Tag: community activism

What is an Activist

When I began Sustainable Life in Action back in 2013 the Grassroots Leadership College had only been closed for a year and I was trying to find enough work to keep my rent paid and figuring out how to keep doing community organizing. My dreams were of starting a new Grassroots Leadership College maybe statewide or maybe in northern Wisconsin along the shores of Lake Superior. It wasn’t too much later that I left Madison. Life didn’t take me to northern Wisconsin, but to Minnesota.

In those days, for me, being an activist still meant organizing people, coordinating trainings, taking part in protests, speaking at rallies, being a force, and fighting out loud in a non-violent yet intense way. While my work was for a better world most of my actions still landed in the realm of working against the evils. I loved my work. I loved getting to know people, making connections, supporting others in achieving their dreams, creating positive social change. We did create change. Every time we people connected and came to know each other, to see each other as valuable human beings we were creating change, not to mention all the battles won.

Despite my love for my life work I was burning out. That’s why I started Sustainable Life in Action. It was a tool to encourage my own self care as well as to support others in caring for themselves. It has been a helpful tool for me. I hope it has been for others as well.

My journey as an activist has reached a new stage. It is an interesting one for me. After seven years in Minnesota and one in Poynette, Wisconsin, I have returned to Madison where Sustainable Life in Action began. When I left this place I was deeply involved in the activist scene. My name was known for work I’d done, nine years running the Grassroots Leadership College, coordinating the non-violence trainings for the capitol take-over during the Walker administration, Green Party stuff, Labor Radio and board leadership at WORT 89.9fm, and more. Now, I am coming back in quietly to a place where there are many new leaders and much of the old guard seems to have disappeared or maybe just is quiet in these times of COVID. It is coming back to a place where I’ve never been before.

It’s good to stand and watch this new place as I too am in a new place internally. After looking for jobs in the nonprofit realm and at the university and colleges to no avail, feeling my stomach churn a bit as I considered roles in organizing again, I decided to go back to another of my earlier careers. I accepted a position as an infant/toddler teacher in a large local child care. I’ve been intrigued by the reaction of old friends who seem to believe that going into teaching early childhood is leaving the world of activism. These people tell me how I’ve “done my time” and that it’s okay for me to do something else.

How can there be anything that is more about social justice than caring for our children? Being an activist isn’t all about holding up signs and shouting slogans. Being an activist is about how we live our lives. At this phase of my being, much of my time will be dedicated to holding the little ones and showing them love. I’ve also chosen to commit my time to being creative, telling my stories, and playing with art. All these things are important. I haven’t done my time, none of us has. We all have a duty to care for this place and for each other each day for the remainder of our time. How we do it is up to us.

Take good care of yourselves. That’s where it all begins.

Prepared and Peaceful– Bringing Back the Nonviolence Training from the Wisconsin Capitol

January 25th, 2017
Back in 2011 I had the good fortune to get a phone call from the TAA in Madison, WI.  They needed a little help.  You see some folks had gathered in the state capitol because Governor Scott Walker was breaking the hearts of Wisconsinites with his anti-union, anti-worker behavior.  And, well, those folks who gathered there had had enough of the governor cheating on them and they’d decided not to leave.  The TAA and friends were hosting a gathering at the people’s house that would engage hundreds of thousands of people over the next several weeks.  They needed a little help making sure the space would stay safe and nonviolent.

I got the call in the afternoon and in a few hours my good friend Jeff and I were giving the first nonviolence training. Soon, I’d brought together a crew of trainers and we created “Prepared and Peaceful” a document that was shared throughout the capitol and later given to the Occupy Movement.   I’m proud to say the capitol protests remained nonviolent through the weeks were there.
With the changes in our government I expect we’re going to see a massive change in community organizing in the near future with a great increase in direct action organizing.  I’d like to share with the world again the materials that we used in Wisconsin during the capitol occupation and encourage you to be well prepared and peaceful.   Below is the text of “Prepared and Peaceful.”  If you’d like to get a pdf copy, please let me know.

Peace,
Amy

prepared + peaceful
training for being in and around the Capitol

Each of us is here because we’re committed to something important.
How we express that commitment matters.
Remember, the whole world is watching.
For your safety, the safety of others, and the safety of the protest, we ask that you plan ahead,
consider your options carefully, and get whatever support you need to remain calm and peaceful in
the event that we are asked to leave.
Nothing written here is intended as legal advice. We just want every person in and around
the Capitol to make informed choices about if, how, and when to leave.

NONVIOLENCE
Nonviolence is a philosophy, a lifestyle, and a strategy. Here we address it as a strategy to:
• Keep the public on our side
• Inform our interactions with counter-protestors
• Inform our interactions with police (who mostly support the goals of this protest)
Strategies that support our ability to practice nonviolence include:
• Connecting with others
• Planning ahead, visualizing nonviolent responses, role-playing
• Staying sober and free of alcohol/illegal drugs
• Song, prayer, meditation, compassion—remaining centered, calm, and focused on purpose

CONNECTING WITH OTHERS
Affinity groups are a long-standing way of
organizing nonviolent protest. Consider forming
a small group of people you already know or
meet here to:
• Watch out for each other
• Know each other’s contact information
• Help each other stay healthy and safe (food,
sleep, medications, mood, etc.)
• Have a designated meeting place if you get
separated
• Decide together what actions you’ll take
• Support each other to leave if anyone can’t
stay nonviolent
• Have a plan for what to do if you are at risk
of arrest

BEING WELL
One of the biggest health concerns in a situation
like this is burnout. Take time to take care of
yourself. Use your affinity group to support you.
• Breathe consciously. Even a few deep
breaths can make a real difference in your
ability to think clearly. Make a habit of
breathing consciously 10-15 minutes every
day.
• Rub your feet! At the end of a day at the
Capitol, get the blood circulating, then
elevate your feet so they’re less swollen in
the morning.
• Be sure to take all medications as
prescribed. See “Being Arrested” (back) for
how to prepare if your meds are critical to
your moment-to-moment well-being and
you plan to risk arrest.

PLANNING AHEAD
To avoid unintended consequences, consider in advance: “If the police ask us to leave, will I
leave when asked, or will I refuse respectfully?” This is your individual choice. Opinions
differ on whether or not it would be useful for the movement for people to be arrested. If you are
told to leave, you have three choices: Leave peacefully, cooperative civil disobedience, or
passive civil disobedience.
(OVER)
brought to you by the Grassroots Leadership College | http://www.grassrootsleadershipcollege.org | updated March 11, 2011

LEAVING PEACEFULLY
• Follow police instructions
• Do not interfere with arrests of others, even verbally
• Leave—walk, don’t run
• Meet up with your affinity group to confirm that everyone is away who
intended to be away
• Provide planned support for anyone in your group who stayed

CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE is the active, professed refusal to obey certain laws, demands, and
commands of a government. It is a nonviolent resistance tactic that involves finding ways to achieve
our goals without harming people.
• If you choose to stay, breathe, sing, center, pray, meditate, remain calm
• Recall the police are largely in support of the protest goals and want to keep the charges minimal

COOPERATIVE CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE
• Respectfully let the officer know you do not want
to leave but will cooperate physically
• Stand & hold your hands together in front of you
• Do not react/resist/pull away in any way to
avoid escalated charges
• You may be given a citation on the spot and
released, or transported to a processing center &
given a citation ($150-500 fine & a court date)

PASSIVE CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE
• Respectfully refuse to leave
• Sit down or go limp
• This will likely result in arrest, and if
done completely nonviolently should
be a misdemeanor
• Do not react/resist/pull away in any
way to avoid escalated charges
• See “being arrested” below

BEING ARRESTED
• Recognize that remaining limp while being physically removed can be extremely challenging, can
be dangerous to you, and could possibly be considered resisting arrest, a greater charge.
• Don’t make sudden moves around the police or touch them—this could be construed as
assaulting an officer, a greater charge.
• Consequences could be different for non-US citizens, students, minors, people with outstanding
warrants or past criminal records. Get legal advice before deciding to risk arrest.
• The police may use zip ties to cuff your hands. Keep your hands, arms and shoulders as relaxed
as possible. Use very gentle shoulder rotations to keep the blood moving. If your hands are
behind your back and swelling, get them above your heart by going down on your knees and
bending your head forward, so your hands rest on your back.
• You can ask where you are being taken, but if you aren’t told, don’t worry.
• Once in police custody, cooperate fully as you are transported, fingerprinted and photographed.
If you resist, you must be jailed.
• Don’t lie to the police. Give them your real name and contact information. Not to do so is a crime.
• Provide information about medical conditions or medications. If it is important that you
continue medications while in custody, be sure to bring several days’ supply with you in the
original prescription bottle. Also have with you a doctor’s note specifying the importance of those
meds to your health. Without this, your treatment will likely be delayed—perhaps significantly.
• Don’t answer other questions. Say, “I want a lawyer. I will be silent until I get a lawyer.”
• The ACLU and lawyers hired by the unions will be tracking who is arrested and will do their best
to make sure everyone gets legal support, as long as they are simply in trouble for nonviolent civil
disobedience. Our understanding is that they will NOT give legal assistance to people who get
charged with assault on an officer, drug charges, etc.
• Legal support is being coordinated through the number below. During the day, a person will
answer. At night, a recorded message will provide the numbers for people on call that night.
608.257.0040
• Write this number on your body. If arrested, you will not have your cell phone or notebook.
prepared + peaceful
training for being in and around the Capitol
updated March 11, 2011

organizing as a learning tool– thinking about the anti mine fight in the 90’s and today.

 July 10, 2013
As I considered creating this blog as a means of moving toward developing a community organizing school,  I asked friends what I should write about and what they’d like to read.  One suggested to me writing about the anti-mining movement in Wisconsin in the 1990’s and that movement here today.  I was intrigued by that idea.  Today I’d like to take on just a little piece of it from my own perspective.

I’ve been thinking some about not just organizing training, but organizing as a means of education.  In the early 1990’s when I became involved in the anti-mining movement in Wisconsin,  I was a young and naive college student.   My understanding of the world was largely limited to my life growing up in rural southeastern Wisconsin.

When I got to college I started getting involved in environmental organizing as well as in some student rights issues.  I started to connect with other students and activists around the state and began going to meetings, events and rallies around the state.  Getting involved in statewide work and especially in the work around the Crandon mine started opening my mind and heart to the different experiences and lives of folks around the state.  Most notably I started to understand that Native peoples in Wisconsin weren’t just a story in my history book.  They were and are quite alive and some have much to share about understanding this place in which we live and who we all are.

I was at a rally against the mine one time on the capitol steps in Madison.  There was an Anishanabe woman,  Frannie VanZile I think her name was, speaking that day.  She stood up on those steps surrounded by girls and young women and her voice rang through the bullhorn.  “You women, you women out there.  You are the keepers of the water.”  Twenty some years later I can still hear her echoing in my ears.  Those words defined my course in life.  She taught me a central piece of who I am.

Somewhere along the way between then and now I went from being that young and naive college student to being the middle aged woman who gets to tell the tales of “back in the day” and I ask myself; “How do we teach?  How do we inspire? How do we hold the hands of young activists who will carry the fight for decades to come?”

Today Wisconsin is fighting to protect the water as we were back then.  This time the proposed mine is in the Penokee Hills in the northern part of the state.  A few weeks ago some young activists got in a bit of tangle with some folks on the mine site.   From all I’ve heard it doesn’t sound like any bigger of an action than one that my friends and I would have engaged in during the 90’s.  The response was different though.  A young woman, Katie, is facing a felony charge and Gogebic Taconite, the mining company, has hired mercenaries from Arizona to guard the site.

Two things float in my mind now about this incident.

The first is about violence and nonviolence.  I’ve been a proclaimed pacifist all of my adult life.  Yet the other day when I was reading Myles Horton’s autobiography I came across the idea that the question is not really about violence or nonviolence, but about what is the lesser violence?  Katie and her friends engaged in a direct action that some might have called violent.  In fact, the company is using that as their excuse to hire these guards.  My understanding is she threw a soda can and tried to take a cell phone away from someone who was filming.  Maybe that is violence, but armed guards to protect the company that will destroy the land and water,  bankrupt the economy, and devastate the cultures of the area is that not the greater violence?  How do we decide what is warranted?

The other is  how do we hold Katie’s hand and that of her friends as they grow as activists and leaders who will take this fight on for the decades to come?  When I started out in the 90’s there were a few of us young folks involved in more “radical” direct action organizations.  Our insights were largely welcomed.  We were pulled into the larger fight.  We got to stand with the elders who had fought for years before us and learn.  Some of us were sort of golden children, loved and cared for by some very wise people who knew we’d fight more effectively if we were stronger and that they could give us that strength.   I’m not always sure that’s happening today and I wonder how we make it happen.