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US support for the demonstrations in Hong Kong should be seen as part and parcel of a wider strategy by Washington to encourage agitation in China’s periphery regions and territorial disputes. It is only a matter of time before the protest movement loses steam, but the complex attitudes driving the discontent will not be easy to placate. Dialogue between the government and opposing forces will need to take place eventually, but the movement needs to know when to compromise.
Viktor Orban, Prime Minister of Hungary. (Photo: Európai Bizottság/ Végel Dániel)This Monday, the Hungarian Parliament passed a constitutional amendment that is raising serious concerns among defenders of civil liberties in Europe. After several years of defeats at the hands of Hungary’s highest Constitutional Court, the conservative right–dominated Parliament voted 265-11 to (in effect) take control over the country’s judicial system and throw into question decades of decisions protecting human rights.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and members of his party Fidesz insist the constitutional changes are only “technical” or cosmetic. The president of the European Commission disagrees, warning that the new amendment could violate the rule of law, and the US State Department has told Orban that the changes “could threaten the principles of institutional independence and checks and balances that are the hallmark of democratic governance.”
This weekend saw days of protest, building on student actions first seen last fall. In this exclusive interview, Márton Gulyás (of Kretakor theater) tells GRITtv about Human Platform, a new coalition comprising groups working in healthcare, education, arts and culture, which played a leading role, alongside the Hungarian Student Network and Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, in bringing thousands into the streets on Saturday and Monday outside the Parliament.
Gulyas says protestors are hoping to wake their country up and with good reason. In Orbán’s Hungary, the broadcast media consist almost entirely of government-friendly outlets; the universities, the central bank and even the country’s most prestigious theaters are being rapidly brought under Fidesz control while funds to independents are being slashed. As Princeton professor and Hungary watcher, Kim Lane Sheppele has detailed, Amendment Four would crush indefinitely the independence of Constitutional Court, which has so far been the only effective check on Orban’s power since his election in 2010.
“The danger is very real,” says Gulyas, who has put his theater career on hold in order to act on the political stage in what he sees as a critical moment.
Since this conversation was recorded, Hungary’s President Janos Ader has signed the amendment, guaranteeing its passage into law. That means that this March 15, when Hungarians are off work for a major national holiday, could see even more massive protests.
March 15, Hungarian “Revolution Day” marks the start of Hungary’s 1848 revolution whose leaders called for (among other things) freedom of the press, equal treatment under the law, religous freedom and minority rights. One hundred and sixty-five years later, Viktor Orbán’s right-wing power grab has protesters calling for many of the same rights. As I learned on a recent trip to Budapest, Hungarians are very fond of quoting their national poet, Sándor Petőfi, a hero of ’48 times. Expect the first line of his celebrated National Song ("Rise Up, Magyar, the Country Calls") to be recited this year with a whole new resonance.
Getting to the Next Level of Constructing a New Society Requires a Common Vision, Strategy and Unity
Once again the corporate mass media got the story wrong. Headlines across the country claimed that occupiers in New York came from households with incomes of over $100,000. The movement writer for The Nation, Allison Kilkenny, interviewed one of the researchers who points out that a lot of these were young people earning under $15,000 per year who were still in school and living with their parents.
The most important takeaway lesson from the researcher’s point of view:
“The takeaway for me is that this is part of an arch of social movement activity that built on previous work, and is building into continuing work.”
That struck us because we are working with political activists and occupiers across the country to develop a strategy to reach a more effective level of advocacy for transformation to a peaceful, just and sustainable society.
An article from Yes! Magazine, Occupy 2.0: The Great Turning, resonated with us pointing out that there are thousands of people working in movements around the world and that uniting them would create an unstoppable force. How do we unite in a way where we keep the diversity of multiple movements but still work together in solidarity? The answer in part is a common vision and strategic framework. The author, Michael Nagler of the Metta Center, puts forward a strategy they have been developing which they call “The Roadmap.” (The article links to a webinar on this approach.)
Their approach recommends a two track strategy similar to one we have emphasized from the beginning, Stop the Machine, Create a New World; or a resistance program of direct action and a constructive program of building what we want. This approach dates back to Gandhi and has been used in many transformative movements.In an article about the hidden history of economic democracy and how it relates to major social transformations throughout U.S. history, we summarized these two tracks by writing:
“History reinforces the idea that to achieve transformational change, we must proceed on twin tracks: protesting and building. Mahatma Gandhi changed his emphasis in the mid-1930s, a dozen years before independence from the British Empire, to work focused on building economically self-reliant communities from below (sardovaya, or social uplift for all). This became an adjunct to the strategy he is most known for, satyagraha (noncooperation and civil disobedience to unjust laws). Gandhian economics meant thousands of self-sufficient small communities with self-rule and the need for economic self-sufficiency at the village level joined together in a cooperative federation of village republics. This is bookended by the Gandhian social ideal of dignity of labor, equitable distribution of wealth, communal self-sufficiency and individual freedom.”
There is incredible work going on throughout the United States on both these tracks. Economic democracy is gaining a foothold in the U.S. putting in place the kind of economy we want. And resistance continues to grow. In the last ten days we have reported on the following protests:
- A Tar Sands Blockader Disrupting an Oil and Gas Pipeline Conference
- An Occupy Offshoot Protesting Bag Searches in Boston on Their Subway
- Navajo, Appalachians, Veterans, and St. Louis Residents Confront Peabody Coal
- Plans by Occupy the Economy to Protest at Corporate Headquarters in May
- Hundreds of Mine Workers Protesting Peabody Coals Theft of Their Pensions
- Protesters Demanding Trauma Center on the Southside of Chicago
- Parents and Students Protesting the Closing of Schools in Philadelphia
- Occupy Albany Protesting Corporate Food
- Protests at the Inauguration, and here
- Anonymous Avenging the Death of Aaron Swartz Death by Taking Over the US Sentencing Commission Website
- More Than 1,000 People Protesting Pipelines in Maine Despite Freezing Cold Weather
- Utah Climate Activists Infiltrating an Energy Summit
- OWS Fighting Back Against NY Post Lies
- Occupy Portland Marching on the County Building, Demanding Sheriff Cease Evictions
- Occupy Light Brigade Joining With Idle No More for Water Security and Recognition of Native Treaties
- An Activist Disrupting the Kerry Nomination Hearing, Demands End to Military Aid to Israel
That is just in the past ten days! And, we have no doubt we are not reporting anywhere near all the protests that are occurring. As we found out when we were organizing the Occupation of Washington, DC at Freedom Plaza, Americans have been in revolt for a long time, the media just does not report it.
For a while Occupy brough a lot of movements together under the broad anti-Wall Street goal of economic fairness and justice; that was one reason the movement was not ignored. But now greater solidarity is needed, in order to show that there is a mass movement that people should be part of, a movement that can succeed in shifting power from concentrated wealth to the people.
One thing needed to bring the movement for social justice to the next level is unity. It will take many working together to achieve effective solidarity. At OccupyWashingtonDC/Ocober2011, we are considering what we can do to advance solidarity. We ask for your thoughts, write us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Of course, unity is not all that is needed, but it is one step.
In the meantime, realize that Americans are awakening and taking action. Whether they are helping to build cooperatives, community or public banks, community-supported agriculture and farmers markets or other more democratic economic institutions; or whether they are protesting the mistaken direction of the U.S. economy and government – a lot of good work is being done and we should rejoice that so many are working to create a new world.
Some upcoming events:
- February 6, 2013: Flood the NY Federal Courthouse on in opposition to the NDAA, see here and here.
- February 9, 2013: Anti-Drone Protest at the CIA Headquarters, information here
Activities that are asking for support:
- The Rolling Jubilee continues to eradicate debt, get involved! Click here for information.
- Occupy Sandy in New York and New Jersey continues to clean up and help people get their lives back. Click here for information and here.
More than 100 young people stormed a TransCanada office in Houston, Texas on Monday as part of a Tar Sands Blockade mass action targeting company offices across the United States. Blockaders streamed into the Houston office, occupying the space with their own hand-crafted “KXL pipe monster.”
Activist Alec Johnson was arrested Monday while refusing to leave the lobby of the Houston office after police ushered protesters outside. A videographer with the Chicago Indymedia Center was also arrested. Four others were arrested in a separate action in Liberty County, Texas for interrupting construction on the Keystone XL at work sites there.
Solidarity actions took place in Michigan, Maine, Massachusetts, Wisconsin and New York, including actions at banks known to have investments in the Alberta tar sands. In Massachusetts eight student organizers locked themselves inside a TransCanada office, super-gluing their hands together to symbolize how fossil fuel corporations have us all locked into to irreversible climate change. The sit-in was organized by Students for a Just and Stable Future, a student coalition also campaigning to divest university endowments from the top 200 fossil fuel companies.
One of those students arrested in Massachusetts Monday was Lisa Purdy, a student organizer with the Brandeis Divestment Campaign Coalition at Brandeis University. Purdy told Campus Progress about her work on divestment back in November, and after she was released from jail we caught up with her again.
“If we want to be building this new economy that’s not based on fossil fuels than we need to be fighting at every level,” Purdy said. “So we have people fighting down in Texas against the actual infrastructure, we have people fighting in the courts, we have people getting arrested at related offices of TransCanada, and we have people working at their universities to divest.”
Purdy said she felt ecstatic after she was released and hopes that her action will inspire similar actions in across New England.
Assistant District Attorney Julie Richard said the state of Massachusetts will seek “considerable restitution for the costs of removing the protesters," but she did not mention what the amount would be, according to the Westborough Daily Voice.
“Right now we’re unaware of the costs we have to pay for the exact decision or actions led to those costs,” Alli Welton—another student working on divestment at Harvard University who was also among those arrested during the Massachusetts action—told Campus Progress. “It would be unfair for the Westborough taxpayers to pay for the attention that TransCanada has drawn because of its ethically dubious actions.”
“We’re dreaming of a day when the law asks TransCanada to pay restitution for the families they’ve uprooted and the resources they’ve damaged and the other impacts of the climate crisis they’ve caused by pushing forward projects like Keystone XL,” Welton continued.
Protesters also gathered in Brownsville, Wisconsin Monday, at the offices of Michel’s Corporation—the construction company contracted to build the southern leg of the Keystone XL across Texas.
What's next for the Keystone XL?
Despite the years of mass protest against the tar sands project, former Bush and Clinton cabinets have said they expect President Obama to rubber stamp the pipeline soon.
Former Environmental Protection Agency Head Lisa Jackson is expected to resign this month. A reportedly close source suggests the departure is due to the Obama administration's plans to approve the Keystone XL.
“She was going to stay on until November or December,” a Jackson insider told the New York Post. “But this changed it. She will not be the EPA head when Obama supports it [Keystone] getting built.”
President Obama denied the original construction permit for the Keystone XL pipeline in January of 2012 when TransCanada proposed the 1,700-mile pipeline as a single project. Since then, the corporation has split the pipeline into two halves and reapplied for a permit for the northern section.
Jackson’s spokeswoman, Victoria Rivas-Vazquez, pointed back to the original announcement regarding the resignation, claiming Jaskson wanted to “pursue new challenges, time with her family and new opportunities. She said “the idea that her decision was made based on anything else is entirely false.”
The White House refused to comment on Jackson perceived reasons for leaving. Spokesman Clark Stevens told The Post that the “State Department’s assessment (of Keystone) is ongoing and any speculation would be premature.”
While the EPA is not responsible for the pipeline review process, it is one of many federal agencies that have advised the Obama administration on the pipeline project. The State Department, the agency that is responsible for the pipeline review, has clashed in the past with the EPA over earlier drafts of the pipeline’s Environmental Impact Statement, which the EPA said didn’t address the impacts on air and water quality among many other issues. The EPA, while under Jackson’s helm, has continued to raise serious concerns about the pipeline.
Though questions concerning the reason for Jackson’s resignation still loom, environmentalists are elated over the nomination of John Kerry for Secretary of State to replace Hillary Clinton. While Clinton has been criticized for having close ties to Paul Elliot, a top TransCanada lobbyist and former deputy director her presidential campaign, John Kerry has been known as a vocal climate hawk.
In October 2011, Kerry, the head of the U.S. Senate's foreign relations committee, vowed to use his influence to thoroughly examine the environmental impact of Keystone XL.
But no matter who is charged with helm-holding at the State Department or the EPA—or whether or not the president approves the project—the Tar Sands Blockade movement has proved that something grand and game-changing needs to happen.
Despite mass public outcry, mass symbolic protest actions, legislative battles and now even some high-ranking resignations, it's direct action that's ultimately need to stop a toxic project that has been deemed “game over” for the planet by NASA’s top climate scientist.
And that’s the idea that’s really catching on with young people across the nation who are utilizing nonviolent tactics, like locking themselves to dirty energy infrastructure in an effort to spread the message that we can’t afford to continue down an unsustainable path for our climate.
The Tar Sands Blockade movement vows to continue obstructing construction on the pipeline in the event that President Obama indeed gives the project a green light.
First Nations protesters march towards Parliament Hill before the start of a meeting between chiefs and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa January 11, 2013 (Reuters / Chris Wattie)(38.3Mb) embed video
An indigenous movement known as ‘Idle No More’ is gaining momentum in Canada. The First Nations people have promised to bring the country's economy 'down to its knees' if aboriginals’ voices remain unheard.
Having begun with four members in November, Idle No More has now become reminiscent of other grassroots movements like Occupy Wall Street.
Canadian Prime Minster Stephen Harper has agreed to meet with native chiefs on Friday to discuss disagreements over treaty rights and other grievances. Despite him promising to pay more attention to their demands, the meeting did not resolve any real issues.
Before the meeting, hundreds of indigenous activists protested in front of the Canada’s parliament, demonstrating their frustration, but also highlighting a deep divide within the country's First Nations on how to push Ottawa to heed their demands.
Mass demonstrations have been sparked by Bill C-45, which was passed by the Canadian government in December. The legislation amends rules about the community's land and protesters say it undermines century-old treaties by altering the approval process for leasing aboriginal lands to outsiders and changing environmental oversight in favor of natural resource extraction.
“Bill C-45 is not just about a budget, it is a direct attack on First Nations lands and on the bodies of water we all share from across this country,” Idle No More said in a statement on its website.
First Nations protesters march towards Parliament Hill before the start of a meeting between chiefs and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa January 11, 2013 (Reuters / Chris Wattie)
“Canada is becoming essentially the world’s No.1 corporate colony,” claimed independent researcher and writer Andrew Gavin Marshall. “Our prime minister has negotiated or is negotiating eight free trade agreements – this is opening up Canada to unhindered corporate plundering of the environment and resources. Indigenous peoples are at the front lines of that because their communities are hit first and they are hit hardest. So they may be facing the final stages of the 500-years genocide.”
In an interview with RT, Marshall said the Idle No More movement puts a spotlight on a broad range of problems within Canada. The movement is a resurgence of indigenous resistance against colonialism and oppression, he explained. Apart from that, it addresses human issues, the environment, the economy and society in general.
“In Canada we have essentially what amounts to apartheid system in how we treat the indigenous population. In their communities they have less access to water, food insecurity.”
Another serious issue is the situation that indigenous women are facing. “We have huge numbers of murdered or missing aboriginal women. The police don’t care. It’s unaccounted for.”
As the movement is gaining moment it is spreading outside Canada with hundreds of protests held across the world, Marshall says.“It’s been spreading globally because indigenous issues are human issues and are relevant everywhere around the world. It can spread in the same way the Occupy spread – largely through social media.”
Canadian society is waking up to the fact that the world has changed, Marshall argues.
“You have a youth movement here in Quebec and now an indigenous movement across the country and spreading.”
“What’s happening is part of the global phenomenon of change. This has no national boundaries, this is about people waking up to the power systems that exist and demanding and fighting for change,” he told RT.
“What aboriginal people in Canada are teaching us is that to protect the environment we have to address empire and that’s the reality that people everywhere are facing. As well as economic injustice – these are all related issues – we can’t deal with them separately. We have to deal with them collectively and we have to act on them collectively.”
First Nations protesters march towards Parliament Hill before the start of a meeting between chiefs and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa January 11, 2013 (Reuters / Chris Wattie)