Democrats in the Crosshairs?
Mainstream liberals may be out to brunch now that Democrats have taken the White house and hold narrow control of the House and Senate, but their militant leftist brethren have chosen instead to revamp their tactics and choose new targets. During the Trump administration a major goal of DC-based political activism was obstructionism and intimidation and the targets were almost always Republicans officials, but now that the Democrats are in charge that objective has shifted to applying pressure against their own party leadership and select lukewarm members to advance their interests and institutionalize their capabilities.
Emblematic of this change are the J30 climate protests spearheaded by the Sunrise Movement happening this week in Washington DC (as well as several other cities) while the White House and Congress are locked in heated negotiations over two infrastructure bills. Allied with groups like ShutDown DC/Movement Catalyst, US Climate Action Network, and Arm in Arm For Climate, their demands include inclusion of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s pet Civilian Climate Corp program and movement on the radical Green New Deal. The proposed Civilian Climate Corps program harkens back to the New Deal-era Civilian Conservation Corps, except with an explicit emphasis on “racial equity” handouts and geared towards the sort of green projects that all too often wind up boondoggles or frauds. This program is essentially a tailor-made jobs program for the Sunrise coalition, and their enthusiasm for it thus should interpreted as containing a sizable dose of self-interest.
These protests have seen them for once harassing Prominent Democrats like Diane Feinstein and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, notorious Arizona Blue Dog Kyrsten Sinema, and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. President Biden has not been spared, with the White House being subjected to ongoing protests and blockaded entrances and over a dozen arrests so far. Even state officials have been targeted, with demands that Minnesota’s Governor Tim Walz intervene on behalf of protestors in the Line 3 pipeline blockades. The goal in all these cases has shifted from stopping the opposition enacting a hostile agenda, to prodding allied politicians to take action, holding them to account on their campaign promises, and rewarding loyal allies.
Leftist Groups Rebranding
Emblematic of this shift from defense to offense has been ShutDown DC spinning off sister group Movement Catalyst. ShutDown DC started in the summer of 2019 as a direct action environmentalist group with the goal of transgressing norms around protesting in the federal city, and quickly earned notoriety for blocking intersections during rush hour and organizing raucous protests outside politicians’ homes. The most notable of these was a January 2021 protest targeting Josh Hawley, which led to misdemeanor charges against ShutdownDC leader Patrick Young under a Virginia law prohibiting protests in residential areas.
In the runup to the election, Shutdown DC was the major player in organizing local contingency plans for a potential Trump victory. They set up direct action training and legal briefings, and organized affinity group networks and spokescouncils for command and control, as well as a Zoom training call with veteran protest organizer Lisa Fithian titled Escalating Resistance: Mass Rebellion. In this call Fithian discussed plans to shut down the entire city, and urged trainees to be prepared to forcibly enter and occupy government buildings. Their training and leaked planning made it clear that under no circumstances were they willing to accept as legitimate the outcome of an election that saw Trump receive a second term.
While Movement Catalyst bills itself as a support hub and digital and physical infrastructure provider for aligned social movements, the name of this apparent successor organization contains a clue as to its intent. As they say on their founding Medium post:
In nature, introducing a catalyst to one or more substances allows them to react at a faster rate or under different conditions than they would otherwise be able to. We believe that introducing a catalyst to our social movement landscape can create new opportunities to allow our movements and campaigns to break through in new ways.
Shutdown DC was (in their mind) a defensive formation built for the Trump era, while Movement Catalyst is more offensive-minded and tailored for the Biden regime. In fact all of the founders are former ShutdownDC members, and much of the legal briefing and direct action training provided for this latest round of DC protests were performed by Movement Catalyst operatives:
We’re investing in building the physical, knowledge-based, digital infrastructure that grassroots social movements depend on. We have a long history of effective movement collaboration in DC. This gives an understanding of what is needed in DC for collective action. That means maintaining an equipment library where organizers can go to get tools, making up-to-date information about the action landscape in DC available (maps, know your rights materials, event calendars and more!), and offering access to digital tools like mass texting, email, and phone banking software for grassroots activists. It also means experience setting up effective organizing spaces.
This new entity could easily be mistaken for another iteration of Indivisible, the leftist activist network that spun up in the wake of Trump’s 2016 victory. However, while Indivisible was created by former congressional staffers and took a predominantly electoralist mindset, this group is founded by militant direct action practitioners with extensive experience in the organized labor, BLM, and militant environmental movements. Patrick Young for example is a former SEIU and Teamsters organizer and also associated with Rising Tide North America, a group heavily involved with the clashes over the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. Beth Yirga is the cofounder of The Palm Collective, a DC-based group notable for aggressive marches that, accompanied by a black bloc contingent, often result in viral content of outdoor diners being harassed and threatened.
This next generation of leftist groups spawned from the intense energy generated in 2020 are now in a building and maintenance phase as the swell ebbs, and part of this step involves professionalizing and credentialing themselves. Their interest in the Civilian Climate Corps is concerning, as it offers a potential repository and defacto support network for loyal activists until the next wave comes along:
Throughout history, we’ve seen social movements ebb and flow, rising and falling in cyclical waves. Through periods of low energy, organizers and activists lay the groundwork and build organizing structures, often grinding out the work through periods of slow but predictable growth. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, often in the aftermath of trigger events like the great depression, the arrest of Rosa Parks, the meltdown at Three Mile Island or the murder of Mike Brown our movements rise up and escalate in ways that never seemed possible.
And in the swell of energy following those trigger movements we push as far as we can and work to absorb the new waves of energy that have come into our movement before the moment passes and the wave of energy recedes. Trigger events aren’t where the organizing starts — there was a labor movement well before the great depression just as there was a movmement to stop racist police violence well before the murder of Mike Brown.
If you’d like to watch the 45 minute legal training video Movement Catalyst held via Zoom June 28th for attendees and jail coordinators, just click HERE:
If you would like to peruse their 4 page “Know Your Rights/Risking Arrest in DC’ Guide, Click HERE:
If you’d like to read a Jail Support 101 guide, click HERE:
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