The Climate March: Beyond Asking Those Beholden to the Wrong People to Do the Right Thing (II)

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Part II of II

In Part I I asserted “two truths”: that the People’s Climate March was an amazing and valuable achievement, and that it was a powerful exercise in a nearly powerless strategy.

Part I recapped the history — already decades old when described in books of the early 1960’s — of the fossil fuel industry’s lock on energy policy, and its continuity through Vice President Al Gore’s silence while the Clinton Administration undermined the Kyoto Protocol, and Barack Obama’s carrying his usual balance of decent rhetoric and terrible action into the the energy-policy realm. The conclusion:
We are dealing with a systemic problem, one that displays historical continuity and is but one manifestation of a government bought and paid for with corporate money. Major concessions to the majority have come only when elite control was threatened with serious social unrest and loss of legitimacy. As labor, peace, and anti-poverty activists know well, the gains erode terribly when the pressure lessens. Even the victories of the Civil Right/Black Power movements have been partially offset by The New Jim Crow and other developments.
I also quoted a recent Princeton study of nearly 2000 policy decisions made over two decades, which showed that, consistently, the 0.01 percent get what they want; we don’t — even before Citizens United, by the way.

The Futility of Just Letting the System Know What We Want

In the face of these realities, 350.org’s emailed “Official reportback from the UN meeting and People’s Climate March” called for continuing to “use people-power to ratchet up the pressure” on UN climate talks, “to increase the accountability and ambition of world leaders,” noting what they must do “[i]f they are serious at all about doing their democratic and moral duty,” and adding that “we’ll have to convince politicians that their careers are on the line if they don’t act.”

This sounds good, but only because we are accustomed to a democratic myth instead of historical reality. People cannot have careers at policy-influencing levels unless they go along to get along. “Their careers are on the line” if they don’t act according to their backers’ perceived needs. Replacements who can get the support needed to rise through the corporate-funded two-party system are no better. Americans thought we were getting a peace President to replace a war President, one who understood the climate-change crisis instead of one who was born into the Texas oil industry. And yet here we are.

Moreover, a public educated by the mass media is subject to being riled up by issues like gun control, abortion rights, immigration, “terrorism,” and crime. The system has a stockpile of would-be careerists ready to ride these waves, with the financial backing they need to do so. These people will distract too many voters from whatever they are beginning to suspect about the causes and dangers of climate change for yet another attempt at voting the right people into office to succeed.

More Militancy? Money Out of Politics?

Recognizing these facts, some, like Chris Hedges, criticized the Climate March for eschewing more militant, disruptive actions. But such actions — necessarily involving far fewer people — are easily ignored. Worse, in most situations those who execute occasional disruptions fail to spread the message, for they are easily portrayed as crazies unworthy of being listened to.

Others, including people whom I know and respect deeply, like Michael Lerner and the folks behind California’s nascent no-corporate-money campaign, crusade for getting money out of politics via a constitutional amendment or educating voters about unfunded candidates. Think about it. Were these to be successful, they would have revolutionary implications. Literally, our government as we know it would tumble, replaced by government by and for the majority. Given the underhanded and bloody tactics which that government has pursued for decades, consistently, wherever in the world the interests it protects are threatened, such reforms will not succeed without a movement of revolutionary proportions behind them.

So what is to be done?

Time to Think Nonviolent Revolution

The answer is simple but nearly unspeakable: we need to move beyond mobilizing in piecemeal campaigns and set our sights on taking over a government which currently disserves us in every way possible.

There is nothing unique about energy policy. The telecommunications industry gets most of what it wants in telecom policy; the banking industry is regulated no more than it wants to be and its criminals escape prosecution; the military-industrial complex runs “defense” policy and the prison-industrial complex, “justice” policy; Big Pharma and the health insurance industry set the agenda for health-care reform and where public-health and research dollars go; large employers have gutted the protections won by labor; and on and on.

Fortunately, the other side of the coin is true as well. How many of those 400,000 people who showed up in New York are against climate change but for militarized police forces? Who among them want more of the policies that created Al Qaeda and ISIS and that lead to our wantonly killing civilians who have done nothing but live in the wrong parts of the world? Which of them want media further consolidated, politicians’ statements uninvestigated, whistleblowers prosecuted, and an end to net neutrality?

What they need, what we all need, is a nationwide organization for those who already see the connections among the dots. It should be one that empowers us, through training, literature, our and own media, to do the hard, slow, but ultimately far more fruitful work of one-on-one education with our neighbors, co-workers, fellow-congregants, and — yes — the people we encounter in local and national mobilizations around individual issues.

And we need a body that supports the tens of thousands of us with the capacity to be leaders, supports us in bringing that organization’s leadership and expertise to those struggles, where more and more people can learn where the problems lie and what the solution has to be, while experiencing the power of united action. (For more on how we can create that, look here, or here, or here.)

It will take a militant movement of tens of millions to wipe out the influence of energy giants in Washington, our state houses, and other parts of the world. It can happen, but not by focusing on that issue alone, nor by pursuing the safe but futile path of seeking to influence what must be jettisoned and replaced. As the instigators of our last revolution declared, “all
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experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” Like them, however, let us look reality in the face and set our sights on the real task.

photo: Robert van Waarden, under Creative Commons Zero License

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