Meditating on the climate actions on Sunday and the more radical movement on Wall Street the next day (with large-scale arrests and direct action), something that socialist Seattle city councilwoman Kshama Sawant said on Democracy Now! resonates with me. Others have articulated it, but this gets at the core of the mountain we all must climb:
“what we were talking about last night was that this collective action needs to be channeled into a really radical, militant, nonviolent mass movement that will raise concrete political demands.
What do we need to end, to really fight climate change? We need an end to fossil fuel use. We need a rapid transformation of the global economy into renewable energy. We need a massive expansion of mass transit, which will generate millions of unionized, living-wage jobs. And also, we don’t buy into the false dichotomy between jobs and the environment.”
These adjectives get at the meat of how the movement against climate change has to shift. It needs to go beyond the solutions offered by the political and economic establishment. It needs to be stout in the face of obstacles and oppression. It needs to keep the campaign in the nonviolent sphere, for violence is the strongest point of the groups that are responsible for wide-scale environmental destruction. And it needs to be big. Way bigger than 400,000 people in New York City. It stretches from rural cornfields in Iowa to sweatshops in Bangladesh and Vietnam. The entire energy economy has to be overturned. Whole communities must be placed on sustainable footing- the vast regions of coal fields and tar sands cannot be exploited if a thriving Earth is the objective.
Historian David Blight states bluntly in his marvelous free course on the Civil War and Reconstruction that at a certain point the abolitionist movement realized it had to move beyond mere reform and become extralegal. The crisis was so vast, with millions in chains and slavery on a path towards expansion, there was no other path than to break the law. The establishment will only give so much. Those used to signing MoveOn and Change.org petitions and holding carefully sanctioned protests will need to radicalize. Our communities, our countries, our planet is on a trajectory of great danger and destruction. My family down in Florida will find their homes underwater within my lifetime. Only radical movements can seize the initiative and put business and government on their heels. Action must be faster, more frequent, and more willing to take risks. The most effective activists are those that have worked through their fear.