A Movement Conversation We Should All Have

by Robert Gardner

November 8, 2013

Solidarity Sail with the Sound Sailing Center and friends from Occupy.

Solidarity Sail with the Sound Sailing Center and friends from Occupy.

I had a conversation the other night with three friends at a restaurant in Brooklyn. We were all tired after having spent the day sailing in support of the Arctic 30 and warming up with a hot cup of soup was first on our minds. Around the table were three activists — one a Hurricane Sandy first responder, an Occupy the Pipeline activist fresh out of jail for a direct action, and a photographer/Minister with my favorite church, the Church of Earthalujah.

After warming up, we started having a conversation that was, in many ways, a microcosm of so much of what’s happening in the progressive movement today. Right now is a time reminiscent of Hunter S. Thompson’s great line, “You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. . . .”

From where I stand, there is fire in the eyes of the American progressive movement. Protests are being sparked everywhere. It is clear that the direction of the American political, military and socio-economic systems are failing the vast majority of people in this country and the world. That’s why there is fire in the streets. So, we spoke about it as peers, friends, and colleagues. A conversation about inter-organizational solidarity, income equity as between large, national and international organizations and “frontline” organizations, self-care, empathy for our friends, diversity and inclusivity in the movement, and so many other topics.

It’s a conversation that I think we should all be having — one especially important for those of us white guys who are ridiculously overrepresented in environmental organizations. Seems like a good time to listen, learn, and figure out how to support the thousands of friends out there today struggling for funding, recognition, and support in their work. One of those listen-up moments.

So, yes, I don’t want to pat all of us on the back, but right now, it feels like we’re winning; but, we could be winning even bigger if our leadership in five years didn’t look like our leadership today. If that happens, we’ll do better work — engage in more meaningful campaigns to promote a lasting, sustainable and truly inclusive future. To be clear, something big is happening. Across the country, there are daily revolts against the organized forces of ecocide, starve-the-beast deregulation and fervent state-sponsored xenophobia. We are fighting, we are winning.

The past year has been unreal. In the environmental space, we have seen the fruits of the work of hundreds of organizations pushing back the Keystone XL pipeline. Fighting back against the oil and gas industry, opponents of fracking won 3 of 4 fights in Colorado and also in Oberlin, Ohio — the 400th such city to ban fracking. Coal plants are being shutdown at a record pace. Renewable energy is coming online even faster than expected. But that’s not enough.

We need to build interdependencies in our movement. We must become one big movement to move this nation towards an empathetic embrace of international stewardship and national reconciliation. It’s already starting — such solidarity expressed via the Democracy Initiative and the AFL-CIO’s “new America” embrace. And it’s paying dividends. We’re seeing the rise and interrelationship of the Working Families Party and the Occupy Network in New York correlating directly to the election of a mayor bent on addressing wealth inequality, environmental degradation and a host of other injustices propagated by callous former administrations. Minimum wage laws passed in New Jersey and Washington — a clear indication that something must be done to address the enormous gap between rich and poor in this nation.

These are all huge victories — but so much more needs to be done. As Koch Brother funded groups like Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity, ALEC and CATO (to name a few) work diligently to break down rule of law and divide our society along racial, gender, income and geographic lines (again, to just name a few). We’ve got to build each other up — so that the gaps between us are not exploited. We can’t silo ourselves. We can’t expect to emulate the rigidly hierarchical, patriarchal structure of the corporations and governments that we are challenging and expect to win. It just doesn’t work. We must forge a new path.

So we talked. And had a drink. And four people from four different worlds got along well and listened to each other — and learned from each other. All within the framework of solidarity and friendship. It was an important moment for me — I’m wondering if you’re having those conversations also. Give me a shout — I’d love to hear about it.

Email me Robert(dot)[email protected](dot)org. Tell me what this conversation looks like for you.

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