corrupted by corporations? How long does it take before we call the bluff? Another disappointing election cycle? Two? Three? How much more gerrymandering, corporate buying of elections, voter disenfranchisement, and outright fraud can we stand? When will we take seriously the necessity of change?

This is not a democracy of, for, and by the people. And, at the rate we’re going, it never will be.

We cannot, as many claim, vote our way into power when no aspect of the two party duopoly represents anything other than elite interests. The system is designed to empower rich people and their massive corporations, no one else. Over the years, it has been modified to allow different faces to represent it, but the agenda has stayed much the same.

We must see the system in all its cruelty and injustice. We must be brave enough to surrender our false hopes and wistful ideals about it. From 1787 onward, this government has been designed to serve the privileged, to reinforce such privilege, and to protect the “property” of the wealthy class, including at one point, women and African-Americans.

It’s high time for that to change.

We, the people, were never asked, back in 1787, what sort of government we’d like. Only a scant handful of people from a mere six percent of the populace (white, propertied males) were invited to actively participate in crafting the Constitution. The rest of us have struggled for freedom and power ever since.

Perhaps it’s time to have that much-belated conversation about the kind of government we’d prefer to participate within. (Undoubtedly, a pay-to-play elections process requiring millions and billions of dollars is not high on the average, broke, Americans’ list of ideas.) We, the people, are long overdue for a deep, revolutionary discussion about what sort of decision-making structures we want to see in our world. And, it’s time for a serious nationwide movement for democracy, with all the breadth and depth of possibility the phrase entails.

Democracy is not merely a form of government. It must be a way of life, a set of ethics and an ethos of a culture. For functional democracy to arise, it must be a widespread practice in our work, schools, homes, businesses, markets, religious institutions, and social clubs. We must strive to understand the spirit of the word, not merely the form of the word as embodied by the process of voting every few years for a representative.

We must dare to dream in the complex intricacies of what we don’t know about democracy. We must study democracy like a foreign language, learning processes like sentence structures, practicing our articulation, searching for the words to describe what me mean when we cry for democracy. We must examine the immense richness of humanity’s many experiments in shared decision-making and become familiar with the successes, failures, and potential pitfalls.

We must also break free of the conditioning of disempowerment and dare to imagine what decision we might make – for good or for ill – if we, together, designed our society, politics, economics, and culture. Democracy in any format requires a revolutionary re-envisioning of our way of life. A nation of brow-beaten workers, automatons, consumers, or bosses will never succeed in functional democracy. A real democracy requires a broad spectrum of humanity to show up with all our varied talents, skills, and perspectives: dreamers, artists, engineers, mothers and fathers, scientists, doctors, lovers, students, and more. In short, it takes us all to discover what will work for us all.

It will take love; and the foundation of love, respect. Democracy, as is so-often said, is more than two cats and a mouse deciding what’s for dinner. Indeed, it is. We must explore that “more” and illuminate what is required. We need to make vast changes in how we create media, entertainment, education, and public discourse to find the practices that better serve to foster understanding and conflict resolution. We need to increase the types of cultural experiences that move us toward loving and caring for our fellow citizens, rather than hating and fearing them. Real democracy requires levels of knowledge, compassion, and respect that we, as a nation, have never practiced before. Here, then lies the groundwork of our democratic revolution: we must build the respect among ourselves by which a real democracy can hear and meet its peoples’ needs.

For we are talking about a revolution. To sustain and avoid the pathological destructive desire for vengeance, the revolution must be nonviolent in nature, but its scope is a massive upheaval, not just in politics, but in society and culture as well. Make no mistake: our culture is far from democratic. Even the overhaul of the injustices that burden the current political apparatus would require revolutionary changes. An effort that seeks not just minor adjustments, but a profound re-envisioning in the ways we make every decision in our lives is nothing short of a revolution. It should be treated and understood as such. We should prepare ourselves for the reality of demanding such change. We must gird ourselves for the struggle if we ever wish to see government of, by, and for the people, all of us, together.

Author/Activist Rivera Sun, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author ofThe Dandelion Insurrectionand the sequel, The Roots of Resistance, and a nationally known movement trainer in strategic nonviolence. The essays were originally published on Dandelion Salad, and are reposted with permission.

Change in Every Level 11/14/18

Rivera Sun

After the Vote An Essay of the Man from the North by Rivera Sun

[Editor’s note: The Man from the North is a fictional character from Rivera Sun’s series of novels. She has him offering essays beyond her novels.]

The Vote – the beloved, abused, scorned, corrupted, stolen, hijacked, pointless, profound, hopeful, depressing, hard-won, cherished vote – is not the only way to take action for meaningful change. Currently, the elections operate in our nation like a cattle chute, all too often forcing us back into the deadly, no-win tracks of the two-party duopoly that serves primarily the moneyed class. It becomes a handy device for siphoning off the demand for revolutionary change by giving mostly false hope that elected officials will actually enact their campaign promises once in office.

Instead of taking matters into our own, capable, millions of hands, we vote to let someone else take care of it. And, in large part, these representatives do nothing beyond raising funds for their next campaign. We wind up hamstringing our movements over and over. We vote for Candidate X’s promises of someday guaranteeing living wages instead of going on strike until we actually get them. We vote for Candidate Y’s vow to someday ban assault weapons instead of picketing and blockading arms dealers. Instead of targeting fossil fuel investors, we try to elect politicians to craft legislation that, even if passed, is largely ignored by industry until they manage to get officials and judges in place to overturn the law.

It is maddening and infuriating. We have other – and better – options.

Change happens on many levels: cultural, economic, industrial, social, artistic, personal, psychological, spiritual, and more. We must work in all of them if we hope for lasting, systemic shifts. Don’t be fooled by the annual circus of voting. Go vote, sure, but don’t sit back down on the couch when you’ve cast your ballot. Go out into your community, businesses, churches, colleges, and so on, and work for the changes we wish to see in the world. In truth, no legislation has the power to enact the full scope of change without the cooperation of all those other institutions and the popular support in ordinary citizens.

Want living wages, for example? Change the sickening culture of greed and the hero worship of the criminals at the top of capitalism’s cannibalistic food chain. Challenge the moral “right” our culture places upon exploitation and survival of the fittest. We will never see justice for workers while we salivate over billionaires and laud their “brilliance” (read: ruthless willingness to shove others under the bus) with which they “made their fortunes” (read: stolen from others by means of low wages, high prices, global exploitation, insider deals, destruction of the earth, corruption of democracy, self-serving laws and legislation.)

Elections and politics are the games of elites. We are whipped up each election cycle to serve as their cheering crowds at their jousting matches. It is no better than the feudal days of fighting for this king or that queen when the real struggle is the establishment of “nobles” and the theft of common land from the people.  In the 1500s, the real struggle was not whether Queen Elizabeth of England and Mary Queen of Scots would sit on the throne, but rather, how ordinary women were being stripped of rights and lowered into the status of property. Neither Mary nor Elizabeth’s rule stopped the rise of patriarchy into a monstrous beast that still echoes in the policies and practices of today.

History is long; I could go on with examples across nations, class, and creed. The real challenge of our times is not which super-wealthy Democratic or Republican regime gets to hand out sweet deals and lucky breaks to their friends, but how we, the people, wrest the state apparatus from the death-grip of the “nobility” of our times. Just as fighting for this king or that queen was not as vital as defending the commons, so do I warn you, today, about over-inflating the significance of the vote.

The idea is wonderful; our practice of it, deplorable. Never confuse those two. Prize our ideals. Exercise your right to vote – it is hard-won for 75 percent of our populace. But never allow its current, corrupted incarnation to distract you from working on cultural, economic, social, or any other type of change. Measure for measure, pour your courageous heart into all levels of change. If you spend 10 minutes reading a report about a candidates’ forum, spend the same time reading about – and participating in – strikes for better wages or sit-ins to abolish mass incarceration or shut-downs of insurance offices for affordable healthcare. If you go door-to-door canvassing for a politician, spend an equal amount of time knocking on doors to build support for a boycott of exploitative goods. If you’re willing to throw a house party for an election campaign, go to a local organizer and offer to throw a house party in support of their social justice cause. If you donate to a political campaign, donate to a movement, too.

These are just a few examples. Remember that the elections have become a massive industry. Many of our social justice movements remain shoestring, miracle-workers. Your time, skills, and donations are all deeply appreciated by your fellow citizens who are striving for significant change. Don’t forget them during the shouting matches of our election circuses. Without our movements changing the hearts and minds and daily lives of ordinary people, the mere words on paper that make up legislation have no meaning. Laws are irrelevant if officials ignore them, courts reject them, and people disobey them. Do the legwork of making sure that the populace can uphold justice, not merely because it is the law, but because it is our will, our belief, and our sense of justice turned into a way of life. To do this, you must make change in every level of our lives.

Author/Activist Rivera Sun, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of The Dandelion Insurrection and other books, and a nationally known movement trainer in strategic nonviolence.

Protect the Net 6/13/18

Stop Crony Capitalism: Protect the Net!  –  by Rivera Sun

Rivera Sun

Pretty soon, we’ll all be paying a whole lot more money for Internet service. A few days ago the FCC’s repeal of Net Neutrality went into effect. If nothing is done, it easy to see the handwriting on the wall. After a waiting period of no changes (intended to diffuse public outrage), it’s expected that the telecom giants will broker deals with massive companies like Google and Amazon, giving them the virtual version of a bulk shipping discount while the rest of us pay premium rates to download, upload, and stream. It’s a death knell for struggling small businesses.

There’s still hope for the supporters of Net Neutrality, however, as a Congressional Review Act in the House could overturn the FCC’s ruling. While the left has mobilized repeatedly to defend Net Neutrality, and many conservative citizens have spoken up in earlier phases of the campaign, Republican elected officials are dragging their feet.

It’s hard to figure out why. The attack against Net Neutrality comes as a heavy-handed act of good-ol’-boy crony capitalism that favors the profits of telecom giants over small businesses’ (and everyone else’s) need for fair Internet access and affordability. Conservative voters want Net Neutrality. Senate Republicans have stepped up and helped the CRA move through the Senate. Hundreds of small to mid-size businesses across the political spectrum have demanded Net Neutrality.

One Net Neutrality advocate group is keeping trackof officials’ stances as people struggle to get the House of Representatives to use the Congressional Review Act to overturn the repeal of Net Neutrality. The Democrats are lined up in a neat little row in defense of equal access to the Internet. The Republicans, on the other hand, seem strangely reluctant to walk their talk and fight back against crony capitalism that rewards Big Business at the expense of John Q. Citizen.

It’s one of those awkward moments when the populace on the right and left shares a common protest chant: Don’t Raise Our Rates! None of us need to pay more money for worse Internet service just to satisfy telecom companies’ greed. And that’s what this is all about.

Whether you think of the Internet as a commons-based resource or an equal-access marketplace, both lovers of capitalism and the commons should know that ending Net Neutrality is just plain unfair business. The Internet is a vitally important aspect of contemporary economies, businesses, education, communication, arts and culture, politics and so much more. When fast and slow lanes (guess which one you’ll pay more for) let concentrated wealth buy Internet privileges, the little guys (and that’s the vast majority of us) are going to have a harder and harder time running our businesses, accessing information, and contributing to our society, culture, and economy. Telecom companies’ greed shouldn’t be allowed to aggravate the already horrific inequalities in our country, especially when doing so is flatly unjustified.

Conservatives, this one’s on you. House Republicans are the ones that need to move into action to stop this act of crony capitalism. They’ve certainly campaigned enough on that theme to recognize it in action; now it’s time to stop it.  The Congressional Review Act is the mechanism by which they could act to ensure small businesses have a fair chance. Whether you’re on the right or left of the political spectrum, take a moment to visit the Battle for the Net websiteand contact those representatives.

__Rivera Sun, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of The Dandelion Insurrection, The Roots of Resistance, and other books, including a study guide to making change with nonviolent action. She is the cohost of Love (and Revolution) Radio, and a trainer in strategy for nonviolent movements.

How to Get It Done 3/21/18

Think Outside the Protest Box – by Rivera Sun

Rivera Sun

Protest. Petition. Call your senators. Nothing changes, right? No matter how large our demonstrations get, no matter how many millions of people write and petition politicians, no matter how many people get arrested in front of the White House or at our state capitols, it seems that our (supposedly) elected officials keep turning a blind eye and deaf ear to our cries for change.

In fact, there’s even a study out that shows that in 20 years on 2,000 different bills, we, the People, got our bills through Congress a whopping 0.0 percent of the time. (Yes, you read that correctly. Zero point zero. In other words, “never-ever-not-once”.) Only businesses and rich people managed to get legislation passed. And sure, it looked like we had a few victories, so long as one of those other groups were aligned with us. But when we wanted something they didn’t, nope. Nada. No way. Congress just wasn’t listening.

You’d think we’d learn from 20 years of experience, but to judge from the emails I’m getting as an engaged and caring conscious citizen, we haven’t. I’m supposed to give my reps and senators a ring 40 times a day on as many issues. I’ve been invited to enough DC mass demonstrations and marches this year to take up residence there. And I have to confess to a hefty dose of skepticism that voting this batch of politicians out of office in two to four years is the only way to advance social justice causes. In that timeframe, hundreds of school children could be murdered in mass shootings in schools, hundreds (and probably close to a thousand) black people could be shot dead by police, and dozens of aquifers will be contaminated with fracking toxins and oil spills – to name just a few of the problems that will rack up casualties in the next couple years.

I’m rarely happy to be lied to, but in this case the truth holds more hope that my email list organizations are letting on. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be thrilled to know that we have literally dozens more options for pushing for change than we’re generally told. Getting foot-dragging corporate and oligarch controlled politicians to pass legislation is not our only option. (Thank goodness.)

So what can we do? For one thing, talk to your favorite nonprofits, organizations, and campaigns for change. Ask them to do a thorough strategic analysis of the problem you’re working on. Look for the all the power holders, not just the political ones. Your power holders on the issue may be investors, financiers, technicians, researchers, academics, social trend-setters, police chiefs, school administrators, CEOs and shareholders, and many other types of groups. Analyze the problem carefully before you assume that politicians are the only ones with the power to change the equation. There are many books and online tools to help you with this work.

Do a Pillars of Support analysis to find your leverage points in the equation. Every injustice arises in a system. Find the points of intervention and cut off the flow of labor, money, resources, information, and/or functionality until your demand for change is met. Your best point of intervention may not be on the political front. For example, when Earth Quaker Action Team wanted to stop mountain top removal, they didn’t stop at calling their senators – they shut down the big bank that was financing the coal companies.

If you’re looking for ways to change a complex problem, one with many potential solutions that could be implemented at several levels, see if you can work for change on many fronts, building cumulative campaigns (even simultaneous cumulative campaigns if you want to get really fancy) to implement several sets of changes. For example, when peacebuilders in Gainesville, FL wanted to stop the school-to-prison pipeline, they worked to address the many layers of the problem, helping to start a restorative justice program in both the schools and the juvenile justice system, initiating police-youth dialogues, and working to resource kids and families to meet underlying needs, among other approaches.

Consider doing a Spectrum of Allies to identify your allies. You might be surprised at who/what you discover. Do you need the telecoms giants to back off from Net Neutrality? Net Neutrality supporters include some behemoths like Amazon, Facebook, and Google. If you pointed your campaign at shifting them from fairly passive allies to active allies (say, shutting down all search engine and advertisement traffic to the telecom giants), you’ll have mobilized some powerful allies. Other times, your allies pop up in less powerful groups that are, nonetheless, in powerful positions to serve as pivots of change, One example might be coders, who also advocate for Net Neutrality. Imagine an industry-wide coders’ strike for Net Neutrality . . . it might be a fairly rapid and swift way to shift the equation on this issue.

We have more power than we think. But we’ve got to go beyond the “protest-petition-call officials-vote” routine. Think outside that box, and you’ll find a world of creative solutions and strategies to tap into. I’d like to issue a challenge to all of our nonprofits and organizing groups to at least employ a one-for-one strategy. If you’re going to ask people to call public officials or join a large protest, add a second strategy that uses an organized, sustained, and strategic act of noncooperation and/or intervention targeted at a second group of power holders. The time has come to double down on strategy and make great strides toward change.

Author/Activist Rivera Sun, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of The Dandelion Insurrection, The Roots of Resistance, and many other books, including a study guide to making change with nonviolent action. She is the cohost of Love (and Revolution) Radio, and a trainer in strategy for nonviolent movements.

Clock is Ticking 3/14/18

We are the Legends of Tomorrow – An Essay of the Man from the North

by Rivera Sun

Rivera Sun

The clock is ticking. Tick. Tick. Tick. Can you hear it? We have only . . . One minute, 48 seconds until United States poverty claims another life….Two minutes until midnight, with nuclear annihilation looming….25 hours and 21 minutes until the next mass shooting….28 hours until the next Black citizen is shot by the police….10 years give or take, until the effects of climate change send us hurtling toward extinction.

The question of action is when, not if. We must leap into the unknown, for the known world is dying and will surely kill us if we stay. It is only a matter of time: minutes, hours, years . . . no more than that. The path we are on is doomed, disastrous, and deadly.

Yet, we fret about repaying 20 or 30 year-long debts. We worry about losing pensions and retirement plans. We buy houses and plan to sell them in a decade. When the politicians outrage us with yet another abuse, we are quick to swear we’ll vote them out of office in two or four years. Why can we not remind them that resignations and impeachments can strike as swiftly as lightning in a summer storm? If we can think years ahead in this ticking time bomb of a self-destructive system, then why can we not envision another world and commit to the journey-quest of getting there?

This is the moment for each of us to dare to dream beyond the rigid constructs of today, to envision a better world and strive for it with all of the courage and passion of the heroes of our much-loved tales. We must untether our lifeboats from the sinking ship of our culture and cast off into uncharted waters. Vision is our compass, the magnetic pull of what could be. Nonviolent action serves as our sail and hull, the mechanisms of our vehicle of change. Our hearts must be our tiller, guiding us through troubled waters. The wind that propels us is necessity, the mother of invention, grandmother of human evolution.

Now is always the time to act. Now is the time for revolutionary change. Now is the time to risk all to gain all – everything we know is already at risk. The time for change is always now. It is the only time we have.

Adventure is at hand. We need not look to movies or books to touch the thrill of epics and myths. We are the Frodos of our time. We are the Company that joined him. The fate of our world hinges not on good vs. evil, but on the life-sustaining vs. the destructive. If you look closely, that is what all great epics revolve around. Beneath the rhetoric of morality and religion, that which affirms life is lifted up as “good” and that which destroys, discriminates, and oppresses is labeled “evil”. Human existence has grown from these truths. Evolution has been built on honoring the life-affirming and rejecting greed-based destruction.

Today, we have a secret power of which the writers of the older myths could scarcely dream: nonviolent action gives us tools with which to deconstruct the machinery of destruction and to construct new ways of life. Never in his wildest dreams did Tolkien imagine that his heroes could save their world while avoiding becoming the violence-wielding cruelty they opposed, but our myths and legends can be built on the knowledge won by the nonviolent warriors of our times: Gandhi, King, Chavez, Gbowee, Thich Nhat Hanh, and millions more whose names we do not know, but whose struggles stand immortalized by time, their feats of nonviolent strength having built any shred of justice or liberty we enjoy at this point in time.

We are living legends that could never be imagined by the storytellers of times past. The 11th hour of our world is at hand. But beware! All the secret powers of all the vast myths and epics ever told will not save us if we do not use them. The time has come to put aside the trappings of ordinary life. We must pick up the tools that will turn our lives into the legends of tomorrow.

The clock is ticking . . .

The Man from the North is a fictional writer in Rivera Sun’s novel, The Dandelion Insurrection. The novel takes place in the near future, in “a time that looms around the corner of today,” when a rising police state controlled by the corporate-political elite have plunged the nation into the grip of a hidden dictatorship. In spite of severe surveillance and repression, the Man from the North’s banned articles circulate through the land, reporting on resistance and fomenting nonviolent revolution. This article is one of a series written by The Man from the North, which are not included in the novel, but can be read here. Author/Activist Rivera Sun is syndicated by PeaceVoice.


Less Fingers More Do 2/21/18

Stopping Mass Shootings: Less Finger Pointing, More Action – by Rivera Sun

Rivera Sun

In the wake of yet another school shooting, everyone from ordinary citizens to pundits to politicians seems to be engaged in one of our favorite and least effective responses: finger pointing and passing blame. It’s like a toxic and deadly game of hot potato. The NRA shrieks and throws the blame onto mental health. Mental health advocates holler and toss it toward schools and parenting. Teachers and parents reel in grief and horror and throw the issue at politicians. Legislators try to drop the issue as their donors and lobbyists screech at them – or they lob it at their opposition like a political weapon.

Shirking our responsibilities on this issue is negligent, egocentric, and at this point in our crisis, utterly shameful. Mass shootings do not have silver bullet solutions. There is no single change we can make that will end this tragic horror that haunts our communities. School shootings – and other mass shooting events – arise amidst a toxic storm of potential causes. In some way or another, they are all related. Instead of pointing fingers, every industry, social sector, agency, and organization that has even the remotest connection to the problem should step up to resolve their piece of the puzzle.

Here are just a few ways the tangled web of causes underlying school shootings could be unraveled by all of us.

Imagine a world in which:

· Politicians, valuing our children more than the NRA, supported at least another moratorium on assault weapon sales (like we had from 1994-2004) until it is shown that there is no connection between these weapons and mass shootings. Or, seeing the success of nations that banned assault weapons (such as Australia), our politicians found the moral courage to defy the NRA and give it a try.

· The NRA, eager to demonstrate their points with solid data, supported the politicians in the moratorium, and went even further to address and resolve the underlying issues that compel people to pick up guns and commit murder. Funding programs to address violence, mental health, anti-bullying, and more, they actively worked to show that if “guns don’t kill people; people do,” then they want to be a part of the effort to make sure people don’t use assault weapons for mass shootings.

· Campaign donors refused to donate to politicians who aren’t actively working to end mass shootings, like Republican donor Al Hoffman, Jr. just did.

· Gun sellers refused to sell automated assault weapons, instituted store policies of longer wait periods and better background checks. Major corporations followed in Walmart’s footsteps and stopped selling assault rifles altogether.

· Legislators, seeing the wisdom in the teachers’ call to support our youth’s social, emotional, and psychological needs, voted to give our teachers and schools the broader resources and funding they have requested.

· Pharmaceutical companies, on the off-chance that their psychiatric and anti-depressant drugs are triggering mass shootings, recalled their products that include known side effects of violent urges, or funded better follow-up with patients to prevent violent episodes.

· Schools and students, recognizing that bullying causes isolation, alienation, and aggression in youths and has been connected to several school shootings, mobilized broader support and engagement with anti-bullying programs, specifically reaching out to students who are being alienated.

· Parents, counselors, and others, identifying a connection between domestic/dating violence and many school shootings, launched intervention programs that successfully taught youth other ways to handle conflict than violence.

· Video game companies, appalled at the possible connection between violent games and youth assaulting other youth, shifted their gaming concepts dramatically.

· Hollywood, likewise concerned about their role in the glorification of violence, sought out scripts and directors who used less violence in movies.

· Mental health professionals, knowing both the uses and limits of their field, came together to help communities strategize an effective approach for dealing with the challenges we face.

· The military, concerned by the chance that JROTC programs indoctrinate and train people who become mass shooters, enacts a moratorium on their programs in K-12 schools.

· The military industrial complex, recognizing the potential connection between militarization and the culture of violence, and between weapons manufacturing, the NRA, and domestic weapons sales; became a voice for demilitarization.

· Our communities as a whole identified the many manifestations of the culture of violence and joined movements and campaigns like Campaign Nonviolence that seeks to shift the United States to a culture of peace and active nonviolence.

· White supremacist groups, acknowledging that adherents to their beliefs have perpetrated horrific crimes, actively worked to de-escalate the violence of their ideologies. Meanwhile, the rest of us, recognizing that supremacy is a form of violence and that these groups use physical violence as a form of supremacist terror, pushed adherents of these beliefs to connect with campaigns like Life After Hate which helps people leave hate groups.

· Parents, Men, and Supporters, seeing how toxic masculinity connects to extreme violence, take active steps to unravel the beliefs and worldviews, replacing them with constructive alternative narratives.

· Citizens, seeing the broad systemic crisis of alienation, despair, and isolation that a hyper-capitalist society can create, work in numerous ways to reweave the fabric of community and build more meaningful, connected ways of life.

· Politicians, judges, and citizens, recognizing the lives lost due to lack of political action on this issue, worked together to overturn Citizens United, getting money out of politics and returning political power back to the people. A functional democracy responds to the needs of its citizens, not the greed of its lobby groups.

These are just some of the ways we could be addressing the tragedy of school shootings. Many of these groups or individuals are pointing the finger elsewhere, and trying to cast off any culpability in these tragedies. Instead, we could all step up to the plate and take responsibility. If there is even the slightest shadow of possibility that our industry or profession is connected, our love for our children and fellow human beings should be great enough to take action to change.

If we are committed to ending these shootings, we don’t need to argue about which one of these is the way to fix the problem. Our children – and fellow human beings of all ages – are worth shifting gears and working in diverse ways toward the common goal. Wherever we see a possibility of connection, we can work to fix that part of the problem, applying our energy to solutions. The silver lining is that each and every single one of these issues is a problem in-and-of itself. Addressing them all increases the health and well-being of our whole society. Find a point of intervention and go to work.

Author/Activist Rivera Sun, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of The Dandelion Insurrection and other books, and the cohost of Love (and Revolution) Radio.

Electric Trains for Us 2/7/18

Bring on Solutionary Rail! – by Rivera Sun

Rivera Sun

It’s not every day that you run across an idea so elegant, so eminently practical that your jaw literally drops as you stagger beneath the shock of your huge “aha” moment. Solutionary Rail did that for me. Rail experts and long-time activists from Backbone Campaign have struck gold with their well-researched proposal to electrify America’s railroads.

Solutionary Rail: a people-powered campaign to electrify America’s railroads and open corridors to a clean energy future is a book, a proposal, a profound vision, and an exciting multi-pronged solution all rolled into one bundle. Electrifying our rail system to run on renewable energy is just plain good sense. It creates jobs. It reduces carbon emissions. It increases freight transport efficiency. It solves the looming highway repair budget shortfalls. It works toward economic justice for rural and Indigenous communities. It contains an astonishing multiplier effect as it meets the demands of climate change.

So, what’s the drawback? (I can hear you, oh skeptics.) The usual: money and political willpower. The Solutionary Rail team addresses those concerns with interestingly viable solutions. To deal with the hefty investment required to transition to electrified rails, they propose a public-private partnership that minimizes the profit-motive from the investor side. It’s not a new idea. It’s how the original rail system was built. And speaking of old-fashioned ideas turned new, electric rail was actually a viable part of our railroading history. In the 1960s, however, internal politics and the development of the interstate highways that sank electric rail, even though the system was far more economical and efficient than diesel.

United States citizens have long bemoaned the sad state of our rails. As an avid rail rider myself, I’ve traveled across our beautiful country by train more times than I can count. It’s amazing. The rail lines are national (and neglected) treasures. You can see the heart and soul of the United States from these routes less-traveled. Also, when riding trains, you hear and see your fellow Americans in ways you never do while shuffling through airport security or crammed into your tiny airplane seat.

Revitalizing rail travel holds some unusual bonuses, such as a deepened understanding of the vast terrain and tangible unique diversity of this nation. It might rekindle our experiential understanding of our incredible ecosystems, and also remind everyone of the small towns, rural regions, urban corridors, water ways and mountain crossings that are hidden from the view of the interstate highway system.

Solutionary Rail offers us a vision for transforming our railroads and creating jobs along the way. In a nation the size of the United States, rail travel and transport makes nothing but sense. Solutionary Rail shows that electrified rail is more than feasible. It’s being done around the world. Seventy percent of Russia’s freight lines are already electrified. Ninety percent of France’s passenger rail trips are on an electrified system. Renewable energy experts demonstrate that we have the renewable resources to run our rails on solar and wind. In the book, railroad engineers also explain how electric engines can even generate energy while braking, something we see in our hybrid cars now.

And, where the political willpower is lacking, well, that’s Backbone Campaign’s specialty. They’re skilled campaigners for change – if anyone can put Solutionary Rail on the national agenda, it’s them. Pairing their knowledge with the expertise of railroad engineers, and renewable energy experts, it takes Solutionary Rail out of the realms of dreams and halfway into reality. Their proposal is well-researched, solid, and tantalizingly possible. The Solutionary Rail book includes action steps for citizens to get involved in the campaign to bring this proposal to the plates of policy makers and power holders. The sooner the better, I say!

Author/Activist Rivera Sun, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of The Dandelion Insurrection and other books. She is a nonviolent strategy trainer and a regular contributor to journals across the country.

Keystone = Net Neutrality 12/20/17

Net Neutrality: Gandhi’s Salt For US – by Rivera Sun

It comes as a surprise.

Rivera Sun

Net Neutrality is the keystone issue in the movement of movements. It is poised to become as pivotal to our interconnected struggles as the Salt March was for Gandhi and the Indian Self-Rule Movement.

This week, the FCC repealed Net Neutrality rules in blatant disregard of the 83 percent of US citizens who declared support for Net Neutrality. Overlooked for years, often misunderstood, Net Neutrality is as ubiquitous to our lives as salt was to Gandhi’s India. And the corporate state, our version of the tyrannical British Empire, might have just blundered into their undoing.

The end of Net Neutrality is as odious to us as the British Colonial government’s monopoly on salt was to the Indians. Salt was an essential ingredient for preserving life and health in humid, pre-refrigeration India. Net Neutrality and classifying the Internet as a public utility is essential for fair, affordable, and equal access to the Internet, and thus, the life of US citizens, as well as our innovation, creativity, information, education, research, marketplace, exchange, dialogue, organizing, and so much more.

Telecom giants like Comcast and Verizon have sought the end of Net Neutrality for years. This allows them to create a two-tiered system of Internet access, charging people for “fast lanes” and relegating everything else into “slow lanes”. The chilling effect this will have on our economy, research, movements, and society is incalculable. It is a massive advance for the corporate state’s takeover and privatization of all sectors of our nation. With it, they can control everything we see (or don’t see) through their greed. Money buys society in the capitalist world. For years, the Internet has opened up arenas of public space beyond what money can buy. The sheer volume of non-commercialized creativity and information online is staggering. It matches the incredible resources of the early commons. And, like the commons, the greedy have found a way to enclose them and charge us more and more for access.

Gandhi’s Salt Campaign offers us a model of how to get out of this mess – not just from the odious injustice of the end of Net Neutrality, but also from the tyranny of corporate rule. In 1930, salt was a keystone, yet stealth issue. When the Indian National Congress tasked Mohandas K. Gandhi with planning a new campaign against the British Empire’s colonial rule, no one expected the Salt Satyagraha would unravel the empire that the sun never set upon. Even Gandhi’s buddies were skeptical about salt. As for Lord Irwin, Viceroy of India, he famously stated that he wouldn’t lose any sleep over salt.

Instead, he lost the country.

Salt was an unexpected issue, but it touched every Indian citizen’s life. And, when Gandhi announced that he was going to use civil disobedience to directly disobey the “odious salt laws” and render them unenforceable through mass noncooperation, millions of ordinary Indians cheered. In defiance of the salt laws, they made, sold, and bought salt. Even more importantly, they openly refused to obey the British Empire and thus ousted the Brits from authority. This showed the Indians what Gandhi had been saying for decades: a paltry hundred thousand British cannot rule over 320 million Indians without the Indians cooperation. Deny your support, and British rule will crumble.

Fast forward to contemporary United States, which also has 320 million people and faces a parallel of colonial rule in the corporate state. In the case of telecom giants like Verizon and Comcast, well, they’re enjoying a monopoly on our modern-day salt of Internet access. With the repeal of Net Neutrality, they’re positioned to do like the British and start charging us for something we need for everyday life and survival.

But we can pull a Gandhi and make salt.

The Salt Satyagraha combined what’s known as constructive program and an obstructive program of civil disobedience to unjust laws. The Indians made salt (constructive) and broke the law en masse (obstructive). They marched, demonstrated, protested, wrote essays and made speeches about salt, using those acts of protest and persuasion to connect the issue of the salt laws with the need to end British rule.

We can do the same with Net Neutrality. We can “make salt” by supporting and building out local community broadband. This is already being done in many poor rural and urban communities that were ignored and marginalized by telecom giants seeking bigger profits in wealthier areas. Support this effort. It is needed in both the short and long term for breaking the telecom giants’ monopolies and putting more diverse and democratic control into our Internet.

We can defy en masse the corporate state’s attempt at colonial exploitation of US citizens. Governor of Washington State Jay Inslee just announced a plan of action to uphold Net Neutrality standards in defiance of the FCC. California Senator Scott Wiener plans to introduce similar legislation in January. Support a similar effort in your state. These will be vitally important in reinstating Net Neutrality not just through the FCC, but as a long-term industry standard.

We can also pressure our Congress Members to use the Congressional Review Act to pass a “resolution of disapproval” that overturns the FCC decision in the next 60 days. We can also support the state-led lawsuits against the FCC.

Perhaps most importantly, we can connect the issue of Net Neutrality with the bigger problem of corporate control. In our protests, marches, demonstrations, online posts, articles, and discussions we need to make the connection known: we are being ruled over by a corporate state that has ended citizen democracy in the United States. If, like Gandhi and the Indians, we wish to cease being a colony (of corporations in our case) and implement democratic self-rule, we need make sure every one of our fellow citizens sees the repeal of Net Neutrality as a symbol of the greed and corruption of corporate rule.

The struggle ahead of us is challenging . . . and vitally important to our lives. Take heart from the example of salt. Use it to take action today. When we organize, we win, as Popular Resistance founders and Net Neutrality campaigners Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese say.

Net Neutrality is our salt. Let’s use it to end corporate rule.

Author/Activist Rivera Sun, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of The Dandelion Insurrection and has just launched the sequel, The Roots of Resistance.

How About You 5/17/17

Radical Love – by Rivera Sun

Rivera Sun

I used to think of love as a side dish to social political change – the green beans next to the meat and potatoes of power and struggle. But, the more I live in the gritty world of honest humanity, the more I suspect that love is the essential mineral lacking in our nation’s veins. We’ve got deficiency symptoms: tremors, shakes, deliriums, rages, madness, fits, addictions, and lashings out. Every cell in our collective and individual bodies is screaming for this nutrient called love. And because we can’t get it, we crave paltry substitutions such as power, domination, money, and violence.

Privilege provides no shelter from this deficiency. In fact, it tends to make it worse. For the structure of success in the United States of America has been built on a centuries-old devil’s bargain in which we cut out a piece of our heart to secure money, power, and position. From the early colonists massacring Native Americans to ensure their place on this continent to contemporary politicians giving tax breaks to the wealthy while cutting healthcare funding for the poor, we see the trade off of love over and over again. Our compassion atrophies in the dog-eat-dog version of reality that we’ve created in the United States. It shrinks down to a peanut-sized organ capable of loving only one’s family, or dog, or the people who look, act, and think just like one’s self. The withered hearts sold piecemeal for wealth and power have lost the capacity to love boldly and widely, in broad and inclusive ways that extend to their fellow citizens or even to the whole of humanity worldwide.

When our souls cry out in shakes and rages from lack of love, we lash out to the extent our power permits. The poor hurt each other. The rich pass policies that hurt millions of people. Some pull guns on one another; politicians drop bombs on foreign countries. We start fights in our families; our military wages war overseas. A child steals candy from a younger sibling; the wealthy steal trillions from the rest of us. The neighbor refuses to help us when we’re sick; our Congresspersons cut funding for healthcare. Rich, poor, powerful and marginalized, wherever this deficiency of love arises, cruelty and suffering abound. Beneath the screaming torrent of other rationales and excuses are broken human beings shuddering in the grips of a multi-generational deficiency that is slowly – or rapidly – killing us, our nation, and the earth.

Hundreds of campaigns are launched on all sides of the political spectrum to “save the world” or the whales or the workers or the economy or family values or civil rights . . . everything! Most of them deliver a right-left punch to the other side that essentially shouts, “you bad, evil people, stop that at once!” Every time we attack each other in such a manner, our mineral deficiency drops lower on both sides of the conflict.

Perhaps people in the social justice movements don’t notice. The feelings of solidarity that can arise within movements can mask the ways hate for one’s opposition depletes the soul. More obvious is the effect within the opposition. Sensing hate from the movement, their hearts close off, the deficiency of love drops further, and they lash out violently, entrenching in defense of their actions. It’s ironic, because the very behaviors or policies the movement objects to came about because the people involved in the injustice sought to satisfy their aching craving for love through greed, domination, control, power, violence, or discrimination. By attacking them, we’re sowing the seeds for more of the same vicious cycle.

Vilifying people often fails to address the root of the problem, the deep hurts and wounds, fears and insecurities that people carry. There are thousands of wounded people in positions of power, millions waiting in the wings to take their places, and a whole nation raging and moaning for love, hurting one another in large and small ways.

So, I propose a radical approach: that we bring love into our movements for change, adopting Dr. King’s principle to be against injustice, not against people. We cannot condone destructive and harmful behaviors and policies. However, we can learn to see each other with the eyes of love, to look at our fellow human beings with compassion and sorrow over such actions, rather than hate and fury. In so doing, we can begin to replenish that mineral deficiency that is killing our nation’s soul, not to mention the bodies of our brothers and sisters, and the vitality of the planet. We can recognize the underlying void in the cells and marrow of people that causes them to behave in such destructive ways. We can begin to satisfy the deep craving for respect and understanding – which are often ways that love is expressed in public settings.

I believe we will go further in our efforts toward justice if we break down the walls of hate and fear that have arisen between factions of our populace. I think bringing groups who currently stand opposed to one another into face-to-face encounters is as radically transformational as protests, boycotts, and strikes. Creating situations where people must listen to each other’s viewpoints, hear each other’s stories, and deal with real humans, not just statistics, can be as positively confrontational as direct action. And, I have faith that approaching one another with basic love and respect even in the midst of opposing unjust policies and practices allows the humanity that exists in all of us to resurface. It helps those who have made devil’s bargains to reclaim pieces of their hearts. It prevents us from making the same mistake and cutting off a part of our broad love for humanity in order to hate our opposition. I think this approach is complementary to a movement’s use of firm, strategic, nonviolent action to stop injustice and harm. In addition, it offers us a powerful path toward healing in a deep and profound way.

Our other option – the one we’ve been using – is to hate each other more, attack more, despise one another in increasing cycles of animosity and division. We are locked in modes of trying to overpower our “enemies,” prove them wrong and punish them for their bad ways of thinking. In response, they attack us back, defend their positions, and try to dominate us in response. We have dug ourselves into a deep and dangerous hole that has led to horrific suffering, cruelty, and pain. I’d like to climb out of that hole. If that requires a radical act of love against impossible odds, I’m willing to do it.

How about you?

Author/Activist Rivera Sun, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of The Dandelion Insurrection and other books, and cohosts Love (and Revolution) Radio.

Nope It Matters 4/26/17

Blind Slogans and Shallow Greatness  – by Rivera Sun

Rivera Sun

The airplane is packed shoulder to shoulder. In my row, sat a young couple from Texas. She is wearing a red “Make America Great Again” tee-shirt. My laptop bears a bumper sticker for my novel, The Dandelion Insurrection, about a nonviolent movement is a (slightly) fictional United States. Her boyfriend – who has the build of a football player – is reading a romance novel with his ball cap pulled low over his brow.

Out of mischief and curiosity, I asked her, “So what makes America great?”

Flustered, she deferred to her boyfriend. I inwardly rolled my eyes at a woman who would defer to a man to articulate an answer about the slogan she was wearing.

“Well,” he answered, “I think everyone should support the President no matter what.”

A dozen counter-remarks popped into my head about the dangers of blind devotion, totalitarianism, dictators, and how dissent is essential for democracy, but before I can sort out how to begin, he continued.

“And, I think the ability to work one’s ass off and get ahead in the world – you know, like rags-to-riches. That makes America great. A lot of countries don’t have that.”

Before I can tell him that India has a higher upward mobility than the United States, he clams up, reopening his book and clearly closing the conversation. Does he realize that the rags-to-riches story of Horatio Alger was fiction? The notion was always more mythological than metaphorical, hinging on our ideals rather than our reality. Even in the best of times, the journey from rags to riches was not an equal opportunity employer due to sexism, racism, and other forms of discrimination that stacked decks of fortune in favor of some more than others.

A real-life Horatio Alger story might involve some hard work, but they often rely on access to capital, networks of social and business connections, illegal maneuvers (such as Bill Gates stealing time on government computers to build his first software program), the helping hand of government programs like the GI Bill, or the homeowner lending programs that excluded Hispanics and African Americans. I wonder if the young man realizes that Trump built his fortune with millions of dollars inherited from his father. If we all received millions to fund our businesses and projects, I have little doubt that most of us would rapidly advance up the social and economic ladders of our world.

On the other hand, there’s an honest grievance to the young man’s comment, one with which I can largely agree. The notion that we should be rewarded for hard work is an honorable concept, one that emerged out of centuries of class injustice wherein serfs, peons, slaves, indentured servants, and forced or conscripted laborers were denied advancement both socially and economically. To be born poor was to live poor, work hard, and die poor, often buried in a pauper’s grave. The idea that hard work could improve one’s lot in life is a form of resistance to such widespread class injustice. Had he not stuck his head back in his book (ironically, a romance novel about impossible love between a nobleman and a peasant woman), I might have taken the opportunity to agree with his view that we should be able to work hard and get ahead . . . with a few qualifications.

First, we shouldn’t have to “work our asses off.” A sustainable, eight-hour workday ought to provide a living wage, including our current social necessities such as cellphones and Internet access, transportation, healthcare, and higher education. This requires that the standard wage for the 40-hour workweek be significantly higher than our current low and minimum wage jobs provide.

Second, the ability to work should not be a requirement for survival. A society should be able to provide and care for those who cannot work – such as children, elders, the infirm, injured, disabled, or ill. A social safety net should be set in place to ensure basic needs for everyone in our society.

Third, the inequities and injustices that plague our nation must be addressed. It does not “make America great” to allow advancement for some people, but not others, based on distinctions of race, gender, sexuality, political views, or age. Equality and justice for all has been a long-held, much cherished, and largely unrealized American deal for a long time . . . which brings me to my last point.

What “makes America great” needs to be a longer list than merely working hard and making money. It needs to contain an analysis of what doesn’t make America great, where we need to be critical and sharply observant of our behaviors, policies, and beliefs. It needs to include stark understandings of the Grand Canyon wide gap between our slogans and our realities. Trump’s slogan on the tee-shirt demands long, hard conversations, not blind loyalty and unquestioned patriotism. Our discussion about what makes America great (or doesn’t make it great) could have lasted the entire three-hour flight.

But it didn’t.

He closed the conversation. She squirmed uncomfortably. I eyed her for a moment then decided to try asking for her opinion again. Turning to the blonde-haired, blue-jeaned 20-something year old, I asked,

“Do you have any thoughts to add? You’re wearing the tee-shirt after all.”

She waved her hand in denial of the question.

“Oh, I’m not political,” she said.

Yes, you are, my silent thoughts answered in a steely tone. We all are. Our tee-shirts, words, silence, assumptions, myths, lies, inaccuracies, fears, policies – all of it is political.

She avoided the look in my eyes and studied her phone. He read his romance novel. I gritted my teeth. We flew in silence across the vast distance of our nation.

Author/Activist Rivera Sun, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of The Dandelion Insurrection and other books, and cohosts Love (and Revolution) Radio.

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