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Activism - July 7

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Debranding Movement Takes on Consumerism

Sarah (Steve) Mosko, Culture Change
Thinking of tossing out a brand name shirt, handbag or backpack purchased with zeal last year but now seems so yesterday? Well, don’t. Debrand it instead to give it renewed life and do the environment a favor too.

What better symbols of the culture of consumerism than branding and logos. Marketers use these visuals in relentless campaigns to convince us that their brand of this or that is more desirable than the rest and that we can’t, and shouldn’t, live without it.

Marketers are not much interested, however, in what happens to all the frivolous extras and redundancies we amass once our attention shifts to the next brand or model that catches our fancy.

Older purchases which have lost their allure may collect dust for a while in a closet, or might even be given a second life if donated to charity, but either way likely end up as fodder for landfills.

People’s everyday refuse is classified as municipal solid waste (MSW). Because waste generation parallels consumption, MSW is a fair yardstick of a society’s consumerism. In the United States, per capita MSW generation rose from 2.68 pounds per day in 1960 to 4.43 pounds in 2010, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. About one-third of this waste stream is currently siphoned off through recycling and composting, and another 12 percent is combusted for energy production. Landfills have to absorb the remaining 2.4 pounds per person of daily rubbish.

Although many of us may feel put off by the material excess we see in others, and even in ourselves, we mostly feel powerless to change it. However, a few rebellious heroes have found ingenious ways to fight back at materialism through various forms of “debranding,” playful assaults on the very symbols of consumerism.
(29 June 2012)



Transition 2:0 – A story of community and climate resilience in a time of global inaction

Tierney Smith, Responding to Climate Change (RTCC)
Fruit and vegetables growing in a tube station in Kilburn, an ex-double glazing sales man going door-to-door in Moss Side, a young boy selling salad on the side of the road in Pittsburgh and elderly people teaching the young to plough in a small village in Italy.

Each of these stories seem so small, even irrelevant, on their own but together they are part of a much larger story.

One of a movement which is getting people and communities to re-think and re-design the way they live.

This is the story of Transition 2:0 – and a new film by that name has just been launched to celebrate this quintessential grassroots movement.

... The film is a tool-kit – a beginner’s guide to setting up a transition group.

The film’s strength is in its gathering of diverse stories of community action from across the globe. It takes you on a journey through what Rob Hopkins, founder of Transition Towns, calls ‘the four stages of transition’.

... While this is just one film, it depicts a movement which has become so vast and has so many different stories to tell.

In some ways, the success of the Transition Network has been down to this variety. Local groups are not tied down to a set of rules or activities they must keep to and each group can develop in its own time and manner.

One example of this is shown in the contrast between Transition Town Brixton and its neighboring group Transition Town Peckham.

While both situated in South London, both being poorer boroughs of the city and both having multi-cultural communities, many people would expect them to want similar things.

But what works in one Transition Town has not necessarily led to a success in the other and while the two groups work closely together, they are at the same time very different groups. Rather than being a negative, this diversity is celebrated with the Network.

While there is a growing disillusionment over the global progress on climate change, particularly since the Rio+20 Earth Summit, and calls are growing for more localised action, Transition provides an example of how this action is in fact already happening and has been for years.

But it is not all shining lights and celebration.

Essentially the movement will be as successful as the community involved allows it. Where communities are engaged and empowered by the process, a striving and long lasting Transition Town is usually found – one which take root in the community, benefits from it and is beneficial to it.

Meanwhile those which find people un-engaged will soon find themselves disheartened and struggling.

Perhaps the biggest lesson I took from the film though was that where the opportunities are there, communities are often willing to engage. They just need a little help.
(6 July 2012)



Archivists as Activists: Curating Social Movements

Sady Doyle, In These Times

Two strikers from the Ladies Tailors union stand on the picket line during the 1910 "Uprising of the 20,000" garment workers strike in New York City. (Bain News Service/Library of Congress)

Can curation be a form of activism? And how well do New Yorkers know, or value, their city’s activist past? These are two questions raised by “Activist New York,” the first exhibition at the newly inaugurated Puffin Foundation Gallery at the Museum of the City of New York. The exhibit is comprised of 14 separate booths, each devoted to a separate chapter of New York’s activist history; the booths are designed to be removed and replaced over time with new ones that document different chapters of this history. The causes the exhibit explores are eclectic. There’s Stonewall, of course, and the suffrage movement and abolitionism. There’s also space devoted to the recent fight for bike lanes—a cause which, I’m sure, is a grand and noble one, but which is also probably not on anyone’s list of Things That Are Just As Important As Slavery. There’s even a display on mid-20th-century conservative activism, a gesture so big-hearted that it might even be unnecessary, were it not that the pamphlets about welfare-leeching hippies are objectively hilarious.

The exhibit uses mixed media to tell its story. Artifacts from the time are arranged in glass cases, and screens project images of historic events. Scrolls on the wall explain the significance of the time period.

... This exhibit about activism and social change is designed to be active, and to change; to move and grow, both with time and with the visitor’s own participation. “It would be a terrible irony if an exhibit on activism allowed viewers to be passive,” says Museum of the City of New York’s chief curator Sarah Henry.

I attended the gallery on a quiet Wednesday afternoon. It wasn’t crowded, but the people in attendance were fully absorbed, peering into touch screens and glass cases. To further engage museumgoers, the exhibit allows people to upload photos of their own activist movements, which are both projected on a wall and visible on the museum’s blog (activistnewyorktoday.mcny.org). This feedback loop allows the museum to reflect history in real time and democratically.

... an historical perspective helps one understand how social change is created. In the back of the gallery is a display that allows one to scroll through a timeline of various movements (“women,” for example, or “gay rights”) and to see when important events in that cause’s history occurred. This screen, more than anything, captured the essence of New York activism: The people who engaged in these causes weren’t just quietly conducting their separate activities. They were engaging with each other, and often fighting with each other, as episodes on the timeline make clear.

Gay rights activists’ protests against feminist Betty Friedan’s remark about a “lavender menace” (too much lesbian influence in the women’s movement) doesn’t just belong shamefully in a booth for feminism, or triumphantly in a booth for gay rights, but rightfully in our conception of both causes. This very idea of how social change works—bumpily, unevenly, and with conflict and connection being central to the process—should be useful to someone who’s taking part in a movement as diverse and wide-ranging as Occupy.
(14 June 2012)



The revolution will be organized

Hugo Dixon, Reuters
Is it possible that rebel leaders are overrated? In the wake of the Arab Spring, the Occupy Wall Street movement, and other populist uprisings around the world against autocracy and corruption, geopolitical analysts are asking fundamental questions about what leadership means in such struggles. What sort of leadership is needed in nonviolent uprisings? And in this digital age, do rebellions even need leaders?

The romanticized answer is that nonviolent struggles no longer require a charismatic leader – they can emerge spontaneously as oppressed people rise up and communicate through Facebook and Twitter. This lack of organization or hierarchy is said to be well suited to the goals of such movements. Where insurgents are fighting for democratic rule, it is appropriate that nobody is bossing anybody around. What’s more, this alleged lack of leadership has a side benefit in that it precludes the authorities from destroying a movement by rounding up the ringleaders. You can’t lop off the head if there is no head.

A year ago, in the stirring aftermath of the Egyptian revolution, that paradigm had resonance. But the Arab Spring has run into trouble. It took a long and bloody struggle in Libya to depose Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, and Syria is being inexorably sucked into a civil war. Even Egypt no longer looks like a clear victory for the Facebook revolutionaries: The Muslim Brotherhood, which has a more traditional hierarchy and respect for authority, is poised to scoop up the fruits of the populist occupation of Tahrir Square.

“This is a war by other means,” says Robert Helvey, a former U.S. army colonel who has devoted himself to studying nonviolent combat and trains activists in its methods. “If you are going to wage a struggle, everybody needs to be on the same sheet of paper.” The savviest analysts of the recent nonviolent movements never believed they had much chance unless they had leadership, unity, and strategy.

... AN MBA IN NONVIOLENT REVOLUTION?

Is it possible to teach people how to run a nonviolent revolution? For traditional warfare, there are military academies – such as West Point in the United States and Sandhurst in Britain – dedicated to teaching the strategies of engagement. After training at such a college, young officers then get an apprenticeship working on military campaigns for senior leaders. There is no nonviolent equivalent of Sandhurst, but there have been attempts to train leaders for nonviolent struggles.

... More and more academics are also studying the field. Their books and articles are filtering down to activists on the ground, and what those books are telling them is this: To win a nonviolent struggle you must have leadership and solid strategy. Over time, such initiatives will get the relevant know-how to more and more emerging leaders and make them better nonviolent fighters. And that sharing of knowledge makes it more likely that the next nonviolent uprising will not just overthrow a dictator, but will replace him with a viable democratic government.

Hugo Dixon is the founder and editor of Reuters Breakingviews. Before founding Breakingviews in 1999, Hugo spent 13 years at the Financial Times, the last five as Head of Lex.
(29 June 2012)
Suggested by Asher Miller of Post Carbon Institute. For more articles in the same vein, see the site Waging Nonviolence. -BA

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