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FLASHBACK | 350.org: Environmental Corporatism

The following excerpts from the article Harnessing People Power Continued – The 99% Spring and the “Professional Left” are written by Edmund Berger. The article,  in its entirety, can be read on Swans Commentary where it was published May 21, 2012.

 (Swans – May 21, 2012)   “Astroturfing” is a term that has entered the popular lexicon of the politically educated, referring to the ability of largely unseen actors to mold and direct grassroots social movement. Awareness of this phenomenon is a direct fallout from the ascendancy of the Tea Party, as it became rapidly apparent that its transition from a protest movement to a legislative powerhouse was guided with the help of the now-renowned Koch brothers. These conservative-minded billionaire philanthropists, working through their interlocking family foundations, had invested vast sums of money into intermediary organizations that helped plan, facilitate, and execute successful protests, rallies, and political campaigns. Yet those who flaunt the term “astroturfing” — namely, those on the left of the spectrum — have shown a certain reluctance to acknowledge the fact that this same method is being applied to progressive grassroots movements as well, re-concentrating disenfranchisement with the dominant institutions of power into a manageable opposition capable of acting as a voting base. This is not a recent development; it dates back to the “Progressive Era” of American political history, and it forms a central apparatus of US foreign policy abroad under the non-descript diplomacy of “democracy promotion.”

350.org: Environmental Corporatism

The first organization to be looked at is 350.org, a climate change awareness advocacy organization launched in 2007 by the author and environmentalist Bill McKibben. McKibben’s approach to environmentalism is positioned firmly in the ideology of “green capitalism,” advocating a return to localized market economies while eschewing the notions of collectivization or wealth redistribution. Halting catastrophic climate change, he argues, “will not mean abandoning Adam Smith” and “doesn’t require that you join a commune or become a socialist.” (2) Espousing this moderate viewpoint has led 350.org’s subsidization by large liberal philanthropies, primarily, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF). This is an important connection, as RBF’s current president, Stephen Heintz, is the founding executive director of Demos: A Network for Ideas & Action, a “non-partisan public policy research and advocacy organization committed to building an America that achieves its highest democratic ideals.” Deepening the ties, Demos, funded by the RBF and Ford Foundation, hosts 99% Spring material on their website and also counts Rebuild the Dream founder Van Jones on its advisory board. Furthermore, in 2011 350.org merged with another environmental coalition, 1Sky, where Jones can be found yet again on its director board.

In “Harnessing People Power” I argued that the center-left publication The Nation was intimately tied to the 99% Spring and Rebuild the Dream by summarizing the connections between the magazine’s figureheads and the network. (3) It’s certainly interesting to observe then that one of the most influential of The Nation’s writers, Naomi Klein, announced in 2011 that she was joining board of directors of 350.org. (4) Klein’s notoriety derives mainly from her well-known anti-corporatist treatises, No Logo and The Shock Doctrine, texts in which she has analyzed the corrosive nature of neoliberalism on culture, national politics, and economics. However, a close reading of The Shock Doctrine reveals her glaring refusal to attack capitalism’s production modes; instead, she prefers to refer to her “emergent Keynesianism” and waxes poetically about the days when “young men from Ivy League schools sat around commanding table… having heated debates about the interest rate and the price of wheat.” (5) This vision of a benevolent technocracy is at odds, certainly, with the desires for true democracy that she expresses elsewhere in the text, and her longing for Ivy League-directed economics should be contrasted with the sociological analyses of the liberal contingencies of the elite establishment as presented by C. Wright Mills and G. William Domhoff. (6) While Klein’s critique is undoubtedly vital to helping undermine the grand narrative of neoliberalism, it is ultimately deflective in nature — did imperial ambitions (the Vietnam War, for example) not exist during the “heyday of Keynesianism,” and was this economic system not wrought with its own internal tensions and structural flaws? Regardless, her discourse is completely compatible with viewpoint of the moderate American left.

Before moving on, the last connections of 350.org to mention have more immediate relevancy to the 99% Spring. As mentioned above, 2011 saw a merger between 350.org and 1Sky. At the time, 1Sky’s campaign director was one Liz Butler, who in turn is now sending out emails from the 99% Spring with subject lines beseeching recipients to “Become a 99% Spring Trainer.” (7) Furthermore, one of 350.org’s key organizers, Joshua Kahn Russell, has utilized his organization’s e-mailing list to blanket the activist sphere calling attention to the 99% Spring and requesting people to volunteer as trainers. Important, Russell, prior to his work at 350.org, was affiliated with the Ruckus Society and the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) — two more organizations that are helping to launch the 99% Spring.

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