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Wednesday, 04 April 2018 06:07

Hurricane Mobilizations and "the Fierce Urgency" of Climate Change

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ALYCEE LANE FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT   Katrine 4 4People sit on a roof waiting to be rescued after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, LA, August 30, 2005. Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA

"We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation."

When Martin Luther King Jr. presented this choice to the nation in his powerful speech "Beyond Vietnam" -- a speech he delivered exactly a year before he was assassinated -- he was referring to the Cold War arms race and the possibility that the United States and the Soviet Union would kill us all in a nuclear holocaust. He implored us to choose peace, which for King meant that we needed to address the deep "malady within the American spirit" -- namely, our commitment to the "giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism." This commitment -- this sickness -- not only drove our arms race and the Vietnam War, King contended, but it also made us a nation of people willing to risk annihilation in order to preserve what was fundamentally an unjust way of life. For King, the escalating war in Vietnam, which he believed brought us closer to nuclear war, compelled us to choose -- if we wanted to survive -- a "person-oriented" nonviolent world marked by racial and economic justice over a "thing-oriented" world marked by war, racism and economic inequality. 

That choice is still one we must make today. 

While it is clear that we still face the possibility of violent co-annihilation through nuclear war -- as Trump's "America First" nuclear war rhetoric, Vladimir Putin's machinations and Kim Jong-un's missile tests underscore almost daily -- I suggest we turn our attention elsewhere. In particular, we should look long and hard at climate change, which is unfolding in ways that will truly make it the means of our violent co-annihilation.

To think of climate change in this way means that we must go beyond thinking of it merely in terms of natural catastrophes. As I have argued in "Why 'Climate Change' Must Become a Promise to Decolonize," we need to see climate change as both inseparable from and driven by coloniality, and that most certainly include the giant triplets of which King spoke. Viewed in this light, climate change and our inadequate response to it are manifestations of our commitment -- at the risk of extinction -- to a way of life steeped in violence, greed, racism, inequality and, I would add, a complete disregard for Earth and all the other life forms she sustains.

So, like the Vietnam War era, "these are … times for real choices and not false ones." To use King's words, "We are at a moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly" regarding climate change. While every person "of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits" their convictions, every one of us -- without exception -- must engage in a form of resistance that rises to the occasion of our collective crisis.

Let us declare 2018, then, the year in which we answer -- with orchestrated national mobilizations unsurpassed in growth, force and intensity -- the call of every record-breaking hurricane that forms in the Gulf and the Atlantic Ocean. As storm surges hammer Caribbean Islands and our coastlines, we must inundate our cities, our state capitols, our federal agencies, our Congress, our White House, our corporations, our highways, our railroad tracks, our refineries with increasing waves of marches, canvassing, teach-ins, sit-ins, blockades, strikes, die-ins, occupations -- with all manner of protest and disobedience that we can muster and imagine. We must do this while simultaneously marshaling care and help for storm-affected communities, other species and ecosystems. 

Knowing that the media will focus on every shift in a storm's path, we need to take every opportunity the media present to reframe their "storm" crisis coverage. In particular, our mobilizations should tell stories that cast climate change instead as a political crisis, one exacerbated by elites who would rather support the giant triplets of extraction, emission and corporate greed at the expense of all life on Earth than see the emergence of a just, sustainable world of peace.

When the storms pass, we must then churn up our organizing in ways that put in stark relief the disparities in climate change impacts, aid and rebuilding, disparities that expose climate change, climate change denial, and climate change inaction as steeped in intersecting systems of domination (sexuality, race, gender, class, species), coloniality and environmental injustices.

Though it is possible, we may be fortunate enough this year to avoid the onset of our now common 100-year hurricanes, floods, rainstorms and heatwaves -- all of which can serve as catalysts for our mobilizations -- let us not be deterred. We must be the storm anyway, because if not this year, those catastrophes will surely come the next. We must be the storm anyway, because we are running out of time and, as King said 51 years ago today, "there is such a thing as being too late."

We must be the storm anyway, because this is the moment for us, finally, to choose nonviolent coexistence over those deadly triplets, and thus to heal, once and for all, the malady rotting the core of our nation's spirit.