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Thursday, March 7, 2013


Taking nonviolent direct action to slow the global climate crisis and preparing to provide relief after the next disaster.

By Food Not Bombs co-founder Keith McHenry

This January 2013 I joined other anarchists in New Orleans at the Fourth Annual North American Anarchist Studies Network gathering where we held a discussion about some possible strategies that could be used both in building a global campaign to stop the policies of that are contributing to the climate crisis while improving our ability to organize disaster relief in the future. Many of us had participated in the relief effort after Katrina. I has also participated as a "first responder" after the 1989 San Francisco Earthquake and Hurricane Sandy. The authorities failed to respond after the earthquake and Katrina but did have some disorganized response after Sandy. In each instance the people that provided the most assistance were volunteers from the anarchist community. Many of those effected by the disasters expressed anger at the state for failing to respond. On the other hand they had great respect for the people who for no money or fame did respond.

North American Anarchist Studies Network closed with the agreement that we would write a manual on decentralized community organized disaster relief and call a meeting to discuss it's publication. It was also proposed that we form a network of affinity groups that would prepare for future relief efforts. As an example each Food Not Bombs group would organize the supplies required to provide food, organize events to raise money to buy bulk dry goods and formulate a rough plan on how the chapter would respond while continuing their regular work. Affinity groups could be formed to provide first aid, water and sanitation, residential clean-up and temporary shelter or the freeing of people from roof tops or rubble. Occupy Sandy, Food Not Bombs and Common Grounds all had direct experience with beige the first and sometime only people providing relief so there is much that can be learned in preparation for future climate change crisis.

At the same time people both at the conference and beyond are concerned about the future and knowing that providing relief is not enough. While some in the scientific community are reporting alarm about the possibility of slowing or stoping the climate crisis many still support efforts to build a movement to seek a reduction in carbon. Environmental groups have organized protest at international "COP" summits, called for international protests and provide information to counter climate change deniers. Until now most  are seeking reforms within the capitalist system. Reform is not enough so many grassroots groups are taking direct action to blunt the impact of capitalism.

Often these efforts focus around taking action to stop damaging projects such a mining operations, franking, electric generating stations and coal and oil transportation systems. Only now are groups like the Sierra Club and other mainstream groups are joining in taking extra legal efforts to address the crisis. The first such action happened on February 17th in Washington DC motivated in part by Obama's mention of climate change during his inauguration speech and a belief by pro-capitalist environmental groups that public pressure will cause Obama to make change in policies. These groups are also taking companies and governments to court seeking orders to stop one project or another.

But this crisis does not respect political borders. The struggle to stop the transportation of the Alberta tar sands is one example. First the methane and other gases released into the Canadian air have a global impact on the climate. The poisoning of the fresh water to process the tar sands is destroying water all across North America.  Finally efforts to transport the tar sands by pipeline has mobilized opposition in the United States and Canada as officials proposed one route after another seeking to pit one community against another.

Transportation of their massive extraction can only be profitable if the carbon is shipped by pipeline from Alberta, Canada south to the refineries along the Gulf of Mexico.  When the resistance to this "Keystone XL pipeline" interfered with their plans to take the least expensive route south officials proposed a route west to the Pacific. They met opposition there as well with indigenous Canadians and their allies blocking roads and rail. A proposed path east to the Atlantic is also being blocked by activist in Vermont and Quebec. While the oil companies are busy seeking a cheap way to transport the tar sands Canadian and American officials are trying to change laws giving them increased power to disregard environmental and indigenous concerns. Native Canadians are pushing back with an "Idle No More Campaign" coordinating blockades and occupations all across North America.

The wilderness can teach us much about survival.  It can provide information on how to best respond to the floods, droughts and extremes of the cleat crisis. Nature can also provide direction in the struggle to create a post capitalist way of life that respects the environment. The indigenous people know this and can teach us much about living with the Earth. Anarchism also uses the principles found in nature. Diversity and harmony while imposing no hierarchy. Careful observation of the cooperation found in nature can help guide us in our quest to stop the destruction of capitalism. The patterns of the eco system can teach us much about forming a society based on anarchist principles. The air, water, fire and soil know no political boundaries. Solutions to the climate crisis can succeed by sharing in the lessons offered by the environment we seek to defend. 


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