Finding Our Way to Empathy, Passion and Resistance

If we are to face what lies ahead, we will not only have to organize and feed ourselves, we will have to begin to feel deeply, to face unpleasant truths.

Public opinion is going through a major change.  The combination of the collapsed and languishing economy; and people standing up and speaking about taboo subjects out loud is creating a new political narrative.

The Brookings Institution, a mainstay of Washington, DC think tanks that is certainly part of the power structure, found when they polled Americans that 42% do not think capitalism is working for the United States. Only 9% believe capitalism is working very well. The only age group that thinks they are better off than the previous generation is those over 66 years old.

Questioning capitalism?  When was the last time that was allowed in US political discourse?

And, Americans’ view of government is mostly negative. Only 7% think it is generally working while two-thirds think it is either completely broken (26%) or broken but working in some areas (40%).  Americans want government to reduce the wealth divide (63%), provide assistance to people who need it (62%) and guarantee health care to all even if it means raising taxes (56%).  Obviously, government is out of step with the people; moving in the opposite direction on all these issues. The discord between what the people want and need; and what government is doing is the foundation of the growing resistance movement.

The dysfunction of government was on display as the federal government partially shut down because of the Republican’s new tactic of making demands in order to approve a budget.  Alan Mass and Lance Selfa describe the DC battle as two “warring brothers”  where “the mainstream media’s simplistic analysis–Democrats vs. Republicans, Tea Party conservatives vs. the GOP establishment–camouflage what’s really taking place: a bipartisan drive for austerity where both parties ignore what the public wants.”  The war is particularly bad for the 800,000 furloughed workers but also for poor and working class Americans, groups that need healthcare and other services, and Native Indians who are essentially wards of the state.

The cause for the conflict between the two corporate political parties is ostensibly healthcare.  For those who follow this issue closely, it is a bizarre battle since Obamacare is simply the national version of Romneycare which originated in the right wing Heritage Foundation.  The truth is the United States needs a totally different approach one that neither corporate party will put forward but that the American people want – a national health care plan funded by the federal government.  A single payer system would end what healthcare advocate, Donna Smith, called “weaponized profits” at the expense of the health of Americans.

It is not only the dysfunction of government, but the unfair economy that has increasing numbers of Americans criticizing capitalism.  US capitalism is a brew of big finance and neoliberalism that controls people through debt, and turns social services into profit centers. Karen Hudes a World Bank whistleblower makes it clear: “The goal is control.  They want all of us enslaved to debt, they want all of our governments enslaved to debt, and they want all of our politicians addicted to the huge financial contributions that they funnel into their campaigns.”

We see this clearly in the treatment of American youth who leave college, if they can afford to go, with very high debt that burdens their future.  It doesn’t have to be this way – education, like healthcare, should be seen as a human right we should provide to all through the nation’s commonwealth.  And even at lower grade levels people are increasing their opposition to the corporatization of education through charter schools and programs like Teach For America that destroy teaching as a profession.

New ways of cheating Americans seem to constantly be made public.  A new method of cheating homeowners by passing mortgages on to new corporations, not subject to fraud settlements, was exposed. Americans look around and see industry after industry cheating them, and the government allowing it to happen. There is even a scheme to take pensions away from the few workers who have them.

Corrupt finance capitalism is pushing people to seek new approaches to break free of the big business economy. “Occupy Finance,” a book published by the OWS Alternative Banking Group, helps people understand the corruption of the US financial system and how it affects each us. The Occupy Money Cooperative is pushing forward with its first project, the Occupy Money Card, a step towards creating an institution that can offer basic financial services—debit cards, checking and savings accounts, loans— to all people, for the lowest possible price. Others are opting out of the big finance economy and creating a new alternative economy, where trading occurs on a peer-to-peer basis, increasingly without government-issued currency.

An area where there is great dysfunction is in the response to environmental collapse, toxicity and the climate crisis.  The big news in the environment recently was the major new report, the Intergovernmental Report on Climate Change.  The report concludes that climate change is happening and that humans are the major cause.  It urges immediate action by governments.

Unfortunately, in the United States, there is not much action.  Corporations that profit from the status quo, like the oil pipeline billionaire Koch brothers, work to prevent change.  At the same time, there are divisions among corporations and others in the power structure, as many are recognizing that climate change will hurt their businesses and their agendas. These are divisions that activists need to build on.

Environmental resistance is growing.  Over 200 events were held recently against the Keystone Pipeline. Students are pushing for divestment of climate polluters and frontline climate justice activists continue their impressive work to block extreme energy extraction. If you doubt the people can win, here are five recent victories of the people over big energy.

There are also major battles over the safety of our food supply.  The big issue is Monsanto’s GMO foods which raise health concerns and increase the use of pesticides and water without producing more or healthier food.  It looks like the Monsanto Protection Act, which gave Monsanto protection from courts and regulators, will expire after the Senate defeated it thanks to citizen protest. And the campaign for voter initiative 522 in Washington which would require the labeling of GMO’s is fighting back against big money from Monsanto with grassroots money. This looks like a winnable effort and we urge people to support it. Around the world, El Salvador banned Monsanto’s big money-maker, the herbicide Roundup, because it is causing deadly kidney disease and Hungary burned nearly 1,000 acres of corn to rid the country of GMO corn.

Much of the American environmental movement has been energized by the leadership by First Nations and Native Indians.  This October 7th is the International Day to proclaim indigenous sovereignty. We should all recognize it. Native sovereignty has become increasingly important as extreme energy extraction for gas, tar sands, uranium and coal often takes place on indigenous lands.

In Canada, tribes are taking aggressive action.  Tribes in British Columbia are accusing the government of violating international law by approving oil pipelines. The Yinka Dene Alliance had banned the Enbridge Pipeline, but then the BC government issued permits for them. The Alliance has submitted legal documents with the UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Rights to challenge the decision.  And in Quebec, the Signigtog Mi’kmaq have reclaimed stewardship of their native lands after the government allowed hydro-fracking.  For centuries the British Crown held these unoccupied lands in trust for the tribes, but they believe the land is being mismanaged and are taking back stewardship.  We hope this inspires local communities throughout the US and Canada to stand up for their communities and to be aggressive in protecting the land, water and air from extreme energy extraction.

How much of this do you hear in the mainstream media?  The answer is probably not much.  That is why we created PopularResistance.org and we urge you to sign up for our daily news digest – it is a great way to start your day, better than a newspaper.  

Legendary journalist, Seymour Hersh, who exposed the My Lai massacre during Vietnam and the Abu Gharib prison scandal during the Iraq War, spoke out about the corporate media which he described as “pathetic.”  He recommended that 90% of editors be fired and that journalists re-learn that their job is to be an outsider from power which reports unpopular news and exposes the systemic lying of the administration and government.

A critical ingredient for the development of the popular resistance movement is to build a new kind of journalism. We are in the midst of a media transformation. There has been an explosion of independent media and citizen’s journalism through social networking, at the same time that mass media credibility has been in consistent decline.

Recently we republished a 2011 article from Jack Balkwill who has been publishing the independent Liberty Underground Virginia or LUV News for 20 years.  Balkwill puts forward a vision for what a social justice media would look like.  We share it so we can all do what we can to work toward this critical ingredient – our own media – for the resistance movement.

This is just one of the many ingredients we need in order to build a movement that can resist the current power structure while building an alternative economy and new democratic structures.  Some new tools that we want to highlight include: Swarmwise. This book, based on the success of the Swedish Pirate Party, provides practical advice, everything from giving instructions to new activists about handing out flyers in the street to how you communicate with TV stations and organize hundreds of thousands of people into a coherent swarm.

Another tool is the very popular Occucards, of which more than a 700,000 have been distributed, which recently added four new cards. These 4×6″ glossy info cards have great artwork on the front and inspiring and hard-hitting summaries of each issue on the back. The four new cards include the Surveillance State, Peak Oil, Citigroup  and the Post Office.  The full set now includes 25 cards, along with 10 smaller bankster cards featuring the Wall Street CEOs who crashed the economy.

Annie Leonard, who produced several very popular videos beginning with “The Story of Stuff,” has a new video, “The Story of Solutions.” This one looks at how we can transform the economy from a “more” economy to a “better” economy.  She urges us to look for “game-changing solutions” that move us away from current big finance and make the economy into one with a better lifestyle of sharing, community, democracy and sustainability. The big transition is underway and requires us to continue with the gradual, step-by-step transformation of the economy.

There are two movement reviews to highlight.  First, a pamphlet by Socialist Alternative on the lessons learned from the Battle for Wisconsin in 2011.  The Wisconsin revolt, along with the Egyptian, Spanish and other revolts, was one of the sparks for Occupy. The pamphlet points out how the rebellion raised class issues and brought out workers and students but then was misdirected back into the dead-end of the managed elections of corporate duopoly politics.  Continuing to build the revolt and challenging the legitimacy of government, in hindsight, would have been a better path.

And, then there is a report from Crystal Zevon who went on a search for Occupy after the encampments had been closed.  She traveled much of the country and found occupy activists working on many issues – fighting extreme energy extraction, protecting a women’s health center, standing up to Peabody Coal’s attempted rip-off of worker’s pensions, fighting for control of Native Indian lands, fighting foreclosures and evictions, opposing war and seeking to close the Guantanamo prisons and building community spaces out of an abandoned warehouse.  The lesson: occupy is everywhere. Now that it is no longer looking inward to build encampments, it is actually making change throughout the country, building community and making a difference.  Encampments are a tactic that have their place, but are not the movement.

At the heart of so much of this activity is what one author calls the “compassionate rebel.”  He believes the thing that ties us all to each other is at its root compassion and love:

“There is an identifying term that covers the millions of resistance actions that have been taking place throughout our history. It is called the compassionate rebel revolution. A compassionate rebel persona lives in everyone. It combines our ability to care about an issue with our capacity to act against the status quo for the change we believe in. It enables ordinary people to find creative, non-violent solutions to the problems that concern them, and, in the process to contribute towards making the world around them a better place to live for future generations. It projects them into everyday heroes whose acts of caring and courage continue to transform our politics, our culture and our way of life.”

Chris Hedges also wrote an important article about what we need to build a movement.  He looked at the literature of resistance movements throughout history, looked at the spark that ignited Occupy and concludes that we must develop our own revolutionary theory appropriate for our times; recognize that the realization by Americans that they will not rise economically is the engine for revolt; learn from the 100 years of modern resistance movements about what works and what doesn’t; create art and culture to support and sustain the movement; build an infrastructure to feed the activists on extended protests, build communications systems to spread our stories and be strategic with the security state which knows unrest is inevitable due to the economy, environment and energy realities the world faces.

Hedges concludes: “If we are to face what lies ahead, we will not only have to organize and feed ourselves, we will have to begin to feel deeply, to face unpleasant truths, to recover empathy and to live passionately. Then we can fight.”

This article is produced by PopularResistance.org in conjunction with AlterNet.  It is based on PopularResistance.org’s weekly newsletter reviewing the activities of the resistance movement.

Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers are cohosts of Clearing the FOG on We Act Radio 1480 AM Washington, DC. They also codirect Its Our Economy and are organizers of the PopularResistancew.org.

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