Tag Archives: activism

Museum Version Activism

New York City       On our way to some meetings, we took a detour on a cold, windy, sunny, supposedly spring day in New York to the Museum of the City of New York.  We spent some time looking at their interactive displays on how to deal with the city’s housing and transportation issues and its changing neighborhoods and demographics, which was interesting, but we came to see their section on Activism.

You learn something about how the dominant culture processes social change in such exhibits.  The curators do hard work.  The timelines are clear.  The photographs and archival exhibits are well displayed.

The emphasis though is on leaders and confrontations.  In New York and perhaps everywhere in America that’s what populates the historical record in newsprint and video and gains the attention.  Organizations are not second fiddle.  They are largely invisible.  In another section of the museum there is an even better example in a career retrospective of Gloria Steinem that was shown by flashing pictures of news conferences where she was present for various women’s organizations or events, where she was the only context.

The activist exhibit was varied, and it wasn’t whitewashed.  The history of slavery in New York was visible in the fight of the abolitionists.  The uneven history with immigration was displayed through the rise of the Know Nothings and anti-immigrant activists in the 19th century as well.

The labor section was heavy on the garment industry and the rise of workers’ actions and the women leadership, but was largely silent on the many unions that were founded in New York City whether the Amalgamated Clothing Workers or 1199.  There was no section on the rise of political parties whether the Socialists or the Workingmen’s Party or the more recent Working Families Party, all of which would seem to have earned some pride of place when activism was center stage, especially if the Know Nothings had their space in the room.  Stonewall, Occupy, and Black Lives Matter all made the show, and that’s for the good, but they didn’t create parties or long-term organizations, so no worries there in the curators’ minds, I would suppose.

There was a movie rolling on rewind as we entered and exited the room.  Once again, demonstrations and police confrontations provided most of the action shots.  There was one couple of seconds of video of a welfare rights action, but nothing from ACORN actions, marches, or even the squatting campaign.


New York City is a big gulp, so fair is fair.  Everything can’t make it in the highlight reel, even one centering on activism.  The exhibit engages, and props for there being room for it in the museum where large rooms existed on the port, money, and bicycles, and activism could have been omitted completely.  My only real critique is that the exhibit on activism seemed to only focus on the action and actors at the front of the stage, missing everything else in the production of social change.


Shell Oil Going Artic After Seattle Went Kayaktivist

Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 10.08.02 AMMissoula     The front page of the Wall Street Journal heralds the effort of Royal Dutch Shell to begin drilling in the Arctic Ocean, even after other giants like Exxon and Chevron have put similar projects on pause because of technical and economic issues, including the current glut of oil on the market, making Shell’s exploration into the Arctic anything but a “must have” project. The paper reports that they will start drilling in days on one well. They had planned to drill two wells but will have to settle for one billion dollar drilling project. The courts did not allow them to drill two simultaneously in order to prevent interference with walrus breeding. It’s hard to find much to celebrate in any of this news.

Recently,  I spoke with John Sellers on Wade’s World, a friend, comrade, and professional organizer-activist for many years based on Vashon Island outside of Seattle. John is an experienced hand with an unabashed tactical flair that combines effective protest with fun. He is a veteran of Greenpeace and was running the Ruckus Society when I first met him. The name Ruckus defines the mission of that organization, dedicated to good causes and if there is such a thing as extreme-protest just as there is extreme sports, then they and John have done it all from scaling buildings to hackatons to whatever. Now he told me he is driving something called the Other 98%, but I was talking to him about the fight in Seattle to delay Shell’s drilling season, because it was a classic.

Shell had somehow gotten Seattle and Washington State to allow them to berth their mammoth drilling rigs, including the Polar Pioneer, in their harbor, before hauling them the 2000 miles up and around the Alaska coast to the Chukchi Sea where they were to drill. While Shell was there, John, his organization, and the vibrant local activist community in the Seattle area threw everything but the kitchen sink at Shell to try to slow them down. Courts had failed to act, so they were the last gasp and running a “sHell no!” campaign.

They organized what they called a “mosquito fleet” of kayaks and small boats which on occasion swarmed the Shell operations with the light water craft in vivid contrast to the hulking rigs. They called themselves “kayaktivists” of course.

Going to crowdsourcing, Sellers was able to pull together enough money to put something on the water called the “Peoples’ Barge” which joined the protest with party and people. Some small problems with the Harbor Police of course and some confusion about habitat on the tie up for the barge, but nothing that the organizers weren’t willing to fix.

You get the message. They fought them paddle and splash until they left the harbor. There are likely no smiles as they read that only one well will get worked in the Arctic this season, but at least they proved once again that there has to be a steep price paid, win, lose or draw and organizers and organizations are still going to go by the slogan that “you may beat us, but you’re going to have to whup us first.”


Meet the ‘Kayaktivists’ Out to Stop Shell’s Giant Arctic Oil Rig