Robert Meeropol

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"Robby & Elli" 1968

Robby speaking at the re-launch of the Mary Pitawanakwat Fund in Toronto

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More Natural Allies

May 5, 2016

Tags: Green & Civil Rights Alllies

It’s pretty clear that the struggle to prevent global warming induced climate change and the anti-war movement are natural allies. War not only causes death and horrific environmental destruction; it also has an unacceptable carbon footprint. In the May 9th issue of THE NATION, James Gustave Speth and J. Phillip Thompson III assert that the same could be said for the civil rights and green movements.

I hadn’t thought about this before, but I agree with the authors that, “When one explores the roots of both the environmental and civil-rights movements, one finds a strikingly similar radical critique. Both movements have called for a deep restructuring of society and the economy; in both cases, that call was based on an affirmation of life and the devoted care that life requires of us.”

This makes sense because capitalism requires exploitation and degradation of the “other” that both the civil rights and environmental movements must confront. This is why many African-American Community activists and scholars are making more radical assessments of what must be done. This is reflected in the deeper structural analysis of Michelle Alexander’s, book about mass imprisonment, THE NEW JIM CROW, and the more aggressive strategies of the Black Lives Matter and Moral Mondays movements. This analysis includes an understanding that environmental degradation has a disporportionate impact on the poor.

Of course, in the civil rights movement a radical analysis only emerged as Martin Luther King and others moved beyond calls for desegregation, legal and voting rights. And the civil rights movement viewed the “other” as different races, while the environmental movement defined the “other” more broadly as the natural world.

Traditional leftists often scoff at Green and Animal Rights activism. But these groups’ challenge to our society’s commodification of animal and plant life and natural resources confronts the same bad actors that mistreat workers and non-whites. Naomi Klein made this point in THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING when she writes that the battle to prevent climate chaos can unify the left because those engaged in struggles to end war, promote economic and racial justice, as well as stop the extraction of fossil fuels, are up against the same corporate enemies. The green, racial justice, anti-war and animal rights movements are learning that to achieve these progressive goals they must change the nature of the system that empowers those enemies.

Fortunately, Speth and Thompson are not crying in the wilderness. People of color and indigenous activists in the US and across the globe are forging new alliances to fight everything from the placement of toxic waste dumps, to extractionist infrastructure, to the theft and destruction of natural resources and habitats. The emergence of these alliances and the potential for even more to develop are the best hope we have to save ourselves along with much of our planet’s plant and animal life from environmentally generated decimation.

THE NATION article is part of a growing understanding that it isn’t only people who must be liberated from the global tyranny of massive corporations and the governments they dominate. These institutions gain power by controlling all peoples, animals, plants and resources, by marginalizing the needs of the poor and voiceless, animal and vegetable. It follows that the best way to break their death grip is to liberate not only people, but the entire natural world.

Selected Works

"Bravery is rare. Tyranny is commonplace. Both define the life of Robert Meeropol, son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. In his heart-wrenching, honest memoir, Meeropol recounts the emotional terrors of his childhood, the kindness of Abel and Anne Meeropol-who adopted him and his older brother after their parents' execution-his struggle to vindicate his parents, and his own political activism, culminating in the creation of the Rosenberg Fund for Children, which he now directs."
Publisher's Weekly
"one of those rare books everyone should read"
–Joyce Carol Oates

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