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A Call to Action

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In his interview with the magazine Canadian Dimension, Prof. Noam Chomsky says "a call to action, along with an indication of what can be done, can be energizing." He is talking specifically about the issue of climate change, an issue of truly existential consequence for the generations now living on planet earth. Following Naomi Klien, I believe the time is ripe for a movement that links climate chaos to the institutional structures of global capitalism. My question is, might IOPS be the organizational structure to spark such a movement?

It is obvious to most of us that IOPS could also use a spark and many think a unifying, focused project could help build some momentum. The caveat, as Chomsky points out, is figuring out "what can be done". This requires an honest assessment of capacity and a decision making process that allows as many voices possible to be heard. An argument can be made that IOPS should wait till after a convention and formal launch. It might also be argued we will never get there without activity to generate energy. What think ye?

Because IOPS Montana is geographically located in the black heart of much global energy development (coal, oil and gas as well as the Northern Keystone XL pipeline) we have been thinking about action and forming alliances for some time. Our vision is two-fold:   (1) to focus global attention on the Keystone XL as a grotesque symbol of capital investment in ecocide.         (2) to challenge the mainstream environmental movement as well as the Left. We think it is time to stand up or fade into irrelevancy.

Tactically, we envision a call for mass mobilization of 10,000 activists committed to engaging in civil disobedience and facing arrest at some point on the pipeline route. The caveat and challenge being, any less than 10,000, the protest is cancelled. Our reasoning is thus: desperate times call for desperate measures. The environmental movement, despite all the sincere, dedicated efforts, remains fragmented and powerless. And yet they still fear waking the sleeping Left. Their strategy of negotiating regulations or treaties or market mechanisms has not slowed the rise in greenhouse gas emmisions, in fact the rate of increase is rising! Their Green "Democratic" Capitalist strategy has failed spectacularly.

We also conclude that the decades-old tactics of the global justice movement have failed. A prime example would be the movement to close The School of Americas in Ft. Benning Georgia, a mlitary training facility for the enforcement of the neo-liberal agenda. For 24 years thousands have gathered on the same date to stand vigil by the gates. Every year a small handful is arrested. Every year they all then go home. The School goes on with business as usual. Same sad story with international trade, poverty reduction, labor rights...

The climate movement has basically followed this same model for change. Yes, there have been some well publicized militant actions. But for the most part it is individuals or small groups spending a night in jail (myself included). A sign here, a march there. Endless meetings around divestment. Meanwhile, the carbon extraction projects continue apace. For IOPS Montana, this highlights the need for a change in the activist playbook. We believe a dramatic display of coordinated, non-violent action is the first step towards invigorating a vocal, dedicated opposition.

By the way, the picture above is of Si′mon Bo′livar, a liberator who one day struck out on a quixotic mission.

Dave Jones  Administrator for IOPS Montana chapter

Discussion 23 Comments

  • Lambert Meertens 27th Jan 2014

    I see no reason why IOPS should wait till after a convention and formal launch. But do you see this as a project of IOPS worldwide, or only the US and Canadian chapters? I don't quite see how IOPS chapters on other continents could contribute beyond offering moral support. In case it helps: you have my blessing :).

  • Kim Keyser 28th Jan 2014

    I agree, the Northern Keystone XL pipeline is grotesque(!).

    In Germany there's been quite a few large scale civil disobedience against environmental destruction, based on geographically situated, infrastructural elements (specifically, I'm thinking of train tracks, but there's more too). IOPS as of now could not bring many bodies to such an action atm, but if you'd like to learn how it can be done, at the same time as you establish contacts, you might be interested in taking a closer look at what has happened in Germany the last few years.

    • Sarah Owens 28th Jan 2014

      Where do suggest we begin if we want to take that closer look?

    • Lambert Meertens 28th Jan 2014

      If you google ["nuclear waste" train protesters germany] you'll find a lot of information. This was about actions to block trains carrying nuclear waste from France to Germany. After the Fukushima disaster these transports had been suspended, but they were started again in November 2011. While the protesters ultimately did not succeed in preventing the transports, they managed to delay some by more than four days. Increasing numbers, in the end many thousands of people, took part in the blockades. Perhaps our German members can offer further relevant detail.

  • Dave Jones 28th Jan 2014

    Thanks Lambert, Kim for support. Yes, I want to use IOPS network to learn of others experience and connect with potential Canadian and US allies. Has large scale civil disobedience been an effective tactic in N Europe?

    • Lambert Meertens 28th Jan 2014

      Not an easy question to answer, due to the diversity of political situations, causes and tactics. My overall impression is: yes, to a certain extent – but generally not as a direct effect of the direct action but mostly indirectly, by influencing the public opinion to such an extent that it is more convenient for the powers that be to concede than to insist. Disproportionate police violence in response to a peaceful action tends to give the protest a great boost, also in the public opinion (as could be seen in the Gezi Park protests last year in Turkey).

  • Peter Lach-Newinsky 29th Jan 2014

    Great idea, Dave, to have a central focus campaign for IOPS, one that can be simultaneously global (survival) and local (resistance, prefigurative processes), both ecological and anarcho-social (climate justice, self-management, participatory democracy). Climate chaos fits the bill like no other IMO.

    As to how, when, IOPS.... hmm. More debate needed between more people? Dunno.

    As for the German experience re large scale civil disobedience, one org and paper I support and subscribe to has been at the forefront of this direct action movement since 1972: 'Graswurzelrevolution', anarcho-pacifist, anti-nuke... Happy to translate some stuff when needed for transnational linkages... Here are links to their own webpage in German and a wikipedia article in English:


    http://www.graswurzel.net/

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graswurzelrevolution

  • Mark Evans 30th Jan 2014

    “I believe the time is ripe for a movement that links climate chaos to the institutional structures of global capitalism. My question is, might IOPS be the organizational structure to spark such a movement?”

    Yes, it might. But as you seem to suggest, for a movement to be capable of bringing about change to the institutional structures of global capitalism that movement will itself also need to have institutional structures. For IOPS this means functioning local chapters and national branches. This is what is required, and unfortunately this is what is lacking at the moment.

    “It is obvious to most of us that IOPS could also use a spark and many think a unifying, focused project could help build some momentum ... An argument can be made that IOPS should wait till after a convention and formal launch. It might also be argued we will never get there without activity to generate energy. What think ye?”

    I think it depends on whether we consider our interim targets a “unifying, focused project” or the setting up of local chapters and national branches as “activities to generate energy”. The two opposing arguments that are presented only make sense to me if we do not view our current priorities in this way. But I think that to think like this would be a serious mistake for reasons I outlined above.

  • Dave Jones 30th Jan 2014

    Thanks for everyone's feedback, and the links ,Peter. Has me thinking that a journal of that nature could help compile and synthesize lib-eco-socialist tendencies here in NW United States.

    I agree Mark that chapter building is priority #1. We need to build capacity before jumping into large scale action. Perhaps the ecological component/emphasis would help provide a "hook".

    I was hoping to hear from some Canadians? Contacts with First Nations? A number of indigenous folk here in the Rocky Mountain NW are contributing time and energy but I wonder about remnants of Idle No More?

    Obama made no mention of Keystone XL in speech. Hard to read those tea leaves.

    • Mark Evans 31st Jan 2014

      Again, I don't think it is an either / or situation.

      We - IOPS members - can have our interim targets as our priority whilst also being part of broader left struggles as we try to achieve these targets.

      In fact, I think what you are describing in your blog, David, is a very good example of this. This is what serious organising looks like. But I would say that the "hook" should not be an emphasis on ecology but rather on the establishment of an international network of self-managed chapters and branches as a means of challenging the institutional structures of the current world order, and in-so-doing tackle the numerous serious issues (including climate chaos) as we grow.

      Basically, I don’t see a separation between organising and activism, and given that both should be informed by vision I see no separation there either.

  • Dave Jones 2nd Feb 2014

    So most people have probably heard of the US State Dept. report by now and can sense where this is heading. The capitalist logic is classically rational/irrational. It goes something like this:

    The pipeline project will not "significantly impact"( language from the report) emissions because "at the end of the day, there is a consensus among energy experts that the oil will get shipped to market no matter what." ( language used by NYTimes) By this they mean that the oil will go by rail or truck or barge or some combination thereof. So one pipeline is not "significant".

    The other piece to this "logic" is the pricing. If oil stays between 65 and 75$, it gets shipped no matter how. If oil goes below 65$, trucks and trains are not "economical", but pipe stills is. If, however, we go into a global slump and the price falls below that, tar sands stay in the ground. Only the market is allowed to make that determination because it alone decides. It is far above silly politics.

    This last scenario was the one "environmental groups" saw as "good news" (NYTimes), where we are saved by a great depression.
    During good times, 27.4 million metric tons of CO2 are added to the atmosphere, during "bad" times only 1.3 MMT. Pray for unemployment.

    The rationalization Obama will use for approving the pipe (as we all know he will) , is that his proposed regulation of coal emissions will have "a far greater impact on THE NATIONS greenhouse gas emissions."

    But this is because THE NATIONS emissions will be exported along with the coal we ship to China and India and Indonesia. Most people in the US love the argument about "energy independence" because we are such a Freedom loving bunch. Liberty and all that.

  • Dave Jones 3rd Feb 2014

    I see where 350.org and other groups like the League of Conservation Voters are calling for vigils to protest the State Dept. report. Because if there is one thing that scares the hell out of the powers that be it's vigils. People standing around holding signs OR candles (some will have signs and candles). It obviously worked to stop the war in Iraq. Yes sir, seventy people standing in the cold in Helena Montana, that'll totally change Obama's mind.

    • Lambert Meertens 4th Feb 2014

      Are these vigils even supposed to change anybody's mind? As in, change we can believe in? Or is it meant to be a candlelight vigil held as a memorial to the environment?

      I'm afraid sarcasm is not going to be of help – otherwise I could offer you some assistance with that. Obviously, the problem is how to mobilize people. If the current situation is such that 350.org can't get many more than seventy people holding signs and/or candles standing in the cold in Helena Montana, how are you going to find 10,000 committed activists prepared to face arrest? What actions and road will lead us to that point?

    • LedSuit ' 4th Feb 2014

      And here's the punch line.

      Millions protested against the war/illegal invasion of Iraq!! Oh, and the invasion of Afghanistan!!

  • Dave Jones 4th Feb 2014

    Lambert, My organizing experience is limited to our local community so this is purely theoretical, but I think this incremental, localized, scatter-gun approach is self-defeating. Because these groups only use the organizers tool-box of the 80's,because the actions they propose are so disproportionate (in terms of emotional impact) to the perceived threats, they not only fail to inspire, they drive potential activists into a cynical funk.


    Species are being wiped out, glaciers are melting, wars of famine are breaking out- so I will hold a candle and beg a politician to do the right thing. That total disconnect is why people stay in front of the tele and drink.

    To James' point, that was just one in a long series of defeats for "social justice" activists. I mentioned School of the Americas but think of trade deals, public employee pensions, healthcare "reform", prisons, tuition, war on drugs/terror, the list is endless. The defeat of the mobilizations against the invasion of Iraq was just the most blatant screw you. But the tactical error in each case was people came out to hold a sign and march for a day and then go home. We need to fill the jails,en mass. Not go home. Occupy and Madison,Wis. didn't go home but they never tried mass civil disobedience.

    So IMO the "road" or approach for IOPS is to challenge mainstream environmental groups to escalate, to not be so afraid to win. They already have 7,500 people who have pledged to participate in civil disobedience. We just need 2,500 more and the discipline and will to put them all in one place at one time.

    Judging from the response to this blog (and others) I doubt IOPS will have much of a role but that doesn't change anything.

    • Lambert Meertens 4th Feb 2014

      Dave, I share the doubt you express in the last sentence and think it is a real pity. If IOPS can somehow play a real and active role in helping to organize and empower the resistance (a term that I think is more apt in this context than "protest"), I have no doubt that this will also invigorate IOPS as an organization and strengthen our power to be part of the change that is so urgently needed.

  • Peter Lach-Newinsky 4th Feb 2014

    Dave: "But the tactical error in each case was people came out to hold a sign and march for a day and then go home. We need to fill the jails,en mass. Not go home. Occupy and Madison,Wis. didn't go home but they never tried mass civil disobedience.

    So IMO the "road" or approach for IOPS is to challenge mainstream environmental groups to escalate, to not be so afraid to win. They already have 7,500 people who have pledged to participate in civil disobedience. We just need 2,500 more and the discipline and will to put them all in one place at one time."

    Totally agree, way to go.

    Re IOPS, share your and Lambert's scepticism. (Sorry to name the elephant in the room, but perhaps it might be time to reflect on whether the IOPS project, as conceived, has failed and if so what conclusions we may draw? Or am I jumping the gun and that discussion has to offically wait till June? Probably.)

  • Dave Jones 5th Feb 2014

    A certain philosopher /social critic posited the harsh possibility that the 2008 global financial crisis was created simply to demonstrate the impotency of the Left. Yikes.

  • Bernard Meijfroidt 8th Feb 2014

    Since the global situation is not going to improve we might hope for coming growth in numbers . We can meanwhile increase the awareness ?
    Why should you give up on IOPS .

    • Lambert Meertens 10th Feb 2014

      Is it meaningful to go on in the same way? Can we afford to wait for a growth that will come once it becomes obvious to everyone that the system is going to collapse? I believe that by then it will be too late to prevent a disastrous collapse. I'm not "giving up" on IOPS, but I have little confidence in the eventual timely success of our present approach to organizing, and our numbers are too small to even play a significant role in increasing awareness. So I, for one, feel something will have to change.

      Of course one might hope for a coming growth, but the actual net growth is excruciatingly slow – also because members are leaving.

      In June of this year we will have to decide by vote whether to proceed with "whatever we have" – or extend the campaign (which campaign again?) – or "fail", presumably meaning disbanding.

      I see voting generally as a method of last resort if one has not been able to reach a consensual decision on the course of action to be taken when a decision is indeed necessary. At the very least I hope we will first have a thorough discussion on the issues and modalities of the various choices and not proceed straightaway to a vote between alternatives we haven't been able to set ourselves.

  • Bernard Meijfroidt 11th Feb 2014

    I've been looking into the existing chapters to see how successful they are and how they manage it . But it seems that only 2-3 chapters are really active ? Maybe we are to soft a generation ?I've recently looked at "manufacturing consent" and "les nouveaux chiens de garde"(http://streamcomplet.com/les-nouveaux-chiens-de-garde/)
    Is it possible to have any meaningful opposition when the media are so enslaved to the system , so that no opposing view can even be expressed and the view is so distorted ?There are many movements in opposition , but they don't get media coverage and they are instantly criminalized (and fined).

    • Lambert Meertens 11th Feb 2014

      I think there are more than 10 active chapters, but almost all at a somewhat marginal level, mainly for lack of members.

      The mass protests in Turkey that started last year with Gezi Park show that even in a country with high censorship and most media beholden to those in power a strong grassroots opposition can arise. People there simply understood they were being lied to and not taken seriously. The Arab Spring uprisings and the OWS movement seem to belie the idea that the current young generations are too soft, and the widespread sympathy they experienced offer evidence that there is a receptive audience for our message.

  • Bernard Meijfroidt 11th Feb 2014

    I was referring to my own generation . I think that people working can only hold their job if they are obedient and do not say anything that might offend their bosses . If they dare to say anything disturbing they risk being fired .Since jobs are increasingly becoming precarious you learn to behave if you want to have a chance for a livable live .In my view Turkey or Arab countries are not comparable ,people there have little to lose .It is my opinion that we live in an increasingly totalitarian Europe where no opposition is tolerated .