movements poland Protests



People are building a nonpartisan movement in Poland to counter the consolidation of political power by a single party.

“The poster child for European integration seems more like a moody teenager.”

This sentence, from last week’s issue of The Economist, refers to Poland, which was under the Communist Regime until 1989 and only joined the European Union in 2004.

In the past six months, the country went through a significant power shift that saw the populist Law and Justice party take control of the Polish political scene: last May, their candidate Andrzej Duda, a lawyer and former MEP, was elected President. Just a few months later, in October, the party won the absolute majority in the Parliamentary elections, a first for the 26-year old democracy.

But in less than a month, the new government has prompted many people to take to the streets to protest the party’s first, very controversial steps towards controlling the judicial power.

“Poland’s ruling party misunderstood its democratic mandate” is the message spread by the We Are Watching You coalition (in Polish: Patrzymy na Was), an informal, nonpartisan group of citizens, many of whom are active in non-governmental organizations, including Panoptykon Foundation’s Katarzyna Szymielewicz and Jakub Górnicki, of Fundacja ePaństwo, a partner of Personal Democracy Media and the organizer of the Personal Democracy Forum PL-CEE.

The group has been leading protests in the capital, Warsaw, as well as in other cities, calling for democratic standards, human rights, and the rule of law in Poland: the government’s actions, they claim, are seriously endangering the separation of powers in the country.


The political clash started when the new parliament voted in five new judges of the Polish Constitutional Court (the highest judicial authority of the country) taking advantage of a legal conundrum.

But the critical point was reached when, as reported by Associated Press, President Duda “quickly swore in four of them in the middle of the night before the court itself could rule on the validity of the earlier appointments by the previous government.”

The controversial road that the Law and Justice party (in Polish: Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, abbreviated in PiS) is taking, had been paved by the previous government, led by the more moderate Civic Platform party, that had elected both the previous President and Prime Minister.

At Politico Europe, law professor Maciej Kisilowski explains:

Because of scheduled retirements, as many as five slots on the court—one-third of the total makeup of 15—opened around election time. Three judges retired in early November, a few days before the new parliament convened, but after the election day. The remaining two will step down in early December.
In an aggressively partisan way, Civic Platform passed a law allowing the outgoing parliament to choose all five judges. Last Thursday, the Constitutional Court decided the law was unconstitutional insofar as it permitted the election of two “December” judges. The other three judges, however, were chosen properly and, in early November, should have started their term in office.

On December 3rd, the Constitutional Court ruled that three of those earlier appointments were valid, but two were not.


At the moment, the political opposition to the Law and Justice party is also protesting in streets and squares. We Are Watching You, though, is not built on political partisanship, but rather on civic action, Górnicki tells Civicist.

Jakub Górnicki is a journalist, open data advocate, and longtime civic activist at Fundacja ePaństwo. We spoke via Skype on Thursday morning, before a meeting of the We Are Watching You coalition.

“We are not against this government,” he says, “but against the standards it’s setting.”

Currently, the citizens’ coalition is choosing to organize and disseminate information through social media and not to have leaders.

This appears to be both a strategy and a necessity: given the deeply polarized public debate, which is reflected in the mainstream media, not putting anyone as the face and voice of the protest will make it harder for the government-supporting media to attack people in the coalition and undermine their stances, Górnicki explains.

Instead, they have created the figure of the “SuperCitizen” (in Polish: SuperObywatel) as a voice to share information while emphasizing the civic aspect of their protest.

Who is the SuperCitizen? Here’s how he/she is described on the coalition website:

The SuperCitizen […] draws its power from the Constitution and from human rights. […] She knows what rights are and is not afraid to use them. She avoids political disputes, because she knows that it divides rather than unite, it breaks things, instead than repairing them. For her, the most important things are standards and she expect them to be implemented by all officiating authority or those who are in opposition.

In the video of one of the protests, people shout “Constitution!” and “Democracy!” and wave signs that mean “freedom of expression” and freedom of information.”

The voiceover says “Citizens have to exercise their rights.”

Many members of the coalition, though speaking in a personal capacity, are active in non-governmental organizations and have a long record of defending human rights: therefore, Górnicki explains, they are used to scrutinizing the actions of every government, criticizing if necessary, and always try to create a dialogue with them.

“But the president broke the law and now it seems impossible to talk with the government,” he adds.

The active citizens that form the coalition are also worried about the new course of the ruling party for soon-to-come reforms. In their public statement, they write:

…it only seems to be the beginning of a total makeover of various areas of public and private life. PiS has announced immediate adoption of the new anti-terrorist law. Another change expected within a month will affect public media, focusing their role on promoting national values. PiS is also planning major changes in Poland’s social and educational policy, including rolling back school reform as well as introducing financial benefits for parents with two children or more, the latter involving collection of sensitive data in a central database of all beneficiaries.

It is not clear what’s next.

Currently, a petition on has about 2,000 signatures—but this might not mean much: even if citizens were able to gather signatures for a referendum on these issues (the law in Poland requires one million signatures from a population of 38.5 million), such referendum would still have to be approved by the Parliament to happen”—something that does not seem likely to happen, given the absolute majority that the Law and Justice party holds.

On Thursday night, when I asked the activists if there were any expected developments or actions set for the weekend, one of them half-jokingly replied: “With the extremely dynamic situation we have here in Poland you never know what’s gonna happen in next few hours.”

On Friday morning, Civicist was informed that the government is refusing to print the Constitutional Court ruling in the official gazette, therefore confirming that it will not acknowledge as legal the decision of the highest court in the country.

The center-left leaning newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza reports:

“Yesterday the President of the Constitutional Court President Andrew Rzepliński confirmed to us that Minister Kemp [Beata Kemp is the Justice Minister, elected with the Law and Justice party] sent him a letter in which it informs that the publication of the judgment in the Official Gazette is paused because it was issued by improperly constituted court and is therefore invalid.”

As the only option seems to be taking the protest to the streets again, Górnicki makes clear that We Are Watching You will keep being a strictly civic force, independent from media and political parties: “It’s better for us to build a movement,” he concludes.

Civic Engagement Civic Hacking Protests



Some practical advice for conducting cultural acupuncture.

The final film in The Hunger Games franchise hits theaters today. Fans will be flocking to theaters to see the conclusion of Panem’s revolution, but the Harry Potter Alliance is already helping write the next chapter.

Odds in Our Favor is a campaign by the Harry Potter Alliance (HPA) to hack the Hunger Games hype and get people talking about real life economic inequality. The practice of combining pop culture and civic engagement, which HPA co-founder (and Civic Hall fellow) Andrew Slack calls “cultural acupuncture,” helps leaders detect and redirect society’s psychological energy toward real world issues and action.

During the first iteration of the Odds in Our Favor in 2013, HPA asked fans to send in pictures of themselves holding up a three-finger salute to acknowledge that the economic inequality and oppression seen on screen were real world issues. In 2014, when Mockingjay Part 1 was released, we asked fans to share their personal Hunger Games stories around how issues like class, gender, sexuality, race, education, ability, employment impact their lives. These stories showed the reality of economic inequality in the U.S. With over 12,000 people telling their story, we were left wondering: what can we do to impact such a large and complicated issue?

This year, Odds in Our Favor is focused on sharing both stories of oppression and action. We’ve partnered with labor unions, nonprofits, artists and activists to form a “Coalition of Rebels” which provide fans with ways to take action. These partners share in-depth first person stories from the communities they work with at Each story—from Walmart workers to environmental disaster survivors to Syrian refugees—includes an action that either the storyteller has taken to create change in their community, or that the reader can take to make a difference. Fans are no longer just consuming or even telling the story; they’re participating in shaping it.

At the Harry Potter Alliance, we believe all fans can be heroes. Fans are passionate, enthusiastic, authentic and imaginative—four words usually missing when we talk about politics and civic engagement. Through cultural acupuncture we are using fandom as a force for good—and here’s how you can, too.


Cultural acupuncture means you don’t wait for people discover to your issue—you bring the issue to where they already are. The Hunger Games trilogy was one of the first major literary phenomena after Harry Potter. The energy and excitement was there, and fans were eager to engage with the story and the issues it represented. The Harry Potter Alliance chose to do something that ultimately shaped our organizing going forward: we followed the energy and did our first non-Harry Potter related campaign.

As the franchise grew to include four feature films, the energy continued to grow and to shift. Fans lamented that this story of economic inequality and revolution was being used to sell make-up and Subway sandwiches. We responded to this bizarre marketing by asking fans to tell the real stories of #MyHungerGames. This year, when the conversation shifted to anger and confusion around the Hunger Games theme park, we asked fans to share ideas for attractions that represent the real Hunger Games. Fans suggested $50,000 tickets, juggling acts where performers balance “rent,” “food,” and “medical,” and roller coasters that require three years of experience in order to ride.

By paying attention to Hunger Games fans, and to this particular cultural moment, we created a responsive campaign for engaging fans around issues of inequality.


As Odds in Our Favor has grown, we’ve worked with and learned from incredible partners. Having partner organizations on the campaign has allowed us to share stories from incarcerated young people, indigenous activists, mental health advocates, and other communities whose stories often go unheard in mainstream media. Partners also bring the campaign to new audiences: people who follow the partner organizations and use their services gain a new, creative way of engaging with issues they care about. The power of Odds in Our Favor grows, and partner organizers gain another tool for increasing engagement.

From labor unions to international NGO’s, we’ve see civic organizations use cultural acupuncture in incredible ways:

  • Project UROK created a special #MyHungerGames video series, where people shared stories about mental health and poverty.

  • OURWalmart and Fight for $15 have used the Hunger Games as a part of their protests, with workers holding up the three-finger salute and rewriting the lyrics to “The Hanging Tree.”

  • AFL-CIO have highlighted present-day labor issues in easy-to-read listicles illustrated with eye-catching gifs from the film.

  • Campaign for Youth Justice adapted their “Hands of Support” campaign to include the three-finger salute to demonstrate support for incarcerated young people.

  • HPA chapters have used the Hunger Games to organize their communities around everything from refugee support to climate change education. We’ve seen art shows, hunger (games) banquets, donation drives, teach-ins, and more.


Author John Green has long advocated that stories belong to their readers and that it is the imagination of readers that bring narratives to life—which we believe means that fans hold the power to continue the narrative long after the series ends.

Through the work of fans and partner organizations, we’ve done just that with the Odds in Our Favor campaign. We’ve shared #MyHungerGames stories from an impressive array of communities: workers, prisoners, refugees, protesters, mental health advocates, climate change survivors, and many more. Each story we share includes a call to action: sign a petition; start a discussion; join a march; tell your story.

With so many diverse partners and issue areas, these stories and calls to action could have sounded like a disjointed cacophony. Instead, weaving The Hunger Games narrative through each story and action has created the lyrics to a collective song that every civic organization should be singing: our issues are entwined, your liberation is bound up with mine, and everyone’s actions make a difference. In 2015, we’re witnessing a revolution, and cultural acupuncture is allowing us to understand what that means and imagine ourselves as heroes in the long narrative of history and change.

Katie Bowers is the Campaigns Director for The Harry Potter Alliance, which uses the power of stories to inspire social change.

Direct Action organizing Protests



Just over a year after the People’s Climate March, the largest climate-related demonstration in history, the People’s Climate Movement is finally finding its legs.

This morning a group of climate activists and canoe enthusiasts will float from Columbia, Missouri, to Jefferson City, Missouri, to
deliver petitions supporting carbon reductions to the Governor. This afternoon, protesters will demonstrate outside of a Volkswagen dealership in
Tucson, Arizona. And this evening, New York activists and intellectuals will ponder the
city’s relationship to trash. These are just three events, of roughly 175, planned as part of the
National Day of Action for the people’s climate. Just over a year after the People’s Climate March—the largest climate-related demonstration in history,
even if the oft-touted estimate of 400,000 marchers is too generous
—the People’s Climate Movement is finally finding its legs.

After the wildly successful demonstration last year, the fate of the coalition responsible for the People’s Climate March was uncertain. As I wrote in May, support for the hubs platform, the
digital infrastructure that made the march
inclusive and easy to join, was discontinued after the march was over, in part because of a lack of resources as well as skepticism about the platform’s
usefulness moving forward.

The hubs platform wasn’t the only piece to be neglected in the months following the march. “There was lots of organizing and
infrastructure that we created for the march that wasn’t maintained,” Tammy Shapiro, the hubs coordinator, told Civicist earlier this year.

“Once you move a lot of people into action and build structures it’s really important to keep those structures supported,” says Paul Getsos, a national
coordinator both this year and last, as well as an author of the book Tools for Radical Democracy. “Nobody realized
how big and how important and how successful the march was going to be at getting people engaged.” As organizers from told Civicist earlier this
year, the original intention was not to create a permanent “People’s Climate” organization.

It wasn’t until a retreat this February, attended by representatives of around 50 organizations, that they decided to turn the “March” into a “Movement”
and began planning the October day of action.

Although Getsos says partner organizations have been great at financially supporting a core staff, he characterized the operation this year as “barebones,”
a stark contrast to the march last year, which was so well-financed that it attracted criticism for being a corporate PR campaign.

If the march last year was about demonstrating unity and sheer numbers—to the detriment, some argued, of a “meaningful agenda”—the coordinated
action this year is about individual communities. “The fourteenth is a day to really lift up local organizing work,” Getsos explains to Civicist.


To support the National Day of Action, the People’s Climate Movement (PCM) created a downloadable toolkit, a resource for organizers that
includes a suggested to-do list (“Prioritize building an inclusive team”; “Reach out to local organizations that may be supportive, especially
underrepresented groups”); suggested targets (elected representatives; local corporations) and actions (office takeover; banner drop; flash mob); and how
to spread the word and boost attendance. They also provided tip sheets, press release templates, and talking points of various lengths in both English and
Spanish. In collaboration with Climate Prints, PCM released downloadable posters designed by artists like Marcus Blake, Chip Thomas, and Melanie Cervantes,
that people could use to spread the word about the National Day of Action.

Getsos says that the open source aspect of the organizing allows anyone to pick it up, although the capacity to support them isn’t what it was last year:

In the march planning last year we had a very strong digital operation. We had a very strong social media operation. I think we had a very strong open
source hubs model situation. 

I think trying to transfer those skills and that work into 100 places around the country is a little bit challenging…we really don’t have the resources
and the capacity now to do that in a way that we were able to do it when everything was focused in on one spot.

Through partner organizations like the Sierra Club and, campaign director Nick Espinosa says more than two million emails have been sent directing
people to the online map of national actions to join. PCM also emailed the 65,000 people who signed up
during the march last year, and the 40,000 who have liked their Facebook page. On behalf of PCM, Tammy Shapiro reached back out to the listserv of hub

I emailed the coordinators I was in touch with for my earlier story. Of the six, only Christopher Wahmhoff, a coordinator in Kalamazoo, got back in touch
with me to say that he was organizing an action today, targeting Congressman Fred Upton

Although the hubs are all but defunct, at least officially (they’ve been essentially archived here), the quirkiness, individualism, passion, and creativity they were made to support is still evident in the National Day of Action (see: the canoe enthusiasts in Missouri). Months ago, the social media coordinator for the march last year tweeted that many hubs were still active on Facebook.

“We were surprised to see such a strong response to the call for action around the country, with over 175 events registered as of today,” Nick Espinosa
wrote in an email to Civicist. “To me that is a strong sign that there is a lot of movement energy out there to be harnessed, especially on the road to
the climate negotiations in Paris.”

“Our hope,” he added, “is that the tools we’ve given people will help them continue organizing in their local communities, and that we can continue to
offer some support over time.”

If the PCM suffered through neglect last year, it seems as though that mistake will not be repeated. Paul Getsos tells Civicist that they are already “thinking
strategically” about what to do after October 14.