Direct Action Strategies for Climate Justice & Community Resilience – USSF 2010
Organizers from Detroit and Rising Tide North America hosted a workshop on direct action and climate justice this morning. Part of the session was designed to discuss and finalize an action for the end of the US Social Forum on Saturday that will confront one of the most polluting industries in Detroit.
Detroit has a oil refinery facility that is expanding, a larger coal fired powered plant and a new waste to energy incinerator, all of which are huge polluters and are all located in low income & minority communities.
The presenters begin by providing a critique of the large national environmental groups, which have in many ways hijacked the discussion around climate change, which ignores climate justice. They mention that the focus of these groups is on band aide changes like changing light bulbs, but more problematic is the fact that these groups often partner with major corporations who are also engaged false solutions to change.
In contrast, the presenters of this session promote confrontation with these corporations & organizations that are attempting to co-op real climate change/climate justice. They also believe that instead of aligning with sources of economic & political power that a real climate justice movement needs to be in the streets and organize with the people.
Some of the actions that the presenters have participated in has been confronting companies that promote carbon offsets, which a really a myth and will not result in any serious change.
Direct Action Campaigns
One of the presenter, who is from South East Asia, made it clear that while people tend to think of young White activists as ones who engage in Direct Action, that in fact Direct Action really has its origin in land-based communities who have fought colonialism and other imperialist policies around the world.
A representative with the Ruckus Society shared a story about an action that they participated in a few years ago. Indigenous people on the Klamath River were confronted with dam projects and invited the Ruckus society to participate in a campaign to confront the dam projects, which were threatening one of the core elements of the native culture – salmon.
The campaign decided to confront the major financial backer of these damn projects, Warren Buffet. People first went to a shareholders meeting to confront him on his support for this dam project. Native woman from Omaha joined them and did a die-in to make a point about what these mega-dam projects will do to Native communities.
The organizers had people ask questions of Warren Buffet during the shareholders meeting, asking him to not fund such projects. In fact, so many people asked similar questions that the shareholders meeting ended the open mic session. Afterwards many of the shareholders then asked the Native women how they could support this struggle.
After the shareholders meeting native communities along the Klamath River began organizing direct action trainings, where the Ruckus Society merely provided support for these communities. Since then each of these communities have been participating, which eventually resulted in a written agreement to remove the dams along the river.
One lesson that the presenter wanted to affirm was that it was important in this campaign that the Ruckus Society did not impose their skills on these communities, rather they acted in solidarity and made sure that the campaign was owned by the Native communities.
Planning for Saturday’s Action
When organizers meet with people from Detroit, the people here emphasized that they wanted an action that was rooted in non-violence and reflected beauty. The presenter for this part of the session provided some evolution of Direct Action in the Americas, beginning with the Zapatistas in southern Mexico.
For this presenter, Seattle represented a turning point for how to organize, since the creation of the WTO presented a perfect opportunity to do a more broad-based campaign of Direct Action. He told those in attendance that people who had never participated in Direct Action join them in preventing government & corporate representatives from attending the WTO meetings.
What they learned from the Seattle action was the importance of decentralized organizing, which made it harder for police to stop the action and allowed for more diversity in how to engage in Direction Action.
Climate change/global warming is also a perfect issue to organizer a long term Direct Action strategy, not only because of the urgency of the issue, but because global warming is a clear example of what is wrong with global capitalism.
People Power Strategy is the model that one of the organizers use, which provides a power analysis of whatever people are confronting. The presenter gave the example of how people confronted the Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic.
People Power Strategies are now being used in the global justice and climate justice movements. Another point the presenters made is that it is more important for people to fight corporate polluters in their communities and their states instead of challenging Obama on these policies.
Towards the end of the session people shared stories about local campaigns and examples of Direct Action that have worked. One woman shared a recent story about people taking to the streets in southern California for immigrant rights. People occupied an intersection and when it became apparent that the police were coming after those in the street many more people joined them, many of which were undocumented.
Another example of a Direct Action campaign focused on confronting incinerators in communities of color. People organized around a common theme of clean air and asthma, which made it a more effective campaign since everyone wants clean air. The campaign was also effective because the image of children suffering from asthma.
This session was inspiring and provided great examples of Direct Action campaigns as well as some principles and tactics that can be applied no matter where you live.