Non-Electoral Activism in a Presidential Election Year

Future Hope column, Feb. 17, 2008

By Ted Glick

Just about a year ago a leading activist in the climate movement made a comment that I took note of at the time and haven’t forgotten: Presidential politics overshadows all other politics during a Presidential election period.

This comment was made in the context of a discussion about how do we keep building a non-electoral, grassroots-driven climate movement which makes the global warming crisis a central national issue. But it could be said about any issue. Presidential campaign season sucks up activist energy, popular attention and donor contributions, as we have definitely seen so far in this particular campaign season.

Issue-oriented, independent progressive activists ignore this truth at their peril.

But there’s an opposite mistake that can be made—accommodating tactics to the electoral season in a way which strips our movements of urgency, creativity, militancy and edginess. At its worst, this approach opposes or denigrates mass demonstrations and nonviolent direct action, seeing them as distractions from the “real work” of getting good candidates elected to office.

I have supported and worked for decades in support of “good candidates.” I’ll do the same this year, supporting Cynthia McKinney as the Presidential candidate who can best strengthen the independent progressive currents that are urgently needed no matter who wins the Presidency—which I hope is Obama. But a top priority for me will be to continue to work to build the grassroots climate movement, including the nonviolent direct action wing of it.

A solid argument can be made that strategic mass demonstrations and nonviolent civil disobedience are even more important in Presidential years. Candidates need to understand that they can’t mouth the generalized platitudes—or even give stirring speeches–and then go back to a business-as-usual mode after they get elected. They need to be pushed to take positive positions on issues right now, during the course of their campaigns, which will then make it more difficult—not impossible, but more difficult—to abandon them once elected. Showings of strength on the streets, as always, are a key aspect of getting them to make verbal commitments to the right positions on issues.

For all of us who are against the war and occupation of Iraq, this war for oil, there’s a strategically critical date coming up that we have a serious obligation to organize actions around: March 19th, the beginning of what will be the sixth year of this illegal and criminal war.

Think about it: what if this date come and goes and the anti-war movement hasn’t stepped it up, hasn’t built upon all the protests and demonstrations and organizing of the past five years? What if the actions are small and, in essence, more of the same?

This is not a time to be passive, a time to hope that the Democratic candidate wins and then does the right thing. It’s a time for just the opposite, a time for the peace and justice movement to dramatically intervene into and shape the political debate.

Fortunately, a broad coalition of groups, anchored by Iraq Veterans Against the War and United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), is planning a range of actions just before and on March 19th that can have just this effect.

From March 13-16 Iraq Veterans Against the War is holding Winter Soldier hearings in Washington, D.C. Vets who have served time in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Iraqis and Afghans, will tell the nation the real story of this war.

Then on March 19th there will be a major day of nonviolent direct action in Washington, D.C., as well as actions in localities around the country. Actions in D.C. will take place at various strategic locations throughout the city. No War, No Warming is coordinating a people’s Green Zone action in the K Street area. In the words of a call for these actions:

“Who’s in the K Street area? The American Petroleum Institute, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Shell, Halliburton, Lockheed Martin, Bechtel, the IMF/World Bank, the American Enterprise Institute and many more. Through nonviolent civil disobedience, mobile teams and delegations making visits, we can make our presence strongly felt, disrupt business-as-usual in strategic ways at strategic locations.

“We’ll also be manifesting the Green Energy Future through cultural expressions and positive alternatives. Possibilities include land reclamation projects, permaculture and health care workshops, solar and wind energy modeling, lots of bicycles, street theatre, green art, teach-ins, people’s assemblies and more”

I’m deeply involved in helping to put the K Street Green Zone action together. I’ll be out on K Street on March 19th. I hope I don’t get arrested, because I’m currently on six months probation for sitting in at Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell’s office last December. I did this to protest the Republicans’ evisceration of a pretty good House-passed energy bill. But I hope lots of others not on probation will be there to send a loud-and-clear message: end the war, end the occupation, end the fossil fuel addiction, separate oil and state, urgently advance the clean energy revolution through renewables, efficiency and conservation.

Let’s start this spring of 2008 off in the right way!

Check out a three-minute promotional video for March 19th at

For more information about the Iraq Vets Winter Soldier hearings, go to

For more information about the March 19th actions, go to

For more information about the No War No Warming Green Zone action go to

Ted Glick is active in the climate movement with several organizations and has been working with UFPJ since its founding. He can be reached at