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NGOs Are Cages: How Capitalists Control Mass Movements

By Stephanie McMillan - CounterPunch, September 22, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

We really need to understand the methods used by NGOs* to undermine radical political organizing efforts and divert us into political dead ends. The People’s Climate March is a good case study because it’s so blatant.

In South Florida, we saw the exact same process after the BP oil spill. Once the NGOs came in to the organizing meetings and were given the floor, all potential resistance was blocked, strangled, and left for dead. NGOs will descend on any organizing effort and try to take it over, dilute it, and bring it eventually to the Democratic Party. We can also see an identical set-up with the established labor unions and many other organizations.

If organizers are being paid, usually they are trapped in this dynamic, whether or not they want to be. While combining a job with organizing to challenge the system sounds very tempting and full of potential, it’s overwhelmingly not possible. They are two fundamentally incompatible aims, and those funding the job definitely do not have the aim of allowing its employees to undermine the system — the very system that allows the funders to exist, that they feed off of. Capitalists aren’t stupid, and they know how to keep their employees chained to a post, even if the leash feels long. With NGOs, capitalism has set up a great mechanism for itself both to generate revenue, and to pacify people who might otherwise be fighting to break the framework. “The unity of the chicken and the roach happens in the belly of the chicken.”

Another problem is that the rest of us attending an activity or a demonstration have to wonder: when organizers are being paid to say whatever it is they’re saying, how do we know whether or not they believe it? They follow a script, and can’t reveal their true feelings. They attempt to promote their cause in a convincing way, but if their funding was cut off, would they still be involved? Would their orientation still be the same? It’s hard to believe anything said by a paid spokespuppet – it’s like interacting with an embodied list of talking points. There can be no real trust, that the person could be relied upon when the money is no longer there.

Of course people need jobs, and NGOs provide them. I’m not blaming those who work for NGOs any more than who work for any other capitalist institution. We’re all trapped in the enemy’s economy. Instead, what I’m arguing for is to be aware of the nature of it, its severe limitations, and to do real political work outside the framework provided by the job.

We should attend demonstrations like the climate march, because a lot of sincere people will be there who want to make a difference. But we should remain autonomous within them, bringing our own message targeting capitalism as the root of the problem, exposing the uselessness of working within the political frameworks it sets up for us, and building our own organizations with the people we meet.

To challenge, weaken and ultimately destroy capitalism, we need to build a strong, organized, broad, combative mass movement outside the influence of capitalist interests.

The Climate Justice Call Echoes Across the Globe

By Danny Katch and Nicole Colso - Socialist Worker, September 22, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s. The image depicted here was not part of the original article.

ORGANIZERS HAD hoped it would be the largest climate justice demonstration in history. It was definitely that--and more.

People filled Central Park West in New York City from 59th Street past 86th Street for the People's Climate March on September 21--a massive crowd estimated to be as large as 300,000, maybe more.

Dozens upon dozens of contingents, representing indigenous activists, unions, students, community organizations, political groups and more, showed the broad range of people who want real action against climate change--before it's too late. For some of the marchers, it was three hours before their part of the demonstration stepped off.

And it wasn't just New York City that was in the streets. The main U.S. protest was one of more than 2,600 events held in over 150 countries on the same day. From India to Tanzania to South Africa to Brazil to Germany and Taiwan, people across the globe raised their voices against ecological destruction.

But this expression of dissent and determination is in stark contrast to the attitude of those who preside over the system that is causing climate change.

The demonstration in New York City was organized to issue a challenge from the streets in the run-up to a United Nations climate summit. Such meetings have been little more than a show--with the world's most powerful governments, in particular the U.S., frustrating attempts to set substantive targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

The consequences of putting profits before the fate of the planet are becoming increasingly clear--ever more so by the month.

Meteorologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced last week that the months of June, July and August marked the hottest summer on record for the planet as a whole. 2014 is on track to break the record for the hottest year, set in 2010.

At a solidarity demonstration held in rural Papua New Guinea, primary school students marched to a lighthouse that has become partially submerged as a result of rising sea levels. In other threatened spots across the Pacific Islands, solidarity marches calling for "Action, Not Words" had a similar message of real urgency.

Naomi Klein: ‘We Can’t Dodge This Fight’ Between Capitalism and Climate Change

Naomi Klein interviewed by Micah Utrecht - In These Times, September 18, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

That the clock on climate change is ticking—and louder by the day—is not news to anyone. Like many people, journalist Naomi Klein spent years feeling overwhelmed by scientists' increasingly apocalyptic pronouncements about impending planetary doom, and largely opted to ignore them. She had her hands full exposing the abuses of multinational corporations like Microsoft and Nike in her first book, No Logo (1999), and the imposition of free market policies and expanding inequality on unwilling populations around the globe in her 2007 book, The Shock Doctrine.

But Klein came to realize not only that climate change was so all-encompassing and urgent that it couldn’t be ignored, but also that it creates a unique opportunity. Climate change “could be the best argument progressives have ever had,” she says, to create the kind of bottom-up mass movements that can not only force action on the environment, but fight economic inequality, create more democratic societies, rebuilding a strong public sector, addressing historical gender and racial injustices, and a litany of other issues.

Doing so, however, won't simply require changing a few lightbulbs. “We have not done the things that are necessary to lower emissions because those things fundamentally conflict with deregulated capitalism,” Klein writes. In This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, she explores the failures of “Big Green” environmental groups and supposedly benevolent CEOs, the right-wing climate deniers who actually understand the stakes of climate change better than many progressives, and the grassroots movements coalescing to fight climate change. Klein spoke with In These Times from her home in Toronto.

The rebellion to save planet Earth: Why civil disobedience could be our last, best hope

Jeremy Brecher interviewed by Ted Hamilton - Salon, September 7, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Traditional methods for fighting global warming have proven fruitless. It's time for the people to take a stand

The politics of climate change are shifting. After decades of halfhearted government efforts to stop global warming, and the failure of the “Big Green” NGOs to do much of anything about it, new voices — and new strategies — have taken the lead in the war against fossil fuels.

Jeremy Brecher, a freelance writer, historian, organizer and radio host based in Connecticut, has documented the environmental movement’s turn toward direct action and grass-roots activism. A scholar of American workers’ movements and author of the acclaimed labor history “Strike!,” Brecher argues that it’s time for green activists to address the social and economic impacts of climate change and for unions to start taking global warming seriously.

His latest book, “Climate Insurgency: A Strategy Against Doom,” which will be released early next year by Paradigm Publishers, examines the structural causes of our climate conundrum and calls for a “global nonviolent constitutional insurgency” to force environmental action from below. Brecher spoke to Salon about his vision for dealing with global warming, the changing face of environmental activism, and why he thinks the People’s Climate March in New York on Sep. 21 is so important.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Environmentalism as if Winning Mattered: A Self-Organization Strategy

By Stephen D’Arcy - The Public Autonomy Project, September 17, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

[Note: This article was first published on the internet as a contribution to the Reimagining Society Project hosted by ZCommunications in 2009, where it seems no longer to be available. This version is substantially revised.]

Many people doubt that the environmental movement can actually defeat its adversaries and achieve its key aims. After all, it seems clear that winning would mean introducing sweeping social change and a new kind of sustainable and socially just economy. But the forces arrayed against this kind of change – including corporations, governments, and many affluent consumers hoping to raise their consumption levels – seem to represent too powerful a force to be overcome by a relatively small and seemingly powerless group of environmental activists.

These doubts about the capacity of environmentalists to win are confined neither to the movement’s self-serving and greed-motivated adversaries in business and government, nor to the many indifferent bystanders who cast an equally skeptical eye on all attempts to transform society by means of popular mobilization from below. As it happens, many environmental activists themselves are no less convinced that failure is all but inevitable.

When this sort of pessimism overtakes environmentalists, they tend to adopt one of several familiar responses. First, there is the response of those who retreat from the movement altogether in favor of “lifestyle” environmentalism, replacing their former activism with “conscious” shopping. Second, there are those who reject activism as naïve compared to their own approach of apocalyptic “survivalism” which leads them to prepare for the day when “civilization” collapses, such as by stockpiling food or learning how to hunt and gather. A third group responds to the apparently bleak outlook for environmental activism not by leaving the movement, but by remaining active while seeking to cultivate “friends in high places,” linking arms with Big Business or the capitalist state in a mode of “mainstream” environmentalism that tries to promote “environmentally friendly” capitalism and “socially responsible” corporations. A fourth group also remains active, but replaces the aim of winning with the more readily attainable aim of making a moral statement, by serving as a “moral witness” or by “speaking truth to power.” Finally, a fifth group also accepts the inevitability of failure but tries to seize every opportunity to put on public display the purity of their own uncompromising and self-righteous (albeit relentlessly impotent) radicalism, as a form of self-congratulatory “posturing.”

There is nothing to be gained by adopting a judgmental or holier-than-thou attitude toward people who adopt such responses. Why condemn such choices, which are all more or less understandable adaptations to the admittedly distressing predicament of contemporary environmentalism?

Nevertheless, we do need to see these stances for what they undoubtedly are: failures (in some cases) or refusals (in others) to develop a strategy for winning. Yet a strategy for winning is precisely what we need. The scale of the general environmental crisis is well known, and needs no special emphasis here: we are only too well-informed about the potentially catastrophic impact of plutogenic (caused-by-the-rich) climate change, the degradation of air quality, the erosion and poisoning of soil, the disappearance of forests and spreading of deserts, the despoliation of both fresh water sources and oceans, the historically unprecedented rates of species extinction, and so on. If nothing is done about any of this, it is not because there is any uncertainty about the gravity of these threats (notwithstanding cynical attempts by Big Business to fund “denial” research from “free market think tanks,” as a transparent ploy to muddy the waters of public discussion).

Something must be done, clearly. And most people certainly want more to be done. Globally, according to a survey of world opinion in 2010, “84 percent of those polled globally said the problem was serious, with 52 percent saying it was very serious. The number of people saying that it was not a problem averaged just 4 percent.” Even in the United States, where public awareness about environmental issues is lower than anywhere else on earth, “in 2010, 70 percent of US respondents described the problem as serious and 37 percent described it as very serious.” According to Steven Kull, director of WorldPublicOpinion.org (which conducted the poll), “most people around the world appear to be impatient that their government is not doing enough to address the problem of climate change.” Indeed, “on average across all nations polled, 60 percent want climate change to get a higher priority, 12 percent want a lower priority.”

Evidently, inaction on the part of governments does not reflect any pressing need to “change attitudes” or “educate the public.” If governments and corporations were even modestly responsive to public opinion, the prospects for implementing real change would be much more favorable for our side than they actually are at present.

The widespread pessimism about the movement’s prospects for success is impossible to explain without relating it to a widely understood insight registered in another recent opinion poll. According to a 2012 Harris Poll, 86% of Americans believe that “Big companies” have “too much power and influence in Washington.” An even higher percentage, 88% of Americans, believe that “political action committees that give money to political candidates” also have too much power and influence. Conversely, a full 78% of Americans believe that “public opinion” has “too little power and influence in Washington.” Americans, it seems, understand the workings of their political process rather better than many people give them credit for.

It should be clear, therefore, that we need a strategy for winning, and we need to develop it sooner rather than later. The approach that I pursue in this article will be to identify strategic objectives for weakening and ultimately defeating the adversaries that stand in the way of doing what science, morality, and good sense dictate must be done: transforming our destructive, unjust and unsustainable social order into a democratic, egalitarian and sustainable one.

Why Peer Support is Crucial to Effective Activism The Real Climate March is Next Door, Not In NYC

By Jim Driscoll - CounterPunch, September 12, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

On Sunday, September 21, in NYC, I hope to attend my last big demonstration to save the climate.

Like many long-time social-change activists, I believe that real change depends not on big demonstrations, but on building lasting, personal relationships with individual human beings.

Indeed, more and more of us have come to believe that permanently-staffed, hierarchical organizations, like those calling for this demonstration, actually prevent social change. The pressure to raise funds and follow the direction of wealthy families and their foundations inevitably forces the leaders of such organizations to compromise the movement’s mission. Lower-level staff makes similar compromises to keep their jobs.

Indeed, some of us believe that the permanently-staffed, hierarchical “progressive movement,” whether intentionally or not,  serves as a front for the Democratic Party and diverts our activism into the bottomless pit of elections-for-sale-to-the-highest-bidder. Unfortunately, this demonstration looks like more of the same, timed to excite activists for the upcoming elections.

At a more micro level, demonstrations  dis-empower their participants. That same in-group of funders and their chosen friends who initiate or encourage these demonstrations will decide, at least in general terms, on the official demands and acceptable speakers. In this case, the March initiators decided NOT to make any specific demands, thus allowing corporate groups to participate and politicians to interpret the turnout as they choose. Much like their prototypes in the Nazi era, such demonstrations will ask participants to listen (rather than talk and listen to each other) or in this case, just march. There are few participatory surprises in one of these hierarchically-initiated demonstrations.

By contrast, we do know how to build  grassroots social movements.  The general outlines of a one-on-one, relational, horizontal approach to organizing have already been developed and successfully applied. Many direct-action campaigns currently use variations, including in the climate justice movement. Some peer-based social movements have independently used some of these tools to grow into the millions, as in 12 Step recovery movement, and hundreds of thousands in peer co-counseling (“RC’)  and Quaker meetings. Based on my three decades in those three just-named movements, in direct-action campaigns and on my academic work,  I’ve distilled some specific suggestions on how to build a climate movement of “equals,” not “elites” (www.NIPSPeerSupport.org.)  We’ve had some success already.

Climate Populism and the People’s Climate March

By Out of the Woods - libcom.org, September 10, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Large demonstrations are planned to push for action on climate change. Here we discuss the potentials and pitfalls of climate populism.

This month, the UN Climate Summit 2014 will begin in New York City. After yet another disappointing round of global talks on climate change failed to produce even the most flimsy of agreements among participating countries, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon invited world leaders of UN member states as well as individuals and groups from finance, business, and ‘civil society’ to “catalyze ambitious action on the ground to reduce emissions and strengthen climate resilience and mobilize political will” in a voluntary meeting external to the UNFCCC process.1

As if sprung from the process itself, a large mobilization (née protest) emerged external to this already-external meeting, dubbed the People’s Climate March. While the UN Climate Summit is being touted as critical to the attempt by political and technocratic elites to (re)affirm capitalist hegemony on our climate futures,2 the People’s Climate March, we argue, must take this critical opportunity to invent ‘the people’ already coming into being through today’s climate crisis.

Bill McKibben of 350.org Gets Schooled by Amanda Lickers of Reclaim Turtle Island

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Uprooting The Liberal Climate Agenda

By Scott Parkin - Counterpunch, August 20, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

“You can’t hate the roots of a tree and not hate the tree.”

― Malcolm X

Somewhere between the Bay Area’s environmental non-profit bubble and multi-million climate march planning in New York City, 21 people in the Utah desert took action to shut down the first tar sands mine in the United States.

They’d been part of a larger encampment on the eastern plateau, where local organizers educated over 80 student climate activists about the Utah tar sands as well as trainings on organizing, direct action and anti-oppression. Utah tar sands fighters have spent the summer living in the area as a constant protest against Canadian-based company U.S. Oil Sands’ extraction efforts on the plateau. Every night, black bears raided the camp looking for food and every day local and state police agencies harassed the camp with veiled threats and innuendo derived through Facebook stalking. Despite the harassment and surveillance by the state, actions happen. This particular arrest action gained lots of national media attention and a number of larger environmental organizations put out statements of support of the activists. It also included a number of escalated felony charges on some of the activists.

Utah tar sands fighters living on the ground on the plateau, in Moab and in Salt Lake City live and breathe the campaign against the Utah Tar Sands. They strategize and organize it the same way that Appalachian mountain defenders organize the struggle against mountaintop removal coal mining. They live it the same way that the Tar Sands Blockade lived the campaign against the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline in east Texas and Oklahoma. In all of these campaigns, it’s been an alliance of unpaid radical organizers working with local landowners and community members fighting to save homes, forests, water supplies and more. Furthermore, these campaigns have defined risk and sacrifice.

In Appalachia, after numerous actions on strip mine sites, coal companies filed lawsuits against those participating in civil disobedience actions. West Virginia law enforcement imposed huge bails to further deter actions on mine sites. In Texas, TransCanada sued numerous individuals and three grassroots organizations for over $20 million after the same sort of action. The Canadian oil giant also compiled dossiers on noted organizers and briefed local and federal law enforcement agencies with possible crimes and charges for stopping work on its work sites. Texas law enforcement obliged TransCanada’s hard work with felony charges and violent brutalization of peaceful protestors.

In each of these campaigns, bold and effective organizing against oil, gas and coal companies has created moments to stop egregious practices and projects at the points of destruction only to be abandoned or ignored by the larger environmental establishment. In the wake of that abandonment, hundreds of Appalachian Mountains have been leveled while oil flows through the Keystone XL pipeline from Cushing, OK to the Gulf Coast, and ground is now broken on the first tar sands mine in the United States.

The liberal reform agenda of the environmental establishment continues to dominate the climate movement. Organizations sitting on millions of dollars in resources and thousands of staff are now engaged in a massive “Get Out The Vote” style operation to turn out tens of thousands to marches before the September 23rd United Nations’ Climate Summit in New York. Their hope is to impact the summit framed as U.N. Secretary General Bai-Ki Moon’s dialogue with global politicians on climate change in the lead up to the 2015 climate talks. Civil society’s demands include passing meaningful climate legislation and signing binding agreements on carbon regulation.

History continues to repeat itself as the environmental establishment had similar demands in Copenhagen at the 2009 climate talks. After spending millions of their donors’ dollars and thousands of hours of staff time, successes included an email campaign that got President Obama to travel to Denmark and personally witness the failure of those climate talks. Almost simultaneously, legislation to regulate carbon emissions failed in the U.S. Congress as well. After outspending the climate liberals 10 to 1, the political will of Big Oil and Big Coal remained unbreakable. Meanwhile, these same companies continue to drill, mine, frack, pollute, poison, build pipelines and burn coal in neighborhoods and communities from coast to coast.

Re-Identifying Environmentalism

By Nick Mullins - The Thoughtful Coal Miner, August 21, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Several people have asked me whether or not I will be attending the upcoming climate action march in New York. The answer is no. In light of my intended absence, I wanted to share with you some of my thoughts on the subject.

While I am unaware of a detailed history on environmentalism, I do know that modern environmentalism was born from naturalists and the conservation movement most often attributed to men such as John Muir, the “Father of the National Parks.” His activism preserved some of the most spectacular natural places in North America, yet, we must admit that on the whole, the creation of the national parks and all subsequent environmental protections have been miniscule wins in a full out war on the ecological systems of our planet. The results are plain to see throughout the world from global deforestation to dead zones in the oceans, rivers that change colors or catch on fire to toxic waste water ponds that are visible from space. 

Some have sought to address the underlying problems feeding the immensity of our present day version of a world war. Of those, Wendell Barry, David Orr, and Wes Jackson come to mind, each speaking volumes to the ways in which present day education, culture, and economy combine to destroy the future health and happiness of most species on this earth. As such, and I am not stating anything new here, it should come as no surprise that until we are able to bring ecological understanding into every classroom, altruistic ideals back into every community, and moderation into the economic principles of the world, we will have no chance of saving future generations from such peril. These are truths that each of us must face, a knowledge that Aldo Leopold began sharing with us long ago.  Anyone who has been within the environmental movement long enough can attest to having found themselves in an emotional dilemma:  spend time fighting inevitability or search out the best place to lead a peaceful life.

In February of 2013, I marched alongside an estimated 40,000 people through the streets of Washington DC at the Forward on Climate Rally organized by 350.org. As we marched down Constitution Ave, I recollected images and stories of a rally my father attended in Washington DC on Labor Day in 1991. The National Park Service estimated that 250,000 laborers were in attendance: coal miners, nurses, auto workers, steel workers, migrant workers, and a variety of social activists. A quarter of a million people had descended upon DC, receiving extended national news coverage (compared to the climate rally), all of them people that millions of Americans could identify with. They were trying desperately to keep labor alive, to reverse the anti-union trends that were crippling the middle class of this nation. My father was among those marching with the United Mine Workers, still unsure of what life had to offer after his recent lay off at Beth-Elkhorn's Deep Mine 26 after 16 years there.

Despite the 3,500 tour buses that brought the cries of those hundreds of thousands of people to Washington on a hot summer day, the demise of the labor movement has continued. Today more and more states are incorporating right to work laws, more people are forced to work mandatory overtime for wages that have barely increased over 20 years. As I marched along side people wielding their homemade wind turbines on that bitter February day, I kept thinking to myself,  "What makes a group of environmentalists, already ostracized by a nation as unemployed hippies, believe a march will actually garner the support needed to save the world from greed driven over consumption?"

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