This is what I have learned over the past month, as I’ve been engaging locally…
The path of committed engagement, with an eye always on the prize, involves an ongoing assessment process — Is what I’m doing getting anywhere? Is there some other action path that’s more promising? Do I need to change my approach to succeed better at what I’m doing? Do I need to pause and look around to see what other committed people are up to?
Already I’ve dived into at least three projects, abandoning them when I learned they weren’t going to get anywhere. And I’ve have had to reassess my way of approaching projects each time as well. My theories on activism advanced to a certain stage through my writing, and ceased evolving. Now in the crucible of activism they’re evolving again, but only because of the commitment, the eye on prize, and the ongoing reassessment.
There are many people, of course, who commit themselves to some action path, whether it be protests or local currencies or whatever, and keep at it, even when its not getting anywhere — until they burn out. Their assessment process amounts, more or less, to this: ‘at least I’m doing something positive’. Their eye isn’t really on the prize, if the prize means real change. Or in some cases they’re in denial, about their path not making progress toward real change.
There are many others who adopt the philosophy that the best thing is to look out for yourself and your family, because there’s no way you’re going to change things in any significant way. It’s hard to argue with this philosophy, particularly when there are so many activists and causes, and everything keeps getting worse anyway. It is easy to view activists as unrealistic idealists, tipping at windmills.
Into this context I want to interject some observations.
I claim that we are in an emergency situation. It’s an emergency that’s personal to you, like your house burning down, or your town getting flooded, only its happening in slow motion, like the slow-boiling frog. For those families that have lost their incomes and their homes, the nature of the emergency is clear already.
The folks in Wisconsin have realized that a whole lot of us are in a queue, waiting for our turn to be turned out on the streets. They are collectively taking on some level of commitment to engagement, with an eye on the prize of ‘drawing a line’ — ‘We won’t take any more’.
I could, as you well know, go on and on about the emergency, all the way up to talking about the new world order. But we don’t need to go that far. Just look at the economy, with no recovery measures or intentions of any significance, debt now increasing in trillion-dollar increments, and Congress and the White House agreeing on austerity as the ‘path to recovery’. Austerity plus debt is the path to mass poverty, whether it be by design or stupidity, and we need to face up to that.
Or if energy and carbon are your concerns, we see the emergency from another perspective. Millions still fly every day, billions drive cars long distances everyday, agribusiness is very petroleum-product intensive (and soil destroying), and the US military uses more oil every day than most nations. None of this is likely to change significantly, unless oil runs out, and then how does food get to our supermarkets, or how does it even get produced?
However you look at it, it’s a major emergency, it’s getting closer to home every day, and it’s systemic. The system that brought us to this point is not capable of dealing with the situation in a way that’s going to save our skins.
With knowledge comes responsibility. If you know your house is on fire, you must get your family to safety. It is a universal moral imperative. Well folks, your house is on fire, only it’s a slow-cooker fire, and you may not see its effects until your whole neighborhood falls apart at once. Or we might say we’re in a pompeii scenario, and we’ve seen the plumes from the economic volcano, but we haven’t yet been run over by the inevitable ash.
I say that we have a systemic emergency, and that if we recognize that, we have a moral imperative to save our families from it. Not to try to save our families — and not just to put umbrellas over them and hope it protects from the volcano — but to commit ourselves to doing what is necessary to deal with the systemic emergency. That is to say, to do what is necessary to transform the system.
The path of ‘just taking care of yourself and your family’ is the path of the umbrella.
The path of persisting in non-transformative activism is the path of trying.
The path of actually saving your family requires full commitment, within what is possible for you; it requires eyes always on the prize of system transformation; and it requires ongoing, brutally honest, reassessment of the outcomes of your efforts and the nature of your action path. If you can see that your current action path, as it is being carried out, is not going to bring about real change, it is better to stop and think and look around for a while, than it is to persist.
2012: Crossroads for Humanity:
Climate science: observations vs. models