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intersectionality

Well, if You Ask Me: Oil and Me

By Dano T Bob - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, January 14, 2016

So, a large part of my life has revolved around oil refineries.

I was born in Jeffersonville, Indiana, a suburb of Louisville , Kentucky in 1981. My father worked for Ashland Oil (now Marathon Oil) in their Louisville Refinery. This refinery was shut down in 1983, and my dad accepted a transfer to Ashland Oil’s main operation in Catlettsburg, Kentucky, where my family moved when I was 2 years old. Many other workers from Louisville, and from another shuttered refinery in Buffalo, New York were also relocated to the Ashland Oil refinery there.

So, my entire childhood, youth, life, etc. were directly affected by the flux of the industrial economy, one that is now dying or dead in most of the U.S., offshored to other places for higher profits and lax regulation. And as my life was affected by this move, I learned many things from this refinery, which still touches me in various ways.

The refinery is why I grew up in Appalachian, Kentucky, never knowing another place until traveling and moving around years later. Hell, the high school I went to was named after former Ashland Oil executive Paul G. Blazer, know for his pioneering work to seek federal subsidies for the domestic oil industry in the U.S. (ugh, I know, right?) This refinery paid for most everything in my life (my mother worked as well, but for minimal wages), clothes, school, cars, what have you. This refinery not only influenced me economically in a personal way, but it controlled the economy of the whole town and region, sponsoring events and filling city coffers with tax revenue and the like. When it was bought out in 1998 by Marathon Oil from Ohio, and the corporate office in Ashland closed and jobs were slashed, this decimated the area in a way that it has never recovered from. The NAFTA years, which also resulted in what has led to near death blows for the steel industry around Ashland as well, were not kind to the Appalachia Rust Belt on the Ohio River. People left, capital left, towns shrank in half, infrastructure crumbed and drugs arrived. For a good read about these years in Appalachia and how folks fought back, I highly recommend the book, “To Move a Mountain:Fighting the Global Economy in Appalachia.”

As industry fled, its residual pollution and the consequences remained. This refinery also not only affected my health and my families, but the health of the whole region, and still continues to do so. Beyond destroying my dad’s back, industry also worked over the air quality of the region. One gem from a few years ago, concerning the elementary school that I went to and that my mom worked at, is linked here: “Chemical found in air outside 15 schools” Oh, of those schools, three of them are in Ashland, and all of them were exposed to, “elevated levels of a substance that — in a more potent form — was also used as a chemical weapon during World War I.”

This link with Ashland Oil extends to my adult working life as well, again concerning not only air pollution but water pollution as well. The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, who used to employ your truly, fought its first big campaign back in the 1980’s and 90’s against Ashland Oil and their assault on the health and environment of the community. A summary of their great work on this can be found here. Highlights include: “in response to persistent (ten-years) and intense pressure from OVEC members and the organized surrounding communities, the US Department of Justice fined Ashland $5.8 million, and forced them to put aside over $30 million to bring their three US refineries into full compliance with pollution laws. Ashland was forced to install video cameras linked to regulators’ offices for pollution monitoring-the first such action taken in the United States.”

Ashland Oil later went on to spin off its nascent coal division into a separate company, which became Arch Coal, which is now the second largest supplier of coal in the U.S and the major proponent of Mountaintop Removal coal mining in Appalachia.

This oil refinery also shaped my views of organized labor and the power of a union. My father was a proud member of OCAW, the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union, which later became PACE and was eventually folded into the United Steelworkers union. These union wages and benefits are what prompted my father and my family to relocated for this job, and also made them able to pay for the things I mentioned previously. It was not just oil that enable me to have a middle class upbringing, and it was not just my father’s labor, it was the collective labor of all those at the refinery and their collective union bargaining for these wages and benefits. I distinctly remember a labor dispute in the early 90’s, the picket lines, the strike fund, the scabs and the solidarity. It gave me a profound respect for these brave workers and how the middle class was built in this country, which was not given to us by corporations but by us demanding our fair share. It was also great to see their successful labor action of last year as part of a nationwide refinery strike, speaking up for worker safety and winning.

We Are Mother Earth’s Red Line: Frontline Communities Lead the Climate Justice Fight Beyond the Paris Agreement

By staff - It Takes Roots to Weather the Storm - January 2016

The Paris Climate Agreement of December 2015 is a dangerous distraction that threatens all of us. Marked by the heavy influence of the fossil fuel industry, the deal reached at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) never mentions the need to curb extractive energy, and sets goals far below those needed to avert a global catastrophe. The agreement signed by 196 countries does acknowledge the global urgency of the climate crisis, and reflects the strength of the climate movement. But the accord ignores the roots of the crisis, and the very people who have the experience and determination to solve it.

Around the world, negotiators use the term “red line” to signify a figurative point of no return or a limit past which safety can no longer be guaranteed. Our communities, whose very survival is most directly impacted by climate change, have become a living red line. We have been facing the reality of the climate crisis for decades. Our air and water are being poisoned by fossil fuel extraction, our livelihoods are threatened by floods and drought, our communities are the hardest hit and the least protected in extreme weather events—and our demands for our survival and for the rights of future generations are pushing local, national, and global leaders towards real solutions to the climate crisis.

We brought these demands to the UNFCCC 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) as members of the delegation called “It Takes Roots to Weather the Storm.” Grassroots Global Justice Alliance (GGJ), the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), and the Climate Justice Alliance (CJA) organized the delegation, which included leaders and organizers from more than 100 US and Canadian grassroots and Indigenous groups. We helped to mobilize the thousands of people who took to the streets of Paris during the COP21, despite a ban on public protest—and amplified the pressure that Indigenous Peoples, civil society, and grassroots movements have built throughout the 21 years of UN climate talks.

The Paris Agreement coming out of the COP21 allows emissions from fossil fuels to continue at levels that endanger life on the planet, demonstrating just how strongly world leaders are tied to the fossil fuel industry and policies of economic globalization. The emphasis within the UNFCCC process on the strategies of carbon markets consisting of offsets and pollution trading created an atmosphere within the COP21 of business more than regulation. The result is a Paris Agreement that lets developed countries continue to emit dangerously high levels of greenhouse gasses; relies on imaginary technofixes and pollution cap-and-trade schemes that allow big polluters to continue polluting at the source, and results in land grabs and violations of human rights and the rights of Indigenous Peoples. Our analysis of the Paris Agreement echoes critiques from social movements around the world, led by those most impacted by both climate disruption and the false promises that governments and corporate interests promote in its wake.

“Frontline communities” are the peoples living directly alongside fossil-fuel pollution and extraction—overwhelmingly Indigenous Peoples, Black, Latino, Asian and Pacific Islander peoples in working class, poor, and peasant communities in the US and around the world. In climate disruption and extreme weather events, we are hit first and worst.

We are Mother Earth’s red line. We don’t have the luxury of settling for industry or politicians’ hype or half measures. We know it takes roots to weather the storm and that’s why we are building a people’s climate movement rooted in our communities. We are the frontlines of the solution: keeping fossil fuels in the ground and transforming the economy with innovative, community-led solutions.

Breaking the Climate Mold: Fighting for the Planet and Justice

By Ahmad Gaya - CounterPunch, November 30, 2015

Image: Shutterstock

In the past two years, the way the climate movement talks about itself has changed dramatically. Seemingly overnight, there are no more ‘climate activists’, and everyone is a ‘Climate Justice’ campaigner. Mainstream environmental groups issued statements of solidarity with Ferguson and Baltimore and the blogosphere is filled with articles patiently explaining how global warming connects to struggles for racial, economic and migrant justice.

As a South Asian organizer who has called the environmental movement home for a decade, I’m happy to see this shift. Fifteen years ago the idea of Climate Justice was posed as a challenge to the corporate solutions pushed by ‘big green’ groups in international negotiations. The fact that those same groups are adopting our language and analysis shows real progress.

But rhetoric and analysis is not enough. While the speakers and rally photo-ops have changed, I still find myself and other people of color in the movement speaking to nearly all-white crowds. Big green groups that have “Climate Justice” campaigns can be found pushing cap and trade and other corporate policies that the Climate Justice movement was birthed to oppose. I still find myself in meetings where people go around in circles asking “how do we make this movement/event/group more diverse” or “where are all the brown people?”

The answer to that question is simple if you look around. People of color in the United States are engaged in some of the boldest, most aggressive movements for survival and liberation in recent memory. Black people are rising up against systemic oppression and a violent police state in Ferguson, Baltimore and elsewhere; Indigenous peoples are blocking trains and freeways under the banner of Idle No More; low-income people of color are leading the fight for a just economy; and undocumented people are putting themselves at extreme risk blocking deportation buses, occupying offices and even publicly crossing the border.

More than ever we need a thriving climate justice movement. But it can’t be committed to justice in name only. Enough statements of solidarity have been written. It’s time for us to get into the streets, take action and make real sacrifices for these struggles.

Last May, Rising Tide North America issued a challenge to the movement. We called for people to ‘Flood the System’ with blockades, occupations and mass civil disobedience. We challenged groups to move beyond the narrow frame of organizing against fossil fuel infrastructure, and engage in direct action at police stations, prisons, I.C.E. offices, detention centers and banks. We asked climate activists to find the intersections of our struggles–focusing on the logic of white supremacy, colonialism, patriarchy and extractive economies that creates all our crises–instead of merely inviting our allies into the climate fight.

It’s our belief that one of the best ways to show our commitment to the intersection of struggles is by putting our bodies into the gears that drive oppression.

Confronted by the ecological emergency: project of society, programme, strategy

By Daniel Tanuro - International Viewpoint, October 12, 2015

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.

In April 2014, two different teams of American glaciologists, specialists in the Antarctic, reached - by different methods, based on observation - the same conclusion: because of global warming, a portion of the ice sheet has begun to dislocate, and this dislocation is irreversible.

Although scientists are reluctant to say that their projections are 100 per cent certain, these ones were categorical: "We have gone beyond the point of no return," they said at a joint press conference. According to them, nothing can prevent a rise in sea level of 1.2 metres in the coming 300-400 years. It is their opinion that the phenomenon will lead to accelerated destabilization of the adjacent area, which could subsequently lead to a further rise in sea level of more than three metres. [1]

Why the climate movement needs to move beyond the ‘big tent’

By Cam Fenton - Waging Nonviolence, September 3, 2015

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.

More than 10,000 gathered in Toronto on July 5 for the largest and most diverse climate mobilization in Canadian history. (Project Survival / Robert van Waarden)
More than 10,000 gathered in Toronto on July 5 for the largest and most diverse climate mobilization in Canadian history. (Project Survival / Robert van Waarden)

Earlier this summer I helped to organize the March for Jobs, Justice & the Climate — an action that brought more than 10,000 people to the streets of Toronto in one of the largest and most diverse climate mobilizations in Canadian history. More than 100 organizations supported the march — from national environmental groups to labor unions to the indigenous rights’ movement Idle No More to Toronto-based groups tackling poverty, food justice and migration. It was, as Naomi Klein put it, the “first steps of a new kind of climate movement” that reached beyond the traditional boundaries of the environmental movement.

The march was a “big tent” approach to climate organizing being put to practice, the same approach that helped the People’s Climate March bring over 400,000 people to the streets of New York City last September. It’s also an approach that we’re seeing gain more momentum in the lead-up to the Paris climate talks this December. In fact, another round of People’s Climate actions are already being planned for later this year.

Whether it’s called a big tent, intersectional organizing or building a “movement of movements,” this approach is key to the kind of transformative change required for solving the climate crisis. It’s also clear that it’s not an approach that’s going away any time soon.

During the organizing of the March for Jobs, Justice & the Climate, I learned a lot of hard lessons about the strengths and limitations of the big tent. In so doing, it became clear to me that the climate movement is struggling with this style of organizing, and that if we hope to build transformative power across and beyond social movements it’s going to take a lot more than just one big tent.

Sid Ryan on the unstoppable alliance of labour, environment and Indigenous groups

Sid Ryan Interviewed by Steve Cornwell - Rabble.Ca, July 16, 2015

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 recent March for Jobs, Justice, and the Climate brought together -- among others -- Indigenous, labour, and environmentalist groups. What do you expect to arise out of such a diverse movement of groups and communities?

The march is a way to announce to the world that there is a very powerful coalition coming together. I think people are beginning to believe that a lot of what we need to be doing is dealing with the climate. We know that all of our different groups, labour, First Nations, environmentalists, if we don't come together to put the pressure on, we're not going to be successful.

I was at the Battle in Seattle. You had the community activists, environmentalists, and you had a lot people from around the world and different organizations coming into Seattle. The labour movement had its own separate demonstration in a football stadium five miles out of town in a football field. There were all these wonderful speeches taking place in this football field.

But downtown Seattle was erupting with running battles between police, environmentalists, students and activists from around the world. We were completely disconnected. I thought "wow, now I can see why sometimes these other organizations say to the labour movement that we don't see you guys involved in the fight." Even though we think we're supportive of all of their issues, we seem to be doing it apart from them.

I see the July 5 march as a coming out of a new movement -- the beginnings of us saying that we're willing to work together. We know that shifting away from a carbon-based economy is a difficult decision, certainly for labour. But we're going to be there and we're going to be a part of it, and the hope is to build something much much bigger.

The aim is to say to the world that there is a new game in town, and keep your eye on it because it can build into something very powerful.

A truly green economy requires alliances between labour and Indigenous people

By Harsha Walia - Ricochet, June 3, 2015

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.

Dozens of social movement organizers recently gathered in Toronto at a meeting convened by the This Changes Everything team to envision a new economy centered on climate justice. With relentless extractions of labour and land harming all life on earth, cross-sectoral alliances are necessary.

But a number of predictable tensions bubbled up at the gathering, some related to land defence and workers’ rights. How do we shift from a petro-economy to prevent catastrophic climate change while safeguarding workers whose livelihoods depend on the resource economy? Over the past few decades a green economy, which would ensure jobs and equity within a low-carbon economy, has been posited as a solution.

Extending from this and in the context of reconciliation, I want to envision emancipatory possibilities of solidarity between workers’ movements for self-management and Indigenous struggles for self-determination.

Anarchist Anti-Fascists Join London People's Climate March

By Urban Pictures UK - YouTube, March 7, 2015

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.

Anti-Fascist & anti-capitalist anarchist protesters - with face masks, dressed in black and waving black & red flags - joined 20,000 people marching through Central London. It was part of a climate rally, an annual demo to highlight the issue of global climate change. They then invaded Parliament Square in defiance of local by-laws.

On Climate Satyagraha: Interview with Quincy Saul

By Javier S Castro - CounterPunch, April 10, 2015

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 socio-ecological catastrophe that is global capitalism is clear for all to see. We are in dire need of an alternative system which does not ceaselessly destroy nature and oppress and impoverish the vast majority of humankind, including our future generations, whose lives may very well be highly constrained if not outright canceled due to prevailing environmental destructiveness. It is in this sense of contemplating and reflecting on alternatives to capitalist depravity that I was fortunate enough recently to discuss the present moment and some of the possible means of displacing hegemonic power with Quincy Saul of Ecosocialist Horizons (EH). Quincy and the rest of the members of this collective have envisioned a compelling means of overcoming the environmental crisis: that is, through climate Satyagraha.

The latest biological studies show a decline of a full half of animal populations on Earth since 1970, and an ever-burgeoning list of species and classes of vertebrates at immediate risk of extinction: a quarter of all marine species, a quarter of all mammals, and nearly half of all amphibians are on the edge.1 Moreover, two independent studies published in Science and Anthropocene Review in January conclude that the present rate of environmental destruction essentially threatens the fate of complex life on the planet.2 Meanwhile, global carbon emissions continue in relentless expansion, with each new year bringing a new broken record, whether in terms of total greenhouse gas emissions, average global temperatures, or both. Truly, then, this is a critical moment in human history, one which could lead to utter oblivion, as through the perpetuation of business as usual, or alternately amelioration and emancipation, as through social revolution.

Quincy, could you share your assessment of the global climate-justice movements at present, some seven months after the People’s Climate March (PCM)—a development of which you were famously highly critical—and five months after yet another farcical example of the theater of absurd that is the international climate-negotiation process, as seen at the Twentieth Conference of Parties (COP20) in Lima, Peru?

Thank you Javier for compiling those statistics. There’s such an immense range of data out there, and it’s important to hone in on the key information. In terms of the climate-justice movement, the problem I see is that the whole doesn’t add up to the sum of its parts. So you have this amazing, fearless, courageous work that’s happening on local levels, all over the world—too numerous to even start listing. When it comes to resistance struggle, people are resisting mines, pipelines, and destructive development projects from the Altiplano of Peru to central Indian jungles, the Amazon River, indigenous reservations in the U.S., the factory-cities of China, the Niger Delta—uncountable acts of courage that people are taking to defend their ecosystems and their lives, whether climate change is the central issue, or it’s about defense of a single ecosystem. And then on the prefiguration side, there are people on every continent who are working really hard laying the foundations for the next world-system. Seed-saving, agroecologies—people are combining ancestral productive projects with appropriate technologies, building community resilience, and constructing community democracy in the context of war and natural disaster. So this is hopeful and wonderful work that has be encouraged. But somehow it’s not adding up.

Why solidarity is necessary – but it’s not just about class

By Geoff - Ideas and Action, April 9, 2015

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. 

“An injury to one is an injury to all”. This IWW slogan characterizes the solidarity necessitated by class struggle. It characterizes the idea that it’s necessary for the working class to cooperate and work together towards their individual interests, as these are also class interests. The interests of gaining control over economic, social and work decisions which affect the working class directly is made necessary due to the odious nature of our current global economic conditions.

But this slogan really goes further than just class. It is also an embodiment of the solidarity necessitated by intersecting forms of oppression which divide the working class and hinder their ability to fight back in the global class war. Intersectional, meaning, issues concerned with intersections between forms or systems of oppression, domination or discrimination. These issues also create various social hierarchies which marginalize and disempower people. Examples of these issues include, but are not limited to, racism, sexism, queerphobia and gender essentialism. For instance, sexual harassment in the workplace, workplace discrimination on bounds of race or gender, and gender essentialism when it comes to the dignity of transgender folks who often experience terrible cruelty from others when they need to use public restrooms.

To quote Bakunin, “I am truly free only when all human beings…are equally free…”. This means that a worker in the USA who gains freedom and control over their own work isn’t truly free while other workers in, say, China and Africa continue to be brutally repressed and exploited. But it also means that, so long as social hierarchies characterized by intersectional issues are not addressed and dissolved, that the working class as a whole cannot be free. In other words, there cannot be real liberty, equality and solidarity where some workers are discriminated against or otherwise disempowered by social hierarchies.

So, for instance, there is no real solidarity expressed by people who are only interested in their particular craft’s labor fights (because it has no real class characteristic)…for instance, IBEW workers crossing USW’s picket line during the recent refinery strike. But additionally, there is also no real solidarity expressed by people who are only concerned with freedom, for instance, for white, male, heterosexual, cisgender workers, as these are folks who are not subject to marginalization like other workers are, including people of color, women, queer and transgender folks. Because different workers are subject to various social hierarchies (like patriarchy, racism and queerphobia) and they experience a lack of freedom differently than others of the working class.

As a result, it is critical for those of us who believe fighting for another world characterized by human dignity, liberty and equality, to understand that such a thing is necessitated by solidarity. But also that this solidarity must be characterized by both class struggle as well as the recognition of the need to combat and resolve intersectional issues and dissolve all their associated social hierarchies. Because these issues ultimately disempower and marginalize people, prevent the liberation of the working class and throw a wrench in the spokes of libertarian solidarity.

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