How the People Got Their Groove Back: What a Bunch of Farmers Can Teach a Bunch of Occupiers About How to Keep on Going

[Written by Ash Sanders. Originally published as a zine, which you can download and print (6 double-sided sheets folded into a 24 half-page booklet). Online version cross-posted from]

Not so long ago, Americans witnessed the beginning of a mass democratic uprising. Thousands of average people, disgusted by greedy elites and corporate control of government, launched a movement that spread to almost every state in the nation. They did it to reject debt. They did it to fight foreclosures. They did it to topple a world where the 1 percent determined life for the other 99. And they did all of it against incredible odds, with a self-respect that stymied critics.

The year? 1877. The people? Dirt-poor farmers who would come to be known as Populists.

Now it’s 2011, and the People are stirring again. It’s been over two months since a few hundred dreamers pitched their tents in Zuccotti Park and stayed.

These people weren’t Populists, but they had the same complaints. They couldn’t make rent. They had no future. They lived in a nation with one price for the rich and another for the poor. And they knew that whatever anyone said that they didn’t have real democracy.

Okay, and so what? What do a bunch of century-dead farmers have to do with the Occupy movement? Well, quite a lot, actually.

You see, the Populists came within an inch of changing the entire corporate-capitalist system. They wanted a totally new world, and they had a plan to get it. But as you may have noticed, they didn’t. And now here we are, one hundred years later, occupying parks where fields once stood. We’re at a crucial phase in our movement, standing just now with the great Everything around us—everything to win or everything to lose. It’s our choice. And that’s good, because the choices we make next will echo, not just for scholars and bored kids in history class, but in the lives we do or don’t get to have. The good news is this: the Populists traveled in wagons and left us their wheels. We don’t have to reinvent them. We’re going in a new direction, but I have a feeling they can help us get there.

Occupy has done a lot of things right, and even more things beautifully. But strategy has not been our forte. That was okay at first, even good. We didn’t have one demand, because we wanted it all. So we let our anger grow, and our imagination with it. We were not partisan or monogamous to one creed. That ranging anger got 35,000 people on the Brooklyn Bridge after the Wall Street eviction, and hell if I’m not saying hallelujah. But winter is settling now, and cops are on the march. Each week we face new eviction orders, and wonder how to occupy limbo.

It’s time for a plan, then, some idea for going forward. This plan should in no way replace the rhizomatic-glorious, joyful-rip-roarious verve of the movement so far. It can occur in tandem. But we need a blueprint for the future, because strategy is the road resistance walks to freedom.

In that spirit, I sat down a few years ago and devoted myself to studying social movements of the past. I wanted to see what I could learn from them—where they went wrong, where they went right. I didn’t trust this exercise to random musings. No, like a good Type A kid, I made butcher paper lists of past movement features and mapped them onto current ones. I asked: What is the revolt of the guard for the climate movement? What’s the modern anti-corporate equivalent of the Boston Tea Party?

As I read, I learned a lot about the phases movements go through as they form, what common features they share, and what often breaks them apart.

I could name these phases myself, but it’s already been done. And no one has named them better than historian Lawrence Goodwyn, a thinking human if there ever was one and the author of The Populist Moment.

Goodwyn said that successful movements go through four stages:

Continue reading ‘How the People Got Their Groove Back: What a Bunch of Farmers Can Teach a Bunch of Occupiers About How to Keep on Going’

EXCLUSIVE: Leaked letter: ICCC climate skeptic conference “an elaborate hoax”

The following letter was sent to me by an anonymous employee at the Ranco Las Palmas Resort in Palm Springs, California. The author identifies themselves only as “Chucky”. It appears to have been written prior to the first International Conference on Climate Change–an annual gathering of so-called “climate skeptics” in Washington D.C.  The content of the letter suggests that the premise of the ICCC Conference is to manufacture uncertainty in the conversation about anthropogenic global warming.

The employee claims she found it in a briefcase that had been turned in to the lost-and-found desk at the Rancho Las Palmas Resort.  It is worth noting that the resort was the location of a retreat hosted by Charles and David Koch just one day prior to the briefcase being found. The letter includes no conclusive evidence that the letter was addressed to Charles and David Koch.  [I transcribed the letter below due to the difficulty of reading the handwriting. Notes added are in italics and bracketed. Links are included for background information.]


Dear Charles and David,

Continue reading ‘EXCLUSIVE: Leaked letter: ICCC climate skeptic conference “an elaborate hoax”’

DeChristopher sentencing hearing delayed — The revolution will not be rescheduled

Cross-posted from Peaceful Uprising

By issuing another last-minute delay, Judge Dee Benson has made it clear that he is desperate to avoid public accountability for the persecution of peaceful climate justice activist  Tim DeChristopher.

The new date is July 26th at 3pm. However, nationwide solidarity actions will proceed on June 23th.

This tactic did not work before. Tim’s trial was delayed nine times over a period of two years. They can reschedule the sentencing, but those fighting for a just and healthy world know that we cannot wait.
The prosecution in USA vs. TimDeChristopher never thought that they’d be in this position. They filed the outrageous charges thinking they’d deter others from addressing the government’s failure to protect a livable future for it’s citizens. Instead, they’ve ignited a movement, and it’s too late for them to turn back.
Tim addresses Peaceful Uprising supporters outside the federal courthouse after the guilty verdict. They stayed for four days.
Tim’s trial is political in nature. As in any political battle, one side is fighting to hold on to power while the other seeks change.  Currently, political power in the United States serves the interests of large industries over those of its citizens. When Tim disrupted an illegal Government auction of our public land to fossil fuel developers, he exposed the corrupt relationship between our Government and the most powerful industry on the planet. What we are witnessing is embarrassment, expressed as retribution.
The battle scenario is relatively simple. To hold on to power, the Government must address significant strategical disadvantages:

Building a self-sufficient movement

Guest post by Tabitha Skervin, one of the 9 arrested at the Capitol April 15 at the “Citizens Filibuster

Late Wednesday night, after our last final, Jordan and I drove out to DC to make our court date Thursday morning. The commute is a hard one and my little PT Cruiser wasn’t much help, but we’ve sort have become pros at it- after all, we did the same exact thing a few weeks back when we decided to disrupt the House with a song. Thursday night, April 14th we headed out to DC to meet up with youth activists from all around the country who were ready to take a risk to inspire the 10,000 students attending Powershift that weekend. We sang an alternative version of the Star Spangled Banner, one that called for our congressmen to start standing up for our future- our right to clean air, water, and food- not big oil, gas, and coal. Disrupting congress is an arrestable action, something that we knew going in. But even though we were arrested and stayed in jail for over 6hrs, we had accomplished our goal. That Monday, hundreds of activists stormed the Department of the Interior and stayed despite the threat of arrest. 21 stayed for arrest even after being threatened with felony charges.

This past week, the nine of us who were arrested that friday all had to come back to DC for our arraignment. For some of us, that meant flying in from Utah, long train or bus rides from Massachusetts, Maine, etc. For Jordan and I it meant pulling another all-nighter to drive in from Michigan. At 8am, Thursday morning, we met with our lawyers and we ended the day with a drug test at around 3pm. This is the not-so-sexy side of civil disobedience, the part where sacrifice starts to kick in and we are forced to face financial, personal, and professional consequences for our action. But at the same time, these past couple of days have been the most encouraging for me.

I see the beginning of a culture within our movement that is willing to support those who decide to take action even at the expense of their own future. I am beginning to see a movement with people that can find it in their hearts to give the little that they have to support those who they can call allies. I’m beginning to see a movement that is becoming financially independent, and with financial independence comes true mobility. Is the movement strong enough to support one another? Is it capable of making things like money less of a concern when taking action? I think it is.

Going to court on Thursday wasn’t a walk in the park. I saw too many of my less fortunate black brothers and sisters in that room and too many people there for minor drug charges. The failure of our court system was hard to ignore- the true victims of our unjust society were criminalized while the true criminals were no where to be found. Yet there was still hope because in the middle of this scene was a row of individuals who were crazy enough to think that they could take on this institution…and there are hundreds who were starting to stand behind them and their action.

Even though Thursday I was surrounded by those who force their laws on us, It also wasn’t scary, nerve racking, or daunting- it was liberating. I am not alone. I have countless of people- some I don’t even know personally- who are there to back me up. I want to see more of those seats filled with activists standing up for what is right. I want them to feel the same sense of relief that, despite the outcome, there is a whole movement of like minded individuals ready to bring about support in any way that they can- whether it be with time, money, or just encouragement. I believe the nine of us and the 21 who got arrested in the department of Interior are continuing to play a part in inspiring others to join us in tactful civil disobedience. A movement that has learned how to sacrifice individually and for one another is powerful. It’s a force to be reckoned with!

I will be Silent No More, Forever

Written by Sam Rubin

This Friday, April 15, I went to Congress to be heard. I went to Congress to sing. I went to Congress to speak truth to power. I entered the visitor’s gallery of the House of Representatives with eight others, and one after another.

We sang a modified version of the Star Spangled Banner:

Oh, Why can’t you see It’s my life that’s at stake
When you sell out our earth
You are stealing my future
Can you look in my eyes
As you Gamble our lives
When will you stop the lies
So that we can survive?
If you represent me
Not the fossil fuel industry
You must stop wasting time
Chasing your dollar signs
Oh, say will you listen to Our Generation
If you refuse to hear us now
Then we have to shut you down

For the entire half hour it took us to file into the gallery and the five long minutes that I waited in my seat, my stomach was hollow and I was more nervous than I had ever been. But once we were all in the gallery, I did rise and sing. I was arrested by the capital police, and along with the others, was changed with Unlawful Conduct: Disrupting Congress. I have a court date on May 5.

In many ways, my political awakening came with the election of Barack Obama in 2008. In Obama I did see a hope for the future. I saw the possibility that, with him, we could change the way that our government worked. We could start to change the ways of corporate influence over our democracy and, in that, begin to address climate change. This was, needless to say, a faith that was highly misplaced.

My role in that campaign, as nothing more than a canvasser a few times, had caused a need for action, and a need for change in the world, to bloom. In the Fall of 2009, I worked on a campaign that sought for 100% clean electricity by 2020, in Massachusetts – a goal that was realistic and within the requirements of scientific research. I dedicated myself whole-heartedly to this campaign, called the Leadership Campaign, and between myself and all the others working toward this goal, we spent thousands of long hours calling, writing letters, and visiting our Representatives. But it didn’t work. After all the intense energy and dedication that all of us put into it, the legislature just ignored the bill and us.

They don’t listen to our pleas as their constituents or as their children. They don’t listen to our scientists or our doctors. They don’t listen to our priests or our parents. We lost.

In the wake of that loss, I was forced to reevaluate the political system in America, and how that effects the climate movement. It was then that I realized that something more is demanded of us. If we actually believe in what we are fighting for- justice, the planet, and perhaps most importantly, each other- then we must hold ourselves accountable to do what is necessary. Continue reading ‘I will be Silent No More, Forever’

Koch brothers hide as movements unite

Cross-posted from Peaceful Uprising

The earth and democracy aren’t dying. They’re being killed—and the people killing them are next door to this hotel.

Koch Brothers

Know what’s funny? “Koch” is pronounced “Coke.” Know what isn’t funny?  Today, in Palm Springs, California, the Koch brothers are meeting in secret to plot the final stages of their wildly successful campaign to destroy representative democracy.

Oh, and the planet too.

I’m here with some other people and we are going to try to stop them. But we’ll need your help.

First you’ll need to know who the Kochs are, what their motives have been, and how they’ve gotten away with this for so long.

Then you need to tell everyone you know.

These men are highly effective sociopaths who have been on an unchecked spree for years. A description of their trail of carnage contains all the major elements of todays public discourse. Climate change has been made politically unaddressable by their meticulous misinformation campaign; they’ve divided (and effectively conquered) the American people through by creating the so-called Tea Party; and to secure their long-term profits they’ve even succeeded in legalizing unlimited corporate spending in elections.

There’s nothing unusual about billionaires messing around with politics. It’s been going since before billionaire became the new millionaire. But the Kochs are special. Professional nonpartisan watchdog Charles Lewis from the Center for Public Integrity, puts it this way: “The Kochs are on a whole different level. There’s no one else who has spent this much money…They have a pattern of lawbreaking, political manipulation, and obfuscation. I’ve been in Washington since Watergate, and I’ve never seen anything like it. They are the Standard Oil of our times.” (Read the amazing New Yorker expose.)

Why has the public been slow to embrace the reality of the Koch stranglehold? How did Charles and David pull this off?

That’s where the climate comes in. Continue reading ‘Koch brothers hide as movements unite’

El cambio climático es una parte de la justicia social

El cambio climático es una parte de la justicia social. (read in English)

Cada ser humano depende del medio ambiente. El sistema actual concentra la riqueza en las manos de una minoría empresarial y pone en peligro la salud y la seguridad de todos. Son los menos privilegiados y los más vulnerables los que sienten los primeros efectos de la crisis climática y los que más daño sufren.

Desde "Bangladesh faces climate refugee nightmare" (Reuters, 2008)

El movimiento climático no es el movimiento ecologista. Mientras el movimiento ecologista pretende proteger la rana de árbol en las amazonas y el oso polar en el ártico, el movimiento climático se preocupa por un futuro equitativo y seguro para los seres humanos.

Continue reading ‘El cambio climático es una parte de la justicia social’

Seeking thick-headed activists…

Solidarity Illustration

By Tim DeChristopher, cross-posted from Peaceful Uprising

This post came from an email conversation with Post Carbon Institute‘s Strategist-Extraordinaire Tod Brilliant, who argued that we should recruit farmers and grandmothers since college-age protesters would get written off as “spoiled elites.” Tod has a totally reasonable view and might be right. In fact, it’s a very similar warning that Martin Luther King, Jr. gave to the Freedom Riders. They ignored his advice and went anyway, demonstrating that there is something strangely powerful about watching another person put themself in harms way.

I think college kids who protest and get a citation will definitely not get sympathy. Those who spend a night in jail probably won’t get much either. Those who get released from a night in jail to go straight back and repeat their action might start arousing some curiosity. Those who defy a judge’s strong warning that returning a third time will guarantee a year in prison will begin to actually move people. When college kids become former college kids who have been kicked out because of their activism, we’ll start making some progress. The “uppity brats” critique only sticks if anyone who wields it has ever sacrificed as much as the college kid is currently doing. I think where the direct action wing of the current movement has fallen short is that they have substituted perceived risk for actual risk, and it is not the same thing.

More than age, income, profession, or anything else, the one thing that matters about who we put out front is stubbornness.  I’ll trade all the strategy in the world for stubbornness…

Continue reading ‘Seeking thick-headed activists…’

GOP leadership stacks Energy & Commerce with climate zombies

By RL_Miller, cross-posted from Daily Kos

Rep. Rob Bishop (AP Photo)

Republican leadership is stacking the Energy & Commerce committee with known climate zombies — elected officials who question the reality of human-caused climate change, thus proving that stupid goes viral.

The strategy is part and parcel with Rand Paul (“abolish the Fed!”) chairing a banking committee with jurisdiction over the Fed, Joe Pitts (Stupak-Pitts, attacker of women’s health) chairing a health committee, and Rob Bishop (probably the worst member of Congress for national park issues) overseeing a national parks subcommittee.  Here, loading the dice is a particularly reprehensible strategy when gambling with humanity’s future.

Continue reading ‘GOP leadership stacks Energy & Commerce with climate zombies’

Could the latest Chevron spill in Salt Lake City shut the pipeline down permanently?

A wave of facepalms swept across Salt Lake City yesterday morning as word got out that the community, which is still recovering from a large oil spill in June, now had another one on its hands.

From the same company. In pretty much the same place. I ain’t making this up.

SLC Mayor Becker "We cannot trust Chevron"

Just under six months ago, Chevron squirted 33,000 gallons of its crude into a pristine creek above the city. The spill washed downstream to a large recreation pond in Salt Lake’s version of “Central Park;” then into the Jordan River and finally into a Great Salt Lake wildlife area. It’s still a disaster; the pond remains closed, and other cleanup and monitoring is ongoing.

Yesterday’s spill is estimated at around 100 barrels [UPDATE: Chevron has adjusted the estimate just a little bit: "up to 500 barrels"] and came within 50 feet of reaching the same creek. This happened only 500 feet from the location of the previous breach, and for different reasons, which remain unclear at this time. From what I’ve been able to piece together, the cause was something like…criminal neglect. [Still true 4 days later]

After I heard the news, I put some ice on my forehead, prepared some maps and rushed to a press conference at SLC Mayor Ralph Becker’s office. I didn’t know what to expect from the Mayor–sympathy for Chevron or something else–because just weeks ago I caught sight of a picture of Ralph smiling with other local officials and Chevron representatives at the dedication of the “Chevron Mile” along the Jordan River — the same river the corporation had befouled just two paragraphs ago.

Becker came into the room with a stern look, sat down, and made his position clear:

Continue reading ‘Could the latest Chevron spill in Salt Lake City shut the pipeline down permanently?’