MADRID, Spain -- The crowd of three thousand sat patiently on the hard pavement of the plaza as the fourth hour of the popular assembly came and went. The issue was whether Camp Sol, a protest that had persevered for two weeks in Madrid's main square known as Puerta del Sol, would dismantle or stay on. Protesters were exhausted from living on the streets; there had been a few cases of harassment and tensions between groups; the infrastructure of the camp was fragile; electricity was scarce. The camp's legal team had kept police at bay but there were no guarantees that it would remain that way (a similar camp in Barcelona had been attacked by police the day before). And even if those problems were resolved, how much longer did it make sense to occupy this enormous public space? Had the movement consolidated enough to dismantle its most visible and symbolic gathering?
I recently spent an unforgettable day with the Oakland Climate Action Coalition (OCAC), graciously hosted by the Ella Baker Center. And thanks to Emily Kirsch, lead organizer for the center’s Green-Collar Jobs Campaign, we packed a hell of a lot into a short time. We visited Laney College’s green jobs training program, met with housing rights activists at the Lake Merritt BART station, interviewed Sustainability Coordinator Garrett Fitzgerald at City Hall, got a tour of Oakland’s famous Mandela Market, and capped it off with a dinner hosted by the great folks from Movement Generation.
Not for forty years has there been such a stretch of bad news for environmentalists in Washington.
Last month in the House, the newly empowered GOP majority voted down a resolution stating simply that global warming was real: they've apparently decided to go with their own versions of physics and chemistry.
This week in the Senate, the biggest environmental groups were reduced to a noble, bare-knuckles fight merely to keep the body from gutting the Clean Air Act, the proudest achievement of the green movement. The outcome is still unclear; even several prominent Democrats are trying to keep the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases.
Today I joined the newly formed Board of Directors of 350.org, coinciding with a range of exciting new changes at the organization. I have been a supporter of 350.org since I first heard about the wacky plan to turn a wonky scientific target into a global people’s movement, and I’m thrilled and honored to be officially joining the team.
In the past three years, we have all watched the number “350” morph into a beautiful and urgent S.O.S., rising up from every corner of the globe, from Iceland to the Maldives, Ethiopia to Alaska. In the process, 350.org helped to decisively shift the climate conversation from polar bears to people – the people whose island nations, cultures and livelihoods will disappear unless those of us who live in the high emitting countries embrace a different economic path.
When I met George Awudi, a leader of Friends of the Earth Ghana, he was wearing a bright red T-shirt that said "Do Not Incinerate Africa." We were both attending the World Social Forum, a sprawling gathering of tens of thousands of activists held earlier this month in Dakar, Senegal.
Amid that political free-for-all -- with mini-protests breaking out against everything from Arab despots to education cuts -- I assumed that Awudi's T-shirt referred to some local environmental struggle I hadn't heard of, perhaps a dirty incinerator in Ghana.
He set me straight: "No, it's about climate change." Specifically, the combative slogan refers to the refusal of industrialized nations to commit to deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Since the hottest and poorest countries on the planet are being hit first and hardest by rising temperatures, that refusal will mean, according to Awudi, that large parts of Africa "will be incinerated."
The inspiring overthrow of Hosni Mubarak is only the first stage of the Egyptian struggle for full liberation. As earlier pro-democracy movements have learned the hard way, much can be lost in the key months and years of transition from one regime to another. In The Shock Doctrine, I investigated how, in the case of post-apartheid South Africa, key demands for economic justice were sacrificed in the name of a smooth transition. Here is that chapter.
DEMOCRACY BORN IN CHAINS:
SOUTH AFRICA’S CONSTRICTED FREEDOM
Reconciliation means that those who have been on the
underside of history must see that there is a qualitative difference
between repression and freedom. And for them,
freedom translates into having a supply of clean water, having
electricity on tap; being able to live in a decent home and
have a good job; to be able to send your children to school and
to have accessible health care. I mean, what’s the point of
having made this transition if the quality of life of these people
is not enhanced and improved? If not, the vote is useless.
—Archbishop Desmond Tutu, chair of South Africa’s Truth and
Reconciliation Commission, 20011
This essay is adapted from the introduction to The Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark Investigation of the Gaza Conflict (Nation Books).
A sprawling crime scene. That is what Gaza felt like when I visited in the summer of 2009, six months after the Israeli attack. Evidence of criminality was everywhere—the homes and schools that lay in rubble, the walls burned pitch black by white phosphorus, the children’s bodies still unhealed for lack of medical care. But where were the police? Who was documenting these crimes, interviewing the witnesses, protecting the evidence from tampering?
I race to the front of the WeatherBird II, a research vessel owned by the University of South Florida. There they are, doing their sleek silvery thing, weaving between translucent waves, disappearing under the boat, reappearing in perfect formation on the other side.
After taking my fill of phone video (and very pleased not to have dropped the device into the Gulf of Mexico), I bump into Gregory Ellis, one of the junior scientists aboard.
"Did you see them?" I ask excitedly.
"You mean the charismatic megafauna?" he sneers. "I'll pass."
I just did something I’ve never done before. I spent a week at sea on a research vessel. I’m not a scientist but I was accompanying a remarkable scientific team from the University of South Florida that has been tracking BP’s oil in the Gulf of Mexico.
On the evening of Thursday, November 11, Naomi made a special appearance in Toronto with Juno award-winning recording artist Hawksley Workman at a fundraiser for the legal defence costs of G20 arrestees.
Here is video and text of Naomi's speech at the fundraiser. A correction from Naomi: "At one point in the speech I make reference to reports of rape in detention. The reports were of rape threats. I misread my text and apologize."
My city feels like a crime scene and the criminals are all melting into the night, fleeing the scene. No, I’m not talking about the kids in black who smashed windows and burned cop cars on Saturday.
I’m talking about the heads of state who, on Sunday night, smashed social safety nets and burned good jobs in the middle of a recession. Faced with the effects of a crisis created by the world’s wealthiest and most privileged strata, they decided to stick the poorest and most vulnerable people in their countries with the bill.
Here in Toronto we are getting the predictable lectures about how burning cop cars and smashed Starbucks outlets distract attention from “legitimate” protestors and NGOs with “important messages.” It’s a nice theory, except for the fact that the non-violent protests were being completely ignored by the international press until stuff started burning.
But they were taking place all over Toronto, timed with the G20 summit. This is a speech I delivered on Friday night, at a terrific event organized by the Council of Canadians. It is about why the G20 deserves to be derailed, interrupted and, ultimately, shut down.
Everyone gathered for the town hall meeting had been repeatedly instructed to show civility to the gentlemen from BP and the federal government. These fine folks had made time in their busy schedules to come to a high school gymnasium on a Tuesday night in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, one of many coastal communities where brown poison was slithering through the marshes, part of what has come to be described as the largest environmental disaster in US history.
I just got off the phone with my friends Naomi Klein, author of "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism," and her husband Avi Lewis, host of al Jazeera English's popular program Fault Lines. They are traveling around the devastated US Gulf reporting on the horrific disaster caused by BP's massive oil spill. They described to me a run in that they just had with the private security company Wackenhut, which apparently has been hired to do the perimeter security for the "Deepwater Horizon Unified Command." The "Unified Command" is run jointly by BP and several US government agencies including the US Coast Guard, the Department of Defense, the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security.
With melting glaciers dramatically threatening its water supply, it is no surprise that Bolivia is emerging as a leader of the global South in the fight against climate change. And its climate negotiators have become eloquent advocates for a new, big idea that is reinvigorating the climate justice movement: "climate debt." In this first, in-depth television segment on the idea of climate debt, Avi Lewis asks what the historical polluters of the global North owe the poor countries of the South -- and how such an honest reckoning could encourage the global, technological collaboration demanded by our climate crisis. Naomi Klein acted as a consultant for the piece, which also includes great coverage of the Cochabamba climate conference and a stunning view of Bolivia's epic and imperiled landscape. Watch the new edition of Fault Lineshere.