Thursday, June 16, 2016

Post Election

A tremendous amount of digital ink has already been spilled by progressive commentators on how to maintain the Bernie momentum. It is a time-worn dilemma; elections mean losers and defeat often leads to disillusionment and cynicism. Especially in the American system of Kabuki Democracy.
But lots of these progressives (and some socialists) believe that the Bernie "political revolution" is different, that it has a capacity to fold into movement building IF ONLY the energy gets directed somewhere before it dissipates. The other dilemma is the theoretical split between "the streets" and "the voting booth". If Obama proved one thing, it's that getting your man in office can send a lot of people home, satisfied with their "victory" and assured their man will follow through on his campaign promises. You know, "representation". on the other hand, masses of chanting activists can demand all day long but if they can't back their demands with a viable threat to the existing order, they are just pounding sand.

A quick survey just today finds articles by Kate Aranoff, Robert Borosage,Sarah van Gelder and Dan La Botz on strategy going forward. A theme which emerges is one similar to that of Michael Albert and his "Shared Program"; that of finding a synthesis. Van Gelder puts it like this; to "come together on a strategic focus...set ambitious,disruptive, transformational goals". To this end Albert got a bunch of left luminaries to sign a document and others are putting together a People's Summit (June 17-19 in Chicago) and Gar Alperowitz is building a Next Systems Project. Each hopes to take the myriad issues linked to justice and equality around which the left now mobilizes- a partial list includes "fight for 15, mass incarceration, voting rights, tax on Wall Street speculation, climate justice,Medicare for All..." and come up with a way for each to support the other. Some see this struggle taking place over the Democratic platform, some look to the ongoing Social Forum process. Almost everyone traces a trajectory from Occupy Wall Street through Sanders to the current moment. But always and forever we see the list of social ills and the NGOs dedicated to them but almost never do we see anybody try to actually prioritize it.

The list I quoted from above comes off the People's Summit website and through its ordering it suggests, if only implicitly, a certain prioritization. And what I immediately notice is that climate justice comes in at number 5. What I want to do here is make the argument that climate justice should explicitly be made number 1. Here is why.

First, the science tells us if we don't address climate change immediately it will simply be too late (see the last post for data). And by too late I mean not just the obvious devastation from weather, but also that the effects will exacerbate all the other issues on the list to the point where social justice activists will be confronting a self-feeding crisis that makes the 2008 global economic meltdown seem like a game of frisbee. So there is the temporal element, the ticking clock, as it were. Then there is the fact that the climate movement is already a powerful, militant force of resistance whose critique is becoming more radical by the day, thanks to its intellectual contributors and theoretical foundation. By that I mean it potentially challenges the essence of capitalist ideology; more precisely, the imperative of unlimited growth (and accumulation. It also fatally punctures market logic. Thirdly, the notion of climate justice allows us to move beyond mere carbon reduction to global re-distribution and structural change. It allows us to re-imagine democracy and to think about power relations, both political and economic. By placing our conception of Nature in question, it upends many destructive mythologies, constructions and conceptions upon which capitalism is built.

In this era of "inter-sectionalism" and local autonomy I realize it goes against the grain to call for actual unification, for prioritization or consolidation. I've noticed that those who do call for "focus" never actually select. It is of course unclear what such a selection process could ever look like but for now a robust, frank discussion and debate would be refreshing.

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