Citizen Activists in Sicily and Climate Strikers Around the World

Catania     It was pouring down rain, as Laura Saija, professor of community planning at the University of Catania, and her colleagues met me to go to “The Organizer” showing for activists in Catania.  They had been drenched in a downpour with water up past their ankles.  A hair dryer was furiously applied to the problem for some and a quick change for others, and we were on our way.

The venue was breathtaking.  In some way this theater was part of the University of Catania’s other campus, but it engulfed what had once been the gigantic monastery of the Benedictine Order of priests, supposedly the second largest monastery in all of Europe.  It was certainly mammoth, and the theater auditorium matched it with multi-tiered sections and comfortable wooden swivel seats looking into a well offset by a row of speakers’ tables.  I’m not sure “The Organizer” was ever shown on a bigger screen.  It felt like we were somehow seated in an outdoor drive-in that was inside.  I felt out of place, but nothing deterred the more than sixty who poured in out of the rain to watch the film with great interest and anticipation.

It seemed appropriate for activists here to gather in the rain on the day called for a youth Climate Strike around the world.  Only months ago, Sicily had its first hurricane, a category 2 storm, unknown before.  In this island community, like everywhere, climate change is an ever present concern.  I had read a paper earlier by Laura and one of her colleagues about the Simeto River Valley work and that theme was repeated constantly as they sought to reshape the narrative and make their work into a tool of resistance.

Reports on the climate strike indicated there were certainly millions participating in more than 150 countries in one way or another, seeking to send a message to the UN Climate Change conference occurring only days away in New York City.  No one could tell if this mass outpouring of the young and others, including ACORN offices in places like England that joined the strike in solidarity, would have impact there.

A similar concern weighed heavily on the activists in Catania and Paterno.  They had mobilized at times when it mattered.  They had won significant victories on a wide range of issues.  At the same time there was something missing, and it seemed to be the everyday, fighting force that a mass-based permanent organizational formation can bring to the fight.  Repeatedly in small settings and grand halls, these were the urgent questions addressed to me that the example of ACORN inspired.

How could the same lightning be captured in their bottle?  How could they duplicate and scale the work here, not starting from scratch obviously, given the rich history of organizing and struggle, but still, like the climate change warriors and others, with so many of the odds stacked against them?

All good questions in any setting, so whether we strike or just strive, we’ll struggle to find the right answers that work here and elsewhere again today.

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How About a Better Deal for Philippines Disaster Relief from US Banks & MTOs?

Q113_Wu_Com_Typhoon_V1_Facebook_1200x627_EN_USNew Orleans  The typhoon that devastated large parts of the Philippines, in a Hurricane Katrina like disaster many are seeing as part of what we can expect regularly in the future from climate change,  is inspiring protests by poor countries at the UN Climate Change Conference and some corporate social responsibility, but, sadly nowhere near enough, especially in the United States.  

            Some banks have stepped up to do the right thing and have waived all transfer fees, most for a month from mid-November until mid-December.   There may be more on the honor roll, but from what I’ve found so far, it includes two banks in Canada, the BMO Bank of Montreal and the Royal Bank of Scotland, there and presumably elsewhere, Wells Fargo is the only bank in the US that has stepped up, and the Noor Islamic Bank in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.   That’s all ACORN International has been able to locate.

Of the scores of money transfer organizations, Western Union has been the surprising hero here, though with exceptions.   In Canada, they are doing transfers to the Philippines for $1.00.   Interestingly, the Western Union website in the US seems to have waived fees completely, though it’s a mystery to me why they are charging a loony in Canada and nada in the States.  Regardless, cheers to them for doing what they are doing since MoneyGram, the other huge MTO, is charging $5 for a $100 transfer, which is hardly a bargain, and shows little heart in this crisis.

But, what’s up with US-based banks?  Why is Wells Fargo the only one of the big boys standing tall in the face of this tragedy?  Where are Chase, Bank of America, Citi, and the rest?

And, even more puzzling, especially in wake of the $1 charge by Western Union in Canada, are we starting to find out the real cost for these folks to do transfers?  

But, I digress.   The important thing now is for all of us to ask our banks to waive all transfer fees to the Philippines so that there can be real resources and financial help for typhoon victims.   Raise your voice for lowering the fees!

 

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