Trump wants to seem all-powerful, but big business has a lot of leverage over his administration.
No doubt, the Trump administration will harm billions of people and the planet. But it won’t be all-powerful. Donald Trump presents himself as a “hard-driving, vicious cutthroat” leader, unfettered by “special interests,” but he will have to confront the same constraints that all politicians in capitalist societies face.
The need to maintain the flow of investments and to minimize economic disruption will force the administration to reconsider implementing parts of its extremist agenda. Understanding these contradictions, and how mass movements can intensify them, is key to building an effective resistance movement.
Banks and corporations will impose some constraints by shifting their investments. Non-corporate bodies, like the military and intelligence agencies, will impose others. These elite institutions will counter policies that either directly threaten their interests or that catalyze mass movements that can disrupt those interests.
Indeed, even before the election, we saw how business and state institutions would try to control Trump. Both congressional Republicans and corporate lobbying groups like the Business Roundtable and the Chamber of Commerce rejected the president’s promise to enact tariffs on outsourcing companies. His hostility to the Iran deal put him at odds with the military, as well as aerospace and oil companies anxious to do business in Iran.
When Trump’s policies do not spark automatic elite resistance, mass movements can compel corporations to oppose extremist measures by making their implementation too expensive or difficult. The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protesters have proven that disruptive movements can force major institutions like DNB Bank and the Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw or temper their support for projects initially favored by capital.
The policy outcomes remain unclear at this point, but understanding the potential sources of elite opposition to Trump can help social movements develop effective strategies.
Promises and Constraints
Donald Trump’s campaign promises included a slew of reactionary proposals — resuming the CIA’s torture program, banning Muslims, giving free rein to polluters — alongside a few vague progressive ideas — bringing down drug prices, protecting Medicare and Social Security, renegotiating trade deals, taxing Wall Street, and scaling back foreign military interventions. Evidence so far suggests that he meant the former promises and lied about the latter.
In any case, Trump’s actual intentions matter less than the degree to which elite institutions — particularly in the business world — support or reject his proposals. For example, we can expect proactive (and successful) opposition to any attempt to impose stiff tariffs or tax Wall Street. On the other hand, corporate America has rallied around his plans to further deregulate business and drastically lower corporate taxes, while remaining agnostic about the power he has already granted to the military, police, and immigration agencies. What we need to understand is how these reactions to Trump initiatives can be translated into institutional constraints.
Corporations’ political power comes from their control over economic investment, a power that often becomes visible in the form of factory closures, layoffs, capital flight, price hikes, and banks’ refusal to lend. These actions become a “capital strike” when businesses promise to relent in exchange for favorable changes in government policy. All politicians, irrespective of campaign promises or party affiliations, are subject to this pressure. Despite his erratic temperament, megalomania, and relative independence from corporate money, Trump will have to negotiate with these forces.
We can expect that the corporate world will use the threat of capital strike in two situations: First, when the Trump administration’s plans directly infringe on their profits or power, and, second, when these plans generate sufficient mass resistance to threaten profits or power. Non-corporate institutions in charge of implementation will respond similarly.
We’ve already seen examples of the first scenario. Boeing’s warning to Trump not to scrap the Iran deal included a veiled allusion to a strike: the company reminded him that selling eighty planes to Iran will “support tens of thousands of US jobs” and “ensure America continues to lead in global aerospace and to create jobs and opportunities in communities across the nation.”
For the same reasons, Trump’s threat to erect new tariffs will likely never materialize. Virtually all of the products sold in Trump hotels and resorts are manufactured in the low-wage Global South, so these tariffs would affect his (and his family’s) businesses. But even if the Trump brand willingly absorbed reduced profits, the projected impact on the corporate world at large would generate intense resistance. Most products supposedly “Made in the USA” use foreign raw materials and assembly lines, and even 15 percent of American exports are sourced with foreign inputs. Other countries’ retaliatory tariffs would shrink the overseas markets on which domestic industries rely, eliciting further opposition.
Even before the election, business vocally opposed these promised tariffs, with threats of capital strikes and, sometimes, disinvestment announcements. The business press quoted lenders and developers who said that “uncertainty” about new tax policy was “contributing to delays in getting projects off the ground.” Not surprisingly, Republican congressional leaders — ever-faithful mouthpieces for the corporate elite — echoed and amplified these complaints and threats, even though it meant risking their new leader’s wrath.
It’s unlikely, however, that we’ll see a full-fledged showdown between business and Trump over this issue. In fact, his advisers’ backgrounds suggest that his economic policy will align with corporate forces that favor “free” trade policies. His team includes current or former executives and representatives from General Motors, JPMorgan, IBM, Boeing, and Walmart, and he’s brought on at least six alumni of Goldman Sachs — the most powerful of the Wall Street banks that Trump repeatedly declared had been getting “away with murder.”
General Electric CEO Jack Welch is also advising the president; he once praised outsourcing as a way to undercut labor and regulatory standards, saying “Ideally, you’d have every plant you own on a barge.”
And while Trump has apparently nixed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, his incoming secretary of state, Rex Tillerson of Exxon, called it “one of the most promising developments” for advancing American corporate interests. Business’s structural power, as well its direct voice within the administration, all but ensures that no major new tariffs will be enacted and that outsourcing will proceed apace.
For the same reasons, immigration policy will stay largely the same. Despite his nativist rhetoric, Trump and other big capitalists benefit from the current system, which relies on millions of low-wage immigrant workers who live in constant fear of deportation. Indeed, entire industries — including Trump’s resort empire and other ventures— depend on stealing wages from immigrants, so any fundamental change to the status quo will spark intense backlash. Trump’s advisers include representatives from these immigrant-dependent industries, like Veronica Birkenstock, president of Practical Employee Solutions, which specializes in providing low-wage immigrant workers to American employers.
This does not imply any reduction in deportations or oppression of immigrants — just the contrary. Obama’s immigration policy managed to keep up the flow of low-wage labor for American capitalists while also deporting three million immigrants and admitting only a trickle of refugees from countries devastated by American bombs.
Using the same enforcement apparatus, Trump may well increase the rate of deportation. Immigration courts’ limited capacity may or may not constrain him, since he has issued orders for “expedited removal,” which denies its targets due process rights. But as long as deportations remain within certain limits, they will not threaten the supply of exploitable labor for American businesses. Nor would business interests necessarily oppose expanding immigrant incarceration, a major subsidy to the for-profit prison industry, or rising rates of hate crimes against immigrant and minority communities.
What About Obamacare?
Since 2010, the Republican Party has promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and Trump adopted “repeal and replace” as a campaign slogan. But any major modifications will have to win approval from the same industry interests whose consent Obama and congressional Democrats won before passing the bill in the first place.
The ACA has three inseparable pillars: insurers must accept patients with preexisting conditions, everyone must purchase insurance, and government subsidies will help low-income Americans afford their premiums. Insurers and providers only accepted the first pillar in return for the second and third — indirect subsidies to industry — and will not allow changes in this basic model without appropriate compensation.
The industry has already threatened market disruption, warning that providers will close medical facilities, that pharmaceutical companies will discontinue product development or raise drug prices, and that insurers will jack up premiums even faster or withdraw from the marketplace altogether (as some have already done). Insurance industry spokesperson Marilyn Tavenner warns that eliminating the ACA’s subsidies would force insurance companies to completely disinvest at “the next logical opportunity.”
Consequently, the New York Times reported that many Republicans have privately “voiced concern that their efforts to undo the law could have harmful consequences, such as inadvertently destabilizing insurance markets — a concern shared by Democrats and insurers.”
These specific threats will severely constrain both congressional Republicans and the Trump administration and will require years of negotiation to work out. For instance, the Republicans want to eliminate subsidies to repeal the taxes on the wealthy that pay for them and also claim to oppose the individual mandate. But the insurers have threatened to go on strike unless both provisions are maintained.
A potential compromise might end the subsidies and/or the mandate but free insurers to reject patients with preexisting conditions, essentially unraveling the entire framework. This sort of multidimensional bargaining takes months, maybe years, and has already become entangled with parallel negotiations around Medicaid and the Republican effort to privatize Medicare.
Although we cannot know the ultimate result, certain predictions seem safe. The final deal will be at least as congenial to the health-care industry’s demands as the original bill. Coverage and costs will further diverge from what the public needs and what it can pay. Indeed, short-term changes seem to be moving in this direction, as congressional Republicans first take aim at “regulations affecting insurer health plans and businesses.”
One further prediction: Trump’s inevitable boast that the outcome is “terrific” will require a new crop of “alternative facts.” His headline-grabbing order “to dismantle the Affordable Care Act” turned out to be “mostly a symbolic gesture.” The order merely instructed officials to take the ACA apart “to the maximum extent permitted by law” — a fancy way of admitting that they will be able to change very little. Major changes will require long, complex negotiations between the government and the relevant industries, and his opening salvo suggests that Trump will try to conceal the delays with dramatic gestures.
Carrier’s Capital Strike
The November 2016 agreement between Trump and the Carrier manufacturing company shows how easily corporations will be able constrain the administration. Carrier and its parent company, United Technologies, had previously declared that they would transfer just over two thousand jobs from Indiana to Mexico. Three weeks after the election, Trump gloated that he had saved over half of those jobs.
Setting aside the fact that Carrier will still eliminate over a thousand jobs, Trump has good reason not to brag about this particular encounter: he got played.
Carrier’s executives offered a clear account of the deal, explaining that Trump had offered them preferential input in policymaking: “the incoming Trump-Pence administration has emphasized to us its commitment to support the business community and create an improved, more competitive US business climate,” meaning tax cuts and deregulation. As Indiana business professor Mohan Tatikonda put it, the agreement promised Carrier a “seat at the table.” Economist Michael Hicks called the negotiation “damned fine deal-making” on Carrier’s part: “The chance for Carrier (and their lawyers) to help craft a huge regulatory relief bill is worth every penny they might save [in exchange for] delaying the closure of this plant for a few years.”
The price tag for staying in Indiana “for a few years” will be miniscule relative to the company’s overall wealth. As the New York Times noted, the $65 million in projected savings from outsourcing would only have added “about 2 cents a share in earnings.” Howard Rubel, a senior Wall Street analyst, commented that it’s “an easy concession [to make] if the [president] listens to some of the company’s bigger concerns.” Moreover, if Carrier gets less than exactly what it wants, or should its retained workers refuse to accept a new round of givebacks, it can (re)eliminate those eight hundred jobs at any time.
Tellingly, the company concluded its statement by stressing that the deal had not altered its policy of outsourcing, even hinting that it may demand still more concessions in the future: “This agreement in no way diminishes our belief in the benefits of free trade and that the forces of globalization will continue to require solutions for the long-term competitiveness of the US and of American workers moving forward.”
The self-styled master of the deal had just surrendered to a classic capital strike. He negotiated a partial postponement of Carrier’s disinvestment and gained a public-relations victory, but only by promising the company what could become immensely profitable leverage over regulatory policy.
Other corporations immediately recognized this negotiation’s significance. They are now making their own demands in exchange for slowing down — or at least appearing to slow down — their offshoring plans.
In January, the Ford, GM, and Fiat Chrysler CEOs discussed their “wish list” with the new administration. Ford’s Mark Fields described “working together with the president and his administration on tax policies, on regulation, and on trade,” and Trump promised drastic tax cuts and “reductions in regulatory burdens” for the companies. Fuel emissions standards are one area of special concern to the automakers. Fields threatened that one million jobs “could be at risk if we’re not given some level of flexibility on that.”
As in the case of Carrier, the companies made minor concessions. Bloomberg notes that “GM and Fiat Chrysler have each pledged to invest $1 billion in domestic assembly,” but “both companies said those plans preceded Trump’s election, and all three [including Ford] will continue to produce vehicles in Mexico.” The companies’ main gift to Trump, the New York Times suggests, are “photo opportunities that allow him to claim he is engineering a renaissance in industrial America, even as the big picture remains unchanged.”
How Mass Protest Can Constrain Trump
Not all of Trump’s threats impinge on elites’ profits and power. For example, his appointment of energy industry representatives to his cabinet underlines his commitment to dramatically increase fossil fuels production. This has generated little corporate or governmental opposition. Obviously the energy sector is delighted, as are Wall Street bankers, many of whom invest heavily in dirty energy. Corporations outside these industries are not likely to object to more drilling and pipelines.
That is, they won’t naturally object — they must be compelled to do so. Mass resistance can alter these industries’ cost-benefit analyses, perhaps enough to shift their positions. For instance, targeting banks with boycotts could force a change in their lending priorities. Divestment campaigns targeting fossil fuels companies have already helped produce $5 trillion in divestment from fossil fuels. If this disinvestment can be accelerated, it could help spur the transition toward clean energy (which is already underway, but moving too slowly).
The struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) exemplifies this potential. The Standing Rock Sioux and their allies used civil disobedience to escalate the costs of construction, impose delays, and force the government to consider their claim that the pipeline violates treaty rights and environmental law. This prolonged battle eventually led the Army Corps of Engineers to pause construction and undertake a full evaluation of the pipeline’s potential environmental danger. This decision created a new delay and exacerbated two other institutional pressures that may still doom the project despite President Trump’s effort to resuscitate it.
First, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), DAPL’s lead developer, faces financing problems stemming from the crash in oil prices, its acquisition of excessive debt, and now the protest-induced delays. Last year both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s rated its outlook “negative,” and the company had to agree to a “shotgun wedding” with Sunoco Logistics Partners in November to avoid a junk rating that would raise “its debt funding costs.” That same month, DNB Bank sold off its assets in the project as a result of boycotts. While other major banks have yet to follow suit, the possibility of further defections still exists, which more boycotts could intensify.
Second, the delays created uncertainty about the project’s viability among oil and gas companies. ETP’s business plan relied on signing advance contracts with companies that would utilize the completed pipeline. These contracts attracted lenders by assuring sufficient revenue to repay the loans.
Unfortunately for ETP, the contracts specified a January 1, 2017, start date. With the construction stalled, the oil companies must utilize expensive temporary providers. Further, ETP’s violation of the date-of-completion clause allows their clients to nullify the contracts. The oil companies can therefore either find a permanent substitute — killing the pipeline — or use alternate providers while renegotiating their deal with ETP.
This has resulted in a threefold crisis, any element of which could permanently cancel the project: the oil companies could permanently move to alternate vendors, the lenders could withdraw funding, or the Army Corps could deny the environmental waiver. Even as Trump does everything he can to accelerate the pipeline, its fate remains uncertain.
Trump’s Weak Spots
The Trump presidency will have many horrible impacts, but the administration will also have to operate under significant constraints. Disruptive mass movements can amplify them.
We already have tremendous potential for disruption. Public opinion polls reflect a deep distrust of big banks and corporations across party lines. Tens of millions of people despise Trump, and have been galvanized and regalvanized by each new expression of his savagery. The fact that Trump’s presidency will further harm working people means that some Trump voters will eventually turn against him.
The Left must organize disruptive mass movements that can identify and target the real power-holders — the corporations and government institutions that dominate policymaking regardless of who holds office. These elite forces can restrain Trump, so targeting them may be the best way to counter his most reactionary reforms. It may also be the best long-term way to build a radical and independent mass movement that can restructure our economy and government along democratic lines, thus vanquishing not only Trump but also the bankrupt liberalism that created a vacuum into which a demagogue could step.
Confronting Trumpism also requires an explicit emphasis on antiracist, antisexist, anti-imperialist politics that firmly differentiates the Left from populist white nationalism. The latter forces are poised to expand under Trump by exploiting white racism and support for authoritarian institutions like the police and military. As Trump’s policies hurt working people of all races, he will try to compensate by intensifying his scapegoating of immigrants, Muslims, blacks, LGBT people, women, labor unions, the disabled, and the poor.
Inclusive, multiracial, working-class movements are not the norm in American history, but there are some precedents. The Left must build those movements, not only to defend against Trump’s most vicious assaults, but also to confront the structures, institutions, and ideologies that spawned him.
About the Authors:
Kevin Young will be starting as an assistant professor of history at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst in the fall.
Tarun Banerjee is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Pittsburgh.
Michael Schwartz is distinguished teaching professor, emeritus at Stony Brook University
On Febuary 11th, 2017, hundreds gathered in Washington Square Park and marched at the #heretostay protest in response to the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigrants and Mayor De Blasio’s continued use of Broken Windows policing at an Organization For a Free Society co-sponsored event.
Nadia an organizer with OFS spoke to the gathering, saying “Hello, my name is Nadia, I am member of the Organization for a Free Society , a participatory socialist cadre organization. I am a Moroccan, Arab, naturalized citizen,queer, radical social worker in solidarity with all undocumented people, immigrants,muslims, and indigenous peoples. I am here to stand against fascism, white nationalism, colonialism, borders, capitalism, prisons and deportations!
Naming ourselves a sanctuary city is not enough, we need the city to support people directly effected with the radical fight against white supremacy and capitalism. We all need to stand up and fight against injustice whenever we can, lift up the voices and take the lead from people who are undocumented, queer, trans, Muslim , women and people of color.
As a social worker I would be remiss if I didn’t talk to you all about self care. Because y’all … it has only been a few weeks and it already feels so looong. In order for us to be in the collective fight for the long haul we must do what we each can do in that moment. The movement needs each and everyone of you in many different roles. Take your time, spend time with your community, get some sleep, feed each other, do your rituals. as Assata said, we must love each other and protect each other, we have nothing to lose but our chains.”
After the speeches, over a thousand took to the streets of the West Village and circled the NYPD’s 6th precinct, as the Village Voice reported:
“As the march attempted to cross the street at Hudson and Grove, the NYPD identified five leaders of the march who were not, to this reporter, breaking any laws. One officer tackled a man into a snowbank in the gutter, then held his face into the snow as his hands were zip-tied.”
The Center Will Not Hold : #DumpTrump on the road to revolution;
Dec. 22nd, 2016, 7-8pm @ Starr Bar, 214 Starr Street, Brooklyn, NY 11237
Rebel cities, pipeline shutdowns, and community self-defense will be necessary to resist the neo-fascist forces emboldened by the Trump presidency. However, to move beyond resistance, our movements will need a shared vision and program to revolutionize society from below. Join the Organization for a Free Society at the Starr Bar in BK to learn about the analysis, vision, and strategy of participatory socialism, and how such a perspective can guide our movements from the defense of people and planet, to achieving a democratic, egalitarian, decentralized, and ecological society.
Organization for a Free Society fights for participatory socialism, and helps build power and strategy in social movements, from occupy wall street, to low wage worker campaigns, to black lives matter.
The Starr Barr is a nightlife venue and home for the social justice community, supporting the MayDay Space in Bushwick. Dance, watch movies, listen to live music, and plan your next action with a drink in hand!
Since Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, began sitting for the national anthem during the National Football League’s preseason, national anthem protests have surged into the national spotlight. Across the country, athletes from around the NFL and from othersports have joined, some taking knees and some raising fists — an homage to Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ 1968 Black Power Olympic protest — yet all recognizably taking part in the same demonstration.
The protests have prompted a barrage of outrage, support and discussion. The story has been widely covered in the mainstream media, and is routinely discussed on sports channels and in social media. Whether or not Kaepernick planned it this way, he has kicked off a phenomenal episode of civil resistance against racism and police violence.
Organizers and activists should take note. It is easy to get trapped in the repertoires of tactics we are used to and comfortable with. This moment is a reminder of how sometimes the most powerful and effective tactics are right in front of us. Black Lives Matter and the larger racial justice movement it is a part of have been skilled in using disruptive maneuvers that are both creative and simple, such as highway blockades. Similarly, with a simple action, national anthem protests have pushed the envelope in new directions.
Civil resistance takes all kinds of shapes and forms, but at its best it does three related things: it disrupts the status quo, dramatizes a social injustice and forces people to choose a side. Better yet, it has replicable tactics that are easy to do and difficult to punish. The more clearly the action itself points to its meaning, and the more it raises pulses on all sides, the more powerful it is. Ideal tactics can be taken up by anyone without affiliation or directions. The national anthem protest does all of this. What’s more, in the context of a movement that is often maligned for its few violent episodes, it is an unequivocally nonviolent action.
The protest began with professional football players but was quickly taken up by athletes from other sports and at all levels. Now it has spread to spectators. In less than two months since Kaepernick first sat for the anthem, protesting the national anthem has become what The Atlantic called the “new normal.” This action has the potential to occupy areas of social life that have been insulated from politics and infuse them with a racial justice imperative.
Perhaps the most famous example of nonviolent direct action in the United States is the lunch counter sit-ins of the civil rights movement. By simply sitting in places that had been marked “whites only,” black activists shocked and infuriated those who took Jim Crow segregation for granted. The response was extreme and violent, while images and stories of the protests and repression spread across the country (and world) like wildfire. With the growing tension, it became more and more difficult to not take a side, making it easier for those who supported racial justice to speak up and more difficult for those who supported segregation to hide their racism.
“Rules for Radicals” author and organizer Saul Alinksy once suggested — as a strategy against a department store with racist hiring policies — that thousands of black activists flood a flagship location, shop around all day, tie up staff with questions and clog checkout lines. The shopper-activists would each buy something small, charge it, and have it shipped to them, where they would later refuse delivery and demand a refund. This could be repeated indefinitely, and — while being completely legal — would ultimately wreck the store’s operations. Management would not be able to ignore the protest, but any attempt to attack it would backfire. In chess this kind of situation is known as zugzwang, or putting one’s opponent in a situation where any move they make worsens their position.
By sitting (and later kneeling) during the national anthem, at a time and in a place when people are expected to stand and face the flag in a sign of respect and devotion to the country, Kaepernick moved us toward such a moment on a grand scale. Through people’s reactions, the protest exposed the deep but otherwise hidden meanings lurking beneath the national symbols we often take for granted.
The anthem is not just a song to many people. What exactly this song means — particularly to many white people — is revealed in their response to a person of color not doing what he is supposed to do while it is playing. Sitting and kneeling aren’t particularly disrespectful postures (it is not as though he raised his middle finger for the anthem), but the simple public sign of quiet disobedience cuts deep. The tension between the action and the reactions forces public discussions, which expose the racism that often intersects with patriotism, and evoke the white supremacy that resides at the core of our national culture. In one simple move, the national anthem protest shines light on a virtual powder keg of racial and political realities.
Anywhere the national anthem is played, people are now able to politicize the space in a legible way. Arenas or locales could make rules mandating that people stand and place their hand on their heart, but this would only make them look desperate and intensify the drama around protesters. Alternatively, imagine the momentum (and the venomous reaction) it would generate if some venues stopped playing the national anthem altogether in order to prevent protest scenes.
The elegance of the national anthem protest lies in its simplicity. It takes courage to do it — for some, like individualhigh school students, extraordinary bravery — but nothing else (i.e. no resources, no training or minimal coordination). Right now, many players who do it are ridiculed or asked to explain why. If the protest builds, teammates who remain standing will have the gaze turned on them; they will have to answer for why they refuse to participate. The more spectators kneel or raise fists, the more uncomfortable it will get to proceed with business as usual. The symbolic power is massive and the possibilities for escalation are vast.
Kaepernick has reintroduced a brilliant tactic that hits hard and cannot be silenced. He started it (this time around) and thus his name is associated with it, but he does not own it, in the sense that anyone can take it up and make it theirs. The tactic has no specific demands attached to it; it is a raw, unambiguous condemnation of an intolerable status quo. With an action that is replicable in all kinds of arenas and so simple with all of its varieties that anyone can participate, the national anthem protests represent an escalation in the broad movement for black lives into a sacred space of sports, which had previously been a refuge for many from the political realities of this country.
On November 4th, 2016 at approximately 9:25 am 10 vehicles full of heavily armed police arrived at the gates of the Landless Workers Movement’s (MST) Escola Nacional Florestan Fernandes (ENFF) school in Guararema, São Paulo State, Brazil. The Police, called the “Armed Group for Repression, Robberies and Assaults of the Civil Police (GARRA)” without identifying themselves and without a warrant, menaced the guard booth and then jumped over the reception windows forcibly entering the peaceful school with assault weapons drawn. Once inside they pointed their weapons at people who peacefully approached them, shot at least two live rounds into the air and arrested and beat the singer Gue Oliveira and librarian Ronaldo Valencia, 64, who has Parkinson’s disease, for no reason. The same day police raided the homes of MST members in two other states, allegedly as part of police Operation Castra. The coordination of these attacks suggests that these operations are national in scope, and that this assault was carried out with direction from the federal level of the Brazilian security forces.
As former and current international students and professors of the ENFF school coming from nearly 40 countries, we denounce the actions of the Brazilian police force as a violent attack on human rights and political freedoms in Brazil.
We denounce this political violence against peaceful students at the ENFF international school and condemn the repression and criminalization of social movements such as the MST.
We know from the leaked transcript of the conversation between planning minister Romero Jucá and oil executive Sergio Machado, that the army has been monitoring the MST for over a year. We see these attacks as an acceleration of US imperial control over Brazilian politics with the government of Temer coordinating its grip on power with the US state department, as he was doing as early as 2006, when Temer first met with the US state department. Throughout this time the US State Department, and now the government of Temer, have been working to undermine the just demands of the Brazilian peasant movements, particularly the MST.
As former or current students of the ENFF who are leaders in social movements in our countries and communities, we further assert that the ENFF is a peaceful school for human rights, social justice, and the building of community-based social movements that has trained more than 15,000 students from nearly 60 countries. We view these attacks as Temer’s government attempt to forcibly impose his coup government on the people of Brazil. Moreover, we view these attacks on the MST as attacks on all of our communities globally.
People often ask us, “What is an Organization For A Free Society?” and “What do you do?”. Here is our collective answer:
The Organization for a Free Society (OFS) stands for the self-emancipation of humanity from all forms of oppression, especially from the global imperialist system that is responsible for the horrific misery experienced by billions of people. As an alternative to imperialism, we fight for participatory socialism: a system based on democratic, decentralized, cooperative, egalitarian, and ecological institutions.
To achieve this visionary objective, we work to build a united front of grassroots social movements, alternative institutions, and popular defense forces to lead a social revolution with majority support of the people. We have established this organization as a catalyst, guide, and defender of this project. Only through the overthrow and abolition of the imperialist system, and the construction of participatory socialism from below, can humanity can finally actualize a free life for all people.
The members and supporters of OFS have been active in a variety of grassroots struggles on multiple fronts for nearly 10 years.
(This is not a comprehensive list, it is only intended to show a range and depth of work, not represent every one of the thousands of ways OFS members participate in building revolutionary movements nationally)
Anti-War, Anti-Militarism, and Peace
Opposition to the occupation of Palestine by Israeli settler-colonialism, including organizing demonstrations against the Israeli bombing of Lebanon and Gaza. OFS cadre have directly participated in nonviolent civil resistance in Palestine and Israel.
Opposition to U.S. imperialism’s wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Syria, including coordinating campus and community mobilizations and direct actions against military recruiters and war profiteers, and working with Veterans for Peace (VFP), Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), and the War Resisters League (WRL).
Opposition to U.S. imperialism’s counter-revolutionary interference in Latin America, especially Venezuela, Bolivia, and Cuba. This has included work with Hands Off Venezuela and the Venceremos Brigade, with OFS members traveling to Cuba on the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution.
Opposition to fascism within the USA, especially organizing to oppose police, prisons and border militarization, and anti-immigrant racism and government mass surveillance.
OFS members have organized movements supporting the families of the 43 disappeared student activists from Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College in Mexico
Class Struggle, Anti-Capitalism, and Workers’ Power
OFS cadre participated in most of committees created by the Occupy Wall Street general assembly, and participated in Occupy’s precursor, New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts and Bloombergville. During the course of Occupy, OFS members and supporters advocated for the occupation to extend itself by forming popular democratic assemblies in neighborhoods and workplaces, and occupying homes in danger of foreclosure and eviction.
Albany OFS members have been active with The Albany Social Justice Center
Anti-Racism and National Liberation
OFS members participated in demonstrations and direct actions following the police murders of Travon Martin, Sean Bell, Akai Gurley, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and too many other young people of color. OFS members participated in demonstrations and direct actions emerging from Black Lives Matter.
OFS members co-sponsored demonstrations in support of the Rojava Revolution, the Kurdish people’s struggle against the fascist Islamic State, and against Turkey’s war against the Kurdish Freedom Movement.
OFS members were invited by the Kurdish Freedom Movement to speak in Hamburg, Germany on the economics of participatory socialism.
Represented OFS and taught courses at the 1st and 2nd Course for international trainers with the MST (Landless Workers Movement) and social movement groups from 40 countries in Brazil.
Join us on Saturday, April 2, 2016, for Law and Anarchism. All events will take place in Hauser 104.
Please RSVP here so we know how many people to expect.
10:30-11:00 Welcome Coffee
Multi-sites of Power, Law, and the State
Deric Shannon, Professor of Sociology at Oxford College of Emory University, anarchist, author of many books, chapters, articles and reviews on social movements, culture, sexuality, and their intersection with radical politics, co-editor of multiple anarchist collections, and member of groups such as Queers without Borders.
Anarchism, Propaganda by the Deed, and Human Rights in Spain: Past and Present
Mark Bray, PhD Candidate in Modern European History at Rutgers University, author of Translating Anarchy, longtime activist, and one of the organizers of the Press Working Group of Occupy Wall Street.
Dilemmas of Theory and Practice: Spanish Anarchism, Mujeres Libres, and Strategies for Women’s Emancipation
Martha Ackelsberg, Professor of Government at Smith College, author of Free Women of Spain: Anarchism and the Struggle for the Emancipation of Womenand Resisting Citizenship: Feminist Essays on Politics, Community, and Democracy, and feminist scholar.
Panel: Anarchism in legal work
Moira Meltzer-Cohen, radical lawyer with a practice based in New York, founding member of Mutant Legal and Legal Info.
Nathan Sheard, legal activist with Mutant Legal.
Rebecca Chapman, public defender and Unbound alum.
Jason Lydon, anarchist Unitarian Universalist minister and founder of Black and Pink.
Alex Franco, attorney with Zavala Law Group in New York.
Carl Williams, attorney with the ACLU of Massachusetts.
The Continuing Relevance of Outlawry Today
Ashanti Alston, anarchist activist, former Black Panther and Prisoner of War.
Movement Lawyering for Anarchists
Carl Williams, attorney with the ACLU of Massachusetts, part of the legal defense and support team for Occupy Boston, and former criminal defense attorney.
We are in a historic moment. Renewed Islamophobia has emerged in the mainstream. GOP candidates’ anti-Muslim rhetoric and an upsurge of hate crimes against Muslims have gone unabated. The Syrian and Iraqi refugee crisis continues to spiral out of control. San Bernardino, Paris, Ankara, Baghdad and many more – the politicization of Islam is polarizing and forcing many to take sides.
This was the context for my trip to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba with 13 others from Witness Against Torture – a group demanding the United States close the Guantanamo Bay detention center, a “War on Terror” prison that has become synonymous with torture, solitary confinement and indefinite detention.
As a Pakistani-American Muslim, I was drawn to participate in this delegation in order to challenge the existence of Guantanamo; a place that exists to scapegoat, silence and hold Muslim communities domestically and abroad, collectively responsible. As a prison that houses an exclusively Muslim population, Guantanamo is not only an example of Islamophobia, but it also reinforces and reproduces the systematic targeting of Muslim bodies.
As Guantanamo approaches its 14th year of existence, more than 100 men remain behind its prison bars. Through hunger strikes and the sharing of their stories, the men in Guantanamo have a fierce resolve in pursuing their freedom. This fact has emboldened my resolve to challenge the face of this injustice too.
But times are daunting for Muslims, especially for those of us who want to make social change. This reality impelled me to compile a list of things that help me work through my own fear, and give me a sense of empowerment while I continue to protest for the closure of Guantanamo.
1. Talk and convene with other Muslims
I was blessed to be in Guantanamo with a Muslim sister who helped validate experiences around our reality as Muslims that we often suppress to be polite. Building community around shared experiences and uniting around our shared identity creates the groundwork for healing and organizing for systemic change and for the challenging of Islamophobia, whether perpetrated by the state or society. My advice to you, therefore, is to embrace your Muslim sisters and brothers, and find an organization or start a community group of your own.
2. The entire Muslim community is not culpable for acts of terror in the name of Islam.
This remains true although we are expected to apologize and draw a clear line of separation between terror and Muslim Orthodoxy. Since the 18th century, politicizing Islam for purposes of colonization has demonized an entire community and set us at odds with European colonizers. We are the newest inheritors of Islamophobia. We are the subject of someone else’s reality that presumes us #innocentuntilprovenmuslim. We sometimes feel compelled to apologize because of a real fear of being targeted. We have real knowledge and actual experience of people in our community being picked out and imprisoned indefinitely – i.e. Guantanamo. Yet, apologies keep the Islamophobic narrative intact and do nothing to address violence at its root causes. We must consider this strategy in all our current and future advocacy efforts.
3. Focus on systemic issues, like ending war and militarism.
Scapegoating of Muslims forces us to choose between a binary: good Muslim or bad Muslim? Both stereotypes disempower us from defining who we are and who we can be. Our right to self-determination is stifled. We can resist that binary and opt out of proving our innocence by focusing on systemic issues.
4. Don’t feel the need to hide.
It’s scary, even alienating, to take action at our disappointment in the status quo. In Guantanamo, I was one of two Muslims in the delegation, and both of us were well aware of the risks; we constantly had to work through our fears of government repression and isolation. Conceived differently, we reflected that our ability to be our full selves was stifled because of our internalization of the subordinate status imposed upon us. Through tears, knowing glances and late night conversations, we began to overcome the discouragement and shame that are a result of internalized oppression, together.
5. Build alliances with other communities – Muslim and non-Muslim.
Decades of organizing around mass incarceration, detention and deportation, colonization, forced removal and genocide show us that racial disparities cannot simply be surmised as “racism” but are part of an elaborate system called white supremacy. Islamophobia is one of many pillars propping up systematic racial and ethnic oppression. When we begin to understand injustice as institutionalized rather than the result of a few “bad people,” we make alliances and change possible. Solidarity makes us all stronger.
6. Talk to your family members about their experiences with Islamophobia.
Ask open-ended questions and make space for them to share without judgment. Care and love are stronger than oppression. Before leaving for Cuba, I shared my trip with my terrified mother who recalled her experiences of being targeted by police and neighbors. Inviting her to share experiences she normally suppresses and assuring her that taking action to end Islamophobia in all its forms can bring change, was grounding for us both.
7. Practice personal and community care.
Create channels for support and demand it. Healing processes help stop the cycle of victimization.
8. Know your rights and fight for them, even if you know they will be disregarded.
Civil liberties are a human right, but the law is often sidestepped in favor of a political agenda. Knowing the law and our rights with law enforcement when taking social action is important for keeping ourselves and our community safe.
9. You define yourself.
Don’t be afraid to call yourself an activist and organizer, and don’t be afraid to resist definition. Saying change is possible and taking the powerful step towards inserting yourself into the narrative provides inspiration and a safety net for other Muslims to demand justice too.
Muslims resisting Islamophobia and working in coalition towards peace and justice is nothing new. That is so important to remember. We come from a humanity that speaks truth in the face of oppression. As I continue to organize the shutdown of Guantanamo and end oppression of all people, I hope my Muslim family heeds the call to make transformative change towards a democratic society, too.
Uruj Sheikh is a Muslimah living in Secaucus, NJ. She is a member of Witness Against Torture–a community of activists using nonviolent direct action and cultural organizing to close Guantanamo Bay Detention Center and end torture. She works at the War Resisters League in New York City and is a member of Organization for a Free Society.
Cyber-resistance is often viewed as a hacker thing — but if embraced by mass movements it has great potential as a prefigurative liberation strategy.
It was a time when the unthinkable became the thinkable and the impossible really happened…”
– Arundhati Roy
Digital technology is often seen as a curiosity in revolutionary politics, perhaps as a specialized skill set that is peripheral to the hard work of organizing. But the growing trend of “cyber-resistance” might hold more potential than we have given it credit for. Specifically, the popularized use of encryption gives us the ability to form a type of liberated space within the shifting maze of cables and servers that make up the Internet. The “web” is bound by the laws of math and physics before the laws of states, and in that cyberspace we may be able to birth a new revolutionary consciousness.
The use of open source encryption allows for the oppressed to take control of the means of communication, encoding a worldwide liberated zone within the fiber of the Internet. Cyber-resistancei has been viewed (or ignored, or derided) as a hacker thing, something undertaken by those with science fiction equipment in their basement. But if it is embraced by mass movements, it has great potential as a prefigurative strategy for liberation.
Prefiguration is vital for radical and progressive forces in the current moment. The building of prefigurative spaces — spaces that model revolutionary values and resist state violence — is crucial for successful movements from both the anarchist and Marxist traditions. As the old saying goes, revolutionary movements use prefiguration to plant the “seed of the future society in the shell of the old.”
Internet interactions are often juxtaposed with interpersonal interactions, so the idea that cyber-resistance could be prefigurative might seem counter-intuitive for a humanistic revolution. However, cyber-resistance might well hold the key to vibrant prefigurative struggle in the 21st century.
Popularized in the 1970s and 80s, prefigurative political struggle has experienced an upsurge in the 21st century. It has been experimented with in the “Arab Spring,” in the squares of Spain with the indignados, and in the Occupy movement, as activists seized public space and held it in common while building political consciousness and fighting for structural changes in the system at large (differences between and problems with these models notwithstanding).
Prefigurative methods are also deployed by many left-wing armed forces. From the Zapatistas in Mexico to the Naxalites in India and the Kurdish militias in Syria and Turkey, building prefiguration into armed struggle has been effective for many groups facing intense repression. In fact, an argument for building cyber-resistance as a form of prefiguration for socio-political struggle can be found in an unlikely source: Maoist guerrilla warfare strategy.
A Prefigurative Lesson from Guerrilla Warfare
Many militant leftists have criticized certain attempts at prefiguration, often for good reasons. But the logic behind it — that in order to build a revolutionary future we must practice a revolutionary present — is essential for all liberation movements. And although it is less often emphasized, that logic has worked very well in modern guerrilla warfare.
Many rebel forces have developed strategies of protracted popular armed struggle, but since the early 20th century this method has been primarily linked to the military strategy of Mao Zedong. The strategy of a “protracted people’s war” was laid out in Mao’s famous guerrilla war manual, written in the context of Chinese resistance to Japanese occupation.
While Mao himself certainly has a dubious legacy, the protracted people’s war strategy has been embraced by millions of people in the past century and has been used effectively to build revolutionary movements all over the world.
When it is dissected into its strategic components, people’s war has a lot to teach us in our 21st-century moment. The strategy is composed of three overlapping phases. The first is “strategic defensive,” where rebels establish base areas in remote regions. The second is “strategic stalemate,” where the base areas are developed into a liberated zone. Finally, there is a “strategic counter-offensive,” where insurgents engage and defeat the state in conventional warfare.
For the first phase to begin at all, it is crucial that the base area be established in a secluded region with rugged terrain that is difficult for the state to access, since the rebel fighting force is not yet equipped to confront the enemy head on.
Building has to begin in the state’s blind spots. Once an area is identified, insurgents focus on political education and grassroots organizing, providing medical care and other services to grow consciousness and mutual trust in order to develop the proverbial “water” in which the revolutionary “fish” will swim.
In the second phase, as the insurgents become more entrenched, they gradually establish their own institutions and form a revolutionary government based on a combination of community traditions and communist ideology. As they gain legitimacy, rebel institutions such as schools, clinics and courts expand and interconnect to replace the state in rebel-controlled areas.
This creates a “counter-state” (or, arguably in more libertarian versions, an anti-state), called a liberated zone. The liberated zone is a contested, semi-sovereign area organized into associations that are characterized by radical values — for example equity, minority ethnic rights, and feminism — where people live the revolution and where the rebels can rest, organize, train and develop resources.
In this way, people’s war can be seen as the construction of dual power, where the institutions of the state and the liberated zone coexist and compete for legitimacy. Today, many dual power strategists advocate the building of alternative institutions in the global “center,” within the cracks and fissures of the existing state, as we simultaneously attack oppressive systems with social movement mobilization.
However, this has proven difficult in many cases, as alternatives are vulnerable to state repression. What makes the prefiguration of people’s war so powerful is that it creates an area that the state cannot reach and in which alternatives can be safely constructed.
Most Maoist insurgencies never succeeded in (or even entered) the third phase, but historically the people’s war strategy has been very successful in creating stalemates — that is, in creating vibrant, stable, liberated zones. Politically, this has resulted either in a negotiated settlement with the government, as in El Salvador and Nepal, or intractable conflicts, as in India and the Philippines.
The fact that Maoist guerrilla strategy thrives in the second phase is instructive. The brilliance of this strategy might be not in the war-making, but in the prefiguration-building. The strategy is effective in large part because it forcefully opens up social and psychological space to experiment with radical systems and to embody the revolution in practice. It opens up space not only to see a revolutionary world, but to touch it, to be it. It wins people with practice as much as with ideas. This element of Mao’s strategy demonstrated the power of prefiguration long before that term was coined or popularized.
The Strategic Importance of Shadow
The single most important environmental condition required for people’s war is the existence of remote areas where connections to the central state are weak. At early stages of struggle, these are the only areas that are eligible to build autonomous systems, since the presence of the state forecloses on many possibilities for alternative practices.
Areas of operation must be out of the state’s sight in order for the revolutionaries to make alternatives visible to themselves and to the people. In other words, the state must be blind in order for the people to see one another as revolutionaries.
There are few unseen regions left in the 21st century world, and fewer still in the Global North. In the US, there is hardly a nook or cranny that is not mapped by satellite or categorized by title law, instantly accessible by drone and wiretap.
Proponents of dual power increasingly focus on creating prefigurative spaces, but they also tend to draw inspiration from armed struggles such as the Zapatistas in Chiapas or the Kurdish rebels in Rojava, which are taking place in areas that conform more closely to the formal liberated zone model.
Of course, this is not to say we cannot learn a great deal from those fronts, nor is it to say allies should not support these crucial struggles in any way we can. But most organizing in the Global North takes place in cities, and the conditions in western Kurdistan and the mountains of southeast Mexico bear little resemblance to those in the urban United States or Europe.
Not only is there a lack of secluded physical space in which to build a liberated zone, there is decreasing psychological space in which to build liberated minds. In the industrialized countries, modern state control has gone far beyond mapping physical space to mapping our very individualities. Today, their visibility extends beyond the physical.
Mass Surveillance and Panoptical Control
In order to assert their control, less developed state-forms used to publicly execute dissidents via torture or lock them in a dungeon and throw away the key (some still do). These practices obviously have devastating effects on the target individuals and their families, but the possibility of constant surveillance with the threat of punishment has a greater effect on a society’s behavior at large. Michel Foucault famously recognized Bentham’s “perfect” prison, the panopticon, for its political implications in this regard.
In contrast to dark, linear dungeons, Bentham conceived of a bright, open, circular prison, with a watchtower in the center and inward-facing cells around the periphery. Each cell would have a window to the outside that would back-light it, making the prisoner’s body visible to the tower. The tower, shaded by design angles, would be dark to all prisoners.
The effect is simple: at all times a prisoner is aware they could be watched by the guards, but they will never be able to know for sure when. This hierarchical arrangement of bodies in space — a few in the tower watching, many in the cells being watched — carries with it a power dynamic that effectively modifies the behavior of everyone subject to it.
In this arrangement, Foucault says, the prisoners, who are isolated and unable to communicate or act without being seen, begin to police themselves. The more the prisoners internalize this dynamic, the less actual force needs to be used to maintain order. In its extreme, the theory goes, an entire population of docile prisoners can be self-policed with no coercion whatsoever. Prisons around the world have since adopted aspects of this principle into their architectures.
The unverifiable but assured possibility of surveillance represents the epitome of state control. In its most advanced form, those in power not only have a monopoly on the legitimate use of force; they come to never need to use it to maintain their legitimacy. Foucault acknowledged that panopticism was directly applicable only to populations small enough to be arranged within the prison architecture, but he believed its logic could be applied to society at large.
Technology has evolved so that mass surveillance can psychologically take the place of the physical arrangement of bodies. Today the average American citizen spends over 11 hours a day engaging with electronic media. The public is increasingly reliant on the Internet, smartphones and social media for daily life, and we have become accustomed to omnipresent cameras, satellite photographs and wiretaps.
In 2013, the NSA completed a facility in Bluffsdale, Utah where the agency can store 1,000 times the data of the entire Internet, a “Yottabyte” of data. In order to fill this facility with information, the NSA is currently tapping most of the key fiber optic cables that make up the worldwide web and accessing the servers of all major Internet companies. Thanks to Edward Snowden, we now know just how comprehensively state security forces collect this data.
This content and meta-data collection involves the capture and storage of all messages, with the goal being complete visibility of digital communications. Ultimately, the attempt is to tie all those communications to geo-location, physical data and relational meta-data; in other words, where you are, what you’re doing, and who you’re doing it with.
Of course the NSA does not necessarily examine all of our digital conversations. But they could. And you have no idea if they are. You probably don’t really understand how they can, but you are vaguely aware that they can. It is a paralyzing feeling, and that is the essence of panoptical control.
In an era of increasing global control, pushing back against oppressive systems and liberating physical territory to prefigure our own alternative institutions is increasingly necessary, but it is difficult in full sight of the state’s forces. Knowing we are being watched, we aren’t even aware of the degree to which we police ourselves into docility. In the context of the surveillance state, creating the space to discuss and plan and grow the struggle is a prerequisite. When state control is a spotlight, revolutionaries need to create shadows.
Wikileaks, Encryption and Cypher-Shadows
To date, Wikileaks has been the most effective group in casting an electronic shadow. The NSA documents leaked by Snowden show that as early as 2010, Julian Assange and the human network that supports Wikileaks were on the NSA “manhunting” target list for extreme no-holds-barred surveillance. Even through this level of surveillance, Wikileaks has maintained their nine-year track record of never giving up a source.
In 2015 alone, Wikileaks have published NSA intercepts, drafts of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, 600,000 cables from the Saudi embassy, and judicial gag orders — without ever having been implicated in outing a source. Wikileaks accomplishes this by effectively creating a shadow that even the most sophisticated government eyes cannot see into, and they do this through the use of open source encryption technology.
Most people already use encryption every day, and just not in their personal communications. Encryption is used in many common applications, from garage door openers to online money transfer sites, but the technology has been tightly controlled by the state, first through arms regulations and later through proprietary standards and funding restrictions.
Encryption sounds fancy, but it really just means writing in code. Current encryption programs apply advanced mathematics to the basic process that all people engage in when creating languages or dialects. Most importantly, the best programs are free and anyone can do it.
Current applications of this technology allow for any person with access to a computer to create encryption so advanced that it cannot be broken by all the computer power in the world. To quote Snowden: “Encryption works. Properly implemented strong crypto-systems are one of the few things that you can rely on.”
Due to its strategic importance, states have historically declared cryptographic skill and science to be theirs alone. But in 1991, as an act of resistance in support of anti-nuclear protesters, a coder named Phil Zimmerman released an open-source encryption program called PGP onto the Internet for free. When Snowden released the NSA’s own documents from 2012, they show that the agency is unable to break PGP (and other) open-source encryption even after more than 20 years.
Proprietary software like Microsoft and Apple operating systems impose legal and technical prohibitions on users and engineers that prevent them from viewing the codes that make the computer programs run. Open-source software like Linux or Debian allows for software engineers and users to fully control all aspects of a computer system.
Among other things, open-source programs mean transparent and verifiable software improvements. These improvements are not dependent on a closed group, which could be collaborating with, for example, the FBI or NSA. They are also free to use and distribute. Many countries, including the governments of Uruguay, Ecuador, and Brazil, are now running most of their information technology on open-source platforms.
Open-source encryption programs allow for free access to “end-to-end” encryption. These, as well as encrypted texting and talking phone apps like Signal and Redphone, are becoming more accessible and popular by the year. Free open-source programs — like PGP, OTR, Tor, and Tails OS — offer encrypted document creation, sharing and web research on any modern computer, and their use is increasing rapidly.
The journalists working with Snowden have reconfirmed the security of these tools through action, as open-source encryption has allowed them to effectively hide the documents Snowden leaked to them from governments that desperately wanted to destroy them.
Beyond the primary benefit of keeping organizing information hidden from authorities, using open-source encryption to “shadow” our connections, our work and our transactions from the state may enable us to create a digital liberated zone on the Internet, a form that transcends physical geography.
We can begin to create this by expanding our capacity and moving to make the use of these tools our default, first for radicals and progressive allies, then for communities and nations.
A Call to Cryptographic Arms
Discussion of encryption feels alienating to many folks. A lot of people think it is over their heads or they find the techno-babble obnoxious (the self-described hacktivist who once mansplained all this to you probably doesn’t help). Nevertheless, because the US and other governments are engaging in global mass surveillance, we find ourselves in a situation where encryption is necessary for the security of even basic organizing — it is usually unwise to invite the police to action planning meetings.
Beyond the security aspect, it holds massive potential.
Global South activists in Afghanistan, Syria, Palestine, and elsewhere are now facing the full repressive capacity of imperial violence — but some of those areas remain at least somewhat shrouded from mass surveillance technology. The US and other neo-imperialist governments are currently interested in popularizing use of the Internet and social media to areas of the Global South who have yet to “go digital” to enable corporate profit in those untapped markets.
In addition to the capitalist motive, the techno-colonial project would bring the entirety of the planet within view of imperial centers of control. This provides us with a window of opportunity where Global North governments are more engaged in expanding their digital empire and encouraging the Global South’s adoption of their technology than they are in unleashing the full arsenal of mass surveillance on their own populations.
It is critical that we exponentially increase the use of encryption in both the Global North and Global South during this period. Growing the use of open source encryption could be the most powerful instrument in securing revolutionary potential for generations to come, as they can enable us to safely communicate across blocks and borders. The tools are already there; all it takes is our foresight, will and passion for freedom to make their use into a reality for all.
Guerrilla liberated zones are highly effective in opening physical prefigurative space in an isolated area. At the same time, they are also limited by that isolation and by barriers to participation in guerrilla war.
Cyber-resistance does not offer the physical space that liberated zones do, but digital liberated zones are not constrained by geography or borders, and the barriers to use of encryption are surprisingly low. The combination of encryption basics with open-source hardware (and perhaps cryptographic currency, like Bitcoin-based Freicoin) has the potential to grow into a network of direct working-class control of the means of communication, production and exchange on a global scale.
This network can be used as a weapon to create a sort of liberated e-zone that is beyond state control despite being physically located within oppressive states. The more resistance is hidden from the state, the more imperialism must rely on its most base method of control: coercive force. Though it is the state’s foundational tool, the naked use of violence erodes the state’s legitimacy.
As the state must increasingly rely on its most violent capacity for control, online liberated zones could facilitate both the desire and capacity for resistance. Human surveillance and infiltration such as the use of informants and agent saboteurs can be highly destructive for individuals and movement groups, but nowadays even these rely heavily on digital information gathering.
As the state becomes blinder, it increasingly becomes more desperate. And when it gets desperate, its moves tend to backfire. Meanwhile, as our vision brightens, so does our spirit. Through cyber-resistance we can strengthen existing liberated zones and prefigure new ones, growing revolutionary values and practice even inside the cities of the attempted panopticon.
Our secure communications, leaks and skill-shares could eventually create a chain reaction of interconnected revolutionary upsurges on the scale of the “Arab Spring” of 2011. But instead of being based in popular control of public space alone, they will now also be prefigured in the collective control of a truly liberated space, from the means of communication to the totality of society.
i A note on terminology: While we say cyber-resistance here, more accurately we are talking about cypher-resistance. Cyber refers to anything digital, while cypher is a process that can encode any language, encryption is a general term for that process, and cryptography is the scientific study of the two. Sometimes the root crypto is used to modify other words as well, such as “crypto-currency.”
Is government surveillance getting you down? This is a beginner secure communications training; a first step on your Bilbo Baggan’s type quest to understand the scope of electronic mass surveillance and provide some concrete and helpful things you can do to protect your collective and individual Shires from the Eye of Saron that our government brands “the NSA.”
Join the Organization for a Free Society, the Mayday space, and longtime supporter, Jonathan, for an afternoon of getting your online house in order. Jonathan has trained over 150 attorneys on cyber-security, privacy rights, and attorney client communications. He has also trained journalists, grantors and technologists at the Center for Constitutional Rights, Thoughtworks, the International Development Exchange, the Bertha Foundation, the Legal Clinics of CUNY School of Law, the NYC Lawyers Association, the Continuing Legal Resource Network at CUNY and others. In addition, he has provided training for civil society leaders from fifteen countries at the Escola Nacional Florestan Fernandes (ENFF), in Brazil.
WHAT TO BRING:
-A new clean USB. Everyone who brings a USB will walk out of the training with the world’s most secure operating system and a suite of security tools!
-A donation of $10-20; no one turned away.
-Snacks to share