The Narco News Bulletin

July 18, 2018 | Issue #67 - Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America

Janet Cherry: "Even If You Think There Is No Space, You Can Create that Space."

South African Veteran of the Defeat of Apartheid Cites Four Key Components of a Successful Movement: Sustained Action, Mobilization, Strategy and Common Goals

By Aoife Allen
Class of 2011, School of Authentic Journalism

May 26, 2011
This report appears on the internet at

South African professor and veteran anti-apartheid organizer Janet Cherry gave a one-stop workshop on mass non-violent resistance at the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism on Monday, May 15, in Mexico.

Janet Cherry talks about civil resistance at the 2011 School of Authentic Journalism. DR 2011 Noah Friedman-Rudovsky.
Barefoot, energetic and engaging, Cherry identified four key components of a successful movement: sustained action, mobilization, clear strategy and a common objective.

Cherry also spoke about the importance of international solidarity in the dismantling of apartheid, with targeted consumer boycotts of South African products the simplest and most effective tool in the strategy. She pointed to consumer boycotts as the tactic with greatest potential for challenging the Israeli occupation of Palestine today.

"People around Europe refused to buy South African oranges from a company called Outspan" she said. "The image [anti-apartheid activists] used was that of an orange squeezer, and the head of a black person being squeezed.... I don't know who would have bought an orange from South Africa! Consumer boycotts are easy because they don't require a lot of people in terms of masses on the streets. They just involve individuals at home, making a choice."

She stressed the importance of international networks for solidarity and learning, describing how a manual from the Philippines, "Organizing People for Power," was used by the anti-apartheid movement to train the poor population to take power using non-violent means.

Cherry, a long time member of the African National Congress (ANC), told how the ANC sought guidance during the 1980s from Vietnamese revolutionary leaders and was advised not to attempt urban guerrilla warfare as the necessary conditions were not in place. The liberation movement focused more on its other pillars thereafter: mass mobilization, international solidarity, and an underground network to coordinate the resistance.

In one of the most interactive plenary sessions of the school, Cherry drew on her experience of organizing in South Africa to advise journalists and organizers from around the world on how to establish or take their movements forward.

Arzu Geybullayeva, a blogger on freedom of expression in Azerbaijan, asked what advice Cherry has for young people trying to make change. "Even if you think there's no space, you can create that space," Cherry said. "Even if you think that people are full of fear, that fear can be overcome. If you think that people are apathetic or don't care, then you're organized around the wrong issues."

Daniel Perera, a community organizer with indigenous communities in Guatemala, asked how best to organize a minority elite around issues concerning an oppressed majority. Cherry said, "The most straightforward advice would be to find something that actually affects those people, and organize around that. So let's say you have an apathetic majority who don't care about the plight of the indigenous people, but they buy coffee every day which is grown by these poor peasants. Now if suddenly they can't buy their coffee, they'll realize that something is wrong, their lives will be less comfortable. That's the kind of tactic I would use to shake them."

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