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07.09.2019 – New York, USA – Democracy Now!

Unreported Deaths, Child Cancer & Radioactive Meat: The Untold Story of Chernobyl
The Chernobyl reactor #4 building as of 2006, including the later-built sarcophagus and elements of the maximum-security perimeter. (Image by Carl Montgomery on Flickr)

Following a mysterious nuclear accident in Russia that left seven dead, we look back at the 1986 nuclear disaster in Chernobyl. It sent a cloud of radioactive fallout into Russia, Belarus and over a large portion of Europe, but the death toll from Chernobyl remains unknown. Chernobyl is considered the worst nuclear accident in history, but Kate Brown, an MIT professor of science, technology and society, says much of what we understand about the disaster is inaccurate. Her new book, “Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future,” chronicles the devastating and underreported impact of radiation on tens of thousands in the Soviet Union that went unreported for decades. Brown says, “After about five years of research, I realized that much of what we know about Chernobyl is just either incomplete or fully incorrect.”

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. Questions are still swirling over this mysterious nuclear accident in northern Russia on August 8th, with seven people, including five nuclear scientists, dead in an explosion which caused a radiation spike in the surrounding area and possibly as far as Scandinavia. We’re speaking to Kate Brown, professor of science, technology and society at MIT, specializing in environmental and nuclear history. Her new book, Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future.

So, Kate Brown, talk about what we should understand, the greatest misconceptions and the most important facts we should understand, about what happened in Chernobyl in 1986 and why it’s still relevant today.

KATE BROWN: Yeah. You know, we feel like we know a lot about Chernobyl, and that’s what I thought when I started this project. And I worked my way through 27 archives and talked to three dozen scientists and farmers and people who worked with the Chernobyl accident, and I followed biologists around the Chernobyl zone who work there twice the year. And after about five years of research, I realized that a lot — much of what we know about Chernobyl is just either incomplete or fully incorrect.

For example, we think of there’s just one Chernobyl zone. Tourists stream in there every day. But what few people know is that there’s a second Chernobyl zone that’s nearly as radioactive as the first Chernobyl zone. It’s in southern Belarus. And it was created because a couple of days after the accident, Moscow leaders realized that a big storm front was brewing, and it was heading northeast toward several large Russian cities, including Moscow. So they sent out pilots, and the pilots manipulated the weather so it rained radioactive fallout on rural Belarus to save the big Russian cities. Now, this successful triage operation probably prevented the exposure of millions of urban dwellers, but, at the same time, they didn’t tell anyone in Belarus, not even the Belarusian Communist Party leader, that they had done this. So people lived in — about 200,000 people — in these rural areas in southern Belarus in terrifically raging hot conditions of radioactivity.

Another misconception we have about the Chernobyl zone is that about 300 people were hospitalized. These were mostly nuclear plant operators and firefighters. That was only one count from one hospital. What I found, working through the archives, is that 40,000 people, with 11,000 of them being children, streamed into hospitals in the summer after the accident for Chernobyl-related exposures. Especially people in the southern territory of Belarus were wondering, “What’s going on? Why are my children fainting? Why are they nauseous or have dizzy spells? Why can’t all of us get out of bed in the morning?”

So, that’s another misconception, is, you know, how — what kind of fatalities. If you look at U.N. records, they say from 35 to 54 people died from Chernobyl exposures. They project that in the future 4,000 people might die of cancers. What I found is that Belarus and Russia, where most of Chernobyl radioactivity went, have not been brave enough to make a count, but that in Ukraine, 35,000 women receive compensation for their spouses who died of Chernobyl-documented exposures. Now, these are just men who died. These are not children. It doesn’t — the count doesn’t include women. It doesn’t account anybody who wasn’t married. Off the record and at the Chernobyl visitors’ center, they give a number of 150,000 Ukrainians dead from Chernobyl exposures. Not 35, but the number is at least 35,000.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to read from your book —

KATE BROWN: Finally, you know, we —

AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead.

KATE BROWN: We might wonder, you know, why is there no real conclusive science. We know a lot about high doses of radioactivity and what that does to humans. That’s just like that accident that just happened in Russia on August 8th. People die from acute radiation poisoning. That is easy to detect. It’s fully documented. And we have a big study from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. But what scientists will tell you today is we really don’t know what happens to people exposed to low doses of radioactivity chronically over long periods of time. And that’s the Chernobyl syndrome, right? And this is far more likely, let’s hope, in the future, that people will not be exposed to nuclear bombs again, but that we probably will have, on this globe, more nuclear accidents at nuclear power plants. We have dozens of power plants that are over 40 years old that are operating. So we need to know what happens when people are exposed in a Chernobyl-like situation to a slow drip of low doses of radioactivity.

And what I found, working through the agricultural records in the Soviet archives, is that, quickly, radioactivity saturated the food chain. It was in the wheat, tea, honey, milk, meat. They had 100,000 livestock that had been severely contaminated. They butchered these livestock. And loath to throw this out as radioactive contaminants, as just nuclear garbage, they sent manuals — and this is why I call my book Manual for Survival — they sent instruction manuals to the packing houses in Belarus and Ukraine, and they said, take — “Grade the meat in three levels: low, medium and high levels of radioactivity. The low and medium levels, take that meat, mix it with clean meat and make sausage. Send that sausage all over the Soviet Union. Label it as you normally would. Just don’t send any,” the instructions say, “to Moscow.”

The high-level meat was supposed to be put in freezers, so that it could decay. And over time, they hoped, that meat would be cleaner and safer to eat. But quickly I found in the archives that packing houses were writing Moscow, saying, “We need more freezers.” That’s how much high-level radioactive meat they had. They got no more freezers, so they found some train cars, and they stuffed tons and tons of high-level radioactive meat in refrigerated train cars and sent that meat to Baku. Nobody in Baku wanted it. They sent it on to Yerevan and etc. For four years, this radioactive train, filled with — you know, sort of a ghost train filled with radioactive meat circulated the western half of the Soviet Union, no one wanting to touch it. Finally, in 1990, KGB officers buried that train car back in the zone, the Chernobyl zone, where it should have gone in the first place. So, what we see are sort of a path of contagion, where people were ingesting radioactive contaminants in their food and taking it in on the dust. It was sort of an uncontrollable mix of radioactivity going all over the place.

Now, I would have expected that scientists would have piled into this area. International scientists, as soon as Chernobyl happened, said, you know, “This has been a tragedy, but it’s also a living experiment. And perhaps we should find out, finally, what happens to humans exposed chronically to low doses of radioactivity.” 1990, the Soviet Union was falling apart. Lots of people were upset about Chernobyl. And Moscow officials asked U.N. agencies to come in and do an independent assessment by foreign experts: you know, “Tell us what happened.”

First, the World Health Organization went in. They spent — three scientists spent 10 days visiting contaminated and populated areas. They came away, said, “There’s no problem. You could double or triple the dose. There’s no problem.” They were thinking they were looking at Hiroshima, extrapolating to Chernobyl, and said, “You know, according to our computation and analysis, we don’t see any problem.” Nobody believed the World Health Organization’s 10-day assessment.

And so Moscow asked the International Atomic Energy Agency to go in: “You tell us. You know, give us an assessment of how high the doses are and whether people should be — are in harm of further damage.” International Atomic Energy Agency got 200 scientists to go in over 18 months, mostly just short trips, two weeks, 10 days. And they were approached by doctors, Ukrainians and Belarusians mostly, who were on the ground, who had been working for the previous four years with these contaminated populations. And they said, “Look, we have a serious problem with childhood thyroid cancer.” The Western experts didn’t believe it. They didn’t expect this kind of bump, you know, epidemic in childhood cancer. And so the Ukrainian scientists gave them biopsies of children from their thyroids. They brought them home, the Western scientists. The thyroid cancers checked out. But in their big report they wrote in 1991, they omitted that information from the report. They said there were rumors of childhood thyroid cancer, but they were anecdotal in nature.

And this is unfortunately what I found, working my way through U.N. archives, is that a few key U.N. scientists and administrators worked to diminish the story of a public health crisis occurring in the Chernobyl-contaminated lands. They dismissed most of the research that came in from on the ground from Ukraine and Belarus by scientists and doctors. And they, you know, hid these biopsies and kept repeating over and over again, “There’s no need for Chernobyl aid. There’s no need for a big long-term health study, on the level of the atomic bomb survivor studies.” So that’s why, to this day, when people tell you we have no evidence that low doses of exposure cause harm to human health — that’s because that big study was never done. There is no real evidence.

But what I found, working my way through the medical files in the former Soviet Union — and I went from the federal level down to the republic level down to the county hospital level — is that people got sick. Long before they got cancers, long before they died — you know, acute death tolls — they got sick from five major disease categories. That included autoimmune disorders, respiratory disorders, digestive tract disorders, cardiac and circulation system disorders, and problems with fertility, getting pregnant. Women had trouble carrying full term. Perinatal babies or, you know, infants born, within 28 days of birth, died at much higher rates than before. And there were far greater numbers of birth defects.

AMY GOODMAN: Before we —

KATE BROWN: This story is all in the Chernobyl archive.

AMY GOODMAN: Before we break, I want to ask you about the push by some, saying nuclear power is the answer, in the climate crisis, to the reliance on oil and gas.

KATE BROWN: Yes. You know, if we’re going to fully replace fossil fuels, we will have to build 12,000 new reactors around the globe. There are about 400 now. So that’s a big upscale in nuclear power. There will have to be nuclear power stations outside of every major population point. Now, there’s all kinds of problems with cost, versus renewables.

But the thing that most keeps me up at night is the health effects. We really don’t know what the health effects are for sure. This is heavily disputed. There has been no big study. The Chernobyl records show that health effects at low doses of radioactivity are severe and that they run through a population, causing people to feel — before they die, before they get cancers, before they’re reported as acute effects, the subacute effects cause people have a sort of a full bouquet of health problems, that make life just miserable on a daily level —

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Professor Brown —

KATE BROWN: — makes their work productivity quite low —

AMY GOODMAN: We just have 30 —

KATE BROWN: — makes the joy of living exist — mm-hmm?

AMY GOODMAN: We just have 30 seconds, but I want to ask if you feel, I mean, it could happen here, in the United States.

KATE BROWN: Yes, I’m afraid that not only could it happen here, but, in fact, it already has happened here. Our biggest nuclear power plant, in Hanford, power plant in western — eastern Ukraine — I mean, I’m sorry, in eastern Washington state, spilled 350 million curies of radioactive waste into the surrounding environment during the Cold War production of nuclear arms. We tested — we’re the only country in the world that tested nuclear bombs in our heartland, in Nevada. Those hundred nuclear weapons that were blown up on the American continent spread billions — not millions like in Chernobyl, but billions — of curies of radioactive waste around the American country. And so, we have had spots of radioactivity in Tennessee and Chicago area that were as high as near Nevada. And what we have is a public health crisis that we have yet not yet fully addressed. We have rising rates of thyroid cancer, rising rates of pediatric cancers, which used to be, in the 1930s, a medical rarity. So, these are the kinds of —

AMY GOODMAN: Kate Brown, we’re going to have —

KATE BROWN: You know, this is a correlation.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to —

KATE BROWN: Whether there is a connection between these troubling health statistics and the kind of contaminants, including radioactive contaminants in the environment, is something that we need to address.

AMY GOODMAN: Kate Brown, we’re going to have to leave it there. I thank you so much for being with us, professor of science, technology and society at MIT. Her new book, Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future.

In 2010, after eight years at Quaker House, I couldn’t recall ever seeing an article in our local paper, the Fayetteville Observer, that was affirmative of GLBT issues, or in particular, supported the repeal of the military’s repressive “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy, which since 1994 had pushed gay troops into the closet or out…

via Quaker House 50: Helping End “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” — A Friendly Letter

07.09.2019 – US, United States – David Swanson

Nonviolence Denial Is As Dangerous As Climate Denial

By David Swanson

Persistent willful ignorance of necessary knowledge can be deadly. This is true of denial of climate collapse. It is also true of denial of the tools and power of nonviolent action. As evidence and knowledge pile up in each case, denial of the facts looks more and more intentional, reckless, and malevolent, or intentionally, recklessly, and malevolently manufactured by propagandists.

“We need to burn more oil or suffer horribly” is slowly being recognized as a vicious deception, as more and more people come to understand that we need to burn less oil or suffer horribly. “We need to dump more money into war preparations or suffer horribly” is the same type of statement. The notion that a population must be prepared to fight off an invasion and occupation violently or do nothing may someday be understood as on a par with “We need to eat the roasted flesh of livestock or eat nothing.” Some of us grasp that there are other things to eat. Refusing to grasp that there are other ways to resist a military is daily becoming a more irrational act.

Here is a collection of resources on this point. I’d like to highlight the two latest additions to it: Social Defence by Jørgen Johansen and Brian Martin, and Shut It Down by Lisa Fithian.

The authors of Social Defence define social defense as “nonviolent community resistance to repression and aggression, as an alternative to military forces.” They mean using rallies, strikes, boycotts, and all the thousands of nonviolent tools. Other names for social defense include nonviolent defense, civilian-based defense, and defense by civil resistance. This book provides the case against military defense, and a guide to training for and engaging in social defense. It also provides case studies of times when social defense has been used, and used with some success even without proper training and organization.

Needless to say, roughly half the world’s military spending is by a single country that is under no threat of being occupied but has, on the contrary, attacked and occupied numerous other countries. Yet, ironically, it is a U.S. audience that may most need to gain nonviolent enlightenment, since the propaganda of military defense supports the military spending which generates the distant wars of aggression. For these reasons, it’s important to study how military spending and preparations actually make countries into targets rather than protecting them, and how military propaganda about enemies distracts from the use of armed force to defend anti-democratic rulers from their own people. Not only is the U.S. arming three-quarters of the world’s dictatorships, but it has armed itself heavily against popular grievances at home.

Johansen and Martin address popular fears of mass slaughter by a foreign invader, by pointing out that most wars never involve any intention of genocide, and that genocides almost always happen within a country and with the support of military forces. Social defense both removes the need for a military and provides people with a means of resisting an attack. While two dozen small nations have abolished their militaries, no nation has replaced its military with, or even created alongside its military, a department of social defense. Nonetheless, people have spontaneously and haphazardly used social defense successfully, demonstrating its enormous potential. Studies of numerous campaigns resisting oppressive governments have shownnonviolence to be more effective than violence, to be the stronger tool to which one must “resort.” But most such studies do not focus on foreign occupations and coups. Johansen and Martin do.

Social Defence examines German resistance to French occupation in 1923, and Czechoslovakian resistance to Soviet occupation in 1968, making the case that these partial successes could have been more successful with advanced preparation.

When French and Belgian troops occupied the Ruhr in 1923, “The German government called on its citizens to resist the occupation by what was called, at the time, ‘passive resistance,’ namely resistance without physical violence. The key resistance tactic was to refuse to obey orders from the French occupiers. This was costly: thousands who ignored orders were arrested and tried by military tribunals, which handed out heavy fines and prison sentences. There were also protests, boycotts and strikes. The resistance had many facets. The French demanded that owners of coal mines provide them coal and coke. When negotiations broke down, the German negotiators were arrested and court martialled. . . . Civil servants resisted. The German government said they should refuse to obey instructions from the occupiers. Some civil servants were tried for insubordination and given long prison sentences. Others were expelled from the Ruhr; over the course of 1923 nearly 50,000 civil servants were expelled. Transport workers resisted. The French-Belgian occupiers tried to run the railways. Only 400 Germans agreed to work for the new administration, compared to 170,000 who worked in the railways prior to the occupation.”

When the Soviet military invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968, “There were huge demonstrations. There was a one-hour general strike on 22 August. Graffiti, posters and leaflets were used to publicise the resistance. A few individuals sat down in front of tanks. Farmers and shopkeepers refused to provide supplies to the invading troops. Staff at Prague airport cut off central services. The Czechoslovak radio network allowed synchronous broadcasting from many locations across the country. . . The Soviets brought in radio-jamming equipment by train. When this information was broadcast, workers held up the train at a station. Next it was stopped on the main line due to an electricity failure. Finally it was shunted onto a branch line where it was blocked by locomotives at both ends. . . . Announcers told how to avoid detection, harm and arrest, including details of when particular individuals were being hunted. To make the KGB’s job more difficult, citizens removed house numbers and took down or covered over street signs. . . . An effective part of the resistance involved local people talking to the invading soldiers, engaging them in conversation, explaining why they were protesting. Some soldiers had falsely been told there was a capitalist takeover in Czechoslovakia; some of them thought they were in Ukraine or East Germany. . . . For the invading troops, the combination of being met with strong arguments while being refused food and normal social relationships was upsetting, possibly leading some troops to be deliberately inefficient.”

What were the outcomes of these campaigns of social defense avant la lettre?

People nonviolently turned public opinion in Britain, the U.S., and even in Belgium and France, in favor of the occupied Germans. By international agreement, through the Dawes Commission, 95 years ago this week, the French troops were withdrawn.

Czechoslovakia’s Prague Spring lasted a week. “Dubcek, Svoboda, and other Czechoslovak political leaders were arrested and held in Moscow. Under severe pressure and without communication with the resistance back in Czechoslovakia, they made unwise concessions. They didn’t realise how widespread and resolute the resistance was. The leaders’ concessions deflated the resistance, so its active phase lasted only a week. However, it took another eight months before a puppet government could be installed in Czechoslovakia. The resistance thus failed in its immediate aims. However, it was immensely powerful in its impacts. The use of force against peaceful citizens undermined the credibility of the Soviet Communist Party. At this time, most countries around the world had communist parties, some of them quite strong and most looking to the Soviet party for leadership. The Prague spring changed all this. Many foreign communist parties splintered, with some members quitting or the parties splitting into old guard supporters of the Soviet line and supporters of the reform approach.”

In both cases, nations heavily armed and committed to intervening, and the League of Nations in one case and the United Nations in the other, did nothing — thank goodness!

Social Defence also looks at the use of social defense against coups in Germany 1920, France-Algeria 1961, and the Soviet Union 1991. The lessons learned are widely applicable, including in countries whose governments refuse to impeach or remove lawless leaders, and in countries whose buffoonish leaders suspend democratic government.

In Germany in 1920, a coup, led by Wolfgang Kapp, overthrew and exiled the government, but on its way out the government called for a general strike. “Workers shut down everything: electricity, water, restaurants, transport, garbage collection, deliveries. . . . Civilians shunned Kapp’s troops and officials, who could not get anything done. For example, Kapp issued orders, but printers refused to print them. Kapp went to a bank to obtain funds to pay the troops, but bank officials refused to sign cheques. . . . In less than five days, Kapp gave up and fled from the country.”

In Algeria in 1961, four French generals staged a coup. “There was even a possibility of an invasion of France. There were far more French troops in Algeria than in mainland France. There was massive popular opposition to the revolt. After a couple of days of indecisiveness, De Gaulle went on national radio and called for resistance by any possible means. In practice all the resistance was nonviolent. There were huge protests and a general strike. People occupied airstrips to prevent aeroplanes from Algeria landing. The resistance within the French military in Algeria was even more significant. . . . Many of them simply refused to leave their barracks. Another form of noncooperation was deliberate inefficiency, for example losing files and orders, and delaying communications. Many pilots flew their planes out of Algeria and did not return. Others feigned mechanical breakdowns or used their planes to block airfields. The level of noncooperation was so extensive that within a few days the coup collapsed.”

In the Soviet Union in 1991, Gorbachev was arrested at his dacha in Crimea. “Tanks were sent to Moscow, Leningrad and other cities, and plans were made for mass arrests. Strikes and rallies were banned, liberal newspapers were closed and broadcast media were controlled, so most of the country had no news of resistance. . . . The coup leaders seemed to have all the advantages: backing from the armed forces, the KGB (Soviet secret police), the Communist Party and the police, plus the Soviet people’s long acceptance of authority. . . . There was an immediate response, including protests, strikes and messages of opposition. Across the country, including at major industrial complexes, many workers went on strike or just stayed home. Some civilians stood in the path of tanks, whose drivers then took another route. Rallies were held; when the army did not disperse the crowd, this provided a boost for the demonstrators. . . . Within a few days the coup collapsed, almost entirely due to popular noncooperation.”

There are examples beyond those discussed in this book. To quote Stephen Zunes, “During the first Palestinian intifada in the 1980s, much of the subjugated population effectively became self-governing entities through massive noncooperation and the creation of alternative institutions, forcing Israel to allow for the creation of the Palestine Authority and self-governance for most of the urban areas of the West Bank. Nonviolent resistance in the occupied Western Sahara has forced Morocco to offer an autonomy proposal which—while still falling well short of Morocco’s obligation to grant the Sahrawis their right of self-determination—at least acknowledges that the territory is not simply another part of Morocco. In the final years of German occupation of Denmark and Norway during WWII, the Nazis effectively no longer controlled the population. Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia freed themselves from Soviet occupation through nonviolent resistance prior to the USSR’s collapse. In Lebanon, a nation ravaged by war for decades, thirty years of Syrian domination was ended through a large-scale, nonviolent uprising in 2005. And . . . Mariupol became the largest city to be liberated from control by Russian-backed rebels in Ukraine, not by bombings and artillery strikes by the Ukrainian military, but when thousands of unarmed steelworkers marched peacefully into occupied sections of its downtown area and drove out the armed separatists.” I would suggest also the one-time success of the Philippines and the ongoing success of Ecuador in evicting U.S. military bases, and of course the Gandhian example of booting the British out of India.

Yet governments are not investing in social defense, in part — no doubt — because there is no social defense weapons industry from which to make fortunes, and in part — no doubt — because an empowered population can hold a government accountable. So, Johansen and Martin propose another way of developing social defense, namely encouraging social movements to incorporate elements of social defense into their thinking and their campaigning. The authors remark: “The peace movement is the most obvious candidate to promote social defence measures, though it has mainly campaigned against war rather than building capacity for nonviolent action. The environmental movement, by promoting local self-sufficiency in renewable energy production, makes communities less vulnerable to hostile takeover. The labour movement is crucial: when workers have the understanding and skills to take over workplaces and operations, they are ideally placed to resist aggressors. This includes workers in factories, farms and offices. Government employees can play a potent role by refusing to cooperate with occupiers, so administering government operations becomes impossible.”

Social Defence even offers (page 133) an exercise that groups can try in rehearsing nonviolent resistance to occupation.

As a guide to using the tools of nonviolence in social movements, one could hardly do better than to pick up Lisa Fithian’s new book, Shut It Down. This book includes guides to planning campaigns and to staging all variety of actions in great detail, from how to plaster posters everywhere to how to relate to the police. This is a powerful resource because of the rules it lays out but also because of the examples it includes. The book is as much a personal memoir as a theory of social change, but the latter is its mission throughout.

You have power if you use it, and it’s not found primarily in voting or whining. That’s a central message. And it’s hard not to accept after reading about how much power people have created through nonviolent actions. A sample from the book:

“It’s at the edge of chaos where the deepest changes can emerge. In the dominant culture, the words chaos and crisis often connote violence and destruction, and are used to engender fear. But to me, the edge of chaos is not inherently violent. I have found that violent situations are usually counterproductive, generating fear and demobilizing people. By contrast, nonviolent actions that build strategic crisis can make people feel powerful while exposing the power brokers, convincing them that things have to change.”

Fithian draws conclusions that can guide activism: “There are many ways to organize direct action, but I have found that action is most effective when it takes place within a strong, moderately dense, linked network of participant groups. This is a model of social movement organizing that involves self-organized local groups in a network using working groups, clusters, caucuses, assemblies, or councils as needed. These smaller groups are structures that serve as anchors or hubs in an ever-evolving network.”

These conclusions are based on numerous accounts of specific experiences over the decades and around the world, in the United States, Europe, Egypt, and elsewhere. Fithian was there at the start of Occupy and before the start of Occupy, though she couldn’t know what it would become. She was in Ferguson and at Standing Rock, and draws powerful lessons from each campaign. She got hooked on this work years before with early successes, and she recounts an amazing number of successes over her activist career. One of the earliest successes she mentions was pressuring Governor Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts in 1986 to refuse to send the National Guard to wars in Central America. A sit-in and a little public pressure can go a long way.

Then there was the 1987 shutting down of the CIA. Thousands of people blocked all the entrances to the CIA headquarters for hours as part of the “Pledge of Resistance.” The place re-opened, but a message was sent to the U.S. government, and to participants. The message to the latter was: you have power. Organizers with the Pledge of Resistance “trained tens of thousands of people, organizing them into affinity groups that coordinated with one another in local spokes councils. These processes and structures spread rapidly across the country, with each local network mirroring the other. The Pledge had an explicit structure and tons of flexibility to meet local needs. This is what I now call a hybrid structure, mixing national coordination with local coordinating committees, spokes councils, and affinity groups in an emergency response network. . . . The Reagan administration was never able to invade Nicaragua as they desired, and I believe this was because of the continuing, unrelenting public pressure.”

Around the same time, Fithian worked with Justice for Janitors in Washington, D.C., on a multi-faceted campaign that included blocking bridges. This seemed to work. “Within a few years of our first action at the bridge, 70 percent of the commercial real estate buildings in DC were under a union contract, up from 20 percent in 1987.”

Fithian was also part of the Battle of Seattle, and provides a valuable account of it and its educational and policy successes, as well as the new techniques developed. Fithian was in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina rebuilding and saving schools from destruction. Through these endless and varied struggles, Fithian recounts victories and set backs. A good share of the short comings in terms of results seem to have followed, not unsuccessful nonviolent action, but a failure by activist leaders to use nonviolent action sufficiently. This is a reluctance we simply must overcome.

Fithian embraces diversity and disagreement, humility and openness. She works hard to confront her own white privilege and to put it to good use. But she also offers an empirical, non-theoretical critique of the violent activism often labeled “diversity of tactics.” I recommend sharing her account of her experiences with anyone inclined toward violence. Violence creates problems related to secrecy, an inability to plan ahead, a susceptibility to infiltration and sabotage by police, and of course a problem appealing to the wider public. With regard to infiltration, Fithian concludes:

“In almost every situation over the past twenty years where people have been caught planning a risky or violent action, it turned out that a government infiltrator was in the mix urging them on. This occurred most infamously during the 2008 Republican National Convention protests, when three young white men, in two different situations, were arrested for constructing Molotov cocktails. During their trial it became clear they did not intend to use them, and it came out that an agent provocateur with the FBI had been goading them forward.”

Shut It Down makes a strategic, pragmatic case for the use of many of the tools of social defense. Fithian risks arrest and goes to jail for the sake of social betterment. But she also goes to jail for something else:

“If you’re white or affluent, incarceration might not affect your family at all. This is why I encourage white or otherwise privileged people to make the choice to go to jail for justice. The experience shows you what it’s like to lose your privilege. How easy it is to be criminalized. When they treat you like a criminal, you feel like one. You start questioning yourself, thinking of yourself as a criminal just because they say so. Experiencing this dehumanizing process can make white people understand more about what has been happening to Black and Brown communities for generations. Once you see for yourself how the state enacts violence and robs people of their freedom and dignity, you can never unsee it.”

For those looking for an opportunity to put the tools of nonviolence to work, there is a plan to shut down Washington D.C. for the climate of the earth on September 23rd. The people of DC are of course occupied by a colonial overlord known as the U.S. government, and they will never overcome it violently. Neither is violence a strong enough tool to save the health of this planet. But nonviolence might be.

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer

We must act and dare the appropiateness and not whatever comes to our mind not floating in the likelihood but grasp the reality as brave as we can be freedom lies in action not in the absence of mind obedience knows the essence of good and satisfies it, freedom dares to act and returns God the ultimate judgment of what is right and what is wrong, Obedience performs blindly but Freedom is wide awake Freedom wants to know why, Obedience has its hands tied, Freedom is inventive obedient man respects God’s commands and by virtu of his Freedom, he creats new commands. Both Obedience and Freedom come true in responsability (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

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