Latest updates & projects from Lisa Fithian.
Back in the summer of 2011, I met with a group of organizers who were thinking about a prolonged action to block the Keystone XL Pipeline in eastern Texas. It was a good conversation and the bold young group kicked off what became the Tar Sands Blockade. They sat in the trees for over a month, forcing the pipeline to find a new route and launching a new chapter in the history of environmental resistance. They also offered a current alternative to the popular model of orchestrated civil disobediences rooted in cooperation with the state.
The Tar Sands Blockade captured the imagination and hearts of many young people and more who traveled to Texas, Nebraska and other state impacted or threatened with pipeline to add their support to the residents who are standing up and saying no. From community organizing, public education, legal strategies, corporate campaigns, direct action, and more, TSB has been doing all they can to thwart these destructive pipelines. ACT has been able to support TSB with a strategy training and another strategic planning retreat in early 2013. The fight is far from over, but the passion, wisdom and talent of these young people may in fact turn this around!
Just when you think there is some room to breathe, some political space for calm, it’s amazing how a possible war can quickly creep in. While the conflict in Syria has been ongoing, with deadly serious consequences, it was the use of chemical weapons that ignited the possibility of the use of military force by the United States. We all mobilized, convened strategy conversations and made a plan to stop another war. This work was able to mobilize majority opposition to military action in about a month. The US Government threat of possible weapons of mass destruction was too reminiscent of the horrors of the Bush Administration and we were not prepared to go down that road again. There was a quick and effective global response and a new way opened to destroy those weapons. The process is still moving forward today.
This August, I was happy to attend the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington that marked Dr, Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. There was a synergy about it. I had served on the National Steering Committee for the 25th Anniversary of the March when I was the Coordinator of the Washington Peace Center. Now at the 50th Anniversary I was serving as the National Convener for United for Peace and Justice, a national network of local and national peace groups. We mobilized a small contingent to bring our bright message to this Anniversary. We gathered at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where we laid a wreath, shared a few words and then with the support of the NY Light Brigade held a procession to the Lincoln Memorial and then on to the King Monument. The sad and perverse thing about the night is that at the King Monument we tried to spell out “I have a dream” with our light boards and the Park Police, armed with automatic weapons, forced us to leave. Our effort to leave the wreath was successful but our later efforts to take a photo of the monument with the word DREAM were again met with an overwhelming show of state power. About 10 police arrived as back up to stop the photo op of King’s message in lights at the monument itself!
The march the next day felt great despite the sea of barricades set up to control the flow (I wonder who is on the board of the barricade makers’ companies…). There was a sea of humanity, young, old, black, white, yellow and brown. Everyone was happy and the generosity of spirit was palpable. United for Peace and Justice made posters and distributed thousands for free. It was great to see how many people wanted something with the word peace on it.
In fact, in our organizing in advance of the march, one woman spoke of the importance of not seeing the peace movement as a separate movement but seeing instead that people in every movement are supportive of peace. I wish after all these years of organizing that I felt like this is true, and I know that at times it is. The march United for Peace and Justice initiated February 15, 2001 was the largest global mobilization in history – 11 million people said no to the US war in Iraq.
But it was now over ten years later and Trayvon Martin had just been killed, voting rights were under attack and a possible war with Syria was starting to brew. Our country has been reeling from the economic collapse and mass wealth theft of 2008, the awe of the Arab Spring and the rapidly growing Take the Square and Occupy movements. This was an important time to be in the streets and I was so glad that I was. I got to see friends new and old. I got to feel the power of the youth. I got to hear the songs on the breeze, carrying us all. It was just a great day all in all and I hope that the seeds once again planted grow strong and deep until we meet again.
On June 25th, Wendy Davis engaged in a filibuster to stop the ALEC-backed Republican drive to strip the people of Texas of their access to abortion and other reproductive health care. I was in the Capitol Extension when the Republican’s third attempt to shut her down succeeded and women spread throughout the building surged toward the Senate Chambers. We began to roar. Over the next few minutes, history was made. The proceedings struggled to continue, stymied by the noise. Though a vote was finally taken, it was after midnight and the session was technically over. Confusion arose, so the Republicans changed the clock to say the vote was complete by midnight and the Second Special Session was closed. This is how it goes down in Texas.
Luckily, some trusty photographers had photos of the vote and the clock and were able to prove that David Dewhurst was lying. So the Republicans were forced to call a Third Special Session that would require hearings and action by both Houses again.
It was here that a new phase of work began. ACT initiated a meeting with close to 70 people from many groups who agreed to form an anti-racist, anti-oppressive, reproductive justice direct action initiative. Rise Up Texas was born and quickly began to organize to include those voices previously left out of the debate and to prepare for nonviolent action.
Rise Up worked hard to coordinate and collaborate with all the various forces, but found ourselves marginalized again and again. What a shame. Opportunities like this do not often arise and when they do, it is so important to pursue them. In the end it became clear that our goals were different. The more mainstream groups saw the filibuster itself as the victory and began working to position Wendy Davis to run for Governor. Our goals were to make sure that the Legislators and public new about the impact on poor, rural, and marginalized communities, and show that the people of Texas were not going to take this lying down but that we were rising up and fighting back.
The stories go on and on about all the hearings and testimonies, the all nighters, the great actions – shoes, drums, letters and more, singing “We’re Not Gonna Take It” as an anthem, tampon-gate, Dewhurst lying about protestors smuggling in shit, that they completely missed the chains that allowed some brave young women to lock down with painful images of the consequence of illegal abortions. Then there was the nonviolent sit-in, dispersed brutally by police, several were tased and two were taken to the hospital, one needed for stitches in his head. There has been no consequence yet for any of this. Despite the brutality Rise Up mobilized when the Governor prepared to sign the bill into law – we silently held the space for those who could die as a result of their actions and then we wailed and wailed so he could not sign the bill in peace.
Our work made international and national news with stories and images in major dailies and new station. The women of Texas did not take this lying down and we are continuing to organize to turn this around.
I had the privilege of offering training at the Transit Workers Union Young Workers Summit in New York City. It was April 30th, a day before their May Day in mid-town Manhattan. The action went beautifully, with everyone having a strong feeling of empowerment. We were successful at achieving all of the goals – including getting into every lobby we intended in order to deliver their message. This new experience will go a long way I think in empowering the young workers to build a powerful union – in the buses, subway and in the streets. Check out this TWU May Day Action here (more…)
It is amazing for me to see grassroots community institutions like the Washington Peace Center not only survive – but thrive for 50 years! WPC holds a special place in my heart. I served as a coordinator there from 1987-1994 when I left to join the labor movement. I learned so much here about building organization, coalitions and movement building as we worked to build an anti-racist, multi-cultural organization in the Nation’s Capitol. I am so proud of the Washington Peace Center and it’s terrific staff including Sonia Silbert and Dany Sigwalt! It was wonderful to see so many old friends and new singing, eating, sharing stories and dancing the night away. Here are links to photos and the new WPC 50th Anniversary Video just released!
On April 29, the Kalmanovitz Initiative at Georgetown University launch their digital history project on the DC Justice for Janitors Campaign. Justice for Janitors changed the lives of thousands of people and set a new model for winning in the labor movement. Since 2010, at Georgetown we’ve been collecting the stories of DC Justice for Janitors—union activists, politicians, employers, community leaders, and janitors themselves. I played a fairly significant role in organizing the actions and the bridge blockades. I have worked on many a janitor campaign since include Denver, LA, Boston and Houston. I learned so much from the janitors and organizers in this work and in many ways it has helped me build the template for what I call Kicking Corporate Booty. Check it out here: Justice for Janitors Digital History Project I also wrote a small piece about it in Beautiful Trouble which you can check out here: Beautiful Trouble Justice for Janitors Case Study.
I love going through my files. I am always finding cool things. I happened upon this recently and am only now getting to post it. This is a great graphic image that illustrated what happens at the intersection of the major oppressive systems. This is from the National Organizers Alliance, NOA Gathering V at Sonoma State University in CA during July of 2001. Doesn’t this just about sum it up? (more…)
YES – as of my most recent flights to Chicago to do trainings around school closings and then to NY where I facilitated an Action LAB for Occupy and another strategy session with youth on student debt and Sallie Mae – I was able to print out my boarding pass and fly free of security, searches and escorts.
For all of 2012 Homeland Security had me on their terrorist watch list. I could not print my boarding pass but had to go to the ticket agent who then had to go through a 45-60 min process on the phone with Homeland Security to get clearance for me to fly. I then had to be searched fully– 4 SSSS’s on my boarding pass! There were so many stories from being followed by security at some airports, to the manager of one of the ticket counters said – they told us you were coming, to being dog sniffed and then a blatant escort when I exposed the silliness of them following me!
There is no question in mind that this had to do with the Occupy movement and the fact that we were back on the offense against capitalism while modeling alternative ways of living and means of exchange. The absurdity of it all does not escape me. The truth is the US Government is not afraid of violence, in December it was revealed that in a collaboration between the FBI the police and the corporations they even considered assassination by sniper of people in the occupy movement. They easily embrace violence.
It is the ideas and practices of a radical democratic and economic alternatives rooted in peace with justice that they are afraid of.
I would like to think that they awoke to a new level of consciousness in 201, but really I think that Occupy is no longer on the offense. The occupy multitudes have been unleashed and things are brewing now for what I image can be another powerful year of transformative action! Let’s keep feeding that vision and the creative processes of building a new world!
I have done lots of different creative tactics over the years, but this action offered a chance to do something new – we replicated an EARTHQUAKE to dramatize what is happening in Texas because of fracking!
In March, I lead an Organizing for Power Training at the Stop the Frack Attack Summit in Dallas Texas which culminated with an action at the State Capitol in Austin, TX on Monday while the Legislature was in session. In preparation of the event I was learning more about fracking in TX and how in Dallas they were literally fracking in public parks and schools. Areas with a lot of sand were being decimated by the greed for sand in the fracking process, just like the need for waters – millions of gallons needed to frack one well! I looked in on a hearing dealing with fracking and the Senators were giddy with glee about the money being made. It was quite amazing to see how drunk they were on fracking. The Conference was a great success and people, many of whom have been directly impacted by fracking, came ready to make their voices heard.
We had a strong, colorful rally and an unpermitted march around the Capitol and in the streets to the State Office Building where the Texas Railroad Commission office was located (they issue the permits for fracking in Texas). It was a big building with big windows and a large outside area surrounding the front of it. We had all been prepped on what would happen and what we would do before we arrived. I then spoke about how fracking was creating earthquakes and on cue, a friend who had is pick-up truck with 4 giant speakers, power and a sound track hit play. KA-BOOM went the explosion of the fracking machines followed by the sounds of an earthquake rumbling roar for a minute and a half. Everyone inside the building heard it and watched as we did the earthquake dance down below. As I was stumbling around I looked over and saw a cop b-line for the truck. He was yelling at my friend on the truck, who kept saying, “Can’t hear you?” The cop finally reached in and yanked out the cords! Our action had been successful already and we made our closing comments and headed back to the Capitol so some could go make legislative visits. Since then, the people of Dallas have stopped fracking in parks and schools!