Friday, July 9, 2010

Follow Up: Radicals and Revolutions

I am writing something about the Oscar Grant situation/case/anger (not sure what the right word is there), but I wanted to follow up on my post from yesterday first.

I'll say this though - I was in downtown Oakland last night. It was peaceful and hopeful while somber. Hundreds of people stood at the corner of 14th St and Broadway to express their anger and endless pride in the Oakland community. At dark, the same kids that show up at every rally, demonstration and who, regardless of the verdict were going to be violent, started with mindless property destruction. There was a concert where at least a hundred people danced and sang and prayed together before, during, and after this was going on. There were families, children, whites, browns, blacks. The majority of the people were not violent, are deeply proud of Oakland, and believe that looting footlocker was not going to bring justice for Oscar Grant. More on this story later.

I want to share this passage in Rules for Radicals that I think closely relates to what is happening in the Gulf and the arguments being made to continue offshore drilling.

pg 30:
"The fourth rule of the ethics of means and ends is that judgment must be made int he context of the times in which the action occurred and not from any other chronological vantage point."

pg 31:
Re: Lincoln and his pre-election and pro-election statements on slavery

"This was also the same Lincoln who, a few years prior to his signing the Emancipation Proclamation, stated in his First Inaugural Address: 'I do but quote from one of those speeches when I declared that 'I have no purpose, directly, or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.' Those who nominated and elected me did so with full knowledge that I made this and many similar declarations and have never recanted them.'

Those who would be critical of the ethics of Lincoln's reversal of positions have a strangely unreal picture of a static unchanging world, where one remains firm and committed to certain so-called principles or positions. In the politics of human life, consistency is not a virtue."

Just because the oil industry has been one of two industries in the Gulf doesn't mean that there are no other opportunities for its people, that those talents and experiences do not directly translate to creating a new energy industry in the area. But what does that look like?

Is it possible to begin creating this new industry now? I don't think it is possible to put the people who are out of work today into a job tomorrow to create this new industry. So what now?

Do we continue to voice our support for the immediate banning of offshore drilling even though it means that people will go bankrupt and lose their homes and suffer greater mental health issues? Or do we support offshore drilling while developing a roadmap to end it . . . sometime, while developing a new clean energy industry by including the oil and gas workers? Since we understand that the oil and gas industry will do everything in its power to lobby against ever ending it when the time does come, does it make more sense to sacrifice these people today for the benefit of generations to come?

Pg 31: Lincoln said of slavery . . .
"But I do mean to say that although bad laws, if they exist, should be repealed, still, while they continue in force, for the sake of example, they should be religiously followed."

The organization Green For All has been taking these questions and turning them into real action in the Gulf states. They are dedicated to creating a green collar industry and have produced training programs all around the country for those from low income communities of color. Van Jones, who started Green for All, often gives speeches to young people of color saying this is their moment to recreate the economy so that the economic system no longer exploits their labor and their communities.

Poor southern blacks and poor southern whites haven't always had the best relationship. Poor southern whites are the Have A Little, Want Mores that I wrote about yesterday. The only thing they have had on their side in staying just out of desperation is the color of their skin, so they tend (yes, I'm generalizing) to make decisions that goes against their own self interest to continue the charade that they are less marginalized than blacks of the same economic status.

The fight to revolutionize our energy systems in the United States isn't just about capitalism, its about racism as well. The benefit to the complexity of the climate change issue is that it speaks to each of us on multiple levels. It is this complexity why we are constantly stymied in our path forward. It's why we don't have a plan, why our government doesn't know what to do. It's why we as individuals don't know what to do. It's why [insert your most trusted environmental group here] can't tell you how to take action beyond driving less, emailing [insert bad company here], and calling your senator.

The exclusivity of the environmental movement over the past 40 years have alienated the very people that the climate movement needs to find solutions. The people who get paid full time to find the solutions aren't any more capable of finding solutions than the people who work on the oil rigs. Climate change is providing us an opportunity to fix our systemic problems. Because it's not just about finding the end all be all answers to climate change, it's also about finding solutions to institutional racism and classism that keeps our country inert.

Last night, most of the people I listened to spoke about our broken justice system, about our broken communities. Our broken justice and social system is how a white cop can murder a black 22 year old single father while he is handcuffed face down with a knee on his neck and hundreds of people watching is able to get into this situation in the first place. It's not just about pulling a trigger instead of pressing a button. It's not just about not realizing that you are holding a 3 pound gun instead of a 4 oz taser. It's not just about feeling threatened enough to want to use a taser on a man in handcuffs face down with someone kneeling on his neck. It's about the social constructs that put all of those people on the Fruitvale Bart station platform that night.

And I think the same is true for finding solutions to climate change. How do we change the system so that the men and women working on the oil rigs understand the magnitude of their own power to protect their communities against climate change impacts?

And that's what my mind looks like today.

Renee Claire

Update: I just found a blog post on Sierra Club's Crossroads Blog about Senator Byrd. Once a staunch supporter of the coal industry at any cost he began to understand the need for our country to adapt to a changing climate. A really good read.

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