“This is definitely a next-level direct action. The urgency of climate change warrants such an attempt to disrupt business as usual… to make it impossible for people with decision making-power to go about their daily lives as if we are not in a climate emergency.”
Last night more than 150 people from nearly two dozen different affinity groups came together to begin to solidify our plans to take bold action during the Youth Climate Strike Week of Action. We organized into three clusters of affinity groups, each committing to work together to shut down a different portion of the city on September 23rd. Many affinity groups have already selected exactly which intersections and areas they’re planning on shutting down.
We are on the verge of doing something really, really big… but we still have a lot of work to do!
Get trained up!
Over the next 9 days we’ll be offering a series of trainings to make sure that everybody has the skills to be confident, safe and effective on the day of action. We’re constantly adding more trainings to the calendar so keep checking back, but here’s what’s happening over the next few days:
The art working group is holding weekly art builds every Thursday evening at 8pm. We also have access to two warehouses that affinity groups can use to make arts and props. Email art@StrikeDC.org to get plugged in.
See you next week!
We will be meeting at the Friends Meeting House (2111 Florida Ave NW) on Wednesday September 18th. We will be meeting from 5:30-8:30 PM
6:30pm: Affinity Group meetings — We are encouraging affinity groups to meet between 6:30-7:00 pm before the spokes at the Friends Meeting house. Likely it will be a great chance to plug new people into your affinity group who will come for the opening from Naomi Klein and Rev Lennox Yearwood.
7:00pm: Spokes Council — Make sure your affinity group is well represented at this critical meeting which is the second to second last spokes council meeting before the action.
We’re ready to take things to the next level! Let’s get ready to #ShutDownDC!
We are going to #ShutDownDC in less than three weeks and the action is really starting to take shape! More than 150 people joined us for the spokes council meeting last night and there are 13 solid affinity groups who are working hard to come up with plans to shut things down on September 23rd.
At last night’s meeting the spokes council agreed to adopt the demands recently put forward by the US Youth Climate Strike Coalition:
Green New Deal
Respect of Indigenous Land
Protection of Biodiversity
In addition to the overarching demands for the full action, different affinity groups plan on raising additional demands around militarism, the prison industrial complex, migrant rights, racial justice, reproductive rights and other issues that are inspiring them to take action.
More than 650 people have already signed the pledge of resistance committing to take action to #ShutDownDC on September 23 and hundreds are already starting to make plans with their affinity groups. This level of energy and excitement is incredible but there is still a lot of work to do and there’s no time to wait. Here are some important next steps to make this action a reality!
If you are part of an affinity group, make sure someone in your group is communicating with the action working group about your plans and what support you need. Either fill out this form or shoot us an email at email@example.com to let us know what you’re comfortable sharing about your so we can help you coordinate with other parts of the action.
Make Some Art!
Join the art working group for weekly art builds every Thursday evening at 2627 Evarts St. NE. Want to make some art but can’t join us on Thursdays? Shoot the art WG an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Get trained! — Saturday, September 7 at 11am at St. Stephens
Join us for an affinity group training to learn how we can all operate in these smaller groups, how we can make decisions and move (physically) together in the streets, coordinate with other groups and stay healthy and safe in the streets. We’ll also provide some background on the action framework for the #ShutDownDC Climate Strike action and ways to get involved!
This is a great workshop for folks who are newer to direct action and looking to plug in for the climate strike AND movement veterans who want a refresher and more details on how to plug into action on September 23rd (and beyond!). If you’re planning on joining us please register here so we can have a solid headcount and enough materials for everyone. *Note that the training that was scheduled for 6:30pm tonight has been canceled because of scheduling conflicts.
Wow! That was an incredible meeting last night. 125 people in the room and 11 solid affinity groups at the #ShutDownDC kick off meeting! We’re so inspired to see so many amazing people stepping up to the challenge.
The Climate Strike week of action is less than a month away and we have a long way to go and a short time to get there. Here are a few important next steps for everyone!
As we discussed last night we’re going to shut down DC by organizing in affinity groups–each taking responsibility for different intersections and parts of the city.
Our next spokes council will be at the same time and location next week: Wednesday, September 4 at 7pm at 2111 Florida Ave NW (Friends Meeting House of Washington, DC)
If you invite people who missed this week’s meeting, please tell them to arrive at6pm for an orientation so they can be ready to hit the ground running when the spokes council starts at 7.
More than 400 people have already signed the pledge of resistance committing to take action and ShutDownDC on September 23rd! But if we’re going to pull off something this ambitious we need to keep building! Tell everyone you can possibly think of to sign the pledge of resistance at https://strikedc.org and share the Facebook event far and wide!https://www.facebook.com/events/514187982669388/
There are a handful of important events this week. Please check them out and share them with your networks:
350DC will be leading a Recruitment Talk at the Shaw Library Today at 630pm. The talk will cover the severity of the climate crisis and why nonviolent civil disobedience is our best strategy. Facebook Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/510277736387391/
This Friday at 530pm at the EPA building, Nadine and XRDC will be providing a Roadblock and Affinity Group Training. Please come out to get some experience taking the street with your affinity group! We need 30 RSVPS for the event to go forward. RSVP here: https://xrebellion.org/8-30
We’re looking forward to seeing everyone at these events coming up. Let’s keep building our momentum to build something incredible on September 23rd!
The vast majority of union contracts include “no strike” clauses where unions promise not to strike until their contract expires (usually 2-4 year terms). Almost all union workers risk getting fired for striking for climate and almost all unions risk legal repercussions if they try to organize such a strike. But there are many ways they can participate in and support these actions; here are a few.
Messages of solidarity
These can come from individual union leaders, local union executive councils, and central labor councils.
Unions should post them on websites and facebook pages, tweet and send them out on other social media.
They should be personalized – like a video of individual union members each saying a few words about why they support the climate strike.
Members may not be able to strike, but leaders and staff can attend actions and be assigned to help prepare.
Organize members who are not scheduled to work to attend – for example, janitors who work in the evening could come to an action in the afternoon.
Union leave – when contracts allow for leave for union business, use this so that members can attend (and help in advance).
Training programs – look for programs, like apprenticeship programs, that have groups of people who could attend.
Throughout the 2018–2019 school year, young people around organized massive school climate strikes to demand that the world’s leaders take immediate action to address climate change. The strikes started first in Sweden, then spread throughout the European Union and around the world. By March, 15 tens of thousands of students in more than 100 countries around the world walked out of school as part of the first Global Climate Strike for Our Future issuing a strong challenge to the world’s leaders. Greta Thunberg, one of the strike’s leaders wrote in an open letter in the Guardian,
“We, the young, are deeply concerned about our future… We will no longer accept this injustice… We demand the world’s decision-makers take responsibility and solve this crisis. You have failed us in the past. If you continue failing in the future, we, the young people, will make change happen by ourselves. The youth of this world has started to move and we will not rest again.”
These calls for climate strikes offer an inspiring vision for action at the scale and scope needed to disrupt the entrenched power structures that have created the climate crisis and continually blocked the serious measures needed to combat it. But beyond calls to walk out of school and work, truly effective climate strikes will require a strategy for mass participation and disruption to seriously threaten the entrenched power structures. It won’t be easy but by drawing on the lessons from previous mass strikes and tested organizing principles we believe that it is possible to build mass climate strikes that can offer a credible threat to the governments and corporations that have failed to address the climate crisis.
Strikes — A powerful tool in the toolbox
The term “strike” comes from a maritime tradition of workplace action where sailors would lower or “strike” the sails of their ship at sea demanding better treatment and working conditions from the ship’s captain and officers. Sailors would refuse to raise the sails and the ship would stay adrift until their demands were met, or at least an acceptable agreement had been reached. There was an art to organizing these early strikes. A large enough portion of the crew needed to be ready to take action so that they couldn’t be overpowered by the officers and loyal crew members. And the strikes were most effective when winds were high and the cost of lowering sails was greatest. If the strike failed the consequences to the unlucky sailors who overplayed their hands would be great. And ship captains knew that if the unrest was not addressed quickly it could escalate to a full blown mutiny.
Strikes moved ashore in the early 1600s with relatively small groups of indentured servants, slaves, apprentices, and craftspeople laying down their tools and refusing to work to demand better working conditions. While workers from all walks of life participated in different forms of strikes, skilled craft workers whose skills could not easily be replaced won the biggest gains during these early work stoppages. But as the industrial revolution and the introduction of steam-powered railroads transformed the organization of the economy, larger groups of unskilled industrial workers gained the ability to cause mass disruption by idling the factories and infrastructure that early industrialists relied upon to make their fortunes.
In 1877 workers on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (B&O) went on strike to protest wage cuts, choking the nation’s arteries and cutting off the lifeblood of the country’s commercial and industrial systems. The strike started in Martinsburg, West Virginia before spreading to Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and as far west as St. Louis, Missouri and as far north as Albany, New York. Thousands of railroad workers took part in the strike but its effects were much more widespread because the stalled rail line blocked factories from getting supplies or transporting their goods to market and brought passenger travel to a standstill effectively shutting down a large portion of the commercial and industrial activity in the country.
Later, in 1934 when Longshore workers in San Francisco and Teamsters in Minneapolis commercial activity in both cities ground to a halt. With the docks in Seattle’s ports effectively shut down and drivers refusing to move struck cargo, all of the businesses that relied on trading and transporting imported and exported goods were shut down. When Seattle’s truck drivers struck, “flying squads” of picketers refused to allow any truck roll through the city’s streets without a special permit from the union (strikers granted special permits to trucks moving supplies for hospitals as well as farmers from the supportive Farmers’ Holiday Association traveling into the city to sell produce in street markets). And as recently as this year, the wave of teachers strikes across the country rippled through entire communities, with parents of school children calling off work to stay home with their children while schools were closed (many parents and students used the time to join their teachers on the picket lines).
Mass Participation and Mass Disruption
Strikes are a very powerful tool, but they aren’t a tool to be used lightly. Strikes are, by their very nature, tools of mass participation. Just a handful of workers walking off the job isn’t likely to have a significant impact on operations. For a strike to be successful at impeding operations, large numbers of workers must be ready to collectively withhold their labor. This requires serious discipline and commitment. The costs of missing work — and a paycheck — can be significant for many workers. And the risks of being fired or retaliated against are serious. So the informed consent and active participation of large numbers of workers — particularly those most implicated in the strike activity — are essential ingredients in organizing a credible strike.
While some moderately successful strikes have been limited to specific workplaces or industries, throughout history, the strikes that have won sweeping societal changes won because they were able to spread throughout the economy, generating popular support, mobilizing mass participation and creating mass disruption. During the railroad strike, a large number of railroad workers walked off the job, refusing to work after management instituted pay cuts. But even more workers didn’t work because the trains were not running. Picketers refused to let trains leave stations or roundhouses, supplies weren’t delivered to factories, and passengers weren’t able to travel to conduct business. In Minneapolis, Teamsters made the decision that allowing any driver to move goods at substandard rates hurt every trucker so flying picket squads refused to let trucks driven by would-be strikebreakers move during the strikes.
Modern Labor Law — An uneasy compromise
Today’s labor strikes are much different than the strikes that led to the massive workplace gains a century ago. Because early strikes proved to be so powerful and disruptive, politicians offered something of a compromise, allowing strikes, but only under certain conditions. Anthropologist David Graeber observes,
“Unions are, paradoxically, the only organizations in the US legally permitted to engage in direct action; but they can do so only if they do not call it that; and only at the cost of accepting endless and intricate regulations over how and when they can strike, what kinds of pickets they can set up and where, whether, they are allowed to engage in other tactics such as secondary boycotts or even publicity campaigning, and so on.”
This uneasy compromise has been the subject of much debate within the labor movement. On one hand, federal labor law has offered some important protections for workers engaging in union activity, on the other hand, the legal framework of the National Labor Relations Act has dramatically constrained the repertoires of contention that are available to modern labor unions.
As a result of this uneasy compromise, the strikes that observers of the modern labor movement are familiar with bear little resemblance to the massively disruptive general strikes that led to the huge gains of the labor movement in the years before 1936. Early strikes relied on two essential components to create mass disruption: First, workers would organize large numbers of their co-workers to withhold their labor for the duration of the strike. Second, those workers and their supporters worked to actively disrupt commercial activity through pickets, blockades, social persuasion, and direct action.
This second, more active, component of early strikes was essential to creating mass disruption because it made the decision of whether or not to strike a collective one, not an individual one. Once workers collectively decided to call a strike, individual workers were no longer forced to make the tough individual decision of defying their employers and refusing to work — factories were inaccessible because their gates were blocked by strong picket lines; trains and trucks would not move because even if there were drivers and rail crews on hand willing to defy the strike, roads and rail lines would be blocked; shops would close partly because even if there were retail clerks ready to show up to work there would be no way to get goods to stock the shelves and customers would be discouraged from shopping.
Today, constrained by the framework of federal labor law, unions generally rely primarily on the more passive component of strikes — withdrawing labor en mass. Popular movement to fight climate change, however, are not bound by the constraints of the uneasy compromise of federal labor law, we are only bound by our ability to build mass participation, create mass disruption and withstand mass repression.
Striking for Climate Justice
The bold and courageous leaders of the student climate strikes captured the imagination of the world by walking out of school, Friday after Friday, eventually mobilizing millions of students in more than 100 countries around the world to take action. They have called for another round of mass strikes in September of 2019 and issued a challenge for older generations to join them.
“Millions of school strikers have shown us they’re serious about climate action. Adults, will you join our youth? School strikers are calling on everyone: young people, parents, workers, and all concerned citizens to join massive climate strikes and a week of actions starting on September 20. People all over the world will use their power to stop ‘business as usual’ in the face of the climate emergency.”
To date, climate strikes have relied mainly on large numbers of students withdrawing their participation in the status quo by walking out of class and joining demonstrations. But this round of climate strikes could truly jump scale and pose a credible threat to the politicians and corporations that have failed to take action on the climate crisis if we are able to combine organizing walkouts at massive scale with active disruptions to bring the economy to a screeching halt.
Building massive support and participation is one essential component of organizing for this September’s climate strike. But planning for mass disruption to actively shut down our political and economic system is what will make the difference between a powerful week of action and a serious challenge to the entrenched power structures.
If our movements can credibly plan to shut down the arteries of commerce and transportation we can transform a climate strike from an individual decision to withhold labor to a collective decision to shut down the economy until our demands are met. If we can ensure that commuter trains cannot run, key bridges are impassible for vehicular traffic, and major highways into commercial centers are blocked people will not be forced to make the tough individual decision about whether or not to go to work — going to work won’t be an option — they’ll be able to decide whether to stay home or to come out to the streets to join the demonstrations.
“But what about people just trying to go about their day? Won’t we just be inconveniencing them?“
To be sure, massive participation and broad popular support is an essential component of a successful climate strike. But if we are serious striking for climate justice we need to be serious about creating mass disruption. If we are going to invite individuals to give up pay, risk their jobs, or leave their classrooms to join a strike, we owe it to them to be serious about making it work. There can be significant personal costs to participating in a strike and strikes aren’t a tactic to call for lightly or to deploy as half measures.
The question of whether or not to organize mass disruption is an important gut-check for our movement. If we don’t think that the situation is urgent enough to warrant creating a mass disruption then the situation probably isn’t urgent enough to encourage large numbers of people to risk their livelihoods by going on strike.
A strike will be disruptive. Some people who want to go to work won’t be able to get to their jobs. Some parents will probably have trouble getting to their kids’ daycare to pick them up. Some people may have trouble getting to the pharmacy to pick up their medicine. Many people will miss paychecks. We can come up with plans to try to mitigate as many of these problems as possible, but if we aren’t ready to try to solve the problem of helping parents get their kids at daycare or finding ways people to get their medicine from the pharmacy, we aren’t ready to invite daycare workers or pharmacy techs to walk off the job.
From Individual Decisions to Collective Action
Organizing mass disruption to the key arteries of the economy also transforms participating in a strike from an individual decision to a collective action. If the strike just relies on individuals making the decision to withhold their labor or walk out of their classrooms, every person who participates in the strike is forced into a situation where they must personally decide whether or not they are going to strike and bear the full weight and responsibility of that decision with their employer or school.
But as the size of the strike grows, the risk becomes more distributed and dissipates. A boss can fire one or two workers for refusing to come to work during the climate strike. But can that boss afford to fire 100 workers for participating in the climate strike? 200 workers? 1,000 workers?
And if transportation infrastructure is shut down or the doors to the workplace are blocked, workers won’t need to make a decision about whether or not to go to work — they can’t go to work. And faced with the prospect of a mass strike and disruption that would make business as usual impossible, many employers would respond the way that they do in anticipation of a major snowstorm or the day after the home team wins the World Series — by simply closing their business for the day.
This doesn’t mean that a strike can be imposed from the outside or orchestrated by some vanguard of militant activists. Without the active participation of large numbers of people and popular support from many, many more — particularly those with the most at stake — a disruptive strike will almost certainly create an ugly backlash. And to the extent that disruptive activity impedes people who aren’t inclined to participate in the strike from getting where they want to go or doing what they want to do during the strike, it is best if the people doing the disruption are the ones with the closest relationship to the nodes of the economy they are disrupting. If commuter trains are going to be blockaded, people who normally ride those trains should lead those blockades; if bridges are going to be shut down, the people who normally rely on those bridges should take the lead in those shutdowns; if school buses are going to be kept in their garages, students who normally ride school buses should take the lead in keeping the buses in those garages.
Organizing at Scale
While organizing a climate strike that can credibly disrupt commercial activity within any city or region requires organizing at a massive scale, it doesn’t require unanimous participation. In a groundbreaking study of civil resistance campaigns around the world, Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan found that movements that mobilized at least 3.5% of the population in sustained civil resistance were successful in creating transformative political change. While much easier to build towards than 100% participation, mobilizing 3.5% of the population is still an ambitious mobilization. That means engaging 25 thousand people in Seattle, 95 thousand people in Chicago, 290 thousand people in New York City or 11.4 million people nationwide in sustained civil resistance.
Right now there is no organization or party structure in the United States that has the resources or capacity to build a program to organize at this scale. But working alongside each other many different types of organizations can cobble together the best practices and traditions of a wide range of social movements to organize huge numbers of people to take bold and dynamic action.
From the labor and community organizing traditions, organizations can adopt the models of disciplined, structure-based organizing. Tools like mapping workplaces and communities to build lists and identify organic leaders and one-on-one organizing conversations with clear action steps to push people into action can allow us to go beyond ‘hand raisers’ and ‘usual suspects’ to go deep into our communities and engage people we would have never thought about engaging.
We can use structure tests like strike pledges and practice actions to find out where we have strong support and participation and spend time and energy going towards our “biggest worsts” to break down barriers to action. The Central American Solidarity Movement, Anti-War Movement, and Climate movements used these tools to great effect with “Pledge of Resistance”campaigns where people publicly committed to taking bold action in support of their movements. As more and more people sign pledges, the more timid and skeptical supporters of the movements became more confident that the actions were going to be powerful and they added their names. Pledge organizers could also identify key areas and communities that had not signed the pledge, identify what was holding people back, and work with those communities to break through barriers to action.
From the direct action organizing tradition, a movement to build a climate strike can adopt models of decentralized and autonomous organizing through affinity groups that take responsibility for making their own plans to meaningfully participate in the strike. During the WTO in Seattle in 1999, the Direct Action Network divided the city into sections surrounding the convention center like pieces of a pie. Different affinity groups or groups of affinity groups made plans within their own sections of the city to shut down traffic. Some organized marches or rolling blockades, others organized mass sit-ins, and still others organized lockdowns in key intersections. With the city shut down, the trade summit was delayed and talks eventually collapsed as delegates from the global south who were being strongarmed into the disastrous trade deal became emboldened by popular resistance from around the world.
From the Momentum model that has informed the great work of theSunrise Movement, If Not Now, and Movimiento Cosecha, a mobilization for a climate strike can adopt the practices of frontloading and mass training to breakdown the bottlenecks and onboard huge numbers of people in the ‘moment of the whirlwind’ — when the movement begins to take on a life of its own. By developing a strong program of training and onboarding, new participants are able to quickly learn the structures, stories, norms, and repertoires of contention of the movement and jump into meaningful action right away. This allows the movement to quickly scale up and absorb the time and energy and capacity of huge numbers of people during times of peak activity — when it’s often hardest to meaningfully integrate new energetic participants — and harness that energy when the wave of action recedes as part of the natural cycle of social movements.
To be sure, the conditions for organizing a climate strike are not ideal. Many of our movements are on the defensive, facing down new attacks from the Trump administration at every turn. The organizational infrastructure to support massive direct action is relatively weak right now and September is only two months away. But time is running out and the climate crisis is on our doorstep. The conditions for organizing are only going to get more and more challenging in the months and years to come. Young people around the world have challenged all of us to take bold direct action to turn the political tides and seriously confront the climate crisis. Their visionary leadership has created the momentum and opportunity we need to take serious action for climate justice. This September, let’s give it a shot. Let’s go big and strike for climate justice.