Editor’s note: Less than five years ago in Ireland, a woman getting an abortion could get a longer sentence than her rapist. That changed with a referendum in 2018, where the people of Ireland voted for abortion rights. The following article is written by one of the organizers of the Yes campaign: a campaign that reached out to people leading up to the referendum to get them to vote Yes for abortion rights. IN this piece, Clodagh Schofield describes her experiences with using powerful conversations as a tactic in the campaign.
As social beings, we tend to be reluctant to voice our opinions if we believe that those around us would get uncomfortable because of it. It might be because we think others don’t agree with us, or simply because the topic is an awkward one (like abortion). Voicing our opinions in such situations can be a small, yet powerful, way to start a discussion on a topic. It can lead to an exchange of ideas and people beginning to understand each other’s perspectives. Sometimes, it can also be part of a wider strategy to influence public opinion.
While DGR does not believe that changing public opinion in itself can lead to a cultural shift required to save the world, we do believe it is an important part of our movement. It is also a tactic that you can use with the people around you which requires relatively less time and energy and a higher amount of courage. Let us know if you have started uncomfortable conversations around you, and the effects you observed.
By Clodagh Schofield/Commons Library
Overturning the abortion ban in Ireland meant equipping people to share their stories and spark conversations with their friends and family.
In Ireland on May 25, 2018, the Yes campaign to repeal the nation’s 8th Amendment abortion ban won after receiving nearly two-thirds of the over 2.1 million votes cast.
The victory resulted in part from people across the country having hard conversations about abortion. Let’s take a look at how the campaign helped start and support the tough talks needed to shift perceptions about deeply held values.
In Ireland’s landslide win for abortion rights, a long-silent majority appeared to vote Yes. The Yes vote also won decisively in rural counties thought to be the heartland of the No campaign. Why?
After the vote, 39% of people polled about what changed their minds to Yes cited a conversation with family or friends. Thousands of people with traumatic abortion experiences broke their silence and inspired others to speak up.
But it wasn’t by accident that people across Ireland had these difficult conversations over tea, at sporting events on the weekend, in the car, after school and online. In fact, when polled in January, four and a half months before the vote, over half of voters said they would be too uncomfortable to talk about abortion with people in their lives.
The Yes campaign helped people start and maintain conversations, modeled positive values-based talk that didn’t play into the opposition’s messaging frame and ran a grassroots effort that gave people agency over their conversations.
The campaign also recognised the value of each person. In Ireland, where abortion has been banned since the 8th Amendment was passed in 1983, everyone has a story about abortion. When it comes time to vote, a person needs just one story to change or affirm how they mark the ballot.
I worked on the Yes campaign and see valuable lessons in sparking difficult conversations for campaigners working elsewhere in the world on issues that, like the Ireland abortion referendum, are steeped in centuries-old mixes of institutions, politics and values.
Help people start conversations in diverse ways
It’s not easy to talk about abortion on a personal level. Different people need different prompts and various levels of support.
Groups used a variety of approaches to help people start conversations. Amnesty International partnered with the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, and asked members to pledge to have conversations with those around them on itstime.ie (unfortunately the site is now retired). Local groups of the official Yes campaign held some amazing conversation cafes. My favourite tactic was so simple: the Abortion Rights Campaign produced badges for supporters which read “Talk to me about Repeal.”
At Uplift, we ran a number of different campaigns to encourage people to start conversations. We also equipped people to have effective and meaningful conversations.
Early in the campaign, we ran an online conversations training on Crowdcast. We focused on using stories and values based communication to approach undecided voters. We followed up conversations with a microsite, letstalkrepeal.ie [Link not working 27 April, 2022]. Engagement with these resources was strong. Feedback was also good. The program provided an accessible low bar ask for people who supported Yes and wanted to step up but not into leadership roles.
We launched Mobilisr [link not found 29 April 2022], a peer-to-peer messaging program, in the run up to the vote. People used it to get in touch with their Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Telegram contacts to either start a conversation about abortion care, or ask them to get out and vote. People were slow to start using Mobilisr but activity picked up once users had used the tool at least once.
By 25 May, the app converted extremely well – especially as users could select as many people in their contacts as they chose to send a prefilled but customisable message. Lightweight and adaptable, this tool shows huge promise for starting conversations with users outside of a campaign’s existing reach.
We segmented lists into people who were a Yes vote, people voting No, and undecided voters. Strong pro-choice members were recruited to have conversations with undecided voters. One volunteer trained and supported a team of “e-Repealers” who offered undecided people the opportunity to have a conversation via email using Freshdesk. Though at times a little rough and ready, this program was entirely volunteer run. The program fostered earnest and often complicated discussions between very different people.
Focus on your values and vision, not the opposition’s framing
Campaigning was organised locally but most Yes groups used messaging focused on care, compassion and change.
At Uplift we worked with Anat Shenker-Osorio to develop messaging. We talked about abortion as a part of healthcare and shared stories of individuals instead of speaking of women collectively. We also shared a vision of the society where everyone has the freedom to decide whether and when to become a parent.
The tone of the Yes campaign paved the way for powerful conversations between people on an issue that’s historically untouchable. Even the No campaign acknowledged that Yes campaign messaging grounded the debate and prevented it from becoming as toxic as it could have been.
Empower people with campaign ownership
The Abortion Rights Campaign, one of three partners in the official Yes campaign, is an unashamedly radical organisation with no paid staff and a flat structure. Local groups have a strong sense of campaign ownership built through years of distributed community organising and grassroots fundraising.
But a campaign with few paid staff still needs leaders. The referendum campaign facilitated opportunities for people to step in, learn and take on campaign roles. The challenge was in finding lightweight, scalable and impactful ways to connect and resource them.
A voter only needs one story in mind to vote Yes
In the end, the aim of the Yes campaign was to make space for brave people to talk about their abortion care experiences in a country that banned abortion. We also created a situation in which those stories would have power.
Together4Yes and campaigning NGOs like Uplift and Amnesty International targeted personal story video ads on social media. We gave particular weight to stories of “hard cases.” These included people who were pregnant as a result of incest or sexual assault and cases of fatal foetal abnormality. These stories were so powerful with undecided voters that the No campaign tried to do a double-take in the final week and argue for a compromise that would enable abortion in those cases.
In Her Shoes, a volunteer-run Facebook page, is a great example of how people created a way for others to share personal stories. The format was simple. People sent in their story with a picture of their shoes. Posted anonymously, these stories went viral again and again. It became possible for people to feel surrounded by anonymous women, wearing Vans, sandals, runners and heels, who’ve kept their struggle secret from those around them for years.
By far the most powerful story of the referendum campaign was that of the late Savita Halappanavar. Savita’s parents shared their daughter’s story in one of the most watched videos of the campaign. In it, they called on the people of Ireland to remember their daughter and vote Yes.
Halappanavar had a septic miscarriage and was denied a requested abortion in a hospital when it was determined that her life was not sufficiently threatened. She died shortly thereafter. Eight percent of Yes voters polled by Irish national broadcaster RTE said they voted yes because of Savita.
In the same poll, 43% of Yes voters said people’s personal stories in the media convinced them. 34% cited experiences of people they knew. Creating safe and respectful platforms with reach for these stories was crucial to the success of the Yes campaign, and gave people the tools they needed to talk to those around them.
A people-powered catharsis
As a woman living in Ireland, knowing that this fight was won by the people around me makes me feel that broken trust is now mending. Reflecting on the campaign, many have said that the country is changed forever: stories have come to light that will never be hidden again. In listening, and acting compassionately, we’ve gone through a catharsis.
As an organiser, this campaign taught me that it’s valuable to pick moments when people are passionate and ready to act. As important is providing tools for people to follow through on that passion by connecting with people around them: family, friends and social networks.
People power, properly organised and resourced, can beat a huge budget and Cambridge Analytica style dark ads. More on that later.
The online conversation training by Uplift can be replayed in Crowdcast.
Featured image: A mural outside the Bernard Shaw Pub in Portobello, Dublin depicting Savita Halappanavar by Zcbeaton via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)
The Deep Green Resistance Fall Fundraiser Event
Our way of life — industrial civilization — is destroying the planet.
From coral reefs to the great forests, the last strongholds of the wild are falling. The climate is destabilizing. And we are entering the 6th mass extinction of life on Earth. Ecological collapse is here.
This unprecedented crisis demands extraordinary solutions. And yet, governments and mainstream environmental groups are failing to chart a path towards a livable future. What is to be done?
This November 19th, join the philosopher poet of the deep ecology movement Derrick Jensen, radical eco-feminist author and strategist Lierre Kieth, and special guests Saba Malik, Robert Jensen and Dahr Jamail for a special 3-hour live streaming event, Collapse: Ecology, Climate, and Civilization starting at 3pm Pacific Time and hosted by Deep Green Resistance.
This event will explore issues of collapse (ecological, climatic, and civilizational) with a focus on organized, political resistance to slow and mitigate the worst aspects of collapse and accelerate the positive impacts. There will be opportunities to ask questions and participate in dialogue.
This event is also a fundraiser, because the mainstream environmental movement is funded mainly by foundations which don’t want foundational or revolutionary change. Radical organizations like Deep Green Resistance rely on individual donors to support our work.
We are raising $25,000 to fund a national speaking tour, a community-led hydropower dam resistance campaign in the Philippines, land-defense campaigns addressing mining and biodiversity, training programs for activists around the world, and other organizational work.
Whether or not you are in a financial position to donate, we hope you will join us this November 19th for this special event!
You can view the event live on Givebutter or on Facebook.
I was surrounded and about to surrender
when she broke the battle
and carried me from the frontlines.
When, at last, we were safe and alone,
she cradled me in her arms,
warmed me by the fire in her breast
and let the starlight falling
from her smile shine away
the horrors of the night.
She offered to bathe my wounds there
in that kind gaze pouring from her eyes.
They were the color of brown stones
dancing in the dappling sunshine
under the pure, precontact currents
of strong, clean Alaskan streams.
I must have flinched there
at the fierceness of her generosity
because she asked me if
I was still afraid.
It was too selfish to say
“I fear you’ll push me away
from your bright radiance
back into the black combat
you pulled me from.”
No matter what I really wanted,
I could not ask her to hold me there
forever. Or, even for the rest of my life.
I could not ask her to do this
because I remembered
when she introduced herself,
there were eagles
and killer whales in her name.
I hate talons in chains,
and the sight of bloated bodies
floating belly up
in concrete prison pools in parks
that don’t amuse anyone anymore.
So, I told the whole truth.
I was afraid I would linger there
overlong, while all the streams were strangled,
the songbirds silenced, and the salmon starved.
I was afraid that if I shed my armor
to press my bare skin to hers
I’d never rise to fight again.
Her laugh was as gentle
as the first snowfall on
a transboundary bay.
Her kiss was as soothing
as the first sunshine on
a post-blizzard day.
She said: eagles leap from their nests,
killer whales kill,
warriors know when to make war,
and we will fight side by side,
my scared, tired man.
All my dams crashed down, then.
The sword fell from my hand.
And I learned I could
make love and make war
with this true warrior woman
Will Falk is a writer, lawyer, and environmental activist. The natural world speaks and Will’s work is how he listens. He believes the ongoing destruction of the natural world is the most pressing issue confronting us today. For Will, writing is a tool to be used in resistance.
Editor’s note: Neither of the events are being organized by DGR. We stand in solidarity with both of these and encourage our readers to get involved in these if possible.
FiLiA is a UK-based women-led volunteer women-only organization. It runs the largest annual grassroots conference in Europe, with the aims of a) building sisterhood and solidarity, b) amplifying the voices of women, particularly those less often heard or purposefully silenced, and c) defending women’s human rights. Every year since 2013, the FiLiA conference is organized in a different part of UK and brings women together in listening to and building relationship with other women. Women share their experiences with patriarchy and their efforts to tackle the challenges they have faced.
This year the event is being held in Cardiff, Wales from October 22 to October 24. Find more information for the speakers this year. Listen to the spokeswoman for FiLiA talk about the conference in an interview.
Note: You need to register for the event.
Global Extraction Film Festival (GEFF) 2022
The Global Extraction Film Festival (GEFF) 2022 will be streamed worldwide for free from October 26-30, 2022. The third edition of this online festival will present 250+ documentaries and urgent shorts from 50+ countries highlighting the destructive impacts of extractive industries. Founded in 2020 by Jamaican environmental filmmaker and activist Esther Figueroa (]Vagabond Media) and postcolonial film scholar-practitioner Emiel Martens (University of Amsterdam, Caribbean Creativity), GEFF aims to bring attention to the destructive impacts of extractive industries and to highlight communities across the world who are bravely defending against annihilation while creating livable futures.
GEFF2022 features 6 programs with over 250 documentaries and urgent shorts from over 50 countries, with a wide range of compelling topics that people around the world need to think about. Where, how and by whom is the food we eat, water we drink, clothes we wear, materials in our technology, the energy that powers our lives produced and transported? What are we to do with the billions of tons of waste we create daily? What is our relationship to other species and all life on the planet? Extraction and extractivism have caused the anthropocene, the climate crisis is real and cannot be wished away or solved by magical technologies based on extraction.
Featured Image by Alex Motoc on Unsplash
It is not enough to know the truth.
It is not enough to accept the truth,
to embrace the truth, to be saved by the truth.
It is not even enough to cling to the truth
when no one else will.
The truth rails at being trapped
in the blood flooded chambers
of the human heart.
She detests being chained within
the hard, bony walls of thick human skulls.
The truth is a restless being.
Broken bodies, shattered souls,
and the willful ignorance
that break and shatter them
make her scream
and boil the fuel from her spleen
until she liquefies like natural gas
looking for just one match
to explode and burn all the lies down.
She will not be denied.
Banish her from your thoughts
and she will microwave your mind
until the molecules you use as excuses
vibrate with nuclear radiation
and all that’s left of your self-respect
is a billowing mushroom cloud.
It’s not that the truth doesn’t want to be used.
She does. She wants your heart
to burn like a furnace. She wants you
to shovel her like coal
into the engines driving your axles.
She doesn’t care if you object
to the industrial metaphors, if you cringe
at being compared to common appliances.
She doesn’t care because the truth is
your blood runs full of plastic,
mother’s milk is now carcinogenic,
and when you spend more time
with machines than trees, the stars,
or your own warm lover,
it’s hard to distinguish between machines
and those who serve them.
So the truth demands more.
She demands more than recognition,
more than acceptance,
more than the smugness that comes
with telling everyone what the truth is.
She demands more. She demands the truth.
And the truth is,
the truth is action
Will Falk is a writer, lawyer, and environmental activist. The natural world speaks and Will’s work is how he listens. He believes the ongoing destruction of the natural world is the most pressing issue confronting us today. For Will, writing is a tool to be used in resistance. https://www.facebook.com/willfalk35
Editor’s note: The following conceptual tool is designed to help community organizers to categorize community groups, businesses, government bodies, and individuals along a “spectrum of allies.” This exercise teaches a fundamental tenet of community organizing: that our goal is not only to find people who agree with us fully, but to gradually shift those who disagree with us into greater political alignment.
We use this tool regularly in Deep Green Resistance training programs and campaigns, and encourage you to do so as well.
By Nadine Bloch
Movements seldom win by overpowering the opposition; they win by shifting support out from under it. Use a spectrum-of-allies analysis to identify the social groups (students, workers) that are affected by your issue, and locate those groups along a spectrum, from active opposition to active allies, so you can focus your efforts on shifting those groups closer to your position. Identifying specific stakeholders (e.g. not just students, but students at public colleges; not just workers, but domestic workers) can help you identify the most effective ways of moving different social groups closer to your position, in order to win your campaign.
When mapping out your campaign, it is useful to look at society as a collection of specific communities, blocs, or networks, some of which are institutions (unions, churches, schools), others of which are less visible or cohesive, like youth subcultures or demographic groupings. The more precisely you can identify stakeholders and impacted communities, the better you can prepare to persuade those groups or individuals to move closer to your position. You can then weigh the relative costs and benefits of focusing on different blocs.
Evaluating your spectrum of allies can help you avoid some common pitfalls. Some activist groups, for instance, only concern themselves with their active allies, which runs the risk of “preaching to the choir” — building marginal subcultures that are incomprehensible to everyone else, while ignoring the people you actually need to convince. Others behave as if everyone who disagrees with their position is an active opponent, playing out the “story of the righteous few,” acting as if the whole world is against them. Yet others take a “speak truth to power” approach, figuring that through moral appeal or force of logical argument, they can somehow win over their most entrenched active opponents. All three of these extreme approaches virtually guarantee failure.
Movements and campaigns are won not by overpowering one’s active opposition, but by shifting each group one notch around the spectrum (passive allies into active allies, neutrals into passive allies, and passive opponents into neutrals), thereby increasing people power in favour of change and weakening your opposition.
For example, in 1964 in the U.S., the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a major driver of the African-American civil rights movement in the racially segregated South, realized that in order to win desegregation and voting rights for African Americans, they needed to make active allies of sympathetic white northerners. Many students in the North were sympathetic, but had no entry point into the movement. They didn’t need to be educated or convinced, they needed an invitation to enter the struggle. (Or in the spectrum-of-allies schema, they needed to be moved from passive allies into active allies.) Moreover, these white students had extended communities of white families and friends who were not directly impacted by the struggles of African-American southerners. As the struggle escalated, these groups could be shifted from neutral to passive allies or even active allies.
Based on this analysis, the SNCC made a strategic decision to focus on reaching neutral white communities in the North by engaging sympathetic white students in their Freedom Summer program. Busloads of students travelled to the South to assist with voter registration, and many were deeply radicalized in the process. They witnessed lynchings, violent police abuse, and angry white mobs, all a response to black Southerners simply trying to exercise their right to vote.
Many wrote letters home to their parents, who suddenly had a personal connection to the struggle. This triggered another desired shift: Their families became passive allies, often bringing their workplaces and social networks with them. The students, meanwhile, returned to school in the fall as active allies, and proceeded to organize their campuses — more shifts in the direction of civil rights. The result: a profound transformation of the political landscape.
This cascading shift of support wasn’t spontaneous; it was part of a deliberate movement strategy that, to this day, carries profound lessons for other movements.
How to use
Use this tool to identify the constituencies that could be moved one notch along the spectrum, as well as to assess the relative costs of reaching, educating, or mobilizing each of these constituencies. Do not use this tool to identify your arch enemies and go after them — it’s the people in the middle you’ll most often want to focus on. The groupings or individuals you identify should be as specific as possible: not just unions, for instance, but specific unions. The more specific you can be, the better this tool will serve you.
Here’s how to do a spectrum-of-allies analysis:
1. Set up a “half-pie” drawing (see diagram).
Label the entire drawing with the name of the specific movement or campaign you are discussing, and put yourself on the left side, with your opposition on the right side.
2. Divide the half-pie into five slices:
- active allies, or people who agree with you and are fighting alongside you;
- passive allies, or people who agree with you but aren’t (yet) doing anything about it;
- neutrals, or the unengaged and uninformed;
- passive opposition, or people who disagree with you but aren’t actively trying to stop you; and
- active opposition, or people who not only disagree with you, but are actively organizing against you.
In the appropriate wedges, place different constituencies, organizations, or individuals. Spend a significant amount of time brainstorming the groups and individuals that belong in each of the sections. Be specific: list them with as many identifying characteristics as possible. And make sure to cover every wedge; neglecting sections will limit your strategic planning and your potential effectiveness.
3. Step back and see if you’re being specific enough
For every group or bloc you listed in the diagram, ask yourself whether you could be more specific — are there more adjectives or qualifiers you could add to give more definition to the description? You might be tempted to say “mothers,” but the reality might be that “wealthy mothers who live in gated communities” might belong in one wedge, and “mothers who work as market vendors” would belong in another. The more specific you can be, the better this tool will serve you.
4. Identify what else you need to know.
When you come up against the limits of your knowledge, make sure to start a list of follow-up questions — and commit to doing the research you’ll need to get the answers.
Combine with other tools
The spectrum of allies can also work well in combination with other methodologies:
- First, use pillars of power to map out the biggest forces at play.
- Combine with a SWOT matrix in order to help you identify all key constituencies.
- Follow up with points of intervention in order to identify tactics and actions to engage the key constituencies you’ve identified.
Nadine Bloch is currently Training Director for Beautiful Trouble, as well as an artist, political organizer, direct action trainer, and puppetista. If you have a question for Nadine about this tool you can contact her via the form at the bottom on the Beautiful Uprising Spectrum of Allies article.
This article is published under the Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike CC BY-NC-SA license. Small portions of the original article were omitted for clarity.
By Max Wilbert
We are living in an ecological catastrophe. Our world is being killed before our eyes. This hurts. And so for many people, their response is either apathy, complete emotional shutdown, or a nihilistic embrace of powerlessness.
There is another option. While our power to change the course of ecological collapse is indeed limited, limited is different from non-existent. The truth is, we do have power. And we can change the world. No, our power is not limitless. No, the world will not change easily. And no, we cannot fix everything. Some things are broken beyond fixing. But these difficulties do not absolve us of responsibility.
There is an old warrior’s saying that “duty is heavier than a mountain, and death is lighter than a feather.” The duty of humans with moral conscience in this era is heavy indeed. And yet, what would we be if we abandoned this world to its fate? If we abandoned our forests, our oceans, our mountains? If we abandoned our non-human relatives? If we abandoned our communities and future generations of children? What would we be, then?
Some people argue that humanity is simply a cancer. That we will destroy ourselves. That our nature is fundamentally destructive. That our actions have proven us unfit to survive in the long-term, unfit to participate in the community of life, which we are destroying.
But if human destructiveness is one part of our potential, then humans defending the land is another. Those who defend the land are part of the immune system of the world. We are defenders of wholeness. We bring balance. We are the consciousness of the Earth, our bones like mountains, our blood like rivers. We are an evolutionary force, an outgrowth of the planet itself, taking action to defend our community.
And we will not give up, because ultimately, to abandon responsibility is to abandon our own souls. There is only one way we can guarantee the worst possible outcome for the future: if we take no action at all.
And so today, I wish to thank the activists and land defenders of the world. Your hearts are the conscience of our society. Your tears are our prayers. Your dedication is the salvation of life. Your effort is not in vain. You are valuable.
Editor’s Note: Jane Anne Morris’ 2005 essay “Help! I’ve Been Colonized and I Can’t Get Up” is considered a classic text within the community rights movement. It criticizes the regulatory regime of environmental and public health protection, which has ultimately helped corporations standardize and de-risk investments, while failing to prevent ecological collapse. Instead of participating in this system, Morris proposes six legal changes which would substantially limit corporate power.
The problems described in this essay have only become even worse since 2005. Barriers to challenging corporate-friendly legal structures are numerous, deeply embedded, and well-defended by teams of lawyers, lobbyists, and politicians who are entrenched in government and other institutions like military units employing defense-in-depth. Seventeen years of anti-corporate-power organizing, since this essay was written, has yet to breach these barricades.
Morris’ essay today can be read in at least two ways: first, as calling for a populist effort to reign in corporate power, as she originally intended the piece; and second, as a historic account of advancing corporate power which calls for strategic and ethical escalation in defense of planet Earth.
Take a Lawyer and an Expert To a Hearing and Call Me In a Decade
By Jane Anne Morris
A third of your friends are locked down Reclaiming the Bill of Rights, Building a Movement in an old growth grove or at a corporate headquarters, with law enforcement officers rubbing pepper spray in their eyes. Another third are preparing testimony so you can be persuasive at a generic regulatory agency hearing while you’re begging them to enforce a tiny portion of our laws. The third third are trying to raise money to pay lawyers to get your friends out of jail (after they’ve been released from the hospital) or take the regulatory agency to court (after it declines to enforce the law).
The pepper spray, groveling and money-grubbing might not be so bad if we could honestly say that the earth is better off today than it was four years ago. I can’t honestly say that.
This diatribe is an effort to take a hard look at what we’re doing and insinuate some new elements into the debate. It’s not intended to belittle any of our efforts, point fingers, or assign blame, so don’t take it personally. We are all earthlings.
Our campaigns follow the gambling addiction model. The last bet didn’t pay off but the next one might if… if… if we just had a new, improved tripod, three more experts, more labor or church support, ten more elected officials on our side, a hundred more people at the demo, or a thousand more letters in the mail…. Who are we kidding? We are just doing the “same old thing” over and over again and fooling ourselves that it might work next time.
We are stuck in a feedback loop where our failures are interpreted as signs that we should repeat our failed tactics, but try harder. This is what it is to be colonized. The telltale sign is not that we’re failing, but that we’re fooling ourselves, and don’t see it as a feedback loop.
If our minds are not colonized, then how come almost every Earth First! Journal action piece starts with a banner or a lockdown and ends with a plea to write a letter to a white male bigshot? (Go ahead, look through back issues. It goes on for years and years.)
Over at corporate headquarters they have a steeper learning curve.
Despite the occasional bag of guts on the committee table or clever banner, it must be reassuring for corporate executives and those who serve them to sit back and smile at the success of their containment efforts, and the predictability of our campaigns.
The issue of whose minds are colonized is a delicate one. We all know people whose minds have been colonized. Who are they? They are other people — people out there. They are somebody else. Not us.
It’s time we did the unthinkable and asked ourselves if we have been colonized. What do we see when we compare our strategies to corporate strategies?
Many of our groups are organized to save wolves, butterflies, trees, prairie flowers, rivers, deserts, or estuaries. But corporation executives don’t organize to destroy the wolves, butterflies… flowers… estuaries. Nor do they organize to pollute the air, spoil the rivers, or promote five-legged frogs.
This asymmetry should give us pause as we try to understand why corporations are on a roll while we’re stuck in a feedback loop. Let’s look again.
Corporate strategy leverages their power; their efforts reinforce and magnify each other. Our strategy splits our resources and dissipates our power.
Corporate strategy aims to increase the power that corporations have over people. That means that when a single corporation gets a victory, it helps all other corporations, too. They are all stronger, they all have more power, and the people have less.
We work on separate harms. When we lock down to one old growth stand, others go unprotected. When we protest about one chemical, others go unprotested. When we testify to preserve one watershed, others are not spoken for.
We have whole campaigns directed at one chemical, one corporation, one species, one grove of trees, one article of clothing.
In doing so, we fracture our resources. While we’re out working on a “Chlorine is Bad” or “Wolves are Good” campaign, we’re not working on all of the other chemicals, animals, trees, etc., that also need attention.
Some of us argue that this fracturing is inevitable, because there’s so much wrong in the world. (Declaring a problem to be inevitable is a great way to justify not talking about it. Another gift to the corporate world view.)
Others of us think that the fracturing results from not being organized enough, or not being organized right. This opens the door for endless bickering about whether we should organize by bioregion or by article of clothing, by species or by chemical, by issue or by occupation. Either way, we’re still fractured.
Being fractured is another way of being colonized.
Another sure sign of being colonized is when you censor yourselves, and don’t even wait for others to do it. Some of our self-imposed limitations are right off of a corporate wish list.
We have a strange “but it’s the law” syndrome. Why can’t we bring up important issues at EPA hearings? It’s regulatory (administrative) law. Why can’t we get our views accurately presented on TV? It’s (corporate) private property law and FCC regulations. Why can’t we imprison corporate executives for what their corporations do? It’s liability law.
So what do we do? We toe the line at the EPA hearing. We dress up as animals to get a moment on TV. We let lying corporate executives lie.
That is, we work around the defining laws that are the groundwork for a rigged system. We’re looking for favors, lucky breaks. We don’t even dream of control, yet we call this a democracy.
This is being colonized.
Corporation representatives do not feel constrained in this way. Nothing is too destructive, too audacious, too outrageous for them to attempt. After all, they have most of us believing and not even objecting to the idea that corporations have “rights.” In early 1998 an association of corporations (itself a corporation that supposedly has “free speech” rights, according to prevailing legal opinion) sued a talk show host in Texas for saying that she’s going to stop eating hamburgers.
Then there’s the Zen of “Describing The Problem.”
We need our storytellers, we need our scribes, we need our analysts, we need our own human fonts of crazy ideas. We needed Silent Spring. By now we have the equivalent of Son of Silent Spring, Daughter of Silent Spring, Second Cousin Once Removed of Silent Spring. But habitat destruction continues as fast as we can describe it, if not faster. Our compulsion to Describe The Problem (something we do really well) serves a purpose, especially for people who think there’s no problem, but the people who need to hear it the most aren’t hearing it. We’re Describing The Problem to each other in lavish detail, which crowds out efforts to rethink our whole strategy.
Are we doing anything other than lurching back and forth between Describing The Problem and then buckling the seatbelt on our feedback loop? I for one think I’ve heard enough “Bad Things About Corporations,” and I’m pretty tired of working on campaigns that will not only fail, but fail in predictable ways.
How have we been colonized? Let me count the ways. We interpret failures as signals to do the same things over again. We are predictable. Our strategies and styles of organizing fracture and dilute our resources. We either accept this dilution as inevitable, or blame each other for not organizing right. We censor ourselves, in thought and action. We act as though if we Describe The Problem to each other enough, it might go away.
And now, we can argue about whether we’ve been colonized or not. Corporate management is popping extra popcorn for this one.
But enough of what we do. What do corporations do? (The question should be, “What do people do behind the fiction of corporations?” One of the signs of our being colonized is that we personify corporations. I’ve been trying to avoid that in this piece but… help, I’ve been colonized and I need help getting up….)
Corporate management figured out a hundred years ago that fighting against each other, competing and diluting their resources was weakening them and limiting their power. So they don’t do that any more.
So what do people do while hiding behind the corporate shield? The short version is that they write a script for us, and we follow it. Then they write a script for themselves, and we don’t even read it.
A big part of the script written for us involves Regulatory Law (including environmental and administrative law). It assumes that corporations have the rights of constitutional “persons.”
It outlines procedures for what We the People can do (not much); what government can do (a little more); and what corporations can do (a lot).
At regulatory agencies, corporate “persons” (that is, corporations) have constitutional rights to due process and equal protection that human persons, affected citizens, do not have. For non-corporate human citizens there’s a “Democracy Theme Park” where we can pull levers on voting machines and talk into microphones at hearings. But don’t worry, they’re not connected to anything and nobody’s listening ‘cept us.
What Regulatory Law regulates is citizen input, not corporate behavior. So when we cooperate in regulatory law proceedings, we are following the script that corporation representatives wrote for us. We’re either colonized, or we’re collaborators. That the regulatory agencies fail to protect the public is clear. Why they fail is another matter.
One reason is that they were set up with the cooperation of and sometimes at the urging of big corporations. Today regulatory agencies and trade associations work together to do the work that the “trusts” of the last century were set up to do.
A second reason for regulatory failure concerns the nature of the corporation, to which we turn briefly.
Corporations are not natural entities, like karner blue butterflies or white pines. Corporations are artificial creations that are set up by state corporation codes. These state laws, plus a bunch of court cases, form the basis for the notion that corporations have powers and “rights.”
This law is Defining Law. This law is the script that corporate lawyers write for corporations. This law is the law that we don’t even read.
It’s right there in the law books in black and white, just like the “regs” that we spend so much time on. But this Defining Law is invisible to us because we’ve been colonized and have accepted it as a given. We leave this defining law — in corporation codes, bankruptcy law, insurance law, etc. — to corporation lawyers, who rewrite it every few years without so much as a whimper from citizen activists. Then we wonder why the parts-per-million regulations aren’t enforced.
So, the second reason that regulatory agencies fail to protect the public is that we have allowed corporate lawyers to write the Defining Law of corporations. This law bestows upon corporations powers and rights that exceed those of human persons and sometimes of government as well. It seems pretty obvious, then, that we need to rewrite the Defining Law.
Sooner or later we come up against the claim that all this stuff about “rights” and so on is just too legalistic. None of us wants to be involved in narrow and excessively legalistic strategies.
However, a glance through any Earth First! journal will confirm that we’re constantly dealing with The Law, whether we’re filing testimony or engaged in direct action. As long as we’re in the legal arena, we might as well be dealing with Defining Law, and not the regulatory frufru that we’ve allowed to distract us.
If the civil rights movement had been afraid to touch the deep defining “law of the land” we’d still be laboring under “separate but equal.” For as long as we stick with Regulatory Law and leave Defining Law to corporate lawyers, we’ll have corporate government.
What are we going to do tomorrow morning?
We could keep doing what hasn’t worked in case it works next time; we could denounce people who suggest that what we’re doing isn’t working; we could declare victory so our folks won’t get so depressed and discouraged. I’d like to steer clear of those options.
I’d also like to avoid “negotiating” with corporations as though they were persons with a role in a democratic system, and avoid doing anything else that accepts that corporations have the constitutional rights of human persons.
Here is one cluster of ideas for rewriting the Defining Law of corporations. It’s not a 3-point plan, and it’s not the beginning of a twenty point plan — just some ideas to think about.
1. Prohibit corporations from owning stock in other corporations. Owning stock in other corporations enables corporations to control huge markets and shift responsibility, liability, resources, assets and taxes back and forth among parent corporations, subsidiaries and other members of their unholy families. By defining corporations in such a way to prohibit such ownership, much of the anti-trust regulatory law becomes unnecessary and superfluous.
2. Prohibit corporations from being able to choose when to go out of business (in legalese, no voluntary dissolution). This would prevent corporations from dissolving themselves when it came time to pay taxes, repay government loans, pay creditors, pay pensions, pay for health care, and pay for toxic cleanups.
3. Make stockholders liable for a corporation’s debts. People who want to be stockholders would reallocate their resources to corporations that they knew something about, that weren’t engaged in risky, toxic projects. (This would encourage local, sustainable businesses and healthy local economies. Imagine that.)
These three measures might seem “unrealistic” to some, but it beats the heck out of a voluntary code of conduct, or a wasted decade at a regulatory agency. All three of these provisions were once common features of state corporation codes. No wonder corporate apologists prefer that we hang around in the regulatory agencies with our heads spinning with parts per million and habitat conservation plans.
These three measures were quite effective, which is why corporation lawyers worked so hard to get rid of them. But they address only a tiny portion of what needs to be done.
Here’s another cluster of ideas for ways to shape a democratic process that is about people. (The idea that corporations have “rights” would seem nonsensical to any but a colonized mind.)
1. No corporate participation in the democratic process. Democracy is for and about human beings. Corporations should be prohibited from paying for any political advertisements, making any campaign contributions, or seeking to influence the democratic process in any way.
2. Corporations have no constitutional rights.
A corporation is an artificial creation set up to serve a public need, not an independent entity with intrinsic “rights.”
3. Corporations should be prohibited from making any civic, charitable, or educational donations. Such donations are used to warp the entire social and economic fabric of society, and make people afraid to speak out against corporations.
These probably seem even more “unrealistic” than the first batch. Imagine how good it is for corporate executives that we find these ideas “impractical.” And by the way, these were all once law, too.
The final objection to be raised is that we’ll never get anywhere as long as the “news media” are against us, refuse to cover our issues, and distort our views. Agreed.
But the “news media” are corporations, key players in a system of propaganda that encompasses not only television, radio and newspapers, but also the entire educational system. The “airwaves” belong to the public.
Why have we allowed a puppet federal agency to “lease” the public airwaves to huge corporations? Ya wanna lock down? Lock down to a TV or radio station and make the public airwaves public again. Not for a day but for a lifetime.
Ya like boycotts? What if a regulatory agency gave a hearing and nobody came? The outcome would be the same but we wouldn’t have wasted all the time and resources, nor would we have helped grant an aura of legitimacy to a sham proceeding.
What could we do instead? We could get together with the lawyer and the expert and begin to figure out how to stop being collaborators.
Jane Anne Morris was a corporate anthropologist who lived in Madison, Wisconsin. She was the author of Not in My Backyard: The Handbook, and a member of POCLAD, the program on Corporations, Law and Democracy. Some of her work has appeared previously in Rachel’s (#488, #489, and #502). In its present form, this essay originally appeared in Defying Corporations, Defining Democracy. This article originally appeared on POCLAD.
Building a Movement from CELDF on Vimeo.