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Posted: March 18th, 2014 By BWM

Peggy Oki in the bathtub that a M.A.D. Organizer lived in for 3 days outside of the park, leading up to the closing day protest in 2013

Recently, there has been a lot of buzz about captive animal parks, especially those that have orcas, dolphins, and sharks after timely releases of documentaries like The Cove, Blackfish, and bigger media expose stories about conditions inside these places. Long before the “Blackfish Effect” and likely long after it, there were advocates and activists who opposed these parks. One of these advocates was Dylan Powell, and his group Marineland Animal Defense (M.A.D.) was positioned with an active pressure campaign when two summers ago a massive story exposed to the public for the first time in many years, the conditions inside Marineland Canada, located in the tourist-driven region of Niagara Falls. Having an already well-established campaign, M.A.D. was able to dynamically an immediately respond to the increase in public awareness and the outrage of individuals who until that moment were ignorant of the conditions these animals lived their lives in. With the release of Blackfish, interest is surging again, and unlike many campaigns that see these ebbs and flows in public interest, M.A.D. has been able to translate some short-term press into long-term resistance at the park. We’re very happy to discuss with Dylan today how that was achieved, what it cost, and ultimately what comes next.

BWM: Can you outline for people who might be unfamiliar with yourself and your lawsuit, what it is that you are facing right now and how it came to be a part of your life over the last few years of organizing against Marineland specifically?

Dylan Powell and supporters from the USA arrive on site at the end of the 2013 season at Marineland CanadaPowell: In December 2012 the captive animal facility Marineland Canada filed two separate, but related, suits against me and Marineland Animal Defense – one a $1.5 million damages suit and the other an injunction case. Overall their civil litigation is considered by many to be a SLAPP suit or a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation – basically an attempt to use the legal system to either criminalize your advocacy or shut you up. Since 2004 they’ve engaged in 7 similar suits – claiming damages in excess of $13 million dollars suing activists, ex employees and a national news media who ran an investigative series on the facility – while also threatening a host of others with similar suits (including the Ontario Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals who was investigating them at the time).

I personally got involved in organizing against this facility in 2007 after a close friend took me and my partner on a behind the scenes tour with his sibling who was a trainer at the time. I had just recently went vegetarian and already had known some things about the facility that made me uncomfortable but actually seeing the holding areas where the animals spent the majority of their lives was unsettling. I was lucky in that folks in the community had been organizing against the facility for decades so I basically just plugged in. I was mentored by people who had been through a previous SLAPP suit from Marineland from 2004-2006 so I was aware that any kind of effective organizing would most likely have the same result. Around this same time I was helping out with the Talon Conspiracy (http://thetalonconspiracy.com/) archive (then the Conflict Gypsy archive) and learning about grassroots pressure campaigns from the UK like the Hillgrove campaign, Marineland Canada had just evicted 47 low income families (http://gohomeless.ca/) from a trailer park property they brought up and they were also celebrating a massive 50th anniversary. The last three seasons since have seen record demonstrations on site of 300, 500, 800 and 1,000 people, international news media, massive civil disobedience that shut down a dolphin show, lawsuits, investigations, industry changes and more.

BWM: Marineland first and more recently SeaWorld have been really breaking into the public consciousness with the release of undercover footage, ex-employees as well as activist pressure to help translate the media response into action for animals. Can you elaborate on why you think this shift is happening now? Is it as simple as people being ignorant to these issues and now seeing the truth, or is there more at play than that in your opinion?


Powell: 
I believe there are definitive blocks or cycles to the anti-captivity movement. I think in many ways we are still feeling the after effects of a massive amount of organizing that happened in the mid-90′s after the release of “Free Willy.” In the most recent block though I chart a pretty linear path from large scale media projects like the “Whale Wars” tv show, and documentaries like “The Cove,” “Sharkwater” and “Blackfish.” Most of these efforts begin around the 2008-2009 and a lot of them reference each other and build off of each other and in doing so they’ve all created this increased pressure and kept the issue in the media consistently over the span of half a decade now. I think in a lot of ways there has been pressure similar and maybe even greater than that mid-90′s era, but we still haven’t been able to cause any large shifts in the industry yet like we saw then.

Aside from that there are a ton of factors at play for “why now”. Social media plays such a huge role and is such a great leveller for issues like this where one side has this very passionate position and the other has a ton of money. All of these parks have made it where they are using traditional media outlets – advertorial content, jingles, constant ads, etc – but all of them are also struggling mightily to gain any traction on social media. This is only empowering activists and pushing the issue even further in new outlets where the other side is weak.

This is also been the place where many ex-employees have been organizing and coming forward. There have always been those who have spoke out against the industry, but the social media era has seen the size of that group grow and the impact of what they’ve said grow. This industry has always relied on very young and naive people who are good looking and can swim. Those people experience the industry and then become expendable commodities just like the captive animals. Fear of civil litigation and backlash kept a lot of those people quiet for long periods of time, but as more and more of them come out that fear kind of dissipates and it has a snowball effect. Another area where this industry just can’t keep up.

BWM: What you do you feel the most significant moment during the Marineland Animal Defense campaign has been so far? Is there a moment you can recall where you felt like “everything will be different after this”?

Dylan helps one of M.A.D's youngest supporters lead chants at the park during the 2013 Empty The Tanks Demonstration on site at Marineland CanadaPowell: There are bunch of those moments for me. Back in 2011 when this campaign first started we took the amount of demonstrations on site up from 2 to 3 symbolic demonstrations a year to 15-20 demonstrations. The response from the local police was intense for a lot of people – 8 cops and cruisers, massive court services vans, cops scouring crowds of 60 people for hours as if they are going to make a mass arrest. This was a really make or break point for a community not used to this kind of intimidation from police. We filmed it all, publicized it and filed OIPRD complaints and did what we could to make sure people kept their nerves and cool. Cops also started asking about local activists in the community at the time. In the end we made it through but it all could have ended right there if the small community would have stayed home or turn inward and imploded on itself.

Aside from that the first demonstration after the Toronto Star investigative series in August 2012 was massive. 500 people – a new record in over 35+ years of protest against the park. Being able to visualize that many people out front of the park was a turning point.

After that the closing day demonstration in 2012 and the opening day demonstration in 2013 were huge turning points. On closing day in 2012 at a demonstration of around 800 people a couple hundred broke off and entered the park shutting down the final dolphin show of the year. It happened entirely organically and the feeling was electric. In between those two demonstrations though we got sued and it was a huge concern for us to escalate and show them that we were not afraid. To respond in May 2013 with an even larger demonstration of 1,000 people was another one of those moments. Even just all of the positive ripples that will come out of just those two demonstrations, for years to come, is huge to me.

BWM: About your lawsuit, can you outline for people what the nature of a SLAPP suit is, and how this has affected past and present your own and other individuals activism against big players like Marineland?

mar-18-2014-powell2 copyPowell: The nature of a SLAPP suit is to “chill” public advocacy. If they don’t have that effect on the targets of the suit – the hope is that they at least have that effect on others. What this looks like for our campaign has been people who have been involved as organizers have had to stop organizing for fear of being sued themselves, people have stayed away from demonstrations afraid of arrest or of being sued, some great campaign ideas have been shelved and news publications have stopped following leads on stories about the facility because the risk/reward just doesn’t make sense for them if one or two investigative stories are going to lead to a massive suit. A lot of people when they see those big numbers and the negative press that comes along with it take stock and think about their jobs, their families, and they just can’t justify the risk. That’s why we intentionally set myself as a target for this kind of litigation way back in 2011. In a lot of ways we’ve been preparing for it since the beginning.

Our campaign specifically and myself personally are now living under a court order from August 2013 where Marineland Canada was granted injunctive relief on 5 of 14 points of relief they sought. This has changed the way we frame the issue, our messaging, signage on site, where we can stand, how we organize, etc. The $1.5 million damages suit also still hangs overhead. In a lot of ways this has been extremely frustrating to deal with as an all volunteer grassroots campaign with limited resources. In other ways it has only made this campaign stronger and forced us to gain skills we wouldn’t have otherwise.

BWM: Since your lawsuit, the group and concerned people who demonstrate at the park has been faced with a number of restrictions to their rights as peacefully assembled protesters. Can you outline for us some of the ways Marineland has evolved their responses to dissenting individuals and tried to impact your ability to reach potential patrons of their facility?

Powell: There have been definitive stages of response from Marineland. The first stage was a very heavy handed response from local police and threats from the park owner (http://vimeo.com/29582044). Once that did not work they moved towards land leases from the City of Niagara Falls to basically buy up the land we demonstrate on in order to stop and/or criminalize demonstrations. That didn’t have the intended effect because we just moved. The next stage after that came the civil litigation stage we are in now. Currently via the court order there are some restrictive things which stop us from doing things we would actually do – like using specific language familiar in any animal advocacy campaign, to not being able to leaflet cars as they leave the facility, to not being able to use megaphones – but the majority of the court order restricts things we didn’t intend to continue doing (home demonstrations), things which are already criminal offenses (trespass) or things which we’ve never done (directly initiate contact with employees). Outside of this stuff they’ve also built a massive fence that runs the full length of their front property and planted trees and shrubs to try and block sight line from those entering the park, built massive signs warning the public of our presence, and also frequently make up new property lines by randomly pounding stakes into the ground to make their property actually appear larger and the space we demonstrate on smaller. Aside from this they’ve also completely re-branded with a new commercial, jingle and billboard campaign, hired on a press consultant who used to work for Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and made some pretty laughable youtube PR videos (http://youtu.be/GpuZUwFgK0U). The people at this facility have always taken the protests on a very personal level and it’s been years of these kinds of tactics. Every single time we match with an escalating response. In the most basic terms it is a “removal strategy” that is informed by STRATFOR-esque tactics – remove us physically from the land, remove our voices from the media, attack character and remove credibility of those opposing the park, etc.

The construction of the fence which began after over 100 protesters stormed the gates of the park on closing day in 2012, over 1km in length.

BWM: With all these restrictions, Marineland Animal Defense has had to become a very dynamic and diverse group as far as tactics are concerned. Can you outline for us the importance of diversity and employing the appropriate tactic for the intended outcome? How is it that a long campaign like this (going into it’s fourth year) can stay nimble and effective?

Powell: Without a diversity of tactics approach Marineland and all of the stakeholders involved in trying to stop the demonstrations would just key in on what we do and criminalize it. If we only leafleted the entrances and exits of the park they’d just lease that land up (like they already did). We actually started off with quiet sign holding and leafleting and only brought out megaphones in response to those moves and subsequent land leases have been for smaller portions as a result. There is this wide spread belief that less confrontational tactics, or more popular or “peaceful” tactics of quiet sign holding will be protected – but only in so far as they are ineffective. Every tactic can and will be criminalized if it is effective. Starting from that basis we’ve been able to demonstrate year after year that steps to further criminalize our tactics will only be met with an escalating response. For example this years coming opening day demonstration will be the first ever march on the facility (http://marchonmarineland.com/) / (https://www.facebook.com/groups/209715355828656/) and that comes in direct response to their continued march through the court system. At each stage they have the ability to either respond or pull back – much in the same way that the pressure campaign as a whole is supposed to make alternatives look more and more lucrative as it goes on. Aside from our own campaign there is a diversity of people organizing against this park and from a bunch of different angles and viewpoints. People tend to believe that unity is most important tactically, but it is the diversity of these positions – and a “unity of message” – which is actually providing the largest barrier for all the forms of corporate repression they are attempting. If we were one unified whole, with one unified approach – we’d just be a larger target and that much easier to take down. The differences and conflicts between these positions are real and there is little love lost between them, but at the end of the day we extremely aware of the fact that a diversity of tactics and position is what is fuelling opposition to Marineland. All of this has been part of the learning process for people involved in the campaign and I think should give folks pause to think about a lot of the infighting and conflict that comes up around issues and advocacy.

BWM: Do you have an advice for people who are organizing around their own local captive animal facility who may be seeing a sudden spike in interest or attendance, like Marineland Animal Defense experienced a few years ago, with all the major media attention on places like SeaWorld now?

A M.A.D. Supporter responding to the fence that was erected before the start of the 2013 season at Marineland CanadaPowell: It is a marathon and not a race. A lot of people disrupted their life for this campaign because we knew that we had to work hard to channel this outrage into something substantive and not have it be lost to just another media cycle outrage. That hard work paid off because it’s almost two years later and we are still holding massive demonstrations without that same press coverage. We came in way before the “Blackfish Effect” and lived through both the Occupy Movement and Idle No More. That said, a lot of people have burned out and a lot of the organizing was nowhere near sustainable. It’s nearly impossible to prepare for explosions like that, but reminding yourself when you are in it that these are long term goals is key.

Also, as I said, do everything you can to channel that outrage into something substantive, something long term. Hold demonstrations and build mailing lists, build community and know the people coming out, set demonstration schedules that people can be prepare for including large demonstrations planned months apart that you can really prepare for and promote. Create your campaign name and logo, build a website, create your own materials, etc. Grow your social media reach through that base and those demonstrations so that if and when media start to move to the next outrage you still have a way of getting the word out (our social media reach is currently larger than any news media outlet in the Niagara Region). If you think civil litigation might be in your future, work with your group to try and set intentional targets that will draw these facilities away from trying to really hammer on people with small children, families and jobs that would not withstand it. Also, for people who really want to dedicate themselves don’t be afraid to reach out to old timers who are still active or to others. These campaigns can be isolating and it’s tough to experience these things for the first time but there are people willing to help.

BWM: Can you give us some insight into what you think the future looks like for Marineland if things continue on the trajectory they have been the last few years? Is there some way they could re-brand out of the present PR disaster around captive orcas and dolphins; is the current climate around captive animal facilities a speedbump or a critical injury?

mar-18-2014-powell1Powell: There are a lot of things with this facility that are not sustainable. The owner is nearly 80 years old and there are questions of what will happen there. Many of the sea lions are “retired” because of health issues, they are down to one remaining captive Orca named Kiska, and there are ratio issues with their dolphins and captive breeding programs. Aside from this there is industry and political pressure for further changes at this facility – alongside a constant public pressure. I think the response from inside the park is still “wait it out.” As I said there was massive pressure in the mid-90′s to see changes to this industry alongside massive demonstrations at Marineland. They’ve also been through the SLAPP process before and actually managed to collapse a previous campaign and stop demonstrations for a three year period. For them, I still think they believe they can weather the storm. In a sense they are correct. Their PR and social media campaigns have flopped, their rebranding has not been successful and their civil litigation has not had the effect they’d hoped – but they still know that people tend to lose interest or move onto the next issue. This brings it all back to being a marathon. At this point both sides are dug and it’s a matter of who can withstand this the longest. Can we continually organize massive demonstrations and keep this facility and it’s practices in the media and keep the public debate around these issues alive? Can they hold on long enough for demonstrators to lose interest or for personality conflicts and egos to implode the issue? We know this is what they are hoping for because they consistently try to hammer on this divisions.

I feel like other parks and this industry as a whole are in the same position. They know right now the pressure is intense and they cannot adequately combat the exposure – but they also know that they’ve been here before and that if they just hold tight there is a chance it will collapse. This is the main concern I have with a movement that is so heavily reliant on big budget media productions. What comes after “Blackfish”? What if we can’t keep up with these large projects and what if these media projects themselves feed a kind of voyeurism mentality that doesn’t actually lead us to the level of commitment and pressure that we need? Social media carries the same worry as all platforms are moving towards paid advertising models to maintain or grow your reach. There is such a celebratory mood right now as pressure is high that I fear is stopping people from thinking long term, or critically, about what is happening and where we are. Trying to caution against that means swimming upstream. For example, news of SeaWorlds stock dropping and symbolic press releases for legislation go viral on social media – however, everyone simply ignores when their stock rebounds. Simply pointing this out will draw a negative reaction from people. This has to change if we are going to have an actual effect.

That all said, right now I am really interested to see how this next season plays out and the development of grassroots campaigns against other captive animal facilities like the local Protest African Lion Safari (https://www.facebook.com/groups/276779202443069/), the far away Citizens for an Animal Free Six Flags (https://www.facebook.com/citizensforananimalfreesixflags) and annual events like “Empty the Tanks” (https://www.facebook.com/events/589482841111412/). The more I see outrage being channeled into long term campaigns the better I am going to feel about the future.

BWM: Considering that you have faced a significant amount of legal action, as well as been the public face of the Marineland Animal Defense Campaign, what does your future look like with this suit and your own activism? Where are you ten years from now if things were to go your way?

Powell: Later this year I will turn 30. The decision to really start this campaign was made in 2010 when I was 25. For me I’d love that mid 30′s role of moving towards being a mentor and a coordinator in the movement and having a family and focusing on my home life with my partner. As it stands currently we have a legal decision from a Judge that I am the “sole mind of Marineland Animal Defense or the closest thing to it.” This was a calculated risk for our campaign because it means that it shuts off attempts by Marineland Canada to broaden civil litigation against other organizers, members and supporters – but it also ties me to this issue long term. Any breach of the court order could find me in jail or facing fines – and Marineland has already unsuccessfully tried to get a Judge to grant contempt orders. If we are successful this facility will close, transfer ownership and responsibly rehome all of the animals to sanctuaries, rehab facilities, sea side pens and wild release (if possible) and I will be able to move into another role. If not, I am committed to seeing this through and dealing with the consequences and risks involved. People have been protesting against this park since the mid-1970′s but always in cycles. If there is another drop off then all of this effort might as well have been for nothing and I accepted those risks walking into this campaign.

BWM: How can people get involved or show their support?

Powell: Folks can best support the campaign by being present. The best strategy – above all else – in opposition to captive animal facilities is to regularly be present. These are businesses that rely on 90% of their revenue from ticket sales. Documentaries and social media are great for raising awareness and stopping many from even thinking of going – but these places feel most vulnerable when you can directly reach the people who are actually entering the facilities. We have a full demonstration schedule set for 2014 and people who are close enough to make those demonstrations should try and make as many as they can. Those farther away – the Opening and Closing Day demonstrations are always the largest and most organized.

Marineland Animal Defense 2014 Season Schedule

Aside from that, stay up to date on our social media pages, websites and mailing list and stay active on this issue during times when it is out of a media cycle. The longer the memory, and the more consistent the advocacy, the better the results. If people also have a particular skill they’d like to offer up – or are willing to commit to learning and getting involved there is always room for more organizers.

Those outside the area can also greatly help by developing similar campaigns against your closest CAZA, AZA, WAZA accredited for profit facility. All of that helps our campaign, shifts and spreads resources of these captive animal parks and makes a difference for captive animals outside of just this specific facility.

BWM: Do you have any final words you like to share with people about the Marineland Animal Defense campaign or organizing around animal liberation?

mar-18-2014-powell3Powell: Everything about this campaign has been about trying to broaden our politics, broaden our reach, broaden our tactics. That’s because we realize that if we stay isolated we can’t win. This campaign was developed in the hopes of not only closing this park but also inspiring others to get active and to hopefully be a part of rebuilding the grassroots animal liberation movement in North America. There is a huge history full of victories that is largely forgotten and we are trying to build a bridge to that through our actions. In a lot of ways we have been extremely lucky and in others our persistence and dedication has shown people that being present is the most important thing. At a time where online activism and social media is so dominant we hope to bring people back to face to face organizing models and having people realize the power of mass demonstrations and grassroots organizing – “people power.” Some times it feels like we are trying to speak a new language and don’t find ourselves comfortable in the mainstream animal rights movement, or the traditional anti captivity movement, but we’ve had success in bringing people together for a bunch of different viewpoints back to this style of organizing. We want to see more of that and to be part of something much larger. We also hope that our example shows people that taking risks is worth it and that you will have support and grow as a result. People don’t have to stay suck in handing out leaflets, quietly holding signs, or signing online petitions if they don’t want to. We have to both make that space, and support that spectrum at the same time.

In the beginning this campaign was just a few friends organizing and a couple dozen people demonstrating. It didn’t get much media attention, it was laughed at by the park owner and employees as well as by local politicians and police. That was May 2011. We’ve grown every year since and are now approaching May 2014 on much different terms and there is absolutely no reason why this can’t be recreated elsewhere if people are willing to commit, put in the time and energy and take those risks.

To see Dylan speak in person about this campaign please check out one of his upcoming speaking dates!

Portland State University – March 20th - https://www.facebook.com/events/437471123049611/
Vancouver – March 22/23 - http://animaladvocacycamp.ca/
Victoria – March 25th - https://www.facebook.com/events/714531615253182/
Cumberland – March 26th – Village Muse Books

 

Posted: February 24th, 2014 By BWM
Photo: Twitter @EcoFemErica

Photo: Twitter @EcoFemErica

The Earth First! Newswire has reported that this morning protesters locked down Florida Power and Light after they have proposed a power plant near a Seminole Reservation. In Juno, FL over 80 activists showed up to protest, and 5 locked their necks together and blocked the entrance to the building, stalling operations at one of the largest power corporations in the state.

“This proposal is an act of environmental racism against indigenous people and an attack on the Everglades. If we stand by and do nothing, we are also complicit in this injustice,” says Christian Minaya of Everglades Earth First!, a group based in Palm Beach County. (Source, Earth First! Newswire)

The proposed plant would threaten panther habitat, the lives of those living on the reserve, as well as land and water quality. Further the source of power for the plant will utilize the fracking technique, which is highly controversial and irresponsible for the environment as well as the communities with proximity to the sites.

“This FPL proposal would be one of the biggest plants in the country. There’s a good chance that the gas could come from poisoning the water around where I live,” said a protestor named Ryan, from New York, where there is a push for more gas wells in the Marcellus Shale region. (Source, Earth First! Newswire)

Florida Power and Light Protest - Dancing Activists  (Source, Earth First! Newswire)
UPDATES From Earth First! Newswire
For more info please visit http://earthfirstjournal.org/newswire/2014/02/24/breaking-earth-first-disrupts-florida-power-and-light-company/

Update 1:20 PM —  All locked-down protesters have been cut out and arrested. We don’t know yet what they are being charged with, but we expect they will need support.
Support our friends who have put their bodies on the line!
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Update 1:00 PM — First person has been cut out of the lock-down and is now in police custody.

Update 12:20 PM — Sheriff Emergency Force Team has arrived on site.  Locked-down individuals have been told that if they do not unlock they will be charged with trespassing and resisting arrest nonviolently.

Posted: February 17th, 2014 By BWM

G20 Riot Police - 2010
Joel Bitar Sentenced to 19 Months and 17 Days in Jail for Participating in Toronto G20 Protest

Joel Bitar, an American present for the G20 summit in Toronto in 2010 was sentenced on Thursday February 13 to 20 months in prison for his alleged role in the destruction of police cars, and other property destruction during the protesting on the Saturday of the weekend. During his sentencing, Joel read the following statement, which was met with applause after he completed it.

Here is his statement:

Hello,

I have not been able to speak much since my arrest last February so I appreciate the opportunity to make a statement today. I only plan on taking a small amount of your time. At the end of my statement I am going to to issue an apology to some of the individuals who were affected by my actions. It is my hope that this statement better contextualizes the choices I’ve made that have led me to this courtroom.

I came to Toronto four years ago for many of the same reasons as the tens of thousands of other people who marched on the streets that day. These are many of the same reasons why hundreds of thousands of people have demonstrated in Seattle against the World Trade Organization, in Genoa against the G8, in Quebec City against the Free Trade Area of the Americas, in Gothenburg against the EU summit, in Rostock against the G8 and in Pittsburgh against the G20. They are many of the same reasons why people are now protesting in the streets of New York, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Turkey, Greece, Italy and Spain. It is only really possible to understand the events that took place in Toronto in the context of the global movement against neoliberalism and the corporatization of the planet. It is my belief that this movement is best explained as an individual and collective response to various forms of domination and exploitation. My politics are inseparable from my own life experiences, which I would like to briefly speak about now.

I grew up in an environment where I had access to many of the things required for conventional success. I had – and have – an extremely loving family, I played tennis competitively and had a working-class, but generally supportive upbringing. I graduated from high school with honors and then got my bachelors degree in Economics from the City University of New York. My plan in college was to work on Wall Street with the goal of making a lot of money. That goal was widely reinforced and encouraged by society at large. Trying to get rich and focusing on my own personal comforts seemed right when everyone else was chasing the same thing. However, two events occurred during this time that fundamentally changed the way I now see the world.

The first event was the global financial crisis of 2008. During this time, banks that engaged in predatory lending practices were given billions of dollars to keep their businesses afloat while millions of people lost their homes. It was shocking how closely government officials who once worked on Wall St. collaborated with the financial sector to organize the bailout. It seemed profoundly unjust to me that those who precipitated the crisis were rewarded, while masses of people were literally tossed to the street. I came to the conclusion that Wall Street’s obsession with profit comes at the expense and detriment of the majority.

The second event took place in December, 2008, when Israel launched an invasion into the Gaza Strip that resulted in the deaths of 800 civilians (many of whom were women and children). This destruction was carried out with weapons manufactured by U.S. Corporations and was paid for with U.S. taxpayer money. During this invasion, banned weapons like White Phosphorous (made in the U.S.) were fired at Palestinian schools and hospitals in contravention of international humanitarian law. I saw images of innocent children killed by missiles, tank shells and bullets. At the same time many of these people suffered, weapons manufacturers and government officials profited from their obliteration.

From these two events I developed an opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have died in these wars while corporations like Halliburton and Lockheed Martin have secured billions of dollars in government contracts. George Bush erected a worldwide torture regime, that Obama has only expanded, and has since been immune to any prosecution for his crimes. It is evident that those who commit crimes at the top levels are government are immunized while someone like Chelsea Manning, who revealed the extent of government criminality, is banished to a cage for decades. It is apparent to people, all throughout the world, that the real motivations for these wars is rooted in the economic interest of a few and that masses of innocent people have needlessly suffered as a result.

This led me to see more and more about the world that I could not unsee, including how the continued exploitation of the environment is connected to the same economic interests mentioned above. One notoriously brutal example of environmental exploitation is happening here in Canada at this moment. In Alberta, pristine boreal forestland the size of Florida has been turned into a toxic wasteland for the extraction of oil. James Hansen, a professor of climatology at Columbia University believes that the tar sand project is “game over for the climate.” He says: “If we were to fully exploit this new oil source, and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now. That level of heat-trapping gases would assure that the disintegration of the ice sheets would accelerate out of control. Sea levels would rise and destroy coastal cities.” It should not be acceptable to us that private corporations and western governments regularly exploit natural resources for profit while simultaneously destroying the environment and injecting pollutants into our air and water.

Financial crises, war and environmental degradation share a common thread. They are born of the prevailing economic system, which is only interested in maximizing profit and increasing growth. This system is predicated on maintaining vast levels of inequality, where a small number of people have incredible amounts of wealth while the masses are locked in poverty. A recent report published by Oxfam International states that the 85 richest people possess the same wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion people combined. Rather than providing wealth and opportunity, or having a trickle-down effect, the current system enriches the few at the expense of the many. This is not a particularly radical analysis, this is the only rational interpretation of how society is structured. Even such a mainstream figure as the Pope recently said: “As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems.” Rather than addressing these structural causes, Western governments do everything they can to foster the status quo that leads to the problems.

The current situation in the world is urgent and much needs to be done. I truly believe we can build a new system that puts human need and the needs of the environment ahead of the interests of business. At some point, we need to decide if profit, innovation and economic growth are more important than the long-term sustainability and well-being of our species and planet. I understand that this proposition might not sound so good to someone who is financially benefiting from the current system but we are running out of time. We have enough resources to make sure every person on this planet has health care, food, an education and a place to live. There is no reason why people should be homeless and begging on the streets while food is thrown away en masse and foreclosed houses remain empty. There is no reason why such massive levels of inequality should persist in the modern age. These systems are antiquated and must be fundamentally transformed.

It was not, and has never been, my intention to scare or hurt anyone. I want to build a world based on the values of love, compassion and understanding; not fear and intimidation. I take responsibility for my actions and apologize to anyone who felt fear as a result of them. Before closing, I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to my family, friends and supporters. This process has taken an incredible toll on myself and especially my loved ones. It means the world that they have stood by me through it all.

Thank You

Joel Bitar

http://supportjoel.com/

++++++++++

G8 G20 Protests - 2010
Kevin Chianella, 21, Receives The Only Penitentiary Sentence Of All G20 Protesters To Face Trial


Kevin Chianella received a 2 year prison sentence today for his participation in the G20 protests in Toronto in 2010. Chianella, 18 at the time, got a heftier sentence because he attacked a police cruiser driven by Staff Sgt. Graham Queen with a canvas bag full of rocks, which was also photographed by a newspaper reporter at the scene. He is also stated to have fuelled and helped sustain the fire that was set upon another police vehicle. Chianella, from Queens, N.Y., was supported in court by his family, among them, his 90-year-old grandmother who raised him.

His statement to the court has not been transcribed yet. This article will update with it when it has been.

—–

Neither Joel nor Kevin have mailing addresses yet. The Guelph Anarchist Black Cross has extensive coverage of the G20 and the legal outcome for protesters.   Stay up to date by checking back often!

Posted: January 6th, 2014 By BWM


Captive Bosses At Goodyear Factory in France (Photo: Associated Press)The Guardian and other news sources are reporting that workers at a French Goodyear Tyre plant are holding who of their executive bosses hostage. After being described as “lazy and overpaid” by an American tycoon, Staff at the doomed Goodyear tyre factory in Amiens, northern France, have kidnapped production manager Michel Dheilly and Human Resources director Bernard Glesser.[1]

The executives arrived to have a meeting with union representatives on Monday morning, but were met by 200 workers who barricaded them into a meeting room with a tractor tyre “for the foreseeable future.” The workers have allowed the executives to keep their phones and are giving them water, but have made it clear that they have no intention of leaving the building, and have vowed to bring mattresses and sleep on site until things are resolved.[2]

The action today is in response to an American Headquarters decision to close the factory, costing over 1000 people to lose their full time employment. From the Daily Mail, outlining an exchange with the chairman of Titan International, who was written a letter asking him if he’d consider taking over the struggling plant:

Mr Taylor wrote in a letter: ‘I have visited the factory several times. The French workforce gets paid high wages but works only three hours. ‘They get one hour for breaks and lunch, talk for three hours and work for three. I told the French union workers this to their faces. They told me that’s the French way!’ [3] He added: “You can keep your so called ‘workers’.”[4]

Well, it looks like the “French way” also includes taking your executives hostage until you treat them fairly… like in 2009, the Chief Executive Officer and Human Resources Director of Sony France were held captive by workers demanding better severance packages. Or in 2008 when the English boss of a car-parts factory in eastern France was held for 48 hours in his office, and the altercation at an ice-cream factory where police stormed in to free a manager who had been held hostage by workers angry over job cuts. (At least 14 staff were injured trying to stop police releasing him.) [5] For a bunch of supposedly lazy people, they sure seem willing to fight for their jobs, and for fair treatment.

Interested in reading more about this? Check out articles written about it at:
The Guardian, The Daily Mail, and The Independent

For the story about previous French boss-nappings, check out this article on The Guardian Website from 2009.

Posted: September 17th, 2012 By BWM

Taken from Bay View

by Isaac Ontiveros, Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity

Oakland – Prisoners in Pelican Bay State Prison’s Security Housing Unit (SHU) have announced a push to end all hostilities between racial groups within California’s prisons and jails. The handwritten announcement was sent to prison advocacy organizations. It is signed by several prisoners, identifying themselves as the PBSP-SHU Short Corridor Collective. [Their statement follows this one.]
The Attica rebellion in upstate New York Sept. 9-13, 1971, saw thousands of prisoners take over the prison, protesting intolerable conditions and infuriated by the assassination of George Jackson at San Quentin on Aug. 21, 1971. The secret of their unprecedented strength was their multi-racial solidarity. Here, Black and white prisoners sit on a wall during a meeting called by the organizers.

The Short Corridor refers to a section of Pelican Bay Prison’s notorious Security Housing Unit (SHU). Pelican Bay’s SHU was the point of origin for last year’s hunger strikes which rocked California’s prison system, at one point including the participation of nearly 12,000 prisoners in over 11 prisons throughout the state.

The statement calls for the cessation of all hostilities between groups to commence Oct. 10, 2012, in all California prisons and county jails. “This means that from this date on, all racial group hostilities need to be at an end,” the statement says.

It also calls on prisoners throughout the state to set aside their differences and use diplomatic means to settle their disputes. The Short Corridor Collective states, “If personal issues arise between individuals, people need to do all they can to exhaust all diplomatic means to settle such disputes; do not allow personal, individual issues to escalate into racial group issues.”

“The statement calls for the cessation of all hostilities between groups to commence Oct. 10, 2012, in all California prisons and county jails. “This means that from this date on, all racial group hostilities need to be at an end,” the statement says.” 

In the past, California prisoners have attempted to collaborate with the Department of Corrections to bring an end to the hostilities, but CDCR has been largely unresponsive to prisoners’ requests. The statement warns prisoners that they expect prison officials to attempt to undermine this agreement.

Occupy San Quentin on Feb. 20, 2012, a major demonstration in support of prisoners, united people across race, class, age and gender dividing lines. – Photo: Alex Darocy, Indybay“My long-time experience in urban peace issues, gang truces, prevention and intervention is that when gang leaders and prisoners take full stock of the violence and how they can contribute to the peace, such peace will be strong, lasting and deep. I honor this effort as expressed in this statement,” says Luis J. Rodriguez, renowned violence intervention worker and award-winning author of “Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A.”  Read the rest of this entry »

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