Saturday, October 12, 2019

When Lisa’s in Town, Conversations with Lisa Fithian and Frances Fox Piven about Trauma, Shut It Down, Extinction Rebellion, and Life Under Trump

Lisa at the Dyke March June 2019. 

Images of a week in the life when Lisa is in town.
Lisa Fithian arrested for using a bullhorn with XR! Speak truth to power Lisa! —at Wall Street Stock Exchange Monday.
Wall Street is killing us! — at New York Stock Exchange.

Act with urgency, this is a climate emergency! — at Columbia University in the City of New York 
- Wednesday. 
Laurie A chatting away...reminding everyone we need to look for No one but ourselves to save ourselves with Frances Fox Piven and Lisa Fithian! Thursday Evening.

Thursday Morning
 Subject: Rebel Daily 4: Planes, boats and automobiles
XR NYC shut down Times Square yesterday with the help of a large lime-green sailboat that cruised in specially for the occasion. New Yorker rebels swarmed the boat as soon as it moored, attaching themselves to the bow like barnacles using chains and super glue. Atop the vessel, superglued by the feet and handcuffed to the mast, was 16-year-old Nathaniel Walcott. The NYPD were forced to close off the entire square for over two hours and 62 fearless rebels were arrested. To pull off the audacious blockade, a decoy protest was launched at the nearby ‘Fox News’ headquarters. 100 rebels, buoyed by the freshly-formed XR NYC band, arrived at the news tower just as the boat dropped anchor over in Times Square. As night fell, Arrestee Support were waiting outside the local jail with vegan curry and hot tea for the released rebels."

In their second major action during #internationalrebellionweek on October 10th, XR Global Rebellion - NYC / Extinction Rebellion NYC / Extinction Rebellion Youth hauled a boat to the middle of Times Square and dropped it along with its trailer in a major traffic artery shutting down traffic for over two hours.
Sixty-three souls were arrested, including some who chained and superglued parts of their bodies to the boat 🚣‍♀️ . The most prominent was 16 year old Nathaniel W., who handcuffed himself to the mast and glued his feet to the hull.
The boat dramatized the fact that as oceans warm and expand and glaciers continue to melt at record rates, #nyc will be inundated with water. It’s no longer a matter of if, but of when again, as New York, with increasing regularity, floods (#superstorm Sandy caused over $70B in damages in 2012, much infrastructure still has not seen repair). Eventually parts of the city will remain underwater.
As devastating storms destroy and erode coastal infrastructure, as island nations become de-mapped I ask, who protects us? Who protects our interests and the viability of future generations? The oceans are becoming deserts, vast stretches of forests are dying due to infestations, drought, flood and fire, animal populations are down by 60% and more, fires rage from the arctic to the tropics and feedback loops have begun to unleash vast quantities of sequestered greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.
Extinction is at hand. This is already documented. Perhaps you will live through it. Others certainly won’t. What will you do? Will you rebel?

Cover story for a 2008 article on Frances Fox Piven, 
one of the best interviews I ever conducted. 

When Lisa is in  town amazing things happen.
Well,  amazing things happen when she’s not around.
But the Lisa touch helps.
People check their egos, behave and stay focused.
Things feel less petty.
May 12,  2011 we shut down the financial district of New York before Occupy, when  Lisa was in town.
I see her everywhere.
In Paris at  the COP21.
At those Global Justice Movement actions two decades ago.
In DC fighting back the fascists or getting arrested at confirmation hearings.
Flooding Wall Street after the People’s Climate March  in 2014.
Or the Dyke March June 2019. 
Or the Extinction Rebellion all week long.
How was it organized in Hong Kong, she asks in the street.
Bottom up, few leaders and lots of message boards, the Lenin Walls,
Where everyone announces the actions.
Monday, I was chatting with her during the die-in at the Stock Exchange.
I turn around.
Next thing I know, police have surrounded her.
She’s arrested.
“Post that to my facebook page,” she smiles, before they put in the van.
Wednesday, I saw her at Columbia during the banner drop.
And Thursday at the big reading.
Earlier in the day, she’d been part of the NYCAction when the XR NYC shut down Times Square.

That night, a few of  the activists who’d been to DC for the Civil Disobedience Tuesday and the Extinction Rebellion crew organizing all week in NYC,  were on hand for  her talk:

A bit about Lisa and the book, from her website:
For decades, Lisa Fithian’s work as an advocate for civil disobedience and nonviolent direct action has put her on the frontlines of change. Described by Mother Jones as “the nation’s best-known protest consultant,” Fithian has supported countless movements including the Battle of Seattle in 1999, rebuilding and defending communities following Hurricane Katrina, Occupy Wall Street, and the uprisings at Standing Rock and in Ferguson. For anyone who wants to become more active in resistance or is just feeling overwhelmed or hopeless, Shut It Down offers strategies and actions you can take right now to promote justice and incite change in your own community.”

On the way to the talk, I told my daughter we were on our way to see two of the coolest, most talented people I know, Lisa Fithian and Frances Fox Piven.
Friend after friend, former students, organizers, trade unionists were dropping by.
Up at the fifth floor where I took so many classes, we wandered.
Saying hi to Lisa, standing at the door.
She signed my book immediately.
It was Frances’ birthday,
I scribbled a few notes and quotes from the  big talk.

Flipping to the first page, the book is dedicated to Fithian’s father,
“Douglas Brooks Fithian, who opened me up to the world and the words another world is possible.  He told me, “Once upon a time, poetry and science were one, and they called it  magic.”
I’ve carried that within me ever  since.”
Connecting poetry, science with magic, Lisa invites us all into the conversation.
“It’s so fun being here,” says Lisa, starting the talk.  “With so many co-conspirators.
I wrote this for anyone who saw an injustice and wanted to act up.
Before  May 12, 2001 I drafted a 56 page organizing handbook in a week.”
So I thought writing a book  would  be a snap.” 
It took another eight years to finish.
“I trust in the universe that things happen for a reason.
We do a lot run offs.
Lots of reactive actions that don’t all build on each other.
600 women arrested in the Hart Senate Offices last summer.
Move beyond doing the same thing.
What is the definition of insanity?” asks  Fithian.
“Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”
“Get beyond the reactive pattern.
We’re in a climate emergency,
Into a sixth extinction.
How are we going to be different?
If we don’t address white supremacy, we’re gonna fall apart.
Look at trauma.
We have to.
Will I survive?
Will  any of us?
Realize how traumatized we all are.
We don’t realize how many people  are traumatized.”

Open things up, start affinity groups, try something different, she implores the room.
“Today, we put a boat in Times Square, had 68 arrests.
Creating social disruption to force political changes.
But how are we healing?
How are we dealing with oppression?
I came out of solidarity, the labor movement.
We all have skin in this game. 
What would it look like if we had a response network for someone arrested or suffering from police brutality?
Or dragged away by ICE,
Supporting each other.
How do we build new structures to get into the streets to shut things down?”  
“Has anyone ever heart of complexity science?” she asks.
“It’s a science of organic, living systems, looking at the edge of science.
Nature teaches us we are wired to be social.
If we are alone, we die. Our future is based on us coming back together.
Be prepared for solidarity.  If we can’t, who knows?
The future is unwritten.
So I’m hopeful.”

No one knows the future.
 “I agree with Lisa and Lisa agrees with me,” notes Piven, offering a few historic perspectives, in her wry intelligent manor.
“Our power is in ourselves and our networks.
We can all shut it down.
We are told, we can’t.
But we can.
The system denies people have power.
US history is a list of moments when people have recognized they have power and act on it.
Nobody taught those immigrants they had power.
They found it.
Recognize it.
Use it.
If we don’t, it may really be extinction time.
Think of all of us waiting for Trump to comply with the subpoena.
We’re all waiting for the system to work.
Waiting for the votes to be counted.
But that’s not so good.
It’s not gonna work.
Donald won’t step down cause he’s gonna go to jail when he gets out.
In that moment the only power we have is to shut it down.”

Several times, Lisa brought up the examples Puerto Rico and Hong Kong, where widespread uprisings took place this summer.
“Go to DC; bring that to the fold. A mass civil disobedience,” Lisa follows.
Fresh out of jail with us at the supreme court, Laurie Arbeiter stands up to suggest we have to look to ourselves to make it happen.
“Everyone comes up to me when I wear my Arrest Trump.  I guess we need to embrace that toxic energy.  And go to DC to make it happen.”

Labor organizer Stephen Lerner followed suggesting, if you shut down a city they have to respond.  With Justice for Janitors, we shut down DC.  Puerto Rico is an example of everything you are talking about. Climate disaster, debt, austerity, banking, striking.  We need to know the  bad guys.  Do the research. Go to DC and demand  Trump resign. Unless there’s a popular uprising, Trump won’t resign.

Piven follows:
“Consider what you can do and what will scare the power structure. How do you direct the mass constituents?  But only if people stay in the streets.  And do we have defense  against repression?  A crowd can do a lot of damage. Recall Hong Kong.”

“It was a wild week with a lot of actions.  But the system seems to be quite capable of absorbing a lot of this,” I address the panel, not  wanting to sound like a downer.   But not all shutting  down works.  It didn’t work  at  IMF World Bank meetings when they expected  us. It only works when it’s a surprise.

“A lot of run offs,” Lisa replies.
“Are we reading the moment?  How do we stay?”

“Think of how many false starts the Civil Rights movement had. Remember  the power of  disruption,” notes Piven.

“Its never an either / or.  Its both. People know he’s morally and corrupt,” says Lisa.
“See what happens. And go from there.  Learn.
Do we believe in ourselves?
How are we willing to  change?
Think about Hong Kong, 
Puerto Rico,
Tahrir Square.
Can you make those changes?

We are so messed up  in this toxic  cultural  space.
But  we can live outside capitalism.
Keep the foundations of these pillars out. 

 “I wanna tell you one big change I have seen,” Piven replies
“There was a time when you couldn’t get a reform democrat and a direct-action person in the same room.  Now there is so much more tolerance and responsiveness. We need these people here in the democratic party, together.  We need them. That’s progress I think.”

“Lets go on the offensive,” Lisa follows exhorting everyone. “Embrace a culture of care.  Build that culture where we can love each other. Beyond this inside and outside movement politics.  Beyond toxic fighting. Move beyond debates about violence.  Our movement divides us on that.  Move beyond our window of tolerance.  Respect each other, as they do in Extinction Rebellion.  I like that part of the movement”

Identify corporate targets, Stephen Lerner concludes. Target Trump backers and divisions in the capitalist class.

Save democracy.
There is kind of a ring to it. 
God  knows we need to.
Everyone,  go to DC.
November 2.
Bring ten friends, who bring  ten friends.
Every week.
Its up to us.
No one else will save  us but  ourselves. 

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