Conflicting Worldviews at the Global Climate Action Summit

Progressive Christian Social Action

Conflicting Worldviews at the Global Climate Action Summit

I’ve been back from San Francisco for a week now, and I’m still processing all that I learned and experienced at the Soil Not Oil Conference, faith-based workshops on climate change at Grace Cathedral, affinity group and spokes council meetings, and three demonstrations focused on the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS), a global gathering hosted by California governor Jerry Brown.  Many consider California, under Brown’s leadership, to be leading the way toward a renewable-energy future, especially when contrasted with the Trump Administration’s intransigence on climate change.

The conference itself celebrated Brown’s leadership and California’s progressive climate policies, reflected in the state’s “Global Warming Solutions Act” (AB 32). Big Green environmental organizations such as the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council help develop and promote California’s “market-based policies that reduce energy use and cut pollution.” Just days before the conference, the California legislature passed a bill setting California on the path toward a 100 percent carbon-free electricity grid by 2045 (this could include non-renewable nuclear power).  Brown also signed an executive order “committing California to total, economy-wide carbon neutrality by 2045.” However, this does not mean that California would cease to emit greenhouse gases, but that connection with a global carbon market and the trading of permits to pollute (“cap and trade”) would, in theory, neutralize California’s emissions. (Cap and trade is the centerpiece of AB 32.) Still, it sounds pretty good, right?  At least California is attempting to lead the way in responding to climate change.

Yet there were major protests, both inside and outside the GCAS.  When former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg was interrupted by protesters shouting, “the air is not for sale,” Bloomberg ridiculed them, saying, “Only in America could you have environmentalists protesting an environmental conference.”  What’s going on? Evidently there are widely divergent views on what constitutes a positive response to climate change.

People who were inside and outside the conference all agreed on the fact that climate change is real.  Their disagreement was and continues to be how to respond.  I have previously written about opposing worldviews related to climate change:

“There are two opposing worldviews at work in these conflicts over [climate change and] the use of traditionally shared forests, lands, waters, and other common resources. One is based on the dominant economic and development model, which promotes exports and turns the gifts of the earth into for-profit commodities to be incorporated into the global marketplace. The other is based on the worldview of Indigenous peoples who have lived sustainably on the earth for centuries, and who honor all the interrelated parts of creation as essential.” (From Love in a Time of Climate Change.)

I was not on the inside at the official conference.  Instead, I had the opportunity to listen, learn from, and stand in solidarity with a broad coalition of groups led by Indigenous and other frontline communities that have been disproportionately impacted by climate change, the extraction and processing of oil and gas, and climate policies such as cap and trade.  Their perspectives strongly diverge from those that dominated the official conference. Activists from these communities point out that during Brown’s eight-year tenure as governor, he approved over 20,000 new oil and gas wells, 77 percent of which were in low-income communities and communities of color.  California is a major oil producer, extracting approximately 200 million barrels of oil per year, most of it among the dirtiest crude in the world. Permits for new oil and gas (including fracking) wells are still being approved, creating infrastructure that will perpetuate oil and gas production for decades.  (See Brown’s Last Chance.) No wonder impacted communities are protesting!

Although some people inside the GCAS spoke in favor of a “just transition,” many of the “solutions” discussed  were high-tech, corporate-friendly, market-based policies that put a price not only on carbon pollution, but also on the forests and other ecosystems that could be incorporated into a global carbon trading scheme.  Outside, demonstrators, most of whom live in impacted communities of color (including Indigenous communities), joined with allies to demand “racial and economic justice, an end to fossil fuel production, and a just transition to 100% renewable energy that supports workers and communities.” People whose neighborhoods are near oil and gas operations, including fracking, don’t want their communities to continue being treated as sacrifice zones for the fossil fuel industry. At the same time, Indigenous communities don’t want their traditional lands monetized and set aside to provide carbon credits that will enable oil and gas companies to continue polluting their brothers and sisters in vulnerable communities in the United States. Together, supported by allies from a variety of environmental and climate justice organizations, they demand real and immediate solutions to the climate crisis, such as phasing out the extraction of oil and gas (“keep it in the ground”), creating buffer zones to protect schools and neighborhoods, restoring forests and other ecosystems (which sequester carbon), transforming our carbon-intensive global food system to support widespread agro-ecological ways of farming (drawing on local and traditional knowledge) and ending the injustices that cause hunger, and protecting the land rights of Indigenous and other traditional communities that have stewarded the land for generations.  Go to the Indigenous Environmental Network to find out more, to download a booklet on “Carbon Pricing,” and to read the “Open Letter from the Indigenous Peoples of the World,” delivered in person to the Governor’s Climate and Forests Task Force on Monday, September 10, after a powerful demonstration calling on the Task Force to “let them in.”

Pope Francis, in Laudito Si, said that “it is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions. They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed. For them, land is not a commodity but rather a gift from God and from their ancestors who rest there, a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and value.” The pope adds that while Indigenous peoples around the world are being pressured to leave their homelands, “When they remain on their land, they themselves care for it best.” (page 91)

I was happy to participate in direct actions that amplified the voices of the people who are being harmed by climate change, exposure to toxins related to fossil fuel extraction, and false solutions to the climate crisis.  Again, from Love in a Time of Climate Change:

“Today, many people in the climate justice movement are looking to Indigenous communities as leaders in struggles to protect the land, air, and water and as mentors in the search for creation-honoring worldviews with power to motivate action for systemic change. Most people in the industrialized world, however, are steeped in a worldview based on the dominant economic and development model. But as impacts of the earth’s changing weather patterns become ever more frequent and extreme, people may start questioning the conventional wisdom. Will technological innovation solve the problem of climate change? Will free-market capitalism and economic growth finally bring about the common good? Even for people who accept the reality of global warming, our worldview informs our response…

“Indigenous worldviews provide something important that is missing in the mainstream climate debate. New understandings that we are gaining from science uphold ancient Indigenous wisdom about the inherent value and intricate interrelatedness of all parts of creation. Our challenge is to learn from and incorporate this wisdom, which is based in a deep understanding of creation. All things really are connected.”

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Other blog postings about climate change can be found here.  

Watch “Climate Capitalism is Killing Our Communities” on the September 14 edition of Democracy Now! The show includes a debate about cap and trade that demonstrates the opposing viewpoints described here.

If you have Facebook, you can see video from the livestream on opening day, September 13, of the GCAS demonstrations in San Francisco. The sound starts out rough but gets better. At exactly one hour in there is a good interview with Bill McKibben about the purpose and effect of these demonstrations, and more. Note that this is not primarily older white environmentalists wishing that young people and people of color would “join us”. These impacted communities are leading the way… and we are acting in solidarity. Also, If you go into the video at 2:29, you’ll hear a young man from Kern County speaking very articulately about the impacts of drilling in his community. Then you’ll see our affinity group, “We’re Not Dead Yet,” in action with others from the Thousand Grandmothers, until about 2:35. 

If you have Facebook, you can also see me here with my affinity group, blocking the intersection to create space for the indigenous and other frontline communities who were leading this demonstration, calling on Jerry Brown to protect communities rather than corporations by stopping the issuing of oil and gas permits, creating setbacks to protect indigenous and other impacted communities from oil and gas drilling, and keeping the oil and gas in the ground rather than using the market “cap and trade” mechanism to keep carbon pollution going. They claim that “green capitalism” is a new form of colonialism that gives CO2 polluters the right to pollute.  Our goal was to follow their lead and amplify their voices. 

 

 

The Spirituality of Resistance

Progressive Christian Social Action

The Spirituality of Resistance

Sharon Delgado’s article, The Spirituality of Resistance, appears in the May 2018 issue of Sojourners Magazine.   It is a book review of Principalities in Particular:  A Practical Theology of the Powers that Be by Bill Wylie-Kellerman.   

For decades, pastor, activist, and scholar Bill Wylie-Kellermann has kept alive and furthered a theology of the biblical “powers and principalities” (Romans 8:38; Colossians 1:16; Ephesians 6:12), in the tradition of William Stringfellow and Walter Wink. Principalities in Particular is a compilation of his essays, rooted in applied struggle and practice, on these invisible but embodied forces that shape and often dominate human life.

Through stories of engaging specific principalities over time, Wylie-Kellermann brings an abstract concept to life. He explores racism, nuclear weapons, sports, family systems, corporate globalization, slavery, the drug powers, war, the Trump presidency, the global economy, and other principalities, immersing readers in a worldview that perceives not only their outer manifestations, but their inner realities as well.  One example is the corporate-friendly system of emergency management that has replaced democracy in controlling the author’s home city of Detroit and other black-majority cities in Michigan.

Wylie-Kellermann portrays local community struggles as fighting (nonviolently) for the soul of the city. He describes a statue called “The Spirit of Detroit,” which stands near City Hall, providing a focus and gathering place for community activists. In a similar vein, he tells of an interfaith group that drafted letters to “The Angel of Detroit,” calling the city back to its better nature and true vocation in service of life.

Wylie-Kellermann claims that “half of any struggle is a spiritual battle.” What is at stake is not simply a specific desired outcome, but also human healing and liberation. “We are complicit in our own captivity. … The healing of the planet and the healing of ourselves, inside and out, are one.”  Wylie-Kellermann challenges readers to stay awake, resist dehumanization by the principalities, work for liberation, and live in freedom.

Principalities in Particular inspires and equips readers to rise to this challenge. The author invites readers into a process of inquiry, especially related to principalities in one’s own neighborhood, and to engagement that may lead to both personal and social transformation: “The struggle before us remains necessarily two-handed or two-edged, fusing social analysis and institutional reconstruction with discernment, prayer, and worship-based action.” Such activism calls for discipline and creativity: “Prayer and fasting and public worship and singing and signs of imagination are among the tactics of any movement that knows it wrestles not merely with flesh and blood.” This book illustrates the difficulties, but also the triumphs, of such engagement.

One of Wylie-Kellermann’s insights is that we humans fall into the trap of seeking justification through the powers, rather than by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). For example, Christians may find identity and worth through their participation in and loyalty to a church. But as the author points out, the church itself is a principality, as prone as any other to seeking its own survival by enlisting human beings in its service. Consequently, churches may endorse belief systems, practices, or policies that further “the powers of empire.” On the other hand, “to be church as exemplary power in this present moment is to be freed of white supremacy, patriarchy, idolatrous patriotism, heterocentrism, mammon, militarism, consumer materialism, all the divisions and ideologies of domination.”

Particularly dangerous, warns Wylie-Kellermann, is justification offered through “the devotion of national populism,” currently exemplified by the presidency of Donald Trump. “Trump’s theology frames justification, mediated by the nation and its leader, as conferred upon ‘the patriotic people’… This justification … goes hand in hand with the unleashing of the dominating spirit. Notably, it is the offer of salvation without repentance.”

The motivation to refuse complicity and resist the powers is a spiritual effect of reading this book. Wylie-Kellermann challenges readers to stay awake, resist dehumanization by the principalities, work for liberation, and live in freedom: “Death appears to reign. But it is undone. Live in the freedom of the resurrection. In short, dear friends: Be not awed by anything but the God who raised Christ Jesus from the dead.”

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Never Again: Protest is Our Prayer

Progressive Christian Social Action

Never Again!  Protest is Our Prayer

United Methodist Building, Washington, DC

On this Monday of Holy Week, reflections on the events that led to the death of Jesus merge with events that are taking place today.  As in Jesus’ day, today’s ruling Powers are entrenched in control by domination and violence.  People who seek to change the dominant system and make it more compassionate are maligned and persecuted, as Jesus was.  He was put to death after he drove out the money changers from the Temple, challenging the economic system upon which the Roman occupation of Jerusalem was maintained.

Today it is our youth.  Some are congratulating them for their activism, but they are also being insulted and called names for marching for their lives, standing up to the ruling Powers, and demanding reasonable gun laws and safe schools.  When these demonstrations of active democracy are maligned or called naïve, while our political process is dominated by corporate front groups like the NRA, we are in dark times indeed.  Meanwhile, gun manufacturers and their political advocates accept very minor gun-control policies that they know will increase gun sales. (See the March 2nd Time Magazine report:  Gun Maker Says Sales are Plunging.)

Nevertheless, young people are stepping into leadership, raising their voices, and calling for an end to gun violence, including shooting deaths (often of young black men) by police.  They demand that adults act and that lawmakers establish policies to protect them from being shot and killed in their own schools.

In my own community, many students joined in the nationwide school walkout, some with support of teachers and administrators and some on their own.  I’ve talked with several of them.  One student told me that their school let them make signs, but they couldn’t have words or images related to guns.  Another told me that the teacher said that since it was raining, they could march around the halls, but later relented and they did go outside.  One girl told me how she overcame her personal self-doubt when the marchers she was with turned around and she found herself in the lead.  She didn’t feel like she should be leading the march. She felt like fading back and letting someone else take the lead, but she stayed the course, letting her values guide her instead of her fear.

Many people, including me, believe that there would be less gun violence if there were stricter gun control laws, background checks, mental health services, and (not often mentioned) greater economic and social equity.  Some people are feeling more hope for the future because of this uprising of student activism. I, too, applaud the spirit of these young people and rejoice that they are awakening to what is at stake and coming into their own power.  Every so often there is an uprising that catches fire and kindles a spirit of hope and activism for the sake of a better world.  Every so often a time comes around when “the politically impossible suddenly becomes possible” (Naomi Klein).  This is such a time.

But adults, now it’s on us.  Youth can take the lead, and they may well be the ones who will change the world.  But we can’t just cheer them on.  We must act as their allies, acting in solidarity with them.  We, too, must show courage.  We, too, must speak out, in our homes, at work, in our places of worship, no matter how entrenched these institutions are in the status quo.  We, too must demand action in our communities, in public spaces, and to our legislators. The kids shouldn’t be the only ones to say “Never Again.” They shouldn’t be the only ones to say “We call B.S.” to the conventional wisdom that weapons of war should be easily acquired or to challenge the paralysis of lawmakers because they are in the pockets of the NRA.

Adults, too, need to extend their support, experience, expertise, and resources to this movement.  We need to join with our young in taking action that will make true the call, “Never again.”

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Resistance for the Long Haul

Progressive Christian Social Action

 

Resistance for the Long Haul

In this new year, I have been hearing people talk about how bad 2017 was (politically), and hoping that 2018 will be better. Many people who have not been active before have worked hard last year to resist the Trump Administration and the Republican agenda.  The current state of the nation and world makes it almost impossible to focus solely on one’s personal life.

That’s a good thing, because our neoliberal society would have us believe that we are separate and self-sufficient and that we can find fulfillment by escaping into our personal lives, focusing on ourselves, seeking our own comfort, and feeding our own appetites.  This enables the dominant institutional Powers to divide us and discourage us from taking communal action that could disrupt their attempts to dominate the world.  Besides, that is not the way to happiness.

There are hopeful signs.  Many people are refusing to be sidetracked, and are continuing with the struggle.  Several Republicans have been unseated due to election upsets.  This coming Saturday, there will be anniversary marches around the country, recalling the huge Inauguration Day demonstrations that took place last year.

I have a sense, though, that people are exhausted.  It’s hard not to be discouraged by the constant barrage of presidential tweets, the acceleration of harm, hate and scapegoating, surveillance and repression, and the ongoing “dismantling of the administrative state.” We face tremendous dangers, and many fear that we are descending into fascism, runaway climate change, or even nuclear war.

How can we sustain resistance for the long haul?  I have found that I need a spiritual foundation to keep going, maintain a positive attitude, and live in hope of both personal and social transformation.  In other words, resistance must have an inner, as well as an outer, dimension.  This involves spiritual and cultural awakening, remembering who we are as children of earth and Spirit, prayer as an “uprising against the disorder of the world,” resistance and contemplation, and the conscious practice of simplicity.

I have written about these themes in the context of progressive Christianity in Resistance and Contemplation, an excerpt from Chapter 17 of Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization, first published in 2007.  A revised, updated, and expanded Second Edition will be released later this year.

 

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Standing Rock Trial Update: Court Solidarity Success

Progressive Christian Social Action

Arrested at Standing Rock on Nov. 11, 2016

Standing Rock Trial Update:  Court Solidarity Success

One year ago today, I was arrested at Standing Rock Reservation with three local friends–Janie Kesselman, Shirley Osgood, and Christy Hanson–and over twenty-five other people at a Water Protectors’ action.  We were taken to several different North Dakota jails, then released on bail.  We all went back to our homes, dispersed around the country, and awaited our trials.  Mine was scheduled for December 8, 2017.

Most of us pleaded “not guilty” to the misdemeanor charge of “obstructing a government function.” We hired our own lawyers or were assigned public defenders, who worked closely with the Water Protectors Legal Collective, the group that had given us legal training and paid our bail.  The Freshet Collective also gave us support.  They looked us up and put us in touch so that we could communicate with each other directly.

We refused to consider any offers from the prosecution that did not include us all, and held fast to our right to a jury trial.  By doing so, we were engaging in “court solidarity,” a tried and true legal tactic for practitioners of active nonviolence.  The purpose is to take the struggle for justice to the courts and to act in solidarity with each other to protect the most vulnerable among us from being targeted with disproportionate fines or jail time.  In this case, Indigenous people would have been the most likely to be targeted, but court solidarity also gives a degree of protection to anyone who might be targeted on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, class, age, gender identity, sexual preference, disability, etc.

Finally, just a few weeks ago, as we were beginning to make travel arrangements to return to North Dakota for our trials, we were offered a settlement that looked pretty good.  Many of us who were arrested together consulted together online, and when we were all agreed, we accepted the offer.  It’s called a “pre-trial diversion,” which means that we don’t have to travel back to North Dakota, plead guilty, or pay fines.  We do have to pay the standard court fees of $350, but that mostly means forfeiting the bail that was already paid.  And we each have to donate $100 to a North Dakota Charity.  I sent my donation to the Great Plains Food Bank in Fargo, North Dakota.

We also had to agree to six months of unsupervised probation, with the only stipulation being that we avoid any other criminal charges.  This part of the agreement concerned some of us, who feel it is important to maintain our flexibility, because you never know when strong and courageous nonviolent direct action might be necessary.  But according to my lawyer, it is unlikely that arrests in another state for nonviolent action would be reported to Burleigh County, North Dakota.  Regardless, he said, “You could probably go back to North Dakota and rob a bank and they’d still not renew this case,” because the courts are so ready to be done with the backlog of these cases.  After the six months, our cases will be closed and we won’t have a conviction on our records.

This was a court solidarity success.  But now we all must stand in solidarity with anyone else who faces charges related to Standing Rock.  The authorities can’t deal with all these cases, but they would like to make an example of someone.  Judge Merrick, who was scheduled to be my trial judge, threw a 27-year old man and a 64-year old woman in jail a couple of weeks ago. They weren’t even given time to get their affairs in order, but were remanded to jail immediately.  See more about these cases here.

Meanwhile, Chase Iron Eyes, a Lakota who grew up on the Standing Rock Reservation, is being charged with inciting a riot, and he faces five years in jail, despite the fact that Standing Rock was a strictly peaceful and prayerful encampment.  See a short film about his case and sign the petition to drop his charges here.

Meanwhile, a federal judge has ruled that the Dakota Access Pipeline was constructed illegally and is pumping oil illegally.  The fight is not over yet.

Thanks to all who gave so generously to my three local friends and I to help us raise money for our legal fees.  Because we don’t have to go back to North Dakota for trials, we have extra money left over, which we will split between the Water Protectors Legal Collective and the Freshet Collective.  If you donate to these organizations, you support other people facing trials for charges related to Standing Rock as well.

As I wrote in Love in a Time of Climate Change:

“Regardless of the outcome of the struggle, Standing Rock has become a symbol of Indigenous resistance to the degradation of creation for the sake of profit. It is also a model that will be replicated as people seek to protect the rights of Native people and the gifts of creation in this critical time. Standing Rock represents the much larger struggle of bringing peace, justice, and healing to the earth. It demonstrates that when people come together in peace and in prayer, there is hope that creation may be protected and justice may prevail against the principalities and powers of this and any age.”

See Sharon’s previous blog posts about Standing Rock and resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota.

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