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Reflections on the Climate Strike Action in Grand Rapids

September 23, 2019

On Friday, I joined the Climate Strike action in Grand Rapids, which began at 10am at at a small park in the southwest part of town.

There was maybe 200 people there just before they began to walk downtown. The crowd was probably 75% youth and it was led by youth. Seeing so many young people with concern over climate change was a refreshing site and as people who are no longer in our youth, we should do whatever we can to affirm and support young people who want to organize and take action.

However, it would be dishonest of me to not address what I believe to be a seriously flawed strategy that the Climate Strike in Grand Rapids was employing. The primary goal of the action I attended was for people to walk over the Senator Peters office and demand that he not accept money from the fossil fuel industry. The irony is that earlier this year, Senator Peters agreed to do just that, but then accepted $5000 from Consumers Energy, which the representatives from the Sunrise Movement said was unacceptable.

Despite the fact that Senator Peters had already violated this agreement, those who organized the Climate Strike action on Friday felt that it was best to go back to his office to demand that he again commit to not taking money from anyone of the fossil fuel companies.

Along with way, as people were walking from the westside to downtown, there were honks from motorists, but it was clear that this action was designed to NOT disrupt business as usual in Grand Rapids. As we are facing record heat, tornados, draught, flooding, increased soil erosion, the death of species on a daily basis, why would we not want to disrupt business as usual. It’s not just the fossil fuel companies that are to blame. We can’t deny that other business sectors have failed us, like the agribusiness sector, the transportation sector, the military industrial complex, etc. In fact, it should be made clear that capitalism – increased profits, constant growth and the pillaging of the planet – is to blame. Add to that local, state and federal governments, which not only have failed us miserably on Climate Change, they have protected and coddled the very system of capitalism that is causing this disaster.

On the Need for Disruption and Direct Action

Going to Senator Peters office and demanding that he not accept money from the fossil fuel industry, while seeming like an important step, in many ways is a inadequate tactic. First, demanding that any politician doesn’t take money from the fossil fuel sector is a drop in the buckets, when so so much of our society is based on the consumption of fossil fuels. For instance, Senator Peters sits on the Armed Services Committee and he voted again, along with most members of Congress, to support the $750 Billion military budget for 2020. The US military is one of the largest non-country entities in terms of their fossil fuel consumption. Going after Peters for supporting the US military industrial complex would not only be more effective, it would bring US militarism’s contribution to Climate Change.

Second, saying that you are going to demand that Senator Peters not take money from the Fossil Fuel industry and then not using tactics to force him to do so, just won’t make it happen. If people chose to occupy his office, yesterday, today and tomorrow, he would  eventually agree to their demand. Politicians and systems of power do not make policy decisions that are in the best interest of the public, rather they make policy decisions that benefit those who have the power. We have to be willing to take risks if we want change to happen, especially if we want deep, systemic change to happen.

Just think of what people on the front lines of the climate justice fight are doing. When I say people on the front lines, I mean communities of color – Indigenous, black, latinx – who are fighting for climate justice and fighting in such a way as their life depended on it….because it does. Think about what indigenous people did at Standing Rock. Indigenous people at Standing Rock weren’t asking something of the government, so much as putting their bodies on the line to stop the pipeline company from putting yet another oil pipeline through their lands. This is called direct action and it means taking great risks.

Another example is what Indigenous people in the Amazon are doing now and have been doing for decades, which is to confront loggers, confront cattle ranchers, oil companies and the Brazilian government from harming the Amazon. The indigenous people in the amazon are also not always using non-violence, since they are literally fighting for their lives.

At this point however, it must be acknowledged that maybe it is my generation of activists and organizers who are to blame for the current crisis. Maybe we have not been bold enough or taken enough risks in order to avoid the climate crisis we now face. Maybe we were too comfortable. Maybe we did not recognize that capitalism was the root of the problem and we thought that we could just make it nicer. Maybe we didn’t see how US militarism, the food system, the transportation system and so many other sectors were part of the problem. Maybe we were seduced by representative democracy, thinking that all we needed to do was to vote for the right people and all would be well. Maybe we thought that if we just recycle and eat locally that this would all go away. For the failures of my generation, I apologize. I apologize to the young people today who are now having to fight for their very lives and for the future.

However, together, we can fight the climate crisis. Together we can organize and resist and engage in direct action to actually disrupt business as usual. Together, we can create new ways of living that doesn’t rely on capitalism. Together we can create a world where we are truly alive and not spending our time as idle consumers, stuck in jobs we despise or thinking that we don’t have the power to change our circumstances.

Let’s do what the Puerto Ricans did recently and just shut things down until we get what we want. Let’s disrupt this filthy, rotten system. Let’s use Direct Action. Let’s practice Mutual Aid. Let’s believe in the power of Collective Liberation!!! Climate Justice NOW!

A solid resource for those organizing against Climate Change and for Climate Justice, is the booklet, Organizing Cools the Planet: Tools and Reflections to Navigate The Climate Crisis, by Hillary Moore & Jaoshua Kahn Russell. This booklet offers great organizing tools and put an emphasis on Direct Action as a primary strategy to for achieving Climate Justice.

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