Friday, March 15, 2019

Climate Change Revolution: Bellingham

I learned something recently. In the city of Memphis, in the late 1960s, at least, the NAACP (the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) was on the wrong side of history. Memphis is where Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated, and in that city (and across much of the USA) the FBI was engaged in trying to subvert the civil rights movement. The reasons vary, depending on who you ask, but nobody thinks it was a particularly shining moment in the history of the FBI.

Anyways. At that time there were any number of groups working in any number of ways to Advance the rights of Colored People, not just the NAACP. The NAACP in fact was run by wealthy and successful black people who felt that the proper approach was evolutionary, legislative, through litigation and not through direct action, and so on. This is not at all surprising, of course, nor it is to say that the NAACP was a bad bunch of people. But they were wrong. They had been, effectively, captured by the status quo, and were effectively, committed to maintaining it.

King and various more radical groups were not, and they did bring direct action, and they did win victories which would have been longer coming (perhaps we would still be waiting) if the slow and evolutionary path of the NAACP and the establishment had won the day.

That much is history.

Which brings us around to today, March 15, 2019. Today, students too young to vote walked out of schools around the world to protest climate change, and to demand action. Bellingham, of course, got into the act. Several hundred people, many of them middle and high school students, gathered at City Hall at 11am to have a short rally to protest climate change and to demand action. I went and took some pictures.

Somewhere along the way from 1968 to the present, we have developed the idea that change is wrought, or at any can be wrought, by loosely organized groups of people with heartfelt opinions and rhythmic chants. Bellingham loves these things, we have a couple of protest rallies a year, at least, here. This one was pretty typical.

The complete lack of cops was interesting. They were probably around, though.

The attendees were varied. It seemed to be a pretty complete set of nerds, weirdos, normals, popular kids, and so on. I asked, and was informed that the organizers leaned a bit toward the popular in-crowd kids but that a) it wasn't all in-crowd clique shitheads doing it, and b) even the in-crowd kids were getting some respect here. So, while the speakers appeared to be, and indeed were, mainly the cool, rich, popular, kids, they were either doing it for the right reasons, or faking it very well. Sincerity all around. So, that's good.

Now, I don't mean to indict these kids. I think it's really great that they're getting out there and doing this (they did a similar thing last year opposing gun violence, another nation-wide thing that some of you may recall, taking place on the heels of some damned school shooting or another).

But. Change does not occur when loosely organized groups of enthusiastic and committed people have rallies and chant, no matter how sincere they are. These things are a mechanism by which enthusiastic people who desperately desire change are induced to expend their energy. Change looks a lot like this from the outside, to be sure, but on the inside the organizations that generate change by these methods are organized with maniacal detail. Everything is planned. There is an overall strategy of a completely military nature. Indeed, it's probably a hell of a lot more coherent, detailed, and sensible than anything a modern army throws together.

Gandhi and MLK were the leaders of incredibly large and disciplined organizations. It looked like they just did a bunch of hastily thrown together marches and shit, and that was no accident -- it was supposed to look like a bunch of more or less spontaneous, hastily thrown together, rallies, protests, and marches. But it was not.

These young people, however enthusiastic they are, are not part of any such organization. This is Jaden Stevenson. Articulate, passionate, and checking her phone while other people are making sounds with their food holes. Not all the time, but for a while, and very publicly. Ooops. It doesn't mean anything specific, but it does suggest that there's a lack of discipline.

And then there's this guy, another speaker.

I don't recall his name or which of the myriad local environmental advocacy non-profits he works for. It doesn't matter, those details are irrelevant. He is instantly recognizable as a type. He is a professional non-profit bureaucrat. He's slick, he speaks well, he's very good at having meetings, and he genuinely thinks that having meetings is working for change.

This is a local politician, April Barker, ditto.

April lurked around the edges smiling and shaking hands and then sloped off at about the half hour mark.

Here are a handful of pictures that don't directly connect to anything, but they are emblematic.

Our corporate masters are always present.

Ok, so what?

Like the NAACP, April and whats-his-name above are philosophically on the right side. They oppose climate change, they oppose oil pipelines and coal terminals and all that stuff. They will tend to favor incremental approaches, through careful legislation, which is functionally the same thing as not opposing anything at all. Assuming there is anyone left to write the history, they will find themselves on the wrong side of it.

Here is hoping that the enthusiastic young people can get off their phones, and stop buying Hollister-branded clothing for long enough to study up on how this shit actually works.

You do not create change by having enthused rallies with rhyming chants. You do not create change by carefully crafting legislation in partnership with our corporate friends. Both of these things may be part of it, but they are not the core strategic elements.

The creation of change is a fascinating chess game. The object of the game is to force the existing power structures into a position where they have only two choices: 1) to actually effect change, or 2) to publicly behave in ways that are manifestly, violently, blatantly, opposed to their own stated ideals.

Incremental approaches only allow the existing power structures to continue to behave badly, but in ways that are not obvious.

You have to, non-violently, force a crisis. Doing it violently isn't a very good idea, for reasons that are outside the scope of the current remarks.

It is a complex and intricate game, it requires enormous reserves of strategic intelligence, it requires great organization, discipline, and patience. And, not to put too fine of a point on it, probably some good people are gonna get killed. That's part of the crisis.

I don't want any of these decent, enthusiastic, hopeful, scared, kids to get killed or beaten up.

But if they do develop a strategy with some actual teeth, it's gonna happen. So, in a way, I guess I hope they do.

Which is sort of terrible. But then, this whole fucking thing is fairly terrible.


  1. I agree. In the old days we use to say "grab them by the balls". Putting it in more practical terms, go after their money. Everything runs on money (good or bad). When the costs of non action exceed the costs of action, changes will occur.

    1. I'm going to disagree with you on one point. It cannot be about costs, it cannot be financial.

      At Minamata, the at-fault corporation Chisso was forced not into a fiscal crisis, but a moral one. The financial burden of doing the right thing was in fact too great, they could not afford to pay. Fiscally, the right thing to do was to fight to the end. What happened was that the CEO was forced into a position in which he could no longer weasel or double-talk his way into seeing himself as the man he thought he was, without paying. And so he caved, and agreed to pay, and it broke Chisso. The government bailed them out.

      In the same way, the fossil energy companies cannot afford to roll over. Their value is, essentially, entirely contained in the un-mined fossil fuels they control. The cost, to the company, of walking away from those reserves is essentially infinite. Without a commitment to extract that energy, there literally is no company.

      The crisis must be moral. At present, they can weasel and double-talk their way around to believing themselves basically good guys, trapped with the rest of us in an unfortunate circumstance beyond their control.

      This is what makes the chess game so difficult. People are very good at weaseling and double-talk, especially to themselves (a most receptive audience.) To corner a man, or a company, or a society, and make him face his flaws, to force him to see unequivocally that something bad is his fault, is a tricky tricky thing.

      But that IS how non-violent revolutions succeed, every single time.

    2. The very reason religion exists with so many nutcase believers.

    3. This will not devolve into a shouting match about religion.

    4. I see it with a longer view. Corporations always take the short most appropriate view for their bottom line. That is what you are referring to. I see the longer view that governments must take. There will be no change until the government and the people see it is necessary for their survival, including their economical survival.

  2. Every survey/poll of the US population I've ever heard of shows that Americans want some form of universal health care, that health care should be run a little like a utility because it's something that everyone needs. And mostly your politicians ignore this, so who is running the show there, citizens or lobbiests. Here in Canada, we have a health care utility. There some things that go wrong with it, but all in all it's probably the best social benefit of living here, that and an absence of gun fetishists. But occasionally some right-wing nutcase of a politician tries to make the case for introducing more "privatized" health care in Canada. I have an extremist position on this, I think that swat teams should take those fuckwads off the board for much the same reasons that swat teams should shoot a terrorist who is about to wire up a bomb.

    I think that a few well-timed demonstrations advocating FOR the continuance of Canadian universal health care might help shut those asshole politicians up. Demonstrations can be occasionally useful, in that sense. Otherwise, if there is no "public resistance", as anemic they can be, then it only encourages the idiots to keep talking, whereas we should be nipping off their balls from the get-go.

    But we who watch current American culture from the outside despair. If it's ok for white supremacists to walk the streets in Charlottesville and it's ok for Tucker Carlson to say the things he does ON THE AIR on commercial TV, man, the rest of us just shake our heads. The USA used to be a beacon, however flawed. These days, the people at those demonstrations, even the weird ones, are the only ones who seem sensible to me.

    1. Our political systems is almost entirely divorced from the population at this point.

      The way you win office, mostly, is to get the nod of whichever party controls the relevant district. People are simply too busy to do more than vote for the party's designee. Everyone knows these people are useless jerks, but what else are you gonna do? Ain't like anyone else is running, and so-and-so (being anointed by party X) has to be less bad that wossname (anointed by party Y) right?

      So, how do you get anointed?

      Demonstrate an ability to raise money, and to spend that money on the designated consultants. Why pay consultants? What do they do? Nothing, of course, because as the designee of the appropriate party, you will win by default. But to get anointed, you have to raise money and pay the right grifters.

      So, the people we get in office are those people.

      And we're at some pains to make sure that the population remains too overworked, too busy, and too enraptured by our phones, to do much more than vote based on the party endorsement.

      There are some bright spots, though. AOC appears to be -- maybe -- breaking that mold. Maybe there will be more.

  3. what DID the third group (Gandhi/King) actually DO, other than be very organized and clever about stuff? (I know they were) it seems to me like it must have been a combo of beautifully orchestrated demonstrations, confrontations, getting beaten-up in highly public locations etc to high-light the problems, and then grinding, painstaking (or was it lightning-bolt-style) legislation to address the problems, neh? Stone Seal here

    1. This is the kind of specific action, and the results that followed, that actually works.

      Note that it both changed a handful of laws in good ways, and also humiliated the British, and made them ashamed. It was the first of many such episodes of shaming.

      MLK's program in the USA followed pretty much the same template.

  4. Kids had fun. Political class showed up. All in the news. Programme? Alternative? Perspective? Nothing.

  5. Force a crisis, yes. In some places, it's happening, but not in very many places across the U.S. In Europe the kids are getting more serious. I hope they can force one, because we need it. Regarding the NAACP, it varies by location. In Milwaukee I hear their branch is pretty radical. In other places less so. Here in Duluth it's mixed, but they are definitely in front on some issues, and are good organizers when something comes up. I'm more hopeful these days than I used to be that more people are waking up and are willing to push for serious change. AOC and Ilhan Omar are part of that, as is the general left revival I see. My Facebook stream features more guillotines that ever, if that means anything.

    1. What could „a serious change“ be? What are YOU willing to sacrifice? Everybody seems to want „change“ - but nobody talkes about the how to achieve it.

    2. No or fewer kids. Less stuff. Little plane travel An awareness that you have "enough". No more meat. Balance. Quiet people having a voice.

      All a bit unlikely.

    3. I want to see a lot of fossil fuels left in the ground, which will require a fair bit of restructuring of society and some suffering.

      Berating people to drive less, or whatever, while satisfying, does not work. Humans don't work like that.

      What will I give up? Same as everyone else, I will give up what I am effectively forced to give up. Movements to create change have to think in those terms. Force need not be at the point of a gun, nor purely economic, but it does need to be forceful.

    4. Yes, force needs to be forceful. And to be forceful you need a plan and the knowledge how to achieve „it“. „Do something“ and „safe the world (for us)“ as kids said is not a plan, nor a mission and not a strategy but just an emotional expression. And yes, there are people out there trying to channel those emotions for their own purpose. Those ones are called politicians. And even they do not have neither plan nor strategy or anything. But they want votes. Business as usual and no change intended.

    5. Here a thought - “what would you give up” is a question worth considering but perhaps not in the very Western 21st century individualist sense, but with a good solid scoopful of Andrew’s “force” thrown in. I suspect that climate change is a thing that is gonna HAPPEN to us as a society/species/biosphere [and as individuals of course]; the key thing is it’s. gonna. happen. I’m not sure we can effect change upon that happening (I personally do try to do everything I can to minimize my impact regarding transport, diet, recycling, etc etc etc, but I do that realizing that just my existence in this society is incredibly impactful - but at this point for me at least, it’s more of a personal exercise in ethics and aesthetics. But, again personally, in the face of our societal juggernaut of consumption, I don’t believe in my [or our] ability to create effective change. I’m just not seeing it.)
      So, setting aside having to deal with the physicality of climate change - as I understand it, essentially more energetic - hotter, colder, more windy, drier, wetter, crazier-&-more-extreme floods etc., and yep, we’d need to consider how to deal with aaalll that - what might climate change look like just in terms of societal effects, in how society responds? Cuz that’s where/how we as humans really experience our lives, in the context of society.
      What will each of us probably HAVE TO give up as it happens? How would our societies’ foci change? For example, our diets might become more limited, more local and seasonal? Costs for…stuff (you decide what stuff) would prob.s cost more and we’d have to budget differently? I am betting that insurance companies might start going belly-up or refusing to insure for catastrophic events, and rebuilding a home will be up to the individual… Might there be more governmental regulation, or less, or maybe one followed by the other? [Stone Seal]

    6. So the climate change revolution is about food, diet and nutrition? Nothing about fracking, selling gas to Europe, nuclear power as a „clean energy“ or using depleted ammunition to get rid of some atomic waste? Or does anybody think that changing ones nutrition will bring more conscience, enlighten the people, change the society and save the world? Come on - 68 was about love, peace and fiendship and how to get access to the money printing machines! And now? Nutrition is your way to paradise?

    7. Anonymous off March 19, 10:31AM - if you're responding to March 18, 12:01PM and my last para regarding diet, I do apologize that I didn't make myself clear - Nutrition is NOT my way to paradise - I am personally pretty sure we're committed in fact to the climate-change-etc-caused road (sign-posted as you say by fracking, Hollister jackets for all, cow farts and so on) to utter perdition, and once there, our "nutrition" will be seasonal and limited in that we shall be scrabbling for cattail roots and voles and mahonia berries - so my question is "what are we going to HAVE to give up once that happens?" and I suppose my second question is "are we up to preparing ourselves sensibly for all those changes as best we can?" Sorry I didn't make myself clear, I hope this is a bit more so? [Stone Seal]

    8. What about the human faculty to adapt? Where is the pioneer spirit that formed your nation? Where the engineers fit for a challenge? And even if we should scrabble for cattail roots (been there, done that - not personally though) than it would be to continue the battle from there. Only wining is not going to help. Kids (and many others) seem not to take that into consideration.

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