Annabel Park, is a writer, filmmaker and speaker who is known for her innovative work in netroots/grassroots activism. She has made numerous TV and radio appearances and has been invited to speak throughout the US and Asia. Her writings have been published by cnn.com and the Washington Post.
She co-directed a ground-breaking documentary about America's culture war over immigration, 9500 Liberty, with Eric Byler. The critically acclaimed film has won three film festival awards and was released on cable by MTV.
She is the founder of the Coffee Party, a growing grassroots democracy movement with over 500,000 people in the network. The Coffee Party has been featured in stories by national and international media.
The 112th Congress is a corrupt and failed institution. These guys are so selfish and feverish with hate for each other that they will probably send us off the fiscal cliff and instigate another recession.
They spend the majority of their time raising money to for their campaigns. They get nothing done while we pay them six-figure salaries with great healthcare and benefits. They turn around and blame everyone else including American people for their failure to manage our money, their primary job. They never apologize for sucking at their jobs and they insist that they deserve to keep their jobs.Why should we continue to pay them when they’re such failures? Seriously, shouldn’t the first spending cut be their paychecks? Or, maybe we should just dissolve this Congress altogether and start anew. Have public-minded citizens volunteering to serve the country with no possibility of becoming lobbyists EVER. It would save over a billion dollars a year if we cut salaries for Congress members and staff.
1) Turn off, throw out and tune out all campaign ads;
2) Review official party platform and candidate positions on their websites and fact-check their claims;
3) Review your ballot before election day and discuss with at least one person;
4) Vote together! (Vote and take at least person with you — make a vote together date in advance);
5) In conversations online or in person, listen and keep it civil (no name-calling, profanity, character attacks);
6) Share what you know with your networks.
7) Demand policy details from all candidates on issues that matter to you (If they’re incumbents ask them about their votes on specific bills. If they’re challengers, ask them how they would have voted and why on specific bills.);
8) Follow the money for all candidates;
9) Diversify your news sources, watch less TV & read more (Try to use at least 1 publicly funded news source, 1 conservative, 1 liberal, 1 financial, 1 foreign.);
10) Demand reporters do their jobs and seek facts, not talking points;
11) Have coffee (or tea or beer) with at least one unlikely voter and listen to his or her perspective and share yours;
12) Help register at least one eligible voter.
13) Keep a blog; write a letter to the editor or an op-ed for local papers;
14) Instead of watching Meet the Press, host your own weekend morning roundtable at a coffee shop or your home to discuss political issues;
15) Regularly call, write, or meet with your local, state and federal representatives;
16) Get together with friends and create a voter guide;
17) Volunteer for a campaign and/or at a polling station;
18) Organize voter registration drives;
19) Organize candidate forums;
20) Organize townhall meetings on issues or bills;
21) Run for a local office or a seat on your county party central committee.
Note: These ideas were developed based on conversations with my Facebook friends. In particular, a big thanks to Jay Frost, Leah Spitzer, and Charles Kim for their ideas.
It would be amazing if you shared regular updates on your SOD (Save Our Democracy) activities on Facebook or Twitter.
2) Fact-check talking points from candidates.
3) Review your ballot before election day.
5) Listen and keep it civil (no name-calling, profanity, character attacks).
6) Share what you know with your networks.
7) Demand policy details from all candidates on issues that matter to you.
8) Follow the money for all candidates.
Follow the Money in state politics.
10) Demand reporters act like reporters and seek facts, not talking points.
Media contact information from FAIR.
You can also tweet to individual reporters, editors and companies. Most mainstream reporters are on Twitter. Here’s a link to one list. It’s best to just search for the reporter and/or the media company in the search bar on Twitter.
12) Help register at least one eligible voter.
13) Keep a blog and/or write an op-ed for local papers.
16) Get together with friends and create a voter guide.
18) Organize voter registration drives.
21) Run for a local office or a seat on your county party central committee.
I know I’ve been sounding very frustrated and feverish lately about the state of our politics. I am also hearing a lot of frustration from you. While I am truly upset right now and I know you are too, but I do want to state clearly where I stand on talk about “pitchforks” and abandoning civility.
I will say something I have said many times since February 2010: Civility is not about being polite and nice. It is about taking actions in line with our fundamental respect for others’ humanity and in the spirit of justice, truth and peace. Civil actions include engaging in resistance, that is, civil disobedience. It is powerful. Truly, think about what Gandhi and MLK have taught us.
We had to make it clear that nonviolent resistance is not a method of cowardice. It does resist. It is not a method of stagnant passivity and deadening complacency. The nonviolent resister is just as opposed to the evil that he is standing against as the violent resister but he resists without violence. This method is nonaggressive physically but strongly aggressive spiritually. - Martin Luther King, Jr., June 4, 1957
I think non-violent actions are not only moral, it’s the most effective way for us to create social change. I feel like I’ve talked about and debated this subject ad nauseum and I’m assuming that I haven’t been that persuasive if you are coming to my page saying it’s time for pitchforks.
Before you go there, do me a favor and read this interview as an introduction to Gene Sharp’s work. Have a look at his books especially From Dictatorship to Democracy and videos about him. His writings have guided people around the world to engage in nonviolent resistance that led to bringing down dictatorships. He is credited with inspiring the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, Otpor! movement in Serbia and the Arab Spring among others.
A Force More Powerful is a documentary about the Otpor! movement that includes a description of how Gene Sharp’s writings helped guide the organizers.
Since 1960, Gene Sharp has written over a dozen books on non-violent struggle [Photo: How to Start a Revolution]
Gene Sharp, a humble, 83-year-old intellectual, has been credited with promoting non-violent struggle around the world.
Sharp’s book From Dictatorship to Democracy, a how-to guide for toppling dictators first published in 1993, has been translated into 24 different languages. From Burma to Bosnia, and more recently this February in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, protesters distributed Sharp’s 94-page manual as a guide for overthrowing autocrats.
To many despots, Sharp’s works are threatening. The president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, has denounced his books. In 2008, the Iranian government produced an animated video portraying Sharp as a CIA agent, hobnobbing in the White House with John McCain and George Soros.
According to a cable written by the US embassy in Damascus - and later published by WikiLeaks - Syrian dissidents trained non-violent protesters by reading Sharp’s writings. Another leaked cable from 2007 revealed that Burmese authorities thought Sharp was part of an attempt to “bring down” the country’s government.
He was jailed for protesting conscription in the Korean War in 1953, witnessed China’s Tianamen Square uprising in 1989, and snuck into a rebel camp in Myanmar in the 1990s.
Now, a frail Sharp lives in an East Boston townhouse which is also home to his Albert Einstein Institution, a non-profit organisation that studies non-violent resistance.
One of Sharp’s main ideas is that power comes from the obedience of the governed - and that if the sources of this obedience are undermined, tyrants can be toppled. In a conversation with Al Jazeera’s Roxanne Horesh and Sam Bollier, a pragmatic Sharp tells us why dictators are vulnerable to well-organised, non-violent resistance.
What first made you interested in non-violent struggle?
When I was an undergraduate at Ohio State University, the world was just very much of a mess. The Second World War was fresh in our memories; the atomic bomb was new. There was European colonialism all over the world - Europeans thought they owned the rest of the world, so they divided it among themselves.
There were major problems with violence. Violence was only destroying things, it wasn’t creating things. People needed some means of struggle. I was beginning to learn that there was such a thing as non-violent struggle, but I didn’t know much about it. The literature at that time was very inadequate.
You have been working in the field of non-violent resistance for decades. How have your views evolved from your original research?
Originally I thought that in order to use non-violence, you had to believe in non-violence as an ethic or religious principle, and later I discovered that wasn’t true. And at first that was a psychological threat - my goodness, they don’t believe like they are supposed to.
But also it was a great advantage, because people didn’t have to be pacifists before they could use this kind of resistance. And I learned that this kind of resistance has been going on sometimes for centuries. Ordinary people could do this - and did this in various parts of the world.
Why do you think non-violent resistance is more effective than violent resistance?
Violence is not all that effective, if you think how long many wars last and how every war is lost by one side or the other. Wars are one of the major factors that made European colonialism possible.
There were cases [of non-violent resistance] where people like Gandhi - he was challenging the largest empire the world had ever seen, and made the British get out of India. There are a lot of examples. But we didn’t know a lot about those types of resistance.
You have said that military people understand you better than peace people do. Can you expand on what you mean?
This was a surprise at first. Sometimes I would get invited to speak to a pacifist group, and they would always give me a hard time because I was talking about pragmatic non-violent struggle, and they were talking about believing in non-violence as an ethical principle.
But when I spoke to a military audience, they understood this, because they knew strategy and tactics. The military people really took it much more seriously. That’s been true in several different countries where I met with military people. And it’s true today: My 1973 book The Politics of Nonviolent Action was reviewed very favourably in military journals in several countries. It’s not what people would expect.
You’ve written a lot about the importance of strategy and long-term planning for non-violent struggles to succeed. In this regard, what are your thoughts on the Occupy Wall Street movement?
They don’t have any specific demands or a clear objective. It is not like a bus boycott in Alabama, for example, many years ago - where people would just walk, or hitchhike, or take taxis instead of using the busses. They had a clear objective: to break down the segregation on the buses.
The [Occupy] protesters don’t have a clear objective, something they can actually achieve. If they think they will change the economic system by simply staying in a particular location, then they are likely to be very disappointed. Protest alone accomplishes very little.
What advice would you give to the Occupy movement?
I think they need to study how they can actually change the things they don’t like, because simply sitting or staying in a certain place will not change or improve the economic or political system.
The Arab Spring movements in some countries have become violent. Do you think this turn to violence will damage efforts to move away from dictatorial systems in those countries?
Absolutely. We know that from other cases. For example, the 1905 revolution [in Russia] that was trying to get rid of the Tsarist dictatorship. People there were on the verge of complete success. The army was on the verge of mutiny. Lots of soldiers had refused to obey orders to shoot non-violent people, similar to the situation in Syria.
Non-violent means will increase your chances of the soldiers refusing to obey orders. But if you go over to violence, the soldiers will not mutiny. They will be loyal to the dictatorship and the dictatorship will have a good chance to survive, as indeed happened in the 1905 revolution. [The revolution] could have succeeded very quickly at that time, but then the Bolsheviks deliberately changed the non-violent general strike to a violent uprising. That meant the soldiers, for the first time in a long time, did obey orders. And then that gave the Tsar the ability to maintain the repression, and maintain the system for another 12 years.
The Albert Einstein Institution has just two staff members: Sharp and executive director Jamila Raqib[Photo: How to Start a Revolution]
You’ve said that leadership is important in non-violent struggles. But if we look at, for instance, Egypt, or Iran in 1979, there was not one clear leader early on. Can non-violent struggle be successful without a leader?
It can, and it has been at times. But in those cases, people need to understand what makes this succeed, and what makes it fail.
If they have no strong leader, this can be an advantage at times, because then the regime cannot really control the situation by arresting or killing off the leadership.
But if you are going to do it without leaders, you have to do that skillfully, and know what you’re doing. If you spread information about what is required, and have a list of “do this, and not that”, and everybody understands that, the struggle can have greater chances of success. If you don’t have that basic understanding of what you’re doing, then you’re not going to win anything.
Since the Egyptian revolution, the media has linked the Egyptian uprising to your work. What are your thoughts on this?
I think if my work had an influence, I’m happy for that. I don’t claim that and I don’t have hard evidence, and I claim very little for myself. Other people have been doing this kind of work, and doing this writing.
The people who actually do the struggles are the ones who deserve the credit, not me.
What do you think of the fact that your book From Dictatorship to Democracy is on the Muslim Brotherhood website for years?
I am honoured. Some of the bravest people waging non-violent struggle have been Muslims. One of my books had an introduction by Abdul Rahman Wahid, who headed at the time the largest Muslim organisation in the world. Back in the days of Gandhi, in the northwest frontier province of British India, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a very brave, very sophisticated and very astute Muslim leader of non-violent struggle, led a movement there. Gandhi said that the leadership of the Muslim movement in the northwest frontier exceeded that of the Hindus in India.
People are dispelling some of these ridiculous stereotypes about Muslims, and people in some other parts of the world.
Have you learned anything from people involved in non-violent struggle?
Oh, I try to learn whenever I can - because what they have done sometimes people would have thought impossible.
They have proved that it’s possible for ordinary people to maintain non-violent discipline, maintain their courage, to continue the struggle, despite the repression. As Gandhi always said, “Cast off fear. Don’t be afraid”. I thought many times myself, that’s a bit naïve. The British had the guns and the army.
But the people of Syria especially, and other countries as well, certainly in Egypt and Tunisia and on down the line - all of them - they have been very brave. And that bravery is something that deserves major credit. They’re the ones who actually do the job.
Who do you think some of the great thinkers of resistance are today?
I’m not sure. Sometimes people are really very important in leading these movements, but they sometimes don’t get the credit they often deserve. They are not as famous as Gandhi was in his lifetime. But this is not a bad thing, if people learn that they can do this and the knowledge that people power is powerful.
One struggle doesn’t always do the job; sometimes you have to have two or three or four or five struggles in succession. It’s like in a war. How many years did the Second World War last, for example? Wars are not won in the first attempt. Sometimes people lost the first battle. They learned they had to strengthen themselves, [learned] what was required to become stronger and what was required to become more brave and not to run away when they first got shot at, but they would charge ahead skillfully.
What does the Albert Einstein Institution do today?
We do research on the nature of non-violent struggle, prepare educational material, and guide translations - because if they don’t translate something accurately, it’s going to mess things up badly - and fill orders for all the continued interest from the new struggles.
What are your interests outside of your work?
I grow a variety of plants in my house, and in my backyard, and I have a small dog. I used to have big dogs, Great Danes - three or four of those - and they are great, wonderful creatures. Dogs and pets, and animals, and plants and flowers and all those kinds of things - I unwind my head that way.
This is the bottom line on the 2012 election for me: Don’t vote for Obama if you’re okay with handing over our federal government to Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers. If you want to avoid that, vote for Obama. If we want systemic change, we know we’re not going to get it by just having Obama in office. I believe we need a long-term (about 30 years), multifaceted strategic plan for real systemic change. More on this later on this weekend.
Please Join us for a Remarkable Event
Tuesday, August 7, 2012 at 4 o’clock PM
In the Founder’s Room at American University’s
School of International Service
For an Incredible Opportunity to
Hear the Testimonies of
Atomic Bomb Survivors and
In an Evening of
Reflection, Discussion, Art and Peace.
-Yoshio Sato, an 81 year old Hibakusha (A-bomb survivor). He has traveled extensively to deliver his message of peace and non-proliferation.
- Kuniko Kimura and her testimony about being 1 mile from the epicenter and her work supporting other Hibakusha and the Japanese peace movement.
- Akemi Maeshiro, a nurse who witnessed the Fukushima disaster, and has come to us to talk about its effects and ramifications.
Money Can’t Buy My Vote Campaign.A Call to Citizens to: 1) Turn off, throw out & tune out all campaign ads; 2) Demand policy details from all candidates on issues that matter to you: 3) Demand reporters act like reporters and seek facts, not talking points; 4) Follow the money for all candidates. Let me know what you think of this idea.
Do you know what gives me hope? I’ve had the privilege of being invited to speak at many places in the US, South Korea and Japan. And in all those conversations, I have met people who are willing to do just about anything to make a contribution to humanity. There are many caring, selfless, kind, loving people in the world. If we could all stand up at at once, we would see that we are in the majority and we could remake our societies.
I know some of you will get very upset with me for saying this, but I just have to get this off my chest before we go into the season of insane rhetoric and hyperbole.
This is what I can’t get get over. Since the 2008 economic crisis, the message from Washington has been: Wall St is too big to fail, but Main St is not. We must save the big banks, but the American people can tough it out on their own. For the life of me, I don’t understand how we accepted this ridiculous arrangement. We bail out and reward the big banks that caused the loss of over 14 trillion dollars in wealth in the US while we lose our jobs, homes, healthcare, and pensions. To add insult to injury, we are told it is our fault for being part of the financial system designed by Wall St and Washington insiders. We lost our money and our self-esteem in the process.
Yes, Obama is much better than Romney. Yes, the GOP has gone off the deep end. I do agree with all that. However, the man who was elected to fight for the people, the party that is supposed to care about the workers and the middle class, helped institutionalize this destructive attitude without putting up much of a fight.
The end result is that the middle class is collapsing and there is no stopping it. Neither Obama nor Romney is offering a course correction.
I feel sick about it and I can’t ignore it because now we are in that season — 99 days to election — and we are asked to cheer for a team in the Superbowl of politics.
I can’t cheer because I am feeling too heartbroken, too worried, and too alienated from Washington. The only thing that gets my heart pounding about 2012 is the fear of things getting much worse. From all the ads that I have seen from the Obama campaign so far, it seems like the campaign sign should read: FEAR the other guy, not HOPE.
Are we too scared to do something about this? Too scared of Romney and more Tea Party types winning? Too scared to protest because of the brutal police repression we have witnessed cracking down on Occupy and other protesters? Are we going to just witness and suffer the collapse of the American middle class while watching the same old pundits fight about it on cable news?
I’m at a loss. Here is the only idea that I have right now for 2012. We must emerge as a voting bloc: the feared and coveted swing voters. We are fed up with both parties and outraged that Main St has been allowed to fail and our future held hostage to politics.These are the dire issues that must be addressed:
Candidates who do not address these dire issues honestly and provide real answers for them are not worthy of our vote. We are in a crisis; there is no time for politics as usual. Our lives are on the line. We can’t be expected to just play cheerleader because we fear things could get worse. We are drowning and failing either way because we are simply on the wrong path. It’s time to hit reset and if Washington doesn’t understand that we must make our voices heard.
I have days when I question whether or not significant systemic change is possible; if we’ve lost our sense of fairness and our desire to know the truth; if we as the American people can care for each other, like each other or even talk to each other; if we are still committed to “America,” the experiment that places faith in ordinary people, in our humanity.
Yes, I have been having those days lately. And then there are days like today when I not only feel that achy thirst for change, but I feel great optimism coursing through me and I can breathe again like fish released back into water.
Thanks to all the great comments from friends on Facebook and elsehwhere, I woke up today with renewed faith that We the People can revive democracy in America, restore the deteriorating civic bond, and regain control of our government.
We must first commit to this ourselves and then set out to convince others to believe we can do this and we deserve this.
How are we going to do it? I have some ideas percolating based on the lessons that I have learned on my journey so far including direct experience founding and organizing the Coffee Party and then witnessing Occupy Wall Street. In the coming days, I will try to present my ideas somewhat systematically.
I also want to invite you to talk to me about what you’re thinking as well. I will post some announcements for Maestro conference calls or google hangouts — I’m not sure which yet. Please check in with me on Facebook or here again.
You can also write to me via email firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @annabelpark.
Sincerely and with affection,