By Amy Goodman & Denis Moynihan
Puerto Rico. Hong Kong. Ecuador. Haiti. Lebanon. Iraq. And now, Chile. People are rising up around the world against austerity and corruption, defying police forces unleashed to suppress them. Many of these mass movements share a fierce critique of capitalism. In Santiago, Chile, more than 1 million people flooded the streets last weekend, and mass protests continue. There, the brutal Pinochet dictatorship from 1973-1990, during which thousands of progressive activists and leaders were tortured, disappeared and murdered, was followed by decades of neoliberal policies, with rampant privatization, union busting, stagnant wages and increased costs for education, health care, transportation and other services. Chile, among the richest countries in South America, is also one of the most unequal. At least 20 people have been killed during recent protests there, further angering and emboldening the crowds.
These global protests also occur at a critical inflection point in history, with as few as 10 years remaining for humanity to transition from a fossil fuel economy to one powered by renewable energy. On Wednesday, Chile’s embattled, billionaire president, Sebastian Pinera, abruptly announced that his country was cancelling plans to host two major international summits, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in mid-November, and the United Nations climate summit, the 25th “Conference of the Parties,” or COP25, in the first two weeks of December.
Carolina Schmidt, Chile’s COP25 president-designate, said, “The citizens have expressed in a strong way their legitimate social demands that require the full attention and all efforts from the government.”
Chile’s cancellation of the COP could be a setback for global action on climate. But climate activists should take heart: This renewed spirit of rebellion around the world signifies a rejection of the status quo, and could portend accelerated, grassroots mobilization to avert irreversible, catastrophic climate change.
“Social injustice and the climate crisis have a common root cause,” the Climate Action Network said in a release not long after Chile’s COP cancellation. “Climate justice and solidarity is fundamentally about the protection of human rights and a better quality of life for all.”
The climate crisis touches everyone, first and most forcefully the world’s poor. The mass uprising in Puerto Rico that forced the resignation of Gov. Ricardo Rossello was the culmination of decades of frustration with Puerto Rico’s colonial status and the more current exploitation by Wall Street vulture funds. But the discontent was fueled by the utter devastation of the back-to-back hurricanes Irma and Maria two years ago. “The austerity policies that have been implemented have put the people of Puerto Rico in a position of vulnerability. Social inequality has increased to levels that we have never seen here,” Manuel Natal, a member of Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives, said on the “Democracy Now!” news hour days before Rossello’s resignation. “We need more democracy, not less democracy. We are on the brink of a political revolution here.” Rossello’s ouster was the first time in U.S. history that a governor was forced from office by popular protest.
Indigenous people are also leading the way, often at the front lines, confronting resource extraction with disciplined, nonviolent resistance. Hundreds of indigenous and campesino social leaders in Colombia have been murdered in recent years, simply for standing up for justice and environmental protections.
The Paris climate agreement specifically notes the importance of climate justice, and pledges to work “in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.” One of the enduring conflicts that has hampered international climate negotiations has been the refusal by wealthy nations, principally the United States, to accept the simple premise that “polluters pay.” The United States is the wealthiest nation in human history because, in part, it has polluted its way to the top, using cheap, dirty power: coal-fired power plants, diesel locomotives and now, so-called clean-burning fracked gas.
The Green Climate Fund was supposed to raise billions of dollars to finance renewable projects in poorer countries. The fund’s pledging conference last week fell short of its goal, primarily because the Trump administration reneged on the U.S.’s $2 billion commitment. Australia and Russia followed suit, refusing to make contributions.
A new study by Climate Central, a news and science organization, shows that climate-induced coastal flooding will likely be far worse than previously predicted, forcing between 200-600 million people, rich and poor, to flee their homes later in the century. Climate change-fueled wildfires are now raging across California, with hundreds of thousands of people evacuated from their homes and at least 1 million people without power.
Popular uprisings are also spreading like wildfire, though, against corrupt autocratic leaders, austerity and inequality. People are also flooding the streets, globally, linking the movements against inequality with the fight for a just, sustainable world powered by renewable energy.
In North Dakota, the Keystone pipeline remains idled, after the TC Energy company — formerly known as TransCanada — said a rupture this week spilled over 380-thousand gallons of crude oil in a rural wetland. The spill came as the Environmental Protection Agency moved to roll back Obama-era regulations meant to prevent toxic heavy metals from coal ash from leaching into groundwater.
In Los Angeles, protesters interrupted JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon Wednesday as he appeared at a forum on the campus of UCLA, chanting “Jamie Dimon, the world’s on fire,” and unfurling banners calling on the bank to end its investments in coal, oil and gas. The Rainforest Action Network reports JPMorgan Chase invested nearly $200 billion in fossil fuel projects after the Paris climate agreement was reached in late 2015.
On Capitol Hill, 50 youth climate activists with the Sunrise Movement occupied the offices of California Senator Dianne Feinstein and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday, demanding meaningful action on climate change. Organizer Claire Tacherra-Morrison said in a statement, “Democratic leadership is failing to treat this like the emergency that it is. Business-as-usual is killing us.”
|Dear friends, neighbors and constituents,
On Monday, I was back at the State House with legislative colleagues. As you know, we voted on four important bond issues, all of which I supported. Endorsing all of these bonds would have allowed us to send a package of critical investments to voters this November: $20 million for Land for Maine’s Future (LMF); $105 million for road and bridge maintenance; $23 million for broadband, technical education and upgrading National Guard facilities; and $15 million for environmental infrastructure and energy efficiency. Unfortunately, we approved only one — the transportation bond.
In advance of the special session, I made calls to Senate colleagues who appeared to be “on the fence” about whether to vote for the LMF bond. I reminded them that voters have strongly endorsed every one of the six LMF bonds that have appeared on ballots since 1987. There is absolutely no question about both the value of, and popular support for, protecting farmland, working forests, wildlife habitat, high-value recreational land, access to working waterfronts, and more. I spoke in favor of this bond on the senate floor. To approve this bond, we needed one Republican vote to meet the two-thirds requirement; we did not get a single one. Putting it mildly, I was very disappointed at the end of the day.
We must re-start the LMF program, and funds from this bond would have done that. I also believe that we must invest in maintenance and upgrades to our state parks. There was significant controversy at the end of session in June about any borrowing (except the transportation bond). As a compromise, the governor reduced the overall size of this bond package and spit it into four separate bonds. When the legislature reconvenes in January, we will revisit the bonds that failed on Monday. Our rural residents need reliable high-speed internet; our technical schools deserve our support; all of Maine’s infrastructure, including water and sewer as well as roads and bridges, needs to be kept up.
In addition, we took up the question of whether to use ranked-choice voting for the 2020 presidential primary in Maine. This was a “hold-over” bill. Thanks to so many who wrote emails in the past week — most in support, some in opposition. I have carefully considered this issue since it first surfaced several years ago. I believe that RCV strengthens our electoral system, making every vote count when there is a particularly close election. Having voters engaged and evaluating all candidates, not just our top choice in a crowded field, is a very good thing. So, I voted “yes” on LD 1083, and it was enacted in the Senate. It’s now in the hands of Governor Mills, for her to approve, veto or hold.
One final thought: As we spend time with family and friends on Labor Day, it’s important to remember that before Labor Day was a national holiday, before the labor movement took root, workers across our country faced unbearably long hours, often in unsafe conditions. Many factories used child labor. Now, our laws protect workers, and we expanded those protections this year. More workers will have access to paid family leave and loggers now have the same right to organize that farmers and lobstermen already had. I will always support policies that value hardworking people throughout Maine.
I hope you’re enjoying these final days of summer. It has been wonderful to spend so much time outdoors in Harpswell!
As always, if you have any questions or concerns, you can reach me at Brownie.Carson@legislature.maine.gov or (207) 287-1515. You can also follow me on Facebook here: www.facebook.com/BrownieForMaine/. Thank you for the honor of serving you in the Maine Senate.
By Amy Goodman & Denis Moynihan
Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, sailed into New York Harbor Wednesday after an occasionally harrowing, two-week trans-Atlantic voyage. Greta walks the walk, living her life with as small a carbon footprint as she can. She decided to forgo flying as part of that commitment, so, in order to make it from Europe to North America, she sailed on a zero-emissions racing yacht.
The day before Greta’s arrival, on Tuesday, another activist ended a remarkable voyage. Frances Crowe, a lifelong peace activist, died at home in Western Massachusetts, surrounded by her family, at the age of 100. Frances was a firebrand, a nonviolent warrior for justice, arrested countless times protesting war, nuclear weapons, nuclear power plants and more.
The departure of one elder activist on the eve of the arrival of one so young symbolizes, bittersweetly, the passing of a torch.
Frances was born just months after World War I ended. “My mother told me she took me to my first march when the soldiers came home,” she wrote in “Finding My Radical Soul,” her memoir. “I was only a baby, but I have always had the feeling that war has defined my life.”
Her husband, Tom, was a medical doctor. Speaking on the “Democracy Now!” news hour in 2005, she described a pivotal moment in her life, Aug. 6, 1945, the day the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima: “I was a bride. My husband was in the Medical Corps in the Army. He had told me a few weeks before that he had heard rumors that we were developing this incredible weapon. He was at sea when we dropped the bomb, but I was alone in our apartment in New Orleans. When I heard it on the radio, I unplugged the iron, left the place mat that I was ironing and went out looking for a peace center in the streets of New Orleans.”
From that day, at the age of 26, until she died, Frances Crowe never relented in her pursuit of peace and justice. She was a war tax resister, refusing to pay taxes to support the sprawling Pentagon budget. She opposed South African apartheid and U.S. intervention in Central America in the 1980s and in Iraq and Afghanistan in the 2000s. She climbed fences into the Seneca Army Depot, and was arrested for pouring her own blood on a newly built Trident nuclear submarine just before it was launched in Connecticut.
Wednesday, at Manhattan’s North Cove Marina, a vessel of a different kind arrived.
Hundreds of young climate activists cheered as Greta disembarked, standing on terra firma for the first time in two weeks. “The ground is still shaking for me,” she said as she opened her press conference.
“The climate is an ecological crisis, a global crisis, the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced,” she said. “If we don’t manage to cooperate, to work together despite our differences, then we will fail. … Let’s not wait any longer. Let’s do it now.”
We first met Greta at the U.N. climate change summit in Katowice, Poland, last December. She explained then on “Democracy Now!” that, because of her Asperger’s, “I work a bit different. I see things in black and white. I guess I saw the world from a different perspective.”
She focused intently on the worsening climate crisis, even suffering debilitating depression around the age of 11. “I got out of that depression by promising myself that I’m going to do everything I can to change things,” she said Wednesday.
That determination led her to launch a school strike for the climate, skipping school every Friday to stand in front of the Swedish parliament, demanding action to prevent catastrophic climate change. Her protest spread, quickly going global. Hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren around the globe have participated in their own, local school strikes for the climate.
This Friday, Greta will join kids in New York at their monthly strike outside the United Nations. A global strike for the climate, expected to be one of the largest global protests in history, will take place on Sept. 20. After that, Greta will make her way, using “a lot of trains, buses and probably even sailing,” she
explained, to the next U.N. climate change summit in Santiago, Chile, in December.
Greta’s work as an activist is just beginning. She is a living example of what Frances Crowe said not long ago: “There is something else also to life, the joy of struggle, that not enough people have tasted. The joy of community, and the joy of cooperation, instead of competition; these are the values that I want to perpetuate and talk about to young people.”
Frances Crowe, rest in power. Greta Thunberg, long may you carry the torch.