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Organizing


Small Victories and Other Diversions

Photo by Maryam Sahinyan, 1961

In these cruel and venal times, I offer you some small victories and other diversions.

 

SOLIDARITY IS BEAUTIFUL: The Sami people of Norway have persuaded a Norwegian second-largest pension fund to divest from the Dakota Access Pipeline. I loved this piece in the New York Times about some independent bookstores that have turned themselves into centers of resistance. Many houses of worship in New York City are gearing up to provide refuge to undocumented New Yorkers. A similar movement is underway in Los Angeles. Senator Bernie Sanders is working to push the Democratic Party to the left and make it more attractive to working class people. He said, “Despair is not an option.” You can also sign up for a newsletter called Small Victories, which has an upbeat compendium of the resistance successes that have happened in a given week. (Thanks to my friend Dana B for the tip!)

 

Elena Ferrante’s MY BRILLIANT FRIEND has been adapted for the stage and is currently playing in London, and there is a TV series in the works.

 

Our friend Yasmin Hamdan, who has just released a new album, was profiled on Reorient Magazine.

 

Short story writer George Saunders wrote a beautiful profile of author and activist Grace Paley, and he also penned an excellent and inspiring piece about his own writing process as he produced his first novel.

 

Our daughter Nona Schamus and her partner Arno Mokros have founded Little Pharma Zine , an intersectional art and lit zine devoted to explorations of mental illness. The first issue drops on April 1 (you can order a copy here), and we’ll be at the launch party on April 2nd at The Living Gallery in Brooklyn.

 

On the Armenian front, I happened across a fascinating slideshow featuring the work of Istanbul-based photographer Maryam Sahinyan (1911-1996) that I had missed when it appeared in 2015.  Some friends on Facebook posted this delightful entry from Rejected Princesses about Armenian Queen Anahit.  Next time I’m in Los Angeles I’m definitely planning a meal at Mante House, which specializes in tiny boat-shaped Armenian dumplings.

 

And that’s it for now, fellow travelers. Keep amplifying the humane in the human.

 

 

 

Nancy Kricorian


How to Support Academics Targeted in Turkey’s Purge

Istanbul University

I received the message below from a friend in Turkey who is helping to organize support for academics who have been targeted by Erdogan’s ongoing purge and witch hunt. The situation seems to be growing ever more dire, with purged civil servants, including university professors, being subjected to a kind of social death, where their benefits are stripped and they are turned into unemployable pariahs. Students have also been detained. (The situation reminds me of what happened to blacklisted writers, actors, and directors during the McCarthy Era here in the United States. Lives were ruined.) Another Turkish friend explained to me last week that what makes the current situation worse than what happened during the coup in the 80’s is that passports are being annulled so those with means are unable to leave the country. 

Dear friends and colleagues,

For some time now, we have been wondering about how colleagues abroad can develop solidarity academics and Ph.D. students expelled from their positions, either for having signed a Peace Petition against military operations in Turkey’s Kurdish-populated Southeast provinces, or for being critical of the government and conducting research on “sensitive” issues.

As of now, more than 400 critical academics and Ph.D. students have lost their jobs, income, access to universities, and their chances of teaching or carrying out research in Turkey. Most of them cannot leave the country since their passports have been annulled.

Here are two very simple ways you can help:

1) Fill out this online form to help assess individual cooperation possibilities as a first step to building a network of solidarity among academics from around the world and the Academics for Peace in Turkey:

2) Financial resources to help expelled academics survive are now being pooled through the Brussels-based Education International, the world’s largest federation of unions for teachers and education employees. You can choose to make a lump-sum contribution or regular money transfers – every penny will make a difference! Details may be found here, and routing information is below.

ING Bank, Avenue Marnix 24,1000 Brussels, Belgium
IBAN: BE05 3101 0061 7075
SWIFT/BIC: BBRUBEBB
Please indicate “UAA Egitim Sen” in communication.

Even if you yourself cannot help, we would greatly appreciate that you circulate this e-mail among colleagues who would be interested and/or publicize on websites that you deem fit.

All best and in solidarity,
Z

 

 

 

Nancy Kricorian


How to Keep Your News Feed From Driving You Bonkers

I really hate the expression “self care,” but I have been developing strategies for keeping my news feed from overwhelming me with anxiety, despair and anger. At the risk of appearing anodyne, I will share my five-point plan.

 

1. Practice harm reduction with intake of news. Try to keep social media to specific times of the day and limit the length of exposure. I will admit that I’m struggling with this one, but making some headway.

2. Keep devices out of the bedroom. Read a book before going to sleep—preferably something unrelated to current events. Right now I’m reading The Bedside Book of Birds and Barbara Ransby’s biography of Ella Baker.

3. Find time each day—even fifteen minutes—for something you enjoy. I love to bake, to doodle, to knit, to listen to music, to study Armenian, to walk in Central Park, or to watch an old film. Do something creative. Go to a museum. To this end, look at this beautiful slideshow of photos by Gordon Parks.

4. Spend time with people you like or love. Go out for a meal with friends or family. Have friends over to watch a movie. Call someone you haven’t talk to in a long time. Start a reading group (also read about the radical history of reading groups).

5. Practice daily resistance. Send a post card, make a phone call, or go to a meeting or a protest. Organize. Resist. Even five minutes a day can help ward off despair.

 

Annals of Resistance

 

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is this week’s hero of the resistance. She attempted to read Coretta Scott King’s 1986 letter opposing Jeff Sessions’ appointment as a judge on the Senate Floor. Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell used an arcane rule to vote her into silence, saying, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” She was banned from speaking during the rest of the debate so she left the chamber and continued reading the letter, streaming it over Facebook live. And thus was an Internet meme (and a call to resistance) born: “She persisted.” May we all persist and resist.

 

A mysterious benefactor has been giving away copies of Orwell and Atwood at a bookstore in San Francisco. The goal? “Read up, fight back!”

 

The Nation has provided a guide to groups organizing resistance to the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. This is primarily focused on electoral organizing and citizen lobbying.

 

Action items

 

#PostcardsToBannon: Send a post card to “President Steve Bannon,” which is sure to annoy the hell out of #45. (And let’s avoid the name and just refer to him as #45.)

 

Read and join the call from Nancy Fraser, Barbara Ransby, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Angela Davis and others for a Women’s Strike on March 8, International Women’s Day 2017: “The ‘lean-in’ variety of feminism won’t defeat this administration, but a mobilization of the 99% will.”

 

The Ides of Trump: send a post card to the White House on March 15.

 

Sign up for the excellent Daily News Roundup from Jewish Voice for Peace.

 

Know Your Enemy

 

This scary yet essential piece The Data That Turned the World Upside Down is an exposé about the shadowy big data firm Cambridge Analytica, backed by the shadier Mercer family who brought Bannon and Conway to the Trump campaign.

 

This long read piece by Mike Davis is a brilliant and incisive analysis of Trump’s election victory: The Great God Trump and the White Working Class. He has a strong indictment of the Democratic Party. The crux move for us going forward is going to be wresting control of the party away from the neoliberals who foisted Hillary Clinton on us as a candidate. Davis sees it as a struggle between Obama and Sanders. He says,

 

The real opportunity for transformational political change (“critical realignment” in a now-archaic vocabulary) belongs to the Sanderistas but only to the extent that they remain rebels against the neoliberal Democratic establishment and support the resistance in the streets.

Trump’s election has unleashed a legitimation crisis of the first order and the majority of Americans who opposed him have only two credible political rally points: the Sanders movement and the ex-president and his coterie. While our hopes and energies should be invested in the first, it would be foolish to underestimate the second.

We have work to do!

 

 

 

Nancy Kricorian


The Women’s March and the Long Struggle Ahead

 

To be part of a crowd of over half-a-million people is an experience both intimate and abstractly large. Three moments during the speeches at the Women’s March on Washington, D.C. particularly held that balance for me. Sophie Cruz, a six-year-old girl whose parents are undocumented immigrants from Oaxaca, Mexico, moved us all to tears with her beautiful and elegant words, spoken in English and then in Spanish, saying, “Let us fight with love, faith, and courage, so that our families will not be destroyed.” African-American civil rights activist and revolutionary Angela Davis told the assembled, “We dedicate ourselves to collective resistance.” Linda Sarsour, an organizer from New York City and one of the national co-chairs of the march, declared herself “unapologetically Muslim-American, unapologetically Palestinian-American, unapologetically from Brooklyn, New York.” She went on to tell us, “If you want to know if you are going the right way, follow women of color, sisters and brothers. We know where to go, because when we fight for justice, we fight for it for all people, for all our communities.”

 

It was an exhilarating, exhausting, and empowering experience to take to the streets with hundreds of thousands of women, men, and children who are determined to fight against the Trump Administration and its assaults on women, the disabled, immigrants, the indigenous, LGBTQ people, our public educational system, our environment, and our civil and human rights. I couldn’t help but remember other mass mobilizations I have joined. In 2003 millions of people took to the streets around the globe in attempt to prevent the Iraq War. George W. Bush dismissed us then, saying he didn’t pay much attention to “focus groups.” We were unable to stop the Iraq War, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, destabilized the entire region, and led eventually to the horrible carnage and destruction we have been witnessing in Syria. Marches and rallies are important sources of strength and inspiration—but that strength must be used for the long struggles that follow.

 

I was pleased to learn from newspaper reports that the huge defiant crowds only steps from his seat of power enraged Donald Trump, and I have to believe that if we are able to harness the passion and determination of so many people taking political action for the first time, that we will be able to protect our most vulnerable individuals and organizations. If we succeed, our cities will become sanctuaries for the undocumented, our states will enact legislation mitigating the harms coming from Washington, and our mass civil disobedience against gas pipelines and other projects that threaten our air and water will engulf and stop corporate pillage. We will wrest control of the Democratic Party from the neoliberal establishment that backed the disastrous candidacy of Hillary Clinton, and put accountable elected officials into office. But I have to be honest. I’m afraid, and I’m unsure of exactly where best to focus my energies when the attacks on the values and institutions I care about are coming not daily, but hourly.

 

For now I join the ranks of my friends in Palestine, where Trump’s collaboration with the Israeli right wing will cause untold suffering. I join my friends in Armenia, who struggle every day against the kind of kleptocracy Trump now installs here in the U.S. I join my friends in Turkey, where harshly repressive measures are targeting journalists and academics, and in its Kurdish region, where violence has destroyed much of the architectural heritage of Diyarbakir’s Sur and where many communities have been subject to state terror.

 

I join a global community that struggles against tyranny and amplifies the humane in the human. As American writer and activist Grace Paley put it: “The only recognizable feature of hope is action.” I hope, because I act.

 

Nancy Kricorian

January 2017

New York City

 

Written for Agos Turkish-Armenian weekly
https://web.archive.org/web/20170126065707/http://www.agos.com.tr/tr/yazi/17561/trumptan-sonra-umut-ve-eylem

 

 

Nancy Kricorian


How to Survive Dark Times

Greenpeace activists unfurl “Resist” banner near the White House, 25 January 2017

 

Marching in Washington, D.C. this past weekend with over half a million women and our allies was exhilarating, exhausting, and inspiring. My particular favorites among the many rally speeches were by six-year-old Sophie Cruz, the child of undocumented immigrants from Oaxaca, Mexico; revolutionary and civil rights activist Angela Davis; and Brooklyn’s Palestinian-American Linda Sarsour, who was one of the national co-chairs of the march. I was happy to learn that the massive crowds of protesters who far outnumbered those who had attended the inauguration the day before had enraged Donald Trump. But even as we marched, I recalled the mass mobilization of millions of people in 2003 hitting the streets around the globe in an attempt to prevent the Iraq War. George W. Bush dismissed us, saying he didn’t pay much attention to “focus groups.” Street demonstrations, marches, and rallies are important sources of strength and solidarity, but the energy must further be harnessed to long-term organizing and campaigns if we are to protect our most vulnerable neighbors, organizations, and institutions.

 

On Monday morning the grim reality of life under the Horsemen of the Apocalypse hit like a two-ton bomb when the “global gag rule” was reinstated, and hours later the attack on Medicaid was launched. How are we going to survive four years of this shit? I will be honest, I’m scared, and I’m not sure where to focus my efforts when the blows against the values, groups, and individuals that I care about are landing on an hourly basis. I’m still trying to identify the best vehicles for local organizing—because I think we will have more leverage on the local level.

 

This morning I came up with a prescription for myself. How to survive in dark times? Celebrate one moment of beauty and participate in one act of resistance each day. For myself, I take solace in the spectacular sunrises on Morningside Drive, and the sunsets in Columbia County. Other beautiful things include flowers, birds, trees, and the faces of my silly dogs, my beloved family, and cherished friends. Before bed, I’ve also been reading a book called What the Robin Knows, which has been filling my dreams with robins, chickadees, cardinals, jays, and blackbirds.

 

In terms of resistance, right now we all need to be contacting our elected officials on a weekly basis to let them know that we want them to oppose the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Take a half hour to make a list of your elected officials with their contact information: senators, congressional representative, governor, mayor, and city council member, or the equivalent depending on where you live. (If you don’t have the half hour, you can use this handy and simple to use 5 calls tool.) You can start by contacting your senators and telling them to vote NO on the nomination of Betsy DeVos for Education Secretary. The best option is to call their offices—if you have trouble getting through in D.C. or the state capital because the lines are jammed, try the regional offices. (The other day I was able to speak with a human in Chuck Schumer’s Binghamton office.) Here are some helpful tips from a Congressional staffer about making phone calls that a friend of mine posted publicly on FB. Send post cards rather than emails (electronic communications have become a kind of white noise). Post cards are quicker than letters because envelopes must go through a security check.

 

Want to do more? You can sign up with for the Women’s March 10 Actions/100 Days Campaign. Pledge to join the People’s Climate Movement in D.C. on April 29. Find a local group organizing around an issue you care about through the Action Group Network. Get connected with Stand with Standing Rock. Join Jewish Voice for Peace’s Rapid Response Network in organizing against attacks on Muslims and immigrants. Read this terrific interview with Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, or her equally inspiring piece on how to build a mass movement. Frances Fox Piven tells us to Throw Sand in the Gears of Everything, Naomi Klein instructs us in how to prepare for the first shocks of Trumpian disaster capitalism. Grace Paley said, “The only recognizable feature of hope is action.” I act, therefore I hope.

 

 

Nancy Kricorian


Horsemen of the Apocalypse

“Satan bound for 1000 years” from The Great Bible of Pieter Mortier (circa 1700 A.D.)

 

When I have been calling Donald Trump’s roster of cabinet members and advisors “The Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” I have meant this term both metaphorically and literally. The metaphorical part has to do with the doom, chaos, and destruction I believe they are planning to unleash on national institutions, groups, individuals, and even the globe. The literal part has to do with the end times Evangelical Christians in their ranks. Trump’s cabinet picks are a mix of craven business leaders looking to enrich themselves and their friends as they pillage the public commons, and Evangelical Christians with perhaps similar goals, but a different world view. I have been focused on this aspect of the cabal because I was raised in an Evangelical Christian church and household so this cult is familiar. (Here’s a poem that talks about the anxiety this caused me as a child.) It turns out that 81% of white Evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump.

 

END TIMES THEOLOGY

 

What is their “End Times” theology and how does it mesh with Trump’s worldview? In an op-ed from September 2016, history professor Matthew Avery Sutton explained it thus:

 

Trump’s ideas meld perfectly with evangelical apocalyptic expectations as the battle of Armageddon nears. He promises to seize power and to use it for them. He claims he would restore religious liberty to evangelicals. He would prohibit Muslims from entering the country. He would defend Israel at all costs. He would fight abortion by adding conservative justices to the U.S. Supreme Court. He would rebuild the American military. He would destroy the nation’s enemies. He would keep individual citizens well-armed and prepared for battle.  

This is a man, in other words, who is not just seeking to beat Clinton. He is seeking to wage a real-world battle against evangelicals’ enemies and a spiritual battle against the Antichrist.

Vice President elect Mike Pence is an Evangelical Christian. He belongs to the College Park Church in Indianapolis. (You can read a transcript of a 2011 sermon delivered at the College Park Church that covers the Second Coming of Christ.) Betsy DeVos, who was named as Trump’s choice for Education Secretary and is the sister of Blackwater founder Eric Prince, is an Evangelical Christian. Some of the other prospective cabinet members are somewhat cagey about the specific brand of Christianity they practice, but based on my experience and understanding of the dog whistles and “secret signs” used in this particular cult it seems that Nikki Haley (UN Ambassador) and Scott Pruitt (Environmental Protection Agency), Tom Price (Health and Human Services) are also adherents.

What are the real world impacts of this theology? For one, Scott Pruitt, Trump’s climate-denying Environmental Protection Agency pick, has publicly stated his intention to dismantle the Obama Administration’s climate agenda. It turns out that many End Times Evangelicals are not concerned about Global Warming because they believe the warming of the planet and concomitant disasters are either caused by God’s direct intervention or are signs pointing towards Christ’s Second Coming and the end of the world. Why worry about melting ice caps, calamitous hurricanes, drought, famine, flooding, and war when you believe it is all part of God’s Biblically ordained plan and a sign of your imminent ascension to heaven?

 

ANGLING FOR ARMAGEDDON

Another fairly alarming aspect to this End Times theology has implications for U.S. policy towards Israel, Palestine and the Middle East. Evangelical Christian-Zionist groups such as Christians United for Israel, Proclaiming Justice to the Nations, and Christian Friends of Israeli Communities (in the occupied West Bank) champion unconditional support for the Israeli government because it fits into their vision of what needs to happen in order to hasten the return of Jesus.  Right-wing Zionists in the U.S. and Israel receive Christian Zionist support for Israel and for Jews with enthusiasm, but the underlying belief system of Christian Zionism is at best utilitarian in its vision of Jews. The founding of the state of Israel has been interpreted as one of the first signs of the nearness of Christ’s return, fulfilling a prophecy made in the Old Testament book of Isaiah.  The only way that Jews can be “saved” is if they abandon Judaism and convert to (Evangelical) Christianity, so during the Apocalypse, most Jews will suffer the terrible fate of all other non-believers of either eternal hellfire, the Tribulation, or both. (At one point, I was fairly familiar with at least one version of the Second Coming timeline, but it is complicated and based on arcane interpretations of both Old Testament and New Testament Prophecy.) End times theology predicates Christ’s return on the destruction of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Third Jewish Temple. Right-wing Israeli settlers have plans to rebuild the Temple that would provoke a violent uprising by Palestinians and an international crisis. Christian Zionists are playing with proverbial fire in their support for Israel’s settlement enterprise, moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and the Judaization of East Jerusalem. In their designs on the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, they are literally angling for an apocalyptic battle of Armageddon in the Holy Land.

 

 

Nancy Kricorian


A Change of the Right Sort

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I think now that we should maintain ourselves by a process similar to molting in birds. A change of the right sort helps us to overhaul our ideas, so that our souls may recreate themselves, venture into a higher atmosphere with bolder wings, and arouse and quicken other interests.      ~ Helen Keller 

 

 

This month I am leaving the staff of CODEPINK Women for Peace after thirteen years and the Executive Committee of the Armenia Tree Project after fifteen. I am proud of the work that both groups do, and have found deep satisfaction in these associations. But it’s time to move on, or as Helen Keller suggests, it’s time to lose some feathers and grow new ones. This week I sent the below letter to my friends and CODEPINK coalition partners letting them know about the move.

 

 

Dear Friends,
I wanted to let you all know that I will be leaving the staff of CODEPINK at the end of this month. It’s been a good long run–thirteen years–and it’s time for me to move on. CODEPINK’s Palestine work will be continued by Ariel Gold, with whom I’ve been working on our boycott campaigns for over a year. I will be transferring the codepinknyc email address to a new staff person who will be doing local organizing (please let me know if you want that contact when the details are hammered out). I will continue to run the Stolen Beauty Twitter feed and to do coalition work around the Ahava boycott campaign.

I am grateful to the CODEPINK team–its staff (present and past), and the many passionate volunteers–as well as to all the partners I have worked with over the years. I am proud of what we have accomplished together, and I look forward to future collaborations as we prepare to take on the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, who are gathering on the near horizon. I plan to spend more time writing my fourth novel, to do some traveling with the peripatetic spouse, and likely to seek out new vehicles for local organizing.

With fond regards,

 

Nancy K

 

 

Nancy Kricorian


Resistance and Other Occupations

 

Water protector at Standing Rock encampment

Water protector at Standing Rock encampment

In the wake of the demoralizing election results and the terrifying prospect of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse taking over the government of this country, in our household we are attempting to institute a “harm reduction” program where we limit our intake of news and social media to certain hours of the day. Long walks also help, and reading classic fiction. I found some solace in this list of 25 Works of Poetry and Fiction to Inspire Resistance, and in talking with other politically engaged friends about what our next steps should be.

 

In the “Know Your Enemy” department, if you haven’t already, please take a look at the Hollywood Reporter’s interview with “Trump strategist” Steve Bannon. Mike Davis’s analysis of the election results is useful, as is Robin Kelley’s After Trump, which provides analysis as well as recommendations for action. Public Books have compiled a list of ways to get involved in the resistance.

 

Charles M. Blow, a columnist for the New York Times, wrote a sizzling piece entitled No, Mr. Trump, We Can’t Just Get Along, penned after Donald Trump’s meeting with Blow’s colleagues. It is well worth reading the entire column, but this was a highlight:

 

I will say proudly and happily that I was not present at this meeting. The very idea of sitting across the table from a demagogue who preyed on racial, ethnic and religious hostilities and treating him with decorum and social grace fills me with disgust, to the point of overflowing. Let me tell you here where I stand on your ‘I hope we can all get along’ plea: Never.”

 

Masha Gessen, a Russian and American journalist and author, has written two eloquent and angry post-election pieces for the New York Review of Books in which she warns against “normalization” of the incoming administration. In the first, entitled Autocracy: Rules for Survival, she uses her experience in Putin’s Russia to recommend a course of action for the looming Trump Presidency. The second, Trump: The Choice We Face, recounts her great-grandfather’s experience in the Bialystok ghetto during World War II as a grim example of what happens when one makes accommodations with a reprehensible regime. One of history’s lessons, she says, is that “the people who wanted to keep the people fed ended up compiling lists of their neighbors to be killed.”

 

As I’m talking with other organizers and activists about how we create stronger coalitions and build new vehicles for organizing, I came across this heartening piece by Michael Hardt and Sandro Mezzadra about The Power of the Movements Facing Trump. They conclude:

 

“So, yes, every time the Trump government does or says something outrageous, go out in the streets in protest — and take your friends, and your parents, and anyone else you can find. There will be plenty of occasions. But behind the protests there must be a complex web of relations that extend both horizontally — that is, intersectionally, and in coalition across the various movements — and vertically, beyond the local and even the national to form relations and alliances with movements elsewhere. That is the only sound foundation for eventually transforming the many discrete protests into an effective and lasting project for social transformation.”

 

One of the movements cited in Hardt and Mezzadra’s piece is The Standing Rock Sioux’s encampment and protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The water protectors have received an outpouring of support from around the country, and will continue to need our solidarity in the coming weeks. Check out a list of ways to donate, as well as the #StandingRockSyllabus created by NYC Stands With Standing Rock.

 

I’ve been thinking a great deal about an old Armenian proverb: The voice of the people is louder than the roar of the cannon. In the current moment, the job seems to be to amplify the voice of the humane in the human.

 

 

Nancy Kricorian

New York City