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The Fight Against Climate Change is Down to Us – the 99%

October 11, 2011

This article by Naomi Klein is re-posted from ZNet.

If there is one thing I know, it’s that the 1% loves a crisis. When people are panicked and desperate, that is the ideal time to push through their wishlist of pro-corporate policies: privatising education and social security, slashing public services, getting rid of the last constraints on corporate power. Amidst the economic crisis, this is happening the world over.

There is only one thing that can block this tactic, and fortunately, it’s a very big thing: the 99%. And that 99% is taking to the streets from Madison to Madrid to say: “No. We will not pay for your crisis.”

That slogan began in Italy in 2008. It ricocheted to Greece and France and Ireland and finally it has made its way to the square mile where the crisis began.

Many people have drawn parallels between Occupy Wall Street and the so-called anti-globalization protests that came to world attention in Seattle in 1999. That was the last time a global, youth-led, decentralized movement took direct aim at corporate power. And I am proud to have been part of what we called “the movement of movements”.

But there are important differences too. We chose summits as our targets: the World Trade Organization, the IMF, the G8. Summits are transient, they only last a week. That made us transient too. And in the frenzy of hyper-patriotism and militarism that followed 9/11, it was easy to sweep us away completely, at least in North America.

Occupy Wall Street, on the other hand, has chosen a fixed target. And no end date. This is wise. Only when you stay put can you grow roots. This is crucial. It is a fact of the information age that too many movements spring up like beautiful flowers but quickly die off. It’s because they don’t have roots. And they don’t have long term plans for how they are going to sustain themselves. So when storms come, they get washed away.

Being horizontal and deeply democratic is wonderful. These principles are compatible with the hard work of building structures and institutions that are sturdy enough to weather the storms ahead. I have great faith that this will happen.

Something else this movement is doing right: You have committed yourselves to non-violence. You have refused to give the media the images of broken windows and street fights it craves so desperately. And that tremendous discipline has meant that, again and again, the story has been the disgraceful and unprovoked police brutality.

But the biggest difference a decade makes is that in 1999, we were taking on capitalism at the peak of a frenzied economic boom. Unemployment was low, stock portfolios were bulging. The media were drunk on easy money. It was all about start-ups, not shut-downs.

We pointed out that the deregulation behind the frenzy came at a price. It was damaging to labor standards. It was damaging to environmental standards. Corporations were becoming more powerful than governments and that was damaging to our democracies. But to be honest with you, while the good times rolled, taking on an economic system based on greed was a tough sell, at least in rich countries.

Ten years later, it seems as if there aren’t any more rich countries. Just a whole lot of rich people. People who got rich looting the public wealth and exhausting natural resources around the world.

The point is, today everyone can see that the system is deeply unjust and careening out of control. Unfettered greed has trashed the global economy. And we are trashing the natural world. We are overfishing our oceans, polluting our water with fracking and deepwater drilling, turning to the dirtiest forms of energy on the planet, like the Alberta tar sands. The atmosphere can’t absorb the amount of carbon we are putting into it, creating dangerous warming. The new normal is serial disasters: economic and ecological.

These are the facts on the ground. They are so blatant, so obvious, that it is a lot easier to connect with the public than it was in 1999, and to build the movement quickly.

We all know, or at least sense, that the world is upside down: we act as if there is no end to what is actually finite: fossil fuels and the atmospheric space to absorb their emissions. And we act as if there are strict and immovable limits to what is actually bountiful: the financial resources to build the kind of society we need.

The task of our time is to turn this round: to challenge this false scarcity. To insist that we can afford to build a decent, inclusive society – while at the same time respect the real limits to what the earth can take.

What climate change means is that we have to do this on a deadline. This time our movement cannot get distracted, divided, burned out or swept away by events. This time we have to succeed. And I’m not talking about regulating the banks and increasing taxes on the rich, though that’s important.

I am talking about changing the underlying values that govern our society. That is hard to fit into a single media-friendly demand, and it’s also hard to figure out how to do it. But it is no less urgent for being difficult. That is what I see happening in this square. In the way you are feeding each other, keeping each other warm, sharing information freely and providing health care, meditation classes and empowerment training. My favorite sign here says “I care about you”. In a culture that trains people to avoid each other’s gaze, to say “Let them die,” that is a deeply radical statement.

We have picked a fight with the most powerful economic and political forces on the planet. That’s frightening. And as this movement grows from strength to strength, it will get more frightening. Always be aware that there will be a temptation to shift to smaller targets – like, say, the person next to you. Don’t give into the temptation. This time, let’s treat each other as if we plan to work side by side in struggle for many, many years to come. Because the task before us will demand nothing less.

Let’s treat this beautiful movement as if it is the most important thing in the world. Because it is. It really is.

This is a version of a speech delivered on Thursday, that first appeared in print in the Occupied Wall Street Journal.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Ben permalink
    October 11, 2011 10:25 pm


    First of all, you are not 99% of anything. You are less than a few kooks trying to get attention for your wacky left-wing agenda that seems to be veering all over the damn place.

    Yesterday it was that you hated the rich, then you moved onto some vague stuff about money in politics, then it was the need for open borders, now you’ve moved on into Globull Warming!

    And after all of the trespassing, vandalism, threats, and fighting with police, all the while waving banners with socialist/communist slogans and anything you can with Che’s picture on it, not to mention all of the hypocrisy you all are engaging in by chumming around with millionaires like Michael Moore, Kanye West, and Russell Simmons, you will be lucky to be 1/2 of .00001% by the time the first snowflakes fall.

  2. Jeff Smith permalink*
    October 11, 2011 11:32 pm

    Hey Ben, if you think your opinion is going to sway us from our analysis, you are dead wrong. Everything you have responded to is the same kind of drivel that radio talk show host spew. Don’t waste your time or ours with weak and idiotic comments.You don’t know what you are talking about.

  3. Jeff Smith permalink*
    October 12, 2011 12:16 am

    Ben, you should know that if you persist in posting mindless rants just because you don’t like our political analysis, we will delete all future postings from you. If you want to engage in reasoned discourse, that is another thing, but you have demonstrated no intent of reasoned discourse and have personally attacked people, which is unacceptable.

  4. Ben permalink
    October 12, 2011 6:02 am

    So that’s your “reasoned discourse”?

    “Oh what you said is what they say on talk radio, your’re just an idiot.”

    Can you point out me where I was wrong? Or is “information democracy” just whatever you post, and that Muppet kswheller guy agreeing?

    Absolutely noting I said was untrue. You are just so blinded by a left-wing ideology, that you pretend does not exist nor honest to admit, that you can have the audacity to lie on your own blog!

    Nothing you say is ORIGINAL. It is the same tired recycled DeVos is evil, Christians are bad guys, and West Michigan is racist garbage every generation of snotty progressives in this city have been pushing for years…Until they realize how much they love living here and decide that maybe California or NYC aren’t all they they are cracked up to be.

    it is the same stuff you find on dozens of leftist websites as well.

    You think you are the first to pitch a rant about Amway?

    But yeah, you are the great intellectuals. Lords above us stupid rednecks, and the local media is just a protection racket for the DeVos family. Ok, sure.

    You might as well call this the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Dictatorship, because “reasoned discourse” is nothing more than your way of saying “agree with me 100% or I just wont care what you have to say”.

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