Two days ago 100 dedicated climate justice activists, most of them young people, descended upon a site near Roanoke, Va. where the fracked-gas Mountain Valley Pipeline is being built. We arrived there a little before 6:30 am, before the workers had arrived and several hours after we had left our action camp. We had gotten up at 2 am to make this action happen.
The action was a huge success, in many ways. The objective was to shut down the worksite for the day, and that happened! It happened most directly because 10 courageous climate warriors locked themselves both to pipeline construction vehicles and to massive, beautiful, wooden structures created by members of Appalachians Against Pipelines, the organizer of the action. It took until late afternoon for all of the climate warriors to be extracted by the police.
I took a bus from DC organized by Arm in Arm to and from the action camp in West Virginia. On the way back, in the evaluation of the action, someone commented on how near-miraculous the action was, all of the details which had to work together just so for it to be a success: 100-plus people from lots of different places coming together, learning about the plan, fitting in where they wanted to or where it was needed, practicing how we were going to get onto the site, and then in the early morning making it happen.
My thinking as to how this could happen is that one of, if not the, most important reasons was the inclusive and respectful culture which Appalachians Against Pipelines created there on the property where we were getting organized. That respectful culture, combined with our common goal of an effective disruption of pipeline-building business as usual, made for an excellent, powerful action.
In the info packet distributed to participants at the camp, a “Shared Agreements” section succinctly put forward shared values. Here is some of that section:
“How we treat each other:
“We treat each other with respect and compassion.
“We use active listening and ‘I’ statements to the best of our ability when communicating. We strive to be aware of the ways in which we are taking up space, and try to ensure we make enough spaces for voices that aren’t being heard in our environment.
“We respect a diversity of experience. We explicitly and enthusiastically welcome people new to the movement.
“We ask people to commit to questioning their privilege and to be open to being challenged. When someone challenges us to expand our understanding or shares that we have hurt them, we recognize this as an act of love, appreciate their vulnerability, and immediately make listening our top priority.
“We recognize that we are human, we make mistakes, misjudgments and missteps, therefore we seek to avoid humiliating exposure when issues arise. We try not to ‘call out’ with blaming or shaming but instead ‘call in’ with compassion, prioritizing our collective growth and understanding.
“We will not perpetrate violence against each other. This includes emotional, psychological and spiritual violence as well as physical violence.
“We will refrain from engaging in culturally appropriative practices. Do not bring objects or symbols, engage in acts, or wear clothing or hairstyles that are sacred or significant to a culture other than your own.”
The importance of these kind of values, this kind of movement culture, in all of our work of world-changing cannot be overstated. There is a very, very long history among people on the Left of disagreements and differences leading to intense divisions leading to the downfall, downsizing or dismantling of movements and organizations, as people who joined full of hope and energy get demoralized and leave.
This cannot happen to any significant degree with today’s people’s movement! We must change the world because the alternative is a world whose ecological, social and economic systems will be severely disrupted for a very long time, with great human misery, especially for people of color and low-wealth people.
History has shown us that we will not change the world if we, the change agents, do not change ourselves and others. As the late Fr. Paul Mayer has written, “What history is calling for is nothing less than the creation of a new human being. We must literally reinvent ourselves through the alchemy of the Spirit or perish. We are being divinely summoned to climb another rung on the evolutionary ladder, to another level of human consciousness.”
Ted Glick is a volunteer organizer with Beyond Extreme Energy and author of Burglar for Peace: Lessons Learned in the Catholic Left’s Resistance to the Vietnam War, published last year. Past writings and other information can be found at https://tedglick.com, and he can be followed on Twitter at https://jtglick.com.