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STILL OUT ON A LIMB
February 11, 2017
Last week I attended an inspiring local program entitled “Immigration: Facts verses Fiction.” The presenters, two dynamic young women have started a project called #Immigration Nation. They are about to embark upon a six-month journey criss-crossing our nation in a camper van that will serve as a “mobile immigration clinic, providing free on-demand services for immigrants and their communities across the United States.”
Here’s how they describe themselves:
“Immigration Nation is the brainchild of two friends, Martina Carrillo and Lauren Burke. We met in 2010 when Martina, who is originally from Mexico, was in high school, and Lauren was working at a nonprofit in NYC. Together we worked on Martina's case and eventually, with two other young women, we founded the immigrant focused non profit, Atlas: DIY. Over the next six years we became close friends while working to represent individuals, organize trainings and provide safe spaces to immigrants in NYC. In the fall of 2016, however, Lauren was preparing to move upstate to start a consulting agency and Martina was headed back to school to obtain her bachelor's degree. Everything changed on November 8th. After the initial shock of what had just happened wore off, we began thinking of what we could do. Given Martina's personal experience as an undocumented immigrant and Lauren's work with hundreds of immigrant families. we knew we couldn't sit idly by as our communities were under attack. We also wanted to create audio and visual work that would share the real immigration stories of our nation. Thus, immigration nation was born.”
Now the two of them have left their jobs and school: Lauren is an experienced immigration lawyer and Martina has dropped out of the college she was attending. They are set to begin an organizing and teaching journey while living in their camper. They have a kickstarter campaign to fund their work whose goal is to raise $10,000 by March 1st. As of this morning they’ve raised over $7100. You can find out more at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/991694834/immigration-nation (If this link does not work, just Google "Lauren Burke Kickstarter")
The willingness of these energetic organizers of resistance who are providing a valuable service to a particularly vulnerable population is something that deserves our support. If you visit their kickstarter site, read their bios, and view their three-minute video, I’m sure you will agree.
Getting behind people on the front lines doing critical outreach is an effective way to build resistance to Trumpism. There is no intermediary organization. Instead, for a relative pittance, you are funding six months of face-to-face organizing by two dedicated, knowledgable, and charismatic people.
Elli and I have jumped on their bandwagon. I urge you to watch the video and join their kickstarter campaign. There are only a couple of weeks left for them to achieve their goal.
February 4, 2017
This is my first blog since November. The day after Trump’s Electoral College victory, my 99-year-old father-in-law, Jack Diamond, began failing. He died on January 12th. I was unable to write during this period.
On January 21st I went to the demonstration in Boston with 175,000 of my closest friends. I found it comforting and energizing. Elli and I are working to make our town a sanctuary city and taking other actions to resist the Trumpist onslaught. These actions are necessary and fine, but like you, I am trying to figure out what more we can do. I’ve been thinking about the idea of a general strike and am happy to see that it’s being organized, although possibility prematurely, for February 17th (f17strike.com). One aspect of this proposal is particularly interesting to me, especially for baby boomers.
Years ago, Mario Savio galvanized many us with these words, “There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious—makes you so sick at heart—that you can't take part. You can't even passively take part. And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.”
This is, I believe, what we need to do, but how? I am so impressed with the masses of energized younger people (for me that means those under 50) who are willing to put their bodies on the gears to disrupt whatever evil policies the Trumpists seek to shove down our throats, but what about the millions of baby boomers whose bodies may no longer be quite up to the task? What can we do beyond generous donations, attending demonstrations, putting up signs and bumper stickers? Those actions alone won’t stop the machine.
How can boomers be effectively disruptive? Where is our untapped power? While many boomers live paycheck to paycheck or worse, millions of us have led professional lives, with good salaries. We may have pensions, retirement savings, Social Security, or inheritances that have left us more comfortable than we ever dreamed of being. This disposable income gives us untapped power beyond our ability to make bigger donations. That ability involves consumption. If we want to disrupt “business as usual” during the Trump administration, are we willing to stop our “buying as usual?”
The millions of us can be disruptive of the Trump agenda simply by participating in a organized effort to sharply curtail our purchases. Sounds like a contradiction in terms, but let’s put our collective money where our collective mouthes are by not spending. Canceling big ticket items is most important. Put off buying a new car. Don’t take that pleasure trip - stay home, better for the environment anyway. Delay major home improvements. Forget about that new 99inch smart TV. It will hurt the economy, but it will help to get rid of Trump.
Do that and participate in “no commerce” as part of the February 17th Strike. Buy nothing that day, and “Join with other like-minded folks and occupy public space with positive messages of resistance and solidarity.” If millions of us participated in organized “non-consumption” days, days during which we stayed home, hung out with family and friends, took hikes, played board games, and built community, we could send corporate America a message they’d feel in their pocket book. And if we can pull off one day like that, then we’ll go for another and a third.
We used to say that if we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem. Think of it this way - every unnecessary dollar we spend helps Trump. Stop spending to hit this fucked-up administration where it hurts.
November 20, 2016
I intended to follow up my last post about the sufficiency of the programs proposed by green reformers by discussing their strengths and weaknesses, but the shocking election result compels me to react.
My prediction of a 10-point popular vote victory for Clinton was way off. Perhaps my error resulted from living in a liberal bubble. Clinton received around 90% of the vote in Amherst and Northampton, the two biggest towns in my county. She only racked up 75% of the vote in my somewhat more conservative town. Clinton won in Massachusetts by over 25 percentage points and the same is true of the West Coast. But the nation is made up of more than the Northeast and Pacific Coast.
As democrats lick their wounds, the recriminations have started. Some hang the loss on “third party candidates.” I don’t think that makes sense. First, it is wrong to lump the Libertarians and Greens together because the former attract more people from the right while the latter gather more from the left. When you decouple the third parties it is apparent that Gary Johnson’s vote total was sufficient to tip the balance to Clinton if the vast majority of his voters instead voted for Clinton. However, given the right-wing nature of Libertarianism, the chance of that happening approaches zero.
Jill Stein’s supporters were more likely to take votes from Clinton, but she gathered so few votes that even if every one of her supporters voted for Clinton, she still would have lost. For example, Clinton lost Florida by about 115,000 votes, but Stein only got about 64,000. In Pennsylvania, Clinton lost by about 68,000 votes and Stein totaled 49,000. In other words it was statistically impossible for Clinton to carry those states even if every single Stein voter held their noses and voted for Clinton.
I believe that Greg Palast’s article “The Election was Stolen - Here’s How” gets closer to what really happened. Palast writes, “a coterie of Trump operatives… created a system to purge 1.1 million Americans of color from the voter rolls of GOP-controlled states. The system, called Crosscheck, is detailed in my Rolling Stone report ‘The GOP’s Stealth War on Voters,’ 8/24/2016.” For example, Trump won Michigan by 13,000 votes while Michigan Crosscheck purged 450,000 voters. In Arizona Trump won by 85,257 and Crosscheck purged 270,000. In other words, it was effective right-wing voter suppression, not left third party voting that engineered Trump’s win.
Clinton supporters who blame their electoral defeat on those to their left are making a grave tactical error. Liberals may find it easier to blame the weaker left than the more powerful right, but doing so at this moment is counterproductive. We need everyone to the left of center to unite against Trump. The right now controls the Presidency, the Congress and the Courts; we can’t afford to be fighting among ourselves.
November 4, 2016
Some Green activists, I’ll call them reformists, argue that we can recalibrate our economy by investing in sustainable technological innovation and privileging renewable energy sources over fossil fuels. They argue a War on Climate Change (Bill McKibben) or a Green New Deal (Jill Stein) will drastically cut greenhouse emissions while generating tens of millions of green jobs that will allow for continued economic growth. It isn’t stated explicitly, but the implication is that if we take these actions we can both live sustainably AND continue much as we have been.
Recent articles question these plans.
“[S]imply shifting to no-fossil fuel energy will do nothing about the exploitation of humans and ecosystems that nourishes both capitalism and the global climate emergency. … The climate movement tends to … focus on technical production goals such as achieving 100% renewable energy by 2050. But that’s far from enough; we have to rein in the economy and eliminate net greenhouse emission far sooner and be prepared to deal with the economic consequences.” (Stan Cox, “If there a World War II-style climate mobilization, it has to go all the way - and then some,” 9/22/16, greensocialthought.org)
“It is … contrary to established ecological science for Mr. McKibben to promote a war on climate focused solely upon techno-optimist industrial solutions. First and foremost, climate change is an ecological issue. I [am concerned] that he apparently has little understanding of the ecological systems that maintain a livable earth.” (Dr. Glen Barry, “Bill McKibben’s Ecology-Free Declaration of War on Climate is Dangerous and Wrong,” 10/23/16, ecointernet.org)
McKibben and Stein are mobilizing millions either to vote green or attack the extractionists at their weakest point, pipelines and other infrastructure that no one wants in their back yard. It is necessary for such movements to attract increasing numbers if we hope to stop the removal, transportation, refining and burning of fossil fuels. Doing this is essential if civilization is to survive.
But the articles quoted above raise several difficult questions.
1. Are the demands of the reformist green movement necessary, but not sufficient, to save us?
2. Is the assumption that we can make our current system sustainable without changing its basic nature valid?
3. Does the reformist agenda contain counter-productive elements because it is not scientifically grounded?
Those are valid concerns and important questions. At the same time, I worry that attacking green reformists may be a grave strategic error. We can’t build a mass movement on an unprecedented scale by attacking a major source of potential allies. In the next few blogs I will discuss the three questions posed above and attempt to tackle the thorny challenge of how to work with, rather then drive away, those seduced by the prospect of living sustainably without significantly reducing our current level of consumption.
October 23, 2016
I hope my readers don’t find this repetitious, but perhaps for the final time before the election, I will attempt to convince some of you to vote for Jill Stein instead of Hillary Clinton. I am only addressing those who live in deep blue states. And I am focusing on those who will vote for Clinton even though they dislike her policies. If you like her positions, we disagree, but it makes sense to vote for the person you agree with.
It doesn’t make sense, if you live in a deep blue state, to hold your nose and vote for Clinton. Simply put, a vote for Stein in these states, not only WON’T, but CAN’T, be a vote for Trump. This is because we have a winner-take-all, state-by-state electoral college system of electing presidents. The national vote total is irrelevant. Only the 50 state-based electoral college votes count.
As the election approaches, Trump’s nose dive in the polls provides a clear picture of why voting for Stein in deep blue states can’t help Trump. Numbers tell the story.
The latest compilation of polling data in Massachusetts from RealPolitics.com show Clinton with 53% of the vote and Trump with 28%. We don’t know the percentage of Clinton’s voters on the left who are only voting for her out of Trumpophobia. Since we’re not a big percentage of the voting public, I doubt such people comprise more than 10% of her total support. What if those 10% voted for Jill Stein. Trump’s percentage would stay the same, Clinton’s would drop to 48% so she’d still win by 20%. Stein’s percentage would jump to 8%, which would be a real eye-opener and a boost for those fighting climate change.
The latest compilation of polling data in New York from RealPolitics.com show Clinton with 52.7% of the vote to Trump’s 31.7%. California is similar: 51% to 31%. If 10% of Clinton supporters voted, instead, for Jill Stein, Jill would get 8% of the votes in those states. That’s important because 8% in those relatively populous states, especially California, would virtually assure her of getting 5% nationally.
A 5% national total guarantees the Green Party a place on the ballot in all 50 states in the next Presidential election. The Green Party spent $500,000 on qualifying campaigns for this election cycle and it is only on the ballot in 38 states. It would give the party a lift next time around to have this taken care of in advance.
Moreover, those who hold their noses and vote for Clinton in blue deep states are throwing away their votes. Clinton would win those states anyway. Worse, by increasing Clinton’s majority they’d boost policies they disagree with by expanding Clinton’s “mandate.”
Something could happen in the two weeks before the election to undermine my argument. It pays to monitor the news and the polls. If things don’t change, however, voting Green in places like, Massachusetts, New York, California, Oregon and Washington will aid the Greens without helping Trump. Please don’t let fear cloud your judgement. Don’t blow your chance to vote your beliefs.
October 8, 2016
As a college student 50 years ago, I got into arguments with my parents’ Old Left comrades. They criticized my generation for our long hair, ratty clothes and musical taste; they labeled our radical politics as indulgence. They didn’t understand our cultural revolution, didn’t approve of the tactics we employed to end the War in Vietnam and thought the concept of Black Power was madness. They told us we should be fighting for integration and organizing the working class. But we formed the core of a new movement that, along with the draftees in Vietnam who rose up against their officers, helped end the War in Vietnam. Our cultural revolution sparked the second wave of feminism and the gay rights movement. The militant cry for Black liberation echoed down the decades to be resurrected by Black Lives Matter.
In those years we, not our parents, had our finger on the pulse of the nation. We had a better sense of what fights needed fighting. We were inexperienced, impulsive, arrogant and, too often, obnoxious. We made stupid mistakes. But our analysis of what needed to be done at that moment was more accurate than that of the Old Left. In the long run we couldn’t sustain a radical vision and a cohesive movement strong enough to ward off the right’s counter offensive, and our dream of revolution crumbled.
Still, my parents’ generation failed to understand that while they had a lot to teach us, we had much to teach them. Could my generation be making the same mistake today?
Half a century later, radical Millennials echo who we New Leftists were in the 1960’s. We had the draft; they got screwed by the crash of 2008. We had nightmares about nuclear annihilation; they face global famine, resource wars, and mass social breakdown. They understand that the current political/economic system is unacceptable, that the approaching biospheric collapse means that everything has changed, and our politics must change along with it if most of them are to survive. Is it possible that we are too quick to dismiss their perspective just as our parents did with us?
Today, my age-mates argue that the two million young radicals (the core of Jill Stein’s 2.7 million voters) are just stomping their feet and holding their breath because Bernie is not the nominee. My age-mates reject young radicals’ argument that although Trump’s environmental policies are worse, both are unacceptable, since Clinton’s policies will cause us to cross tipping points that will destroy the productive capacity of the planet. Aging New Leftists counter that with Clinton in office we’ll have more time to save the biosphere. But does this ignore the science of tipping points and positive feedback loops? Some claim we can move Clinton towards our position, despite her history and her allies. Radical Millennials tell us no, that the environmental crisis has become so acute that maintaining the status quo against something that is even worse still jeopardizes our survival. Could they be right?
There are a few million aging but engaged 1960’s radicals and left-liberals in this country. What if those who live in deep blue states whose electoral votes will still go to Clinton even without their support, voted Green? What if a significant portion of them joined the Millennials who have picked up our banner? If that happened, the Green Party might reach 5% of the vote, qualifying them to be on the ballot in all states in the 2018 federal elections.
Maybe the growing climate change generated calamities of the coming four years will cause more of my old activist buddies to understand that Millennials who won’t vote for Clinton aren’t throwing temper tantrums, or wasting their vote, but rather, are looking ahead to build a movement for change. Maybe radical Millennials have more to teach us than we realize.
October 1, 2016
Last month the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released the figures for last year’s greenhouse gas emissions. What a grim picture: more greenhouse gases were released into the atmosphere in 2015 than in any previous year; the rate of growth was increasing, and these emissions have so far caused an increase of one degree Celsius in global temperature. In response, climate scientists concluded that we have approximately five years to start reducing our fossil fuel usage before we cross tipping points to globe-spanning disaster.
Last week Bill McKibben published Recalculating the Climate Math. He wrote that the most recent numbers released by the think tank Oil Change International (OCI) show “how much of the fossil fuel in the world’s existing coal mines and oil wells we can burn if we want to prevent global warming from cooking the planet…[and] how much more new digging and drilling can we do? Here’s the answer: zero.”
McKibben quotes OCI’s Stephen Kretzmann’s statement that keeping it in the ground does not mean stopping all production of fossil fuel instantly. No new drilling coupled with letting “current fields begin their natural decline, [means] you’ll be using 50 percent less oil by 2033.” McKibben concludes: “That gives us 17 years … to replace all that oil with renewable energy” and we have enough time and the means to make this happen.
One trustworthy source says five years, another talks about 17. But since they are focusing on different aspects of the same problem they actually complement, rather than contradict, each other.
The most recent NOAA data tells us we have until just after the end of the next President’s term in office to start implementing comprehensive changes in our energy policy. This means no more fracking or fossil fuel infrastructure development, as well as a massive investment in renewable energy on a scale we have not seen since the retooling of our economy at the start of World War II. McKibben’s new math article tells us if we plan for this transformation and begin its implementation within five years, we may be able to make substantial enough reductions in our fossil fuel usage in the next 17 years to avoid, just barely, crossing the deadly 1.5 to 2 degree C temperature increase that would spell global disaster.
While this time frame is short and may be overly optimistic, this information is a boon for our movement. The enormity of the problem coupled with its indefinite timeline has paralyzed many of us. While these new numbers do not reduce the challenge, pinning down how much time we have makes our situation more concrete. Setting clear goals and clarifying our time limits makes it easier to activate people.
We have our marching orders. Since any new fracking, or continued expansion of oil extraction, even if coupled with increased use of renewables, will make it impossible to meet our five and seventeen year deadlines, we must organize our movement and its demands around this timetable.
September 24, 2016
Sunday evening Elli and I attended a rally for Green Party presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein. It was a great crowd – about 400 people – and I was impressed by the composition of the audience. A few were from my generation, but the overwhelming majority were in their 20’s and 30’s. It was thrilling to see so many politically-energized young people, today’s equivalent of my SDS comrades from the 1960’s. It gave me hope for the future.
I was also inspired by Jill’s speech. How refreshing to hear a presidential candidate articulate so many positions that I agree with. Not only did she put climate justice front and center, but I could enthusiastically support virtually everything she said, from her attacks on the military industrial complex to her plan to cancel student debt to her understanding of institutional racism and desire to create a welcoming path to citizenship for immigrants.
On our way home afterwards it dawned on me that I was reviving the simple concept I first heard in elementary school: we vote for the person we agree with. I felt grateful to Jill for giving me the chance to do that.
There are those who will call me self indulgent for voting for the candidate I agree with, but I do this out of necessity. Many of us are aware that Dr. James Hansen (formerly head scientist at NASA) and other climate scientists predict that we face climate change generated biospheric collapse by 2050. Fewer understand that because it takes 30 years for the climate to react fully to today’s emissions, that we have only until 2020 to change course to avoid that catastrophe. Yes, that means that this hellish summer of record, drought, flood, fire and heat was caused by our pre-1986 emissions, and we’ve already locked in so much worse for the next thirty years.
Some ask, why vote for someone who can’t win? That’s a good question. Is it better to vote for someone whose policies guarantee that we will cross climate tipping points by or shortly after 2020? Some claim that Clinton’s acknowledgement of climate change will buy us more time to address the problem. This reflects a failure to understand tipping points, positive feedback loops and the 30-year lag between emissions and their full impact. Clinton’s history shows that it will be virtually impossible to separate her from oil and gas companies, other multinational corporate giants, their Wall Street backers and the military-industrial complex. This guarantees that, despite her “acceptance” of climate change, that she will follow policies that will cross those tipping points, and thus, lock in ecological disaster.
Regardless of whether the tactics of lesser evil Democrats had any positive effect in the last several decades, they are the politics of the past. It might be too late already, but the ONLY way to save the upcoming generations is to act on the understanding that there can be no more business as usual. Millennials are figuring this out, but are my age-mates too set in our politics to embrace the new reality? Let’s not repeat the rigidities of our parents’ generation. We must wake up. If we want civilization, or more than a tiny fragment of our species, to survive the current century the lesser evil is no longer viable.
August 9, 2016
I am taking August off. Will post again in September.
July 28, 2016
The day after Hillary Clinton chose Tom Kaine as her running mate, a story on my NBC app was titled, “Boring? How Tom Kaine’s Faith, Upbringing Make Him Anything But.” The article’s pro-Kaine bias was difficult to swallow, but its second sentence, which described him as “a white male progressive Senator,” really stuck in my craw.
Tom Kaine is no progressive. The article touted his moral compass because while he’s personally opposed to abortion, as Governor of Virginia he supported a women’s right to choose because it was the law of the land, and while he opposed the death penalty, he presided over several executions for the same reason. That sounds more like slavish adherence to the status quo than being either moral or progressive.
But there is a bigger issue in play. We’ve heard the word progressive bandied about with nauseating frequency at the Democratic National Convention this week. It was used to boost LBGTQ rights, to reject the blanket exclusion of Muslim refugees and indiscriminate, mass deportation of the undocumented, to understand that Black Lives Matter has a point, to acknowledge human induced global warming, to support a gradual increase in the minimum wage and free public college tuition.
All of these things are fine, but we can’t let centrist democrats, or anyone else, be anointed progressive simply because they have cherry-picked items from our agenda. A progressive program must also include a fundamental restructuring of neoliberal, globalized capitalism. It should place human needs before the profits of Wall Street financial manipulators and the military industrial complex. It must demand the redistribution of wealth from the 1% to the rest of us. It needs to elevate diplomacy over warfare, and address the root causes of terrorism, rather than counter their violence with that of our own.
I don’t always agree with Bernie Sanders’ positions. But he has confronted the masters of capital and, therefore, deserves the progressive mantle he wears so proudly.
It is not progressive to buddy-up to Wall Street. It is not progressive to back fracking and nuclear power. It is not progressive to support agribusiness and global extractionism. It is not progressive to bomb Bosnia, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen. It is not progressive to embrace Henry Kissinger, AIPEC and Benjamin Netanyahu.
I fear that the mainstream media and the centrist democrats they support are attempting to redefine progressive to delete any critique of our economic system from the term. We can’t let them hijack that word. One way to thwart that is to refuse to use it as they do. Whether you hold your nose and vote for Clinton and Kaine, decide to vote for Green Party Candidate Jill Stein, or sit out the election entirely, don’t accept that you are voting for a “progressive” unless you are voting for someone whose program at least seeks to restructure, if not destroy, today’s rapacious capitalism.