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Beyond the Green New Deal: A Discussion with Monica Atkins of the Climate Justice Alliance

Ramona Strategies: Executive Summary of Recommendations (for addressing Sierra Club internal organizational dynamics)

By Elizabeth Brown Riordan, Katherine Kimpel, and Kathryn Pogin - Ramona Strategies, August 2021

This Executive Summary was prepared by Ramona Strategies to relay the substance of the Recommendations to the broader set of stakeholders that make up the Sierra Club community. Ramona Strategies exercised control over the scope and substance of this Executive Summary at all times.

About the Restorative Accountability Process:

In the summer of 2020, public allegations surfaced that a celebrated former employee and thencurrent Volunteer Leader had raped a Sierra Club employee when he was her boss; others came forward to share similar experiences of inappropriate and degrading experiences with that same man. Those reports prompted not only a targeted investigation of his tenure at the organization, but also this broader Restorative Accountability Process. This Restorative Accountability Process was commissioned to help the organization rise to the challenges that confront it in this definitional moment.

The opportunity to participate in the Restorative Accountability Process was extended by the Club through a series of emails from Leadership directed at both staff and volunteers. No one who expressed an interest in participating was turned away. Most interviews were conducted between September 2020 and January 2021, although a few interviews happened outside of that time frame. Individuals were under no obligation to contribute to the process; however, between unsolicited participants and those organizational representatives to whom we reached out to directly, members of the Office of General Counsel, the Human Resources Department, the Chapter Services Department (also known as “Office of Chapter Support”), the Volunteer Accountability Working Group (also known as the “Volunteer Accountability Process Reform Team”), and some individuals in union leadership spoke with us to explain more about the details of the processes used for complaints, investigations, and resolutions and to explain recordkeeping systems and materials related to prior issues.

Participants in the interviews were not guided to any particular perspectives, conclusions, themes, or narratives; in general, we encouraged participants to share what they thought was important to be known and then we listened. We did not ask participants to comment on information or perspectives shared by others, and we did not engage in cross-examination. However, we did probe for details, and we did listen for corroborating factors across interviews. To the extent that the Process identified individual matters that require investigation and/or further intervention, those individual matters were relayed to the teams that handle Employee and Volunteer Relations (‘EVR”)' in a manner that protects the anonymity of the participants and the confidentiality of the Process but also ensures the organization is attending to those situations.

Read the text (PDF).

Try Filling Jails Before Blowing Pipelines

By Dave Jones - System Change not Climate Change, June 16, 2021

While the year 2020 saw numerous activist mobilizations, it was the police murder of George Floyd that instantly filled streets around the world with outraged protest. People marched, torched police stations, tore down statues, and confronted police in actions noticeable both for their dedicated persistence and the diversity of participants. There is no question this uprising was effective in certain ways; a much-needed spotlight has been focused on racialized, militarized policing, on the lack of accountability within police unions, and on the basic injustice of the carceral state in general.

And yet. Given the level of outrage, it must be acknowledged that little change has occurred at the policy, much less the institutional level. Commissions are formed, local reforms proposed, and a predictable backlash invigorated, replicating a long-established pattern of protest followed by bureaucratic inertia. Time and again we witness the absorption of movement energy into the grinding processes of the regulatory labyrinth.

As with gun control following school shootings, with climate action following extreme weather events, with antiwar protests in anticipation of invasions, with international trade deals, with Occupy or pipeline blockades, the pattern is clear. I am not saying that protest is dead. My argument is that these particular forms of reactive protest are no longer effective.

What I would like the Climate Movement to consider is a tactic that moves beyond protest as it is now conceived and practiced. This nonviolent, direct action tactic is best described as “fill the jails.”

While the mass civil disobedience of both anti-KXL in Washington DC in 2011 and Extinction Rebellion more recently were steps in the right direction, the historical examples of mass arrest I am promoting have a qualitative difference.

I first learned of “fill the jails” when researching the free-speech fights conducted at the beginning of the 20th century by the Industrial Workers of the World. From San Diego, California to Missoula, Montana, Wobblies defied local ordinances that banned impromptu public speaking. They gained the right to openly organize by calling in masses of fellow workers to be arrested and fill jails until the burden on local authorities became overwhelming. Another historical example is Gandhi’s India campaign, where he vowed to “fill the prisons” in order to make governing impossible for the British.

Perhaps the best-known example of this tactic being applied successfully is the Civil Rights Movement, especially the campaign centered in Birmingham, Alabama (the “most segregated city in America”), in 1963. This is how the large-scale, non-violent direct action was described by historian Howard Zinn:

“Thursday, May 2nd, is ‘D-Day’ as students ‘ditch’ class to march for justice. In disciplined groups of 50, children singing freedom songs march out of 16th Street Baptist church two-by-two. When each group is arrested, another takes its place. There are not enough cops to contain them, and police reinforcements are hurriedly summoned. By the end of the day almost 1,000 kids have been jailed. The next day, Friday May 3rd, a thousand more students cut class to assemble at 16th Street church. With the jails already filled to capacity, and the number of marchers growing, Eugene ‘Bull’ Connor, the Commissioner of Public Safety in charge of the police and fire departments, tries to suppress the movement with violence.”

Between April 3 and May 7 roughly three thousand were arrested and booked, filling not only the jails but an “improvised fairground prison … and open-air stockade” as well. This all took place in conjunction with a well-organized boycott of downtown businesses and public transport. Televised scenes of savage reaction by the racist police were broadcast throughout the stunned world and a horrified nation — which was then forced to confront the injustice.

Black Climate Wednesdays: Land and Labor

Once again on sabotage and climate change

By Lars Henriksson - Climate and Capitalism, May 22, 2021

What should we do when airy political promises amount to little more than excuses for business as usual, and when the friendly climate protests have not prevented the world from heading towards a burning inferno? Submissively accept doom or take the climate struggle to a new level?

That Andreas Malm does not preach resignation will come as no surprise to those who know the author — activist and socialist since childhood and today well-known in the radical section of international academia. For those unfamiliar with him, the book’s title should dispel all doubt.

To stoically wait for doom is not an option for most of us, even if some claim to have drawn that conclusion. The book’s final section is a reckoning with intellectuals such as Roy Scranton and Jonathan Franzen who flirt with that standpoint.

For the rest of us, who either try to do something, or wish we knew how to do something, the question is: what do we do now? It is this question to which Malm devotes most of his book.

The attention given to the book ahead of publication has mostly concerned the question of sabotage as a method in the climate struggle. Despite the book’s provocative title, this is far from an anarchist cookbook but a thought-through — albeit impatient — contribution to the debate about strategy and tactics in the climate movement.

Malm raises a question posed by the British author John Lanchester: Why has the climate movement not resorted to violence? Given what is at stake is humanity’s survival, it is strange that nobody has started blowing up petrol stations or at least started scratching the paint on city jeeps, Lanchester states, in what Malm refers to as Lanchester’s paradox.

In the latter case, the effort is very small and would make these gas guzzling monster cars almost impossible to own in a city like London. Malm himself has a past as an SUV-saboteur of the milder kind, when the group The Indians of the Concrete Jungle in the early 2000s let the air out of gas guzzling luxury cars’ tyres in upper class neighborhoods. He takes this paradox — that the climate movement, despite knowing what is at stake, continues to be peaceful and well behaved — as the starting point for his argument.

The National Black Climate Summit

The Red Deal: Indigenous action to save our Earth

By The Red Nation - ROAR Mag, April 25, 2021

The Red Deal is a manifesto and movement — borne of Indigenous resistance and decolonial struggle — to liberate all peoples and save our planet.

Colonialism has deprived Indigenous people, and all people who are affected by it, of the means to develop according to our needs, principles and values. It begins with the land. We have been made “Indians” only because we have the most precious commodity to the settler states: land. Vigilante, cop and soldier often stand between us, our connections to the land and justice. “Land back” strikes fear in the heart of the settler. But as we show here, it’s the soundest environmental policy for a planet teetering on the brink of total ecological collapse. The path forward is simple: it’s decolonization or extinction. And that starts with land back.

In 2019, the mainstream environmental movement — largely dominated by middle- and upper-class liberals of the Global North — adopted as its symbolic leader a teenage Swedish girl who crossed the Atlantic in a boat to the Americas. But we have our own heroes. Water protectors at Standing Rock ushered in a new era of militant land defense. They are the bellwethers of our generation. The Year of the Water Protector, 2016, was also the hottest year on record and sparked a different kind of climate justice movement.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, herself a water protector, began her successful bid for Congress while in the prayer camps at Standing Rock. With Senator Ed Markey, she proposed a Green New Deal in 2019. Standing Rock, however, was part of a constellation of Indigenous-led uprisings across North America and the US-occupied Pacific: Dooda Desert Rock (2006), Unist’ot’en Camp (2010), Keystone XL (2011), Idle No More (2012), Trans Mountain (2013), Enbridge Line 3 (2014), Protect Mauna Kea (2014), Save Oak Flat (2015), Nihígaal Bee Iiná (2015), Bayou Bridge (2017), O’odham Anti-Border Collective (2019), Kumeyaay Defense Against the Wall (2020), and 1492 Land Back Lane (2020), among many more.

Each movement rises against colonial and corporate extractive projects. But what’s often downplayed is the revolutionary potency of what Indigenous resistance stands for: caretaking and creating just relations between human and other-than-human worlds on a planet thoroughly devastated by capitalism. The image of the water protector and the slogan “Water is Life!” are catalysts of this generation’s climate justice movement. Both are political positions grounded in decolonization—a project that isn’t exclusively about the Indigenous. Anyone who walked through the gates of prayer camps at Standing Rock, regardless of whether they were Indigenous or not, became a water protector. Each carried the embers of that revolutionary potential back to their home communities.

Water protectors were on the frontlines of distributing mutual aid to communities in need throughout the pandemic. Water protectors were in the streets of Seattle, Portland, Minneapolis, Albuquerque and many other cities in the summer of 2020 as police stations burned and monuments to genocide collapsed. The state responds to water protectors — those who care for and defend life — with an endless barrage of batons, felonies, shackles and chemical weapons. If they weren’t before, our eyes are now open: the police and the military, driven by settler and imperialist rage, are holding back the climate justice movement.

When Does the Fightback Begin?

By Andreas Malm - Verso Books, April 23, 2021

Andreas Malm response to critics of How to Blow Up a Pipeline and asks when, and how, will the militant resistance movement emerge.

When writing interventions on contemporary events, one’s best hope is that comrades of all stripes will engage with them closely and critically. I have recently written two –Corona, Climate, Chronic Emergency: War Communism in the Twenty-First Century and How to Blow Up a Pipeline: Learning to Fight in a World on Fire– and in return received an abundance of such gifts. Some have, naturally, raised serious objections to my arguments. Some of these concern vital strategic questions for the climate movement and the broader left. I therefore feel a duty to respond and elaborate on certain points, and I shall here begin with How to Blow Up a Pipeline. But, first, I should like to point out that the most productive discussions I have had about this book have not made it into text. They have come in talks with comrades in and around the climate movement, very much including, I should like to stress, given that I am rather critical of this organisation in How to Blow, people from Extinction Rebellion, who have struck me as highly astute and lucid in their views of the dilemmas of the struggle. Here I shall focus on critique presented in written form, after having restated and updated some of the basic propositions in How to Blow Up a Pipeline.

The Kaleidoscope of Catastrophe: On the Clarities and Blind Spots of Andreas Malm

By Bue Rübner Hansen - Viewpoint Magazine, April 14, 2021

The course of history, seen in terms of the concept of catastrophe, can actually claim no more attention from thinkers than a child’s kaleidoscope, which with every turn of the hand dissolves the established order in a new way. There is a profound truth in this image. The concepts of the ruling class have always been the mirrors that enabled an image of order to prevail. - The kaleidoscope must be smashed. 

- Walter Benjamin, Central Park1

Recently, I announced my intention to write a long essay about Malm to a circle of degrowth communists. One, a researcher and activist of US pipeline struggles, was exasperated at Malm’s apparently contradictory embrace of a strategy of pushing the capitalist state to do the right thing in Corona, Climate and Chronic Emergency (2020) and his stringent support of sabotage in How to Blow up a Pipeline (2021). Another friend, who is a veteran leader in the climate justice movement, responded that Andreas Malm has “single-handedly saved Marxism from irrelevance over the past few years”. High praise for Malm and a harsh reproval of Marxism.

The frustration with Malm’s lack of clarity and the praise for his ability to bring together Marxism and environmentalism are of a piece: they both attest to the enormous expectations generated by his work, and his willingness to place himself in a position of intellectual leadership. More substantially, they testify to the difficulty and importance of the synthesis he is working towards. 

Among environmentalists, a deep disillusionment with Marxism is common. The critiques are by now familiar: Marxism’s commitment to the unfettered development of the forces of production is attached to the idea of human domination over nature. Malm, as we will see, comes out of a very different tradition of Marxism, and one that has done much to demonstrate that Marx - unlike most of his 20th century readers - was an ecological thinker. Malm extends the theoretical and philological groundwork of John Bellamy Foster and Paul Burkett, and more recently Kohei Saito2, into a more empirical engagement with contemporary ecological problems, profused with a profound sense of political urgency.3

Malm is one of too few Marxists to center the question of what needs to be done in the climate crises, and certainly the most prominent. In short, Malm presents as a man of action, both in theory and in practice. His books detail organizing for the 1995 COP1 climate summit in Berlin, deflating SUV tires in Southern Sweden in 2007, and occupying a German coal mine with Ende Gelände in 2019. For Malm the academic, the question of action is also front and center: 

Any theory for the warming condition should have the struggle to stabilize climate - with the demolition of the fossil economy the necessary first step - as its practical, if only ideal, point of reference. It should clear up space for action and resistance (The Progress, 18). 

Malm’s practice may be described with a paraphrase of Gramsci’s old formula: optimism of the will, catastrophism of the intellect. “The prospects are dismal: hence the need to spring into action” (FC 394). It is this approach that has made his name as more than a scholar, but as a militant thinker, and it is this reputation that frustrates readers looking for strategic clarity. Is Malm a Leninist (and therefore authoritarian) or is he a movementist who is ready to try anything from lobbying the capitalist state to blowing up pipelines? The work of any prolific and wide-ranging writer will contain ambivalences, even one as committed to clarity and decisiveness as Andreas Malm. Not all these ambivalences are Malm’s alone: In our current ecological predicament unanswered questions abound: How can we come to want the abolition of the energetic foundation of our everyday life? How do we feel about the end of growth and progress? Is the state part of the solution or the problem? Such questions entail ambivalence because of the gap between what needs to be done, and what we want to do - given our attachments to the present state of things.

Malm develops a method designed to abolish ambivalence: herein lies the clarity of his work. His approach may best be described as kaleidoscopic: it orders the heterogeneous shards of history through the mirrors of his theory of history, while a singular eyepiece provides focus, and the basis for a unified political perspective. But this method only avoids ambivalence in theory. When it comes to practice, ambivalences reappear – but in the blindspot of theory. Reviews of Malm’s individual works may miss these blindspots and ambivalences, but once we read them side by side, we can begin to understand that they are structural to his work.4

The Great Depression and the Coronavirus Depression

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