Hooray for Scrappy Climate Action!

What a month!

Scrappy resistance to fossil fuels, its financiers and the politicians that love them has hit new levels with the goal of meeting the scale of the climate crisis with equal amounts of people powered momentum. As a result, climate and anti-fossil fuels action, both large and small, has spread globally.

The climate uprising centered around Extinction Rebellion has shaken the political establishment in London and iis spreading to other parts of the world. But we mustn’t forget that for decades, we’ve seen communities in countries like China and India rising up by the tens of thousands against mining and polluting power plants. And for more than a decade in North America, an Indigenous and frontline-led effort against coal, oil and gas have fought hard against mountaintop removal, coal mining, fracking and pipelines.

Now, today, a new report says that over 50% of new pipelines globally are being built in the U.S. and Canada. Report co-author Ted Nace said “This is a whole energy system not compatible with global climate survival. These pipelines are locking in huge emissions for 40 to 50 years at a time, with the scientists saying we have to move in 10 years. These pipelines are a bet that the world won’t get serious about climate change, allowing the incumbency of oil and gas to strengthen.” At the same time, a new phase of infrastructure fights with state governments passing anti-protest laws throughout the country. In North America, we’re in for a long struggle to counter climate change and extraction.

The past couple of weeks have seen scrappy action hit western governments, banks and carbon intensive industries most responsible for climate change again.

In the U.S.:

  • Anchorage, Alaska: Trouble-makers with Alaska Rising Tide dropped off a banner in protest of the government’s move to mine the state’s Pebble Mine.
  • Appalachia: In Virginia, the Yellow Finch tree-sit has stopped the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) in its tracks for over 200 days.  An epic battle has lasted for over a year where scrappy action that has included multiple landowner-led tree-sits, monopods, equipment lockdowns, bird-dogs of corporate CEOs and politicians and an impressive grassroots organizing effort. The MVP has been delayed for at least a year and the campaign is far from over.
  • Austin, TXXR Austin occupied a JPMorgan Chase branch with three members super gluing themselves inside the branch.
  • “Bank on Climate” Day of Action—In 22 cities, Rainforest Action Network and 350 Seattle organized rowdy actions in 22 cities against top climate financiers JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo. From corporate office occupations in Boulder, San Francisco and Minneapolis to the shutdown of all 44 Chase branches in Seattle to a banner hang at Grand Central Station in New York to the bird-dogging of Chase CEO Jamie Dimon during a congressional hearing in Washington D.C. (and much much more), the funders of the climate crisis are receiving well deserved heat.
  • Eugene, OR—XR Eugene teamed up with Cascadia Forest Defenders to launch a tree-sit in in town to draw a connection between forest destruction and climate destruction.
  • Los Angeles—Two members of Extinction Rebellion Los Angeles super-glued themselves to the top of the NBC/Universal Studios globe demanding that NBC (a major media outlet) prioritize climate change as a daily news topic and reject fossil fuel commercials. Four members of the team were arrested and charged with felonies.

    Two climate activists super glued to the top of the Universal Studios globe in Los Angeles.

  • NYC— Climate activists with Extinction Rebellion NYC shut down traffic outside New York City Hall Wednesday, partially blocking access to the Brooklyn Bridge and staging a die-in to demand radical action on climate change.
  • Portland, OR— Eleven people were arrested after building a garden in the train tracks as a creative blockade against the Zenith export terminal.
  • Washington D.C.: And in the U.S. capital, two of our comrades with Beyond Extreme Energy occupied to top of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) building for six hours demanding a “Federal Renewable Energy Commission.”

Elsewhere:

  • London: In meeting the crisis at the scale that is needed, Extinction Rebellion UK occupied London for ten days. They’ve shut down traffic routes, disrupted the “Tube,” protested Heathrow Airport and targeted politicians and bankers. With over 1000 arrests, the Met Police found themselves with full jails and crowds of more willing participants.
  • Paris: More than 2,000 climate activists held a nonviolent blockade of France’s environment ministry just outside of Paris on Friday, calling out government complicity with fossil fuel companies and the banks that fund them. Climate activists are calling it one of the largest acts of civil disobedience in French history. The blockade also successfully targeted French oil giant Total; Société Générale, an investment bank that funds dirty energy projects; and a state-run electric utility that relies heavily on nuclear power.

    Climate activists sit in at French environmental ministry in Paris. Pic via Democracy Now!

  • Rotterdam: Today, over 40 climate activists occupied the Engie coalfired power station
  • The rest of world : In other cities around the world, Extinction Rebellion has disrupted business as usual in India, Germany, Spain, Denmark and more.

As Paul Street recently paraphrased radical historian Howard Zinn:

“Howard Zinn was right. It’s not just about who’s sitting in the White House or the Governor’s mansion or the Mayor’s office or the city council seat.  It’s also and above all about who’s sitting in the streets, who’s disrupting, who’s monkey-wrenching, whose idling capital, who’s occupying the pipeline construction sites, the highways, the workplaces, the town-halls, the financial districts, the corporate headquarters, and universities beneath and beyond the biennial and quadrennial candidate-centered big money big media major party electoral extravaganzas that are sold to us as “politics” – the only politics that matters. This is true about fighting racist police violence. It’s true about labor rights and decent wages.  It’s true about all that and more and it’s true about saving livable ecology.”

We’re up against some very bad players. The worst in the world. Maybe the worst in the history of the world. It’s time for serious organizing and hardscrabble actions.

See you in the streets.

Reflections at Midpoint: Scaling Up the Climate Resistance at Home

As the “Scaling Resistance” tour reaches its halfway mark, here are some impressions I’ve had from 2 weeks on the road with German climate activists Ende Gelaende (EG) and Rising Tide North America.

Starting with some impressions from Ende Gelaende presentation:

1)      “We say what we do and we do what we say”:  Ende Gelaende is radically transparent.  Hundreds of people attend plenaries and make decisions on strategy and tactics.  There are tens of direct action trainings, including those attended by media. Participants get regular updates on the action progress and can choose which of the “five fingers” (i.e. tactical) groups they wish to participate in.  Ende Gelaende’s approach is to put out a big public call to action on their timeline and against the target they want. By dictating the terms of their action, they can do the work to ensure thousands of people show up, enough to get to almost any mine

2)      Through a combination of symbolic and nonsymbolic action, Ende Gelaende has changed the debate in Germany.  By focusing on huge coal mines, EG made many Germans, who were excited about the high level of renewals and energy transition, uncomfortable.  But they changed the narrative in the country around coal and made the EG mass actions the happening event. As we speak, major papers are writing about this year’s action, which will be in mid-June. The actions are powerful for their symbolic value, they feature a “David versus Goliath” scenario, with thousands of small (at least in the pictures) people standing up to giant earth moving machinery and shutting down mine sites.  And thisis a real shut down extraction, as thousands of people are able to stop coal mining operations for a day or coal train shipments for a day or two.

3)      A small core of people can build something really big.  Ende Gelaende grew out of the climate camps, grassroots groups like ausgeCO2hlt and others in the left who knew that they had to scale up their climate resistance. They used a threefold approach.  First, they built relationships throughout the climate sector, including with larger nonprofits who supported their work in various ways and academic institutions, which participated in summer climate camps, providing a base for potential participants.  Second, they traveled Germany and neighboring European countries giving Direct Action trainings encouraging the building of affinity groups. Finally, as mentioned earlier, they are masters at building buzz in the press and using all media outlets to their advantage.  All of this is accomplished with only volunteers.

4)      Civil Disobedience means something very different in Germany.  In Ende Gelaende’s case, the goal is to go around the police and stop the mine, no arrests and a mine occupation is the very definition of success.  If people are arrested, they do not have their IDs on them and sometimes even put superglue on their fingers to avoid identification, in the hopes (generally successful) that they will be released without charges because they cannot be identified.

Ende Galaende “Scaling up the resistance” tour.

Reactions to the presentation from U.S. audiences:

1)      There is a lot of doubt on our side.  We worry about all the ways Ende Gelaende’s approach is not applicable to the United States, whether that is about geography and density, or that people will not participate, or that legislative and regulatory strategies have efficacy.  There is also real doubt about our collective ability to find the time, given the economic demands on so many of our volunteers.

2)      There is also incredible enthusiasm for doing some experiments.  Standing Rock showed us what is possible.  There are tens of local fights against power plants, pipelines and extraction sites with thousands of courageous folks.  There are also other interesting targets that get at the intersection of class and climate, like private airports. Finally, the same banks that fund extraction and pipelines are also the same banks that fund private prisons, immigrant detention centers, and the military industrial complex.  There are lots of places with a lot of density, like the Northeast and the Northwest, who have crews of solid veteran organizers.

3)      Race matters a lot more here than in Germany. Ende Gelaende is open about the fact that they are a predominantly white movement and need to work on that..  While not everyone who has attended our presentations has been white, this is a tour, and a slice of the movement that has been predominantly white, and has also skewed much older than Ende Gelaende. For us, being cognizant of race, and our nation’s history and present of colonialism, white supremacy and anti-blackness matters a lot.  It also is vital to recognize that there is a rich and vibrant climate justice movement in the US. One of the key questions for us as we move forward is whether our work as white folks in the climate justice movement means we should be providing direct support to and coordination on actions with the most affected frontline communities, or whether we should be using our privilege to be putting our bodies on the line in ever more powerful ways against the largest corporations and points of extraction.

4)      There is also a theory of change conversation.  Many groups we are meeting with are focused on a winning a particular struggle, generally around policy or an infrastructure project.  Obviously folks understand that winning is vital and part of a larger struggle, but we do not often connect the dots. What would it mean to view mass disruption that pushes on power as an inherent good in and of itself and as a theory of change.  As Naomi Klein says, we need to change everything. Capitalism, colonialism, heteropatriarchy and white supremacy are the problems and climate change is a symptom. Could we be winning battles while losing the war?

Over the last three weeks we have been excited to share stories about scaling up the resistance, and our guests from Ende Gelaende have been excited to learn about the climate movements  and other social movements here at home. We have done our best to make the teachings accessible to all, by offering webinars to those who are not at tour stops. Now, we ask for thoughts on what our next steps should be?

Are you thinking about mass action?  Let us know! Should we be building a community of practice around scaling up?  Should we have some advance webinars with Ende Galaede?

Should we be thinking about mass action, but in a much more intersectional way?  Let us know what you think at: We will be in touch and follow the last three weeks of the tour on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, as well as here on our website.

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Jeff Ordower is a long-time community and labor organizer and a member of the Rising Tide Collective, who is currently peripatetic. You can follow the exploits of the second half of the tour at @risingtidena on Twitter.            

 

Thunder in the Streets: #ClimateStrike!

A couple of days ago, I posted a blog stating that the Green New Deal needed massive social movement to pressure, and even, break political and corporate institutions preventing real action on climate change….. AND…. HERE IT IS!

Today, in over 120 countries, youth have caused a thunder on the streets with the Climate Strike.

And the fossil fuel sector is feeling it. Yesterday, in Houston at an annual gathering of energy analysts, industry executives and other predatory capitalists, Glenn Kellow, the CEO of Peabody Coal, made a remarkable statement: “No doubt that environmental activism plays a part. Certain funds, particularly in Europe and particularly in the U.S. taking certain views means that the capital that has been available in the past may not be there in the future.” Kellow said there are 300  coal power plants under construction in Asia alone, but he acknowledged that new growth may be undermined by environmental campaigners who have raised the costs for coal production.

But while industry plots and schemes their backlash, here’s some images from today’s #Climate Strike:

London, England

Minneapolis, MN

Boston, MA

Berlin, Germany

Brussels, Belgium

New York, NY

San Francisco, CA

This is only the beginning. Let’s sustain and grow it.

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Scott Parkin is a climate organizer working with Rising Tide North America. You can follow him on Twitter at @sparki1969

Why the Green New Deal needs mass direct action

Mass action in Germany.

Last weekend in San Francisco, my friends and I with Diablo Rising Tide hosted two friends from Germany on the “Scale Resistance” tour that Rising Tide has organized with radical climate group Ende Galaende. The talk left me thinking a lot about resistance (the real kind, not the stuff being sold by Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi and the corporate Democrats).  The Green New Deal is currently capturing the imagination of the progressive climate movement and becoming a centerpiece of climate “resistance.” But it needs a massive social movement moving forward at a large scale, taking serious action, at its foundation to succeed.

For the past 5 or 6 years, Ende Galaende (“Here and No Further” in English) has organized a massive nationwide coalition, that includes everyone from small radical groups to big green non-profits, to stop lignite coal mining in Germany. Their demands were an immediate phase out of lignite coal mining. Rooted in the anti-nuclear movements of a previous era, their tactic was mass disruption of coal infrastructure. Their action campaigns included mass direct actions numbering in the thousands at open pit coal mines in the Rhineland region and a multi-year tree sit in the Hambach Forest.

This critical direct action campaign has put the German political establishment on the defensive around coal and climate issues. The establishment responded with an agreement for a 20 year phase out of coal in Germany, not an immediate one as demanded  by Ende Galaende.  Their campaign continues.

Nationally in the U.S., the fossil fuel infrastructure fights have also challenged the legitimacy of the oil and coal industries.  The hard fought campaign in the bayous of Louisiana has stopped Energy Transfer Partner’s Bayou Bridge pipeline for at least a year. Indigenous led resistance to Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline has also put the future of that pipeline into question. In Appalachia, the locally led campaign against the Mountain Valley Pipeline that has included long term tree-sits and disruptive protest along the construction route has also delayed the completion of that project. The purveyors of the Keystone XL pipeline are also bracing for a massive social movement response.  Last week, the state of South Dakota passed a set of anti-pipeline protest bills targeting both people in South Dakota, as well as any outside groups that provide support. There are dozens of these state laws being passed or proposed.

Globally, the climate and environmental uprising is spreading with ferocity as well:

  • Barefoot lockdown in Gibberagee State Forest.

    Australia: About 40 protestors took action in the Gibberagee State Forest in protest of illegal logging of koala habitat. A number of activists locked onto Forestry Corporation machinery. The action follows claims by North East Forest Alliance that an audit found the Forestry Corporation was only protecting half of the koala trees is it required to. Among the protestors was  veteran forest activist Nan Nicholson, who was instrumental in saving the forest at Terania Creek in the late 1970s.
  • Australia: In late February, Adani’s Abbot Point Port was targeted by anti-coal activists. Trains were stopped in a near continuous shutdown for over 75 hours during a week of non-violent direct action in central Queensland. Seven activists from across Australia, all committed to fighting the threat of thermal coal induced climate change, took action against Adani. The seven scaled fences, evaded drones, locked themselves to rail infrastructure and suspended themselves from trees and tripods to block coal trains from entering the port.
  • Finland: Climate protesters climbed Finnish Parliament House pillars. Members of several Finnish environmental groups demonstrated at the Finnish Parliament on 6 March. Eight protesters were detained after scaling the giant stone columns.
  • Scotland: About 20 conscientious climate protectors stayed in the National Museum of Scotland on behalf of Extinction Rebellion Scotland after closing time. They sat in to protest the ‘oil club’ dinner being hosted there tonight. A group of over 900 oil executives from the UK and beyond were gathered in a national museum and monument to celebrate their own relevance and profit-making from the destruction of the climate. 12 of our friends were arrested rather than leave after police warnings.
  • Greta Thunberg.

    Climate Strikes:  Across the globe, students and youth are taking action with walkouts and mass protests to protect a future that older generations (particularly those in political and corporate offices) don’t give a shit about. Another mass climate strike is expected on March 15th.

The Sunrise Movement is already using direct action in pushing members of Congress for the Green New Deal. It kicked off with hundreds sitting in at Nancy Pelosi’s Capitol Hill offices in November with 51 arrests. A couple of weeks later on Dec. 10th, Sunrise followed up with a massive Green New Deal lobby day that included sit-ins and 143 arrests.  In response to GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell trying to stop the Green New Deal before it starts, 43 climate activists were arrested in his Capitol Hill offices in late February.  In a stunning response, McConnell postponed the vote where he’d hoped to stop the Green New Deal’s march through Congress.

As Naomi Klein recently penned in the Intercept,

“I have written before about why the old New Deal, despite its failings, remains a useful touchstone for the kind of sweeping climate mobilization that is our only hope of lowering emissions in time. In large part, this is because there are so few historical precedents we can look to (other than top-down military mobilizations) that show how every sector of life, from forestry to education to the arts to housing to electrification, can be transformed under the umbrella of a single, society-wide mission.

Which is why it is so critical to remember that none of it would have happened without massive pressure from social movements. FDR rolled out the New Deal in the midst of a historic wave of labor unrest: There was the Teamsters’ rebellion and Minneapolis general strike in 1934, the 83-day shutdown of the West Coast by longshore workers that same year, and the Flint sit-down autoworkers strikes in 1936 and 1937. During this same period, mass movements, responding to the suffering of the Great Depression, demanded sweeping social programs, such as Social Security and unemployment insurance, while socialists argued that abandoned factories should be handed over to their workers and turned into cooperatives. Upton Sinclair, the muckraking author of “The Jungle,” ran for governor of California in 1934 on a platform arguing that the key to ending poverty was full state funding of workers’ cooperatives. He received nearly 900,000 votes, but having been viciously attacked by the right and undercut by the Democratic establishment, he fell just short of winning the governor’s office.

All of this is a reminder that the New Deal was adopted by Roosevelt at a time of such progressive and left militancy that its programs — which seem radical by today’s standards — appeared at the time to be the only way to hold back a full-scale revolution.”

We’re in a moment that needs massive social movement pressure to break through political and corporate barriers to respond to the climate crisis. Following the lead of organizers from our past, in other parts of the world today, the anti-infrastructure movements and the revitalized youth climate movement, it’s time to scale up and say “here and no further.”

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Scott Parkin is a climate organizer working with Rising Tide North America. You can follow him on Twitter at @sparki1969