The Power of Black and White Thinking or Why I Love Bernie Sanders

Teenagers, it is said, see everything in black and white. Something is wonderful or it’s awful. I hate you or I love you. Part of coming to maturity, common wisdom has it, is learning to see in shades of gray, the glass half-full as well as half-empty.

If that is so, I am amused to note in my middle-aged self a return to black-and-white tendencies. Could it be that part of the socialization that enables us to see in gray is also a schooling in the fine art of compromise and settling for “good-enough”? If so, it seems that I am less and less willing to settle. My standards are high, for myself and others, and I don’t want to aim lower.

What does that mean? Well, take Love, for instance, since Valentine’s Day is nigh. I have learned, over years of trial and error, that the most important relationship we have is with ourselves. No, that doesn’t mean I’m an egotistical navel-gazer. It means that in order for me to give love to others—whether people or causes—I must love myself first. I must believe that what I have to give is important, and worth sharing.

And I really have to love myself completely, warts and all. That’s where the absolute thinking comes in. If I were thinking about myself in shades of gray, I’d be picking apart what I like about myself from what I dislike about myself. I’d be doing a daily self-critical dance, castigating myself when I don’t live up to my own expectations.

Here’s what I’ve learned in middle age: doing that dance is a huge drain of time and psychic energy. It’s so much better to say, definitely (and maybe a little defiantly): I know I’m not perfect but I do the best I can and I love myself for trying. I love myself, faults and all, because I know that it’s through failure, hurt and disappointment that I learn to be stronger, better, and more lovable.

How Can We Love Ourselves?

In so many ways it seems that we live in a disposable society. It’s not just diapers and plastic cups we’re throwing away; it’s people and places too. It’s life itself we trash without even noticing. Thinking in black and white, I’d say that’s just not acceptable.

The litany of suffering caused by modern industrial human civilization is long and grievous. You know what I’m talking about, I don’t even have to get into the ugly specifics of species extinctions, animal torture, human-on-human brutality, environmental devastation, disease and anthropogenic famine.

This is the thing: can I know this about human society, my society, and still find it in myself to love us? To love us enough to want to spend my life working to make us better?

I suppose this is why the Christ story has had such a hold on human civilization for so long. Christ died for our sins; he loved us enough to sacrifice himself willingly to remind us to try to live up to a higher expectation of ourselves.

But I am not talking about sacrifice, violence, pain and death, the language of Christianity. I’m talking about love for oneself and everything in the world around us—the language of animism and Buddhism, seeing the world as Gaia, an intricate living organism to be cherished, cultivated and loved deeply and absolutely.

We humans are Gaia’s children. We sprang from her and have been one of her most fabulously successful creations. It is a marker of our success that we are now severely over-populated, to the point where we must either discover new, more harmonious ways to sustain our society, or face species collapse.

I want to believe that we can love ourselves enough to recognize our tremendous potential as a species, and work hard to move ourselves to the next level of awareness.

This is not the time to do the self-castigating dance of “I love me, I love me not.” We need to acknowledge our failures and weaknesses but use them to enhance our awareness of what is good and positive in us. Knowing what we don’t like or want enables us to understand more powerfully what we like and want. That’s the power of black and white thinking.

How Much Do We Love? Revolution vs. Reform

There’s a reason most revolutions in human history have been carried out by young people who have not yet settled into the complacency or despair of “shades of gray” thinking.

Although modern education, in America at least, does its best to indoctrinate children to be compliant and docile, still there are always young people who insist on thinking for themselves and pushing the adults around them to wake up and do what must be done to make the world better. We saw that in the Occupy movement, we’re seeing in now in the Black Lives Matter protests, and, in a very destructive way, we see it in the young jihadists and school shooters who take up arms in violent protest of the way things are.

There’s a reason Bernie Sanders is building such runaway support among young people, and among the young-at-heart older folks too. He’s appealing to our idealism—our stubborn belief that we don’t have to compromise, that we can reach towards creating the world that should be, rather than settling for the fallen and corrupted world that is.

When Hillary Clinton says “I know how to compromise and get things done,” that’s shades-of-gray, middle-aged thinking. Barack Obama went into the White House repeating that refrain, and tried repeatedly in his early years as President to reach out to Republicans for compromise. He has been resoundingly rejected—the Republicans, school-boys that they are, insist on seeing the world in black and white, their way or the highway.

Maybe it’s time for the Democrats to do the same. Maybe it’s time for us to love and believe in ourselves enough to allow our own brand of black-and-white thinking free rein. Bernie Sanders, with his uncompromising social justice platform, his refusal to play the usual political PAC money game, his defiant, teenage idealism packaged in an unlikely middle-aged body, is showing us the way.


No, we’re not crying wolf

I gain a shred of hope for the future when I read about the heroic efforts of Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director of Greenpeace International, to draw attention to the criminal exploitation of the Arctic by fossil fuel prospectors.

Last week Naidoo braved hosing with cold water in the frigid temperatures of the North to take a stand on a huge Russian oil platform.

It was a publicity stunt, yes.  But how else are we going to attract the attention of the multitudes who need to know what is being done under the radar in the new Arctic Oil Rush?

As the pack ice melts at a historic pace, the fossil fuel industry is moving in.  Never mind the fact that oil spills in these waters will be almost impossible to stop.  Never mind the fact that this is the last refuge for so many endangered species, from polar bears and seals to whales and seabirds. Never mind that the more oil we pump out of the bowels of the earth, the faster we’ll wreck our fragile climate.

I am doing a lot of pondering lately about tactics.

The Occupy movement here in the States seems to have largely fizzled.  Oh yes, a couple of busloads of protestors did go down from NYC to Tampa to protest at the RNC—and it’s true that the hurricane warnings put a damper on people’s enthusiasm to venture forth.

But if Kumi Naidoo and his team can brave the Arctic to climb the side of an oil rig, it seems to me that we ought to be able to mount a better protest at our Stateside behemoth, the Republican National Convention.

But no.  The mainstream media is reporting on the Convention in level terms, as though it weren’t a circus aimed at gutting what is left of the social contract that, at least since FDR’s time, Americans have come to consider a birthright. It reminds me of how reporters went along with the “WMD mushroom cloud” nonsense in the build-up to the invasion of Baghdad, or how they all but waved American flags in our faces when publishing the photos of the American soldiers killed in Iraq.

Hardly anyone has bothered to remark on the fact that we just passed our two-thousandth dead American soldier in Afghanistan this summer.

These deaths just creep upon us, the same way that oil rigs spring up like weeds in previously pristine waters, along with aquaculture farms, chemical runoff, GMO seeds and fracking wells.

It all happens so quietly and so deftly, while we are busy trying to pay our bills, or getting in a little vacation, or saying farewell to another loved one who has succumbed to cancer.

The Kumi Naidoos and the Tim DeChristophers and the Rachel Corries of the world jerk us back to reality and remind us that while we weren’t paying attention, the thieves got in and began “minding the store.”  In their own fashion.

Their tactics are always the same.  Catch people unawares; get them to sign documents ceding their rights; then systematically go about the business of resource extraction as quickly as possible, with as high a profit margin as possible.  Get it done before the sleeping populace awakes, before the regulators notice anything amiss, before people and animals begin to sicken and the lawsuits begin.  After all, the legal process can be held up in appeals for generations, and meanwhile how many fortunes can be made?

What should our countering tactics be?

Visibility is important: hence the merit of the Greenpeace approach.

Building a movement is important—not just among those willing to camp out in city parks, but among senior citizens and the middle class, unemployed white collar workers and soccer moms, as well as the marching band kids.

People need to realize that this is deadly serious.  No one is crying wolf here.

If we don’t act now to break our fossil fuel addiction, our time on this planet is almost over.

Maybe if we’re lucky, we can come back as bacteria or cockroaches.  But humans?  We’re just about done.


May Day Mutiny: Radical Transformation Rises

Today is our “spring forward” day in the U.S., when we move the clocks forward an hour thus “losing an hour” in the morning, but gaining an additional hour of light at the end of the day.

It’s a beautiful sunny day here in Massachusetts, with birds singing their love songs in the trees, and the sap rising steadily in the thick sugar maple forests.

It’s hard to feel gloomy or pessimistic on a day like today, with our great source energy, the Sun, shining so brilliantly and steadily down on us.

Even contemplating the social landscape, it seems that there are reasons to be hopeful.

Last night I attended a brilliant one-act play by a Bard College at Simon’s Rock senior, sensitively and with almost painful honesty focusing on the relationship between a pair of best friends, 15-year-old girls, as one of them goes through a secretive, excruciating home abortion.

At the talk-back after the play, the author, who also played the lead, said she wrote the play because it was so clear to her that young women’s voices need to be heard more broadly in the theatrical world—not just as love objects written by men.

To me this is a hopeful sign, because as more women’s voices find their way into the great collective unconscious of the human public sphere, they will have an impact on the way we think and act as a social body.

The shame, secrecy and psychic anguish felt by the lead character of the play is so unnecessary, as is the fact that although it took two to implant that fetus, the other teen parent, the guy, was entirely absent from the drama that followed.

If young men were more aware of what an abortion entails, I dare say that many of them would be more responsible in doing their part to avoid pregnancy until they were ready to assume the mantle of fatherhood.

If high school sex ed included sessions on abortion the way drivers’ ed includes sessions on the consequences of driving drunk, complete with graphic images and re-enactments, abortion might become a rarity, and having teen sex without contraception as stigmatized as driving a bunch of friends home from a party dead drunk.


I am feeling hopeful today too because yesterday I read Tidal 2, the second journal put out by a group calling itself Occupy Theory.

The journal, entirely web-based, includes articles by Judith Butler and Gayatri Spivak, written in as accessible a voice as I have ever heard those two formidable theorists muster.

It also includes articles by unnamed CUNY Graduate Center students on a variety of issues, as well as a wealth of other interesting short pieces and vivid photos and artwork of the Occupy movement.

Judith Butler

Butler makes the excellent point, in reference to the call by the political/media establishment for “a list of demands,” that “the appeal or demand that sought to be satisfied by the existing state, global monetary institutions, or corporations, national or transnational, would be giving more power to the very sources of inequality, and in that way aiding and abetting the reproduction of inequality itself.”

Instead, Butler calls for a movement for “radical equality,” the achievement of which would require “the making of new institutions,” rather than trying to push existing institutions to change radically while still maintaining their social dominance.

She also envisions an Occupy strategy that would be strategically “episodic and targeted,” rather than the sitting-duck encampment strategy of last fall.

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

Such a strategy might build on the historical model of the General Strike, as Gayatri Spivak discusses in her contribution to Tidal 2.

The General Strike, as undertaken by Gandhi against the British, “has always been special because it is undertaken by those who suffer, not by morally outraged ideologues,” Spivak says.  “It is by definition non-violent…though the repressive apparatus of the state has used great violence against the strikers. Although the results are transformative, the demands are usually focused on laws….If one sees the connection between the General Strike and the Law, one realizes that this is not legal reformism, but a will to social justice….Unlike a party, a general strike refuses to cooperate until things change.”

Tidal 2 ends with a bold call for a General Strike on the symbolically important day of May 1, 2012, May Day.

I have no doubt that it will happen, and that it will be big.

I am sure police forces across the world are already planning their own strategies.

The truth is that if the 99%, “those who suffer” from the structural inequality of globalized capitalism, were to come out in large enough numbers on May Day, and refuse to go home until those in power began a serious dialogue on transformative, institutional change that included the retooling of our political, social and environmental systems for 21st century realities—the truth is that we might actually get somewhere.

Somewhere new, somewhere joyful, somewhere beyond the bruising, gridlocked, decrepit and corrupt politics that currently has our entire planet in a stranglehold.

The social and political elites who have inherited the 20th century reins of power and do not want to let go need to be made aware that they are driving us all over a cliff with their refusal to summon the political will and the technological know-how to adapt to anthropogenic global heating.

They must be made to understand that they and their children will go down with the rest of us!

That is the one blind spot in this issue of Tidal 2: there is very little mention of the impact of climate change and human overpopulation on the carrying capacity of the planet.

This awareness shows up more in metaphor than head-on, but metaphor is powerful too.

At one point, the anonymous authors of Tidal 2 describe the 1% as the captain of a ship “who steers while we shovel coal and  swab decks.  He seems to have us headed towards a typhoon.

“The captain stares at the impending doom on the horizon and grins ecstatically.  He’s clearly thrilled to be captain.  He faces down a storm that we can only wincingly glance at with one squinting eye, and he jabbers incessantly about hope and destiny.  We realize that he does not see as a normal person, by passively receiving light through his pupils.  Rather he uses his eyes offensively to project what he wants to see on the world.  He has become so practiced at his fantasia that he can no longer recognize what we, cringing on deck, see as certain catastrophe.”

Well, my friends, it is time to stop cringing on deck.

Mutiny is justified if the captain is a raving maniac and the alternative to mutiny is catastrophe.

On this sunny day, let’s pledge to take a great leap forward this spring, take charge and steer ourselves into safer waters.

See you on May Day.

“Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine”

I believe that we are coming to a crossroads as a nation.

Since 9/11, we’ve been traveling down a road bristling with guns, military technology, paranoia and fear.  Though most of our aggressive energy has been aimed outside our borders, there has also been a steady preparation for mass violence within the U.S. as well.  In the decade since 9/11, our national police forces have been armed with military hardware, and have trained extensively in riot control, with the results that we saw for the first time during the recent Occupy protests.

In the peaceful town of Fargo, North Dakota, report Andrew Becker and G.W. Schulz of the Center for Investigative Reporting, “Every city squad car is equipped today with a military-style assault rifle, and officers can don Kevlar helmets able to withstand incoming fire from battlefield-grade ammunition. And for that epic confrontation—if it ever occurs—officers can now summon a new $256,643 armored truck, complete with a rotating turret.”

Billions of federal tax dollars have been spent nationwide on this kind of military hardware for police, in the name of Homeland Security.

Security from what?  Security for whom?

Short of an all-out military invasion by a foreign force, which seems hugely unlikely, these weapons can only be meant to confront an insurgency within our own borders.

Are we thinking about a civil war, then?

Are these police being armed and trained to protect the interests of the 1% against the raging anger of the 99%?

A year ago it would not have occurred to me to ask these questions.  But obviously the Homeland Security crowd was already thinking ahead and planning for a time when such armor and weapons would be necessary to “maintain security” and “uphold law and order” on the home front.

Yes, they must have been aware, even as they were cashing in on our ignorance, that there would come a time when no more could be squeezed from the bottom two-thirds of American society.  When there would be so many homeless, so many poor, so many disenfranchised, that these people would feel they had no other recourse than violence, and nothing left to lose.


A new report by the National Center on Family Homelessness found that “more than 1.6 million children – or one in 45 children – are homeless annually in America. This represents an increase of 38% during the years impacted by the economic recession.”

I’m sorry, but that is just unacceptable in this country, which likes to think of itself as the wealthiest and most enlightened society on earth.

When you add up all the trials and tribulations being visited on the poor in this country–and “the poor” is a vast category that gets bigger day by day–and you weigh billions in Homeland Security anti-terrorism outfits for police against dwindling food and shelter for children–well, something just isn’t right here.  There’s something rotten in the state of America.

And yes, we are at a crossroads.

It may seem to some that I am over-reacting, but this is the way it feels to me: if we continue following along docilely on this daisy path that we’ve been led down by the architects of corporate capitalism, we are like the Jews of Germany in 1940, peacefully gathering our belongings and getting on that train to Auschwitz, or marching cooperatively out to the forest to be mowed down by machine guns into the mass grave.

We know enough now to know that the powers that be do not have our best interests at heart.

We’ve been sickened by their chemicals, and our health care system seems geared to treat sickness (at a profit) rather than to promote wellness.  Our oceans, air, soils and drinking water have been contaminated and rendered toxic. Our taxes have been used for guns and landmines instead of schools and social welfare.  Those who have gotten rich in this system have done so on the backs of the poor and those who cannot defend themselves: the natural world above all.

Are we going to continue down this path?

Or are we going to gather our courage at this crossroads, and strike off in a new direction?

A lot of people are asking this question now.  Over on the New Clear Vision blog, Charles Imboden suggests that the Occupy movement has ignited a renewed “commitment to direct democracy and shunning of ‘representative,’ republican forms of decision-making (so often susceptible to corruption and corporate influence) [which] can be further strengthened as the foundation of the egalitarian, ecological society.”

As one of my readers commented today, what would happen if they held an election and we just didn’t show up?

I don’t know if there is a way to cut ourselves loose from the federal government and its taxpayer-supported state terror apparatus.  Thoreau tried, back in the 19th century, and was promptly thrown in jail.

His letter from prison is worth re-reading today.

“Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men, generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. It makes it worse. Why is it not more apt to anticipate and provide for reform? Why does it not cherish its wise minority?

“If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth—certainly the machine will wear out. If the injustice …is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.”

Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine.

As we gear up for next year’s Presidential elections, we must take these wise words of Thoreau’s to heart.

But we must also be aware, as Thoreau certainly was, that there are other paths to take, outside of the machine.

We stand at a crossroads.  Each of us must make up our own minds, in our own time.

How much longer will we continue to docilely feed the machine our tax dollars, and march peacefully where they lead us?

Methane Burps and Political Disenfranchisement: People, Wake Up!

There are two pieces of news that have me really worried today, one environmental, the other political.

The environmental news, predictably, is about global warming.  I suppose most people have heard by now about the giant methane plumes being released into the atmosphere from the melting Arctic permafrost, but did you realize the scale of what is going on?  Here is a quote from the scientist who has spent more time than anyone else actually observing this issue in the Arctic, Dr. Igor Semiletov:

“In a very small area, less than 10,000 square miles, we have counted more than 100 fountains, or torch-like structures, bubbling through the water column and injected directly into the atmosphere from the seabed,” Dr Semiletov said. “We carried out checks at about 115 stationary points and discovered methane fields of a fantastic scale – I think on a scale not seen before. Some plumes were a kilometre or more wide and the emissions went directly into the atmosphere – the concentration was a hundred times higher than normal.”

As Andrew Revkin notes in his excellent Dot Earth NY Times blog, ““Given that methane, molecule for molecule, has at least 20 times the heat-trapping properties of carbon dioxide, it’s important to get a handle on whether these are new releases, the first foretaste of some great outburst from thawing sea-bed stores of the gas, or simply a longstanding phenomenon newly observed.”

Dr. Semiletov and his team caution that it’s too soon in their research to answer this question definitively.  But it stands to reason that melting permafrost and sea ice would provide an escape hatch for methane that had previously remained sequestered for millennia.  It seems likely that this trend will continue and worsen in the coming years.  Global warming, here we come.

The other news I’m fretting over this morning is the massive Republican attack on voter franchise in the U.S.–also on a vast scale, and with potentially disastrous results.  As Amy Goodman spells out in a column today on Truthdig,  “Across the country, state legislatures and governors are pushing laws that seek to restrict access to the voting booth, laws that will disproportionately harm people of color, low-income people, and young and elderly voters.”

This has been going on for at least a year now, and only last week did Attorney General Eric Holder finally act to declare one such state action, in South Carolina, unconstitutional.  The Democratic Party is finally waking up to the sinister plot afoot by the Republicans to steal the election they are unlikely to win in a fair fight.

We know what right-wing Republicans stand for: unfettered big business, dismantling of social safety net programs, Boss Tweed-style oligarchy of the wealthy, and an “are there no workhouses” Scrooge mentality towards everyone else.

Is this the country we want to become?

The United States needs to regain its stature as a beacon of hope in dark and dangerous times.  The stakes are so high now; the danger is so real and so close.  Although I have been writing about the importance of strengthening local “transition town” resources, we cannot afford to ignore big politics, because of the undeniable power possessed by federal and state governments, which can be used for good or for ill.

Although we can’t do anything to control those methane burps, we can work to shape and direct our political systems towards moving full steam ahead to transition to renewable energy and prepare for the systemic climate change that is already upon us, whether we want to admit it or not.

As the Occupy movements regroup in the New Year, I want to see the young people of this country stand up for their rights and the sane governance of our country and our planet.

Occupy the Elections must become a rallying cry for the coming months.

Swept away for the holidays? C’mon, Occupy, Let’s Go!

Looking back over the week, it seems like we’ve settled into some kind of holding pattern. The Occupy protests keep spinning, including a jubilant rally in Boston last night, but there is a feeling that we’re all waiting for the next shoe to drop…the next big push, the next new thing.

This week saw Occupy Foreclosures; next Monday there is a plan afoot to shut down the West Coast ports. The student protests are still sputtering; there is a group of hunger strikers in New York demanding a home for OWS;  and a stalwart group of climate activists has been braving relentless hostility to protest in at the COP 17 talks in Durban.

I’m glad to see all this stirring of outrage and energy.  I’m just starting to get confused by all the different tangents the movement is taking, and wishing for more focus and concentrated action.

I want the 99% to be like a biblical flood that will wash all the corruption and evil away, leaving a sparkling new world ready for re-occupation.

I know full well that’s unrealistic.  It’s not meant to be taken literally.  It’s just the kind of mood I’m in: impatient, restless, tired of the same old same old.

I have that same feeling about the holidays this year.

Are we really going to go through those motions again?  Are we going to fool our little children into believing in Santa Claus?  Are we going to laugh and clink glasses at innumerable holiday parties?  Are we going to go on shopping sprees for presents at the malls?

Again I’m reminded of the band that was ordered to keep playing as the Titanic sank.  There’s a new 3-D version of the Leo DiCaprio/Kate Winslett Titanic coming out soon–as if what we really needed was to watch that horrible tragedy again, in 3-D.

Folks, I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but we need to stop fooling ourselves, we need to get real. If we don’t profoundly change our ways NOW, Mother Earth will do it for us, and she won’t be pussy-footing around.

I was listening to a news report today about how many billions of dollars in damage Hurricane Irene caused back in late August. Then there was the October snowstorm, knocking down trees and powerlines for millions of people in the Northeast.

What’s next?  How bad does it have to get before we stop pouring good money after bad, cleaning up after natural disasters that could perfectly well have been avoided if we focused on prevention rather than on damage control?

We do the same thing with health issues.  We spend billions looking for the “cure” for cancer, when the real issue is lurking upstream, in all the toxic chemicals we’re dumping into the environment and our own bodies.

We know what makes us sick. We know what is making our climate “sick” and out of balance.  We know how to fix it too–we need to start converting to renewable energy as fast as we can, immediately!  All systems go!

And it’s the same with the sociopolitical system.  We know where it’s broken.  Campaign finance reform is not a new idea.  Bank and finance regulation is nothing new.  Social policies that bolster the middle class are obvious.


The Occupy movement has the potential to fire up enough people to get out there and demand change.  The movement just needs to articulate a few clear, incontestably worthy goals, and pour all the creativity of the 99% into finding ways to pressure the ruling class to get the job done–or be swept away.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t much feel like celebrating this holiday season.  I feel like rolling up my sleeves, joining forces with my neighbors, and getting to work.  There is so much to be done, and so little time.

Occupy the Climate Talks in Durban–Virtually

If you lived on a small island nation that was losing precious feet of shoreline every year due to rising seas and storm erosion, you might be forgiven for having high expectations for the current international climate change negotiations going on in Durban, SA.

In the the heart of the developed world, meanwhile, you’d have a hard time finding any news about the climate talks.  You have to search the Web pretty carefully to even find a mention.

That goes to show how it’s all about location, location, location.

I learned yesterday, by careful Web search, that Canada is planning to pull out of the Kyoto treaty, just like the U.S.

Canadians want developing countries like China and India to also agree to reduced emissions.

But meanwhile, Canada’s government is pushing the extraction of oil from the Alberta boreal forests.

As Tom Zeller of the Huffington Post reports,””What’s astonishing is watching Canada emerge as a rogue among developed countries,” said Bill McKibben, the author and activist who has spearheaded a grassroots movement aimed at combatting a pipeline proposal designed to deliver some 700,000 barrels of oil each day from the tar sands to refineries and ports on the Texas Gulf Coast. “Of course, they have no choice but to ditch serious climate policy if they want to develop the tar sands in a big way — and that pool of gunky oil is clearly the tail wagging the dog up there.”

We’re all the dog that’s being wagged by powerful oil extraction companies.  If we don’t watch out, we’re going to be wagged right into extinction.

Notice how the climate talks are always held in inaccessible places where it’s hard for activists to congregate.  Who can afford a ticket to Durban, SA?

But now, with the World Wide Web, we can all hold ring seats to the climate talks, and we need to make our voices heard.

Read the Climate Connections blog, produced in Durban by the Global Justice Ecology Project, for up-to-the-minute information about what’s going on in Durban.

Check out the results of the General Assembly held there today under the Occupy Durban banner: #OccupyCop17

The climate talks may be far away, but they are one of the most crucial sites for “occupation” as we move into the 21st century.  We can’t let the big oil companies, with their deep pockets created from our dependence on an oil-based economy, dominate the agenda.

If you care about leaving a healthy planet to the next generation, the time to speak up is NOW.

Ripples of change, from kitchen tables to public parks

This morning, in my parents’ house, a scene took place that underscored for me the extent to which the Occupy movement has entered the collective consciousness.

The man who has taken care of my parents’ property for the past 30 years or so had come by to say hello, and was standing in the kitchen complaining about how the oil companies are making billions while the price of fuel oil and gasoline goes ever higher for ordinary consumers.

He is a lifelong Republican, but voted for Obama in the last presidential election, having had enough of the Bush crowd with their lies and their wars.

Listening to his critique of the mega-oil companies, my mother turned to him and said teasingly, “So who should we occupy now?”

We all laughed and the conversation moved on, but there is an underlying element of seriousness there that amazes me when I think about it.

A few months ago, we might have complained, but without any thought of actually doing something to bring about change.

Now, suddenly, options are open to us.  We could go down and occupy the local gas station with some homemade signs, and probably get a lot of support from people filling their tanks.

Yes, we all do fill our tanks.  But instead of holding the resentment inside, there is now an outlet for it, a way to talk about it together that is not about the two parties and their endless childish jockeying for power, but about something deeper: the longing for and the pull to real change.

I have to admit I was disappointed that apparently Black Friday consumer shopping was more vigorous than ever this year. But it’s surely no accident that fights broke out at WalMarts across the country, where people who have precious few dollars to spend on their holiday shopping turned out on Black Friday to try to get some bargains.

What’s fascinating, and under-reported, is that on Black Friday, thousands of Chinese factory workers went out on strike to demand living wages and job security.  These are the workers who are supplying the products being sold as “bargains” in America, mostly to workers whose jobs have been outsourced–to China!

Marx’s dream of an international uprising of the proletariat has never been more possible, thanks to be magic of the internet.

And somehow the barriers between American consumers and Chinese producers–or between professional-class employers like my parents and blue collar workers like their property caretaker–are coming down.

There seems to be a new zeitgeist stirring the stagnant air of American social relations.  Is it the age of Aquarius?  The alignment of the planets?  The infamous Mayan 2012?

Whatever it is, let’s seize the moment and make the most of it.  Let’s talk up a storm, sharing ideas and encouragement with everyone we meet.

If a butterfly in Brazil can cause a hurricane in Texas, then maybe a casual conversation in your kitchen can be the catalyst for a change that will sweep the nation, and the world.  It’s certainly worth a try.

Month Three of Occupy Begins: From Class Warfare to Civil War?

Yesterday, the day of the big Occupy protests in New York, I sat in a train most of the day, on the way to Washington D.C.

I’m here for the African Studies Association annual conference, but of course I’m going to head over to the National Mall too, and see what’s cooking with Occupy DC.

The dramatic and powerful protests in New York yesterday, captured magnificently in this NY Times slide show, can’t help but energize the movement around the country, and indeed the world.


I am struck again by how diverse this movement is–the people in these photos are old and young, of every ethnicity, most looking solidly middle-class.  There is really very little of the “anarchist hippie fringe” that Americans tend to associate with protests, at least since the 1960s.

It must be hard for the cops, who are so solidly middle-class themselves, to have to play the bad guys day after day. They must know that their salaries have been shrinking against the cost of living just like everyone else’s, while the Bloombergs and the Buffets and all those Washington politicians have been getting fabulously wealthy.

Economically speaking, the cops are squarely within the 99% and should not be the enemies of the Occupy movement.  But it’s very rarely been the case that police or soldiers break with their indoctrination in submission to authority, and side with the insurgents.

I pause as I type that word–insurgent–because it’s most often used to describe people in other countries who oppose the status quo, and turn to violent means to achieve their goals.  It’s one of those words– “rebels” is another–that treads carefully between the poles of “freedom fighter” (a good thing) and “terrorist” (obviously bad).

The Occupy movement bills itself as a determinedly non-violent movement.  All the violence that has occurred so far has been provoked or perpetrated by the police.

Dorli Rainey, 84, led away from the Occupy Seattle protest after being pepper-sprayed in the face by police on Nov. 15

But for the first time, yesterday, I found myself thinking about the possibility of civil war breaking out again in this country.

 Maybe it’s because of the refusal of anyone in Washington to take the protests seriously, starting with the President.

No one wants violence in this country. We are a nation of shoppers, not fighters.

The Occupy movement has been galvanized mostly by young people whose expectations of joining the ranks of contented shopper-workers, like their parents and grandparents before them, have been frustrated by the economic downturn and the substitution of debt bondage for living wages.

These are very real concerns that are not going to go away because winter is coming.  What we’re seeing here is, as others have noted, class warfare.  Just like in the 1930s, when workers stood firm in picket lines despite the factory owners’ efforts to break them, these protesters are motivated by the absolute knowledge that the current system is unjust and insupportable.

If politicians from Bloomberg to Obama continue to ignore the idealism and the frustration represented by the nascent Occupy movement, it will only continue to grow in numbers and conviction.

Yes, the rich appear to have all the power in this country neatly sewed up.  But never doubt the power of the people to break down barricades and triumph when they know that Justice is on their side.

It’s happened before in this country.  It could very well happen again.

You can’t evict an idea whose time has come

My title comes from the Occupy Wall Street website, posted on a gray, gloomy morning after the police eviction of protesters in Liberty Park.

Occupations are going on in cities and towns in all 50 states now.  What the mayors and police chiefs of these locales need to understand is that the more they try to contain and stamp out this protest movement, the faster it will spread.

Beatings, gassings, intimidation, arrests, evictions…history has shown time and again that the human spirit refuses to be quenched by such brutality, especially when we face the firing squad together.

Occupy is a “leaderless movement”; it’s multigenerational and cuts across many social differences that have previously been used by the status quo to divide us.

United by a fierce and ardent hope that refuses to be extinguished, the Occupy protests all across America call on each of us to stand up in support of a new American dream.

In this new vision, our government representatives will put the well-being of the majority ahead of any narrowly defined special interests.

This means that the health of our citizens will come before the profits of industries like agriculture and energy. It means that the health of our global environment will be more important than corporate competition for resource extraction.

It means that the social safety net will be expanded and strengthened, not allowed to fray or be deliberately shredded.

It means that American public education will once again rise like a beacon throughout the world, giving all children, regardless of their social background, the knowledge, tools and creativity to move boldly and joyfully into the 21st century.

It means that our democracy will once again be broadly participatory.  We are done with politicians who are slaves to their corporate owners.

And no, we will not accept higher taxes on the working families who can least afford to bear the brunt of holding our creaky and corrupt system together.

We want a new system, with a radical reorganization of priorities.  Let our foreign policy be run by diplomats, not by bombers and drones.  Let an age of international cooperation in the service of urgent global needs begin.

Working together across borders, we can solve the world’s problems and move forward into a new era of sustainable, widespread prosperity.

Truly the Occupy protesters have it right.  You can’t evict an idea whose time has come.

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