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ecological movements and organizations

Reconnecting With the Radical Roots of Earth Day

By Johanna Chao Kreilick - Portside, April 22, 2022

Happy Earth Day! I was only four years old when the first Earth Day took place. But as I began to work on climate change, I found it inspiring to look back at the photos from April 1970 and learn about what motivated 20 million people to action—and the impact of public mobilization on policy and practice in the years that followed.

Many of my friends in the climate movement are understandably cynical about what Earth Day has become today—in many ways, it has been reduced to calls for small individual acts (like picking up trash or composting coffee grounds) over the larger systemic changes and solutions that require much harder choices and trade-offs. Some companies have co-opted the day to sell more “environmentally friendly” products, or worse, to provide polluters with an opportunity to greenwash their miserable track records. But as a lifelong student of history and an unbridled optimist, I still find hope and inspiration in its radical roots.

How movements can maintain their radical vision while winning practical reforms

By Mark Engler and Paul Engler - Waging Nonviolence, April 12, 2022

Forty years of struggle by Brazil's landless workers movement offers lessons on engaging the system without being co-opted.

Ever since it launched its first audacious land occupations in the mid-1980s, in which groups of impoverished farmers took over unused estates in Southern Brazil and turned them into cooperative farms, the Landless Workers Movement (known in Portuguese as the Movement dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, or MST) has stood as one of the most innovative and inspiring social movements in the world. By 2016, its estimated 1.5 million members had established 2,000 permanent settlements throughout Brazil, with some 350,000 families winning land by organizing for their rights. By the start of the pandemic, the movement also maintained more than 170 community health clinics and 66 food processing facilities, which quickly became vital centers of mutual aid, as the group began giving out huge quantities of food to people in need.

In addition to using direct action to win land reform, the MST has pioneered a program of radical schooling for Brazilian youth and adults, especially those living in rural areas. As of 2018, the movement was operating in 2,000 schools — with thousands of MST-aligned teachers instructing upwards of 250,000 students. Remarkably, although state and local governments fund and administer many of these schools, the MST has been able to place its own teachers and implement a radical pedagogy. This includes study of agrarian reform and social justice movements, as well as the ideas behind agroecology — a model of sustainable agriculture that rejects corporate agribusiness.

For movements in the U.S. and beyond wondering how they can engage with the system without being co-opted, the MST offers a powerful example. Many social movement scholars believe that movements can institutionalize their wins over the long-term by having the state and mainstream political parties adopt their demands and programs. However, these scholars also contend that such institutionalization comes at a price: too often, as movement programs are incorporated into mainstream structures, grassroots forces become demobilized, dull their radical edge and lose their ability to exercise disruptive power.

Rebecca Tarlau, a professor of education at Penn State University, believes that it does not have to be this way. In her 2019 book “Occupying Schools, Occupying Land: How the Landless Workers’ Movement Transformed Brazilian Education,” Tarlau argues that the MST provides a model for how activists can use a strategy of “contentious co-governance” to win practical reforms from the state while also resisting cooptation.

We recently spoke with Tarlau to discuss this strategy — as well as the wider lessons we can learn from the 40-year struggle of Brazil’s landless workers. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Let Nature Play: A Possible Pathway of Total Liberation and Earth Restoration

By Dan Fischer - Green Theory & Praxis, April 2022

Many argue that we are running out of time, but perhaps the problem is time itself. Or rather, it is the alienated time that we spend working on the clock, obsessively looking at screens, letting consumption of commodities dominate our free time and even invade our dreams. And it is the perception we often have of the universe as a giant clock, an inert machine to be put to work. Too often, there is no sense that nature, ourselves included, has a right to relax, a right to be lazy, a right to play.

While Autonomist Marxists define capitalism as an “endless imposition of work” on human beings (van Meter, 2017), we could add that the system also imposes endless work on nonhuman animals and nature. Moving even beyond van Meter’s broad conception of the working class as inclusive of “students, housewives, slaves, peasants, the unemployed, welfare recipients and workers in the technical and service industries” in addition to the industrial proletariat, Jason Hribal (2012) describes exploited animals as working-class. He points to animals’ labor for humans’ food, clothing, transportation, entertainment, and medicine. Corroborating such a perspective, capitalists themselves label exploited ecosystems as “working landscapes” (Wuerthner, 2014), exploited farm animals as “labouring cattle” (Hribal, 2012), genetically modified crops as “living factories” (Fish, 2013), and extracted hydrocarbons as “energy slaves” (Fuller, 1940). As summarized by Indigenous Environmental Network director Tom Goldtooth (2015) the dominant worldview posits that “Mother Earth is a slave.” This endless work has been disastrous for the planet. Humans’ long hours of alienated labor contribute to deeply destructive economic growth (Hickel & Kallis, 2019; Knight et al., 2013). So does the exploited labor of animals, with livestock taking up some 76% of the world’s agricultural land (Poore & Nemecek, 2018). Working landscapes “suffer losses in biological diversity, soil health, and other ecological attributes” (Wuerthner, 2014). And even the cleanest “energy slaves,” wind and solar power, can require large amounts of resources and land in the context of a growing economy (War on Want & London Mining Network, 2019).

OVEC Union Files ULPs, Wins Case

By staff - The Valley Labor Report - March 27, 2022

After filing several ULPs against OVEC, the judge has ruled in favor of OVEC Union, who submitted complaints of wrongful suspension, terminations, and intimidation against employees involved in the union drive.

Youth Strikes Worldwide Demand Climate Action That Centers 'People Not Profit'

By Jake Johnson - Common Dreams, March 25, 2022

"We live in a broken system, one where the richest 1% of the world population are responsible for more than twice the pollution as the poorest 50%. That's why we strike."

From Dhaka, Bangladesh to Turin, Italy and beyond, youth climate strikers took to the streets across the globe Friday to demand that political leaders stop ignoring the scientific community's deafening alarm bells and take action to slash carbon emissions before it's too late.

Organized by the international Fridays For Future movement, the latest mass demonstrations stressed that worsening global class inequities and the climate emergency are deeply intertwined and must be tackled together—a message encapsulated in strikers' rallying cry of "People Not Profit."

"We live in a broken system, one where the richest 1% of the world population are responsible for more than twice the pollution as the poorest 50%," Iris Zhan, campaign coordinator for Fridays For Future Digital, said in a statement. "That's why we strike today to demand climate reparations to kickstart a transformative justice process in which political power returns to the people."

As Fridays For Future organizers put it in their preview of the new global strikes, "Climate struggle is class struggle."

Understanding Sunrise, Part 2: Organizing Methods

By Dyanna Jaye and William Lawrence - Convergence, March 24, 2022

Sunrise melded mass protest, electoral work, and distributed organizing to great effect, but 2020 upended its plans and forced a reassessment.

Sunrise Movement grew from a labor of love by 12 young people, including the two of us, into the most prominent climate justice organization in the country. We put the Green New Deal on the map, strengthened the Left insurgency in the Democratic Party, and helped drive youth turnout to defeat Trump in 2020. Climate change became a political priority for the Democratic Party, and Sunrise directly influenced Biden’s Build Back Better agenda.

In the last year, though, despite a few impactful protests demanding ambition and urgency from Congress, Sunrise members and observers alike have noted a loss of strategic clarity and organizing power compared to 2017 through 2020. And it’s not just Sunrise: the entire Left has struggled to make the jump from punching upwards in the Trump era to winning material reforms in the Biden era.

In this essay, we’ll pull back the layers of Sunrise’s organizing model: how we actually recruited young people and united them in a structure for collective action. We’ll first discuss the major influences on Sunrise’s organizing and run through how it all played out in practice, the good and the bad.

We share a diagnosis that a central shortcoming in Sunrise’s organizing model was the absence of a sustained method of mass organizing at a local level, which left us nowhere to go once we could no longer rely on the fast-but-shallow growth of distributed organizing methods. We’re proud of the movement’s accomplishments while humble about its shortcomings. We offer our reflection in the practice of learning together in public; we hope our transparency can empower the next generation of movement builders—in Sunrise and across movements—to lead transformative organizing for the next era.

Another Silent Spring: Strategies for the Climate Struggle

By Paul Fleckenstein - Tempest, March 15, 2022

After the worst year yet of climate disruption, 2021 closed with another failure of international negotiations at COP26 and the slow death of President Biden’s meager legislative climate agenda.

North America faced heightened levels of drought, heat, fire, flooding, wind, climate-enhanced migration, and crop failures. Yet the climate movement’s support and campaigning for Biden and Democratic Party achieved little. Expectations are even lower for the next three years.

To respond to this impasse the climate movement, particularly the predominant organizations in the U.S., needs to reorient away from the over-emphasis on electoral politics, and toward protest and struggle as the priority strategy.

Fortunately, there are some glimpses at how to expand this potential, but the central question remains, what socialists and the Left, in general, can do now to best catalyze more disruptive, sustained, and mass-based climate action.

Understanding Sunrise, Part 1: Strategy

By William Lawrence - Convergence, March 14, 2022

Sunrise Movement made climate change a key political issue, but new conditions require new theory and strategy.

The state of Sunrise Movement, one of the more successful and visible U.S. Left organizations to emerge in the last five years, reflects trends in the broader Left. We hit a high-water mark with Sen. Bernie Sanders’ February 2020 victory in the Nevada caucus. Shortly after, the revenge of the Democratic establishment and the COVID pandemic halted all momentum and put Sunrise into a rear-guard attempt to salvage what could be won in a Biden administration. The underwhelming first year of that administration has left us floundering.

Today, a private and public reckoning is well underway. A new generation of leaders is taking account of Sunrise’s successes and failures, and working to design the next life of the movement. Early Sunrise leaders—of which I am one—are in the process of moving on, and handing over leadership of this youth organization to a more youthful cohort.

As a leader in Sunrise’s development from its founding in 2017 through early 2021, I feel obliged to offer an evaluation of our strategy and methods. My aim is to offer a detailed account of Sunrise’s aims and influences, in order that the next generation of strategist-organizers both inside and outside Sunrise may learn from what we did well, while overcoming our limitations.

You can consider just about every word of this essay as a self-critique and a practice of learning in public. As ever, I write with deep appreciation for all the climate justice fighters who find a place to place their hope amidst the looming dread of this crisis.

Part 1 of this essay, which you are reading now, focuses on Sunrise’s strategy, including our demands, rhetoric, and relation to the US party system. Part 2 will look at Sunrise’s methods of organizing.

I hope these essays not only illuminate our specific choices and why we made them, but demonstrate how the theoretical concepts on which we build our organizations actually shape their development. Sunrise’s successes owe much to the theories underpinning our strategy and methods, and our failures reveal much about where these theories fall short. I hope my reflections on these recent experiences may aid in developing better theory to face the challenges of the 21st century.

It's not over for COP26 as the Coalition builds for the future

By Skye Pepier - London Left Green Blog, March 12, 2022

The COP26 Coalition has continued to meet since the Glasgow Summit in November last year, and on 19th February there was a whole day of discussion about the future of the movement. The framing for the discussion was that Glasgow last year was just the start of the network’s activity, and that the work needed to build an effective climate movement on these islands should be continued and enhanced. 

There was a tremendous enthusiasm about the action and work that is being undertaken by the Coalition, despite the recognition that the COP26 summit was a failure and did not bring the action on climate change needed from our so-called world leaders. People from all corners of Britain, and the world, including the Caribbean and Africa participated in the COP26 Coalition meetings. 

Despite similar attempts of network building by Green Left, however, including its involvement of the Ecosocialist Alliance, there was a noticeable absence in the COP26 Coalition meetings, of anyone involved in Green parties, of either Scotland, or England and Wales. This doesn't necessarily mean that there weren't Green Party members present - but it was difficult to discover the presence of fellow Green Party members. 

After a brief introduction to the COP26 Coalition, there were discussions around the difference between organising and mobilising a diversity of tactics, as well as regional exercises to build up COP26 local hubs and the wider climate justice movement. 

The day then closed with an online rally for the year ahead, titled 'Movement Building & Collective Strategies', with speakers from Fridays for Future Scotland, Campaign Against Climate Change, Landworkers Alliance, as well as youth activist Aoife Mercedes Rodriguez-Uruchurtu from YouthStrike4Climate Manchester and Breathe.

Each speaker was able to say something quite different to the others, but without disagreement of any kind, which was a sign of the diversity of the COP26 Coalition movement, and arguably, also its strength. 

So, what is next for the COP26 Coalition? As the UK holds the presidency of COP26 until the start of COP27, it is still important to keep climate change on the agenda, just as it always has, but especially if we want to see continued action while the UK is in its current global position on it. There is also the matter of building towards COP27, despite it being in Egypt, where post-Arab Spring oppression has been brutal. 

Climate Youth Fill the World's Streets to #StandWithUkraine

By Jessica Corbett - Common Dreams, March 3, 2022

"This is an eye-opening moment for humanity to see that the world is aflame with new and old wars caused by fossil fuels," said Fridays for Future. "People only desire to live and exist safely."

Young climate campaigners with Fridays for Future took to the streets across the globe Thursday to stand with the people of Ukraine—whose country was invaded last week by Russian President Vladimir Putin—and call for a world that prioritizes peace and freedom from fossil fuels for all.

As Ukrainian forces and civilians fought Russian invaders who have been accused of war crimes, members of the youth-led movement—who generally hold school strikes on Fridays, inspired by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg—carried signs that said #StandWithUkraine and #NoMoreWars.

Demonstrators also used the hashtags to share updates on social media.

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