Today the movement is in a state of impasse. Perhaps by turning to history, exploring the experiences of movements animated by similar values and confronting similar roadblocks, we’ll find some guidance on how to move forward.

On February 1st, 1960, four Black students in Greensboro, North Carolina, sat down at the counter of a local Woolworth’s, refusing to leave until they were served. Unaware that their actions were to ignite a movement that would radically shake the nation. Similar to Occupy Wall Street, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) emerged out of a wave of direct action that spread almost spontaneously across the country, reshaping the national conversation around inequality and providing space for a new generation of radicals to find each other. The Civil Rights Movement, which had for sometime been stagnating, was given a fresh infusion of new energy. But as the wave passed, the young radicals found themselves in a moment of confusion: the initiative was firmly in their hands, but they were unsure of what direction to go in or how to move forward. Having perhaps reached the limit that style of activism had to offer, they began to shift gears to the longer-term work of community organizing.

Broadly speaking, the Civil Rights Movement can be thought of as containing two distinct traditions of movement building: community mobilizing and community organizing. The former focused primarily on large-scale, short-term public events. This is the Movement of popular memory, best associated with the legacy of Dr. King. The organizing tradition, on the other hand, was animated by a sense of freedom eloquently summed up by Septima Clark as “broadening the scope of democracy to include everyone and deepening the concept to include every relationship.” To this end, more emphasis was placed on the longer-term work of cultivating a sense of leadership, agency, and power of everyday people. The success of campaigns was judged more for how they facilitated the personal transformation of those involved than if they met particular tactical goals. The movement became a kind of training in democracy.

As they would arrive in town, SNCC organizers were often ignored or avoided by local people, often dismissively referred to as “dat mess.” Even folks initially sympathetic to the movement simply had too much to lose by publicly affiliating with it. But the organizers dug themselves in, engaging the community, getting to know people and their struggles, building relationships. Slowly, impressed by their ideas, actions, character, and courage, some local people chose to cast their lot with the movement. Within a year, they would have the capacity to mobilize an entire town; even conservative local leaders felt obligated to express their support. When SNCC organizers would leave town, they left behind lasting autonomous organizations led by local people, who otherwise would never would have thought of themselves as politically engaged. They transformed the South.

SNCC organizer Bob Moses was once asked how you organize a town. “By bouncing a ball,” he responded. “You stand on a street corner and bounce a ball. Soon all the children come around. You keep on bouncing the ball. Before long it runs under someone’s porch and you meet the adults.”

SNCC often thought about organizing and building relationships interchangeably. Canvassing was the prototypical organizing act. It was the first step in engaging and developing relationships with those in the community not already sympathetic to the movement. Anyone who showed interest would be asked to become involved in a single, concrete task. This could be helping to plan a workshop or going canvassing themselves, but it often meant attending a mass meeting. Mass meetings were the means by which curiosity was cemented into commitment. Mass meetings borrowed their form from the Black church. Strategy and tactics were discussed, internal problems aired, educational lectures given, gospels sung, updates given on what was happening with the movement elsewhere. One of the major components of the mass meeting was folks publicly narrating their life story. Mass meetings helped break people out of their sense of isolation by showing them how many of their neighbors had also come out. Citizenship schools aimed to raise people’s basic literacy skills to prepare them to register to vote, but they were taught using a radical pedagogical style that emphasized structural critique, Black history, “community problem solving” (ie, direct action), and ultimately, subjective transformation. Other major tasks of organizing a town were locating co-optable networks (social networks already predisposed to movement values),  and developing informal leadership (those in communities already holding informal leadership roles). Ultimately, this organizing allowed SNCC to move communities of ordinary people into sustained political action.

Much of what has become common sense in Occupy Wall Street and contemporary anarchism has its origins in SNCC. Skeptical of traditional organizations, SNCC experimented with consensus decision making, horizontal structures, and group-centric leadership. They developed a kind of independent radicalism, untethered by dogmas or established political ideology. They developed a try-and-let’s-see style of organizing, open to experiments and learning from experience. To borrow a phrase from the Zapatistas, SNCC attempted to “walk while asking questions.” SNCC found their way out of their own impasse by shifting their emphasis from dramatic events to the steadier work of community organizing. It seems today that a similar shift is needed: toward radical community organizing.

Shyam Khanna

Originally published in Tidal.


“Strike Story”, a play based on the events of the Little Falls 1912 Textile Strike, will be presented on March 2, 2013 at 7 PM at the Masonic Temple in Little Falls. First produced for the Strike Centennial in October, the play uses newspaper reports, government documents, and personal memoirs to tell the story of the strike in the voices of the participants.


The readers’ theatre format makes the immediate connection between the original language and the story of the strike. Written by Angela Harris of Little Falls, the play is directed by Matt Powers, also of Little Falls. Among the cast are local residents Katie Drake, Laura Hailston Powers, Tom Stock, Frank Wilcox, and Robert and Barbara Albrecht, and former resident Jeanne McAvoy.

The Strike began on October 9, 1912, with a walkout of women mill workers in response to a reduction of weekly wages. Lasting three months, the strike involved Polish, Italian, Slovak, and Slovenian immigrant workers who were assisted by national union organizers, including Matilda Rabinowitz, Big Bill Haywood, and Ben Legere. Helen Keller contributed to the strike fund. The Strike brought a national spotlight to the city; and locally, one hundred years later, there are still strong feelings about the implications of the strike for the long term economic health the area.

March is Women’s History Month, and “Strike Story” presents a piece of Little Falls history that shows the role of women in cultural, social, and economic history of the city.

Tickets are available at $5 at The Mustard Seed in Canal Place. Tickets will be available at the theater door, starting at 6:30 on Saturday, March 2 before the performance. The Masonic Temple is at 5 Prospect Street, Little Falls.


Monday, February 25
Utica Public Library in the Gallery

Free to the public!

The Black Panther Party has been vilified as extreme, violent and anti-white. This presentation will dispel these myths by showing the community organizing tradition of the Panthers, their coalitions with other groups and COINTELPRO – the government program created to destroy the Panthers and the New Left of the 1960s-70s. Special attention will be given to the community programs of the Panthers such as the free breakfast program and free community clinics. Come listen to this exciting history accompanied with a power-point presentation.

Resistance Against Drone Warfare Heats Up


While President Obama’s inauguration was underway, three antiwar activists sat in jail in a Syracuse, NY suburb for protesting the use of Reaper drones at Hancock Airbase, one of countless air bases that operate drones in the US. The three activists are part of a growing resistance to the use of drones by the US military. On December 16 they were sentenced along with nine others for protesting outside the base’s main entrance. Two other activists already spent time in jail for taking part in the actions.

Senator Chuck Schumer made a recent visit to Utica to address a pressing issue. It was not however the deteriorating local economy or public school budget cuts. The pressing issue of the day was the need to revive the F-16 fly-over at the end of the Boilermaker Road Race. A more pressing issue Schumer danced around was the reason why the F-16s no longer do the fly-over. Hancock Airbase in Syracuse switched its primary function from piloting F-16s to remotely pilot un-manned drones in 2010.


Schumer is a fervent supporter of drone warfare. In 2011 he pushed for the use of drones to fly over the Adirondack Park for testing and surveillance purposes. Drones are the unmanned military aircraft that have greatly expanded the theater of war. President Obama has greatly increased the use of drones for surveillance and targeted assassinations from his predecessor. Although the US military argues drones are safer than using troops on the ground, create little to no “collateral damage” (military speak for civilian deaths) and ultimately protect US soldiers, the reality on the ground is a drastically different situation.

President Obama has increased the use of drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. And although his administration claims the use of drones is to target al Qaeda militants, the majority of deaths have been civilian. The President personally signs off on the names of people to be assassinated on an ever-growing “kill list” that has human rights and civil liberties supporters worried.

In Washington D.C., social critic and author Cornel West and rapper Lupe Fiasco made statements critical of the President’s pro-war policies and use of drones. In a panel moderated by Tavis Smiley, Dr. West criticized President Obama for placing his hand on Martin Luther King’s Bible for the inauguration.

“You don’t use his prophetic fire as just a moment of presidential pageantry without understanding the challenge that he presents to all of those in power no matter what color they are,” said Dr. West. He distanced the pro-war President from Dr. King who called the US government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world” in his famous 1967 speech “Beyond Vietnam: Time to Break the Silence” given at Harlem’s Riverside Church. West also challenged Obama for the use of drones in killing “our precious brothers and sisters” in Pakistan and other nations. Lupe Fiasco was thrown off a stage by security during an inaugural celebration he performed at after stating he didn’t vote for Obama and performing a piece highly critical of the president’s foreign policy. Fiasco has made statements in the past criticizing the use of drones.

The targeted assassination of US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki on September 30, 2011 was the first apparent targeted killing of a US citizen since the War on Terror started. Al-Awlaki was once viewed as a moderate imam and was an invited guest to the White House during George W. Bush’s presidency, but the War on Terror pushed him to more extreme views and eventual involvement with al Qaeda. The Obama administration took an even more extreme measure when Al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old American son was marked for assassination. He had never committed any acts of terrorism. He was looking for his father he had not seen for two years and was assassinated two weeks after his father.


The Obama administration stresses that the use of drones is legal but the entire program remains largely secretive, with the administration still refusing to divulge any details of the program or any legal justification for it. The use of the Reaper Drone, which operates out of Hancock Airbase, was called “al Qaeda’s best recruitment tool” by Syracuse antiwar activist Ed Kinane. Faisal Shahzad, who attempted to bomb Times Square, justified his terror plot against civilians by stating to his judge during his 2010 sentencing, “When the drones hit, they don’t see children.”

An antiwar activist for most of his life, Kinane was in Baghdad to protect civilians during the “Shock and Awe” invasion of Iraq in 2003 with the peace group Voices in the Wilderness. He said the experience was “terrifying” as he described in court the shaking of his hotel and having no idea when or where the next bombs would hit. It was not the first war zone he was in as a peace activist and would not be the last. He traveled to Afghanistan in 2011 where he witnessed the harrowing effects of the US occupation. He told the packed courtroom, which included three uniformed Air National Guard soldiers from Hancock, about the drone attack that killed an entire jurga, or political council, in Afghanistan.

In the aftermath of the mass shooting tragedy in Newtown, CT, author Vijay Prashad highlighted the deaths of children that the US public ignores and the US government sanctions. He wrote in the Daily Hampshire Gazette on December 17 that, “No memorials exist as well for the 178 children killed by U.S. drone strikes in the borderlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan.” He also lamented the loss of 83 children who were killed while in their school in Bajaur, Pakistan on October 30, 2006 from a US drone strike. There was no mass mourning in the US over that tragedy.

Eyewitnesses on the ground in Pakistan describe how drones attack people. The first hellfire missile is shot by a drone to kill its intended target. After neighbors and first responders arrive on the scene, a second hellfire missile is shot in a scene of indiscriminate killing. This pattern has led first responders to wait, sometimes hours, before going to sites suspected of being targeted by drones.


“Everyone is scared all the time. When we’re sitting together to have a meeting, we’re scared there might be a strike. When you can hear the drone circling in the sky, you think it might strike you,” said Dawood Ishaq (anonymized name) who lives in Pakistan. The fear of death is a reality and Ed Kinane and his fellow activists tried in court on December 16 for protesting Reaper Drones argue that because of what the drones operated out of Hancock are doing in Pakistan, Central New York, and De Witt in particular, are now part of the war zone and are at risk of future attacks.

John Hamilton was tried along with Ed Kinane and 10 other co-defendants. His family came from the South and grew up during the Civil Rights era. He learned about lynching growing up, an act of terror that had a profound impact in shaping his worldview. “Judges allowed extra-judicial murder in their jurisdictions in the South,” he told the packed courtroom. He drew comparisons between Southern judges that refused to go after whites who lynched Black civilians and judges today who refuse to do anything about the “lynchings” of Pakistani children.

De Witt Judge Robert Jokl was not swayed. Five of the activists were sentenced to 15 day jail terms each. But many agreed that their sentencing would not deter future actions at Hancock. A Ground the Drones, End the Wars weekend of education and action is planned for April 26-28. As the death count of civilians killed by drones rises, more resistance is inevitable at Hancock. As John Hamilton said in court, people need to “end lynching, not in some backwoods Alabama town, but here in De Witt in 2012.”

Brendan Maslauskas Dunn

For more information, visit:

Occupy Sandy Relief: Rebuilding, Resistance and the Arson of a Church


The historic Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew in Brooklyn’s Clinton Hill neighborhood was bustling with activity on a brisk, mid-December day. A convoy of vans filled with supplies for victims of Hurricane Sandy just left, volunteers were sorting through boxes of donations, and two dozen Occupy activists were stationed in a room upstairs, some hunkered over computers and others debating over organizing and outreach strategies for Occupy Sandy Relief.  The walls were covered with maps of New York City, a weekly schedule with the note “please take at least one day off” and a hanging Marine Corps uniform.

The owner of the uniform is Rob Zillig who served in the Marines from 2004 to 2008 in the Biological Incident Response Force; basically, his time in the Marines was spent learning about hazmat and disaster response. He is active with Occupy Buffalo and travelled down to New York City to help with disaster relief work after Hurricane Sandy slammed into the city. He tried to work with every organization and agency imaginable – FEMA, the Red Cross – but it was an uphill battle trying to cut through the bureaucracy. He arrived at the Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew accidentally after getting lost on the subway. He simply walked in the front door and went to work. One of the attractions of the model of Occupy Sandy Relief is the relative ease volunteers have to actually do relief work.


Occupy Sandy organizer Alexandra Shwarzstein, like Rob Zellig was drawn to Occupy Sandy’s approach, but unlike him she had never been involved with the original Occupy Wall Street. “A group of people organized in this way can be so highly effective, considering there is no formal structure, no real central group,” she said. Shwarzstein’s background is in fundraising for non-profits, not quite the same thing as Occupy Sandy Relief work.

“I do medical canvassing, work in the kitchen, do dishes, coordination, demolitions,” said Zillig. Also active with Occupy Marines and an antiwar activist, Zillig dons his uniform from time to time and does “a lot of outreach with veterans and police,” emphasizing that much of his outreach is the simple yet important act of “listening to people.” Zillig’s approach echoes a core belief of Occupy Sandy Relief, one that sets it apart from most other relief organizations, non-profits and government agencies: mutual aid.


The orientation Occupy Sandy organizers give to volunteers emphasizes the bottom-up grassroots approach to relief work and the concept of mutual aid as it relates to hurricane recovery. An “Occupy Sandy FAQ” handout given to all volunteers spells it out in simple language:

Mutual aid is an act that seeks to transform relationships & society for the better. It is about      working with people towards their own liberation and security by providing concrete support to          ensure that people have the power to change the conditions of their own lives.

This bottom-up approach clearly contrasts the top-down nature of charity work. The slogan “Solidarity Not Charity” holds considerable weight with Occupy Sandy organizers and volunteers and it was this slogan emblazoned on the front of The Other Side next to Café Domenico when Occupy Utica used it as a donation drop-off site for relief supplies. Common Ground Relief, set up in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, operates on this same premise.

Occupy Utica joined a vast network of mutual aid in action that found its nexus at the Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew, which at one time was one of nearly 50 Occupy Sandy hubs and supply drop-off sites in New York and New Jersey. Volunteers in Utica sorted through donations, sent truckloads of supplies into Brooklyn and a few made it to the devastated neighborhood of Far Rockaway to gut houses that took in 8 feet of water from the hurricane. Some of the most active support came from those not usually seen working with Occupy – the veterans organization 40 and 8 and Tea Party supporters. The inability of the government to rapidly respond to the devastation of the hurricane was not just seen by those active in Occupy. The utter cluelessness of the Bloomberg administration in New York City could be seen in the meetings and orientations given by Occupy Sandy Relief where Bloomberg officials and other city representatives who months earlier had led the crackdown on occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park were now looking to Occupy for direction and answers.


In some neighborhoods like Far Rockaway in Queens and Sunset Park in Brooklyn, Occupy Sandy Relief was leading the relief work. In many cases Occupy Sandy Relief offered the first form of real assistance residents had received in days, sometimes weeks after the hurricane hit, leading many residents to ask why was it that Occupy activists were more organized than FEMA, the Red Cross and the New York City and US governments? Why, with only a shoestring budget was Occupy able to do what the richest and most powerful government in the world could not? Other questions arose and dots were connected between the storm and climate change, and government prioritization of funding wars and bailing out Wall Street while those who lost everything from the hurricane received nothing.

Recovery work quickly shifted to resistance. Residents in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood started to plan rent strikes, marches, lawsuits and other militant actions over the government’s complete failure in providing heat, electricity and water weeks after the hurricane. Occupy Sandy Relief organized marches on December 15 in Staten Island, the Rockaways and at the house of billionaire Mayor Bloomberg to demand more aid and immediate action from the government. With the coldness of winter now in place and thousands displaced by the hurricane, these actions may only intensify.

In the early morning hours of December 24, the unthinkable happened. The entrance of the Church of St. Mark and St. Matthew engulfed in flames. Three Occupy activists inside the church had to flee for their lives and it took one hundred firefighters to put out the flames. The arson is still under investigation. Many see it as politically motivated and a few are wondering who exactly is behind it. The same week that the arson occurred, it was revealed through public records released through FOIA that the FBI spied on Occupy and coordinated political repression against the movement.


Programs like Occupy Sandy Relief, when launched by radicals on the Left have been viewed as considerable threats by the US government in the past because they show people just how incapable the US government is in caring for those affected by disasters. If radicals can provide the most basic needs then people start to question altogether the role that the government actually plays. In the case of Occupy, unlikely organizations like the Tea Party and 40 and 8 locally, start to warm up to the concept of Occupy and work in affinity with it. This is why FBI informant Brandon Darby infiltrated Common Ground Relief, established in New Orleans by a Black Panther and anarchists in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

J Edgar Hoover viewed the free breakfast for children program of the Black Panther Party as the biggest threat to US national security in the 1960s and 70s. Under his leadership, the FBI waged a low-intensity war against the Panthers that included targeted assassinations and ultimately destroyed the organization. The FBI threatened and harassed countless priests and congregations who had opened their doors to the free breakfast program of the Panthers. If the FBI has done this in the past, what would stop them from doing this now? Of course it is only speculation at this point, but like Common Ground and like the Panthers, Occupy Sandy Relief is showing people that the primary concern of this system is to bail out the rich while a bailout for those affected and displaced by Hurricane Sandy are still suffering. Mutual aid may become a more attractive model to people as Occupy Sandy gears up for a long-term plan of recovery and resistance.

Brendan Maslauskas Dunn


While some anxiously awaited the end of the world that Mayan Indians had supposedly prophesized to take place on December 21, 2012, 40,000 Mayan Indians held silent demonstrations in Chiapas, Mexico. These Mayans, known as the Zapatistas, a name taken from Mexican Revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, marched to celebrate not the end of the world, but the beginning of a new world.

The Zapatistas marched through the streets of towns that they had taken over in a rebellion launched on January 1, 1994, the same day that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed into law. They called NAFTA a “death sentence” for Mexican Indians. NAFTA ushered in an era of deregulation, welfare for the rich, and an organized attack on workers and the poor in the US, Mexico and Canada. Then local Representative Sherwood Boehlert was said to have cast the deciding vote that passed NAFTA in a shady deal with the Bureau of Indian Affairs that thrust Ray Halbritter into the role of “CEO” of the Oneida Indian Nation. Halbritter spearheaded the privatization of the sovereign Oneida Nation and attacks on traditional Oneidas.

Chiapas is one of the poorest states in Mexico but also the richest in terms of natural resources. The Zapatistas have greatly expanded the rights of Indians, women, farmers and workers in Chiapas and helped launch what is known as the global justice movement. In some ways, Occupy Wall Street has some of its roots in the Zapatista rebellion. The enigmatic mask-wearing Zapatista spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos sent a short communique to the world on December 21 stating, “DID YOU HEAR? It is the sound of your world collapsing. It is that of ours rising anew. The day that was the day, used to be night. And night will be the day, that will be the day. Democracy! Freedom! Justice!”

Murmurs of this new world can be seen in the indigenous sovereignty and environmental justice movement Idle No More in Canada. A recent Idle No More protest was held in Syracuse. The Zapatistas may be on to something.

Brendan Maslauskas Dunn