Peace, Justice and a Clean Energy Revolution

“We have a foreign policy that is foreign to our core values, domestic policies that are wreaking havoc at home, and an environment that is being destroyed.”

These were the words on an attractive poster issued last spring by the coalition of groups that organized a powerful March for Peace, Justice and Democracy on April 29th in New York City.

This was a unique coalition. In addition to groups like United for Peace and Justice whose main focus has been and is the war in Iraq, it included at its decision-making core groups whose major issues were women’s rights, racial justice, economic justice and climate/environmental issues. Because it did, the message put out was broader and more multi-issue, politically stronger.

Two days after the Jan. 27 march of hundreds of thousands against the war in Washington, D.C., I have found myself reflecting on the fact that Saturday’s message was different. The message on Saturday, as enunciated by speaker after speaker at the rally, was overwhelmingly an anti-war message.

There were connections made by some of the speakers to broader issues, to the war at home, to economic and racial justice issues, to impeachment and attacks on civil liberties. But there was no speaker who addressed the fundamental issue, the organically-connected-to-the-war issue, the urgent issue of catastrophic climate change and clean energy.

Indeed, George Bush—the denier-in-chief of global heating for the last six years–in his state of the union speech last week had more to say about this issue than the 25 or so speakers who talked for two and a half hours Saturday morning and early afternoon.

Really, truly, he did.

It is extremely difficult to understand this inability on the part of very smart, very dedicated peace and justice movement organizers to internalize and therefore want to have addressed the extreme urgency of the climate crisis as they go about their also urgent work against the war. Especially because the connections between the issues are so organic.

The war on Iraq is all about greenhouse gas emitting oil and U.S. neo-colonial control of the oil-rich Middle East. Everyone knows it. The developing expansion of the war into one which targets Iran is about the same thing.

As long as the U.S. economy is so utterly dependent upon oil for its functioning, and given the reality of only 3% of world oil supply being within the U.S., those in power, whether Republican or Democrat, will feel the need to keep “U.S.-friendly” governments in power in the Middle East, home to 60% of world oil supply, so that the oil spigot flows as freely as possibly to the west.

Note that “U.S.-friendly” doesn’t mean democratic. It doesn’t mean women’s rights. It doesn’t even mean credible elections. Think Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

There is a systemic, a structural reason why we can expect the U.S. to keep throwing its economic and military power around in the Middle East for a long time to come, absent a major change in energy policy.

The peace movement may be able to bring home from Iraq many, most, the vast majority of U.S. troops within the next couple of years, but just yesterday Democratic Party leader and U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer spoke about how we will need to keep some U.S. troops in Iraq for an indefinite period of time to deal with what he called the threat from Al Qaeda.

Al Qaeda—terrorism—is the new justification for a massive Pentagon budget, one that Clinton and Obama and many other Democratic Party leaders have pledged to increase even more, at the same time that they make noises about troop reductions in Iraq.

As if military power was the way to deal with terrorism. It’s not. Just as the solution to the situation in Iraq can only be political, an accommodation among its varied religions, cultures and clans, so the threat of terrorism will be eased by a foreign policy based upon social and economic justice and respect for the self-determination of nations, combined with intelligence and police work to arrest and prosecute hard-core Al Qaeda cells. We will lessen the threat of terrorism when we end our oil addiction via a new foreign and domestic policy, a cultural/social/political “revolution of values,” in the words of Dr. King, which prioritizes serious conservation and energy efficiency and a rapid, jobs-creating transition to clean, renewable energy sources like the sun, wind, geo-thermal and tidal energy.

There are three great issues of our day: the struggle against militarism and resource wars and for peaceful solutions to differences between nations; the struggle against inequality in all its many forms and for justice and popular democracy; and the struggle to reduce the power of the oil, coal and auto corporations as we enact a thorough-going clean energy revolution.

We need a peace movement, we need justice-based movements and we need an environmental movement which appreciate and understand the connections between these issues and which consistently and repeatedly make them as we go about our organizing work.