No Time for Polite Conversation
“Polite conversationalists leave no mark save the scars upon the Earth that could have been prevented had they stood their ground.”
Last week, climate organizers in Washington D.C. called for a disruption of the 87th annual congressional baseball game at Nationals Park in Washington D.C. The plan, according to the organizers’ website, was to non-violently disrupt the game and send a message to Democrats that more needs to be done on climate issues.
The organizing for this action mobilized people into action. According to reports, the police presence largely outweighed the number of protestors and some game-watchers responded violently to protests, but the only arrests were of climate activists. On game day, groups sat-in and blockaded multiple entrances at the baseball park, others held banners inside the park (that we immediately ripped from their hands by police) and police violently arrested three activists.
Just the suggestion of disrupting the annual congressional baseball game sent up the “civility” flags from the expected hand-wring quarters. It has become normal practice for politicians to call for a polite conversation instead of protest and especially if it is “direct action” and “confrontational protest.”
Ryan Thompson, the chair of the Congressional Baseball Game said “The Congressional Baseball Game for Charity is not a platform for any political or policy statements, it’s about Democrats and Republicans coming together to help the vulnerable and underserved in our community.”
Tom Manger, the chief of the Capital Police, advised protestors to “stay home.” And stated that the Capital Police “will not tolerate violence or any unlawful behavior during this family event.” (Although, he had no problem with violence on the part of his officers against protestors.)
Of course, this action touched a larger nerve with Beltway politicians. Over the summer, we’ve seen protests at the homes of Supreme Court (SCOTUS) justices since it was leaked that the court would be overturning Roe v. Wade (and then did it). The Senate took immediate steps to increase SCOTUS justice security budgets after a weekend of protests at Brett Kavanaugh’s home. At the behest of the federal government, local and state politicians in Maryland have been limiting protests at SCOTUS justice homes through various ordinances and laws.
Furthermore, red-states like Florida are also outlawing home demonstrations and cracking down on confrontational protest with escalated charges.
The ruling class is getting scared of bold tactics like home demonstrations and disrupting their performative charity events. If they only had taken the idea of a right-wing insurrection a little more seriously.
To put some real disruption in context, outside of the Beltway, last week, devastating flash floods rising from the North Fork of the Kentucky River hit eastern Kentucky. The floods killed at least 35. This tragically included four children who were trying to escape the floods with their parents on a mobile home roof and then a tree. As a result, politicians sent thoughts and prayers. Biden and KY Gov. Andy Brashear declared emergencies (although no climate emergency) and mobilized resources, etc, etc.
Mainstream media said these floods weren’t directly the result of the climate crisis, but we all know that’s fake news. The rains causing the floods in eastern Kentucky were the result of erratic and changing weather patterns created by climate change.
Furthermore, they were caused by the reckless damage that decades of strip mining by the coal industry has wrought on the region. This is an industry that has waged literal war on the land and people of Appalachia. The brutal process of clearing, literally exploding the tops off mountains, digging up the coal, dumping of waste and processing the coal and dumping more waste has devastated the region. Hundreds of mountains have been blasted and stripped away. Over 2,000 miles of rivers and streams buried and the industry has left pollution throughout the Appalachian Mountains.
To put it simply, the extreme floods aren’t natural cycles and the damage was exacerbated by decades of ruin on the land and people. As the climate crisis gets worse, the industry’s harm leaves little in the way of a natural defense to flooding.
As Alex Gibson with AppalShop said “Folks have been crushed by the weight of coal companies leaving behind nothing except coal runoff ponds that flood like they did this week and the remains of logging that blew through houses and created a perfect storm of water and timber that even the strongest house couldn’t withstand.
In eastern Kentucky, Appalachian mutual aid groups sprung into action. Coordinating on social media, groups like EKY Mutual Aid and Queer Kentucky have began promoting donation sites, gathering, and transporting supplies into flooded areas, supporting relief centers and more.
While states like Kentucky and West Virginia rank last in terms of funding and resources for emergency preparedness, mutual aid -the voluntary exchanges of services and goods- has a long history in Appalachia. Historically, unions, churches and small town communities have provided for each other when the government and corporations didn’t care to show up.
Mutual aid runs deep in Appalachia. The same groups providing support have been fighting the coal industry in various way for a long time. As I’ve written about before, the Appalachian anti-strip mining movement to emerge out of the 1960s was a vibrant grassroots movement rooted in community resistance and mutual aid. It used tactics like civil disobedience, sabotage and armed defense of property to fight coal operators. But also was part of a strong community that shared, food, housing, aid and comfort to those engaged in the struggle.
Moving west to California, with an epic drought and the state declaring a water emergency, we’re now seeing another searing wildfire season. The McKinney Fire -the worst so far this year- in the Klamath National Forest in Siskiyou Country, CA has ravaged over 55,000 acres. It has claimed four lives, put 3,000 people under order of evacuation and burned over a hundred structures in the town of Yreka. Even worse, it has created a pyrocumulonimbus cloud that went up 39,000 feet into the sky. This cloud has created its own weather, and the effect is causing thunderstorms which are now starting their own fires.
In Europe, the climate crisis is leading to more severe heatwaves, drought and wildfires. The heat was so intense in London that the runway at Heathrow literally melted preventing air traffic from landing. Wildfires have broken out again in Slovenia, Greece, Spain and Italy, and Spain, Portugal and France being in listed in “extreme fire danger” by the European Forest Fire Information System.
On the false solutions front, the Democrats and the media have been celebrating the deal struck between West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and the Democratic leadership for climate, health and tax legislation. After months of closed door negotiations, Manchin, and now Arizona centrist Kyrsten Sinema, have signed off on the “Inflation Reduction Act.
Despite being called a “climate bill,” this legislation does a whole lot for the fossil fuel industry. With it, the federal government will be auctioning off MORE federal land and waters for oil drilling. It would require the Interior Department to hold lease sales for oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of Mexico and the Cook Inlet in Alaska. It also requires the department to continue to hold auctions for fossil fuel leases if it plans to approve new wind or solar projects on federal lands. It also expands tax credits for carbon capture technology, a false solution that allows coal or gas-burning power plants to keep operating with lower emissions.
Manchin also secured an agreement from Democratic leaders to vote on a separate measure to speed up the process of issuing permits for energy infrastructure, potentially smoothing the way for projects like the Mountain Valley pipeline in West Virginia.
This bill is full of corporate handouts for the oil, gas and coal sectors. The Democrats cheer the passage of climate legislation, but continue to harm the climate, communities, and wild places with vulgar compromise. Indeed, the never-ending culture of compromise in Washington is the ultimate false solution.
Finally, their response to criticism and protest are calls for civility while increasing police budgets to make sure no one holds them accountable.
It’s Now or Never, Let’s Go Hard Scrabble
Despite, the epic compromise in Washington D.C. selling out our future, people are fighting back. Whether it be in back country campaigns against pipelines or the destruction of forests; or naming and shaming Wall Street executives and Democratic politicians for their long-standing relationships with oil, gas and coal, people continue to rise to the occasion.
In his excellent history of radical environmentalism, The Ecocentrists, historian Keith Makoto Woodhouse offers a history of radical environmentalists who waged hardscrabble campaigns in the late twentieth century. He starts with the first director of the Sierra Club and founder of Friends of the Earth — David Brower
Over 50 years ago, Brower fought dams, deforestation on public lands and nuclear power. He spent more than half a century fighting to protect America’s wilderness areas against speculators, developers, state agencies and the federal government.
He once said ‘’I wish we didn’t have to be angry all the time, but someone has to get angry.’’
Brower channeled that anger into hard scrabble campaigns and threw polite conversation out the window. Whether it was with government bureaucrats, business or his own boards. He left the Sierra Club in 1969 in a conflict with the board over his opposition to the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant and nuclear power in general. He left Friends of the Earth in 1984 over divergent views on the strategy of Beltway lobbying held by the FOE board and his own priorities around grassroots organizing.
By the time of his death in 2000, he cost industry and government an estimated $7 billion by blocking and delaying development and construction.
With impotence and mismanagement rampant across the environmental non-profit industrial complex, the fiercer campaigns we’ve seen have been grassroots, often led by Indigenous and frontline leadership, and striking at the heart of fossil fuels, capitol and compromise politics.
Over the past few years, the direct action campaign against the Mountain Valley Pipeline has used tree-sits, blockades, finance protests, media savvy and litigation to bring construction to a standstill. We’re at the point where Manchin is negotiating deals within the “climate bill” to get it built.
In Minnesota, a fierce seven year campaign against Enbridge’s Line 3 culminated in hundreds of arrests last summer. Like all pipeline and fossil fuel infrastructure struggles, this one has played out in the courts, the regulatory agencies, politician’s offices, the governor’s mansion, Wall Street and the airwaves of local and national media. It was hard-fought in the streets and at the point of literal destruction in rural Minnesota. The state responded a military style response to surveil, harass and stop the Stop Line 3 movement.
Now in Atlanta, a new campaign led by police abolitionists and radical environmentalists are fighting to stop development of the city’s urban forest for a police training center and a massive sound stage for the film industry. The campaign has used tree-sits, blockades, industrial sabotage, home demonstrations of city council members and executives connected to construction and community organizing to undermine the powers that be. Solidarity actions have sparked up across the country and more people are joining the campaign.
What is needed is to build power. Direct action and organizing build power. Like we’ve seen in these campaigns, when street movements and hard scrabble have momentum and power, political leaders tend to pay attention, not vice versa. Otherwise, we’re caught in this cycle of compromise and polite conversation.