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How do we support disruptive resistance?

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Extinction Rebellion/Twitter

Peter Buffett, the son of billionaire philanthropist Warren Buffett, writes in his New York Times article provocatively titled The Charitable-Industrial Complex about the massive multi-billion-dollar non-profit sector in the United States and makes the case that "philanthropic colonialism" does not address systemic structural issues.

Buffett says that people may feel better because they have made a donation, but that needed fundamental change remains elusive.

That's why many of us who support charitable organizations also recognize their limitations and additionally call for systemic change and social justice.

A next step is to also acknowledge that mass resistance strategies that involve disruptive actions are needed -- and that they are popular! E-petitions and rallies play an important role, but more is necessary at this crucial juncture.

We know that the Occupy and Idle No More grassroots mobilizations, while relatively short-lived, have had a tremendous and lasting impact on our political culture.

Paul Engler, the founding director of the Center for the Working Poor, says, "The willingness to create public controversy is precisely what produces shifts in culture."

Engler further notes, "Mass protests are mostly driven by upstart organizations, who have less to lose than large institutions from engaging in disruptive activities."

Last month, the Extinction Rebellion movement stated, "We understand that as a large institution they have bills to pay and can be risk averse. These times of unprecedented ecological crisis, require our institutions to change, rapidly, and to be willing to take risks."

The good news is that polling shows that grassroots protests are popular.

In 2012, an Environics poll found that 62 per cent supported the Occupy movement and 56 per cent supported the Quebec student protests. In 2013, a Nanos poll found that 40.6 per cent of Canadians supported the Idle No More movement.

If that latter figure seems relatively low, keep in mind that the federal Liberals won the October 2015 election with 39.47 per cent of the vote.

We also need to promote "localisation."

Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, the Secretary-general of the global civil society alliance Civicus, has stated, "We need to build a cadre of confident local actors that have a diverse and reasonably secure resource base to work from. A community of weak [civil society organizations], reliant on sub-grants and contracts, will hardly deliver the changes we need."

Foundation funding, as it is currently allocated, does not appear to be the answer.

Climate movement organizer Patrick Robbins writes that the needs of "unconventional resistance" can include "a bail fund after a successful direct action" while lamenting that it's "the kind of thing that a philanthropic foundation is unlikely to touch" even though "it's precisely the kind of thing that can make or break a campaign."

Robbins notes in the U.S. context that 50 per cent of foundation funding goes to the largest climate groups and that, "As a result, some of the most powerful tactics at our disposal are likely to be neglected."

Vanessa Daniel of the Groundswell Fund adds, "In the U.S. only three per cent [of foundation funding] goes to grass-roots organizing." And Engler laments, "Despite playing a critical role, protest movements are dramatically underfunded."

So, how do we get more money to the frontline local activists who take the risks and engage in disruptive activities that advance transformative change?

Robbins argues for "a primarily member-funded model" including "a steady stream of small donors," "direct mail donations," money from "unions and sympathetic locals," and with caution "a seed grant from a foundation."

Online giving -- including crowd-funding for specific actions and occupations -- provides a relatively low-cost means of collecting small donations from individuals who are inspired by the audacity of an intervention and who are wanting to offer their financial support to it.

We need to sharpen our call for systemic change, to support and engage in frontline-led resistance strategies that disrupt business as usual, we need more upstart organizations that take risks, more localisation, and to donate as selflessly as we can to these efforts.

None of this is easy, but it is doable and necessary.

To read more about inspiring unconventional resistance strategies, please see these rabble.ca blogs about Extinction Rebellion, the Tiny House Warriors, the Valve-Turners and the Hambach Forest occupation.

Image: Extinction Rebellion/Twitter

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