2010 Peoples Summit in Toronto: A report & our aspirations

22 Jun

Last weekend hundreds of activists came to Toronto to build the ‘movement of movements’. Behind those hundreds, thousands are coming this week to resist the G8/G20 meeting in Huntsville & Toronto, respectively. With dozens of workshops and events this weekend the purpose of the conference is to share skills, information, and tactics for the week ahead.

Why are we resisting the G20? The neoliberal policies of the G20 have caused the economic collapse and broken its promises of international human development. The policies made by the G20 have furthered a globalization of markets that subverts meaningful democracy. The G20 includes the G8; this club of wealthy nations that addresses AIDS prevention, human rights, humanitarian aid, and other humanitarian issues. Buffalo and other industrial centers are specifically violated by their policies that have moved secure jobs to places that arbitrarily ignore human and labor rights.

When I arrived in Toronto, a cloud of discontent hung in the air. A girl with red-hair and a sunflower therein in a green dress said abruptly, “we hate the G20, they are fencing up all of downtown”. The militarization of Toronto by the ‘Integrated Security Unit’ is designed to stop violence at the demonstrations or prevent terrorism. The current neoliberal form of globalization has intensified poverty amongst the poor of the world and inspired resistance to those policies in the form of public protest. In the wake of 911 and after the explosion of protest against the WTO, NAFTA, GATS, G8, and the IMF, the resistance to those policies were associated (discretely or openly) as against the public, incoherent ‘anarchism’, or aid to terrorists. Protest is a valued cornerstone of our human & civil rights as a democratic activity! Why are they associating it with terrorism?

One theory is that the Global War on Terror has cast a ‘state of exception’ over the world. In liberal democracies throughout the Global North anti-terrorism laws have criminalized forms of dissent that make meaningful democracy possible. In the industrializing Global South (i.e. the B.R.I.C. group) human rights abuses are infamous and democratic governments are increasingly or authentically autocratic. In “Multitude”, Antonio Negri & Michael Hardt articulate the idea of the ‘state of exception’ in these terms as theory; however, the security enclosure around the Toronto Metropolitan Convention center and the $1.2 billion for sound cannons, tear gas, and riot gear and vehicles, amidst stronger monitoring by police verifies this exceptional state as the norm.

To distance the movement from normal people and to scare U.S. activists on the other side of the border, the U.S. state department has issued a travel advisory statement: “U.S. citizens should avoid traveling in or through downtown Toronto during the Summit, if possible”. Before that, the RCMP alleged that the heightened security measures were designed to prevent terrorism, which for some activists made the border increasingly difficult to traverse.

On a tour of the alternative areas of Toronto, my host expressed disenchantment with the demonstrations acting as a foci for the larger movement. Veterans of the Global Justice struggle have expressed such feelings. He was enthusiastic about his neighborhood reclaiming a vacant lot across from their apartment and turning it into a community garden and space. The politics of opposition amongst the left is an obstacle for the Global Justice movement, but the singularities in the movement are pursuing more proactive projects instead of simply opposing the varied institutions of neoliberalism.

The sessions at the 2010 Peoples Summit echoed this concern featured proactive subjects and skill-shares designed to focus our skills for the week of action ahead and harness the expertise of the participating activists. For example, a seminar led by Make Poverty History, an NGO, focused on the UN Millennium Development Goals and their implementation. They emphasized how activists could aid them in their long-term campaign to realize these goals. Amongst activists at the Peoples Summit, the aim of Make Poverty History fits into a larger framework to eradicate extreme poverty and improve the general quality of life worldwide.

This NGO is far from anti-capitalist organization, although these reformist organizations come into anti-capitalist convergence’s such as the Peoples Summit because, many of their goals and aspirations are shared by the hard-left. For example, the hard-left supports Gender Justice (by some accounts the abolition of gender) and the empowerment of women but, not just in the marketplace; for the hard left (anti-capitalists) feminism means the destruction of structures that have oppressed and manipulated women (social, economic, and political).

The first workshop I attended on Saturday was on ‘Direct Action’, the primary direct action training was moved to the Sunday session the following day. The workshop was a practical organizers’ direct action training. There were various definitions and thoughts on what direction was, from reclamation of space and or power, to a democratic non-legislative action. Our lesson operated along these lines and precisely Martin Luther King Jr.’s definition of Direct Action: “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has consistently refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue”(Letters from Birmingham Jail).

In a planning exercise we were given we committed an action to disrupt in order to force such a tension that would make the ministers of the G20 and the powers-that-be deal with the impoverished majority. The logistics of such an activity can range from one committed person to a million concerned people, and it can be arrestable or not-arrestable actions. Although, one should take into account the police’s unpredictability.

The second seminar addressed the economic crisis and economic inequity in Canada; similarly, in the United States from 1984 to 2005 and the key is the poorer get poorer while the rich become obscenely rich. Within this dynamic middle and high class professionals are not really affected by the economic crisis as much (if at all on the high end) so they don’t see the crisis as a dire problem as much as the poor and the lower-middle class would. The wealth (total assets) of Canada is $2,439,025,000,000, and the top percentile has 75% of the wealth and the bottom percentile actually is in debt $1000.00 on average and they have $12,000 on average. $12,000 in total assets is enough to keep you off of the streets for a year.

There were two exercises that the organizers employed, one visually illustrated how the distribution of wealth would be represented by chairs in a room. The second was more in-depth and involved people lining up and the people all represented different wealth brackets, and for every wealth bracket they took a step back or forward when they lost or gained wealth in a certain time period. It was a stunning visual representation when the person with the most wealth had to hug the far opposite wall and the person that had the least backed up into the wall behind us.

There are obvious problems with this system and at this point, why haven’t people organized against it? One subject of the workshop was the hegemony of neoliberal thinking that has dominated culture and thought since the 1980’s, per Margaret Thatcher’s statement, “there’s no such thing as society”. The excess of hyper-individualism has reduced even progressive thinking to individualistic ideology, and anything against the ‘ownership society’ of the Regan-Thatcher philosophy is going against a Social Darwinist perspective of “survival of the fittest”. As an anathema to this thought, our thinking has to strategically move from material to social.

Organizing socially as opposed to adhering to previous materialist (‘bread and butter’ issues) or ideological (i.e. socialist parties & anarchist organizations) forms means organizing our social networks along the lines of joy rather than duty, thus emphasizing the fun of meaningful democracy. Practically it means that we must organize more dance parties, house parties, and film screening that emphasize subversive happiness that educates and agitates.

On the last day of the summit, organizers galvanized the attendees in a meeting titled: The Week Ahead: Toronto Community Mobilization Network. The week ahead, the themed days of action and associated events during the actual G20 conference on June 26th-27th are based on five themes : Human Rights & Civil Liberties; Environment & Climate Change; Economic Justice; Global Justice; Building the Movement (Skills & Inspiring mobilization); and, Holding Canada Accountable.

The themes may methods of protest like in Copenhagen. For example, on Tuesday, June 22nd is a day of “Creative Civic Transformation” in which activists will transform space either physically or socially. Apart of this civic transformation will be a Gender Justice festival with a kiss-in for all sexual perspectives. The societal norms that often alienate LGBT affection will be challenged by open shows of affection while simultaneously creating an inclusive and occupied social public space. In addition to previously stated goals, this act (like all acts this week) will address global inequities along these lines. The problems that the themes are addressing are both local and global problems, which will undoubtedly be addressed in Seoul, South Korea in November 2010.

The Peoples Summit represented the continuity and maturity of the Global Justice movement. The Global Justice movement represents the swarm-like and decentralized nature of leftist internationalism in the 21st century, a ‘world of many worlds’. Building these worlds requires an infrastructure and proactive transformation is the creation of an alternative infrastructure.

To see my notes from the summit go to my facebook ‘notes’ section here.

Earth Day in Retrospect

30 Apr

It is a dark irony that Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal stood grinning when former Vice Presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, said “drill, baby drill”. He declared a state of emergency yesterday because a BP oil spill threatens to destroy the ecosystem of the Gulf Coast. Last week we celebrated earth day, yet what exactly were we celebrating?

In the same Gulf Coast, like much of the worlds’ seas and oceans, it is becoming more acidic; which will greatly affect the food-chain, and immediately this oil spill will kill much of the wildlife. Earth Day and the events last week focused on creating an alternative development and creating a sustainable, reciprocal, and grassroots relationship between our communities and the environment.

Last Sunday, UB professor and activist Walter Simpson organized the 1st annual “Peace on Earth Week” event. This was a lecture denouncing militarism and its correlation with our environmental decline. The lesson was simple: “energy conservation, decrease dependence on foreign oil”; and stop using the military to defend that system.

Before Mr. Simpson elaborated on the connection between global conflict and environmental degradation, Al Parker of the Six Nations shared the story of the formation of the Six Nations Federation, in which “the peacemaker” delivered the message that “we need to bury the hatchet”. This is particularly relevant to the relationship between conflict and environmental decline; according to Refugees International, 50 million to 1 billion people may be displaced by Climate Change in the next 50 years, which would put an unsustainable stress on our collective and national resources; the main driver of climate change and damage is caused by a few (or two) squabbling industrial nations that represent none of the climate refugees.

Our foreign policy is not to make the world safe for the democracy but one of its key tenants is: protect oil supplies, and keep the oil flowing. During the Carter administration, the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973 exposed the U.S. dependency on oil thus making oil our primary priority, especially in oil rich regions. In the 1991 Gulf War in which 14 Americans and 50,000 Iraqis lost their lives, the official premise of the Gulf War was to defend Kuwait from Iraq, an aggressor totalitarian nation.

Mr. Simpson noted two key flaws in the argument; Kuwait’s democracy: 1) It was an undemocratic republic in which, only one in six men could vote, no equal protection of women’s rights, and Palestinians were expelled and persecuted with U.S. indifference 2) Iraq was armed relatively recently armed & supported by the United States. In 1980, eleven years before, we supplied Iraq (and Iran, to a lesser extent: i.e. Iran-Contra Affair) with weapons and particularly with equipment that led to hundreds of thousands of deaths on both sides. Therefore, we maintained ties to a government that was sitting on the world’s second biggest oil reserves.

At the present, the continuing occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan have secured oil supplies for Western developers, that were nationalized under subsequent authoritarian governments in Iraq; particularly, British Petroleum, Royal Dutch Shell, and Exxon Mobil.

Locally, we infamously have the highest gas prices in the country, which correlates with a largely car-based transportation infrastructure. In the top ten major cities in the United States, according to Popular Science magazine the top ten environmentally friendly cities have, “commuters take public transportation or carpool. Air quality also plays a role”.

Buffalo, according to the Environmental Protection Agency has some of the unhealthiest air for people with respiratory disease and asthma. Mr. Simpson, in a later interview criticized the Mayor or Buffalo and the Erie County Executive for their indifference:

“It appears that Mayor Brown could care less about the environment and County Executive Collins is actually hostile to environmental protection as is seen by his on-going efforts to shrink staffing in the County’s Department of Environment and Planning – most recently letting the County’s recycling coordinator go — and redirect federal funding that would have advanced county climate action planning, composting, and internal green activities within the County”.

Despite their indifference to local environmental concerns, other organizations are tackling environmental, health, quality of life factors. On Wednesday, April 21st, the Massachusetts Avenue Project organized a “Buffalo’s Growing Green Urban Farm” event featuring Edward Cassano, the Senior Director of Conservation Outreach from the Monterrey Bay Aquarium.

Mr. Cassano spoke about the state of the world’s oceans, the fishing industry, and creating sustainable food systems. According to Mr. Cassano, 1/4 of fish sold are harvested illegally and in the U.S. 85% of our fish is not produced in the U.S. so there’s a move to reinforce port-controls; however, this cycle has two key implications: 1) overfishing of fisheries; 2) unhealthy fish production will perpetuate mercury and chemical exposure- tuna is known for its high mercury content.

The oceans at the moment are acidifying by the absorption of excess CO2 (this is deadly to marine life) and being over-fished, according to Mr. Cassano; by 2040 ninety percent of open-ocean fish will be gone, for example in the Northeast, cape-cod fisheries are rapidly decaying.
Nevertheless, Ed Cassano put forward his organization’s proposed solution: communal based ownership of fisheries and 20 mile national exclusive economic zones.

At the moment, like much of the natural commons, it has been divided up by public sector actors big and small; however, if you set up no fish areas, such as the Alaska fisheries that are beginning to recover, and give all the fishermen a monetary or civic stake in the oceans welfare then fisheries can recover. On the other hand, CO2 excess threatens the chemical balance of the oceans and on land this is a fight that has recently intensified.

The U.S.A. and the People’s Republic of China are the two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases. In the U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) who’s the co-sponsor of the Kerry-Graham Climate Change Bill has dropped out because of his party’s objections to debating immigration reform in the Senate. In addition to this, the precarious nature of the solution to stopping the present oil spill in the Gulf that is depositing 200,000 gallons a day is a difficult one; the U.S. coast guard is strongly considering burning off the oil, which would put 95-98% of it into the water as CO2 laden water (NPR) and the rest of it as aerobic soot and smoke. This would be extremely damaging given current acidification, and due to this Pyrrhic situation some people are revisiting offshore drilling in the U.S. as a whole.

The last discussion for earth day was organized by Buffalo State Students for Peace: “The Dangers of Nuclear Weapons Today”, a lecture by Larry Wittner of Peace Action NYS and a professor at SUNY Albany. Mr. Wittner’s discussion was focused on the current status of nuclear weapons and the importance of current developments, such as, the new START treaty signed by Russian President Dimitri Medvedev and U.S. President Barack Obama. Nukes do not just threaten our national security but, our entire ecosystem.

As with Mr. Simpson’s earlier lecture on Sunday, Mr. Wittner called the nuclear-weapons complex out for its past involvement in fueling the hegemony of the United States vis-a-vis its policy to viciously secure energy resources. Most importantly, he illustrated the damage that nuclear weapons can do in the case of a nuclear war or terrorist attack. In fact, in citing a Scientific American article from January 2010 he addressed the nuclear danger that is ever-present from South Asia.

In South Asia, the antagonism between Pakistan and India (they each have just under 100 nuclear weapons) can be a serious danger to the stability of the worlds climate in the case of a nuclear war, or more likely a nuclear terrorist attack in either country. Within the context of food scarcity, nuclear war would push us over the edge:
“The particles would remain there for years, blocking the sun, making the earth’s surface cold, dark and dry. Agricultural collapse and mass starvation could follow http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=local-nuclear-war”.

If a nuclear exchange would happen now, then the poorest of the worlds people would pay for it. The current estimate for the rate of global starvation is more than 1.02 billion people, according to the UNFAO, and this number would no doubt rise astronomically; coupled with the mass migration of climate refugees to the global north, and the scarcity of food that may occur due to overfishing and a maldistribution of food (organic or inorganic), global civilization may face collapse.

In retrospect, as Slavoj Zizek stated in the 2008 film ‘Examined Life’, “environmentalism like Marx’s religion is now becoming the opiate of the masses”. Last week, despite the mainstream celebration of Earth Day our situation is still incredibly dire. At the end of the day for the multitude of activists last week was a week of learning and constructive reflection. Social movements and grassroots organizations that focus on ecology can also catalyze social change and vice versa.
Martin Empson of UK Climate Action Campaign stresses this in his pamphlet “Marxism and Ecology”: “The unequal impact of Climate Change means that those at the bottom of society have the most to gain from the struggle for a better and a more sustainable society. In particular, workers have to be at the center of this battle”.
He continues to argue for a combined labor and environmental struggle:
“Socialists [and Trade Unionists, and other activists] shouldn’t argue that car factories shouldn’t simply be shut down, but must be converted to produce more socially useful products- such as vehicles for public transport”.

This is the kind of environmentalism that activists on the left are pondering today. On Earth Day week, activists aren’t just interested in saving the ecology of the earth, but stopping the militaristic and consumer-based degradation of its population that realistically would extinguish advanced civilization and a huge swath of the world’s population.

Countering Recruitment at Buffalo State

18 Apr

By Cliff Cawthon

Military Recruiters are a reoccurring feature in schools in poor communities, Buffalo & city schools are no different. It was characterized as a “military occupation of our schools”, by Will Richardson, a student activist and former Hutch Tech student. On Tuesday, April 14th Buffalo State Students For Peace organized a panel discussion on counter-recruitment and military recruitment in our schools featuring: William Richardson (UB Student, President- United Socialist Movement of the Americas Buffalo chapter); Robynn Murray (Iraq War Veteran and IVAW organizer for WNY); Joshua Casteel (IVAW organizer); and Dr. Shawgi of Nazareth College.

The panel was insightful, powerful, and a moving counter to the friendly facade of university and high-school military recruiters. Their lessons are particularly relevant at Buffalo State College, which has a significant reservist and working-class population. The idea of free-education and benefits are quite attractive; however, due to terms of departure from the military or the decisions of institutional actors, a third of troops don’t receive those benefits.

Dr. Shawgi initiated the panel with the Prison-Military pipeline that follows a pattern of criminalization, poverty, and military mobilization. Without livelihoods, strong criminal drug policies, and difficult obstacles to a post-secondary education (i.e. scholarships or debt) one of the most lucrative choices ‘presented’ to young people is the military. For example, on the Army website “Active Duty” enlistment may bring a $40,000 bonus.

The presentation from the veterans preceded the Question and Answer section and it brought a striking realism to conclude the presentation. Robynn Murray addressed PTSD and the abuse in the military against women and men, according to the new IVAW pamphlet, “55 percent of all women service members and 38 percent of men have reported sexual harassment”. Joshua Casteel complimented everything that was said by adding a brilliant illustration of the psychological dimension of the training of soldiers. At the core of this conditioning is the practice of “Operant and reflexive conditioning”: showing an image or a theme to someone constantly and training their reaction.

One point that both IVAW panelists addressed was the infamous Apache Helicoper Video found by wikileaks: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JyQsgkncxcc&feature=related
The feeling on the panel was that this video demonstrated the exact protocol that the soldiers were taught. This criminal action was not the product of a few individuals but, it was part-and-parcel of a larger behavioral complex. In turn, it was cited that one-third of active duty soldiers are on some kind of anti-depressant of sleeping medication because of the stressful and traumatic experiences.

The U.S. has been in a state of perpetual war since 1945. At any time since 1945 to the present the United States has its troops engaged in some operation or military conflict. This is not a natural thing, and militarism does not exist in a vacuum. In the Question and Answer section, the guests worked with the panelists on solutions and one tactic suggested for High Schools is to organize a counter-recruitment presence when recruiters arrive.

Taking action against this exploitation of our friends and family and our public space is the only way we can stop it. In taking action against the lifeline of the military complex we can disable the advance of U.S. militarism that has already killed millions of people while perpetuating an occupation that only serves the interests of capital.

For more information on counter-recruitment efforts go to: www.youth4peace.org , and email youthmil@afsc.org
www.ivaw.org
www. veteransforpeace.org
www.couragetoresist.org
www.warriorwriters.org

For more information on the school-to-prison pipeline:
Takling points- www.aclu.org/racial-justice/school-prison-pipeline-talking-points

Dismantiling the school-to-prison pipeline- www.naacpldf.org/content/pdf/pipeline/Dismantling_the_School_to_Prison_P…

The School-to-Prison pipeline- http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-koehler/the-school-to-prison-pipe_b…

Lessons from Copenhagen

17 Jan

Lessons from Copenhagen

By Cliff Cawthon and Contributed to by Bobby Gillett.

Special thanks to Tom Barlow, Ben Lear, and Bobby Gillett for their accounts of events.

The 7-18th of January 15th U.N. Conference on Climate Change (COP 15) was the most important conference in recent history; like the Bretton Woods, Potsdam, or Seattle WTO conferences the experiences differed for the 100,000 activists calling for a real alternative. In the aftermath of the trial by fire of Copenhagen, the movements came out stronger with a programme and solutions that was embodied in the “peoples’ declaration”, which was adopted at Kilma Forum 09’. According to activist, Tom Barlow the effort “[united] people from across the globe for a bottom up approach to solving the problems of Climate change – as well as recognising the real cause and the real losers”.

The movement on the streets

The two-weeks-long demonstration centred on the conference at the Bella Centre in Copenhagen and the message was that the world couldn’t afford to wait. Activists from dozens of countries descended on Copenhagen, and many activists from Manchester went with Climate Justice Action.  The initiation of the conference was met with a 100,000 large NGO protest which included a bloc of “system change, not climate change” activists; according to mule writer and activist, Robbie Gillett, “The Danish police try out there new draconian protest legislation (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/nov/26/denmark-police-powers-copenhagen) and mass arrest 700 people (http://indymedia.dk/videos/1579), towards the back of the march.  Nearly one thousand people (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8409331.stm) were arrested that day in total.  Only four were charged”.

On the Monday 14th December, the No Borders organization demonstrated at the Ministry of Defence in light of the harsh and racist immigration system which crystallizes itself in the famous carry-off scene of the police (the state) pulling the COP 15 inflatable globe one way and the protestors struggling to yank it away from them and reclaim it, a contest between David and Goliath, a historical contest that the underdog needs to win again.

The costs and the losers

The losers Mr. Barlow was speaking of are the billions previously mentioned (us), especially the millions that will be effected. According to the Environmental Justice Foundation, in Africa it is estimated that 10 million have migrated or have been displaced by “environmental degradation or desertification” (“No Place Like Home: What Next for Climate Refugees”, 2009); the aforementioned tragic situation was brought to the steps of the Bella Centre via the involvement of African NGO’s and activists. In the recollection of the events, Mr. Barlow also talks about the severity of the climate crisis of the global south through the narrative of an African activist from Uganda:

“It was such a remove from our world …… more moving was her description of home and how she had never imagined such shops, or food, or transport before, her day to day life being taken up getting water and food for the family”.

In Naomi Klein’s report from Copenhagen “Sudden death” is how Nnimmo Bassey Nigerian poet, activist and chair of Friends of the Earth International, described the crisis; which, will excacerbate the 46% poverty rate of the continent’s inhabitants in addition to create a greater rivalry for resources. As Klein correctly cites, the oil companies [in the Nigera] were still ravaging the Delta and violence was (and still is) spiralling out of control”.

Africa emits the lowest amount greenhouse gases per capita, yet its inhabitants will face the consequences: 1) by 2050, rainfall in Africa will decrease by 10%; b) Agriculture will decrease by 50% by 2050 due to the lack of rain for its 70% rain-fed agricultural base; c) between 2002-2003 a 3.3 tonnes food deficit left 14.4 million in need; d) according to a cited UN study the horrors of the Sudanese civil war and genocide in Darfur were “the first war linked to climate change”.

Africa will be one of the most dire casualties in the climate catastrophe’s upcoming climax, nevertheless this is a global issue, which the UK is not exempt from either. Manchester is notorious for its rainfall but imagine if the historic river through Manchester were to flood; the United Kingdom like other island (albeit much bigger) states is in danger from inundation via flooding, however, unlike the small island states it will not disappear. Millions of people live in small island states that are expected to disappear if Global temperatures rise above 2 degrees Celsius.

Police & state reaction to popular action

Despite the popular nature of the protest and universal danger of the climate catastrophe the police acted brutally, bluntly, and with authoritarian efficiency. The ascribed description is a generalization; however, the new laws confirmed by the Danish parliament gave the police pre-emptive arrest powers; which they exercised on Wednesday 17th December, according to the Guardian.

Climate Justice Activists were subject to these new protest laws, for example the Danish police infamously arrested 1000 people during a march. Ben Lear, a Manchester Climate Justice Activist described the police’s actions in tactical terms:

“The police weren’t (contrary to many accounts) as brutal as previous mobilisations such as the G8 in Genoa or Seattle.’ ‘They were very efficient and the preventative arrest laws were very useful for them.’ ‘A willingness to Mass arrest and the liberal use of tear gas and pepper spray made successful direct action (and even peaceful and legal demonstrations) difficult.”

In Christiania, Europe’s longest ongoing squat, the police blockaded it at 10pm on the 14th December ahead of a reclaim power party. The squat had always been ignored and even tolerated by the Danish government, despite their recent attempts to enforce property rights in a cooperative- against the resident’s wishes.

The blockade was intended to facilitate a raid on Christiania. The brutality of the raid was summed up in detail by Tom:

“When they raided an area of the city the size of Northern quarter, shooting tear gas everywhere and using flash bang grenades, beating women and teenagers you couldn’t believe it. They were using flash grenades on people once they were arrested to stop them from crying or screaming. They were in such pain because they had been beaten, pepper-sprayed and tear-gassed. It was a dark nightmare in the night and I watched a line of arrested people being beaten on the ground.”

194 people were arrested as the police used all of their weapons available to them. The arrests resulted in some deportations of CJ activists, which Ben and Tom avoided. This violent repression happened after hours, once most of the press has gone to print, and after having to show restraint on the No Borders demo.

The movement outside of the UK

Despite the physical removal from Copenhagen or the interpersonal barriers that individuals faced, like Seattle in 1999, Copenhagen was a globalized protest. The Non-for-profits and NGO’s that took part in the protests were joined by Climate Justice Activists from all around the world, which culminated from activists and narratives from every corner of the globe.

One question I asked Tom and Ben was, “What were your exchanges like with the activists/ campaigners from the Global south”? Tom described the activists from the Mediterranean as “a lot braver with dealing with the police and a lot more prepared and unfazed by their brutality”.

The Latin American delegates were exceptionally cooperative with NGO’s and NPO’s, and the President Evo Morales was a staunch advocate for “system change, not climate change”.

The activists also came from various ethnic groups, and most notably the Indigenous Peoples of Canada. The Indigenous and Climate Justice activists focused on Canada’s mining of the Alberta Tar Sands. In the coverage from the U.S. independent news show Democracy Now, Eriel Deranger campaigner from the Rainforest Action Network raised the issue of the damage of the mining of the Alberta tar sands as a major cause of cancer in indigenous communities; which, has been reflected in a study done by the Edmonton Cross Cancer Institute (Democracy Now, 15/12/09).

In the end, Ben observed that, “there were political and cultural differences between us [the activists] but, we were trying to bridge these”.

The people fight back

On 16 December, the police (as usual) harassed activists on their way to the Bella Centre to hold a ‘peoples summit’ in the middle of the UN section of the Bella Centre.There were four main contingents to the action:

The Bike Bloc was formed of small affinity groups who ‘swarmed’ around different points throughout the day, blocking and slowing police vehicles here and there and providing decoys and distractions.  One biker pushed his bike under a cop van and then ran off.  As the van went to chase after him, it rode over the bike and damaged the engine.  Others used the ‘horse move’ where they would rear their bike up on its back wheel and use it vertically to fend off police baton attacks.

The Green Bloc met at another point but was much smaller.  Despite some valiant efforts and fast running, the Green bloc got intercepted by cops as they moved towards the Bella Centre.  Around 250 people were arrested.

The Blue Bloc

We were in the much larger blue bloc and thus had safety in numbers, As we approached the Bella Centre, the march became an action – with people climbing the fence, others blocking police vehicles and others constructing a bridge out of inflatable mattresses.

The action was successful in delegitimizing the whole Copenhagen process when multiple delegations walked out of the COP 15 conference. Delegations from the Global South walked out of the COP 15 and attempted to join activists from the people’s summit; some of these countries included: Bolivia, Haiti, the Maldives, and Bangladesh. Regardless of their status, the delegation members were ruthlessly beaten back by the cops, thus the whole COP 15 process was further delegitimized. Video of the walkout is available, here.

The final days of Copenhagen

In the closing days of the conference on the 17th December, activists reorganized and reassessed the trajectory of the movement. Danish activists recommended that the organizations release press statements and releases because, of the domination of the story by the police. It is not uncommon for the mainstream media misconstrue the events of protests and demonstrations when the police and involved, and it ends up glorifying and vindicating those that repress and brutalize others unjustly; in the words of one activist, “this is important to me, because COP15 has been used as an excuse to turn the country I live in into a police state.”

On the 18th of December, before the demonstrations broke, a demonstration against police repression was planned for the afternoon. In the wake of two-week-long demonstrations and organization for an alternative Climate agenda, the establishment did not work out any global agreement.

An interim agreement, or rather, just a commitment to an agreement was worked out behind closed doors amongst the BRIC countries and the United States, so Obama came in riding on a white horse but, he and our planet came out battered with a black eye.

However, the COP15 marked a new level of global unity and the maturity of a global social justice movement with people from around the world joining together to fight for system change, not climate change.  Instead of looking to the market to solve the problem, we were looking to a more fundamental shift in who runs our economies and turning from a system based on systematic greed to one based on human development & needs. What the failure of the ‘Copenhagen Accord’ shows is that we need to continue building our own solutions from the bottom up instead of relying on the indifference and nepotism of the political establishment, and corporate elites thriving under their green-chutes and fair-trade farces. The mandate that the movement of movements got that day was indeed for “system change, not climate change”.

The Camp for Climate Action in the UK is now taking a long look at its strategies for the months and years ahead.  There is a Northern Regional Gathering on Sunday 24th January 2010 at Bridge 5 Mill, MERCI, where all are welcome to reflect on what’s happened and discuss the where next for the climate justice movement.

Www.climate-justice-action.org

www.climatecamp.org.uk

http://www.manchesterclimateaction.org

From Copenhagen to Kabul, this is an unjust war on us all

14 Dec

President Obama recently defined just war as, “the concept of a just war…a war is justified only when certain conditions were met, if it is waged as a last resort or in self-defence, if the force used is proportional, and if whenever possible, civilians were spared by violence”(Oslo, Norway. 12/10/09). By the president’s own scholarly admission, the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and on the environment have never been, or will be just wars.
Last weekend (Dec. 12-13th), hundreds of protestors protested outside of the white house in the wake of a war president receiving the Nobel peace prize. Likewise, In Copenhagen, a hundred thousand protestors (Democracy Now, 12/14/09) marched onto the Bella Centre to protest the war waged against changing the system that has exacerbated man-made climate change. These two movements are simultaneously surging as the U.S. sends 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, behind 6584 civilian casualties, according to the Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) and a UK Guardian summary, and over $233 billion spent on the Afghan war (nationalpriorities.org, 12/14/09).
The $233 billion plus that is being spent could be spent on directly creating Green Jobs that would allow us to save our planet from home, and it would allow us to pay our climate debt abroad that consists of “historical damages, the plundering of our resources, the contamination of [their] lands” (Ivonne Yanez, Democracy Now, 11/12/09).

The un-just war, which is to say that the actions of the U.S. have been contextually disproportionate, not wholly in self-defence, and civilians have and will not be spared in Af-pak (U.S. DoD term for Afghanistan and Pakistan), Iraq, or from the environmental catastrophe that is expected to displace millions. Here at home with the neglect that has spawned infamous rates of disease and environmental racism, according to 2001-05 EPA figures, 13% of Black Children acquired asthma directly correlating with air-pollution (Children’s Environmental Health Disparities report).

This just war to create peace is only a class war; in Afghanistan, the class war ignores the human and financial for U.S. hegemony, as Exxonmobil recently won the rights to develop Iraq’s “best undeveloped oil fields” (New York Times, 12/12/09); moreover, the poorest inhabitants of the Globe will suffer the consequences of climate change as emissions, consumption, and fossil fuels are the main considerations in a Copenhagen framework.

For more information on what the U.S. can possibly do to address climate change, check out this NPR article: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=121166917

The crisis won’t be solved by Patterson’s cuts, but by us

6 Dec

The imperial aspirations of Governor Patterson will not solve the budget crisis. Recently, he has proposed emergency measures that would give him unilateral power to create the next state budget; which was “was rejected practically instantly” (11/25/09, Buffalo News). Public services do not have to suffer, yet the solution requires restructuring and redistribution of funds from the top to the bottom; something that the powers that be have never done without political demands being made by grassroots motion and calling on whatever political insurgency (i.e. progressive legislators) can be mustered.

According to the Buffalo News, on Dec. 3rd, “New York’s Senate has joined the Assembly in approving a measure to reduce the state’s budget deficit by about $2.8 billion” (“NY Lawmakers Approve Deficit Cutting Plan”) and thereafter, the article cited the Governor’s specific desire to cut education and hospital funding. These two sectors are extremely vital to the lives of everyday people, and it is extremely dire when the health and the intellectual growth of a population are sacrificed when according to word of mouth, in the wake of 2008 SUNY tuition increase, the governor ordered thousand dollar wine glasses.

What’s to be done? In Berkeley, CA at UC Berkeley on November19th, the Regents board announced a tuition hike by 32% and the cutting of 38 custodial jobs, and in response according to the San Francisco Indymedia the students occupied the University. The occupation ended on the 21st amongst three days (18th-21st) of planned demonstrations with a tuition freeze and 38 custodial jobs (11/21/09, San Francisco Chronicle). Their occupation was complemented by a 250 strong mass lobby here, in Manchester, England. Under the banners of Unions and the newly formed Manchester for Jobs and Education, we stood against 127 job cuts and the £180 million in education de-funding ($296 million). Across the board, acts of student militancy and organization of both workers and students have begun. To defend our interests, especially in a city with three big universities (UB, BSC, and Canisus College) and a sizeable Community college (ECC) we have to invest our energy towards movement at the bottom.

It could be said that Governor Paterson wants to avoid sending I.O.U.’s to the public and private sectors, like in California However, this radical proposal to save our bankrupt state comes at the time that Pres. Obama, the Democratic Party leadership, and public opinion polls are telling him to step aside.

The demands of the public need to be articulated clearly, because the budgetary process is too important to be left up to legislators; radical action may be necessary, yet practical action is the most efficient action. Nevertheless, practical action must be radical and effective; like with all great transformations partial and moderate means non-existent. As SNCC leader John Lewis said in this original speech at the March for Jobs and Freedom in Washington in 1964: “to those that say we must be patient and wait, we must say that ‘patience’ is a dirty and nasty word”.

Pursuant to those words, Organize everywhere; lives a subversive life because real change is not gradual and our life-services are not their concern, unless we make it their concern. Therein, remember when this seems out of our control: we are not alone.

We must oppose the cuts at MMU, or we’ll be cut together

4 Dec

Over 250 people demonstrated against the job cuts at Manchester Metropolitan University on Friday, 27th November. The 127 cuts are only the first salvo in the attack on jobs and education at MMU. Our new campaign group Manchester for Jobs and Education has been formed as the students answer to the war on their universities in the form of budget cuts and redundancies.

We stand with Unison, University and College Union, and other people from many backgrounds against the cuts. The coalition of people against these acts realizes that in time of economic distress that we cannot justly disinvest in people. That is what the 127 redundancies and the national de-funding of education represent, jobs and education are the means of material and intellectual sustenance of individuals and society.

As more students apply for university, young and mature, they will seek institutions that can accommodate them and give them an experience that will allow them to develop. We simply cannot do that without the staff, the technical, administrative, and manual staff. Alongside the tutors, the aforementioned employees operate, file, and maintain the university and its facilities.

Despite the value of universities and their staff’s efforts, the government has announced funding cuts for education with the intention to save £35 million by 2010 (the Guardian, 17/11/09); nevertheless, according to The Times Higher Education online, Vice Chancellor’s across the UK are making windfall salaries (e.g. Sir Colin Campbell of University of Nottingham makes £585,000; Manchester Metropolitan’s John Brooks makes £250,000-max). The Vice Chancellor’s salary is complemented by a £22,000 pension and the university £1.3 million budget surplus in fiscal year 2009-2010; notwithstanding, the absurd rise in tuition fees that have recently replaced free public education (except in Scotland).

This is abhorrent, plain and simple. In times of economic crisis we should invest more in public services. This will create jobs (in this case maintain jobs), it will educate a wider percentage of the population and emerging workforce, accommodate the needs of the population; moreover, it will ensure economic security for those in the sector as opposed to a shock therapy aimed at making the universities competitive with new buildings and material gimmicks.

How do we propose that we do this? Manchester for Jobs and Education demands that: 1) completely halt the cuts and the increase in tuition fees; 2) Management stops squandering university funds (i.e. lavish vacations and benefit packages); 3) fund education, with reductions at the top, not the bottom (i.e. large management salaries, and for the government: 4.5 billion war spending, or MP’s salaries); 4). We unashamedly side with the workers in decrying the failure of mismanagement and with over 5300 staff and student signatures we demand a no-confidence vote for Vice Chancellor John Brooks.

The cuts in education are happening in direct correlation with rising fees and the depletion of services. Our interests are clear, we have to advocate and agitate for our jobs and our education, because they are ours; if we do not fight for our interests then nobody else will.