VIDEO: our opposition

30 11 2010

I’ve spent most of my life learning to organize with the following premise: social movements are won not by beating and overpowering your opposition, but by shifting the support out from under them. This involves providing action-opportunities to help “passive” allies become “active” ones, and media-strategies to help transform “fence-sitters” into passive allies.

Depending on the campaign, we often must confront our opposition, but this usually means targeting power-holders; for example, when fighting to end Mountaintop Removal, we need to deal with Massey Energy and other coal companies directly. That’s not exactly the same thing as being over-consumed by focusing on our ideological-opposition – the loudmouths who happen to have a different world-view than we do.

But with the rise of the “populist” Right wing backlash that has gotten so much attention in the last year, I have been more and more drawn to studying some of our most vocal (and often ideologically fanatic) opponents. They’re effective at fear-mongering for sure, but their rhetoric is powerful – even when wildly inaccurate – because they have a well-organized base that is rooted in institutional relationships. Talking points aren’t just repeated on Fox News and the message-disciplined Right Wing noise machine, but also every week in churches across our country and other institutions that offer meaning to people’s lives in a holistic way.

It is in that context that I want to share this video, which is being viewed across our country by churches who are reinforcing its anti-poor, anti-environmental, anti-earth message. Its a short clip of a 12 part DVD series.

Their website says: “One of the greatest threats to society and the church today is the multifaceted environmentalist movement,” says Cornwall Alliance founder and national spokesman Dr. E. Calvin Beisner. “There isn’t an aspect of life that it doesn’t seek to force into its own mold.” Whew!

As Dangerous Minds noted, this is so ridiculous that it may be the “Reefer Madness” of our generation…but I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss it. As long as the Environmental movement fails to speak to the concerns of faith-based people, poor and working people, and the needs of communities hurting, dominant narratives like this will continue to compel people.

There has been much hand-wringing about the dramatic poll drop in the U.S. public’s belief in climate change, and how “environmentalists” are losing the battle of the story on climate science. A lot of this shift, I think, is not exactly that we’re losing this specific battle of public opinion. It’s that climate denial is just a small part of a broader “populist-Right” platform that has swept the country; people who used to default on the side of real climate science, are now defaulting on the side of the denial-fantasy because its built into a larger world view that makes meaning in their lives. In that context, it makes sense that now we are seeing a much stronger issue-based conspiracy-theory oriented push from our opposition on climate, because their ideas fit in with a broader orientation of the Tea Party platform.

Its clear by now that policy progress won’t happen on a national level until climate is just one element of a broader progressive platform that gains momentum (led primarily by other concerns, like the economy and health care). So where are the national spokespeople articulating such a platform in a compelling way? Until climate advocates are unafraid to speak boldly and directly to other progressive issues, we will be stuck in issue-based silos that the progressive movement desperately wants to move beyond, but is still struggling to figure out how to do it. That “how” has to go beyond media-saavy messaging and must be rooted in organizing the institutions that people belong to that give our lives meaning – church groups, unions, schools, base-building political organizations, etc.

This video is one example of how people aren’t compelled by facts, but by meaning. On the Left we still seem to think that because what we’re saying is true, that it will automatically be meaningful. The Christian Right proves that the opposite tends to be the case: if something is meaningful to people, they believe it to be true. The old axiom of the “truth will set you free” is only one part of the story. Meaningful stories set us free, if they happen to also be true. That’s our task.

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Open Letter to Board and Staff of 1 Sky

23 10 2010

I was asked to post the letter below (to Grist, Znet, & Rabble), written by grassroots organizations engaged in climate justice organizing across the United States (including Grassroots Global Justice, Movement Generation, Indigenous Environmental Network, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives etc – full list at the end).We are at a critical moment for reflection on movement strategy. Perspectives from the front-lines are illuminating and offer us direction. – JKR

To the Board and Staff of 1 Sky,

We are grassroots and allied organizations representing racial justice, indigenous rights, economic justice, immigrant rights, youth organizing and environmental justice communities actively engaged in Climate Justice organizing.

Given the very necessary discussion spurred by your recent public letter (August 8, 2010), we wanted to share with you some of the work we have been doing to protect people and planet, as well as our reflections on a forward-thinking movement strategy. Your honest reflections on the political moment in which we find ourselves, alongside the open invitation to join in this discussion, are heartening.

Organizing a Powerful Climate Justice Movement

Like you, we recognize Climate Disruption as a central issue of our time. With the right set of strategies and coordinated efforts we can mobilize diverse communities to powerful action. Our organizing strategy for climate justice is to: 1) Organize in, network with and support communities who have found their frontlines[1] of climate justice; 2) Organize with communities to identify their frontlines of climate justice, and 3) Coalesce these communities towards a common agenda that is manifested from locally defined strategies to state and national policy objectives through to international solidarity agreements.

Community-Led Climate Justice has been Winning

In assessing the broader landscape of climate activism it is critical to recognize that despite the failure of DC policy-led campaigns, there have also been significant successes on the part of grassroots climate justice campaigns across the U.S.

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Copenhagen day one: Scandal! Bullying!

7 12 2009

Cross Posted from Grist.

Well it was opening day of the madness that is COP15: the meeting of the UNFCCC that is supposedly going to decide the fate of the entire world. And what better way to open it than with broad civil society outrage at the egregious lack of democracy in the process.

Here’s the inside scoop: the Danish presidency is desperate for a positive spin on any outcome of the climate negotiations here. That means forcing an outcome by bringing together the rich and powerful nations to broker a deal in private and then to announce it to the rest of the world. There is widespread concern of US-friendly text being “parachuted” into the negotiating documents, at the expense of G77 countries (everyone else).

We all know that international agreements involve quite a lot of back-room deals and often intimidation. We just usually don’t expect it to come from the facilitators. Obviously this is both antithetical to the UN process but also to the duties of the Danish Government in playing a neutral convening role at the Conference of Parties. It’s not just an attack on democracy, but it amounts to an attack on the rest of the world on behalf of a few powerful interests. It’s the sort of “green room” behavior one would expect from the World Trade Organization, not the United Nations, which has a consensus process designed to make global decisions.

The logic is this – the US needs to be on board to get any deal, so therefore let’s force a watering-down of the process to get the US to sign. Déjà vu? It’s errily like we’re replaying the Kyoto meeting in 1997. Remember how the world watered down the treaty (giving birth to the concept of offsets and the Clean Development Mechanism) so that the US would sign? …and the US never even signed anyway.

Will COP15 be a race to the bottom, hijacked to pander to the United States? Today Raman Mehta from Action Aid India said, “The global community trusted the Danish government to host a fair and transparent process but they have betrayed that trust. Most importantly, they are betraying those who are disproportionately impacted by climate change and whose voices are not being heard. This unfair behavior strikes a blow to all efforts to achieve justice and equity in the climate change negotiations process.”

Civil Society has brought foreward a number of specific concerns:

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Bangkok: Rich countries try to kill the Kyoto Protocol, International Youth declare “No Confidence” in road to Copenhagen

7 10 2009

cross posted from Grist.

Today marked one of the final days of the Bangkok UN Climate Negotiations. With the end of this intersessional in sight, the International Youth Delegation (IYD) has officially declared “No Confidence” in the road to Copenhagen.

With youth delegates from over 30 countries engaging in the Bangkok process, the IYD cited pathetically weak targets from the North, alarm that a second commitment period in the Kyoto Protocol will not be secured, and a lack of guarantees for protection of Indigenous peoples’ rights and interests, in its Declaration. The current text of the draft climate deal is so weak and so full of “false solutions” (measures like offsetting that actually make the problem worse) it is unacceptable.

Youth delegates representing each continent addressed the U.N. today, detailing the urgency of the crisis as it affects their communities currently, telling stories of their hope and organizing alongside their denunciation of the state of play in the UN Negotiations.

This week the Annex 1 (rich countries), attempted to kill the Kyoto Protocol (KP). We are nearing upon the end of the current KP term, and a lack of renewing it means that the world would lose the few legally binding international climate agreements it has (as insufficient as they are). The excuse is that the United States will not sign, and therefore the whole thing should be scrapped and an entirely new deal can be struck on its own. It is lunacy to think that this will yield a stronger outcome, and the G77 (the rest of the world) countries are furious. We have always known the US wont sign the KP; the world cannot continue to wait for the US to get on board. In Bali, the U.S. already committed to setting comparable targets to other Annex 1 countries, so the world could deal with the U.S. in the LCA (Long Term Cooperative Action).

This all amounts to a shell game: more dirty delaying tactics from self-interested countries who are content to strip away basic attempts at an international agreement (for example “compliance” – meaning that the U.S. would have international oversight of its targets, or “top-down target setting” – meaning the international community sets carbon targets together based on science, rather than each countries independently setting their targets based on what their fossil fuel extraction industries dictate).

Allowing the U.S. to drag the world out of existing legal obligations is disgraceful. These negotiations are going backwards.

Make no mistake: Our future is being held hostage to interests that have consistently thumbed their noses at the international community and their obligations to the rest of the world. This process has been polluted by self-interested corporations and nations looking to profit off of our crisis. They have been pushing false solutions that exacerbate rather than fix the problem. Not only are the targets set by rich countries weak, but they are deceptive. Rather than representing actual emissions reductions, they contain unacceptable proportions of offsets, which do not reduce emissions, and displace the burden back onto the developing countries of the world.
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SmartMeme analysis on Capitol Climate Action

19 03 2009

Wanted to share a reportback on CCA from Doyle Canning from SmartMeme, an amazing strategy, communications, and training organization.


Reportback: Capitol Climate Action

Doyle Canning, SmartMeme

Two weeks ago I was in the streets with thousands of friends, old and new, for the historic Capitol Climate Action (Check out my pics on FLICKR!) SmartMeme endorsed this action, and I was excited to support the effort by helping to create messages for the action’s banners, training participants in nonviolent direct action , and being a “contingent coordinator” with the awesome Blue Team.

Honestly, I had a ball! The action was well organized, colorful, and upbeat despite the cold temperatures. My nonviolence training session was packed – with a dozen participants showing up 30 minutes early to ensure they got a spot, and a line going out the door when the room was full. 95% of that group were first timers to nonviolent protest, and they were fired up and ready to stop coal and solve global warming.

The action was endorsed by a large and diverse community of organizations, and attention was made to amplifying the voices of directly-impacted people. Leading the march were residents of Appalachian communities being blown-up by the Coal Industry; Indigenous delegations from Black Mesa and Michigan (where five new coal fired power plants are proposed), and leaders from Chicago’s Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, who are fighting for clean air against coal fired power plants. They were joined by celebrities and prominent environmental leaders like Bill McKibben and Wendell Berry, and the executive directors of the convening groups. The majority of participants were students (mostly white), many of them taking action in the streets for the first time.

Action Logic

The Capitol Coal Plant was a smart venue for this event. It comes with built in symbolism and implicit story-based strategy. The plant is powered by coal to warm and cool our nation’s Capitol building. The concept of the action was to draw attention to the fact that coal-fired power is fueling climate destabilization, and highlight the utterly destructive life cycle of coal, from mining to slurry to smog. It was also a way to point to the heavyweight influence that the coal industry has over all of Capitol Hill. Symbolically this was a perfect stage for our play.

But two unexpected things happened that took the story off the script.

1. Days before the protest, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Leader Harry Reid released a letter asking the Capitol Architect to switch the Capitol Power Plant from coal to 100 percent natural gas by the end of 2009.

Organizers responded saying that this was a victory, showing the power of grassroots mobilization to get the attention of power holders. This hardly took the wind out of our sails, but did complicate the frame. The discussion emerged in my nonviolence training about whether this shift even was a victory: “Natural gas is also a fossil fuel.” “The problem is the whole coal/oil/fossil fuel paradigm.” “One symbolic concession is a dangerous victory to claim, given the stakes.”

So the question is, what would a real victory look like? What if we’d pressed Pelosi further, and said “If you want to make a statement, put solar panels on the Mall and windmills along the Potomac, and kick Coal Inc. out of Congress.” As the climate fight intensifies, we cannot settle for half-hearted victories or afford to celebrate false solutions. We’ve got to shift our thinking and get ahead of the curve with visionary, foreshadowing stories and strategies. Bolder demands can be made of the new political establishment, and now is the time to make them.

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Our Capitol Climate Action Victory: in context

4 03 2009

Yesterday thousands of people converged on the Capitol Power Plant to engage in mass civil disobedience, shutting it down for the afternoon to demand clean energy solutions to our economic and climate crises.

Check out the recent media coverage in Associated Press (AP), TIME Magazine, CNN, Huffington Post, The Hill, Alternet, and USA Today.

See lots of pictures here.

There is already a lot being written about how this action achieved our goals in building outside pressure, political will, and urgency to change the national conversation around the climate crisis and get bold policy in 2009. The announcement three days prior to our action that the Capitol Power Plant would be switched off coal validates the power of mass pressure and people power, as we push on to fight for truly clean energy. The amazing media (over 400 stories) we have already gotten have helped shape the national conversation.

I want to talk about another goal we had: movement building – and how we can make the most of it.

Through organizing this action, nearly 2,000 people were trained in non-violent direct action. Hundreds of people stepped into roles like peacekeepers, contingent leaders, artists, trainers, media runners, tablers, scouts, chant leaders, media wranglers, technical communications, police liaisons, worker liaisons, trash clean up, medics, support (bringing people food, water, blankets, and hot chocolate), online support, photographers and videographers, spokespeople, and many many others. Our resolve and determination not only brought many to risk arrest, but all of us to brave harsh weather. Speakers ranging from Dr. Vandana Shiva, to Bobby Kennedy, to DC Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, to Dr. James Hansen took the mic to support this movement and action.

We certainly surpassed our expectation of 3,000 people participating, some are estimating many more than that.

But here’s the inside scoop: it’s important to be real about this action, what it is, and what it isn’t.

This action was a national flashpoint to get together and help move our country forward on a federal level. It was also an “outside strategy” that gave leverage to the thousands who were inside Congress lobbying for clear and specific policy.

But we all know that civil disobedience and non-violent direct action is just one tool of many – sometimes it’s strategic, sometimes its not. We are honored and excited that so many thousands of people have had a transformational experience yesterday and are energized to go home and use these tactics. That was a goal.

But to get excited about tactics for their own sake – devoid of strategic context and community accountability – would be to take the wrong lesson home.

We believe in direct action that is community led, and part of ongoing campaigns where directly affected people are in leadership positions and making decisions. These kinds of direct actions are often smaller and much less “sexy” and “flashy” than national convergences like Capitol Climate Action. The role of national convergences like CCA is specific and rare – and the real work happens when we go back home.

While yesterday’s action was endorsed by over 100 organizations, including many from impacted regions throughout the continent, the convening organizations who made up our organizing group (along with allies) – Rainforest Action Network, Greenpeace, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and the Ruckus Society – are justice-minded organizations that are national or regional in scope, but are not community-based groups. We want to be transparent about that. We believe in supporting such groups and their leadership in our movement. We were honored to be able to support Native, Appalachian, and urban communities affected by the life cycle of coal in leading our march and being spokespeople for the action. But people wanting to engage in tactics like this should seek local community support and build with one another to craft a smart, thoughtful intervention and escalation with people who live in the impacted area. Read the rest of this entry »