The “Save the Internet” fight waged against telecoms for Net Neutrality was an epic David vs. Goliath battle. Grassroots Net activists with little funding and handmade signs were pitted against deep-pocket telecom Titans and legions of lobbyists skilled at smoothing Congressional corridors. Ultimately, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) debated and voted for an open and free Internet on February 26.
Although the movement for Net Neutrality had been simmering for several years, the public had to become educated on a wonky subject and mobilized quickly and effectively. The goal was regulating the Internet as a common carrier under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. Continue reading →
Wise sister and civil rights organizer George Friday, once told me that “There are two paces to organizing for change: the speed with which our systems are collapsing and the slow intentional time that is necessary for deep movement building.”
Too often, the anxieties about the world’s problems lead to a hasty rush for solutions in which the slow time is compromised for the sake of moving actions, campaigns and institutional agendas forward. In that space, the complexities of systemic oppressions are overlooked, and the very inequalities that we are fighting to abolish continue to play themselves out.
With every excuse to deal with the micro aggressions later, because the crises of environmental and social degradation must take precedence, the same folks are made expendable and sacrificed. Every time an organization broadcasts their commitment to deep social change, while instead prioritizing one-dimensional results for their wealthy funders, the task of dismantling multilayered systems of destruction is lost in translation. With every instance by which the slow time is neglected, another voice is silenced, another experience is invisibilized – and history repeats itself. Continue reading →
Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims, have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.
This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. In the light of these ideas, Negroes will be hunted at the North, and held and flogged at the South so long as they submit to those devilish outrages, and make no resistance, either moral or physical. Men may not get all they pay for in this world; but they must certainly pay for all they get. If we ever get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and if needs be, by our lives and the lives of others.
Frederick Douglass, 1857
“The Significance of Emancipation in the West Indies.” Speech, Canandaigua, New York, August 3, 1857
On September 29, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission put its stamp of approval on the Cove Point LNG project, Dominion Resources’ bid to convert its liquefied natural gas import terminal on the Chesapeake Bay into an export facility. It’s the fourth approval FERC has granted to build an export facility, and the first on the Atlantic Coast. The first three are located on the Gulf Coast.
Why is Cove Point important? Some have been calling it “the next Keystone XL.” What the Keystone XL pipeline is to the Alberta tar sands, Cove Point is to the Marcellus Shale, a porous rock formation harboring as much as 500 tcf of methane gas. If constructed, the Keystone XL would be a major conduit of dirty bitumen from the tar sands, and consequently it’s become the rallying call for opposition against extraction of the tar sands. Likewise, if Cove Point is built, it would be the conduit for natural gas obtained by fracking the Marcellus Shale to be delivered to Asia. Among the export terminals approved by the Department of Energy and in line for approval by FERC, Cove Point has become the rallying cry for opposition against liquefied natural gas exports. (In July, more than a thousand people marched in Washington, DC against Cove Point and LNG exports.) LNG exports are intimately connected with the extreme method of fossil fuel extraction called hydraulic fracking, because exporting to Asian markets would make fracking more profitable and thereby incentivize more drilling.
FERC’s permitting of Cove Point is a big regulatory hurdle, the biggest among many state and local permits it had to obtain after the Department of Energy said it was okay for Dominion to export. But it’s not a surprise. When I say FERC put its stamp of approval on Cove Point LNG, what I really mean is that FERC applied its rubberstamp of approval. FERC is responsible for reviewing proposals for interstate natural gas pipelines and LNG terminals (up to this point, only import terminals). Among the all the major projects submitted to FERC, you’d be hard-pressed to find one that was turned down. FERC’s nickname—the Federal Energy Rubberstamp Commission—is well-earned.
In my opinion, however, FERC is even more than a rubberstamp—it’s the gas industry’s best friend. Understanding that the game is rigged and how the game is rigged is important if we’re going to contest the coming wave of infrastructure associated with the fracking boom. Continue reading →
Kabul, Afghanistan–The fire in the Chaman e Babrak camp began in Nadiai’s home shortly after noon. She had rushed her son, who had a severe chest infection, to the hospital. She did not know that a gas bottle, used for warmth, was leaking; when the gas connected with a wood burning stove, flames engulfed the mud hut in which they lived and extended to adjacent homes, swiftly rendering nine extended families homeless and destitute in the midst of already astounding poverty. By the time seven fire trucks had arrived in response to the fire at the refugee camp, the houses were already burned to the ground.
No one was killed. When I visited the camp, three days after the disaster, that was a common refrain of relief. Nadiai’s home was on the edge of the camp, close to the entrance road. Had the fire broken out in the middle of the camp, or at night when the homes were filled with sleeping people, the disaster could have been far worse.
Even so, Zakia, age 54, said this is the worst catastrophe she has seen in her life, and already their situation was desperate. Zakia had slapped her own face over and over again to calm and focus herself as she searched for several missing children while the fire initially raged. Now, three days later, her cheeks are quite bruised, but she is relieved that the children were found.
Standing amid piles of ashes near what once was her home, a young mother smiled as she introduced her three little children, Shuba, age 3 ½, and Medinah and Monawra, twin girls, age 1 ½. They were trapped in one of the homes, but their uncle rescued them. Continue reading →
The White House Peace Vigil takes up only a little sidewalk space on Pennsylvania Ave. but leaves a big footprint. For 32 years, two six-foot yellow signs with a white tarp between them have warned us about the dangers of nuclear weapons. This iconic statement for disarmament almost came to an end today.
Thousands of tourists have seen it, taken pictures of it, and talked to Concepcion, the co-founder who’s been there since the beginning–Chinese tourists from Shanghai, Koreans from Seoul, Germans on their way to Philadelphia, gay rights activists from Africa, and school groups from Iowa.
Hundreds of volunteers have invested over 282,000 hours of labor staffing the vigil, sitting through rain, snow, cold, heat, thirst–and boredom. During Hurricane Sandy three people held it in place for hours as the wind screamed.
There’s a bathroom nearby but it closes early. Someone has to man it 24 hours a day, so volunteers are organized into shifts and bring their own food and water. They have to wait for their replacements, even if they come late.
Facing the north portico of the White House, the tattered tarp and yellow signs present an image of the powerless confronting the all-powerful. Undoubtedly every president since 1981–five of them–has seen it and knows its history, yet none have ever acknowledged it. Continue reading →
Members of GetEQUAL, Code Pink, and the Maryland Bridge Light Brigade sent an illuminated one-word message to the Turkish people: “RESISTANBUL.” They spelled out the catch-phrase for the protests sweeping Turkey in blue lighted panels in front of the Turkish Embassy in Washington, DC on June 23.
Organizer Ellen Sturtz said, “GetEQUAL is inspired by the Turkish LGBTQ community and their fight against homophobia and discrimination by Turkish society and its own government.”
Turkish LGBTQ activists support the thousands of protesters in Taksim Square concerned about marginalization of secular cultures in Turkey. The LGBTQ community plans a Pride March in Istanbul on June 30th.
“We are happy to stand and take up our moral obligation to join in the struggle for justice and dignity in their lives,” Sturtz said.
Turkish activist Yurter Özcan stood motionless with supporters in front of the Turkish embassy in Washington, DC on Tuesday evening for four hours–from 8pm until midnight. Their “Standing Man” protest, known in Turkish as “DuranAdam,” followed the example of Erdem Gunduz, who stood for more than five hours in Istanbul’s Taksim Square the day before.
Gunduz was joined by hundreds of other Turks who assembled on the Square in spite of massive tear gassing by police over the weekend. They faced a portrait of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey as a secular state. Protestors continue to defy the Prime Minister’s three-week crackdown on people across Turkey.
“Standing Man” is a throwback to “Tank Man,” who famously stood in front of a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square during the Chinese uprising of 1989. Since Gunduz’s silent protest, hundreds of Turks have taken up his tactic and stood motionless in public spaces, including Özcan and his comrades at the Turkish Embassy in Washington.
Learning not to cause harm to ourselves is a basic Buddhist teaching. Nonaggression has the power to heal. Not harming ourselves or others is the basis of an enlightened society. This is how there could be a sane world. It starts with sane citizens, and that is us.
Just two weeks after disrupting the confirmation hearing of John Brennan, the activist organization CODEPINK paid a visit to the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee. In the Atrium of the Senate Hart Office Building, CODEPINK demonstrators donned black robes and ghoulish masks to dramatize the alleged killing of civilians in drone bombing attacks by the U.S. in the Middle East. Under heavy escort by Capitol Police, they delivered a petition to the office of Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) requesting public hearings into drone casualties.
CODEPINK founder Medea Benjamin hung placards bearing the names of people they claim are civilian victims of drone bombings around the necks of her fellow demonstrators, while she herself carried a sign saying, “200 children killed by drones.” CODEPINK believes that civilian casualties have numbered at least a thousand.
Aides in Senator Feinstein’s office didn’t respond to CODEPINK’s request for public hearings, except to say that the Senator believes that civilian casualties from drone bombings are few.
Benjamin is skeptical that Feinstein and others on the Foreign Intelligence Committee can rely on the information they are getting from the CIA and the Pentagon.
“How are we to know?” asks Benjamin. “We know that the Justice Department doesn’t even give the Intelligence Committee the nine legal memos that they have that provide the legal basis for the extrajudicial killing of Americans. So if they can’t even get that, why should we think that the CIA is giving them the information?”
Without transparency, Benjamin thinks the oversight process is broken. “The public is kept totally in the dark.” And, she says, Congress isn’t doing its job holding the Obama administration accountable. “I would say that they’re literally letting President Obama get away with murder.”
Capitol Police were well-prepared for CODEPINK, especially after their members had disrupted both the Kerry and Brennan nomination hearings, when officers removed them from the gallery and in some cases made arrests. Inspector Wesley Mahr told Benjamin she was “pushing it” when she still held a sign after he had delivered a third warning threatening arrest. A planned banner drop within the building was abandoned after it was clear Capitol Police had gotten wind of it. Demonstrations are not allowed in the Senate Hart Office Building.
Senator Feinstein, who did not see the protestors today, was visibly irritated with CODEPINK at the Brennan hearing, as activists one by one disrupted the proceedings. Feinstein then cleared the room. Progressives have objected to Brennan’s nomination to the head of the CIA due to his alleged complicity with Bush-era detention and torture practices. As the White House’s counterterrorism advisor, he’s pegged as an architect of the drone program.
The vote on Brennan’s confirmation, scheduled for last week, was postponed, although Democrats are confident that he will in fact be confirmed. In a new set of written answers for the Intelligence Committee, Brennan said only: “This Administration has not carried out drone strikes inside the United States and has no intention of doing so.”
Photos from the Senate Hart Office Building are here.
UPDATE: Senator Feinstein’s office hasn’t responded to a request for comment.