Category Archives: Solidarity

Mission Accomplished: Why Solidarity Boats to Gaza Succeed Despite Failing to Break the Siege

When Mike Treen, the National Director of the ‘Unite Union’ in New Zealand arrived at the airport in the capital, Auckland, on August 1, a group of people were anxiously waiting for him at the terminal with Palestinian flags and flowers. They hugged him, chanted for Palestinian freedom and performed the customary native Haka dance.

For them, Mike, as all of those who set sail aboard the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza last July, were heroes.

But the truth is Mike Treen and his comrades were not the only heroes for braving the sea with the aim of breaking the hermetic Israeli military blockade on the impoverished and isolated Gaza Strip. Without those who were present at the Auckland airport, upon Mike’s arrival, and without the thousands of supporters all across the world who have mobilized as a community – held numerous meetings, raised funds, created a powerful media discourse, and so on – Treen’s attempted trip to Gaza would not have been possible in the first place.

The first boats to successfully break the Gaza siege, in October, 2008 were the ‘Free Gaza’ and the ‘Liberty’. They carried 44 people from 17 countries. The activists wanted to push their countries to acknowledge the illegality of the Israeli blockade on Gaza and to, eventually, challenge the siege.

Their triumphant arrival in Gaza ten years ago, marked a historic moment for the international solidarity movement, a moment, perhaps, unparalleled. Since then, Israel has launched several massive and deadly wars on Gaza. The first war took place merely weeks after the arrival of the first boats, followed by another war in 2012 and, the deadliest of them all, in 2014. The siege grew tighter.

Also, since then, many attempts have been made at breaking the siege. Between 2008 and 2016, 31 boats have sailed to Gaza from many destination, all intercepted, their cargo seized and their passengers mistreated. The most tragic of these incidents was in May 2010 when the Israeli navy attacked the ‘Mavi Marmara’ ship – which sailed alongside other boats – killing 10 activists and wounding many more.

Even then, the stream of solidarity boats continued to arrive, not only unhindered by the fear of Israeli retribution, but also stronger in their resolve. Palestinians consider the killed activists as ‘martyrs’ to be added to their own growing list of martyrs.

However, none of the boats made it to Gaza; so why keep on trying?

Last May, I arrived in New Zealand as part of a book tour that took me to other countries as well. However, in New Zealand, a relatively small Pacific island with a population that does not exceed five million people, the solidarity with Palestine was exceptional.

I asked about the strong Palestine solidarity work in New Zealand, inquiring with the coordinator for ‘Kia Ora Gaza’, Roger Fowler, who, at the time, was busy with final preparations for the Freedom Flotilla.

In New Zealand, he said, “for many years support for the Palestinian struggle lingered, often perceived as being too distant, and falsely portrayed as being ‘too complicated’. But the global outrage at Israel’s murderous attack on the ‘Mavi Marmara’-led humanitarian flotilla to Gaza in 2010 was a major turning-point that changed all that.”

Fowler, himself, along with other New Zealand activists joined the ‘Lifeline to Gaza’ convoy soon after the attack on the ‘Mavi Marmara’, reaching Gaza with three ambulances, packed with badly needed medicine, as the Israeli siege also deprived the Strip of hospital equipment and urgently needed medicine. Coordinating all of this was not a simple task as it also needed to be streamlined with the global efforts for the convoy, which included the dispatching of 140 other ambulances and 300 activists arriving from 30 countries.

“There were many moving scenes as Palestinians learned how far we had come from to offer solidarity – their Israel overlords had told the Palestinians for years that nobody cared about them, which is a big line,” Fowler told me.

I also spoke with Mike Treen upon his return from his Gaza sea journey. Treen is a seasoned activist, who works daily at defending the rights of workers from across the country. He sees his struggle for workers’ rights in New Zealand as part and parcel of his global solidarity outlook as well.

“In my role as part of the union movement in this country, I was also able to explain (to New Zealanders) that innocent working people (in Gaza) are the victims of this siege and that Israel has driven unemployment to over 50% for working people – one of the highest rates in the world,” he told me.

Treen, just like Fowler, understands that the boat solidarity is not merely an issue of providing urgently needed supplies, but as a well-coordinated effort at exposing the evils of the Israeli blockade.

“Unless Israel is directly bombing Gaza, the siege and its hideous human implications simply drop off the radar of public consciousness,” he said.

And this is precisely the real mission of the Gaza flotillas: While Israel wants to normalize the Gaza siege as it is currently normalizing its Occupation and Apartheid regimes, the solidarity movement has created a counter discourse that constantly foils Israeli plans.

In other words, whether the boats arrive on the Gaza coast or are hijacked by the Israeli navy, it makes little difference.

The power and effectiveness of this kind of solidarity goes even beyond Gaza and Palestine. “Our involvement in international solidarity endeavors, such as the Freedom Flotillas has, in turn, sparked a resurgence in other important elements of building the strength of the world-wide movement for justice”, Fowler told me, soon after Treen’s return to New Zealand.

Mike Treen also has his work cut out for him as he is now busy engaging the media and various communities in his own country, sharing his experiences on the boat, which led to his arrest, beating, tasering and deportation.

And like the horrific Apartheid regime in South Africa, the Israeli Apartheid will collapse, too, because Palestinians continue to resist and because millions of people, like Mike and Roger, are standing by their side.

Our Opponents’ Actions Show We’re Winning

The People United Will Never Be Defeated from the Free Farm

When in the midst of mass social transformation, it is often hard to see progress until you have the benefit of looking back after success has been achieved. One way we measure success is by recognizing the growing popular movements across multiple fronts of struggle. Another way is by observing the actions of our opponents.

Just as movements organize and develop a strategy to build power, our opponents do the same to weaken popular power. Classic signs that a movement is getting closer to achieving victories are when our opponents try to co-opt the movement, mislead the movement, adopt the language of the movement and position themselves to claim they always supported the goals of the movement, called “victorious retreat.”

In our sixth class on How Social Transformation Occurs, we examine the obstacles that movements confront in achieving social change. One of the tasks of the movement in this stage is to achieve national consensus and overcome the obstacles of the power holders.

Co-Option Can Be Turned To The Movement’s Advantage

New resistance movements have emerged since the Occupy Movement rose up in 2011, including the Fight for 15, Black Lives Matter and Idle No More, to name a few examples of many. Popular Resistance grew out of the Occupy Movement as a vehicle to report on, monitor and help grow the resistance movement.

With the election of Donald Trump, a new “resistance” developed. One example is Indivisible, the activist group rooted in the Democratic Party, which was organized by former Democratic staffers. In May 2017, the biggest Democratic “resister” of them all announced her plans, as reported by CNN, “Hillary Clinton officially announced Monday her post-2016 election plans: A political organization aimed at funding “resistance” groups that are standing up to President Donald Trump.” It is called “Onward Together.”

Clinton lost the presidency because she was an establishment candidate running in an anti-establishment electoral year. The Clinton Foundation was a foundation funded by millionaires and billionaires as well as big business and trans-national corporations. She epitomizes what people are organizing against, yet now she calls herself a leader of the resistance.

It is sadly amusing but ironically makes the point that the resistance is winning. We have grown since 2011 to the point that establishment-elites want to claim to be part of the resistance.  Our job is to let those who joined groups like Indivisible and Onward Together know there is a genuine resistance that Democrats are emulating, which stands for true transformation and rejects the policies of Hillary Clinton and the economic and political elites she and both Wall Street parties represent.

Photo from Education Votes

Stealing Our Language, Another Sign That Victory Is Close

On multiple issues, those in the power structure of elected officials and their think tanks are stealing the language of the movement.

One example is the campaign for National Improved Medicare for All (NIMA). We use that specific language because every word describing it matters. Those who want to protect the status quo use the word “Medicare” to describe fake solutions that do not achieve the real goal. The Center for American Progress, the top Democratic Party think tank that is funded in part by the insurance industry and healthcare profiteers, has put forward “Medicare Extra for All.” This is not NIMA but a public option using the popular word Medicare to fool people. Another fake Democratic plan is a “Medicare Buy-In” or plans that would lower the age for Medicare. These are all false solutions.

Democrats are pushing NIMA-sounding like approaches because 85% of Democratic party voters support a national single-payer system based on improved Medicare. Republicans and businesses are also moving in this direction. If the movement does its job well, by the early 2020s there will be a national consensus across political affiliations and ideologies in support of the solution to the US healthcare crisis, National Improved Medicare for All. Learn more about this at HealthOverProfit.org.

Healthcare is one example. This week, the people of Missouri rejected another false policy put forward by big business in a disguise called “Right to Work.” By a landslide vote, the people of Missouri rejected a right to work voter initiative, which would have eroded workers’ rights to collective bargaining.

This vote comes at a time when the nation needs a national renaissance of worker power. It is time for unions to remake themselves after 80 years of decline. Unions need to become democratic in structure rather than hierarchical. Unions need to do two things to recover from decades of setbacks: (1) break from the Democratic Party and build independent political power, and (2) they need to represent all workers and communities, not just members of their union.  The recent teachers’ strikes which occurred in multiple states showed teachers going beyond the limits set by unions. UPS, where workers voted 92% for what would be the largest strike in US history, is in the throes of debating a new contract, which Teamsters for a Democratic Union believes sells out UPS workers.

Another example is the constant killings of black and brown people by police across the country. National consensus is developing against this brutality thanks to Black Lives Matter and others, as can the ‘take a knee‘ protests in the NFL. Despite pressure from President Trump and team owners, players are continuing to take action against racist policing by patriotically taking a knee during the singing of the national anthem.

Police violence against black and brown people is a long-term problem, going back decades.  In the era of Bill Clinton, the phony solution of community policing was put forward.  It is phony because it failed to give power to the community to reject police who have demonstrated racism and violence. What is needed is community-control of police and community-based solutions to crime and violence. When the people are in control, then the police will do what they should be doing, and some claim to be doing (and some officers actually try to do in a system that does not work) — serve the community.

From Medium ‘How to Build a Movement of Movements.’

Unity, Solidarity and a Movement of Movements Are Keys to Success

The most powerful tactic of the opposition is to divide the movement. The corporate-CIA group, Stratfor, most clearly described this strategy. They divide activists into four types of people: “radicals, idealists, realists, and opportunists.” Their strategy to defeat social movements is to isolate the radicals, offer the opportunists money and access to elected officials, convince the realists to compromise on a non-solution and push idealists to see their ideal cannot be achieved and accept something that looks like a step toward the ideal. The key group is the radicals, who focus on the root of the problem, push necessary transformational solutions and refuse to compromise. Movements need to make a place for radicals and listen to their views so as not to be taken off track.

The problem is that the current system does not work for people but is designed to work for the economic elites. There may be good people in the system, trying to do the right thing, but they cannot overcome the system by working from the inside.

The movement must work to pull people from inside the system into the movement. A police officer’s family needs National Improved Medicare for All.  A black police officer’s son will face racism from police officials just like any other black youth. Youth face outrageous tuition, school debt and wages too low to live on. Business owners know their employees would benefit from health care for all and that they can’t compete with businesses in nations that have national healthcare programs. People in the media see the misleading reporting they are required to produce to advance in their careers and know this is not why they wanted to become a journalist. There are people in every segment of the power structure that see the problems and want to help put in place solutions.

Drawing people to the movement is one of the tactics in building national consensus and a movement that represents all the people while weakening the power structure. We need to develop strategies to keep movements unified, bring people into the movement and connect our different fronts of struggle to build a movement of movements.

We have written about how the next decade provides an opportunity for tremendous social transformation that puts in place progressive policies to meet the necessities of the people and protection of the planet. The people in power also see that change is coming, movements are growing and the status quo is unable to deal with multiple crisis situations that cannot be ignored.

Transformation is on the horizon if we remain clear in our vision for economic, racial and environmental justice, pull people to the movement from the power structure and undermine the tactics of those trying to co-opt, mislead and divide.

Together, we can create transformational change. We are closer than we realize.

The History of the Workers’ Unemployment Insurance Bill

At a time when the American population is radicalizing, when popular movements are coalescing around “radical” demands—Medicare for All, the abolition of ICE, tuition-free college, in general the demand to make society livable for everyone—it can be useful to draw collective inspiration from the past. Irruptions of the popular will have on innumerable occasions reshaped history, remade the terrain of class struggle such that the ruling class was, at least for a moment, thrown on the defensive and forced to retreat. Especially when pundits and politicians are insisting on the virtues of centrism and the essential conservatism of Americans, it is important to remember just how false these shibboleths are, particularly in a time of economic stagnation and acute social discontent.

One of the most remarkable demonstrations of the deep-seated radicalism of “ordinary people” has been all but forgotten, even by historians: namely, the Workers’ Unemployment Insurance Bill (or Workers’ Bill) that was introduced in Congress in 1934, 1935, and 1936. Despite essentially no press coverage and extreme hostility from the business community and the Roosevelt administration, a mass movement developed behind this bill that had been written by the Communist Party. The tremendous popular pressure that was brought to bear on Congress secured a stunning victory in the spring of 1935, when the bill became the first unemployment insurance plan in U.S. history to be recommended by a congressional committee (the House Labor Committee). It was defeated in the House—by a vote of 204 to 52—but the widespread support for the bill was likely a factor in the easy passage later in 1935 of the relatively conservative Social Security Act, which laid the foundation for the American welfare state.

Aside from its direct legislative importance, the Workers’ Bill is of interest in that it shows just how left-wing vast swathes of the population were in the 1930s and can become when a political force emerges to articulate their grievances. This bill, which was far more radical than provisions in the Soviet Union for social insurance, was endorsed by over 3,500 local unions (and the regular conventions of several International unions and state bodies of the American Federation of Labor), practically every unemployed organization in the country, fraternal lodges, governmental bodies in over seventy cities and counties, and groups representing veterans, farmers, African-Americans, women, the youth, and churches. In the West, the South, the Midwest, and the East, millions of citizens signed petitions and postcards in support of it. And this was all despite the active hostility of every sector of society that had substantial resources.

It is puzzling, then, that historians have almost entirely overlooked the Workers’ Bill. For instance, in his book Voices of Protest: Huey Long, Father Coughlin, and the Great Depression, Alan Brinkley doesn’t devote a single sentence to it. Neither does Robert McElvaine in his standard history, The Great Depression: America, 1929–1941. David Kennedy devotes half a sentence to it in volume one of his Oxford history of the Depression and World War II, Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War. Instead, the less sophisticated and less radical Townsend Plan for old-age insurance, which was proposed around the same time and was widely publicized in the press, tends to monopolize historians’ attention (only to be ridiculed). The neglect of the Workers’ Bill lends credence to a still-dominant interpretation of the American citizenry during the Depression and throughout its history, viz. as being relatively centrist and conservative, especially as compared with the historically more “socialist” populations of Western Europe.

Brinkley sums up this strain of thinking derived from the postwar Liberal Consensus school of historiography, which still influences pundits, politicians, and academics:

The failure of more radical political movements to take root in the 1930s reflected, in part, the absence of a serious radical tradition in American political culture. The rhetoric of class conflict echoed only weakly among men and women steeped in the dominant themes of their nation’s history; and leaders relying upon that rhetoric faced grave, perhaps insuperable difficulties in attempting to create political coalitions…

This is a simplistic interpretation. For one thing, there is a serious radical tradition in American political culture, as embodied, for example, in the Populist movement of the 1890s and the Socialist Party and IWW of the early twentieth century. But even insofar as a case can be made that “the rhetoric of class conflict echoe[s]…weakly,” it’s plausible to understand this fact as simply a reflection of the violent and ruthless repression of class-based movements and parties in American history. When they have a chance to get their message out, they attract substantial support—precisely to the extent that they can get their message out. There is no need to invoke deep cultural traditions of individualism or a lack of popular understanding of class (which is a simple notion, after all: those who own and those who don’t are in conflict). One need only appeal to the skewed distribution of resources, which prevents leftists from being heard. When Earl Browder, head of the U.S. Communist Party, was given a chance by CBS to broadcast his message over the radio one night in 1936, his listeners around the country considered it “good common sense” and wanted to learn more about Communism. Maybe this is why Communists were almost never allowed on the radio.

In this article I’ll tell the story of the Workers’ Unemployment Insurance Bill, both to fill a gap in our historical knowledge and because it resonates in our own time of troubles and struggles.

*****

As soon as the Communist Party had unveiled its proposed Workers’ Unemployment Insurance Bill in the summer of 1930, as the Depression was just beginning, it garnered extensive support among large numbers of the unemployed. The reason isn’t hard to fathom: it envisioned an incredibly generous system of insurance. In the form it would eventually assume, it provided for unemployment insurance for workers and farmers (regardless of age, sex, or race) that was to be equal to average local wages but no less than $10 per week plus $3 for each dependent; people compelled to work part-time (because of inability to find full-time jobs) were to receive the difference between their earnings and the average local full-time wages; commissions directly elected by members of workers’ and farmers’ organizations were to administer the system; social insurance would be given to the sick and elderly, and maternity benefits would be paid eight weeks before and eight weeks after birth; and the system would be financed by unappropriated funds in the Treasury and by taxes on inheritances, gifts, and individual and corporate incomes above $5,000 a year. Later iterations of the bill went into greater detail on how the system would be financed and managed.

Had the Workers’ Bill ever been enacted, it would have revolutionized the American political economy. It was a much more authentically socialist plan than existed in the Soviet Union at the time, where only 35 percent of the customary wage was paid to those not working, and that for a limited time (unlike with the Workers’ Bill). Nor was the Soviet insurance system administered democratically by workers’ representatives.

By 1934, when the plan had become widely enough known to be critically examined by economists and other intellectuals, it was frequently criticized for incentivizing malingering. Defenders of the bill—and by then it was advocated by many left-wing economists, teachers, social workers, lawyers, engineers, and other professionals—replied that this supposed flaw was, in fact, a strength. By withdrawing workers from the labor market, it would force wage rates to rise until they at least equaled unemployment benefits. “The benefits to the unemployed,” economist Paul Douglas noted, “could thus be used as a lever to compel industry to pay a living wage to those who were employed.” It was the abolition of poverty and economic insecurity that was envisioned—by a frontal attack on such fundamentals of capitalism as the private appropriation of wealth, determination of wages by the market, and maintenance of an insecure army of the unemployed.

The Unemployed Councils were at the forefront of agitation for the proposed bill, but it was also publicized through other auxiliary organizations of the Communist Party, in addition to activists in unions. As mass demonstrations for unemployment relief became more frequent—daily “hunger marches” in cities across the country, occupations of state legislative chambers, marches on city halls, “eviction riots”—the demand for unemployment insurance echoed louder and farther every month. From Alaska to Texas, requests for petitions flooded into the New York office of the National Campaign Committee for Unemployment Insurance. United front conferences of Socialist and Communist workers’ organizations took place from New York City to Gary, Indiana and beyond. In February, 1931 delegates presented the Workers’ Bill and its hundreds of thousands of signatures to Congress, which simply ignored them.

So activists continued drumming up support for the next few years. Hunger marchers in many states demanded that legislatures pass versions of the bill; two national hunger marches the Communist Party organized in December 1931 and 1932 gave the bill further publicity; delegates periodically presented more petitions to Congress, and campaigns were organized to mail postcards to legislators. Despite the fervent hostility and smear campaigns of the national AFL leadership, several thousand local unions eventually endorsed the bill, especially after it had been sponsored, in 1934, by Representative Ernest Lundeen of the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party. Its newfound national prominence in that year gave the movement greater momentum, and a new organization was founded to lend the bill intellectual respectability: the Inter-Professional Association for Social Insurance (IPA). Within a year the IPA had dozens of chapters and organizing committees around the country, as distinguished academics like Mary Van Kleeck of the Russell Sage Foundation proselytized for the bill in the press and before Congress.

Meanwhile, conferences of unemployed groups grew ever larger and more ambitious. For instance, in Chicago in September 1934, hundreds of delegates from such groups as the National Unemployed Leagues, the Illinois Workers Alliance, the Eastern Federation of Unemployed and Emergency Workers Union, and the Wisconsin Federation of Unemployed Leagues—in the aggregate claiming a membership of 750,000—endorsed the Lundeen Bill (as it was now called) and made increasingly elaborate plans to pressure Congress for its passage.

Congress took essentially no action on the bill in 1934, so Lundeen reintroduced it in January 1935. This would become the year of the “Second New Deal,” when the Roosevelt administration turned left in response to massive discontent and disillusionment with its policies. Senator Huey Long had become a hero to millions by denouncing the wealthy and proposing his Share Our Wealth program, an implicit criticism of the New Deal’s conservatism. The “radio priest” Father Charles Coughlin had acquired heroic stature among yet more millions by constantly “talking about a living wage, about profits for the farmer, about government-protected labor unions,” as one journalist put it. “He insists that human rights be placed above property rights. He emphasizes the ‘wickedness’ of ‘private financialism and production for profit.’” His immensely popular organization — the National Union for Social Justice — was no mere politically anodyne instrument of his own ego. It enshrined such principles as nationalization of “public necessities” like banking, power, light, and natural gas; control of all private property for the public good; a “just and living annual wage which will enable [every citizen willing and able to work] to maintain and educate his family according to the standards of American decency”; abolition of the privately owned Federal Reserve and establishment of a government-owned central bank; and in general the principle that “the chief concern of government shall be for the poor.”

The tens of millions of people who flocked to the banners of Huey Long and Father Coughlin—not to mention the Communist Workers’ Bill (or Lundeen Bill)—put the lie to any interpretation of the American people as being irremediably conservative/centrist or wedded to capitalism. During the Great Depression, arguably a majority wanted the U.S. to become, in effect, a radical social democracy, or a socialist democracy.

The hearings in 1935 that were held before the Labor subcommittee on the Lundeen Bill are a remarkable historical document, “probably the most unique document ever to appear in the Congressional record,” at least according to the executive secretary of the IPA. Eighty witnesses testified: industrial workers, farmers, veterans, professional workers, African-Americans, women, the foreign-born, and youth. “Probably never in American history,” an editor of the Nation wrote, “have the underprivileged had a better opportunity to present their case before Congress.” The aggregate of the testimonies amounted to a systematic indictment of American capitalism and the New Deal, and an impassioned defense of the radical alternative under consideration.

From the representative of the American Youth Congress, which encompassed over two million people, to the representative of the United Council of Working-Class Women, which had 10,000 members, each testimony fleshed out the eminently class-conscious point of view of the people back home who had “gather[ed] up nickels and pennies which they [could] poorly spare” in order to send someone to plead their case before Congress. At the same time, the Social Security Act—known then as the Wagner-Lewis Bill, since it hadn’t been passed yet—was criticized as a cruel sham, as “a proposal to set up little privileged groups in the sea of misery who would be content to sit on their small islands and watch the others drown” (to quote a professor at Smith College). What most Americans wanted, witnesses insisted, was the more universal plan embodied in the Lundeen Bill.

Interestingly, most congressmen on the subcommittee were sympathetic to this point of view. For instance, at one point the chairman, Matthew Dunn, interrupted a witness who was observing that all the members of Congress he had talked to had received far fewer cards and letters in support of the famous Townsend Plan—which the press was continually publicizing—than in support of the more radical Lundeen Bill. “I want to substantiate the statement you just made about the Townsend bill and about this bill,” Dunn said. “May I say that I do not believe I have received over a half dozen letters to support the Townsend bill… [But] I have received many letters and cards from all over the country asking me to give my utmost support in behalf of the Lundeen bill, H.R. 2827.”

Most of the letters congressmen received were probably in the vein of this one that was sent to Lundeen in the spring of 1935, when Congress was considering the three competing bills that have already been mentioned (the Wagner-Lewis, the Townsend, and the Lundeen):

The reason I am writing you is, that we Farmers [and] Industrial workers feel that you are the only Congressman and Representative that is working for our interest. We have analyzed the Wagner-Lewis Bill [and] also [the] Townsend Bill. But the Lundeen H.R. (2827) is the only bill that means anything for our class… The people all over the country are [waking] up to the facts that the two old Political Parties are owned soul, mind [and] body by the Capitalist Class.

Even more revealingly, that spring the New York Post conducted a poll of its readers after printing the contents of the three bills. Out of 1,391 votes cast, 1,209 readers supported the Lundeen, 157 the Townsend, 14 the Wagner-Lewis, and 7 none of them. This was no scientific poll, but its results are at least suggestive.

As stated above, while the House Labor Committee recommended the Lundeen Bill, it was—inevitably—defeated in the House. Being opposed by all the dominant interests in the country, it never had a chance of passage. But as far as its advocates were concerned, the fight was not over. Throughout the spring and summer of 1935 the flood of endorsements did not let up. The first national convention of rank-and-file social workers endorsed it in February; the Progressive Miners of America followed, along with scores of local unions and such ethnic societies as the Italian-American Democratic Organization of New York (with 235,000 members) and the Slovak-American Political Federation of Youngstown, Ohio. Virtually identical state versions of H.R. 2827 were, or already had been, introduced in the legislatures of California, Oregon, Utah, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and other states. Conferences of unions and fraternal organizations were called in a number of states to plan further campaigns for the Workers’ Bill.

In January 1936, Representative Lundeen introduced the bill yet again, this time joined by Republican Senator Lynn Frazier of North Dakota. The hearings before the Senate Labor Committee in April resembled the hearings on H.R. 2827, with academics, social workers, unionists, and farmers testifying as to the inadequacy of the recently passed Social Security Act and the necessity of the Frazier-Lundeen Bill. A representative of the National Committee on Rural Social Planning spoke for millions of agricultural workers, sharecroppers, tenants, and small owners when he opined that this bill was “the only one which is likely to check the fascist terror now riding the fields” in the South (directed largely against the Southern Tenant Farmers Union).

The fascist terror continued unchecked, however, for the bill did not even make it out of committee. After its dismal fate in 1936, it was never introduced again.

Despite its failure, the Workers’ Unemployment Insurance Bill was a significant episode in the 1930s that certainly hasn’t deserved to be written out of history. Both substantively and in its popularity, a case can be made that it was more significant than the Social Security Act and the Townsend Plan, its two main competitors.

*****

Above I referred to a radio broadcast that Earl Browder gave in March 1936. This unusual but telling incident may serve as a coda to the story of the Workers’ Bill, reinforcing the lesson that most Americans were and are, beneath the surface layers of indoctrination, quite left-wing in their values and beliefs. It’s only a question of reaching them, of being heard by them, and of acquiring the resources to organize them.

In order to advertise its liberal position on freedom of speech, CBS invited Browder to speak for fifteen minutes (at 10:45 p.m.) on a national radio broadcast, with the understanding that he would be answered the following night by zealous anti-Communist Congressman Hamilton Fish. Browder seized the opportunity for a national spotlight and appealed to “the majority of the toiling people” to establish a national Farmer-Labor Party that would be affiliated with the Communist Party, though it “would not yet take up the full program of socialism, for which many are not yet prepared.” He even declared that Communists’ ultimate aim was to remake the U.S. “along the lines of the highly successful Soviet Union”: once they had the support of a majority of Americans, he said, “we will put that program into effect with the same firmness, the same determination, with which Washington and the founding fathers carried through the revolution that established our country, with the same thoroughness with which Lincoln abolished chattel slavery.”

According to both CBS and the Daily Worker, reactions to Browder’s talk were almost uniformly positive. CBS immediately received several hundred responses praising the speech, and the Daily Worker, whose New York address Browder had mentioned on the air, received thousands of letters. The following are representative:

Chattanooga, Tennessee: “If you could have listened to the people I know who listened to you, you would have learned that your speech did much to make them realize the importance of forming a Farmer-Labor Party. I am sure that the 15 minutes into which you put so much that is vitally important to the American people was time used to great advantage. Many people are thanking you, I know.”

Evanston, Illinois: “Just listened to your speech tonight and I think it was the truest talk I ever heard on the radio. Mr. Browder, would it not be a good thing if you would have an opportunity to talk to the people of the U.S.A. at least once a week, for 30 to 60 minutes? Let’s hear from you some more, Mr. Browder.”

Bricelyn, Minnesota: “Your speech came in fine and it was music to the ears of another unemployed for four years. Please send me full and complete data on your movement and send a few extra copies if you will, as I have some very interested friends—plenty of them eager to join up, as is yours truly.”

Sparkes, Nebraska: “Would you send me 50 copies of your speech over the radio last night? I would like to give them to some of my neighbors who are all farmers.”

Arena, New York: “Although I am a young Republican (but good American citizen) I enjoyed listening to your radio speech last evening. I believe you told the truth in a convincing manner and I failed to see where you said anything dangerous to the welfare of the American people.”

Julesburg, Colorado: “Heard your talk… It was great. Would like a copy of same, also other dope on your party. It is due time we take a hand in things or there will be no United States left in a few more years. Will be looking forward for this dope and also your address.”

In general, the main themes of the letters were questions like, “Where can I learn more about the Communist Party?”, “How can I join your Party?”, and “Where is your nearest headquarters?” Some people sent money in the hope that it would facilitate more broadcasts. The editors of the Daily Worker plaintively asked their readers, “Isn’t it time we overhauled our old horse-and-buggy methods of recruiting? While we are recruiting by ones and twos, aren’t we overlooking hundreds?” Again, one can only imagine how many millions of people in far-flung regions would have been quickly radicalized had Browder or other Communist leaders been permitted the national radio audience that Huey Long and Father Coughlin were.

But such is the history of workers and marginalized groups in the U.S.: elite efforts to suppress the political agenda and the voices of the downtrodden have all too often succeeded, thereby wiping out the memory of popular struggles. If we can resurrect such stories as that of the Workers’ Bill, they may prove of use in our own age of crisis, as new struggles against oppression are born.

Answering “What Should I Do?” Is Easier When You Know The Roles Of Social Movements

People have the power protest inside Ferguson City Hall protest October 13, 2014

The United States is going in the wrong direction on a wide range of social, economic and foreign policy issues and people are justifiably upset and angry. One question we are regularly asked is: “What should I do?” In our last two newsletters, we examined the stages of successful social movements to show how movements can progress toward victories. This week, we attempt to answer the question by describing the fifth class of the Popular Resistance School, “The Roles of Individuals and Movements” and how to be effective at them.

There are many necessary roles in the popular movement at this time, which means there is something for everyone to do. We are at a critical moment when the fifteen core issues of the movement for economic, racial and environmental justice as well as peace are in crisis and people are organizing to solve them.

As we wrote in 2011, during the preparations to occupy Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC, on a broad range of issues from taxing the rich to getting money out of politics to strengthening the social safety net and more, there is already majority support. In 2014, Josh Sager demonstrated that while in electoral politics the US appears to be center-right (and shifting ever rightward), the people’s positions are center-left. National consensus for solutions to the crises is growing despite the lack of commercial media coverage.

The necessary ingredients for winning major social changes – national consensus on issues and a mobilized ‘movement of movements’ – are developing, but these ingredients merely create the conditions for change. To realize those changes, we need to understand what the various roles are that people need to take on and how to be effective in those roles by avoiding the pitfalls that could undermine our work toward the society we desire to create.

There are four basic roles in a movement and each one is needed. Some people can play more than one role or can move from one to another and some will be most comfortable focusing on one role.  The prominence of each role changes throughout the development of a successful social movement, as the tasks of each stage, differ. People often gravitate toward one role and that can be seen early in life in the way they respond to challenges. Review this list and consider which roles resonate with you.

  1. The Advocate or Reformer: The advocate is most drawn to working with those in authority to create change, perhaps through educating legislators, writing policy or using the courts. The movement role played by the advocate is to translate the demands of the people’s movement for the power structure and to act as a watchdog for the movement.
  2. The Organizer or Change Agent:  The organizer works to bring people together to solve problems, especially in a way that is empowering such as using horizontal, democratic processes for making decisions. The movement role played by the organizer is to grow the movement and to facilitate coordinated strategic activities.
  3. The Helper or Citizen: The helper is typically a more mainstream person who is drawn to providing direct aid to solve problems.  If a neighbor can’t shovel the snow off their sidewalk, the helper will do it. The role that the helper plays in the movement is to show that there is widespread support for the aims of the movement and to bring greater legitimacy to the movement.
  4. The Rebel: The rebel is one who is most likely to make a lot of noise about an injustice. When something bad happens, the rebel wants everyone to know and will confront the power holders about it. The role that the rebel plays is to highlight injustice and to take direct action in order to create the tension required for changes to occur.

To be effective, the roles need to be handled in ways that achieve the grand strategy of the movement; i.e. (1) To grow the movement by pulling people toward it, especially people in the power structure; (2) To create unity in the movement so solidarity is strengthened and people work together for common objectives; and, (3) To deepen our understanding of the issues and the solutions to injustices and crisis situations that are needed.

Each of these roles can be played in ways that achieve these strategies or, if done poorly, can undermine the movement. For example, an effective advocate will be accountable to the people in the movement and will represent their views, while an ineffective advocate may start to ally more with the power holders than with the people and might try to convince the movement to compromise in ways that violate their fundamental goals.

An organizer will ideally provide the tools and support that empower people to be creative and to make decisions and take actions that are strategic, while an ineffective organizer will behave in a way that is hierarchical, ordering people to take action and excluding diverse views instead of building consensus for the action. The heads of some non-governmental organizations may come to believe they are the movement, rather than recognizing their power comes from the movement.

The rebel can create conflicts with police or others that repel people and push them away from the movement. Using overly strident tactics can actually empower the police or those in power to crack down on the movement. Done well, the rebel shows courage that becomes contagious. We discussed this and more with George Lakey, an activist who has been involved in many social movements and has trained many activists, on the Clearing the FOG podcast, available here on Mondays.

In particular, Lakey admonishes people to avoid being drawn into conflict by right-wing white supremacists because this will legitimize state suppression of the movement and repel people who are unpersuaded from the movement. There will be a white supremacist rally in front of the White House in Washington, DC on August 12. In response, a coalition of organizations from DC and surrounding states are organizing a celebration of diversity in Freedom Plaza from noon to 5:00 pm. It is our hope that this effort will show support for the movement’s goals without being confrontational in a counterproductive way.

We Must Work Together and Use Conflict To Become Stronger

Successful movements are diverse in many ways, including the roles that different people and organizations play. Sometimes people will fail to recognize the value of people who play roles different from theirs in the movement and may, as a result, weaken the movement by attacking allies. A rebel may view an advocate as too supportive of the power structure. An advocate may view a rebel as too radical.

If the people and organizations that play different roles within the movement develop trust and a collaborative relationship, then there will be space to discuss whether the advocate is getting too close to the power holders or the rebel’s actions might be isolating rather than drawing people into the movement. Without that collaboration, the movement may weaken itself through discord.

That said, even the best collaborations will encounter internal conflict. Lakey describes how conflict can be constructive for a movement rather than destructive. Conflict may take a movement that is stagnating and bring it to a deeper level of collaboration. It can bring new energy to the movement when simmering concerns are aired and resolved. Lakey writes:

People who face strategic hard choices are more likely to come up with creative and wise next moves when the four roles fight it out — fighting fairly while acknowledging differences. The research is clear: Over time, diversity actually does produce the best outcomes. Or at least diversity works when everyone agrees on the bottom line: The role the group plays in the larger movement.

The most successful tactic of those in power is to divide a movement. So it is essential for a movement to find ways to confront conflict in a constructive way that builds unity rather than sowing division.

A current example of this is the coalition of peace and justice movements that are organizing to oppose President Trump’s military parade in Washington, DC in November, which happens to be the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day (changed to Veteran’s Day in 1954). A number of different groups were organizing responses to the parade. In February, those groups came together to organize in a collaborative way that has space for a variety of actions under a common theme of divesting from war and investing in peace. The website is NoTrumpMilitaryParade.us. You can sign on as an organization or an individual there.

The coalition has written a statement and is asking other organizations to sign on in support. The statement acknowledges the many ways that militarism causes harm at home and abroad. At home, militarism normalizes violence, which results in violence in our communities. Spending on the Pentagon is consuming an increasing proportion of our federal discretionary budget, now almost two-thirds, when those dollars are needed for housing, education, health care, jobs and more. The military is the biggest polluter and user of fossil fuels in the world, contributing to environmental destruction and climate change. All organizations who agree with the statement are invited to sign on. This will be published on August 8, but sign-ons will continue after that. Read the statement and sign-on here.

When we create a movement of movements, which is essential for ultimate victory, we are bringing diverse people and organizations into a coalition together. A coalition adds strength to the movement as people united by a common goal emphasize communication and coordination while respecting each other. Coalitions allow organizations and individuals to participate in ways that are consistent with their unique strengths.

Understanding the roles of individuals and different organizations in a movement is a key to building a successful social movement. One organization or network of individuals cannot do everything. One individual cannot play every role. Organizations and individuals supporting each other, developing strategy and tactics together after listening to different views, create unity. Solidarity of vision and purpose is what creates a powerful movement.

To answer the question, “What do I do?”: Find your role and find your issue, then get involved either locally or at the state, national or international level. If you are already involved, then understanding how the roles contribute to the goals of the movement may make your work more effective. And whatever you do, know that you are part of a growing movement of movements that has the power to create transformational change.

Can Afghans convince us that the method of war isn’t effective?

Can Afghans convince us that the method of war doesn’t work?

Consider their thirst to end the war.

If we’re still quietly hoping that wars would end and people all over the world would get along peacefully, the dreams and demands of the Helmand Peace Convoy would give us courage and evidence.

When Amanullah Khateb joined the Convoy, now called the People’s Peace Movement ( PPM ), he didn’t know that he would not see his wife again. With poor access to healthcare services, she recently died of appendicitis, leaving behind Khateb and three children.

But Khateb wants peace so intensely that he rejoined the PPM after his wife’s funeral. This desire is shared by each of the members of the PPM. They want all groups involved in the Afghan war to stop fighting, including the Taliban and the U.S./NATO/Afghan forces.

Muhammad Ahmadi from Nuristan Province, told Radio Liberty’s Pashto service that “Afghan peace is needed for Afghans like water for a thirsty man.”

Women in Helmand at a sit-in protest on the 26th March 2018 (Photo taken off Tolo News Video)

 

The young want peace (Photo by Dr Hakim)

 

The old want peace (Photo by Dr Hakim)

Think about why Afghans say that war isn’t effective

These Afghans aren’t political or peace activists. They are farmers, labourers, students, teachers, fathers, mothers and siblings who have tasted the failure of war. For them, war not only doesn’t work, it results in more war, verifying a report that in the ongoing ‘global war against terrorism’ from 2001 to 2015, terrorism increased nine fold.

This increase in terrorism is despite huge war investments in Helmand over the past 17 years, recorded under different names such as Operation Enduring Freedom, Mountain Thrust, Volcano, Kryptonite, Silver as part of Operation Achilles, Silicon, Pickaxe-Handle, Hammer, Eagles’ Eye, Red Dagger, Blue Sword, Panther’s Claw, Khanjar, Moshtarak…..

British troops had fired 46 million rounds of ammunition at the Taliban during eight years of combat in Helmand.

Britain’s Afghan envoy between 2007 and 2010, Sherard Cowper-Coles reviewed Investment in Blood: the True Cost of Britain’s Afghan War by Frank Ledwidge and wrote of the utter, unanswerable folly of Britain’s military intervention in Halmand.

Empathize with how war causes us to lose our minds, our loved ones, and our everything

In 2013, while on his tour of duty in Helmand, Prince Harry had said that shooting Hellfire Missiles at insurgents was like ‘playing video games’. In response, the Taliban said that Prince Harry had probably developed a mental problem. The Taliban themselves have mental illnesses. Afghan psychiatrist Dr Nader Alemi treated the Taliban as human beings though he disagreed with their ideology. He described his Taliban patients as ‘depressed because they never knew what would happen from one minute to the next.’  They were so depressed ‘many wanted to die‘. The Taliban would weep and Dr Nader would comfort them.

The psychological trauma and physical deprivations that war imposes on Afghan children like 15-year-old Kahar should also alert us. With his family, Kahar was displaced from Helmand to Kabul where he attended the Borderfree Street Kids School run by the Afghan Peace Volunteers. Kahar had said:  “I fled from war in Helmand.  I want to live in Kabil or anywhere that is good.”

Kahar says: “Jang bas ast! Enough War!”

But, Kabul’s security deteriorated. Kahar and his family returned from the frying pan into fiery Helmand, where it was reported in 2017 that ‘over the past 15 years Helmand had lost 18,000 policemen’ and where, in July 2018, 600.000 children were reported to be deprived of an education.

What’s more, the older members of the PPM have tasted another crisis that was ignored amidst the frenzy and fray of war: by 2001, the Hamoun Oasis of the Sistan in Helmand was turning from a wetland to a dry wasteland. The desert was getting more desert-y,

A similar water and war crisis is gripping Afghanistan today, with many people in Ghor, Baghdis, Faryab and Jowzjan fleeing drought, hunger and war to take refuge elsewhere.

People just cannot survive.

Like the ordinary folk of the People’s Peace Movement, help one another to make war a method of the past

Therefore, the PPM had every good reason to erect a tent outside the British Embassy in Kabul and to demand that the UK help to end the war. To them, ending the war is a matter of life and death.

The Afghan Peace Volunteers (APVs) met the PPM members in their blue tent last Sunday.

Iqbal Khyber, one of the representatives of the PPM, told the APVs, “We’ve been inspired by your story, and have worn the Borderfree Blue Scarves, telling people that peace is the wish of Peace Volunteers from Bamiyan.” Bamiyan was where the work of the APVs began, but the Volunteers responded, “The scarves really represent everyone’s desire to have peace, so please tell others the scarves represent the wish of the people.”

The Afghan Peace Volunteers with members of the People’s Peace Movement, outside the UK Embassy in Kabul (Photo by Dr Hakim)

One of the APVs, Ghulam Hussein, asked, “Are you eventually going to form an organization?”

Iqbal replied, “No, we want this to be a people’s movement. We won’t accept monetary support from any government or political group, and we don’t want power. When we’ve achieved peace, we will go back to what we were doing, farming, livestock keeping, teaching….”

That hot summer morning, in the tent, there was clear and beautiful evidence that “We are many.”

Both members of the People’s Peace Movement and the Afghan Peace Volunteers are calling on the people of the world to join them in solidarity.

Awake, arise, smile, walk!

Palestinian Courage Should Spur International Action

After 70 years, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still unresolved. The conflict simmers for a few years, then erupts again with new massacres and violence. This article describes recent events, the failure of the “two state solution” and need for a different approach.

In the past couple months, Israeli Defence Force (IDF) soldiers have killed 118 Palestinian protesters and seriously wounded many thousands more. The protesters were unarmed and no threat to the soldiers. Gaza hospitals overflow with victims.

In the wake of this violence, human rights groups filed a legal petition to make it unlawful for Israeli soldiers to fire on unarmed protesters. Last week the Israeli Supreme Court rejected the petition.

Israeli violence is usually portrayed as a “response” to Palestinian violence, but the reality is the opposite. The sequence of recent events is as follows:

– From the end of March til May 25, Palestinians in Gaza protested against their oppression as close as they could get to the border fences. About 118 were killed and many thousands seriously injured by Israeli snipers. They were all shot inside Gaza.

– On May 27 – 28, the Israeli military launched tank mortars at Palestinian military outposts inside Gaza, killing four.

– Next day, on May 29, Palestinian militants launched unguided mortars into nearby Israel. Most of them fell harmlessly and there were no Israeli casualties.

– Next day, on May 30, Israeli jets and helicopters launched guided missiles and bombs on 65 different locations within Gaza.

Clearly, the violence started with Israelis killing protesters and then militants inside Gaza, but it’s not portrayed that way. Time magazine began its article with, “Palestinian militants bombarded southern Israel….”

Pro Israel advocates wish to prevent people from seeing what is really happening. They know the potential damage if people see video such as Israeli snipers celebrating the shooting of unarmed protesters. To prevent this, a proposed law will make it illegal to photograph or video record Israeli soldiers. Palestinian journalists have condemned this attempt to criminalize journalism.

The Reality of the Israeli Occupation

Israel calls itself the “Startup Nation” because of the economic and technological achievements. But in Gaza and the West Bank, Israeli policies and actions strangle the economies and worsen living conditions.

Palestinians in Gaza are kept separate from Palestinians in the West Bank. There is no trade, travel or inter-family visitation. This is in violation of international agreements including the Oslo Accords.

The claim that Israel “departed” Gaza is false. Israel controls the borders, sky and waters around Gaza, a coastal strip just 5 miles wide by 25 miles in length. Unemployment in Gaza is approaching 50%, the highest unemployment in the world. Fisherman are prevented from going out into deeper waters and shot at when they go beyond Israel’s imposed zone. Gazan farmers cannot export independently. Israel frequently blocks the import and export of crops and products. It is almost impossible to leave Gaza. Even outstanding students winning international scholarships may have their exit denied. The electrical and water treatment facilities have been bombed and destroyed by Israel. Nearly all the drinking water is contaminated. Israel restricts the amount of food permitted to enter Gaza so there is continual shortage leading to nutritional deprivation, stunted growth and anemia.

This situation is not new. Eighteen years ago, Israeli journalist Amira Hass described the history, the facts and statistics as well as her personal experience living in Gaza in the profound book Drinking the Seat at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege. The situation was extremely grim then but keeps getting worse.

At the northern Gaza border, Israel is now building a sea barrier extending far out into the Mediterranean. It will be above and below the water line. A major reason for this expensive project is to block sewage and pollution from the waters in front of Gaza. Because of Israeli attacks on sewage treatment and electrical infrastructure, sewage flows into the sea. Last summer, Zikim Beach in southern Israel had to be closed due to the inflow of sewage from Gaza. The ‘sea barrier’ now in construction will block the sea currents. This will keep the Israeli beach clean and greatly compound the problem in Gaza.

The strangulation, impoverishment and oppression is not confined to Gaza. In the West Bank, Israeli settlements continue to expand. This increases the number of check points, restrictions and repression. Travel from Bethlehem to Jerusalem is impossible for most Palestinians. The majority of West Bank water from the aquifers is transferred to Israel or provided cheaply to settlers while Palestinians must buy water and store it in tanks on their rooftops. In the last few years, Israel has made it increasingly difficult or impossible for humanitarian groups to provide medical support including breast cancer screening. A compelling new book titled The Other Side of the Wall describes the daily struggle in the West Bank where Palestinians and international allies protest against the theft of land, abuses, random killings and imprisonments.

Defiant Courage

There seems to be a trend toward greater Palestinian unity and strategic agreement. The tens of thousands of Palestinians protesting in Gaza were unarmed and united behind the Palestinian flag rather than separate party or movement flags of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, PFLP, DFLP, etc..    

The Palestinian protesters in Gaza show remarkable courage. Beginning on Friday March 30, they have returned week after week despite seeing thousands of their fellows shot and wounded or killed.

In an article titled “The Gaza Fence that Separates the Brave from the Cowardly“, Amira Hass wrote:

The desperate courage demonstrated by tens of thousands of citizens of Gaza over the past few weeks in general and on Monday in particular hints at the energies, the talents, the dreams, the creativity and the vitality of the inhabitants of this strip of land – who have been subjected to a 27 year policy of closure and siege aimed at suffocating and crushing them.

Steadfast and Persistent

Palestinian resistance continues despite Israeli violence and bloodshed. Seven years ago Palestinian refugees in Syria and Lebanon held “March of Return” protests at the northern borders. Israeli soldiers killed 13 and wounded many more.

In recent days, Gazans have again challenged the Israeli port blockade which prevents ships from departing or arriving. International solidarity with the Palestinian cause is also persistent. Three ships (two Swedish and one Norwegian) recently departed Scandinavia heading for the Mediterranean Sea and Gaza. Named the 2018 Freedom Flotilla, the ships are carrying dozens of international citizens to again demand that Israel stop its blockade of Gaza.

Despite the huge imbalance today, time may be on the side of the Palestinian cause. Systemic apartheid in South Africa existed for a long time and seemed strong. But ultimately it collapsed quickly. The same may unfold in Israel/Palestine.

Today, South Africa is an important supporter of the Palestinian cause. South Africa was the first nation to recall its ambassador to protest the “indiscriminate and grave Israeli attack” in Gaza.

Israel has the military might but Palestinian resistance and courage persists. The Palestinian population is steadfast, persistent and growing. They have increasing number of allies who support their cause. Young American Jews are unlike their parents and increasingly critical of Israeli policies. Some courageous Israelis, such as Miko Peled, speak out unequivocally that Israeli apartheid must end and be replaced by one state with democracy and equality for all. A million registered Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon and Syria, patiently waiting. They have not forgotten their legal claim and right to return.

The recent bloodshed and massacres underscore the fact that there is no solution on the current path. It only leads to increasingly unlivable conditions in Gaza plus more illegal settlements and oppression in the West Bank. The so-called “two state solution” has been dead for many years and should be forgotten. As happened in South Africa, the international community can and should help. It is time to increase international pressure and expand BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) against Israel to help bring a peaceful end to this conflict with its constant oppression and recurring massacres.

The alternative is very grim. As described by Israeli journalist Gideon Levy:

The truth is that Israel is well prepared to massacre hundreds and thousands, and to expel tens of thousands. Nothing will stop it. This is the end of conscience, the show of morality is over. The last few days’ events have proved it decisively. The tracks have been laid, the infrastructure for the horror has been cast. Dozens of years of brainwashing, demonization and dehumanization have borne fruit. The alliance between the politicians and the media to suppress reality and deny it has succeeded. Israel is set to commit horrors. Nobody will stand in its way any longer. Not from within or from without.

Palestinian courage should spur international action.

When Things Fall Apart: A Graduation Message for a Dark Age

When the rivers and air are polluted, when families and nations are at war, when homeless wanderers fill the highways, these are the traditional signs of a dark age.

— Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, September 26, 2000

Those coming of age today will face some of the greatest obstacles ever encountered by young people.

They will find themselves overtaxed, burdened with excessive college debt, and struggling to find worthwhile employment in a debt-ridden economy on the brink of implosion. Their privacy will be eviscerated by the surveillance state. They will be the subjects of a military empire constantly waging war against shadowy enemies and government agents armed to the teeth ready and able to lock down the country at a moment’s notice.

As such, they will find themselves forced to march in lockstep with a government that no longer exists to serve the people but which demands they be obedient slaves or suffer the consequences.

It’s a dismal prospect, isn’t it?

Unfortunately, we who should have known better failed to guard against such a future.

Worse, we neglected to maintain our freedoms or provide our young people with the tools necessary to survive, let alone succeed, in the impersonal jungle that is modern America.

We brought them into homes fractured by divorce, distracted by mindless entertainment, and obsessed with the pursuit of materialism. We institutionalized them in daycares and afterschool programs, substituting time with teachers and childcare workers for parental involvement. We turned them into test-takers instead of thinkers and automatons instead of activists.

We allowed them to languish in schools which not only look like prisons but function like prisons, as well—where conformity is the rule and freedom is the exception. We made them easy prey for our corporate overlords, while instilling in them the values of a celebrity-obsessed, technology-driven culture devoid of any true spirituality. And we taught them to believe that the pursuit of their own personal happiness trumped all other virtues, including any empathy whatsoever for their fellow human beings.

No, we haven’t done this generation any favors.

Based on the current political climate, things could very well get much worse before they ever take a turn for the better. Here are a few pieces of advice that will hopefully help those coming of age today survive the perils of the journey that awaits:

Be an individual. For all of its claims to champion the individual, American culture advocates a stark conformity which, as John F. Kennedy warned, is “the jailer of freedom, and the enemy of growth.” Worry less about fitting in with the rest of the world and instead, as Henry David Thoreau urged, become “a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought.”

Learn your rights. We’re losing our freedoms for one simple reason: most of us don’t know anything about our freedoms. At a minimum, anyone who has graduated from high school, let alone college, should know the Bill of Rights backwards and forwards. However, the average young person, let alone citizen, has very little knowledge of their rights for the simple reason that the schools no longer teach them. So grab a copy of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and study them at home. And when the time comes, stand up for your rights before it’s too late.

Speak truth to power. Don’t be naive about those in positions of authority. As James Madison, who wrote our Bill of Rights, observed, “All men having power ought to be distrusted.” We must learn the lessons of history. People in power, more often than not, abuse that power. To maintain our freedoms, this will mean challenging government officials whenever they exceed the bounds of their office.

Resist all things that numb you. Don’t measure your worth by what you own or earn. Likewise, don’t become mindless consumers unaware of the world around you. Resist all things that numb you, put you to sleep or help you “cope” with so-called reality. Those who establish the rules and laws that govern society’s actions desire compliant subjects. However, as George Orwell warned, “Until they become conscious, they will never rebel, and until after they rebelled, they cannot become conscious.” It is these conscious individuals who change the world for the better.

Don’t let technology turn you into zombies. Technology anesthetizes us to the all-too-real tragedies that surround us. Techno-gadgets are merely distractions from what’s really going on in America and around the world. As a result, we’ve begun mimicking the inhuman technology that surrounds us and have lost our humanity. We’ve become sleepwalkers. If you’re going to make a difference in the world, you’re going to have to pull the earbuds out, turn off the cell phones and spend much less time viewing screens.

Help others. We all have a calling in life. And I believe it boils down to one thing: You are here on this planet to help other people. In fact, none of us can exist very long without help from others. If we’re going to see any positive change for freedom, then we must change our view of what it means to be human and regain a sense of what it means to love and help one another. That will mean gaining the courage to stand up for the oppressed.

Give voice to moral outrage. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.” There is no shortage of issues on which to take a stand. For instance, on any given night, over half a million people in the U.S. are homeless, and half of them are elderly. There are 46 million Americans living at or below the poverty line, and 16 million children living in households without adequate access to food. Congress creates, on average, more than 50 new criminal laws each year. With more than 2 million Americans in prison, and close to 7 million adults in correctional care, the United States has the largest prison population in the world. At least 2.7 million children in the United States have at least one parent in prison. At least 400 to 500 innocent people are killed by police officers every year. Americans are now eight times more likely to die in a police confrontation than they are to be killed by a terrorist. On an average day in America, over 100 Americans have their homes raided by SWAT teams. It costs the American taxpayer $52.6 billion every year to be spied on by the government intelligence agencies tasked with surveillance, data collection, counterintelligence and covert activities. All the while, since 9/11, the U.S. has spent more than $1.6 trillion to wage wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and police the rest of the world. This is an egregious affront to anyone who believes in freedom.

Cultivate spirituality, reject materialism and put people first. When the things that matter most have been subordinated to materialism, we have lost our moral compass. We must change our values to reflect something more meaningful than technology, materialism and politics. Standing at the pulpit of the Riverside Church in New York City in April 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. urged his listeners:

[W]e as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motive and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

Pitch in and do your part to make the world a better place. Don’t rely on someone else to do the heavy lifting for you. Don’t wait around for someone else to fix what ails you, your community or nation. As Gandhi urged: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Say no to war. Addressing the graduates at Binghampton Central High School in 1968, at a time when the country was waging war “on different fields, on different levels, and with different weapons,” Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling declared:

Too many wars are fought almost as if by rote. Too many wars are fought out of sloganry, out of battle hymns, out of aged, musty appeals to patriotism that went out with knighthood and moats. Love your country because it is eminently worthy of your affection. Respect it because it deserves your respect. Be loyal to it because it cannot survive without your loyalty. But do not accept the shedding of blood as a natural function or a prescribed way of history—even if history points this up by its repetition. That men die for causes does not necessarily sanctify that cause. And that men are maimed and torn to pieces every fifteen and twenty years does not immortalize or deify the act of war… find another means that does not come with the killing of your fellow-man.

Finally, prepare yourselves for what lies ahead. The demons of our age—some of whom disguise themselves as politicians—delight in fomenting violence, sowing distrust and prejudice, and persuading the public to support tyranny disguised as patriotism. Overcoming the evils of our age will require more than intellect and activism. It will require decency, morality, goodness, truth and toughness. As Serling concluded in his remarks to the graduating class of 1968:

Toughness is the singular quality most required of you… we have left you a world far more botched than the one that was left to us… Part of your challenge is to seek out truth, to come up with a point of view not dictated to you by anyone, be he a congressman, even a minister… Are you tough enough to take the divisiveness of this land of ours, the fact that everything is polarized, black and white, this or that, absolutely right or absolutely wrong. This is one of the challenges. Be prepared to seek out the middle ground … that wondrous and very difficult-to-find Valhalla where man can look to both sides and see the errant truths that exist on both sides. If you must swing left or you must swing right—respect the other side. Honor the motives that come from the other side. Argue, debate, rebut—but don’t close those wondrous minds of yours to opposition. In their eyes, you’re the opposition. And ultimately … ultimately—you end divisiveness by compromise. And so long as men walk and breathe—there must be compromise…

Are you tough enough to face one of the uglier stains upon the fabric of our democracy—prejudice? It’s the basic root of most evil. It’s a part of the sickness of man. And it’s a part of man’s admission, his constant sick admission, that to exist he must find a scapegoat. To explain away his own deficiencies—he must try to find someone who he believes more deficient… Make your judgment of your fellow-man on what he says and what he believes and the way he acts. Be tough enough, please, to live with prejudice and give battle to it. It warps, it poisons, it distorts and it is self-destructive. It has fallout worse than a bomb … and worst of all it cheapens and demeans anyone who permits himself the luxury of hating.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the only way we’ll ever achieve change in this country is for the American people to finally say “enough is enough” and fight for the things that truly matter.

It doesn’t matter how old you are or what your political ideology is. If you have something to say, speak up. Get active, and if need be, pick up a picket sign and get in the streets. And when civil liberties are violated, don’t remain silent about it.

Wake up, stand up, and make your activism count for something more than politics.

Bolivia’s TIPNIS Dispute

As has become a standard operating procedure, an array of Western environmental NGOs, advocates of indigenous rights and liberal-left alternative media cover up the US role in attempts to overturn the anti-imperialist and anti-neoliberal governments of Rafael Correa in Ecuador and Evo Morales in Bolivia.

This NACLA article is a recent excellent example of many. Bolivia’s TIPNIS (Territorio Indígena y Parque Nacional Isiboro Secure) dispute arose over the Evo Morales government’s project to complete a road through the park, opposed by some indigenous and environmental groups.

As is NACLA modus operandi, the article says not one word about US and right-wing funding and coordination with the indigenous and environmental groups behind the TIPNIS anti-highway protests. (This does not delegitimize the protests, but it does deliberately mislead people about the issues involved).

In doing so, these kinds of articles cover up US interventionist regime change plans, be that their intention or not.

NACLA is not alone in what is in fact apologetics for US interventionism. Include the Guardian, UpsideDownWorld, Amazon Watch, so-called “Marxist” Jeffery Webber (and here), Jacobin, ROAR, Intercontinentalcry, Avaaz, In These Times, in a short list of examples. We can add to this simply by picking up any articles about the protests in Bolivia’s TIPNIS (or oil drilling in Ecuador’s Yasuni during Rafael Correa’s presidency) and see what they say about US funding of protests, if they even mention it.

This is not simply an oversight, it is a cover-up.

What this Liberal Left Media Covers Up

On the issue of the TIPNIS highway, we find on numerous liberal-left alternative media and environmental websites claiming to defend the indigenous concealing that:

(a) The leading indigenous group of the TIPNIS 2011-2012 protests was being funded by USAID. The Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of the Bolivian East (CIDOB) had no qualms about working with USAID — it boasted on its website that it received training programs from USAID. CIDOB president Adolfo Chavez, thanked the “information and training acquired via different programs financed by external collaborators, in this case USAID”.

(b) The 2011 TIPNIS march was coordinated with the US Embassy, specifically Eliseo Abelo. His phone conversations with the march leaders – some even made right before the march set out — were intercepted by the Bolivian counter-espionage agency and made public.

(c) “The TIPNIS marchers were openly supported by right wing Santa Cruz agrobusiness interests and their main political representatives, the Santa Cruz governorship and Santa Cruz Civic Committee.In June 2011 indigenous deputies and right wing parties in the Santa Cruz departmental council formed an alliance against the MAS (Movement for Socialism, Evo Morales’s party). CIDOB then received a $3.5 million grant by the governorship for development projects in its communities.

Over a year after the TIPNIS protests, one of the protest leaders announced he was joining a right-wing, anti-Evo Morales political party.

(d) The protest leaders of the TIPNIS march supported REDD (Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation). The Avaaz petition (below) criticizing Evo Morales for his claimed anti-environmental actions also covered this up. As far back as 2009 “CIDOB leaders were participating there in a USAID-promoted workshop to talk up the imperialist-sponsored REDD project they were pursuing together with USAID-funded NGOs.”

REDD was a Western “environmental” program seeking to privatize forests by converting them into “carbon offsets” that allow Western corporations to continue polluting. That REDD would give Western NGOs and these indigenous groups funds for monitoring forests in their areas.

(e)These liberal-left alternative media and environmental NGOs falsely presented the TIPNIS conflict as one between indigenous/environmentalist groups against the Evo Morales government (e.g. the TIPNIS highway was “a project universally[!] condemned by local indigenous tribes and urban populations alike”). Fred Fuentes pointed out that more than 350 Bolivian organizations, including indigenous organizations and communities, even within TIPNIS, supported the proposed highway.

CONISUR (Consejo de Indígenas del Sur), consisting of a number of indigenous and peasant communities within TIPNIS, backed by Bolivia’s three largest national indigenous campesino organizations, organized a march to support of the road. They argued that the highway is essential to integrating Bolivia’s Amazonia with the rest of the country, as well as providing local communities with access to basic services and markets.

The overwhelming majority of people in the West who know about the TIPNIS protests, or the Yasuni protests in Ecuador, where a similar division between indigenous groups took place, never learned either from the liberal-left media or the corporate media, that indigenous groups marched in support of the highway or in support of oil drilling.

Therefore, this liberal-left media is not actually defending “the indigenous.” They are choosing sides within indigenous ranks, choosing the side that is funded and influenced by the US government.

(f) The TIPNIS conflict is falsely presented as Evo Morales wanting to build a highway through the TIPNIS wilderness (“cutting it in half” as they dramatically claim). There are in fact two roads that exist there now, which will be paved and connected to each other. Nor was it wilderness: 20,000 settlers lived there by 2010.

(g) Anti-highway march leaders actually defended industrial-scale logging within TIPNIS. Two logging companies operated 70,000 hectares within the national park and have signed 20-year contracts with local communities.

(h) They often fail to note that the TIPNIS marchers, when they reached La Paz, sought to instigate violence, demanding Evo Morales removal. Their plot was blocked by mobilization of local indigenous supporters of Evo’s government.

If we do not read Fred Fuentes in Green Left Weekly, we don’t find most of this information. Now, it is true that some of the media articles did mention that there were also TIPNIS protests and marches demanding the highway be built. Some do mention USAID, but phrase it as “Evo Morales claimed that those protesting his highway received USAID funding.”

Avaaz Petition Attacking Evo Morales over TIPNIS

The TIPNIS campaign, which became a tool in the US regime change strategy, was taken up in a petition by Avaaz. It included 61 signing groups. Only two from Bolivia! US signers included Amazon Watch, Biofuelwatch, Democracy Center, Food and Water Watch, Global Exchange, NACLA, Rainforest Action Network.  Whether they knew it, whether they wanted to know it, they signed on to a false account of the TIPNIS conflict, placed the blame on the Bolivian government, target of US regime change, and hid the role of the US.

US collaborators in Bolivia and Ecuador are painted as defenders of free expression, defenders of nature, defenders of the indigenous. The US government’s “talking points” against the progressive ALBA bloc countries have worked their way into liberal-left alternative media, which echo the attacks on these governments by organizations there receiving US funds.  That does not mean Amazon Watch, Upside Down World or NACLA are themselves funded by the US government – if it somehow exculpates them that they do this work for free. Even worse, much of this propaganda against Evo and Correa appears only in the liberal-left alternative press, what we consider our press.

The USAID budget for Latin America is said to be $750 million, but estimates show that the funding may total twice that. Maria Augusta Calle of Ecuador’s National Assembly, said in 2015 the US Congress allocated $2 billion to destabilize targeted Latin American countries.

This information, how much money it is, what organizations in the different countries receive it, how it is spent, ought to be a central focus of any liberal-left alternative media purporting to stand up for the oppressed peoples of the Americas.

Yet, as Fuentes points out:  “Overwhelmingly, solidarity activists uncritically supported the anti-highway march. Many argued that only social movements — not governments — can guarantee the success of [Bolivia’s] process of change…. with most articles written by solidarity activists, they] downplay the role of United States imperialism…. Others went further, denying any connection between the protesters and US imperialism.”

Why do they let themselves become conveyer belts for US regime change propaganda?

Why did this liberal-left media and NGOs let themselves become conveyor belts for US propaganda for regime change, legitimizing this US campaign to smear the Evo Morales government?

Some of it lies in the liberalish refusal to admit that all international issues can only be understood in the context of the role and the actions of the US Empire. As if conflicts related to countries the US deems hostile to its interests can be understood without taking the US role into account. Some liberal-left writers and groups do understand this, just as they do understand they may risk their positions and funding by looking to closely into it.

It seems easier to not see the role the Empire plays and simply present a liberal-left “critique” of the pluses and minuses of some progressive government targeted by the US. That is how these alternative media sources end up actually advocating for indigenous groups and environmental NGOs which are US and corporate funded. They even criticize countries for defending national sovereignty by shutting down these non-governmental organizations, what Bolivian Vice-President Linera exposes as “foreign government financed organizations” operating in their countries.

Some of it lies in the widely held anti-authoritarian feeling in the US that social movements “from below” are inherently good and that the government/the state is inherently bad. The reporting can be informative on social movements in Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Colombia where the people struggle against state repression. But when these social movements in Ecuador or Bolivia were able to win elections and gain hold of some real state power, reporting soon becomes hostile and misleading. “Support social movements when they struggle against governmental power; oppose them once they win government power,” they seem to say. Their reporting slides into disinformation, undermining our solidarity with other struggles, and covering up US regime change efforts. Upside Down World is an excellent example of this.

Some of it lies in what many who call themselves “left” still have not come to terms with: their own arrogant white attitude they share with Western colonizers and present day ruling elites: we know better than you what is good for you, we are the best interpreters and defenders of your socialism, your democracy, your human rights. They repeatedly critique real or imagined failures of progressive Third World governments – targets of the US.

Genuine solidarity with the peoples of the Third World means basing yourself in opposition to the Empire’s interference and exposing how it attempts to undermine movements seeking to break free from the Western domination.

Some of it lies in deep-rooted white racist paternalism in their romanticizing the indigenous as some “noble savage” living at one with nature in some Garden of Eden. Providing these people with schools, health clinics, modern conveniences we have, is somehow felt not to be in their best interests.

A serious analysis of a Third World country must begin with the role the West has played.  To not point out imperialism’s historic and continuing exploitive role is simply dishonest, it is apologetics, it shows a basic lack of human feeling for the peoples of the Third World.

A function of corporate media is to conceal Western pillaging of Third World countries, to cheerlead efforts to restore neocolonial-neoliberal governments to power. However, for liberal-left media and organizations to do likewise, even if halfway, is nothing other than supporting imperialist interference.

The Isolation of Julian Assange is the Silencing of Us All

In this letter, twenty-seven writers, journalists, film-makers, artists, academics, former intelligence officers and democrats call on the government of Ecuador to allow Julian Assange his right of freedom of speech.

If it was ever clear that the case of Julian Assange was never just a legal case, but a struggle for the protection of basic human rights, it is now.

Citing his critical tweets about the recent detention of Catalan president Carles Puidgemont in Germany, and following pressure from the US, Spanish and UK governments, the Ecuadorian government has installed an electronic jammer to stop Assange communicating with the outside world via the internet and phone.

As if ensuring his total isolation, the Ecuadorian government is also refusing to allow him to receive visitors. Despite two UN rulings describing his detention as unlawful and mandating his immediate release, Assange has been effectively imprisoned since he was first placed in isolation in Wandsworth prison in London in December 2010. He has never been charged with a crime. The Swedish case against him collapsed and was withdrawn, while the United States has stepped up efforts to prosecute him. His only “crime” is that of a true journalist — telling the world the truths that people have a right to know.

Under its previous president, the Ecuadorian government bravely stood against the bullying might of the United States and granted Assange political asylum as a political refugee. International law and the morality of human rights was on its side.

Today, under extreme pressure from Washington and its collaborators, another government in Ecuador justifies its gagging of Assange by stating that “Assange’s behaviour, through his messages on social media, put at risk good relations which this country has with the UK, the rest of the EU and other nations.”

This censorious attack on free speech is not happening in Turkey, Saudi Arabia or China; it is right in the heart of London. If the Ecuadorian government does not cease its unworthy action, it, too, will become an agent of persecution rather than the valiant nation that stood up for freedom and for free speech. If the EU and the UK continue to participate in the scandalous silencing of a true dissident in their midst, it will mean that free speech is indeed dying in Europe. This is not just a matter of showing support and solidarity. We are appealing to all who care about basic human rights to call on the government of Ecuador to continue defending the rights of a courageous free speech activist, journalist and whistleblower.

We ask that his basic human rights be respected as an Ecuadorian citizen and internationally protected person and that he not be silenced or expelled.

If there is no freedom of speech for Julian Assange, there is no freedom of speech for any of us — regardless of the disparate opinions we hold.

We call on President Moreno to end the isolation of Julian Assange now.

List of signatories (in alphabetic order):

Pamela Anderson, actress and activist
Jacob Appelbaum, freelance journalist
Renata Avila, International Human Rights Lawyer
Sally Burch, British/Ecuadorian journalist
Alicia Castro, Argentina’s ambassador to the United Kingdom 2012-16
Naomi Colvin, Courage Foundation
Noam Chomsky, linguist and political theorist
Brian Eno, musician
Joseph Farrell, WikiLeaks Ambassador and board member of The Centre for Investigative Journalism
Teresa Forcades, Benedictine nun, Montserrat Monastery
Charles Glass, American-British author, journalist, broadcaster
Chris Hedges, journalist
Srecko Horvat, philosopher, Democracy in Europe Movement (DiEM25)
Jean Michel Jarre, musician
John Kiriakou, former CIA counterterrorism officer and former senior investigator, U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
Lauri Love, computer scientist and activist
Ray McGovern, former CIA analyst, Presidential advisor
John Pilger, journalist and film-maker
Angela Richter, theater director, Germany
Saskia Sassen, sociologist, Columbia University
Oliver Stone, film-maker
Vaughan Smith, English journalist
Yanis Varoufakis, economist, former Greek finance minister
Natalia Viana, investigative journalist and co-director of Agencia publica, Brazil
Ai Weiwei, artist
Vivienne Westwood, fashion designer and activist
Slavoj Žižek, philosopher, Birkbeck Institute for Humanities

Thousands of Students Protest Gun Violence

Sonoma County, CaliforniaDriving through small-town Sebastopol on March 14 toward the Senior Center, this 73-year-old noticed groups of young students with signs gathering on downtown street corners and waving to motorists. These active participants in direct democracy joined thousands who walked out of schools across the U.S. and the world, organized by the Women’s March Youth branch.

As I got closer to the students, a variety of feelings, thoughts, and memories emerged. Tears of appreciation began to drip from my eyes, as I learned why they were protesting.

Then I smiled at them and flashed the peace sign, as I used to during the active 1960s. I eventually resigned my U.S. Army officer’s commission to join the marches that finally helped end the American wars on the people of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Spending a short time in jail, before being released — since I was merely expressing my First Amendment freedom of speech — was worth it.

I’m proud of our middle and high school students, as well as others, for non-violently standing up to defend their generation against those who continue to shoot innocent youth and others in Florida and elsewhere. “Lives matter more than guns. Enough is enough!” were  among the signs.

Many teachers and administrators supported students wanting to join the brief marches. California Rep. Mike Thompson created a video, which schools are showing, where he encourages students to “stand up and speak out” against gun violence.

Each event had its own character. The Sebastopol rallies were relatively dignified and many protestors had taped their mouths. All corners of Santa Rosa High, in contrast, were full of students waving signs, chanting, and expressing a call to action and a show of force.

An estimated 500 students, about a quarter of Santa Rosa High’s student body, joined the walkout. In nearby Petaluma around 2000 students from a dozen schools walked out. Some wore bright orange #Never Again shirts, a prominent hash-tag, according to the daily Press Democrat.

Nearly all of the 1300 students at Sonoma Valley High School gathered with signs such as “I should be writing my term paper instead of my will” and “Never Again!” Some waved the American flag and shouted things such as “It’s time for the next generation to take over!”

The Sunridge 8th grade class (Sebastopol) arranged this memorial in front of their school before heading down to Main Street to participate in a 17 minute moment of Silence. (Photo: Bill Shortridge)

My feelings eventually ranged from a mixture of sadness—because these students needed to protest—to appreciation for their bravery against those who threaten the Earth’s future.

“Too Young to Protest? 10-Year-Olds Beg to Differ” headlined a March 14 New York Times article. “It started last month as a writing exercise on the 1963 Birmingham Children’s Crusade, when more than 1000 students skipped school and marched to demand civil rights,” the article began. So the current marches have also been a history classroom.

“The classroom assignment mushroomed into a plan—hatched by 10-and-11-year-olds—to stage a little civil disobedience of their own,” the article notes.

“We Won’t Let the N.R.A. Win” headlines another Times article, written by three New Jersey high school students. “The killings of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida may be the massacre that finally gets federal and state governments to enact common-sense gun control laws,” the students commence their article.

They remind us, “That should have happened after Columbine. It should have happened after Virginia Tech. It should have happened after Sandy Hook. But it didn’t. The Stoneman Douglas School is where our generation draws a line.” So they imagined and then created what some organizers describe as the National School Walkout.

17 is the number of students and staff killed at the Florida school. Many of the events were scheduled for 17 minutes.

“March for Our Lives is not just one day,” the students conclude. “We must all stand with Stoneman Douglas students and say, ‘Never again.’ This isn’t about being aligned with one political party or another. This is about protecting this nation’s children.”

The American Civil Liberties Union helped train some students in their direct actions. The creation of a sense of community was among the marches’ goals.

Meanwhile, a series of violent threats have been scrawled on campuses, including at Santa Rosa High in Northern California.

“We are the future of this country, yet we can no longer assume we are safe from mass shootings in our schools. Nor can we assume our elders will protect us,” the students write.

When I arrived at the Sebastopol Area Senior Center, I spoke with other elders about the issues these youth raise. We agreed that we should support their leadership and join these brave “first responders.”

“Eloquent young voices, equipped with symbolism and social media savvy, riding a resolve as yet untouched by cynicism,” is how the New York Times described the rallies.

In Lower Manhattan, Gov. Andrew Cuomo joined a die-in at Zucotti Park, the former home of the Occupy Wall Street protests.

“Hey-hey, ho-ho, the N.R.A. has to go,” students chanted as they marched to the D. C. Capital steps. They were met by members of Congress, the most popular of whom seemed to be Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Stay tuned for at least two more nationwide protests on March 24 and April 20, the anniversary of the Columbine murders, as students continue to gather steam and define their movement.