We are excited to be bringing you Series 2 of the ChangeMakers on Monday 29 October 2018. We will be releasing 10 story based episodes, 5 on 29 October then a further 5 at the end of November.
These stories include:
Episode One – an inside look at Hollywood TV show Brooklyn 99 and its story on systemic police racism.
Episode Two – the 2014 Umbrella Movement from Hong Kong when hundreds of thousands of people occupied Hong Kong Island for 79 days
Episode Three – origins of the Indivisible Movement, the most significant anti-Trump movement in the USA.
Episode Four – the Reclaim the City housing movement from Cape Town that is desegregating the city post-Apartheid
Episode Five – the Marriage Equality campaign in Australia.
The second group of stories include the Stop Adani campaign, the Chilian Student movement from 2012, the 100K homes campaign to eradicate extreme homelessness in the US and the Uniting Church’s campaign to change drug policy from one of criminal sanctions to a health issue.
In between we will also release a series of “ChangeMaker Chats” – interviews with remarkable people making change – where we explore why they became change makers and how they seek to make that change.
What would you do if someone wanted to bulldoze an oil pipeline through your country, threatening not just your land, but your water and air? And what if the nation backing them had a history of playing dirty? That’s the situation the people in today’s episode found themselves in. The battle over building an oil pipeline in Standing Rock in South Dakota, USA. Should they take the high road? Or respond in kind?
LADONNA: This is what the military use and it makes this kind of a weird noise. And it causes you to lose your equilibrium [37.34] fall down and throw up.
HOST: That’s the LRAD (Lrod) Sound Cannon. It was one of many high tech devices that the police used against the people we’re talking to in today’s episode.
But even though the devices were high tech, it was just a new way of doing something very old. Because today there is one quality about the people protesting that changes the rules of engagement entirely.
HOST: I’m Amanda Tattersall, welcome to Changemakers, supported by Mobilisation Lab. They connect social change campaigners with what works. Check them out at MobLab.io.
I’m not going to tell you where this story comes from. Not yet, anyway. Instead, we’re going to go all the way back to the beginning of this story, back in time two centuries. Let’s go.
HOST: What would you do if someone invaded your country? Would you accept it, or would you fight?
Now imagine that the country that keeps invading yours, signs a peace treaty. You’d expect them to honour that treaty, right?
But what if they didn’t. What would you do then?
HOST: This story starts in 1851.
It’s a territorial dispute. There are nine nations, basically at war with each other.
For decades they’ve been arguing over who gets what land.
One of them was a nation you might have heard of, called The United States. The people from the US, were moving west across the vast North American continent, looking to expand into land that belonged to various tribes.
The problem the United States faced was this: militarily they weren’t the strongest force on the frontier.
JULIAN: it was really the Comanche who…were the important geo- geopolitical power in…that, that sort of southern part of the plains.
HOST: Julian Brave Noisecat is an historian at Columbia University. So, anyway, the United States, realising military reality, cut a deal. It was called the Treaty of Fort Laramie.
JULIAN: And basically, in, in part of an effort to protect settlers who are moving westward, the United States government signs this treaty, acknowledging the, the sovereignty and, and claims of the nations who live al- live along the path to, to that area.
HOST: All nine independent nations agreed on the boundaries. It was settled, it became law, and after a few more battles and skirmishes, 17 years later, the boundaries were set in stone.
JULIAN: The 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty…actually came after Red Cloud’s war which…many historians will tell you, the, the Lakota and Dakota, sometimes called the Sioux, were actually the victors of, so the, the treaty…sort of gave them fairly favourable…terms of, of what their reservation lands would be, and what their rights to those lands were.
HOST: And let’s be quite clear here. It’s not the piece of paper that’s granting the Sioux sovereignty.
JULIAN: So from the indigenous perspective, it would not, it would not be that the treaties granted sovereignty. Indigenous people will tell you that we have been sovereigns since time immemorial. We had our own governments, we had our own…you know, languages. We had our own cultures.
HOST: The treaties were about the United States Government claiming sovereignty, while recognising the pre-existing sovereignty of the indigenous nations.
JULIAN: they were far out-numbered and far outgunned by the indigenous nations of this continent, they had no choice but to recognize their authority to land and people and goods.
HOST: Usually, when a nation has sovereignty, it means that they get to decide what happens to the land, right? After all, that’s what a treaty is.
HOST: Having signed the treaties, almost immediately, the US government ignores them.
JULIAN: Before the ink is even really dry on this treaty, gold is discovered in the Black Hills. This is the Lakota people’s sacred Black Hills. And the treaty is almost immediately violated by, by prospectors and, and settlers who come rushing in.
HOST: I know you’re shocked. It’s almost like the so-called “Settlers” didn’t actually respect the treaty or something.
JULIAN: to a certain extent it’s, it’s, it’s sort of an unstoppable force, right. These people are land hungry. You know they see land and the opportunity to create a farm as, as an escape from, you know, poverty in Europe so it’s seen as this, you know, land of opportunity. The overwhelming demand of, of the settler masses in these countries is to have access to indigenous land.
HOST: At the very least, you’d expect that a treaty between nations should mean that if there is a violent dispute between them, they are understood as acts of war.
But not here.
JULIAN: Throughout the West, there’s often a repositioning, firstly, of, you know, forms of indigenous sovereignty as, as, as criminal, right. Like, so if you make something criminal, you are asserting your…right to prosecute under your laws. Similarly, if this truly is a war between two sovereigns…even in the 19th century, the, the standard was that, you know, people who were captured in the war would be treated as prisoners of war. Yet repeatedly, throughout the, the Indian Wars, as they, they’re called, native people were, were treated as criminals.
HOST: In other words, the piece of paper that they signed, that acknowledges they owned the land, was, well, paper thin.
HOST: So in 2009, when a company decided it wanted to build a pipeline right through the middle of a reservation governed by the Sioux, it is perhaps unsurprising that history repeated itself.
Energy Transfer Partners were building the pipe to move crude oil from North Dakota all the way to Illinois, thousands of miles away.
Most of the land they wanted to cross was privately owned.
This made building it relatively easy. In fact, by late 2015, much of the pipeline had already been built. All that needed to happen was for the pipeline to cross the Missouri River.
HOST: And there was only one way to get across the Misssouri River – through the land of the Standing Rock Sioux.
To do that, the company had to ask the people who lived there, those who owned the land, who had sovereignty.
People like Kandi Mossett who grew up on the Fort Berthold reservation nearby.
KANDI: So my English name is Kandi Mossett. My earned name is which is Eagle Woman.
HOST: Kandi and her tribe had good reason to oppose the pipeline.
KANDI: To me it was always common sense that we had to take care our surroundings. (laughs) It wasn’t even something like I ever questioned. Where our food comes from. Where our water comes from.
HOST: To Kandi it seemed obvious that the people wanting to bulldoze through their land didn’t have the same attitude to their surroundings.
KANDI: That I grew up in a reservation that was surrounded by coal-fired power plants, uranium mining, coal mining.
HOST: When Kandi was 20, she was diagnosed with stage 3 sarcoma, a particularly deadly form of cancer. Even before she was diagnosed, she realised she had cancer.
KANDI: I mean, I knew it was cancer because everybody had cancer around me when I was young. There was a lot of people in my family, on the reservation, to me it was normal.
HOST: It wasn’t until she went to University that she twigged something was up.
KANDI: In college I learned from my other peers and the people around me that it wasn’t normal for them to have that many people sick. And so, I started learning then all of these things that I didn’t know the name for yet, like environmental justice or climate justice or environmental racism even, I really didn’t know I was living it.
HOST: So when Energy Transfer Partners rocked up and announced it wanted to build a pipeline, you can see why Kandi and her tribe said no.
KANDY: I know that they were contacting the people at Standing Rock at least since 2014, and the tribe always told them no, we do not want this pipeline. No, we do not want you to come through our area.
HOST: The company understood that the tribe was opposed, so they threatened to get the tribe’s land condemned. Essentially it was a tricky legal tactic that forced the issue. The tribe had a hobson’s choice: either put up with a pipeline and get some money, or the company would build the pipeline anyway, and the tribe would get nothing.
KANDI: And history has shown that when the government or a company says they’re going to do something, take something away from us, they do. And they have. Time and time again in the past, we’ve had things taken away from us.
HOST: Against the legal might of Energy Transfer Partners, they had no chance. So in the end, Kandi’s tribe folded.
But further south, at Standing Rock, the Sioux there were in a different legal position. Their land, was explicitly protected by the 1851 treaty. And they were in a mood to fight.
KANDI: They said no. No amount of money is going to make us. We don’t care if you bully us. We don’t, we don’t care if that’s your MO, Energy Transfer Partners, we’re going to fight you and we’re going to win.
HOST: Ladonna Brave Bull Allard is a member of that tribe.
LADONNA: When, when the pipeline was presented to us in 2014, I was called up to the tribal office to be informed that I was the closest landowner to the proposed pipeline.
INTERVIEWER: So you were the right person in the right place at the right time, in a sense.
LADONNA: Or the wrong person. However you want to look at it. I grew up here. I know every inch of the land. I can tell you every bit of the land for thousands of years. I know the history, the roots grow right out of my seat. I can tell you where every tribe lived, every grave is, every sacred site is. I can tell you about what happened there two thousand years ago. I know my home. I rode horses through there. We lived there, we played there, we fished there. When I was a child, we carried the water right out of the river.
HOST: When the company proposed the pipeline this time, the first thing the Sioux did was turn to their ancestors.
LADONNA: We still have our traditional culture very much intact. So we all went into ceremony to pray. And got guidance.
HOST: The company held a meeting with the tribal leaders.
LADONNA: The chairman of Standing Rock Sioux tribe stood up and said no. All of the directors of all the tribal programs said no. And the people said no.
HOST: The tribe could not have been clearer. But instead of listening to the sovereign owners, packing up and going home, the company instead took a more passive aggressive approach.
LADONNA: They stopped inviting us to the meetings.
HOST: I mean, you have to admire their chutzpah.
LADONNA:But they told the media, in fact, the opposite. Standing Rock wouldn’t attend the meetings.
HOST: With the company’s pipeline closing in, Standing Rock realised they needed to organise. One of the main concerns they had was the impact the the pipeline would have on their water.
LADONNA: And then we sat down and said, How do we do this? And so we did, we went to the strongest people we have, our children. And we asked all the children to write a letter talking about how much the water means to them. And as the children wrote these letters, which were extremely powerful, from kindergarten all the way up to high school, we started publishing those letters. Then we had the children do a media campaign. And we started with the basic concept, water is life.
HOST: Ho Was Te Wakiya Wicasa was from Standing Rock, but was living in San Francisco. One day he received a phone call.
HO WASTE WAKIYA WICASA: Somewhere around February, my sister who lives right above where Sacred Stone was…She called me and said, Hey, they’re trying to put a pipeline. And they’ve been trying, they’ve been trying, previously, for a couple of years…but…This time, somehow, the…it stuck and they were really going to push the issue.
HOST: Howaste’s mind immediately turned to practicalities.
HOWASTE: So my first reaction was of course, I totally would be honoured to, to go home and see everybody and…to have this battle. And then I said, Ask them if we have money, do we have a campaign even there? Do we have folks…Like, I was one of the first persons (laughs) that they called because they knew that I had a good history in this.
HOST: It turned out they were kind of hoping that Ho Was Te would help them with the whole money thing.
HOWASTE: So I said okay, we need these things. We need strategy people. We need things to go. And my main skill I organizing was to go and hustle money, really, so that we could have flyers, so we could produce t-shirts, so we could get people out of jail.
HOST: He set up a Go Fund Me campaign, with a modest target.
HO: I first set it for like 5 grand but we had 30 people that showed up in camp by March and it cost us gosh about 500 dollars a day to take care of everybody. And so I quickly changed that and we went to 10 thousand for our request.
HOST: La Donna and the tribal leaders had decided the only way to stop it was to physically stand in the way of the construction.
LADONNA: When the camp was started, we were, we were a small group. I think the camp started with only 4 people. And then expanded to 10 to 15 for about three or four months.
HOST: As the weeks turned into months, the camp dwellers turned to social media to spread their message.
LADONNA: I don’t know a lot about technology. But the young people taught us this thing that we didn’t understand and it’s called Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Livestream. They taught us how to touch the world. And we took the tool and used it.
HOST: Then in August, the camps started taking off.
LADONNA: Everybody was starting to watch every video we put up. I think on a given day we put up 60 different videos.
HOST: Word was starting to spread, and more and more people started arriving at the camp.
LADONNA: First our allies were the indigenous people in the area. And then that expanded to the other tribal nations. And then…as the other tribal nations were coming in, then we connected with our Canadian relatives, indigenous people there, and then, Mexico, Nicaragua, El Salvador. And then Peru, Bolivia and Argentina. … And so the whole core from April until, I would say really, September, it was indigenous people.
LADONNA: One day at camp, this lady pulled up. From North Carolina. Her car packed with stuff and she got out. Because I asked everybody, Why are you coming here? And she said, I waited for this call my whole life. And when I heard the call, I sold my home, I packed everything up to come stand with you.
INTERVIEWER: Oh my gosh.
LADONNA: And that happened over and over and over again.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah. That’s amazing.
LADONNA: People were saying, We looked around our world and things are not right.
HOST: By now, there were 2000 people living there on the site, peacefully preventing the company from building the pipeline.
Soon the original camp was so overcrowded, they had to set up a second camp.
KANDI: So many people came in August that we, they formed what was called the Overflow Camp. And that’s what it was originally called, the Overflow Camp, the Overflow Camp. And they said, well, you can’t really name it that, that’s not a good name. And that’s how the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ came about. The Seven Council Fires. That’s what it means in the Sioux language we had people starting to come from all over the place and it was a really beautiful intertwining of cultures. It was a really good feeling to be there together fighting against the same fight, and the same struggle and not being alone.
HOST: At its peak, it was one of the largest settlements in the state.
KANDI: There was so much organization that came about because it literally turned into a city. We had 15,000 people there at one point. That’s larger than most of the towns in North Dakota.
HOST: Then in September, a new set of faces started turning up.
LADONNA: Then all of a sudden the environmentalists said, Hey! Look what these people are doing. And then they started contacting us.
Who never really engaged with indigenous people before. And so, they started, they came in late in the game.
INTERVIEWER: Did- did that cause any disquiet?
Was it complicated, some of those relationships?
LADONNA: No. People came in when first started, people came in. hey understood indigenous people were in control and…and we continued…They offered additional training. They brought people in. I think they weren’t understanding in how we did things but they seemed that we were being successful. Most of the environmentalists I met were very respectful people.
HOST: As more people arrived, the company’s stance shifted from passive aggression to out and out aggression.
As has happened throughout history of the United States, the company called upon the police. Once again, the police stood shoulder to shoulder with company to criminalise the Indigenous people’s defence of their own, sovereign land.
One of the first things the company wanted to do was bulldoze across a sacred burial site. Even so, all the camp leaders agreed that violence was not an option.
HOWASTE: So every sub camp had its own spiritual leader. And we were trying to keep everybody together in prayer. That was our intent. And it lasted for, for quite a while. I was impressed with how long it actually did last.
But when it came down to the moment of truth when they started drilling into the ground and crossing on top of the burials, and those things, we had to make a physical stand.
HOST: Howaste and Kandi and LaDonna, and all their allies formed a cordon. Linking arms, to protect their own land.
HOWASTE: We went there to peacefully ask them to use their brains and to be human beings. And to not go over burials and not go through the water the people have to drink…And…But they didn’t have any regard for that prayer. And…they…The day that they unleashed the dogs on us and we all got bit up, it proved it. That, because they started the fight at that moment. Although we had counted two on them and we had interactions with them prior to that, it was the day they released the dogs and they- that really was a point of no return for us.
LADONNA: I remember on September 3rd, on the day of the dogs, and Amy Goodman was sitting there interviewing me and I was telling her about the Whitestone Massacre. And I got the call and they said, Ladonna, they’re over here digging up the graves. And I said, Stop them. And the man on the phone said, Well, we’re not quite sure what to do. You know they’ve never really had a conflict, you know. We’d been up there singing and chanting and praying. And I said, Push those men out of the way and call the women and children. Stop them. So by the time I got up there, I had watched that man jump out of his vehicle and pepper spray the whole line of women and children. And they wouldn’t back down. The women stuck there, covered with pepper spray hiding their children. And they stood up. And I remember standing up there as they were siccing the dogs on people. And I could remember, Unchi! Unchi! Or, Grandma, grandma! Stand behind me. And here comes the young men on horses, pushing the horses between us and the dogs and the men with the spray. And pushing the men back. It was the first time they inflicted violence on us was that day.
HOST: Back in a minute.
HOST: So the police had for the first time used violence against the Sioux. It was a shock for everyone at the camp.
KANDI: And it was weird that the police put themselves in between us and the pipeline so that they, they made it look that we were attacking them when they were attacking us and protecting a pipeline. Since when is it their mandate to protect the pipeline? As a police force. That’s when it really got ugly and weird.
HOST: Remarkably, La Donna says it was the police who were scared.
LADONNA: We scared them. What could they do?
INTERVIEWER: What were they scared of?
LADONNA: They were scared of the women. They were scared of the prayers. They were scared of the tears. They were scared of what we were making them feel.
HOST: Luckily, the environmentalists brought with them skills that helped them deal with this situation. At their peak, they were running workshops every day.
KANDI: We were doing non-violent direct action trainings every day. At 2 O’clock. You knew which tent to go to. I was helping in the Indigenous People’s Power Project, IP3, and the [51.02] Society, and some people from Greenpeace. We were doing trainings. Training thousands of people on what it meant to de-escalate, in- in what the actual targets were.
HOST: By this stage, the company decided it need needed reinforcements. The government called in the National Guard.
KANDI: I mean, we were literally standing there with our sweet grass and our sage against fully armed military, the Army National Guard. The United States Army National Guard was called in against us. For protecting water.
KANDI: There was one night when people were like – Hey, look at the Northern Lights! And we unzipped our tent and we went outside and we looked up. And the Northern Lights were just beautiful shining over everybody. It was really something amazing. You can’t explain unless you were there and experienced it and felt it. There was a feeling about it that was so beautiful. And it was all destroyed when the companies came and tried out all of these tactics against us. When it got really bad, I would say like, in November, December, January. They put a spotlight up on the hill so that we were constantly under these bright glaring lights. So that they always watched us. There were helicopters that started flying overhead all the time. Airplanes that flew overhead. All the time.
HOST: On November 20th there was a particularly bruising battle with police.
KANDI: It was the water cannons. And the people getting shot. That’s when Sophia had her arm nearly blown off. My friend got shot in her eye and lost sight in her right eye. She’s now blind in her right eye. And when so many people were shot point blank with this quote-unquote rubber bullets…Looking back on it now, it’s…it’s like a miracle that nobody died. It’s probably because of our prayers.
LADONNA: They had missiles. Where they were shooting missiles of our drones out of the sky. They had military degree mace. They had rubber bullets, percussion grenades. They had water cannons. We were unarmed. We stood there and prayed. We sang. We danced.
HOST:Meanwhile, the GoFundMe that Howaste had created with a goal of five thousand dollars had exploded. Money was pouring in from all around the world as Indigenous people and Environmentalists recognised the significance of the battle.
HO: By the time we ended, when I [14.24] stop, it was at 3.6 million.
HOST: Howaste says the money made a real difference.
HO: In one single day, we spent 250,000 dollars bailing out our p- water protectors who had been arrested. And that happened on several occasions. So the money that we raised really came in handy.
HOST: Faced with this resistance, the company decided it also needed to try a different approach. So it hired a company called TigerSwan.
INTERVIEWER: So who are TigerSwan?
JULIAN: So TigerSwan is a, is a they’re sort of the also-ran to Blackwater. Blackwater was a private security firm that was contracted during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. And sort of TigerSwan is kind of a competitor private security intelligence firm. It gets hired by…Energy Transfer Partners which is the parent company of Dakota Access Pipeline to run security during the pipeline’s construction. And they end up engaging in…these, these very troublesome activities. Basically, monitoring, flowing, infiltrating…the…the Standing Rock and anti-Dakota Access movement during the…protests there.
INTERVIEWER: So they’re, they’re semi-military, is that right?
JULIAN: Yeah. They’re, they’re definitely. They…they’re definitely military. They have, you know, all kinds of high-tech surveillance gadgets. They refer quite often in…The leak shows that they refer to, they compare the protesters to jihadis quite often. I mean, there’s a very- They- They talk about the protest camps as a battlefield. I mean, there’s a very…charged use, and, and quite- quite frankly, Islamophobic use of, of words to sort of smear these- these protesters and to dehumanize them, to treat as if they were literally enemy combatants.
HOST: TigerSwan brought with them the latest gadgets in the latest installment of this centuries old conflict.
KANDI: And I know my phone was tapped into because it would act up. It would make weird noises. It would suddenly shut off and turn on again. It would have full battery and then boom, the battery would be drained like a minute later.
INTERVIEWER: Oh my god.
KANDI: And we found out why. We found out that they were using sting ray technology and we found out that you could pay- They were probably paying half a million a day to use some of this. We’re also starting to find out that some of this was actually illegal. Like there was no way, they had to get some pretty high clearance to be able to do some of the things that they did.
HOST: If this happened to you, what would you think? You’d probably hate the other side. I know I would. But instead, Kandi has only pity for them. Like they’re the ones that have lost out.
KANDI: And so it into perspective what money does to people. It can make them crazy. Because of they’re willing to these lengths to stop people that simply want to protect water, drinking water for their kids, then it’s gotten really bad.
HOST: TigerSwan was aware of the community spirit that kept the camps united and morale high. TigerSwan realised they needed to draw the camp dwellers into a fight to try and create divisions over the tactics. But the camp elders were clear that violence was not the way to win.
KANDI: And the answer that always came back was there was to be no violence. That if we were to be violent or engage in violence we would lose.
HOST: Howaste says TigerSwan decided to use the camp’s open, welcoming approach against it.
HO: Towards the end of it, it became increasingly difficult to manage because they had sent people in to infiltrate us. And so they were provoking everything and bringing in every kind of drug in and… All the negative stuff started happening towards the end because those guys fought on a…very covert level. They’d battle with us, and we weren’t necessarily prepared for that. So we weren’t prepared for them to bring methamphetamine and alcohol in, and all that and everything else that they ended up bringing into the camp.
INTERVIEWER: Wow. They just fought dirty.
HO: Yeah, there was cr- it was…oh, it was crazy, yes. And I don’t know if you saw, there was a day where we, me and a bunch of my nephews, caught a guy that was one of the employees and we had taken his truck and he had an AR 15 pointed at us, to shoot us. That day and we put, we surrounded him down in the water…And my nephew was able to get the, get the gun from him. But he was a [Dapple? 59.17] employee. And when I went to his, to his pickup truck, and I went to go look at the registration, I found every one of those drugs in there…His job was to go into the camp, and give that stuff away. And…we turned him in and he got nothing- he didn’t get prosecuted, got no charges or anything. They were trying to charge us for assault and battery because we surrounded him and…and lit his vehicle on fire. And so it was difficult to manage towards the end.
HOST: Faced with a focused militarised threat, the camp’s open spirit was now its greatest weakness.
HOWASTE: Because there was no genuine chain of command. We were going by what the elders told us. But when all of the pressure of…[1.00.18] as in all the narcotics they brought in, it started creating problems in managing everybody. Then pretty soon people were not listening to the elders, and not listening to the spiritual leaders, and not listening to the council of grandmothers who had the ultimate say.
HOST: Meanwhile, the confrontation had reached national level. President Obama was desperate to make sure the last year of his presidency was not marred with scenes of Indigenous tribes being violently removed from their sovereign land. On the ground, though, that counted for little.
INTERVIEWER: Were you aware that Obama didn’t want to have the optics of violently remove people from Standing Rock?
LADONNA: Yeah. The presidents of the United States have never been good people. None of them.
LA DONNA: Everything in America is indigenous issues, it’s my land.
HOST: Nevertheless, on November 6, just two days before the US Elections, President Obama finally announced that the pipeline would be re-routed.
INTERVIEWER: Can I ask. When you found out that Obama had agreed to help the pipeline, how did you feel? LADONNA: I didn’t believe him. I knew he lied. I stood up on top of that hill. Like everybody, Media Hill, and watched these people and said, This is a lie. Don’t believe them. And I was right. I did not go down when they celebrated. I was like, this is another American ploy. We’ve already had thousands of years of this. Don’t listen to them.
HOST: As it turns out, LaDonna was right to be skeptical. Within days of being elected, Trump declared the full steam ahead on the pipeline.
HOST:For Howaste, it was history repeating itself.
HO: And so, you have to remember we have these repetitive cycles of history that we’re engaged in. America is not is not the land of the free and the home of the brave. It’s a plutocracy of racist white men that don’t care about us. And so…so I think in the end, the real reason is that they all got money to do that.
HOST: Anyone who views this story as just being about a pipeline, rather than an issue of sovereignty, would see Trump’s actions as a defeat.
But for people like LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, this is just the actions of an occupying force no matter what happens, it’s still Standing Rock Sioux’s land. In the broad sweep of history, it is, at most a setback.
LADONNA: I’ll tell you a little story here. We had a family come to stay with us. And I remember the day they arrived. They said, Are we allowed? And I said, Yes, everybody’s welcome. And they said, No, we’re Muslim, are we allowed? And I said, Yes, you are. And I…I went down to the camp, and Mohammed walked up to me and said, Grandma, I’m going to the front line today. And I said, No, you’re not. He said, No, I’m going. He had a little bicycle helmet on, made himself a little breastplate, and a stick, and…And so I went to his father and I said, Ah, no kids, it’s too dangerous out there. And he said, I’ll keep him in the back. He’s so…so…insistent on going. And so I said, Take care of him. Because they were shooting people and everything. And so they went. The next thing I seen was a video. And there is Mohammed, 8 years old, standing at the fence, on his knees with his hands through the fence, with his stuffed rabbit. Offering the police his stuffed rabbit, saying, Please don’t shoot anybody. It was one of the first days that the police didn’t shoot anybody. And he stood there all that time, on his knees, on their front line, with that stuffed rabbit. To me, that was power.
For this little boy to stand there when so many people were being shot, and…everything else you can imagine.
LADONNA: And the police just standing there not knowing what to do. That was the power of the movement.
Reclaiming a segregated city – a day in Cape Town with Reclaim the City
On the western side of Cape Town’s downtown are a string of what looks like unused buildings. From the outside they appear like they must be empty. Broken windows, damaged roofs. If you were a tourist here you wouldn’t “see” them – just a haze as you enter the city on one of the major highways. But today my 9 year old son and I came to find one of those buildings because we were there for a meeting about housing in the city.
To be honest, at first, I thought we were in the wrong place. It was a space that I, a middle class white woman from Australia, would not normally be. I kept checking and rechecking google maps on my phone. In the vacant lot next to where google was telling me to go was a series of semi-permanent camps set up by people who were homeless.
The actual building we were looking for – which was meant to house a meeting of over 100 people – looked like a boarding house. I said to my son, I don’t know if this is right. In my head I was looking for a more ‘formal’ community hall. But up the stairs I could see someone in a red and white Reclaim the City t-shirt – so we went in.
The stairs leading up from the street were dripping wet. Noisily wet. Even though this building housed dozens of families, as was explained at the meeting, the building had a leaking roof that the Public Works Department had refused to fix. So even though it wasn’t raining outside – the residue from recent rain meant it was raining inside were people lived.
We found our way through to an open space that during the day was a makeshift laundry. There were ropes across the roof and a stranded sock still hanging on the side of the room. But this space was being claimed for another purpose today – it would house the first gathering of a City Central group of leaders for Reclaim the City’s housing campaign.
Reclaim the City are desegregating the inner city suburbs of Cape Town by fighting for housing for the poor. They do this by occupying sites to create emergency accommodation while also campaigning for the building of affordable housing. They have created occupations in Sea Point and Woodstock, and now are seeking to spread their campaign to the downtown area. This meeting was exploring how they might do that.
We were there early and while Hartley and I mucked around with some of the kids, an extraordinary number of chairs were stacked out. Over 120. And, by 2pm when the meeting was scheduled to start there were only about 40 of us there. The stage was filled with kids (including my kid) playing games. I was wondering if they had been too ambitious. But by 2:30 when the meeting kicked off the room was full.
This is a poor people’s movement by any other measure. Most of the people in the room had experienced eviction, many homelessness, and some had also experienced the forced removals under apartheid. It was a space where black and coloured people could give testimony and prepare each other for building a new wing to an escalating city-wide movement. Stories were shared – a woman explained how her family were evicted with her stuff dumped on the streets, where she had to live in her car with her 8 year old child and 2 month old baby before she found emergency accomodation through Reclaim the City (at its Woodstock occupation).
The meeting moved from testimony to strategy, where Nkosikhona Swartbooi, the Lead Organiser from Ndifuna Ukwaz – a supporter of Reclaim the City, stood up and gave a history of the land struggles in the city, a power analysis about how the banks, developers and government were continuing to cause the pain, an explanation that rallies hoping for promises don’t work and an invitation to consider strategies that create the change that they seek.
What then unfolded was a dialogue between leaders and organisers – where inventive suggestions were raised and analysed. One leader suggested “create title deeds and give them to the state rather than ask for deeds from them,” others identified other sites for occupations, ways to mend the houses being occupied, the formation of new advice assemblies where people could gather regularly or ways to support solidarity inside the diverse and sometimes fragmented communities they work with.
Meanwhile the kids played screens. All of them. Until the screens died and the kids made a b-line for the room next door where they played.
At one moment the meeting traveled the world. We heard how occupation strategies had been used successfully in Brazil, how in Barcelona Advice Assemblies had powerfully enabled evictees to help each other without relying on lawyers, how the American community organiser Saul Alinsky had argued that you should ‘personalise’ your enemy. I was introduced to the group as someone who wanted share the work of Reclaim the City with others around the world. There was a sense that this hyper-local meeting had the capacity to transcend Cape Town.
The meeting finished with a song, of course. An anti-apartheid anthem sung with a beat, chorus and solo. I tried to look like I knew what I was doing, but I’m pretty sure that I didn’t convince anyone.
At the end we took a photo, fists in the air – including the fist of my 9 year old son. There was a feeling of hope. Not “Obama” hope. Not “waiting for someone to save us” hope. But a “we are going to build this for ourselves” hope.
As we walked out of the building, up then down the squelchy staircase I could hear singing. It was the families getting back on the bus that was returning them to the Woodstock occupation. It was the voices of people who had the feeling that they knew what is possible. They already lived in a functioning, self-managed, community-run occupation. And joyfully they were not yet satisfied, because their city was not free. They knew that this place needed more. And so they sang because they would reclaim their city.
What would you do if someone wanted to illegally concrete over your local park, and build an apartment block on it? And what would you do if the authorities supported the illegal construction? Today episode looks at how to organise genuine opposition in a place where the one thing they hate is genuine opposition. How a small protest against destruction of a local park turned into a mass movement that’s sweeping Russia.
HOST: (paraphrase) I am in Julia’s kitchen. Its a cute room – rectangular and well decorated.
HOST: I was being polite. It was so tiny. The whole apartment was 45 square metres. That’s 480 square feet.
HOST: It’s got wallpaper made of fabric with lots of different colours of purple and yellow and green and the wall is covered in plates from all places around the world that Julia’s family has travelled. And I can see out the window that’s the side of the kitchen the beautiful green park where Julia takes her kids to play almost every day.
JULIA: So I feed birds here on the window. The birds are different types. There are are very unique. And we also have squirrels nearby in the market.
HOST: You might describe this apartment as a typical apartment that could be in any city in the world but for Julia it’s something else. [44.6] HOST: I’m Amanda Tattersall, and this podcast is supported by Mobilisation Lab they connect social change campaigners with what works. Check them out at MobLab.io.
HOST: Today on Changemakers, I’m in Moscow, feeling a bit homesick. Everyone has a special affinity with their own home. But what happens when the authorities where you live think they can do whatever they like to the place that you call home, mainly because, they have a history of getting their way? You fight. Let’s go.
HOST: There are 7,900 blocks of apartments like Julia’s in Moscow.. And when I say like, I mean, virtually identical. Five-storey, prefabricated, white painted, concrete rectangles.
JULIA: In Russia it is called Khrushchyovka because of the time of its building under Khrushchev, it’s our leader.
HOST: Like in the West, Russia had a baby boom after World War Two, but Stalin didn’t do anything about it. Instead, two or three generations of families found themselves crammed into small homes. It felt like that was how it was going to be for the rest of their lives. But when Stalin died, the new leader Krushchev decided that he wanted to be loved not feared, and so he built these apartment blocks for the millions of young families who’d been living with their parents and grandparents. They were a symbol of a new type of leadership.
They’re not the most beautiful buildings in the world, but 1.6 million Moscovites are proud to call these brutalist structures their home.
Now the Mayor of Moscow – a man named Sergei Sobyanin [So-bi-an] – wants to knock them down. Ideally, all 7,900 of them. In February 2017, he announced plans to demolish 50,000 apartments with more to come.
It goes by the benign-sounding policy of renovations, and it’s stirring genuine opposition in a country where the one thing the government hates more than anything is, well, genuine opposition.
HOST: Imagine living in one of those apartments. They look drab from the outside, but inside they’re warm, most of them are solidly build. Everyone I talked to said they couldn’t really hear their neighbours through the walls.
This was Krushchev’s legacy — under his policy — 25% of Russians got their own homes. It was a mass urbanisation the likes the world had never seen before.
So the idea was they were homes for young families. But imagine trying to bring up children in a 45 square metre apartment. Where the hell do the kids play?
Like everything else, Soviet planners had, well, a plan for that.
INTERVIEWER: Why did you want to live in this area?
JULIA: So when we were choosing where to live. I get the map and I searched for the green zones because I wanted to play with my children, to walk in the parks and that’s why we chose this part of Moscow.
HOSTS: Parks. Lots of them. Indeed they were called urban forests because these parks had always been there – before Moscow was an established city.
In true communist style, everyone’s backyard had been collectivised, clumped together and shared as public space.
For years, Julia had heard about the mayor’s renovation plans, but hadn’t thought much about it. But in 2016, she found out that the park next door – the whole reason she was living there – was going to be turned into an apartment block.
They were planning to replace the pine forest with another block of units.
JULIA: We knew about it almost by chance. Our municipal deputy was mail to the documents so we got information about the, a further construction.
HOST: So they had some documents that said it was going ahead. But when Julia enquired about it, the authorities reassured her nothing was happening.
JULIA: But our local authorities said us that no such construction would take place. They insisted that no such construction would take place.
HOST: Not totally trusting the officials reassurance, together with her local representative, Julia made further inquiries.
JULIA: So they said we knew nothing about it.
They said it was hardly possible that such a construction will take place.
HOST: And yet trucks were moving in. It was clear that construction was about to start taking place. So Julia did what any outraged local resident would do.
JULIA: I took pictures and then sended it to the local organization which do the protection of national resources.
INTERVIEWER: You contacted your local environment organization. What were they called?
JULIA: So it is called Mos… in Russian which means Moscow’s nature and this is an environmental protection organization. And we send them photos and we applied to them when we want to protect something.
HOST: But bureaucracy in Moscow is slow. While they waited for the environmental protection organisation to stop the construction, Julia started talking to her neighbours.
JULIA: In October I started talking with other families here to protect the park.
HOST: It was at that point, Julia discovered she wasn’t alone in wanting to protect her park.
JULIA: We live in huge city and if we don’t have any parks here, it would be impossible to raise children here without clean air, without any options to be walking them in the parks. So we found other activists, people with many children.
HOST: Meanwhile, the Mayor is not even acknowledging her concerns. When asked about protests against his development plans, he cites a pro-Government thinktank poll which says 80% of Moscovites support his plans. The mainstream media lapped it up.
At the same time, everyone in power that Julia talks to assured her nothing would happen to the park. It would illegal to construct anything on the park. After all, the pine forest has been there for hundreds of years. It’s essentially heritage listed. Even the roads leading into the park are illegal to drive on.
HOST: Weeks pass. Then one day, signs go up around the park, announcing that construction will begin. In a few days.
INTERVIEWER: You’d been told there was no construction then you found the signs. How did you feel?
JULIA: I was shocked. I couldn’t believe that such thing is possible in Moscow, in the center of Russia. It was a really shocking thing.
HOST: Any uncertainty was now lost. Julia decided to mobilise. How? They set up a Facebook page, of course.
JULIA: It is called Let’s Protect Our Park, [21.30] Park. We post photos there, our letters, and we try to attract people attentions in this group.
HOST: So they used Facebook to raise awareness.
And also place signs in the area so, so let people know what is happening. And we also organized 2 meetings, and 2 protests.
HOST: And for organising.
INTERVIEWER: How fast was it that other people got involved?
JULIA: So initially when the construction started, people around here was shocked. And they supported us and 16,000 people signed our petition.
HOST: 16 000. For a local park. Julia says 3-4 thousand of those were offline, with the rest coming through their Facebook group.
INTERVIEWER: Why do you think so many people joined the campaign so quickly?
JULIA: So it’s really important for us. We all love this place. We have squirrels there, we can feed them in summer. We can ski there in winter. And we have beach there also. It’s amazing, everyone loves it.
HOST: That’s right, it’s even got a beach. In Russia. Because Russia is known for its great beaches. Unfortunately, the construction company pushed on.
JULIA: And also after that, some people all in black appeared in the park suddenly. And they pushed out the activists who were trying to protect the park. And it was unbelievable.
HOST: So Julia decided that if the authorities weren’t going to stop the illegal construction, she and her neighbours needed to take the law into their own hands.
INTERVIEWER: How did you that?
JULIA: We tried to block the road.
HOST: Remember, this is Russia. Where opponents of the Government are regularly assassinated. That said, it was a local issue. Hardly likely to get the notice of the Kremlin. At least, not yet.
Julia and her fellow neighbours took turns, blocking the roads from the trucks that were driving to the very active construction site.
INTERVIEWER: Before the protests in the park, had you ever been involved in a protest or social change campaign before?
HOST: No, never.
INTERVIEWER: So what did it feel like (laughs) to block a road to save your park?
JULIA: So it was really stressful and I spent this time with my children and family by the hedge to block the road.
INTERVIEWER: How did you do it?
JULIA: So its quite silent here and I heard the vehicles going to the construction site once.
So 3am we went there, with my husband.
HOST: Their neighbours who also lived next to the park joined in. The road they were blocking was through a protected area. Cars weren’t even allowed to use that road, let alone trucks for a construction site.
JULIA: So we called the police and we tried to stop the vehicles but against us was about 20 people and we couldn’t do anything. And then the vehicles passed through us … So we asked the police to check the, whether the vehicles are allowed to go there but they didn’t do it.
HOST: Then one day about a month after the construction begins, finally, Julia heard back from the environmental protection organisation in charge of stopping illegal construction. The one they’d sent the photos to.
JULIA: So. Only one month after the start of construction [Mosk…17.45] gave them the passes that they are allowed to go to the construction site.
INTERVIEWER: The nature organization.
INTERVIEWER: Oh my god, you lost your ally. They turned, they turned to the other side. That’s a disaster. How did you feel?
JULIA: So actually they were not our allies. They changed their side. We tried to account to them but they were…by the side…They were on the side of construction organization.
HOST: That’s how it rolls in the land of Putin. Still, they pressed on but when it came to blocking the road. Unfortunately for Julia, time wasn’t on their side, thanks to a very Russian problem. INTERVIEWER: So, so you blocked the road for how long? JULIA: So it was winter. So 24 [27.48] was impossible. And we did it from time to time when we could.
HOST: The Russian Winter. Sure, it stopped Napoleon and Hitler, but now it was stopping Julia’s protests. So instead, her group turned their efforts to navigating their way through the Russian bureaucracy, to find an institution or agency that would rule the clearly illegal construction – illegal. They wrote to the Mayor.
JULIA: So we got a reply from them that they didn’t see any illegal activities. And actual, actually, the construction is legal.
HOST: This was untrue technically, but the mayor was used to doing things that were technically illegal, and getting away with. He had the support of the Kremlin, and perhaps just as importantly, he was popular among Russia’s oligarch’s. The mayor’s attitude was that it was legal if he said it was legal.
HOST: So what was going on here? How did the construction companies think they could just barrell in and build an apartment block over a much loved park? Why did the Mayor think he could act with impunity? And what do you do when you’re fighting an opponent who doesn’t stick to the rules?
Elena Rusakova is a local activist, who ran in the 2012 regional elections.
ELENA: So it’s long ago, in 1990s, probably when local authorities first started to consider these green areas as their own property.
HOST: Elena says the problem dates back to the 1990s. Before the collapse of communism, the parks were controlled by the Soviet authorities. They were embedded in the idea of collective ownership. The idea that they could be privatised was anathema to the whole system. But then, when the iron curtain came down, the question of who even owned these spaces, who was in charge of the parks, became a genuine puzzle.
So, even though there was never any formal decision to make them the property of the city, over the years that’s what happened.
But because of this lack of clarity, authorities have become emboldened over the years to do as they wish without reference to the law.
And from one perspective, you can understand why. Power abhors a vacuum. As the Soviet state collapsed, it was the people who simply took charge and started running the economy were the ones who set the rules.
And as they did, the ability of the law to reign them in, got weaker and weaker.
ELENA: So, this situation is definitely getting worse. I think in the past, it was enough to present a law to state that it is illegal to construct something. And then the construction stopped. But now, the government uses force and saying that it is illegal is not enough to stop it.
HOST: So what do you do when the opponent who doesn’t obey the rules is your government?
While the construction companies were private, the Mayor’s construction boom was very much a government thing, complete with a tick of approval from the Kremlin.
ELENA: Corruption is involved also. So even, even when people go to street protests and say what you are doing is illegal, it, it doesn’t work because police don’t help. And government do not respond to it.
HOST: Yaroslav Nikinten also lived near Julia’s park, and decided to get involved in the fight with Julia. But Yaroslav wasn’t just any resident. He was an experienced social activist.
Yaroslav decided to get involved personally to help save the park, especially since the reason for the construction seemed so openly craven to him.
YAROSLAV: Because the land around parks, it’s very expensive and they just want to construct and they don’t care about the future or they just don’t associate the future with this country and with this city. They just do want, they just want to make quick money here.
HOST: In other words, the people who have the power don’t have to live with the consequences of their actions. And they were there to make a buck, like any good oligarch would.
YAROSLAV: Cause we have fewer and fewer green areas in Moscow. And the centre of Moscow is just…some…just a concrete place. And there are very few trees there. And in the centre, it’s not only about air but there are many psychological diseases in the centre of Moscow because of lack of trees, because of huge number of automobiles. And this is awful.
HOST: So how do they do it? How do they get away with it? For a start, they kept it out of the press.
YAROSLAV: For example, in the northwest of Moscow there were absolutely no publications about our fight to save our Park. We call it self-censored. In official media.
HOST: That’s why the Facebook group became so important.
INTERVIEWER: So, how do people find out if their park or green space is under threat?
YAROSLAV: These are mostly local activists who just watch Facebook and see news, get news from there.
HOST: Of course, it’s not just the media. The political leadership also play a role. There again, Yaroslav, says, there is a problem.
INTERVIEWER: Why do you think the mayor didn’t care?
YAROSLAV: He’s pretty confident. If he had no administrative resource, If he- if we had fair elections, I think he would care. But he just, he even said nothing. We had, we had no reaction from him. There is just censorship on his media resources and all that.
HOST: So they Just. Ignore. You. Yaroslav says the only thing standing between the mayor and the construction were the courts. There again, was a problem.
YAROSLAV: We have quite corrupt courts who are always on the side of power. Not always but in most cases. And there are practically no other means to change anything. So we only have public pressure.
HOST: Yaroslov and Julia had generated public pressure, and eventually one institution – an environmental court – ruled in their favour.
JULIA: It confirmed that the area was cemented illegally, that the vehicles had their passes illegally and the construction was illegal too.
HOST: It was a victory, of sorts, but it was too little, too late. Parts of the park had already been concreted over. The trees will take decades to grow back.
HOST: The residents still had some of their open space – even if their park was cast in the shadow of an apartment. And the calculus had changed: the Mayor and his construction company friends now knew they couldn’t just barrel into parks with impunity. Up until this point, they’d relied on a compliant media that kept the project out of the spotlight. But now Julia was shining a spotlight on it, it became too risky.
The developers and Mayor were no longer able to act unilaterally: they had to take into account the actions of the locals.
HOST: The reaction from the government was swift. In late 2016, the Mayor announced a new, breathtakingly audacious approach to stamp out the protests.
YAROSLAV: In the end of 2016, Moscow city Duma, like a parliament, they prohibited municipal deputies to…gather with their voters.
INTERVIEWER: That’s unbelievable.
YAROSLAV: Yes. It was pretty terrible. And I think we should organize, unite and…fight for our rights and fight for local self-governments.
HOST: That’s right. Local representatives are now banned from turning up to protests. It’s clear that somebody has a deep incentive to keep the construction boom on track.
But Yaroslav says the corruption is not about under the table payments in brown paper bags. In Putin’s Russia, it runs far deeper than that.
YAROSLAV:I would say that construction companies are government. There is no bribery.
INTERVIEWER: They make a bid, yeah?
YAROSLAV: So they initially make such bids that their own companies, I mean connected companies, they will give them, they will receive this. All rich people in Russia, they are…they are all pretty connected to government. That’s why it’s one command of oligarchs who rule the country and Moscow as well.
HOST: So the fact that Julia, and Yaroslav managed to stop the construction and sort of save their park was a remarkable victory.
Dogged persistence by the protesters changed the political calculations about whether stealing public parkland was worth it. It was shining too much of a light on a questionable activity. Moscow officials and their crony construction companies had to take the annoying protesters into account.
HOST: Back in a moment.
HOST: Okay, so, remarkably, Julia and Yaroslav had saved their park.
But by now, they’d realised that their fight wasn’t just about one park. It was a systemic problem that had been going on for years.
But what exactly was going on?
That’s when they met Sergey Menjeritsky (Men-jiri-sky). Sergey had been spent the last 7 years trying to answer the same question.
SERGEY MENJ:After 2009, I was absolutely…I supported Mr. Putin and current government absolutely. I was pro-Putin. So I grew up in a family full of people from army, and military-oriented people. My brother is now in the army and all my predecessors were there in the Soviet times and under the Russian tsars and all this.
HOST: But for Sergey, everything changed in 2009.
SERGEY: At that time I went to the Russian coast of the Black Sea near Gelendzhik, one of the more favourite places.Gelendzhik is a unique place because there are forests of pines there. And this is a special type of pines that covers only 1200 hectares all over the world It’s really unique.
HOST: It had special significance for Sergey.
SERGEY: For me, from my childhood, this place was like a heaven on earth because I enjoyed walking along the sea near this pine forest. And this is a really beautiful place. I loved it so much.
HOST: But in 2009, when Sergey went back there for a holiday,
SERGEY: I went there and I saw a fence. And I saw no end of this fence. So it was like a bad dream because I went to my favourite forest but I saw a fence and guards with dogs walking nearby. And it was a fence between sea line and forest.
HOST: The coastline, the beach and the forest had all been privatised. Enraged, Sergey found a gap in the fence and went through.
SERGEY: I saw thousands of unique pines destroyed. I saw area prepared for construction, for construction of a palace.
HOST: A distillery to produce wine and alcohol had also been built. The forest and the construction site were on protected land. Sergey wrote to the government and they confirmed that the land was essentially like a national park – something for everyone to enjoy. And yet there were fences and guard dogs.
SERGEY: So I consider this a crime, a crime not only against ecology, but against all people and all humankind. I consider it in this way.
HOST: Then, the following winter, all was revealed. Unbeknownst to the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, a deal had secretly been struck between Russian businessman Sergey Kalashnikov, and the then prime minister
SERGEY: Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.
HOST: Vladimir Putin. It was a done deal. Regardless of whether it was legal, with Putin’s backing there was nothing anyone could do.
SERGEY: So Alec Berov who is head of the local organization, he arranged a fence there of 4 metres high. He put guards near the fence, so now it’s like his own property. His home, his family spend time there. He puts there statues and everything. And all this…Well, we don’t have a lot of beaches here.
SERGEY: So Russia is quite a cold country. And here are coastlines and beaches where you can spend time in summer is a unique resource. And…it has always been protected by the government. So what happened now with the privatization of the past unique natural reserves has no parallels in the history of Russia. It’s unbelievable.
HOST: To Sergey, this raised fundamental questions.
SERGEY: So after my research, I started thinking. What is our government and how could I communicate with it? So the government should help people solve issues but this, this situation was the opposite like the government created the issues.
HOST: For Sergey, all roads led to the people behind the scheme. Which included some familiar faces.
SERGEY: Everyone knows the current mayor of Moscow, Sobyanin, and Alec Beroff who’s head of [38.30] Lukoil Corporation there, are friends. Some time ago, Sobyanin was mayor of Kogalym, its region was central for oil business. So it is the same scenario each and every time. If you are in government or a friend of government, you can go illegal.
HOST:So Sobyanin came to power as Mayor of Moscow. He had a lot of business links to an oil rich region. But then in 2012, the US passed the Magnitsky Act. Yep. You might have heard of it. The law that sanctioned Russian oligarchs and drove Putin to support Trump in the 2016 election.
Before the Magnitsky Act, the Russia’s gas and oil magnates, would make their fortunes and then move their families and their fortunes to London or Monaco or Malta.
ELENA: So such representatives of the government get the resources and then move to foreign democratic well countries. And they had no obstacles to do it.
HOST: But after the Magnitsky Act, corrupt oligarchs — Putin’s support base — had nowhere to go, and nowhere offshore to put their money. Western banks were forbidden from touching it. It was a real problem for them. And a real headache for Putin. Suddenly the whole reason the oligarchs supported him had disappeared.
Suddenly, Sobyanin’s plans for Moscow seemed like the perfect business opportunity, and a perfect way for the Kremlin to keep their favoured oligarchs with plenty of profit making ventures on their hands. It was domestic, it was funded by the government – which was a fairly limitless resource of money, and best of all, it was being run by their old mate: Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin.
SERGEY MENJ: So construction in Moscow, it’s like new oil. Because you cannot get so much money from anything else. And besides, these businessmen who are involved in construction, they are linked to the government. So it is a means…
HOST: In other words, if the government had truly wanted to do something about improving housing for 1.6 million people, they would have actually talked to residents about what they wanted. Instead, they brought in construction companies and gave them carte blanche. It suggested that serving the interests of the construction oligarchs was the true aim of the policy.
So in stopping construction on their park, Julia and Yaroslav had found themselves taking on powerful forces. They were taking on the entire Russian establishment. This wasn’t just about a park, this was about the future of the city, and who got to decide what it looked like: the residents or the billionaires. To win, it seemed obvious that they needed to broaden their front.
They’d heard about other protests, in other parts of Moscow. Someone had even set up a Facebook page to keep track of it all, but each group was isolated. Each group was fighting the same fight, against the same opponent, but not coordinating amongst each other.
Vasily Yablokov was the coordinator of Urban Project at Greenpeace Russia, and also, conveniently the head of Research. Yaroslav had a chat to Vassily about the problem.
The thing is, this was not usually the sort of battle that Greenpeace would get involved in.
VASILY: It’s very local and very small. And Greenpeace don’t…doesn’t have a position, a strong position about local problems.
HOST: Usually Greenpeace works on big, international problems, but Vasily had a very pragmatic approach. Many of Greenpeace’s potential volunteers were affected by the Mayor’s plan.
VASILY: Our people who can be our potential supporters live in the cities and we should work if their local reality…because we…we need people. Because we’re people power organization.
HOST: Vassily also had skin in the game. The government wanted to build a freeway through his local park, so he politicising these battles could be. He decided to tear up the Greenpeace rule book. The other side weren’t playing by the rule book anyway.
VASSILY: Now it’s our position that Greenpeace can work with all local problems. And we should rise activism in the cities.
HOST: They decided they needed to form a network of all the small protest groups.
But before they could do that, they needed to get a handle on what the hell was going on. Which projects were legal? Under Moscow’s planning laws, you can’t just build apartment blocks without also building the necessary schools, hospitals, shops and roads. This was something the Mayor had completely neglected.
VASSILY: We found a lot of illegal points of this project.
HOST: Yulia Galamania was a well known local activist in a different part of Moscow.
YULIA: So in March 2016, Greenpeace together with human rights institution organized a research into the problem and created a report on it. So at that time and before, the problem was understood.
It’s Moscow’s problem.
HOST: As part of the research, they spoke to the designers and the lawyers and suggested changes to the Mayor’s plans. But nothing happened. Vassily says that’s because in the political theatre the technocrats working on the plan were guileless to the broader political context.
VASSILY: This people have the role of stupid people who don’t understand anything.
HOST: Sergey Menjeritsky helped out, running a website called Open Coast. Initially it was just to monitor the illegal sales of coastal property, but has since blossomed into a registry of all the illegal sales of land.
SERGEY: It’s like a register on my website. It’s like a map of so-called stolen coastlines of Russia. And any citizen of Russia can go to my website and put a point on the map if he or she thinks this part of coastline is stolen.
INTERVIEWER: Does it include any sites or sales inside of Moscow?
SERGEY: Yeah, it includes Moscow. And there are a lot of illegal activities which is pointed there which took place previous. Yeah, I mentioned some examples.
INTERVIEWER:Is this, is this one way that many Muscovites can find out about illegal sales?
SERGEY:Yeah. I have a lot of other helpful resources on my site, not only the map itself, but also guidelines and instructions on how to act when you see a fence on coastline. So first, people who see they are shocked, they are angry. But if they go to my website they can see how they should act.
INTERVIEWER: So in my country, the government provides the information that you provide. Why doesn’t the government provide this information?
SERGEY: The fact that government do not provide such information proves that the government is corrupted and works for its own interest, not for interests supporting their people. So the head of Land Titles Office does not do such a register of occupied coastlines. They should do it but they don’t.
HOST: In effect, they were answering the problem that lay at the heart of their strategic dilemma: if the government wasn’t going to behave like a government, and follow the rules, the protesters would start writing their own rules.
They would keep track of the records, they would be the reliable source of legitimate information.
They were filling the vacuum of legitimate government.
SERGEY MENJ: So people are far away from all the mechanisms that works for decision making. And it is hard to fight against it. So, actually, Putin’s system is called the system of decorative democracy.
HOST: The protesters role was to bring decision making within the reach of those it affected. The residents of Moscow.
HOST: Thanks to the report, and several local green space victories, for the first time, the mainstream media were paying more attention. It was clear these people were not shabby radicals but a reliable source of information in the face of a slippery administration.
VASSILY: it was, it was very cool because we used media like a pressure for…government.
HOST: And thanks to Vassily’s network coordinating local groups, the protests started getting bigger. Suddenly it was part of the national politics in Russia, thanks to Greenpeace Executive Director Sergey Tsyplenkov.
VASSILY: Every year, Putin…has a meeting with…members of human rights council, and Sergey who is a member of this council…talked direc-…how to say, talked directly to Putin about the situation with…parks. Putin, and Putin was quite…how to say…surprised about this situation,
—Okay, I asked mayor of Moscow about the situation.
HOST: Putin was shocked. But surprise, surprise nothing changed. The Mayor kept going, demolishing parks all around Moscow, all but confirming which side Putin was on.
HOST: Then, in February 2017, just as winter was at its most bitter, the Mayor announced his boldest plan yet: 50,000 apartments would be razed to the ground as phase one of a massive so-called “renovation”. That’s 7900 apartment blocks.
HOST: Ironically, in a way, this was exactly the sort of overreach that the protesters needed. Now it wasn’t just your park that was being threatened with illegal demolition. It was your home.
The pace of organising picked up speed. Step one. Petitions. Yulia Galamania – who had previously run for office – knew how to organise.
YULIA:So there are about 30 houses per block of flats in the district where I live. And in a week, we gathered about one thousand signatures.
HOST: But they didn’t just stop at petitions…
YULIA: So after that, when we got connected to people, we found one or two activists in each house in our district.
HOST: They were organising at a hyper-local level. But they couldn’t just play locally on an issue that was affecting the whole city. They had to go broad as well.
ELENA: So basically we used internet
HOST: Facebook. Yet again. Several Facebook pages were set up. The largest was
ELENA: Muscovits Against Destruction of Buildings. So this group probably has about 30,000 followers but it’s not only one group.
HOST: To build on the momentum, they decided to hold a meeting in Pushkin Square. The idea was to show that they were not a fringe group, but a major political force. Through coordination of all the local protest groups on 14 May, 60,000 people across Russia protested, the largest in five years.
HOST: In the footage, heavily armed anti-riot police use batons to pull down protest placards attached to a statue in the square.
YULIA: And later, Alexei Navalny
HOST: That’s basically Russia’s de facto opposition leader
YULIA: Go near this scene of this meeting and he started to have some quarrels with police. Police tried to arrest him.
HOST: Remarkably and rapidly, the rally had an effect. The protest march was in mid-May. By the end of the month, the Mayor had massively scaled back his ambitions, halving the number of apartment blocks scheduled for demolition.
INTERVIEWER: And what kind of message do you think the rally sent to the mayor about renovations and about the changes to green spaces?
JULIA: So it’s really hard but anyway, it was worth it if before that you had only 60 days to relocate if your home is to be renovated, now you have 90 days. And it’s something.
HOST: It’s something because it allows protesters extra time to organise to stop demolitions.
You see, if you can get 70% of your building to oppose the demolition, you can now veto it. This change in the law gave people like Julia the space she needed to stop the demolition of her apartment block.
Beyond that, it shows that the protesters had achieved some recognition in one of the hardest sites for protest in the world. The rally made the Mayor realise that he must take the people into account.
Not only that, but one poll conducted after the protest said 58% of Moscovites supported the protest. Which greatly undermines the Mayor’s claim that 80% of people support the demolitions.
HOST: The fight is far from over. Some distant observers see echoes of the 2012 protest movement in this latest surge. Back then, 120,000 filed onto the streets of Moscow in the wake of a national election that was decorative democracy at its finest.
But there are key differences to this protest movement. For a start, it is grounded by very specific local concerns. Many of those involved are not there out of some political ambition, but simply out of a desire to protect their homes, and whose eyes have now been opened to the flagrant corruption of the system.
INTERVIEWER: How has this campaign, all this work changed how you think about the government?
JULIA: So my opinion of the government, it turned upside-down. And I understood that all power is in the hands of rich people. Only they can decide what is next in our country.
HOST: So what would you do if you were them? Here, the protesters themselves are divided. Some, like Julia Robanova decided that the only way to force accountability on the Moscow Duma was to join it. She decided to run in the local elections. After all, as Yaroslav points out, most of the local campaigns still lose to those in power. Perhaps they’ll have more impact if they have someone representing them from within.
YAROSLAV: Most of campaigns are being lost. But if we lose, we can win in elections, for example. It, it could be a good outcome from this.
HOST: And Yulia Galamania believes that only by participating can democracy become less rigged.
YULIA: In the past, people considered all elections in the government as [1.27.36] elections, rigged elections and so they didn’t participate, they didn’t participate in it at all. So the world will not change by itself. You need to do something to make change to the world.
HOST: Others, like Sergey and Vassily believe that acting outside the political system will bear more fruit. Sergey’s website will continue to be the definitive register of illegal land sales in Moscow, and Vassily coordination of local groups will ensure that protesters can bring city-wide scale to local concerns.
In sticking with his approach of simply doing the government’s work for it, Sergey is expanding the concept of a local boards, which are like standing citizen committees that keep pressure on the local deputies, and provide them with truthful information.
SERGEY: So when we create a normal independent local board, is, we can get this brain and, or these mechanisms of communication with the whole living organism. And in that case the government at the city level will get proper information about what is going on in the districts. Because now they have signals only from the high levels of power.
HOST: Every state has a power dynamic where the people can play a role. Even in Russia where the government has a track record of literally killing its opponents.
This social movement was particularly effective because it was based on the day to day experiences of Muscovites. It was first based on their love of their treasured green spaces and their attachment to their homes. It was grounded in place – in the spaces that people live in every day.
It meant that everyday people, people who had never been involved in political life, felt comfortable stepping into political action.
And the process of being political – of contesting power – taught them so much about how the system worked. They learnt the force they were up against when the environmental organisation sided with the construction company. They were taught about real politics when the apartment block was built despite it being illegal. These moments provided those involved with lessons about how the Russian state worked.
Then the state over-reached with its the decision to demolish tens of thousands of homes. This then caused an equal and opposite reaction by the people – that forced this decorative democracy to compromise.
These change makers haven’t won in Moscow, but they haven’t lost either. The most important lessons they have gained is they have learnt how to fight.
When a growing movement of young people places itself in harms way to stop injustice, it can be powerful and unpredictable. Often it is fueled by the white-hot anger of knowing that you’re on the side of justice when those in power have failed to make the change you need. We can see this with the powerful #FeesMustFall student movement in South Africa.
This is a two part episode about times when direct action was used to confront an overwhelming force. Part one looks at the remarkable #FeesMustFall student movement in South Africa, that all started when someone threw poo at a statue.
It all begins with poo. Let me explain. For years, black students across South Africa, like Anzio Jacobs, had a problem with a statue at the University of Cape Town. A statue.
ANZIO: Oh, my word, we’ve hated that statue for as long as it’s been here…
HOST: The statue was named after
ANZIO: Cecil John Rhodes.
HOST: That’s right. As in the Rhodes scholarship. Cecil Rhodes. British mining magnate, politician and…
ANZIO: A good big advocate of racial segregation.
HOST: But it didn’t just stop at the statue. The entire university was littered with monuments, buildings and rooms all named after heroes of colonialism. The place was dripping in white privilege. The university just saw it as part of its history. But for many black students, the buildings were named after people who’d murdered their ancestors.
Then, one day in March 2015, Ramabina Mahapa – who was President of the Student Council – got a phone call.
RAMABINA: I actually got a call from my SRC colleague saying —There’s a naked black man throwing poo at the statue of Rhodes. Go down and see what’s happening.
HOST: That’s right a man was throwing poo at Cecil Rhodes. When Ramabina got there he saw the imposing statue of the white colonialist – who believed that whites were superior to blacks – sitting in a chair, his chin resting on his hand – covered in human faeces.
RAMABINA: I was about 5 or so meters away, you know…There was a smell…you know, a smell of faeces, there was also a mixture of other things in it.
HOST: I’m Amanda Tattersall, welcome to Changemakers, supported by our launch partner Mobilisation Lab.
HOST: Have you ever been so angry about the injustice of something that you’ve considered doing stuff that is way outside your comfort zone?
You see something on the news, and it sets your mind racing about what you’d do if only you had the power and resources?
Perhaps you’ve acted in anger at some small, and surprised even yourself?
Anger can be an enormous motivator especially when something feels unjust.
But unless anger is effectively deployed, it can also be debilitating and drive us to do things that aren’t really solutions at all.
Today, part one, of a two-part exploration of what happens when anger ignites a movement.
HOST: I’m in Johannesburg South Africa at Wits University where, two years ago, people decided that access to education had become so expensive that it’s become this generation’s battleground. It is a story of a simple demand that led to an explosive fight that opened up a Pandoras box of fundamental questions about equality, and how to achieve it. And just a warning: it’s a tough story. Let’s go.
HOST: The poo had been thrown by Chumani Maxwele, a student who lived in a township just out of Cape Town. A place, like many townships, with no proper sanitation. Instead they have mobile toilets with buckets to catch the waste.
INTERVIEWER: Why poo? Why’d he throw poo?
RAMABINA: He was saying people in this high tower called UCT must also experience what it’s like to live in a township where, you are on a daily basis exposed to the smell of poo…
And so he said it was an attempt to link UCT to the struggles in townships.
HOST: Not long after Ramabina arrived, Security was called, and after a scuffle, Chumani was charged with assault.
HOST: In the days that followed, students held a meeting to air their grievances. Chumani was not the only poor black student who hated the statue, but the university refused to remove it. They said it was part of the University’s heritage.
Lindiwe was a student at the time. A week and a half after the original incident, she was walking down the stairs towards the statue with three friends.
LINDIWE: And I saw a group of students,, protesting and I asked them:—What are you guys doing?— … And one of them was, like:—No, we’re protesting because we are tired of institutionalized racism that is happening in the school
HOST: They were demanding the removal of the statue. For Lindiwe, that statue went to the heart of what she felt was wrong with the University.
But Lindiwe’s friends were hesitant. They were black, but they also felt UCT had a reputation to uphold. As blacks, they felt pressure to behave like model students in this institution of white privilege. They didn’t want to rock the boat, because that would confirm everything that whites thought about blacks already.
LINDIWE: they cannot embarrass the white culture of this university. So my friends were, like:— Nah! No, no, no, Chubby, we’re gonna go, like, no, we’re not going to do this
HOST: So even though Lindiwe didn’t know anyone there, she decided in that split second to join the protest.
LINDIWE: And my friends were like: “No, we go”. And I’m: “Okay go, shop, I’ll see you guys.”
HOST: Little did she know, that that was the last time she’d see her friends for weeks.
LINDIWE: So we started singing and we students were like, protesting, protesting, it was just a very little group, right.
HOST: They decided to march down to the administration block to demand the statue’s removal.
LINDIWE: As we were walking down, some of the students kept on joining, you know, like, students, some of the students were like: Ooh, protest!
HOST: Nothing like this had ever been done before at the University.
LINDIWE: By the time we got to the admin building, there was like, a lot of us, right.
HOST: The University’s Vice Chancellor came out to meet the protesters, and he told them they didn’t know what they were talking about. That there was no institutionalised racism.
LINDIWE: We are the most diverse. Everything is fine. We were like, actually: We’re not good.
… This is Africa and the university looks like it’s in Europe.
HOST: The point that the protesters wanted to make was: sure, the University had black students but they were expected to study surrounded by symbols of those who’d murdered and raped their ancestors. That was not an environment conducive to allowing black students to thrive.
LINDIWE: And one of the students just like took the microphone away from the vice-chancellor and was like: “Let’s go in.” And that was it.
HOST: It was a complete shock to everyone. Nobody knew exactly why they were going in and occupying the administration building.
LINDIWE: We went in and we started singing and singing and singing.
HOST: A movement had begun. Complete with a hashtag: Rhodes Must Fall.
LINDIWE: Nobody had planned to stay—Tonight, I am definitely sleeping on a carpet—nobody.
HOST: But they did. And it wasn’t just one night.
LINDIWE: We slept in the administration building for about a month.
HOST: The students came up with a memorandum of why they were protesting, and told the administration they were not leaving until they’d won. All around the country, students had been protesting against fees, but this protest was different. And it wasn’t just about getting rid of the statue.
LINDIWE: When we said Rhodes Must Fall, we meant the legacy of Rhodes must fall. That means institutional racism, patriarchy, rape culture, all the things that you can think of, all the oppressions that you can think of that came with Rhodes.
HOST: Access to the university for black people was about so much more than fees. They wrote down their demands. But more importantly, they started discussing tactics. After all, they had time on their hands.
LINDIWE: What’s the next plan? What are we going to do next? How are we going to, to, to-Which pressure points are we going to use to get management to agree to most of the things we are saying. And…We learnt.
HOST: Every night, they would invite academics from universities across South Africa to come and deliver lectures to the occupation to help them work through the fundamental questions they were having about their education.
LINDIWE: What did we mean when we say decolonize all institutions?
HOST: One of their demands was that they wanted the curriculum to be less European, and more African, to decolonise the curriculum.
LINDIWE: That’s when we started like formulating the ideology of Fallism,
INTERVIEWER: What is Fallism?
LINDIWE: Fallism is an ideology that is based on 3 pillars which is black consciousness, pan-Africanism, and black radical feminism.
HOST: Fallism. A philosophy that united different identities behind a single united demand: to strip the colonial vestiges of white privilege that remained 25 years after apartheid had fallen.
LINDIWE: We had to learn to embrace our blackness, and, like, teach each other black consciousness and love each other in our blackness.
HOST: It was a period of intense politicisation.
LINDIWE: Being in that space and everything I learned in that space… It was just like…the best thing ever.
HOST: The protesters decided that white people would not be allowed to join in their occupation.
LINDIWE: It was like, for blacks only. And for the first time in the history of the University of Cape Town, me and many other black students, we felt like we belonged in the university. For the first time ever.
LINDIWE: For the first time, you could raise your hand in a room full of people and speak. And not be laughed at and be looked at as a person who has not been educated enough for you to be in that space.
HOST: Some white students started getting it. They started their own solidarity group, Disrupting Whiteness.
But Lindiwe says that being in a black-only space allowed her to realise for the first time that she was not alone in feeling out of place.
She was a 28-year-old first year student, sitting amongst a whole lot of 18-year-old white kids. But it wasn’t the age gap, it was everything.
LINDIWE: My education was teaching me how to learn how to type, so I can either be a receptionist or how to make tea, how to sew, how to cook.
HOST: The occupation was a space for students like Lindiwe to both learn and unlearn.
HOST: Weeks went on, and the students refused to leave.
LINDIWE: They thought we were going to get tired and move. No, we didn’t.
HOST: The Vice-Chancellor convened an emergency meeting of the University Council with only one item on the agenda. The removal of the statue. There were 30 members of the council. Just one was black.
LINDIWE: We were outside the building singing and they knew the outside, singing, you know, just like (hand claps) —You better make a good decision because it’s like about to go down, you know.
HOST: Realising it was the only possible decision, the council unanimously agreed to the statue’s removal. It was a remarkable turnaround. Within days, trucks arrived to take it down. As they drove in, the students left the building they’d occupied for weeks, and marched down.
LINDIWE: There’s a picture of me crying. I don’t remember myself crying but there is a picture of me tearing up on that day.
HOST: The statue had been removed. The students went home for their mid-year break. Meanwhile, Universities across South Africa started announcing their fee increases for the following year.
And that year, they were big. Fasiha was at Wits University, in Johannesburg.
FASIHA: it’s opened up at 13%
HOST: 13% might not sound like a lot in isolation, but that was on the back of years of increases.
FAHISA: Remember this fee increment essentially comes after a number of years of at least a 10% fee increment. So over 5 years, your fees increase by a, by 50% at least.
HOST: In fact, the fees were becoming prohibitive.
FAHISA: This kind of increment was going to close the doors of higher learning to the poor black child.
HOST: There were students who wanted to keep going with their degrees, but were being forced to leave because the fees were too high.
The stakes weren’t about the affordability of education so much as access to education at all.
But while students had tried to oppose fee increases for years, this time was different.
Rhodes had fallen.
By bringing down a statue, they’d learnt the University administration could be defeated. The students at Wits, inspired by what had happened at Cape Town University, decided to get organised and fight.
FAHISA: We get together a planning committee. We divide ourselves in to 3 main teams. The first is the research team, to look again into the financial element of it. … a social media team, And the third was the mobilization team
HOST: They called it “Wits Fees Must Fall” FAHISA: Now traditionally in African society, it’s toi toi, you hand over memorandum, sing some struggle or revolutionary songs. You go home, you wait for a response. But that particular protest action was not proving to be effective anymore. It was out-done, it was dead.
HOST: They thought about the University’s weaknesses.
FAHISA: What is going to shake it all up and remind them that in fact, you wouldn’t have a university without students? That students are the biggest stakeholders here, not the chairperson of council. There would be no Wits without students.
HOST: A student strike. It seemed far-fetched.
FAHISA: Now, if I’m being honest, many of us didn’t believe we had the capacity to do it.
HOST: They printed some pamphlets and called a mass meeting on the 14th October.
FAHISA: We told students 12 o’clock at the west campus tunnel.
HOST: 12 O’Clock was a fairly standard time for a traditional student protest.
FAHISA: The idea being, we were also trying to trick management, that we would march up the road and hand over a memorandum. So that’s what management was prepared for.
HOST: Instead they did something completely off script.
FAHISA: Woke up at the early hours of the morning. Got to Wits about 5 or 6 o’clock. And we sat down…in front of the gates. There were not many people, maybe 20 or so. And we refused to move. And it was terrifying.
HOST: They had no idea how many people would turn up. Remember this was the first gathering they’d called. And all the pamphlets said it would start at midday. But word started spreading. The hashtag #WitsFeesMustFall and – presumptuously – #WitsFeesWillFall started trending on Twitter
FAHISA: From 6am, our numbers grew. We didn’t spend our whole time at the gates. We went through university. But by around midday…there were at least a thousand people, from 20, 30 people in the morning.
HOST: Meanwhile, their Vice Chancellor, Adam Habib, was in Durban for a conference and refused to engage.
FAHISA: So he doesn’t say anything on the first day. Okay, wake up, we do it again the second day. We said “Adam Habib, we’re waiting for you. We’re not going anywhere. Your university will remain shut down until you take us seriously.”
HOST: Finally on day three, a Friday, the Vice Chancellor returns. Negotiations to stop the fee increase begin. The students occupy the University’s Senate House, which they rename Solomon Mahlangu House, after an apartheid era hero. They demand that the negotiations are done on their own terms. And they live stream them on Facebook, as they stretched into the night.
FAHISA: That’s when other universities started to contact us. They started to say … you guys are not the only ones fighting an increment. And that’s when we shared ideas on how did you guys shut down.
HOST: They fail to reach agreement.
FAHISA: By Monday or Tuesday the next week, every single institution in this country was shut down.
HOST: The student movement was now united in its opposition to the national government. Remember, the party in charge of the government is the ANC. As in Nelson Mandela. As in, the party that brought down apartheid. Indeed many of the student leaders were in the ANC themselves.
FAHISA: And this is one of the first times in the post-1994 era, that you see young members of the ANC holding the ANC accountable. They were shocked.
HOST: The students decide to march, across Nelson Mandela Bridge, to the ANC’s headquarters.
FAHISA: It’s not like any governmental building you are going to. You are marching to the headquarters of the African National Congress. The liberator.
HOST: The government was not used to being criticised, and, to put it mildly, they didn’t take it lightly.
FAHISA: They had heard rumors that there was an attempted march… And that the riot police had closed off the Nelson Mandela Bridge.
HOST: But the student’s marched anyway. It had the effect of moving public perception.
FAHISA: The first few days was that we were hooligans, we were write-offs, we were radicals. Some people even called as monkeys. It was horrible. But by Days 3 and 4, we were called heroes. We were called a generation of young people who were not going to accept the status quo.
HOST: Busisiwe Seabe was also at Wits University. She says shutting down the bridge made them realise the leverage they could exercise with direct action.
BUSISIWE: It doesn’t only cause traffic, but it means that people who have to go to work in Sandton which is the richest square mile in Africa, that is where the middle-class works and that is where the Johannesburg Stock Exchange is, can’t get to work. Which means that particular environment loses money on that day and that disrupts the economy. And that’s exactly what we wanted.
HOST:Over the coming days, they ramped up the pressure on the government.
BUSISIWE: We wanted to affect the economy of the state so we could be taken seriously. So we thought of everything. Blocking the national highways. Blocking bridges. Stopping people from going to work. We even spoke to the taxi association, …So we had a transport shut-down of about 2 days in the entire province of Gauteng in order for us to affect the economy and get what we wanted.
INTERVIEWER: Can I ask, where did you get all these extraordinary ideas from?
BUSISIWE: They came through…what we like calling Makabulo sessions, and I hope people will learn this word. Makabulo sessions are essentially, for the lack of a better word, it’s not arguments, but it is…us lobbying each other, right.
HOST: Thanks to these tactics, it was a national issue. The President himself stepped in and announced he would meet with student leaders.
That’s right. Within a week, they’d thrust this issue onto the national stage, and forced the President to the negotiating table.
HOST: Back in a moment.
HOST: So the President had agreed to meet with the students. But the students who’d ignited the initial protest at Wits University weren’t impressed.
FAHISA: Wits took a decision not to attend. We said we’d be on the ground with everyone. Wits students on the ground.
HOST: The students thought it was more of a publicity stunt.
FAHISA: Yeah. Eat some lovely food. Take some pictures. I’m such a great president.
HOST: They say success has many parents, but in social movement campaigns success has many hangers-on, and unfortunately the Fees Must Fall movement was no different.
Sometimes they might be saboteurs, people who infiltrate your events, and want to undermine it.
When I was organising the Iraq War protests in 2003, at a crucial point, just as we were gaining momentum politically, someone threw red paint on a politician’s car. It totally undermined our message that our movement was respectable and mainstream. Many of us – including me – were convinced the man had done it to undermine our cause.
At other times the infiltration can come from people who share your political aim but disagree on the tactics.
I remember during the same period, one radical group decided it would be a good idea to use school students as cannon fodder against the police. During one confrontation, the police bashed these poor teenagers with batons. The radicals said it proved how brutal the police were, but that’s not something we were ever trying to prove. In fact, the police had been relatively accommodating up until then.
The only thing it proved to me — and more importantly, to the general public – was that our movement had been infiltrated by reckless radicals who thought it was alright to put school students in harms way.
Unfortunately for the Fees Must Fall protesters, the sudden mass mobilisation, and its attending media attention, brought with it its own set of hangers-on.
HOST: The day the student leaders were meeting with President Zuma, Fahisa arrived at around 10am.
FAHISA: It’s just anarchy. Burning things, rocks being thrown.
HOST: Up until this point, the students had been successful because they’d diverted from the normal script, taking university management by surprise when they shut down the campuses and then standing up and marching on their party headquarters.
And now it seemed their movement had been hijacked by people who wanted instead to follow a very, very familiar script.
FAHISA: Now you get a group of people who now say – This is a perfect opportunity to hijack something. And there was an attempt to make things turn violent.
HOST: It was the worst type of hijack too.
FAHISA: I’m a hundred percent sure, there were other members that had a different agenda that was not free education, who had entered into the space.
HOST: The radical elements were calling for an overthrow of the entire national government. An absurd demand that simply allowed the government to paint all the students as extremists. Fahisa talked it through with other leaders.
FAHISA:Okay what are going to do? We’re going to do what we do best. March. Because we march very well. So we gather all our people together.
HOST: By this stage, the authorities took the threat of students seriously.
FAHISA: As we …marched past, there were huge Caspers there. They had their guns loaded, ready, I mean ready to shoot.
HOST: So they march through the streets of the city, down to the Union buildings. By this point, the crowd was 10,000 strong, all of them waiting for the outcome of the meeting with President Zuma.
FAHISA: People had their radios on. And that’s how we heard.
HOST: President Zuma announced a moratorium on all fee increases across the country for a year. It was a genuine victory.
RAMABINA: That was amazing because I had thought that it was impossible.
FAHISA: But as soon as that announcement came, people didn’t disperse. I think they wanted to remain. They wanted to be with each other. But the police were not having that. They wanted everyone to leave.
Now it was not like a protest of a few thousand. There was at least 10,000 people there. At least. Coz it was a national thing. When people refused to move or leave…The police then started to use their water cannons, tear gas.
FAHISA: And the Caspers, they’re like big police vehicles, armoured police vehicles, basically drove down and forced the students onto the streets.
And then they got out. Some of them were on foot, some of them were in their vehicles. And then they opened fire with rubber bullets. That was the first time we came, I came into contact with rubber bullets, personally. It was horrible.
HOST: So they’d won. But then literally moments later, the police started shooting at them.
INTERVIEWER: Did you feel like you’d won?
FAHISA: Yes and no… Yes in the fact that we had brought this issue up. That we had done in 9 days what so many couldn’t do in 15 years. Yes in that we put the issue on the map. But, no, because…we’d only frozen it for one year.
Some leaders were worried that they would find themselves fighting exactly the same battle in a year’s time.
Others, such as Ramabina, over at the University of Cape Town, didn’t think it was much of a victory.
RAMABINA: It was a symbolic victory. …Okay, fine. Your 2015 fees and 2016 are going to be the same. But the main issue actually was the issue. People are not actually able to pay those fees, regardless of whether there is an increment or not.
HOST: And others still such as Anzio at Wits University simply refused to accept it was a victory in any way.
ANZIO: What does that help us? We’ve got this massive debt and you say there is no increment in 2016. But you’ll probably charge 20% in 2017 if we don’t address this issue, and so it just stayed.
HOST: For Ramabina the fact that the students couldn’t even decide on whether to call it a victory was exactly what the Government had hoped for.
RAMABINA: By the end of the week, it was so many factions and so many…it was all…you know, divide and rule even within the movement.
HOST: For many, Jacob Zuma’s concession proved that direct action worked. And that they should press harder.
They released an 18 point set of demands. They didn’t just want fees to fall, they wanted free education.
HOST: Over the ensuing months, fuelled by their initial triumph, the direct action team at Wits University, lead by Busisiwe and Anzio amongst others, decided to ramp up their militancy. This time to push for free education.
BUSISIWE: We didn’t want all students to be militant because that could turn into anarchy. Coz once everyone is militant, you can’t control who’s doing what, where they’re doing it and how they’re doing it.
HOST: The way they saw it, militant action required a sophisticated political approach, that made sure the right targets were hit.
BUSISIWE:The direct action team not only has the ideological understanding why the need for militancy but they have thoroughly gone through the strategy of what is that militancy and how that militancy advances the point we’re trying to get across.
HOST: The aim of direct action was to provoke the government into a violent response, that would show the government’s brutality.
HOST: In the closing months of 2015, students clashed repeatedly with police. As the battles escalated, the students became more adept in fighting back. They learnt to use balaclavas drenched with vinegar to counteract tear gas, they would use rubbish bin lids to protect themselves against rubber bullets, and cover their hands in condoms to stop stun grenades from burning them.
The day before the University returned from its Christmas break, students once again occupied the Senate House.
The Government was faced with a new year of unrest. Instead, they capitulated. They announced a commission to look at the idea of free education.
HOST: It wasn’t a total victory, but it was a step in the right direction. The academic year got under way, and things calmed down somewhat. The students – those who hadn’t been suspended for protesting – returned to their studies. Perhaps the government was at last listening.
HOST: Things settled down.
Then, nine months later, in mid-September 2016, the Minister for Education finally announced the plan for fees the following year.
I’ll give you one guess what he said.
Yep. The minister announced that fees would be allowed to rise by up to 8%.
To the students, it was like the Government had learnt nothing.
But this time, the students were ready. Just like the previous year, they jumped into action, occupying the main hall, and bringing with them all the stuff they needed for a confrontation. Vinegar, condoms, bin lids. The lot.
The police were also ready. They brought rubber bullets.
BUSISIWE: There’s a movie called 3000. It’s a Roman movie about Roman generals fighting. So one of the strategies we picked up from there, was they would shield themselves while the enemy was attacking them. But while they shield themselves, they advance and move forward slowly. And that’s what we did. So while the police were shooting at us, the dust bin covers … were there to protect us from the bullets. And even if they threw tear gas at us, the balaclavas with the vinegar would allow us to keep moving without choking. And even if they threw stun grenades at us, we were able to use the condoms on our hands and our feet so that the sparks from the stun grenades don’t burn us. So that’s what we did.
HOST: But whereas the previous year they’d learnt that direct action could achieve victories, this year, the lesson was different.
FASIHA: The reason why we were so successful in 2015 is that they didn’t know what to expect. This came out of nowhere. They were not ready. But if you use the same tactic every time. Of course they’re going to be ready.
HOST: The movement got so wrapped up in the tactics, they forgot to think about what they were trying to achieve out of this particular confrontation. And that vacuum was filled by chaos.
FASIHA: FeesMustFall in 2016 was very messy. We came on that year to police brutality.
HOST: This time the government refused to back down. And because the student’s tactics were the same, this time the Government were ready.
Remarkably, none of the student leaders I talked to regret it. They see the 2016 battle as part of a battle that’s been going on for decades.
Shortly before the battle, they met with some old student activists who’d fought against apartheid in the famous 1976 black student uprising in Soweto. Seeing themselves in the same light as their heroes from four decades before gave them enormous courage to continue the fight for free education.
INTERVIEWER: Do you in anyway regret having such an ambitious demand?
BUSISIWE: No. Not at all. It’s ambitious to those who don’t believe that there is money. It is not impossible for us who believe there is money and know exactly where that money is going to come from.
INTERVIEWER: So this is the domino?
BUSISIWE: Yes, this is the domino. … And I’m excited about that.
HOST: But that’ll only happen if they learn and adapt their tactics. Something, that at least some of them are aware of.
BUSISIWE: But at the moment, I’m more interested in a strategy shift. We can’t be protesting the way we have in the past 2 years. It is unrealistic, and it puts too many people in the lie of fire and at harm than necessary.
HOST: The Fees Must Fall students forged their relationships on the battlefield, first as they were occupying the Administration Building at Cape Town University, and then when they were engaged in direct action at Wits. While they trusted each other in the heat of the moment, certain segments of students felt free to push the envelope further than others. This incoherence of approach then led down the path of focussing almost entirely on the specific tactics they were using.
The 2016 Fees Must Fall campaign was rebuffed by authorities because the students had spent so much time discussing how to fend off rubber bullets they’d forgotten to discuss why they were using that tactic anymore.
In the end, it’s almost like their goal was to become better at direct action, rather than being better at winning free education.
Next week, part two. It’s a very different story involving very different people from Brisbane, Australia. But like Fees Must Fall, it’s about a protest where direct action plays a key role, again, ignited by white hot anger. It’s an extraordinary tale. I hope you’ll join me.
Changemakers is hosted by me, Amanda Tattersall. Remember to subscribe to this podcast to catch all our episodes.
Changemakers is produced by Caroline Pegram and Catherine Freyne. Written by Charles Firth. Our researchers are Tessa Sparks, Iona Rennie and Amy Fairall. Our audio producers are Uncanny Valley and our sponsoring organisations are Mobilisation Lab.
Our sponsoring organisations are Australia for UNHCR, GetUp.org.au, the Fred Hollows Foundation, Sydney Democracy Network and the Organising Cities project funded by the Halloran Trust based at the University of Sydney.
And for this episode thanks to the Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action space at Wits University.
Like us on Facebook at changemakers podcast and check out changemakerspodcast.org for transcripts and updates on all our stories.
Sometimes when you need radical change it helps to not know how things are ‘meant to be done’
In both of the stories in the third episode of ChangeMakers, we see women who had very little experience, entering male-dominated spaces and smashing it. By disrupting the business-as-usual approach, their innovations have had lasting impact. The first story is about mothers who are standing up to the gun lobby in the USA, and the second is about the women on the frontline of terrorism in Kenya.
HOST: In 2008 in Australia, a newly-elected progressive government announced they were considering setting up a paid parental leave scheme.
I had just fallen pregnant, so it was pretty front of mind for me. I was working in the union movement and was in charge of the state’s women’s committee. It didn’t take long for me to suggest “hey, we should call for 6 months paid maternity leave”.
My boss thought it was a great idea but some in the union movement didn’t like it.
The loudest opposition came from an older group of feminists who had been fighting for paid maternity leave for decades and thought I was a upstart who was hopelessly naive.
They lobbied strongly to try and have our demand fall into line, and ask for a mere 14 weeks.
I was – angry. We had a new government and a strong movement, why would we lead with such a minimal demand? Ever heard of the ambit claim?
Rwanda had 14 week paid parental leave. Couldn’t a rich country like Australia do even a little better?
So we battled it out. In my home state, a strong consensus grew around six months.
A Commission of Inquiry was charged with making the final decision. In the end, it declared 18 weeks paid parental leave. I remember it because I was on maternity leave with my tiny little baby at that time. We were snuggling on a couch and I cried. Although, that might have just been the hormones.
It wasn’t six months but it wasn’t 14 weeks. By breaking the rule that says defer to your elders we had won an extra month to spend with our babies.
We had been ambitious, but also recognised that winning was key. And as mums we knew personally, exactly what it would mean to win – because it was our lives that would change.
This is the powerful mix that can come when women lead a fight. It’s these lessons that lie at the centre of our stories today.
Welcome to ChangeMakers, supported by our launch partner Mobilisation Lab. I’m Amanda Tattersall. Let’s go.
CHRIS MURPHY: One final question: Do you think that guns have any place in or around schools?
HOST: That’s Senator Chris Murphy from Connecticut in the United States. He’s questioning Betsy Devos, the billionaire businesswoman at her confirmation hearing to become Education Secretary.
BETSY: Uh, I think that’s best left to locales and states to decide.
CHRIS MURPHY: You can’t say definitively today that guns shouldn’t be in schools.
HOST: Hear the exasperation in the Senator’s voice? The woman who is about to be put in charge of all the schools in America refuses to say guns have no place there.
This is the story of how pure exasperation has spawned a campaign against gun violence that breaks most of the rules of organising. And the reason it’s working is not just about who they’re fighting, but who is doing the fighting.
On a cold day in 2013, an 18 year old teenager, dressed in black jeans and a black hoodie, entered Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown Connecticut.
Jennifer Hoppe was at her home in Washington DC hundreds of kilometres South.
JENNIFER: You know it’s like one of those, those moments you never forget. it was a Friday, I was working from home because I was scheduled to go to my daughter’s school and give a presentation… to her kindergarten class. And I had the TV on in the background and I started hearing reports of a shooting at a school.
DEEP SOT V/O: This is CNN Breaking News. It’s just coming across the wires here. Police responding to a shooting at Newtown elementary school in North Connecticut… There is a map there, Sandy Hook.
JENNIFER: part of the sad reality of living in the United States is that didn’t really register with me when I heard shooting at a school. And as it as the news started to trickle in oh, there may be some casualties, there may be some children. And it just started to get worse and worse. And I was walking out the door and I was just about to shut off the TV, and I had my hand on the doorknob, and I heard it’s confirmed that 20 children were killed in that school.
HOST: 20 children and 7 adults.
JENNIFER: And it’s hard-, you know, when I say that it loud, it makes me tear up all over again. So then I went to my daughter’s kindergarten classroom and I was in front of 20, 21, you know, 5 year olds and it was…It was very shocking.
HOST: Did you feel powerless?
JENNIFER: I did, I felt like I didn’t know what to do and I felt like I had to something though.
HOST: In any other country in the world, a tragedy of that scale would have led to changes to the law. But we all know America is not just any country. Instead, it has this:
CHARLIE DANIELS (NRA): To the Aytollahs of Iran and terrorist you enable, listen up. You might have met our fresh-faced flower-child President and his weak-kneed Ivy league friends, but you haven’t met America, you haven’t met the heartland… No. You’ve never met America, and you ought prey you never do. I’m the National Rifle Association of America, and I’m freedom’s safest place.
HOST: The NRA is a genuine kingmaker in the Republican Party. It wields its power in two ways. It throws around cash to support pro gun politicians, and oppose anyone who dares to believes in any form of gun control.
It can afford to do this because it’s primarily funded by gun makers who oppose any and every restriction on gun ownership.
JENNIFER: The leadership of the NRA, … is absolutely, completely out of the mainstream. Not just of the American population but of their own members.
HOST: So this awful, awful tragedy at Sandy Hook happened on a Friday. The following Monday…
JENNIFER: I literally was having trouble sending my daughter to school in the morning. There was a policeman, a police car outside her school and I said, Oh my gosh, I have to do something.
HOST: Jennifer wanted to do something. Anything. But what?
JENNIFER: As that initial shock kind of started to wear off, I, I thought this cannot be the reality that I raise my children in. … And if I don’t do something now, the next time it happens. I’m complicit in that tragedy.
HOST: Shannon Watts, a mother of five who lived near Sandy Hook elementary, found herself in the same situation. And so she went online trying to find a group that she could join to channel her energy.
In the 1980s and 90s there had been a group called Mothers Against Drunk Driving which had successfully lobbied for tighter laws on drink driving.
JENNIFER: She was looking for the equivalent of that for gun violence prevention. And she didn’t find anything so she started a Facebook page.
HOST: Originally, she called it “One Million Moms for Gun Control”. It was an ambitious goal — to hold a rally of one million moms.
Think about that. Her initial instinct was to call for Mom’s to take action. This wasn’t about raising awareness, or signing up to voice passive support. It was a call to do something, anything. It resonated with how Jennifer was feeling.
JENNIFER: This feeling was replicated all across the country with primarily moms and women, and just really wanting to do something.
HOST: Within weeks, the Facebook page had thousands of likes. The thing that united everyone was the desire to take action.
HOST: One of the people who joined Moms Demand Action in the early days was Lucy McBath. Just months before, she had a series of conversations with her teenage son about gun violence.
LUCY: I specifically remember the day we had the first discussion about it, we were in my bedroom and I just kinda remember listening to him asking these questions. And I was trying to figure out how do I explain to my child that, as a young black male, there are many people in this country that won’t hold any value towards him and his life and his being.
HOST: They talked about the case of Trayvon Martin, an African-American kid who was shot and killed. His killer, George Zimmerman, was acquitted of all charges.
LUCY: And I remember Jordan saying – Mom, that’s not going to happen to me. You know that’s 16-year old bravado. I can take care of myself. That’s not going to happen to me, what happened to Trayvon won’t, won’t happen to me.
HOST: In late November – just weeks before Sandy Hook, Lucy was visiting her relatives in Chicago for Thanksgiving. Her son Jordon was at his dad’s house in Florida.
LUCY: Something just possessed me to go upstairs and into the bedroom. I really didn’t have any reason to go up there but I just…you know, felt like I had to go up the bedroom. I went up to the bedroom and I saw on the dresser, I saw, you know, my phone when Jordan’s father’s picture popped up and I, yeah, I picked up the phone said —Hey, Ron, how’re you doing? What’s, what’s going on? Happy Thanksgiving.— And he said —
…where are you? And I said I’m, I’m here, at Terry and Earl’s house in Chicago. And he’s like, but where are you? And I said I’m in the bedroom, why? He said go get Earl and Earl is my cousin. …And I said —Earl is downstairs. Why do I need to go get Earl? Where’s Jordan?
And there was just this deathly silence on the other end of the phone. And I yelled, I said —Where’s Jordan? And he said Jordan’s in the hospital. And I said —What do you mean Jordan’s in the hospital? Is he okay? What’s wrong with Jordan? And he said, you know, Jordan’s been shot. And I just…This primal scream from within my very core and my heart just came wailing out
HOST: Lucy’s son was shot in a dispute over the volume of the music he was playing in his car.
LUCY: And then when I found out that he was shot…you know…for playing loud music in the car. …I just couldn’t comprehend how that could be. But I understood immediately, as Jordan’s father did, that it wasn’t really about the music. It was really about the implicit bias, and the racism.
HOST: So when Mom’s Demand Action held a rally in her city, it was like a calling.
LUCY: I didn’t know anything at all about Moms, I didn’t know anything at all other than the fact that I was hurt… and I was not going to keep quiet about Jordan being gunned down the way that he was.
HOST: The problem for Lucy and Jennifer and Shannon and all the moms who’d liked the page was — they weren’t seasoned activists. They didn’t have a game plan. Shannon had set up the Facebook page with the idea of organising a rally, but it was becoming clear it was this was much bigger than that.
So she decided to hold some events, to allow people who were active on the Facebook page to meet face to face.
JENNIFER: In late January, there was a March across Brooklyn Bridge in New York City that hundreds and hundreds of people attended. And then about a week to ten days later, there was another March in Washington DC that Shannon Watts participated in. I came out. A lot of other folks came out. It was the first time I met Shannon in person and just got involved from there.
HOST: That’s when Jennifer got involved. Shannon had the idea that everyone would commit to doing 15 hours of work a week to build the movement. In reality, it quickly became much more than that. They also decided to change the name to “Moms Demand Action”.
JENNIFER: It was poorly branded
HOST: By the way, Jennifer worked in Marketing.
JENNIFER: But very quickly we changed the name to Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense in America. And because that’s what… that’s what are doing, we’re not going away.
HOST: So in a sense, the group decided that a One Million Moms rally was not ambitious enough. It wasn’t just about a rally. They were building a permanent, standing counterweight against the NRA. An organisation that moms could search for online and join so they could do something… anything.
They were for gun control, but they were anything but extreme about it.
JENNIFER: We are for…essentially coined the term ‘gun sense’ because we support the Second Amendment. It’s part of our constitution, it’s part of our culture. And we have many, many members who are gun owners…
HOST: What do you think of guns?
JENNIFER: I support a responsible American right to have a gun if they are… law-abiding, if they are responsible. If they secure it in their home and keep it inaccessible to children.
HOST: Have you ever owned a gun?
JENNIFER: I have not owned a gun. My husband however is a gun owner. He…was a recreational shooter for a while and still does own guns.
HOST: I’m going to just take a break from this story for a moment, because while we were doing post-production on this, the mass shooting in Las Vegas happened. 58 people killed by a man shooting from room high up in a casino hotel.
While I understand why, pragmatically, given where America is at, it might make sense for Mom’s Demand Action to endorse second amendment,
it makes no sense to me.
In doing this show, one of the things that has struck me is that often it’s the game-changer demands, the ones that seem deeply unpragmatic, but which actually contain a genuine solution, that end up being the most effective.
I get why Mom’s Demand Action and so many other moderate groups say they respect the second amendment. It makes them look moderate and sensible in the face of the extremism of the NRA. But as an outsider it doesn’t feel like much of a solution.
And in politics, if you’re just tinkering at the edges, and don’t provide an actual new way of reconceiving a whole problem, then you’ll forever be playing in your opponent’s court, and constantly reacting to their agenda.
Anyway, let’s get back to it.
HOST: So Moms Demand Action wanted to be a permanent fixture, and they wanted to do something about guns in America. But what?
DEBRA: They saw the Facebook page and signed on, and then there began this really amazing conversation about, well what should we do, what can we do?
HOST: That’s Debra Rosen, a campaign professional, from Washington DC.
DEBRA: Should we try to pass a law? Should we try to have a march on Washington? What does change, what does success look like for us?
HOST: The problem that Shannon Watts faced was that she was not a campaign professional. She was an accidental activist. She had no idea what to do. So she took the system at face value when seasoned professionals might have been more skeptical.
JENNIFER: Shannon and some other leaders you know, early leaders with the group, they organized a lobbying day on Capitol Hill where, you know, anyone could come and lobby their members of Congress.
HOST: Basically, they put a call out on Facebook, saying “come on down to Washington DC and chat to your member of Congress.”
JENNIFER: We had no funding at that time, no…no financial support. And all of these moms took it upon themselves to come and talk to their members of Congress and say, You know, we’re the mothers of America and we’re not going to take this anymore.
HOST: Jennifer lived nearby.
JENNIFER: It was easy enough for me to drive 20 minutes and come to that. But there were hundreds of mothers who flew into DC from across the country on their own dime.
HOST: Their idea was that they pick the lowest hanging fruit. A change that had wide community support,
JENNIFER: A very common sense measure that is supported by over 90% of the population and even 74% of the members of the National Rifle Association.
HOST: The idea was to close off a loophole that allowed people to get around the criminal background check required to buy a gun.
JENNIFER: In a variety of circumstances in certain states, people to buy a, a gun and carry it no questions asked
HOST: So for a few days in March, instead of just holding another rally, hundreds of mothers booked in meetings and had face to face discussions with their representatives. The result was a bill, presented to the Senate.
JENNIFER: It was a bi-partisan bill, very uncontroversial.
HOST: The Manchin-Toomey Bill. Joe Manchin was a Democrat from West Virginia. Pat Toomey, a republican from Pennsylvania. The result? although it got more than 50% of the votes in the Senate, it didn’t reach the 60% needed to prevent pro-gun Senators from mounting a filibuster. The bill failed.
JENNIFER: It was really extraordinarily disappointing defeat, but, at the same time, it was also extraordinarily motivating because people, moms, the moms of America got incredibly outraged.
HOST: Remember, this is just months after Sandy Hook, and the US Senate couldn’t even pass a measure that 90% of the population agreed with
So if politicians weren’t listening to ordinary voters, who were they listening to?
The NRA. Its lobbying clout made changing gun laws there virtually impossible.
DEBRA: it very much felt like any change at the National Congressional level, any change in terms of national legislation was going to be really really tough.
HOST: But the mothers were not so easily deterred. JENNIFER: So, …defaulting to oh, we have a broken system or there’s nothing we can do, that’s a recipe for not getting anything accomplished. And I think you can look over the, the course of American history and these things take time.
HOST: No biggie. They realised they needed to take on the the entire Gun Lobby including the formidable NRA.
Whereas hundreds of other gun control groups had given up at this hurdle, Mom’s Demand Action simply saw their loss as a lesson that they had to become more powerful and change tactics.
It was almost as if not knowing how the script usually plays out was an advantage. They didn’t know that the conventional thing to do at this point was to stop.
JENNIFER: Through that defeat, we actually became even more galvanized. And have grown exponentially ever since.
HOST: But how do you take on the Gun Lobby. In America?
First, they got commitments. Mothers from around America all committed to spending 15 hours a week working on the campaign.
And as Mum’s they had a very specific child focused way of articulating their frustration.
JENNIFER: At that time I had a baby and we would take our babies to Congress …We called them stroller jams. … our objective is very simple and pure and that is to protect the lives of our children and all American children. It’s pretty powerful.
HOST: Instead of just targeting Washington DC, and getting nowhere, they decided that ANY improvement, anywhere in America was better than nothing. They had Facebook followers in all 50 states. Why not use them? And why not go for a broader set of targets?
DEBRA: They targeted several businesses that they thought would be amenable to having a policy on not allowing guns in their business.
HOST: They may not been familiar with the halls of Congress but most Moms need a caffeine wake up. So, their first target? Starbucks.
JENNIFER: So there had been this steady trawl of people openly carrying guns inside Starbucks. No one is allowed to smoke outside a Starbucks… So we really seized on the irony of that … a second hand bullet is at least as if not more deadly than second-hand smoke.
HOST: They started small.
JENNIFER: We didn’t do a boycott per se, but we had ‘skip Starbucks’ Saturdays. So on Saturdays we would ask all of our supporters to take a photo of themselves at home, saying …we’re skipping Starbucks this Saturday because we want them to change their policy.
HOST: Which provoked a response from gun enthusiasts, who would go into their local Starbucks armed, and make their own selfies posing with their guns. Charming.
There are many, many, many of these photos still floating around the internet. A clean-cut couple drinking frappicinos in the very recognisable corner of a Starbucks store. The woman has a large black pistol holstered on her skirt, while the man stands there holding the drink’s straw to his mouth with one hand, while he holds an AK-47 machine gun in his other hand.
JENNIFER: And so we would amplify those photos as well, saying, look, this is what you’re welcoming into your stores, this is what you are encouraging, Starbucks, do you really want to do this?
HOST: By now, Moms Demand Action had Facebook pages and groups for all 50 states, as well as an overarching national page.
They used the groups to organise, the pages to broadcast to news feeds and then they had a national page to coordinate the message over the top of that. Every time they used the national page to amplify those photos, millions of people saw them. Even so, Starbucks stuck to their… guns. Sorry about that.
JENNIFER: Their…their line had been, well, we follow state and local laws whether or not you can carry a gun, publicly, openly carry a gun into a Starbucks. And yet, simultaneously, where tobacco was concerned, they went above and beyond the law.
HOST: Eventually however, they were forced to make a choice.
JENNIFER: It was basically which side do you want to be on? And they wanted to be on the side of Moms.
HOST: Starbucks became a domino target. Once it fell it became easier to shift a large group of retailers.
JENNIFER: Several restaurant chains Chipotle, Sonic, Chilli’s, you know, Panera Bread is another. They all, you know, very quickly responded
HOST:Are these victories important because they are symbolic or do you think they actually have a real, broader impact?
JENNIFER: Yeah, I mean, I think that they are…they’re both …What we’re trying to do is not just change the laws, of gun laws, but also the culture in the US.
HOST: It was their only hope in the face of an ineffective political environment. Widen the fight, and take whatever victories you can. Because victories give confidence to your people and build your movement. It made sense to Lucy McBath.
LUCY: Women like me, black mothers, were losing our children on the streets. And I felt like, …we’re the ones that are going to change the culture. We’re the ones that are going to spearhead the change, and we’re the ones that are going to get it done. Because what’s been done in the past apparently is not working.
HOST: And their corporate victories had an impact, even while they were losing the political fight. For example, during this period, in Texas, a bill passed to allow people to openly carry hand-guns. So the moms got organised.
JENNIFER: Our Moms in Texas started educating business owners and said, Hey, if you don’t want people to open carry in you stores, you don’t have to let that happen.
HOST: By the time the bill passed into law, 500 businesses had decided to prohibit open carry, thanks to organised action by mums.
JENNIFER: So that’s the kind of culture change that can come even in the face of, you know, legislative laws.
HOST: And seeing their fight in the grand sweep of history, gave them the patience to persevere.
LUCY: Anytime in this country we’ve changed a culture, it’s been years and years of grassroots organizing and movement that’s happened on the ground long before the policy change comes into play. The LGBTQ community, we’ve changed that culture. Mothers Against Drunk Drivers has changed the culture here. The tobacco industry culture has been changed. And all of those cultural shifts have been years of work on the ground, grassroots mobilizing.
HOST: Mom’s Demand Action… and they’re delivering it — by doing it themselves.
LUCY: And that’s how it happens. So you gotta be in it for the long haul.
HOST: The reason Shannon’s Facebook page went viral at the beginning, was because people were wanting to feel like they were doing something.
They wanted to change the law, but when that didn’t happen, instead of giving up, they came up with an innovative way to start achieving victories, so that sense of hope didn’t die.
When their representatives failed them, they simply refused to take no for an answer.
And instead of channelling their anger at the obvious target: the NRA and the gun lobby responsible for the terrible gun laws, they channelled their anger towards cultural change.
Like a mum would tell you to do if a bully was teasing you, they sought out new friends like Starbucks, to channel their energies effectively.
Instead of confronting their enemy head on, they simply went around them.
HOST: Back in a moment.
HOST: Now another story born out of crisis, this time, in the heart of Africa.
HOST: Picture a busy shopping mall like you might find in any city in the world. This one is in Nairobi, Kenya. It’s a normal Saturday morning in September, 2013.
Security footage from that day shows shoppers milling around. A couple stand still. They look as though they’re trying to work out which store to go into next.
A woman with an orange handbag strolls into frame and suddenly looks over her shoulder and starts running. At the same time three small kids grab onto their mother and then turn and run. They all run.
SOT: We have this breaking news overseas in the capital of Kenya. Gunshots in a shopping mall in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi…
And then they started shooting, indiscriminately.
HOST: I’m in Kenyawith an extraordinary tale of what happened in the months and years after the Westgate Mall Attack that left 67 people dead. It’s about the workers at the mall who survived that day. Remarkably, it’s an uplifting tale.
HOST: Stephen Injusi was working as a security guard at Westgate on the day of the attack. He was at the main entrance.
INTERVIEWER (HOST): And what equipment did you have?
STEPHEN: I have my baton, this one…and a remote button.
INTERVIEWER: When did you first find out that terrorists had arrived?
STEPHEN: It was around twelve thirty…and they started shooting people in the road. Then they went inside the mall…
INTERVIEWER: What happened next?
STEPHEN: I hear something like a…gun shooting on the other side, or behind, behind the others.
HOST: Stephen jumped over a wall to avoid being shot.
STEPHEN: I walked slowly because I was injured some parts of my body.
INTERVIEWER: Were you scared?
STEPHEN: I was scared.
HOST: The siege lasted 48 hours. At the end, the terrorists had killed 67 people, and injured 175.
Like most of the guards on duty, Stephen was armed with little more than a whistle.
ISAAC: At the time of the attack of Westgate, we are sure if the private security officer had been properly trained and been properly equipped, that damage could have been reduced.
HOST: That’s Isaac Andabwa. In 2007, he set up the Kenya National Private Security Workers Union.
HOST: Problem was, Isaac’s union simply wasn’t big enough to demand better standards. A few hundred members at most. So at the beginning of 2013, months before the Westgate Mall attacks, Isaac reached out to UNI, a kind of global union based in Geneva. That’s where Nigel Flanagan came on the scene.
NIGEL: 12-hour shifts, six days a week, no uniforms, no training, no safety, terrible wages, and then the other thing was that there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of tiny security firms run by a guy who’s an ex-policeman, run by a guy who’s owed a favour, run by somebody who has criminal connections. The whole industry was kind of cowboy…
HOST: Nigel helped Isaac get some funding to pay for four motorbikes to organise more members. In July of that year, after training the organisers, the union started a big organising drive.
Nigel suggested a classic tactic: start by trying to unionise the company with the highest standards. They targeted an international logistics firm called G4S.
ISAAC: It has betters rules. It has better training. It’s a global entity. So when G4S changes, then you can believe…trust in them. The other small companies in Kenya also follow them, the trend.
HOST: Four motorbikes to organise one of the largest industries in a country of 46 million people. But you’ve gotta start somewhere, right?
I hitched a ride on the back of a union motorbike. Let’s just say, on Kenya’s pot-holed roads, it was… perilous.
HOST (INDICATIVE): I’m organising kenyan style!
HOST: Right from the word go, one of the problems the four organisers faced was finding the right people inside the company to talk to.
The weird thing is. The same was true for the workers inside the company. They didn’t know how to contact their union. Take, for instance, Gladys Mawindi…
One day, Gladys was at work at G4S. She had the radio on, and she heard a union official talking about the new organising initiative.
GLADYS: And when they were explaining what a union is, we took their numbers. Because they gave their numbers into the radio station.
INTERVIEWER: On Kenyan radio?
INTERVIEWER: Wow. So you first heard about the union on the radio? And they gave their phone numbers on the radio?
GLADYS: On the radio.
INTERVIEWER: And you wrote it down and gave them a call?
HOST: Isaac had no idea what had fallen into his lap.
The four organisers that Isaac and Nigel had employed didn’t understand the issues at G4S as well as Gladys did. It wasn’t the organisers’ fault, it was because she worked there and they didn’t. It was the “in” the union desperately needed.
INTERVIEWER: What was the actual issue at the workplace that got you angry initially?
GLADYS: Unfair termination.
HOST: At any moment, Gladys’ boss could call her in, and sack her for no reason at all.
This was one of the reasons workers like Gladys were coming out of the woodwork.
The union leaders thought: okay, it’ll take two years to get enough G4S workers to force the company to recognise our union. Then 3 months into the campaign…
HOST: The attack on Westgate Mall. One of the security guards that day was Maurice Ombisa. Maurice’s shift that day started at 6am. He got up at 5 and got dressed… Because he was a patroller, he hadn’t been given a full uniform, instead he wore a checked shirt. As he left, he said goodbye to his wife Eunice. Westgate Mall was 10 kilometres away from his home, so Maurice caught a matatu – a kind of public minibus – to get there.
When the attackers went through the first gate, they refused to be searched by the guards who were there at gate. He came out to see what was going on. That is when he was killed.
NIGEL: He was unarmed, badly trained, didn’t even have a proper uniform.
HOST: Suddenly, security in Kenya took on a national significance and four motorbikes to organise the industry that was at the frontline of stopping terrorism started to feel pretty inadequate.
NIGEL: And the guy who stood with him was expected to be back at work the next week. That one guy, really, his situation dramatically changed the atmosphere.
HOST: People were angry. So the union decided to tear up the plan it had just started.
ISAAC: So we said we need to fight and have the sector properly regulated. The private security officer must be properly armed, equipped, to do the job.
HOST: Dorothy Chikane was one of the workers who’d gone with Gladys to meet the union once they’d found out it existed.
Initially, she was surprised that a union for guards was even possible, given how unwieldy the industry was, lots of different companies all with different conditions.
DOROTHY: But we did not know that security workers can have a union.
HOST: In some ways, this naivety born of lack of experience was to serve the union well for the campaign. The fact that they didn’t know what a union was supposed to do, was a strength.
The idea was bold.
NIGEL: I must emphasise this was their big idea, which instead of trying to organise in a particular company, they were trying to organise all security guards but they would organise them around the campaign to force the government to introduce some kind of statutory responsibility for the government to inspect and monitor security companies.
HOST: Nigel was somewhat skeptical.
NIGEL: Usually we would say, “That’s not a good idea. You don’t have the resources for that.”
HOST: Nevertheless, it was clear in the aftermath of Westgate, something had to change.
NIGEL: In a change of strategy, we said, “Right. We’re going to have to tell the four organisers it’s not working. It wasn’t growing quickly enough.
HOST: Instead, of using paid organisers, they enlisted volunteer shop-stewards, like Gladys and Dorothy to recruit guards to this much bigger, bolder idea.
NIGEL: They had something like 140 activists and we used it to pay their travel so they could move around the country, signing people up, rather than four people trying to do it as a full-time job. Suddenly, we went from being four people working really hard and getting frustrated because it wasn’t working to funding all these activists and growing the network week-by-week so that they sign up thousands and thousands of workers.
HOST: The volunteers channeled their anger at Westgate into action.
NIGEL: The union used that issue really, really well to get out their message about saying, “Kenya’s a country where there is quite a high level of terrorist threat.”
I do think, without the Westgate tragedy, we might have persisted with our old failing strategy for quite a lot longer so it definitely had an impact.
HOST: Under G4S’s company policy, they had to convince half the workers that a union was a good idea before they would be recognised by the company. The results, were, well let’s find out from Gladys.
GLADYS: Within 3 week we had around 5,000 employees in the union.
HOST: 5000 people in three weeks. Unbelievable. Somehow, Gladys manages to be modest about that.
GLADYS: That was not hard because our company has very many employees.
HOST: In fact, it was true – they needed 3000 more to get it past 50%. So they kept going.
GLADYS: And within another 1 month, we had those people.
HOST: So a union of a few hundred grew to 8000 new members in less than two months.
GLADYS: So the union wrote a letter to the, to the company. And they agreed, they had no option.
HOST: But the mystery here is – how did they do it? That’s the fastest the growth I’ve ever heard.
They employed some clever tactics.
They campaigned for workers to be trained, then used the new training centres as a site to recruit. Professionalising the workers became the key to also getting them unionised.
And they used a mix of new and old technologies. They used mobile phones to stay in contact across their growing network. But they also trained shop stewards to maintain face to face contact with their growing membership. The Face to Face was especially important. Just ask Thomas Kiptoo, the union’s organising director.
INTERVIEWER: How important is it was face-to-face for building trust with the security workers?
THOMAS: It builds more trust because you talk to him today, and tomorrow when he finds another different message, he will just call you and you will just go there and talk to him.
HOST: The union also took advantage of the fact they were much easier to spot when they were on duty in their uniforms.
THOMAS: To get them is easier to get them when they are on duty.
HOST: So by timing their efforts at a change of shifts, they could organise double the workers: those going into work, and then those knocking off for the day.
Within a year, the union had grown from a few hundred to 16,000.
HOST: One thing I noticed when we started doing this story, is that the organisers at the pointy end of this strategy all seemed to be women. Initially Nigel had thought it would be hard to recruit any women to the union.
NIGEL: If we found one woman, our attitude is going to be, “Oh, my God.” We were wrong. We were totally wrong.
HOST: Instead, the opposite was true.
NIGEL: There’s very few security guard supervisors who are women and so forth. Boom. What we found was that the issues about training and wages and uniform and time away from work and the length of shifts all came under … They had it at what you might have called women’s issues.
DOROTHY: They didn’t like somebody who is not married to have kids. They wanted to see that you married. When you are married, you take the…the marriage certificate … This is the father of my kid. So it was strict for the ladies
INTERVIEWER: Did that make you angry?
DOROTHY: Yes. … to stop this we need to join the union also, as a lady.
HOST: Just like pretty much everywhere else in the world, women who worked as security guards were also the primary caregivers, and frankly did most of the housework.
DOROTHY: For me, I’m a security guard, I’m a mother, and I’m a union official. So this one, it’s very hard to manage, but I try my utmost. Because……Wake up around 4.20 am. From there, I start by making tea and make sure the breakfast is okay. …I’m at my place of work 5.30. So come 6 exactly, I have already put on my uniforms. I’m ready to work.
HOST: Women had too much on their plate to put up with the cowboy conditions that were endemic in the industry.
GLADYS: Ladies suffer …And that is why it was important, and it is important, simply because men doesn’t have many challenges at work. But for a lady, remember, we have maternity.
NIGEL: Consequently, what we found was there was a disproportionate number of women becoming union activists.
HOST: A year after WestGate, 2014, with 16,000 members, the union decided it was finally big enough to throw its weight around. Gladys, Dorothy, Isaac and their fellow organisers decided to march on parliament and demand the government pass a private member bill to regulate the entire security industry in Kenya. The held a rally in downtown Nairobi.
GLADYS: When we gathered there, very many of us.
HOST: They decided to march in their uniforms.
INTERVIEWER: And how did you feel on that day, marching in full uniform to Parliament House?
GLADYS: It was a bit nervous simply because you could be terminated from your work.
DOROTHY: We were almost 500 people, even more than that. So we were so many.
HOST: The march brought downtown Nairobi to a halt.
DOROTHY: What we were saying: Private bill! Private bill! Private bill! We want private bill through
NIGEL: That was clear, physical evidence of mobilisation. The workers who were involved in the campaign, it was their campaign. This was not a professional lobbying operation. This is workers coming out and saying, “We want change.” That was a real high. The whole day was just incredibly to me.
HOST: The result? Eventually, after more organising, more lobbying, and plenty of parliamentary procedure, the bill passed into law in May 2016.
DOROTHY: Your boss cannot just wake up one morning and tell you: Chikane, dismissed! He will think twice: what union will tell me?
HOST: The union’s membership kept growing so that today it’s almost 50,000 strong. The bill enshrines minimum standards of training and salaries across the industry, and regulation of everything from firearm use to dismissal procedures. The consequence has had a profound impact on worker’s lives, both at work and home.
DOROTHY: You feel you are somewhere safe. You are safe always whenever you go. You are safe. Your job is at…your job is safe, yourself you are safe.
HOST: While the companies they worked for provided security to the public, now the union had the power to provide them with a sense of security for themselves.
But most importantly, security guards are no longer taken for granted.
The lesson of Westgate is not that terrible things happen for a reason, but that a terrible thing happened and the union gave it a reason.
And that’s the same with Sandy Hook. Out of tragedy came something new and enduring.
In both stories, crisis created an environment where radical change felt necessary. People had nothing to lose when they were responding to the threat to their husbands dying on the frontline or children dying because of how loud the music was in their car.
And out of each crisis came radically innovative tactics, and fueled a creative approach to the strategy.
But then it was more – in Kenya, the new, more open strategy of supporting union stewards to do the organising opened up the union to a set of voices that hadn’t been heard before – the women security guards.
And in the US, the failure of representative politics forced the Mums to forge new allies.
People like Gladys and Dorothy weren’t wall flowers. They were already masters of balancing work and looking after their kids.
They had different ways of organising.
And didn’t see the obstacles to organising that more experienced people saw, and as a result – grew their union far faster than anyone thought possible.
In many organisations, women don’t get to play a leadership role, but in these ones they did. And what a difference!
LUCY: And who better to do that than a mother who’s protecting…the preservation of her own generations?
HOST: Changemakers is hosted by me, Amanda Tattersall. It is produced by Caroline Pegram and Catherine Freyne. Written by Charles Firth. Our researchers are Tessa Sparks, Iona Rennie and Amy Fairall. Our audio producers are Uncanny Valley and our sponsoring organisations are Mobilisation Lab, Australia for UNHCR, GetUp.org.au, the Fred Hollows Foundation and the Organising Cities project funded by the Halloran Trust based at the University of Sydney.
Remember to subscribe to this podcast to catch all our episodes, like us on Facebook at changemakers podcast and checkout changemakerspodcast.org for transcripts and updates on all our stories.
On 14 February 2018 at about 2pm in the afternoon, a 19 year old former student, armed with a duffle bag packed with loaded weapons, entered Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. In a rampage that lasted 6 minutes he killed 17 people – 14 students and 3 teachers.
Like so many, tragic, brutal school gun massacres before, there has been an immediate widespread outpouring of anger, and a desperate plea for tighter gun controls. Powerfully, this clarion call has risen above the usual script of “thoughts and prayers” and even above President Trump’s latest diversion which has been to argue that the shooting is about mental illness.
There is a hope here in Florida that feels different to previous tragedies, and that is because of the powerful political analysis coming from the students.
Spontaneous advocacy around gun control has happened before, for instance the successful movement Moms Demand Action on Gun Violence, was born out of the Sandy Hook tragedy.
But even more dramatically here in Florida – it is the actual survivors that are the advocates. And they are not biting their tongues. Can their authentic political leadership create breakthroughs that have evaded this space before?
Take Emma Gonzalez, who fell to the floor to save herself in the auditorium at Stoneman Douglas. On Saturday 17
February she addressed a rally, and the nation, powerfully calling out the political doublespeak used to evade gun reform by labelling the scripted responses “BS.”
Following that rally, the next day students from the school called for students across the country to gather in a national day of action called “March for Our LIves” where there will be a rally in Washington DC and similar actions in cities across the country, to demand that politicians start caring for kids more than they care for guns.
What has been notable in new student-led campaign is the strident, clear, bold language. Whereas so much of the gun control movement in the US focuses on moderate demands, this group is calling a “call a spade a f**king shovel.” Rather than talking only about technocratic policy fixes – the focus at the moment is on the source of the problem – the political power of the National Rifle Association.
Indeed Gonzalez focused on this explicitly in her address saying “to every politician who is taking donations from the NRA – shame on you!”
There is so much anger here. The anger of being abandoned by people who are “meant” to take care of you. There is a generational energy that is spilling out where the students have decided to take matters into their own hands. That could be a powerful mix. The generational narrative is a universal one – easy for any young person to understand. And it’s a very versatile one – it applies to gun control but it also applies to other issues like education or health care too.
This will be an interesting movement to watch. If you want to keep track follow it on facebook here.
The #FeesMustFall movement was very diverse and rich with dialogue and conflict.
This is a letter written by a student leader in the heat of the movement from Wits University. He gives a live account of some of the tensions that divided the movement. It talks of the centrality of intersectionality as a core value of #FeesMustFall. He identifies potential ‘saboteurs’ who came into the space seeking to lead the movement in directions that created tension and conflict. And he identifies tensions with the SRC, and the between some more radical students and the student wing of the ANC.
As a text it gives you an insight as to what the students were fighting for, but also the struggle it took to pursue their demands around a transformed education system.
By Anzio Cameron
A letter from the chair of #FeesMustFall occupation at Wits
5 April 2016
On Wednesday the 6th of April 2016, a meeting was called for all staff, students and workers who felt marginalized by the protest which took place on Monday the 4th of April 2016. The aim of the meeting was to give voice to those who were marginalized at the protest, particularly those who identify as feminist and/or queer. Many questions were raised during the meeting pertaining to who had organised the protest, and what gave the organisers the right to exclude anybody who is interested and affected by the fight free quality decolonised and insourcing. It became apparent in this meeting that the protest was led predominantly by students who were not members of the Wits community, but who had come from various campuses across the country to protest with the intention of shutting down the university.
The meeting was publicised and open to anyone who felt marginalised; many workers who were called to protest articulated a concern for being used by the leaders of that protest in order to push a political agenda. A call for an open letter was made in the meeting to address several questions which arose from Monday’s protest namely:
Who organised the protest?
What were the reasons for the exclusion of feminist and queer bodies from the protest?
Who called on members from other universities to enter the Wits premises?
Why were workers called upon and simply used for numbers?
Who mandated the protest?
And why was there a secret symposium held over the weekend of the 1st to the 3rd of April?
As marginalized bodies all those party to this meeting condemn the mischievous nature of a rogue protest in the name of #FeesMustFall. Our bodies are not to be used as pawns for political agendas.
This letter is an assertion of the #FeesMustFall space as one which will not be used to build political resumes or to bolster anyone’s public persona. Our interests as #FeesMustFall are clear. Our fight is one for free quality decolonised education and insourcing for all vulnerable members of the university in our lifetime , and for the emancipation of black subjects who strive for a life of dignity. Our identities have been and continue to be intersectional, and for the purpose of realising a society which provides equal opportunities for all in terms of education.
It is a demand for a response from those who act in our name, and for clarity on the events which unfolded on Monday. We refuse to allow misogyny and patriarchy to oppress bodies which live in oppression, this fight is one for the people of Azania. The same people who have been on the forefront during protest only to continuously be hijacked by political opportunists.
Our response to this show of oppression is #NotMyFMF, we will no longer allow our bodies to be used, no longer will we tolerate oppression, no longer will gender based violence be used to keep us silent. Ours line of march is clear, and we will fight!
On the 6th of April the university renamed the central administration building Solomon Mahlangu House. We have fought in the spirit of Mahlangu and reaffirm our that our fight is for the love of the people who must, as they have no other choice, continue the struggle for emancipation.
We call on the University of the Witwatersrand to respond to the financial exclusion of students despite numerous statements assuring that no deserving students would bear the brunt of financial exclusion. We know that the time has come for decisions to be made around fees, and say in the same voice as last year #FeesMustFall. We cannot sit idle while workers’ demands for insourcing have not been met. It is not good enough that the university has established a task team, we need tangible results. Workers in the canteen continue to be treated as subalterns, working without payslips and lunch breaks. Much like the other workers in the university, these are our parents, and for too long have their voices gone unheard. Other companies have been removed and the livelihood of the workers of those companies removed with them. We say #EndOutsourcing, for too long have black families suffered in the myth of the rainbow nation, for two long have black lives been built for prisons, for too long have the elite sat silent while the disparities between rich and poor #NotInOurNames!
This open letter is a call to action. We realise that while the state is responsible for a reshuffling of funds to meet the demands of students and workers, that the university too is responsible for fixing internal affairs. We call on the university to engage with #FeesMustFall to address the funding crisis, to put our heads together in imagining a completely insourced workforce. We call for a meeting of the insourcing task team to answer questions about their processes. We cannot sit idle. We call on the SRC to stop violating the trust of the students, workers and staff, to stop appearing in our name in the media. The SRC have long been on a parallel campaign, which defeats the purpose of a body which is supposed to be for the students, by the students, come out of your ivory tower, and lead in service, the thousands of workers and students at this university need not your faces, but your hearts and minds. For too long have your actions gone unaccounted for, for too long has your leadership been amiss. We are tired of petty politics, you are students before you are the SRC, come and lead by following. We are not here for names sakes or to appear as the face of this movement. Ours are not concerns with the limelight, we feel betrayed by the Student Representative Council – led by the Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) – the student arm of the African National Congress (ANC) the same party who deploy police armed with weapons to quell dissenting voices in protest – the same ones who violate our bodies, and degrade our mothers through the use of brute force on us during protests, but we cannot win this fight alone. We cannot action such responses in isolation. We call on staff and students, academics and families who have a vested in the protection of all including minority groups, to come together, to engage, to seek solutions to the many problems recently unearthed.
We need accountability, transparency, respect and to reclaim our dignity.
Comrade C. Anzio Jacobs
Let the blood of Solomon Mahlangu nourish the fruits of freedom, we will fight until we are free.
How decades of fast food worker organising lead to “The Fight for 15”
By Keith Kelleher, Founder and Former President of SEIU (Service Employees International Union) Healthcare Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Kansas.
The First Spark
“…On Thursday, May 28, 1981, at or about 11:30 am, a number of off-duty employees, in the company of union organizer, Keith Kelleher,…entered Restaurant 768, …moved toward the back of the kitchen in the direction of the manager’s office. Kelleher asked employees…to join them, and a few, including discriminatee Cynthia Diane Williams …did so.
Williams and… employee Luther Wyatt came to the front of the crowd…and entered the office. Williams told Amato, that the United Labor Unions represented the employees, exhibited to Amato a sheet of paper containing a proposed union recognition agreement, and asked her to sign it. …Amato… refused, saying she had no authority to sign. At this point, the crowd took up the chant, “Sign it, Peggy! Sign It!” and continued this chant for about 20 minutes…”
– Extracted from National Labor Relations Board
So began one of the most exciting actions I’d been a part of since I started fast food worker organizing in Detroit 1981. I had been hired on March, 1st, 1980, by the then-fledgling Detroit local 222 (the “triple deuce!”) of the United Labor Unions (ULU), an independent union, unaffiliated with any larger labor federation but which itself had been founded by the national community organizing group ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now).
In 1980, US Steel and GM were still major American employers, but McDonald’s and other fast food giants were gaining fast. Oil shocks and economic shocks were throwing millions out of stable union work, but one industry gaining fast was non-union fast food.
Then in the early 1980s an unheard of plan began: workers employed by McDonald’s and Burger King in Detroit started organizing for better wages and benefits.
I was a young organizer working alongside this first generation of fast-food leaders at the Greyhound Burger King inside the bus station in downtown Detroit. After three years, workers won a union contract, one of the first union contracts in fast food settled in the United States. But even with that victory, it was clear that management would do anything to fight off workers’ attempts to organize, and they had the money and resources that workers did not.
I’d been doing it tough: after badly losing my first union organizing election at a different Burger King store, miles away, on the southwest side of Detroit we made attempts at organizing others.
We all got an early lesson in the kind of dirty tactics that the fast food bosses would put into action to
stop us organising a union. Some of the workers at my first store called us back one year later and we reorganized around issues of management harassment and mobilized around the first “recognition action” described at the beginning of this article. The Burger King corporation, knowing they would lose the rerun election because of our overwhelming strength in the newly organized unit; SOLD THE STORE to a supposed “franchisee” who just days before had been a human resources director for corporate Burger King! Even we, who by then were hardened veterans of vicious fastfood organizing drives, were stunned that the Labor Board ruled in this huge corporation’s favor and gave it their blessing.
Our vision was ambitious but simple: organize the low-wage fastfood industry, as well as other low wage industries across the United States and organize low-wage workers everywhere to reap the higher wages, benefits, and working conditions that unionization can bring.
We wanted to “build the movement,” to achieve even more radical change throughout the country: through changing labor laws, reigning in the power of public utilities and banks, fighting discriminatory laws in housing, and change the two-party game of electoral politics. We were young and we really wanted to change the world!
Big visions were nothing new to the ULU and ACORN organizers – many of the older organizers who had hired and trained me were veterans of the anti-war, civil rights, welfare rights, womens’ and community organizing movements of the 60’s and 70’s. Skilled organizers committed to organizing low and moderate income working families to build community power, through direct action like recognition actions, sit-ins, marches, demonstrations, and whatever else worked. ACORN had grown from an idea formed by veteran welfare rights organizers in 1970, to offices in over 20 US states by 1980.
ULU wanted to replicate that growth, but grow faster, by organizing fastfood and other low-wage workers with a new labor organizing model based on community organizing. We would fuse the best of labor, community and political organizing techniques into a hybrid to organize these fast-growing service sector jobs.
By the time, I came on board, ULU was already two years old and had graduated from experiments organizing the unemployed, and household workers, and others and was reaching for something bigger. In two years, they already had four locals in Detroit, Boston, New Orleans, and Philadelphia; and one of the first labor organizing retreats set a goal of organizing 50,000 new workers within the first year!
We were learning on the run and this small effort taught us how the fast-food giants think and that they will stop at NOTHING – even selling a store – to keep wages low, jobs part-time, and zero benefits. Over 30 years later the tactics of McDonald’s have not changed.
I eventually moved to Chicago in 1983 and founded ULU Local 880, which would soon become SEIU Local 880; and eventually organized over 70,000 homecare and childcare providers into Local 880. I also headed up the SEIU Homecare Organizing Task Force from 1996-1998, which eventually led to SEIU organizing over 600,000 homecare workers, as well as organizing another 100,000 childcare providers – one of the largest organizing drives in modern US labor history.
But in 2012, a new generation of organizers and workers took a crack at the industry that had got me into the union movement in the first place– they again wanted to organize fastfood.
I was asked to put together a memo on fastfood organising “best practices” and strategy, gleaned from our early years of organizing fastfood workers in Detroit in the early 80’s – in the hands of the skilled organizers of NY Communitites for Change and Action Now in Chicago, this memo helped guide some of the early thinking and strategy in this new generation of organizers and leaders.
In November 2012 this new generation of courageous fast-food workers called for $15 an hour in Chicago on the Magnificent Mile and then in a one day strike in New York City. Like the earlier effort I was involved in, the workers received critical support from the community— many of them veteran ACORN organizers – this time from SEIU, New York Communities for Change, Chicago’s Action Now and Leadership for the Common Good.
With workers taking the lead and unions and community groups showing support, a movement rose that has expanded to more than 300 cities and tens of thousands of workers. Low wage workers are now organising nationwide for a new minimum wage – $15. Across the country, 20 million workers have won big raises since those brave workers in Chicago and New York City started their Fight for $15 in 2012. The workers in the Fight for $15 are learning the same lesson we learned over 35 years ago—when we fight, we win!
The first two episodes of a new original podcast, ChangeMakers hits PodcastOne Monday 9 October. Hosted by co-founder of GetUp, Amanda Tattersall, ChangeMakers is the first podcast of its kind to mix the story-telling form of This American Life with the topic of social change.
“This represents a new era of big-budget podcasting in Australia. It has been delivered by a team of three researchers, two producers, a script editor and three audio engineers. It shows that the era of podcasting has finally arrived in Australia,” said Tattersall.
The first series of ChangeMakers features stories of people changing the world in 14 countries across the globe. It involved 150 interviews to produce 20 stories across 10 episodes.
“We’ve got a story on anti-Putin activists in Moscow, the pro-Democracy movement in Hong Kong, plus a chilling story about anti-gun campaigners in the United States.”
Tattersall says there are plenty of Australian campaigns that cut it on the world stage. The second episode features the “Lock the Gate” campaign, which has been a template for anti-Gas Drilling campaigns across the globe.
Amanda Tattersall is no stranger to digital innovation, having previously co-founded the digital campaign group GetUp. As an academic, she has written the book on building effective coalitions (Power in Coalition, Cornell University Press, 2009).
Tattersall said: “Whether you’re wanting to stop climate change or defeat the creeping Trumpification of Australia, new ways of change-making are necessary. ChangeMakers is about sharing stories of new strategies that work from across the globe.