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We summarize last week’s activities; share next week’s upcoming events; and comment on published emails showing how fossil fuel corporations helped craft legal documents for then Oklahoma Attorney General (and now EPA head) Scott Pruitt; the updated cumulative wealth of Trump administration cabinet members and advisors; poverty in Ohio and the state budget; and a strategic call to use our activist energies resist, rethink AND recreate. [Length: 37:29]
Muslim organizations note that the climate of profiling and suspicion is worse now than it was after 9/11 and that incidents of intimidation, bullying and violence have spiked in recent months. AFSC's Communities Against Islamophobia project aims to develop new allies to those affected by anti-Muslimism in the Trump era.
Socialism 2017: Build the Left, Fight the Right A four-day conference of socialist politics, debate, and entertainment July 6–9, 2017 • Hyatt Regency McCormick Place • Chicago Socialism 2017 is a four-day conference bringing together hundreds of socialists and radical activists from around the country to take part in discussions about Marxism, working-class history, and the debates and strategies for organizing today. Every year, the Socialism conferences aims to be a place where activists can share lessons from their struggles—from the boycott, divestment and sanction campaign for Palestine to the fight for LGBT liberation, from the Fight for 15 to the struggle to stop the destruction of the planet, the fight against racism, and more. With well over 100 meetings, the weekend will feature left-wing authors and thinkers discussing the debates on the left today, as well as meetings on the hidden history of working-class and socialist struggles. So join us in Chicago July 6–9, 2017!
Register today: https://www.socialismconference.org/register/
Legislatures around the country are beginning to acknowledge the threat to our privacy presented by companies collecting and using our biometric information—the physical and behavioral characteristics that make us unique. Following on a biometric privacy law passed in Illinois in 2008, lawmakers in Montana are aiming to make Big Sky Country the latest state to enact protections for our faces, fingerprints, irises, and other biometric markers.
EFF formally supports Montana’s House Bill 518, which would limit how our biometric information is collected, used, and shared. Under the legislation, private entities, including corporations, would need written consent to capture or share a person’s biometric information. They would also have to securely store it, and destroy it when the purpose for collection is completed. People could bring a private cause of action in court to enforce these critical privacy rules.
The danger to our privacy is growing commensurately with the development of sophisticated biometric technology. More and more companies are using biometrics, such as requiring our fingerprints to access amusement parks, or scraping social media for our faces.
As individuals, it is hard to prevent capture of our biometrics. For example, we show our faces in public, and we shed our fingerprints. Unlike our passwords, we can’t change our biometrics, short of extreme medical procedures. After capture, it’s hard to know where our biometrics will go. It’s not just a matter of a company using our biometrics to invade our privacy, but also the threat of data breaches that may allow criminals to use our biometrics to break into our accounts and steal our identities.
EFF has worked to protect the Illinois biometric privacy law. Now we urge passage of this Montana bill.
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March 8 is International Women's Day, but this year, it will also be an international day of action in more than 30 countries. Organizers of the massive Women's March on Washington on January 21 are among the supporters of a call by prominent scholars and activists for a women's strike that will organize resistance "not just against Trump and his misogynist policies, but also against the conditions that produced Trump, namely the decades-long economic inequality, racial and sexual violence, and imperial wars abroad."
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, the author of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation and a member of the National Planning Committee for the International Women's Strike USA, talked to Socialist Worker about what March 8 could bring to the new resistance.
WHY THE call for a women's strike on March 8?
THERE ARE many reasons. The first and perhaps most important reason is that the election of Donald Trump as president has unearthed a tremendous outpouring among women in opposition to his regime and agenda.
This was most palpably demonstrated on January 21, when an unprecedented outpouring of protest overwhelmed cities across the country. Where thousands were expected to demonstrate, millions of men and women clogged the streets around the country to show the deep revulsion and opposition to Trump.
The outpouring was surprising, but the sentiment of opposition and resistance was not.
Trump has breathed new life into the old insult of "sexist pig." He has been accused of sexual assault by many women; he has bragged about sexually assaulting women; he has made violent and abusive comments about women's appearance, intelligence and more. More importantly, he is pursuing a political agenda that will make ordinary women's lives harder.
January 21 showed the potential for the re-emergence of a feminist movement, but March 8 is a call for a particular kind of feminist movement. If there is a critique of the J21 action, it is about the reluctance of its organizers to embrace politics, opposition and militancy. Instead, they did not want to pose the march as being against Trump and seemed to downplay politics.
So we see March 8 as not just a call to protest the Neanderthal in the White House, but to put radical politics at the center of the resistance.
For the last several years, "lean-in feminism"--which was kind of embodied in Hillary Clinton's campaign for president--has been elevated as a goal for all women. Those who espouse its politics have made shattering glass ceilings that impede their ascent into corporate boardrooms, electoral politics and other destinations in white and wealthy America as the real objective of feminism.
We see March 8 as a reclamation project in that sense--as an effort to reconnect with the militant and radical politics of socialist feminism and Black feminism of the 1960s and 1970s, which located the oppression of women in capitalism and the free market.
For years, International Women's Day has gone unnoticed or was depoliticized. Most people no longer even know that its roots lie in the struggle of women textile workers in the U.S.--or that a mobilization of women in Russia to oppose the First World War in 1917 was the spark for an uprising that led to the overthrow of Tsar and set off the Russian Revolution.
This March 8, we are hoping that women and those who support them will join together in political actions across this country to draw attention to the conditions of working-class women's lives and the struggle needed to transform those conditions.
DO YOU see the International Women's Strike as connected to the resistance to Trump that we've already seen?
THE RESISTANCE to Trump has many fronts right now.
There is the ongoing struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline in the High Plains; there is the emerging struggle for immigrant rights and to stop the deportations; there is anti-fascist organizing happening on campuses; there is the ongoing struggle against police abuse and violence; and there is now a developing feminist movement.
These struggles aren't wholly independent of each other. Black Lives Matter has largely been led by Black women, many of them queer-identified. Some of the most vocal leaders of the anti-pipeline struggle in North Dakota have been women.
In each of these struggles, the centrality of women in the leadership has helped to elevate the ways that environmental degradation and police terrorism have a disproportionate impact on women and the families they often lead.
But the demonstrations on J21 were one expression of the potential for a new feminist movement, in addition to the critically important protests in defense of Planned Parenthood on February 11. We hope that the March 8 strike can be a building block in the development of a radical, political opposition to Trump.
Our point of emphasis is that we don't need opposition for opposition's sake, but an opposition and resistance with radical politics, which won't just be steered into putting Democrats back into office in the 2018 midterm elections. The strike is about looking at the systemic roots to women's oppression in our society.
But we also have intentionally looked to connect women's oppression to many of the attacks launched by the Trump administration. What I mean is that a women's movement that does not take up a whole range of issues--racism, Islamaphobia, anti-immigrant racism and bigotry, low-wage exploitation, the relentless attacks on the remnants of the welfare state, the U.S. government's endless promulgation of war and occupation--is not really addressing the actual issues that impact working-class women and their families.
To this end, March 8 can contribute to an ongoing systemic critique of what is wrong with American society.
WHAT KIND of activities do you expect to see on March 8? What kinds of strikes will supporters be organizing?
MARCH 8 in the United States is part of an international call for a "women's strike" that now involves at least 30 countries. This call came in response to already existing women-led struggles across the world, including the women's mobilization in Poland to stop the ban on abortion and other mass protests in Ireland and South Korea for reproductive rights.
Some have been confused by the language of "strike" and whether or not it's appropriate to use this language to describe the action called for March 8. Some of this confusion or disagreement stems, I believe, from a narrow view of a "strike" as an action called by a trade union--and the belief that, given the weakened state of the U.S. labor movement, that a strike of this nature is unrealistic.
I think we would agree that a "general strike" of this sort would be inappropriate to call for--and an impossibility right now to achieve. But there is another history of a "women's strike" that is intended to call attention to the unpaid and often overlooked contributions of women's labor--what some refer to as "social reproduction."
In some ways, that's the point: Women's work--in the home especially, but in other ways that some work has been feminized--is devalued or differently valued. The removal of that labor draws attention to the important--and often unpaid, or at least undervalued and underpaid--role of women in the functioning of society.
This is especially true for Black women, Latinas and women from immigrant communities. Black women are paid 63 cents for every dollar made by a white man. Undocumented women working in agriculture and domestic work not only toil for low wages, but are under the constant threat of physical and sexual violence because of the absence of any workplace or civil protections on account of their immigration status.
These disparities manifest themselves in declining health, imprisonment, housing insecurity and a host of other destabilizing conditions.
The Women's Strike for Equality in 1970 was called by the National Organization for Women and was intended to celebrate women's suffrage, but also to draw attention to women's unpaid labor and demand women's equality, including "free abortion on demand". Thousands of women participated in the strike as an expression of the women's movement of the 1970s.
We, like many other people, were inspired by the outpouring on J21. In that sense, we have called for participation in the strike on relatively short notice. But we have been heartened by the outpouring of support and interest.
The strike has been endorsed by the organizers of the January 21 protests, and just as importantly, by the "bodega strikers" in New York City, who took action in opposition to Trump's illegal Muslim travel ban. These endorsements of March 8 build the kind of solidarity we think is crucial in organizing the anti-Trump resistance.
On our website, we list many ways that people can participate in March 8, including marches, speakouts, public forums and even wearing red where participation otherwise isn't possible.
But where possible, the point of the strike is for women to withdraw their labor, in all of its forms, for a day to highlight how critical "women's work" remains to the political economy of the United States.
WHAT DO you hope to see on March 8?
THE TURNOUT for March 8 will look different across the country.
I imagine there will be larger protests in places like New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., where there has been deeper mobilization and some ongoing organizing. But we expect that there will be actions of some sort across the country.
They will take different forms. I've heard that there will be a "women's assembly" in Geneva, New York, to discuss the material issues shaping women's lives. In Chicago, organizing has included input from the Chicago Teachers Union and other activists. In Los Angeles, there is an amazing grouping of Black feminist organizers who have been involved in the Women's Global Strike for several years.
To be honest, it's difficult to know how large March 8 will be or the range of activities that will take place. We know that on J21, there were few demands, and the bar was very low to be involved.
We intentionally put forward a political call that includes self-determination for Palestine, an unapologetic demand for access to abortion, and a demand for socialized childcare. This is intended to raise politics--radical politics--in the budding women's movement.
That will have an impact on the number of people who feel like they should participate. But it will be an attraction for those looking for deeper politics than just "opposition" or "resistance."
We also see this as the beginning and not the end. There will be a tremendous amount of work to do on March 9 and beyond. The main thing will be gearing up for the May 1 protests for immigrant rights all across the country. The face of deportation thus far has been mothers ripped from their families, but also men disappeared into detention, depriving families of desperately needed resources.
These are the kind of connections we hope can be highlighted on March 8. And in turn, we hope March 8 contributes to the growing movements in this country.
In January 2015, the Coalition of the Radical Left, or SYRIZA, was swept into office on a huge tide of votes in national elections. There was immense hope that the new government led by a party that had remained uncompromising in its opposition to austerity would finally stand up to the European Union and defend working class living standards ravaged by the economic crisis and the punishing Memorandums demanded by the lenders.
Yet by July of that year, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had capitulated, signing up to a new Memorandum. The attacks on workers, the poor and immigrants have continued unabated. In the aftermath of this surrender to the blackmail of the European Union, left-wing organizations and individuals left SYRIZA and founded a new formation Popular Unity.
In an interview first published at Australia's Red Flag, Antonis Davanellos, a member of the socialist organization Internationalist Workers' Left (DEA), talked to Liz Walsh about the balance sheet of the left's participation in SYRIZA, from its founding more than a decade before to Tsipras' capitulation and the split, as well as the challenges ahead for rebuilding struggles against austerity and racism, and reconstituting a radical left on a firmer foundation.
A Popular Unity contingent marches during the November 2015 general strike, with former minister Panagiotis Lafazanis at left (NPA)
GIVEN THAT SYRIZA proved unequal to the task of stopping austerity, was building a broad party involving different currents from the radical left, including revolutionary and reformist forces, worth it? Was the fight for a left government the correct path to take?
SYRIZA WAS founded in early 2004. Its foundation was based on the previous accumulated experience of the Greek Social Forum (GSF), which was a united front in the social movements. It united in action forces with different ideological traditions and backgrounds (as we would say: reformists, centrists and revolutionary Marxists).
It was a time of intense capitalist aggression, a time of crisis of the traditional left, a time of decline in the strength of the trade unions and social organizations. In this situation, the GSF managed to organize a wave of big mobilizations against neoliberalism and massive antiwar protests. The GSF was the main form that the international movement against neoliberal capitalist globalization took in Greece.
At the same time, the GSF was an affirmation of the value of the united front, provoking a refreshing debate in the Greek left, in which Stalinist traditions remained strong.
After the events in Genoa in 2001, a debate started in all the European left around the issue of if and how we could express in the political struggle the unity in action we had already established in the streets. It was clear that this included the prospect of a common intervention in the elections. In 2004, we accepted this challenge, taking part in the foundation of SYRIZA.
SYRIZA was the Greek form of the general international debate about "broad parties" of the radical left. While accepting the challenge and participating in SYRIZA, DEA held a view on broad parties that was different from the prevailing current of that time, as expressed for example by certain sections of the Fourth International.
First, we did not consider broad parties as the "final answer" to the question of the party. We understood them as a transitional process in very specific conditions, in the background of a crisis of the resistance movement and the left.
Second, for this reason, we never promised and we never accepted the dissolution of our organization. And we never downgraded our own independent "tools" of building and maintaining political relations with the people (newspaper, journal, meetings, public events).
Third, from the beginning we argued publicly for the need for an organized left wing current inside SYRIZA. DEA, despite enjoying the respect and the appreciation of a broad layer of SYRIZA members, never joined the leading majority--not even during the more "radical" phase of Alexis Tsipras.
This approach proved to be of extreme value at the time of the crisis. It--partly--explains the speed of the reaction of the left wing of SYRIZA in 2015, in comparison with what had happened, for example, in Brazil or Italy.
During these 11 years, the experience of SYRIZA contributed to the creation of a wide layer of political activists in Greece. This layer is stronger in quantity than in many other countries in Europe. This layer is also stronger in political quality: it is trained in political struggle and it has overcome the infantile disorder of dispersing forces in "social movementism."
This is the reason we--who confronted aggressively the politics of the SYRIZA government--defend the experience of SYRIZA's first period of radical action.
We believe that this layer of political activists has not said its final word. We believe that these people will lead the struggles against the Tsipras government and will play a very important role in the configuration of the new situation, in shaping the "post- SYRIZA" era.
The Tsipras government, after it signed the third Memorandum with the creditors, is implementing typical neoliberal policies. It is cutting wages, pensions and social benefits; it is pushing forward privatizations and creating a more "flexible" industrial relations system. With these reactionary economic policies, the Tsipras government is also unable to implement even the most elementary democratic reforms, which have no financial cost. It has to rely on the repressive apparatus of the state in order to rule.
The question of the "government of the left" was always a thorny issue for revolutionary Marxists. The first time it was proposed as a strategy inside SYRIZA, in 2008, we rejected it as a parliamentary-reformist strategy, and it was not accepted. Everything changed with the outbreak of the crisis and mostly with the massive struggles of 2010-11. Back then, the people were struggling with massive and tenacious action to overthrow the Memorandums, and they understood that in order to achieve that goal, they had to overthrow the government.
But despite the scale of the struggles and the persistence of the masses, there was not (or not yet) a revolutionary situation in Greece: the confrontation had not reached the level of "a struggle of life or death", the confrontation didn't have the clear shape of a "struggle of one class against the other", and the working class lacked its own independent social organizations that could claim actual power. These limitations "deflected" the will for overthrow towards claiming a government of the left, even through an electoral victory.
It was obligatory for us to accept this context and seek for the most radical political line within it. So we reintroduced in public debate the discussions about the government of the left that were had out in the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, which understood it as a transitional policy towards socialist emancipation.
We fought towards this direction and we developed all our tactical movements along this line. This allowed us to remain steady in our working class orientation and sustain the respect for our organization by both a broad layer of the rank and file of SYRIZA and by activists outside SYRIZA.
Today, our self-criticism on the slogan of a government of the left consists mainly of two points.
The first has to do with objective factors. It was proven that a transitional policy that includes a government of the left presupposes a higher level of direct political intervention of the masses through their own social organizations than the one we had in Greece in 2015.
The second has to do with subjective factors: the balance of power between reformists and revolutionaries in the party and in the social movement. The project of a "government of the left" presupposes a much bigger political determination for confrontation than was held by SYRIZA as a whole in 2015.
It is important to note that DEA never claimed in public that SYRIZA would actually manage to carry through the "government of the left" project in a successful, genuine way. For us, this slogan was rather an ideological framework for our actions--actions that included the confrontation with the leading group around Tsipras inside SYRIZA--than an estimate of what would finally happen.
In the midst of major events, ideas are always important, even if they "lie under the surface." At the time of the crucial test, the leading majority of SYRIZA brought its Eurocommunist background to the surface and turned to this set of ideas.
The Tsipras government capitulated so quickly because it refused to confront the local ruling class during the crucial first six months of 2015 and because it had the illusion that it was possible to achieve a consensual solution through negotiations with the EU, reversing the pre-existing position of SYRIZA and changing it to "remaining in the eurozone at all costs." The result of these two major retreats was the signing of the third Memorandum by Alexis Tsipras.
DURING THE first SYRIZA government, your organization played a central role in stiffening the resolve of the left within SYRIZA, such as the Left Current, to oppose the capitulation. Out of the mess of SYRIZA, a new political party, Popular Unity (LAE) was formed to keep alive the hope that there is an alternative to the path taken by SYRIZA.
What is the mood among the working class and what is LAE's orientation to both fostering resistance to austerity and building the forces of the left? And what is LAE's position on EU membership? While in SYRIZA, DEA's slogan was "No sacrifice for the euro, no illusions in the drachma." Has this now changed after the experience of SYRIZA?
IN 2013, DEA, together with the Left Current (the left-wing tendency of the party of Synaspismos), founded the Left Platform (LP) in SYRIZA. The LP was the center of resistance against Tsipras, and the center of the rapid and massive split in the summer of 2015, when around 50 percent of the members and cadre of the party followed us out of SYRIZA.
The LP co-founded Popular Unity (LAE by its Greek initials) with two organizations that left ANTARSYA. In the September 2015 elections, LAE failed to elect its own parliamentary group, gathering 2.9 percent of the vote instead of the 3 percent that is the threshold to enter the parliament. It was a failure that can be attributed to the extremely short time we had at our disposal (around 20 days to organize a "new party" and an electoral campaign), and mostly to the unanimous slanders by the mass media against the "left wing of SYRIZA," which called us "dangerous adventurers."
A few months later, around 5,000 organized activists participated in the founding conference of LAE. It is clear that LAE gathers the largest part of the organized anti-Memorandum left in Greece, outside the ranks of the Communist Party.
It is worth saying a few things about the evolution of the Communist Party. Its leadership appears to be implementing a left turn in the field of ideas (it is talking about socialism, it rejects the strategy of intermediate "stages," it is reviewing critically the history of the party, reopening the debate about its strategy during the resistance in 1940-44 and the ensuing civil war). But this is happening mostly in order to preclude any collaboration with other left wing forces, any kind of joint action even in the smallest things. So this looks more like the Stalinist policy of the Third Period than a return to genuine Marxist politics.
Inside LAE, DEA argues for a democratic organizational form, which would enable other forces to join ranks with it, including ANTARSYA and other forces that left SYRIZA. We are trying, yet again, to build a "common current of the anti-Memorandum radical left."
But we are trying this in a different political situation.
The rapidness of SYRIZA's capitulation (the swift turn from the "No" in the referendum to "Yes" a few days later) and the cynicism of governmental policy after that, have provoked demoralization in a wide part of the people. The collapse of confidence in SYRIZA has been rapid, but for now it is silent. It is not expressed with a rise in active participation in mobilizations, but with a turn to the individual struggle to survive in the midst of the crisis.
Even for the smallest mobilization to happen, a much bigger organized effort from the political forces of the left is needed. The contribution of LAE to this is obvious. Through our previous actions, we have inherited a common program of goals against austerity: defend wages and pensions, fight against flexibility, against privatizations, against foreclosures of houses of indebted poor people etc.
LAE also unanimously supports the nationalization-socialization of the banks and the suspension of debt repayments, with the goal of cancelling the debt. These are crucial "nodes" for a needed transitional program of reversing austerity towards socialism.
But new questions always emerge. You asked about our older slogan "No sacrifices for the euro--no illusions in the drachma." It was an "algebraic" slogan at the time of the rise of SYRIZA. When faced with the rigid position of the creditors and the EU leaders, who demanded many more sacrifices, we then had to radicalize the slogan and support openly and clearly an exit from the eurozone, as a necessary precondition to reverse austerity and cancel the Memorandums. LAE is also in unanimous agreement about this position.
But while exiting the eurozone is indeed a necessary precondition, this doesn't mean that it is enough for a left-wing, working-class program. We argue that an exit from the eurozone and a confrontation with the EU leaders would have emancipatory content only if combined with a wider program of anti-capitalist measures that lead to socialism. Other comrades inside LAE believe that an exit from the eurozone is an objectively progressive solution, as it paves the way for the Greek economy to begin growing, which would objectively create bigger potentialities for the workers and the popular classes.
In a way, this is a rehashing of the controversy between supporters of revolutionary socialist strategy and supporters of the "national independence" strategy, meaning the strategy of "intermediate stages," which occurred in the left in the 1960s and 1970s. Such a discussion is now under way inside LAE.
This debate becomes even more important in the wake of the Brexit vote, the rise of Le Pen in France and the referendum in Italy. Certain fractions of the ruling classes in Europe seem to be losing confidence in the eurozone and turning toward protectionism and policies of "national preference." This trend is obviously enhanced by the electoral victory of Donald Trump in the U.S.
In Greece, there is no serious fraction of the capitalist class that envisages better prospects outside the eurozone or argues for a return to the drachma. But this can change, because the crisis of Greek capitalism is extremely deep, because everyone knows that the third Memorandum leads to a dead end, and because many capitalists are afraid that at the end of the road of "internal devaluation" inside the eurozone lies, not some reward from the creditors, but bankruptcy and expulsion from the eurozone. The first voices, from deep inside the establishment, about the need to prepare for all these eventualities are already being raised in the press.
SYRIZA HAS also signed up to participate in the European Union's attempts to create a fortress Europe by rounding up refugees into camps and deporting many back to Turkey. Can you describe the situation for refugees inside Greece and particularly on the Islands? Across Europe, we've seen the rise of parties of the far right. Has Golden Dawn been able to capitalize on the disappointment with SYRIZA and the refugee crisis?
THE FATE of the refugees was determined by the reactionary, racist agreement between the EU, Turkey and Greece. It is worth noting that in order to "oversee" the implementation of the agreement, a battle fleet of NATO has established its presence in the Aegean Sea (mostly due to the insistence of the Tsipras government) and is also keeping an eye on the situation in Syria and on the Russian warships that are stationed in the eastern Mediterranean.
The agreement assigns Turkey responsibility for holding the majority of the refugees within its borders. It is also "caging" some refugees (more than 60,000) within Greece, making their efforts to reach Central Europe and ultimately Western Europe extremely difficult. In order to deter refugees from entering Greece, it organizes an abhorrent reception here: They are rounding them up in isolated camps, mostly in the islands, providing no hope or prospects.
During the harshest days of this winter, the situation in the camps became completely unbearable. There have been revolts against both the horrible conditions and against some racist attacks that were organized by the far right.
In a country that every summer welcomes 21 million tourists, the government claims that it's hard to offer decent hospitality to 60,000 people! The positive thing is that, despite all this, a large part of the Greek population shows determined solidarity.
Today, for the organized anti-racist movement, the main tasks are: First, to change the situation in the camps by imposing a democratic-social control of the conditions there, and to push for the transfer of the refugees to open, decent spaces of hospitality, inside the cities. Second, to demand that refugee children be accepted with full rights in public schools, and also that refugees have full access to health care in public hospitals. Third, to oppose Golden Dawn and the far right's efforts to organize a racist backlash.
Golden Dawn's leadership and many of its militants are on trial, accused of being members of a criminal organization. As a consequence, they have retreated carefully: their "storm troopers" were withdrawn from the streets, and there was a drastic decline in incidents of racist violence.
But the massive disillusionment in SYRIZA is providing new opportunities for Golden Dawn. It consistently comes third in the political polls, with an estimated 8 percent of the vote. The leadership is trying to exploit this opportunity with a parliamentary turn: they present a more "respectable" profile, they talk mostly as "nationalists" and not as neo-Nazis, trying to instill in supporters a belief that there is a prospect of a playing a role in a future government. But this turn also causes tensions within Golden Dawn.
At the same time, a wide range of other far right politicians are launching initiatives to establish a broad nationalist party, one that will be able to cooperate with New Democracy if the handling of the crisis in Greece requires a government of the "hard right".
Our task is not to sit back and make predictions about the evolution of the neo-Nazis and the far right. We must continue to mobilize to break Golden Dawn, an organization that is a serious threat to the workers' movement and the left. And the best way to do this is to connect the anti-fascist struggle with the struggle to reverse austerity and cancel the Memorandums.
First published at Red Flag.
The left should rely on its own capacity to mobilize opposition on a principled political basis if it hopes to beat back Trump's assault on Muslims, explains Brian Sullivan.
Philadelphians converge at the airport to resist the President's Muslim ban (Joe Piette | flickr)
DONALD TRUMP'S first effort to enact a "travel ban" directed at Muslims was handed a series of stinging legal defeats. This is great news--Trump's January 27 executive order, authored by Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, against citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries and against refugees was a blunt instrument of Islamophobic reaction.
Because of lawsuits filed by the ACLU, the states of Washington and Minnesota, and other entities, federal judges put a hold on the racist travel ban, ruling that it likely violates the U.S. Constitution.
These court decisions secured a welcome respite from the inhuman conditions caused by the ban. For example, a Syrian national traveling from Saudi Arabia to Chicago to care for her sick and elderly mother was detained for five hours at O'Hare International Airport and ultimately forced to return home without seeing her family. An Iranian professor who fled to the U.S. after Iran's government imprisoned her family told the Guardian that she had been effectively "banned from seeing [her] loved ones...banned from travelling...banned from being a human being."
It isn't the case, however, that we can all rest comfortably now, as if the government's system of "checks and balances" is functioning as it ought to. Leaving this battle in the hands of a judiciary that has failed oppressed people on many occasions would be a grave mistake.
What's more, the Trump administration is planning to issue an updated executive order, tweaked to try to get around the objections of the judges who issued the stay. It's certainly possible that a revised order could get an okay from a federal judiciary stacked with Republican appointees.
The judicial stays of the ban didn't occur in a political vacuum. The first was enacted in the wake of an eruption of popular protest at airports around the country. These protests created a space for the ACLU, which filed the first case against the ban, to take action, and they also put pressure on the judiciary--something that no doubt played a role in a federal appeals court three-judge panel upholding the initial ruling.
Continued popular pressure is going to be necessary the keep the courts honest.
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THE ACLU and other advocacy groups have carried out effective legal challenges on this issue, and their legal successes have given confidence to people who want to take a stand against the travel ban.
But there's a difference between the arguments needed to win a legal case and the ideas needed to guide a political challenge to the anti-Muslim assault being carried out by the Trump administration.
A few examples illustrate the point. The ACLU secured the first legal win against Trump's Muslim travel ban in a case called Darweesh v. Trump. In requesting the stay, however, the ACLU leaned on some problematic arguments that have weighed down opposition to imperial war in the Middle East.
The two named plaintiffs in the ACLU case, Hameed Khalid Darweesh and Haider Sameer Abdulkahleq Alshawi, were military contractors for the Pentagon who served as translators for U.S. troops after the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq. The ACLU argued that the two men now faced violence from "anti-American" insurgents and "terrorists."
It should go without saying that nobody should have to live under the threat of violence. However, the ACLU's strategy here is grounded in the "good Muslim/bad Muslim" dichotomy that has been used as ideological cover for the "war on terror." Under the Obama administration especially, the U.S. could offer an olive branch to the "good" Muslims to justify violence against the "bad" ones.
The ACLU chose plaintiffs who it thought would seem more sympathetic, even commendable, and highlighted their patriotic bona fides. Though this might be best suited to winning a legal case, a movement to challenge anti-Muslim bigotry needs to reject the idea that the U.S. government has the right to choose who the "good" and "bad Muslims" are.
It also needs to show that the U.S. government itself is the world's most dangerous source of terror. After all, the continuous U.S. war on Iraq--from George H.W. Bush's first Gulf War in 1991 to Bill Clinton's sanctions that killed a half million or more Iraqi children to George W. Bush's invasion and occupation--has indiscriminately killed hundreds of times more Muslims than al-Qaeda and ISIS combined.
In State of Washington v. Trump, the federal courts imposed even more severe restrictions on Trump's travel ban. In their brief to the 9th U.S. Circuit, the states of Washington and Minnesota relied on a similar strategy, arguing that "[w]hile preventing terrorist attacks is an important goal, the order does nothing to further that purpose by denying admission to...refugees who valiantly assisted the U.S. military in Iraq."
The good Muslim/bad Muslim dichotomy is racist, portraying all Muslims as worthy of suspicion unless they can clear their names. It also obscures the material political foundations of anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world, instead dismissing large swaths of that world as atavistic and savage.
In order to effectively challenge Trump's new and more vitriolic anti-Muslim policies, the left needs to break with the softer Islamophobia of his predecessors in the White House.
The ACLU's lawyers no doubt know their audience and are careful to craft legal strategies that will appeal to federal judges. For the left to accept this framework, however, is out of the question. Instead, we must be unambiguously against all imperialism and its attendant racist ideology.
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THE IDEOLOGICAL limitations of the U.S. judiciary are related to a more fundamental problem with pursuing a purely legal strategy against Trump. Even if the ACLU's legal arguments were stripped of all their problematic politics, the fact is that the court system can only accomplish so much.
For this, we can look at the famous example of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka to illustrate this point.
The 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision was a sweeping refutation of the Jim Crow policy of separate-but-equal public schools. With this ruling, the court's justices explicitly sought to usher in a new era of in the Jim Crow South, decreeing that racially segregated schools were unconstitutional and ordering states to end segregation with "all deliberate speed."
But 10 years after Brown v. Board, only a handful of Black students in the South attended public schools with white students. It took the massive mobilizations of the civil rights movement to compel the federal government to carry out the desegregation that the Supreme Court had left to the states--the very entities opposed to integration in the first place--to implement on their own.
Today, more than 60 years after that historic ruling, racial segregation in schooling persists. This reality is not isolated to the South, nor to conservative "red states." Across the country, including liberal strongholds like New York City, separate and unequal remains the norm.
Part of the explanation for why segregation persists is that the Supreme Court itself put its stamp of approval on segregation in public schools. In Milliken v. Bradley, a 1974 case involving busing in the Detroit public school system, the Supreme Court decided that the outcome of segregated school was perfectly fine, so long as segregation was not the explicit policy of the state.
How do we account for these seemingly incompatible conclusions? Why would the Supreme Court go from a confident denunciation of separate but equal to mealy-mouthed approval?
There are number of reasons, but probably the most important is that the civil rights movement had receded by the early 1970s when Milliken was decided.
In the 1950s, as the civil rights movement was moving into high gear, racial segregation was becoming an embarrassment, particularly on the international stage as the U.S. sought to project itself as the beacon of democracy and freedom in contrast to its Cold War rival, the former USSR.
Repeated clashes between police and African Americans demanding basic dignity and equality threatened to undermine the progressive global image that the U.S. State Department sought to project. A new common sense was emerging, and it left little room for the Supreme Court to do anything but condemn the policy of separate but equal.
But by the time Milliken was decided, the ruling class had begun clawing back the gains of the previous generation. The courts didn't face the same pressure from below to challenge racist segregation, and instead were pushed in the other direction by an emboldened ruling class that went on the offensive on multiple fronts, from the class struggle to federal legislation to court decisions and popular ideology.
Thus today, we live with the aspirations of Brown v. Board, but the reality of the New Jim Crow, as author Michelle Alexander calls it.
(Incidentally, it was also in the early 1970s, during the Nixon administration and with a Supreme Court with many conservative appointees that the Roe v. Wade case legalizing abortion was decided. It wasn't the quality of the judges that determined that case, but the strength of the women's movement, even as the social struggles of the previous period were receding.)
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THE LEFT isn't going to litigate Trump into submission. The judiciary may have swatted away Trump's January 27 executive order, but this isn't because the judiciary is an ardent defender of progressive values. After all, the courts have long tolerated affronts to basic notions of equality, justice and due process.
The judiciary, however, does want to assert its institutional prerogatives and privileges relative to Trump's assertion of executive authority. Moreover, these judges are concerned--to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the circumstances--with defending the legitimacy of the U.S. legal and political system as a whole, especially when faced with an executive branch seeking to challenge their authority.
Thus, it is no surprise that this section of the political establishment would resist the aggressive, overreaching policies of Bannon and Trump, at least in the first instance.
Furthermore, the judiciary will have allies among the ruling class in this instance. Many powerful interests opposed Trump in the presidential election, and blatantly anti-worker companies like Amazon and Uber supported Washington state's challenge to the Muslim ban. Just because they oppose Trump's particular executive order doesn't mean these forces are on our side.
Ultimately, the judiciary is more than comfortable with a subtler Islamophobia. As the district court order in Washington v. Trump illustrates, federal judges are happy to recognize the "war on terror" as legitimate and willing to give the executive branch broad leeway in conducting that war. Trump simply overstepped the boundaries of that leeway.
Thus, even as the judge issued a stay blocking the Muslim ban, he ruled that "the Government's interest in combatting terrorism is an urgent objective of the highest order."
This was a quote from U.S. Supreme Court precedent in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, and the citation itself reveals much about the political limitations of the judiciary. The case was a major setback for civil liberties, with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the PATRIOT Act authorized significant infringement on political speech. The conclusion drawn by the left was that even supposedly sacrosanct rights like freedom of speech will be trampled by the courts in the right political environment.
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THE POINT, then, is for our side to shape that political environment.
As Rob Hunter commented at Jacobin, "a legal battle will only be won if judges' room for maneuver is limited by public opinion...Protesters against the refugee ban must not succumb to the idea that the institutions of constitutional democracy will ride to our rescue, or that democratic norms are self-enforcing."
Indeed, when the U.S. Supreme Court heard cases in 1989 and 1992 that could have led to Roe v. Wade being overturned, Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Anthony Kennedy and David Souter, in their 1992 majority decision upholding Roe, indirectly acknowledged the power of public opinion. They wrote that Roe had established a "rule of law and a component of liberty we cannot renounce"--which could be reversed only "at the cost of both profound and unnecessary damage to the Court's legitimacy, and to the nation's commitment to the rule of law."
Crucially, there were mass mobilizations of hundreds of thousands of supporters of abortion rights in Washington, D.C., ahead of the Supreme Court's hearings on the matter in both 1989 and 1992.
What this history demonstrates is that the courts don't decide matters based simply on cold legal logic. Though they seldom admit it, judges must also consider the legitimacy of the courts and the entire U.S. political system. Social movements and public opinion, for better or worse, have the power to set the limits of what's considered legitimate and illegitimate.
If the left lets up on the fight against Islamophobia, we can be sure that recent legal victories will evaporate before our eyes.
None of this is to downplay the significance of these wins. As Danny Katch wrote for SocialistWorker.org:
The federal appeals court decision against the ban has already given people who oppose Trump a tremendous boost of confidence--and helped ensure that the spontaneous airport protests that directly confronted Trump's order will become a model for resistance to the next attacks to come from the White House.
Ultimately, these forms or resistance will determine whether Trump and his cronies can get away with another version of the Muslim ban.
At the end of the day, nobody can win this fight for us except us. We are not going to sue our way to a new society. The left can't allow its politics to be dictated by the judiciary or legal advocacy organizations--and we can't allow these institutions to mark out the limits of the battle ahead.
Andrew Ryder reports from Washington on protests in defense of a man protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program who is sitting in detention.
On the march in defense of Daniel Ramirez Medina (Andrew Ryder)
ACTIVISTS IN Seattle and Tacoma, Washington, are organizing to defend Daniel Ramirez Medina, a Dreamer detained at the Northwest Detention Center in the latest example of the Trump administration's escalating attack on undocumented immigrants.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents swept up more than 600 people in one week in early February, and while the new administration has yet to reverse Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)--the 2012 policy that allows immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children a reprieve from deportation--it has already begun to target those protected by DACA.
Although DACA forestalls deportations, the policy doesn't go far enough--it allows people to stay and work, but prevents them from experiencing the benefits of citizenship. While Trump hasn't officially reversed this order, ICE agents now appear prepared to disregard it. This places hundreds of thousands of people in immediate danger.
Ramirez, a DACA recipient who has lived in the U.S. for 16 years since he was 7 years old, was arrested along with his father in Seattle on February 10. Immigration officials claimed that Ramirez was involved in gangs, but provided scant evidence to back up the claim. His lawyers argue it has been falsified.
Although he has yet to be charged with a crime, Ramirez is still being detained in Tacoma, after a federal judge upheld ICE's action.
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HUNDREDS OF people protested in Seattle in defense of Ramirez on February 17. Socialist City Council member City Kshama Sawant called for "mass nonviolent civil disobedience" to protect immigrants from ICE and other enforcement agents.
"I'm urging Mayor Murray: If this is a sanctuary city, do not use Seattle police against peaceful protesters," Sawant told the crowd. "Furthermore, deploy Seattle police to block ICE from seizing immigrants."
On February 19, some 150 people gathered in People's Park in Tacoma, where the Northwest Detention Center is located, to challenge ICE's anti-immigrant raids and demand Ramirez's release.
But this detention center's role didn't begin with Donald Trump. It was already a facility in service of former President Barack Obama's millions of deportations.
Furthermore, the Tacoma detention center is a source of profits for GEO Group, the largest purveyor of such services in the world. As Brian Huseby reported for SocialistWorker.org in 2014:
GEO profits off of detainees in several ways: First, there is a guarantee that the center is kept full. If not, the government must pay a fine to GEO. Additionally, many detainees work at the facility, but are paid just $1 per day, saving GEO money it would have to pay to outside workers.
The protest, which was called by the Washington DREAM Coalition, marched down Martin Luther King Way, with protesters chanting "Freedom for Daniel! Now!"
If there is going to be justice for Daniel Ramirez Medina and freedom from fear of deportation for the more than 750,000 other DACA recipients and the millions more who are undocumented and living in the U.S., we need to continue building these emergency solidarity actions.
British socialist Charlie Hore, a member of revolutionary socialism in the 21st century. sets the record straight about Tibet and China, in an article published by Jacobin.
The Peace Cafe in the Indian city of Dharamsala (Kiran Jonnalagadda)
"FREE TIBET" has long been a celebrity cause, one marshaled by generations of Hollywood actors and liberals looking for a cause. Socialists, however, have been more skeptical.
China's invasion of Tibet, many argue, ended feudal and theocratic rule and started a liberation process that continues to this day. They'll admit that the People's Republic of China hasn't run Tibet flawlessly. Mistakes were made; the Cultural Revolution was unfortunate. But you wouldn't want to see the Dalai Lama back, would you?
Almost willfully, this narrative overlooks the way in which Tibet has been a victim of old-fashioned colonization. The record of the last 60 years is striking: an invasion by a more powerful neighbor that produced tens of thousands of refugees; man-made famines that killed tens of thousands more; attempts to wipe out local culture, religion, and language; and rule by thousands of Chinese officials, the vast majority of whom never spoke Tibetan; and decades of violent repression.
The oft-repeated claim that Tibet represents an integral part of the country has an unspoken conclusion: Tibet belongs with China, irrespective of the population's wishes. This mantra expresses a power relationship that runs counter to any principle of self-determination.
Granted, American supporters of Tibetan nationalism don't add much credibility to the campaign. Not only do the flakiest of Hollywood stars seem drawn to the cause like moths to a flame, but, much more seriously, the CIA and State Department have long supported the Tibetan government-in-exile. In the early 1960s, the CIA trained guerrillas to fight inside Tibet--a plan every bit as successful as the Bay of Pigs invasion.
But there is simply no escaping the fact that China occupies Tibet in much the same way Western empires of the 19th and 20th century occupied large parts of Africa and Asia. Further, China's claims to have "liberated" Tibet ring hollow, and the continuing Tibetan resistance represents an important call for self-determination.
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The word "Tibet" often refers to different geographical and political entities, so it's useful to start with clear definitions.
The Tibetan plateau makes up just over a quarter of China's total land surface, comprising the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), Qinghai province, and parts of Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. It is one of the most sparsely inhabited regions of the world, with a population of between 10 and 11 million, between 6 and 7 million of whom are Tibetan (all figures are disputed and approximate). All of China's major rivers--as well those in east and south Asia--rise on the plateau.
For the last thousand years, Tibet has been politically divided between central and western Tibet, previously ruled by the Dalai Lama and today called the TAR, and the two regions of Amdo (now Qinghai province and part of Gansu) and Kham (parts of Sichuan and Yunnan provinces), where local rulers historically held political power.
The three regions nevertheless largely share the same culture, religion and language, and when Tibetans speak of Tibet, they mean the whole plateau, not just the Tibetan Autonomous Region.
Control of Tibet has remained central to all variants of modern Chinese nationalism, but this is not purely ideological. It is also rooted in the plateau's strategic importance, both for its sheer size and geographical command of central Asia, as well as being the source of China's two largest rivers. So far, however, the cost of controlling Tibet far outweighs the occupation's economic gains, despite aggressive campaigns to find mineral wealth.
Those who defend China's occupation tend to rely on three main arguments: the historical, the political, and the economic.
The historical argument uses imperial history to demonstrate that Tibet has been part of China since the Tang dynasty (618–907 CE). In 641, the marriage of a Tang princess to the Tibetan emperor cemented this alliance. As the official People's Daily puts it:
In plain terms, Tibet has been part of China since ancient times. The thousand-year Tibetan–Han relationship covers two stages: in the Tang Dynasty, Tibetans and Han people formed an alliance; since the Yuan Dynasty, they have belonged to the same country.
This glosses over quite a bit of history. The Tibetan empire had comparable size and strength to China. In fact, it drove Tang dynasty troops out of what is now Xinjiang Province, and, in 762, briefly occupied Changan (present-day Xian), which was then the Chinese capital. In the late ninth century, it collapsed due to internal warfare--shortly before the Tang dynasty fell for similar reasons.
The claim that "since the Yuan dynasty, they have belonged to the same country" isn't wrong, but it would be more accurate to say that Kublai Khan's Mongolian empire conquered both China and Tibet.
Following the overthrow of Mongol rule by the ethnic Chinese Ming dynasty in 1368, ties between China and Tibet loosened. According to A. Tom Grunfeld--a generally pro-Chinese historian--"from 1566 to the fall of the Ming in 1644, political relations between Beijing and Lhasa were apparently non-existent."
The fall of the Ming coincided with the establishment of rule by the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama. The two mutually reinforcing positions have served as spiritual leaders across Tibet, but their political control rarely extended beyond the central and western areas.
The far more expansionist Qing dynasty--which replaced the Ming rulers--gradually increased control over Tibet during the nineteenth century, primarily in response to growing pressure from the British in India. British imperialists were obsessed with the "Great Game"--their name for the conflict with Tsarist Russia over central Asia--and, in late 1903, the United Kingdom invaded Tibet in an operation known as the Younghusband expedition.
The British forces fought their way to Lhasa, killing some 2,700 Tibetan troops along the way. They then promptly withdrew, taking huge amounts of plunder with them. The whole affair demonstrated that China was powerless to defend Tibet from the British, and following the 1911 revolution, which ended the Qing dynasty, the Tibetan government quickly expelled the Chinese presence. As centralized rule in China fell apart, Tibet became effectively free of outside control.
Chinese propaganda may claim that it and Tibet have a long history of unification, but the history shows a rather different picture--given the opportunity Tibet has thrown off any outside control.
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The Liberation of Tibet?
Political defenses of Chinese rule often begin by arguing that China's 1950 invasion liberated the population from feudalism. Tibet was indeed a desperately poor, disease-ridden society ruled by serf-owning lords. But the same argument could be used to justify conquests in Africa, Asia and Latin America on the grounds that the conquered were already subjected to oppressive social systems.
The liberation argument turns out to be anachronistic as well. As Robert Barnett, one of the leading historians of Tibet, points out:
China made no claims at the time of its invasion or liberation of Tibet to be freeing Tibetans from social injustice. It declared then that it was liberating them from "imperialism" (meaning British and U.S. interference). The issue of freeing Tibetans from feudalism appeared in Chinese rhetoric only after 1954 in eastern Tibet and 1959 in central Tibet.
For the first few years, the Chinese government worked with and through the Tibetan aristocracy and political establishment while also skillfully exploiting the divisions in the ruling class, particularly between the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama --or rather between their entourages, as both were teenagers.
They had less success winning over the population, not least because the huge cost of the occupation required maintaining feudal forced labor. Refugees fled Kham and Amdo, where China established its rule much more quickly, and their accounts of the new rulers only added to the tensions.
In 1955, the government began land collectivization, forcing nomads to settle. Tibetans met this with major resistance: Late that year, fighting spread across both regions, and a major rebellion erupted in Kham in early 1956. The Taiwanese government and the CIA gave some support to the uprising, but these outside forces in no way inspired the movement. The limited arms they delivered made no substantial difference. Nevertheless, American involvement no doubt contributed to China's determination to strengthen its control over the region.
Three years later, Lhasa rose in open rebellion. Following its defeat, the Dalai Lama and around 100,000 refugees--from a total population of some 3 million--fled to India. Chinese accounts represented the rising as directly organized by the CIA. Tsering Shakya, however, argues convincingly that this is not the case.
The original demonstrations were "not only expressing their anger against the Chinese but their resentment against the Tibetan ruling elite who, they believed, had betrayed their leader," Shakya writes. He also highlights the leading role the artisans' guilds and mutual aid societies of the (very small) Tibetan working class played in the rebellion.
The CIA did help the Dalai Lama escape, though this involved only two agents. In the following years, the American agency supported would-be guerrillas, but their numbers stayed small and their impact on the ground close to zero. Compared to Indochina, the sums involved were tiny, and shrank further throughout the 1960s. Grunfeld notes that, by 1970, "CIA money had totally dried up" and concludes that "American involvement did not alter the situation in Tibet in any discernable manner after 1959."
Following Richard Nixon's visit to China in 1971, the countries entered into a mutually convenient alliance against the Soviet Union--something often forgotten by those who see China as a constant target for American imperialism. Part of the price for that alliance was ending all American support for Tibetan emigreé groups.
Following the 1959 revolt, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) abandoned its cautious policy and established full control over central Tibet, which was formally incorporated as a province-level autonomous region in 1965. On the upside, the TAR was spared Mao's Great Leap Forward, a disastrous attempt in the late 1950s to stimulate rapid economic growth through forced labor. The effects in other Tibetan regions were among the worst anywhere in China--Gansu, Qinghai and Sichuan provinces had some of the highest death tolls.
Following forced collectivization, officials made peasants substitute their traditional barley crop with wheat, which would not thrive at such high altitudes. In 1962, the Panchen Lama--China's most prominent supporter among the Tibetan elite--wrote Mao a biting letter detailing the consequences of this policy and pleading for a change: "Although Tibet was in the past a barbarous society under the rule of feudalism, grain was never this scarce." He was subsequently removed from all official positions and jailed, to be released only in 1977.
Even after the famine ended, living standards remained low due to the demands coming from the huge Chinese government and military presence. In 1966, the Cultural Revolution brought a wholesale assault on Tibetan culture. As Grunfeld notes:
The damage caused by the wanton destruction and the fighting was awesome....Even if we discount stories of thousands of Tibetans killed...verifiable activities of the Red Guards are horrifying enough. There were killings and people hounded into suicide. People were physically attacked in the streets for wearing Tibetan dress or having non-Han hairstyles.
In 1959, a millenarian revolt broke out, marked by the wholesale slaughter of Chinese and Tibetan officials. At its high point, the uprising covered 18 counties. The Chinese army hunted down these rebels and publicly executed their rulers in Lhasa, but the revolt showed the scale of China's failure.
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The Period After Mao
When Deng Xiaoping and his supporters came to power in 1978, their reform agenda rejected the legacy of the Cultural Revolution and allowed a greater degree of personal freedom, believing this would win the regime renewed popular legitimacy. In Tibet, as in Xinjiang, this involved admitting to some of the damage done and loosening the reins significantly.
Thousands of people were released from prison, taxation was reduced, monasteries were reopened, and Tibetan officials were rapidly promoted. Over 40 percent of all ethnic Chinese living in the TAR left between 1980 and 1985. Hu Yaobang, one of Deng's closest associates, was sent to Tibet to oversee the process, and the first-ever Tibetan-speaking first party secretary was appointed. In 1979, a delegation from the Dalai Lama was allowed to visit, drawing huge crowds.
Living standards improved rapidly, though as Tsering Shakya notes, this only meant that they "returned to the level the people had enjoyed before the Chinese 'liberation.'" These concessions whet appetites for much greater change.
In September 1987, a small number of monks staged the first public protest in Lhasa since 1959, possibly organized to mark the Dalai Lama's visit to the United States earlier that month. All were arrested. A few days later, police beat protesters holding a small demonstration in support of the monks, and the city exploded. As Robert Barnett, who was in the city during the protests, described:
About 2,000 Tibetans then besieged the local police station to demand the release of the monks detained inside. Eventually they set fire to the door of the station to enable those prisoners to escape. When the authorities opened fire on the crowd, around ten people were shot dead, including children, with several times that number wounded.
Then, in early 1989, the Panchen Lama died, removing China's most senior supporter. Funeral marches turned into scuffles with the police, and on March 5, the cops opened fire, killing at least ten people. The riots that followed were the largest since 1959, occupying the center of Lhasa for three days. Hundreds were killed and thousands jailed in the subsequent repression.
The much larger movement that began in Beijing in May and the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4 overshadowed these protests, although students at Lhasa University struck in solidarity with Beijing. Some 400 reportedly held out as late as May 21. The nationwide crackdown that followed hit Tibet especially hard. Martial law, imposed in March, lasted for over a year and saw tanks on the streets of Lhasa in early 1990.
Finding the Panchen Lama's replacement cost China even more supporters in the Tibetan religious hierarchy. According to Tibetan Bhuddism, when either the Panchen Lama or the Dalai Lama dies, their spirit is reincarnated in a young boy born at the time of their death. Monks from the deceased Lama's monastery find the reincarnation and bring him to the other for final approval. So, the Dalai Lama ultimately chooses who will be the next Panchen Lama, and--crucially--the Panchen Lama chooses who will be the next Dalai Lama.
In 1995, the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama each announced that they had found the reincarnation. The Dalai Lama's choice is presumed to be under arrest with his family. When the government tried to impose its choice on the Panchen Lama's home monastery, a revolt erupted--in what had previously been the main base of religious support for Chinese rule in the TAR--and a number of leading monks went into exile.
Beijing subsequently enshrined its support for the principle of reincarnation in state regulations, insisting that:
To maintain the validity and purity of all living Buddha reincarnation and uphold the solemnity of the law, it is necessary to reiterate the key principle already enshrined in the new rule that any reincarnated living Buddha, appointed against the rule [that the government has the final say in 'recognizing' a reincarnation], is illegal and invalid.
In 2002, China opened negotiations with the Dalai Lama's representatives, holding out the possibility of a political settlement that would allow him to return. Inside Tibet, however, repression increased, with ever-greater restrictions on monasteries. At the same time, economic development caused huge environmental damage and left most Tibetans further excluded from economic growth.
The tensions exploded in March 2008. The Dalai Lama declared that six years of negotiations had led nowhere. Monks from the Sera monastery in Lhasa took to the streets in his support, and security forces attacked with tear gas and cattle prods, then live ammunition. By the end of the week, thousands of people were fighting against a massive police and army presence with stones. Rioters took control of substantial parts of Lhasa.
The protests spread across the TAR, and more importantly, across the rest of the plateau. The government admitted to killing demonstrators in the towns of Luhuo and Aba in Sichuan province. In Gansu province, the BBC reported that high school students led a major uprising in the town of Hezuo. The Guardian's website showed footage of several thousands demonstrating in Xiahe, where they were tear-gassed by police.
One Tibetan expert from the London School of Economics argued that "in terms of the scale of the protests and the subsequent troop deployment, there has not been anything like this since the 1950s." The protests' geographic spread was unprecedented and posed a new problem for China's rulers. We cannot know the exact numbers involved, but, for the first time, the majority of the protests took place outside the TAR, proving that this had become a pan-Tibetan movement.
China's media called the riots a racist pogrom, targeting Chinese and Hui Muslim residents. (The Hui are ethnically Chinese, but designated a seprate nationality by virtue of their religion.) In fact, the rioters mainly targeted symbols of Chinese occupation--such as the Bank of China and government buildings. Numerous attacks on Chinese businesses, at least one mosque, and on individual Chinese and Hui in the streets do lend credence to the Chinese account, but given the nature of the occupation, it is hardly surprising that Tibetans would see individual settlers as responsible for their oppression.
After the protests were put down, security ramped up, with internal movement restrictions, roadblocks and an even greater police presence. The series of self-immolations that have been taking place across Tibet represent one response to this repression. Since February 2009, at least 153 Tibetans have set themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule.
It is difficult to imagine a more emblematic "weapon of the weak": impossible to defend against or prevent. Suicide as protest has a long history in China and in several religious traditions, including Buddhism. It came to prominence in the modern era in Vietnam, when Buddhist monks burned themselves to death to protest the South Vietnamese government's religious persecution.
The sheer duration of the Tibetan protests set them apart. The government has passed new laws making it illegal to self-immolate, to help anyone else do so, to spread news of a self-immolation, or even to organize prayers for someone who has died. Collective punishments have been imposed on the families, monasteries, nunneries, and sometimes whole villages. Since 2012, Lhasa has been essentially closed to Tibetans, already a minority in the city, who live elsewhere.
American state support for Tibetan nationalists--cut in the early 1970s as part of the Mao-Nixon alliance--has once again started to grow. Strategists, worried about Chinese economic, political and military competition, support some Tibetan organizations, through the conduit of the National Endowment for Democracy and other vehicles.
Yet the extent of this backing shouldn't be overstated. In 2015, they admitted giving just under $750,000 to 23 organizations in Tibet--peanuts, essentially. One pro-free market project in Pakistan received more money than all the Tibetan projects combined. And both sums pale in comparison to the hundreds of millions given to Afghan Mujahideen groups in the 1980s and 1990s.
In practical terms, Tibet doesn't come into play in the overall nexus of Chinese-American relations. As two supporters of the neoconservative Project for a New American Century wrote:
Americans need to recognize that, for better or worse, we have no practical alternative to Chinese sovereignty in Tibet....It would be pointless to make independence a goal when there is no chance that such a goal can be reached.
This could change. If the United States seriously targeted China as a military opponent, it could use the Tibetan movement as allies (the "Kosovo option"), and parts of the Tibetan movement would surely go along with it.
However, from the standpoint of American capital, there are good economic and political reasons not to ally with Tibetan nationalists. China owns more U.S. government debt than any country except Japan; some 450 of the Fortune 500 companies invest in China; and most companies that produce in China have no realistic alternative that they could move to. Politically, China has been a key supporter of the global "war on terror," and is key to the American strategy of containing North Korea.
Whether Trump understands any of those factors--or will listen to those who do--is another matter entirely. He has managed to anger both the Chinese and Taiwanese governments, as well as to start unpicking Obama's careful work rebuilding American imperialism's position in east Asia even before he took office. It's impossible to predict what fresh hell a Trump executive order on China, Taiwan or Tibet might unleash.
Regardless, a more aggressive policy toward China will likely keep Tibet on the periphery. All the key fault lines and all the potential allies are located in east and southeast Asia, not the Himalayas.
And while some Tibetan organizations will accept whatever crumbs they are offered, Tibetan nationalism cannot simply be reduced to a tool of American imperialism. It gains support from the harsh realities of Chinese rule and from the refusal of most to accept it. Recognition of that oppression is at the core of why we should support Tibetan self-determination.
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Development Without Tibetans
In 2015, the official news agency Xinhua boasted about how much the Chinese government had invested in Tibet:
In the period from 1952 to 2013, the central government provided 544.6 billion yuan to Tibet in financial subsidies, accounting for 95 percent of Tibet's total public financial expenditure....Over the last two decades, a total of 5,965 of China's best officials have been appointed to work in Tibet, 7,615 assistance projects have been carried out, and 26 billion yuan has been invested in Tibet.
Leaving aside the unfortunate echo of Kipling--"take up the white man's burden / send forth the best ye breed"--this statement fails to mention who benefits from this spending. The majority of Tibetans still live on subsistence agriculture and livestock herding, though the Chinese policy of forced settlement is rapidly restricting this traditional economy. Something like two million farmers and nomadic herders have been forcibly resettled in newly built villages.
In the TAR and Qinghai, the establishment of nature reserves--which ban nomads but allow over-harvesting and industrial development--is driving this resettlement. These reserves now cover one-third of the land area of the TAR, and just over half that in Qinghai.
Farmers face dispossession when their land is taken for urban or industrial development. They are forced into shoddily built housing with no land for agriculture and almost nothing in the way of alternative work. In Taming Tibet, Emily T. Yeh described one such village:
Nearby construction had cut off all sources of irrigation and thus prevented them from working on their remaining farmland, and yet the village committee did not have enough capital from farmland compensation to complete construction. Villagers were thus left to wait for other work units to come and expropriate their remaining farmland so that the village could finish building their resettlement homes. Ironically, then, villagers waited idly to lose farmland so that they could use the compensation to pay to move into apartments built on their expropriated farmland.
As with the forced resettlement of indigenous peoples in the United States, Canada, Australia, and other colonial states, this creates regions--effectively ghettos--that suffer from huge social problems like alcoholism, family breakdown and the loss of traditional skills. China, however, has added an extra twist by making those resettled pay the cost of their new housing. Yeh quotes one brutally succinct summary of how this is experienced: "This is what socialism is, right? It means we have to do whatever the leaders tell us to do."
Some Tibetans have prospered from recent economic growth, in particular those employed as lower-level officials. In one estimate, half of Lhasa's indigenous population works for the government. TAR spending has massively increased in recent years, fueled by direct subsidies from central government that, in 2012, amounted to 116 percent of the TAR's GDP. Government and party administration make up over 13 percent of total economic activity. But the vast majority of that money goes toward control and coercion.
The TAR's GDP quadrupled between 1997 and 2007, a faster economic growth rate than the Chinese economy as a whole, but that was produced almost entirely by central-government spending. The Chinese have invested heavily in construction and infrastructure for the development of the so-called two pillars of the TAR's economy--tourism and mining--and hydroelectric dam projects. All will exclude Tibetans from everything but the lowest-paying jobs, and all will do great ecological harm.
Tourism is now pulling in some 15 million visitors a year, five times the TAR population, who are increasingly living in a theme-park version of Tibet that one journalist dubbed the "Disneyland of Snows." As in other developing nations, tourists largely stay inside a bubble of upmarket hotels, shopping malls and organized trips that exclude the local population and bring little benefit to them.
Tourism has little ecological impact, as it is concentrated in just a few areas. But mining, still in its infancy in the TAR, will do far more damage. Mining and mineral extraction have long been the major industries in Qinghai, centered on the Qaidam basin in the province's northwest. For almost 50 years, the Chinese government has extracted coal, oil, asbestos, salt, lead, zinc and other minerals. It now plans for tar-sands oil extraction and fracking for gas.
The damage has been enormous. Mining has destroyed half of the area's primitive forest. Pipelines leak, asbestos and copper mining wastes are rampant, and industrial waste has completely polluted water resources.
Large-scale mining hasn't fully developed in the TAR--only a few copper and gold mines are currently in production. The isolation of the reserves and the huge amount of investment needed to exploit them has helped slow this process, but Tibetan resistance has also played a part. Several self-immolations have focused on mining operations as have a number of large-scale mobilizations, which met severe repression. Paramilitary police fired on crowds at least twice, both times killing at least one person.
It's worth emphasizing that the very different rules of engagement used on mass protests are another indicator of Tibet's colonial status. In China, police rarely fire on protesters, and protesters are rarely killed by police action. Instead, privately hired thugs carry out most political violence. But in Tibet, as in Xinjiang, it has become the standard practice.
Mining causes large-scale ecological damage, as dangerous chemicals get into rivers and the water table and spoil-heaps scar the landscape. The impact of hydroelectric dams can be even greater, as the effects are felt the whole length of the river.
China has pioneered hydroelectric generation, which produces just under a fifth of all its electricity. Now dams are being built or planned on most of the major rivers that flow out of Tibet--including in Burma, Nepal, and Pakistan. Some 2 million people depend on these rivers for drinking water, irrigation, fishing, and other essentials of life. The dams threaten to severely disrupt the ecology of a huge part of Asia, potentially affecting the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people.
Ironically, they are designed to power an industrial expansion whose waste products will likely erode the water sources industry relies on. Tibet is called the "third pole" because of the volume of water locked up in its almost forty thousand glaciers. But global warming means they are shrinking at a faster rate than even the Arctic or Antarctic. China of course is not solely responsible for climate change, but the runaway growth of the past twenty-five years, coupled with lax environmental controls, has contributed greatly to the problem.
The environmental impact of China's Tibetan occupation may well turn out to be the most severe consequence of all.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Self-Determination From Below
The immediate prospects for change in Tibet are bleak. As opposition has stepped up in recent years the so-called government in exile, located in Dharamsala in northern India, seems more and more distant from what is happening on the ground.
The Dalai Lama is an oddly contradictory figure, one minute describing Marxism as being "founded on moral principles, while capitalism is concerned only with gain and profitability," the next asserting that "America is [the] leading nation of free world. American principles, democracy, liberty: right now these things [are] very important." He matters as a figurehead, with more religious than political authority, rather than the leader of any kind of national movement.
In fact, the government in exile consists of a collection of fairly faceless bureaucrats who mainly provide services to the refugees still managing to get out of Tibet. And there is not--nor can there be--any succession strategy. The Panchen Lama must recognize the Dalai Lama's reincarnation, giving Beijing a huge advantage over the exiled government.
This growing division between internal resistance and external organization goes back a long way. In 2008, Tsering Shakya wrote:
The refugees in India have developed an ideology and forged a nationalistic sentiment such that they have come to see themselves as defenders of Tibet and the Tibetan people. On some occasions this has verged on a view where they see themselves as the "true" representatives of the Tibetans and view the Tibetans inside Tibet as merely passive, oppressed victims.
Futher, the Tibetan author Woeser notes in Tibet on Fire that most self-immolation protesters are explicitly calling for independence for Tibet--unlike Dharamsala, which simply wants negotiations with Beijing. The Dalai Lama's advice to be patient and to practice nonviolence goes increasingly unheeded.
The odds against a free Tibet are overwhelming, which makes it more astonishing that people have not given up and that opposition to Chinese rule remains as strong as ever. China's "soft power" has actually declined here--many of those willing to collaborate with Beijing have now died, and Tibetans in Amdo and Kham seem to increasingly identify with Tibetan independence.
We should support their struggle. If socialism doesn't mean doing whatever the leaders tell us, but rather making ourselves the subjects of our own history, then we must see Chinese rule in Tibet for what it is--colonialist oppression that needs to be fought. We may not be able to do very much about it right now, but we can start by knowing which side we are on.
First published at Jacobin.
I hate to be the one to break it to you, but 2016 was a bit of a garbage fire. Continuing conflict and suffering in Syria, gun violence, wildfires, terrorism, Prince and Bowie and Carrie Fisher… I feel like I’m missing one? Oh right, the election.
I’m not going to try to convince you that wasn’t all horrible, with more sorrow to come. But I’ve been doing this nonprofit fundraising thing long enough to know that people STEP UP when things are darkest. Unprecedented challenges drive unimaginable generosity. And nowhere was that more clear than during the December end-of-year (EOY) fundraising season.
Here’s our annual data tour, aggregated from 22 organization’s EOY results.
Online revenue was on the up and up (again)
Of the 22 organizations who provided data from both 2015 and 2016, all but 4 of them raised more revenue in December 2016 than they did in December 2015. The median organization in our sample saw a 12% increase in total online revenue.
A few organizations saw big, big, BIG increases during EOY 2016, for reasons that we’ll dig into later — and as a result, these 22 organizations raised $62 million in December 2016, compared to $39.3 million last year. That’s a 58% jump!
The last day of the year, the national holiday known as TRIPLE MATCH, HOURS LEFT, DONATE NOW OR FOREVER HOLD YOUR PEACE Day (at least according to my inbox), continues to blow every other fundraising day of the year out of the water. Of the groups who were able to split out revenue for 12/31, 21% of all December revenue was processed on that day alone. Which makes sense, considering this is what our inboxes looked like around that time:
Send that email…. Or don’t? But definitely still do.
This year, organizations in our survey sent more EOY email than ever before. The average organization sent 9.8 appeals in December 2016, as opposed to 8.3 appeals in December 2015. Only three organizations in our sample of 19 sent fewer appeals this year, while 6 organizations held steady with the same number of appeals as in 2015. A few other key takeaways:
- Only one organization that increased their appeal volume this year saw a decrease in email revenue.
- All other organizations in our sample saw a correlation between increased email volume and increased email revenue, while decreased volume resulted in uniformly decreased revenue.
- The share of online December revenue attributed to email rose from 16% in 2015 to 20% in 2016.
- However — the overall trend in response rate to email was essentially flat, with 52% of our sample staying the same and 44% of our sample losing a bit of ground. Only 3 organizations in our sample saw improvements in email response rate this year.
If you aren’t running digital ads in December, you are now in the minority
Nonprofits are increasingly diversifying the ways in which they reach new audiences online — including digital advertising.
About two-thirds of the groups we surveyed implemented digital ads as part of their EOY fundraising strategy, including Google Adwords, Retargeting, and Facebook Ads.
Of the 10 groups for which we have revenue breakouts, more than 5% of total December revenue is attributed to view-through of an ad. Doesn’t seem like much, when you compare to email — but considering that users may see an ad here or there and end up donating through a different channel, digital ads are a platform to watch (and begin investing in, if you aren’t already).
“But wait,” you say. “What about that magical day known as hashtag Giving Tuesday where everyone throws money at non-profits in a spat of Black Friday-induced guilt?”
Giving Tuesday was in November this year, which means none of that juicy revenue is included in our December comparison above. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t important!
Continuing the trend set in the past couple of years (or, well, since the beginning of Giving Tuesday in 2012), promotions and revenue were up significantly. The median group in our sample saw a 62% increase in their Giving Tuesday revenue over 2015.
Part of that increase could be the additional work nonprofits are doing to entice donors into giving on that specific day: of the 22 organizations for which we have year-over-year data, 73% featured a single-day $1-for-$1 match, premium (like a water bottle or a tote bag), or another special offer on Giving Tuesday, compared to just 38% of organizations in 2015.
Doom and/or gloom
We are never fundraising in a vacuum, and 2016 went out of its way to rub our noses in that fact.
Elections have consequences. Of the 31 organizations who provided data for this post, one-third of them directly fundraised off the results of the election in November and December and recorded an average 12% improvement in revenue year over year. The organizations that called out direct threats to their organization’s mission were also among the groups that saw the highest year over year increase in revenue, averaging a 103% increase.
The conflict in Syria is an ongoing crisis, which saw a dramatic turn for the worse when civilian populations became increasingly targeted. Dramatic shots of children and women in affected areas drove the conflict back into mainstream news, after being largely absent for several years. The 5 groups in our sample that work on international relief and messaged specifically on the crisis in Syria saw a 16% average increase in year over year revenue.
In it for the long haul
Perhaps as a result of the election and impending new administration, or perhaps as a result of increased monthly donor promotions, upsells, and donor loyalty, groups saw huge increases in the number of monthly sustainers recruited during December.
The 14 groups in our sample with year over year data reported a median 58% bump in the number of sustainers recruited, with a 27% bump in new recurring revenue. Average gift for those new sustainers fell by 12%, indicating that while more people are coming on the file as loyal monthly donors, they are doing so at a lower dollar level.
The groups that messaged specifically on the outcome of the election saw a whopping 201% average increase in monthly donors, on average. The groups who messaged on Syria did about as well as the other groups, averaging a 58% increase in monthly giving.
So where do we go next?
That’s the one question to rule them all. We’re in uncharted territory here in a lot of ways — but we’re not without hope. The fact that fundraising is up (and up!) for these worthy nonprofit organizations is an indicator that people care — they believe the world can be a better place, they believe in the mission, they believe.
So while our present reality is unprecedented in many ways, the old rules still apply. Keep your fundraising relevant. Keep the email coming. Invest to connect with new audiences, and to convince audiences you already have to donate. The world is listening, and they want to hear what you’re saying. Go get ‘em!
— M+R (@MRCampaigns) January 27, 2017
Once upon a time, I coveted a certain wall clock from Uncommon Goods. It had these lovely bendy arms that would artfully tell the time… and were too long to fit on basically any wall in my NYC studio apartment. So though I swooned over its product page, and even put it in my shopping basket just to feel that rush of adrenaline, I didn’t actually buy it.
That friggin’ clock followed me for months in banner ads and on Facebook and more. It was on every device I owned, every site I visited, at home and at work.
You’ve almost certainly been haunted, too, by a product or a cause. Over the past few years, the ever-more-precise targeting of people wherever they go on the Internet has been an amazing development for nonprofits who want to reach their current supporters and potential new audiences.
Programmatic display ad technology, as it’s called, lets us target the right people for a nonprofit’s goals: the specific advocates who recently abandoned a donation form; the visitors who keep coming back to the website but haven’t converted yet; and the right lookalike group of likely donors. We can target audiences rather than than blindly buying ad space on specific websites. With some very limited exceptions, this is how M+R approaches donor acquisition and direct response fundraising for the organizations we work with.
But following a person across the internet means you go where they go — and to be completely honest, your supporters are going to go to some pretty weird places. With the increased prevalence of fake news sites and other hateful, racist, and inflammatory content, there are more and more places you just don’t want your ads to appear — and websites you don’t want to get a dollar of your ad budget.
Brand safety — keeping yours ads away from offensive sites — is something we’ve kept an eye on for years. With the growing prominence and impact of Breitbart, Infowars, and their ilk, it’s never been more important. The good news is, it’s possible to show ads to the right people, avoid sites with fake news and hateful content, and maintain a great ROI.
Here’s a simple, 4-step action plan you can take to ensure your advocacy ads aren’t showing up in the wrong places.
Step 1: Start by reviewing your brand safety settings for each display ad partner you use. Make sure that you’ve got strong brand safety settings in place.
If you’re running display ads on the Google Display Network using AdWords, you’ll want to check out this info. If you’re using DSPs (Demand Side Platforms) like DoubleClick Bid Manager, Rocket Fuel, Quantcast, or MediaMath, they should also have brand safety settings and/or blacklists (sites where they block ads from serving). Make sure that they’re turned on!
Step 2: On a biweekly or monthly basis, review reports of the sites where your ads have served — more often if it’s a new vendor!
If you use the Google Display Network, you can use these instructions to check your site placements — i.e., where your ads served. Your other display ad partners should be able to tell you where their ads are serving. Tools like DoubleClick Campaign Manager Verification reporting can help. If your vendors aren’t sharing this data… ask a little harder.
Step 3: Based on your research in step 2, create and maintain a blacklist of sites or placements where your ads should not show. Make sure your partners have this list, and make sure they’re using it!
Again — if you’re a GDN user, you should be more or less covered. Check out this support article to learn more.
Step 4: Be responsive to comments about where your ads show up. Even with ongoing blacklist updates, some bad placements may sneak through — if a site uses iframes from other domains, for example.
It’s okay if you don’t know what that technical stuff means! What matters is listening to your supporters (especially on social media) when they see something wrong, and following through. Reach out to your display ad partner, have them help you figure out how to block those ads, and explain to your supporters that you’re taking steps to distance yourself from the site.
M+R takes all of these steps — and more — to ensure brand safety for our clients, and you can do it, too. Direct response programmatic advertising (it sounds so fancy!) ultimately means that we’ll bid to show ads to the best audiences. And as we do so, we want to make sure we’re doing it on, well, not the worst sites.
[Mike’s Activist Addendum]:
If you don’t run an ads program but want to help get brands you love moved off of crummy websites, check out this tool — great for multitasking world-changing while you suffer through the next round of confirmation hearings running in the background.
— M+R (@MRCampaigns) January 20, 2017
It’s possible, if you do digital work for a nonprofit, that you are a little busy these days. Maybe you have decided the latter half of December might be a good time to do some fundraising and marketing. Or perhaps your nonprofit is… concerned, let’s say. About certain… events? That might be taking place on or around January 20?
Lots going on. I get it. Which is why we have made it so quick and easy to sign up to participate in the 2017 M+R Benchmarks Study. It takes like two minutes, tops. Click here to let us know you’re interested in participating.
Because here’s the thing. All the work you do for your cause online: social media, email, fundraising, organizing, ads, recruitment, advocacy, engagement, etc. – all that stuff matters. It’s how you strengthen your nonprofit, advance your cause, and change the world. But if you want to decide where your program should go, you need to know where you stand right now.
That’s where Benchmarks comes in. It’s your guide to what’s normal, what’s changing, and what your friends, colleagues, competitors, and frenemies are experiencing. By adding your data, you’ll help make Benchmarks even more useful for everyone, including your own nonprofit.
The math is simple: more participants means a better Benchmarks Study. And this is especially important for sectors where we’ve had relatively few participants in the past: Cultural, Education, and Domestic Hunger/Poverty. If your nonprofit falls into these categories, we need you!
Sign up to participate here. I promise we will make it fun (pulling data and learning about online nonprofit metrics is fun for you, right? I can already tell we’re going to be friends).
Good luck with your end-of-year efforts, and I hope we’ll see you in next year’s Benchmarks Study.
P.S. There would be a few hours of effort required on your part. We do our best to make this easy, outlining what data we need from you—mostly a couple of data exports and coding of your message data.
We take your data security extremely seriously, and will ensure that your organization’s data is confidential and not identifiable in the final study. Only you will know how your organization stacks up in the end!
— M+R (@MRCampaigns) December 22, 2016
I’ve attended a lot of DC meetings, some (ahem) more useful than others. I recently attended a truly astounding one. By the time I left I felt smarter and more prepared than ever to protect pretty much everything I care about in this new post-2016-election world. And…I wrote it all down right here.
The experts* focused on two incredibly important and complex legislative vehicles that will majorly impact our causes next year: The Congressional Review Act and Budget Reconciliation.
Lucky for me and you, these smartypantses translated the wonk into English, and we’ve put together some of the top takeaways here. (And in case it’s not already obvious, I’m not a congressional procedure expert, so consider this a nerdy lay(wo)man’s digest.)
* Experts = Martin Paone, Deputy Assistant to the President and Senate Liaison for the Obama White House; Ellen Nissenbaum, SVP for Govt Affairs for Center for Budget and Policy Priorities; Curtis Copeland, former analyst with Congressional Research Service; and Rob Weissman, President of Public Citizen.
The Congressional Review Act (CRA)
The CRA is the weapon Congress may use to undo a lot of the good that’s been done in the closing days of the Obama presidency. It gives a simple majority in Congress the power to reverse any rule finalized by the Obama administration in the past few months.
People refer to the CRA as a “scorched-earth” option. Congress can subject any executive rule finalized by June 13, 2016 or later to a vote, and if a majority votes to disapprove it… poof! The rule isn’t just repealed — it’s retroactively disabled, treated as if it never existed, and prohibited from being put in place in the future unless Congress reauthorizes it.
That means that if Mitch McConnell decides he doesn’t like Obama-era rules about arctic drilling, funding for Planned Parenthood health centers, or paid sick leave, those rules are at risk. He can schedule a vote, rally his caucus, and wave his CRA wand to make them vanish.
The CRA approach to legislating has only been used once in its 20-year history (in 2001 under President George W. Bush). Since CRAs can be vetoed, it only makes sense to use them when the President is of the same party as both houses of Congress. (This is the part where you start to worry…)
It gets worse. The CRA is different than a regular bill because it gives Congress expedited procedures and cannot be filibustered. Yep, that means only 51 votes are needed.
What else sucks about the CRA? Members can appeal to retroactively classify other things (like “guidance”) as rules that weren’t originally proposed as a rule. This has happened 11 times. Then, those “new” rules could also face CRA and be instantly repealed.
How does the CRA approach work?
Since it’s Congress, there’s a lot of wonky detail on exactly how timing rules work for this. I won’t pretend to understand all of it, but here is what you need to know:
- Short story: The new Congress starts on January 3, and they only have 60 working days to use the CRA. However, there are manipulations that can be made to the timing rules. Assessing the schedule/calendar, experts estimate the new Congress will have roughly until April or May 2017 to use the CRA. Based on how the schedule works, we will likely start hearing about moves related to the CRA starting January 24.
- Added bonus: They can only use the CRA on rules that were finalized after roughly June 13, 2016 (which covers about 1,500 current rules). If the rule was finalized before then, it cannot face the CRA.
- Congress can’t repeal more than 1 rule at a time, and each rule gets 10 hours of debate.
- However, a huge threat is that Congress could pass the “Midnight Rule Relief Act” which would allow dozens of rules to be folded into a single CRA, and thus make it much easier to knock out a bunch of rules at once. It goes without saying that we should defend against this.
Why should you care?
Here are some examples of rules finalized after June 13, 2016 that the new Congress and Trump White House could gut:
- DOL’s paid sick leave rule
- Emissions standards for new oil and gas drilling on wildlife refuges
- DOI’s arctic drilling rule
- EPA’s methane and solid waste standards
- DOE’s rule around federal loan forgiveness for schools that have been shut down
- Restrictions on predatory payday lenders
- Online privacy/data protections for consumers
- Energy efficiency standards for fridges, furnaces, trucks and more
- Non-discrimination rules for federally-funded health programs and homeless shelters
- An anti-corruption rule requiring corporations report payments to foreign governments
- I mean, there are like 1,500! Chances are good you care about, oh, about 1,000 of them. ONE THOUSAND.
What can you do?
Keep reading. I’ll get to that after the Budget Reconciliation section because the answer is similar…
Budget reconciliation is the flip-side of the CRA: instead of using it to simply reverse Obama rules, it will allow the incoming Congress and president to push their own agenda.
Like the CRA, all it takes is a simple majority. No filibusters and no 60-vote cloture stop-gap in the Senate. Buckle up.
Budget reconciliation was intended to ease the way for Congress to reduce the deficit. But in 2001 and 2003 Congress used it to push forward Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy and ended up raising the deficit. Just saying.
Democrats also used budget reconciliation to help pass Obamacare in 2010, so think of it like a Gremlin (either the cute movie monster or the car): not inherently evil, but definitely dangerous under the right conditions.
What does budget reconciliation do?
Budget reconciliation can only be used to make changes to entitlements (Medicaid, SNAP, etc.) and revenues (various taxes and tax exemptions). Normal line-item appropriations, earmarks and Social Security are off limits.
The budget committees start the process and work behind the scenes with the chairs of other committees to make cuts to programs to meet a budget level. In other words, the public won’t know how bad the cuts could be until it’s put forward to the floor at the end.
Once the bill is on the floor it is extremely hard to amend and almost impossible to stop. Remember, budget reconciliation bills cannot be filibustered and get only 20 hours of debate before a vote.
Why should you care?
When Congress comes back on January 3, they’ll take up a budget resolution for the FY 2017 budget. This process will probably move fairly quickly, and the result will be a conference agreement for a budget reconciliation on key issues that we all care about.
It’s likely the behind-the-scenes budget reconciliation in 2017 will involve changes like repealing the Affordable Care Act and defunding Planned Parenthood. There won’t be hearings or bills to add amendments to. It’ll just happen.
This will obviously be a big moment for engagement. But, don’t take your eye off the ball, we’re just getting started.
After the conference agreement is reached between the House and Senate on the FY 2017 budget, the real “fun” begins. Trump must put forward some kind of budget for FY 2018. This is the real roadmap for Congress’ agenda, and will include the whole kit and kaboodle: revenues, entitlements and discretionary spending.
Once Trump presents his budget plan, Congress must generate a *second* budget reconciliation bill which will…uh…reconcile the two budgets. It’s expected that this process will be resolved by late summer or early fall 2017.
While it’s unlikely that the final budget would include ALL of these topics, here are a few of the policies it could affect: 1) ACA replacement; 2) tax reform; 3) entitlement reform (Medicaid, Medicare, SNAP), and 4) the debt ceiling.
So, uh, now what?
Thanks Cosa, now I’m curled up in the fetal position, which is also making it hard to read the rest of this post. So, what can we actually do about this terribleness?
1) Speak up and move quickly! Collaborate and share messaging with partners and strange bedfellows. Our strength will be in numbers now more than ever, and the next few months of defense will move fast. Focus your messaging on real-life implications and find spokespeople who would become victims of these changes NOW. While it can be easy to attack the process, don’t make that part of your public messaging. It simply will not resonate as well as emphasizing the people and communities who will be devastated by these changes. Tactically, we know that Senate offices care the most about their phones ringing off the hook. Mobilize your lists to use lunch breaks/team meetings/boring Tinder dates to dial those Senators and voice opposition.
2) Know the drill. We can’t afford to lose just because we don’t know the technical details and the other side does. You can’t spell know without wonk, people.
Let’s be real: your nonprofit or campaign’s resources and capacity are going to be stretched the next couple months. So you need to prioritize. These are the key questions you should be asking to guide those decisions:
- Does this change set a dangerous precedent?
- Is there change being done that cannot be undone? For instance, a permanent structural change like privatizing/changing to block-grants to programs like Medicare, SSI, SNAP, etc. vs. cuts to budgets that can be fixed down the road.
- Pick the single most grave change they are trying to make and focus on beating that.
3) Shore up your allies. Don’t assume we’ve got all the Dems on our side! Make sure your champs and swings are with you.
4) Never, ever, ever give up. It won’t be pretty, but now’s not the time to throw in the towel. Trump ran a campaign based on promises to “drain the swamp” and eliminate special interests from government. Hold him accountable and point out his hypocrisy in budget policies that only benefit big business and the 1% like him.
Still nervous? Us, too. But remember: you’re not alone. You have friends and allies all around you. I’m one of them, and I work with about 100 others at M+R. Let’s get ready, and let’s get to work.
Even more info can be found at Coalition for Sensible Safeguards, and the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. And another big round of thanks to Martin Paone, Ellen Nissenbaum, Curtis Copeland, and Rob Weissman for their expert guidance and for helping us make sense of all of this!
The two biggest (and wonkiest) legislative threats your nonprofit faces in the new Congress, explained. https://t.co/MEadA8nlTP
— M+R (@MRCampaigns) December 15, 2016
Nonprofit fundraisers are hard at work until December 31. Is your media relations staff just as busy? They ought to be — read on!
Everyone knows about the summer doldrums — the slow August news days when Congress is in recess and your most reliable reporters are hanging out with iguanas and mezcal on a beach in Tulum. But there’s a similar quiet time just around the corner — and if you act now, you can take advantage of it.
When our media team looked at the monthly media impact of 40 leading organizations in the 2016 Mediamarks Study, we noticed a worrying trend. Overall, nonprofits aren’t making much media impact in January and February.
What’s happening at the lower left side of that chart? Environmental, Health, International and US Poverty nonprofits all seem to be struggling to start the year with the level of press they reach in later months.
We see that most nonprofits seem to reach peak media stride by May. As temps outside rise that month, so does the median number of major media hits nonprofits get in the 50 influential news outlets we track. That number of results in May (13) is about twice the size of that number in January (6).
Was it a holiday hangover? Did the press shops forget to make a media plan for the new year before setting their out-of-office? Did comms officers reach their annual media goals and take a well-deserved break? Or are reporters just hibernating?
I don’t know for sure what’s up with the down stats. Mediamarks doesn’t tell us everything we wish we knew. But its charts are a trusty guide to what nonprofit press shops aren’t doing and could be.
Having strong content and something worth saying is always a must-have to make news. Good timing helps. But don’t equate good timing with good luck. That’s rare. Most times, good timing is a result of good planning.
So what can you do now to make more media impact this winter? Here are three media planning questions to have with your team soon:
1 – Checking it twice. Do you have a robust media plan yet for January and February 2017? Are you like, really ready?
2 – Holiday parties briefings. Which reporters do you want to meet for peppermint lattes with your leaders in December to outline your priorities for the new year? Do this and they’ll be more likely to think of them for comment in January.
3 – Gaze into your crystal snow globe. What trends, threats, and media moments are around the corner that you can connect to your work?
4 – Drop the ball. What do you have planned for later in the year that you could do earlier to take advantage of the quieter nonprofit news months? Reports? Photo series? A big day of service? This may be a better question for 2018 planning at this point. But it’s a good one to start asking.
The media you get for your nonprofit year-round can make a real difference for your organization’s advocacy, awareness, and fundraising goals. Don’t forfeit your chance to make your impact from the start.
PS – By the time you’re done media planning for the new year, it’ll be about time for your nonprofit to look back at the year that was. (Too soon, too soon. I know.) Do yourself and the cause you care about a favor and measure your annual media impact a new way. Use the Mediamarks model and focus on the metrics that actually matter. You’ll save time and more clearly see the ways you can improve your media strategy to make news and make a difference.
— M+R (@MRCampaigns) November 29, 2016
If you love data, and nonprofits, and learning things (which, since you’re reading this here post, is a pretty safe bet), then you also love M+R’s annual Benchmarks Study. Or at least you should.
Every year, M+R teams up with nonprofits large and small (and medium) to compile an in-depth look at nonprofit data, strategy, and trends. We’re pretty dang proud of how comprehensive and useful Benchmarks is for nonprofit fundraisers, organizers, and marketers—and we work hard to make each edition better than the last.
A big part of that is making sure we include data from a wide and ever-growing variety of nonprofits. That’s where you come in. Because the only thing we love more than data is MORE DATA.
If you take a look at the 2016 Benchmarks Study, you’ll find hard numbers and deep analysis of email, fundraising, advocacy, social media, digital ads, web stats, and more. There are also some cute pugs on page 20. And at the very end, you’ll find a list of over 100 nonprofits who contributed their data to the massive number-crunching operation that is Benchmarks.
Will you join them and take part in our 11th Benchmarks Study in 2017? By adding your data, you’ll help make Benchmarks even more useful for folks just like you who are trying to figure out this whole online fundraising/advocacy/organizing/marketing thing.
There would be a few hours of effort required on your part. We do our best to make this easy, outlining what data we need from you—mostly a couple of data exports and coding of your message data. Again, we take measures to make sure that your organization’s data is confidential and non-identifiable in the final study. Only you will know how your organization stacks up in the end!
If you would like to participate, please review and fill out the consent form here. We’ll then reach out to you about next steps.
Benchmarks 2017 is going to absolutely rock. I hope you’ll be part of it!
— M+R (@MRCampaigns) November 14, 2016
So, that sucked. We have a lot of work ahead of us… starting with year-end fundraising (for many progressive causes, this is going to be an even more important year-end, obvs). So, as painful as it is, let’s look forward.
Is your mouth watering in anticipation of the end-of-year (EOY) fundraising season? It’s the busiest time of year for fundraisers like us, with some nonprofits raising up to a third or more of their annual online revenue in December alone.
With so many opportunities for fundraising, sometimes we can’t pursue every tactic we might want to try—especially when it comes to social media.
So we’ve put together a special tasting menu of fundraising strategies for your EOY campaign. Pick one or two items from each course, create your own delicious and satisfying meal, and enjoy the holiday fundraising season with a bellyful of tasty social media tactics.APPETIZERS
Don’t go into EOY hungry! These tactics are best done before your fundraising campaign even begins.
Nacho Mama’s User Flow
The people reading your social media posts are very likely to be on their mobile phones (in fact, over half of Facebook users sign in on mobile exclusively). If they get to your donation page and have to fill out a milion fields and get our their credit card, they might just choose to quit the process and go back to catching Pokemon. So at the very least, make sure your donation pages are optimized for mobile. You may even want to look into some new technologies that make giving on social easier: PayPal express, the Facebook donate tool, #Donate from GoodWorld, or even a Text to Give program. New technology won’t make people WANT to give, but it could help reduce the barrier for people who do. Test it out!
The most successful EOY campaigns start long before December. It’s never too early to fatten up your email file by recruiting email addresses through your Facebook page. Post advocacy actions and other engagements that require email collection, and seed your email file with highly engaged supporters who believe in your mission. Take some tips from Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
Meta Data Dip
Undecided about what to order? This exercise will help you know if this is the menu item for you: Go to your donation page, copy the URL, and paste it in your Facebook status. What shows up in the link preview? If you don’t see a compelling reason to donate pop up, you need to update the meta tags on your donation page. (Not sure how? Send this article to your on staff developer.)
While you’re at it, make sure you are asking people to share on social after they donate and/or take action. People are much more likely to give when their friend asks them to than when your organization does. A lot of groups we work with see more social media donations coming in through viral sharing than posts by the nonprofit itself.MAIN COURSE
Seasonal fundraising strategies to fill your belly (and your budget line).
Chicken of the (Emergen)Sea
Social media campaigns work best when there is a moment that grabs your supporters’ attention and creates a sense of urgency. The problem with emergencies is that they’re hard to predict—and once you’re caught up in the moment, it’s hard just to keep up. Consider preparing a campaign in a box—a strategy and arsenal of posts (or at least templates) that you can use when your cause has a moment in the media. Planned Parenthood Action Fund are pros at this—you can be too!
This may be the most popular item on our menu, because it’s a no-brainer with immediate ROI (or maybe it’s the hollandaise sauce—we’re not sure). If this is your first time venturing into social advertising, start by retargeting donation page visitors with Facebook ads encouraging a donation, and make sure to play up the deadline or incentives in your creative.
Ready for the next step? Upload your most likely donors into Facebook as a custom audience and show them ads—we’ve seen this boost revenue by up to 15% when you select the right audiences to target. If you upload your full list, your budget gets diluted too much. If you’re willing to take a risk, try donor acquisition to lookalike modeled audience. This can be a tough nut to crack, but if you’re willing to try something a little bold, December is the time to do it.
Don’t assume that what works for your email audience will work for social. Try a lot of different offers on social media and see what your audience responds to. Each of these tactics can be ordered à la carte or as a combo platter:
- Promote your gift program instead of direct donations. Feature specific gifts instead of making a generic ask.
- Offer premiums exclusive to social media. They can even be digital premiums like a recipe book download.
- Set mini-campaigns with achievable goals for social only. Post about the progress. Check out Grist’s power hour campaign on Twitter for inspiration.
Indulge in some new and untested tactics. Go ahead—we won’t tell if you have dessert before you finish your dinner.
If you struggle to get responses to direct fundraising asks on social, try a new approach: Making donations the second step. We’ve seen some groups raise more by having an advocacy or engagement ask that lands on a donation page (post-action donation) than linking directly to a donation page. It seems counter-intuitive to put a barrier between your supporters and donating, but the post will get more interaction (and as a result, better news feed placement) if it’s easier and fun to do. And, taking your action or even just answering a survey question will remind your audience WHY they care about your organization or issue before you make the ask.
If your organization has access to celebrity ambassadors, make sure your Social Media team is thinking about how best to leverage them. Celebrities often want to be public about the good work they’re doing for your organization, and nothing is more public than social media. Create a toolkit for your celebs full of sample posts and images to share. Maybe even ask them to start a Facebook Fundraiser for you! Whatever is happening, make sure your social team knows about it so they can share and thank the celebrity publicly.
So far we’ve been talking about social media for getting conversions, but don’t forget that it’s a perfect tool for donor cultivation! Ask your donors to share a specific hashtag or an image from your Facebook photos and you’ll be able to easily find them online. You can then make them feel appreciated by commenting thanks, liking/hearting their posts, or even reposting their generous comments for social proof (“You like us, you really like us!”). On Twitter, you can also add these donors to lists so you can keep an eye on them and engage with them later down the line, after your campaign ends.
Got a hankering for something you didn’t see on the menu? Flag us down @mrcampaigns and we’ll let the chef know.
— M+R (@MRCampaigns) November 10, 2016