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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.

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Entries tagged "activism"

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Enough is Enough

February 13, 2013 ·

I've had enough.

Enough of rape being subject to terms like "legitimate."

Enough of hearing that my peers just "raped" their final exams.

Enough of being labeled too-politically-correct when I challenge the oversimplification and distortion of a word that is a dark reality for one in six American women.

Enough of having to explain that rape is not just a Law & Order: SVU scenario where a woman is held at gunpoint in a back alley.

And enough of hearing the stories of women I know that are survivors of back-alley rapes.

Enough of the GOP's attempts to prevent the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which, among other things, adds further protections for Native American women. Although this measure passed in the Senate on Tuesday, VAWA will face a tougher battle in the House.

ginnerobot/FlickrOne of the bill's main adversaries is Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA). He was among the 22 Republican Senators who voted against the measure. Grassley says it would threaten the "constitutional rights of defendants who would be tried in these tribal courts." What about the constitutional rights of Native American women who are 2.5 times more likely to be raped than any other demographic group in the United States?

And, more than anything, I've had enough of the horrific cases of violent sexual assault that continue to threaten the lives of women all around the world.

Last week in Acapulco, a group of armed, masked gunmen raped six Spanish women on vacation in Mexico.

In December, a 23-year-old woman was gang raped on a moving bus in Delhi in an attack so brutal that she later died.

According to national statistics, two women are sexually assaulted in India every hour. And these are just the reported crimes. A number of roadblocks stand in the way of justice: unrecorded medical evidence following cases of sexual assault, police that disregard rape complaints, and the vile suggestion that women marry their rapists in order to preserve their "honor."

And stories are still surfacing about the rampant sexual attacks that took place in Tahrir Square during the early days of Egypt's revolution and are continuing to take place at protests in Cairo.

On January 25, "the square witnessed nineteen cases of assault, including six in which women sustained knife wounds requiring medical care," writes Heba Saleh, the Cairo correspondent for the Financial Times. While Egyptian feminist groups and allies are seeking to raise awareness and secure protective measures, public figures are reinforcing the problem. Salafi preacher Ahmad Mahmoud Abdullah said last week that female activists show up to protests because they want to be raped.

These atrocities have gained enough media attention to stir our global consciousness from slumber. But they also speak to an epidemic of violence that runs much deeper.

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day. It's also V-Day, a day of global mobilization to end violence against women and girls everywhere.

There will be strikes, rallies, protests, and flash mobs tomorrow in cities all around the world. I ask that you join me in standing up to demand an end to this brutality.

This isn't just a cause for women. Nor can it afford to be. This cause must lead to action not only by women, but by men. Not only by survivors of sexual assault, but by allies. Not only by the young, but by the old. Not only by college students, or feminists, or members of Congress, or religious leaders, but everyone. Neither the problem of violence against women — nor its potential solutions — will be apparent until we take collective action.

I've had enough. If you've also had enough, it's time to let the world know.

Alana Baum is an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, and an OtherWords intern at the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords.org

Now, Will Obama Break His Climate Silence?

November 8, 2012 ·

Like most U.S. climate activists, I breathed a sigh of relief as the election returns rolled in.

Climate scienceYou didn't have to be paranoid to fear that Mitt Romney just wasn't taking seriously the potential devastation in store for us if we don't change course. The Republican hopeful even tried to score political points by poking fun at President Barack Obama for taking climate change seriously.

And in his acceptance speech, Obama laid out a vision of a nation "that isn't threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet."

Still, it would be naïve to assume that Obama's victory is a win for the environment or the communities most impacted by climate change.

After all, Obama has yet to break the deafening silence that lasted throughout his long reelection campaign. By failing to even utter the term "climate change," he's signaling that he still considers climate deniers a powerful political force. And it makes me nervous when I hear Obama talk about "freeing ourselves from foreign oil" as he did in his acceptance speech.

In the past four years his "all of the above" approach to energy independence has leaned too heavily on expanding drilling, pumping, blasting, piping and fracking for domestic consumption and export. Staying this course means more greenhouse gas pollution, more warming, and more storms like Sandy — or worse.

And his push to expand nuclear power under the guise of "low-carbon" energy is an expensive and toxic diversion from investment in clean renewable energy like wind and solar.

Freed of his campaign obligations and concerns, Obama is now free to be bold. We must hold him accountable for living up to his visionary rhetoric and call him out on the shortsightedness of his energy policy. He said so himself.

"The role of citizens in our democracy does not end with your vote," Obama said in his acceptance speech."America's never been about what can be done for us. It's about what can be done by us together."

We can't sit back and wait for Obama to lead on climate or anything else. We can't abdicate the political space to Beltway lobbyists — even the ones with green credentials — to negotiate solutions to this most urgent threat. We need to organize and take action.

Here are some inspiring grassroots examples of people who aren't waiting for our leaders to take action. They're already building alternatives to our fossil-fueled economy while making their communities more resilient to climate disruption.


Janet Redman is the co-director of the Sustainable Energy & Economy Network at the Institute for Policy Studies. www.ips-dc.org
Paul Wellstone, We Miss You

October 25, 2012 ·

Ten years ago today, the two of us were an hour into the first big coalition meeting to oppose the impending U.S. war against Iraq, surrounded by dozens of leaders of a wide array of movements: peace, civil rights, women's rights, environmentalists, labor, social justice, and many others. Then, we noticed some people walking to the back of the room and returning with tears streaking down their faces.

Pinback button created in memory of U.S. senator Paul Wellstone, killed in a plane crash on October 25, 2002. Photo by Minnesota Historical Society. Someone interrupted the meeting with the tragic news. One of the great progressive leaders of our time, Senator Paul Wellstone, had just died in a plane crash campaigning in his home state of Minnesota. The room, just seconds before buzzing with ideas, fell silent. In shock, we took a few minutes to get into small groups and remember Paul, the people's Senator, the anti-war Senator.

We knew that Paul would have wanted us to get back to work quickly in this historic task, so after 15 minutes, we went back to creating what would become the broad, overarching coalition to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: United for Peace and Justice. UFPJ quickly grew to over 1,000 organizations, and we always thought of Paul as we walked into its meetings.

As we think back to that day, we are flooded with Paul memories. Paul proved that progressives without much money could win statewide elections. He visited every corner of Minnesota in a Volkswagen bus during his successful Senate campaigns. He was a stalwart internationalist and he had a poster of our IPS colleague Orlando Letelier, who was assassinated by the Chilean dictatorship, on the wall of his office.

Paul cared deeply about poverty. When he was contemplating a presidential bid in the late 1990s, he retraced the route of Bobby Kennedy's southern tour to highlight poverty and racism in this country. When IPS co-hosted Paul's report back from that tour at Howard University, he spoke with great passion about the human face of poverty and inequality in this nation. In the end, powerful back pain from his days as a wrestler precluded him from running for president in 2000.

Today, Paul would be protesting against the inhumanity and illegality of drone strikes. He would be demanding the end of the U.S. war in Afghanistan now, and he'd be explaining to people the wisdom of making major cuts to the U.S. military budget. He would be leading the charge for inequality-busting measures like the Robin Hood tax. He would be joining the protests against unjust budget-cutting deals by his colleagues. And, he would be standing with people fighting expulsion from their homes by predator banks.

Our great challenge today is to shift this nation's course from our current casino and militarized Wall Street economy to a democratic, peaceful, and green Main Street economy. Paul would be leading the charge.

The Inequality Report Card Action Map

October 4, 2012 ·

I've long thought that it would be handy to have a tool that makes it easy to contact our members of Congress though social media networks, rather than email or phone calls.

We've seen the Stop Beck Twitter campaign successfully make advertising on Glenn Beck's TV show toxic to corporate brands. But what about harnessing that kind of power to highlight what's wrong with so many members of Congress?

When I heard that my colleagues at the Institute for Policy Studies were putting together an Inequality Report Card, grading congress members on how well they do on the issue of economic inequality, I jumped at the chance to turn such a tool into reality.

Inequality Report Card Action Map

The action map I created lets you not only see your own lawmaker's grade, it invites you to take action. Clicking on a congressional district will pop up a bubble that includes the member's Twitter account, Facebook account, online feedback from, and phone number. It has never been easier contact your representative online and make your voice heard. 

Let me know what you think. And, of course, take action.

Brian Cruikshank is the Institute for Policy Studies' web developer.

How Small Groups Can Power Big Change

May 17, 2012 ·

As a general rule, as communities grow, they lose social cohesion. There is a tricky tension between growing a group and a maintaining sense of personal belonging for members.

Like other voluntary associations, social movements struggle with this. But we can learn important lessons from the places that have figured it out—even from unlikely places like Saddleback “megachurch” in Orange County, CA.

Over 20,000 people attend Sunday worship at Saddleback, and yet members experience a strong, deep sense of belonging. That’s because Pastor Rick Warren has created “a church out of a network of lots of little church cells—exclusive, tightly knit groups of six or seven who meet in one another’s homes during the week to worship and pray.”

In other words, the secret is small groups.

Progressive social movements don’t often take inspiration from conservative megachurches. But the lessons about organizational structure may be worth a second look. (Hat tip to Dave Pollard for pointing this out.)

Say a new activist works up the courage to attend a forum or rally. She may find herself part of a large, anonymous crowd. Of course, it is essential to provide such open spaces for people to join the movement, and it’s essential that we make them welcoming and inviting (like a Sunday worship service). But people don’t stay deeply involved with a movement for long if they don’t make connections with others.

So we should ask: within our movements, are there opportunities to join a small, closely knit group? The group that will become your glue to the overall movement? That is structured not just for work, but for support and community?

Historically, this small group has been called the “affinity group.” The term can be traced back to the Spanish Revolution of the 19th century. In congregations, it’s called “small group ministry.” In the women’s movement in the 70s, small groups were called “consciousness raising groups.” Call it what you want, but the basic concept is the same: you’re human, so you need support and connection. You won’t really stick with a church or a movement that fails to provide these things.

Affinity Groups in Social Movements

Not all affinity groups are meant to last for the long haul. Some form to prepare for a single direct action and disband afterwards. But this structure is worth noting too: how much easier would it be for new activists to take part in direct action if they were supported by 5 or 10 others who were looking out for them?

Certain direct actions have required participants to be part of an affinity group. “To sign the ‘Pledge of Resistance’ against US invasion of Nicaragua in 1983, you had to join an affinity group,” recalls organizer Dakota Butterfield. “Signing the Pledge meant either risking arrest or supporting those who were risking it. That’s not something that should be undertaken as an isolated person.”

Some of the affinity groups whose members signed the Pledge of Resistance had formed in other movements: feminist, LGBT, religious, or anti-war. Some were from the anti-nuclear Clamshell Alliance, another movement that very successfully leveraged the involvement of affinity groups. This points to an important historical difference between now and the early 80s, when affinity groups were part of many movements. These groups could easily shift to new issues as the times changed.

Affinity groups do continue to meet today. Morrigan Phillips is part of one in Boston that is focused on preventing cuts to public transportation. “We’re a little group of seven people who can respond to calls for action,” she says. “When there’s a rally or protest, we get together to make signs. We go to the rally together. It’s way more fun than going alone.”

Morrigan was also part of affinity groups during the big anti-globalization actions of the 2000s in Washington, DC. “I was part of one that met for years,” she says. “The anti-World Bank actions were deliberately based on the idea that activists should be in affinity groups. There was a structure of coordinated groups, rather than individuals.”

Creating a Participatory Structure

In some cases, affinity groups are the basis of the decision-making structure for a campaign or movement as a whole. For example, during the Pledge of Resistance, each group sent a “spokes” (spokesperson) to council meetings. These meetings used consensus to make decisions for the whole.

“Part of our work was educating people on the consensus process,” explains Dakota. “Consensus doesn’t mean unanimity. People had to understand that to ‘block’ something, you must be truly unable to let the group adopt the decision because of a deep, principled objection.”

Affinity groups themselves often operate using consensus. “That’s where the learning really happens,” says Dakota. “The close relationships in the small group encourage personal reflection. You have to really wonder, ‘Why am I blocking this?’ And you discover motivations and concerns you may not have known you had.”

Importantly, a spokescouncil structure based on small groups embodies the participatory kind of society we’re fighting for in the first place. As War Resisters’ International puts it, “affinity groups and spokescouncils challenge top-down, power-over decision-making and organising and empower those involved to take direct action.”

The Organizing Challenge

As a nation, we seem to be constantly better at keeping each other at a distance. That means we aren’t so good at the skills required to live in community and use consensus: real listening, compromise, self-awareness, personal reflection. “We don’t have a cultural norm of spending the time with each other,” says Dakota. “We participate in things, even in social movements, as individuals rather than in connection with others.”

“The close relationships in the small group encourage personal reflection. You have to really wonder, ‘Why am I blocking this?’”

In this context, it’s radical simply to try and make connections with each other—to get closer rather than farther apart. Because moving in this direction is radical, it can be hard.

But we ignore the small group dimension of organizing at great peril. If we somehow won all of our political goals, but still couldn’t figure out how to live in community, what have we really accomplished?

Our communities will continue to be challenged by the unfolding times; by the housing crisis, cuts to services like public transportation, job market instability. As we rebuild our community and consensus-making muscles, we’re better equipped to deal with all of this as it hits our own backyards. For all these reasons and more, it’s time to form an affinity group.

For information about forming affinity groups use these free resources: What is an Affinity Group?5 Tips for Forming an Affinity GroupA Guide to your Affinity Group’s First Meeting

This article originally appeared in YES! Magazine on May 16, 2012

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