Vox Populi

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Mel Packer: Divestment from Fossil Fuels

Feb. 13 and 14 were “Global Divestment Days” devoted to the international movement calling for governments, universities and financial and religious institutions to divest from fossil fuels. In Pittsburgh, college students and community members came together to rally in Schenley Plaza in the Oakland neighborhood. Even in the freezing temperatures, dozens showed up in support of the cause. Here is the text of a speech by Pittsburgh activist Mel Packer.

On June 4, 1940, the new Prime Minster of Britain, Winston Churchill, gave a speech to parliament regarding the war against Germany that Britain declared in Sept 1939. In this famous speech, he said” We shall defend our land, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills, and we shall never surrender”.

While I am generally not a proponent of war-like metaphors in calls to action, I submit to you that the people of this planet, from the far beaches of the most remote islands, to the alpine peaks of Europe, to the deserts of Sub-Sahara Africa, and yes, to the streets of Pittsburgh are called to war. This is not a war we choose, for our preference is to live in peace, but we, like the people of Europe in 1939, have been attacked relentlessly , viciously, and without shame or moral misgivings by a sociopathic power that sees itself as greater than any power previously known to the creatures of the earth. Indeed, if you have a faith is some diety, this enemy believes itself to be more powerful and with the right to exercise more power than any god known to any faith.

This enemy is, simply, the power of a capitalist system that sees the residents of the planet earth as “expendable” beings to be used, exploited, and ultimately discarded when no longer capable of producing profit.

And it is not only we, the inhabitants of Earth who are expendable to those in power, but also the lands, mountains, rivers, and oceans which rightfully belong to us and not to those who simply see them as another exploitable resource.

At the behest of those in power and their paid servants in the halls of congresses around the world, decisions are made that defy everything we know about science and the effects of continuing to exploit carbon based fuels.

While they make their obscene profits and continue to ruin our earth, they also continue to persuade too many of us that we can find salvation from climate change by (among other things) building more efficient cars to clog the highways but cutting mass transit for workers. They tell us that getting a few jobs building material for toxic pipelines is more important than the inevitable rising cancer rates our children will suffer from the poisons dumping from their pipes.

They mount vast propaganda campaigns to persuade us that electing some Democrat over a Republican will create a better world for all and that near-utopia is around the next election corner, while conveniently hiding the campaign contributions and bribes that flow to the candidates of both parties from those corrupt corporations.

Yes, we are at war. This is not a war with borders, not a war to conquer islands, not a war to seize new lands nor to conquer a race or national population, but a war for survival that we have no choice but to wage. We did not declare this war, it has been declared upon us.

This is not a war we can or should wage with arms for we would lose any such attempt against the military might of our governments that serve not the people of our nations, but those in power.

Nor is it a war in which anyone can remain neutral, claiming no knowledge, pretending or hoping that rapidly advancing climate change will simply correct itself and go away.

One need only to pick up a newspaper or go online any moment of any day to find new studies documenting that climate change in the form of a warming planet, melting glaciers, rapid species extinction, vanishing ice-caps and more is occurring at a rate beyond the wildest predictions of even 10 years ago. This looming catastrophe can no longer be ignored.

But many say that these forces determined to bring us to planetary destruction are too powerful, too rich, too embedded in our political and economic systems to be brought down, even to be challenged.

Brothers and Sisters, we know that those who preach compliance, and acquiescence in the face of this deadly system are wrong. We know from our history that the masses of people, when united, can win and have won.

If we did not believe that, Nelson Mandela would not have been freed and apartheid would not have been ended. If we did not believe that, here in the US, children would still be slaving in coal mines and we would not have built the union movement. If we did not believe that, the Civil Rights movement would not have succeeded in opening up that long road to liberation for people of color, women would not have achieved equal rights, gay and trans-gender people would still be hiding in closets, afraid to live openly and declare pride in themselves.

Yes, history has and continues to teach us that there is no power greater than the power of a united peoples in a mass movement determined to create a world that benefits all of the people all of the time.

We have a long road ahead, filled with obstacles, fraught with danger, and that road has not yet been chosen by enough of us. But we know that we have no choice but to travel that road for the alternative is barbarism.

We must not allow ourselves to be distracted by rich politicians who claim to be on our side, nor by false leaders who’s main goal is their own elevation and continuing leadership.

We must trust ourselves, speak to and with each other, march, rally, understand that our bodies on the line mean more than our votes in some phony electoral process that offers us no real choice. And yes, some of us will be arrested, some of us will serve jail time, some of us will be bloodied and torn, some of us will become discouraged and need to step back for a while, but in the end, ALL of us, not just SOME of us, will win.

I close now with the words again of Winston Churchill on May 13, 1940 in another speech to the people of Britain when he said:

You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all costs—Victory in spite of all terror—Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.  

copyright 2015 Mel Packer


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