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The Red Deal: Indigenous action to save our Earth

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

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.

Ecosocialism is the Horizon, Degrowth is the Way

Jason Hickel interviewed by Samuel Miller-McDonald - The Trouble, February 11, 2021

“Degrowth” means many things to many people. To most, it probably doesn’t mean much beyond an antonym to “growth,” the process of getting larger or more complex. To some detractors, the term represents a scary violation of the imperative to increase GDP annually, what’s now a holy sacrament to policymakers and economic pundits (though less so to actual academic economists, who are more ambivalent). To its less pedantic and more hysterical detractors, it’s a ploy to take away everyone’s Hummers and return to a mushroom-foraging-based economy. 

At its most distilled, “degrowth” refers to a process of reducing the material impact of the economy on the world’s many imperiled ecologies, abandoning GDP as a measurement of well-being, and forging an equitable steady-state economy.

Although the concept of placing limits to economic growth is not very new, having been articulated by environmentalists several decades ago—most famously by the Club of Rome in 1972—the more recent iteration, only just over a decade old, emerges from the French décroissance. Given that the community and scholarship is so young, there’s still a lot of debate around some of the fundamentals of what the term means, and what it should mean. Some who believe in the principles recoil at the term itself: Noam Chomsky has said “when you say ‘degrowth’ it frightens people. It’s like saying you’re going to have to be poorer tomorrow than you are today, and it doesn’t mean that.” But many degrowth defenders, one of the most prominent being ecological economist Giorgos Kallis, stand by it and see value in such a unifying notion. 

Even so, there lurks some danger in all such terms and political communities, like socialism or democracy, as I have warned elsewhere of the perennial risk of being co-opted and ill-defined by bad-faith actors. If the degrowth critique goes only as far as targeting economic growth, or even general anticapitalism, there’s little intrinsic to it to stop a right-wing authoritarian program from co-opting degrowth rhetoric to justify imposing authoritarianism, or giving cover to cynical Global North states to demand degrowth of the Global South while continuing to disproportionately consume and pollute. Degrowth, if it is to get traction and if that traction is to be desirable, needs to be abundantly clear about what it stands for and what it rejects. Luckily, we have just the book to offer this much needed clarity. 

Economic anthropologist Jason Hickel is among the most eloquent advocates of degrowth, and has been intimately involved in the community’s attempt to stake out a useful, clear meaning for the term and pathway to integrating its principles into a coherent program. Hickel’s latest book, Less is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World published in August 2020 (with a paperback edition released this month), offers an abundance of facts, concepts, and research alongside a passionate defense of ecocentric and humanistic values. Hickel has achieved something many writers of popular nonfiction seek in vain: a high density of ideas and data delivered in a light, enjoyable narrative prose. The book makes a very strong case for a topic in need of strong cases. And Less Is More arrives in good company: degrowth advocate Timothée Parrique counted 203 essays, 70 academic articles, and 11 books on degrowth published in 2020. 

Some bad-faith commentators have attempted to paint degrowth as dressed-up primitivist austerity, intrinsically harmful to the Global South, but Hickel does a persuasive job emphasizing that degrowth actually means the opposite. He musters an army of historical and contemporary data, anecdotes, and theory to argue definitively that an equitable degrowth scenario is more likely to increase material abundance and resource access. If the ideology of growthism offers an ethic of constant amoral expansion and exploitation, degrowth(ism) offers a more restrained ethic that values an abundance of time, leisure, love, and equality over concentrated wealth and distributed waste. 

While the book explores the moral imperative for controlled degrowth, Hickel is equally comfortable arguing for degrowth from a standpoint of a purely rational approach to fundamentally shifting an economy that is currently heating the world to death, guaranteeing centuries of mass death and destruction. The only way to slow the rapid race to collapse civilization and accelerate extinctions is to stop the omnicidal political economy that rules the globe. Given the natural limits that thermodynamics and terrestrial ecologies impose on human economies and non-human populations, degrowth is inevitable: it’s just a matter of deciding whether human agency will play a positive, benevolent role in the process, or continue to maximize the chaos and violence involved. I asked Dr. Hickel via email about some of the major challenges to achieving degrowth reforms and some important peripheral issues. Here is our discussion:

A Red Deal

By Nick Estes - Jacobin, August 6, 2019

2016 was the hottest year on record — so far. It also marked historic Indigenous-led protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock.

But Indigenous resistance didnt begin or end there. What did begin there was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s successful bid for Congress, and an Indigenous-led movement that galvanized the popular forces behind the Green New Deal, legislation that she introduced with Senator Ed Markey earlier this year. Ocasio-Cortez is herself a Water Protector, having visited the prayer camps, and Standing Rock was part of a recent constellation of Indigenous uprisings across North America and the US-occupied Pacific: Unist’ot’en Camp (2010), Keystone XL (2011), Idle No More (2012), Trans Mountain (2013), Enbridge Line 3 (2014), Save Oak Flat (2015), Protect Mauna Kea (2015), Nihígaal Bee Iiná (2015), and Bayou Bridge (2017), among many others.

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 nonhuman worlds on a planet thoroughly devastated by capitalism.

After all, the image of the Water Protector and the slogan “water is life,” which were popularized at Standing Rock, are icons of this generation’s climate justice movement. And both are political positions not exclusively Indigenous, but grounded in decolonization. If Indigenous movements are foundational to climate justice, then why isn’t decolonization as well?

The Green New Deal (GND), which looks and sounds like eco-socialism, offers a real chance at galvanizing popular support for both. While anti-capitalist in spirit and paying lip service to decolonization, it must go further — and so too must the movements that support it.

That’s why the Red Nation, a Native resistance organization I helped cofound in 2014, recently drafted a skeleton outline of what we’re calling the Red Deal, focusing on Indigenous treaty rights, land restoration, sovereignty, self-determination, decolonization, and liberation. We don’t envision it as a counter program to the GND but rather going beyond it — “‘Red’ because it prioritizes Indigenous liberation, on one hand, and a revolutionary left position on the other.”

The GND has the potential to connect every social justice struggle — free housing, free health care, free education, green jobs — to climate change. Likewise, the Red Deal places anti-capitalism and decolonization as central to each social justice struggle as well as climate change. The necessity of such a program is grounded in both the history and future of this land, and it entails the radical transformation of all social relations between humans and the earth.

The Red Deal: Indigenous Action to Save Our Earth

By various - The Red Nation, 2019

The proposed Green New Deal (GND) legislation is a step in the right direction to combat climate change and to hold corporate polluters responsible. A mass mobilization, one like we’ve never seen before in history, is required to save this planet. Indigenous movements have always been at the forefront of environmental justice struggles.

Democratic socialist congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the main proponent of the GND, is herself a Water Protector who began her successful congressional run while she was at Standing Rock protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Thus, the GND and the climate justice movement in North America trace their origins to Indigenous frontline struggles.

With this background in mind, TRN is proposing a Red Deal. It’s not the “Red New Deal” because it’s the same “Old Deal”—the fulfillment of treaty rights, land restoration, sovereignty, self-determination, decolonization, and liberation. Ours is the oldest class struggle in the Americas; centuries-long resistance for a world in which many worlds fit. Indigenous peoples are best suited to lead this important movement. But it must come from the ground-up.

The Red Deal

The Red Deal is not a counter program of the GND. It’s a call for action beyond the scope of the US colonial state. It’s a program for Indigenous liberation, life, and land—an affirmation that colonialism and capitalism must be overturned for this planet to be habitable for human and other-than-human relatives to live dignified lives. 

The Red Deal is not a “deal” or “bargain” with the elite and powerful. It’s a deal with the humble people of the earth; a pact that we shall strive for peace and justice and that movements for justice must come from below and to the left. We do not speak truth to the powerful. Our shared truth makes us powerful. And this people’s truth includes those excluded from the realms of power and policy-making. 

In the spirit of being good relatives, the Red Deal is a platform that calls for demilitarization; police and prison abolition; abolishing ICE; tearing down all border walls; Indigenous liberation, decolonization, and land restoration; treaty rights; free healthcare; free education; free housing; full citizenship and equal protection to undocumented relatives; a complete moratorium on oil, gas, coal, and carbon extraction and emissions; a transition to an economy that benefits everyone and that ends the exploitation of the Global South and Indigenous nations for resources; safe and free public transportation; restoration of Indigenous agriculture; food sovereignty; restoration of watersheds and waterways; denuclearization; Black self-determination and autonomy; gender and sexual equality; Two-Spirit, trans*, and queer liberation; and the restoration of sacred sites.

Thus the Red Deal is “Red” because it prioritizes Indigenous liberation, on one hand, and a revolutionary left position, on the other. It is simultaneously particular and universal, because Indigenous liberation is for everybody.

Where will we get the resources to achieve these monumental tasks? We call for a divestment away from the police, prisons, and military (two of the largest drains on “public spending”) and fossil fuels and a reinvestment in common humanity for everyone (health, wellbeing, and dignity) and the restoration of Indigenous lands, waters, airs, and nations.

Download the Red Deal

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