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- 06/27/12--05:25: _Why We Fight
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- 06/29/12--13:50: _While Colorado Burn...
- 07/03/12--09:37: _A Homeless Polar Be...
- 07/06/12--05:46: _Declaration Of Inte...
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- 07/15/12--10:29: _The Selling Of Amer...
- 07/16/12--09:15: _We Live In The Bigg...
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- 07/16/12--15:36: _Save The Arctic: A ...
- 07/17/12--07:14: _Josh Fox And Mark R...
- 07/19/12--08:15: _A Long Hot Summer
- 07/23/12--05:46: _The Tree Of Life
- 07/26/12--12:14: _Street Art For Lond...
- 07/29/12--20:45: _In The Land Of Neve...
- 07/31/12--13:43: _The Punk Patriot: T...
- 07/31/12--19:02: _Self-Evident Truths
- 08/03/12--06:41: _This Machine Kills ...
- 06/27/12--05:25: Why We Fight
- 06/27/12--12:17: By Any MEME Necessary: The Absurd Contradictions Of Capitalism
- 06/27/12--13:31: The Sky Is Pink: A Film On Fracking By Josh Fox
- 06/29/12--13:50: While Colorado Burns, Washington Fiddles
- 07/03/12--09:37: A Homeless Polar Bear In London
- 07/06/12--05:46: Declaration Of Internet Freedom
- 07/08/12--08:38: The Art Of Artivism: Moving A Turbine Into An Art Museum
- 07/14/12--07:00: Growing Beyond Growth For True Democracy
- 07/15/12--10:29: The Selling Of American Democracy: The Perfect Storm
- 07/16/12--09:15: We Live In The Biggest Company Town On Earth
- 07/16/12--09:22: By Any Meme Necessary: 2010
- 07/16/12--15:36: Save The Arctic: A Vicious Circle
- 07/17/12--07:14: Josh Fox And Mark Ruffalo Explain Fracking
- 07/19/12--08:15: A Long Hot Summer
- 07/23/12--05:46: The Tree Of Life
- 07/26/12--12:14: Street Art For London Olympics
- 07/29/12--20:45: In The Land Of Never Was
- 07/31/12--13:43: The Punk Patriot: The Species Of Activism
- 07/31/12--19:02: Self-Evident Truths
- 08/03/12--06:41: This Machine Kills Fascists
By Chris Hedges
I park my car in the lot in front of the rectory of Sacred Heart in Camden, N.J., and walk through a gray drizzle to Emerald Street. My friend Lolly Davis, whose blood pressure recently shot up and whose kidneys shut down, had been taken to a hospital in an ambulance but was now home. I climb the concrete steps to her row house and ring the bell. There is an overpowering stench of garbage in the street. Her house is set amid other brick and wooden residences, some of which have been refurbished under Monsignor Michael Doyle's Heart of Camden project at Sacred Heart, a Roman Catholic parish. Other structures on Davis' street sit derelict or bear the scars of decay and long abandonment.
Lolly's grandson, nicknamed Boom Boom or Boomer, answers the door. He tells me his grandmother is upstairs. I enter and sit on a beige chair in the living room near closed white blinds that cover the window looking out on Emerald Street. The living room has a large flat screen television and two beige couches with brown and burnt-red floral patterns that match the chair. There is a stone fireplace with a mantel crowded with family photos. Her grandson, one of numerous children from the neighborhood whom she adopted and raised, yells upstairs to let Lolly know I have arrived.
Lolly, 69, appears at the top of the stairs. Clutching the railing, she makes her way gingerly down the steep wooden steps. Boomer, who is 21 and recently completed a special education program at a high school, goes back to the kitchen, where he was making himself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Lolly's two Chihuahuas, Big Pepsi Cola and Little Pepsi Cola, father and son who get into frequent growling matches, scamper around the room.
I have interviewed Lolly several times over the past two years for the new book,"Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt," that I wrote with the cartoonist Joe Sacco. In the book, Joe, who also spent time with her, illustrates the story of Lolly's life. Lolly radiates the indomitable and magnificent strength of the women and men who rise up in the pockets of poverty and despair we reported from, whether in Camden, Pine Ridge, S.D., the coal fields of southern West Virginia or the produce fields in Florida. They resist not because they will succeed in reversing the corporate onslaught against them, or even save themselves or their communities from poverty, but because it is right. They wake each day to defy, often in small, unseen acts of revolt, the intractable poverty, the despair and violence, by nurturing life. They often can do little to protect the lives, especially the lives of children, that are daily crushed and destroyed. But they refuse to bow before the forces of oppression or neglect. And in that defiance they achieve grandeur.
"The poor have to help the poor," Lolly says, "because the ones who make the money are helping the people with money."Camden's plight is worse than that of Youngstown, Ohio, or Detroit, worse than that of east New York or Watts. It is a dead city. It makes and produces nothing. It is the poorest city in the United States and is usually ranked year after year as one of the most, and often the most, dangerous. Camden is one of our many internal colonies in North America beset with the familiar corruption and brutal police repression that characterize the despotic regimes I covered as a reporter in Africa and Latin America. The per capita income in the city is $11,967, and nearly 40 percent of the residents live below the poverty line.
Large swaths of Camden lie empty and abandoned. There are more than 1,500 derelict, abandoned row houses, empty shells of windowless brick factories and gutted and abandoned gas stations. There are overgrown vacant lots filled with garbage and old tires and rusted appliances. There are neglected, weed-filled cemeteries and boarded-up storefronts. There are perhaps a hundred open-air drug markets, most run by gangs such as the Bloods, the Latin Kings, Los Nietos and MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha). Knots of young Hispanic or African-American men in black leather jackets, who can occasionally be seen flipping through wads of cash, sell weed, dope and crack to customers, many of whom drive in from the suburbs, in brazen defiance of the law. The drug trade is perhaps the city's only thriving business. A weapon is never more than a few feet away from the drug set, usually stashed behind a trash can, in the grass or on a porch, always within easy reach. Camden is a city awash in guns, easily purchased across the river in Philadelphia, where Pennsylvania gun laws are lax. The guns are kept for protection from rival gangs that send out groups to prey on rival drug dealers, stealing their drugs and cash. To be poor is to face the awful fact that nonviolence is a luxury that few on the streets can afford.
When Joe and I were working on the book in Camden a federal grand jury charged a local cop nicknamed “Fat Face” and some of his colleagues with planting drugs on suspects, bribing prostitutes with drugs for information, lying on police reports, beating up suspects and conducting searches without warrants. Three of the city’s mayors have gone to prison for corruption in the last couple of decades. The school system and the police department have been taken over by the state. The deeper the descent the more the criminal class and the city authorities become indistinguishable, a smaller version of what has been replicated by corporations across the nation. Camden may have an African-American mayor, just as America may have an African-American president, but the faces and races of political leaders are no impediment to the ruthless cannibalizing of the country by corporate capitalism.
* * *
Lolly was born over the river in Philadelphia, in the Nicetown neighborhood, in 1942. She was the youngest of nine boys and six girls in the family. Two brothers and one sister remain alive. All of her brothers would go into the military, fighting in the Korean or Vietnam war. Her father was a carpenter and her mother took care of the children. She hands me a photocopy of a photograph of her mother, a strikingly beautiful woman radiant in a sundress. Her mother, who had white, Cherokee and black ancestry, was nicknamed “Hollywood” because of her beauty and elegance. Her fair skin meant that at times she was mistaken for being white. The woman in the old black-and-white picture has dark curls. The promise of life is written across her broad, joyous face.
Lolly’s childhood centered on the First Century Gospel Church in Philadelphia. The church, which was racially integrated and had a white pastor, believed in the power of prayer to heal sickness. Members were not allowed to visit doctors, including eye doctors. No one in the church, no matter how poor his or her eyesight, wore glasses.
Lolly’s mother, born and raised in New Castle, Pa., lost her own mother when she was 5. Lolly’s grandfather remarried a year later, and the family moved to Bedford, Va. It was in Virginia that Lolly’s mother met her father, who was half black and half Cherokee. They lived in Virginia until 1936, when they moved to a black section of Philadelphia, in Nicetown. Her mother studied to be a nurse, but her father forbade her to practice because of the strictures of the church. Some of the whites, Lolly remembers, lived in large, fine houses on Erie Street.
“My mother corresponded with a church in Philadelphia,” Lolly says. “She had gotten sick. And so she had written the pastor and told him she was sick. This was the First Century Gospel Church of Philadelphia. They told her they would pray ‘round 12 o’clock and fer her to pray right along with ‘em, and she did. And my father came home that day and saw my mother hangin’ up clothes. And she said she was healed. They decided then to come up to Philadelphia.”
“My father and my mother were God-fearin’ parents,” she says. “We went to church every Sunday, and every Wednesday evening we was at church. I had a sister I was named after. Her name is Mary Lolly. She was 2 years old when she died. She come down with a bad cold. I guess it was penomia. We had two beds in the girls’ room. The boys’ room had two beds and a bunk bed, so ther was four beds in the boys’ room. When I came along I was at the end. Then my mother, she adopted a little boy. I raised him after [my mother] passed away the day before he turned 7. I was 19. It was the 30th of May and we had the funeral. She died of diabetes. My mother was 60 years old.”
“I left the church when I got older,” she says. “I couldn’t understand why you couldn’t wear glasses, couldn’t go to the doctor, but they went to the dentist. I’m thinkin’ [when] you go to the dentist and get a tooth pulled isn’t that medication?”
“I never knew my grandparents on my father’s side,” she says. “I never knew my grandparents on my mother’s side, except my step-grandmother. My father raised his sisters and his brothers. His parents passed away, but he never would talk about what happened. He never said nothin’ ’bout what happened to our grandparents on my father’s side.”
“The hardest part of my childhood was in the wintertime,” she says. “My father was a carpenter, but we never had our lights out; he always paid the bill. He saved when he worked in the summertime. He made sure he put money away to pay the rent and the public service bills. Food was the hardest. I ’member one time I was ’bout 5 years old. My sisters and brothers was in school. I come down and tell my mother I was hungry. And she said, ‘OK, wait, wait.’ So she made me some toast. I ate that. An’ then when my sisters and brothers came home from school that afternoon we had oatmeal. I ’member that night tellin’ my mother I was hungry, that that oatmeal didn’t fill me up. That was the first and only time I remember bein’ hungry. The next day was payday. My father came home and [had] bought food and everything, groceries and stuff. I had been near hungry, but that was the only time I can really say I was really, really bein’ hungry.”
Her father would travel in the winter to the Pocono Mountains and hunt pheasants, rabbits, groundhogs and even bear for food.
“We had groundhog many a day,” Lolly says.
When her mother became gravely ill, the family called the pastor to come to the house to pray.
“The pastor came up that Saturday to see her, and I had to read the Bible to us every night,” she says. “My mom had a black Persian cat. This cat had to have breakfast with my mom every day. Whatever my mother didn’t eat, the cat would eat it. When my mother would finish eating, she would take her cup of tea and pour a little in a saucer and feed it to the cat. One day I came in there and I took her plate. I went in the kitchen and heard this noise. I went back in the room, she had fell. I called my older sister [at her home], and I told her; I had a hard time getting [my mother] up, you know. My sister came over that day. She took my mother [to her home]. My sister said it’s too much for me to take care of the house, cook dinner for everybody and take care of my mother at the same time. When my father came home I had the suitcase packed, me and my little brother with me, and we went to my sister’s house. My mother said I was the only one who could lift her. Everyone else hurt her. When we go there my mother said, ‘I knew you would come.’ ”
“The night she died, I was sitting with her,” Lolly says. “I said mama you can’t talk, I said do you want some water, shake your head yeah, she shook her head yeah. So I gave her some water and then she died. The whole sky lit up, like fireworks. Goodnight, dada. Everybody up there know what to do. Somebody called the pastor.”
Lolly was left to care for her adopted 7-year-old brother. Her mother had taken in the boy after a neighbor told her that an infant was being left alone in an apartment all day while the mother worked. Lolly, her father and her little brother moved to Camden after her mother died in 1961.
* * *
“It don’t have to be blood all the time for someone to be your family,” she says. “And that’s what I tell my children. They don’t have to be your blood. I have one [Boom Boom]. … I’ve had him since he was three days old. My neighbor was talking about having an abortion. I told her, ‘Are you ready to stand before God and tell him the reason that you got rid of that baby?’ She said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Give the child to me.’ I never asked her for a penny after that, for anything.”
Lolly started working at Sears. She met a man named James Nipples, nicknamed “Nick,” who was in the Coast Guard. They fell in love. She and Nick had their first daughter in 1964. When Nick got out of the Coast Guard he found a job at Campbell’s Soup. They moved into an apartment together, an arrangement that ended when Lolly came home and found Nick with another woman. She moved to an apartment of her own on Washington Street in Camden. Eventually she and Nick reconciled, moved into an apartment together and had a second daughter, Tammy.
“Nick was scared to death of my father,” Lolly says. “My father was a tall man. He had big hands. That’s what Nick said. He was always respectful to my dad. They used to call him banana fingers. And my father was respectful to him.”
They planned to marry in September 1970, but Nick was shot to death on August 30 in the middle of a quarrel in a bar.
“I was pregnant with my last daughter, fourth daughter, when he got killed,” she says. “Baby girl, that’s Cheryl. His [Nick’s] mother, she said, ‘I was coming up for the wedding, … [instead] I come up and bury my son.’ ”
* * *
All of Lolly’s brothers came home from the wars struggling to cope with the violence they had seen or participated in.
“My older brother Gilbert, he was in the Army,” she says. “My second oldest brother, Wilfred, he was in the Army. He used to have a heart trouble, and they sent him home. My youngest brother, one I was next to, Virgil, he was in the Marines. He was in Vietnam twice. He went back. He came out the service. He says, ‘There’s nothing out here [in civilian life],’ and he signed up, and they sent him right back. He drunk himself to death I guess. My older brother, he died too, because of the liver. Mostly all my brothers were drunk.”
On May 13, 1975, Lolly’s 7-year-old daughter complained that her throat hurt and she could not swallow. Lolly rushed her to a hospital, and the child died there.
“I almost lost my mind,” Lolly says. “I would hear her laughing. I would look upstairs. I would see my daughter jump up on the bed. I knew she wasn’t there. You know what I mean? I thought, people gonna say I’m crazy. One night I was laying in bed. I always left the bathroom light on. That toilet would constantly run. Constantly run. I was praying. I was crying. But I never asked God why, I never asked him why, why my daughter had to die, I never asked him why. I heard my father, who had died six months before my daughter, just like I’m talking to you right now. My father said, ‘Didn’t I tell you don’t worry about her? Don’t worry, Tammy’s all right … she’s with me.’ And I believe he’s in heaven. Everything just got all light.”
“What time of the night was that?” I ask.
“Oh,” she says, “that gotta be like 1 or 2 in the morning.”
“I got up like it was a new day,” she says. “Like everything, like the sun just came up, you know, and everything was all right, my nerves calmed on down.”
* * *
“I took other people’s kids,” Lolly says. “My house, this is the quiet house I’ve ever had. This house is quiet compared to where I used to live at. Because, I never know, I wake up in the morning and come downstairs I never know who is in my house. I always have family move in, and they weren’t paying no rent. No nothing. I did everything for myself. I used to go junking, and I used to have little yard sales. I raised my brother Robin. … [My sister-in-law] had a daughter, and her daughter had four kids. I raised them from 1993 to going on 1997. Four boys. It was all in my house. I had six at the time. I was a baby sitter to two other kids. The young man that was here, I had him off and on since he was three days old. I raised him and his brother. His grandmother had custody of him. She sent for me and I went to see her. She had cancer. She asked will I raise them, and I said yeah. I rode over in the morning, come home, I would go by the house, get the kids, I would feed her dinner, nobody was there to help her. I would feed her dinner and everything, wash her clothes, do the dishes, all that. I’d take the boys, bring them home, help with the homework, wash their clothes at my house, hang their clothes. Next morning at 5 o’clock I would get them boys up, get them dressed.”
“I had two white kids,” she says. “Chris and Hope. They were my neighbors on Almond Street. Hope was a girl. Chris was a boy. Hope was older. They were 4 or 5. Their mother and father lived on our street. She started messing with this black guy, and she left. Well anyway, [their father] had to work, he had nobody to take care of the kids. I told him bring the kids on, I’ll take care of the kids. So then they started staying at my house. And finally he took them, he took them back to his parents. Four, five, six, seven, eight kids, nine kids. But I always had kids staying at my house, even the kids in the neighborhood. When they had problems with their parents they’d come to my house, I had to straighten everything out.”
Camden fell into grim decline in the 1960s as industries that had once provided employment, including a shipyard that at its height provided 36,000 jobs, packed up and left. The riots in August 1971 dealt Camden a near-fatal blow. The word spread among African-Americans as the city erupted that they should hang something red in their windows if they wanted their homes spared from arson attacks. Lolly immediately informed her white neighbors to hang red in their windows to save their homes.
“My brother came into the house, and told me, put red in the window because they’re going to firebomb the house,” Lolly says. “I said, ‘Oh my goodness! Oh, my goodness!’ I went across the street and I told my friend Gigi, ‘Look, y’all gotta put some red in the window.’ I said, ‘Y’all can’t tell nobody where you heard from, because they gonna kill me, you know.’ So they put [up a] red Christmas sock. I put my brother’s red underwear. I go tape [it] in my window, tape in my window.”
“Stores moved out” in the aftermath of the riots, Lilly says. “J.C. Penney left. … Five-and-10 closed up downtown. … All the supermarkets, we had Acme, we have an Acme no more.”
“Everything is gone,” she adds. “Camden went downhill.”
By Bill McKibben
In the political world, this was the week of the healthcare ruling: reporters hovered around the supreme court, pundits pundited, politicians "braced" for the ruling, "reeled" in its aftermath. It provoked a "firestorm" of interest, according to one magazine; it was, said another, a "category 10 hurricane".
But in the world world, there was news at least as big, but without the cliched metaphors. News that can be boiled down to a sentence or two:
You ever wonder what global warming is going to look like? In its early stages, exactly like this.
Global warming is underway. Are we waiting for someone to hold up a sign that says "Here's climate change"? Because, this week, we got everything but that:
• In the Gulf, tropical storm Debby dropped what one meteorologist described as "unthinkable amounts" of rain on Florida. Debby marked the first time in history that we'd reached the fourth-named storm of the year in June; normally it takes till August to reach that mark.
• In the west, of course, firestorms raged: the biggest fire in New Mexicohistory, and the most destructive in Colorado's annals. (That would be the Colorado Springs blaze: the old record had been set the week before, in Fort Collins.) One resident described escaping across suburban soccer fields in his car, with "hell in the rearview mirror".
• The record-setting temperatures (it had never been warmer in Colorado) that fueled those blazes drifted east across the continent as the week wore on: across the Plains, there were places where the mercury reached levels it hadn't touched even in the Dust Bowl years, America's previous all-time highs.
• That heatwave was coming at just the wrong time, as farmers were watching their corn crops get ready to pollinate, a task that gets much harder at temperatures outside the norms with which those crops evolved. "You only get one chance to pollinate over 1 quadrillion kernels," said Bill Lapp, president of Advanced Economic Solutions, a Omaha-based commodity consulting firm:
"There's always some level of angst at this time of year, but it's significantly greater now and with good reason. We've had extended periods of drought."
In the markets, all this news was taking its toll: prices for corn and wheat were spiking upwards, rising almost a third on global markets as forecasters suggested grain stockpiles could shrink by as much as 50% as the summer wears on. But in the political world, there wasn't much reaction at all.
The Obama administration said it would grant Shell leases to drill for more oil in the Arctic, and they auctioned off a vast new tract of federal coal land at giveaway prices – even though it's the carbon in that coal and oil that drives the droughts and fires. Even that didn't satisfy the GOP, as Mitt Romney demanded yet more pipelines and wells.
Amid it all, the CEO of the biggest oil company in the world, Exxon, gave what may go down in the annals as the most poorly timed – not to mention, arrogant – speech in the firm's history: Rex Tillerson, speaking to the Council on Foreign Relations, admitted what his company spent many years denying, that humans were heating the planet. But then he added:
"We have spent our entire existence adapting, OK? So we will adapt to this. Changes to weather patterns that move crop production areas around – we'll adapt to that. It's an engineering problem, and it has engineering solutions. And so I don't … the fear factor that people want to throw out there and say, 'We just have to stop this,' I do not accept."
Against the backdrop of the burning Rockies, it's pretty clear this is not an engineering problem. Engineers, in fact, have performed admirably. One day last month, Germany generated more than half its electricity from solar panels. We've got the technical chops to solve our troubles.
No, this is a greed problem. In the last five years, Exxon has made more money than any company in history. For the moment, Exxon and other's desire to keep minting money – and our politicians' desire for a share of that cash – has conspired to keep our government, and most others, from doing anything to head off the crisis.
And unlike the healthcare predicament, this crisis comes with a time limit. If we play politics for a generation, then weeks like the one we've just come through will be normal, and all we'll be doing as a nation is responding to emergencies. As one scientist put it at week's end, the current heatwave is "bad by our current definition of bad, but our definition of bad changes."
Another way of saying that is: there are disaster areas declared across the country right now, but the biggest one is in DC.
Protect the Arctic. Save the polar bears. Seriously.
We're totally endorsing this. So is Amnesty International, Upworthy, ACLU, Credo, Reddit, Cheezburger, Rhizome, 350, Boing Boing, Techdirt, Motherjones, The Nation, Daily Kos and hundreds of others. If you are a blogger, media maker, or avid internetter, we suggest you to do the same.
Together we can keep the hall monitors OUT!
Sign the Delcaration, here.
By J.A. Myerson [YES]
"Growth” is, once again, the buzzword of the moment among Europe’s politicians, thanks to Francoise Hollande, the milquetoast Socialist recently elected to succeed Nicolas Sarkozy as President of France. “My mission now,” Hollande told supporters on the night of his electoral victory, “is to give European construction a growth dimension.” President Obama praised Holland at Camp David, telling reporters he would urge “other G8 leaders” to adopt a “strong growth agenda.” The previous buzzword, “austerity,” is meanwhile in decline.
Considering this shift a victory for the anti-austerity movements occupying Europe’s historic plazas over the course of the last two years mistakes both what the elites mean when they say “growth” and what the dissidents want instead of austerity. It is similar to the way liberal commentators in the United States reliably recite the official line that Occupy Wall Street “changed the conversation” on “income inequality” (which we grown-ups will take care of now from our D.C. office buildings, so please shut up now).
The dissidents do express antipathy toward austerity, of course, but that doesn’t imply a desire for what Hollande means when he says “growth.” Both “austerity” and “growth” are cognates of capitalism—“growth” is the Keynesian form, “austerity” the Hayekian—and the dissident movements have by and large rejected the confines of this debate, challenging us to imagine alternatives to either. “Another world,” as they say, “is possible.”
In Madrid, the organizing banner held that, “We are not merchandise in the hands of bankers and politicians.” In Athens, the first vote of the people’s assembly of Syntagma Square declared, “We are here because we know that the solutions to our problems can only be provided by us.” In New York, the Declaration of the Occupation insisted “no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power.” The indignados and the aganaktismenoi and Wall Street occupiers did not merely pick a side in the capitalists’ ideological tiff. Rather, they have expressly rejected the underlying assumptions and mechanisms of capitalism—the primacy of the profit motive, a perverse incentive on corruption and fraud, the capture of ostensible democracy by the interests of wealth, its tendency toward state monopoly, environmental appropriation, and global conquest, and so forth.
It was growth that drove Greece to take out a secret deal with Goldman Sachs in 2001, whereby the country would borrow €2.8 billion and hide the loan under a credit default swap in order to stay within Eurozone debt limits. As part of the deal, Goldman used exchange-rate trickery to slap big-time fees on Greece, to the tune of $739 million, or 12 percent of Goldman’s record $6.35 billion revenue that year. (Lloyd Blankfein, who headed the Goldman unit responsible for the deal, is now Goldman’s chairman and CEO.)
It was growth that drove Greek officials to accept bribes from Siemens, the German-based company active in—get this—industry, energy, healthcare, equity investments, IT solutions and financial services. Siemens wanted lucrative state contracts around the 2004 Olympic Games, and officials on both sides of the Greek aisle were more than happy to oblige, so long as their palms were sufficiently greased. The Siemens deal only cost Greek taxpayers €2 billion in the process.
And the result? Consider the story of 60-year-old Greek musician Antonis Perris. He lived with his Alzheimer’s-stricken 90-year-old mother on the latter’s €340 pension—roughly $427. When Perris himself developed what he called “serious health problems,” he sold everything he could, but still lacked funds on which to survive. “Is it possible to live this way without food?” he asked on a popular Internet forum. “Do any of you know the answer?” The next day, he pushed his mother out of their fifth story window and leapt after her. Greece’s suicide rates rose a breathtaking 22 percent in the two years after the crisis, before which it had one of the lowest in the world.
Growth ballooned Greece’s debt. Austerity just put it in a chokehold. Perris’s desperation is an emblem of a people crying uncle. But crying uncle doesn’t mean you want to go back to being bullied after the bully lets go. People in the squares of Europe and the United States, not to mention the Middle East, want to abolish the bully altogether and move to a new set of property relations. It is a set they have already erected in their encampments, one based on mutual aid, solidarity, sustainability, attention to historical oppressions and personal freedom.
What remains is the question of scale. For the solidarity-driven free economies and horizontal polities of the world’s occupied squares to supplant global capitalism, the number of people willing to fight to generate that change will have to grow massively. The challenge before international dissidents is how to grow the already widespread insurrectionary spirit and avoid getting sidetracked by celebrating minor adjustments in political rhetoric.
By Robert Reich
Who’s buying our democracy? Wall Street financiers, the Koch brothers, and casino magnates Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn.
And they’re doing much of it in secret.
It’s a perfect storm:
The greatest concentration of wealth in more than a century — courtesy “trickle-down” economics, Reagan and Bush tax cuts, and the demise of organized labor.
Unlimited political contributions — courtesy of Republican-appointed Justices Roberts, Scalia, Alito, Thomas, and Kennedy, in one of the dumbest decisions in Supreme Court history, “Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission,” along with lower-court rulings that have expanded it.
Complete secrecy about who’s contributing how much to whom — courtesy of a loophole in the tax laws that allows so-called non-profit “social welfare” organizations to accept the unlimited contributions for hard-hitting political ads.
Put them all together and our democracy is being sold down the drain.
With a more equitable and traditional distribution of wealth, far more Americans would have a fair chance of influencing politics. As the great jurist Louis Brandeis once said, “we can have a democracy or we can have great wealth in the hands of a comparative few, but we cannot have both.”
Alternatively, inequality wouldn’t be as much of a problem if we had strict laws limiting political spending or, at the very least, disclosing who was contributing what.
But we have an almost unprecedented concentration of wealthand unlimited political spending and secrecy.
I’m not letting Democrats off the hook. Democratic candidates are still too dependent on Wall Street casino moguls and real casino magnates (Steve Wynn has been a major contributor to Harry Reid, for example). George Soros and a few others have poured big bucks into Democratic coffers. So have a handful of trade unions.
By Chris Hedges
Joe Sacco and I, one afternoon when we were working in southern West Virginia on our book "Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt," parked our car on the side of a road. We walked with Kenny King into the woods covering the slopes of Blair Mountain. King is leading an effort to halt companies from extracting coal by blasting apart the mountain, the site in the early 1920s of the largest armed insurrection in the United States since the Civil War.
Blair Mountain, amid today's rising corporate exploitation and state repression, represents a piece of American history that corporate capitalists, and especially the coal companies, would have us forget. It is a reminder that citizens have a right to resist a corporate machine intent on subjugating them. It is a reminder that all the openings of our democracy were achieved with the toil, anguish and sometimes blood of radicals and popular fronts, from labor unions to anarchists, socialists and communists. But this is not approved history. We are instructed by the power elite to worship at approved shrines—plantation estates erected for wealthy slaveholders and land speculators such as George Washington, or the gilded domes of authority in the nation's capital.
As we walked, King, a member of the Friends of Blair Mountain, an organization formed to have the site declared a national park, swept a metal detector over the soil. When it went off he knelt. He dug with a trowel until he unearthed a bullet casing, which he handed to me. I recognized it as a .30-30, the kind of ammunition my grandfather and I used when we hunted deer in Maine. Winchester lever-action rifles, which took the .30-30 round, were widely used by the rebellious miners.
In late August and early September 1921 in West Virginia's Logan County as many as 15,000 armed miners, some of them allegedly provided with weapons by the United Mine Workers of America, mounted an insurrection after a series of assassinations of union leaders and their chief supporters, as well as mass evictions, blacklistings and wholesale firings by coal companies determined to break union organizing. Miners in other coal fields across the United States had concluded a strike that lasted two months and ended with a 27 percent pay increase. The miners in West Virginia and eastern Kentucky wanted the same. They wanted to be freed from the debt peonage of the company stores, to be paid fairly for their work, to have better safety in the mines, to fight back against the judges, politicians, journalists and civil authorities who had sold out to Big Coal, and to have a union. They grasped that unchallenged and unregulated corporate power was a form of enslavement. And they grasped that it was only through a union that they had any hope of winning.
Joe and I visited the grave of Sid Hatfield in a hilltop cemetery near the Tug River in Buskirk, Ky. The headstone, which is engraved with an image of Hatfield's face, reads in part: "Defender of the rights of working people, gunned down by Felts detectives on the steps of the McDowell County Courthouse. . ... His murder triggered the miners' rebellion at the Battle of Blair Mountain." Hatfield's brief life is a microcosm of what can happen when one does not sell out to the powerful. The police chief of Matewan, W.Va., he turned down the coal companies' offer of what was then the small fortune of $300 a month to turn against the miners. Law enforcement, with the exception of a few renegades such as Hatfield, was stripped, as is true now in corporate America, of any pretense of impartiality. Miners who wanted jobs had to sign "yaller dog" contracts promising they would not "affiliate with or assist or give aid to any labor organization," under penalty of immediate loss of jobs and company housing. Baldwin-Felts spies, private security goons hired by the mine owners, informed on miners who talked of organizing. This led to dismissal, blacklisting, beating and sometimes death. The coal fields were dominated by company towns. Corporate power had seeped into every facet of existence. And resistance was costly.
"For more than twenty years, coal operators had controlled their very being; had arranged for their homes and towns, churches, schools, and recreation centers; had provided doctors and teachers and preachers; had employed many of their law officers; had even selected silent motion picture shows that were beginning to appear in theaters; had told them, finally, where and how they were to live and discharged those who did not conform," Lon Savage wrote of the coal miners in his book "Thunder in the Mountains." "In this context, the union's organizing campaign gave the miners a new vision: not only better pay and working conditions but independence, power, freedom, justice, and prestige for people who felt they had lost them all."
Denise Giardina, in her lyrical and moving novel of the mine wars, "Storming Heaven," has union organizer Rondal Lloyd wonder what it is that finally makes a passive and cowed population rebel.
"Who can say why the miners were ready to listen to me?" he asks. "They broke their backs and died of roof falls and rib rolls and gas, their children went to bed hungry, and died of the typhoid, their wives took the consumption, they themselves coughed and spit up. True enough. They stayed in debt to the company store, they had no say at the mine or freedom of any kind, they could be let go at a moment's notice and put out in the road, or beaten, or shot. All true. But it had always been that way, and they never fought back. Everything had always been the way it was, we were all pilgrims of sorrow, and only Jesus or the Virgin Mary could make it right. So why did they listen this time? Why did they decide that Jesus might not wait two thousand years for the kingdom to come, that Jesus might kick a little ass in the here and now?"
"Hell, it aint got nothing to do with Jesus," the character Talcott tells him. "Half of em dont believe in Jesus. They just stood all they can stand, and they dont care for it."
Sound familiar? It is an old and cruel tactic in any company town. Reduce wages and benefits to subsistence level. Break unions. Gut social assistance programs. Buy and sell elected officials and judges. Fill the airwaves with mindless diversion and corporate propaganda. Pay off the press. Poison the soil, the air and the water to extract natural resources and leave behind a devastated wasteland. Plunge workers into debt. Leave them owing more on their houses than the structures are worth. Make sure the children will be burdened by tens of thousands of dollars lent to them for an education and will be unable to find decent jobs. Make sure that everything from hospital bills to car payments to credit card fees exact increasing pounds of flesh. And when workers stumble, when they cannot pay soaring interest rates, jack up rates further and deploy predators from debt collection agencies to harass the debtors and seize their assets. Then toss them away. Company towns all look the same. And we live in the biggest one on earth.
The coal companies, to break a strike in the spring of 1920, sent in squads of Baldwin-Felts detectives, nicknamed "gun thugs" by the miners, to evict miners and their families from company housing. Soon hundreds of families were living in squalid, muddy tent encampments. During an eviction on May 19 of about a dozen miners and their families—in which, as today, possessions were carted out and dumped into the street—Hatfield ordered the arrest of the company goons. He confronted the "gun thugs" at the train station at Matewan after the evictions. Shooting broke out. When it was over, seven Baldwin-Felts detectives, including Albert and Lee Felts, were dead. Another detective was wounded. Two miners were killed. Matewan's mayor, Cabell Testerman, was mortally wounded. The gun battle emboldened the miners. By July there was almost no coal coming out of the mines.
"It is freedom or death, and your children will be free," Mother Jones told the miners. "We are not going to leave a slave class to the coming generation, and I want to say to you the next generation will not charge us for what we have done; they will charge and condemn us for what we have left undone."
Hatfield was acquitted of murder charges in January 1921. The decision infuriated the mine owners. And Hatfield became a marked man. After his acquittal of murder, coal bosses had him charged with dynamiting a coal tipple. When Hatfield and his young wife, as well as a friend, Ed Chambers, and Chambers' wife, walked up the courthouse steps in Welch, W.Va., for the new trial, the two men were assassinated by Baldwin-Felts agents standing at the top. The assassinations set off the insurrection and triggered the Blair Mountain rebellion. The coal owners hastily organized militias and recruited units of heavily armed law enforcement officers. They hired private airplanes to drop homemade explosives on miners encamped on the mountain. Billy Mitchell, one of the early advocates of air power, volunteered the Army's 88th Squadron to carry out aerial surveillance for the coal companies.
The armed miners, many of them veterans of World War I, fought militias and police, who were equipped with heavy machine guns, for five days. The militias and police held back advancing miners from a trench system that is still visible on a ridge top. The Army was finally ordered into the coal fields in early September 1921 to quell the rebellion. The miners surrendered. By the time the battle ended, at least 30 of those defending the mine owners had been killed along with perhaps as many as 100 rebel miners. West Virginia indicted 1,217 miners in the rebellion, charging some with murder and treason. There were acquittals, but many miners spent several years in prison. The union was effectively broken. In 1920 there had been about 50,000 United Mine Workers members in West Virginia, and by 1929 there were only 600. The union did not reconstitute itself until 1935, after the Roosevelt administration legalized union organizing.
These miners knew the dynamics of capitalism and the role of government. They knew who their friends and enemies were. They knew that only by organizing and physically defying centers of power would they ever get justice. They did not trust authority. They did not wait for authority figures to dole out justice. They were not seduced by the empty rhetoric of politicians. They knew that if they wanted a better world they would have to be their own leaders. They would have to fight for it. And this is a lesson in the nature of corporate and governmental power that we have forgotten. We must make the powerful afraid of us if we are to get any semblance of an open and free society. They are not and never will be on our side.
"The hatreds instilled in the union miners for their bosses and erstwhile friends were a new twisting and darkening influence in the whole society of the plateau," wrote Harry M. Caudill in "Night Comes to the Cumberlands." "For a whole generation of workingmen such abhorrence became second nature and was directed indiscriminately at any thing or idea originating within the offices of company officials. In later years, after the Second World War, the larger companies sent a new generation of youthful executives into the region for the purpose of ameliorating this deeply rooted animosity, but even their Rotary-learned jocularity and genial expansiveness could not soften the bias of men whose aversion had become hardcrusted in the heat of bitter union drives."
The coal companies have erased this piece of history from school textbooks. It is too inconvenient. It exposes predatory capitalism's ruthless commodification and exploitation of human beings and the natural world. It exposes the drive by corporations to keep us impoverished, disempowered and unorganized. If corporate forces can sanitize history, if they can ensure historical amnesia, then the doctrine of laissez faire economics—which in short promises that the wealthier that rich people get, the better it is for all of us—can continue to rule our lives.
The plan to blast Blair Mountain into rubble, part of the devastation that Big Coal has carried out in southern West Virginia, is intended to obliterate not only a peak but a physical reminder of the long fight for justice by workers and the poor. The Battle of Blair Mountain marked a moment when miners came close to breaking the stranglehold of the coal companies. It exposed the dark and murderous intentions of corporations. It made visible the insidious relationship between government and big business. It illustrated that until we rise up, until we begin to trust in our own strength, nothing will change.
All the gains, often paid for with the lives of working men and women, have now been reversed. We are back where we started. We must organize, resist and build movements. We must embrace radical politics and remain perpetually alienated from power or become a subjugated herd. I do not call for an emulation of this violence. But I do call for direct and sustained confrontation with all formal mechanisms of power, including the Democratic Party. The corporate state, for its part, should also remember the lesson from Blair Mountain. There are limits to how far a people can be pushed. And if violence continues to be the preferred mechanism for control, if the state refuses to institute rational economic and political reforms to address the growing misery that corporations inflict on the citizens, it will, as at Blair Mountain, engender a violent response.
The Arctic ice we all depend on is disappearing. Fast.
In the last 30 years, we’ve lost as much as three-quarters of the floating ice cap at the top of the world. The volume of that sea ice measured by satellites in the summer, when it reaches its smallest, has shrunk so fast that scientists say it’s now in a ‘death spiral’.
For over 800,000 years, ice has been a permanent feature of the Arctic ocean. It’s melting because of our use of dirty fossil fuel energy, and in the near future it could be ice free for the first time since humans walked the Earth. This would be not only devastating for the people, polar bears, narwhals, walruses and other species that live there - but for the rest of us too.
The ice at the top of the world reflects much of the sun’s heat back into space and keeps our whole planet cool, stabilising the weather systems that we depend on to grow our food. Protecting the ice means protecting us all.
Visit Save The Arctic for more information
By Bill McKibben
It's turning into a hot climate summer in two ways, only one of which you can measure with a thermometer.
Amidst the deepening drought, the summer's fourth heat wave, and the continued western fires, there's something else breaking out: a siege of citizen uprisings at key points around the country all designed to keep coal in the hole, oil in the soil, gas... underground.
Ever since the mass arrests protesting the Keystone pipeline last summer (the largest civil disobedience action in the U.S. in 30 years) there's been renewed interest in confronting the fossil fuel industry and its political enablers. Some have been following this path for years, of course -- late next week, beginning July 25, opponents of mountain-top removal coal-mining will resume their long-standing (and increasingly successful fight), with a week-long Mountain Mobilization that will likely include civil disobedience.
A few days later, activists from around the country will descend on D.C. for a rally against fracking -- perhaps the fastest-growing wing of the environmental movement. That gathering won't lead to arrests -- but others will.
Earlier this week, for instance, Ohio protesters chained themselves to the gates outside a so-called injection well, not far from where earlier this year disposal of fracking water had helped trigger a swarm of earthquakes. And just yesterday Josh Fox and Mark Ruffalo announced plans for an August 25 gathering designed to keep fracking at bay in New York State.
From August 10-20, Montana protesters will hold a multi-day sit-in designed to stop opening up of massive new coal mines -- and across the Pacific Northwest others are joining in to fight the proposed ports that would send that coal to Asia for burning.
And just so oil doesn't feel left out of the party, Texans in August and September are planning civil disobedience to block the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline, the part that's been given a green light by the Obama administration.
Taken one by one, these might seem like mosquito bites against the tough hide of the planet's richest and most politically connected industry. But taken together, they show an ever-savvier movement that's figuring out the choke points that make fossil fuel corporations vulnerable. If you can't pipe tar sands oil to the ocean, there's no reason to mine it in the first place; if you've got no port for your coal, you might as well leave it in the ground.
And here's the thing -- each of these actions is magnified by the temperature, multiplied by the humidity, underscored by the smoke in the sky. "Long hot summer" has two meanings now, and they amplify each other.
By Phil Rockstroh
Often, the world…forever unfolding, recombining, morphing, dying and transforming…changes before the mind can grasp the implications of the ongoing alterations. This is the basis of nostalgia, for memory freezes the world like an insect encased in amber.
Maturity dawns when you begin to look back at your life and long to be able to make amends for your blindness. Because changing the past is impossible, it follows to strive to possess a greater degree of self-awareness in the present. By this measure, we, the people of the U.S., insulated in the eternal present of our media hologramatic bubble and in the thrall of perpetual post-adolescent-level self-involvement, have some growing up to do.
Circumstances change, people change, yet the people of the U.S. cling to an outmoded and ossified view of themselves, their nation, and the world at large…but events keep moving right along. For example, given the degree of danger, and by danger, I mean, global wide, species (including our own) devastation, begot by Industrial Age-engendered Climate Chaos — we cannot afford to go about business as usual.
On consideration of the path we are heading down, at exponentially increasing speed, uprising (engendered by mortification and propelled by outrage) would appear to be an appropriate course of action. If you were embarked on a journey across the high seas and discovered the captain and his officers were all suicidal madmen — then mutiny would be a viable option.
The data is in: The oceans of the earth are dying; the very air is bedizened with seeds of fire.
This is not gray beard, flapping in the meaningless breeze, prophecy; this is verifiable, peer-reviewed science. The time for discussion and debate has passed. Only fools, cranks, and greed-besotted psychotics doubt the effect that trapped greenhouse gasses are reaping across the planet. We no longer have the luxury of indulging their corporate age form of blindness and insanity.
America, take a look out the window…risk taking in the passing scene.
However, rather than doing so, we draw the curtains tight and reach for the TV remote or a host of other insulating electronic devices that serve to circumvent self-examination. We turn away in denial or rage in belligerent ignorance, because we see the world moving on, and we cannot control the situation…no matter how many predator drones we have scouring the globe. Increasingly, we feel uneasy, for we see events are changing fast — and, as the momentum of events propel us through time, we are not yet ready to accept the fact, but know deep within us, that we cannot remain the people that we are.
Grasping the reality of one’s situation can be painful. Those in the U.S. still clinging to the tattered myths of late stage capitalism would be hurt and angry, if they came to realize the amount of corporate state propaganda that they have internalized…that has allowed for their exploitation by a ruthless, unaccountable few e.g., the fairy tale of upward class migration. Ergo, the relentless, all-pervasive manner in which well-funded operatives of the rightwing wage class warfare. For example, the noxious canard asserting welfare layabouts have sponged up your fair share of hard wrought earnings. In this way, the bigot whispers of the capitalist state have created a mean-spirited, punitive cosmology that serves to emotionally displace anger. And these tropes of demagogic displacement are quite lucrative to its accomplished practitioners e.g., Rush Limbaugh.
The winners/losers mythos of capitalism renders people sick with shame while its tendency towards class stratification promotes feelings of powerlessness and unfocussed rage; hence, many develop a compulsion to displace their frustrations. Withal, they evince the mindset of embittered slaves who have been told, and worse insist, that the corporatist/militarist boot on their necks is better termed a Liberty Massage; they seethe with displaced projections on people that they perceive to be layabouts, when, in fact, by these projections, they are displaying a type of envy. These perceived loafers (i.e., imaginary beings, who are, seemingly, as troublesome, yet as hard to locate as fairy folk) are getting away with something — while you have to slave away, toiling for the obscene profits of a privileged elite who think those below them are fools for swallowing whole the propaganda they promulgate about this imaginary, miracle system known as free market capitalism, which never has worked (and never will work) as advertised, because it never has and never will exist. Moreover, given the reality of Democratic/Republican duopoly in place to protect the interest of the moneyed classes, we will not be able to vote our way out of this situation.
I know my assertion that one’s vote is worse than meaningless (Caveat: It is flat-out meaningful to those who rigged the game by providing the system with the illusion of being legit.) is bound to evoke, in some, feelings of angst, because the assertion points out the hopelessness of the situation. Good. Hope is the snake oil sold to suckers at the traveling medicine show/cheap carnival of this faux democratic republic. What the ruling elite fear is the audacity of hopelessness — because that is when citizens see through the illusions created by their exploiters and rise up and destroy the house of mirrors of the status quo.
Believing you’re contributing to the greater good by the act of voting in this big money-controlled, sham republic…is like donating your blood to a blood bank owned by vampires.
The last, best way that we, as a nation, can endure…is to challenge social convention and political boilerplate (each and every calcified cliché and soul-defying platitude) at all levels. Change arrives when heart and mind open to new understandings. There is a time-proven approach to this: Begin to admit the fact that our understandings involving ourselves and our place in the world have come to the end of the line…only an abyss yawns before us; that our actions are no longer viable, thus we must risk exposure to novelty. Naturally, grief will come with the letting go of shopworn habits and the death of cherished illusions; although, a rebirth of wonder and a renewal of vision will arrive as well.
“Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, from Crime and Punishment
On an historical basis, those who cling to the exhausted verities of this fading epoch will be viewed in a comparable light to those obtuse denizens of the 16th Century who refused to let go (and ruthlessly strove to make miserable — or worse — those who challenged prevailing cultural illusions) of the fallacy of the Geocentric model of the universe. Like their Flat-Earther forbearers, our present day virtuosos of denial (e.g., climate change skeptics and capitalist rah-rahs) their names and their demented dogmas will, in years to come, become axiomatic of hubris, denial, and catastrophic conceit.
When an individual clings to pride-petrified notions about himself, he is being held in the thrall of the viewpoint of a person who no longer exists; in the same way, when one parrots nationalistic platitudes, one dwells on a mental basis in a country that does not exists, and, in fact, never did.
The nations of the earth are teeming with people who dwell in The Land Of Never Was. (Shortly, these traits will be on grotesque, flag-waving, spandex-clad display during the coming Olympic games.)
The world is in constant flux and our understanding of it can never be wholly accurate. However, this does not mean we’re absolved from making the attempt, and we should not allow a convenient cynicism to hold us in its dismal thrall. By doing so, we diminish our lives and by extension the world.
To know the world, first, we must resolve to undertake a scrupulous inventory of our own beliefs and intentions, both on display and veiled deep within. Transformation begins to unfold as the result of an honest apprehension of one’s situation; tragedy descends from the habitual avoidance of doing so.
Still, as waning moments flow into the waxing present, change comes to pass, by means of a single new apprehension by a single individual.
A number of years ago, a man, a recovering drunk, told me what circumstances led him to cast aside the bottle. Most mornings, he said, in the grip of a hangover, to prevent his wife and young children from hearing his sounds of retching, he would slip from the house in order to vomit. It was his habit to shuffle to the backyard, drop to his knees, and, obscured by a row of scrub brush, he would do the deed.
One morning, while in the midst of his grim routine, he heard a rustling to his right. There, on his knees beside him, knelt his three year old son…imitating his father’s actions. Stricken with shock and anguish, the man vowed that he would not bequeath this legacy to his son.
Often, the knowledge that our selfish actions are placing those we love at risk can jolt us into awareness…can serve as a catalyst for change. In a universal sense, at this perilous juncture for humankind, it is imperative that we begin to love the world with the ardor, compassion, and sense of responsibility that rises within when looking upon the face of things beloved. We must embrace this task, because our planet, due to the blindness and selfishness inherent to late capitalism, is in deep trouble.
“Love is stronger than death and harder than hell”
Large numbers, perhaps even the majority of people of the nation, have applied their energies and talents to avoiding change; they labor, moment by moment, day by day, to construct and dwell within a mundane, confining architecture that passes for normalcy. These types see change as a home invasion. They stand dour and vigilant, armed to their clinched teeth, guarding over their accouterments of mammon. Winged Liberty herself is seen as a demon, borne from Hell on leathery wings.
Pay little mind to their little minds. Write your story across eternal skies, as you put one foot in front of the next, sojourning in the direction of meaning. Yes, you’ll pass many of these poor souls as you proceed along, and they will detest you. Your mere presence threatens to reveal to them what they have forsaken in the name of safety…that their conception of what is normal, sane, decent, and patriotic has deadened their spirit. By merely passing by, you threaten to stir up the dust of their desiccated hearts.
To emerge from the imprisonment of habitual thought…is to set forth into an uncertain world, to allow your heart to be pierced by time’s arrow.
It is through this wound — that is the womb bearing your rebirth — you will reemerge into life. You will navigate this novel landscape…learning its roads, paths and landmarks, and, as time passes, you will not only accept the reality that you cannot return to the irretrievable past, but you will be mortified at the very thought of being re-entombed in it.
This essay was first published in Counterpunch.
Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at: email@example.com .
By Asher Platts
The following is a lecture I gave at the annual "Peace of Mind" conference on behalf of New Hampshire Peace Action in the spring of 2010.
With my online persona, I blog, I make videos, and attend conferences, and do other things.
In real life, I work full time in a factory, I play in a band called “Theodore Treehouse” and serve on the Maine Green Independent Party steering committee. I’m much more boring in real life than my online persona makes me seem. When Will Hopkins asked me to fill this slot for Yael Petretti, I had no idea what I was going to do. He joked that this part of the conference would be changed from “Compassionate Listening” to “How the Punk Patriot is going to save the world.”
I’m not here to tell you how I’m going to save the world though. Not only is that incredibly vain, it’s an absurd thought that one person on their own can save the entire world. But what isn’t absurd is that one person can make a profound difference. You can make a profound difference on a global scale, or you can make a profound difference on a local scale. You can make a difference, and what you choose to do with your life DOES matter.
To do that, I’m going to talk a little bit about where I come from. I’ve always been a political activist. It was an accident. When I was a child, my mother was sort of politically active, and I went with her to political events. I vaguely remember attending meetings at churches and town halls. I remember more vividly walking door to door with her, and watching her talk to people in our neighborhood. I remember it being a problem that people would dispose of toxic fluids down the storm drains. I remember going out with my mother and spray painting stenciled warnings in front of storm drains telling people not to dump their paint or other toxic fluids there.
When I was in middle school, I was living in a rural community in the Bangor area of Maine. Our town council was made up of conservatives to believed that raising taxes was one of the seven deadly sins. They wanted to cut taxes, and cut spending, across the board. Our school was not well funded to start with. We barely had an art program, and our music program consisted of a woman who visited several schools in our general area, wheeling in an electronic keyboard and passing out the lyrics to Abba songs, and she’d have us sing the main melody line while she played keyboard. I don’t remember learning much about music, nor did I feel particularly culturally enriched, but this seemed to satisfy the requirements of the school board, and it was a monthly interruption to math class-- for that reason alone we enjoyed it. Otherwise it was pure torture.
One member of our town council pushed very heavily the idea that the ballooning costs of public education was the cause of all our budgetary woes, that we as a town were going broke, and that we couldn’t afford to keep spending, and sought to cut spending across the board. Because of our Town Council’s proposed budget, our school was facing the reality that it might have to close down for most of the year, or maybe even entirely. A small group of people decided, and rightfully so, that this-- was complete bullshit. The final straw. Behaviour by our town council that was totally unacceptable. For a while there was a lot of vitriol from people on both sides of the fence. Those on the conservative side of the fence agreed that the School was too expensive and that taxes were too high.
The progressive side of the fence decided that education was important, and we shouldn’t neglect our kids, that education was valuable.
This group of like-minded women who knew one another through their kids involvement in Boy Scouts, through after school activities, they got together to do something about this. The town librarian, a handful of concerned mothers, including my mother, got together and started holding meetings to talk about what to do. They held meetings at people’s houses. They held meetings in the public library.
They decided what they’d do, is something radical, crazy even. They would go to the town council meeting, get on the speaker’s list, and COMPLAIN. And they did.
The delinquent kids of my school, whose parents both worked, or came from single parent households, leaving them with nothing to do at home until late at night, they would hang out at the library. They would normally skateboard and commit acts of minor vandalism. They were natural rabble rousers. Our town librarian had to regularly go outside and yell at them. So naturally they become good friends. When our librarian approached them and asked them if they would like to complain to the town council about how much our school sucked, they thought that sounded like a great idea. They even agreed not to cuss in their speeches.
The conservative blowhards on the town council decided that they had heard enough, and began parroting all sorts of stupid conservative talking points. One of them said to one of the mothers who had the floor, “Ma’am, the fact of the matter is, our school is not going to produce any rocket scientists.”
The other mothers organized their kids, and their kids’ friends. We got together to rehearse our speeches. We all went to the next town hall meeting wearing handmade t-shirts that said, “FUTURE ROCKET SCIENTIST.” We each got on the speakers list to talk about how much the school sucked due to underfunding, how important education is to our future, and how a small property tax increase would raise a huge amount of money for the school solving a lot of our funding problems. We asked,
“How often do you hear people rallying and asking you to RAISE their taxes?”
One astute member of the community decided that even more than persuasive emotional arguments, we needed to find out what the facts were. He did not believe it was true that the cost of education was ballooning, and decided to go to the town’s budgetary records held in the library, and look through the budgets for the past 30 years and enter it all into a spreadsheet. He found that expenses across the board were nominally flat, with an average fluctuation of 3 to 4%. But there was a bizarre anomaly: an account that appeared about 10 years prior, that was going up by one hundred thousand dollars every year. It was a reserve fund that the town council could use as a slush fund. And it had accrued about one million dollars over ten years. And this was back in 1990 when a dollar was worth about 40% more than it is today. The town council was taxing the town, and then not spending it on anything, at the expense of the public good.
He had a chart made up graphing the town’s expenditures. He made up a bunch of pamphlets with the same information. And two weeks before the referendum on the budget, he presented at a joint session of the Town Council and School Board. As soon as people realized that they were being lied to, it was an easy sell.
We organized the community, going door to door and explaining how the town council was taxing us and then not spending the money, and how they were lying about the school’s operating costs ballooning out of control. And we had the data to back it up. And my town rejected the town council’s budget by an overwhelming majority. In the next budget, we lobbied for, and won, our tiny property tax increase.
Nobody had to run for office. Nobody had to be impeached. It wasn’t a Democrat of Republican issue. It was just common sense, solid data, and math. It was good citizen ethic. We just did a voter education and a grassroots “Get out the vote” campaign.
We engaged in one of the forgotten parts of citizenship-- we LOBBIED. It’s a dirty word these days. But that’s only because too few of us do it. Too few of YOU do it.
Because of that experience, activism has seemed so natural to me. It’s just something that is part of every day life. Just like we are all supposed to brush our teeth and floss regularly to protect and maintain our dental health, we also need to be politically active on a regular basis so that we can maintain the health our democracy.
Let me tell you another story about somebody I know. I don’t actually know him directly, he is a good friend of someone who is, in turn, friend of mine. You may have heard of him. His name is Tim DeChristopher.
Tim DeChristopher was just an economics student living in Salt Lake City Utah. The Bush Administration was auctioning off public land for “energy exploration” aka strip mining. This land was owned by the public, land set aside during Theodore Roosevelt’s time for enjoyment by the public. And this auction and sale of this land was illegal. But the Bush Administration was a criminal government, they didn’t care much about the law, so it was happening anyways.
Tim DeChristopher and his politically aware friends heard about this auction going on. It was right around the corner from where they were already living and going to school. He and his friends decided that they needed to do something to stop it. So they came up with a plan to disrupt the auction.
They were going to go down and storm it, and then scream and yell and try to prevent it from happening. So he and his group of friends went down to the hotel conference room where the auction was happening. Just outside of the doors, his friends chickened out. But Tim decided he had to get in there and at least check it out. He figured he was going to go in, throw a shoe at the auctioneer, and then he’d get arrested, and that would be the end of it. But he’d at least bring some attention to the issue, and maybe delay it for a little bit.
What happened instead is much more interesting. He went through those doors into the area just outside, where he was greeted by a stern man in a suit. At this point, Tim thought to himself, “oh great, they’re not going to let me in.” But the man in the suit said, “Are you here to attend the auction?”
So after pausing just a split second, Tim responded, “why, yes, I am.”
The man in the suit asked him, “And would you like to bid in the auction?”
At this point Tim was thinking. “SCORE! I’m totally getting inside!”
“Why yes I would.”
And so the man in the suit handed him a bidding paddle with the number 70 on it.
So he went into the room, and he sat down in a chair with his paddle, and he began to look around the room. There were all sorts of old white men in business suits, and younger people like Tim, who were talking on cell phones, probably listening to old white men in business suits in offices far away from Salt Lake City.
As the bidding started, and plots of our public, federally protected land were being sold for $4 an acre, Tim decided that there was no reason that he shouldn’t bid too. He had a paddle. He had gotten inside legally. He had every right to be there, and every right to bid as well.
At first his strategy was to drive up the price to ridiculous amounts. And he did. He started bidding like mad until there was just a few other bidders, and driving the price up as high as the other guys were willing to go. Where plots of land were once selling for $4 an acre, they were now selling for $50 an acre, being sold in tracks of thousands of acres at a time.
But then, Tim realized-- it wasn’t enough to stick it to these criminals by driving the prices up. This land was public land, and it belonged to the public, not the coal companies, not mining companies. That land that they were winning, they were still going to strip mine public property. They were still going to ruin the local ecosystem.
So he decided he was going to just grab up all the land he could, and keep it out of the hands of these goons. And so he did. After winning every plot of land from that point forward, somebody from the FBI came over to talk with him, and he was escorted out of the building, and the auction was halted. Tim was charged and sentenced to two years for “bidding without intent to pay.” Which is interesting, because the auction he stopped was itself illegal. But he stopped it.
He and his friends have started an organization called Peaceful Uprising, and have begun organizing climate justice actions around the USA.
Another activist you have probably all heard of: Bradley Manning. Bradley Manning was just a Private First Class intelligence officer. He found though, that he had access to damning information about our foreign policy. So he allegedly burned it all to CD-Rs and sent that information off to Wikileaks. A fairly small simple action. But one with huge, sweeping consequences.
Rosa Parks famously decided one day that she was sick of being treated like a second class citizen. So she decided she just wasn’t going to take shit from anybody anymore, and in a simple act of noncompliance that anybody could have done, she simply refused to move to the back of the bus. She also decided to dedicate her life to organizing, boycotting, striking, and mobilizing her community.
Cindy Sheehan, attending a Veterans For Peace conference in Texas, realized that she was just a few miles away from George W Bush’s ranch. So she and a few others decided that they were going to camp out on his front lawn and wait to ask the president, “For what noble cause did my son die?” The media took notice, and she became a hero. But she’s just a person like you.
Tim DeChristopher, Bradley Manning, Rosa Parks, Cindy Sheehan, are not that different than my School Librarian, my mother, or any of you.
The only difference between the people in the stories I’ve told you, and anybody else you know is the following:
1) These “heroes” found themselves in a position where they could do something to make the world a better place. It came with a certain amount of risk to themselves. But, and this is the most important part
2) They did it anyways.
They are not super-heroes. They are not Saints. They are just regular people like you and me. They got more press than most, but the DNA of what spurred them to action, the essence of what drove them to act, is no different.
This sounds too simple. It’s almost boring. So let me call it by something that sounds far more fancy: Leadership.
Why did they behave the way they did?
What if they had waited around for the Obama, or the Nader, or hero politician of their time to fight all their battles for them?
What if Rosa Parks had waited around for somebody else to be Rosa Parks?
What if Bradley Manning had waited for somebody else to be Bradley Manning?
What if Cindy Sheehan had waited around for somebody else to be Cindy Sheehan?
What if Gandhi had waited around for somebody else to be Gandhi?
What if Martin Luther King Jr had waited for somebody else to be Martin Luther King Jr?
What if Tim DeChristopher had been like his friends, and chickened out at the front steps?
Why did these people take action instead of waiting for some politician to do things for them? Why did they decide that THEY should be the ones to make a difference, instead of waiting around for some activist hero to do it for them?
One word: Leadership.
By Derrick Jensen
There isn't a chance in hell that something like the original Wilderness Act could be passed today. Environmentalists today are too much on the defensive. Sure, there have been green platforms and policy papers, but nothing I’ve read matches the urgency of this moment. So I decided to draft a declaration. It goes like this:
We, the citizens of the United States of America, hold these truths to be self-evident: that a rapid decline in living conditions is taking place all around us; that compromise is no longer an adequate way forward (and perhaps never was); that more drastic measures must be taken immediately in order to preserve a livable planet. From these beliefs springs the following list of demands:
We demand that the United States Constitution be rewritten to explicitly prohibit the privatization of profits and the externalization of costs by the wealthy, and to immediately grant both human and nonhuman communities full legal and moral rights. Corporations should no longer be considered persons under the law. Limited liability corporations must be immediately stripped of their limited liability protection. Those whose economic activities cause great harm—including great harm to the real, physical world—should be punished. Environmental Crimes Tribunals must be immediately put in place to try those who have significantly harmed the real, physical world. These tribunals should have the force of law and should be expected to impose punishment commensurate with the harm caused to the public and to the planet.
We demand the immediate, explicit, and legally binding recognition that perpetual growth is incompatible with life on a finite planet. Economic growth must stop, and economies must begin to contract. We demand acknowledgment that if we don’t begin this contraction voluntarily, it will take place against our will, and will cause untold misery.
We demand that overconsumption and overpopulation be addressed through bold and serious measures, but not by approaches that are racist, colonialist, or misogynist. Right now, more than 50 percent of the children who are born into this world are unwanted. We demand that all children be wanted. The single most effective strategy for making certain that all children are wanted is the liberation of women. Therefore we demand that women be given absolute economic, sexual, and reproductive freedom, and that all forms of reproductive control become freely available to all.
There is consensus among the scientific community that in order to prevent catastrophic climate change beyond what the industrial economy has already set in motion, net carbon emissions must be reduced by 80 percent as soon as possible. Because we wish to continue to live on a habitable planet, we demand a carbon reduction of 20 percent of current emissions per year over the next four years.
Dwayne Andreas, former CEO of Archer Daniels Midland, has said, “There isn’t one grain of anything in the world that is sold in a free market. Not one! The only place you see a free market is in the speeches of politicians.” He’s right. Capitalism is based almost entirely on subsidies. For example, commercial fishing fleets worldwide receive more in subsidies than the entire value of their catch. Timber corporations, oil corporations, banks—all would collapse immediately without massive government subsidies and bailouts. Therefore, we demand that the United States government stop subsidizing environmentally and socially destructive activities, and shift those same subsidies into activities that restore biotic communities and that promote local self-sufficiency and vibrant local economies.
We demand an immediate and permanent halt to all extractive and destructive activities: fracking, mountaintop removal, tar sands production, nuclear power, and offshore drilling chief among them. The list of activities to be halted must also include the manufacture of photovoltaic panels, windmills, hybrid cars, and so on. We must find nondestructive ways of becoming a sustainable society.
We demand an immediate end to monocrop agriculture, one of the most destructive activities humans have ever perpetrated. All remaining native forests must be immediately and completely protected. We demand an end to clearcutting, “leave tree,” “seed tree,” “shelter tree,” and all other “even-aged management” techniques, no matter what they are called, and no matter what rationales are put forward by the timber industry and the government to justify them. Likewise, we demand that all remaining prairies and wetlands be permanently protected.
Further, we demand that all damaged lands be restored, from the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters. Because soil is the basis of terrestrial life, no activities should be allowed that destroy topsoil. All properties over sixty acres must have soil surveys performed every ten years, and if they have suffered any decrease in health or depth of topsoil, the lands shall be confiscated and ownership transferred to those who will build up soil.
We demand that no activities that draw down aquifers be allowed, and that all polluted or compromised rivers and wetlands be restored. There are more than 2 million dams in the United States, more than 60,000 dams over thirteen feet tall and more than 70,000 dams over six and a half feet tall. If we removed one of these 70,000 dams each day, it would take 200 years to get rid of them all. Salmon don’t have that much time. Sturgeon don’t have that much time. Therefore, we demand that no more dams be built, and we demand the removal of five dams per day over the next forty years, beginning one year from today.
We demand that the United States make an annual survey of all endangered species to ascertain if they are increasing in number and range, and if they are not, we demand that steps be taken to make sure that they do. The U.S. government must be charged with the task of doing whatever is necessary to make sure that there are more migratory songbirds every year than the year before, that there are more native fish every year than the year before, more native reptiles and amphibians.
The United States must immediately withdraw from NAFTA, DR-CAFTA, and other so-called free trade agreements, because these agreements cause immeasurable and irreparable harm to working people, local economies. Likewise, we demand that the United States remove all support for the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, because these organizations promote and support vast infrastructure projects such as highways, dams, thermal power projects, and mines that disrupt or destroy entire biomes and dispossess and immiserate hundreds of thousands of people (in India alone, 50 million people have been displaced by large “development” projects).
From this day forward, the only conditions under which the United States of America should go to war is by a direct vote of more than 50 percent of U.S. citizens. Furthermore, we demand immediate closure of all U.S. military bases on foreign soil. All U.S. military personnel should be brought home within two years. The U.S. military budget must be reduced by 20 percent per year, until it reaches 20 percent of its current size. This will provide the “peace dividend” politicians promised us back when the Soviet Union collapsed, will balance the U.S. budget, and will more than pay for all necessary domestic programs, starting with biome repair and including food, shelter, and medical care for all.
In addition to the aforementioned, we demand that the U.S. government itself undergo a significant transformation in recognition of the fact that it can only be of, by, and for the people if it is concurrently of, by, and for the earth. And no, the fact that the animals and plants and natural communities don’t speak English is not a valid excuse for failing to provide for their well-being.
Once these demands have been met, we will come up with more, and then more, until we are living in a sane, just, and sustainable culture. We believe that such a culture is our birthright, both as human beings with inalienable rights and as animals who love our home. We have not forgotten that the Declaration of Independence states that when a government becomes destructive of our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, then it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it.
This essay was first published at Orion magazine.
Photo: Mickey Z.