|* Longtime community organizer and direct-action agitator
* A key organizer of the violent demonstrations that caused the shutdown of the 1999 WTO meetings in Seattle
* Served as a human shield in actions conducted by the International Solidarity Movement in the Palestinian cities of Jenin and Nablus
* Has accused Israel of “slaughter[ing] Palestinians every single day in Gaza and the Occupied territories”
Seeks to “create crisis, because crisis is that edge where change is possible”
* Is the top street-level organizer of the Occupy Wall Street movement
Born in 1961, Lisa Fithian is a longtime community organizer who specializes in aggressive “direct action” tactics and, as journalist Byron York puts it, “operates in the world of anti-globalism anarchists, antiwar protesters, and union activists.”
After attending Skidmore College, Fithian in 1983 began working with “Yippie” movement co-founder Abbie Hoffman at the environmental organization Save the River. Also during the 1980s, Fithian actively protested against American aid to the Nicaraguan Contras and worked with Pledge of Resistance, an organization that used civil disobedience to register its opposition to U.S. military intervention in Central America.
In 1987 Fithian was the national coordinator of a large demonstration aimed at shutting down the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia. That same year, she served on the national coordinating group for a gay-and-lesbian-rights rally outside of the Supreme Court building—a protest sparked by the Court’s 1986 decision to uphold anti-sodomy laws in Bowers v. Hardwick.
During her seven years as coordinator of the Washington Peace Center in the 1980s, Fithian organized hundreds of demonstrations on a wide range of issues—including support for the Palestinian Intifada of 1987. In 1991, Fithian protested against America’s involvement in the first Gulf War.
In 1993 Fithian joined the labor movement through the AFL-CIO Organizing Institute. During the ensuing years, she helped lead direct-action protests on behalf of workers in the nursing, farming, automobile, hospital, hotel, security, janitorial, laundry, and newspaper industries in cities across the United States. Hallmarks of those protests included displays of civil disobedience whose aim was to provoke police into arresting hundreds or even thousands of people. Fithian also served as the mobilization coordinator for the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, an 800,000-member entity .
In 1999 Fithian was a key organizer of the chaotic demonstrations which devolved into violent riots and caused the shutdown of the World Trade Organization (WTO) meetings in Seattle. Afterward, Fithian helped found the Continental Direct Action Network, a confederation of anarchist groups. In 2003 she organized against yet another WTO conference—in Cancun, Mexico—where the talks similarly collapsed.
In 2001 (Quebec) and 2003 (Miami), Fithian organized against Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) summits. In Fithian’s view, the FTAA, which sought to expand the 1993 NAFTA agreement to include also all of South America, amounted to a corporate land grab that threatened not only to stamp out indigenous cultures but also to ravage the environment. Her goal was to “create enough brouhaha”—by such strategies as blocking delegates’ access to the Miami airport and the conference center—to “undermine that city’s ability to host” the event; i.e., to “shut it down.”
Since 2000, Fithian has also led direct-action trainings and helped facilitate street protests at IMF/World Bank meetings in the U.S., the Czech Republic, and Canada; she has organized against G8 Summits in Italy, Canada, Switzerland, the U.S., Scotland, Germany, and Japan; she helped organize against a World Economic Forum in New York; and she was a key planner of protests at the Republican and Democratic national conventions in 2000 and 2004.
In 2003, Fithian spent several weeks working with the International Solidarity Movement in the Palestinian cities of Jenin and Nablus, where she acted as a human shield in an effort to prevent Israel’s demolition of the homes of Palestinian extremists and terrorists.
Fithian has also worked for “environmental justice” with such Texas-based groups as the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance (which she helped establish in 2002) and the Save Our Springs Alliance.
Since 2003, Fithian has served on the national steering committee of United for Peace and Justice. In 2005, she provided direct support and guidance for anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan at Camp Casey in Crawford, Texas. Thereafter, Fithian coordinated the Bring Them Home Now tour, which featured more than 200 anti-war events in 28 states during a 25-day period. After the tour, Fithian went to New Orleans and spent a year working with Common Ground Relief on projects designed to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Fithian has also provided training and support to such groups as the new Students for a Democratic Society, ACORN, National People’s Action, and many others.
Fithian says that she and others “who are trying to create a new world … have to dismantle or transform the old order” because “I just fundamentally don’t believe it will ever serve our interests as it’s currently constructed.” Citing the late-19th and early-20th century anarchist movement in Spain as her inspiration, Fithian refuses to limit her activism strictly to methods of nonviolent civil disobedience. “I am not a pacifist,” she says, explaining that “I was raised in this culture, which is a very violent culture and I understand that I have some violence in who I am.”
In an effort to fulfill her moral “obligation” to “undo all the oppression” that exists in American society, Fithian seeks to “create crisis, because crisis is that edge where change is possible.” “Every choice you make,” she says, “is choosing to liberate something or oppress something.”
In the spring of 2010, Fithian led members of the United Auto Workers union in a rowdy protest designed to “close” a branch of the Bank of America for allegedly paying too little in taxes, handing out too many subprime loans, and refusing to renegotiate mortgages for homeowners facing foreclosure. In October 2010, Fithian led activists from the Service Employees International Union in a similar demonstration at the American Bankers Association’s Business Expo in Boston.
At a May 31, 2010 protest in Austin, Texas, Fithian publicly accused the state of Israel of “slaughter[ing] Palestinians every single day in Gaza and the Occupied territories.” “It is time for the U.S. tax dollars that fund that [Israeli] occupation to end,” she said. During the same event, fellow demonstrators chanted such slogans as Long live Intifada! and Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea!
Fithian has been the top street-level organizer of the Occupy Wall Street movement and its various urban chapters since its inception in September 2011. Charging that “the corporations [and] the big banks in this country have been destroying this country,” Fithian seeks to “make sure that the most impacted people, the undocumented folks, the poor people, the students in debt are able to have their voices heard.”