Published on Tuesday, September 14, 2010 by YES! Magazine
We Need Your Ideas: A Call for Direct Action in the Climate Movement
An open letter from the Rainforest Action Network, Greenpeace
, and 350.org: What will it take to finally get serious about climate change? USA
God, what a summer. Federal scientists have concluded that we've just come through the warmest six months, the warmest year, and the warmest decade in human history. Nineteen nations have set new all-time temperature records ; the mercury in
But that's just the half of it. It's also the summer when the
We've got some immediate and crucial priorities. For instance, groups around the world are joining together on 10/10/10 for a Global Work Party , demonstrating that we already know many of the solutions to the climate crisis. That will be a good day not just to put up solar panels, but also to shame our political leaders, to say to them, "We're getting to work. What about you?" Meanwhile, around the country, lawyers and community groups are doing yeoman's work fighting off new coal plants, activists are persuading banks to stop loaning to corporate villains, city councils are figuring out how to make their towns more efficient and resilient. This is the basic work of any movement, the foundation on which hope for long-term progress rests.
But necessary as such efforts are, they're not sufficient. We're making progress, but not as fast as the physical situation is deteriorating. Time is not on our side, so we've concluded that going forward mass direct action must play a bigger role in this movement, as it eventually did in the suffrage movement , the civil-rights movement, and the fight against corporate globalization . Even now, environmentalists in places like the coalfields of
Nobody can predict which one event will trigger social change. Paul Revere was not the only rider to warn of the British advance, and many people refused to move to the back of the bus before Rosa Parks. But we do know two things. First, that we must act with unity, and second, many minds working together are likely to be smarter. So we're asking for your help. As you go about your other work on behalf of the planet and its diverse communities, think about the possibilities for direct action, and write them down and send them to us. Here are a few thoughts to guide you.
- Our actions must be infused with the spirit of Gandhi , Martin Luther King Jr., and other peaceful protesters before us. No violence, no property damage.
- We need large actions, with many members of the general public. Think hundreds and thousands. So don't concentrate on the kind of tactics that only a few hardy specialists can carry out; we're not going to have hundreds of people rappelling or scuba diving.
- We don't think for a minute that we can actually physically shut down the fossil-fuel economy for any meaningful period; it's too big. We need to aim for effective symbolic targets—say, dirty, old coal-fired power plants—and use them to make clear the need and opportunity to cut carbon fast.
- Our actions must be rooted in the communities where they are held and be organized hand in hand with local groups and activists.
- Our tactics need to engage onlookers, not alienate them. We have to have effective ways of keeping provocateurs and incendiaries at a distance, and attracting the kind of people who actually influence the rest of the public. Discipline will matter.
- We need to be transparent and open in our planning, not reliant on secrecy. We'll need to do our work certain that law enforcement is looking over our shoulders; our method can't be surprise.
- Beauty counts. We're fighting for the beauty in the world that's being stolen by our adversaries, and at the same time we're aiming for hearts and minds.
- We don't have unlimited resources. The cost and complexity of these kinds of actions can mount quickly. As with all things environmental, frugality and simplicity are virtues.
Note that though all of our groups have international operations, we're only thinking about
Note too that though this letter comes from just three environmental groups, we want this fight open to everyone. We'll happily work with any organization that shares our goals and tactics as plans go forward; in fact, we think that breaking down boundaries between groups is key to any chance at success. We'll do our best to reach out, but please make sure you let us know you want to be involved.
We've set up a special email address for ideas: email@example.com. By late autumn, we hope we'll have been able to mine those ideas and start coming up with coherent plans for actions starting next spring.
We know this strategy won't appeal to all of you. That's fine; there are a thousand other useful ways to help, and we don't want to distract anyone from other work they're doing. But if you have ideas, send them in. It's clear to us that this is going to be a battle for the long haul, and we're going to need to be creative and committed. Thanks much for being a big part of it.
Phil Radford, Greenpeace USA 
Becky Tarbotton, Rainforest Action Network 
Bill McKibben, 350.org 
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License
Phil Radford is Executive Director of Greenpeace USA . Becky Tarbotton is Executive Director of the Rainforest Action Network . Bill McKibben is co-founder and global organizer for 350.org. 
URL to article: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/09/14-11
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs
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