Thankful For Activists
I am grateful for activists everywhere who stand up for justice, peace, and for the earth.
News in recent days has led me to reflect upon the commonality of the lived experience of fear, sadness and defiance — the lack of safety and the sense of betrayal — whether you are a Black student at the University of Missouri who finds an image of a lynched Black woman hanging on your door as a “joke,” or whether you are a resident of Paris, reeling from recent attacks and steeling yourself for the potential for more as COP21 approaches. Whether you are a resident of Mali, a resident of the U.S. who happens to be a Muslim, or an undocumented person living in the Rio Grande valley, at the core of these experiences is vulnerability, body and soul.
Perhaps you are a Chicago resident linking arms, again, at a peaceful, angry, determined #BlackLivesMatter rally after the release of the video showing that 13 of the 15 seconds of shooting at a living teenager, 17 years old, took place while he was lying on the ground, helpless, shot in the back: an execution.
Or perhaps you are a Minnesota activist who came to a Black Lives Matter rally only to find yourself running away from masked shooters, with your young son, who is shot and bleeding. And there in Minneapolis, a police officer, doing nothing to stop the violence, states, “That’s what you all wanted, right?”
No, dear man, dear police officer sworn to protect our safety, that is not what we wanted.
Not more death, more terror, more bullets and more blood.
Not more executions. Not more acts of violence, whether by police officers, fundamentalists, power-hungry sociopaths, oil and gas corporations, or anyone else.
The courage of every person who shows up in the flesh, linking arms to stand publicly for what we want, increases our safety, our collective commitment to decency, dignity, justice, and human rights.
Sure, activists aren’t perfect. Stupid, dehumanizing slogans have been chanted recently by protesters angry at police for so many killings. Activists are human too: sometimes perfectionist and sometimes sloppy; sometimes inspiring and sometimes flopping.
But the activists I know — and I know thousands — are generally people I see as the best of the best: creative, soulful, determined, smart, and unstoppable. Not every one of us is a Ken Saro Wiwa, a Wangari Maathai, an Aung San Suu Kyi, a John Lewis, a Julian Bond, a Tim DeChristopher or a Michelle Alexander. But we all matter.
So on this Thanksgiving, my thanks go to protesters, to the liberators everywhere working for peace, equity, and a liveable planet.
Energy and Activism
In the energy wars, protesters confront the rogue addicts and liars, the polluters and destroyers purveying the greatest violence against climate we have ever seen: Exxon Mobil and Koch Industries, the #2 and #1 funders of climate denial networks in the world.
Without a liveable planet, we can have no decency, dignity, justice, human rights or safety. Thank you, New York attorney general Schneiderman, for investigating Exxon’s role in burying research and funding climate denial. Thank you, exposers of Koch Industries for their even larger role in consolidating the sway of oil and gas profiteers at the expense of millions of lives.
Meanwhile, protesters have also mobilized in fabulously creative ways against extreme energy this year. To protect our climate, air, food, wildlife and health takes increasing resilience and energy — energy of the human kind. The First Nations people, in particular the Unist’ot’en Camp, who’ve moved not just their bodies, but their homes, to live 24/7 on the proposed route of an unwanted pipeline. The ferocious resistance to the Port Ambrose LNG export facility: we won that one! Landowners in Pennsylvania and West Virginia fighting desperate battles against Sunoco Logistics, whose Mariner East pipelines would export fracked natural gas liquids overseas from the Delaware River.
And thousands of New York and New Jersey residents who are fighting for their lives against the proposed oil and refined products “evil twin” pipelines proposed by Pilgrim Holdings, LLC. This “Keystone of the East” would triple the oil bomb trains coming into Albany in order for Pilgrim to profit from their Bakken Shale oil and/or, ultimately, tar sands dilbit pipeline.
Who are the principals in this little heard-of corporation? Two former Koch Industries leading executives are the President and Vice President of Pilgrim. The shady corporation has, among other things, filed their application to use the New York State Thruway Rights of Way for their proposed dirty, dangerous two pipelines — 356 miles of pipe — and then claimed that there is “no fire risk” from 356 miles of pipeline which they say would carry Bakken Shale crude southbound and jet fuel, gasoline, kerosene northbound between Linden, NJ and Albany, NY. In short, Pilgrim claims to have figured out how to make Bakken Shale oil and refined products… like magic! … non-flammable.
With such deep pockets, willingness to lie, and magical powers, it’s no wonder the hubris of Pilgrim Pipeline LLC has led them to propose the beginning of construction of their pipelines on April 1, 2016. The joke is on them: that is Fossil Fools Day. Their absurd construction timeline has them conducting “surveys” — you know, for easy to find things like endangered and threatened species in 6 counties of New York State alone — for a mere 5 days before commencing “clearing” — you know, vast and fast cutting of trees — on April 6th, 2016. April Fools, Pilgrim Holdings LLC: your pipelines will never be built.
Dispersed, Yet Collective
Because extreme energy projects are dispersed all over North America, few of the protest actions make the national news at all, unless it’s so massive, colorful, relevant and urgent — think kayaktivists confronting Shell in Seattle — that it actually makes the New York Times for a few seconds. But we know the work of confronting extreme energy is hard, continual, sometimes exhausting and, well, extreme. The Unist’ot’en people, or the people of Louisiana, can tell you that. Just like the work for #BlackLivesMatter, with life and death consequences depending on how well we do our change-agent work.
That’s why my thanks this year goes to protesters. Quiet or loud, episodic or relentless, using the multitudes of our bodies to tell our story or, in contrast, like the spoken word artist Prince Ea whose video, “Man vs. Earth,” has recently gone viral — telling the story of the multitudes with one powerful voice — I thank you all.
Facing Our History, Facing Our Future
In closing, here are two quotes — one looking backward and one looking forward. Perhaps it’s not coincidence that my gratefulness to activists starts with #BlackLivesMatter protesters, and solidarity with protesters — and moves to the activists in the fight over clean energy, which is to say the fight over whether we will continue to destroy the planet’s climate and life support systems, or change. Looking back, we see that we have never faced our past. Looking forward, we can still create a life-saving, positive future — but only if we face reality. So here in the facing reality department:
“Noam Chomsky sees it [Black Lives Matter movement] as a response to the unresolved consequences of slavery and racism dating back hundreds of years,” says Democracy Now host Amy Goodman on March 3, 2015:
“[Slavery] is a large part of the basis for our wealth and privilege,” Chomsky says. “Is there a slave museum in the United States? The first one is just being established now with a private donor. This is the core of our history along with the extermination and expulsion of the native population. But it’s not part of our consciousness.”
And the forward-looking quote is from Mark Jacobson on EcoWatch, from November 24th 2015:
“I hope that the 139 country roadmaps, together with a just-published grid integration study for the U.S., will give confidence to leaders of the world that going to 100 percent clean, renewable energy for all purposes will not only provide reliable power at low cost, but will also create 22 million more jobs worldwide than it will cost, reduce international conflict over fuels because each country will largely be energy independent, reduce terrorism risk by providing more distributed power, eliminate the 4-7 million air pollution deaths annually worldwide and eliminate global warming,” said Mark Jacobson, Stanford University professor and main author of the report.
Thanks to activists, there is hope. Hope is the wellspring of action. Sure, we can and must act when we do not feel hope. When I am on the frontlines, I’m often feeling something much closer to despair than to hope. But when I look at images of other activists all around the world standing up and demanding decency, dignity, equity, justice and a livable planet — they give me hope. May you receive the fullness of their energy, their commitment, their actions and their wisdom on Thanksgiving and beyond… I hope.