Why Nonviolent Direct Action?

Progressive Christian Social Action

Friends, I wrote this post and recorded it for Youtube as we were getting ready for a peaceful march on October 4th for racial equity, inclusion, and peace.  Although the march is over, I wrote this to share why I believe nonviolent direct action is important in social change.

People sometimes argue that we should not go out into the streets for demonstrations at this time of division because it is dangerous. This may be true. Some say such actions further the divisions among us. They certainly may highlight the divisions. Some people argue that we should do more studying of the issues or reach out to talk with people who think differently than we do or focus on doing the inner work of changing our own hearts. Certainly, all these things need to be done.

But at this time of upheaval, our challenge is not just to change people’s hearts. Changing people’s hearts is a central part of the theory and practice of nonviolence—especially changing our own hearts.  We know that hurt people tend to hurt people unless they have found healing. But it’s also crucial to change public policy, and that takes more than voting every four years. Changing hearts and changing public policy goes together.

Martin Luther King, Jr. stated the role of nonviolent direct action:

“You may well ask, `Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches, etc.? Isn’t negotiation a better path?’ You are exactly right in your call for negotiation. Indeed, this is the purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.”

Mohandas Gandhi led the nonviolent struggle against the British occupation of India.  The whole time he insisted that the British would leave India not as enemies but as friends. And they did. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Love is the refusal to defeat any individual. When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.” In nonviolent direct action, changing hearts and changing public opinion go together.

In recent months, white nationalists calling themselves patriots have been violently disrupting peaceful demonstrations for racial justice in smaller rural communities like Rocklin, Placerville, Auburn, and here in Nevada City. We all hope that they won’t try to disrupt our upcoming march, where we plan to come together to demonstrate strong community support for racial equity and inclusion and peace. I do hope that Proud Boys and others like them really are “standing back and standing by” for now, including here in Nevada County as we prepare for this march. But they haven’t been told to stand down, and we have to be prepared with all the nonviolent tools at our disposal, especially as this critical election draws near.

Why take nonviolent direct action? Why go out into the streets? Because we don’t yet know how far down our society and world might go toward fascism or social and ecological collapse if we don’t face these challenges together.  Right now, the time calls us to stand with our BIPOC brothers and sisters, mothers, fathers, grandparents, and children. Otherwise what Martin Niemoller said during the Nazi era could come true:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Regardless of what path we take, there are no guarantees, whether we take to the streets or stay home. But it seems to me that in the long run we are safer if we take action together nonviolently in a coordinated way.  I invite you to form supportive groups of people you trust, study nonviolence theory and practice, and form equitable and inclusive relationships with people engaged in today’s multi-faceted struggle.

Join us in envisioning and demonstrating for and creating the world as we know it can be, a world built upon values and policies that support the common good and will sustain us into the future, such as truth and reconciliation, voting rights and participatory democracy, racial, social and economic equity, health care for all, public health and environmental policies supported by science, and community well-being.

I hope to see you in the streets.

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George Floyd: Say His Name

“In resistance people live most humanly. No to death means yes to life.” Twentieth-century theologian William Stringfellow

Our organization, Earth Justice Ministries, is deeply committed to the principle and practice of nonviolence. We promote disciplined nonviolence in word and deed in our personal lives and organized, cooperative nonviolent action in public demonstrations.

Nevertheless, we recognize the violence and racist discrimination inherent in the current system. We are grieved but not surprised by the uprisings that are taking place in various cities following the violent killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis this past week. The property destruction and violence and looting express the grief and outrage that communities treated unjustly have experienced for far too long. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Looting is the language of the unheard.” We, too, abhor the ongoing killing of black men and women by police and others, which is the issue these communities are reacting to.

In times of great social evil, the only way to maintain our humanity and our integrity is to live in resistance to systems of domination that bring injustice and death. This is such a time, when human beings are targeted, treated cruelly, and killed because of their race.

Who was George Floyd? It is important to say his name. The point of Black Lives Matter is that people who are black or brown are not expendable. George Floyd was a person, known by many as “Big George.” He had gifts, hopes, dreams, and people who loved him. He played a role in his community. A friend writes, “He was the man that helped me drag a baptismal pool to the court in the projects so we could baptize dudes in the hood. The man that put down chairs and helped put down and clean up chairs at outreaches in the hood. A man of peace. A good man.”

Many people, especially those of us who are white and privileged, don’t want to believe that white supremacy and systemic racism are real in the United States. “White fragility” makes it hard to face, especially if we feel accused of racism or of being complicit in a system of racist discrimination. The way we recount US history, even in our history books, tend to forget or soften or leave out the blatant injustice upon which our country was founded and upon which was built the wealth of the nation: colonialism, genocide, slavery, economic injustice, violence against women, oppression of workers, scapegoating of immigrants, projection of military power, and the exploitation and destruction of the natural world. Whatever gains we have made in recent times have come only through the struggles of people joining together to demand justice, peace, and environmental care. These struggles are as important today as ever, perhaps more so in the current resurgence of racist violence and its encouragement from the top of our government hierarchy.

The only way to face the atrocities taking place in the United States today, with our tax dollars and in our names, is to stand in peaceful solidarity with the victims of unjust policies, rise in nonviolent resistance, and speak out for what is right. To accept the reality of such things without taking a stand is to side with the oppressors and be diminished as human beings. Still, many choose the relative comfort of denial and apathy over the discomfort of being at odds with the system from which many of us benefit.

We are convinced that the spirit of love that is present at the heart of the universe is at work even now through all who foster peaceful and just relationships and seek the common good.

The Reverend Sharon Delgado for The Board of Directors of Earth Justice Ministries

 

Resisting Banks that Fund Climate Change

Progressive Christian Social Action

 

Resisting Banks that Fund Climate Change

Re-posted here on United Methodist Insight e-magazine.

On September 25, 2019, during the week of the Global Climate Strike, I participated in an action in San Francisco that focused on big banks, in solidarity with the millions of children, young people, and their allies who are calling for emergency action on climate change. Since the Paris Climate Agreement’s adoption in 2016, 33 global banks have poured $1.9 trillion into financing fossil-fuel projects that emit greenhouse gases that induce climate change.  In our San Francisco action, I was one of about 500 people who gathered at the financial district, blocking the doors to banks that invest most heavily in finance fossil fuel projects, primarily the top four banks: JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citi and Bank of America, all based in the U.S. We also  created a two-block long series of murals that portrayed the world that we want to see. The action included song, dance, chanting, signs and banners, walking a labyrinth (one of the murals), clowning, and street theater.

These actions of creative imagining and resistance to the financial powers highlighted the systemic changes that need to be made if we are to effectively address the climate crisis, changes that go far beyond reducing our individual carbon footprints, investing in renewable energy, trying to convince others that climate change is real, or contacting our elected representatives and voting every four years. For instance, if we follow the money, we will see that there are powerful (embodied) forces at work that are invested in continuing the fossil fuel party until the last reserves of oil, gas, and coal are used up, even though this would result in absolute climate catastrophe and extinguish hope for an abundant future of life on earth.

These embodied institutional forces include fossil fuel companies, which have sown doubt about the reality of climate change despite knowing since the 1970s that their products warm the planet. They include transnational banks and other dominant financial institutions, which invest in fossil fuel projects and lobby government officials who are beholden to them to prevent strong climate action. They include the governments of the world, which (according to the IMF) subsidize fossil fuels at the rate of $10 million per minute.

In my book Shaking the Gates of Hell: Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization, I write, “The system is designed for the results it is getting, and it is paying off handsomely for those for whom the system is designed.” Published in 2007, with a revised version coming in January 2020, this is still true today.

Of course, we need to go through normal political channels to work for the changes that need to be made.  But there comes a point when we the people need to exercise more political muscle than is possible through so-called “normal” channels.  It becomes imperative for us to call for change in more dramatic ways, in ways that will shake the gates of hell and make a more hopeful future possible.  We must fully face the extremity of our situation. Creative nonviolent direct actions highlight the profound changes that will need to be made if we are to faithfully respond to the cries of the children and to the call of God in this time of climate emergency.

For more information:

See more photos of murals, close up:  San Francisco Climate Strike Street Murals Take Over Wall Street West.

See the report, Banking on Climate Change, which names the banks that have played the biggest role in funding fossil fuel projects. A half-dozen environmental groups — Rainforest Action Network, BankTrack, Sierra Club, Oil Change International, Indigenous Environmental Network, and Honor the Earth — authored the 2019 report, which was endorsed by 160 organizations worldwide. It tracked the financing for 1,800 companies involved in extracting, transporting, burning, or storing fossil fuels or fossil-generated electricity and examined the roles played by banks worldwide.

Act now:

  • Close your bank accounts in protest if you bank in any of the banks named in “Banking on Climate Change.” Transfer your money and business to a local bank or community credit union.
  • Speak to a manager and ask them to call their main branch to demand that they stop investing in fossil fuel projects and instead invest in clean solutions. You can take this action privately or do it publicly as part of a demonstration after contacting the media and organizing a support rally.
  • Demand that banks divest from fossil fuels.

See article by Sharon Kelly, Global Banks, Led by JPMorgan Chase, Invested $1.9 Trillion in Fossil Fuels Since Paris Climate Pact.

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Other blog postings about climate change can be found here.  

 

Global Climate Strike

Progressive Christian Social Action

Global Climate Strike

In a recent article, climate leader Bill McKibben challenged adults to offer support to children and youth who face accelerating climate change by joining in upcoming Global Climate Strike actions. He asked, “On what kind of world do we expect 15-year-olds to tackle our biggest problems by themselves?”

Those of us who care, including people of faith, need to offer our support to young people who are calling for bold action on climate change. Around the world, young people are rising to this challenge with passion and dedication that elude most of us who are older and more immersed in what we consider realistic within the current social and political state of affairs. As climate-related disasters become more common, young people are exposed to the impacts and dangers of climate change. They also face other related social and environmental challenges. Few young people have the means to invest in electric cars or solar panels; many do not have the political power that comes with the vote. They know that they have not caused climate change, but that it will impact them and their descendants into the future. For these reasons, they call not only for lifestyle change but for climate justice, which will entail broad social and political change.

The Global Climate Strike, scheduled for the week of September 20 through 27, is an outgrowth of Fridays for Future, a global youth movement that was started by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg. Greta started going on strike from school every Friday to highlight the climate crisis.   She asks, “Why study for a future that may not be there?” Friday for Future strikes have caught on; varied actions have taken place in countries around the world. Now Greta and other climate strikers are calling for people of all ages to show support by participating in a Global Climate Strike. People have responded by organizing strikes, demonstrations, and other actions in over 150 countries. It is expected to be the largest coordinated global climate action ever. Over 500 actions are scheduled in the United States alone. To find an action near you, go to https://strikewithus.org/ or https://globalclimatestrike.net/.

According to globalclimatestrike.net, “Our only hope of achieving the sweeping transformation we need to save our futures is with the power of a mass movement.” Fortunately, the climate justice movement continues to grow and gain momentum, illustrated by the words on a banner at a climate march, “The seas are rising and so are we.”

The Global Climate Strike is one example of young people acting to secure their future by highlighting the fact that we are in a climate emergency. But this can’t be their task alone. They are asking for us to join them in these actions.  They are asking for our help. “Elders need to act like elders,” said Bill McKibben.  “If a kid says help, you help.”

In a speech at the 2019 World Economic Forum, Greta Thunberg said, “Adults keep saying we owe it to the young people to give them hope. But I don’t want your hope… I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act, I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if the house was on fire, because it is.” In a TED talk, Greta later clarified: “Yes, we do need hope—of course, we do. But the one thing we need more than hope is action. Once we start to act, hope is everywhere. So instead of looking for hope, look for action. Then, and only then, hope will come.”

In this time of great suffering and danger, when many feel disheartened and powerlessness, Greta urges us to take action.  In the words of Joan Baez, “Action is the antidote for despair.”

 

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Sharon’s other blog postings about climate change can be found here.  

Climate Trial: #AllEyesOnJuliana

Progressive Christian Social Action

Climate Trial: #AllEyesOnJuliana

Tomorrow, June 4, in Portland Oregon, at 2 p.m. Pacific Time, three judges of the Ninth Circuit will hear Trump Administration lawyers who seek to stop the progress of a high-stakes trial related to climate change: Juliana vs. the United States.  The lawsuit is being brought by a group of young people who claim a constitutional right to “a climate system capable of sustaining human life” and who assert that the United States government is violating that right.  Some are calling it “the trial of the century.”

The “Juliana” in the case is Kelsey Cascadia Rose Juliana, age 23. She is the oldest of 21 young plaintiffs who are suing the federal government for violating their rights to life, liberty, and property by knowingly enacting policies that cause climate change.  Kelsey says, “I believe that climate change is the most pressing issue my generation will ever face, indeed, that the world will ever face.  This is an environmental issue and a human rights issue.”

The Trump Administration has tried to get this trial dismissed since it was initiated in 2015.  Each time, the judges have ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, who claim that the United States government is violating their constitutional rights to a stable climate and a habitable planet.  The lawsuit is being supported by Our Children’s Trust.

The Ninth Circuit will livestream the hearing. The Juliana plaintiffs have created a website to sign up for livestream info and to spread the word.  They hope with this hearing to “make history and have this be the most watched Ninth Circuit oral argument ever.” Find out more here: www.youthvgov.org/alleyesonjuliana.

The plaintiffs in Juliana vs. The United States know they face a hard future.  Levi Dranheim is eleven years old.  He is the youngest of the plaintiffs.  He lives on a barrier reef off the coast of Florida that is thirteen feet above sea level.  He knows that if sea levels continue to rise his island home will disappear.

Xiuhtezcatl (Shu TEZ caht), age eighteen, is another plaintiff. He was raised in the Aztec tradition.  He’s a hip hop artist and youth director of Youth Guardians, another organization that is supporting the case.  He says, “Climate change is the defining issue of our time.”

What do the plaintiffs hope to accomplish through this lawsuit and what are they demanding?  They are calling on the court to order the federal government to enact and implement a “National Climate Recovery Plan” that would restore atmospheric levels of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) to 350 parts per million, stabilize the climate, and de-acidify the oceans.

Could this court case actually have a positive impact, like Brown vs. the Board of Education did in the area of race relations?  This case is showing promising signs. The court has already ruled that the plaintiffs have “the right to a climate system capable of supporting human life,” that “air, running water, sea, and the seashore” are public trust assets, and that the government has failed to protect them.” The court has made clear that this case will not be about whether climate change is real or human-caused because “the science is undisputed.”

Friends, this is an opportunity for us to take a stand for intergenerational justice as we face the threat of climate chaos. This case may be a vehicle not only for raising public awareness but for creating a systemic change in how the Powers that be respond to the dangers of climate change. By supporting these young plaintiffs, we contribute to the struggle for climate justice and increase the possibility of positive change.  It may be that this is one of those times in human history when what seems to be impossible becomes possible.

To find out more about how to watch the hearing and support the youth in this case, go to:  https://www.youthvgov.org/alleyesonjuliana.  Young people are invited to sign an amicus brief to be filed with the court in future hearings at https://joinjuliana.org/.

To read more about the case itself and the various rulings, see https://www.youthvgov.org/new-folder.  To watch a a 60 Minutes program about the case, click on The Climate Change Lawsuit that Could Stop the U.S. Government from Supporting Fossil Fuels.

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Other blog postings about climate change can be found here.