Image: Another 400 people got arrested in DC this week.
[Earth First! Journal editor's note: This letter was originally published as a comment on our re-post about the No KXL protests in Washington D.C. this week. While we fully support a diversity of tactics, ranging from petitions and lawsuits to civil disobedience and sabotage, the critique made in this letter has been actively suppressed in environmental movement coverage of the climate crisis for fear of causing "horizontal hostility." We hope student and environmental NGO organizers will hear the loving pleas of "not enough" and take the constructive advice to "start listening to the people most affected and supporting their struggles." For example, support is needed right now to resist pipeline expansion in Wet'suwet'en territory!]
An open letter from some students at Green Mountain College re: XL DISSENT
This isn’t personal, honest. Nothing holier-than-thou. Most of us are playing the same game as you– conference calls, teach-ins, unpaid internships. And it’s for the same reasons, or at least we think so-we’ve seen some of what this way of life is doing to the world, and we know that there’s more out there that we don’t know, more than we could ever absorb. And we’re scared, and we want it to stop.
But we’ve started, slowly, to realize something even scarier. The ways that we’ve been taught to fight back aren’t cutting it. Not even close. Candlelight vigils, petitions, chaining yourself to the White House fence, none of it is going to make the continued extraction of fossil fuels less profitable, and none of it is going to shift our communities away from a way of life centered on profit.
Barack Obama does not care about your arrest record any more than he cares about a soundbite he delivered to a bunch of rich college kids at Georgetown a couple years back. When he told some fellow students trying to speak truth to power that “We had the pipeline rally in the summer,” it summed up pretty well how much pressure he’s actually feeling from all of the environmentalists’ efforts to stop KXL.
Let’s break it down a little bit. This KXL dissent thing, as well as pretty much all of 350 and friends’ strategy, is meant to draw media attention and put political pressure on the president. We’re gonna hold Obama accountable, make him deliver on his promises. The problem is, there’s absolutely nothing in it for him. Even if we all have to hold our noses, the vast majority of self-identified environmentalists are going to vote for Democrats in 2016 and beyond because there’s no other viable option. Third parties sound nice but we all took Gov in high school and know that it’s not gonna happen. The Democrats also know it. It would be nice for them if we knocked and doors and phone banked in 2016, but it’s nothing compared to the money they need from Wall St. And I’m sure you know where Wall St. stands on the whole pipeline thing.
The truth is we’re not going to get anything done if we keep playing politics. Bill McKibben is wrong–this movement is not solving the climate crisis, and there’s no time to stick to the same old strategies a little longer, hoping for a different result. The crisis is here. We’re living in it, even though we’re all insulated to some degree by our privilege. It’s scary, but it doesn’t mean we have to give up. It means we need to try something new.
Rather than appointing ourselves representatives of frontline communities, let’s start listening to the people most affected and supporting their struggles–not just by paying lip service and not just by offering a few minutes of stage time at Powershift. Other communities have much more at stake here than we do and if we’re going to say that we’re standing in solidarity then we need to start acting like it. If you have the privilege to travel across the country to get arrested, use it to take some pressure off people of color fighting for their lives instead of helping some big non-governmental organization put out another press release.
We’re not doing the best job of this either. Very few allies are. It’s hard enough to face the police, classmates, your parents, even when you’re doing the kind of activism you can put on a resume. But we all know what’s at stake here–how many lives, how many communities are threatened by this system–and if we really want to dismantle it we need to start having serious conversations about our priorities and our next steps as a movement. We hope this letter will help start those conversations at your school.