Tuesday, November 25, 2014

From Mike Brown to Jermaine Carby: Toronto rallies for justice


Less than 24 hours after a St. Louis grand jury failed to indict police officer Darren Wilson for killing Mike Brown, Toronto rallied with cities across the country to say that Black lives matter.


Wilson shot the unarmed Black teenager six times and got away with murder. Meanwhile dozens of Black people have been arrested for protesting the lack of justice.


Three thousand people assembled across from the US consulate against police brutality, from Ferguson to Toronto.


Last year Toronto was rallying against the killing of Sammy Yatim, this year it is Mike Brown and Jermaine Carby, amongst others. As people chanted, "the system's not broken, it was built this way."


As La Tanya Grant, a cousin of Jermaine Carby explained, he was also unarmed, also shot to death, and also criminalized after the fact as justification. "Justice for Jermaine," the crowd chanted.


The campaign for justice continues. For more information visit Justice for Jermaine Carby.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Harper's crocodile tears for fallen soldiers

Harper claims his “thoughts and prayers” are with the family and friends of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Corporal Nathan Cirillo, the two Canadian soldiers tragically killed last week. Then why is he sending troops to kill or be killed in Iraq, while cutting pensions to veterans amidst rising suicides? If they "gave their lives so that we can live in a free, democratic and safe society," why is Harper using their deaths to  further restrict our civil liberties and make us less safe?

Highjacking tragedy
Americans saw the tragedy of 9/11 used to wage war on Afghanistan and Iraq—which helped create ISIS, while fueling military spending, Islamophobia and attacks on civil liberties at home. As the 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows wrote on the 10th anniversary of that tragedy, “On this day we ask those who feel compassion for our loss to expand their compassion to include others who continue to experience loss ten years later: innocent families in Afghanistan and Iraq experiencing the loss of their loved ones and displacement from their communities as the result of war and political strife; Muslim-Americans subjected to bias and violence at home; those denied the protections of our Constitution and law, whether in Guantanamo or in our own country; those suffering from job loss and economic dislocation related to the cost of war and rising military budgets; and those who have seen their civil liberties and freedoms exchanged for the false promise of security.”

Harper is similarly highjacking tragedy, and not for the first time. As an article in The Guardian explained, “Harper is no stranger to Manichean politics, or to repackaging unpopular security measures in the wake of tragic events. For example, Bill C-13, the so-called cyberbullying act, shamelessly exploited the death of teenager Rehtaeh Parsons and other victims of cyberbullying to reintroduce components of its unpopular online surveillance bill, C-30.”

While Harper hid in a cupboard, it was a nurse and former medic who tried to save Cirillo, shot by a homeless man with addiction and mental health issues. When Harper emerged it was not to stop Canada’s participation in the war that is fuelling ISIS, reverse the government’s deregulation of gun safety (though they did quietly delay a bill so they can pass it later), cancel his planned $36 billion cut to healthcare, or announce investments to end homelessness and support those with mental health and addiction issues. Instead Harper vowed to redouble wars abroad and “national security” at home—using the tragic deaths of Vincent and Cirillo to multiply tragedy around the world, while eroding civil liberties and continuing austerity at home.

Shell shock
Given the violence unleashed on Afghanistan, it’s no surprise that troops following orders would suffer as well. The war and occupation of Afghanistan was sold as peacekeeping, rebuilding and women’s liberation, but as Canadian General Rick Hillier clarified in 2005, “We are the Canadian Forces and our job is to be able to kill people.” This has a traumatizing impact on soldiers. Just last month it was revealed that more Canadian soldiers have killed themselves than were killed in Afghanistan, and military families are desperately trying to prevent this statistic from rising.

Corporal Thomas Dixon has tried to kill himself three times since coming back from Afghanistan. His mother is concerned he has undiagnosed PTSD and is not getting the help he needs. As she told the CBC, “Growing up [in the] cadets, he loved it. Then he went over to Afghanistan. That’s when things turned around for him. He came back, he was very moody, he had a temper—all the signs you would see of people who have PTSD…He tried to hang himself with a t-shirt. He’s crying out for help and nobody’s there. I do not want my son to become a statistic, but that’s what’s happening.”

Denying the trauma of war is built into the very terminology of PTSD, as George Carlin explained years ago: “There's a condition in combat. Most people know about it. It's when a fighting person's nervous system has been stressed to its absolute peak and maximum. Can't take anymore input. The nervous system has either snapped or is about to snap. In the First World War, that condition was called shell shock. Simple, honest, direct language. Two syllables, shell shock. Almost sounds like the guns themselves. That was seventy years ago. Then a whole generation went by and the Second World War came along and very same combat condition was called battle fatigue. Four syllables now. Takes a little longer to say. Doesn't seem to hurt as much. Fatigue is a nicer word than shock. Shell shock! Battle fatigue. Then we had the war in Korea, 1950. Madison avenue was riding high by that time, and the very same combat condition was called operational exhaustion. Hey, we’re up to eight syllables now! And the humanity has been squeezed completely out of the phrase. It's totally sterile now. Operational exhaustion. Sounds like something that might happen to your car. Then of course, came the war in Vietnam, which has only been over for about sixteen or seventeen years, and thanks to the lies and deceits surrounding that war, I guess it's no surprise that the very same condition was called post-traumatic stress disorder. Still eight syllables, but we've added a hyphen! And the pain is completely buried under jargon. Post-traumatic stress disorder. I'll bet you if we'd of still been calling it shell shock, some of those Vietnam veterans might have gotten the attention they needed at the time.”

The military continues to bury the pain. Lieutenant Shawna Rogers died of a drug overdose in 2012 and her parents tried to find out why. Her mother, a nurse, compiled documents relating to her daughter’s complaints against the military. The military threatened legal action against her parents if they didn’t turn over the documents and attend the military board of inquiry. As her father, a retired plumber, told the Ottawa Citizen, “The board of inquiry is a kangaroo court and we didn’t want any part of it. There’s no bigger hell than losing your daughter. We were grieving and they were kicking us while we were down.”

The fight to defend pensions
The military is not only kicking but also cutting. While Harper wants to spend $490 billion on the military over the next 20 years, it’s clearly not to support veterans. In 2006, veteran Sean Bruyea criticized the pension cuts contained in the New Veterans Charter as a “callous, bureaucratic move to save money on the backs of disabled veterans.” The military responded by leaking his medical information in an attempt to discredit him. But this hasn’t stopped veterans from fighting to defend their pensions.

According to Major Mark Campbell, who was wounded in Afghanistan, the New Veterans Charter cuts 40% of veterans’ income. As he explained in 2011, “This New Veteran's Charter is a grotesque travesty. It is an abject betrayal by the government of Canada to our new generation of disabled and wounded veterans. What kind of deal is that? The people of Canada should be outraged…Junk the New Veteran’s Charter. It’s crap.”

In 2012 some veterans removed their medals on Remembrance Day, and last year some turned their backs on Conservative MPs during Remembrance Day ceremonies, “just like the Conservatives are turning their backs on veterans,” veteran Claude Latulippe explained.

This is part of a pensions fight across the country, which can link jobs and services and build unity between civilian workers and workers in uniform—a prospect that worries the Tories. This January, veterans joined protests organized by the Public Service Alliance of Canada against the closing of eight Veteran Administration offices that provide services and benefits. Veteran Affairs Minister Julian Fantino claimed “the veterans were used by the union. They were duped.” Veterans were furious and demanded Fantino’s resignation, and WWII veteran Roy Lamore reacted to Fantino’s apology by calling it “ridiculous, stupid and the worst thing” he had ever heard. Another veteran, Daniel Drapeau, shredded his Conservative membership card, saying, “They keep hurting us and they won’t stop.”

Remember when soldiers said no
A few months ago veterans rallied on Parliament Hill to defend their pensions. As organizer David MacLeod said, “If you can’t afford the wounded, you can’t afford the war.” This is the real spirit of Remembrance Day, when soldiers tired of being used as cannon fodder refused to fight.

Even the first Christmas during WWI saw this spirit, when British and German soldiers declared an unofficial truce and exchanged gifts rather than bullets. The military command cracked down on fraternizing, but the spirit continued. In April 1917 after another bloody offensive, tens of thousands of French troops refused to fight, and the military resorted to mass arrests and death sentences to restore “order.”  In October 1917 millions of Russian soldiers joined the revolution for peace, land and bread—which ended the eastern front. In late October 1918, German sailors refused to fight and triggered a revolution. Soldiers and workers organized democratic councils that swept the country in the first week of November, on the 10th the Kaiser fled the country and on the 11th the armistice was signed. Canada and other imperial powers tried to keep the war alive by sending troops to invade Russia, but Qu├ębecois soldiers resisted deployment from Victoria to Vladivostok in December.

Now, as we approach the anniversary of the “war to end all wars”, Harper has joined yet another war in Iraq—a continuation of the 2003 war and occupation that killed a million Iraqis and paved the war for ISIS. The Iraq War also killed thousands of soldiers, which would have included Canadian troops if Harper had his way in 2003. But the peace movement saved Canadian troops from joining the death toll—by stopping Canada from joining the war—and continues to support US Iraq War resisters.


A recent Military Times Poll found 70% of active-duty soldiers opposed sending combat troops to Iraq, but the US went ahead—and already a 19-year old Marine is dead. Harper now wants to use the tragic deaths of last week to justify sending more troops to Iraq. He will turn Remembrance Day on its head—turning a day of peace and healing created by war resisters into a celebration of war, a justification for eroding civil liberties, and lip service to veterans while he cuts their pensions and ignores their suffering and the suffering of all victims of war. The real legacy of Remembrance Day is to support the wounded—including both veterans and refugeesnot the war. This means peace not war, solidarity not racism, strengthening not eroding of civil liberties, and redirecting military spending into jobs and pensions, healthcare and education, and environmental justice.

Friday, September 26, 2014

This Changes Everything, including Naomi Klein

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate is a must-read guide to the climate justice movement. It summarizes the science of climate change, the extractivist industries driving it, the system to which they are connected, and the growing resistance. Through her dynamic style, Naomi Klein describes the changes in the climate, the changes in the movement, and inspires us to change ourselves as well—just as her own politics have changed.

Climate change
This Changes Everything warns of the severe consequences of climate change, the industries (like tar sands, fracking, and mountain top removal) that are pushing us to the precipice, and the racism and profiteering that accompany it. Klein shows that the proposed capitalist solutions—from industries like nuclear power, market schemes like carbon offsets, technology like geoengineering, or faith in the 1%—only compound the problem. As she explains, “The idea that capitalism and only capitalism can save the world from a crisis created by capitalism is no longer an abstract theory; it’s a hypothesis that has been tested and retested in the real world. We are now able to set theory aside and take a hard look at the results.”

Faced with a capitalist climate change, she debunks simplistic solutions—whether it’s calling for individual lifestyle changes while ignoring the socioeconomic conditions that constrain choice, claiming there aren’t enough resources while billions have gone to corporate bailouts, or blaming China and India while ignoring Western corporations profiting from the exploitation of their workers. This is not only a critique of the system that produces climate change but of the record of the mainstream environmental movement in challenging it. Klein outlines the coopting of the earlier environmental movement, “what had been a rabble of hippies became a movement of lawyers, lobbyists, and UN summit hoppers” who presented climate change “as a narrow technical problem with no end of profitable solutions within the market system.”

The failure of mainstream environmentalism has eliminated gradual and incremental options: “We are left with a stark choice: allow climate disruption to change everything about our world, or change pretty much everything about our economy to avoid that fate. But we need to be very clear: because of our decades of collective denial, no gradual, incremental options are now available to us.” This Changes Everything is an urgent call for mass action, connecting the increasing climate disasters to the radical transformation needed to stop them. As Klein explains in her poetic style, climate change is “a civilizational wake-up call. A powerful message—spoken in the language of fires, floods, droughts, and extinctions—telling us that we need an entirely new economic model and a new way of sharing this planet.”

Movement change
This Changes Everything profiles the rising climate justice movements, introducing readers to campaigns and activists around the world, and showing concrete and inspiring examples of how people are organizing. “All of this has changed so rapidly as I have been writing that I had had to race to keep up. Yes, ice sheets are melting faster than the models projected, but resistance is beginning to boil.”

Klein profiles the indigenous communities leading the climate justice movement, from the Ogoni people in Nigeria to the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation at ground zero of the tar sands. Contrasting the lack of solidarity to the Mi’kmaq blockade at Burnt Church 15 years ago with the broad support for the Mi’kmaq blockade at Elsipogtog last year, she describes the sea change that the movement is producing: “The movements against extreme energy extraction are becoming more than just battles against specific oil, gas, an coal companies and more, even, than pro-democracy movements. They are opening up spaces for a historical reconciliation between Indigenous peoples and non-Natives, who are finally understanding that, at a time when elected officials have open disdain for basic democratic principles, Indigenous rights are not a threat, but a tremendous gift.”

Arguing that “exploited workers and an exploited planet are, it turn out, a package deal,” Klein shares lessons from the Northern Cheyenne in building community-run solar panels, and explains how that the technology for renewables exists and provides an alternative both for front-line Indigenous communities defending their land and for non-Indigenous workers needing jobs: “Manufacturing in North America is as battered as family farming, which means that well-paying union jobs are so scarce that people will fight for whatever jobs are on offer, no matter how dangerous, precarious, or polluting to themselves, their families, or their communities. The solution, as the more visionary sectors of the labor movement understand, is to fight for policies that do not force workers to make those kinds of choices…Today’s climate movement does not have the luxury of simply saying no without simultaneously fighting for a series of transformative yeses—the building blocks of our next economy that can provide good clean jobs, as well as a social safety net that cushions the hardships for those inevitably suffering losses…There is no more potent weapon in the battle against fossil fuels than the creation of real alternatives. Just the glimpse of another kind of economy can be enough to energize the fight against the old one.”

As a great theorist for the movements, Naomi Klein has both influenced and been influenced by them. This Changes Everything represents another change in Naomi Klein’s own politics, that have shaped and been shaped by movements against corporate globalization, war and climate change.

From brand bullies to state bullies
In No Logo she explained the rise of multinationals as the result of a marketing idea in the 1980s, and wrote that the “virtual brick and mortar” of branding was replacing production. Taking aim at the “brand bullies” she praised a resistance “both focused and fragmented” that could subvert and hold the multinationals accountable by culture jamming and reclaiming the streets. Released in the wake of the 2001 Seattle protest against the WTO, No Logo reflected the emerging anti-globalization movement and provided activists with a global framework to understand corporations and the diverse threats they pose. But it left open the role of the state.

The Iraq War of 2003 and the historic movement against it showed that corporate profits don’t just derive from marketing strategies but from state violence—whether it’s to steal Iraq’s oil or profit from disasters in New Orleans. The Shock Doctrine reflected this radicalization and deepened it. As Naomi Klein wrote, “Most of us chose to oppose the way as an act of folly by a president who mistook himself for a king, and his British sidekick who wanted to be on the winning side of history. There was little interest in the idea that war was a rational policy choice, that the architects of the invasion had unleashed ferocious violence because they could not crack open the closed economies of the Middle East by peaceful means, that the level of terror was proportional to what was at stake.”

The Shock Doctrine was released in 2007 just at the time of the economic crisis, and armed activists to confront the resulting austerity. As the moderator introducing her at the Climate Convergence last week explained, Chicago teachers had reading groups of her book during their successful strike.

Whereas the word “capitalism” did not even make the index of No Logo, it was on the front cover and throughout The Shock Doctrine: the Rise of Disaster Capitalism. But it was not capitalism itself that was the problem, but a particular “fundamentalist” “unfettered” and “deregulated” version. Rather than a bad marketing idea of the 1980s, Klein located the problem decades prior in Milton Friedman’s economic theories that led a “50 year campaign for total corporate liberation.” As she wrote, “I am not arguing that all forms of market systems are inherently violent…A free market in consumer products can coexist with free public health care, with public schools, with a large segment of the economy—like a national oil company—held in state hands…Markets need not be fundamentalist… Keynes proposed exactly that kind of mixed, regulated economy…that system of compromises, checks and balances.”

From disaster capitalism to capitalist disasters
The climate science and the indigenous-led climate justice movement have led to another exciting shift in politics. As she wrote in the introduction of This Changes Everything, “this is the hardest book I have ever written, precisely because the research has led me to search out such radical responses.” Her search encourages us to do the same. Now the problem is not years of marketing or decades of neoliberalism but centuries of colonialism and capitalism: “the things we must do to avoid catastrophic warming are no longer just in conflict with the particular strain of deregulated capitalism that triumphed in the 1980s. They are now in conflict with the fundamental imperative at the heart of our economic model: grow or die.”

Rather than defending state-owned oil companies, she argues: “These have never been safe or low-risk industries. Running an economy on energy sources that release poisons as an unavoidable part of their extraction and refining has always required sacrifice zones—whole subsets of humanity categorized as less than fully human, which made their poisoning in the name of progress somehow acceptable.”

As a result, she takes on the record of the “extractivist left” who have tried to make change without fighting for climate justice—including trade unions “trying to freeze in place the dirtiest jobs, instead of fighting for the good clean jobs their members deserve,” centre-left Keynesians obsessed with GDP growth regardless of how it’s achieved, the former Soviet Union whose environmental record was just as bad as the capitalists, the Latin American government who have reduced economic inequality but not ecological injustice, and Greece’s left alternative Syriza that counterposed the environment with economic recovery.

Rather than calling for compromises, Naomi Klein denounces the “fetish of centrism” in the face of climate catastrophe: “What the ‘moderates’ constantly trying to reframe climate action as something more palatable are really asking is: How can we create change so that the people responsible for the crisis do not feel threatened by the solutions? How, they ask, do you reassure members of a panicked, megalomanical elite that they are still masters of the universe, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary? The answer is: you don’t. You make sure you have enough people on your side to change the balance of power and take on those responsible.”

Strategic debates
Shifting from subverting brands to calling for a climate revolution leads to a shift in strategy: “I have, in the past, strongly defended the right of young movements to their amorphous structures—whether that means rejecting identifiable leadership or eschewing programmatic demands…As many are coming to realize, the fetish for structurelessness, the rebellion against any kind of institutionalization, is not a luxury today’s transformative movements can afford…Despite endless griping, tweeting, flash mobbing, and occupying, we collectively lack many of the tools that built and sustained the transformative movements of the past. Our public institutions are disintegrating, while the institutions of the traditional left—progressive political parties, strong unions, membership-based community service organizations—are fighting for their lives.”

There’s also the question of the ultimate aim of this fight. If the climate crisis is rooted in centuries of colonialism and capitalism, then we need to replace the corporations and states responsible. But while This Change Everything leads us in that direction, it constantly returns to the theme of The Shock Doctrine: that the problem is not capitalism itself but the “reigning ideology” of “market fundamentalism,” created by the “free market counterrevolution” that has “infiltrated virtually every government” and “binds the imagination of our elites.” This makes it seem like neoliberalism is a conspiratorial highjacking of a system that could otherwise be sustainable, leading to nostalgia for the Keynesianism of the 1930s and social programs after WWII.

But Keynesianism failed to solve the Great Depression, which only disappeared through the barbarism of WWII and a permanent arms economy that temporarily sustained a capitalist boom. This allowed states to develop health and education both under pressure from social movements but also in order to compete with other capitalist rivals. The re-emergence of economic crisis led to neoliberal ideology—not the other way around—and the limitations of its “corporate liberation strategy” was made clear when decades of deregulation and financialization failed to prevent the worst (and ongoing) economic crisis since the Great Depression. Economic crisis and war (whose ecological impacts are hardly mentioned) are both intrinsic features of capitalism, whether Keynesian or neoliberal. But because the democratic and revolutionary waves that ended WWI and inspired the world were first crushed and then buried in history, the only answer to her question “has an economic shift of this kind ever happened before in history?” is some reformist version of capitalism.


This Changes Everything does not quite change everything. But released in the context of 400,000 marching for climate justice—along with thousands of actions across the world—it reflects and advances the hope that this new movement can change everything: “The climate movement offers an overarching narrative in which everything from the fight for good jobs to justice for migrants to reparations for historical wrongs like slavery and colonialism can all become part of the grand project of building a nontoxic, shockproof economy before it’s too late.”

Monday, September 22, 2014

Photo essay: the People's Climate March


18 months ago saw the largest climate march in US history, as 40,000 people marched on the White House. Yesterday saw up to 10 times that number march on the UN climate summit demanding climate action.

This reflects the urgency of the climate crisis that is quite literally a matter of life and death. The destruction of all of earth’s species, the death of the oceans, carbon emissions pushing to a tipping point—all these are processes already under way, and as Naomi Klein explained at the climate convergence the night before the march, all we need to do for this to continue is nothing.


This threat is accelerated by increasingly extreme forms of extraction—deepwater drilling, mountaintop removal, fracking, tar sands and nuclear—that deliberately devastate the earth in order to extract toxic fuels.


This threat is not evenly distributed, but is sharpened by environmental racism. From Hurricane Katrina to Hurricane Sandy, the increasingly unnatural disasters are disproportionately affecting poor and racialized communities at home and abroad, those least responsible for the climate crisis.


The climate crisis is intertwined with the economic crisis, both originating from a common source. The same 1% that is raising tides is also raising rents, tuition, debt, healthcare costs, and unemployment of the 99%. But people are also rising.
  

The historic march in New York—and the 2,600 other actions across 150 countries that happened the same day—show that the global climate justice movement is growing, led by those most affected. The People’s Climate March was led by youth carrying the banner “Frontlines of crisis, Forefront of change”, followed by an Indigenous contingent with the banner “Respect Indigenous Peoples, End CO2lonialism.”


Solidarity with Indigenous peoples is growing alongside solidarity for migrants, who are challenging the climate disasters that displaced them and the exploitation they encounter in their new country.


While extraction industries thrive on pitting workers against the planet, the climate justice movement includes growing demands for green jobs and a just transition, so that workers can be part of building a health world.


While some on the march called on people to change their dietary habits or electoral choices, others were clear on the main threats to the planet and its people: corporations and the military, as this float carried by Veterans for Peace explained.
  

While Harper boycotted the UN climate summit, hundreds from Canada joined the march, and thousands joined solidarity demonstrations across the country.


Participants from Canada marched in Indigenous, faith and anti-tar sands contingents—which marched against tar sands and pipelines, and for divestment and green energy.


While the threat of climate change is serious, the march was as festive as it was urgent. The climate crisis is also an opportunity. A better world is possible, but it will take system change to stop climate change.