Reformist notions of political change which maintain that the only legitimate way to create change is through incremental reformations of policy within existing structures have been revealed as inadequate and ineffective methodologies. They have failed to exact the shifts in policy they have promised us. They have failed to create the social organization necessary to respond with sufficient co-ordination and effectiveness to the looming crises of biodiversity loss, climate change, and the rise of populist nationalism and violent extremism. We face extinction precisely as a result of the current socio-economic political organization, the “system” under which we live our lives. We are being asked to die so that this system can live.
I would suggest that we have a right to life that an abstract set of principles and ideas does not. If any system stands in the way of that right, actively jeopardizes it and works to undermine it through elaborate networks of violence and repression, then that system ought to be considered illegitimate, and our conversation ought to shift from the rhetoric of reform to the praxis of revolution: how do we safely and non-violently dismantle those aspects of the current system which create oppression and the conditions for oppression, and how do we safely and non-violently create fair, ethical, equitable and just forms of social organization in their place?
There are those of us who enjoy a certain set of privileges who as I write this are asking us to focus on a discussion of ideas between the proponents of unregulated capitalism, wanton destruction of the earth and living beings, institutionalized racism, sexism and bigotry, xenophobia; and those who believe in our responsibility as living, conscious beings to act in such a way as to honor life. This is framed as a uniting message intended to bring about some state of harmony in our society. It is said as if these two positions are of equal legitimacy. It is claimed this type of conversation is indicative of an attitude free from bias and partiality, which seeks understanding and tolerance.
For those who do not enjoy this set of privileges, for the indigenous men, women and children struggling with institutionalized racism and the effects of climate change that unregulated capitalism has wrought; for the poor, the disabled, the minorities, the “others”, this conciliatory gesture is simply not good enough. It amounts to the silencing of people’s lived experiences and the ignorance of the conditions in which so many live every day. While those of us who are not subject to these forms of oppression may have the time and the freedom to sit around and try to find common ground with those complicit with genocide, ecocide and oppression; those subject to these abuses do not.
You can only tell people to live within the system if you’re not dying from the system.
This is why I cannot agree with the notion that a discussion of ideas between the poles of two manufactured extremes is a sufficient response to the current situation we face as human beings. It is too little, too late. It is an abrogation of the responsibility we all have to stand in solidarity with our fellow human beings against tyranny. When Hitler rose to power in Germany, there were those writing for “centrist” publications who allayed the fears of the populace by downplaying the threat that the Nazi party posed. History is replete with examples of those who seek to find common ground with those who choose to oppress others, and the typical result of their appeasement is blood.
We cannot afford to waste what may be the last window of opportunity we have as a species to avoid extinction and the horrors that accompany it. We cannot betray our fellow human beings through our inaction. For millions and soon billions on earth, we simply do not have the time to wallow in a reflective form of self-protective sophistry, to split hairs while the earth burns around us. We owe it to each other to do better.
This is not to say that conversation, dialogue and understanding are not necessary preconditions for any form of positive change. It is not to say that we should disconnect from those we disagree with, or silence them. It is not to say that the discussion of ideas is a fruitless task. Rather, it is to point to the obvious fact that without justice, truth cannot live. And justice requires more than empty words and conciliatory gestures, polite conversations and watered down compromises. Justice requires action.
Creating a better world, creating that justice will require a different sort of conversation. Creating that justice will require us to identify the sources of injustice and to hold them to account through our actions.
When women rose up and demanded the vote, there were those who called for the same tepid behaviour, for compromise and “partial freedoms.” When Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement rose up and demanded that a man be judged not by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character, there were those who spoke of half-measures and made appeasements to the lynch mobs. When over the last century, the Indigenous Peoples of the world and the people of the Global South led the response to climate and ecological crises, doing more even now than richer countries in the Global North, there have been those who have sought to silence them with ignorance and violence, and who have sought to water-down the reality of their lives to appeal to the sensibilities of Western narratives.
Simply put, the movements I mention above were not successful because they appealed to their opposition. They were not successful because they “won over” those who would see them murdered or locked in cages for existing. They were not successful because they created a salon culture of mild mannered discussion, or because they languished in a rhetoric of reform. They were successful because they created material consequences for those who oppressed them. They were successful because they told the truth, and acted as if the truth was real.
This is our responsibility. To tell the truth, and to act as if the truth is real. To stand in solidarity with our fellow human beings, and with our actions to create a world free from oppression. We have been talking ourselves out of our responsibilities for too long, and now the eleventh hour is at hand. Reformation has failed. We face extinction. The time has come to talk action, to put our values into practice, to act in solidarity and to build that better world. We can talk and walk at the same time.
With the above in mind, I’d like to finish with an excerpt from Roger Hallam’s “Common Sense for the 21st Century”, which you can find the link to below; and to remind everyone that non-violent action is the only possible path forward. The state has a monopoly on the use of force, and they are better at it than we are. If we aggress, they will use that against us to de-legitimize our movement, and we will fail. We must proceed with open hearts, open minds, in a gentle and careful manner, lest we accept the fate of so many failed revolutions before us.
“We must adopt the most successful model for regime change shown by the social scientific research — the civil resistance model. This involves mass participation civil disobedience. Tens and hundreds of thousands of people breaking the law to create a transformation of political structures.
There are a number of tactical options, but the main process is as follows:
• The people conduct mass mobilisation — thousands need to take part. • They amass in a capital city where the elites in business, government, and the media are located. • They break the law — they cross the Rubicon. Examples include blocking the roads and transport systems. • They maintain a strictly nonviolent discipline even and especially under conditions of state repression. • They focus on the government not intermediate targets — government is the institution that make the rules of society and has the monopoly of coercion to enforce them. • They continue their action day after day — one day actions however big rarely impose the necessary economic cost to bring the authorities to the table. • The actions are celebratory and even fun — most people respond what is cultural and celebratory rather than political and solemn.
After one or two weeks following this plan, the historical records shows that a regime is highly likely to collapse or is forced to enact structural change. This is due to well established dynamics of nonviolent political struggle. The authorities are presented with an impossible dilemma. On the one hand they can allow the daily occupation city streets to continue. This will only encourage greater participation and undermine their authority.
On the other hand, if they opt to repress the protestors, they risk a backfiring effect. This is where more people come onto the street in response to the sacrifices of those the authorities have taken off the street. In situations of intense political drama people forget their fear and decide to stand by those who are sacrificing themselves for the common good.
The only way out is for negotiations to happen. And only then will a structural opportunity open up for the emergency transformation of the economy that we need. Of course, this proposal is not certain to work but is substantially possible.”