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The Fable of Localism

By Isaac Kreisman - Socialist Worker, January 9, 2018

AN AGING former ski coach and radio personality holed up at the end of a dirt road in rural Vermont may be an unlikely hero for a fictional rebellion story.

The new novel Radio Free Vermont isn't the work of a local eccentric, though, but perhaps the most prominent voice of the contemporary environmental movement: Bill McKibben. While the 350.org founder and Middlebury College professor has been publishing books for decades, Radio Free Vermont is his first novel--or "fable" as the author calls it.

While the book doesn't make any claims to be putting forward a political position or program, the imaginings of McKibben are worth engaging with. The professor and activist has a well-deserved reputation as a leading public intellectual and tireless organizer for climate justice.

His critiques of the fossil-fuel industry and policies of politicians of both parties have been unsparing, and he is vocal in advocating grassroots mobilization as essential to addressing the environmental crisis. In 2016, he was a surrogate in Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign, and was appointed by Sanders to the Democratic Party's platform committee.

The back cover of Radio Free Vermont sports endorsements not only from Sanders but also from Naomi Klein, the author of the recent bestseller No Is Not Enough.

Will Public Banking Bring More Clean Energy Programs to California?

By Nithin Coca - Sharable, September 28, 2017

At a recent forum at Oakland City Hall, experts from the public banking and community energy sectors explored how the creation of a public bank could help communities transition to clean energy while creating economic opportunities.

"We need to build a more sustainable world, we need to be using energy that is positive for the environment and community, and we need to do it a way that support local jobs," said Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan who is leading the public bank creation efforts.

The forum took place in Oakland, California, just days after the approval of a resolution to fund a feasibility study by the City Council, with support from neighboring cities. The first and only public bank in the U.S. is the Bank of North Dakota.

"A public bank can really create community wealth in ways other institutions are not capable off," said Gregory Rosen, the founder of High Noon Advisors, a local consulting firm with experience in clean energy investing. "It can help people of different backgrounds and income levels come together, for the good of the community."

Goodbye Administrative State, Hello Community Resilience

By Richard Heinberg - Post Carbon Institute, April 5, 2017

White House strategist Steve Bannon’s project for the “deconstruction of the administrative state” appears to be out of the starting blocks and well on its way toward a glorious victory lap. Using executive orders and other directives, President Trump has so far:

  • Curbed several of President Obama’s climate regulations, notably the Clean Power Plan to move America away from coal dependency.
  • Ordered a review of tougher U.S. vehicle fuel-efficiency standards put in place by the previous administration.
  • Directed the Treasury secretary to review the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial regulatory law.
  • Instructed the Labor Department to delay implementing an Obama rule requiring financial professionals who are giving advice on retirement—and who charge commissions—to put their client’s interests first.
  • Instructed agencies that for every new regulation introduced, two existing ones need to be abolished.
  • Required every agency to establish a Regulatory Reform Task Force to evaluate regulations and recommend rules for repeal or modification.
  • Revived the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.
  • Imposed a hiring freeze for federal government workers (excluding the military) as a way to shrink the size of government.
  • Directed federal agencies to ease the “regulatory burdens” of Obamacare.

But that’s not all. The president has nominated officials who clearly intend to gut the agencies over which they will preside (notably Betsy DeVos at the Department of Education, Scott Pruitt at EPA, Alexander Acosta at Labor, and Rick Perry at Energy). And he has submitted a proposed budget that would dramatically cut funding for every department other than the military. Environmental, worker, financial, and consumer regulations are about to disappear by the batch, bale, and bushel. While the Reagan and Bush II administrations sought to aggressively weed out unwanted federal rules, Trump appears to be taking a flamethrower to the entire garden patch.

It is all happening so quickly that it’s difficult to mentally process the implications. By itself, the repeal of the Clean Power Plan is momentous: it effectively cedes U.S. leadership on international efforts to combat climate change (as if to dispel any doubt on the matter, Trump is considering withdrawing from the Paris climate accord). Two decades of work by climate activists have crumbled with the stroke of a pen. Some environmentalists have put on a brave face, pointing out that efforts by states like California to promote solar and wind power won’t be affected. But the current national build-out rate of renewable energy generation capacity is only about a tenth what would be required to produce the amount of energy needed, in the time required, to avert some combination of catastrophic climate change and economic disaster (and that’s if wind and solar technologies are even capable of powering a consumer economy on the scale of the U.S.; as of now, they probably aren’t). Obama’s efforts probably constituted a step in the right direction, but they were far from sufficient. Now even that tentative momentum has been broken, and it will be years before the nation can win back a similar level of federal effort to rein in greenhouse gas emissions. But climate change won’t wait; we really don’t have four or eight more years to waste.

The implications for education, health care, labor, and financial regulation are just as dire on their own terms, even if they don’t threaten global catastrophe.

“Refinery Town” points the way forward to protect communities and defend rights

By Garrett Brown - The Pump Handle, January 16, 2017

Let’s just say there was a working class community – of various skin colors – which was dominated for a century by a giant corporation who ran the town with bought-and-paid-for politicians, and whose operations regularly poisoned the community, threatened the health and safety of its workforce, and periodically blew up, sending thousands to the hospital. How could they even begin to protect the health of their families and community, and exercise their democratic right to a local government that put the needs of the vast majority ahead of corporate profits?

The answer to that question can be found in a book that went on sale today: Refinery Town; Big Oil, Big Money, and the remaking of an American City by labor journalist Steve Early. The portrait of Richmond, California, a city of 110,000 people in the San Francisco Bay Area, and the decade-long political organizing and campaigns by the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA), contains many lessons that will be very useful to keep in mind as a new political regime takes power this week as well.

Richmond was a classic “company town” after Standard Oil of California (now Chevron) set up its oil refinery – then the third largest in the country – across the Bay from San Francisco in 1905. For several decades the oil company had a desk in City Hall to make it easy for the politicians its funding and support helped elect to be aware of Chevron’s opinion on city issues. Chevron’s oil tanker-sized political influence trailed in its wake conservative Black community leaders (Richmond was a majority African-American city and now is roughly one-third Black, one-third white and one-third Asian), as well as the unions representing firefighters and police, and the local building trades unions whose motto frequently has been “jobs at all costs.”

Starting at the dawn of the 21st century this began to change with the rise of RPA, initiated by political and labor movement veterans from back East who went on to make deep connections in Black, white and Asian neighborhoods in the city. Year-around activities, a lot of shoe leather, and patient, face-to-face campaigning resulted in electing and re-electing a Green Party mayor (Gayle McLaughlin), electing numerous City Councilors, defeating well-funded efforts to build a casino on coastal land, and hard-ball negotiations with Chevron for community benefits to accompany a major renovation of the 100-year-old refinery. In the November 2016 elections, the RPA succeeded in electing a majority in the seven-member City Council and passing the first rent-control law in California for more than two decades.

All of this was achieved over the opposition of Chevron – which outspent the RPA by as much as 20-to-1 in several election cycles in direct and indirect support of its favored candidates – and despite all the ups and downs of community organizing and the internal political/personality disputes that occur everywhere.

Double Whammy On Farmers

By Colin Todhunter - CounterPunch, December 12, 2016

Washington’s long-term plan has been to restructure indigenous agriculture across the world and tie it to an international system of trade based on export-oriented mono-cropping, commodity production for the international market and indebtedness to international financial institutions (IMF/World Bank).

This result has been the creation of food surplus and food deficit areas, of which the latter have become dependent on agricultural imports and strings-attached aid. Food deficits in the Global South mirror food surpluses in the North. Whether through IMF-World Bank structural adjustment programmes, as occurred in Africa, trade agreements like NAFTA and its impact on Mexico or, more generally, deregulated global trade rules, the outcome has been similar: the devastation of traditional, indigenous agriculture for the benefit of transnational agribusiness and the undermining of both regional and global food security.

In the 1990s, the IMF and World Bank wanted India to shift hundreds of millions out of agriculture. India was advised to dismantle its state-owned seed supply system, reduce subsidies and run down public agriculture institutions and offer incentives for the growing of cash crops. As the largest recipient of loans from the World Bank in the history of that institution, India has been quite obliging and has been opening up its agriculture to foreign corporations.

Localism in the Age of Trump

By Richard Heinberg - Post Carbon Institute, December 9, 2016

2016 will be remembered as the year Donald Trump—a wealthy, narcissistic political novice with a strong authoritarian bent—was elected president of the United States after campaigning against economic globalization. The events are fresh enough in many people’s minds that feelings are still raw and the implications are both unclear and, for many, terrifying. For those who have spent years, in some cases decades, denouncing globalization and seeking to build a localist alternative, this is surely a vexing and confusing moment.

When the World Trade Organization’s ministerial conference in 1999 erupted into “the Battle of Seattle,” demonstrators voiced arguments that might resonate with the average Trump voter. They asserted that, for the United States, globalization was resulting in the offshoring of manufacturing that would otherwise have occurred domestically; that while American consumers were gaining access to cheaper consumer products, the hourly wages of workers were stagnating or falling in real terms due to competition with foreign labor; and that the investor class was benefitting significantly while the wage class was losing ground. All of these points were more recently driven home, to great effect, by The Donald.

However, the localist critique of globalization went much further than anything Trump himself has articulated. Anti-globalization activists decried a “race to the bottom” in environmental protections with each new trade deal, as well as the global loss of thousands of indigenous languages and locally-adapted forms of architecture, art, agriculture, and music in favor of a uniform global commercial culture dominated by corporate advertising and centralized industrial production methods. Further, teach-ins organized by International Forum on Globalization (IFG) beginning in the 1990s; books by the movement’s intellectual leaders (John Cavanagh’s and Jerry Mander’s Alternatives to Economic Globalization; Kirkpatrick Sale’s Dwellers in the Land and Human Scale; Michael Shuman’s Small-Mart Revolution and The Local Economy Solution; Helena Norberg Hodge’s Ancient Futures); and thousands of on-the-ground locally rooted cooperative efforts scattered worldwide promoted a vision of a green, sustainable, equitable bioregionalism.

Throughout the last couple of decades, some on the political left argued against localism and for globalism. Returning to a politics and economics centered in the community, it was said, would undermine the grand liberal vision of a borderless world with protections for human rights and the environment. Liberal globalists argued that climate change can only be fought with international treaties. It is by becoming global citizens, they intoned, that we can overcome ancient prejudices and fulfill humanity’s evolutionary destiny. Localists responded that, in practice, economic globalization has nothing to do with moral elevation or with worker and environmental protections, but everything to do with maximizing short-term profit for the few at the expense of long-term sustainability for people and planet.

That philosophical dispute may continue, but the context has shifted dramatically: the commanding new fact-on-the-ground is that the American electorate has for now sided with the anti-globalist argument, and we face the imminent presidency of Donald Trump as a result. Should localists declare victory? As we’re about to see, the situation is complicated and holds some opportunities along with plenty of perils.

True, voters rejected a predatory trade system that, in Helena Norberg Hodges’s words, “put ordinary people in permanent competition with each other.” However, Trump is not a one-man government; nor does he stand at the head of an organization of people with a coherent critique of globalism and a well thought-out alternative program. His administration will reflect the ideas and ideals of hundreds of high-placed officials, and Trump’s key appointees so far consist of business leaders, Republican insiders, and former lobbyists. They also stand to be the wealthiest cabinet in the history of the U.S. government. Crucially, not even Donald Trump himself has a clear idea of how to actually implement his stated intention of bringing back jobs for American workers. His first stab at the task, persuading the Carrier company not to move its air conditioner manufacturing operations to Mexico (actually, fewer than half the jeopardized jobs were saved), entailed doling out huge tax breaks—a tactic that Bernie Sanders rightly points out will simply lead to other companies announcing outsourcing plans so they can win similar concessions.

Let’s be clear: Trump’s ascendancy probably represents not a victory for localism or even populism, but merely a co-optation of legitimate popular frustrations by a corporatist huckster who intends to lead his merry band of cronies and sycophants in looting what’s left of America’s natural and cultural resources. This would be the antithesis of green localism. Indeed, we may see an activist federal government attempt to trample local efforts to protect the environment, workers’ rights, or anything else that gets in the way of authoritarian corporatism. Congress may train its gun sights on local ordinances to ban fracking and GMOs, and on firearm regulations in states with the temerity to stand up to the NRA. Trump’s message appeals as much to tribalism as to anti-globalization sentiments—and only to members of certain tribes.

Where do we go from here?

By Colin Miller - Speech given at the People's Climate Rally in Oakland, California, September 21, 2014

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.

Colin Miller is Coordinator, Clean Energy & Jobs Oakland Campaign of the Oakland Climate Action Coalition and Program Manager of Bay Localize, a local organization struggling in the case of climate justice.

Why are we here today? Why are over 100,000 people marching in New York, in the greatest climate march in human history? Why are millions of people, marching, rallying and demonstrating in over 200 actions around the world today?

On Tuesday, the United Nations will come together for a one-day summit on climate change, and we are demanding climate justice.

Regardless of how the UN responds to our demands, we are here in solidarity with struggles from the local to the global, recognizing our interconnectedness.

From Frisco to Ferguson, from the fence lines of the Chevron refineries in Richmond, to the front lines of the tar sands in Alberta, Canada, we are here for justice and we are here for peace.

We are here because we love our children, as we love our Mother Earth, and all of her creatures, all our relations, from the smallest insect, to the greatest of towering Sequoia redwood trees. We are here because we are not going to allow all that we love to be destroyed in the name of profit - not without a fight.

We are here for the fight of our lives, and in a fight for our very lives - for the lives of our children, and for our children's children's children - for the next seven generations.

We are facing the greatest threat that humanity has ever faced - literally threatening our own extinction. In fact, the ecological and climate crisis is the greatest social justice struggle of our time, and it touches every facet of our lives.

This moment in history requires unprecedented courage.

First, we must have the courage to see honestly and clearly, the situation we are in today.
Second, we must have the courage to speak truth to power, and to envision the world that we want to live in and that we want to leave for future generations.

Finally, we must have the courage to ACT - to heed the call of the Climate Justice Alliance's Our Power Campaign, by walking the path of a Just Transition together: away from an extractive economy based on fossil fuels, and towards local, living, loving economies.

Localism? I don’t buy it

By Stan Cox - Al Jazeera, April 4, 2014

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.

Humanity’s failure so far to deal with multiple crises – planet-wide ecological degradation, domination by a transnational economic elite, the deepening misery that afflicts billions in both rich and poor nations – has prompted increasing interest in local economies as less intimidating arenas where much-needed change might be more readily achieved.

It’s true that in the earliest days of capitalism, the human exploitation and environmental destruction that came along with the pursuit of profit were largely local problems. Then, inevitably, those local economies grew and coalesced into an even more destructive global economy. But retreating into local issues means latching onto one of capitalism’s symptoms – the eclipsing of local economies and governments by more powerful transnational forces – and treating it as if it’s the disease itself.

In his 2012 book, No Local: Why Small-Scale Alternatives Won’t Change the World, Greg Sharzer writes, “The problem with localism is not its anti-corporate politics, but that these politics don’t go far enough. It sees the effects of unbridled competition but not the cause.”