"I think it's the responsibility for those of us who have woken up to injustices to take action the best ways we know how"
I want to introduce you to someone I'm proud to call a friend, Rod Tharp. I met Rod bout 3 years ago when he came out to our annual direct action camp. I remember Rod asking me "have you heard about this thing called climate change? It seems pretty scary." Since then I've gotten to know Rod pretty well, witnessing him dedicate so much of his time and energy to fighting for climate and social justice the best way he knows how. You can find Rod building giant inflatable oil train props, designing GMO FrakenCorn Cob backpack puppets, helping teach others new to activism Backbone's giant overpass bannering technique and erecting giant banners between sailboats. Rod has evolved from a retired carpenter to an full-time volunteer ambassador and innovator of artful activism.
~ Eric Ross, Backbone Organizer
Carpenter's Perspective on Building a Movement with Backbone
by Rod Tharp
To say "optimist" isn't the first word that comes to mind when people think of me may be an understatement. Honestly, I don't think there is any hope in our government seeing the light or changing its ways on its own. For that reason, I think it's the responsibility of those of us who have woken up to the injustices of the world to take action and build a better one.
"I care, and I want to make a difference in what’s left of my life."
What I love most about the Backbone Campaign is their "Let's do it!" attitude. The essence and spirit of Backbone is that nothing is impossible when we work together. When I look back at the sHellNo campaign, it is absolutely amazing what our Backbone team did in supporting that. I don't know any other group that could do all of that, in so little time, with so few resources. Team Backbone is pretty great at pulling people together to make things happen on the fly. It's fun and sHellNo is just the most widely known example.
When I was young, the Vietnam war was broiling. I didn't know much about social justice, but I was very opposed to war. I was lucky to receive a Conscientious Objector status and served two years doing alternative service. In retrospect, I was one of the fortunate ones and that has affected me a great deal. At this point in my life, I want to take advantage of my privilege and push for social change.
Right around the time I was thinking about retiring from carpentry, Occupy got pretty big in Olympia where I live. Anyone who was half awake could see that something had to be done about the social injustice and income disparity in this country. My wife Susan wanted me to be a house husband, so Occupy was just what I needed to keep me busy so I wouldn't have time to do the dishes.
"Backbone has a knack for earning valuable media attention that invites and inspires everyday folk to take action." ~ Builder Rod Tharp
Bill Moyer came to Occupy Olympia and offered some presentations about direct action and some of the theory and practice around what Backbone does. I learned a ton. Shortly after that, I saw that Backbone was working with eviction and foreclosure defense activists and had an "underwater home" prop at an event that needed some repairs. I approached Bill and said, "You know, I can fix that." I've been collaborating with Backbone ever since.
Another great thing about Backbone is that they help people figure out how their gifts and skills can meaningfully contribute to making a difference. I'm not the best communicator, nor the most persuasive person or good at debating and I don’t enjoy talking to the police. That stuff is for others and having a TEAM is crucial. That said, I do enjoy using my hands, building stuff and being a little creative. I've learned that by drawing on that, my gift of a sort, I can contribute to building a social change movement. To make real change, it’ll take a lot of people pitching in with their skills and gifts. We need you to share the gifts and talents you enjoy expressing.
Backbone and I have a mutual aid relationship. Among the many things they taught me through their actions, workshops, and training camps is how to do guerrilla light projection and build giant overpass banners. Now I get to teach others what I've learned. Backbone sends me metal stencils needed for light actions. They help get the word out about actions I'm organizing. We talk shop about my ideas for actions and props and more. When Backbone needs help, I provide what aid I can.
"What I love most about Backbone is their Let's Do It Attitude... nothing is impossible."
One of the things I've developed recently that I'm most proud of is Kite Bannering (see below). We practiced it during sHellNo effort and perfected it out in front of Bill Gates' mansion calling for divestment from fossil fuels. You see, I'm still learning, exploring, working to take my activism to the next level. I want to reach more people and not just preach to the choir. That's another reason I hang out with Backbone. Through their creative tactics, they have a knack for helping folks earn valuable media attention that invites and inspires everyday people to take action.
When Eric at Backbone asked me why I do all this I told him, "The truth is, it's pretty simple. I care and I want to make a difference in what’s left of my life. Collaborating with Backbone is one of the best ways I can do that." Time and time again I'm amazed at the difference Backbone makes on so many different issues. I want them to have as many resources as possible to provide their valuable and unique offerings to individuals and communities nation-wide who are working for change.
One of the best ways you can make a difference is by joining their Lumbar Club. By pitching-in $5, 10, 25, or 50 bucks a month you help Team Backbone give people a way to share their gifts and a means for creating the world we all yearn for. I'm part of the Club and part of Team Backbone. I hope you'll join me. I'm sure you'll enjoy it.
PS - If you prefer to send your tax-deductible end of year gift by check - mail it to Backbone Campaign at PO BOX 278, Vashon, WA 98070. (And add a note that Rod sent you ;-)