Open Letter From Seattle Progressives

I’ve been thinking about the Black Lives Matter action last weekend and the horrifying response by many progressives in attendance.   It was angry, intolerant, ugly, and – yes – racist.

Bernie Sanders responded with irritation.  But the largely white crowd was far uglier in their hostility to the black activists who took the stage.

We (white) Seattle progressive need a “do over” to assert the true progressive values of our city.

Sign the open letter here:


These values are:

  1. Black lives matter.
  2. There is no place for racism in the progressive movement.
  3. Progressive candidates must earn that title by putting forward concrete proposals on how they will support the liberation of black and brown people if elected.
  4. Black and brown people have the right to demand this of candidates.

To this end I have started an open letter from Seattle progressives to our fellow citizens, affirming the above.  Please sign and then share.  You can find the letter here:

Sign the open letter here:

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image: screenshot of event video from Soaring Moments


What Kind of Revolution are Progressives Making?

1920: A Challenge to The Left

If you do not condemn colonialism, if you do not side with the colonial people, what kind of revolution are you making?

– Nguyá»…n Tất Thành (1920)*

One objective brought Nguyễn Tất Thành to the Congress of Tour in 1920.  He wanted French support for Vietnamese independence.  Socialism was the most left-leaning political faction in France at the time.  Though Vietnam was a French colony, Nguyễn thought he has a good chance of gaining Socialist support.

“If you do not condemn colonialism,” he intoned at the Congress, “what kind of revolution are you making?”  Yet the French Socialists were not persuaded.  They declined to take an anti-colonial stance and Nguyá»…n decided the join the newly-formed Communists, who would.   Twenty years later Nguyá»…n took a new name, Hồ Chí Minh, meaning “one who has been enlightened,” and became a revolutionary leader.

2015: History Repeating

This past Saturday two black women, Marissa Janae Johnson and Mara Jacqeline Willaford, interrupted a stump speech by Bernie Sanders in Seattle.  The resounding response was angry boo’s.  According to Johnson, some present suggested she be tazed and a water bottle was thrown at her while she was on stage.   The video of her speech has received a 90% thumbs-down rating.  The comments section is overwhelmed by unabashed racism and hate.

Yet the Seattle action was not a black failure, but a white one.  Bernier Sanders is not just the most progressive candidate in the 2016 race.  He is the most progressive mainstream candidate in recent memory.  Seattle is not just a progressive city.  It is a famously progressive city, which recently raised the minimum wage and led the fight behind Washington state’s legalization of gay marriage and marijuana.

As Sanders himself said before the protesters took the stage, “Thank you, Seattle, for being one of the most progressive cities in the United States of America.”  Yet while the black activists spoke, Sanders checked his watch.  Afterwards he expressed his official disappointment.  During their speech, the audience booed.  This is Sanders’ failure.  This is white America’s failure.  This is not the progressivism that I signed up for.

Black Lives Matter is Not Radical

The fundamental demand of Black Lives Matter is not a radical one.  Black people are asking not to be murdered.  They are asking not to be summarily executed in the street.  This is the barest foundation for a civilized society.

Yet in America, in 2015, this request is so far outside the mainstream of political discourse that the most left-leaning presidential candidate countenances the demand with irritation.  In America, in 2015, the citizens of one of the most progressive cities in the country, respond to the demand with unfiltered hostility.

Yes, I support Sanders’ progressive agenda: a social safety net, the end of corporate influence in politics, environmental protection, rights for women and queer people.  But who are these benefits for?  If this is not also a progressivism that stands fiercely and unequivocally with oppressed people in our own country, it is not my progressivism.

If we do not condemn racism, if we do not side with black people, what kind of revolution are we progressives making?

No Revolution At All

That is not a rhetorical question.  The answer is that if American progressivism is not also anti-racist, then it is racist.  If it is not dismantling white supremacy, is it maintaining it.  It would be a racially narrow, cowardly, and small-minded revolution.  In short, it would be no revolution at all.

Progressivism needs to be for all Americans.  If it is not, then it does not deserve the name.  Like Nguyễn Tất Thành found almost one hundred years ago and an ocean away, the farthest left of the political mainstream isn’t going nearly far enough.

image: Elaine Thompson/AP

Online and Offline in Ferguson

The screenshot below is a rich commentary on digital activism.

It shows medias blending. A paper sign in Ferguson, depicting a Twitter hashtag, is digitally photographed, posted to Twitter, then posted to Tumblr where additional commentary is made.

It also shows how the barrier between online and offline activism is blurring as digital artifacts of offline tactics become easier to create and share across digital platforms.

The comment below the image is also a reminder that, just like any other kind of activism, digital activism is only necessary when conventional methods of addressing injustice fail. “[I]nternet campaigns calling for justice” are only necessary for those whom the existing system does not serve.

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By Any Means Necessary: The Information War in #Ferguson

The current unrest in Ferguson, MO, precipitated by the hot-blooded murder of an innocent black boy by a police officer, is a story whose details have been deliberately hidden, manipulated, and intentionally ignored.  For this reason it is a difficult story to tell with confidence.

The key witness to the shooting was interviewed by Chris Hayes in MSNBC before he was interviewed by the police.  Television and print media presented the protests as riots and the victim as a criminal, leading the the #IfTheyGunnedMeDown hashtag, where images are integral.

Protests that are both peaceful and that involve property damage have been met with a military response.  Activists in Gaza are sharing tips on Twitter about how to mitigate the physical effects of a tear gas attack.  Tumblr is being used to share information about an individual’s rights if he or she is stopped by police or told to stop filming.

Professional media have been arrested, intentionally tear-gassed, and told to leave the area.

Platforms like Vine, Twitter, and Tumblr are being used to share images and video from the scene.  A former teacher of the murder victim went on Facebook to share her personal knowledge of the victim.  Platforms are also being used to amplify one another. Tumblr in particular is playing this role. Yet citizen journalists have also been shot and arrested.

tumblr_naa44bwlwu1s6qwzfo1_500Anonymous, a loose online network of nameless activists and pranksters, have come to the fore, much as they did in Syria and in the Rehtaeh Parsons rape case.  Their method has become to independently uncover information being withheld by authorities via hacking and then to announce the imminent or possible release of that information in order to pressure authorities to release the information themselves or to stop an undesirable activity.

When the protests in Ferguson first started, members of Anonymous, who share information via a series of Twitter accounts, promised to release the personal information of police officers if violence against civilians occurred.  Now they have released the name of the police officer who killed Michael Brown, information which has not yet be corroborated.

Another individual, working independently even from Anonymous, located a possible photo of the man.  In posting the uncorroborated photo he writes:

It brings be great pleasure to photo I.D. the “man” believed to be responsible for the death of Mike Brown.  Thanks to Anonymous for revealing his name, I went and did a little digging of my own. Take a look. I could be wrong so God help whoever it is I’m wrong but then again if they can be trigger happy, so can I.

Another individual shared the public contact information of the Ferguson Police Department leadership, encouraging calls and emails.

This is the information situation in Ferguson.   Even as authorities on the ground try to intimate, banish, and silence those who would share information, citizens both on the ground and online are collecting and sharing information “by any means necessary.”

This is an undesirable information ecology, fraught with misinformation and missing information.  In the absence of freedom of information, however, it is the only option.

Mention in Foreign Affairs Magazine

I was completely delighted (and utterly surprised) to see my name in print in the current issue of Foreign Affairs magazine.  Erica Chenoweth of the University of Denver and Maria Stephan of the United States Institute of Peace were kind enough to mention me and my collaborator Patrick Meier in their article on when and how  nonviolent civil resistance works.

Specifically, they highlighted Civil Resistance 2.0, a project that Patrick and I have undertaken to update Gene Sharp’s canonical list of nonviolent methods in order to incorporate innovations afforded by digital technology.

Read the full article here.

Taking a break…

It’s been a long couple of years and I need some time for reflection.  From June 22nd-July 22nd I’ll be walking the Camino de Santiago, a (non-religious, in my case) pilgrimage trail across northern Spain.  During that time I’ll be offline.  See you on the flip side…

image: Isaac Alvarez Brugada

Advocacy Gardening: Help Your Campaign Grow (Deck)

This deck, which I will present for the Open Society Foundations in Dubrovnik next month, lays out a process for workshopping multiple campaign projects in a diverse group that includes grantee campaigners, grantee non-campaigners, funders, and consultants.

Video Advocacy Tips (Deck)

These slides, which I will present on behalf of the Open Society Foundations next month in Dubrovnik, describe what video can do for your campaign, how to get people to watch your video using “social proofing”, and how to measure the effect of your video on your audience through the interpretation YouTube metrics.

Creating a Basic Function in Python

Continued adventures in learning Python (started here):

A function gives you a return value based on an argument that you input.  The function len will give you a return value of the number of elements in an object.  The argument you provide is the name of the object.  In this example the object is called “names.”

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You create a function by using the syntax def (define).  This function is called “Mary” (it could be called anything).  The function doubles the argument.

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Elliott Rodger‘s hatred of the women who rejected him inspired his rampage near UC Santa Barbara last week.

Yet out of this violent and hateful act has emerged a new public discussion of feminism and the deadly results of beliefs that women’s purpose is to serve men.

His attack has led to the creation of the new hashtag #YesAllWomen, which has been trending for a few days now.  While not all men harm women, #YesAllWomen have been harmed by a man, either physically or emotionally.

More of the best tweets on this hashtag: 

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