Rivera Sun's Blog: From the Desk of Rivera Sun
July 18, 2023
One of the great joys of my life is having a front-row seat to some of the most innovative, inspiring, solutionary work that’s going on. Over the 10+ years since I wrote The Dandelion Insurrection, I’ve found enduring hope in learning how people are building new systems in their local communities, solving problems, and strengthening connection. Of course, these ideas have made their way into my novels … hoping that people like you will be inspired to plant the seeds of these ideas in your local community. Here are some of my favorites from the many examples across the Dandelion Trilogy:
In The Dandelion Insurrection:
Rights of Nature – Do rivers, forests, mountains, oceans have inalienable rights? I think so. And I’m not alone. There’s a growing movement to acknowledge, assert, and defend the rights of nature, from the Ganges River to Lake Superior and beyond.
Suburban Renaissance – In the novel, this network of community-building, resource-sharing suburban families are engaging in economic resistance to consumerism, knowledge-building, and resistance training. Imagine if this was going on in your neighborhood. Want to get started? Shareable has 300+ toolkits on how-to-share. They cover things like tool coops, Little Free Fridges, time banks, and more.
Victory Gardens for People & Planet – Grow some change. Share some food. Victory Gardens were popularized during the World War II war effort. In the nonviolent movement of the Dandelion Insurrection, the gardens are used to feed people when the gap between the rich and poor shoves people into poverty and hunger. Gardens have many other benefits, too, including care of the earth (if done without chemicals), greening the urban environment, building community, and taking some of the food supply out of the hands of megacorporations. No garden space? Grow some herbs in a pot on your windowsill and share a sprig of rosemary with your neighbor.
In The Roots of Resistance:
Debt Strike – In 2017, when The Roots of Resistance was published, the idea of a debt strike seemed wildly implausible. I almost hesitated to put it into the novel, but I knew some interesting activists were organizing to hold one. So in it went. Since the book came out, a successful student debt strike against the scam of Corinthian Colleges opened the door for broader student debt forgiveness programs. Check out the work of the Debt Collective to learn how this tactic can be applied all kinds of debt.
Community Schools – When a corporation tries to privatize a public school, the community mobilizes to resist. One of their tactics is to launch a pop-up school when the students and teachers strike against the private company’s occupation. Providing education and resistance organizing, the intergenerational campaign wins back their public school. Education is a frontline these days – a fraught point of struggle between ideologies of fear and hate, and worldviews of inclusion and respect. It’s important to show up for this struggle in your local community. The future depends on it.
In Winds of Change:
Disaster Resilience – After I read the interesting reports on disaster collectivism in the Response Podcast (and the book version), I knew I had to weave a scene of community-led disaster resilience into Winds of Change. Real life examples show that a strong, interconnected community is the most important part of resilience – as character Bramble Ellison finds out when a forest fire sweeps through her town.
Council of All Beings – I’ve long drawn inspiration as both an activist and an author from the Work That Reconnects, pioneered by Joanna Macy. Both Steam Drills and Winds of Change feature scenes that follow ritual and processes that this real-life work has developed and led in communities worldwide. Holding these circles, exercises, and participatory rituals in your local area can make space for emotions, creativity, soulfulness, and transformation.
Solutionary Rail – Charlie and Zadie take a ride across the country on a Solutionary Rail line powered by renewable energy. This visionary idea is being worked on by climate activists and railroad workers. It’s a big challenge – with a big potential payoff for rapidly transitioning away from fossil-fuel based transportation. Everyone should support this idea!
The Democracy Lab – Participatory democracy is the way forward, imo. There are many styles, flavors, and practices to explore in how we make decisions together. I’ve learned a lot from my colleagues at the Co-Intelligence Institute and by following efforts around participatory budgeting, direct democracy, citizens councils, and more. My rule of thumb: start infusing your life with some democracy practices, whether that’s with your family, or by joining a credit union, or supporting worker cooperatives, etc.
These are just a few of the many real-life ideas that made it into the pages of the Dandelion Trilogy amidst the action-packed plot lines of nonviolent resistance. These constructive programs give us tangible ways to build the world we want to live in and strengthen our ability to wage struggle against injustice. To me, they bring life and breath and hope to the stories.
Thanks for joining me in celebrating 10 years of life inspiring fiction, and fiction inspiring life,
The post Steal These Ideas – Top 9 Dandelion Projects You Can Borrow appeared first on Rivera Sun.
July 17, 2023
Nonviolence News Editor’s Note From Rivera Sun
If you zoom out to a distant vantage point of human history, you can see the arc of the universe bending toward a certain kind of justice. If we secure a future for humanity, historians will look back on these times and identify them as an era in which ordinary people asserted their rights – and the rights of nature – against the greed-based desires of rich people and megacorporations. Many of the stories in this week’s Nonviolence News embody the nitty-gritty steps of a movement made of billions of people and millions of efforts on a wide variety of issues.
In Uruguay (pictured), citizens are protesting the priorities of the government after discovering their water supply was being augmented by salt water. The country faces a severe drought, but officials aren’t constricting water-guzzling industries like corporate agribusiness, mining, or tech giants like Google, which wants to build a server facility that requires 2-million gallons of water per day. That’s the equivalent of household use for 55,000 people. Who should get drinkable water – a business or 500,000 low-income residents who can’t afford bottled water when the government dilutes the reservoir with saltwater?
Similarly, the many labor strikes and cost-of-living protests can be viewed as dispersed, but interconnected struggles to oppose the economic hardships created by profit-driven businesses. While CEOs, owners, and shareholders are raking in profits, workers are facing evictions, hunger, and overwork as they struggle to earn enough to survive. In Kenya, cost-of-living protests faced brutal repression as the opposing political party campaigns against the current administration’s failure to address the crisis. In Canada, 7,400 dockworkers shut down ports. Los Angeles is experiencing a surge of labor strikes, from the revolving strikes launched by low-wage hotel workers to the recent strike of the SAG-AFTRA actors adding their demands and disgruntlement to the Hollywood writers’ strike.
When we examine climate actions, we can see how they are aimed at dethroning the fossil fuel industry from its position of privilege in our society. So far, governments continue to prioritize the greed of the oil industry by issuing new permits, backing pipeline expansions, continuing subsidies. Across the globe, citizens are pushing back – from theatrical fire-breathing protests held by students in the Democratic Republic of Congo to the “Friendship From Hell” demonstrations held by Hungarian and Serbian activists opposing the “Friendship Pipeline” planned to run between their countries. In the United Kingdom, climate rebels challenged society’s sense of business-as-usual during a time of climate emergency by disrupting the Wimbledon tennis championship. In Italy, activists took over a section of motorway and transformed it into a community space for a day, using direct action to assert citizens’ right to determine the future of their communities.
But the issues extend beyond economics. Many stories this week revolve around who gets to decide the direction our societies will go in. In San Francisco, citizens are campaigning against driverless taxis that are falling short of industry’s promises. Snarling up traffic, causing accidents, and worst of all, driving the need for car-centric (not people-centered) cities. As a political decision on the driverless cars looms, citizens are taking a unique approach to protesting: they’re stopping the vehicles in their tracks by gently placing orange cones on the hoods of the cars.Find all these stories and many more in this week’s Nonviolence News>>
These are the burning questions in Nonviolence News this week, the cultural shift that – if we’re very, very fortunate – future historians will look back upon and see as a defining arc of this era. Who decides who benefits from the daily labors of billions? Who gets to shape the way our society flows, day-in and day-out? While we can cynically answer this (political elites, rich people, mega-corporations), the fundamental question of our time is: what and who should the fruits of our labor support? I know my answer … what’s yours?
The post Uruguay Saltwater Protests, Orange Cones Vs. Driverless Cars & the Friendship From Hell appeared first on Rivera Sun.
July 11, 2023
Can you believe it’s been 10 years?
The Dandelion Insurrection has been lighting up readers’ imaginations for 10 years. It’s hard to believe this golden yellow book has reached a decade of circulation on this maddeningly tumultuous world. It was written as Snowden made his revelations about the extensiveness of the US surveillance state. The Occupy Protests had just been raided and dismantled by a crackdown coordinated under President Obama (who had bailed out the Wall St. banks that led to the protests). The climate crisis was already crashing down upon our heads – and it’s only intensified since then.
My author’s notes in the three volumes of the trilogy (The Dandelion Insurrection, The Roots of Resistance, and Winds of Change) act like time capsules across the decade that saw the Ferguson uprising, Standing Rock’s #NoDAPL Pipeline struggle, the George Floyd Protests, Greta Thunberg and the student climate strikes, #NoKidsInCages, March for Our Lives, the Women’s March, #DefendDemocracy’s campaign to stop Trump’s attempt to steal the 2020 election, and so much more.
Over those same 10 years, I published 13 books, survived cancer, moved across the country, gave hundreds of talks and workshops, participated in the social movements, and cohosted two radio shows. It’s been a whirlwind.
Over the years, many people have commented on how prophetic The Dandelion Insurrection seems to be. But it wasn’t a sixth sense that gave the novel it’s eerie propheticalness. It was common sense. I wrote the book with my ear to the ground and a willingness to imagine both the worst and best case scenarios that could grow from the times that we were in. In 2012-13, The Dandelion Insurrection took pre-existing social injustices and expanded their impact, asking us to imagine how outraged we would be if the military budget took 70% of our taxes (it’s over 60% now), or if our neighbors’ families were being put in detention centers along with migrant families. It cuts through the illusion of the two-party system and puts culpability on the heads of those who deserve it: corporate politicians and the rule of the rich.
Over the past 10 years, some of its speculative fiction has become realism. Some of its realism has become understated. Some of its hopeful optimism has become the reality of mass movements erupting on a wide range of social issues. Yet, the greatest struggle of all time still looms “just around the corner of today”.
What I feel about the state of our world, ten years after writing this book, is horrified fury at the greed of politicians and rich people that has allowed the same life-threatening crises to not only continue, but worsen. The reckless disregard of reality is so shocking that my words fail me. Something immense must shift – and soon – if humanity is to have a future on this beautiful and imperiled planet.
If there was ever an era that needed a story like The Dandelion Insurrection, this is it.
So many thoughts turn in revolutionary spirals through my mind as we pass the milestone of 10 years. Each chapter of each book of the trilogy has an idea that brims with relevancy and poignancy. This summer, I’m going to spend some time in newsletters, videos (like the one below), and articles reflecting on this decade and the role of the The Dandelion Insurrection in touching the hearts and minds of thousands of people. Keep your eyes out for these and thank you for sharing them … like wish-blown dandelion seeds.
Be kind, be connected, be unafraid,
A Few More Thoughts On Dandelion At 10
The novel has been read by high school freshmen and in tree-sits to stop oil pipelines. Here are some highlights and reflections on 10 years of the Dandelion Insurrection. Share here>>
July 10, 2023
Nonviolence News Editor’s Note From Rivera Sun
Looking around the globe in this week’s Nonviolence News, it’s evident that people are gripped in “struggles of survival”. The demands are sensible, reasonable: people want safety from brutal repression, they want wages that pay the bills, and they want a planet they can live on that won’t poison them with every breath or sip of water. Is that too much to ask?
South Africa is bracing for a general strike over cost-of-living increases. It’s a tactic many countries’ workers could be considering, mobilizing across sectors and tapping into the power of both unions and social activist groups. In South Korea, 400,000 people are planning on joining the upcoming two-week-long general strike. While strikes are usually aimed at business owners, this one is specifically designed to turn up the heat on the government and push back against attacks on labor rights. South Koreans have been increasingly mobilizing around labor, with mass protests extending into other issues, such as the recent large protests over Japan’s plan to release 500 Olympic-sized swimming pools of radioactive wastewater from the tsunami-destroyed Fukushima plant.
After the police murder of 17-year-old Nahel Marzouk, France has been gripped by protests – both largely peaceful, nonviolent demonstrations and riots marked by smashed windows, cars in flames, and clashes with police. The riots have had triggered increasing levels of repression from President Macron, who shut down the internet in the outskirts of Paris and mobilized tens of thousands of police officers to quell the unrest. In a chilling move, he is also threatening to fine the parents of underage protesters up to 30,000 Euros. Meanwhile, in the United States, the #StopCopCity Week of Action is once again showing how dangerous and important it is to push back against the rise of the police state. It’s both a local and a global problem that we should all be working to end.
In other Nonviolence News, Peruvians are preparing for a 10-day struggle against the repressive and discriminatory policies of the Duarte administration. Argentines continue to rise up to defend the right to protest and Indigenous Rights in a region run by a right-wing governor. Thousands of Australians rallied in support of a proposed revision to the constitution that would recognize Indigenous People.Find these stories and dozens more in Nonviolence News>>
A favorite story this week: Extinction Rebellion shut down a coal plant that is operating without a license, accomplishing something the government and the courts apparently could not. It reminded me of a story from Mexico about how Yaqui women dismantled an illegal pipeline and sold it for scrap metal. This approach uses nonviolent direct action to enforce laws, rather than disobey them. It’s creative, and often quite effective.
There’s power in seeing how people like us, around the world, share similar demands. We have a vision of the world we want to inhabit. It’s beautiful. It’s worth the struggle.
The post Safety, Dignity, Living Wages, a Healthy Planet – Is This Too Much To Ask? appeared first on Rivera Sun.
July 3, 2023
Author Rivera Sun reflects on reaching the 10th anniversary of the publication of The Dandelion Insurrection. The novel has been read by thousands, including by activists in tree-sits or on the front lines of pipeline resistance. Over a decade of resistance and reading, Rivera Sun shares a short lookback on the journey. Find The Dandelion Insurrection and sequels here.
Kids ask the darndest things.
On a virtual Author Q & A with a school classroom that read The Way Between, I was asked the question: what do I think about ChatGPT and AI novels? Rather than tear off on a long-winded rant about the long arcs of automation and tech capitalism’s lack of concern for the human toll of their inventions, I turned it around and asked the 10-12 year old students:
Do you think AI could have written The Way Between? Almost every hand went up, to my chagrin, so I asked a second question:
Do you think it would have been the same book? Interestingly, a chorus of no’s broke out, with a lot of head shaking. Curious, I asked the young readers a third question:
What might have been different about the book if AI wrote it? (And here’s where we fall in love with these kids again.) They said: the quality of the writing wouldn’t be as good, the characters would not be as interesting, the message of peace would probably be weakened or replaced with violence.
By engaging the students with questions (rather than lecturing them), we all had a chance to learn something together. Ultimately, this exchange is one of the reasons why it might be a good idea to keep human authors employed writing stories for humanity. The Q & As might surprise us all. Would an AI have a hunch that turning the question around would engage young readers’ thoughtful reflections on the nature of intelligence and writing?
When humanity is longing for a different world, we have to break out of our habitual thinking and the ruts of cultural trends. We don’t need mere regurgitation of the past. We need vision for our future. This is deeply true for novels like the Ari Ara Series. Artificial intelligence might take a look at our trends and assume that humans need more violent fantasy, or that we are intentionally training our youth to support war through our epic stories. But, with the appalling levels of violence in our communities and schools, we desperately need to be telling different stories than the ones that got us into this vast tragedy.
My stories are designed to show a way forward. You have to buck the algorithmic trends to do that. Thank you to all of you for continuing to share Ari Ara (and any of my other novels) with your friends and families. It’s a wonderful example of our collective human intelligence.
PS The students I spoke with read The Way Between as an entire class. Next year, they’ll read The Lost Heir. The year after that, Desert Song will show up in their literature curriculum. They’ve been doing this for three years now. It’s an honor to get to zoom with the students each time. Can you imagine if every middle school in the US was reading the Ari Ara Series?
April 4, 2023
By Rivera Sun for Peace Voice
At the post office, my neighbor rolled down the window of his pick-up truck to chat. As is typical in Northern Maine this time of year, we praised the sunlight, warmth, bare patches of ground, and eyed the shrinking snowbanks with delight.
“Winter wasn’t so bad, this year,” he weighed in, “not like it used to be.”
At 85, he’s old enough to remember the -20 F temperatures from January onward. At 40, I also remember that same frigid sting, particularly in the mornings while my siblings and I waited for the school bus.
“Gotta give global warming that much,” he joked.
I’m not sure he believes the climate crisis is real, even though he’s lived through the shocking shift in temperatures, seen the impacts on our local farming community, and read the headlines of the disasters like the forest fires, droughts, super-storms, and flooding.
“It’s not good for the ecosystem,” I venture, cautiously. Contradicting an elder runs counter to the values we were both raised with, but the future of humanity is at stake. “Remember the article in the newspaper that said 90 percent of the moose calves died from tick swarms?”
The moose is iconic, nearly synonymous with the state of Maine. When mild winters fail to kill off the tick population, the explosion of ticks literally sucks the blood out of the baby calves. Moose dislike the changing climate. The hotter summers force them to spend more time trying to get cool instead of munching the plants that give them enough fat to survive the winter.
I can’t imagine Maine without moose.
From the look in my neighbor’s eyes, I know he can’t either. A touch of discomfort shifts through him. He taps the steering wheel uneasily. Then he shrugs.
“Nature has a way of correcting itself.”
He shifts into reverse and pulls out of the parking lot, leaving me with my retort hanging on the tip of my tongue. Yes, nature corrects itself. But that failsafe is crumbling, rapidly. The size of the changes caused by fossil fuels vastly outstrips the autocorrect function of our beautiful planet. When Earth resets from these impacts, human beings may not like the corrections it makes. It will likely not include our species. Or thousands of other species we know and love … like moose.
There is not much time, but there is still enough time for us all to take action today, tomorrow, the next day, and continue until we transition off of fossil fuels. It is a massive shift that must take place in the next seven years if we are to survive. It’s terrifying. Like my neighbor, both options – the doomsday scenario of human extinction and the scale of the transition to a renewable-powered society – make many of us uneasy, worried, and frightened. But of the two, I know which one I choose.
Nature’s way of correcting itself right now is embodied by the students walking out of school on Fridays, pleading with older generations to take action to ensure their future. Nature is correcting itself through climate scientists publishing well-documented facts about this crisis. Or through activists blocking pipelines or pushing universities and retirement funds to divest from fossil fuels. Earth is speaking through city councils declaring climate emergencies, churches switching to solar and wind, businesses cleaning up their act, and much more.
If we hope nature will correct itself … we need to wake up to our role in the rebalancing. My neighbor and I can be part of these changes. So can you.
Rivera Sun, syndicated by PeaceVoice, has written numerous books, including The Dandelion Insurrection and the award-winning Ari Ara Series.She is the editor of Nonviolence News and the Program Coordinator for Campaign Nonviolence and a nationwide trainer in strategy for nonviolent campaigns.
March 20, 2023
(Note: This tale is part of the fictional Stories of the Third Brother, an ancient book of folktales about Alaren in Ari Ara’s world. Each folktale teaches a lesson in waging peace using true stories as a spark of inspiration for the tales of courageous nonviolent action. You can find the stories in The Adventures of Alaren here>> )
How could he remind the king of the true cost of war?
Alaren strode down the street, angry and worried. His brother, King Marin, was visiting this mid-sized city in the eastern foothills and he had come to stop his headstrong sibling from starting another war.
“Have you already forgotten the sons and daughters killed in your last war?!” he had just shouted at his brother, moments before he stormed out the door.
Alaren winced. He rarely lost his temper – it didn’t seem to do much good when he did – but Marin was planning to make war on their brother Shirar again. He was preparing to attack this summer over nothing more than the insults Shirar had sent in his last letter.
“He’s been calling you an idiot since he was six,” Alaren had pointed out as Marin had swept everything off the table in a fit of rage.
“Yes, well, I pounded him then and I’ll do it again!” Marin swore.
“If you want to get into a fistfight with your brother, that’s one thing – a terrible thing – but don’t go dragging other people into a war,” Alaren begged.
But that was exactly what Marin raged about doing . . . again. Alaren rubbed his face with his palm and felt the dampness of tears. Just yesterday, he had comforted a friend of his, a widow who had lost her husband and son in the last war, as she wept over a pair of her son’s baby shoes.
Marin should see that mother’s tears, Alaren thought grimly. Marin should see the rows of shoes by the door that the widows dusted in their housekeeping rounds, unable to get rid of the hope that, one day, their loved ones would return and fill those shoes.
Alaren skidded to a halt in the street.
Those shoes, he thought, are precisely what Marin should see.
He turned around, crossed the city, and knocked on the door of his widowed friend.
“I need to borrow your shoes,” he said gently.
Two days later, the river mist lifted upon a strange sight . . . the street outside Marin’s lodgings was filled with shoes, large and small, women’s, men’s, children’s, dancing heels and sturdy work boots: shoes whose occupants would never again dance, stride, pace, or climb in them.
When Marin came to the gate, he saw thousands of empty shoes paired and pointing at him like an army of ghosts. Behind them, lining the edges of the street, stood the mothers, fathers, sisters, wives, and others who had brought their loved ones’ shoes. Young widows held their fatherless babes. Masters of trades carried the tools of lost apprentices in their hands, reminders of the long-term costs of war. Old people tottered up, clutching each other’s arms; their wrinkled faces begged to know who would care for them in their old age.
“We don’t want war,” Alaren said, staring at his brother until Marin dropped his eyes, ashamed. “Promise them. Look into the eyes of your people and promise them that you will not sacrifice their loved ones to your quarrel with Shirar.”
By Alaren’s reckoning, thousands of lives were saved by preventing that needless war. The people picked up their loved ones’ shoes and took them home. Tears were shed. Candles were lit on altars. Grief and mourning took the time they needed. But eventually, the turn of the year healed wounded hearts. New babies were given old booties. Growing youths stepped into old apprentices’ work boots. New lovers met with tapping shoes and dancing heels. No one could ever replace the lost ones, but together, people eased their sorrows and carried life forward step by step.
~ The End ~
Behind the Story – Real Life Inspiration
The fictional story of Alaren and the Shoes is based on several stories of creative action to stop war and violence that have used shoes as a silent protest. A demonstration in Washington, DC, against gun violence and mass shootings brought 7,000 pairs of children’s shoes to lay upon the grass outside the Capitol Building to memorialize every child killed by gun violence since the Sandy Hook Massacre in 2012.
On the banks of the Danube River in Budapest, Hungary, a statue of shoes serves as an eternal reminder of the massacre of Hungarian Jews during WWII. The people were told to remove their shoes as they stood in a line on the riverbank. Then they were shot, their bodies falling into the river.
Other demonstrations have used a variety of personal objects to represent lives lost. An effort organized by Voices for Creative Nonviolence called “34 Backpacks” commemorates the deaths of Yemeni children killed in an attack on August 9th, 2018. Peace activists place the backpacks in public spaces or on the steps of government buildings in a haunting reminder of the price of war.
These kinds of protests are powerful and evocative. They have been used over and over again to make a strong point.
(Note: This tale is part of the fictional Stories of the Third Brother, an ancient book of folktales about Alaren in Ari Ara’s world. Each folktale teaches a lesson in waging peace using true stories as a spark of inspiration for the tales of courageous nonviolent action. You can find the stories in The Adventures of Alaren here>> )
March 15, 2023
“Aren’t we supposed to sing beyond the choir?”
This question recently came up during a training, the person’s eyebrows drawing down into a perplexed expression. On the screen, a diagram of the Spectrum of Allies – a classic activism tool that helps us refine our strategy to sway people toward our cause – had the segments on mobilizing passive allies highlighted. I’d just told them to remember to sing to the choir from time to time, too.
Usually, singing beyond the choir is our greatest challenge as organizers. After all, making change is about shifting the actions of people who don’t already agree with us. To succeed, we have to rally the choir, get them singing at the top of our lungs, wake up the sleeping, startle the disinterested, and disrupt the toxic monologue of business-as-usual.
On the other hand, there are times when it’s your own choir needs to be sung to – and with. In my observation, many of our movements are in this situation. Tired, despairing, plagued by hopelessness, overwhelmed by cascading crises of everyday survival … people are trying to keep the lights on, the family fed, the debt collectors at bay, and their bodies simply alive.
Now is the time to sing to your choir. They need the solace, the comfort, the solidarity and sense that they’re not alone. The song changes, too. It’s less of a battle cry to make your opposition quake in their boots. It’s a healing balm and a comforting ritual that rekindles their love, passion, vision, and even hope. These songs are about reminding your choir that you see them. You understand what they’re going through. You empathize and can strategize in response to our humanness as we respond to the compounding crises we face.
In this context, it’s crucial to sing to the choir. You won’t be able to reach beyond them unless you do. To bend this metaphor even further, here are six other circumstances in which focusing on your choir is vitally important to the cause.
Sing to the choir …
When they’re silent. Even the truest believers can’t sing all the time without going hoarse. They need a break – and if they don’t get one, they burnout. The choir goes silent for many reasons. They think the song is over (even when it’s not). They assume someone else is singing. The solo went on so long they didn’t realize it was their time to sing (have fun parsing that metaphor for your organization’s soloists). One by one, they fall off until the last person’s ragged voice falters out. When any of these happen, someone needs to start the tempo up again, give them the one-two, one-two-three-four count, and get them singing again.
When they’re busy looking at their phones. Seriously. It happens. The world is very distracting and the forces of destruction use bread-and-circus tactics to keep our folks scrolling idiotic nonsense and terrifying news soundbites instead of working for change. Tell your choir that you get it, it happens to you as well, and invite them consider silencing the notifications. Pick a song they love and get them singing again. (Hint: uplifting and inspiring songs help, rather than we’re doomed unless we do something.)
When they’re off-key or out of tempo. Every movement gets off-key from time to time. Our voices are loud, but discordant, and the choir’s chaos is backfiring on our movement. Even when people hear us, they don’t like the sound and decide they don’t like the cause. When this happens, it’s time to sing to (and I recommend with) your choir until you find the rhythm and key that gets you all singing together again.
When they forget the lyrics. Back when I was literally in the choir (and a marching band, if you must know), I was that kid in the soprano section moving my lips without any sound coming out. Usually, that was because I didn’t know the words. I knew the melody, since it repeated over and over, but whenever lyrics eluded me, I just stopped singing. In our changemaking efforts, this can look like people who are unsure what to say to their relatives who disagree, or hesitate to write letters to the editor because they don’t know the facts on the issue, or won’t speak up because they’re under-practiced in articulating the key points of the cause. Just raising your voice at them isn’t going to do the trick. They need to train. Host some role-playing sessions, form a press and media training team, make space for them to try out their lines and get them right. Which brings us to the next point.
When they need practice. All choirs need to practice. Where and when do the people who support your issue have time and space to do that? How do they get trained? What resources are available at midnight when a working-class supporter wakes up in the night and can’t get back to sleep? How can you make reminders of these resources accessible to your folks who are riding the subway to work or class or health appointments? How can your true believers see each other’s faces (even virtually) and practice lifting their voices together?
When they’ve gone lackluster. It’s hard to sing the same song over and over again. The passion can go out of us. And once a critical mass of the choir starts mumbling or singing in quiet half-voices, the rest of the choir “sings small”, too. Or one person blares louder and louder, trying to pull everybody else along through brute volume. (Which rarely works.) You’ve got to get in there and sing with them. Go over to your tenors and harmonize. Stand with your sopranos and get them clapping. Wink at those altos and make a funny face. Cheer the base section on until their voices rumble the foundations of the building. Passion isn’t an autopilot function. It takes tending, nurturing, and encouragement.
When they think no one’s listening. It’s a Catch-22. If you want to sing beyond the choir, you need to get your choir singing in the first place. Remember, it’s tied together, too. Choirs are often motivated to sing because they know there’s an audience listening. Conversely, audiences appreciated motivated, passionate, and skillful choirs. They spread the word. They tell more people to tune in. If your choir is caught in the death spiral of dwindling audiences, check on both parts of this equation. Neither can be neglected.
You can keep working this metaphor. There are many more sing-to-the-choir situations out there. Be thoughtful about this aspect of organizing for change. Not only will it make your movement stronger, it can also be a source of inner resilience, inspiration, solidarity and connection. There’s a reason why singing together is more than a metaphor in movements for change. It’s powerful. Tap into it with love.
The post 6 Reasons Why Movements Sing To The Choir – Not Just Beyond It appeared first on Rivera Sun.
January 23, 2023
Nonviolent action is an art, a science and a toolbox for making change. With over 300 methods of waging struggle — from street art to strikes, boycotts to blockades — and millions of people engaging with it, nonviolent action is innovative, unexpected and sometimes laugh-out-loud surprising.
If nonviolent struggle has a bread-and-butter item, it’s protests. They’re everywhere. They can be so routine, in fact, that the news media often yawns and ignores them. But instead of “yet another boring protest,” people can infuse their ideas with a little creativity — and come up with something unforgettable — and impossible to ignore.
Here are some stories collected in Nonviolence News (many via Waging Nonviolence’s excellent reporting) throughout 2022. They reveal how protest can be a many-splendored thing, a tool that achieves a multitude of goals. Protests can startle people awake and make sure the injustice is noticed — such as when Anonymous wired Russia security systems to sound alarms whenever the air raid sirens went off in Ukraine. They can call upon people to take action (like the Indigenous-led light projection calling on people to boycott a racist hotel in South Dakota).
Protests can make a complaint memorable — like the strippers who dressed up as OSHA violations in objection to lack of workplace safety measures. They can stun the public with its determination, such as when a pregnant mother in India continued her sit-in protest for land rights even when she went into labor. (Her infant son was literally born into the struggle.)
Unexpected protests capture attention. Myanmar held a “silent strike” to oppose the coup, emptying the streets instead of filling them. New Zealanders sent in the clowns to tell the Transport Agency to stop clowning around on climate. Puerto Ricans protected their beaches by holding beach parties against privatization. A TikTok influencer and creator of the feminist hit song I Know Victoria’s Secret staged her viral music video as a flashmob outside of the lingerie store. Greenpeace held a boat tour protest announced as The Last Tour of Venice in protest of tourism’s greenwashing advertisements in a city that is threatened by rising sea levels.
Crashing the party of other people’s events can offer built-in platforms that small groups of people can leverage to gain a huge audience. For example, sports has a long history of protests — from the Black Power clenched fist raised on the Olympic podium in 1968 to Colin Kaepernick taking a knee to protest racist police brutality. Sports builds a stage and gathers an audience — one that activists can use. In Serbia, fans rolled out an immense set of banners featuring the number of U.S. military interventions since World War II and the message: “All we are saying is give peace a chance.” With phone lights shining, hundreds, if not thousands, of people participated in the action.
In the United Kingdom, climate activists charged multiple soccer fields to lockdown to goal posts. Their message? “You can’t play soccer on a dead planet.” They wanted to remind fans of the burning need to address the climate crisis immediately. A smaller, but similar incident occurred in the United States when a young woman dubbed “Glue Girl” stuck her body to the basketball court to draw attention to the team owner’s animal rights abuses at his factory chicken farms.
Protest can reclaim a narrative, subvert propaganda and reveal the truth. When New York City rolled out a “How To Survive A Nuclear Attack” PSA and tried to tell residents that “you got this,” peace activists quickly lampooned the slogan and flipped it to the truth that “no, you don’t got this.” Australians took their prime minister’s coal-praising speech and dubbed footage of their nation’s climate change disasters behind him. Another group went a step further and re-wrote Chevron’s advertisement to highlight the reality that oil companies are driving humanity toward extinction. Some protesters, fed up with the extreme absurdity of certain strands of misinformation launched an effort to “fight lunacy with lunacy” by bringing signs to protests that read, “Birds Aren’t Real.”
But when the nonsense gets too surreal, sometimes you have to give it an underscore that matches, which is what actor Hugh Grant pulled off he when got activists to play a cartoon-esque theme song behind conservative speeches outside the British parliament during Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s resignation. (British political satire is brilliant, as they say. Another activist gave Boris Johnson a commemorative plaque … on a sewer drain. A spokesman said “this conduit of effluent will become his lasting memorial.”)
Humor aside, protests are often used as an outlet for rage and frustration. (In California, one man was so fed up with his terrible dentist that he got his electric guitar and shredded it outside the office. He also held a sign that read: Western Dental Sucks. No doubt, it made potential customers think twice.)
Protests can also be used to send a message of support and solidarity. In multiple cities across the United States and Canada, prison abolitionists banged pots and pans, set off firecrackers, and blew car horns outside prisons to let incarcerated persons know they were not forgotten or alone.
While protest is known for outrage, its capacity for invoking other emotions shouldn’t be overlooked. Poignant demonstrations can be just as galvanizing as displays of rage. For example, after the tragedy of the Uvalde school shooting, parents played audio of their children outside the governor’s mansion. Another effort put school desks and memorials onto 52 yellow school buses — the miles-long rolling convoy has photos and personal belongings of many of the 4,368 children killed by gun violence in the past two years. Its title? The NRA Children’s Museum.
Other demonstrations that tapped into powerful expressions of grief, sorrow and mourning include: Cancer Alley activists holding a funeral march in Washington, D.C., Central American Mothers of the Disappeared holding a caravan for their missing migrant relatives, an #EveryChildMatters mural on a cross-continental railcar calling attention to abuses of First Nations children at residential boarding schools, and a parade of portraits of disappeared activists lifted up in Bangkok.
Even the most classic protests can benefit from a little out-of-the-box thinking. Wouldn’t your boss pay attention if you gift wrapped and delivered 900 understaffing incident reports under their office Christmas Tree? Or how about the Palestinian who used a drone to fly a Palestinian flag over the Israeli nationalists “Flag March”? The NBC news corporation spent 13 months dragging their feet on a pay equity proposal — so the workers held a 13-minute work stoppage to hurry them along. Tour de France bike riders halted mid-race to protest dangerous racing conditions. And when high cooking fuel prices hit India, citizens didn’t just chant slogans against high cooking fuel prices — they plunked their empty canisters down in the road and blocked traffic.
To be effective, we need to make our points in memorable, attention-grabbing, potent ways. Like artists studying other painters’ masterpieces, we can learn a lot from the creativity and inventiveness of our fellow activists worldwide. These fantastic examples from around the world can spark our imagination — and make our protests even more powerful.
The post Pigs In Parliament, Beach Parties & Sewer Drains: 32 Protests To Inspire Creativity appeared first on Rivera Sun.
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