WASHINGTON - While city, state, and national leaders gather at the UN Climate Talks to launch and implement platforms and agendas that promote carbon trading, carbon offsets, and REDD+, the Indigenous Environmental Network and the
Indigenous Environmental Network and Climate Justice Alliance
The Climate Justice Alliance (CJA) and Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), along with other US-based members of the social, environmental and climate justice communities and global alliances have platforms calling for leaving 80% of the current totality of fossil fuel reserves under the ground and ocean in order to avoid global temperatures rising to no more than 1.5°C. How will this transition away from fossil fuel extraction be organized within our respective communities? What will the consequences be for people, our communities, humanity, ecosystems, habitat and all life?
In this age of Trump, with its’ rising white nationalism and escalating acts of terror against people of color, there can be no ambiguity when it comes to resisting white supremacists in particular and the far Right in general. And the environmental movement is no exception.
To begin this story, cast your mind back a few months…
It’s May 2016. My facebook feed (the ultimate source of truth in our post-truth world) seems to be schizophrenic, or at least representing two entirely different worlds.
One world is the ‘green’ activists, who are in the middle of two weeks of global actions against fossil fuels. The spectacular actions in the US, Australia, the UK and most notably Ende Galende in Germany, have led some of my comrades to claim: “WE ARE WINNING!”
Three nights ago, 19.37 million television viewers watched the opening game of North American professional baseball’s so-called World Series pitting the Chicago Cubs against the Cleveland Indians (the latter team won 6-0). I made it through the second inning before I had to switch to radio out of disgust at the Indians’ jersey and ball-cap team logo – a wild grinning Native American caricature best understood as a modern-day Red Sambo. It’s bad enough that the Cleveland team retains (well into the 21st century) the name “the Indians.” First Nations people (the Canadian term) in the United States are more properly called Native or Indigenous Americans – not a name imposed on them by white conquerors who mistakenly thought they’d “discovered” “the Indes.”
But the logo is really beyond the pale. Imagine a team called “The Baltimore Blacks” or “The New Jersey Negroes,” with a ball-cap showing a racist caricature of a “Black Sambo.” Or imagine a German football (soccer) team named the “Buchenwald Semites” – or an Austrian team named the “Vienna Hebrews” – with a jersey bearing the crudely exaggerated caricature image of an old stereotypically hook-nosed Jewish man. That would be unthinkable in Holocaust-haunted Germany, of course.
Native Americans suffered their own Holocaust on the lands that were swallowed up as the United States. By some estimates more than 15 million First Nations people inhabited North America (most of them on land later seized as U.S. territory) before Columbus. Thanks to white-imposed disease, displacement, eco-cide, and murder, the number of “Indians” alive in the United States fell to less than 250,000 by 1890. But team names bearing images and/or names of Indigenous people who experienced genocide – the Washington Redskins (yes, “redskins,” which the Black comic Chris Rock once analogized to naming a team “The New York Niggers”), the Cleveland Indians, the Atlanta Braves, the Chicago Blackhawks (named after a famous Sauk Nation warrior whose tribe members were butchered en masse by Andrew Jackson’s U.S. Army), the Kansas City Chiefs, the Fighting Illini, the Florida State Seminoles, etc. – live on with impunity in the U.S.
Meanwhile, up in the northern Great Plains, predominantly white and heavily militarized local and state police are attacking the civil rights and bodies of Indigenous people fighting heroically to help humanity (including the mostly white folks watching the World Series) avert environmental catastrophe. The remarkable prayer, protest, and resistance camp set up by North Dakota’s Standing Rock Sioux tribe is dedicated to blocking Energy Transfer Partner’s eco-cidal Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The pipeline is a “giant black snake” being laid to carry 470,000 barrels of hydraulically fractured (fracked) crude oil daily from the North Dakota Bakken oil field under and near the Missouri River (under twice), the Mississippi (under once), and numerous other streams, lakes, rivers, and aquifers.
Her work has appeared in numerous publications on subjects including imperialism and colonialism, political economy ecology, ecological justice, feminism, advertising and propaganda, financialization, mass incarceration, and social theory.
She is a featured speaker at a regional socialist educational conference, The Solution is Socialism, to be held at Central Connecticut State University, New Britain, Connecticut on October 22.
David Kiely, a socialist youth organizer in Connecticut, interviews Hannah Holleman on the ecosocialist imperative.
Many focus on environmental injustice as the unequal distribution of outcomes of environmental harm. Colonized or formerly colonized peoples are homogenized and described as “stakeholders” in environmental conflicts. Mainstream environmental organizations, those on the privileged side of the segregated environmental movement globally, and more linked to power, are encouraged to diversify their staff and memberships and pay attention to issues of “justice.” However, the deeper aspects of social domination required to maintain the economic, social, and environmental status quo often are denied, minimized, or simply ignored.
Ignoring the systemic and historical injustice that makes current inequalities possible allows environmentalists and other activists, as Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz writes, “to safely put aside present responsibility for continued harm done by that past and questions of reparations, restitution, and reordering society,” when discussing current, interrelated environmental and social problems.[i] Superficial approaches to addressing racism, indigenous oppression, and other forms of social domination preclude the possibility of a deeper solidarity across historical social divisions. However, this kind of solidarity is exactly what we need to build a movement capable of challenging the status quo and making systemic, lasting change that is socially and ecologically restorative and just.
“There is a time,” Mario Savio famously said just more than half a century ago, “when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop.”
That’s easier said than done, but you’ve got to make a start.