Volume 21, Number 5
March of the Dead
Direct Action Changes
Winter Soldier Rules of Engagement
Gabriel San román
If the Left Debated the Campaign Issues
Radar, Star Wars, & the Czech Republic
A Dutch Letterbox
"Good News," Iraq & Beyond, Part II
Roberto j. González
Karen Nadder Lago
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Five Years Later, Direct Action Has Changed
Although both activists and the media expressed positive surprise at the healthy turnout, the number of people on the streets in San Francisco and elsewhere was far lower than the numbers seen in 2003, when 500,000 people protested in New York City and 20,000 people (with 2,150 arrests) shut down San Francisco's financial district. Interestingly, over the past five years, opposition to the war has moved from being a marginal to a mainstream sentiment.
David Solnit, organizer with DASW and member of Courage To Resist, argues that comparisons of overall turnout are not an accurate reflection of our success or of the powerful shifts taking place in the anti-war movement. "For one, we're at a different time in history," he says. The 2003 actions were built on a year-long campaign to stop the U.S. from invading Iraq; it was an historical moment. In contrast DASW took four months to organize 2008's actions for what was essentially, and unfortunately, one of many anniversaries. Solnit also maintains that focusing on turnout at marches "ignores the thousands of people who are below the media's radar belt, involved in sustained community campaigns against the institutions that are holding up the war, like military recruiting stations, shifting power relations, and creating a crisis for the military industrial complex.... In 2008, we need a different measuring stick."
In contrast to 2003 DASW made a strategic decision to prioritize targets that were directly propping up the war in Iraq, such as military recruiting stations, corporations that profit from and provide services to the war, and media corporations that have a bias against the war. Understanding that sustained, ongoing campaigns are generally more effective than one-off mass actions, DASW also prioritized targets that were already subject to ongoing campaigns so activist energy could be channeled into supporting existing struggles.
Based on these principles, Chevron was an obvious target. According to the Department of Energy, the oil multinational's Richmond facility refines around 1.1 million barrels of Iraqi oil a month. Chevron is also lobbying the U.S. government and the Iraqi parliament to pass the Iraqi oil law, which would allow for two-thirds of Iraq's oil fields to be controlled by foreign companies, such as Chevron.
The speaker list on March 15 revealed the breadth of the ongoing campaigns against Chevron. Intermingled with a variety of folk bands, rappers, and hip hop artists, we had the newly elected Green Party mayor of Richmond, Gail McLaughlin, and Henry Clark from West County Toxics Coalition. Jessica Tovar, from Communities for a Better Environment, criticized the Richmond refinery's role in polluting local communities—increasing asthma, cancer, and death rates. The speakers called on the Richmond City Council to deny Chevron's current request to expand. Amazon Watch and the Filipino American Coalition for Environmental Solidarity were among those criticizing Chevron's polluting activities worldwide—from Ecuador to the Philippines to Nigeria to Burma. Nina Rizzo from Global Exchange exposed the link between Chevron and global warming. DASW organizers shared information about the ongoing campaigns against Chevron and encouraged anti-war activists to attend the Richmond City Council Planning Commission meeting to oppose Chevron's proposal to expand the refinery.
Highlighting the interconnectedness of various struggles is another strategy that has become more common within the anti-war movement. Last year for the first time there were two actions—one in Washington, DC in October, another at Chevron's headquarters in San Ramon, California in March. Both actions linked "war and warming." Such a strategy has its benefits. By building alliances between movements and organizations around common interests it allows us to build the power we need to challenge the war. Solnit commented that: "Actions like this also make the impacts of the war more tangible. Instead of just talking about 4,000 dead soldiers, we're also talking about the people in communities near the Chevron refinery who have cancer and asthma, we're talking about corporations that are making billions from the war as our economy tanks."
According to Jen Angel, a DASW organizer, countering apathy and keeping people involved in direct action during an election year needs to be a key focus for the anti-war movement. "When we articulate a compelling and effective strategy, then people will stay involved. When we don't, people who are frustrated look to the Democratic Party who say, ‘We'll make the changes for you, we'll pull out of Iraq.' But they won't."
Unfortunately, there are many factors that work against people believing that direct action works. For instance, Chevron consistently claimed to the media that its operations were "not affected" by the protests. Mainstream media coverage also failed to mention up and coming actions that viewers and readers could participate in. A one-off action tends to look weak when it's not couched within the contexts of a broader movement. Imagine the story: "Activists swarmed refinery for half a day then left with questionable impact on operations." Would you get involved in an action like that?
But the Chevron action was effective. The fondly-named DASW Yacht Club (some boats and a kayak) sailed around the refinery's pier. They didn't stop tankers from docking and employees still went to work, but no trucks entered the refinery (for a half day) to fuel as a result of DASW's blockade. As trucks usually enter the refinery every three to five minutes, this was a success story that organizers need to make known. Perhaps one of the most powerful antidotes to apathy is being a part of powerful actions where people witness their collective power, be it through stopping oil trucks, filling highways with people, or generating enough political strength to control the action.
"People have the power to stop the refinery any time we want to, to stop the processing of stolen Iraqi oil," Richmond resident and environmental justice activist, Dr. Henry Clark, told the San Jose Mercury News. This is true. Our generation of change makers has a lot of power. The protests in Seattle in 1999 in opposition to the World Trade Organization were a key ingredient in a larger effort by citizens in both the global north and south that has led to the WTO's steady demise. People power against the war in Iraq will yield similar results.
Jessica Bell is an organizer with Direct Action To Stop The War.
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
Contact: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljustice center.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; email@example.com; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www. peacestockvfp.org.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
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