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We must embrace a new radicalism.
Friday’s climate strike by students across the globe will have no more impact than the mass mobilizations by women following the election of Donald Trump or the hundreds of thousands of protesters who took to the streets to denounce the Iraq War. This does not mean these protests should not have taken place. They should have. But such demonstrations need to be grounded in the bitter reality that in the corridors of power we do not count. If we lived in a democracy, which we do not, our aspirations, rights and demands, especially the demand that we confront the climate emergency, would have an impact. We would be able to vote representatives into power in government to carry out change. We would be able to demand environmental justice from the courts. We would be able to divert resources to the elimination of carbon emissions.
Voting, lobbying, petitioning and protesting to induce the ruling elites to respond rationally to the climate catastrophe have proved no more effective than scrofula victims’ appeals to Henry VIII to cure them with a royal touch. The familiar tactics employed over the past few decades by environmentalists have been spectacular failures. In 1900 the burning of fossil fuel—mostly coal—produced about 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year. That number had risen threefold by 1950. Today the level is 20 times higher than the 1900 figure. During the last decade the increase in CO2 was 100 to 200 times faster than what the earth experienced during the transition from the last ice age. On May 11 the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii recorded 415.26 parts per million of CO2 in the air. It’s believed to be the highest concentration since humans evolved. We will embrace a new paradigm for resistance or die.
The ruling elites and the corporations they serve are the principal obstacles to change. They cannot be reformed. And this means revolution, which is what Extinction Rebellion seeks in calling for an “international rebellion” on Oct. 7, when it will attempt to shut down city centers around the globe in acts of sustained, mass civil disobedience. Power has to be transferred into our hands. And since the elites won’t give up power willingly, we will have to take it through nonviolent action.
Protests can be the beginning of political consciousness. But they can also be empty political theater. They can be used to celebrate our moral probity—advertisements, especially in the age of social media, for ourselves. They can be a boutique activism in which protesters allow themselves to be funneled through police barricades and arrests are politely choreographed, resulting in a few hours in jail and the credentialing of the demonstrators as radicals. They can be used to distance ourselves from a repugnant political figure such as Donald Trump, while leaving us silent and complicit when the same policies are carried out by a supposed progressive such as Barack Obama. This is a game the state has learned to play to its advantage. As long as we do not disrupt the machine, as long as we protest according to their rules, the elites will let us march through the streets of Washington in pussy hats or walk out of school for a day.
When power is threatened, as it was in the sustained protests during the Occupy encampments and at Standing Rock, the ruling elites react very differently. They employ the full weight of the surveillance state to demonize the protesters, arrest and detain the leadership and infiltrate agents provocateurs to carry out violent assaults to justify the use of the police and security forces to shut the protests down[….]
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Copyright 2019 Chris Hedges. Published in TruthDig.