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No Finish Line in Sight: An Interview with Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein interviewed by John Tarleton - The Indypendent, July 11, 2017

Donald Trump’s election to the presidency has prompted an outpouring of protest and activism from millions of people, including many who had not been politically engaged before. But what will it take for “the resistance” to not only defeat Trump but push forward a transformative agenda to address the multiple crises of our time?

In her best-selling new book, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics And Winning The World We Need, Naomi Klein draws from her previous books on corporate branding, the politics of climate change and the history of neoliberal elites around the world using moments of profound crisis to advance unpopular policies. With hindsight, her work over the past two decades anticipates in many ways the rise of a right-wing reality television star who wants to dismantle democratic institutions and burn as much fossil fuels as possible.

“It’s like bad fiction it’s so obvious,” Klein told The Indypendent.

In No Is Not Enough, she doesn’t shy away from showing how Trump emerged from a decaying political culture to seize power, or warning that the worst is yet to come. But she refuses to wallow in despair, arguing instead that the oppositional forces conjured up by Trump have a unique opportunity to build a much more just and humane world than anything we have seen before — provided we fight not only what we’re against but what we’re for. This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for length and clarity.

JOHN TARLETON: This book begins with a scene from the night of Trump’s election in which you are meeting with a group of prominent activists in Australia. The meeting gradually runs out of steam as people in the room watch the election results come in over their phones. Can you describe how you got from that moment of shock and horror to producing this book, which is ultimately quite hopeful?

NAOMI KLEIN: (Laughs) Slowly, I would say. I think that day the only emotion I could compare Trump’s election to was a feeling that many of us involved in the anti-corporate globalization movement had after 9/11. We had been part of this movement where there was a lot of forward momentum and a deepening of analysis and an opening of new political spaces, and then just this kind of instant feeling that all of those spaces were going to be shut down. A lot of us projected that political moment into Trump’s election. But, I think we gave him more power than he actually has.

There are a lot of political spaces where it is possible for progress to happen whether at the sub-national level in the United States, internationally or just in movement spaces. I think there was a slow process of realizing that this did not necessarily have to be a repeat of a closing off political progress. There are ways in which the assumption that from now on we’re only playing defense is true and unavoidable, but there are also ways in which it is not necessarily the case.

You assert that Trump’s election is not an aberration but the fulfillment of 50 years of historical events.

What could be a more obvious outcome of a culture that has turned consumption into a way of life and fetishizes the rich and dominance-based logic — power over other people, over the planet, over nature at every level — than to have Donald Trump become president of the United States? It’s like bad fiction it’s so obvious, which is why I wanted to question this language of shock being used about Trump’s election.

There’s a way in which accepting the idea that he comes as a shock absolves the broader culture of a shared responsibility in creating a context where Trump could succeed politically. And that goes from philanthro-capitalism to commercial news turning itself into reality television before Trump showed up to play so successfully in that domain because this is his world. But he’s not the one who turned news into reality TV. Cable news did that. So that’s why I don’t spend a lot of time in the book psychologizing Trump. I want to look at the trends that produced him because an even more dangerous version of Trump could rise to the fore. There are folks who are more racist than him out there who might decide to occupy that space.

COPPING OUT AT COP, Avoidance and possibility in a burning world

By Dave Bleakney - Global Justice Ecology Project, November 30, 2017

During the recent Bonn summit a taxi driver provided a clear summary. Asked what he thought of COP 23, he replied “the climate is in crisis, but here, this is about money”. He had provided what had been missing inside. As we race toward certain and expanding catastrophe, he underscored that profiteering off a destructive cycle production, consumption, shipping, the unnecessary transport of products over vast distances and continuous growth models form the basis from which these discussions are framed. It is as though the elephant in the room is never acknowledged, with few exceptions.

How does this appear? In North America you can try this experiment. Turn down the volume of your TV and watch the myriad of commercial advertisements where someone is unhappy until they possess a certain product and suddenly, presto! Everything is great and everyone is happy. The same rubric repeats, again and again. Buy and smile. Smile and buy. Crave to belong as if this will somehow connect us together and create momentary windows of happiness while the earth burns. A crude system of modern feudalism has engulfed the planet where a handful of men – eight, to be precise – own half the planet. In this obscene reality a man can be worth more than a nation. Political leaders and major institutions act as though by convincing a handful of rich sociopaths we can save life on the planet.

Yet power does not, and never has, surrendered anything without a fight or creation of something new. Our uncomfortable future demands that climate criminals should not be enabled with our caps in hand with appeals to do the right thing – certainly those outcomes have been far too modest to date. The rules of the game must change that would remove them from their pedestals of power and our addictions to things we really do not need (and often having them increases the cycle and need for more) while altering the current definitions of value including patriarchal approaches thousands of years old of competition and “winning” at the expense of another.

At COP we are like hamsters on a wheel, living off the ripples of colonialism and wealth accumulation while discussing the speed at which the wheel turns through a series of silos and frameworks. What is needed is to get off that wheel and reconnect with our essence, the earth, and one another.

In this madness, the darker your skin the more you pick up the slack now resulting in myriads of climate refugees fleeing a crisis created while a minority of the planet went shopping. Under current conditions this phenomenon will play out over and over. Hungry people intent on survival will be blamed and shamed, even attacked for doing the only thing left to them: escape to a better place. When people are hungry, what can you expect? Famine breeds war and conflict. The world’s greatest militarist, the United States, built on dispossession has essentially been at war with someone on a continuous basis for nearly two centuries of conquest, often aided by one ally or another. Since 2001, that nation alone has spent $7.6 trillion on the military and Homeland Security in an ongoing war economy.

Little was accomplished at COP, a few very modest breakthroughs (or diversion) lacking any enforcement mechanisms or meaningfully incorporating a gender or Indigenous analysis into the core of action. While climate talks are essential, they are rendered ineffective by living in this bubble. One former UNFCCC official told me that people know this but are locked into a series of “frameworks” and disconnected silo building that does not dare upset the apple cart, a centuries-long mercantilism built on exploitation, greed and accumulation at the expense of the other and all living systems. This same system that uses the atmosphere as a chemical sink for profit. The oil continues to flow and the coal dug.

No longer can it be business as usual where the new normal is unprecedented and frequent catastrophic weather conditions (which can only get worse) and will be normalized for new generations. A tweak here and there won’t cut it.

Indigenous peoples appear to have a better grasp of living with the earth rather than against it as their lands continue to be exploited for resource extraction and profits. Indigenous voices are tolerated, welcomed even, but rarely is this wisdom applied to our reality. In the Canadian context, this vision is met by a system where Indigenous colonized peoples are undermined by super mines, pipelines and general disrespect.

It does feel good to see any progress whatsoever and we hang our hat on that. Political cachet can be earned by playing to domestic audiences as part of this theatre. No better example exists than the myth of Canada as a progressive nation and its new proposed phase-out of coal policy. Through carbon offsets, which shall keep the coal burning until at least 2060 and exports continuing after that date (hardly a victory). While presented as progress it is ineffective, and a diversion which obscures the continuing plan to build pipelines and keep dirty Canadian oil flowing. The tyranny of oil extraction and the use of the atmosphere as a chemical sink for profit remains while the human and animal population subsidize this senseless tragedy.

Who will take on international transport, shipping and aviation? If these sectors were a country they would be the seventh largest polluter where products that could be produced locally at less environmental cost are shipped vast distances.

What does this mean for workers? As we say, don’t oppose, propose. The Union I represent, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers know that a just transition out of destructive practices requires better approaches that we all need to be a part of. We live in a society where some work too much and others have no possibility at all. Incorporation of other more holistic and sustainable values allows us to step outside the box and refocus. Our Delivering Community Power initiative, driving Canada Post to be an engine of the next economy including the use of renewable non-polluting energy, transforming and retro-fitting post offices to produce energy at the local source and eliminate carbon from delivery systems– the latter which has already happened in over 20 cities in Norway (and is growing). Putting more postal workers on the street and less cars also means more face to face contact and added community value by checking in on senior citizens who are isolated. Postal workers have put climate change on the bargaining table. By incorporating Indigenous and feminist values of nurture and care into our future we shift the nature of work and become meaningful actors in solutions. This approach was energized and inspired by the LEAP Manifesto which calls for a restructuring of the Canadian economy and an end to the use of fossil fuels. This is framed by respect for Indigenous rights, internationalism, human rights, diversity, and environmental stewardship. We cannot leave it to corporations and politicians. We are all part of this solution now and have the opportunity to claim the space to do it.

The indigenous Ojibwe have a saying about the seven generations. They say that for every move we make, it must always be done with a view on how it could impact people seven generations from now. The leaders of this planet would do well to listen to that advice.

We require a new kind of COP. There will be no shopping on a dead planet and reassembling the deck chairs of the Titanic will not help. Creativity and better value systems can.

Hamilton transit in the Age of Austerity

By Blake McCall and Caitlin Craven - Rank and File, November 29, 2017

Editor’s introduction: This is the second half a two-part series on how austerity has damaged public transit. In this article Blake McCall, a Hamilton bus operator and ATU Local 107 member, and Caitlin Craven, a CUPW Local 548 and local Fight for $15 and Fairness organizer, examine how decades of underfunding has undermined Hamilton’s transit system, the HSR.

Like all transit systems in the province, the HSR was the victim of city budget cuts in the 1990s stemming from provincial cuts under Premier Mike Harris and others.  A startling statistic is that the total number of buses on the street was higher in the 1980s than it is now, despite the city having grown in size. This unsurprisingly has seen a drop in ridership from 29 million trips per year in the late 1980s to roughly 22 million trips per year today.  In recent years the city has started to put more money back into the system, but it has never recovered from these cuts.

Review: No Is Not Enough

By Samir Dathi - Red Pepper, October 6, 2017

Naomi Klein’s new books always provoke plenty of excitement on the left. For starters, they always seem to augur new waves of popular struggle. The Canadian journalist’s debut No Logo, an exposé of corporate super-branding, went to print with prophetic timing just months after the 1999 Seattle protest kicked off the alter-globalisation movement. Her 2007 follow up The Shock Doctrine, on how elites use crises to push through neoliberal policy, pre-empted the credit crunch. And This Changes Everything, on the clash between free-market fundamentalism and climate justice, was published during the tense build-up to the COP21 climate talks. Each book in this anti-neoliberal trilogy became a left-wing manifesto of sorts, making sense of pivotal moments in the movements and capturing the prevailing dissident mood.

Klein’s latest book No Is Not Enough, on the rise of Trumpism, comes at another pivotal (perhaps epochal) moment. But unlike her previous books, each of which took years to write, she wrote No Is Not Enough in a few months. This rapid turnaround was for a couple of reasons. First, due to necessity – Trump’s shock win required urgent analysis. And second, because this time she hasn’t sought to break new ground – for Klein, Trump embodies the worst excesses of the neoliberal phenomena she already covered in her first three books. She writes: ‘Trump is not a rupture at all, but rather the culmination – the logical end point – of a great many dangerous stories our culture has been telling for a very long time.’ So No Is Not Enough mainly revisits and ties together threads from her earlier canon. Much of the book is taken up describing Trump the ultimate super-brand, Trump the doctor of shock therapy, and Trump the climate vandal – as well as, of course, Trump the sexist and racist.

Clearly there are continuities between mainstay neoliberalism and Trump’s regime, and Klein provides plenty of material making the link. I do think her framing is somewhat misleading, however. Far from Trump being the apotheosis of neoliberalism, his rise is a morbid symptom of neoliberalism’s deep, intractable crisis beginning in 2008. Its nostra are increasingly ineffective. People across the political spectrum now talk of its foreseeable demise.

If the left doesn’t get its act together, the danger is that the rise of Trumpism threatens to turn into something qualitatively different – fascism. Klein acknowledges the risk. For example, in chapter 5 she says: ‘White supremacist and fascist movements – though they may always burn in the background – are far more likely to turn into wildfires during periods of sustained economic hardship and national decline.’ And: ‘We are allowing conditions eerily similar to those in the 1930s to be re‑created today.’

But these passages are relatively cursory and leave the impression that the encroachment of fascism is somewhat abstract, rather than a process presently unfolding in the movement around Trump and beyond. What’s going on around the world right now is not business as usual.

For me, the most forceful part of No Is Not Enough is in chapter 4, ‘The climate clock strikes midnight’, where Klein reprises her arguments from This Changes Everything. The reason conservatives deny climate change, she argues, is that they realise climate action necessitates collective struggle that would bring down the entire neoliberal system. The huge public investment, job creation, regulation, higher taxes and so on required to save the climate are simply not compatible with the current phase of capitalism.

No Finish Line in Sight: An Interview with Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein interviewed by John Tarleton - The Indypendent, July 11, 2017

Donald Trump’s election to the presidency has prompted an outpouring of protest and activism from millions of people, including many who had not been politically engaged before. But what will it take for “the resistance” to not only defeat Trump but push forward a transformative agenda to address the multiple crises of our time?

In her best-selling new book, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics And Winning The World We Need, Naomi Klein draws from her previous books on corporate branding, the politics of climate change and the history of neoliberal elites around the world using moments of profound crisis to advance unpopular policies. With hindsight, her work over the past two decades anticipates in many ways the rise of a right-wing reality television star who wants to dismantle democratic institutions and burn as much fossil fuels as possible.

“It’s like bad fiction it’s so obvious,” Klein told The Indypendent.

In No Is Not Enough, she doesn’t shy away from showing how Trump emerged from a decaying political culture to seize power, or warning that the worst is yet to come. But she refuses to wallow in despair, arguing instead that the oppositional forces conjured up by Trump have a unique opportunity to build a much more just and humane world than anything we have seen before — provided we fight not only what we’re against but what we’re for. This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for length and clarity.

JOHN TARLETON: This book begins with a scene from the night of Trump’s election in which you are meeting with a group of prominent activists in Australia. The meeting gradually runs out of steam as people in the room watch the election results come in over their phones. Can you describe how you got from that moment of shock and horror to producing this book, which is ultimately quite hopeful?

NAOMI KLEIN: (Laughs) Slowly, I would say. I think that day the only emotion I could compare Trump’s election to was a feeling that many of us involved in the anti-corporate globalization movement had after 9/11. We had been part of this movement where there was a lot of forward momentum and a deepening of analysis and an opening of new political spaces, and then just this kind of instant feeling that all of those spaces were going to be shut down. A lot of us projected that political moment into Trump’s election. But, I think we gave him more power than he actually has.

There are a lot of political spaces where it is possible for progress to happen whether at the sub-national level in the United States, internationally or just in movement spaces. I think there was a slow process of realizing that this did not necessarily have to be a repeat of a closing off political progress. There are ways in which the assumption that from now on we’re only playing defense is true and unavoidable, but there are also ways in which it is not necessarily the case.

You assert that Trump’s election is not an aberration but the fulfillment of 50 years of historical events.

What could be a more obvious outcome of a culture that has turned consumption into a way of life and fetishizes the rich and dominance-based logic — power over other people, over the planet, over nature at every level — than to have Donald Trump become president of the United States? It’s like bad fiction it’s so obvious, which is why I wanted to question this language of shock being used about Trump’s election.

There’s a way in which accepting the idea that he comes as a shock absolves the broader culture of a shared responsibility in creating a context where Trump could succeed politically. And that goes from philanthro-capitalism to commercial news turning itself into reality television before Trump showed up to play so successfully in that domain because this is his world. But he’s not the one who turned news into reality TV. Cable news did that. So that’s why I don’t spend a lot of time in the book psychologizing Trump. I want to look at the trends that produced him because an even more dangerous version of Trump could rise to the fore. There are folks who are more racist than him out there who might decide to occupy that space.

Key to the Leap: Leave the oil in the soil

By Ian Angus and John Riddell - Climate and Capitalism, November 6, 2016

In the Autumn 2016 issue of Canadian Dimension magazine George Martell argues that “the Leap Manifesto offers a genuine opportunity to move beyond social democracy — to directly face up to capitalism — if we are prepared to take the Manifesto’s demands seriously.”

Martell’s thoughtful essay is followed by responses from activists representing a variety of viewpoints, including the following contribution by John Riddell and Ian Angus.

Ian Angus is editor of Climate & Capitalism and an activist with Sustainable North Grenville. John Riddell, a historian of the socialist movement, is active in Toronto East End Against Line 9

George Martell correctly notes that the Leap Manifesto’s impact on the New Democratic Party has opened new possibilities for the Left. Its “direct opposition to the oppressive logic of global capitalism,” offers us a “genuine opportunity to move beyond social democracy.”

But to seize this opening, the Left must resolve a timescale problem that Martell does not address. His movement-building program is long-term, but the world climate crisis demands immediate action. We believe that the Leap Manifesto can bridge that gap.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

By Brad Hornick - System Change not Climate Change, October 4, 2016

The fresh new face Canada showed the world at the Paris COP21 climate meetings held out hope for many Canadian climate activists that a national course change was in the works.

In its less than a decade in power, the Harper government extinguished multiple important Canadian environmental laws, muzzled climate scientists, harassed environmental NGOs, created "anti-terrorism" legislation that targets First Nations and other pipeline activists, and generally introduced regressive and reactionary social policy while promoting Canada as the world's new petro-state.

Prime Minister Trudeau's political and social capital within Canada's environmental movement derives largely from distinguishing himself from a Harperite vision of a fossil fuel–driven economy that relies on the decimation of an environmental regulatory apparatus and colonial expansion deeper into First Nation territory.

Trudeau has adopted the same carbon emissions reduction target as Harper: 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, the weakest goals within the G7.

But after many environmental groups — such as Dogwood Initiative, Force of Nature, and Lead Now — campaigned to get the vote out to oust Harper through strategic voting, the results of the election only confirmed the largely bipartisan nature of Canadian plutocracy.

So far, Trudeau has not updated Canada's environmental assessment process as promised. The Liberals have sponsored a biased ministerial panel to assess both the Trans Mountain and Energy East pipeline expansions.

Canada's justice minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, says Canada will embrace the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, but that adopting it into Canadian law would be "unworkable."

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna has green-lighted the massive Petronas fracking and LNG project, ignoring First Nations protests in defence of Lelu Island. Trudeau has issued work permits for the Site C hydroelectric project in B.C. against the rights of Treaty 8 peoples.

Toronto Teach-In Poses Climate Justice Alternative

By John Riddell - East End Against Line 9, June 6, 2016

The People's Climate Plan Teach-in, held in Toronto June 4,[1] took great strides forward in presenting a forceful alternative to the inadequate and deceptive climate action proposals of Canada's federal government. In the opening session, five leading climate activists presented a coherent, unified climate justice strategy, proposing effective action to save the world from climate disaster interlocked with practical measures to assist working people and the poor who are the first victims of global warming. Displayed in the meeting, held in the University of Toronto, were the banners: “Pipelines = Climate Change”; “Stop Line 9”; and (in French) “Leave Fossil Fuels in the Ground.”

After lunch, the more than 100 participants split up into training groups of half a dozen to develop skills for effective intervention in the “public consultation” meetings the Trudeau government proposes to hold over the coming three months.

People's Climate Plan

The proposed framework for this intervention is the People's Climate Plan (PCP),[2] a simple structure of three principles (or “pillars”) to guide those taking part in such gatherings.

“We've been to three of these consultations, and we know how they're organized,” PCP activists explained. “Government facilitators divide participants into small groups and then give each group a topic designed to force discussion into a channel favourable to government policy. “For example, they ask ‘How can we combine economic growth with emissions reductions?’ – implying that tar sands expansion is part of the bargain. If you accept the question on their terms, you've already lost the argument.”

If environmentalists argue at cross purposes or try to make too many different points, their voices can be sidelined and ignored. Those speaking for climate justice need to unite around a common focus and strategy. The PCP proposes three principles to assure this focus:

  • Science: keep fossil fuel reserves in the ground.
  • Economics: a rapid transition to a clean energy economy.
  • Justice: for Indigenous peoples, workers affected by the transition, and victims of climate change.

When government facilitators pose inappropriate themes, the PCP spokespersons suggested that we use an “ABC” approach:

  • A: Acknowledge the question posed by the organizers.
  • B: Bridge over to the question you wish to address, which should be aligned with one of the three PCP principles.
  • C: Provide Context to sustain your view, preferably with a personal anecdote or insight that illustrates why you care so much about the issue.

Achieving this degree of focus may seem a tall order for environmental and social activists. Often we use discussion periods to express a broad and seemingly chaotic range of personal viewpoints. We rightly prize our diversity. Yet when entering a discussion structured by a government with quite alien goals, PCP activists suggested, we must harmonize and unify our approaches.