Direct Action and Non-Violent Civil Disobedience: Tools for Your Advocacy Work 2016 WECAN Training Recap

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Photo by Emily Arasim

On April 5, 2016, Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network allies united for the second in a series of 2016 Education and Advocacy online trainings.

‘Direct Action and Non-Violent Civil Disobedience: Tools for your Advocacy Work’ featured three outstanding women leaders providing an overview of direct action and non-violent civil disobedience as key elements of the global movement for just climate justice and solutions, providing examples of successful actions across the US and the world, and sharing resources, tools and strategies for beginning direct action planning and execution.

Osprey Orielle Lake, Executive Director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network, opened the call with a brief introduction to WECAN’s work, the reasons behind a focus on women, and the critical need for escalating action by diverse U.S women for climate justice. She framed the training as an introductory call, encouraging participants to reach out to the presenters’ respective organizations for in depth, in person trainings, or to contact local groups who have direct action expertise.

“We are here to protect the rights of Mother Earth, the rights of our communities, the rights of women and the rights of future generations, and direct action and non-violent civil disobedience is an absolutely crucial component of this work,” Osprey explained.

As opening inspiration, she provided a recap of the recent International Women’s Day/No Extraction in the Amazon actions taken by women of seven Indigenous Amazonian nationalities in Puyo, Ecuador.

Molly Dorozenski, Media Director at Greenpeace US, took the floor as the first training presenter.

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Molly Dorozenski, Media Director at Greenpeace US

Molly has worked with Greenpeace on public relations and creative and strategic communications for the past eight years, planning and executing comprehensive communications campaigns on climate, the Arctic, and the Gulf Oil Spill, as well as a variety of corporate campaigns that have helped move companies towards more sustainable practices.

Molly’s presentation centered around the question, ‘what would you risk?’ and the personal, moral and political choices involved in the decision to put our bodies on the line to protect the Earth and our communities.

She shared recent photos and thoughts from six Greenpeace women who climbed over 1,000 feet up the side of the highest building in London to send a message to the oil giants of Shell headquarters, and from female activist Faiza Oulahsen, one of the ‘Arctic 30’ jailed in Russia for their action to protect Arctic ecosystem against expanded oil drilling. In reflecting on Faiza’s story, Molly drew specific attention to the extra risks, and incredible power taken on by young women who choose to stand up for their rights, their homes and the future of life on Earth.

Molly also discussed ‘risk’ outside of concerns over arrest and legal charges, honoring the brave women and other leaders who risk their lives and health to stay in their communities amidst severe environmental pollution in order to document, expose and stop harms and injustices.

Other inspirational direct action examples shared by Molly included the #ShellNo Seattle kayak blockade, led by diverse Indigenous leaders and fantastic groups such as the Raging Grannies, and recent action by Greenpeace activists to publically confront and question U.S presidential candidates about their commitment to stop taking dirty money from the fossil fuel industry.

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From PowerPoint by Molly Dorozenski – Photo by Emily Arasim, 2014 People’s Climate March in NYC

Molly ended her presentation with a brief invitation for engagement with the incredible Democracy Awakening actions planned for April in Washington D.C., which focus on getting big money out of politics and protecting voter rights in advance of the upcoming US election.

Sharon Lungo, Executive Director of the Ruckus Society, spoke next.

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Sharon Lungo, Executive Director of the Ruckus Society

Sharon is a founding member of the Indigenous Peoples’ Power Project (IP3) Advisory Board, and has been a trainer with Ruckus Society since 2001 and key member since 2007. Sharon directs all Ruckus Programs, manages the implementation of strategic priorities, and cultivates and grows partnerships with allied organizations and frontline partners. She was a co-convener of the Mobilization for Climate Justice West (2008-2011) and has served on the coordinating committee of the Global Women’s Strike.

Throughout her more than 18 years of political and non violent direct action, she has held an unwavering commitment to racial justice analysis, and has extensive experience working with grassroots frontline communities and big NGO groups alike. She is the daughter of migrant parents from the Pipil nation, Indigenous to Cuzcatlan, El Salvador.

Sharon began by exploring the core tenants of Ruckus Society, a group focusing on building capacities, particularly of directly impacted frontline communities, to plan and implement effective direct action campaigns around climate, environmental racism and a host of other cross-sectional issues.

She then provided an overview of some of the key ways in which direct-action and non-violent civil disobedience can be used to create change, including:

  • Directly stopping a social, political or environmental injustice
  • Asserting our rights despite the consequences
  • Showing willful refusal to participate in an injustice
  • Sounding an alarm, alerting folks to an issue or problem
  • Amplifying People Power
  • Creating a Community based solution

Through her discussion of these main leverage points, Sharon touched on ongoing campaigns to block pipelines across the US and Canada, direct action to halt migrant deportation buses, campaigns to assert Indigenous rights to traditional hunting, farming and fishing grounds, the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and movements to protect urban farms and community spaces from development, among many examples.

One poignant story shared was that of the fight to save the South Central Farm in Los Angeles, an epic struggle that brought concerned residents together to physically resist the bulldozers coming to knock down community garden space which provided for over 350 low income families. In their non-violent civil disobedience to protect the farm, activists highlighted the dire problems facing their community, and also the showed the path towards solutions.

Sharon also shared an important list of key elements of strategic direct action, including:

  • Strategic timing and relevancy to key political moments
  • Reframing the debate
  • Making the invisible visible – overcome the corporate media, reclaim our language and storytelling
  • Hijacking spectacles, big events
  • Creativity
  • Choosing your tone – humor, anger, embarrassment
  • Stacking risk
  • ‘Show don’t tell’ – use powerful visual representations that will resonate far longer than words, and which bring a face to the myriad of injustices we hear about on a daily basis

‘Stacking risk’, which describes the critical step of planning and delegating action roles in a way that is cognizant of varying levels of privilege, risk and oppression, was a concept of particular importance to many on the call, prompting further discussion of this important justice framework.

Sharon pushed training participants to think about how actions can be designed in a way that best highlights the struggles of those on the ground, and which involve action and risk from allies from outside of effected communities without taking away from the local stories that should be at the forefront.

“As a movement, this is something we are still struggling with but really want to get right… how do we do it [direct action] in a way that allows us to express solidarity and take physical risk, to have a really effective action, but to also powerfully and effectively lift up the story of the people, through their own words. Our job is not to tell their stories through direct actions, but rather to have a framework, to have direct actions that have a strong place for impacted and frontline communities to tell their own stories in the context of these actions.”

Sharon closed her presentation by encouraging participants to cultivate long term, just and meaningful partnership with the frontline communities with whom they work, and to involve themselves in further on-the-ground direct-action workshops and training camps through local direct action training collectives, the Ruckus Society, or international groups such as Greenpeace.

Marla Marcum of the Climate Disobedience Center took the floor as the last presenter of the day.

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Marla Marcum of the Climate Disobedience Center

Marla is a United Methodist “committed to supporting people of all faiths and no particular faith to act boldly for justice”. An experienced campaigner, trainer, pastor and leader, Marla has over two decades of social justice organizing experience with faith-based, youth, and grassroots groups. Marla supported the launch of Climate Summer and is a Co-Founder of the Better Future Project and 350 Massachusetts. She has supported, organized, and participated in many direct action and civil disobedience efforts, including the Lobster Boat Blockade and ongoing resistance to Spectra Energy’s West Roxbury Lateral pipeline project.

Marla shared core principles of the Climate Disobedience Center, including the goal of using “creative conflict to break up business-as-usual, forcing attention to the underlying, fatal conflict between global survival and blind adherence to fossil fuel powered mass consumption, and unrestrained economic growth”.

She framed direct action as a way to “unmask” the social and ecologic violence happening all around us, and also bring forth as our capacity to unite and make change. She emphasized that recognizing and engaging in solidarity, unity and action with each other is one of the most powerful ways to overcome fear and despair in the face of climate change.

“We’re convinced that the kind of resilience that we need in the world going forward can be cultivated in doing this type of work together. And also, I am convinced that the best way to cope with the despair over what feels like an impossible challenge that we face everyday, is to take principled action with kindred spirits,” Marla explained, “Sometimes we are working and working on problems that seem intractable, challenges that make it seem like we really don’t have a chance to win, but we know we have to fight. And sometimes, if we just get together and put ourselves in the way, it can shift our own internal sense of power and our own groups sense of hope about what could be done.”

Direct action exampled shared by Marla included diverse actions to stop the Keystone XL pipeline, the Delta 5 oil train blockade, the Lobster Boat Blockade, and ‘Resist the Pipeline’ actions against Spectra Energy.

In her closing comments, she reminded participants that a key part of the work of those involved in direct action must be to tell the real and whole truth, and to demand action that is commensurate with the real crisis we face, not action which bows to that which is “politically feasible” and easy.

The training ended with a series of questions and answers around direct action timing and learning to seize the moment, the importance of continued training, and the importance of building cross-sector, intersectional movements, long term community relationships, and growing ‘cultures of resistance’.

Training Resources:

 

 

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