Give Life a Chance

“”Those who criticize have a very big responsibility. To be a radical does not mean to declare one’s opinion towards more radical solutions, but to create conditions to do things. . . The art of politics is: to create forces to be able do in the future what we cannot do now. . . Those who believe they are more left because they give more leftist speeches have been misled. I go even further: those who want to be radical should work to build the social and political forces that will allow them to be. We struggle creating. That is why I like the idea of distinguishing between the destructive left and the constructive one.”* Latin American political analyst Marta Harnecker

“The destructive left versus the constructive one”-I love it.

Many of us have experienced destructive behavior on the part of sisters and brothers who, like us, are angry and upset about an oppressive and unjust system but who, because they have internalized that system’s negative values, haven’t learned how to work to change it in a constructive way.
Indeed, to be truthful, too many of us, certainly myself, have occasionally been guilty of some of these practices.

One example is people utilizing email or other means to personally attack and tear down those with whom they have a strategic or tactical difference. Rather than engaging in constructive back-and-forth over differences, they ridicule others or paint them with a broad, negative brush.

Then there are those who often speak up to magnify differences of opinion within a progressive group, making joint work together more difficult.

Sometimes this destructive behavior comes out in the form of arrogance and elitism, a know-it-all attitude that breeds either sullen acquiescence or justified anger, leading to divisions or internal demoralization.

Another example comes from the anti-Vietnam War movement.
Some in that movement went out of their way to carry the flag of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam, the organized expression of resistance to the U.S. invasion and, as identified by the U.S. government and the mass media–the main source of information for most people–our enemy. Such actions did not help the anti-war educational work going on among U.S. Americans who were uneasy about or starting to have questions about the war. It threw up a barrier.

And then there are organizations who, within a coalition organizing a demonstration, try to maneuver in such a way that their signs and banner are up at the front of the march, speakers who see things their way are disproportionately represented on the speaking list, or their particular approach to the issue in question is adopted rather than supporting a democratically-worked through coalition approach.

I am sure others have their own examples of the “destructive left.”

Harnecker counterposes this type of negative activity with a “constructive” approach, one which “creates conditions to do things,” to actually change society in a progressive direction. She talks of the importance of bringing together a range of “social and political forces,” underlining that fundamental change is not made by super-militant, dedicated cadres but, instead, by large numbers of people joining together despite differences, the building of mass movements. Within that process, dedicated organizers are critical, but by themselves, without a broad base of support and growing numbers of people willing to take action, an organizer is like a rower without a set of oars.

“Those (of us) who criticize” have an opportunity and a responsibility to help build such a movement today, right now, around a huge, critical issue: the climate crisis which is threatening the future of life on earth as we know it and, more importantly, as it can become.

In an article published a week ago in The Independent in Britain, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri – chairman of the official Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – is quoted as telling “a UN conference in Mauritius that the pollution which causes global warming has reached ‘dangerous’ levels.

“Then the biggest-ever study of climate change, based at Oxford University, reported that it could prove to be twice as catastrophic as the IPCC’s worst predictions. And an international task force – also reporting to Tony Blair, and co-chaired by his close ally, Stephen Byers – concluded that we could reach ‘the point of no return’ in a decade.”

This is the bad news. The good news, in the words of the same Independent article, is “that it [a reversal of this crisis] can be done with existing technology, by cutting energy waste, expanding the use of renewable sources, growing trees and crops (which remove carbon dioxide from the air) to turn into fuel, capturing the gas before it is released from power stations. . .

“The better news is that it would not cost much: one estimate suggested the cost would be about 1 per cent of Europe’s GNP spread over 20 years; another suggested it meant postponing an expected fivefold increase in world wealth by just two years. Many experts believe combating global warming would increase prosperity, by bringing in new technologies.”

For those of us in the United States, we have a particular responsibility. Our government, for years, under Clinton/Gore and under Bush/Cheney, has done virtually nothing about this crisis so that, tomorrow, February 16th, as the Kyoto global warming treaty, signed by 141 nations, goes into effect, our country is standing outside of this vital international effort. Indeed, the Bush administration is actively hostile.

Responding to this emergency, the Climate Crisis Coalition
(CCC) and many other groups have initiated an effort to gather hundreds of thousands of signatures on a “People’s Ratification of the Kyoto Global Warming Treaty” petition.

The CCC acknowledges that the current goals of the Protocol are inadequate and its timetable too long, but believes that, as the one worldwide framework we have, it should be supported, while we advocate for future rounds of the Protocol to move urgently to reduce emissions by the 70 percent required by nature to stabilize the climate.

Drawing on the experience of the anti-Vietnam War movement three decades ago, which organized an effective “People’s Peace Treaty” mass petition campaign to get the U.S.
government to sign the Paris Peace Accords with the Vietnamese, the CCC hopes to gather large numbers of signatures on its website,, and via grassroots circulation. If successful, the campaign can provide powerful testimony that millions of Americans are far ahead of their elected representatives in standing up to what is one of the greatest challenges ever facing humanity.
This will, in turn, encourage other forms of organizing, such as town hall meetings, mass demonstrations, municipal and state legislative action, etc. There is discussion just getting underway about the possible organization of a national march on Washington on this issue.

The constructive left should jump into this movement with both feet, both arms, its heart and its head. There may be issues of equal importance, but there is none, I would submit, more important than this one today.

*From a longer interview by Mario Augusto Jakobskind in Brazil de Fato, Jan. 10, 2005,