Activism 101

Okay, short attention span crowd: Grab your remote (or mouse) and get ready to click, click, click…

“How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight? I don’t wanna die without any scars.”
— Tyler Durden (Fight Club)

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William Burroughs once wrote about how we humans—like the bull in a bullfight—tend to focus on the elusive red cape instead of the matador. Indeed, we are all-too-easily distracted from real targets by an attractive image or illusion.

Of course, some bulls see right through the red cape, uh, bullshit…and quite justifiably introduce the matador to the business end of their horns. Before you mistake that for a lesson and/or inspiration, don’t forget that such bulls are promptly killed while the matador is mourned as a brave hero.

Here’s my question: If every bull in every bullfight were to gore every matador, how long would it be before bullfights were a thing of the past?

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Malcolm X sez:

“It is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks.”

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In the late 1960s—thanks to Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers (UFW)—deciding whether or not to buy grapes became a political act. Three years after its establishment in 1962, the UFW struck against grape growers around Delano, California…a long, bitter, and frustrating struggle that appeared impossible to resolve until Chavez promoted the idea of a national boycott. Trusting in the average person’s ability to connect with those in need, Chavez and the UFW brought their plight—and a lesson in social justice—into homes from coast-to-coast and Americans responded.

“By 1970, the grape boycott was an unqualified success,” writes Marc Grossman of Stone Soup. “Bowing to pressure from the boycott, grape growers at long last signed union contracts, granting workers human dignity and a more livable wage.”

Through hunger strikes, imprisonment, abject poverty for himself and his large family, racist and corrupt judges, exposure to dangerous pesticides, and even assassination plots, Chavez remained true to the cause…even if meant, uh…”stretching” the non-violent methods he espoused:

Once in 1966, when Teamster goons began to rough up Chavez’s picketeers, a bit of labor solidarity solved the problem. William Kircher, the AFL-CIO director of organization, called Paul Hall, president of the International Seafarers Union.

“Within hours,” writes David Goodwin in Cesar Chavez: Hope for the People, “Hall sent a carload of the biggest sailors that had ever put to sea to march with the strikers on the picket lines…There followed afterward no further physical harassment.”

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To me, the following quote reads like a poem…so that’s how I’ll present it:

You’ve got to learn
that when you push people around,
some people push back.
As they should.
As they must.
And as they undoubtedly will.
There is justice in such symmetry.

— Ward Churchill

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When early American revolutionaries chanted, “Give me liberty or give me death” and complained of having but one life to give for their country, they became the heroes of our history textbooks. But, thanks to the power of the U.S. media and education industries, the Puerto Rican nationalists who dedicated their lives to independence are known as criminals, fanatics, and assassins.

On March 1, 1954, in the gallery of the House of Representatives, Congressman Charles A. Halleck rose to discuss with his colleagues the issue of Puerto Rico. At that moment, Lolita Lebrón alongside three fellow freedom fighters, having purchased a one-way train ticket from New York (they expected to be killed) unfurled a Puerto Rican flag and shouted “Free Puerto Rico!” before firing eight shots at the roof. Her three male co-conspirators aimed their machine guns at the legislators. Andrés Figueroa’s gun jammed, but shots fired by Rafael Cancel Miranda and Irving Flores injured five congressmen.

“I know that the shots I fired neither killed nor wounded anymore,” Lebrón stated afterwards. With the attack being viewed through the sensationalizing prism of American tabloid journalism, this did not matter. She and her nationalist cohorts became prisoners of war for the next twenty-five years.

Why prisoners of war? To answer that, we must recall that since July 25, 1898, when the United States illegally invaded its tropical neighbor under the auspices of the Spanish-American War, the island has been maintained as a colony. In other words, the planet’s oldest colony is being held by its oldest representative democracy—with U.S. citizenship imposed without the consent or approval of the indigenous population in 1917. It is from this geopolitical paradox that the Puerto Rican independence movement sprang forth.

This movement is based firmly on international law, which authorizes “anti-colonial combatants” the right to armed struggle to throw off the yoke of imperialism and gain independence. UN General Assembly Resolution 33/24 of December 1978 recognizes “the legitimacy of the struggle of people’s for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial domination and foreign occupation by all means available, particularly armed struggle.”

Prison did not dampen Lebrón’s revolutionary spirit as she attended demonstrations and spoke out to help win the long battle to evict the US Navy from the tiny Puerto Rican island of Vieques in 2003.

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Emma Goldman sez:

“No great idea in its beginning can ever be within the law.”

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In her excellent 1995 book, Bridge of Courage, Jennifer Harbury quotes a Guatemalan freedom fighter named Gabriel, responding to a plea to embrace non-violent resistance: “In my country child malnutrition is close to 85 percent,” he explains. “Ten percent of all children will be dead before the age of five, and this is only the number actually reported to government agencies. Close to 70 percent of our people are functionally illiterate. There is almost no industry in our country—you need land to survive. Less than 3 percent of our landowners own over 65 percent of our lands. In the last fifteen years or so, there have been over 150,000 political murders and disappearances… Don’t talk to me about Gandhi; he wouldn’t have survived a week here. There was a peaceful movement for progress here, once. They were crushed. We were crushed. For Gandhi’s method to work, there must be a government capable of shame. We lack that here.”

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Huey P. Newton sez:

“In the spirit of international revolutionary solidarity, the Black Panther Party hereby offers … an undetermined number of troops to assist you in your fight against American imperialism. It is appropriate for the Black Panther Party to take this action at this time in recognition of the fact that your struggle is also our struggle, for we recognize that our common enemy is U.S. imperialism, which is the leader of international bourgeois domination. There is no fascist or reactionary government in the world today that could stand without the support of United States imperialism. Therefore our problem is international, and we offer these troops in recognition of the necessity for international alliance to deal with the problem … Such alliance will advance the struggle toward the final act of dealing with American imperialism. To end this oppression we must liberate the developing nations … As one nation is liberated elsewhere, it gives us a better chance to be free.”

(Excerpted from an October 29, 1970 letter to the National Front for Liberation and Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Viet Nam)

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Arundhati Roy sez:

“People from poorer places and poorer countries have to call upon their compassion not to be angry with ordinary people in America.”

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In his book Endgame, Derrick Jensen tells of a discussion he had with a longtime activist. “She told me of a campaign she participated in a few years ago to try to stop the government and transnational timber corporations from spraying Agent Orange, a potent defoliant and teratogen, in the forests of Oregon,” Jensen writes. All too predictably, the dedicated demonstrators assembled to protest the toxic spraying were, “like clockwork,” ignored by the helicopter pilots. Both humans and landscape ended up thoroughly doused with Agent Orange—time and time again. The protest campaign obviously had no effect, so a different approach was taken. “A bunch of Vietnam vets lived in those hills,” the activist told Jensen, “and they sent messages to the Bureau of Land Management and to Weyerhauser, Boise Cascade, and the other timber companies saying, ‘We know the names of your helicopter pilots, and we know their addresses’

“You know what happened next?” she asked.

“I think I do,” Jensen responded.

“Exactly,” she said. “The spraying stopped.”

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MLK sez:

“When you’re right, you can never be too radical.”

Mickey Z. is the author of 11 books, most recently the novel Darker Shade of Green. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on an obscure website called Facebook. Read other articles by Mickey.

17 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Erroll said on May 30th, 2009 at 11:42am #

    Americans most certainly should be more active in support of social causes. Unfortunately when they decide to raise extremely valid questions relating to the events of Sept. 11, 2001, for example, they are either ignored by the mainstream media or proclaimed to be “conspiracy nuts.” What is even more egregious is when liberal blogs look down with disdain upon those seeking to find out the truth about 9/11. Even that revered leftist icon Noam Chomsky has said that it is “totally insane” to even contemplate an alternative theory as to what happened on that day thus doing his best, either consciously or subconsciously, to discourage any type of dissent from occurring concerning the Bush administration’s explanations as to what allegedly happened on 09/11/01.

  2. Don Hawkins said on May 30th, 2009 at 3:08pm #

    Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?

    Power to the People!

    No nukes is good nukes!

    There’s battle lines being drawn. Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong. Young people speaking their minds
    Getting so much resistance from behind.

    We won’t get fooled again!

    You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

    Better living through chemistry.

    If you can remember the ’60s, then you weren’t there.

    Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler and soon.

  3. Don Hawkins said on May 30th, 2009 at 4:08pm #

    “My answer is bring ‘em on.” —President George W. Bush

    “My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.” –Vice President Dick Cheney

    “Freedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things.” –Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld

    “The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy, we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on, which was weapons of mass destruction, as the core reason.” –Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz,

    Hey, hey LBJ we sure have come a long long way.

    There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America – there’s the United States of America.
    Barack Obama

    This is the moment when we must come together to save this planet. Let us resolve that we will not leave our children a world where the oceans rise and famine spreads and terrible storms devastate our lands.
    Barack Obama

    People of Berlin – people of the world – this is our moment. This is our time.
    Barack Obama

    Why can’t I just eat my waffle?
    Barack Obama

  4. mary said on May 31st, 2009 at 8:09am #

    If you can stick with this wait until the end.
    Think of us, the common people, as the buffaloes.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LU8DDYz68kM

  5. rjv said on May 31st, 2009 at 10:45am #

    Mary,

    I think a better metaphor is the barn-yard animal. We’re being culled and and a new work-model introduced: the factory-farm for the human-resource.

    Work-camps, expanded prison system, open-air ghettos, para-military work-enforcers and all of the repressive techniques used by multi-national corps for decades in places less visible than the US.

    The Corporate World can only look one way: Efficient.

  6. rosemarie jackowski said on May 31st, 2009 at 12:42pm #

    “You’ve got to learn
    that when you push people around,
    some people push back.
    As they should.
    As they must.
    And as they undoubtedly will.
    There is justice in such symmetry. ”
    – Ward Churchill

    I nominate Ward Churchill to be our National Poet …on second thought he’d be great on the Supreme Court.

  7. William said on June 1st, 2009 at 9:22am #

    A “SINGLE VOICE PROJECT” is the official name of the petition sponsored by: The National Public Service Council To Abolish Private Prisons (NPSCTAPP)

    THIS PETITION SEEKS TO ABOLISH ALL PRIVATE PRISONS IN THE UNITED STATES, (or any place subject to its jurisdiction)

    The National Public Service Council To Abolish Private Prisons (NPSCTAPP) is a grass roots organization driven by a single objective. We want the United States government to reclaim sole authority for state and federal prisons on US soil.
    We want the United States Congress to immediately rescind all state and federal contracts that permit private prisons “for profit” to exist in the United States, or any place subject to its jurisdiction. We understand that the problems that currently plague our government, its criminal justice system and in particular, the state & federal bureau of prisons (and most correctional and rehabilitation facilities) are massive. However, it is our solemn belief that the solutions for prison reform will remain unattainable and virtually impossible as long as private prisons for profit are permitted to operate in America.

    Prior to the past month, and the fiasco of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG, Lehman Brothers, and now the “Big Three” American Automobile manufacturers, the NPSCTAPP has always felt compelled to highlight the “moral Bottom line” when it comes to corrections and privatization. Although, we remain confounded by the reality that our government has allowed our justice system to be operated by private interests. The NPSCTAPP philosophy has always been “justice” should not be for sale at any price. It is our belief that the inherent and most fundamental responsibility of the criminal justice system should not be shirked, or “jobbed-out.” This is not the same as privatizing the post office or some trash pick up service in the community. There has to be a loss of meaning and purpose when an inmate looks at a guard’s uniform and instead of seeing an emblem that reads State Department of Corrections or Federal Bureau of Prisons, he sees one that says: “Atlas Prison Corporation.”

    Let’s assume that the real danger of privatization is not some innate inhumanity on the part of its practitioners but rather the added financial incentives that reward inhumanity. The same logic that motivates companies to operate prisons more efficiently also encourages them to cut corners at the expense of workers, prisoners and the public. Every penny they do not spend on food, medical care or training for guards is a dime they can pocket. What happens when the pennies pocketed are not enough for the shareholders? Who will bailout the private prison industry when they hold the government and the American people hostage with the threat of financial failure…“bankruptcy?” What was unimaginable a month ago merits serious consideration today. State and Federal prison programs originate from government design, and therefore, need to be maintained by the government. It’s time to restore the principles and the vacated promise of our judicial system.

    John F. Kennedy said, “The time to repair the roof is while the sun is shinning”. Well the sun may not be shinning but, it’s not a bad time to begin repair on a dangerous roof that is certain to fall…. because, “Incarcerating people for profit is, in a word WRONG”

    There is an urgent need for the good people of this country to emerge from the shadows of cynicism, indifference, apathy and those other dark places that we migrate to when we are overwhelmed by frustration and the loss of hope.
    It is our hope that you will support the NPSCTAPP with a show of solidarity by signing our petition. We intend to assemble a collection of one million signatures, which will subsequently be attached to a proposition for consideration. This proposition will be presented to both, the Speaker Of The House Of Representatives (Nancy Pelosi) and the United States Congress.

    Please Help Us. We Need Your Support. Help Us Spread The Word About This Monumental And Courageous Challenge To Create Positive Change. Place The Link To The Petition On Your Website! Pass It On!

    The SINGLE VOICE PETITION and the effort to abolish private “for profit” prisons is the sole intent of NPSCTAPP. Our project does not contain any additional agendas. We have no solutions or suggestions regarding prison reform. However, we are unyielding in our belief that the answers to the many problems which currently plague this nation’s criminal justice system and its penal system in particular, cannot and will not be found within or assisted by the private “for profit” prison business. The private “for profit” prison business has a stranglehold on our criminal justice system. Its vice-like grip continues to choke the possibility of justice, fairness, and responsibility from both state and federal systems.
    These new slave plantations are not the answer!

    For more information please visit: http://www.npsctapp.blogspot.com
    To sign the petition please visit: http://www.petitiononline.com/gufree2/petition.html

    THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!

  8. Michael Dawson said on June 1st, 2009 at 9:53am #

    Ward Churchill is a sophomore and an embarrassment. Two wrongs do not make a right. Are you in favor of letting murder victims’ families go kill the murderer? An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, as you may also have heard, and reverting to the Code of Hammurabi is hardly “radical.”

  9. Phil said on June 1st, 2009 at 10:54am #

    Are you in favor of letting murder victims’ families go kill the murderer?
    In this analogy, it’s not just a murderer but a proven psychopath who will obviously never stop killing as long as he’s able, and he gets away with it with the full support of the police and government and every other supposed public defender. If that’s the case, what would you suggest the victims’ families do?

  10. rosemarie jackowski said on June 1st, 2009 at 2:16pm #

    Michael Dawson… Here is an excerpt from a speech I gave at my sentencing trial.

    “…I have always been opposed to any form of violence. Seeing the photographs of the bombed Iraqi children has changed my life and strengthened my commitment to working for justice for those children. I do not understand how anyone can stand by silently, while knowing that civilians are being bombed. If what I, and the many thousands of others who protested the war, did, was wrong…what then would be the right thing to do? If you saw a child being beaten up and murdered on Main Street by a gang of thugs, should you write a letter to the editor or call your congressman or write a book on how adults should interact with children? Of course not. When children are being killed, immediate, direct, and powerful intervention is called for. What the other protesters and I did should be criticized in only one area. We all did too little. To all of the people of Iraq, I would like to say, “I am sorry. I will try to do better in the future.”

    The full text is published on the PressAction site under the title “A Courtroom Speech”.

    Those who slaughter children must be stopped “by any means necessary”.

  11. Hue Longer said on June 2nd, 2009 at 4:14am #

    Damn, Rosemarie! I think I’ll quote you if you don’t mind.

  12. Kim Petersen said on June 3rd, 2009 at 5:39am #

    Since when is self-defense a “wrong”?

  13. Don Hawkins said on June 3rd, 2009 at 7:44am #

    Who watched Earth 2100 last night? For those of you that did could that happen? Well it already is happening. I just got the latest update for the sea ice in the North and it doesn’t look good. We must start now today. So far cap and trade is the best these so called leaders can do. Cap and trade is mindless a joke on you and your kid’s. There is time if we start now and yes not easy and to not try life in the coming years not easy is the wrong way to put it. To late for some changes and we need to prepare for that. To drive a big car or small car is not preparing a little harder than that. Boring it will not be. At first energy needs to be produced in a clean way and it will take a Herculean effort. So it will be very easy to see if we try. When we see these so called leaders lose the suit and tie that could be one sign and the truth about what we all face could be another. I like to call it the people of Earth speech. We don’t hear it and I guess all that means is more bullshit. The fight is on it sure is and somehow millions Capital one voice calm at peace and I still think as the Sun set’s singing tomorrow, tomorrow it’s only a day away could sent a message. The group the fight is with do have money and power we have the truth and the knowledge use it.

    “You must unlearn what you have learned.” “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will…”

    “You will know (the good from the bad) when you are calm, at peace. Passive. Use the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack. ”

    If there ever was a time for knowledge and defense it is now today. The good guy’s the best minds we have are trying and need help. So far this new administration in the States don’t seem to be those best minds just more illusion and illusion isn’t going to get it.

    Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler and soon.

    Why can’t I just eat my waffle?
    Barack Obama

  14. Don Hawkins said on June 3rd, 2009 at 8:30am #

    http://nsidc.org/data/seaice_index/images/daily_images/N_timeseries.png

    That is the latest data of the sea ice in the North. That blue line is today and the dashed line 2007 record low. The temperatures in the North are a tad bit above normal measured for the last 100 years. Nature of the beast. The reason that blue line is going down is because the ice up there is new ice melts faster. More melt the water warms more ice melts and the weather not the climate changes in the Northern Hemisphere changes not good for crops and life forms. I guest read a guy from a West coast paper who saw Earth 2100 and said the Earth will cool for the next thirty years. This is not a game for some it seems so but it’s not going to be that much fun. Many more changes going on not just the ice in the North. Again changes not good for crops and life forms. The time is now today not in 10 or twenty years.

  15. bozh said on June 3rd, 2009 at 9:25am #

    don,
    with our selfservants; oops, public servants, on many missions impossibles/achievables, melting ice is just a curioso.
    to prove how little they care about ice melting and iron-eating air, our selfservants are now waging a new war; that in pak’n.

    and they are on their way to siberia. It may heat up s’mwhat but not like afrika. And one can build golf courses in siberia. Siberia does not have to be walled at all since most darkies will slowly burn to death.

    that also means the end of israel, iraq, jordan, syria, india, burma, laos, vietnam, et al.
    so, where’s the problem?

  16. rosemarie jackowski said on June 3rd, 2009 at 9:31am #

    Hue Longer…Feel free to quote me anytime. The backstory on that speech is that I wrote it in the middle of the night – the night before my sentencing trial. I had been ‘ordered’ to apologize (in my statement) to the people of the USA for protesting the war. As you can see, I did apologize – to the people of Iraq.

  17. bozh said on June 3rd, 2009 at 9:33am #

    don,
    and i forgot to say that there is no longer nationalism; there is now only americanism.
    it doesn’t matter any longer if you live in turkey or ghurkey; as long you’re rich and accept americanism, you are safe.
    if the mansions were not available in siberia for every adherent to americanism, wldn’t i tell you?
    so, hurry up don, accept americanism and your grand- and greatgrand children will never curse you!