For the last 15 months, since the first economy-wide shutdowns because of the pandemic, in-the-streets activism on the political Left has been rare. The huge exception was the massive, Black-led, multi-racial response of many millions of people all around the country last summer after George Floyd was murdered. Another exception is the heroic fight led by Indigenous women in Minnesota against the building of another tar sands pipeline, Line 3, across Anishinaabe and other land. Tomorrow, June 7, could see a thousand or more people risking arrest as part of that months-long direct action campaign.
The Sunrise Movement is also shifting gears, away from the zoom-call-only mode into something much more visible. Several days ago they sat in at the White House and on June 28 they are planning a major DC action—Biden Be Brave, No Compromise, No Excuses–demanding that “Democrats must take their power seriously and stop negotiating with a GOP which is not serious about climate action or delivering jobs for the American people.”
Also in late June, from the 20th to the 28th, there will be a 2021 Walk For Our Grandchildren from Scranton, Pa. to Wilmington, De. “to remind the Biden Administration and others that our love for our families and their futures requires a rapid, uncompromising transition away from the unhealthy, unsafe extraction and burning of fossil fuels while embracing renewable energy, especially solar and wind power.”
This upsurge of in the streets activism is happening, not coincidentally, at the same time that COVID 19 is being defeated, at least in the US and at least for now. This is the case primarily because of the effectiveness of the vaccines and the effectiveness of the vaccination campaign begun on January 20th when Biden/Harris took office. The science is telling us that, at least for this summer, many things that couldn’t happen over the last 15 months now can.
It is essential that our movement of movements on a wide range of issues recognize and act upon this new reality. From a strategic perspective, as far as how fundamental social, economic, political and cultural change happens, actions in the streets are essential. We must intelligently organize public marches, demonstrations, work and hunger strikes and nonviolent direct actions that underline the seriousness of our issue campaigns, inspire millions of people who hear about them, and bring pressure to bear on decision-makers to do the right and needed things.
This is not the only thing we need to be doing. It is also essential that our movement be grounded in day-to-day, community-, workplace-, and issue-based organizing by millions of volunteer and paid activists and organizers, utilizing popular education, dialogical approaches and techniques as much as possible. And we need to engage in the electoral arena, supporting independent and progressive candidates, and sometimes, for tactical reasons, people like Biden because of the threat from the Trumpists, racists and neo-fascists. We need do this from the most local to the highest national level, doing so in a tactically flexible way as far as whether to run on a Democrat, independent, Working Families, Green, or other line.
At any one time, one of these three legs of our movement-building stool—street action, electoral action and day-to-day dialogical organizing—will take precedence. In 2020 electoral action was the priority. Right now street action, holding those elected accountable, bringing political pressure to bear, has to be the priority, and not just via zoom calls. It’s time to hit the streets!
Ted Glick is a volunteer organizer with Beyond Extreme Energy and author of Burglar for Peace: Lessons Learned in the Catholic Left’s Resistance to the Vietnam War, published last year. Past writings and other information can be found at https://tedglick.com, and he can be followed on Twitter at https://jtglick.com.