Are you like me? Do you ever wonder why things seem to be getting so out of control in this world? If, overall, things seem to be getting worse, rather than better, despite all the work and activism and uprising going on that we read about in the news, all the time.
The Occupy movement, Arab Spring, now right wing armed vigilantes defending illegally grazing cows and their rancher? A victory for people against a government that is often and increasingly more than heavy handed in the face of the democracy it likes to claim that it stands for.
Is this a victory for violence? What do we make of this one? A victory for lawlessness? A victory for resistance? All of the above? A real mixed bag. A victory for restraint on the part of the governmental powers? This COULD be a good thing. Then again I shudder to think that vigilantism may now get bolder. Things do seem to be getting out of hand some… there is the potential for a societal break-down, if not already underway. Are we on the verge of a complete collapse? (criminalization of almost every behavior of the poor and people of color as a way to fill prison beds for profit, almost every excuse conceivable by governments around the globe to justify all manner of military conflicts to drive arms production and resource exploitation and sales for … profit.)
What can the effects of this all be? Where are we headed? And why? Who is to answer for this sorry state of affairs… historically, international conflict is on the decline, yet the actual violence has become greater and the state of our society and our safety and security feels at risk… after all, now our weapons of war can destroy pretty much all life on the planet. But we may not have to use them… We seem to be hell bent on killing ourselves and a whole bunch of other species in the bargain without using them…
Just by consuming more and more and running the whole thing on fossil fuels. Fossil fuel is now threatening to make fossils out of all of us. Or at least most of us… At the very best, the global climate change freight train will run over us like so many teenagers partying on the tracks. In a vicious feed-back loop, as we dig deeper into Mother Earth to rape her more and more for the non-renewable forms of energy to fulfill our increasingly wasteful society (despite very positive efforts at organizing for sustainability… but is there enough time? Chuck Hagel, the US so called Defense Secretary just came back from a trip to Mongolia. There are minerals in Mongolia. What part of the planet are we NOT willing to exploit?) as we burn more fossil fuel and change the life giving atmosphere more and more we bring about our own potential destruction as if we are driving the very train that is about to run us all down. Or did we just give the keys to a greedy set of train operators in exchange for the booze and the licence to throw the train track party in the first place?
Whose operating the train? What will come of this?
And we think we are so well off because we can turn on a light switch when our side of the Earth turns away from the sun each day.
The number of people being displaced in the world is rising. According to the World Watch institute, to quote Michael Renner, Jan 25th, 2013, “For reasons that range from warfare and persecution to natural disasters and development projects, an estimated 92.56 million people were forcibly displaced in 2012, either inside their home countries or across a border. Displacement is sometimes temporary, but in other cases it can last for years.”
Just witness the Palestinians, (or, for that matter, the American Indian and the descendants of the slave trade who are our neighbors.)
I have added bold above to emphasize the points that it is not just war and conflict that constitute violence to populations. What we call “development” does too. and I also wanted it clear that we are talking about significant numbers of people, enough to be a strain on any efforts to provide relief aid. And I especially want it known that these are not vagabonds, gypsies or bohemians. These people have been FORCIBLY DISPLACED. One would assume it would be against their will right?
And it is getting worse. The UN Appeal for aid for Syria alone is the largest in history. Never mind Tibet, or any number of other locations.
This happens in poor communities right here in the USA. Look around… Homeless people are showing up in the suburbs and even rural communities these days. With an economy that has still not built a solid floor under people during the so called recovery, homelessness is not only more prevalent, but more possible for so many more… You have heard the phrase… “One paycheck away…”
Now if I was driving the train and seduced by the power of having the controls in my hands, and I didn’t want people getting together to take their turn, it would behoove me to threaten them by taking away their tickets and throwing them off the train, right? So if our society is like a this fright train, and being on board is like being a functional member, you know, with a means of income, and a place to live, you get the picture.
So what I am suggesting is that, if not an accident, the current, ongoing economic crisis that puts so many of us at risk certainly works in favor of the train operators if keeping the controls is what they are all about. But if it is because they think they are better at driving the train for all of us, — if they really, really think they are doing us all a favor and we are better off with them at the controls, you know, being of service by being a public servant, or a so called “captain of industry” then someone ought to tell them that they should have their licences revoked and do deep therapy to learn that they are in serious denial about the real state of affairs they are creating.
Among other things, we are looking at the possibility of runaway climate change. If you think extreme weather events are a big deal right now, you ain’t seen nothing yet if we do not turn things around, and quickly. And this is because of a tendency, no, make that a bad habit, like drug abuse or living in a dysfunctional arrangement because one does not know any other way to live and feels out of their comfort zone to live in a healthy environment… which often requires taking the responsibility to act on your own personal power while maintaining healthy relationships with those around you… How does one handle that if all they have ever known is to accept being less than they can be? How do we accept taking responsibility for putting up with the local, national, and international bullies who run things? And why? What’s our payoff? The chance to watch “dancing with the stars” and own a cell phone and buy Budweiser and Coke and allowing ourselves to believe that being devoted to brands, many of which will eventually kill us if we keep consuming them, is what amounts to freedom of choice? As if we had the choice? And of course we do, but do you know how much work goes into building a co-op? Well most people just don’t have time for that.
It’s the same for those of us who shop at Trader Joes. At times just doing what we are used to is easier and so it is what we do. We all have too much else to worry about just to get through the day. Change, even change that may be good for us, can be scary and just too much work. We all gotta sleep sometime.
But we all choose. The question now is how do we choose to change and become healthy when we have given away the keys? How do we get them back? And why is it so hard? Why do the train operators refuse to give us a seat at the controls? How will they prosper if they run us all down? Who will they depend on to buy their brands if that happens? What do they hope to gain?
The hot new economist everyone in the economic world is talking about, Thomas Piketty, has proven, supposedly, with years of economic data, that those in charge of the capitalist system, which now is truly global and in essence is THE system, or, in our analogy, THE train, are destroying their own gains by gaming said system in such a way that their accumulating wealth, (Which Marx pointed out IS the true nature of capital to begin with) is reducing social health as more and more people of limited means share a higher and higher burden of the cost of paying for services and everything else under the sun. The gaming takes the form of tax breaks and protecting inheritance and wealth from the risks of the real world at the expense of wages. It also involves massive, unfair subsidies to industries that support the top 10% and their life style.
Will Hutton, of The Observer, writes: “As a result, the burden of paying for public goods such as education, health and housing is increasingly shouldered by average taxpayers, who don’t have the wherewithal to sustain them. Wealth inequality thus becomes a recipe for slowing, innovation-averse, rentier economies, tougher working conditions and degraded public services. Meanwhile, the rich get ever richer and more detached from the societies of which they are part: not by merit or hard work, but simply because they are lucky enough to be in command of capital receiving higher returns than wages over time. Our collective sense of justice is outraged.”
In other words, what Henry Ford said about making sure his workers could afford to buy his cars so he could profit from the whole arrangement in the first place. But, of course, the problem has always been, how do you keep inflating that pie in a world with finite resources.. This cuts to the chase.. and it is an appropriate word, because it is a chase… not sustainable over the long haul…
And there is the rub. If those folks driving the train are keeping all the gains for themselves and forcing everyone else to shoulder the burden of an increasingly impossible situation while raping the planet to do it, how can ANYONE expect to survive? These dumb ass train operators seem so bent on their own gain that their greed blinds them to the cliff they are driving toward. The very cliff they will plunge over to their own doom after they have run over and slashed and squashed and dismembered all the rest of us first.
There is a meme making it’s way around facebook these days showing a bleak landscape in the background as, in the foreground a beleaguered survivor with a gas mask plucks a lonely flower (one assumes one of the last of its kind) from the war torn wall in front of them. The caption says: ” Are we really gonna let a bunch of greedy selfish fools do in this planet?”
And therein lies our solution too.
There is a famous organizer, writer and founder of a movement that can inform the way anti capitalists, pro sustainability activists may change, and possibly save the world. Selma James has coined a phrase that can be a focal point for awareness of where the root of the problems we face really begin.
Selma James has always thought out of the proverbial box. Born in Brooklyn in 1940, Selma writes, not from the perspective of an intellectual, but from that of a true grass-roots organizer. Most significant, in a life of significant activism, was her analysis of a fundamental basis of capital that was often overlooked by analysts of all kinds. And that is, simply put, that is the underlying importance of the WORK done by mothers and other care givers in having and caring for children, both the initiation of all social systems of our species throughout our existence, and the starting point of capital as the foundation of labor. In other words, the labor upon which capital depends, starts with the birth and upbringing of children who grow up to be laborers and as such, there is value for that work and that value needs to be recognized by capital.
Selma founded the Wages for Housework Campaign, which recognizes this very fact that all labor and by extension, all capital, relies on the care giving work of mothers and other care givers. Then it stands to reason that this work should not only be valued in a rhetorical sense, but it should be given economic value, which it has in some countries, and caregivers should be given a wage commensurate with that economic value to boot. Something like that, though not quite the same thing, was done for a while even here in the US, the main citadel of Capitalism. We used to call it welfare.
Well, this would be a great and novel thing. Actually paying for the true value of what many capitalists claim to hold in high regard. Unfortunately, that would be tantamount to allowing more people to drive the damn train. And we can’t have that. Then the current operators might never get the controls back… So, just as Selma showed us all a profound truth regarding economic power that was there under our noses all along that no one of any note had every told us about before, she has coined a phrase which accurately describes the train operators and illuminates exactly what the basic fundamental challenge that we face really amounts to. And this is in her description of the motivations of the current train operators who are driving us to destruction. In a phrase, Selma has told us that these people are suicidally greedy. If that doesn’t speak buckets of truth? I don’t know what else we could come up with that hits the nail so firmly on its rhetorical head as that.
It is the very greed of the people who really decide what and how things are run in the world that is ensuring not only our own possible demise, but their own as well… Take a moment, and think about that.
How do we confront such a paradigm? How to reason with folks so powerful AND out of touch that they can not only destroy us all, but themselves in the bargain? That is our true challenge.
We can practice non-participation and create alternative, transitional, sustainable economies to undermine their broken, corrupt, deadly and getting deadlier state of affairs. But if they are so determined to hold on to their greed and power that they would bring themselves down along with everyone else, what would they be willing to do to prevent us from ignoring them. Like the abuser who will not let their partner leave because it so threatens their own sense of power and control, we may, most likely will, have to deal with a strong, disruptive and dangerous backlash if we try to ignore their hold on us to begin with. Like the growing, and ever more militarized police state and slow but steady erosion of democracy that we are all experiencing these days. Like the deep and troubling surveillance infrastructure (including the use of domestic drones) exposed by Edward Snowden, and others. (Like the cloying insecure partner, domestic, professional, or otherwise, that spies on us and monitors our cell phone calls)
This will mean, first recognizing our situation and empowering ourselves, even allowing ourselves, to change things and stand up to our oppression. It means seeing who has the keys to the train. Everyone knows this. Right?
Both internally and externally. It will mean creating structures that will be able to counter their power and control. It will mean finding adequate resources to empower such structures. This has always been a heavy lift.
But most importantly I believe, It will mean learning to work better together, and learning to do it quickly and soon, or we may not have time to head off the impending doom. Indeed, much damage has already been done and the best we may be able to hope for is mitigation of an already unhealthy situation and adaptation on a massive scale to many environmental and long term economic changes that, at this point, will probably be inevitable, and irreversible, while reducing the potential for worse outcomes as much as we can. We may have to accept the possible fact that things are already damaged and the best we CAN do is to mitigate.
But, as I wrote, we will have to act fast and we will need to break down the divisions that keep us pitted against each other too. And all of this will have to happen simultaneously. We simply do not have the time to accomplish greater and deeper understanding while we wait to employ new strategies to move forward and at the same time resist the reaction of our abusers to quell our desire for freedom that has already been emerging since 911 and the cancerous growth of the international surveillance state that I mentioned earlier.
Our work has been cut out for us but we have no choice but to proceed. Our future, the future of our children and of potentially all life on the planet depends on it. The odds are long and the danger is great. But our power is deep and it is wide. We need first to recognize it, and, at the SAME TIME begin to erase those divisions NOW!
Because the power has always been in our numbers, and the challenge has always been in the divisions between us….
One kind of campaign we can begin to mount are local resolutions. The Minnesota Arms Spending Alternatives Project is using the simple resolution process to fuel a public debate on military spending. Several city councils, including those in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and more than 150 organizations and leaders throughout the state have endorsed the MN ASAP resolutions to reduce Pentagon spending and transfer that money into more responsible programs. Learn what they did so you can help organize a campaign in your own state. http://mnasap.org/
An organizing effort like this can bring groups together and create real alliances. Especially if all the groups endorsing the efforts share their resources… Are we wiling to do that? Are we willing to go to foundations together, possibly at the expense of our own groups connection to a particular foundation, in the name of united work? We have to. My argument is that we can no longer afford not to.
We have to pool our resources and be the change we wish to see in the world as Gandhi has told us.
Our usual legislative efforts in Congress and local state houses need to be supported, not just with paper coalitions, but real ones, where all the groups do something to support the common cause we embrace.
In a campaign lead by Global Women’s Strike and Women of Color in Global Women’s Strike and Every Mother is a Working Mother Network, it is not only the expected social service groups, but other, less traditional allies that are lining up in endorsement of new legislation in Washington that would re-write the current TANF laws, what we used to call welfare. You can find it here: http://globalwomenstrike.net/content/background-petition-rise-out-poverty-act-and-work-act
Welfare, as we knew it, a support or a floor, built under poor families, particularly single mothers, was changed under the Clinton Administration to a punitive work-fare approach reducing benefits for many families and causing a huge number of children to be taken from their mothers and other care givers over the years, driving more single parents into poverty and making poor women one of the fastest rising populations in prison. The new legislation would rewrite the existing law by actually giving mothers and other caregivers financial support to raise their children to the age of three without choosing to work out of the home. Please notice I wrote WORK out of the home. As noted elsewhere in this article, working to raise kids IS a job. And one of the most important ones there is. Ancient societies recognized this. Why can’t we? Are we so “advanced” that we cannot see that child rearing is what every species depends on to survive? You would think our so called leaders would get this and support it appropriately. The RISE out of Poverty Act and the WORK act would do just that, as well as make other improvements including removing many restrictions in the current law that prevents many in need from getting the support they need. In other words this legislation changes the goal from getting mothers and other caregivers into make-work jobs to raising kids out of poverty as it’s focus.
I have personally reached out to peace and justice groups across the country (Most of whom have endorsed this campaign) and made the case that when we talk about funding social needs by cutting wasteful military spending, bills like this are just what we are really talking about. I have made the case, in each instance that, to the degree that their resources allow, when the time comes we will ask them to step up with the other organizations that are behind this effort to look for co-sponsors and ignite a grass-roots movement for passage just as we would when resisting funding for wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and other places around the globe. Why not resist the war on the poor we like to talk about right here at home? Are we against war everywhere, or just in other lands? Are we not all on the same planet and, in reality, the same land? Are we not all protecting the same mother, our Mother Earth, when we protect and empower the mothers and others who live and breath on her surface within here life zone? If we are truly about non-violence, there are fewer more fundamental forms of violence on this planet than the violence that is poverty.
When we talk about sustainability, supporting local farmers in their struggle to feed us all with healthy foods, and working together with environmental organizations to stop the polluting of our air, land and water.., (much caused by large agribusiness and it’s connections with big oil, and the support and subsidy they enjoy from those already bought and paid for in Government) all these are parts of the same struggle. We hear it over and over again… Why don’t we really, I mean really, start organizing like it is the case that all of these struggles are our own?
Because they ARE! Some of us have begun to organize that way. Almost always on a local basis. We need more.
Now of course I recognize that there are many more examples of this kind of, what we used to call, cross-issue organizing going on. They are increasing because they have to. But we need to take this even more seriously and we need to do it now. When we go back to our boards, and our steering committees and the foundations and donors and members we rely on and in whose pleasure we are supposed to serve, we need to make this case. We need to share the resources and the vision and we need to work together. Nothing else will do any longer. We ARE running out of time.
The recent UN climate report just out which was produced by “…1250 international experts and approved by 194 governments, dismisses fears that slashing carbon emissions would wreck the world economy” according the the Guardian Newspaper. So there is no excuse to not pursue a sea change in the use of renewable energy, creating jobs and stopping the rape of our Mother Earth. We can leave fossils in the ground where they belong. And we had better. The same report shows that not only have greenhouse gas emissions soared but they are increasing at almost double the rate than they were previously. This IS dire news for us all. But it also shows that the solutions to mitigate this looming existential threat are achievable and will have many side benefits as well… it just seems that those “captains of industry” simply will not let go of the controls to that train. And the resulting train wreck will take us all down. Retired Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu has called for an anti-apartheid type of global campaign to end the use of fossil fuels and develop alternative energy resources immediately. Like the one championed by Bill McKibben at http://350.org/bill/
The report makes the case that the rise in global green-house gas emissions have risen faster between 2000 and 2010 than in each of the three previous decades. But the report also makes clear that if emissions continue at the present rate, (Or worsen, which is a definite possibility if we keep using oil, coal, and gas for energy production and transportation,) we will pass a critical threshold beyond which it will become increasingly expensive and likely not possible to reverse course.
Even more sobering is the point made in the report that if we do not act, climate change and its effects will spiral out of control. The effects will be wide ranging and reach everyone. You have heard them before, — extreme weather, droughts, more wildfires, more economic stress, heat waves, spread of diseases and invasive species that wreak havoc on all manner of ecosystems, more powerful hurricanes and more severe winters. reduction in food production, greater economic disparity and depletion of resources, resulting in more competition for those resources, more survivors and more refugee flows and more war. Locally and globally. A true nightmare scenario, but one that will become, no, make that already is becoming, the real deal. (Most of the wars today find their roots in competition for resources.)
We ARE all connected and we do depend on each other. It is past time we begin to act that way. What is one person’s, or group’s challenge, is everyone’s on some level. We need allies and we need to share in the victories and celebrate each other’s very existence. We are truly all in this together. There is only one ship and it is about to go down and if some of us don’t each begin to bail while others set the sails and others throw the extra baggage overboard we will all go down to a watery grave together.
So add your ideas to this blog. Where do you want to begin? What do you think we should do? let’s not wait. We need to act now. I want to hear from you. Let’s get this dialogue going. Let’s find solutions and implement them right away. They are out there. Many ideas already. Let’s use this space to initiate campaigns both large and small. Both local and global. Let’s get started.
THAT is my invitation to you. I am ready! Let’s get to work.