Social Work and Structural Analysis


By Thao N. Lam

“I want to do more for my clients, but I can’t. Then I can’t look at my phone and see the news about Ferguson. I feel awful,” said a social service colleague, blinking back tears of frustration and anger. Continue reading “Social Work and Structural Analysis”

How Can We Have Hope That Justice Will Prevail?


Finding hope for social justice in the origins of human civilization


By Joseph Orosco

There usually comes a point in one of the many classes I teach dealing with social justice issues that students will stop and ask: “How can we have hope that justice will prevail?” Continue reading “How Can We Have Hope That Justice Will Prevail?”

Interview: Chris Dixon


Chris Dixon, originally from Alaska, is a longtime anarchist organizer, writer, and educator with a PhD from the University of California at Santa Cruz. He is a collective member of the Institute for Anarchist Studies and serves on the advisory board for the activist journal Upping the Anti. Continue reading “Interview: Chris Dixon”

What We Broke the First Time


Pressing the Restart Button on Liberatory Movements

By Christian Matheis


Recently, I posted the following question on a social media site:


If feminism hit the reset button and we got to fix what we broke the first time, what would the do-over look like? Continue reading “What We Broke the First Time”

Interview: Chris Crass

Chris Crass is a longtime organizer, educator, and writer working to build powerful working class-based, feminist, multiracial movements for collective liberation.  He gives talks and leads workshops on campuses and with communities and congregations around the U.S. and Canada, to help support grassroots activists efforts. He balances family with his public political work and believes they are deeply interconnected, as both are about working to bring our vision and values into the world.


Throughout the 1990s he was an organizer with Food Not Bombs, an economic justice anti-poverty group and network; with them he helped build up the direct action-based anti-capitalist Left internationally.  Building on the successes and challenges of the mass direct action convergences of the global justice movement, most notably in Seattle against the WTO in 1999, he helped launch the Catalyst Project with the support of movement elders and mentors Sharon Martinas, Elizabeth ‘Betita’ Martinez, and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz.  Catalyst Project combines political education and organizing to develop and support anti-racist politics, leadership, and organizing in white communities and builds dynamic multiracial alliances locally and nationally.

In 2000 he was a co-founder of the Colours of Resistance network, which served as a think tank and clearinghouse of anti-racist feminist analysis and tools for activists in the U.S. and Canada.  After Sept. 11th, 2001, he helped to found the Heads Up Collective which brought together a cadre of white anti-racist organizers to build up the multiracial Left in the San Francisco, Bay Area through alliances between the majority white anti-war movement and locally-based economic and racial justice struggles in communities of color.  He was also a member of the Against Patriarchy Men’s Group that supported men in developing their feminist analysis and their feminist leadership.

He graduated from San Francisco State University in Race, Class, Gender and Power Studies.  Originally from California, he currently lives in Nashville, Tennessee with his partner Jardana Peacock and their son, River.  He is a Unitarian Universalist and works with faith-based communities to help build up the spiritual Left.  You can find his website here.


What experiences did you have that turned you toward organizing?

Growing up, I saw my parents involved in a range of organizations and community efforts. My mom for example joined the PTA of my elementary school when I was kid, in part because my brother and I had learning disabilities and at that time most teachers didn’t know much about learning disabilities and instead of seeing that I needed special help, I was tracked into the slow learners who got less attention and less was expected of them.

So when my 2nd grade teacher told my mom that I likely would never be a good reader, my mom was pissed and she joined the PTA to help make a change in the school. She didn’t want to just get me a tutor or deal with me and my brother’s individual learning, she wanted to the school to be able to serve all the kids with learning disabilities. My dad was also involved in local city government and talked to me about the importance of well funded and resourced parks and recreational facilities in working class communities, like the community he and his brother grew up in.

I wasn’t a red diaper baby, but I was the kid of Kennedy Democrat parents who believed Gandhi, Dr. King, and Cesar Chavez were heroes and that we need to get involved in our communities to improve them. These experiences planted the seeds.

Becoming best friends with an anarchist, listening to political punk rock and working at a local food pantry for working class and poor families were the water that helped those seeds bloom. Mike Rejniak was a 16 year old working class anarchist punk who rocked my world. “There will never be peace as long as there are ruling classes who profit from war,” he said one day in our drama class. We became best friends immediately and started up an anarchist group, began recruiting others, organizing demonstrations against the Gulf War in 1991 and the Rodney King verdict, we affiliated with the national Love and Rage Anarchist Network and set out to make anarchism and left politics the coolest thing at our high school and with young people in the larger area. Punk rock was our soundtrack.

Working at the local food pantry helped turn me towards organizing in a few ways. I first went there because a girl in high school I had a crush on invited me to go with her. And I kept going, for a couple of years. I was reading about anarchist and socialist working class organizing in the late 1800s and early 1900s, I was reading the Communist Manifesto and Emma Goldman’s Living My Life, I was going to large scale anti-war demonstrations and reading about activism in newspapers like Love and Rage, Profane Existence and the Blast, and the food pantry became a weekly routine where I wasn’t just abstractly learning about capitalism and it’s racialized and gendered dimensions, but I was experiencing it as I packed bags of groceries for working class women, mostly of color, to pick up for their families, and where I was making sandwiches for bag lunches for homeless men. I had class anger, and rage and my heart broke over and over again. Our anarchist group started organizing two, three dozen kids from our community to come help out at the food pantry before holidays. It was always the anarchists and the Boy Scouts that would turn out young people. Out of that crew we started up a local Food Not Bombs as we were building up a community of people who believed we needed left anti-capitalist organizations, campaigns, collective mass actions, community counter-institutions, and a fighting movement that was rooted in working class communities, anti-racist, feminist, internationalist and that it needed to be the coolest thing everyone wanted to be part of.


Who would you consider your social justice heroes and why?

My initial heroes were the Chicago anarchist leaders of the labor movement in the 1880s who were organizing tens of thousands of working people and families into a militant labor movement that fought the bosses, dreamed of a democratic commonwealth, and united revolutionary aspirations with reform oriented struggles for the 8 hour work day, the right to form a union, and better pay. These were people like Lucy and Albert Parsons, and August Spies. In addition to picket lines, strikes, and mass rallies, they also organized ice cream socials for families and kids, socialist ballroom dances, athletic and social clubs. I was inspired by the culture of solidarity, the vision of socialist and free society, and the strategy of counter-hegemonic reform fights (meaning they not only demanded an 8 hour day, but challenged the legitimacy of economic inequality and capitalism as a whole).

Later, after years of activism, with lots of questions about how to build effective movements, I started reading about the Southern Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. While there is a lot to learn from and be inspired by, I was particularly attracted to a cadre of organizers who developed a kind of Southern populist socialist orientation and profoundly influenced the movement. People like Ella Baker, Anne and Carl Braden, Myles and Zilphia Horton, and Septima Clark. They had a non-dogmatic, broad socialist vision of what kind of society we’re working towards, a class analysis of how power is organized, and a deeply democratic belief in the capacity of everyday people to make sense of complex reality, take courageous action, and ultimately govern society (not in a vision of everyday people running congress, but more in everyday people taking over local, regional and ultimately national positions of power in ever facet of society, and simultaneously transforming how power is organized, overall, away from authoritarian hierarchical models, towards egalitarian forms of governing and running society).

They operated from really inspiring, based in experience, ideas about how education, activism, culture, and change all worked together. They believed in the need for conscious leaders and organizers to help build up organizations, campaigns, and educational programs, but that everyday people could be their own leaders and that together we build people powered movements rooted in communities, that can change society. They believed in the importance of multi-pronged strategy that included legal, legislative, reform change, but emphasized the necessity of mass direct action, community empowerment through organizing, and that our goals must include building up democratic grassroots power so that we don’t just change a law or policy, but we shift power in a way that helps working class communities fight for more after this particular struggle has been won.

This tradition of Southern organizing continues today and it’s one of the reasons I love living in the South.


What gives you hope for the future?

We live in times where, like in Lord of the Rings, where it seems like Mordor and the forces of evil are about to eliminate all hope and burn the world down. We face the fossil fuel capitalist economy-based crisis of climate chaos/change, the fast track of overall ecological destruction that an economic order that turns everything and everyone into a commodity to either be extracted or used up, the crisis of global economic inequality that subjects millions to premature death and permanent debt, and the spiritual crisis of our society in the U.S. in the face of all of this. But we are also in the courageous times that Samwise Gamgee reminds us and Frodo about, that even in dark times when it seemed all hope was lost, there was still some good in the world and it’s worth fighting for.


I have a lot of hope for the future. One of my spiritual practices is to regularly call forward the memory of past movements, of past movement ancestors and imagine moments when they felt overwhelmed, scared, hopeless, and call forward their courage in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. I sit in gratitude for the legacies, traditions, victories, mistakes, and lessons we have today because of their efforts. A spiritual connection to these histories helps guide me and ground me. That said, there are powerful efforts all around us that give me hope.  I’m just going to lift up a few.

There are more out LGBTQ people in the world today then any other time in history and the influence of queer liberation is helping shift thinking on family, community, sexuality, gender, culture and politics around the world.

There are more men influenced by feminism, womanism, and women’s liberation then at any other point in history. While in no way am I saying that the violence of misogyny and structural inequality of patriarchy are crumbling, I do believe that there are millions of men around the world who embrace, consciously or not, aspects of feminist values, promote them and practice them. For example, as a dad, I feel the impact of feminism all the time. Feminism has called on dads to me much more involved in the emotional lives of their kids and in the reproductive labor of the family. Every time I kiss my son and tell him how much I love him, I thank feminism for helping make space for men to be emotionally alive.

With both of these, advances in queer and feminist liberation, I’m not saying the days of heteropatriarchy are numbered (at least not yet), but that tremendous gains have been made, and that we have much more to build on today, as a result. It is vital that we hold on to, regularly claim and name past victories and gains. Far too often on the left, we seize victory and put it into the jaws of defeat, focusing almost exclusively on what wasn’t won, forget what was won. Perfectionism is poison that sets us up to always feel like failures. We have to be sophisticated and see the positives as well as the negatives, the gains and the setbacks.

The economic justice struggles around the world are inspiring and here in the U.S. the organizing to raise the minimum wage is hopeful. There are more and more statewide struggles to win universal health care, modeled after the successful efforts of the Vermont Workers Center, who won universal health care a few years ago. Following the Vermont victory, efforts in Maine, Pennsylvania, Maryland and elsewhere are leveraging resources in the cities to help build statewide organizations that can help support and unite leaders and activists from rural areas, small towns, suburbs and cities. Furthermore, these campaigns are helping unite people across structural divisions of race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, and citizenship, to fight for shared goals. This is also happening with the National Domestic Worker Alliance and their allies like Hand in Hand which is organizing employers of domestic workers. This has led to successful statewide organizing to win Domestic Worker Bill of Rights legislation in New York, California, Hawaii, and most recently in Massachusetts.

I think these kinds of economic-based statewide struggles have the potential of generating a culture of solidarity that recognizes differences between people, particularly those based on historical and structural inequality, but is also able to transcend “difference as division” and create a “rainbow of humanity” with shared goals and aspirations for justice, dignity for all people, and respect for the earth.

But it’s not just struggles based in economic issues alone that is doing this. One of the other great sources of hope for me is the Moral Monday movement in North Carolina that is building a similar culture of solidarity that still recognizes the structural and historical divisions and has created a powerful shared agenda for education, reproductive rights, health care, living wage, and LGBTQ freedom. Moral Mondays came out of a longstanding coalition of community, faith-based and labor groups led by the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP. It has grown over the years into a mass movement, with over 1000 people having committed civil disobedience, regular demonstrations of thousands of people calling for this broad-based set of demands, and in February of this year, there was a Mass Moral Monday march with over 75,000 people, the largest demonstration in the South since the 1960s.

On a more personal level I have hope in the beloved community of my family, friends and comrades and from my Unitarian Universalist faith tradition and movement.


What do you think are the most significant obstacles to social justice in the future?

The U.S. left has a strong aversion to power. Many of us see power as something to avoid, something that always corrupts, something that we must always be in opposition to. I think we need to be moving towards a flexible and experimental approach to winning, creating, and exercising power to help govern our communities, families, workplaces, schools and overall society to help achieve a Left agenda of racial, gender, economic, disability, immigrant, environmental and social justice.

I know that there are many reasons, historically and today, for the general aversion or outright denunciation of power, but I think it is one of the most significant obstacles to social justice that we face, and that we also have a high level of influence over (as oppose to say, the obstacle of the ruling logic of neoliberalism and the state as maintainer and defender of ruling class interests). I am influenced by both the Chicago anarchism of the 8 hour day movement in the 1880s and the Southern populist socialist tradition of the 1950s and 60s that I discussed previously. So when I think of power, I think about it in terms of struggling to both exercise existing power to achieve left goals and creating democratic grassroots power, simultaneously.

For example, in Jackson, Mississippi, the recent successful effort to elect a radical Black activist, Chokwe Lumumba to Mayor. The local movement didn’t just focus on getting him elected, his campaign for office came out of community organizing that created people’s assemblies where a plan for Jackson was developed. This plan included a vision of new cooperative economic institutions, and when Lumumba was elected mayor, victory also meant moving forward on worker cooperatives and other community-based efforts. This exciting and powerful experiment, in the largest city in Mississippi, has tragically been set back with Lumumba’s passing, in his first year in office.

In addition to electoral efforts, I think it’s vital that people on the Left occupy leadership positions (formal and informal) throughout our communities, schools, places of worship and society. It’s inspiring hearing about experiences of friends who are teachers or have served in leadership positions at their kids schools, friends building successful worker cooperatives, who are ministers or lay leaders of churches, or are playing important roles in the fast food worker organizing efforts and in the Moral Monday movement. The key, I believe, is that people need to take on those roles and positions with an understanding that what they are doing is part of a larger movement effort. An understanding that we are part of a larger team of people working for structural change and that we can only do it, by many of us working together, through many different avenues.

I know there are great risks, challenges, and difficulties with both exercising existing power and creating new liberatory power, but we need to greatly expand our sense of what is politically possible, and organize with the goal of making what’s currently politically, economically, and culturally impossible, possible. People’s power and grassroots movements are what makes liberatory change possible.

In addition to challenges of power, we also need to continue to develop and experiment with successful ways to organize as united people in ways that address, challenge, and transcend divisions of race, class, gender, ability, sexuality, citizenship and unequal structural power. In the past 10-15 years, there have been some significant advances in the movement that have helped make awareness and consciousness about privilege, oppression and power much more wide spread. There are real strengths to what is often under the umbrella of anti-oppression politics. And anti-oppression politics are an important part of the overall development people, our organizations and our movement needs to go through. However there is often a tendency to focus on language, behavior, inter-personal and group dynamics, in ways that usually acknowledge historical and structural power, but often lose focus on larger efforts to create systemic change. Often anti-oppression politics calls for people who experience privilege on some axis of power to be allies to those who are oppressed, and again this is often focused on interactions between people and efforts of small numbers of people. This is all very important work in the early stages of becoming activists, but it must be connected to organizing efforts with a wide range of people, so we don’t end up creating small activist scenes where the goal is more on “being the best anti-racist” or the “most radical”, versus, learning how to effectively work on campaigns, in coalitions, in community to create change.

Where anti-oppression often focuses on language, behavior, recognizing privilege, group dynamics, and how people can be allies, a collective liberation vision and strategy focuses on the question of how people structurally divided can come together to generate powerful transformative movements for systemic change, that creates new forms of democratic power and identities in the process. Anti-oppression work is vital but needs to be part of larger process of growth and development, with multiple stages of struggle, that includes countering oppressions work, and also includes work to develop liberatory power, cultures of solidarity and movements that can change society. All of this work goes hand in hand. I believe change is dialectical or developmental, and that we learn a tremendous amount by putting our ideas into practice with others. I think we need to do more experimenting with what collective liberation strategy and politics can look like. That’s one of the primary goals in my book Towards Collective Liberation: anti-racist organizing, feminist praxis and movement building strategy.


What books would you recommend people look at for social change and why?

I’ve Got the Light of Freedom by Charles Payne is an incredible book drawing out lessons from the organizing tradition of Ella Baker, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and the Civil Rights movement in Mississippi. This book has been defining in my understanding of successful and effective organizing.

We Make the Road by Walking is a dialogue between Myles Horton and Paulo Freire on popular education and social change. It explores more of the ideas of how to unite education and activism to help develop democratic movements to change society and in the process develop the capacity of everyday people to govern.

Feminist Theory From Margin to Center by bell hooks is a great introduction to women of color feminism or anti-racist feminism. This book is a great place to start, but make sure you read her essay “Love as the Practice of Freedom” in her book Outlaw Culture. This is one of the most important essays I’ve ever read as it outlines a vision of left politics rooted in an ethic of love and is where I first read the term collective liberation, which then became the basis for a lot of my thinking about interconnected struggles for liberation.

 Another Politics: Talking Across Today’s Transformative Movements by Chris Dixon is an absolutely vital book for activists today. Based on interviews around the U.S. and Canada, this book draws out key insights and lessons from the politics, visions, strategies and experiences of some of the most important Left efforts over the past decade. This book is coming out in August, but you can order it here.


Are there any movies you recommend for teaching about social justice and change?

Absolutely. I trace some of my early radical activism to the Star Wars movie. I was won over to the rebel alliance and the fight against empire at an early age!

I do actually think there are a lot of great lessons about organizing in a lot of popular movies. Friends of mine in Louisville, Kentucky, Attica and Advocate Scott after make a list, top ten lessons for organizing, after seeing movies like The Hobbit, or Transformers. I’ve done that for a long time as well with movies like Dirty Dancing, Foot Loose, and Flash Dance (or the trifecta of working class struggle dance movies). Of my top favorites, the Harry Potter series is up there.

Hermione Granger is the Ella Baker of the wizarding world, Dumbledore’s Army teaches us much the process of supporting people to become activists, to develop their skills, confidence and analysis and become leaders. I recently wrote an essay on lessons from Harry Potter for social justice organizing, which you can read here.

There are lots documentaries out there that teach important lessons for organizing. Documentaries that I highly recommend are: Eyes on the Prize about the Civil Rights movement, Ballot Measure #9 about the organizing in Oregon in the early 90s against an anti-LGBTQ ballot measure, Southern Patriot about white anti-racist legend Anne Braden, Freedom on My Mind about the organizing in Mississippi in the 60s, and This is What Democracy Looks Like about the mass direct action convergence of movements against the World Trade Organization in Seattle 1999.

Norma Rae, Milk, and Stand and Deliver are inspiring and powerful and the labor classics Salt of the Earth and Matewan include a lot of useful organizing lessons.

That said, I love movies, and think almost any movie that calls forward our love for others, our love for the sacredness of life, that nourishes and inspires you, will contain some lessons for organizing, in that one of the key goals of organizing is helping people come alive, into their own power and into connection and community with others, which many movies and stories speak to. Then we have the challenge and opportunity of bring people together, in their own power, to work towards collective liberation.

Interview: Laurie Childers

Laurie Childers is an artist, ceramics instructor, and singer/songwriter in Corvallis, Oregon. In the 1980s, she worked around the world with artisans building fuel-efficient cookstoves and learned much about the effect of foreign and domestic economic policies upon the lives of real people as well as the land.    Continue reading “Interview: Laurie Childers”

Interview: Tom Motko

Tom Motko joined the U.S. Army in 1968 within a month of graduating from high school, was trained as a Vietnamese linguist/ voice intercept operator at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA and Goodfellow ABF, TX, and worked in a command subordinate to the National Security Agency. His duty stations included Japan, Taiwan, and Viet Nam. Continue reading “Interview: Tom Motko”

Soldiers No MORE in the War Against Women: A Call to Men

A Call to Men to Help End the Nightmare of Misogyny
by Chris Crass / (First published in EarthFirst! Newswire)

There is a war against women, and men and boys are trained everyday to be the soldiers. Misogynist violence isn’t the biological imperative of men. Misogyny, the worldview that engenders, validates, and normalizes violence against women, is beaten into boys and woven into the fabric of “successful masculinity”.

While very few men consciously choose to be horrible to women, the reality is, everyday “respectable” and “acceptable” norms of how men interact and treat women are infused with male entitlement and male privilege. Together, these norms, contribute to a culture of misogyny, rape, assault, and emotional abuse. A hallmark of this culture is the tragic indifference of men to women’s lives, leadership, dreams, needs, wants, and futures. Everyday sexist norms include constant interruptions of women speaking, catcalls on the street, regular comments about women’s appearance rather then their contributions and character, communicating in subtle and blatant ways that men see women as there to serve men’s needs, zoning out when women speak so as to formulate your own thoughts or to sexualize them, ignoring women’s ideas and then repeating them back later as your own ideas, and taking up emotional, verbal, energetic and physical space in ways that silence and push women out.

And when women complain about any aspect of the enormity of patriarchal culture or daily threats and realities of violence, such as the recent explicitly misogynistic and racist mass murderer in Santa Barbara, men overwhelming respond in a chorus of “but not all men act that way”, rather then expressing a profound sadness for the reality of patriarchal culture and violence, followed by a commitment to learn more and take action to change it. Fear of being implicated, in any way, is greater for far too many men, then fear of what the reality of patriarchal culture and violence means for women in their lives. But just like soldiers, men aren’t born this way, they are trained.


In workshops on “Men and Feminism” with thousands of men around the U.S. and Canada, I often use an exercise developed by Paul Kivel and the Oakland Men’s Project. I ask men, “Who here has been told ‘act like a man?’” Almost all the hands go up. What does that mean I ask? Typical responses include: “don’t cry,” “always be in control,” “suck it up and be tough,” and “don’t be emotional.” When I ask what emotions men are allowed to express, I hear: “anger,” “jealousy,” and “resentment.” I then ask what the men are called when they step out of the “act like a man box,” and a long list of slurs intended to degrade men and boys as either gay or feminized is given.

This training to “act like a man” is intended to turn boys into soldiers – soldiers deeply detached from their emotions, except violent rage and anger, and to internalize misogyny and homophobia as a basis for their masculinity. I then ask men to raise their hands if they were ever beaten up by male family members or by boys in school for “not acting like a man.” At least half of the hands go up. “How many of you have ever experienced depression, anxiety, or low self-esteem?” I inquire; almost all the hands go up. Nearly every hand is raised when I ask, “How many of you have been afraid to tell anyone?” The exercise ends with a few additional questions. How many of you have used drugs or alcohol to escape? How many of you have used violent or dangerous behavior to escape? How many of you have contemplated suicide? I raise my hand for many of these, including the last one.

This is the nightmare of patriarchy in the lives of men, and it is a nightmare we perpetuate in subtle and profound ways. This is the training of soldiers in the war against women, and it is pervasive. But this is not how it has always been. Throughout the world, throughout history, there have been societies and cultures that were far more egalitarian, without the strict gender roles, where misogynistic violence wasn’t the norm. To understand why boys are trained to be soldiers, we must look at the other wars they have been trained to be part of.

Misogyny has been and is a weapon of colonization against Indigenous peoples and nations – not only attacking the power of women in Indigenous societies, but forcing patriarchy into those societies to divide and conquer them. Gender violence was central to the development and organization of the Atlantic slave trade and the system of plantation slavery on the South – using rape to both populate the slave system as the child of a slave is born into slavery, but also again, to dehumanize enslaved women to and further suppress the power of women and fracture the overall community. Misogyny was and continues to be central to the development and expansion of capitalist economic relationship. Across the globe, communities were uprooted from the land, and gendered divisions of labor hardened: men forced into paid labor to make someone else rich, women into unpaid, unvalued reproductive labor at the same time as men were granted social permission to unleash the rage and misery of their own exploitation and disempowerment on their wives and children.

Learning this history is key to men to help ending the war against women. From Andrea Smith’s analysis of sexual violence as a tool of genocide, to Maria Mies and Silvia Federici’s writing on violence against women as a tool to divide European peasant and working class communities to construct capitalism, to Angela Davis’s formulation that women in enslaved African communities and in all oppressed communities have been at the forefront of resistance and liberation struggles and therefore, “the slave master’s sexual domination of the black woman contained an unveiled element of counterinsurgency”.

Today, the war on women is the massive number of women who are raped and assaulted. It is the fact that domestic violence support services get more then 75,000 requests for assistance on a typical day; that domestic violence is the leading cause of injury for women between the ages of 15 and 44, and the leading cause of death for Black women of the same ages. It is the crisis of over 1200 missing or murdered Indigenous girls and women in Canada over the past 30 years. It is the disproportionate amount of violence transgender women face from street harassment to police violence. It is African-American mother Marissa Alexander currently serving 20 years in a Florida prison for firing a warning shot, in which no one was hurt, to scare away her abusive husband while George Zimmerman was found justified in killing unarmed Black teenager Trayvon Martin based on the same legal argument.

The war on women is the U.S. government’s forced sterilization of Indigenous, Black and Latina women over hundreds of years, with it continuing to happen to incarcerated women. It is the austerity measures of the U.S government gutting publicly funded institutions such as schools, welfare, food stamp programs, and early childhood learning programs, while redistributing money, via tax policy, from working class, poor, and middle class communities to the richest people on the planet. Austerity measures further put the burden of unpaid labor of maintaining life and society on the backs of women, particularly women of color. Along with colonization and hundreds of years of the Atlantic slave trade, the unpaid reproductive labor of women, is the foundation of capitalism. The war against women is the gender-based violence of husbands, boyfriends and the state to maintain the structures of unpaid women’s reproductive labor.

While men, in general, reap a wide range of male privileges (with access to those privileges differentiated unequally by race, class, sexuality, ability, citizenship, and nationality), it’s time for men in the millions to declare that we will no longer be the soldiers in the war against women. That we will no longer perpetuate sexist attitudes, cultural practices and public policies that undermine women’s leadership, dignity, and power in society. That we will work against the long term impacts of white supremacy, colonization, homophobia, and economic exploitation in society and all of our communities.

Throughout history and today, women have resisted. As men, we must learn from and join with feminist movements to redefine what it means to act like a man, so that we can act like many kinds of men – or other genders entirely. Some of us can build on our ancestors’ traditions of different kinds of masculinities. In many cases we already have models of masculinity upon which we can draw and find inspiration. But we must collectively, along with women and people of other genders, redefine masculinities in ways that replace misogyny and homophobia with love and compassion. We must collectively redefine masculinities in ways that center visions and values of economic, racial, gender, disability and environmental justice. As men, let us work to heal from the training we’ve received to be soldiers in the war against women, let us look to feminist women’s leadership for vision and guidance of the society we want to live in, and let us join with people of all genders to end the violence and exploitation of all of these wars. Beyond the nightmare of patriarchy is a world of possibility. Let us be courageous, and go there together.

For Further Reading:

• Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics by bell hooks

• Men’s Work: How to Stop Violence That Tears Our Lives Apart by Paul Kivel

• The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love by bell hooks

• Boys Will Be Men: Raising Our Sons for Courage, Caring and Community by Paul Kivel

• Conquest: Sexual Violence and the American Indian Genocide by Andrea Smith

• Women, Race and Class by Angela Davis

• Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale by Maria Mies

• Caliban and the Witch by Silvia Federici

Note: thank you to Andy Cornell, Lydia Pelot-Hobbs, Jardana Peacock, and Chanelle Gallant for feedback.

Chris Crass is the father of a beautiful little boy named River, and is a longtime social justice organizer who writes and speaks widely about anti-racist organizing, feminism for men, lessons and strategies to build visionary movements, and leadership for liberation. He is the author of Towards Collective Liberation: Anti-racist Organizing, Feminist Praxis, and Movement Building Strategy, published by PM Press. He is a Unitarian Universalist and lives in Nashville, Tennessee. His website is


Interviews: Mark Rudd

From 1965 to 1968, Mark Rudd was a student activist and organizer for the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) at Columbia University.  In the Spring of 1968, he was one of the leaders of the student occupation of five buildings in protest of the university’s involvement in the Vietnam war, and its racism toward African American residents in a nearby neighborhood.  He went on to become a full time organizer for SDS and helped to found the militant Weatherman faction that formed the Weather Underground.  This movement had as its goal “the violent overthrow of the government of the United States in solidarity with the struggle of the people of the world.”  From 1970 to 1977, Rudd was a fugitive from the federal government for alleged bombing and conspiracy.  Eventually, the charges against him were dropped and he emerged from the underground to become a community organizer on issues of Native American land rights, environmental justice, and the US military industrial complex.  He can be reached at his website:


What experiences did you have that turned you toward organizing?

In answering this question I’ll also add in a couple twists to the story:  not only how I discovered organizing, but also what turned me away from organizing and then how I came back to it.

When I was 18, a freshman at Columbia University in 1965, I fell in with a group of radical students which later coalesced into the SDS chapter.  Many of these kids (my point of view fifty years later) were “red diaper babies,” meaning children of communists, socialists, or labor organizers, which I was not.  They had grown up in the civil rights or labor movements, so they knew that the job was to grow the movement.  Every single one of our meetings, for years on end, every discussion, was about how best to “build the movement,” ie., to make it grow in numbers and understanding.

During this period, from 1965 to 1968,  the war in Vietnam escalated and also Black Power became dominant in what had formerly been called the Civil Rights Movement.  In trying to understand the war, we became anti-imperialist, meaning that we saw the underlying system of which the war was a manifestation; we also wanted to support, as white people who understood Black Power, the black radicals’ demands for self-determination and freedom.  So we “organized,” meaning we tried to figure out strategies to help our movement grow.  Our main strategy was to attack the administration of Columbia as being part of the war system and institutionally racist.  We thought this would create a personal connection to the issues for other students.  Our tactics were educational activities like teach-ins, setting up information tables, debates, talking with other students informally, petitions, demonstrations, confrontations, ultimately sit-ins and building occupations.  I’ve told this story in detail in the first part of my book, “Underground:  My Life in SDS and Weatherman.”


Here’s the amazing part:  it worked!  By 1968, responding to the murder of Martin Luther King and to the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, the entire university became embroiled in a strike and rebellion, April-May, 1968.  It was the largest student action up to that point and became a model for campus rebellions.

Out of this success, however, came the seeds of defeat.  Those of us who had been pushing for Columbia SDS to be more aggressive and confrontational concluded that that was the key to our success.  We conveniently forgot about the years of organizing that went into the April rebellion.  Many of us were adherents of the cult of Che Guevara, in which exemplary action was valued way above the hard work of organizing.  At one point I told people “Organizing is another word for going slow.”

I became one of the founders of the Weatherman faction in SDS and subsequently the Weather Underground.  Both of these developments were utter failures from the standpoint of building the movement.  In fact, by December, 1969, SDS was dead, a victim of our own arrogance in thinking that the time was right for armed struggle.  Years later I analyzed the problem as substituting self-expression for strategic organizing.  Bombs and fighting cops may show how much people believe in the rightness of the cause (self-expression) but they do not cause people to join the movement and become participants themselves.  Self-expression as a tactic in a given struggle, such as committing civil disobedience and going to jail, may in fact be useful, but it can’t substitute for a strategy to achieve goals.

After seven and a half years as a federal fugitive, I turned myself in in 1977, eager to rejoin the above-ground mass movement.  I became active in opposing uranium mining and nuclear waste dumping in New Mexico.  In the ensuing decades I worked in the movement for nuclear disarmament, the Central American solidarity movement, the environmental and union movements, and now the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.  But it was only in 2003, after the Weather Underground documentary appeared, that I hit on an analysis of my old bad choices–that I had substituted self-expression for movement building.  It’s that insight that I’ve been trying to communicate since then.  That and the need for absolute nonviolence.


Who would you consider your social justice heroes and why?


The first hero who comes to mind is Miss Ella Jo Baker, Executive Director of Martin Luther King’s organization, SCLC and founding mother of SNCC.  For the last few years I’ve pursued a personal study project to learn about the history of the civil rights movement, especially SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, in Mississippi, 1961-1965.  It was Miss Baker who both laid a basis for and guided the successful organizing in Mississippi, the most racist and terroristic place in the whole deep South.  She introduced the students of SNCC to the principles of horizontal organizing, the development of leadership from below, the growth of a radical democratic vision.

I would refer people to two books for starters:  one is Charles M. Payne’s “I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: the Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle,” which tells the story of HOW SNCC pulled off its successful organizing in Mississippi.  The book reads like a manual for how to organize.  The second is a biography of Miss Baker, Barbara Ransby’s “Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement:  A Radical Democratic Vision.”

One more set of heroes:  All the soldiers who organized against the Vietnam War within the military.  They made the war machine unusable.  It took great courage.


What gives you hope for the future?

Probably the fact that I’ve lived through successful mass movements–the anti-Vietnam War movement; the women’s movement; the gay rights movement; the anti-nuclear movement; currently the movement to stop global warming and for global climate justice.  Mass movements happen; they change society if not politics.


What do you think are the most significant obstacles to social justice in the future?

The one that comes immediately to mind is how deeply depoliticized young people have become.  Perhaps for good reason:  Who in their right mind would want to be a politician or join the ugly Democratic Party? Yet if we’re going to deal with public or government policy, which is everywhere affecting the people and the planet, we’ve therefore got to deal with politics.  There’s no way around this.

I always find it upsetting to hear people say “Nothing anyone does can make a difference.”  Fifty years ago no one ever said that.  We had the example of the civil rights movement, which everyone could see was making a difference.  Then the anti-war movement actually helped end the war.  The problem, as I see it, is that people don’t know about the mass movements of the 20th century plus don’t know about the organizing tradition that built these movements.  They did NOT happen spontaneously.

Perhaps if people studied history more, they might see a way out.

Of course the times changed over the last five decades, and with them technology and people’s outlooks.  All of these present challenges, but the really great thing is that there are thousands of people working on how to organize now.  It just hasn’t coalesced into mass movements yet.  Stay tuned.


In your view, was the Occupy movement an important moment in the struggle for social justice?

How could this be denied?  The Occupy movement succeeded in doing what the union movement had been unable to do for decades:  raise the question of income and political inequality to the level of mainstream discussion.  I still think it was some sort of miracle that took place in those few weeks in October 2011.  I can’t explain why it happened.

Most of the liberal-progressive-left, however, were hoping that Occupy would spark a left-wing Tea Party movement, which would go toward power.  That was out of the question, primarily because the dominant ideology of Occupy was anarchism, and anarchists don’t participate in elections.  They want power to dissolve.  (I’m not an anarchist, you might deduce).

Also, most of the Occupy people I’ve spoken with had no strategic goals other than raising the discussion.  Perhaps that was enough, and they did accomplish their goal.  Very few people I talked with considered a mass movement involving millions as a goal or even asked the question of power.  I’m not sure how they thought public policy was going to change, outside of some sort of magic.  It was a classic case of substituting a tactic for strategy.  So when the tactic of sleeping in public spaces was destroyed by brutal police attack, that was mostly the end.  A few elements of Occupy have continued to organize, such as Occupy Sandy in NYC, the Rolling Jubilee anti-foreclosure movement, and the movement against student debt, recognizing the need for building a movement. 


What do you think might be a way for younger generations to work in solidarity with organizers of your generation?

The question can also be reversed:  what can organizers of my generation do to work in solidarity with younger organizers?  We old people need to stop lecturing and saying, in effect, “We tried that and it didn’t work.”  I’m guilty of this a lot, in my impatience to help younger organizers avoid the mistakes we fell for.  Such as armed struggle and self-expression politics.  The more we can just offer ourselves as allies to people organizing, the more we can build relationships and learn from each other.

A relationship between generations of organizers has to include constant discussion of the differences and similarities between fifty years ago and now.  I suspect that deep down most young people feel that the technology and culture of this country have changed so drastically that nothing from the past is relevant.  Sort of the way I felt looking at World War I while I was growing up.  But that can’t be true.  Conversely, the technology and the conditions of life have changed enormously.  For example, student debt didn’t exist 50 years ago.  The cost of higher education, especially at the state schools, but including private universities, was nothing as compared to now.  And the means of communication and therefore organizing, are totally different.

But some lessons still carry over.


What books would you recommend people look at for social change and why?

Along with the two I mentioned above, I’d also recommend Tom Hayden’s 2009 memoir, “The Long Sixties.”  In it he lays out a theory of how mass movements grow, become victorious, and decline, then uses his 50 years experience as an organizer to explicate the theory.  And Jonathan Schell’s “The Unconquerable World,” which shows that force, coercive power, is ultimately weaker than the people’s consensual power.  This is the reason why so many nonviolent movements have triumphed in the latter part of the 20th century.  Schell’s book is a history of those movements but takes us into the 21st century by advocating for international law as an alternative to the war system which rules the planet.


Are there any movies you recommend for teaching about social justice and change?

Along with “The Weather Underground.” a 2004 documentary in which I’m featured, I always recommend that people view “Sir, No Sir!,” the story of the anti-war movement within the military during Vietnam.  Most people have no idea of how widespread the movement was among soldiers and how they organized.  Hundreds of thousands were involved.

A more recent movie that I recommend is “How to Survive a Plague,” which is the story of NY ACT-UP in the 80’s, when people were fighting for AIDS treatment.  It shows actual footage of meetings and debates.

Anything from two PBS series, “Eyes on the Prize,” about the Civil Rights Movement, and “A Force More Powerful,” a history of nonviolent strategy in the 20th century.

Liberation Leadership

In a dynamic presentation on October 25th, American social justice activist and writer Chris Crass spoke at Oregon State University on the topic of social justice vision and leadership.

Chris Crass has written and spoken widely about anti-racist organizing, lessons from women of color feminism, strategies to build visionary movements, and leadership for liberation. His book Towards Collective Liberation: Anti-Racist Organizing, Feminist Praxis, and Movement Building Strategy was published in 2013.