The Seeds of Rebellion Are Taking Root, and Protests Against Injustices Are Blooming Across the Country
Stephen Shapiro describes Occupy as a “dandelion moment” in which the movement successfully dispersed seeds to float and root, thereby growing into a bigger movement. We would not limit the seeds to the US Occupy, but include the Arab Spring, the Indignados, the current revolts in Brazil and Turkey and the new phase of revolt in Egypt. All of these mass actions spread around the globe like seeds spurring more mass actions. In the US we certainly see ongoing activism around many issues and flowers of resistance growing.
Shapiro also describes the moment we are in as a potential pre-history moment, asking: “What if we are in a time akin to the early 60s and in a few years there is a May 1968 moment?” The actions around the country indicate a potential pre-history moment, a lot is bubbling around the country, not quite boiling but getting hotter.
This week the verdict in the George Zimmerman case caused strong reactions with thousands marching throughout the country, sometimes met with abusive police force like the LAPD shooting rubber bullets. While people were directly upset with the verdict, they also connected the decision to evidence of widespread racially unfair bias in the criminal justice system, white privilege, the long history of racism in the United States and the disregard for young black men. People are focusing on repealing “Stand Your Ground” laws that have been pushed by groups like ALEC and the NRA. In fact, Floridians have occupied Gov. Scott’s office for three days, here’s what you can do. But, they are also thinking more broadly about how to build a new civil rights movement and not allow the energy created by this verdict to dissipate, but continue to build. Florida has another Zimmerman-like case coming up, the Department of Justice is looking into civil rights charges, and given the much-too-common killings of African Americans by police and others, there will continue to be reasons for anger.
One of the worst aspects of the criminal justice system in the US is the widespread use of solitary confinement. Solitary Watch reports that 80,000 to 90,000 inmates live in solitary confinement on any single day. Only 8 nations have more total prisoners than the US has in solitary confinement. Thousands of prisoners in California are on a hunger strike to protest solitary confinement. Truthout.org is in the midst of an excellent series introducing people to the prisoners on hunger strikes, we republished two of their stories, Jeffrey Franklin and George Ruiz.
Hunger strikes are an important tool, usually a last resort, for prisoners and others. Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, gives a brief history of hunger strikes and their impact. There is currently a widespread hunger strike among Guantanamo prisoners as well as solidarity hunger strikes in the United States, several are long-term strikers. In Greece, there was a successful hunger strike this week. A prisoner sentenced to 2.5 years without a trial went on a 38 day hunger strike and was released on bail.
Another issue that is helping seeds of resistance take root is the disclosure of NSA spying by Edward Snowden. It has become clear that the goal of the NSA was to capture it all; and they even wanted more than the mass Internet and telephone dragnet they already have, e.g. they wanted banks to provide them with all financial records of Americans. Thanks to Alfred McCoy we can see the long history of the development of the surveillance state since 1898. McCoy shows how big the dragnet is by describing the capacity of the new NSA facility in “Utah, whose storage capacity is measured in ‘yottabytes,’ each the equivalent of a trillion terabytes. . . 15 terabytes could store every publication in the Library of Congress.” And, he describes how surveillance is going into space “omnipresent digital surveillance networks that will envelop the Earth” where the US can not only monitor millions of people, but can also create weapons that blind entire armies or kill individuals.
This will only happen if the people let it. As George Orwell says in his final warning “It is up to us.” Law professor Randy Barnett, describes the NSA dragnet searches as unconstitutional. Now a coalition of groups, organized by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, has sued to stop the “illegal and unconstitutional program of dragnet electronic surveillance.” Also this week two unusual people spoke up for Snowden and criticized the NSA program. Former President Jimmy Carter said Snowden’s leak was “beneficial” to the country and that the NSA dragnet shows the US does not have a “functioning democracy.” And, a former Republican Senator, Gordon Humphrey, wrote Snowden to tell him he “did the right thing.”
Snowden seems to be trapped in Moscow where he sought asylum and accepted Russia’s offer. His lawyer says he has no plans to leave because US actions that threaten his right to asylum put him at risk. An example is the attack on the Bolivian president’s airplane, which has united South American nations in opposition. Glenn Greenwald put out a warning to the United States that Snowden has the blueprint for NSA spying that could destroy their spy network. Snowden is not planning to release this information, but it will be released if he is harmed. Despite the risks, Snowden told a group of human rights activists that he had “no regrets.” But, as Snowden is hunted by the US we must ask what we can do to protect him. Snowden reminds us of the importance of individual action to the future of the country.
And, NSA spying is just one piece of the growing security state. Now we have learned that the government has the ability to rapidly read license plates as cars drive by to track drivers; and that there is a growing increase in use of iris scans, starting in schools, which will be used as a substitute for identification like driver’s licenses; and that we have now seen the first arrest based on facial recognition technology. Whistleblower, Marsha Coleman-Adebayo reports that the government is pushing 5 million civil servants to spy on each other. The government so fears people knowing the truth that Homeland Security workers are being told not to read about the leaked documents.
Knowledge of the problems, corruption and dysfunction are inspiring individuals to engage in resistance. Examples are Brandon Toy who threw down his weapons and said he would no longer participate in war, realizing that if all soldiers did so, there would be no wars and Christopher Munoz, who successfully stood up against redeployment to Afghanistan. Max Zahn, is another individual taking action by meditating outside of Goldman Sachs every lunch hour in a ‘Buddha on Strike’ protest. He started alone, now others are joining him. And, Lynne Jackson is making a 133 mile ‘Journey for Justice’ to seek freedom for Yassin Aref who was convicted of terrorism charges. New evidence has been discovered showing mistaken identification of him, which had not been provided to his defense counsel.
People are also organizing together in new coalitions. We saw two examples of people joining together across political philosophies to oppose the escalation of US military intervention into Syria. In Oklahoma, a press conference and protest included Republicans, Democrats, progressives and libertarians. And, a national group of people under the name Come Home America [disclosure, Kevin Zeese is a co-founder of the group] made up of people from the right, left and in-between have signed a letter urging no more intervention into Syria.
The ‘Moral Monday’ protests continued for the 11th consecutive week. They had planned to unite around women’s issues but decided to expand their focus this week to include racism in the criminal justice system shown by George Zimmerman’s acquittal for killing Trayvon Martin.
People are also coming together across issues to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Through Flush the TPP, they are organizing #TPPTuesdays that highlight this big business power grab that will give corporations absolute power over our lives. The TPP will affect labor laws, environmental protection, regulation of banks, healthcare, food safety, internet rights and other issues. Here’s a video in which “Oli Garch” explains why the TPP will make labor laws disappear. It is a tremendous opportunity for solidarity across issues and for a win against transnational corporate power.
Low wage workers are taking a stand to protect worker rights. Many who work for chains like McDonalds, Wendy’s and Burger King are organizing through the FastFoodForward campaign. McDonald’s recently embarrassed itself when it planned to teach their workers how to live on their McDonald’s income but gave up when they discovered they couldn’t. This week there was a one-day strike by food service workers at the Smithsonian Institution. And in Baltimore, United Workers protested a developer slated to receive more than $100 million government subsidies while employees still struggle for a living wage. Despite immense challenges, and reprimands from employers, these protests continue to grow.
There is a dichotomy about what feeds protest movements. The hardships experienced when the government fails to act in the interests of people and the feelings of success when it does respond both motivate people to take action. Even small successes are something to build on, as happened this week.
In Ohio, where activists have been seeking to stop hydrofracking for more than a year, two major oil and gas companies dropped out of fracking in the Delaware River Basin. It was a significant victory, and the reaction is what we would expect – “it certainly doesn’t stop there!” In Oregon where students have been fighting tuition increases and college debt, the legislature passed a law that could solve the problem and cut the banks out of the process. The result, no doubt, students in other states will push for similar laws. And, in Richmond, CA the city has done what housing activists have been pushing for across the country – getting the local government to use its eminent domain power to seize underwater houses threatened with foreclosure and re-finance them. What will happen? If it works, activists will push cities across the country to do the same.
Movements are also fed by the corruption and dysfunction of the government and economy that creates widespread economic insecurity for people. The push by transnational corporations and governments for neoliberal economics is expanding a massive wealth divide that creates misery for most people. Worldwide it means that the 300 wealthiest have wealth equal to 3 billion people; in the US the 100 wealthiest have the wealth of 165 million Americans. This has been at the heart of protests in the US and around the world.
While governments have tried to shut down the voices of dissent by criminalizing their behavior and with aggressive law enforcement, such clamp downs increase the pressure, which can only be relieved by addressing the problems created by a failing economy.
Writer Chris Hedges points out that one of the keys to resistance is facing reality – understanding how dire the situation is and deciding to fight against it. It is becoming harder to avoid reality as whistleblowers reveal the truth and as the impact of legislation hits home. More Americans are going to feel the pain of poverty as the government cuts back on programs that alleviate hunger – programs that have worked for decades.
And, the deep corruption becomes more evident. This week it was reported that two of Obama’s former top aides are now working for TransCanada pushing tar sands pipelines that create major environmental risks to the bread basket of America, Alaska and climate change.
As a result of all of this the call for transformation continues to grow. We see week by week actions taken on a wide range of issues throughout the United States and world. When the next national wave will rise is impossible to predict but it is building. Anonymous made a call for nationwide protests on November 5th, The Lion Sleeps No More, against the abuses of government. Will that be a moment? Time will tell.
But, more people are seeing that the impact of civil resistance on government abuse – whether a dictatorship or democracy – is significant. Governments are being reshaped by mass popular resistance because they have been unable to respond to problems without the pressure of the people.
As we noted at the outset, like dandelions, the seeds of rebellion are being sown around the world. It is in small social movements where these seeds begin to take hold. And, as these movements grow, they become a power unto themselves that can reshape nations. The roots of rebellion are in social movements and governments should pay heed because “With technological advancements and opportune conjunctures, the underdogs of yesterday can quickly turn into the makers of tomorrow.”