Kelly Hayes talks with Lisa Fithian about how we can resist from a distance.
Note: This a rush transcript and has been lightly edited for clarity.
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Kelly Hayes: Welcome to “Movement Memos,” a Truthout podcast about things you should know, if you want to change the world. I’m your host Kelly Hayes. It’s another day in quarantine here in Chicago, where Amazon and McDonald’s employees are striking for safer conditions, rent strikes are taking shape, and caravans of cars have been circling detention centers demanding freedom for the people trapped inside. As the current crisis magnifies the inequalities our communities were already experiencing, people are finding ways to take action while practicing social distancing. As COVID-19 is weaponized and exploited by police and the Trump administration to create new layers of suffering in an already unjust society, what does the future of protest look like in the United States?
To take a stab at answering that question, we’re going to talk to someone whose voice I think is absolutely essential in this moment. Today’s guest is my friend Lisa Fithian. Lisa is an anti-racist organizer who has been doing justice work since the 1970s. As a nonviolent direct action trainer and movement educator, Lisa has trained up tens of thousands of activists, including me, while participating in a wide range of historic movements and mobilizations, including Occupy Wall Street and the Battle for Seattle. Lisa Fithian, welcome to the show.
Lisa Fithian: Hey Kelly, it’s so great to be here and talk with you today.
KH: How are you doing today, friend?
LF: You know, I’m doing pretty well considering these challenging times. The sun is out today. It’s beautiful. It’s my birthday. I am committed to having a joyful, positive attitude on life, and I am just really pleased to be spending some of this day with you today.
KH: Well, happy birthday and thanks so much for making the time with me today about a subject we are both very passionate about. Direct action has been at the center of my work for years, and I know you have been at this work for decades, creating a powerful body of work and helping countless people realize their visions of resistance. This is obviously a challenging time for our movements. When shelter-in-place was announced, a lot of plans were cast asunder, including major events and protests. I personally took a lot of heat for my #CancelEverything organizing, especially from activists and organizers did not want to cancel what they’d been working on. Now, folks have been forced to reimagine a lot of what we do in an unfamiliar and frightening context. What sort of tactics have you been seeing amid all of this?
LF: Well, you know Kelly, I was also, “Cancel all things,” as well. It just felt like the wise and smart thing to do. As I even heard you say, it’s how we really are in solidarity with healthcare workers. And, you know, I’ve always looked at things in phases and how we respond. And so there was this moment when this virus spread, that there was just initially so much unknowing and uncertainty. And then I felt like people really started to settle in and deal with this new reality. And now people are really beginning to think about, you know, “How do we continue our resistance? How do we still exercise our power? And what are the things that might emerge?”
So I think we’ve been pretty quick on our feet, and how we continue our resistance. You know, early on, Never Again started organizing these car caravans around detention centers, which was fantastic and they spread around the country. People started doing online rallies. There were some folks, I was part of a project where people recorded videos of themselves, 15 seconds, sent them in, and they were cut into an overall music video. So, I feel like people are really starting to get creative. Even now, I just got an email today about people using swarm tactics to over-flood people’s phones, and doing online recordings together. Anyway, as time has gone on I think we’re understanding that a lot of the tactics we’ve used historically used are still legit and still possible. We’re just using a different medium.
KH: Let’s talk about crisis. In your book, “Shut It Down,” you wrote, “It’s at the edge of chaos where the deepest changes can occur.” Those words have been on my mind since the moment my state went on lockdown. Can you tell our audience a bit about what those words mean to you?
LF: You know, Kelly, I had been on the road with this book tour, and one of my core messages is that we have to embrace crisis because that is the edge where change is possible. And now we’re in one. And again, you know, sometimes they happen and sometimes we create them to get what we want. But right now, we’re in a period of responding. But we have to shift from reaction to being on the offense. And in that term of “edge of chaos,” that’s a term that I learned when I started understanding more about complexity science. Complexity science is the study of how organic living systems change naturally. This is just how things happen in nature. And again there’s this place called the edge of chaos, which is that space between order and disorder, status quo and what is new. And it’s in that space where this idea of new things emerging or where new things can emerge.
I’ve learned a lot about, in permaculture, that the edge of chaos is also that dynamic space. So it’s that place of dynamism where all things are possible. And for me, that place of chaos or crisis is when everything is up for grabs. It’s like, what was will no longer be what is. And then there’s the agents of change change, using our power now that we are the creators of what will be. So again, we have to understand that chaos is this moment of dynamism, but we still have power and we can be agents of affecting the change that we want in these moments of dynamism. So all that being said and done, I feel like what we really need to understand right now is that we are in this process of creation, that what we can imagine we can create, and what we start to put into practice now is what is going to determine where we come out on the other side.
KH: What experiences are you drawing from to imagine action on the changing terrain that we’re on?
LF: Well, you know, right now mutual aid is the strongest example of, you know, work that we’ve talked about for years, and it’s amazing how this anarchist concept and practice has gone so mainstream. And it’s also being recognized as actually one of the most effective things that people are doing right now, meeting [people’s] needs in a way that the state can’t do. So again, the state is collapsing and unable to meet human needs, but people are rising up. We saw this during Hurricane Sandy, when Occupy Sandy came together. We saw this in Common Ground relief in New Orleans after Katrina, and it’s where people are working together in solidarity to make sure that the needs of the people are met. Because when the rubber hits the road, people in times of crisis have a significant need to ensure their survival.
So, you know, I’ve been talking to people a lot about how amazing it is what we’re doing, but what is really important is that we need to make sure that we don’t stop doing this when we get through the other side of this crisis. Let’s keep deepening our authentic relationships with the people in these impacted communities. Let’s continue to be tracking who needs what and those that are most impacted by capitalism and these oppressions of supremacy, let’s keep figuring out how we redistribute the resources and the material goods. Because if we want a different world that is not rooted in these systems of oppression and supremacy, we need to start building that now. And the mutual aid cooperative structures are a part of how we do that, so let’s keep advancing that.
KH: Last week, I talked with Tanuja Jagernauth about the levels of trauma we’re all experiencing during this pandemic. Trying to create direct actions that are safe, healing and empowering is tricky under the best of circumstances, and things often go awry. How do you think we can address the trauma that people are currently experiencing in the work that we’re doing?
LF: So, one of the things that I think is important to understand is that this is not new trauma. This is old trauma. And this trauma goes way back because we cannot live in this country, all of us, and not have some level of trauma. And as I began to do some of my own healing work, I began to understand, Kelly, that we are biologically wired to be in community, to be interdependent, to rely on one another. But we’re socialized through these ideologies of supremacy to be separate, distancing, individualized. And that right there creates a level of dissonance inside our bodies that I think is why so many of us just never feel okay, we’re just like messed up. And of course, depending on whether you’re a white skin privileged person or a person of color, trauma’s been different.
So in this moment, part of what is different is that the entire world as we know it has become unpredictable, it is unknown. And that’s when trauma can happen. And so, what is essential for us in this time is that we find ways every day, little ways, to have some structure in our life, to develop some personal practice of self care, but more importantly, to exercise our power through the choices we make, having agency. So even if you just get up and make your bed in the morning, right, you’ve actually done something that can lead to a feeling of accomplishment. So we are in this time of physical distancing, but I have found us getting more connected than ever before. And so the more we can do actions that are having people stay connected… so I was on a call last night with the Workers Defense Center in Western Mass where they do these popular assemblies, which is amazing. And one of the things we talked about was like, you know, if you’re doing a petition, don’t just have people sign the petition online. Get everybody on your Zoom call and take a moment for you all to sign it together.
I’m doing a lot of work with the group in Austin, even though I’m in New York — this is one nice thing, it’s like we can continue to do our political work from afar — but I work with a group called Undoing White Supremacy – Austin, and we’re doing a lot of mutual aid work and part of that is phone banking our people to ask them to donate to Communities of Color United Solidarity Fund. And we had to call, and people were like, “I’m having trouble making phone calls.” And so we’re like, “You know what? Let’s all get on a Zoom call together. Let’s connect. Then let’s take a break, make our phone banking calls, and then we’ll come back 45 minutes later and reconnect.” And it was like we began to understand that we had to be connected to one another.
So any actions you can do where people are connecting, I’ll just give you another example. I’m here in New York city, and at 7:00 p.m. every night, people go out to clap for frontline workers. And the very first day it was like maybe three or four people, but it’s been growing. And we started to yell and talk to neighbors across the way. And people were like, “I can’t believe we’ve never met before.” And now people are bringing out drums and bells and whistles, and it’s like something we are so excited about. People are looking forward to it.
And so again, whatever you’re doing, find ways that we can deepen our connection to one another, ideally see one another, make eye contact with one another. Even on these Zoom calls, sometimes we take a moment to really look straight into the camera so we can see each other’s eyes. So that’s part of what I think is essential because that not only is building our network, building our relationships, it’s also calming our bodies down and addressing that sort of the dysregulation that can happen from disconnection in this time of trauma.
KH: This is clearly a time for solidarity, and to rebuild solidarity where it may have failed or faltered in the past. Above all, it feels like a time for humility, when we have to care more about getting it right than being right. Our movements have struggled over language and deeply embedded resentments, debating notions of allyship and what it means to be in shared struggle. Is there a unique potential for solidarity in this moment? And if so, how do we move past the bitterness of all the mistakes we’ve made up to now?
LF: So yes, and again, I think the mutual aid work is the strongest example of solidarity that’s happening. But the ongoing work around prison relief, closing detention centers, debt relief, sick days, all of that work is opportunities to deepen our solidarity. You know, Kelly, I feel like, again, I said it earlier, that there’s a way in which we are in a moment where things are not so different and everything is different. And what I mean by that is that our movements have historically been challenged and places of toxicity. And I have come to see that so much of that toxicity is rooted in the trauma of living under white supremacy, male supremacy, wealth supremacy, Christian supremacy, able body supremacy. It’s these notions of supremacy that so infect our dominant culture and lead all of us to be in places of reaction. And white supremacy, for those of us that are white, you know, we enact it every day until we very intentionally learn about it and deprogram ourselves and learn different ways of being in relationship.
And I mean that’s another piece of the work that we’ve done a lot of in Undoing White Supremacy – Austin is like, we don’t want to be perpetuating these toxic cultures. So what does a culture of belonging look like? What does a culture that embraces somatic healing look like? How do we put that into practice every time we come together? And that is actually deeply creating a lot of humility, because we recognize that we have been acting from a place that creates harm for so long. When Klee Benally wrote the importance of being “accomplices, not allies,” that was very powerful for me to learn that concept. And I had been able to embrace it more as I had begun to understand that in these struggles to undo the dominant culture. And you know, in my case as a white woman, particularly taking on white supremacy, I realized that the healing work I need to do helps me understand that I have skin in this game. And it helps me understand I’m not doing this just for other people. I’m not just doing this for impacted communities, people of color. I’m doing it with, understanding my positionality of power, which is not to be centered in leading, but I’m still doing with, and that I’m understanding that my liberation is tied up here, that I am sick from this culture and for me to get free and for me to get healthy, I have to undo this inside myself, first and foremost, and then in my family and the communities I’m with. And that’s part of the work that we all need to do right now, to come out of this, to be in a place where we actually can move forward into a different world.
And I’ll just say it to anybody, if any of your listeners are white, this is a time where there’s so many resources online that you can read, watch videos, and start your own deep work of undoing white supremacy in yourself and getting with other white folks. And I’m happy to share some resources, White Noise Collective has fantastic resources online. So I don’t know if I answered your question, but you know, we can’t truly be in deep solidarity unless we’ve all done some healing work.
And because the other piece about solidarity and allyship, like, I think that allies and charity is really focused on the issue. Where, for me, solidarity is an act of the heart. It’s an action. And it requires those of us who have more privilege to be willing to take greater risks. We might have to sacrifice, not sacrificing our own health, cause part of this toxic movement, Kelly, has been a lot of us throwing ourselves away, not doing the self care, not loving ourselves and making ourselves expendable. We’re not expendable. We all need it and when we get on the other side of this, we need as many of us fighters as possible, so we can’t be expendable. But we may need to sacrifice our comfort. We may need to sacrifice some of our resources in order to redistribute them. This is a time of life and death and we can all be essential agents of life giving change in this moment by helping to redistribute the resources from those who have to those who need, and that’s really what I’m just in awe about right now that’s happening.
KH: You mentioned belonging. There was undeniably a major crisis of loneliness in our culture, even before quarantine. And now we are seeing some terrible manifestations of what that looks like when we are forced to isolate physically. Movement work can be a source of family and belonging for some of us, but it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes, we look to our movement relationships for love and stability that they aren’t going to provide. How can we have, as you say, a fierce and loving resistance while also being realistic about what we do and don’t have to offer.
LF: Whenever anybody walks into a new space, their limbic system is getting activated. Like, “Am I welcome, am I not? Am I in, am I out?” And so the more we can immediately embrace people and bring them in to help them regulate themselves is essential to bringing people into the fold. Bringing in practices of sharing food, taking time to do check-ins, taking time to actually learn one another. Because again, many of our movements are operating on a transactional culture of the dominant culture. It’s about a business, it’s about an exchange. It’s not so much about building [those] long term relationships. And you know, movements led by people of color have learned that and have embraced a lot of practices, but even in movements of color, white supremacy and white culture can creep in. So we need to all deepen our practice of reclaiming our humanity, slowing down a little bit, sharing food, learning who we are. That’s one of the reasons I like these Zoom meetings. I’m getting to see people in their homes when they’re in a more relaxed state, and I love the intimacy that I am experiencing through these Zoom platforms. I know it’s so crazy, but it’s like I’m feeling so [much] more connected.
The other piece is that our movements have historically rejected, or not made space for, what I’m just going to call spirit. And this is not about imposing any religion. In fact, religion is not what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about [is] embracing the life force, that connection, that joy, which is one of the powers of movements. When we’re out in the streets together, you know, when the energy is moving, you can see our eyes are alive and on fire. Like, how do we bring that into our space? And part of that, Kelly, I feel like our movements are not often willing to embrace love. And in fact, you know, this was one of the deepest lessons I took away from the elders at Standing Rock. It was this reframing from protestors to protectors. I mean, that rocked my world because we are protecting what we love and we are doing it fiercely and we are doing it together. And in order to do that, we have to take care of one another. And that, you know, if we can access that, that is really underneath what is motivating so much of the work for change, we get so stuck in our heads and in our issues and this, that, but underneath it, it’s that fire, that connection.
And so I just feel like the more we can create our spaces in person or online, that’s allowing us to be deeply authentic, deeply connected, deeply tolerant of one another. We can’t be perfect. We’re going to make mistakes. We’re going to do things that create harm, but you know, we can deepen our practice of when we’ve done harm, to take responsibility for it, to make amends for it, to embrace accountability. And for me accountability is not a model that’s about punishment or shame. It’s a model of stepping into our power even more by being willing to say, “I see what I’ve done. I recognize I may have let people down or done harm, and I’m going to change my behavior so I can show up in even a better way, so I can show up in right relationship to you and others here.” And when we do that, that’s actually a gift to the whole group. And so how do we start working from a place of gifting ourselves to each other, showing up in right relation, working with kindness, creating space for our whole beings. Whether that’s the righteous anger or whether that’s the deep grief, we can build our spaces that can hold all of that. And when we can hold all of that, we can be whole. And when we’re whole, we can be fully in our power. And that’s what this is about, every single one of us being fully in our power, in our light and in our fierce love to change the things that are continuing to do harm, and building that other world. So I dunno, I’m pretty inspired of what is possible.
KH: As am I. And listening to what you’re saying here, I’m thinking about protest as a means of tapping into that underlying power of connection, and about how much people need that kind of connection right now. You mentioned the applause that people have been giving frontline workers in New York. Do you see the potential for action as a way for folks to process this grief together and make sure that we stay in connection, rather than allowing these massive losses to become abstractions in our minds?
LF: Yes, and you know it’s interesting, one of the things in one of the circles I sit in, we talked the other day about how during the global war on terror and so many Iraqis were being killed, how there was a reading of their names in Times Square. And we’ve seen in the Black Lives Matter movement, the reading of the names and to say their names. And we’ve been thinking, you know, when we come out of this and we can gather, let’s gather and read the names of everyone that passed during the COVID crisis. So, you know there are many types of actions and there can be mournful actions, keenings you know, in the Irish tradition, wailings. So we can take actions that both embody the pain and we can also take actions that embody life and joy and remembrance.
But what I think is important, Kelly, is that, you know again, in this culture we’re not supposed to cry, we’re not supposed to show emotion. Grief gets tamped down cause we’re supposed to be doing all the time, and we actually have to create room for that. You know, a friend of mine was starting to cry the other day and was like starting to tamp it down, and I’m like, “No, please cry. That’s good for me too,” right, because it helps me. And I’ve learned in my organizing that if we can allow that emotion to come through, it can be cathartic. And one of the practices we can develop is we can ask, we can ask for consent, and check with people. We make so [many] assumptions all the time and stories about what other people want or need, and we can actually just start asking or saying, “This is what I need. Is this a space you can hold?” Because I think even that ability to communicate around our needs helps shift it. This is not an individual experience. We are not individuals. We are a collective. We are all feeling the same things, and as long as we’re staying in that place of fear and disconnection, we’re going to be stuck. But as soon as we can reach out, connect and share, know that we are not alone, then we can move, transmute, transform, and heal.
KH: I’m glad we are talking about vulnerability, because I think it’s the missing piece in a lot of conversations about effective communication, and really just how we treat each other. A lot of people are focused right now on what was lost when we stopped being able to meet in person, and the importance of that shared sense of place. As someone who developed a disability that led to a lot more remote work than I had previously done, I’ve noticed that people are terrible to each other online for a lot of the same reasons that we’re terrible to each other in person. And one of those reasons is that we don’t see each other’s vulnerability. Whether it’s hidden behind a screen because no one can see your facial expressions while you’re typing, or hidden behind a brave face when you’re around people.
When conflict emerges, if we are obscuring our vulnerability, it’s almost like we’re taking away exit ramps. Because all a person can see is the thing that makes them want to escalate. It’s unmitigated. That’s not to say that being openly vulnerable stops people from being cruel or self-absorbed, because I think we can all recall times when we’ve been authentic with people and were treated terribly anyway. But in terms of the spaces we are cultivating intentionally, to sort of grow what we think needs to exist, something I’ve begun to learn in the past few years is that interpersonal dynamics that can withstand harm have to be constructed with great intention, otherwise, it’s not going to work. You can’t do that kind of work if you always have your brave face on.
So, if a space is absolutely nothing like that, in terms of how people are dealing with each other, where do you begin?
LF: Yeah, that’s a great question. Well, one of it is by being intentional that that’s what we want to do, right? That’s the first step, to even to get consent and agreement that we want to be human together and we want to support and love one another in our humanity and what that looks and feels like and what we need from each other in order to do that. So I think there’s that setting, that foundation, the floor, the consent that that’s where we want to go. And then I think it’s the simple things, Kelly, of like making sure that there are check-ins at the beginning of the meeting. But more importantly, making sure, like again, we do this in Undoing White Supremacy in every meeting, we do like a grounding and or breathing or a body scan or a humming together, we do our check-in. But then we break up in smaller groups to actually talk about questions about like maybe, you know, because where it’s political, it’s like, “Well, what did your family teach you about the police? Or when did you first learn about racism? Or what are the traditions that your family passed on from your ancestors?” Right? So we make time to actually learn a little bit more about each other.
In one of the groups I’m in right now, each time we come together, a different person is getting to share their story of how they met their partner and how they fell in love. In another circle that I’m in, we’re taking time specifically to talk about how we were raised. Like, what class, what is our relationship to wealth supremacy, and how have we benefited? And it’s amazing. I’ve been working with these people for so long, but I’m learning about them in ways that I never knew before. And so part of it is the intention and the questions that we can share part of who we are.
So I think, and the truth is, Kelly, it’s like, there’s that image of, if you put your hand out, fingers spread, you know, we can see ourselves as individuals, but as we tell our stories, we start coming together in our humanity and it’s making that fist. And when we know each other deeply, where we trust each other, that’s when we become that unbreakable force of resistance. If we don’t know each other, we are not going to have each other’s back when the shit hits the fan, and we cannot afford to do that anymore. We have to be unified in our resistance and in our willingness to, like, face what we have to face. So let’s take this time, and let me just say this, our whole lifetime is our time. This is life work. You don’t do it and get through it. It’s a constant practice and the more we do the practice, the easier it becomes. And the more we deepen our —and just in our group Undoing White Supremacy, we can’t wait to get together cause we love each other now and we’re doing amazing work. And we know what each of us is good at, and we know how to hold each other up if somebody’s struggling. And so, I just can’t convey enough about the importance of really developing those authentic relationships and the structured practices that allow us to be human with one another.
KH: I am a big fan of what you are saying about using this moment to deepen connection and how possible that is. As someone who had to adapt to doing a lot of work remotely, I have really struggled with some of the ways people characterize remote work, as though there’s something inherently harmful about it. I had a friend who I mentioned the Mutual Aid Mourning and Healing Project to, which is the project where we are connecting folks who lose people during quarantine with clergy and death midwives and other free services, and I was taken aback by how put off my friend was. He kept insisting that you can’t do anyone’s life justice in a video conference, and it was so strange to me, as someone who has been telling the story of my life on social media for years now in a way that people have been perfectly able to digest and make meaning from.
I don’t think any singular eulogy or conversation is going to do anyone’s life justice, but human beings will find ways to do things that are fundamentally human, and sharing our grief with others is a fundamental urge. Whether it’s about being physically held or simply heard, what we are offering is care. And I really appreciated what you were saying about the Zoom calls, and finding new intimacies that didn’t exist before, because I really hope we can appreciate those things, and not abandon everything we create and discover during this time when we are able to gather in-person again.
LF: I love what you’re saying, Kelly. I so love what you’re saying, and “care,” I’m so glad you brought that word in because that really, yeah, thank you.
KH: I want to talk a bit about labor and Cooperation Jackson’s proposed General Strike. Activists who talk about general strikes in the US are often dismissed as unrealistic, but in the world we’re living in, the word “realistic” doesn’t mean what it used to. I am just gonna read a few of the demands associated with this effort to our listeners, so they can get an idea of what folks are driving at here.
“Protect All Frontline Workers in the Hospitals, the Supply Chains, and the Farms and Fields to ensure that they have all of the equipment and disinfectant materials that they need to keep themselves and the general public healthy
Protect Asians and other vulnerable communities, including the homeless, migrants, and refugees from discrimination and attack in this time of crisis
Democratize the Means of Production, Convert the Corporations and Workplaces into Cooperatives to produce what we need and distribute equitably according to need
Institute Universal Health Care Now”
And the list goes on. These demands are aspirational and also essential. What is your take on this effort and the prospect of a general strike?
LF: You know, Kelly, I would be one of those people that, when folks talked about general strike, I’d be like, “yeah, nah,” because, you know, I know that organized labor is not coming in. I know that a lot of workers that might want to have contracts that stop them from doing it. And I don’t like to do things that I think might create a sense of failure. And you are absolutely right, we are in a time where things that we’ve maybe tried to organize for decades, that we might think is unimaginable, are actually happening right now. I mean, even the IMF World Bank is now talking about forgiving debt to 70 of the poorest nations. I mean, people have been struggling on that for decades. So we have to be open to “the impossible is possible” right now.
The other thing we need to understand is that that this system is also under incredible stress. And you know, as I organized to create crisis for the capitalists or the politicians that are profiting off of people’s bodies and doing harm, I’m trying to create stress for them. I’m trying to compress on them, to create a crisis for them so their whole world becomes destabilized. And then I try and also disrupt their business, their money, and their image. Right now there’s a label level of, you know, destabilization that the federal government is trying to prop up with billions of our tax dollars. And we know that there’s also a potential for great food insecurity, housing insecurity, and that these are the conditions that can give rise to uprising.
But in a time where we have to stay at home and a lot of people are out of work, what makes sense and what can we do? And the strikes are, we have seen a rising of strikes over the past decade from the teacher strike to the graduate student strikes, so strikes had been rising in popularity. But right now in this past period, there are workers walking out in all kinds of workplaces, carpenters, meat packers, Whole Foods workers, graduate workers, teachers, right? So there are people doing this. So sometimes, what is the Victor Hugo quote, that you know, “Nothing can withstand the force of an idea whose time has come.” So I’m hoping that now is the idea of a time that has come for this general strike. And I want to be clear, Cooperation Jackson, which is an amazing organization, I’m so grateful that they initiated this because again, many people were thinking about it and talking about it. They’ve been hosting general calls and you know, they’re up to 200 people that are trying to get on these calls. 150 people have been able to get in. You know, very racially diverse issue, diverse, geographic diverse, gender diverse.
It’s like a lot of people are coming together and we all know that May Day 2020 is not the end all, but the beginning of what we’re working toward, which is why they’re calling this towards general strike. But the date was chosen initially because Trump was like, we want the economy back online by April 30th. It was chosen also because May Day is the day after April 30th and it’s the day that historic, you know, May Day protests around the world and strikes.
So the conditions, I think, are greater than they’ve ever been to see something like this bear fruit. And there’s a variety of tactics that are being recommended, like you know, sick outs on that day, having a common image that we all put out there, social media projections of stuff. And there’s more on the ground things like the Whole Foods workers have announced they’re all walking out on May Day. The longshoremen on the West coast are talking about, if we don’t get our protective gear, we’re going to walk out on May Day, shut the ports down. So I think that this is a clarion call to people across every, you know, whether you’re labor or not, working class or not, climate organizer or not, we need to take collective action broadly, and at a scale, because that’s one of the key things, Kelly, right now, it’s always has been, but right now we have to get to a scale that is undeniable or cannot be ignored. And a lot of what, you know, a lot of these corporations may be struggling financially, but we need to let them know that we have the power to disrupt them even more. We have the power to put them out of business. You might be on the edge and we’re going to shut you down if you don’t do what we need.
But the thing that’s even greater, maybe we’ll achieve some of these demands. But even if we don’t, the fact that people are taking collective action together, for me, that’s more than enough of a victory, because that’s what we need right now, people getting into the pattern of taking collective action at scale with other people, exercising our power and agency. That is what’s going to help fuel us to ensure that when we get out of this thing, we’re in a radically different place and that’s what’s most important to me right now.
KH: We’re living in a country where any semblance of democracy is under threat. With COVID-19, we have already seen Republicans force an election to go forward in the hopes of suppressing turnout. A lot of things could happen between now and November, but one thing I have no doubt of is that Donald Trump will do whatever he can to hold onto power, including subvert democracy. What do you think it looks like to prepare ourselves for that moment?
LF: That is also a great question and it’s, again, it’s funny, I feel like on this book tour I’ve been talking about things. And part of what I was talking about was that the two greatest threats that I see as we’ve entered this new decade of 2020, this year and this decade, is the rise of fascism and the collapse of the climate. And there’s a way in which these viruses are also an indicator of what is happening around the climate and the role that, you know, the corporations and the industries and the power brokers, who are also key players in the rise of fascism, have created.
So we’ve already seen that in Israel, Netanyahu is still in power because the pandemic enabled him to maintain it. We know that the Trump administration is trying to do things that are unprecedented, that have never been done before, like putting his name on the checks, these checks that are supposed to come out, or floating the idea of like putting some of the provisions of the Constitution on hold that would enable them to hold people in jail. We know that part of their response to the climate disaster was to build all these detention camps and prisons on the borders. So he’s been testing things and doing things, and there is no question in my mind that, depending on how this rolls out, they could call for that election is not possible. They could continue to suppress people’s ability to vote, squash these vote by mail efforts in order for him to maintain power. I’m all about building networks of resistance that can protect our communities and rise in defense of what might happen. And that’s what I think we have to be doing now and that the mutual aid work is the foundation for what that could be, to continue to build networks of resistance on the ground and in our communities.
So if this is to happen, we have to rise and we have to shut things down. I’ve been doing a lot of work with Extinction Rebellion because they have adopted a model of social disruption, which is what I’m all about. But they’re terribly flawed in so many other ways, and we’re not going to go there. But what I will just say is that we have been looking at, how do we begin to identify sites of critical infrastructure of the transportation industries of cities? How do we shut things down at such a scale in our economic system that they have to respond to us? And I think that’s part of what we need to be prepared to do. And that’s, again, as you’re at home, you know, you can use mapping programs to, like, scout out key junctions in your cities. You can be looking at highway systems. What is possible?
So that, if that’s where we go, we are prepared. I love that you talked earlier, Kelly, about being prepared because I think we are, we’ve been preparing for years and we are much more capable than we realize. We just have to, like, get through the fear that’s engendered when we think about the rise of supremacists and we’re dealing with a president that’s a bully and that we know will do harm. And that we know that there’s this part of this population that will kill people for rising up. That’s all real. But we can take the power that we’re building through these relationships, through love, through these networks, through our planning, through our targeting, to actually work at, again, a scale of collective action, whether it’s another strike or a massive system wide shutdown, to say, “No, we will not go forward.”
KH: Well, Lisa, I can’t thank you enough for joining us today to share your experience and your wisdom. And if I were a teacher who could give out assignments, your book is the homework I would be giving.
LF: Thank you so much, Kelly. It’s really been a pleasure to be with you today and I’m grateful to all your listeners as well.
KH: To learn more from Lisa Fithian, you can check out her book, Shut It Down: Stories from a Fierce and Loving Resistance. But don’t buy it on Amazon, because they’ve got workers on strike. I also want to thank our listeners for joining us today. And remember, our best defense against cynicism is to do good and to remember that the good we do matters. Until next time, I’ll see you in the streets.
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