The crises we face are huge. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, especially when the flames of fear are fanned to make us feel insecure and dispirited. But these crises are also an opportunity to think big and to work together to go beyond reform to real transformation.
Last week we wrote about the people-powered media that bypasses corporate media blackouts and mobilizes people to take action. Another critical strength of the people-powered media is to overcome the crackdown on freedom of the press in the United States. Reporters Without Borders’ 2014 study found that the US plunged 13 places to rank 46th in the world in press freedom. Imagine if the people’s media blossoms with millions of us reporting the truth. It will be impossible to suppress so many of us!
Hiding the truth is necessary for those in power to continue their harmful policies and so is another form of oppression, mass surveillance. Rivera Sun writes in her Love Letter to the NSA, “As for your mass data collection addiction . . . if information were food, you’d be an obese, compulsive eater….” Thanks to whistleblowers like Edward Snowden, we are learning about the pervasive surveillance state and are working together to end it, or at least make it more difficult to do.
On the anniversary of Aaron Swartz’s death, Feb. 11, “The Day We Fight Back,” more than 6,000 websites displayed a banner urging people to make phone calls and write emails to Congress calling for reforms to protect our privacy. In one day, more than 250,000 people in the US and hundreds of thousands outside the US took action. Lawmakers in some states have introduced laws to stop the supply of public water and electricity to massive NSA data-collection centers. And tools are being created to protect internet privacy.
Groups and people that have never worked together before are joining together in specific campaigns and finding that doing so creates a greater impact. This is happening with the work to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and so far, it is succeeding in stopping Congress from passing the Fast Track bill required to sign this rigged corporate agreement into law. The growing opposition to the TPP is having a broader effect on the TPP negotiations. In advance of the next round of meetings, lawmakers from seven of the twelve countries involved are calling for the text of the agreement to be released to the public as has been the practice for every other trade agreement.
Since 2007, a coalition of diverse groups has been meeting in North Carolina as a Peoples Movement Assembly to organize for a social, economic and environmental justice. They are behind the Moral Mondays movement that is now spreading to other states. Recently, their yearly march in Raleigh, the Moral March which started as HKOJ (Historic Thousands on Jones Street), brought an estimated 80,000 people from inside and outside North Carolina.
As the problems grow in size, the response also needs to grow to confront them. One of the most urgent situations we face is the climate crisis. Recently at an organizing meeting in Chicago, Tim DeChristopher, a climate justice activist, said that one of the reasons progress has not been made in solving the climate crisis is that it was relegated to the realm of being an environmental issue. In reality, the climate crisis affects every area of our lives from food and water security to health to jobs and housing. In fact, it threatens our very survival.
At the meeting, activists from around the country who work on a broad range of issues joined together to start organizing a Global Climate Convergence. Another organizer, Deneicha Powell describes it as “a new education and direct action campaign uniting people in an intentional and organized way from a broad spectrum of grassroots social justice movements including anti-poverty, labor, peace, economic, racial, Indigenous, immigrant and environmental justice groups as well as Medicare for All, sustainable food and natural health advocates and Occupy Wall Street networks among others.”
Ten days of actions are being planned from Earth Day to May Day to bring greater awareness to the connections between climate change and all areas of our lives and to show that we are going to have to work together with urgency in our communities to build political power and to put solutions in place together.
To achieve real solutions, not the false solutions allowed by the ruling class, requires both resistance actions to stop what is harmful and constructive work to create alternatives. These are intimately connected. Resistance alone may lead to unjust solutions if there isn’t also work being done to build just alternatives to replace the current systems. The work being done to build alternatives that are just empowers more people not only through increased knowledge but also by fulfilling critical needs for housing, food and jobs. And to top it off, the organizing work being done builds a social movement that has political power.
Wen Stephenson wrote about some of the places where this is happening around the country like Boston, Boulder, Detroit and Richmond, CA in “From Occupy to Climate Justice.” In Kentucky, there is a deep connection between the fight for environmental and climate justice and building a new economy. Communities depend on coal not just for energy but also for jobs. Community support means transitioning to renewable energy sources to replace the coal and to an economy that provides employment. In South Dakota, more than 80 families are solving this problem by pooling their land to build a giant wind farm.
A similar struggle is happening in Lake Superior where indigenous communities and allies are trying to stop very destructive mines and at the same time find ways to support the community economically that are sustainable. Indigenous communities are also leading the resistance to extreme energy extraction and the Keystone XL Pipeline. In New Mexico, the Navajo and Pueblo are fighting a uranium mine that will destroy sacred land and threaten their health. The Moccasins on the Ground project is training communities all across America in direct action so that many people will have the skills needed to protect the air, land and water.
The fight against the extraction economy is a global struggle. In Ecuador, President Correa, who signed the new constitution granting the rights of nature in 2008 is now launching an assault on nature by selling land in the Amazon to gold mining corporations. The same tribe, the Shuar, that was the only tribe to defeat the Spaniards and Incas, has vowed to defend the land with their lives if necessary. In Romania, the community has been fighting off gold mining corporations for decades and is now asking for outside help so they can continue.
Another global crisis which is also connected to climate change and the extraction economy is war. The United States military is one the biggest polluters and contributors to climate change. And most of our military actions, wars that are declared and some that are not, are over control of resources. A new effort that goes beyond traditional efforts to stop or end particular wars. World Beyond War is a global campaign to abolish war itself. So far the response has been very positive with thousands of people signing on to the pledge. The official launch date is September 21, the International Day of Peace.
David Swanson of World Beyond War writes “If we abolish war, humanity can not only survive and better address the climate crisis and other dangers, but will be able to create a better life for everyone. The reallocation of resources away from war promises a world whose advantages are beyond easy imagination. Some $2 trillion a year, roughly half from the United States and half from the rest of the world, is devoted to war and war preparation. Those funds could transform global efforts to create sustainable energy, agricultural, economic, health, and education systems.”
Some may see the abolition of war as impossible, but the same thing was said about slavery. It’s time to be bold in our thinking. Dare to dream about what you want the world to be like, join others in making it a reality and you may be surprised at the result.
In 1972, the 16-year old king of Bhutan decided to reject using Gross Domestic Product as the sole measure of his nation’s well-being and created the Gross National Happiness Index (GNH). The GNH looks beyond economic growth to evaluate other areas that affect people’s lives. More than 40 years later, the GNH has changed the discussion at all levels, even internationally,and has GNH created a cultural shift in the way that progress is measured.
Another movement that has created a cultural shift in a shorter time frame is the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that targets Israeli apartheid. BDS was started in 2005 by members of Palestinian civil society as a way to resist nonviolently. It has grown into a global movement that is raising awareness and having an effect. The United Nation declared 2014 as the year of solidarity with Palestinians. And it may be part of the reason why AIPAC is losing its influence.
The abolition of war will require a cultural shift as well. The war culture is deeply ingrained in human society, especially in the United States. It permeates our lives through toys, movies, music, clothing and our customs of honoring members of the military and calling them heroes. Imagine what our society would be like if we put as much effort into building a culture off peace. What if we honored those who work to make our communities and country stronger by growing our food, teaching our children, healing us when we are sick and organizing for justice?