Sunday, December 13, 2009


Naomi Klein:

We are seeing a redefinition of environmentalism, which has always been a bit of a kind of, sort of touchy-feely movement here in the North. “We’re all in it together. Let’s hold hands,” right? There’s nothing wrong with holding hands, but the fact is, we’re not all in it together in the same way. There is an inverse relationship between the people who created the problem and where the effects of those problems are being felt. There’s an inverse relationship between who created the problem and who can afford to save themselves from the problem, and it isn’t only in the Global South. Think about New Orleans. Right? It’s also the South in the North. The people who had resources could drive out of the disaster zone; the people who depended on the state were left on their roofs, a kind of a climate apartheid, in the United States.

So we have this discussion of reparations. In the United States, when you talk about reparations, it’s not about the stealing of resources as much as it is about the stealing of people. So this movement that we are talking about today is part of that movement, as well. In fact, at a conference in 2001 in Durban, South Africa, the Conference on Racism, the issue of ecological debt was one of the issues on the agenda, but so was reparations for slavery. And I think there are some people here from N’COBRA from the United States, which is the national coalition calling for reparations for slavery. And they deserve to be acknowledged, because this movement is building on their work, as well.


I said at the opening of Klimaforum that there’s a place for rage and there’s a place for civil disobedience. I was not saying, as some news reports claimed, that Copenhagen should be trashed. I really don’t think so. I think that’s a very bad idea. And I’m going to say that explicitly, even though people are always telling me, “Don’t say it’s bad. Don’t say it’s bad.” Listen, the reason why it’s bad is precisely because of what we’re seeing here. This conversation that has started here about the real face of environmentalism, as a class war that is being waged by the rich against the poor, has never happened before. There has never been global media attention on this discussion. If we allow the media to change the discussion into broken windows in Copenhagen—which is the boringest discussion in the world, OK?—we have truly failed.

But I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be direct action. There should be direct action

So the protests are well underway and according to the Telegraph some windows have been broken and there've already been mass-arrests, pre-emptive and otherwise. So the pens are filling up as planned. I haven't looked widely and so I don't know whether corporate media has latched onto this and made this all about broken windows.

What's interesting about Klein's words here isn't so much her denunciation of property destruction as a form of direct action, although I agree with her in this instance, but her sketch of the new form of the Global Justice movement. To the extent that her sketch is accurate I find this a very promising direction indeed.

Essentially what she's outlining is the late Murray Bookchin's idea of social ecology, the central insight of which is that ecological problems are rooted in social problems. Since I basically agree with this, I find it very promising that mass-movements are starting to organize around this principle, even if sans la lettre. I don't expect anything of any worth to come out of the official portion of this conference, but if the Global Justice movement can successfully forge organizational, rhetorical and theoretical links between environmental struggle, class war, and slavery reparations as a result of converging at this place and time, it would be invaluable. Linking these elements would be an achievement on par with the long-hoped-for unity of labor, student and environmental groups that made Seattle so effective. This is a ray of hope that the movement of movements can find its feet again after its post-9/11 dissolution.

It does also illustrate a key function of these protests, which isn't only to contest power. Most protests don't put very much pressure on power and many people feel they are worthless for this reason. But these convergences, and protests generally, act as sort of mini-conferences. Morale is boosted by learning you are not alone, connections made, information and ideas exchanged, hope, solidarity and agency are cultivated, alienation and frustration dissipated. Oddly, all of this sort of thing doesn't happen very much at actual movement conferences. Having the imperative to action makes consensus, actually listening to others, and finding common ground more urgent thus reducing the sectarian squabbles that occur when the discussion is purely academic. Not that there's not sectarian squabbling at protests, but vitriol and length are greatly reduced.

The next phase of course would be devising new tactics that break out of the ritualization pattern JHD commented on earlier. This is a good beginning though. Even if they don't get the right headlines in the right media outlets, resistance is still fertile.


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