Exclusive: Meet the Dissenters
Behind the Scenes with Youth Anti-War Organizers
A year and a half ago I was at a vigil for Yemen in downtown Manhattan. Most of the Union Square crowd was older folks, anti-war hippies with hearts of gold who wanted to draw attention to the mass starvation of the Yemeni people and do whatever they could to stop it. But two younger members of the crowd caught my eye. After the demonstration ended we spoke for a while and they said they were part of a new group, students on college campuses organizing against militarism and war. They called themselves the Dissenters.
This past Monday I got a message from an account I’ve been following closely since shortly after that vigil, the Dissenters official page. I’ve seen them disrupt military contractors recruiting at career fairs, blockade the entrances of factories where weapons of war are made, and interrupt the speeches of Pentagon officials. This message asked me if I would attend an upcoming event. Of course. I was thrilled to join, and hopefully I’d be able to help out. So I started talking to the Dissenters once again. That’s when I learned what they were planning, and that I would be meeting them as they quietly assembled at 7:30 a.m. this cold Thursday morning to target one of the massive Wall Street banks.
I’ve been writing about how action begets hope, and how organizing with others to build power and shut down the war machine is the most important thing we can do in this moment. So I want to bring you a little behind-the-scenes look at what is, to me, one of the most inspiring groups organizing in the country right now. Their methods, their clarity and focus, and their determination bring me hope. And I hope they can bring you some hope today as well.
Before we go further I hope we can use this piece to support these brave young organizers. So any funds generated today will go directly to the inspiring Dissenters.
BNY Mellon is a massive bank, with $1.8 trillion in assets under management and $45.7 trillion in assets under custody. But for some set of reasons it flies under the radar, with far less name recognition than comparable institutions. Yet it didn’t escape the notice of the young Dissenter organizers. Notably, the bank drew their attention because of its investment in the arms industry, and its links to the IDF. For one, BNY Mellon invests upwards of $4.2 billion in weapons manufacturers like Boeing, Raytheon, General Dynamics, and Lockheed Martin, as well as Israel’s top defense contractor, Elbit Systems. In addition, BNY Mellon also has a Friends of the IDF Donor Advised Fund. Through this fund, the bank and donors support the Israeli Occupation Forces.
This research conducted by the organizers was the first sign that the group was doing serious, thoughtful work. Targeting the billions that go towards funding war and violence around the world is a crucial step. Sometimes it looks like blocking arms factories, but it also must look like going after the financial institutions and building the power to get them to divest. And the well crafted, targeted action I was able to join today did exactly that. While some members of the group picketed the entrance, others handed out fliers in the area calling out specific executives by name and listing each of BNY Mellon’s biggest investments in war. Several tried gallantly to hand these quarterly report fliers to banks employees, despite knowing the reluctance and rejection they would be met with.
At the same time, those who couldn’t make it to the financial district first thing Thursday morning were calling into the bank, and even faxing in the mock “quarterly report,” flier, which has admittedly been altered just slightly to hammer home the call to divest from weapons of death. BNY Mellon was getting hit from all sides today by these thoughtful activists against militarism and war.
The Dissenters have just recently expanded off college campuses, largely in an effort to combat the funding and arming of Israel in this pivotal moment. Over the course of multiple conversations with organizers in New York I saw a group that is committed to being both radical and firm in their commitment to opposing the war machine, but also committed to being gentle and caring with one another. As we huddled in the cold this morning between the looming skyscrapers filled with financial institutions which happened to block the morning sun, the organizers leading the charge for this particular action made clear that we would stay as long as we could, but that they weren’t aiming to get arrested. At least not today. They encouraged people to clear out if the NYPD escalated against us, but readily acknowledged that we could proceed as we pleased. It was a skillful walking of the line between care and militancy, encompassing both.
As I marched and chanted and recorded today I also quietly hoped that I was getting a glimpse of what the future looks like. Deeply committed and deeply thoughtful organizing. Thorough research paired with determined action. The fact that the Dissenters are a youth organization is massively inspiring to me, and brings tremendous hope in a time of great need. It’s one thing to want a better future, it’s another to work for it and fight for it. And these young people are working hard towards a world that is more peaceful, is free from those who push for war so that they can sell weapons and turn a profit, and is guided by true justice rather than overwhelming force. It’ll take more and more of this organizing, this determination and grit, this togetherness, but I left today’s action with a shot of inspiration I haven’t felt in months. I hope this piece allows me to pass a little of that hope to you, and that together we can support and emulate these bold, creative young people. Let’s rally to their cries for a better world, and help them build the wave of the future.
Thank you for reading! I’ll be contributing $100 dollars directly to these inspiring youth organizers myself, and I hope you’ll join me. Every dollar generated from this piece goes to them. In gratitude - Josh
P.S. You can also find out my about the Dissenters at https://wearedissenters.org/!