Using What You Learned To Complete Your Project Plan

From Learning Activities Using "The Yes Men Fix the World"

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1 Using What You Learned To Complete Your Project Plan, Acting To Stop Business As Usual, To Fix A Bit Of The World

When you pray, move your feet.
  — African Proverb

You can start this part of the curriculum with the students’ reflections on what The Yes Men did—did they fix the parts of the world they intervened in? Why or why not? What did they accomplish?

The Yes Men certainly stopped business-as-usual (remember the cleared luncheon after the introduction of the Vivoleum candles?). They jammed up the "culture of capitalism." One of the young people who contributed to this guide loved the bold, brazen edginess of The Yes Men’s interventions, particularly the Vivoleum actions. He also admired "how it took guts to not just complain, but to do something about it."

1.1 Culture jamming to stop business as usual

"Culture Jamming," a term popularized by Mark Dery in articles In The New York Times and Adbusters, is defined by Dery as:
. . . media hacking, information warfare, terror-art, and guerrilla semiotics, all in one. Billboard bandits, pirate TV and radio broadcasters, media hoaxers, and other vernacular media wrenchers who intrude on the intruders, investing ads, newscasts, and other media artifacts with subversive meanings are all culture jammers.
In Culture Jamming: Hacking, Slashing and Sniping in the Empire of Signs[1], Mark Dery quotes Stuart Ewen, a critic of consumer culture: t
We live at a time when the image has become the predominant mode of public address, eclipsing all other forms in the structuring of meaning, yet little in our education prepares us to make sense of the rhetoric, historical development or social implications of the images within our lives.

Dery asks, how, then, can we resist? "How to box with shadows? In other words, what shape does an engaged politics assume in an empire of signs?" His answer is through culture jamming, "introduc[ing] noise into the signal as it passes from transmitter to receiver, encouraging idiosyncratic, unintended interpretations. Intruding on the intruders, [culture jammers] invest ads, newscasts, and other media artifacts with subversive meanings; simultaneously, they decrypt them, rendering their seductions impotent." He argues they re-create a public discourse, and have fun while doing it; he says they are "Groucho Marxists."

The Yes Men’s culture jamming interventions focus on the internet and identity correcting impersonations. And humor. One of the young people who contributed to this Guide commented: "Sometimes you need to make a joke to get serious." What follows are a number of different kinds of cultural actions, ones that I know about and that I find powerful, that could be used to jam up things in your work fixing the world. In different ways, to me, these actions reflect Romare Beardon’s view that "Art celebrates the victory of life over suffering and hardship." But, of course, there are tons more out there, and tons more your students could create. This is just a glimpse of a range of possibilities, some of which may be useful to your students as a way of thinking broadly about options for their project to fix the world.

1.1.1 The Billboard Liberation Front

"The Art and Science of Billboard Improvement: A Comprehensive Guide to the Alteration of Outdoor Advertising," by the Billboard Liberation Front outlines techniques developed over more than 20 years of "experience executing billboard improvements professionally, safely, and (knock wood) without injury or arrest." The BLF is motivated by the saturation of our visual environment where "Billboards have become as ubiquitous as human suffering, as difficult to ignore as a beggar’s outstretched fist…. Larger than life, subtle as war, they assault your senses with a complex coda of commercial instructions, the messenger RNA of capitalism…. You can’t run and you can’t hide, because your getaway route is lined to the horizon with signs…"


Additional Resources/Notes


1.1.2 Think Again

THINK AGAIN is an artists’ collective that "uses images to challenge mainstream ideas that perpetuate injustice" and indifference. They use billboards, and postcards, and media campaigns, and street actions, and provocative museum exhibits. "THINK AGAIN finds it challenging to make agitprop that treads the line between critique and action. On the one hand we focus on how structures of power are linked to and produce experience. We make connections between cherishing a wedding ring and international labor[2] or rape and NAFTA [3]. On the other hand, we make work that taps into people’s individual sense of political possibility, gives permission to have an opinion or to resist, and moves beyond sloganeering or consciousness-raising to local political action…. As a strategy for shifting away from the identity politics of the nineties and returning to an activism based on social transformation, we use queer as a conceptual touchstone for our work. We see homophobia as a set of cultural myths about sex and bodies that masquerade as truths about human nature. A queer criticality compels us to dismantle propagandist stories across issues. THINK AGAIN attempt to redress myths about uncivilized Arabs, irresponsible welfare queens. Lazy homeless people, and fears of anyone black or brown…. THINK AGAIN places artwork where social and economic classes intersect (e.g., billboards about gentrification appearing alongside commuter routes). We intervene where people expect to be silenced or policed (e.g., billboards questioning state sanctioned marriage in front of City Hall). We glue where people expect to see the morning news (e.g., "headlines about anti-militarism stickered over newspaper vending machines)…. We intercede where people go to consume (e.g., postcards surreptitiously slipped into "Go-Card" advertising racks, holiday cards inserted into greeting card boxes at K-Mart)…. THINK AGAIN dissents[4] ."

1.1.3 Gran Fury

A group of ACT UP members formed the Gran Fury artistic collective that, in the early 1990’s, produced some of the memorable visual work of that movement. The name refers to both their outrage at the reactions of the media, the corporations, the government and people to the AIDS epidemic, and to the name of the car model that the New York City police used at the time. One of their posters "Kissing Doesn’t Kill: Greed and Indifference Do" "mimics the codes of capitalist pleasure and visual seduction to capture the viewer’s attention and direct it to the AIDS crisis," as well as "affirms the power of queer desire in the face of an ongoing epidemic."[5] Although the poster was able to be displayed on the sides of buses in various cities, the Gran Fury had to accept a compromise by eliminating the original side panel which stated "Corporate Greed, Government Inaction, and Public Indifference Make AIDS a Political Crisis."

Courtesy: Gran Fury

Two of their artistic interventions, early precursors to The Yes Men actions were fake money scattered around Wall Street, and a production of The New York Crimes newspaper. For an ACT UP demonstration on Wall Street in March 1988, they printed up leaflets that looked like various money denominations on one side and on the other had strong messages such as "White Heterosexual Men Can’t Get AIDS…DON’T BANK ON IT," and on the most expensive one, a hundred-dollar-bill, they printed "FUCK YOUR PROFITEERING. People are dying while you play business."

Courtesy: Gran Fury
Illegal tender.jpg
Do not bank on it.jpg

For an ACT UP demonstration at New York City Hall in 1989, they created a four-page fake newspaper, The New York Crimes, printed in the same fonts and style of The New York Times, with articles that were "informational in content and outraged in tone" highlighting the terrible handling of the AIDS crisis in the city and locating "the root cause of the worsening crisis not in HIV infection or unsafe sex but in the government neglect and inaction….The back cover…featured a full=page graphic of a lab technician, in surgical mask and gloves, drawing a specimen sample from a petri dish. The image was punctuated by a quote from an executive at the drug company Hoffman-La Roche: ’One million [People with AIDS] isn’t a market that’s exciting. Sure it’s growing, but it’s not asthma.’ In response to such blithe profiteering, a caption beneath the photograph declared: ’This Is to Enrage You." Gran Fury distributed these papers by purchasing one ’real’ paper from the newspaper machines, which allowed access to the entire stack; then they wrapped their Crimes paper around all the other ’real’ papers.[6]

Courtesy: Gran Fury

The information above is summarized from Meyer[7]. To see more of Gran Fury’s work see the collection in The New York Public Library Digital Gallery and for an interview Robert Gober did with Gran Fury see Bomb Magazine.

1.1.4 The Guerrilla Girls

The Guerrilla Girls started in 1985, after protests at The Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition, An International Survey of Painting and Sculpture. Out of 169 artists, only 13 were women. All the artists were white, either from Europe or the U.S. The GGs then confirmed that the most influential galleries and museums exhibited almost no women artists, and no one would accept responsibility to change that situation, so they put up posters to embarrass the collectors, the galleries and the critics, showing their records in public. They describe themselves as "a bunch of anonymous females who take the names of dead women artists as pseudonyms and appear in public wearing gorilla masks." They wanted to remain anonymous to focus the attention on the issues, not on their personalities (and they were concerned about retaliation from the art world). They decided to use names of dead women artists and writers "to reinforce their presence in history." They wear gorilla masks for the press and other public actions, and explain: "We were Guerrillas before we were Gorillas…. No one remembers, for sure, how we got our fur, but one story is that at an early meeting, an original girl, a bad speller, wrote ’Gorilla’ instead of ’Guerrilla.’ It was an enlightened mistake. It gave us our ’mask-ulinity.’"

They create posters, stickers, books, printed projects, and actions that expose sexism and racism in politics, the art world, film and the culture at large, using humor to convey information, provoke discussion, and show that feminists can be funny: "We try to be different from the kind of political art that is angry and points to something and says ’This is bad.’ That’s preaching to the converted. We want to be subversive, to transform our audience, to confront them with some disarming statements, backed up by facts—and great visuals—and hopefully convert them."

In 1999, for a special issue of The Nation on film and culture, they contributed The Anatomically Correct Oscar. "We redesigned the golden boy to make him look more like the white guys who usually win. In 2002, a bunch of female filmmakers joined us to raise the money to do it as a billboard at Melrose and Highland, a few blocks from the Academy Award ceremony. It got a lot of press and was a great way to annoy Hollywood in it’s own backyard." In 2003 they did the Trent L’Ottscar, Even the U.S. Senate is more Progressive than Hollywood. In 2006 they displayed Unchain the Women Directors!.

They have also given "awards:" "The Norman Mailer Award for Sensitivity to Issues of Gender Equality went to painter Frank Stella when he said he liked the "muscular" work of "girl" artists like Helen Frankenthaler. We shook a hairy finger at art market superstar Brice Marden when he said in Vanity Fair that he wasn’t sure if it was good for him to be represented by a female dealer."

They are now included in women’s and gender studies curriculums all over the world, and museums they acted against for discrimination (and still do) have GG posters in their collections. Libraries have portfolios of their posters in their archives. Their art history book, The Guerrilla Girls’ Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art has sold tens of thousands of copies, is used as a textbook in colleges all over the world and has been translated into several languages. They have been included in hundreds of art and feminist anthologies and even the latest edition of Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, a standard art history text.[8]

1.1.5 Nike sweatshops and going viral on the internet

From my political button collection
In My Nike Media Adventure[9] Jonah Peretti attempts to take advantage of Nike’s offer to customize his shoes led to an unexpectedly viral internet consciousness-raising about sweatshop labor. Nike advertises this service as freedom to choose and freedom to express who you are, but when Peretti ordered a shoes customized with the word "sweatshop," Nike rejected his order and he kept challenging them to explain. They offered stock explanations that he kept challenging. In one email they said his choice was "inappropriate slang," and he responded with a quote from Webster’s Dictionary proving "sweatshop" was indeed part of standard English. Finally he forced them to admit that they "reserve the right to cancel any Personal ID up to 24 hours after it has been submitted." His last response to them admitted defeat, and asked if they could send " a color snapshot of the ten-year-old Vietnamese girl who makes my shoes."[10] Peretti forwarded the email correspondence to a few friends and within months it reached millions of people. "Although the press has presented my battle with Nike as a David versus Goliath parable, the real story is the battle between a company like Nike, with access to the mass media, and a network of citizens on the Internet who have only micromedia at their disposal." He did not plan for this to happen: "The only force propelling the message was the collective action of those who thought it was worth forwarding. Unions, church groups, activists, teachers, mothers, schoolchildren and members of the US armed forces sent me letters of support." Then, the mass media began to pick up the story. "This transformation was helped along by postings on media startups Plastic.com and Slashdot.org, two sites that use an innovative publishing technique somewhere between micro- and mass media. These democratic sites blur the line between editors and readers, so that Internet buzz can be transformed into a hotly debated news item seen by thousands of people…. As the mass-media attention grew, so did the circulation of the e-mail. I began receiving 500 messages a day, sent from Australia, Asia, Africa and South America…. I knew the message had spread well beyond my circle of friends when I was cc’d this message from a man named George Walden: "I get a kick out of these elitist, eggheads and their self-serving, self-righteous ’rain forest’ ethics and contrived secular pieties. Somebody should burn ’sweatshop’ into this foolish c**ksucking faggot’s forehead with a cigarette."… The exchange is working its way into sociology textbooks, viral marketing seminars, business-school cases and doctoral dissertations. My guess is that in the long run this episode will have a larger impact on how people think about media than how they think about Nike and sweatshop labor. This larger lesson suggests an exciting opportunity for activists. The dynamics of decentralized distribution systems and peer-to-peer networks are as counter-intuitive as they are powerful. By understanding these dynamics, new forms of social protest become possible, with the potential to challenge some of the constellations of power traditionally supported by the mass media."

1.1.6 Wafaa Bilal

Iraqi American artist and Professor of Photography and Imaging at New York University, Wafaa Bilal grew up in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, spending time in refugee camps in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Two years after his brother was killed by an unmanned aircraft at a U.S. checkpoint in Iraq in 2005, Bilal, who had been allowed to enter the U.S. as a refugee, was watching the news and saw a report on a woman whose job it was to remotely control and detonate bombs in Iraq from a console in Colorado. He realized that it could have been this woman, or someone very similar to her who pressed the button that killed his brother. He then created an interactive art installation to force viewers to deal with what it is like to live in the midst of war. Bilal lived in a small room in an art gallery in Chicago for a month. In person and virtual visitors could shoot at him with a remote controlled paintball gun. Over 60,000 paintballs, from 138 countries were shot at him. While still in Iraq, he began to realize "that art is more of an encounter than a technique of skill, and that the piece of artwork itself can only be completed by the involvement of the audience."[11] Videos of this project and information about Bilal’s other work are on his website.[12]

1.1.7 Alfredo Jaar

Chilean American artist Alfredo Jaar has created more than 50 public interventions around the world (all of which can be seen on his website). In 1987 he created an electric sign with the contour of the U.S. that read "This is not America," and was displayed in Times Square.

In 1994 Jaar went to Rwanda and was overwhelmed by the scale of the genocide, of how a million people (out of a population of 8 million) could be killed in 3 months, while the world watched silently. Although he took thousands of photographs, most of his artistic interventions withheld images. For example, in late 1994, in Malmo, Sweden, using commercial outdoor light-boxes, "situated mostly in quiet neighborhoods throughout the city, Jaar simply repeated the name Rwanda, in blocky, boldfaced letters as big as the sign would allow. An open-throated, but mute cry for attention, like shouts issued in a dream, Rwanda, Rwanda appeared without explanation, its helpless outrage amplifying the shameful silence with which the outside world met the genocide in Africa." In another of his many Rwanda projects, in 2000, in Lyons, France, when he was invited to participate in the annual winter fete des lumieres, "Jaar took the opportunity to project the names of massacre sites—Kigali, Rukara, Mibirizi, Gikongoro, Cyangugu—on the Lyon Hotel de Ville, the grandly Baroque city hall. While holiday parties lit up its big arched windows, these resounding place names, unmistakably ominous even if unfamiliar, illuminated in letters 20-feet high, forced their ghostly presence upon the buildings façade. The project ran for three nights, each name glowing for 10 seconds at a time."[13]

1.2 Other ways people have worked to stop business as usual

Frances Fox Piven, in Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America[14] argues that "ordinary people exercise power in American politics mainly at those extraordinary moments when they rise up in anger and hope, defy the rules that ordinarily govern their daily lives, and, by doing so, disrupt the workings of the institutions in which they are enmeshed. The drama of such events, combined with the disorder that results, propels new issues to the center of the debate, issues that were previously suppressed by the managers of political parties that depend on welding together majorities. When the new issues fracture or threaten to fracture electoral coalitions, political leaders try to restore order and stem voter defections by proffering reforms." Fox Piven differs with the traditional view that "the normal procedures of our electoral-representative institutions work can be made to work for people lower down in the social order, if only they organize, if only they exert themselves to make their grievances known, and if only they try harder." The arguments she presents in this book support that "it is precisely at the moments when people act outside of electoral norms that electoral-representative procedures are more likely to realize their democratic potential."[15]

In some ways all actions that disrupt business-as-usual, that challenge the taken-for-granted ways our world works, jam up the status-quo culture. Just some might be more fun than others, and people will differ on what they find fun. But all involve researching the alternative histories of our world, thinking with different frameworks of analysis, getting that different knowledge out into the public sphere, and organizing to act on that new information and those new perspectives.

Students can think about if they agree with Fox Piven’s analysis, why or why not, and what does that mean for their project to fix some part of the world? Students can explore some of the different kinds of interventions discussed below to further broaden their thinking about how they will act to advance their project. Maybe they will decide to research an alternative history of their issue; and, maybe they will decide to popularize their research through creating a video blog, or through a series of posters, or through a community access cable-TV show, or through some new media they develop on their own.

Again, in this guide, I can only offer a glimpse of what is going on in these areas, alternative information and groups that I find powerful, that in some way or another could be helpful in your work fixing the world. But, of course, there are tons more out there, and different information and groups your students might want to investigate. The categories I used to organize this material overlap because the actions are all interconnected, and interdisciplinary.

1.2.1 Researching alternative histories and theorizing alternative perspectives

A number of alternative histories of our world challenge the way the mainstream media, including schools, tell the stories of how we got where we are today. Many of these, including A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present [16] are posted on History is a Weapon: "The very selection of which histories to teach in a society shapes our view of how what is came to be and, in turn, what we understand as possible. This choice of which history to teach can never be "neutral" or "objective." Those who choose, either following a set agenda or guided by hidden prejudices, serve their interests. Their interests could be to continue this world as it now stands or to make a new world. We cannot simply be passive. . . . History is just one tool to shape our understanding of our world. And every tool is a weapon if you hold it right." Also: A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America[17]; Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent [18]; The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World [19].

Another group of resources is focused on specific series of events. All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the roots of Middle East Terror[20] is about U.S. government involvement in the 1953 CIA overthrow of the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh of Iran after he nationalized the oil. Middle East Illusions [21], includes a focus on the crucial role of the U.S. in the Israel-Palestine conflict; The Electronic Intifada, reports on the Israel-Palestine conflict from a Palestinian perspective:; B’Tselem, is the website of The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories; and Jews for Justice for Palestinians: Two Peoples, One Future is a network of Jews living in Britain. In Rivers of Blood, Rivers of Gold: Europe’s Conquest of Indigenous Peoples, Mark Cocker[22] focuses on Europe’s horrific encounters against indigenous peoples in Mexico, Tasmania, the U.S., and Namibia and the similar, and conscious, patterns European imperialism took in those very different situations. In Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II, Douglas A. Blackmon (2008) tells the stories of how so many slaves freed after the Emancipation Proclamation, were re-enslaved through collusions between corporations and government. In The Trial of Henry Kissinger, Christopher Hitchens[23] argues for court action against Kissinger, based on evidence from first-hand testimony, material released under the Freedom of Information Act, and other documentation, of the acts Kissinger committed "that might or should form the basis of a it was onlylegal prosecution: for war crimes, for crimes against humanity, and for offenses against common or customary or international law, including conspiracy to commit murder, kidnap and torture."

There are also more theoretical challenges to certain ideas about how our world came to be as it is now. In How Europe Underdeveloped Africa,[24], Walter Rodney argues "that African development is possible only on the basis of a radical break with the international capitalist system, which has been the principal agency of underdevelopment of Africa over the last five centuries." In Labor and Monopoly Capital, Harry Braverman[25] gives a detailed examination "into the consequences which the particular kinds of technological change characteristic of the monopoly capitalist period have had for nature of work [and] the composition (and differentiation)of the working class."[26]. In The Colonizer’s Model of the World, J. M. Blaut[27] presents a compelling geographic argument debunking the myth that European civilization had some innate superiority that led to its rise politically and economically; rather, prior to 1492, many other civilizations around the world were as developed as Europe, and it was only "the mundane realities of location" that made colonialism possible, and that exploitation was what led to "the selective rise of Europe, the modernization or development of Europe (and outlying Europeanized culture areas like the United States), and the underdevelopment of Asia, Africa, and Latin America."[28] And, although mentioned above in Section , The Shock Doctrine[29] uses case studies from around the world to show how Freidman’s conservative economic ideas would be rejected by most people in regular circumstances since the costs are so great to their well-being. But, during times of crisis, when people just want their suffering to end, governments working closely with corporations have jumped on the opportunity to implement Friedman’s ideas with disastrous costs to their people, and gigantic profits to their corporations.

1.2.2 Popularizing alternative histories and perspectives through journalism

The alternative media listed in Section are involved in popularizing these alternative histories and perspectives. There are also community media, and media designed with a focus on specific issues. In Boston, one of the people who contributed to this guide, started Open Media Boston, an online metropolitan news publication dedicated to regularly publishing fair and accurate news, views, arts, entertainment and technology coverage for the Boston, Massachusetts, USA area in text, image, audio and video formats. We are an audience-centered publication with a progressive editorial stance that will constantly solicit submissions and commentary from the general public using the latest social media technology while maintaining professional journalistic standards at all times. We will always strive to balance open participation with editorial control in the service of this goal."

Another person who contributed to this guide is on the Board of Directors of Boston Neighborhood Network, "a public forum for all Boston residents, nonprofit and community-based organizations, and governmental and educational institutions" providing "affordable training and access to emerging media technologies." BNN operates Boston’s two public access cable television channels and members "have access to two television studios, digital field production and editing equipment, a multimedia lab, and a mobile production truck, as well as a wealth of hands-on media training classes."

Another person who contributed to this guide is a founding member of Survival News, "a forum for the voices of low-income women to be heard," which is produced by " a group of low-income women and their allies who organize and educate about poverty, welfare and low-income survival issues. We offer training in writing, speaking, advocacy, computer skills, desktop publishing, organizing, membership and leadership….We connect welfare office outreach and campus organizing with local and broader grassroots efforts to eliminate social and economic injustice."[endnotes 1] Survival News is given out to applicants and recipients at the welfare offices for free and is the official newspaper of the National Welfare rights Union. It has been published for 22 years and is distributed to 34 states and 6 countries; it is archived at Harvard University’s Schlesinger Library.

Editorial Board of Survival News Back row from left: Shakita Stafford and her daughter Mya, Laurie Taymor Berry, Virtudes Espinosa, Chauntee` Renaud. Front row from left: Frances Darde, Terri Hinton, Diane Dujon, Dottie Stevens and Mary Moore Photographer (and Board Member): Lenore Pereira

1.2.3 Popularizing alternative histories and perspectives through alternative educational materials

There are various educational materials on the internet. David Harvey, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the City University of New York, presents a close reading of Marx’s Capital[30] in 13 video lectures, which focus on the interdisciplinary character of Marx’s work, as well as how he created new methods of inquiry such as deconstructing people’s arguments before that term became popular. The site also has other lectures on topics such as "The Urban Roots of the Fiscal Crisis."

Another educator, using different methods, is Jay Smooth, the founder of New York’s longest running hip-hop radio show, Underground Railroad (WBAI), whose Ill Doctrine videoblog, addresses controversial issues with philosophical hip-hop presentations. His vlogs address issues such as "How to Tell Someone they Sound Racist," "An Old Person’s Guide to ’No Homo’" and "If Bill O’Reilly was a Rapper."

The Real Cost of Prisons Project has created popular education materials to "explore the immediate and long-term costs of incarceration on the individual, her/his family, community and the nation." A number of graphic artists created three comic books documenting real stories and data: "Prison Town: Paying the Price tells the story of how the financing and site locations of prisons affects the people of rural communities in which prison are built. It also tells the story of how mass incarceration affects people of urban communities where the majority of incarcerated people come from. 

Prisoners of the War on Drugs includes the history of the war on drugs, mandatory minimums, how racism creates harsher sentences for people of color, stories on how the war on drugs works against women, three strikes laws, obstacles to coming home after incarceration, and how mass incarceration destabilizes neighborhoods.

 Prisoners of a Hard Life: Women and Their Children includes stories about women trapped by mandatory sentencing and the "costs" of incarceration for women and their families. Also included are alternatives to the present system, a glossary and footnotes." The book in which all the comics are reprinted (available through the website) includes information about how the comics have been used by organizers and activists inside and outside prison by ESL teachers, high school teachers, college professors, students, and health care providers around the U.S.

1.2.4 Popularizing alternative histories and perspectives through the arts

In Gabriel M. Schivone’s[31] interview, Howard Zinn states that "Art, at it’s best, takes us out of the present. Art gives us visions of what a good society may be like. Art gives us insight into the injustices of society. And it does it in a special way, because art gives emotion, passion, vividness to truths that otherwise seem flat and uninteresting. And so music, theater, movies—all of that—can play a very important role in intensifying the feelings that people have about what is going on in the world. And they can inspire people in the way that, for instance, people in the labor movement were inspired by the songs that were sung in the struggles of working people. And people in the civil rights movement were inspired by the music of the Selma Freedom Chorus or the Freedom Singers in Albany, Georgia. And people in the anti-war movement of the 1960’s were lifted up and their energy heightened by listening to Bob Dylan singing "Masters of War," listening to Joan Baez singing "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?," and listening to Pete Seeger." Further, James Baldwin contends: "The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions which have been hidden by the answers."[32] And, even further, Booker T. Washington, in his inaugural address to the 1896 season of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences (which today is the Brooklyn Museum) argued: "The study of art that does not result in making the strong less willing to oppress the weak means little."

1.2.5 Popularizing alternative histories and perspectives through the arts: Film

Dr. Stragelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb[33] viewed by Roger Ebert as "the best political satire of the century, a film that pulled the rug our from under the Cold War by arguing that if a ’nuclear deterrent’ destroys all life on Earth, it is hard to say exactly what it has deterred." The entire film can be watched on YouTube; the trailer is below.

Bamako[34], a fictional account of a village in Mali that decides to put the World Bank on trial. A review states: "Bamako is mostly potent speeches from African teachers and writers who expose the regressive and destructive nature of privatization, who point to the complete and utter failure of an imported economic strategy, and who tell stories of suffering and struggle caused by or exacerbated by such policy. Do not be fooled, there is little pity to be found in all this: the vigorous speeches set a fiery tone of anger, resistance and regeneration that should cause even the odd republican bow-tied banker on Wall Street to at least exercise the imagination in seeing numbers as real, lived consequences. Bamako is after all, a film that personalizes policy without pulling any punches." The trailer is below.

1.2.6 Popularizing alternative histories and perspectives through the arts: Theater

Anna Deavere Smith combines journalistic interviews with theatrical performances in which she acts the words and tones and gestures of her interviewees. In an interview with David Brancaccio on NOW, about "an artist’s responsibility in a world wracked by war", Smith talks about her role: "…when things fall apart, you can see more and you can even be a part of indicating new ways that things can be put together." He describes her process as "documentary theater": "She listens intensely to the authentic voices of regular people she meets at the sharp end of some of the most vexing social issues... from race, to poverty, to injustice. She then faithfully renders these voices word-for-word, syllable-by-syllable in one-woman theater performances…" In Fires in the Mirror: Crown Heights, Brooklyn and Other Identities, for example, she portrayed her interviews of all involved, from all perspectives, on the serious battles, sparked by killings on both sides, that broke out in that Brooklyn neighborhood between Blacks and Jews.

The Actor’s Gang is an educational theatrical institution, "with a mission to make theater more accessible to a broad and diverse audience" with a goal of inspiring their viewers "to feel, think and above all, question." Their "’Dead Man Walking’ Play Project" "engages students in theology, philosophy and law classes that address the moral issues and complexities of the death penalty in an open forum centered around the performance of a play." They work with schools in Los Angeles and around the United States; they also provide in-prison theatrical training to inmates "fostering nonviolent expression." Artistic Director Tim Robbins discusses their recent production of Father Daniel Berrigan’s "The Trial of the Catonsville Nine," one of the historic anti-Vietnam War protests by Catholic peace activists, on Democracy Now!

The International Theater of the Oppressed (TO) started in Brazil in 1971 by Augusto Boal, a friend and colleague of Paulo Freire, has grown to an international organization involving more than 70 countries. "Theatre of the Oppressed is the Game of Dialogue: we play and learn together. All kinds of Games must have Discipline - clear rules that we must follow. At the same time, Games have absolute need of creativity and Freedom. TO is the perfect synthesis between the antithetic Discipline and Freedom. Without Discipline, there is no Social Life; without Freedom, there is no Life. The Discipline of our Game is our belief that we that we must re-establish the right of everyone to exist in dignity. We believe that all of us are more, and much better, than what we think we are. We believe in solidarity. Our Freedom is to invent ways to help to humanize Humanity, freely invading all fields of human activities: social, pedagogical, political, artistic... Theatre is a Language and so it can be used to speak about all human concerns, not to be limited to theatre itself." Kohl[35] describes TO’s philosophy: "Boal believes that oppressed people can examine themselves and the causes of their oppression through performances they control. By doing so they begin to undo that oppression through enhanced awareness and the development of programs for social action. Performance, for Boal, is a form of social action for freedom. After the performance, the director helps the audience and the actors analyze and discuss what happened during the session." Kohl feels that many of Boal’s ideas can work in the classroom, and recommends Augusto Boal’s Games for Actors and Non-Actors[36].

1.2.7 Popularizing alternative histories and perspectives through the arts: Graphics

The Center for the Study of Political Graphics, with an archive of over 70,000 post World War II graphics, "collects, preserves, and exhibits posters relating to historical and contemporary movements for social change." Their philosophy is that by "Transmitting and promoting the ideals, hopes, and dreams of millions who have dared to raise their voices in protest, political posters empower and propel diverse movements for social change."

The San Francisco Print Collective started in 2000, inspired by the Chicano Poster Movement, makes

public art to challenge the mass media and broadcast our messages directly to the streets. Our work is anonymous, dedicated to community empowerment instead of individual artistic success. Our politics are internationalist, but our focus is on local issues, such as housing and homelessness, the affect people’s daily lives. . . . we envision a future without capitalism where human needs come before corporate greed.

Forkscrew created a series of posters about the U.S. war on Iraq playing off of the iPod ad that was plastered all over at that time: "The Iraq poster is about freedom: freedom more real, active, dialogic and comprehensive than the freedom currently being sold in the iPod campaign." They make it available on the web, and encourage people to download it and distribute it massively. "And then do something else all your own."

To avoid toxic paints, Jesse Graves, a Milwaukee-based artist, developed an "environmentally friendly street art," using mud stencils. His site contains details on his technique and examples of the various political public, mud graphics he has created. For example, in October 2009, he worked with other Milwaukee artists "to support Wisconsin’s Books to Prisoners campaign in Madison. Wisconsin Books to Prisoners is a project of Rainbow bookstore, that has been sending books to prisoners free of charge since 2006. In November 2008 the Wisconsin the Department of Corrections banned the sending used books to prisoners. Wisconsin is currently the only state preventing prisoners from receiving used books. I support this group because deprivation, and lack of access to information only hurts individuals and society."

End prisoner book ban.jpg

1.2.8 Popularizing alternative histories and perspectives through the arts: Conceptual

Adrian Piper, who holds a doctoral degree in philosophy from Harvard University, "has forged a unique artistic practice that infused classical Minimal sculptural form with explicit political content and introduced issues of race, gender and identity politics into the vocabulary of Conceptual art." In the installation, the phrase "Everything will be taken away" is found

in an excavated wall, etched on the surface of a mirror, emblazoned across photographs from the Hurricane Katrina disaster, or obscuring the face of a loved one in a photograph, the phrase functions as a mantra that reveals itself to have broad philosophical meaning and specific concrete application to the techniques of fading, scrubbing, erasing and removing used in these works. Wallpapered images of assassinated political leaders and facsimiled pages from the Bill of Rights bracket a wall of text reporting the horrifying and racially charged kidnapping, torture, and sexual assault of Megan Williams in rural West Virginia last year. In the context of these figures and events, the phrase holds political as well as personal implications that render its emotional and physical connotations even more devastating. Yet there is another meaning to be gleaned from these words; the possibility perhaps, as Piper explains, for ’detachment from all the relationships, communities, values, and practices that make anomaly and ostracism possible.’press release from an exhibition at the Elizabeth Dee Gallery, NYC, March 1-April 9, 2008

In a number of her earlier works, Piper got results similar to The Yes Men—she was trying to shock people into a reflection on their racism, and instead, people were either agreed with the racist sentiments she presented or were silent. Instead of provoking rational thought and counter-reaction, her 1980 installation, Four Intruders Plus Alarm Systems, "featuring photos of black men accompanies by recordings of voices engaged in rambling, anti-black monologues," provoked several viewers to thank her for "expressing their views so eloquently."[37] Piper, a Black American with light skin who could "pass" for white, has experienced the way white people talk when they think they are only among other whites. In 1986, she when at such gatherings, after someone had made a racist remark, she passed out a business-size card:

Dear Friend,

I am black.

I am sure you did not realize this when you made/laughed at/agreed with that racist remark. In the past, I have attempted to alert white people to my racial identity I advance. Unfortunately, this invariably causes them to react to me as pushy, manipulative, or socially inappropriate. Therefore, my policy is to assume that white people do not make these remarks, even when they believe there are no black people present, and to distribute this card when they do.

I regret any discomfort my presence is causing you, just as I am sure you regret the discomfort your racism is causing me.

Sincerely yours, Adrian Margaret Smith Piper

Barbara Kruger jams our taken-for-granted thinking by collaging words over photographs from the media. So, she has one of George W. Bush with the words "Pro-life for the unborn" at the top and "Pro-death for the born" at the bottom of the photo. One of her most powerful works for me, was the installation of a gigantic poster that took up almost half the side of hotel opposite the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City: a 1950’s picture of a woman holding up a magnifying glass to her eye with the words "It’s a small world, but not if you have to clean it," where "small world" are very large and bold. As Arthur Danto observes[38] because her work, under her supervision, is imprinted on all everything from tote bags to umbrellas, "they enter the stream of life and carry her messages into precincts far from the centers of high culture."[39] And play with the consciousness-raising: what will the person carrying the shopping bag, designed with the image of Kruger’s the photo of a hand, overlayed to look like it is holding a credit card shaped "I shop therefore I am," be thinking about consumer culture? She also takes aim at museums, and their role in defining what counts as art: "She installed banners on the façade of the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton, New York, for example. One, placed over the door, reads ’You belong here.’ As you enter into ’Your’ space, you pass between two signs which read, respectively, ’Money’ and ’Taste.’[40] In the Wexner Center at Ohio State University, "there is a large, permanently installed Kruger that shows someone, mouth agape, holding their hands like The Scream of Edvard Munch, with the banner asking ’Why are you here?’"[41]

Barbara Kruger, "Untitled" (I shop therefore I am), 111" by 113", photographic silkscreen/vinyl, 1987 Copyright: Barbara Kruger Courtesy: Mary Boone Gallery, New York

John Sims describes his work as interdisciplinary conceptual art "interested in the intersecting worlds of mathematics, art and political activism." The political work he does jams the culture of racism. For example, one of the works in his Recoloration Proclamation Project, is a Confederate Flag, re-colored in African colors of black, red, and green. Because the work is so controversial, it has had an impact on more than the people who see it in art galleries. In 2004, he planned an outdoor installation for the lawn of Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, "The Proper Way to Hang a Confederate Flag." The Sons of the Confederate Veterans and the Ku Klux Klan were successful in pressuring the college to reduce the scale of the exhibit and present it indoors. So, Sims boycotted his own opening, having a film crew tape it for use in the film he is making as part of this project. Three years later, the Brogan Museum of Art and Science in Tallahassee, Florida did not succumb to similar pressures, and included the Confederate flag, hung from a 13-foot gallows as Sims originally intended. In this exhibit, AfroProvocations, the museum also included Sims’ 2007 "Official Ballot for the Afro Confederate Flag," which "depicts six version of the Confederate flag on what resembles the Florida presidential election ballot of 2000. Instead of the traditional Confederate battle flag, though, the flags depicted are black, green and red," [42]. Ironically the museum is across the street from the Capitol building that, until 2001, flew a Confederate flag.[endnotes 2]

In a recent interview with Bomblog[43] Sims discusses his use of fiber as "two-dimensional soft sculpture" and how because of the relationship of cotton to slavery and commerce and the Civil War in the United States, "the politics of the fabric, at all levels, is part of the foundation of America." He is currently "working on a play and flag burial. At some point the play will be dramatized. It chronicles the making of the Recoloration Proclamation project, centering on my preparing for the Gettysburg exhibition and the making of the gallows piece. I want to conclude the project with a multi-state burial of the flag. I have issued a Call to Artists, Poets, and Community Organizers to help make this happen."

Courtesy: John Sims

1.2.9 Popularizing alternative histories and perspectives through the arts: Music

Paul Robeson (1898-1976), the son of an escaped slave, one of the first Black lawyers to study at Columbia University, and an internationally acclaimed actor and singer, was a strong social justice activist who expressed outspoken sympathy for the ideas of communism. According to historian John Henrik Clarke, Robeson was

the first American artist, Black or White, to realize that the role of the artist extends far beyond the stage and the concert hall. Early in his life he became conscious of the plight of his people, stubbornly surviving in a racist society. This was his window on the world. From this vantage point he saw how the plight of his people related to the rest of humanity. He realized that the artist had the power, and the responsibility, to change the society in which he lived. He learned that art and culture are weapons in a people’s struggle to exist with dignity, and in peace.

Clarke quotes Robeson about his reasons for going to Spain to sing for the anti-fascist Republican troops during the Civil War in that country: "I saw the connection between the problems of all oppressed people and the necessity of the artist to participate fully." Robeson then wrote a document that became known as his Manifesto against Fascism:

Every artist, every scientist must decide, now, where he stands. He has no alternative. There are no impartial observers.

Through the destruction, in certain countries, of man’s literary heritage, through the propagation of false ideas of national and racial superiority, the artist, the scientist, the writer is challenged. This struggle invades the former cloistered halls of our universities and all her seats of learning.


The battlefront is everywhere. There is no sheltered rear. The artist elects to fight for freedom or slavery.


I have made my choice! I had no alternative!


The history of the era is characterized by the degradation of my people. Despoiled of their lands, their culture destroyed, they are denied equal opportunity of the law and deprived of their rightful place in the respect of their fellows.


Not through blind faith or through coercion, but conscious of my course, I take my place with you. I stand with you in unalterable support of the lawful government of Spain, duly and regularly chosen by its sons and daughters.

Shortly after Robeson gave a talk at the 1948 World Peace Conference in Paris in which he questioned why African-Americans should fight in the army of a government that practiced racism, he was accused by the House Un-American Activities Committee of being a Communist. His concerts were canceled, his recordings were pulled from store shelves and his passport was revoked.

In 1952, the Western regional director of the Mine, Mill and Smelters Workers’ Union of British Columbia, Canada invited Robeson to attend their annual convention. Denied permission to leave the United States, Robeson addressed the convention anyway, with the help of a bootleg telephone hookup, illegally wired by members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Determined to put pressure on the U.S. State Department, the convention delegates invited Robeson back for a concert at the Peace Arch border between Canada and the U.S. On May 18, 1952, with one foot on Canadian soil, Robeson defiantly sang songs of solidarity to the crowd of 40,000 people[44]. The audio can be found on the Democracy Now!, and the CD is available for purchase.

Pete Seeger: On July 4, 2007 Amy Goodman interviewed Pete Seeger on Democracy Now![45]. She summarized some of the milestones in his activism: "In the 1940s, he performed in the Almanac Singers with Woody Guthrie as well as the Weavers. In the 1950s, he opposed Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch-hunt and was almost jailed for refusing to answer questions before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He helped popularize the civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome." In the 1960s, he was a vocal critic of the Vietnam War and inspired a generation of protest singers. He was later at the center of the environmental and anti-nuclear movements. At the age of 88 [now 90, as Bruce Springsteen said at the Madison Square Garden tribute concert for Seeger’s 90th birthday: ’Pete, you outlasted the bastards, man. You just outlasted them. It was so nice. It was so nice.’[endnotes 3], Pete Seeger continues to perform and be politically active."

During that hour-long interview, Jim Musselman, the founder of Appleseed Records, pointed to an important contribution Pete Seeger made during the McCarthy era:

…he was one of the few people who invoked the First Amendment in front of the McCarthy Committee. Everyone else had said the Fifth Amendment, the right against self-incrimination, and then they were dismissed…. I was actually in law school when I read the case of Seeger v. United States, and it really changed my life, because I saw the courage of what he had done and what some other people had done by invoking the First Amendment, saying, ’We’re all Americans. We can associate with whoever we want to, and it doesn’t matter who we associate with.’ That’s what the founding fathers set up democracy to be. So I just really feel it’s an important part of history that people need to remember.

Pete Seeger then added:

And a year later the appeals court acquitted me. Ironically—the contradictions of life still amaze me—the judge who acquitted me, the head judge—there were three judges—had been Irving Kaufman, the man who sentenced the Rosenbergs to the chair ten years earlier. But he acquitted me. He said, ’We are not inclined to lightly disregard charges of unconstitutionality, even though they may be made by those unworthy of our respect.’

The interview ended with Amy Goodman asking Pete Seeger about the role of music, culture and politics. He responded: "They’re all tangled up. Hooray for the tangling!"[endnotes 4]

Don Byron, considered the musician who brought the clarinet back as a serious jazz instrument in its own right, is another tangler. Musically, Time magazine wrote that classifying him as a jazz musician "is like calling the Pacific wet—it just doesn’t begin to describe it…Byron has carpentered an extraordinary career precisely by obliterating the very idea of category." [46] Politically, his album debut as a leader was Tuskegee Experiments [47] , speaking to the U.S. government’s vicious syphilis experiments on unsuspecting African-American males. In the liner notes, Byron states:

The word ’Tuskegee’ itself represents many different aspects of the African-American experience. ’Tuskegee Strutter’s Ball’ refers to the class scorn middle-class Black folks feel for people ’below’ them, and the album title refers to two experiments conducted on Black American men at the Tuskegee Institute. In 1932m the U.S. Public Health Service, with generous assistance from local Black medical professionals, initiated the longest human medical experiment in American history. More than half of the four hundred men chosen had syphilis, while the rest formed a non-syphilitic control group. None were informed of their condition, and they were observed for over 40 years, but NOT treated, just to document the physical effects of syphilis left unchecked. In the Tuskegee aviation experiment, over-qualified and under-compensated Black men endured unnecessary indignities simply to ’prove’ they could be trusted to fly military aircraft. To me, these two experiments are metaphors for African-American life. In one, we see once again that black life is cheap, and that a person of color can be enlisted to work against the best interests of his group, for nothing more than a brief ’vacation’ from the pain of invisibility or the pressure of being seen as part of an ’inferior’ group. The aviation experiment reflects the struggle black people constantly face: having to be smarter, better, more qualified simply to justify being given any opportunity.

More generally, Byron reflects on music and politics:

My music refers all the time to intellectual concerns. Why do that? Why not just play? My answer is, I think a lot about Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln and Mingus, and you can’t strip the politics away from that music. The music holds up without it—if it didn’t, it wouldn’t be worth discussing—but it’s the motivation…. People can learn the notes that Coltrane played, but unless they’re willing to embrace some of the politics that produced them, there’s a whole piece of him they’re skirting. The flip side is, listeners expect political music to sound a certain way: If it’s about race, it’s either got a McCoy Tyner sound or it’s free. But every tune on [my] first Six Musicians record has techniques that dealt with the subject matter differently. Take ’Shelby Steele.’ It states the melody, then states it upside down in the clave, then states it two beats off in the clave; so ti talks about how if you state something out of context it changes meaning. My point is that you can talk politically in any context, even repertory. Any lump of clay you pick up, you can use to say anything you need.[48]

Ayman Meghames, a Palestinian literature major and organizer of recent talent competition for Palestinian rappers, feels that

making music is a form of resistance to was and occupation, and also a tool to communicate the reality of like in Palestine. ’Most of our lyrics are about the occupation… Lately we’ve also started singing about the conflict between Hamas and Fatah. Any problem, it needs to be written about.’ Rapper Chuck D, from the group Public Enemy, once called rap music the CNN for Black America. For Ayman and his friends, music is their weapon to break media silence. ’Most of the world believes we are the terrorists… And the media is closed to us, so we get our message out through Hip-Hop.’[49]

Flaherty argues for the importance of telling this kind of story:

If you follow the reporting on Palestine in the U.S. media, you may imagine a fundamentalist state. Hamas-stan, as at least one Israeli commentator has called it. You may imagine a nation of terrorists, where women are oppressed and men launch rockets. But perhaps when we learn that Palestinian families swim on Friday afternoons, that they study literature in the day and rap about imprisoned friends at night, we can rethink the US’ unquestioning support for Israeli aggression against this almost entirely defenseless population.

We can also see yet another way that people are using music to communicate alternative histories and perspectives. A documentary about Palestinian rappers, Slingshot Hip Hop interweaves in stories about particular rappers, both those living inside Israel and in the Occupied Territories, with reporting about the occupation, from the perspective of the Palestinians. There are a number of different trailers on YouTube, although the film’s website does not work. For a perspective on the film from of a woman studying to be a rabbi, who spent the 2008 summer in Jerusalem, see the Velveteen Rabbi blog [50] , which also contains a number of videos of Palestinian and Israeli rappers, and various links with more information. She writes about how the film insists

on the part of the rappers and also their parents (who seem bemused by their kids’ strange styles of dress and modes of singing, but also seem on the whole very proud) that violence is not the answer: speech is the answer. The artists go into Palestinian youth centers, where they’re largely idolized, and preach the gospel of using your voice instead of stones.

Serj Tankian was born in Beirut, Lebanon in 1967 to Armenian parents. The family emigrated to Los Angeles in 1975. He graduated from California State University as a Marketing and Business major, and was running his own business developing accounting software, when in 1995 he co-founded rock band System of a Down with three friends from the Armenian-American community. This is a multi-platinum, Grammy-award winning rock band "with a conscience, a message, and a desire to constantly evolve."[51] Screamers [52] documents "the band’s efforts to persuade both the British and U.S. governments to recognize the Armenian genocide. Screamers also traces the history of modern-day genocide—and genocide denial—from the first occurrence in the 20th century in Turkey, to today in Darfur. Commentary and interviews with Pulitzer prize-winning author Samantha Power[53], survivors from Turkey, Rwanda and Darfur, FBI whistleblowers, and the recently assassinated Hrant Dink, who was murdered in Turkey after appearing in this film, shed light on why genocides repeat." The website also contains information about 
activism to stop genocide and materials for educators.

Get Up Stand Up: The Story of Pop and Protest, hosted and narrated by Chuck D, "chronicles the way music has been used…to convey social dissatisfaction." The overview starts with a quote from labor organizer and songwriter Joe Hill: "A pamphlet, no matter how good, is never read more than once, but a song is learned by heart and repeated over and over." The website features essays and some videos about five songs that "transcended their genre and the era in which they were written to become anthems of protest:" The Preacher and the Slave[54]; We Shall Overcome[55]; Give Peace a Chance[56]; Get Up, Stand Up[57]; and, Fight the Power[58]. It also contains brief essays on some of the key historical movements connected to the music and a list of resources.

1.2.10 Popularizing alternative histories and perspectives through whistle-blowing

Another kind of myth-breaking popularization happens when "insiders" choose to become whistle blowers and tell those of us on the outside what they and others did. In Section a reference was made to Wendell Potter, who worked for 20 years as a corporate public relations expert, including his most recent job as head of communications and chief spokesperson at CIGNA, one of the country’s largest for-profit health insurance companies. Now, Potter is communicating about how "for-profit insurers hijack our health care system and put profits before patients," in his current role as Senior Fellow at The Center for Media and Democracy. Founded in 1993, they are an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, public interest organization whose mission is "to promote transparency and an informed debate by exposing corporate spin and government propaganda and by engaging the public in collaborative, fair and accurate reporting."[59]. On August 17, 2009 Potter wrote a CNN editorial which uses his insider knowledge to analyze how insurance corporations frame the debate around health care:

What I’m trying to do as I write and speak out against the insurance industry I was a part of for nearly two decades is to inform Americans that when they hear isolated stories of long waiting times to see doctors in Canada and allegations that care in other systems is rationed by ’government bureaucrats,’ someone associated with the insurance industry wrote the original script.
Potter tells a poignant story that is important for students in their thinking about how to communicate about their issue. He encountered a man in Virginia who was standing in a long line to get free medical care provided by Remote Area Medical, an organization originally set up to help people in remote, impoverished areas of the world. Potter reports:
he was dead set against President Obama’s reform proposal. Even though he didn’t have health insurance, and could see the desperation in the faces of thousands of others all around him who were in similar straits, he was more worried about the possibility of having to pay more taxes than he was eager to make sure he and his neighbors wouldn’t have to wait in line to get care provided by volunteer doctors in animal stalls.
It was actually seeing one of these Remote Area Medical operations in his home state of Tennessee that inspired Potter to become a whistle blower.

Elizabeth Jacobson, until two years ago, was "the top producing loan officer in the subprime division at Wells Fargo…. Earlier this summer, she filed a sworn affidavit with a federal court in support of the city of Baltimore’s lawsuit against Wells Fargo for pushing high-interest, sub-prime loans onto African Americans in Baltimore and the Maryland suburbs, leading hundreds into foreclosure." She now works in foreclosure defense. In an interview on Democracy Now! [60][endnotes 5] , she explains why so many people who qualified for prime mortgages were strongly steered toward sub-prime mortgages:

just based on the commission, you would make sometimes three to four times as much in commission if you put somebody into a sub-prime loan…. as a company, Wells Fargo pushed the sub-prime loans, because it was their goal to have the sub-prime division pay for the fixed costs of the whole company.

She gives details about why these sub-prime loans made so much more money for the companies like Wells Fargo. She recounts how she initially did not question any of these practices, but gradually saw that people taking the loans were being set up for failure. And how this, and the targeting of African-Americans for these sub-prime loans, and the lies she heard the CFO of Wells Fargo tell on the news, led to her decision to resign and to become a whistle blower, and to work to help those who are victims of predatory loans. [endnotes 6][endnotes 7]

Daniel Ellsberg, perhaps one of the most dramatic whistle blowers in U.S. history, after graduating summa cum laude in Economics from Harvard University, spent three years (1954-1957) in the Marines as a rifle platoon leader, operations officer and rifle company commander. He earned his Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard in 1962. In 1959, as a strategic analyst for the RAND Corporation, he consulted for the Defense Department and the Eisenhower White House, "specializing in problems of the command and control of nuclear weapons, nuclear war plans, and crisis decision-making. In 1961 he drafted the guidance from Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara to the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the operational plans for general nuclear war. He was a member of two of the three working groups reporting to the Executive Committee of the National Security Council (EXCOM) during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Ellsberg joined the Defense Department in 1964 as Special Assistant to Assistant Secretary of Defense (International Security Affairs) John McNaughton, working on the escalation of the war in Vietnam. He transferred to the State Department in 1965 to serve two years at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, evaluating pacification in the field. On return to the RAND Corporation in 1967, Ellsberg worked on the top secret McNamara study of U.S. Decision-making in Vietnam, 1945-68, which later came to be known as the Pentagon Papers. In 1969, he photocopied the 7,000 page study and gave it to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; in 1971 he gave it to the New York Times, the Washington Post and 17 other newspapers. His trial, on twelve felony counts posing a possible sentence of 115 years, was dismissed in 1973 on grounds of governmental misconduct against him, which led to the convictions of several White House aides and figured in the impeachment proceedings against President Nixon."[61].

So, Ellsberg was deep inside the power structure when he became a whistle blower. His book, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers[62] chronicles how he came to believe the war on Vietnam was wrong, and how, starting in mid-1967, he tried, very hard, from the inside, to extricate the U.S. from this war: "briefing high officials, advising presidential candidates, and eventually, in early 1969, helping the president’s national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, discover uncertainties and alternatives," and why he came to feel this was not enough, that he had to give up his career, facing the possibility of a life in prison, and become a whistle blower. He explores questions like "How could it be…that after the massive disillusionment of the Tet offensive [and with the entire war by "an entire generation of Vietnam-era insiders"] in early 1968 the war still had seven years to go?...Like so many, I put personal loyalty to the president (and to my career, my access to inside information and influence, however I idealized my purposes) above all else. Above loyalty to the Constitution. Above obligation to truth, to fellow Americans, and to other human lives. It was the face-to-face example, for which I will always be grateful, of young Americans who were choosing to go to prison rather than take part in a war they knew was wrong that awakened me to these higher loyalties."[63] So, our protests counted, even when we did not realize it. And, Ellsberg’s whistle blowing played a significant role in ending that war on Vietnam, and ending Nixon’s presidency.[endnotes 8]


The Winter Soldiers, whistle blowers named in contrast to Thomas Paine’s 1776 statement: "These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman," were Vietnam veterans’ who testified about their experiences in that war, showing that atrocities such as My Lai were not unique. Their stories were investigated and corroborated by the media. The film Winter Soldier consists mostly of the raw footage of this investigation, conducted by Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) in Detroit, Michigan in the winter of 1971. "A call went out from VVAW to veterans all over the country saying, in effect, ’everyone is talking about the war that you know from the inside. If you want to have anything to say about it, come to Detroit and tell it like you saw it.’ At the investigation, over 125 veterans representing every major combat unit to see action in Vietnam, gave eye-witness testimony to war crimes and atrocities they either participated in or witnessed." The Investigation was largely ignored by the U.S. government and the major mainstream media.

The film Winter Soldier was shown and praised in Europe, but was largely overlooked in the U.S. One of the filmmakers has written: "The veterans in the film, black and white and Native American, and Asian American and Hispanic American, had gone to be in a war to uphold what they held dear about their country. Not all of them went believing in the war, but many of them did. When they came home they had seen things about themselves, their country, their leaders, about class and race, about sexism in war; things that did not get printed in the newspapers and got no coverage on television even as the American public watched war footage every night on the ’news.’ One common theme in what the veterans testified about, that stood out as extraordinary, is that the war in Vietnam was being waged largely against civilians. Each of the men in the film exercised courage in speaking the truth at a time when many of their fellow Americans and fellow veterans called them traitors for speaking what they experienced as truth about the war. The fact that this process of truth-telling was not respected and honored as a part of the experience of these soldiers is one of the reasons that the subject of the war in Vietnam continues to be misunderstood and misrepresented. This is a very disturbing film about the making of war, the making of young men into killers, the bringing of our society into acceptance of a war against people of a different color, a different culture, all the way around the globe. It brings to the surface of consciousness questions that must be confronted and asked again as our country is again sending off soldiers to die and to kill."

The Iraq Veterans Against the War Winter Soldier Project is in the process of creating a documentary about hearings they conducted in March 2008 with veterans of the war on Iraq and the war on Afghanistan. Currently it is a web series "This is Where We Take Our Stand". When this group of Winter Soldiers is asked what they hope viewers of their testimony will come away with, the reply: "We hope they’ll have a sense that it is everyone’s responsibility to confront the wars that are being carried out in our name, no matter who is president."

1.2.11 Popularizing alternative histories and perspectives through imagining and living alternatives

In Chapter Four, I called attention to how the people who got the fake New York Times said things like "It’s a dream newspaper—you wake up and all the things you wanted have become real." And Mike wonders: "What would happen if we set our imagination free?" There are other instances in the film where The Yes Men act as if the world were different—for example, when they declare the in-perfectly-good housing project that the government has slated for privatization as "open." In The Yes Men, their first movie, Andy, posing as an official of The World Bank, claims The Bank they has examined their policies and found that they have brought misery to millions, so The World Bank is shutting down until they can figure out how to help people. In the real world, there are groups of people who are practicing alternative social, economic and political philosophies.

The Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra [64], founded in the mid 1980’s,is an organization of about million landless people, actively carrying out land reform in 23 out 27 states in Brazil. "In Brazil, % of the landowners control roughly half (4%) of the land on which crops could be grown. Just 3% of the population owns two-thirds of all arable lands. Since 1985, the MST has peacefully occupied unused land where they have established cooperative farms, constructed houses, schools for children and adults and clinics, promoted indigenous cultures and a healthy and sustainable environment and gender equality. The MST has won land titles for more than 350,000 families in 2,000 settlements as a result of MST actions, and 180,000 encamped families currently await government recognition. Land occupations are rooted in the Brazilian Constitution, which says land that remains unproductive should be used for a "larger social function. The MST’s success lies in its ability to organize and educate. Members have not only managed to secure land, therefore food security for their families, but also continue to develop a sustainable socio-economic model that offers a concrete alternative to today’s globalization that puts profits before people and humanity."

¡Salud!, is a documentary directed by Academy Award nominee Connie Field, about Cuba’s health care system. It examines both the alternative philosophy of community medicine and preventive and universal health care that enables such an impoverished (largely by U. S. policies) country to provide what the BBC calls ’one of the world’s best health systems,’ and Cuba’s alternative vision of foreign aid, with its deployment of 28,000 Cuban health professionals serving in 68 countries. The film also shows Cuba’s development of international medical training where 100,000 new doctors from developing countries will graduate over the next decade, and Cuba’s own Latin American Medical School (ELAM) in Havana, where 12,000 low-income students from 27 countries—including nearly 100 from the U.S.—receive a free medical education in exchange for pledging to return to poor communities when they graduate. The film highlights stories from The Gambia, rural South Africa, Venezuela, coastal villages of Honduras and river settlements in the Amazon, "where a Cuban is often the first doctor a poor community has ever seen. In some nations they staff entire health systems…. Comments Dr. Yankuba Kassama, The Gambia’s Minister of Health: "Our infant mortality is down, life expectancy up… We wouldn’t be able to narrate this success story without the help of the Cubans."

The U.S. Solidarity Economy Network (SEN) "is an alternative development framework that is grounded in practice and the in the principles of: solidarity, mutualism, and cooperation; equity in all dimensions (race/ethnicity/ nationality, class, gender, LGBTQ); social well-being over profit and the unfettered rule of the market; sustainability; social and economic democracy; and pluralism, allowing for different forms in different contexts, open to continual change and driven from the bottom-up." Their membership includes various progressive educational institutions like the Center for Popular Education and the Highlander Research and Education Center, as well as institutions that are involved in alternative, more just, economic practices, such as the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions; the Responsible Endowments Coalition; the United States Federation of Worker Cooperatives; and TeamWorks Cooperative Network which "transforms low-wage, "dead-end" service jobs into powerful social and economic development opportunities," where members become co-owners of the business, earn a living wage, develop financial assets, have access to health care and can develop their skills and interests. Other examples of a solidarity economy are: local exchange systems, fair trade, co-housing, green technology, and participatory budgeting.

1.2.12 Popularizing alternative histories and perspectives through organizing and acting collectively

Remember the New Orleans the activist who says that what the hoax did for the residents was: it showed that if they wanted to, HUD could open the public housing that remained intact after Katrina; it got the residents’ attention to ask why HUD had not done this; and, it created a controversy to organize around, to feed off, and to build to the next level. And, remember when Mike says in the film: "If a few people at the top make the bad news happen, why can’t all of us at the bottom get together and make the good news happen?" One of the ways to communicate alternative information and alternative ideas to the public is be creating, or joining, organizations where people can act together for social change.

Organizing Against the Drug Wars: Jack Cole, an insider in the drug wars, as a former undercover narcotics officer in the New Jersey State Police, argues that: "This is not a war on drugs—it’s a war on people." As a different kind of whistle blowing, in 2002, he founded an organization of current and former law enforcement and other criminal justice workers[endnotes 9], Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) to work for drug policies that treat the problems people have with drugs as public health, rather than criminal, problems. They argue that: "…the existing drug policies have failed in their intended goals of addressing the problems of crime, drug abuse, addiction, juvenile drug use, stopping the flow of illegal drugs into this country and the internal sale and use of illegal drugs. By fighting a war on drugs the government has increased the problems of society and made them far worse. A system of regulation rather than prohibition is a less harmful, more ethical and a more effective public policy.

They use the phrase (on T-shirts and flyers and posters) "Cops Say Legalize Drugs! Ask Us Why" to start dialogues. According to LEAP:

After nearly four decades of fueling the U.S. policy of a war on drugs with over a trillion tax dollars and 39 million arrests for nonviolent drug offenses, our confined population has quadrupled making building prisons the fastest growing industry in the United States. More than million of our citizens are currently incarcerated and every year we make an additional million more arrests for non-violent drug offenses, guaranteeing those prisons will be bursting at their seams. Every year we choose to continue this war will cost U.S. taxpayers another 69 billion dollars. Despite all the lives we have destroyed and all the money so ill spent, today illicit drugs are cheaper, more potent, and far easier for our children to access than they were 39 years ago at the beginning of the war on drugs. Meanwhile, people continue dying in our streets while drug barons and terrorists continue to grow richer than ever before. We would suggest that this scenario is the very definition of a failed public policy. This madness must cease!

LEAP’s mission is to reduce death, disease, crime and addiction by ending drug prohibition. LEAP’s goals are:

LEAP’s strategy for accomplishing these goals is to create a constantly expanding speakers bureau staffed with knowledgeable and articulate former drug-warriors who describe the impact of current drug policies on: police/community relations; the safety of law enforcement officers and suspects; police corruption and misconduct; and the financial and human costs associated with current drug policies." LEAP was founded by five police officers but six years later it boasts more than 15,000 members in 76 countries. Since its founding, nearly 1200 articles and over 500 letters to the editor have been published in newspapers about LEAP’s work; they have 75 speakers, all former drug warriors, who have given more than 5,500 presentations around the world: in Albania, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand and the United Kingdom.

One of their actions is to attend national and international law-enforcement conventions where they keep track of all the people they speak with at their educational exhibit booth. Only 6% of the people they talk with want to continue the war on drugs, 14% are undecided, and an 80% agree with LEAP that we must end drug prohibition. LEAP speakers also staffed an educational booth at the last four National Conferences for State Legislators in Seattle, Nashville, Boston, New Orleans and Philadelphia. They spoke with 2,273 of the attendees on a one-on-one basis and 81% of them agreed that we should legalize drugs—only 6% wanted to continue the war and the other 13% were undecided. Cole concludes: "This means, if we can show these legislators that they won’t lose one more vote than they will gain by backing drug policy reform, they will end drug prohibition. The way to show them is to create a grassroots organization of a MILLION private citizens who agree ending prohibition is the correct policy."

LEAP has created an atmosphere legitimizing the discussion of legalized regulation of drugs nationally to where some politicians feel it is safe to raise the issue. For example, in November 2006, the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators passed a resolution condemning the failed war on drugs and calling for treatment rather than incarceration. That resolution was echoed by a similar resolution passed unanimously by the 225 Mayors attending the National Mayors Conference in June 2007. That month Newark, New Jersey’s Mayor Cory Booker said the war on drugs is destroying his city and he intends to stop it if it means taking the issue to the streets and going to jail, as was done by civil rights protesters. Three campaigners for the 2008 Presidential race, former Senator Mike Gravel (D-Alaska), Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), and Representative Ron Paul (R-Texas) have called for an end to the war on drugs; something never before done. The very conservative The McLaughlin Group television talk show has even broached the subject by discussing Dr. Ethan Nadelmann’s article in Foreign Policy, "Legalize It." On October 4, 2007, San Francisco’s Mayor Gavin Newsom told television reporters, "If you want to get serious, if you want to reduce crime by 70% in this country overnight, end this war on drugs." In July 2008 LEAP was one of the 300 NGOs from around the world to participate in the event the UN conference Beyond 2008 in Vienna. The product of that conference was a declaration presented to the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs in March 2009, which suggested policy for world drug control over the next ten years. The suggestions included a shift in primary emphasis from interdiction to treatment and prevention, and alternatives to incarceration. In 2009 United States Senator Jim Webb submitted bill, S.714, the National Criminal Justice Commission Act, which will create a blue-ribbon nonpartisan commission to study the entire criminal justice system in the U.S. with emphasis on learning why we have to imprison so much more of our population than any other country in the world and why we are filling those prisons with nonviolent drug offenders. The bill has 24 cosponsors.

Organizing Against All Wars: CODEPINK, named to play with the Bush color-coded homeland security terrorist alerts (which would never include such a ’feminist’ color; their online magazine is called the PINKTANK), was organized in the U.S., in 2002, to fight against the war on Iraq and Afghanistan, and to stop new wars and "re-direct our resources into healthcare, education, green jobs and other life-affirming activities." It is now an international network of people who are not shy to organize to directly confront the warmongers. They have sent peacemaking delegations to Iran, Pakistan, Syria, Beirut, Iraq, Italy, the war tribunal in Turkey, Britain’s Stop the War assembly, a gathering in Thailand of women worldwide, and the World Social Forum in Brazil and Venezuela. They don’t have official membership: "We don’t require official affiliation to speak, act, or protest with CODEPINK. People committed to creative protest against militarism and injustice are CODEPINK. People who want to influence a shift in the focus of world society and governments from militarism to life-affirming endeavors are CODEPINK. People who are not ashamed to wear a big pink button, and thereby encourage conversation are CODEPINK. People who are not afraid to be unreasonable or to be called un-patriotic in the name of peace and social justice are CODEPINK. People who realize that you must be the change you want to see in this world are CODEPINK."

They have campaigns (here the slogan is "From the screens to the streets") that include Don’t Buy Bush’s War! (with the subhead a 1982 quote from Alexander Haig, Reagan’s Secretary of State: "Let them march all they want, as long as they pay their taxes."); and, Counter-Recruitment (with various suggested slogans for banners, like "Don’t Enlist, Stay and Kiss! That way everyone makes out…"). The Peace Ribbon Project "honors the victims of the Iraq War by creating a cloth memorial panel to individual fallen soldiers and Iraqi civilians. It is an ongoing grassroots project where individuals and groups make a panel." CODEPINK had over 225 panels completed at the end of 2007. Their goal is to continue creating remembrance panels and displaying the Peace Ribbon Project around the country. The Campaign Action Center of their website contains study resources, information about past actions related to each campaign, and suggestions for actions people can do in their communities, with slogan ideas, banners to print out and more.

One of their latest campaigns is "Stolen Beauty," a boycott action against Ahava cosmetics. On their webpage about this, they play on the Ahava campaign slogan "Beauty Secrets from the Dead Sea," to discuss the important secret that Ahava "products actually come from stolen Palestinian natural resources in the Occupied Territory of the Palestinian West Bank, and are produced in the illegal settlement of Mitzpe Shalem…. The Hebrew word ’Ahava’ means love, but there is nothing loving about what the company is doing in the Occupied Palestinian territory of the West Bank." The company’s practices are against international public law, which stipulates that the West Bank cannot be considered to be part of the State of Israel. "Ahava uses in its products mud from the Dead Sea, excavated in an occupied area, and thus it exploits occupied natural resources for profit, which is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention…. The Stolen Beauty campaign is an effort to promote a just and sustainable peace for Jews, Muslims and Christians in Israel and Palestine." Their website contains a local action step-by-step guide for those interested in participating in the campaign, including how to organize a "muddy" picket action on the sidewalk outside stores that carry Ahava products.

CODEPINK, which launched this campaign in June 2009, after four delegations to Gaza, Israel, and the Occupied Territories, situates its actions in the larger "Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)" non-violent movement to end the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.[endnotes 10] They cite reports that show boycotts can be effective: "In March 2009 in the Hebrew-language business paper The Marker 21% of Israeli exporters say that they have been directly hurt by a boycott of Israeli products since the beginning of 2009" The hope is that diminishing profits will lead to diminishing support for the occupation. "The boycott is not against people; it is against policies and practices that destroy hope for a just settlement to the conflict. We are working on this campaign with Israeli women—both Jewish and Palestinian—who believe that boycotts are an effective tool to work towards a peaceful and just future for Israelis and Palestinians."

Organizing For Social Justice: A group of New England-area peace and global justice movement activists are launching The Majority Agenda Project to unite progressive collations and single-issue organizations to act quickly and powerfully at moments when such actions can move the general progressive movement forward. Their analysis is that the present crisis is a seamless convergence of three major elements—the economic crisis that involves crises in health care, education and housing; the catastrophic crisis of climate disruption and the exhaustion of energy; and, the crisis of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the persistence of a permanent war economy and national security state. Further, their research supports that most people in the U.S. agree about many of the policies that would effectively address these interconnected crises. They argue that the majority of people in the U.S. support public investment that would support: access to decent jobs; help for local businesses; protection of the democratic rights of working people; affordable access to basic human needs such as shelter and healthcare; reversing global climate disruption through creating green jobs and fostering renewable energy research and development; and, building cooperative relationships with other countries based on sustainable development and common security interests. The Majority Agenda Project is organizing around these common human interests, whereas single-issue groups might advance more contentious issues among the progressives (such as the BDS movement to end the Israeli occupation. Of course, working together on the "majority" issues will hopefully advance thinking of all the coalition members on all of the single-issue causes.

The Majority Agenda Project vision is that member organizations in their coalition will be able to:

  1. Act on the most pressing issue(s) of the moment regardless of their major priorities, taking the lead from those groups primarily concerned with those pressing issues while forging connections between their major concerns and the most urgent issues
  2. Advance the interconnected major issues, by connecting with key segments of the Obama campaign who might not be affiliated with other social justice organizations
  3. Link with broad national movements and organizations at or close to the political center, i.e. NAACP, Change to Win, AFL-CIO, National Council of Churches, etc., as well as with progressive national formations such as AFSC, UFPJ, Campaign for America’s Future, and so on.

They also stress connecting local issues and organizing with national multi-issue coalitions, and developing ways of jointly exploring and advancing over-arching solutions to the various inter-connected social justice crises. "That may include such proposals as people’s ownership and control of the financial system; public ownership of the energy industry; controlling workers’ equity in the Big 3 auto companies, and so on. While those solutions may not be immediately viable, the coalition should propagate advanced ideas as a vital and much needed contribute to a national debate on how to end deep systemic crises."

1.2.13 Popularizing alternative histories and perspectives through civil disobedience

The Director of the Cambridge Peace Commission, one of the contributors to this guide, characterized The Yes Men’s interventions as "culture jamming as civil disobedience." And, as discussed in Section on cost-benefit analyses, The Yes Men’s interventions are indeed, at least on the edge of civil disobedience.

In a recent interview with Gabriel Matthew Schivone[65], Howard Zinn discusses this civil disobedience in general, using examples of the Israeli soldiers who are refusing to serve as a protest against the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank and resistors to the U.S. war on Vietnam: "To me, the resistance and refusal of soldiers to serve in an army of occupation or in an aggressive war is extremely important. Because, while you can have many different expressions of opposition to an immoral war, there’s no form of resistance more powerful, more troubling to the occupying power, or to the aggressive military power, than when their own soldiers refuse to serve."[66] He cites an analysis of the war on Vietnam that concludes soldier resistance was a critical factor in forcing the U.S. government to stop that war. Zinn argues that both artistic expressions of resistance and civil disobedience are part of the same spectrum of "opposition to existing policies." Further, because most elected legislators do not represent their constituents, but rather their corporate donors, Zinn feels that citizens may need to act outside the structures of what is currently legal: "Civil disobedience is a way of bringing the feelings, the desires, the ideas of people to the attention of the public and to the attention of the government…. Acts of civil disobedience—because of their drama, because of their power to excite people, and incite people to further acts of civil disobedience—are necessary. Despite the tendency of populations to obey authority, we have enough historical instances where people stopped obeying authority, and as a result of stopping their obedience they made changes in society."[67]

Greenpeace, started in 1971 when a small group of environmental activists sailed to an island off the coast of Alaska to protest U.S. nuclear testing, putting themselves in danger in order to "raise the level and quality of public debate." They have engaged in many actions of civil disobedience since. For one, in October 2007, "the Kingsworth Six, a group of six Greenpeace protesters who temporarily shut down a coal-fired power station in South East England, demanding an end to government plans for a new generation of similar power stations. They wanted to paint a message on the smokestack addressed to Prime Minister Brown: ’Gordon, Bin It.’ Ultimately, they only managed to daub ’Gordon,’ but it cost thirty thousand pounds to remove, and they were charged with criminal damage. At their trail, they argued that, yes, they’d damaged the power station, but they’d done so to prevent a greater harm. There’s provision in law for this. If you smash the door of a burning house to save the people inside, you are breaking and entering to prevent a greater harm. When the jury was presented with the evidence of the harm that climate change was currently causing—shutting down the plant for a day prevented about $ million in damage to human welfare worldwide—they agreed with the defense. The Kingsworth Six were acquitted, the British government was forced to backtrack and the decision was even hailed by The New York Times as a milestone of 2008’s life-changing ideas."[68][endnotes 11]

One of the highlights of civil disobedience activism in the United States was the Freedom Rides in 1961 that used non-violence to challenge the segregation of public transportation. A new documentary by Stanley Nelson, Freedom Riders: Could You Get on the Bus? premiered at Sundance in 2010.

On Democracy Now![69] Amy Goodman interviewed Nelson and two of the Freedom Riders—Bernard Lafayette, who is black, and Jim Zweig, who is white—featured in the film. Goodman summarizes the context:

In December of 1960, the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional segregation in public transportation and interstate bus and rail stations. But despite the ruling, Jim Crow travel laws remained in force throughout the South. Six months later, a dozen black and white students decided to challenge the local laws of the Deep South and test the commitment of the Kennedy administration to civil rights. On May 4th, 1961, the group took two public buses from Washington, DC and intended to arrive in New Orleans two weeks later." The film follows the stories of those freedom riders "over the next few days and weeks and how they inspired hundreds of others to join the Freedom Rides and eventually succeed in desegregating public transportation.

Stanley Nelson, said that what he learned, what surprised him the most as he was researching and making the film was:

what a few people can do if they just step forward. I mean, that’s what’s so amazing about the first twelve people who start the Freedom Rides. They have no backing. I mean, you know, everybody’s saying, ’Don’t do this. You know, the South is—you know, you’ll get killed!’ But they do it. They do it, and they end up changing America forever. You know, the signs that say ’white only,’ ’colored only,’ which had been up for, you know, generations and generations, come down, because twelve people say, ’You know, we’re just going to go out there and do it.’ And I think that’s what’s important about the Freedom Rides.

ACT UP (The Aids Coalition to Unleash Power), another highlight of civil disobedience activism in the U. S. "is a diverse, non-partisan group of individuals united in anger
 and committed to direct action to end the AIDS crisis.

 We advise and inform. We demonstrate.
 WE ARE NOT SILENT." Their goal in getting arrested is to "make it more costly for those in power to resist than to give in; and educate the public in ways that both cause embarrassment to those in power and cause them to be fearful that the popular movement for change may grow strong enough to threaten their power (for example, interrupt news broadcasts or hang banners)."

In October 2009 The Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts and the Harvard University Art Museum had an exhibition of posters and other visual media (including the culture jamming work of Gran Fury discussed above) that chronicle the actions of ACT UP in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s reflecting the group’s "outrage against a governing establishment that ignored HIV/AIDS as a national health crisis; that failed to secure funding for medical research, treatment, and education; that profited from inflated costs for therapeutic drugs; and that perpetuated homophobic misrepresentations of HIV and AIDS." Their campaigns both achieved concrete changes in legal policy and medical practice, as well as transformations of stereotypical ideas about sexuality and civil rights. The exhibition website has videos of some of the panels in the symposium that accompanied the exhibit, which include clips from various ACT UP actions, and "provide an opportunity to reinvigorate a debate around the realities of HIV/AIDS today, and about the links between visual art, political activism, health, and human rights."

The on-going ACT UP Oral History Project, premiering at the exhibition, is a collection of interviews which can be watched on-line that presents a "comprehensive, complex, human, collective, and individual pictures of the people who have made up ACT UP/New York. These men and women of all races and classes have transformed entrenched cultural ideas about homosexuality, sexuality, illness, health care, civil rights, art, media, and the rights of patients. They have achieved concrete changes in medical and scientific research, insurance, law, health care delivery, graphic design, and introduced new and effective methods for political organizing. These interviews reveal what has motivated them to action and how they have organized complex endeavors." In addition, the project’s coordinator’s hope that these oral histories will "de-mystify the process of making social change, remind us that change can be made, and help us understand how to do it."

1.3 What will you do to stop business as usual?

Chapter Four focuses on getting students to pick a project, something in their world they wanted to fix. Chapters Five and Six focus on analyzing themes in The Yes Men Fix the World with attention to students’ using that analysis to refine their thinking about their project. The first two sections of this chapter gives many examples of how people have worked on projects to fix the world, in addition to what The Yes Men did.

This section focuses on making plans and taking action and reflecting and continuing to act.

Now that students have identified and refined their project, and thought about some possible interventions as they reflect on themes from The Yes Men Fix the World, it is time for them to research what local community groups and/or social change groups are working on their issue—or on a part of their issue, or on an issue connected to their issue. Then, they can figure out how to decide if it makes sense to connect with those groups (e.g., do more detailed research about the groups, interview members of the groups, and so on). In addition to the Internet, one fairly comprehensive resource is The Nation Guide to the Nation[70]. What other ways can they find out who is doing what around their issue, and whether or not that group would be a good group to collaborate with?

Once they connect with a group, they will need to work out how they will collaborate. These negotiations would, of course, also be an important learning experience. One of the contributors to this guide who has gone to countless demonstrations, remarked on how, although these demonstrations are very important to support, they are also very boring to participate in. He wondered if students inspired by the culture jamming of The Yes Men might add a spark of life into some of these more "staid" demonstrations. On the other hand, students who have not previously been politically active, can learn a lot from the established group: how to set a goal, make strategic decisions about how to reach that goal, how to reflect on those interventions, learn from them and plan the next actions.

The philosophy of this guide is that all political interventions need to involve some disruption of business-as-usual (many examples of which are given in the first two sections of the chapter) and attention to the media, in the broad sense of the term. Some general resources for using the media to fix the world are: Prime Time Activism: Media Strategies for Grassroots Organizing[71] Excerpts show how it is still useful, even though written before the internet communications explosion. The book helps you to gain an understanding of the media industry; Bill Fletcher, Jr. described it as challenging "liberal and defeatist conceptions alike regarding utilization of the media. [Ryan] creates a new way to look at organizing and movement-building;" Our Media Network, "a global network with the goal of facilitating a long-term dialogue between academics, activists, practitioners and policy experts around citizens’ media initiatives" so that global communication, information, and media policies can be developed "in a way that could not be achieved by academics and practitioners working alone;" The Center for Media Justice, a "movement center that makes strategic communications and media activism creative, accessible, and relevant to organizers, journalists, artists, and the everyday majority whose voices are pushed to the margins…[with a focus on] racial justice and youth rights…grounded in the idea that the purpose of progressive communications and cultural work is to amplify hope and pave the way for change;" The Media Action Grassroots Network whose mission is to "strengthen the capacity and coordination of regional media activist hub organizations, develop the skills and leadership of organizers from under-represented communities, and increase strategic effectiveness within and across regions, among media and social justice groups, and with D.C.-based allies;" and, The Progressive Communicators Network, which "exists to strengthen and amplify the power, voices, and vision of grassroots movements that are working for racial, social, economic, and environmental justice…[using] communication strategy, framing and messaging, and media tools to enhance the influence of social change movements on public policy and opinion; and, to realize a world without poverty, racism, and other forms of oppression."

Two general documents that can be useful in planning the details of the students’ project to fix the world, from the website of Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making us Sick?" are: "Planning for Media Advocacy" including help with setting goals, targeting audiences, defining your message, and measuring your success, a listing of the primary outlets for communicating about your project and, help with telling your story in such a way that the media will be interested and convey the message you want to your target audience; and, "Advocating for Better Policies" including ways of engaging communities to identify policies that are causing them problems, suggestions for, and information about, how to change those policies, examples of successful campaigns where local groups acted to get policy changes, and, a resource list of advocacy groups around the U.S. Another document, specific to the current debate over healthcare in the U.S., "The PolicySpeak Disaster for Health Care"[72] contains general ideas about communicating: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, so don’t let the overall message get lost in a list of individual policy points that can be "line-itemed to death;" people reason differently than policy lists using facts and figures, so in order to communicate effectively, we need to understand the importance of emotion, empathy, and ethics, when we pick language to describe our issue; we want to use language that will trigger frames of thinking that can allow "pure logic" and the "truth" to matter to people.

1.4 Endnotes

  1. ’Making the Invisible Visible’: Anti-Poverty Activists Working to Make their own Media,” (Miranda Spencer, Extra!, January/February 2003) discusses many other such media projects that are addressing the lack of meaningful coverage of poverty in the mainstream media.
  2. Until 2001 I had never really had any direct experience with even seeing a Confederate flag in person. On July 17, 2001, I took a walk by myself at my friend’s Maine summer house. As I was on the stretch of the road by the houses that have large front yards with ocean views, I passed an assemblage of many flags flapping at the far ocean end of one of the house lawns. I thought I saw a Confederate flag, but in the breeze, and with my slightly aging eyesight, and with my shock, I couldn’t be sure, so I stopped and was staring to determine if that was what I was seeing. An older white man stopped and said to me (an older, young-in-spirit, white woman) “Isn’t that great?” I asked if that was a Confederate flag, and he smiled at my naivite, guessing, I think, that I did not know because I was a Northerner. When he confirmed that it was indeed a Confederate flag, I said in my kind of loud-Brooklyn-very-forceful manner, that I thought it was completely disgusting. And I turned away from him, and flew past where he was on the road. At the end of my walk, right before turning in to my friend’s driveway, there he was, staring at the workmen cutting down dead trees in front of her house. As I write this, I think I should have said to him that they were cutting down the trees so he could not lynch anyone on her property. But, my nausea at him blocked my thought processes, and forced me to repeat that I thought what the Confederate flag stood for was disgusting. Then he launched/lynched into how they never should have freed the slaves and that I could not understand Blacks since I did not live in the South. I thought then of Adrian Piper, and said that I was Black and that he better watch the vile that he spews. As I ran in fury, and fear, towards my friend’s house, he yelled, sounding upset, “You are not Black!” As I disappeared from his sight I yelled back that “Yes I am Black, and he better be careful to keep his disgusting thoughts to himself!” After, my friend (an older, young-in-spirit, Black woman) calmed me down, I regretted that I did not have the presence of mind to lead him on, and get him to expose himself more, before I revealed my disgust. In all the summers since, the Confederate flag has not flown on that lawn.
  3. The Democracy Now! (May 4, 2009) broadcast about this 90th birthday celebration, including the words of Bruce Springsteen, Joan Baez, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Tom Morello, Steve Earle, Ani DiFranco, Dar Williams, Billy Bragg, Michael Franti, Tim Robbins, and Pete Seeger.
  4. Information about the documentary, The Power of Song Jim Brown, The Weinstein Company and Live Nation Artists, 2008, 93 minutes can be found on the website for American Masters. It includes clips from the film, interviews and a Pete Seeger’s career timeline.
  5. Another segment of that same Democracy Now! (August 28, 2009) highlights a new report by the Center for Public Integrity which has found that many of the lenders that helped fuel the housing crisis by issuing risky sub-prime loans are now lining up to receive more than $21 billion in taxpayer money intended to help bail out borrowers. At least twenty-one out of the top twenty-five participants in the Making Home Affordable program specialized in servicing or originating sub-prime loans.
  6. The video segment also contains a clip of the documentary American Casino, reporting with real cases of people who got screwed by the sub-prime mortgage crisis: “These are not the heedless spendthrifts of Wall Street legend, but a high school teacher, a therapist, a minister of the church. They were sold on the American Dream as a safe investment. Too late, they discovered the truth. Cruelly, as African–Americans, they and other minorities were the prime targets for the sub-prime loans that powered the casino. According to the Federal Reserve, African-Americans were four times more likely than whites to be sold sub-prime loans.”
  7. On September 2, 2009, Democracy Now! discussed the new documentary American Casino, , which follows the Wall Street and Washington, D.C. roots of the sub-prime crisis, profiling some of its victims, mainly African-American families who lost their homes. The segment includes many highlights from the film and an interview with the directors, Leslie and Andrew Cockburn.
  8. On August 10, 2009, sixty-four years after the U.S. dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Democracy Now! (August 10, 2009) hosted a round table discussion with nuclear physicist and disarmament activist Pervez Hoodbhoy, peace activist Frida Berrigan, and Daniel Ellsberg. Over the next year, Ellsberg will release regular installments of his insider’s memoir of the nuclear era, “The American Doomsday Machine.” Democracy Now! (September 16, 2009) includes clips from “The Most Dangerous Man in America,” a documentary about Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, and an extensive interview with the Ellsbergs and Judith Erlich, co-director of the film.
  9. Membership is open to anyone and there is no membership fee. The speakers must be current or former drug warriors: police, judges, prosecutors, parole, probation, and corrections officers, DEA and FBI agents.
  10. While doing research to decide how to intervene, CODEPINK reviewed “Who Profits: Exposing the Israeli Occupation Industry”, a project of the Israeli Coalition of Women for Peace, a comprehensive cite which groups who want to participate in the BDS campaign can use to investigate which products might make sense to organize boycotts against in their communities.
  11. Patel (2009, p.217) further points out that “for those who aren’t minded to engage in direct action themselves, the artists/activists The Yes Men have developed a splendid system of ‘[Action Offsets http://www.beyondtalk.net/],’ where you can support the work fo people who are more able to put themselves in harm’s way.

1.5 References

  1. 1993
  2. Popping the Question, 1999
  3. Hello/Hola, 2002
  4. Attyah and Bachman, 2003, quotes from introduction
  5. Meyer, 1995, p.52
  6. Meyer, 1995, p. 73-74
  7. 1995
  8. summarized and quotes from their website
  9. 2001
  10. (the complete correspondence)
  11. quotes from Pascarella, 2008, pp.40-42
  12. Waffa Bilal was interviewed on Democracy Now! March 9, 2010
  13. Princenthal, 2005, pp. 13-25
  14. 2006
  15. pp. 1-2
  16. Howard Zinn, New York: Harper Perennial, 2005
  17. Takaki, 1993
  18. Galeano, 1973
  19. Prashad, 2007
  20. Kinzer, 2003
  21. Chomsky, 2003
  22. 1998
  23. 2001
  24. 1973
  25. 1974
  26. p. ix-x, Foreword, Paul M. Sweezy
  27. 1993
  28. p. 2
  29. Klein, 2007
  30. Volume I
  31. 2009
  32. quoted on the website of The Actor’s Gang, discussed below
  33. Stanley Kubrick, Columbia Pictures, 1964, 95 minutes
  34. Abderrahmane Sissako, New Yorker video, 2006, 117 minutes
  35. 2004
  36. New York: Routledge, 1992
  37. Shatz, 1998, p. 41
  38. 2000
  39. p. 36
  40. p. 38
  41. p. 40
  42. Sexton, 2007
  43. September 11, 2009
  44. Gill, 2002
  45. July 4, 2007
  46. from Don Byron’s website
  47. Nonesuch
  48. Santoro, 2001, pp. 32-33
  49. Flaherty, 2009
  50. May 2009
  51. from Tankian’s website
  52. Carla Garapedian, Armenian Recordings/Columbia Music Video, 2007, 95 minutes
  53. "A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide"
  54. Joe Hill, 1911
  55. Charles Albert Tinsley, 1901, revised by Zilphia Horton, Frank Hamilton, Guy Carawan, Pete Seeger
  56. John Lennon, 1969
  57. Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, 1973
  58. Chuck D, Eric Sadler, Hank and Keith Shocklee, 1989
  59. Bill Moyers Journal July 10, 2009
  60. August 28, 2009
  61. from the biography on his website
  62. 2002, New York: Penguin
  63. pp. xii-xiv
  64. The Landless Workers Movement, MST
  65. 2009
  66. p.15
  67. p.16-17
  68. Patel, 2009, p.177
  69. February 1, 2010
  70. (Lingeman and the Editors of The Nation, 2009
  71. Charlotte Ryan, Boston,MA: South End Press, 1991
  72. Lakoff, 2009
Table of Contents

Part One: Learning Activities Before Seeing The Film

Part Two: Learning Activities After Seeing The Film

 
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