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How To Build A Sustainable Trump Resistance

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

Resistance is breaking out all over: the women’s marches, the immigration airport protests and Sally Yates, the State Department mass dissents,and  the battle for the Supreme Court with much more to come.

But where are we going?  Are we simply calling for a return to the pre-Trump status quo of runaway inequality, the largest prison population in the world, inadequate and costly health care, unjust immigration policies, and accelerating climate change? Or do we have a new vision for America? If so, what is it and how do we fight for it?

Resist Trump is a protest by spontaneous combustion trigged by tweets and Facebook posts. Too often, however, such uprisings lack staying power. Occupy Wall Street grew to 900 encampments around the world and changed the conversation in America from austerity to inequality. But it evaporated within six months. The spirited Arab Spring in Egypt took down the government, but paved the way for the highly organized Muslim Brotherhood and then a military dictatorship. We should know by now that without organizational infrastructure such wondrous uprisings are fragile at best. They require leadership, dues paying members, legislative agendas, and ways for participants to engage in decision making. Such constructions require very hard work that social media can assist but not replace.

Where’s the glue?

Some hope that the Democratic Party will provide the infrastructure for an alternative vision and movement.  Not likely. Too many party leaders are still deeply committed to Wall Street. Too many Democratic officials refuse to interfere with corporations that shift jobs abroad simply to secure lower paid labor and weaker environmental regulations. And, far too party leaders have an eye towards securing lucrative positions among America’s financial elites.

Could labor unions form the organizational core? In the 1930s the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) played this role by organizing unskilled workers and pushing for an aggressive worker agenda that helped to secure Social Security, a minimum wage, the 40-hour work week, and much more. But today labor is torn. The Building Trades are applauding Trump for restarting the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines. Manufacturing unions are taking a wait and see attitude given Trump’s interventions to stop the off-shoring of jobs, his withdrawal from the anti-worker trade agreement (TPP), and his upcoming plans for massive infrastructure investments. Meanwhile, the public and service sector unions, who after going all in for Hillary against Bernie, have yet to  respond vociferously to Trump.

Can the remnants of the Sanders campaign fill this vacuum?  The jury is out.  U.S. presidential campaigns tend to unravel unless the candidate decides to run again.  Campaign operatives go back to their day jobs or school. Our Revolution, the political extension of the Sanders campaign, has possibilities but so far it has not attracted a mass following.  But all those young Bernie supporters are still interested in the broad social democratic agenda he so effectively popularized. How do they express their support?

A new formation?

There are many significant institutions with dues-paying members that could play a vital role. For starters there are the unions that supported Sanders, including the National Nurses United, the Communications Workers of America, the Amalgamated Transit Union, and American Postal Workers Unions. With a combined membership in the millions, they have enough funds and troops to launch a new national organization.

Ideally, they could be joined by the more progressive service sector unions like the Service Employees International Union as well as church, community and environmental organizations that represent millions of immigrants, lower income residents and environmentalists. Together they could form a new national political organization that we all could join.

The goal would be to popularize a Sanders-like agenda, organize protests to resist Trump while also building an alternative agenda for the next round of elections.

Another key goal would be to bring back the working class Trump voters who previously voted for Obama and Sanders. There are millions of them. Unions that represent workers in manufacturing have found that up to 50 percent of their members who voted, voted for Trump, largely because of Clinton’s record on anti-worker trade deals like NAFTA and TPP. The goal of any new formation should be to recruit those working class Sanders’ supporters.

An Impossible Dream?

Of course, it’s a long shot. After all, the unions involved do not have a stellar history of working together. The community groups also have their own issue silos and funding imperatives that lead them to travel down separate paths. Environmentalists and manufacturing unions are likely to clash over jobs. Also, the questions of race, class, and identity politics are certain to create tensions within any progressive formation.

But Trump could do wonders to help us overcome these difficulties. While we were in our silos, squabbling amongst ourselves, the hard right took control of the country — not just ideologically, but over the real levers of power. Since 2009, when Obama took office, the Democrats have lost 919 state legislative seats. The Republicans now control 68% of all state legislative chambers and have control of state chambers and the governorship in 24 states while the Democrats have such tri-partite control in only 6 states.

We can’t blame this on Comey or Putin, or Stein or Bernie. No, we also have to look in the mirror and face up to the fact that as a progressive movement, we’ve been losing overall even as we’ve made some significant gains on human rights for the LBGT communities. The rise of the hard right to some degree is the result of our lack-luster movement building efforts over the past three decades — our failure to get out of our silos and link together. Our current organization models and theories are failing against the challenges from the hard right.

The American Populist Movement

We could learn a great deal about organizing from the American Populist movement of the late 19th century. That movement, the first to challenge the power of Wall Street, called for the public ownership of railroads, public banks, a progressive income tax, and grain/livestock cooperatives. The Populists put 6,000 educators into the field to spread the word and build local chapters mostly among black and white small farmers in the Midwest and South. Although they were eventually defeated, the Populists set the agenda for American progressivism, the New Deal and even the Sanders campaign. (For chapter and verse see The Populist Moment by Lawrence Goodwyn).

Before we can make sense of such organizational structures, however, we need an attitude adjustment. We need to broaden our identities to see ourselves as movement builders — as activists who strive to put all the pieces together no matter which silo we may inhabit. I may be a climate change activist but I also need to be a movement builder who is challenging the power of Wall Street. I may be fighting for criminal justice reform but I also need to be a movement builder uniting with others for Medicare for All and a $15 per hour minimum wage. It’s all one fight. We are tied together by runaway inequality — a system designed to enrich the few at the expense of the many.

Will resist turn  into something more?

Due to Trump’s divisive politics, the protests will continue. At some point, one would hope that those involved will begin building real structures to sustain these efforts and initiate more. Sooner or later, we should go beyond resistance and advocate a vision for the future — a common agenda that includes a Robin Hood Tax on Wall Street, free higher education, Medicare for All, an end to outsourcing, fair trade, and a guaranteed job at a living wage for all those willing and able.

Perhaps a little more time spent with the craziness of Trump will wake us up from our organizational stupor.

Les Leopold, the director of the Labor Institute, is currently working with unions and community organizations to build the educational infrastructure for a new anti-Wall Street movement.

IMAGE: Protesters hold signs in opposition to U.S. President Donald Trump’s ban on immigration and travel outside Terminal 4 at JFK airport in Queens, New York City, New York, U.S. January 29, 2017.  REUTERS/Joe Penney

‘It’s What I Do’ A War-Zone Photographer’s Harrowing Memoir

By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War, by Lynsey Addario; Penguin Press (368 pages, $29.95)
___

It would be easy for “normal” people to conclude that journalists chronicling war and disaster are anything but.

Why would anyone in his or her right mind leave the comfort of middle-class America or Europe to document the savagery inflicted by Islamic terrorists on any Western hostage they can get their hands on? Or to witness the sadistic mutilation of rival factions’ women in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo?

Only someone a little crazy does that, the uninitiated might conclude. Or bent on basking in the glory of capturing an iconic image with wanton disregard for one’s own mortality. But such assumptions are a superficial and unfair reading of a journalist’s motivation to bring the reality of suffering, instability and injustice to the consciousness of those who might be moved to try to right the world’s wrongs.

In Lynsey Addario’s memoir, It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War, precociously undertaken before she turned 40, she endeavors to explain the “why?”

She takes the reader through a decade of violence in Afghanistan and Iraq after Sept. 11, 2001, then on to the Arab Spring. As if to set the record straight on the death-wish allegation, Addario opens her story with a harrowing account of being trapped between the rebels and Moammar Kadafi’s gunmen in the chaotic months before the Libyan leader was captured and executed.

“I hadn’t covered Tunisia and Egypt, because I was on assignment in Afghanistan, and it had pained me to miss such important moments in history. I wasn’t going to miss Libya,” Addario writes of one of the most powerful drivers that compel journalists to downgrade potential danger.

She and three other veteran conflict journalists were taken captive by Kadafi’s gunmen, who bound and blindfolded them for the hourslong ride in the back of a pickup during which the men were punched and rifle-butted and Addario was fondled. The Libyan experience conveys effectively the judgment lapses and regrets that consume journalists when they ignore the ever-present subconscious hazard detector.

Failure to heed those warnings is an occupational hazard, especially for female journalists traveling with male colleagues. Addario expresses throughout the memoir her aversion to being seen as “the girl,” more easily scared and inclined to leave the scene.

“The fact is that trauma and risk taking hadn’t become scarier over the years; it had become more normal,” she writes of her oscillating regret and resignation during the detention at a Kadafi prison and guesthouse.

Like Addario, I have a husband who is a journalist and understands the compulsion to cover the consequences of U.S. foreign-policy decisions. “Promise me you won’t do anything stupid,” my husband would say to me as I was leaving. And I’d try not to dwell too much on broken promises as I clung to a Haitian motorbike driver taking me on a slalom ride through burning tire barricades.

Addario seldom waxes remorseful in her richly illustrated memoir except when acknowledging the emotional trauma imposed on those who care about her. She recalls the year her mother fell into a coma after a car accident: “My family chose not to tell me, because I was far away and there was nothing I could do.”

Then there are the professional disappointments that inevitably afflict writers and photographers seeking to present a truthful image that military public affairs officers feel duty-bound to suppress. Addario’s devastating moment came after a grueling two-month embed with U.S. forces in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. A disturbing image she had taken of a young boy injured in a U.S. bombing raid was left out of the published photo essay for the New York Times Magazine because “the editor trusted the U.S. military public affairs officer — whose main responsibility was to polish the image of the U.S. military to the greater public — over us,” Addario recalls with a bitterness lingering seven years later.

She also recounts the deaths of colleagues that have saddened and shocked her, including the New York Times‘ Anthony Shadid, who had been among the trio with which she was taken hostage in Libya. He died in February 2012 from an acute asthma attack while making his way out of Syria.

Addario’s memoir is replete with the downsides of witnessing war and chronicling its myriad tragedies, all of which leaves the reader struggling with “why?”

Her answers are vague, as reflected in the memoir’s title. There is little historical context in the memoir, and Addario herself seems mystified by what she sees at times.

The book, though, doesn’t aspire to make sense of our violence-wracked world. It is narrowly focused on explaining photojournalism and the psychic rewards of influencing policymakers. She conveys well her unstated mission to stir the emotions of people like herself, born into relative security and prosperity, nudging them out of their comfort zones with visual evidence of horrors they might do something about. It is a diary of an empathetic young woman who makes understanding the wider world around her a professional calling.

By the end of her memoir, Addario slows ever so briefly to have a child with the man she marries after a minutely detailed decade of relationship misfires. Still, she returns to the scenes of chaos and violence, burdened anew with the fears that her young son will grow up motherless.

“As a war correspondent and a mother, I’ve learned to live in two different realities … but it’s my choice,” she concludes. “I choose to live in peace and witness war — to experience the worst in people but to remember the beauty.”

It’s what she does.
___

Williams has been a foreign correspondent since 1984, covering the Eastern Europe revolutions as well as the violent rebellions and wars in the former Yugoslav republics, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Iraq and Ukraine.

Photo: Harumi Ueda via Flickr

Israel Surrounded As Arab Spring Turns Darker

Sept. 13 (Bloomberg) — The Middle East is plunging toward crisis. The early promise of Tahrir Square has been supplanted by dismay that the Egyptian authorities — such as they are — allowed mobs to lay siege to the Israeli embassy in Cairo this past weekend.

Not long ago, Turkey and Israel were strategic partners. Now, relations between those two key U.S. allies are in ruins. When a recent United Nations report on the deadly confrontation between the Israeli military and a flotilla of Gaza-bound activists that sparked this crisis largely exonerated Israel, Turkey reacted by threatening to send warships to the eastern Mediterranean.

And the Jewish state faces a miserable month at the UN, where the Palestinians, who have refused to meet Israel at the negotiating table, are planning to seek recognition as an independent state, with potentially catastrophic consequences for both sides.

“As the months of Arab Spring have turned autumnal, Israel has increasingly become a target of public outrage,” the New York Times’ Ethan Bronner wrote this weekend from Jerusalem. “Some here say Israel is again being made a scapegoat, this time for unfulfilled revolutionary promises. But there is another interpretation, and it is the predominant one abroad — Muslims, Arabs and indeed many around the globe believe Israel is unjustly occupying Palestinian territories, and they are furious at Israel for it.”

Two Interpretations

The first interpretation — that Israel is a scapegoat for the failures of the Arab Spring (and many other previous ailments afflicting the Middle East) — is self-evidently true. The attack on the Israeli embassy grew from a rally in Tahrir Square called “Correcting the Path.” Its organizers meant to pressure the country’s military rulers to accelerate political changes. It is easier to burn an Israeli flag than reform the Egyptian government. And Israel, of course, did not cause Egypt’s economic woes, nor is it responsible for violence in Syria, poverty in Algeria or illiteracy in Yemen.

The second interpretation of recent events — that Arabs and Muslims are furious at Israel for occupying Palestinian territory — is superficially true, but it neglects to take into account a relevant and complicating fact: Israel’s crises with Egypt and Turkey are both rooted in an Israeli decision to relinquish Palestinian territory.

Forgotten History

Here is a bit of recent, though apparently forgotten, history: In 2003, the then-prime minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon, announced that Israel would unilaterally withdraw about 8,500 settlers from its 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip, and pull out its army as well. The territory would be handed over, in its entirety, to the Palestinian Authority.

In the summer of 2005, he executed the plan, ordering the Israeli army to expel the settlers. It would have been better, for many reasons, for Sharon to have negotiated this handover directly with his adversaries. But the fact remains that Israel gave the Palestinians of Gaza what they claimed they wanted: their territory, which they said would become part of their independent state.

How did Gazans respond? First, looters destroyed the vast settlement greenhouses that could have formed the basis of a new Gaza economy. Then, voters elected into power Hamas, a terrorist organization devoted to the annihilation of Israel. Gaza quickly became a launching pad for rocket attacks against Israeli towns.

In response, Israel blockaded Gaza to keep weapons from reaching its enemies. It was this blockade that pro-Hamas activists, many of them from Turkey, were trying to breach when their flotilla was boarded by Israeli forces last year. Nine activists were killed. The flotilla raid, and the subsequent collapse of relations between the two countries, can be traced in large part to Sharon’s decision.

Gaza and Sinai

In Egypt, the story is similar. The attack on the embassy in Cairo — which forced Israel to send air force planes to Egypt to rescue its diplomatic personnel — was part of an angry reaction to the accidental killing of at least three Egyptian soldiers last month. (The exact number killed is disputed.) The problem began when a group of terrorists, including some reportedly from Gaza, crossed the Israeli border from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and killed eight Israelis. The Israeli security forces, in pursuit of the terrorists, mistakenly killed the Egyptian soldiers. The Israeli government later formally expressed regret for the incident.

Most of the protesters in Cairo cared not at all about a terrorist invasion of Israel from Egyptian territory, or about the murdered Israelis themselves. Their only concern was what they saw as Israel’s criminal response.

Why, after decades of quiet, has the Egypt-Israel border become so tumultuous? Two reasons: The interim Egyptian government has lost control over the Sinai since the revolution, and Gaza, which borders the Sinai, has been transformed by Hamas into a weapons-importing and terror-exporting mini-state. And how did this come about? Sharon brought this about, by ceding Gaza to the Palestinians.

This is not, by the way, an argument against territorial compromise. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, needs to find a creative solution to the problem posed by his country’s continued occupation of much of the West Bank. But that job is made much more difficult by Israel’s enemies, who choose to ignore Israel’s last attempt at giving up territory. And it is made more difficult still by Israeli voters, who, when confronted by demands for further territorial compromise, look to Gaza and say, “Not so fast.”

(Jeffrey Goldberg is a Bloomberg View columnist and a national correspondent for The Atlantic. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer of this article: Jeffrey Goldberg at goldberg.atlantic@gmail.com.