Direct Action Blocked by Train

Several of the planned sessions I attended at the National Network Assembly related to direct action. I also participated in the unplanned event.

This began Friday (8/23/2019) morning with “Our Story: The Movement Vision and Values Project.” The speakers were Shawn Sebastian and Nicole Carty.

I had met Shawn previously because he is working at Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (ICCI) in Des Moines. I had seen him at the Sunrise Movement Tour when it came to Des Moines. ICCI is the Sunrise Hub in central Iowa. I also saw him after that when there was a Sunrise Movement meeting at the ICCI offices.

Shawn and Nicole each spoke of the value and effectiveness of stories. Stories are our oldest technology. They are unifying and help others see who we are and where we are going. Stories show our vulnerability, which allows us to connect with others at a deeper level than just providing facts to support our goals. The coherence of stories is more important than facts. “Fact checking” is not useful.

Effective story narratives should include:

  • Now – describe the current state of the issue your story is about
  • Problem – clearly define and describe the problem
  • Us – who we are
  • Them – name names of the organizations and people that are the problem
  • Choice – clearly define what the choices are
  • Vision – describe the vision of what will be the result of people making the choice you are advocating for

Our values are love, freedom, inclusivity, equality, dignity and democracy.

Shawn told the story of watching the 2016 Presidential election returns with a friend who had a debilitating illness. They feared how the Trump administration would affect his friends healthcare, which was costing thousands of dollars a month even with medical insurance. Shawn was living in New York at the time and his parents lived in Iowa. Seeing how all Iowa counties but two voted for Trump, he call his parents, of Indian ancestry, and begged them to leave Iowa, fearing for their safety. But they refused to leave.

When Shawn realized the political importance of Iowa related to presidential primaries he decided to move to Iowa to work at ICCI, to get candidates who would support Medicare for All elected.

The next session I attended was “Direct Action Training” that was presented by Ross Floyd who also works at Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement.

  • Now – only the wealthy can afford comprehensive health care.
  • Problem – even those who have medical insurance are often responsible for thousands of dollars of medical costs. Some people can’t afford the cost of their medications
  • Us – people who aren’t rich and have either inadequate or no health care insurance
  • Them – medical insurance companies that don’t provide full medical insurance
  • Choice – Medicare for all versus the current inadequate medical insurance
  • Vision – every person receives medical care at no cost

Ross used some past direct actions to illustrate components of direct actions, including the multiple roles that need to be assigned, such as police liaison (whose role is to detract police attention from the action), media person and action marshals to maintain discipline.

What we hadn’t expected was to participate in a direct action in Des Moines organized by ICCI related to Medicare for All. We were going to join people in Des Moines to meet at one of the companies that was opposing Medicare for All. The plan was to tape printouts from numerous Go Fund Me sites that had been created to help individuals raise money to cover their medical expenses on the windows of the company’s office. Those pages would be taped to the windows there with band aides.

ICCI had arranged for sack lunches and bus transportation from the Y Camp to Des Moines. It was disappointing that only a dozen of us decided to go to the action. We set out for Des Moines, but ran into (not literally) a railroad crossing that was blocked by a train that wasn’t moving. Shawn and Ross were in contact with the ICCI staff in Des Moines. Unfortunately the train was still there after 30 minutes. At that point we couldn’t get to Des Moines in time, so we returned to the Y Camp. We did use the time to talk more about direct action and share some of our stories.

This was a lesson that no matter how much planning you put into organizing a direct action, there can be, and often are unexpected circumstances to deal with.

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