The Occupy Wall Street movement named the core issue of our time: the overwhelming power of Wall Street and large corporations— something the political establishment and most media have long ignored.
But the movement goes far beyond this critique. This Changes Everything shows how the movement is shifting the way people view themselves and the world, the kind of society they believe is possible, and their own involvement in creating a society that works for the 99% rather than just the 1%.
Attempts to pigeonhole this decentralized, fast-evolving movement have led to confusion and misperception. In this volume, the editors of YES! Magazine bring together voices from inside and outside the protests to convey the issues, possibilities, and personalities associated with the Occupy Wall Street movement.
This book features contributions from Naomi Klein, David Korten, Rebecca Solnit, Ralph Nader, and others, as well as Occupy activists who were there from the beginning, such as David Graeber, Marina Sitrin and Hena Ashraf. It offers insights for those actively protesting or expressing support for the movement—and for the millions more who sympathize with the goal of a more equitable and democratic future.
The history of organizing in the United States has always mirrored the politics of the country, with three major approaches driving social change: 1) Right-wing organizing as reflected in the Klu Klux Klan, the White Citizens’ Council, the Minuteman vigilantes, and the Tea Party Movement; 2) Pragmatic organizing, which fights for specific reforms in the interest of working people but is limited in scope and characterized by anti-Left ideology, at times making implicit deals with the U.S. Empire; 3) Left-wing organizing as characterized by militant opposition to racism, war, and the abuses of Empire, strategized by people who self-identify as revolutionary, radical, liberal, and progressive, also called “transformative organizing.”
Transformative Organizing, Now!
With the “Tea Party” rising in popularity and the Obama/Clinton administration busy pursuing the Empire’s objectives abroad, there is an urgent need for the Left to organize and generate a new movement rooted in a creative, anti-racist, anti-imperialist politics among working class communities of color. The most effective framework for doing this is transformative organizing because: it is in revolutionary opposition to the power structures of colonialism, patriarchy, white supremacy, and capitalism in its current form, which is imperialism; it actually transforms the consciousness of people who participate in the process; and it empowers organizers to stand up to the Right, reach out to people, and take on the system.
I started this issue as a skeptic of climate change. I didn’t doubt its reality, the human contribution to it, or the threat it represents to the ecological health of the planet but I doubted that this crisis created an organizing moment that could benefit low-income people and communities of color. When Race, Poverty and the Environment covered this topic in 2006, [Clarke] efforts within the United States to organize in response to climate change were scattered and largely led by white environmentalists. We had to turn to a Canadian author to find a succinct description of a framework for green economics. [Milani]
Since then the global crisis has become more apparent and we have seen the development of a much broader engagement in climate justice organizing. Judging from the wide-ranging responses we received to our call for submissions, a movement is emerging.
As part of RP&E’s 20th anniversary commemoration, we decided to review the origins of key social movements over the past few decades and their trajectories into the future. The ensuing panel discussion with three generations of women activists looks at the intersection of race and class with gender, and how women’s participation in social justice movements has (or has not) empowered women workers, especially working class women of color and immigrant women.
• Aileen Clarke Hernandez is a union organizer and civil rights activist. In 1964, she became the first (and at that time, only) woman member of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). She is a past president of the National Organization of Women (NOW) and the State Chair Emeritus of the California Women’s Agenda (CAWA). She is a founder of Black Women Stirring the Waters and Chair of the Coalition for Economic Equity, which advocates for increased government contracting opportunities for women- and minority-owned businesses.
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• Catherine Tactaquin is the executive director and a co-founder of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. Her commitment to immigrant rights is motivated by her experience as the U.S.-born daughter of immigrant farm workers from the Philippines. She was involved for many years in grassroots organizing and advocacy in the Filipino community on issues of discrimination and foreign policy.
• Juliet Ellis is executive director of Urban Habitat, an organization that builds power in low-income communities and communities of color by combining education, advocacy, research, and coalition-building to advance environmental, economic, and social justice in the Bay Area. She is also a member of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.
The original breakthrough report that brought environmental justice to national attention this, 1987 report is made available here for research purposes. See also the companion report issued 20 years later.
From the original report:
"Recently, there has been unprecedented national concern over the problem of hazardous wastes. This concern has been focused upon the adverse environmental and health effects of toxic chemicals and other hazardous substances emanating from operating hazardous waste treatment, storage and disposal facilities as well as thousands of abandoned waste sites. Efforts to address this issue, however, have largely ignored the specific concerns of African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and Native Americans. Unfortunately, racial and ethnic Americans are far more likely to be unknowing victims of exposure to such substances. This report presents findings from two cross-sectional studies on demographic patterns associated with (1) commercial hazardous waste facilities and (2) uncontrolled toxic waste sites."
Imagine waking up on December 1, 1999, and learning about the World Trade Organization (WTO) for the first time by watching it fall apart. The catalyst? An internationalist “inside-outside” strategy that leveraged people power on the outside to provide political space inside for the Global South and civil society organizations. (A note on the WTO.)
The potential for such a political moment is once again upon us, exactly 10 years after the collapse of the WTO in Seattle, Wash. This time, it’s the 15th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which will meet in Copenhagen, Denmark on December 7, 2009, for 12 days to forge a climate policy that will succeed the initial commitments set by the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. The goal is to substantially reduce atmospheric concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gasses while addressing the consequences of climate disruption already underway. Global warming has already disproportionately impacted the small island states, coastal peoples, indigenous peoples, and the poor throughout the world, particularly in Africa.
Oil is the life-blood of globalization. Along with its sister coal, it
has made industrial capitalism hum at a feverish pace for the past 200
years. Globalization is the force that is pushing our ecological and
economic systems to the brink. Should we choose to stay the current
course, the planet’s health will face some serious and catastrophic
The most common face of the crisis is climate chaos, but this is only one of several interconnected and mutually reinforcing problems: Toxic waste poisons our land, air, and water; a shortage of fresh water has left growing numbers of humanity without access to clean potable water; a food and agriculture crisis has resulted from land being industrially consumed and depleted to produce export crops; biological and cultural diversity are facing extraordinary rates of extinction; and indigenous communities are facing cultural and physical genocide. It’s apparent that our addiction to fossil fuels and a fixation on market-based ‘economic growth’ have placed the planet’s life-systems in a precarious situation.
In the wake of the recent debate over national climate legislation and the disastrous outcome of the House Bill, 380 different organizations sent a letter to California Senator Barbara Boxer, head of the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee, urging her to draft a Senate bill “that provides the transformational change and greenhouse emissions reductions required to avert catastrophic climate impacts.” But the efforts of these organizations to argue for meaningful legislation have for the most part been ignored.
My number one inspiration right now is not an organization or a person or an event, it’s the city of Detroit. I first went there a couple of years ago to do organizational development, and later for direct action trainings with Detroit Summer, which was founded by Grace Lee Boggs and her partner Jimmy Boggs. Their key lesson is, ‘Transform yourself to transform the world. It’s time to grow our soul’s capacity to deal with the world we’re living in.’
The tangible solutions that are now coming out of Detroit blow my mind. It’s not just young folks getting excited about these ideas and trying to implement revolutions. It’s the 30- to 50-year-old black men coming out of prison or unemployed, gardening and farming. It’s not about getting a job and being a cog in someone else’s system. It’s about liberated work, where you are playing a useful role in your community.
Watching “The Greening of Cuba” reminds me of Detroit. Detroit has had an economic crisis for decades. The auto companies have divested, now it’s this urban rural city. Detroit’s population is less than half what it was. Out of necessity, people have had to start community gardens and urban farming. Music and food are being used to organize people. Potlucks provide a communal place to talk about issues and eat together.
Detroit has the highest statistics in terms of crime, unemployment, and drop out rates. Those are the symptoms of an unhealthy society. Those negative aspects can create a real darkness and depression. But that darkness can be the womb from which our new societies are born, where we can create the world we want to see.