How We #ShutDownDC in September, and How We Can Do Something Even Bigger This Spring

cross-posted from Medium

by Patrick J. Young

Last September, when young people called for global climate strikes, organizers in DC answered that call in a big way. On September 23rd, 2019 hundreds of people organized into 22 different affinity groups to blockade 17 intersections across Washington, DC, effectively shutting down business as usual in the nation’s capital. The mobilization brought together a wide range of people spanning from healthcare workers to union activists to college students to Black Lives Matter to, of course, traditional climate activists. One group led a massive queer dance party through the streets, another group set up a mobile blood pressure clinic in the middle of Independence Avenue, and yet another locked down to a boat in the middle of K Street.

The organizing for #ShutDownDC came together incredibly quickly — in just about five weeks — but it wasn’t random and it wasn’t spontaneous. To make this happen we relied on tried and tested organizing practices and social movement theory to very deliberately execute a disciplined organizing program.

This spring, young people from around the world are calling on all of us to take to the streets again to take action for climate justice. Using some of those same tools, learning from our experience, and building off of the base that we’ve created we can #ShutDownDC again — and we can do it much bigger and more powerfully than we did in September.

Pledging to Take Action

When we launched the call to action to participate in #ShutDownDC we invited people to sign a pledge of resistance committing to take action.

This September I will join the climate strike.

  •  I will honor the picket line by skipping school or work and putting off my other responsibilities on September 23.
  • I pledge to take action with my friends, neighbors, classmates and coworkers to shut down business-as-usual, so the status quo of delay, inaction, and half measures is no longer an option.
  • I’m going to make the strike a priority. Between now and September I’m committed to pushing myself to organize my friends, coworkers, classmates and neighbors to participate in the strike.
  • During the climate strike in Washington, DC we will hold ourselves accountable to building creative and strategic nonviolent actions that bring about the world that we want to live in.

The pledge of resistance model has been used in the past by dozens of projects, notably the anti-nuclear movement, the Central American Pledge of Resistance, and the fight against the Keystone XL Pipeline. This was an important step for #ShutDownDC because, not only did it offer an invitation to participate in the mobilization, it also helped us start to build a list of collaborators and co-conspirators. When we kicked off the project #ShutDownDC was a brand new space and we didn’t have a list of activists or a base.

Importantly, we didn’t just rely on people signing an online pledge to assume that they were going to take serious action in September. We used the contact information from the pledge to call and text everyone who signed on to invite them to take the next steps and get the support they needed to seriously throw down in September. We had one-on-one phone calls or peer-to-peer text conversations with everyone who signed the pledge at least once a week between mid-August and the end of September.

Decentralizing the Organizing

Doing something as complicated as blockading intersections around a major city is something that’s far too complex for any one action organizer — no matter how smart or experienced — to coordinate. Taking on a project like that meant coordinating hundreds of people to make quick decisions and adapt to changes in traffic flows, police actions (there are more than two dozen police agencies in DC), and commuters across more than a dozen square miles.

To solve a problem this big we borrowed a tool that has been adopted by radical social movement spaces successfully all around the world hundreds of times going back as far as the Spanish Civil War. We organized into smaller “affinity groups” that could take on pieces of the action — blocking an intersection or a part of an intersection. We coordinated about big decisions that impacted everybody — like when to start (it could be a big problem if one group shut down traffic an hour earlier than everybody else… and then nobody could actually get to their blockades!) or when to end, or what our shared demands would be through a Spokes Council.

A Spokes Council is a space that brings together representatives (or ‘spokes’) from different affinity groups to coordinate on co-creating an action. Spokes Councils operate on a formal consensus model where groups work together to find solutions that address everyone’s needs and concerns and develop a plan that everyone is comfortable with.

There’s something profoundly radical about this model of organizing. Rather than waiting for leaders to tell us what to do, we worked together in small groups to solve problems and make plans on our own. When our decisions just impacted us (like whether to make our banners out of nylon or cotton) we did whatever made sense to us. When our affinity group’s decisions impacted everybody else, we communicated with those groups to find solutions that everybody could live with.

Frontloading Movement DNA

Because this action was so ambitious — shutting down the capital of the most powerful country in the world — and this model of decentralized and horizontal organizing was so different from so many other spaces in our culture it was important to introduce people joining us to the project and the way we were organizing ourselves early on. To make this happen we held regular on-boarding sessions to introduce everyone to the structure, organizing plan, and strategy of the action.

These onboarding sessions were short — they lasted about an hour — and were primarily focused on giving people the information they needed to step into the structure and start making plans. Other movements including Otpor! in Serbia and groups incubated by Momentum in the US have very successfully used this model of front-loading training to take advantage powerful waves of mobilization and absorb energy back into their organizing structures as initial bursts of energy began to recede.

Many of the people who took to the streets on September 23rd had never participated in any sort of direct action, and very few had participated in this type of decentralized action planning framework in the past, so we held a series of Nonviolent Direct Action Trainings to make sure that everyone had the tools and skills to feel comfortable and safe taking action to #ShutDownDC.

Measuring Our Progress

Coming through the onboarding sessions, spokes council meetings and NVDA trainings people had never taken action before were able to build relationships and find their way into an affinity group where they felt comfortable taking action. The #ShutDownDC Organizing Working Group carefully tracked who signed the pledge of resistance, who went to an onboarding training, who went to an NVDA training and who was landing in an affinity group.

People who signed the pledge of resistance but hadn’t shown up to a meeting or event got phone calls and text messages inviting them to an onboarding training. People who hadn’t connected with an affinity group got introduced to affinity groups at weekly spokes council meetings. Building energy and buzz around an action is great, but if we’re going to take on big, complicated actions and take serious risks we need to build structures of coordination and accountability so we can depend on each other to show up.

At the start of the organizing process we set up a realistic set of benchmarks about how many people needed to be in motion, how many pledge signers, how many people participating in onboarding sessions, how many people in affinity groups at key points throughout the process. And at signpost after signpost we met our targets and drove the organizing forward.

By the weekend before September 23rd there were around 550 people who were organized into affinity groups with a concrete plan to take action. By the end of the day, around four times that many actually turned out into the streets — some of them had just heard about the action online or on the news, but many, many more were friends, neighbors, coworkers and roommates of the 550 people who had organized into affinity groups over the previous two months to make the action happen.

What We Can Do This Spring!

The action that we came together to create in September exceeded just about everyone’s expectations about what we would be able to organize in that timeframe. In many ways it was a mammoth organizing task: bringing together a group of people, most of whom had never met each other, many of whom had never taken action and shutting down business as usual in Washington, DC. But on the other hand, when we break it down to the component parts of organizing, training and supporting around 550 people in 22 affinity groups, it’s a much more manageable project.

This Spring we’re not starting from scratch. Hundreds of people cut their teeth in action organizing in September. And over the past four months, more than 200 people who weren’t involved in the September actions in any way have joined our ranks and come to meetings, trainings, or thrown down with us on smaller-scale actions. We also have some functioning working groups (and some working groups that need some energy to become better functioning!), a big contact list, and a whole lot more experience.

We’ve also been doing a lot of listening and learning. Over the past six weeks, #ShutDownDC organizers have participated in an ambitious consultation process where we’ve had listening meetings with organizers from around 50 organizations and movements. The point of these meetings was not to try to recruit these organizations into a process; it was to get feedback on how folks have experienced or perceived #ShutDownDC and the climate movement in the past, hear what type of action or mobilization folks would be excited about seeing happen in the spring, and if they wanted to participate in co-creating a mobilization, what they would want and expect from an organizing process to feel good about working together in that space.

With this kind of foundation, we shouldn’t be looking to replicate what we did in September, we should be thinking about bringing the action to a whole new scale. Around 550 people were organized into affinity groups and had solid plans to take action in September — there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to organize three or four times as many people into affinity groups ready to throw down hard this spring. And there’s no reason that we shouldn’t be able to organize actions at that scale across several days — or even a week!

We’re having our #ShutDownDC kick-off meeting this Thursday and I’m excited to see what we can make happen. There are a lot of different ideas floating around and lots of different possibilities. One proposal that I’m particularly excited about is organizing a series of actions stretching from Earth Day to May Day, supporting youth-led actions on April 22–24 and organizing a series of escalating days of action lifting up different themes and struggles throughout the week of April 27, culminating on May Day. I’m not sure what we’re going to end up doing, but I think that if we can think big, learn from our experiences, take leadership from the organizations in our community that have been in struggle for decades, and run a disciplined organizing program, we can create a history-making level of disruption this spring. Activists occupy offices in Toronto’s financial district ahead of anti-pipeline solidarity rally

cross-posted from

by Anna Bianca Roach

This morning, approximately 30 activists occupied corporate offices in Toronto’s financial district to protest the companies involved in financing the Coastal GasLink pipeline project.

Protesters first went to the Royal Bank Plaza, where they occupied the space outside the office of RBC CEO David McKay for around fifteen minutes while activists from the group Artists for Climate and Migrant Justice and Indigenous Sovereignty put on a satirical play in the building’s lobby. After building security escorted activists from the building, the group occupied the nearby offices of the Alberta Investment Management Corporation, or AIMCo.

“The actions today were to focus on how Toronto’s financial district is complacent with and fuelling the attacks on the Wet’suwet’en people, and the invasion of their unceded territory for the CGL pipeline,” Vanessa Gray, an Aamjiwnaang land defender who organizes with the Porcupine Warriors in Toronto, told

“The climate is breaking down before our very eyes,” Climate Justice Toronto organizer Cricket Cheng said in their speech outside of McKay’s office. “On the other side of the world, scorching mega-infernos are racing across Australia, … and here on Turtle Island, the RCMP are gearing up with military grade weapons this very moment to forcibly push Wet’suwet’en people off of their land and clear way for the Coastal GasLink pipeline.”

The pipeline, which would transport gas from eastern British Columbia and western Alberta to the Pacific coast, has garnered heightened attention in 2019 from Indigenous rights activists and environmentalists. One year ago today, the RCMP brought lethal force to the unceded territory of the Wet’suwet’en Nation to enforce an injunction obtained by CGL. The injunction effectively cleared the path for the pipeline’s construction on unceded Wet’suwet’en territory, despite lack of consent. The pipeline made headlines again in December 2019, when The Guardian published an article revealing that RCMP commanders instructed officers to “use as much violence toward the gate as you want” to ensure CGL’s access to the Unist’ot’en camp.

Since then, the government of British Columbia has passed a bill to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP). Weeks after adopting UNDRIP, on December 31, 2019, the province’s Supreme Court extended the injunction. Following the extension of the injunction on New Year’s Eve, the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs issued an eviction notice to CGL contractors and employees on January 5. For now, the company has complied with the notice, but there is no guarantee that that will last.

“[The extension of the injunction] gives full access for [CGL] workers to start building the pipeline itself,” said Gray. “Before the invasion last year, there was always a gate up on the bridge, so the Wet’suwet’en had full jurisdiction of who was on their territory.” After the first injunction, police have entered the territory at will, periodically arresting land defenders and their allies if they did not clear a path through the Unist’ot’en camp.

Gray also stressed the ecological damage that the pipeline would do. “[It] would run beneath the Morice River, a critical river system for several communities, irreversibly alter ecology in the region and incentivize gas companies to further exploit the land along the pipeline.”

“It’s in everybody’s best interest for land defenders to be on the land,” she said. “It’s shocking, because we all understand that we’re in a climate crisis, when water needs to be treated as the important resource it is. And Canada is willing to put Indigenous people in danger, put children in danger, put keepers of the land in danger for a pipeline.”

“Toronto is the beating heart of Canadian capitalism,” said Cheng. “This is where the banks are, the financiers, those who directly finance and profit from the climate crisis. This is where they’re headquartered, this is where their homes are.”

RBC and AIMCo, the targets of today’s direct actions, are key players in the pipeline’s construction. RBC served as the sole advisor for TransCanada Corporation, now TC Energy, as it sold a part of the pipeline project in 2019. “This means they were responsible for finding the money required to construct this pipeline and accelerate fossil fuel extraction,” Cheng explained.

AIMCo, an investment management agency, has invested in the pipeline. Under Premier Jason Kenney, the Alberta government recently passed Bill 22, which moved the pension assets of public sector workers under AIMCo’s management, including $18 billion in assets from the Alberta Teachers’ Retirement Fund. On November 9, 2019, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney also announced that he would consider moving nearly $40 billion from Canada Pension Plan assets to AIMCo.

“The actions today were to focus on how Toronto’s financial district is complacent with and fuelling the attacks on the Wet’suwet’en people and the invasion of their unceded territory for the CGL pipeline,” said Gray.

After the actions, Rising Tide Toronto, one of the grassroots collectives that organized today’s actions, led a rally at the Royal Bank Plaza, which was attended by Winnipeg Centre NDP MP Leah Gazan and former MP Romeo Saganash. “It was really amazing to see hundreds of Torontonians come out to support Indigenous sovereignty,” said Niklas Agarwal, a member of Climate Justice Toronto.

The rally brought together speakers from a number of different social justice groups in Toronto, including the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network, Black Lives Matter Toronto, Idle No More, and No One Is Illegal. After the speeches, protestors shut down one of the financial district’s major intersections and participated in a round dance. “It was a strong community,” said Agarwal.

Throughout the day, organizers from the Porcupine Warriors, Rising Tide, Climate Justice Toronto, and the Artists for Climate and Migrant Justice and Indigenous Sovereignty spoke about the necessity of acting against in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en people against the CGL pipeline.

“We’ve been fighting the same thing from a different side for a long time now,” Gray explained, referring to the Aamjiwnang First Nation’s experience in Sarnia. “The ways that the industry impacts us on the daily are countless, the number of chemicals, the number of incidents that happen right beside our homes… It’s hard to keep track of. This is why we’re fighting so hard to prevent this from happening to the Wet’suwet’en.”

Anna Bianca Roach is a freelance journalist who covers social movements, labour, and environmental justice.

Image: Anna Bianca Roach



Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs Evict Coastal GasLink from Territory

cross-posted from Wet’suwet’en Access Point on Gidimt’en Territory

Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs Evict Coastal GasLink from Territory 


Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs representing all five clans of the Wet’suwet’en Nation have issued an eviction notice to the Coastal GasLink (CGL) pipeline company. The eviction of CGL is effective immediately, and applies to “Camp 9A” on Dark House territory, as well as the neighbouring Gidimt’en, Tsayu, and Laksamshu clan territories. Hereditary chiefs have gathered on Gidimt’en and Gilseyhu territories to monitor the eviction.

Coastal Gaslink has violated the Wet’suwet’en law of trespass, and has bulldozed through our territories, destroyed our archaeological sites, and occupied our land with industrial man-camps. Private security firms and RCMP have continually interfered with the constitutionally protected rights of Wet’suwet’en people to access our lands for hunting, trapping, and ceremony.

Canada’s courts have acknowledged in Delgamuukw-Gisdaywa v. The Queen that the Wet’suwet’en people, represented by our hereditary chiefs, have never ceded nor surrendered title to the 22,000km2 of Wet’suwet’en territory. The granting of the interlocutory injunction by BC’s Supreme Court has proven to us that Canadian courts will ignore their own rulings and deny our jurisdiction when convenient, and will not protect our territories or our rights as Indigenous peoples.

Anuc ‘nu’at’en (Wet’suwet’en law) is not a “belief” or a “point of view”. It is a way of sustainably managing our territories and relations with one another and the world around us, and it has worked for millennia to keep our territories intact. Our law is central to our identity. The ongoing criminalization of our laws by Canada’s courts and industrial police is an attempt at genocide, an attempt to extinguish Wet’suwet’en identity itself.

We reaffirm that Anuc ‘nu’at’en remains the highest law on Wet’suwet’en land and must be respected. We have always held the responsibility and authority to protect our unceded territories. Protection of our yintah (traditional territories) is at the heart of Anuc ‘nu’at’en, and we will practice our laws for the future generations.

The Wet’suwet’en have always controlled access to our territories. At Unist’ot’en Village, a Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) protocol has been practiced over the past ten years whenever access to the territory is requested by someone outside of Dark House membership. Dark House has not been able to implement this protocol since the enforcement of the interim injunction in January 2019. This protocol aligns Wet’suwet’en law with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which guarantees Indigenous peoples the right to obtain free, prior, and informed consent for development on our territories.

We expect Coastal GasLink to peacefully comply with our eviction notice, and ask that British Columbia uphold its commitment to implement UNDRIP and instruct RCMP to respect our rights and refrain from interference in Wet’suwet’en law.

Media Coordinator Jen Wickham, Gidumt’en Clan – (778) 210-0067


Practicing 20/20 Vision – Learning from the Past to Gain Clarity on the Future

by Ananda Lee Tan

This is a fine week to start working on ways to dismantle the systems of those who wish to be Masters of the Universe.

Over this past year, they have caused much pain, much struggle, much hardship…….

……and the year also gave us much hope, much love, much gratitude and much bold, creative imagination of pathways to face the fear, the fires, the prisons, the floods, the droughts and storms coming our way…

From Chile to Hong Kong, from the frontlines of Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs stopping oil and gas pipelines on their un-ceded lands to mass mobilizations against fascism and religious fundamentalism in South Asia, we are witnessing some of the most powerful uprisings the world has seen since we last fought to evict colonial extractive empires from our lands.

Our humanity seems to have recovered from shock and stupor in the year 2019. Just in time to take a stand against the growing, unified forces of climate destruction, fascism, militarism and financial power.

And as we align our struggles in solidarity to fight this common enemy around the world, we need to build grassroots movements that are principled and powerful enough to shape change in the direction of a universal liberation, justice and peace.

Here are some reflections I’d offer – to help guide emergent strategy for this purpose:

Flip the Script: Indigenize Leadership
Start by acknowledging the leadership of those whose wisdom, culture and actions illustrate longest local, living knowledge of the earth, as communities of practice in defense and care of our common mother and all her children. Wherever you happen to be across Mother Earth’s beautiful global tapestry, stand with local Indigenous communities taking direct action to protect her lands and waters.

Turn Solidarity into Action
Just as the Rainbow Coalition of Revolutionary Solidarity served to align the Black Panther Party, the Young Lords, the Young Patriots, AIM, Brown Berets, Red Guard and many others in collaboration and direct action in the 60s and 70s, we need to start building our collective muscle in practice and service to the elderly, the poor, the ill and traumatized, those whose families and kids are under direct attack, those whose lands and waters are being destroyed.

Embody Action with Collective Self-determination
When we take mass, direct action in our streets, our communities, our worksites – we learn to practice democratic principles; and embodied knowledge of how justice, mutuality, solidarity, and service guide our practice in all forms of collective self-governance. For in mutual struggle, our hearts learn to seek universal emancipation, and our muscle memory finds ways to weave our mutuality – trans-locally across a global landscape, with threads of relational trust.

Self-determine Strategies to Sustain our Strongest Struggles
As movements are built at the pace of trust, we need to train our organizing muscle to be resilient in cultivating, growing, healing and caring for our beloved movement families. For short-term tactics to embody long-term strategies, we need to be rigorous in principled practice. This will mean navigating much internal conflict and contradiction, but where we find pathways to free us from false binaries and allow us to cultivate layers of complexity in our capacity for compassion and shared understanding, we can effectively decolonize our pedagogy.

Decolonizing popular education returns us to the first commitment – seeking local, Indigenous leadership, which means supporting the struggles of the poorest, most historically harmed among us. This requires learning local culture, song, art and ancient stories that deepen our ability to appreciate the creative beauty and purpose of the ecological tapestry around us.

Simply lean into this creative process of cultivating skills for future generations to continue building power with hope and love.