Rising Up for a Livable Future- Breakout Sessions

Rising Up for a Livable Future

The following Breakout Sessions will be held at the Rising Up for a Livable Future conference, November 9, 2019 at the Brattle Campus, Lesley University, Cambridge.

Breakout Session #1 – 11:10 am to 12:30 pm


Radical base-building.  How to organize tenants to defend their homes and change the system (Burnham Tyler Room)

There is widespread recognition that a severe housing crisis exists, and that this crisis has multiple side effects, especially on health.  There is still limited recognition of how this crisis is part of the normal functioning of real estate capitalism and white supremacy.  City Life’s organizing model understands that basic anti-displacement organizing cannot be successful without a radical analysis.  You can’t organize against rent increases if you accept that the fair rent is the market rent.

Over 100 people facing displacement attend City Life mass meetings each week.  How do we expand our base while challenging basic systems of power and privilege?  How do we develop new radical leaders from the base of those directly affected?  How is organizing for housing justice in this way a doorway to a larger struggle.  In the interim, what are key policy goals such as rent control, and how does the achievement of these goals connect to eviction defense.

We expect that participants will gain a greater understanding of the connection between successful anti-displacement organizing and radical analysis and community-building.  Those who want to volunteer in this ongoing effort are welcome.  We expect that participants will gain greater understanding about policy options now being considered and how to get involved in those fights.

Presenters: Steve Meacham and members of City Life/ Vida Urbana who are facing a housing crisis will present skits and panel discussions.

The United States: A Once, Current, and Future Empire (Auditorium – Rear)

Most American students learn a rather sanitized and uber-patriotic version of US History. In the standard telling, the US may have had past flaws, but has overcome those rather old problems and perfected its union. As such, the US defined itself in opposition to, not a practitioner of, empire. This is a misunderstanding of the facts and reality of American foreign policy since even colonial times. In this workshop I will brief, with demonstrative slides, my own
hypothesis that empire has defined America as a veritable way of life. I will also show why this matters today, and relate imperialism to contemporary American forever wars that remain ongoing.

Presenter: Maj. Danny Sjursen (US Army – ret.)

Reducing the Risk of Nuclear War (Sherrill 250)

It has been said we are all experts on nuclear weapon because nuclear weapons will affect us all.  There are also ways in which all of us can work to reduce the risks of nuclear catastrophe. There are many nuclear disarmament initiatives underway targeting actions at the local, state, national and even global level. This workshop will summarize some of these major initiatives and offer participants an opportunity to explore ways in which they as individuals and members of communities can join in or further these efforts. The workshop will include information on local and state-wide Back from the Brink Campaigns, the Massachusetts Peace and Justice Network’s Commonwealth Peace Agenda, and the Nuclear Ban Treaty (UN-TPNW) Alignment Campaign.  

Presenters:  Kea Van der Ziel, Physicians for Social Responsibility: Back from the Brink; Steve Gallant: No First Use and Congressional bills; Jerald Ross: Commonwealth Peace Agenda; Eust Eustis: Nuclear Ban Treaty Compliance Campaign from nuclearban.us)

Racism, Militarism, and War (Auditorium – Front)

U.S. wars have been marketed as necessary for national security and to advance the cause of freedom and democracy. Underlying motivations have included ensuring access to oil and other resources, access to markets, and to exert power through military and economic domination. How racism and white supremacist culture have influenced the militarization of US society and in our wars needs to be made more explicit. In this workshop we will examine some of the many connections between militarism, war, and racism and consider how antiracist policies can be effective in decreasing militarism and preventing war.

Presenter: Michael McPhearson

Confronting Extinction Together (Sherrill 251)

Presenter: John Burkhardt, Extinction Rebellion Massachusetts

We are facing an unprecedented and worsening climate crisis and ecological breakdown that threaten the continuation of life as we know it: record atmospheric carbon levels, global temperature rise, deforestation, plastic pollution, mass extinction of species. The government is not working to protect us. 

Extinction Rebellion is a fast-growing international mobilization for NVDA (non-violent direct action) against governments’ criminal inaction on the climate crisis and ecological breakdown. Join us to learn how we use the tactics of NVDA to achieve our goals of raising awareness to activate and mobilize people to create systemic change.

Anyone who hopes to make real change now to confront the worsening climate and ecological crisis will be empowered to take meaningful, immediate action. Whether by joining Extinction Rebellion, or simply understanding its viral success, participants will be equipped with helpful, new organizing tools.

General outline:

– The climate and ecological emergency
– What is Extinction Rebellion ?
– What is non-violent direct action ?
– Design an action

2020 Election and Fixing our Broken Democracy (Washburn Lounge)

This breakout will bring together several approaches to bringing the peace and progressive agenda to the 2020 election campaign and to getting money out of politics.

Tony Palomba will introduce the Elephant in the Room Project, which is working to press leading presidential candidates to speak out about the runaway military budget.  Andrea Burns will speak about the Bernie Sanders campaign and why it is important.  Paul Lauenstein will propose a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision and the campaign to win it.

Presenters: Tony Palomba, Watertown Citizens for Peace, Justice and the Environment; Andrea Burns, MAPA; Paul Lauenstein, We the People Massachusetts

Immigration Policy and the Building of a Military State (Sherrill 150)

This workshop will feature a report-back by Alexandra Piñeros Shields, who will have just returned from her investigation trip to the southern border. It will present an overview of key developments at the southern border, immigration issues in Massachusetts, the relationship between U.S. immigration policy and growing militarism, and a path forward on this major issue in our country and in our world.

Presenter: Alexandra Piñeros Shields, Executive Director of the Essex County Community Organization, which has a strong focus on the rights of immigrants.

Current  Struggles for Quality Public Education for All (Sherrill 154)

We will discuss three fronts in the continuing struggle to bring equity and quality to public education in Massachusetts: increasing the state legislature’s investment in school districts that have not received adequate funds; resisting privatization and expansion of charter schools; and limiting the damaging effects on students and teachers of excessive standardized high-stakes testing. We will also continue the discussion of the points made in MTA President Merrie Najimy’s plenary talk.

Presenters:  Lisa Guisbond, Executive Director of Citizens for Public Schools; Merrie Najimy, President, Massachusetts Teachers Association; Jose Soler, Co-chair, New Bedford Coalition to Save Our Schools, labor and immigrants rights activist; Prof. Ricardo Rosa, Co-chair of the New Bedford Coalition to Save Our Schools and Professor of Education and Public Policy at UMass-Dartmouth; Emily Dexter, Cambridge School Committee.

Breakout Session #2- 2:15 to 3:35 pm

Fighting to Save Our Homes: An examination of our affordable housing crisis and what can be done about it (Auditorium – Rear)

Learn about the affordable housing crisis and how tenants in government subsidized housing are fighting to prevent cuts and expand funds for “social housing” and controls on the market at the federal, state and local levels. Will look at restoring Rent Control. Workshop will also explore how tenants can join with peace and labor groups to oppose Trump’s budget cuts and shutdowns and win a Peoples Budget.  

Attendees will learn how they can support efforts to restore Rent Control and statehouse and city lobbying for more funding for low income renters. Workshop will provide materials regarding tenants’ statehouse lobbying and the City Rent Subsidy Campaign (could be replicated in Cambridge and Somerville).   At the federal level, join with Mass Peoples Budget Campaign to get more votes for the Peoples Budget from the MA delegation.  

Presenter: Janis McQuarrie, Mass. Alliance of HUD Tenants (MAHT) Board; Ronda Jackson, MAHT.  Convener: Michael Kane, National Alliance of HUD Tenants (NAHT) and MAHT.

Organizing for a Green New Deal: Politics of Shifting Alignments (Burnham Tyler Room)

A Green New Deal is poised to be the catalyst for a cultural shift long overdue in the politics of neoliberal, dominant Western societies, such as the United States. Harkening to an era which, despite significant flaws, valued cooperation, investment in average people, and advocating for expansion of rights, the idea of a “new deal” for society has never been more popular – despite coordinated media propaganda from the Right and corporate interests. A few questions beg to be asked: How did things end up the way they did? How can we move forward using those lessons to bring about a just transition towards a new society?

Organizing for a Green New Deal must be centered around understanding the context which led to the alignment we exist under presently, and being able to articulate a vision of a future that rejects the way things are. This workshop will see us critically deconstruct the prevailing political culture, outline the vision of the Green New Deal resolution introduced earlier this year, and interactively engage with theories of change to envision a path leading us to a Green New Deal.

We hope that workshop participants leave the workshop having learned/thought about:

  • The hegemonic influence of the prevailing political alignment on our society
  • What the Green New Deal resolution advocates for, why it does so, and its effect thus far
  • Strategies we can use to fight for a Green New Deal based on theories of social change
  • Skills useful for organizing around, or talking about a Green New Deal

Presenters: Nick Rabb, Elliot Trahan, Adam Cook, Anthony Yakley, Sara Singh, all of Sunrise Movement Boston

Connections for climate action: Organizing to stop war, create community connections, and promote bio-restoration (Sherrill 251)

We will look at how climate action has shifted, with the blooming of new approaches and the validation of earlier and often overlooked approaches, and how they fit in with models of making change. 

Can these approaches convince more people that climate action is everyone’s responsibility?

Presenters:  Rosalie Anders, MAPA Peace and Climate group; Paula Phipps, Biodiversity for a Livable Climate; Rev. Vernon K. Walker, Communities Respond to Extreme Weather (CREW).

The Raytheon Antiwar Campaign: Bringing the destruction of Yemen home to Massachusetts (Washburn Lounge)

Many of us know that the Saudi Arabia/US war against Yemen has helped create the most serious humanitarian catastrophe in the world today. But Yemen seems so far away. In fact, the war is right here in our backyard. Massachusetts-based Raytheon company is a key player in the war crimes being committed in this epic human disaster of killing, famine and cholera.

Raytheon is a top supplier of bombs and technology to Saudi Arabia that are the major cause of thousands of deaths and the destruction of Yemen’s infrastructure. But these arms sales are only the tip of the iceberg concerning Raytheon’s extensive relationships with the Saudi monarchy and the US government. Come to learn about Yemen, about Raytheon’s connection to that war (and all US wars currently underway), and about this growing Raytheon anti-war campaign. Most importantly, come to learn what small or large part you might play in letting the people of Yemen know that we care about them.

Presenter: Paul Shannon, Raytheon Antiwar Campaign

Understanding & Challenging the Increasing Dangers of Great Power Tensions (Sherrill 250)

The post-Cold War era is over. We are living in the interregnum between disorders, marked by uncertainties and dangers, as well as opportunities. Some see the U.S. confrontations with China and Russia as a new Cold War. Michael Klare writes that the U.S. and China are engaged in war by another name, while the U.S. government uses the term “strategic competition.” Richard Hass, the former head of Policy Planning at the State Department, and others cite parallels to the period leading to World War I:  tensions between rising and declining powers, complex alliance structures, intense nationalism, territorial disputes, arms races with new technologies, economic integration and competition, autocracies and wild card actors. An incident during provocative military exercises in the South and East China Seas, along the line of NATO/Russia confrontation or elsewhere could easily spiral out of control. 

This workshop, led by Joseph Gerson and others TBA, is designed to help activists understand these new and dangerous dynamics, the campaigns and initiatives that people here in the U.S., Europe, Russia and Asia are taking to pull the great powers back from the brink. 

Presenters: Joseph Gerson, Director of Programs and Director of the Peace & Economic Security Program of the American Friends Service Committee; Duncan McFarland, United for Justice with Peace and coordinator of the China Study Group at the Center for Marxist Education. Convener: Sofia Wolman.

How To Be An Antiracist (Sherrill 154)

The antiracism movement is growing in the U.S. even as white nationalism and xenophobia are manifesting more openly. As Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Institute, has recently said, “We are just beginning to change the narrative of white supremacy in this country.” In this workshop we’ll hear from two local leaders about their work addressing racism through education, organizing, and political action. We will consider how to be antiracist and how to address other forms of oppression in everyday life- how to do it and how to build in support for doing it.

Presenters: Kevin Peterson, Founder and Director of The New Democracy Coalition; Lavette Coney, Facilitator for White People Challenging Racism.   Convened by Rosemary Kean, MAPA racial justice working group.

A Moral Budget for Massachusetts (Auditorium – Front)

Federal and State budgets are among the most important expressions of our political values and priorities. Yet  few taxpayers know that Congress has allocated more than half the tax $ sent to Washington to war preparations, weapons and a new nuclear arms race. The national Poor People’s Campaign has developed a Moral Budget for the Nation. This workshop will describe efforts to implement the campaign in Mass. by generating a Moral Budget for Massachusetts. This budget would  present the program possibilities for the State if Congress were to adopt the national Moral Budget proposed by the Poor People’s Campaign. This  Budget would be a progressive pole in the struggles over the next State Budget by the Mass Legislature. 

Presenters:  Savina Martin of the Massachusetts Poor People’s Campaign; State Rep. Denise Provost; Cambridge City Councilor Quinton Zondervan; Prof. Jonathan King (Co-Chair MAPA).

Voices from the Border: Migration and the Struggle for Justice (Sherrill 150)

Join life-long human rights activists Jeanne Gallo and Sunny Robinson for a discussion of the current U.S. immigration situation and how we can respond. Jeanne and Sunny will focus specifically on the implications of current efforts to end asylum, and the Remain in Mexico and so-called Safe Third Countries programs.  Discussion will focus on current, local Massachusetts endeavors, as well as what ought to happen nationally.

Participants will gain:

  1. a deepened understanding of current anti-immigrant policies and their consequences;
  2. the knowledge to advocate for current pro-immigrant legislation;
  3. the knowledge to advocate for just immigration policies at the national level

Presenters: Jeanne Gallo and Sunny Robinson, North Shore Coalition for Peace and Justice