If you can imagine a future that is qualitatively better than your present, than your potential for freedom is alive and well.
The Great Escape: The late Steven Hawking, iconic physicist and cosmologist, left us with sobering thoughts in his last on-camera appearance. “I am convinced, he said, “that humans will need to leave Earth to survive; it may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves”. Survival, he noted, depends on colonizing another planet, which he carefully laid out plans to accomplish.
Professor Hawking, not given to hyperbole, found himself up against the wall: over 35 years of scientific papers demonstrated that burning fossil fuels increases carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, and leads to climate chaos and the collapse of biological systems. Yet, this research went unheeded. He also calculated that humans are using up resources faster than we can replace them—-depleting the environmental basis of our existence.
Missing an emerging sea change in the political beliefs of millions of citizens, Professor Hawking was ready to flea: The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication noted that for the first time in U.S. history the majority of Americans believe that global warming is caused by the oil and gas industry and that they should be held accountable. Originally driven home by activists and journalists on the front lines of climate chaos this recognition has become global.
Leaving this beautiful planet would sadden most of us. Why give up on what we love? Why cede our love of life to a life-threatening economy?
Why consider moving to another planet that’s fundamentally hostile to humans?
Based on the bravery of ordinary citizens to revolt and keep us in the know of what’s actually at stake, it’s too early to give up and plan to leave our home.
The Zeitgeist of Our Times: Revolt is the zeitgeist of our times. The power of humans driven by compassion to anticipate and enact a better future is widespread. While the odds often seemed stacked against us, we have the vision, science, wealth and technology to create a more equitable and sustainable world.
Citizen activists are shaping the future of countries as dissimilar as the U.S., Hong Kong, Puerto Rico, Lebanon, Chile, Brazil, Spain, and Indonesia——in regions as fundamentally different as the arctic tundra and Amazon rainforest. In every corner of the globe citizens are rising up, the proverbial canaries in the coal mine.
No single issue motivates all people equally, no big “R” for revolt or revolution. No Lenin or Che leading the masses. Individuals, protestors and activists all vary in their capacity for revolt, and all are engaged in various issues including environmental and economic justice, immigration, education, reproductive rights, gun control, and the electoral process itself.
An initial reading of revolt tied to so many causes by might be perceived as fragmented, and short-lived. This is not what’s actually happening in practice.
U.S. participation in protests is widespread and growing. Over 7.5 million Americans have participated in over 6,000 protests in the last few years. This is 30 times greater than the number of people who attended Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” in Washington DC in 1963.
The Climate Change Movement, a collection of non-governmental organizations, has innervated several million people with over 5,000 rallies worldwide. Union of Concerned Scientists, hardly a sexy organization, has over 500,000 activists supporting it.
The Extinction Rebellion, formed not long ago by British academics, spread rapidly across Britain, sprouting offshoots in 49 countries. According to Stuart Basden, one of its organizers, it is modeled on the “peaceful protest movements in U.S. influenced by Dr. Martin Luther
Indigenous activists throughout Latin and South America would concur with their North American and European counterparts; protests are underway throughout Ecuador, Brazil and the Amazon region against exploitation by oil, mining and timber companies.
More Than Climate Change: Climate change isn’t the only issue triggering revolt: nearly 1 million kids left school for a National School Walkout Day on March 14, 2019 to “take on the gun lobby”.
The number of people killed in gun violence in the U.S. over the last three years is roughly double the number of people that have died from coronavirus to date. Yet, it’s not being framed or addressed in the mainstream as an epidemic, which it is.
Over 400,000 teachers were involved in major work stoppages over low pay and conditions in 2018 continuing well into 2019—the highest number in over three decades.
Protests are afoot for better wages in industries such as fast food and retail companies like Amazon; and for justice against the police killing of 1100 unarmed African Americans in police custody last year.
Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service reports from a national poll that two-thirds of Americans surveyed believe that another civil war is imminent, and 50 percent of Europeans feel that their governments are not listening to them nor solving the problems they face.
The London Financial Times, never passing up a moment to capitalize on revolt, offered business people a “Guide to The New Agenda”; featuring articles on resetting capitalism. What’s being realized is that activism is widespread and growing, challenging widening cracks in the industrial façade of uniform power.
While coronavirus has brought protest on the street to a halt due to health reasons, it’s only a matter of time before individuals re-organize and start-up. The problems that cause revolt in the first place are still with us. The good news is that protest is alive and well on the web.
Insights from activists and the street:
- A Different Sensibility: Revolt begins with a different sensibility about the present and the future. You can feel, envision or imagine something more just than the present. Your increased capacity for sensing what’s right will help you move beyond your conditioning; your culture, neighbors, Fox News, and often, what you were taught in school. This ethical sensitivity is your internal gyroscope pointing you in the right direction.
- Reject What’s Normal: Mainstream leaders, economists and corporations promote ideas and practices that reinforce their power. They either define or mimic what’s considered “normal” through advertising, press or popular publications or paying for special interests. John McCain, the late Senator from Arizona, for example, received just under $8 million from the NRA to support their agenda. The definition of normal top down is a power play, plain and simple.
Slavery was once considered normal, as was bounty hunting. Most corporations and governments think it’s normal to drive an economy with fossil fuels, even though cost-effective alternatives exist; and employers think its normal to pay employees low wages, creating an exploitive disparity in income between senior management and employees.
Male domination over women is defined as normal, with men having power over women—it’s ok for women to be paid less, work double duty with responsibility for child care and work, and then be told by corporate leaders to ‘lean into work’; and it’s normal for consumer companies, accounting for 70 percent of U.S GDP, to push high rates of consumption— leading to the decimation of 60 percent of species on Earth.
- Pick An Issue That Resonates: Not everyone feels strongly about the same issue (s). Political or social issues have very personal meanings: some have experienced gun violence or lost a friend; some are exhausted from being paid ‘market rates’ for their labor, even though they can’t make a living; some grasp the effects of climate change and feel compelled to get involved; and some have experienced racism and organize to protect their life. One size of activism does not fit all, and there’s room for everyone, across issues and organizations.
- Defy Limits: The pundits will try to convince you, through arguments based on reason, that reality doesn’t get any better. We’re taught that America is a great nation, our institutions represent ‘perfection or the ‘end of history’.We’re told the epitome of the Enlightenment, or change is so rapid or complex that no one can know the right actions to take to bring about desired change.
U.S. citizens, according to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, have an unequivocal right to assemble peacefully and petition the government for redress. In reality, it doesn’t work that way. Micah White, one of the leaders of Occupy, makes it painfully clear that applications for protests were required to be filed prior to protest, and they were often refused by the City of New York. Those in power readily deny requests for assembly based on any number of lame excuses. Activists ultimately defy the authority of the city, state, or nation.
- Learn From Others: Joining a political or activist group is great for connections and learning. There are many seasoned and smart activists that can help you learn the ropes of protesting including the most effective strategies, how to stay out of harm’s way, and how not to get arrested. Protests in many areas are leaderless, where other areas have strong leadership in local or national chapters. What’s important is to listen, assess, and contribute where you can.
Revolt, over the last seven centuries, has enabled individuals to confront power and improve their lives. In the Western tradition, revolt began with peasants in 1381.The peasants fought to rid themselves of serfdom and oppression by the King’s representatives.
More recently, the writings of Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Saul Alinsky, Angela Davis, Nadya Tolokonnikova (Pussy Riot), and Micah White, provide friendly and wise guidance that informs political action.
- Honor Courage: Eyes To The Wind, written by Ady Barkan, is a memoir, and stunning testament of an organizer that has impacted the lives of tens of thousands. Barkan, diagnosed with terminal neurogenerative disease ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) in 2016, shortly after the birth of his son, has been called one of the most powerful activists in America. Mr. Barkan, in spite of his disease, has continued to organize through an organization that he co-founded, Be A Hero PAC, and as an organizer for the Center for Popular Democracy, connected to 1,600 affiliate organizations across the U.S. Please see Ady Barkan, Wikipedia.
- Respect Process: Few protests against power and promotion for the issues that you are committed to evolve in straight lines, from action to goal. It is often three steps forward and one step back, sometimes more. The important thing to keep in mind is that reality is complex, entrenched interests are solid and adapt quickly to onslaughts, and individuals often need reassurance that in the end, grassroots organizing will prevail against irrational power.