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How to bring a revolution to rural Oregon

Posted 5 days ago on Oct. 22, 2016, 12:21 p.m. EST by OccupyWallSt
Tags: revolution, micah white, rural, nehalem

Moment of Truth

The winds of change are blowing. After months of hardscrabble activism—five community meetings, three letters to the people, and two local newspaper articles—an actual tornado hit the Oregon coast just a couple of miles from Nehalem. 128 homes and hundreds of trees were damaged or destroyed last week. While people rebuild their houses and businesses, the future of our community hinges on Nehalem's mayoral race. Will this town elect me, a populist newcomer, to navigate the changes already underway?

Frankly, no one knows. And that is a fundamental departure from tradition. Political power in Nehalem has always been uncontested: elections are not really elections. But not this time—and possibly never again.

On one front, we have already won: the people are now demanding responsive government. My opponents have lashed out with juvenile gossip and ineffective bullying. For a taste of the mood in Nehalem, please read and share this article, published today on Fusion.

In these final days before the vote, let's pray that the storm of change sweeps away all fear, clearing the ground for the rebuilding of democracy.

Micah White

How to bring a revolution to rural Oregon

by Donnell Alexander for Fusion

The lights in the rec center community room burn through mid-afternoon. Fifteen people sit in a broad circle, hunched forward atop mismatched furniture on this October Sunday. Some at this town hall, put on by the new Nehalem People’s Association, take notes. Others speak with passion. Only occasionally do overlapping voices devolve into crosstalk.

The shapeless-yet-compelling colloquy pings back to its unlikely leader: Brown-skinned, with wiry long hair and a willowy effect, 34-year-old Micah White looks exactly like the kind of guy who would schedule a rural American town hall at the same time as some of the big NFL matchups are playing on TV.

White wants to discuss a parcel of land that may be up for development, but he waits for the attendees to come upon the subject’s relevance on their own. Nehalem, like many parts of the country with a heavy tourist presence, struggles to balance long-time residents with seasonal visitors, in addition to other woes. A strata of impoverished Tillamook County residents is said to live in the nearby forest year-round, roughing it. And a popular nearby pizzeria recently discontinued dine-in service because it couldn’t summon enough workers to sustain people eating in. There isn’t enough housing in tiny Nehalem to go around.

Outside the town hall, drizzle falls over lush greenery, because it is October in the densely forested, intoxicatingly beautiful Pacific Northwest. One jarring element, new this offseason, are the lawn signs touting the mayor’s reelection campaign. They are the first campaign materials many Nehalem old-timers can remember ever seeing in this small former logging town.

A quarter-mile burg whose median age is 52—12 years older than the rest of Oregon—Nehalem isn’t used to activism. Its natives and Portland retirees have been more about hunting and crabbing and the small-town gossip (as observed in that Everclear song named after the place) than the talk this guy with his Ph.D. from Switzerland has been pushing.

One sees the signage and wonders: Is City Hall fighting Micah White?

Not exactly. But the radical is running for mayor.

A lifelong activist who transformed an editing position at the Vancouver-based, anti-consumerist magazine Adbusters into a founding role in Occupy Wall Street’s formation, White hardly hides that his political activity in Nehalem functions as a testing ground for the ideas from his “playbook for revolution,” which was published last spring. In The End of Protest, White advocates moving “ruthless innovation” into municipalities such as this—Nehalem has 180 registered voters—so that issues such as wealth inequality, affordable housing and general citizen sovereignty might take hold, then go viral.

The season’s game plan is to utilize the Nehalem People’s Association as a vessel of direct democracy, thereby taking over the somnolent Nehalem government, establishing a springboard for like-minded people to flood rural America and set up copycat actions of their own.

God brought Micah White to Nehalem—a place meaning “place where the people live”—he told me. The former atheist says that after Occupy Wall Street’s “constructive failure” he and many of his fellow change agitators were at extreme loose ends. Some collaborators got divorces, some became deeply lost. Malaise was ruling the day. But while traveling with his spouse, Chiara Riccardone, the then-Berkeley resident happened upon Nehalem Bay State Park. The awe of the place, ocean and bay and fir, knocked them for a loop. Malaise evolved to something like an opportunity. They moved to the northern corner of Oregon’s coast shortly thereafter.

“What I’m trying to do is solve the problems that plagued Occupy,” White says. Theoretical revolution was not going not going to provide verifiable impact on the lives of people making an average $47,000 per year in a region priced for tourists.

“Income inequality in Nehalem has manifested in a socio-political inequality where only certain social groups feel comfortable running for office,” White says outside the town hall. Further compounding the difficulty of democratic representation, observes White, is the town zoning, which places less wealthy Nehalem residents who live in residential trailers outside of city limits and therefore unable to fully participate in city council activities. “The problems that are faced here are faced everywhere,” he tells me. “That’s why I like this place.”

🌲 🔨 🌲

White is an inveterate provocateur. As a 13-year-old student he made his first protest, against his school’s mandatory National Anthem policy, got attention, and hasn’t stopped since. He spearheaded civil disobedience against voting machine maker Diebold, as a Swarthmore College undergrad. Then came Occupy.

A newcomer in rural government, where how deep one’s roots go might count as much as how much money a person has, White is flagrant in treating his campaign as an experiment based on his writing. He uses words like “revolution” and “takeover” despite visible and intense displeasure on the part of the neighbors he says he aims to empower. And all this is happening in a part of remote, white America, in which being an adult black male briskly rounding an aisle in the grocery store is enough to startle another shopper.

Nehalem, population 271, is the middle village in a trio of tiny municipalities in Tillamook County that make their bones off vacationers. There are five realty offices on neighboring Manzanita’s main street, and the perils of residents in search of affordable housing seem to grow with each flipped vacation property. Airbnb has more listings for Nehalem then there are actual 155 residences in the town proper, offering up stays for an average of $211. County residents bemoan “the Portlandia effect,” but their trouble looks more to be peer-to-peer marketplace than man-buns.

Coming up repeatedly in the waves of Sunday’s town hall talk was a plot of land owned by Dan Conner, a Southern California developer who keeps a luxurious second home in Manzanita. Most residents are in the dark about the land parcel’s future, but a sketch on the county’s website suggests offices for lawyers and, yes, more realtors.

The attendees at the town hall float a few half-formed alternatives to this plan: namely affordable housing. Because local inexpensive housing is virtually nil, the vacation industry’s outsize pool of restaurant workers and housekeepers often commutes 25 miles both ways, on winding, mostly rainy roads. Children native to Nehalem turn 18, then leave; there’s no housing available near their families for them to stay.

A renting San Diego transplant named Paula observes that while many vacation rental properties sit empty all year, “There are people in need of housing. It doesn’t make sense to me.”

Here and there graying homeowners pick apart the notion of addressing the “Conner corner” at the next night’s City Council meeting. No one asks questions at Nehalem City Council meetings, and few qualms are shown about taking Mayor Bill Dillard at his word. His father was also mayor, after all. But as the colloquy toggles awkwardly between this talk, just one bit is clear: Even Micah White’s most sympathetic supporters in this place of constant beauty eye him with a degree of unease. Dude’s only been here four years.

The End of Protest, White’s book, was published by Knopf Canada in March. The scholarly volume offers an intellectually untethered perspective on the potential of what some of us call Cascadia. “The land is rich in natural resources and priceless biodiversity,” it reads. It is “rugged, wild, porous, and therefore difficult to police … Secessionist movements enjoy moderate public sympathy. Local police are few and likely to be loyal to the people.”

Through coffee shop chat, I learned that Nehalem residents have read The End of Protest. A local school official told me he did so without alarm. This text is not what began the divisions. Friction began with White’s first letter to prospective voters. Before Dillard had yard signs, Micah White put out a direct mailing.

In it, he first cited Scripture—Proverbs 29:19: “Where there is no vision, the people perish”—then lodged a complaint about council appointments, calling the process “undemocratic,” the council “unimaginative,” the situation “unfortunate. Worse, it is dangerous.” The existing political establishment of five council members, mayor, city manager, and, most importantly, the local merchants’ association was blindsided by White’s letter.

This generated a relative avalanche of fiery, bitter discussion of the letter’s substance on Facebook and an online dissection of local issues. Then came a huge turnout, roughly 60 people, for White’s first Nehalem People’s Association town hall in August. Among the activists and curious residents were flat-out angry glarers. Some were drunk, according to sources. The brother of a well-known city worker sported a Confederate flag shirt. A mysterious short-haired stranger dressed in black fumed throughout the event, before announcing “Fuck this shit!” and walking out.

🌲 🔨 🌲

The night after Sunday’s town hall, about five times more citizens than usual are inside the Nehalem City Council chambers for the body’s monthly meeting. The council doesn’t at all seem a dastardly lot. On the wall to the left of the officials’ platform is an epic quilt made up of river blues and verdant firs that reflects the history and interests of this crabbing-enamored town:. To the right is a portrait of the late Mayor Shirley Kalkhoven, who presided for two decades before passing away last year at 87. Dale Stockton took her place, but then his mind began to slip. When he stepped aside, the current Mayor Bill Dillard was slotted in.

Dillard, a 15-year council vet, declined requests to be interviewed for this article. (“I’m not going to help get his name out there,” he said about White.) He seems a laconic sort, at least in contrast with Dale Schafer, Nehalem’s city manager. Schafer—who just happened to be in realty when she began running the town—would come off as boss even if she never opened her mouth.

Candy dishes and nameplates sit before Dillard and Schafer, her assistant, and the other commissioners—one of whom makes a living minding empty vacation homes.

The law enforcement report is admitted to the record—one arrest last month. Only one other item of old business: Dan Conner’s lot. No discussion is scheduled on the rare piece of open Nehalem land. Some in the public suspect a backroom deal, business as usual. Micah White raises his hand, waits a while.

“Will there be a public meeting?”

“I’m very hesitant to have the public tell a private person what to do,” Mayor Dillard says.

Annoyed, the city manager says she hasn’t even seen a full proposal, and won’t consider the matter until she does.

“It will be discussed at that time,” she tells White. She reminds the public there’s only a rendering of the proposed development on the lot as of now.

“I get it,” White says.

“I don’t know if you do,” shoots back council member Jeff Pfeifer.

“Don’t talk down to me,” White counters.

Then, Brenna Hamer, owner of a business downtown, explains that she’s shown up on a whim and seizes the seemingly unprecedented opening to begin to articulate her vision for the lot: nature and art that project the charm and friendliness of the town.

“What Dan [Conner] is proposing is kind of what I was hoping wouldn’t happen,” Hamer says.

From there, public input is on. The Council meets about twice as long as usual. Development at the Connor corner won’t be rammed down the people’s throat. The wheels of participatory democracy start turning.

At the end of the city council meeting, local council candidate Lucy Brook, a 74-year-old retired coffeehouse owner, connects with a retired person from Sunday’s town hall. They begin preliminary strategizing on how to deal with the “gap-toothed, trailer park” poverty that goes unseen. (The region just built its first homeless resource, a “warming center,” almost a half hour down Highway 101.) Something is happening here. Election or nah, that connection just happened, instead of another Nehalem City Council meeting that smacked of transactions already done.

And even I am made uncomfortable by the daggers being stared at me from behind the dais of elected officials.

In these tense times, what if it is true that in our tangible future, we have an option that’s distinctly post-protest? That regular citizens can have a say in how a small, remote parcel of land controlled by a faraway interest suggests a participatory democracy capable of actually delivering decision making and power to the people. The aging landscaper concerned about where she’ll lay her head 18 months from now and the parent who just wants nearby shelter for his daughter could have the same clout as a mayor or a lobbyist or a well connected realtor, particularly in these smalls towns.

Will the relevance of White’s gambit prove as durable as La Raza Unida’s takeover of government in Crystal City, Texas? Can his political visibility and playbook for revolution gain the same traction as, say, progressive movement’s darling, Pennsylvania mayor, John Fetterman? The answer depends on the people of this sleepy Cascadian town on election day. Nevermind the future though; the simple genius of merging into the least clogged political lane and then generating progress has mesmerizing real-time consequences.

“We can have endless protests like [Colin Kaepernick] and endless Black Lives Matters marches in the streets, endless Occupys going into squares,” White told me. “And it would get all of the media coverage that you want, but this is revolutionary: Trying to take control of a city council in a small town and then give the power to people who meet as the Nehalem People’s Association.”

This article was originally published by Fusion.

Learn more about Micah White's vision of the future of activism in his new book, The End of Protest: A New Playbook For Revolution.


Glisten for Mandela

Posted 2 years ago on Dec. 12, 2013, 4:48 p.m. EST by OccupyWallSt
Tags: revolution, magic, Nelson Mandela

(why public transportation is dangerous)

Train experience today - I was talking with my fellow commuters about the NY Post cover, we had a collective sigh and head shake over Mandela's funeral and the Post's front page image focusing on Michelle Obama's "jealousy" at Obama's "flirting."

Right after that, a black dude walks in to do a speech. And he does not ask for money. He says he is speaking to get over his fear of public speaking, he says he's rich and does not need our money. He says that he is there to tell us that we all have a light, a greatness inside of us and we can all do grand things like end apartheid as Mandela helped to do. He said that we are all working jobs that strip away our souls and we need to seize that part back.

Politics aside, we were a bunch of surprised commuters, the guts on this dude. Conversations evolved as people started talking about their inner painters, singers, playwrights, activists that we've ignored for our wage work. One dude said, "you know, I was in this car for a reason."

Now that's what I call remembering Mandela, when you can use a persons' life to remind us that we all got magic in our hands, even if we don't always use it as it should be used. Cynicism about Mandela is good, but today, I'm ok with me and my fellow commuters having a little glisten.


Anarchism in Egypt — an interview from Tahrir Square

Posted 3 years ago on July 3, 2013, 10:09 a.m. EST by OccupyWallSt
Tags: morsi, civil war, revolution, arab spring, egypt, Tamarod, anarchists

I met Mohammed Hassan Aazab earlier this year over tea at a table of young anarchists in downtown Cairo. The anniversary of the revolution had just passed with massive protests and the emergence of a Western-style black bloc that appeared to have little to do with anarchists in the city. At the time, much of the ongoing grassroots organizing was against sexual violence — in particular, the mob sexual assaults that have become synonymous with any large gathering in Tahrir. The trauma of such violence carried out against protesters was apparent in our conversation. In fact, Aazab told me that he was done with protests and politics, and had resigned himself to the dysfunction of day-to-day life in Egypt.

Then came June 30. Crowds reportedly as large as 33 million took to the streets to call for the Muslim Brotherhood to step down from power, just a year after Mohammed Morsi took office. In the pre-dawn moments of July 1, as Aazab’s phone battery dwindled steadily, I reconnected with him to chat a bit about his return to resistance.

What’s the feeling in Cairo right now? We’re seeing reports here of the largest protests in human history.

Today, all of us worked really hard to get through the protests without violence. Everyone’s afraid a civil war could break out. The protesters gave Morsi 48 hours to step down. If that deadline passes, there’ll be a general strike. In the last five hours, 10 people were killed — four in Assiut and six in front of the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters. The sun is coming up now. All the old revolutionaries are preparing for clashes in the streets.

I heard that the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters were torched. Is that true?

Yes. And it’s still surrounded by protesters right now.

Who called for the general strike? Are there particular unions involved?

No. The unions are totally ineffective.

So how is the strike organized?

Tamarod [the Rebel Movement] called for the general strike. Actually, it has not been organized in advance; it has been a spontaneous development. It will work by people believing in and supporting it.

Do you think people will follow through?

Port Said will start the general strike tomorrow. I have no idea to what extent people will follow through on it, beyond that. But it’s clear people are absolutely determined to force Morsi out.

When we met back in February, you seemed pretty jaded, like you’d lost faith in resistance.

I still feel that way, sort of, to be honest. But when people fill the squares in these huge numbers, that feeling dissolves. I’m incredibly happy.

How are anarchists organizing within this particular moment. I got the sense that some of you were involved with Tamarod, but are you playing a particular role?

No, anarchists didn’t sign onto the Tamarod declaration. Tamarod is not revolutionary at all. It was just obvious that the movement connected with millions of Egyptians, so we joined the protests. The protesters yesterday were against the idea of an Islamic dictator, but at the same time, most of them are okay with a civil or military dictator. Fuck any dictator. We’ll never forget. We’ll never forgive.

And you’ve got an anarchist tent in Tahrir, right now?

Yes. We’ve got four tents, actually.

Are you doing anything particular from those spaces?

Right now, we’re working to ensure old regime supporters don’t take over the sit-in.

Like physically stopping them? Are there felool [people nostalgic for the former regime] in the square?

A lot of them.

Are they attacking protesters, or just trying to infiltrate the movement?

They’re trying to convince people to let the SCAF [Egypt's military council] take power again.

There are uprisings happening in Turkey, Brazil, Bulgaria and Chile right now. There was brief indication that it was spreading to Indonesia and Paraguay as well, and of course there is the ongoing struggle in Bahrain. Egypt has been a huge inspiration for a lot of these movements. When you overthrew Mubarak, Tunisia had happened, but not much else. Does it feel different, this time? Do you feel a part of something global?

It’s different, for sure. Now, the fear comes from the possibility of civil war. Mubark was shit, but he never played the civil-war card. Morsi is so stupid that he doesn’t even seem to grasp that we could very likely wind up killing each other in the streets. Things are happening now that never happened before, like people attacking bearded men on the street and insulting them.

I feel like this generation of youth around the world is powerfully revolutionary, and now we have the ability to share tools, and to broadcast ideas.

What are you hopeful for, right now?

I hope that people have learned something from what the Brotherhood did, and I hope it’s the beginning of the end for political Islam, or any kind of faith in religious parties.

How can people here best support you all?

By spreading the word that Obama and U.S. government are actively supporting the formation of religious states in the Middle East. The U.S. ambassador said that Egyptians should learn the meaning of democracy! Who the fuck is she to say that?

This article originally appeared on Waging NonViolence


Istanbul Is Burning

Posted 3 years ago on June 3, 2013, 11:04 a.m. EST by OccupyWallSt
Tags: revolution, police brutality, repression, Turkey, direct action, #occupygezi

What is happening in Turkey with the #occupygezi protests? Why should we care? We should care because, above all else, our grievances are connected through the violence brought when people stand up to say no to the initiatives of big business, planned behind closed doors and without our consent. The story that follows is a first hand account of the current struggle on the street in Turkey.

"Well, we are just filling light bulbs with paint," said my friend, a cafe owner in Cihangir, the SoHo of Istanbul. Speaking to me on the phone, she sounded as relaxed as if she was baking an apple pie. "You know," she continued, "the only way to stop a TOMA is to throw paint on its window so that the vehicle loses orientation."

My friend, who was completely uninterested in politics until six days ago, had never been in conflict with the police before. Now, like hundreds of thousands of others in Turkey, she has become a warrior with goggles around her neck, an oxygen mask on her face and an anti-acid solution bottle in her hand. As we have all learned, this the essential kit to fight the effects of tear gas. As for TOMA, that is the vehicle-mounted water cannon. To paralyze it, you either have to put a wet towel in its exhaust pipe or burn something under its engine or you and a dozen others can push it over. This kind of battle-info is circulating all over Turkey at the moment. It is like a civil war between the police and the people. Yet nobody expected this when, six days ago, a group of protesters organized a sit-in at Istanbul's Gezi Park to protect trees that were to be cut down for the government's urban redevelopment project.

Ten years of arrogance

The protests that have now engulfed the country may have begun in Gezi Park in Taksim, the heart of Istanbul. It was never just about trees, but the accumulation of many incidents. With the world's highest number of imprisoned journalists, thousands of political prisoners (trade unionists, politicians, activists, students, lawyers) Turkey has been turned into an open-air prison already. Institutional checks and balances have been removed by the current AKP government's political maneuvers and their actions go uncontrolled. On top of this growing authoritarianism, the most important reason for people to hit the streets in support of the Gezi resistance was the arrogant tone of the Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Even on Sunday, when millions of people were joining the demonstrations, he called the protesters "looters". Throughout his tenure, his rhetoric has been no different. He has repeatedly called his political opponents "alcoholics, marginals, sniffers, bandits, infidels". His mocking sarcasm has become his "thing" over time, and even some of his closest colleagues accept that "he no longer listens to anyone."

Then, there is the fear. This kind of thing is hard to report in a prominent newspaper. That is perhaps why the international media have not reported that the fear of government and the Prime Minister has been growing even among non-political people. You can easily hear your grocery shop man saying "I think my phone is tapped." The mainstream media has not covered it, but we have read reports on social media about people being arrested for making jokes about the government. That is perhaps why for the past two days every wall in Taksim Square is full of curses against the Prime Minister. The public is enjoying the death of the "cruel father figure" with the most sexist curses I have ever seen in my life. And I have seen some. But there is a more important component to the protests.

Killing the fear

As a writer and a journalist I followed the Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings. As I wrote at the time, Arab people killed their fear and I saw how it transformed them from silent crowds to peoples who believe in themselves. This is what has been happening in the last six days in Turkey. Teenage girls standing in front of TOMAs, kids throwing tear gas capsules back to the police, rich lawyers throwing stones at the cops, football fans rescuing rival fans from police, the ultra-nationalists struggling arm in arm with Kurdish activists... these were all scenes I witnessed. Those who wanted to kill each other last week became - no exaggeration - comrades on the streets. People not only overcame their fear of authority but they also killed the fear of the "other". One more important point: the generation that has taken to the streets was born after the 1980 military coup that fiercely depoliticized the public. The general who led the 1980 coup once said: "We will create a generation without ideology." So this generation was - until last week.

Dangerous questions

"So this is the media that we've been hearing the news from over the last twenty years?" That was the question asked by one young man on Twitter, as he watched a television journalist keep silent while the Prime Minister branded protesters "a bunch of looters". The young man has been on the streets peacefully protesting for the last six days, so now he has many suspicions about what's been happening in his country all this time. Maybe the Kurdish people are not "terrorists". Perhaps the journalists thrown in prison were not plotting a "coup" against the government. All those jailed trade unionists may not be members of a "terrorist organization" after all. All those university students in prison, were they innocent like he is? Questions multiply.

As I write, Istanbul, Ankara - Turkey's capital - Izmir and Adana are burning. Massive police violence is taking place. And in my middle class Istanbul neighbourhood, like many others, people are banging on their frying pans to protest. People are exchanging information about safe places to take shelter from police, the telephone numbers of doctors and lawyers. In Taksim Square, on the building of Atatürk Cultural Center, some people are hanging a huge banner. There are only two words on it: "Don't surrender!"

Ece Temelkuran is a Turkish journalist and author. Follow her on Twitter @ETemelkuran