The Peoples' Climate March in New York City, 22nd September 2014. Photo: Light Brigading via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).
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It's here, and it's growing: the self-assembling Coalition of the Radical Left
Alexander Reid Ross
6th March 2015
Naomi Klein famously called for a 'grand coalition' of the progressive left to fight climate change and Earth-destroying capitalism, writes Alexander Reid Ross. And now it's happening, drawing together diverse strands that encompass the fight for social and racial justice, the right to work, health, clean air and fresh water, and our freedom to be alive and thrive on this our one planet.
When you look the cyclone of famine and drought in the eye, it looks like our own young will be the next to wash up starving on the shores of politics if we don't seize the moments, the opportunities to stand for our right to live on this earth.
In January, I went to the Oregon coast to get away from the city, clear my mind, and have some fun. While walking down the beach, though, we noticed a horrible sight.
Thousands of dead young birds, called cassin's auklets, littered the sands, strewn amongst the bottles and random plastic like so many discarded dreams.
Scientists are baffled as to the reason for the die-off. National Geographic called it "unprecedented... one of the largest mass die-offs of seabirds ever recorded." Between 50-100,000 birds as of the end of January.
The most direct explanation is simply starvation. The natural food of the birds has gone away this season, and it fits in with a larger trend of mass die-offs on the Northwest coast. It could be that ocean acidification is creating an ecological collapse, a lack of oxygen in the water, perhaps, but the main theory places the blame on the warming oceans.
It is climate change that is causing this death, just as climate change induced drought have led to the wars in Syria and Mali. It is killing our young; the entire planet is in grave peril.
Something must be done. But what?
The political party in power in Greece is called Syriza, an acronym meaning Synaspismós Rizospastikís Aristerás (Συνασπισμός Ριζοσπαστικής Αριστεράς) or 'coalition of the radical left'. Their organization is not what one could possibly call a conventional political party: it is more of a work of rethinking politics and its relationship to the state.
They formed in 2004 as an anti-establishment party, and surfed into power on the waves of riotous discontent incumbent on austerity programs and police repression. Although they have found turbulent times amidst negotiations with global financial institutions, Syriza has shown the North Atlantic the possibility of taking hegemony from the core economic and political powers of neoliberalism.
In the US, we are way behind the times. Would it have been possible to formulate an organized political response to neoliberalism during the antiwar movement that surged into existence during 2003? Instead, the tangled ball of anti-war sentiment unraveled in sectarian provocations.
A friend of mine who joined some anarchist black bloc protests during that era recently recalled an example that illustrates this reality.
We talked about a panel where an audience member asked, "Why did the anarchists continually co-opt the anti-war protests?" The audience member went on to site a specific protest, to which my friend replied, "We were one of the groups that organized that protest."
Over a century on the front lines of radical change
Anarchists are often attacked as the destabilizing force of left politics par excellence, yet when we approach politics from an anarchist perspective, we see these to be misconceptions. Anarchists bled and died for the eight-hour workday in the 1880s. The Magónista Liberal Party raised the banner of 'Tierra y Libertad' (Land and Liberty) in the fight for the Mexican Revolution in the 1910s.
The anarchist-syndicalist party, the National Confederation of Labor (CNT), joined the Spanish Popular Front during the 1930s. Anarchists played a driving role in the 1960s antiwar movement, the alter-globalization movement, and organized the Occupy Wall Street protests.
Today, the Kurdish PYD in Rojava (Syria) is motivated by the formulation of ideas condensed through the meeting of minds between Abdullah Öcalan and libertarian municipalists Murray Bookchin and Janet Biehl.
The goals remain the same: mutual aid, solidarity, justice. There is no reason why, today, the left cannot or should not band together to form political institutions around these tenets to confront the current global threats of climate change and the police state. In fact, there is every reason to perform and encourage such an act through radical new organizations.
Power bases are being built already. In Seattle, City Councilor Kshama Sawant has taken her seat under the party Socialist Alternative (SA). SA is not a conventional political party, nor is Sawant a typical candidate. An immigrant woman of color, she is the first socialist elected to City Council in Seattle since 1877.
Her forward momentum helped carry the $15 minimum wage into effect and inspire a like-minded organization called Right to the City in Portland, Oregon.
Nature in the blast zone (and us too)
Convening around issues of climate change and economic justice, Right to the City is one of several groups developing out of the Occupy movement that gets a sense of purpose from articulating a transformation of the relationships between private property and urban spaces.
The group will be supporting independent candidates in the coming city council elections with the platform of increasing the minimum wage, shutting down industrial polluters, and promoting free access to safer and more diverse public institutions.
The creative application of alternative networks and spaces is emerging with a new way of thinking labor policy in the US. In the Pacific Northwest, the climate movement and labor movement have joined together to shut down the Port of Vancouver and the Port of Longview in light of proposed fossil fuels terminals. Climate and labor activists are currently joining on the picket lines against refineries in the Pacific Northwest, as well.
The oil train derailments are rising at breakneck speed. On Thursday, an oil train derailed near the Mississippi River in Illinois, adding to the several other derailments already this year.
Because we are all in the blast zone, nature is in the blast zone, the environmental group Rising Tide posted an average of a blockade per month of fossil fuel infrastructure in the Pacific Northwest for the last half of 2014, and there is more to come.
Today in Pacheco, California, the IWW is joining with union workers at the Golden Eagle refinery to protest fossil fuel expansion. This confluence marks one of many ways that people are moving forward in defiance of conventional politics, bringing remarkable energy toward rethinking education, food distribution and production, energy and power.
Race, poverty, injustice
While productivity has increased, there has been a decline in median income since 2000, and rents are rising across the country. The poverty rate for African-Americans is nearly triple that of whites, and the environmental injustices related to real estate and inadequate health care mean that people of color are more likely to die of cancer than white people.
The fact that more than two-thirds of African Americans live closer than thirty miles to a coal-fired power plant translates to heart diseases, birth defects, and asthma.
To enforce de facto segregation, overwhelmingly white police departments are commissioned to disproportionately incarcerate and kill people of color. Although data is often sketchy, USA Today disclosed that between 2006 and 2012 a white police officer shot and killed an African-American every three and a half days.
That is saying nothing of the black sites maintained by the Chicago Police Department, for example, under the watch of the Democratic Party machine.
This is nothing new, and it only scratches the surface of the economic hardships experienced in the US. Being denied the meeting of basic needs, Native peoples continue to be dispossessed by land grabs from Peabody Coal in Black Mesa to Resolution Copper in Oak Flats.
Latino/a farm workers are exposed to the terrible crisis of industrial farming, from chemical fertilizers and poisonous pesticides to disproportionately low wages. With climate change-induced droughts, many will be forced to flee the Central Valley and Central Coast area of California, perhaps heading north to the Pacific Northwest.
A grand coalition of the local and grassroots
Something will have to compensate if a collapse in agriculture continues apace in California's once fertile valley. According to the UN, sustainable compensation of food production can only come from local family and community farming. We will need to reformat the coding system and transform relations between urban and rural, farm and market in order to produce enough food for everyone - but it can be done.
The enormity of the problem is, perhaps, dispiriting, and manifests one reason left movements spin out into sectarian and fracture - after all, one lesson of left politics is that much can be done on a grassroots, local basis. But what if the groups organizing on a local basis joined together to form a Coalition of the Radical Left to confront these major dilemmas on a horizontal basis?
A primary place for such an entity to enter into existence would be the Pacific Northwest, as Portland and Seattle are both among the fastest growing and fastest gentrifying cities with climate refugees to come in the future.
This is how we rise up. It is how we return to our reason for being on this planet in order to overcome the despair, take and share power, and stop the die-offs.
Because when you look the cyclone of famine and drought in the eye, it looks like our own young will be the next to wash up starving on the shores of politics if we don't seize the moments, the opportunities to stand for our right to live on this earth - a right that we won't have if we don't live up to the hard demands of liberation and dignity.
In direct opposition to the neoliberal agenda of the corporate political parties that brought about the financial collapse, a horizon of creative, local activism can be cultivated. This coalition, bringing together ideas of groups like Right to the City and Socialist Alternative, would have an eye to global relations, stopping free trade agreements that have proven to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.
But it would also maintain accountability to grassroots activity for social and ecological justice on a local level - from switching agricultural production to a local level, as insisted upon by the UN, to transforming the daily relations of patriarchal and racist power associated with the police state and its capitalist agenda.
Is this the 'coming together' that Naomi Klein is asking for?
The Coalition of the Radical Left, or what might be called CORAL, would be able to dispose of the cancerous institutions of climate change and their power mongers on a regional level, replacing the dialectics of the city with ecologically sustainable and resilient regional networks.
Through this horizontal organization emerging out of the union of Occupy and Black Lives Matter, among other movements, the left could break down the sinister land and water politics that are exterminating native species and exhausting aquifers, acidifying oceans and choking the skies. We could galvanize opposition to capitalism, and generate power to be shared by all people.
Warming oceans, rising sea levels (four inches in two years, according to recent studies on the Atlantic seaboard), catastrophic droughts. They are destroying the complex diversity that the web of life requires to maintain an integral balance.
The coral reefs are an excellent metaphor for what is happening. Based on a diverse amalgam of life and calcium carbonate ecosystems built by groups of animals, the coral reefs have for a long time symbolized the dreamland of Aboriginal life.
Australia's Indigenous peoples for centuries have mapped out their knowledge of the reefs' systems through the composition of intricate artworks and musics that translate the vitality of those systems into a lived reality.
As climate change bleaches and destroys those ecosystems, the dreamscapes of the world's peoples are obliterated. Scientists have begun working with Aboriginal peoples to restore the coral, because that collaboration is the only way to re-establish a sense of the place.
CORAL would have to work as a solidarity movement with Indigenous partnerships along with communities of color. Coming together, we can rediscover how to understand and appreciate both biodiversity and human diversity, how to live together amongst both Indigenous and migrant populations, and how to embrace both the new and the ancient forms of reconciliation and resilience.
It is not an easy path, but integrity and respect never is. It requires self-discipline and practicing our ideas in good faith, passing along the wisdom of life. That is how we spin the fabric of dreams into our realities and celebrate what makes us human.
Alexander Reid Ross is a contributing moderator of the Earth First! Newswire and works for Bark. He is the editor of 'Grabbing Back: Essays Against the Global Land Grab' (AK Press 2014) and a contributor to Life During Wartime (AK Press 2013).
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