Future Hope column, October 10, 2011
By Ted Glick
I haven’t felt like this since Seattle and the birth of the global justice movement in the USA 12 years ago. Because of the Occupy Wall Street action and the astounding growth of similar local occupy actions all over the country, the political winds have changed in the USA, all within less than a month.
Hope is in the air, and hope is a powerful thing.
Revolutions don’t happen unless masses of people believe that it is possible for change to really happen. And revolutions usually don’t follow a neat script.
I’m reminded of something that the late Arthur Kinoy once wrote about the upsurge of the Black Freedom Movement in the deep South in the mid-1950’s, beginning with the Montgomery Bus Boycott, won because African Americans made daily sacrifices by refusing to ride on the segregated public buses for 13 months. One of the things he said was how some of the Leftist leaders back then had a hard time appreciating the importance of this movement. They were stuck in the 19th century Marxist prediction that the industrial workers were the ones who would lead the revolution.
This revolutionary upsurge is being led by young people, mainly working-class and mainly white young people. And so many of them are young people who have had little involvement before now in the movement! It’s like, all of a sudden, tens of thousands of young people with energy, determination, street smarts and all kinds of technological and organizing skills decided together that it’s time to stop waiting for a revolution and seize the Wall Street bull by the horns and just do it.
And they’re doing so appreciating that the use of nonviolent tactics is the way to go if we’re to reach and involve more and more of the 99%. They’ve stuck with this despite being pepper-sprayed and arrested, which, as usually happens, has been helpful to building the movement and generating mass media interest (thank you NYPD police!).
The commitment to democracy-in-the-fullest-sense, to opening up space for people to speak, to a deeply participatory process, is of great value in and of itself. I am sure that this leadership by example will, over time, have an impact upon the unions and other organizations which are coming out in support of this movement. It will open up their internal processes to become more participatory and member-involving, a key to a rebirth of the kind of social movement trade unionism that can reverse the labor movement’s decline and help it give sounder leadership to the overall progressive movement.
I hope that as the enemies of this movement send their provocateurs into our midst to try to get people to break bank windows, or fight the cops, or similar marginalizing tactics, that the masses of activists will be prepared to speak out against them and stand in their way. The same with honest activists who don’t yet appreciate this important tactical point.
And I hope that the discussions that have already been begun about how to involve people of color, women and other historically disenfranchised people more actively in this people’s movement will continue and deepen. They need to if the movement is going to be true to its objective of representing the 99%, or at least a big majority of them. And there are valuable, essential insights and lessons to be learned as we integrate dealing with specific oppressions into the overall struggle against the 1%.
This movement also needs to be about winning some victories on the way to system change. It is a fact that movements need victories to keep up our morale, show those not yet involved that we really do have the power to make change, and therefore keep growing.
From locality to locality where occupations are happening there are already connections that have been made with specific local struggles. The occupy movement should come in behind and in support of the ones that are democratically determined as important and in immediate need.
Finally, I hope that local occupy movements in many places will seriously consider throwing in with what I believe is the most important, immediate, national issue struggle taking place: the struggle to prevent the tar sands Keystone XL pipeline from being built.
As of about November 18th, President Obama is legally able to decide that he will, or will not, grant a permit to the TransCanada corporation to build this pipeline. That is the date on which a 90-day official comment period ends on the State Department’s deeply-flawed and corrupted Final Environmental Impact Statement.
We have less than six weeks to take the broadly-based movement that has come together in the last few months on this issue and make it so big and powerful that Obama and his political advisors realize that if they do what the fossil fuel industry, the Chamber of Commerce, the Republican Party and many of the Democratic Party elite—the ruling class—want them to do, they are seriously jeopardizing his chances of being re-elected. They need to understand that our movement as a whole has drawn a line in the sand on this one.
And it really should be the occupy movement and the progressive movement as a whole. This includes labor unions who take the time to read the study by the Cornell Global Labor Institute which shows that this pipeline project could actually lead to an overall reductionof jobs if it is built.
This is not an issue of jobs vs. the environment. It’s a straight-up issue of right vs. wrong. Of the 1% vs. the 99%. Of climate justice for the Indigenous people of northern Canada and the people along the route of the pipeline vs. the fossil fools who want to keep us locked into a dirty energy path which, in the words of climate scientist James Hansen, means “game over” for any chance of avoiding worldwide, catastrophic climate change.
Sunday, November 6. That’s the day to mark on your calendars. That’s the day when we need many, many thousands of us in Washington, D.C. encircling the White House, letting Obama know in no uncertain terms that his political future rises or falls on what he does on this one.
Winning this victory will be a big win for our movement but as importantly, it will be a victory for our deeply wounded Mother Earth. Si, se puede! Yes we can stop the Keystone XL pipeline!
For more information on the pipeline struggle, go to http://www.tarsandsaction.org.
Ted Glick is the National Policy Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. Past writing and more info can be found at http://www.tedglick.com, and he is on twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jtglick.