Activism in the Anthropocene
By Sam Allen 7th December 2017 Inner Transition
Look out the window, see the air between your eyes and the horizon. This is the Anthropocene – a new geological age characterized by the critical impacts of human activities on the Earth’s systems. Every word you will ever speak will be articulated using this changed air.
Look out the window, see the air between your eyes and the horizon. This is the Anthropocene – a new geological age characterized by the critical impacts of human activities on the Earth’s systems. Every word you will ever speak will be articulated using this changed air. The Anthropocene can be understood not as an issue but a context: it is the world we do and will, from now on, inhabit – the rest of our lives will be defined increasingly by an accelerating political and ecological destabilization of unimaginable scale. Sit with that feeling, hold it – it is not going away, internalizing this knowledge will allow us as individuals and as movements to build structural resilience that prepares us for coming destabilization.
...the rest of our lives will be defined increasingly by an accelerating political and ecological destabilization of unimaginable scale. Sit with that feeling, hold it...
But if climate change is inevitable, global and profoundly altering human culture – then so too can our movements react on scale with the crisis.
The word “crisis” first appeared in English (from the greek origin krinein “decide”) to mean “the turning point of a disease”. Global warming is Gaias’s fever, a symptom of an unsustainable relationship to the physical world. But as this fever rises, global movements are swarming like antibodies to the underlying causes of the disease. The global climate crisis presents a great challenge, but also a great opportunity. Climate change means that our human civilization has to change.
Yet, the direction this now inevitable cultural shift takes is still left to be decided. As the ecological security of our vital life systems degrade there is a grave danger for the neoliberal logic of scarcity to accumulate more power, and already the rise of the far-right is hailing a response to this crisis with enhanced borders, racism, centralization and militarism. For movements to thrive and survive in the anthropocene, we need to look beyond the “activism-as-usual” that has shaped the past century, and gaze deeper into long-term cultural change that can withstand in the coming centuries of accelerating entropy.
If the left is to provide a more effective proposal to this collective crisis than the world that capitalism proposes, it requires the deep work of targeting not only the symptom of the illness, but also its causes. This means addressing the long history of white-supremacy, racism, sexism, anthropocentrism, imperialism and colonialism that have shaped both our world and our atmosphere. This is hard work, that many environmental movements have shied away from due to the urgency of the crisis, but this also reframes the vast majority of the world who have been victim of structural injustice as our allies. But to create a movement wide enough for everyone, history demands the left provides not only an alternative politic to neoliberalism, but an alternative process. If this process is a truly bottom-up democratic process, then each coming disaster provides the opportunity for it to spread, allowing movements for justice to flourish inside the oncoming chaos, rather than be derailed by it.
This series of articles and interviews digs into the space where resistance becomes resilience; where people are experimenting with alternative organizing cultures inside their place of struggle. These articles will investigate how movements are working together, rather than just what we are working on; and examining the socio-cultural shift underway inside those on the edges who are nudging the mainstream into new directions. Our movements’ desires to foment alternative futures – encouraging democratic, prefigurative and decentralized solutions – may actually have less to do with solar panels and community gardens than with nurturing scalable and democratic organizing cultures that can be shared with allies, volunteers and partners in ways that improve access to autonomy as we move together into an exponentially tumultuous future. We will examine organizing that is intentional about its cultural legacy, and focus on process for participation rather than as a product of participation. It is, perhaps, these organizing cultures that are already incubating the next chapter of human history.
This series of articles will examine a diversity of spaces from across the global movement for climate justice. In our first article, we will look at how eco-feminist principles are reshaping cultures of mass direct action though Ende Gelande.
Our second article will focus on the “Pacific Warriors”, indigenous activists from the low-lying islands of the Pacific and the people most vulnerable to sea level rise.
Our third article will look at Cooperation Jackson, that combines black-led eco-social cooperativism with local municipal politics to provide an alternative future for the “deep south” of the United States. Finally, we will look to Imider, a small community on the edge of the Sahara who are transforming their indigenous political cultures as they protect their communities’ water from an expanding silver mine.
It is my intention that by looking at Emergent movement organizing structures on a diversity of scales and contexts, there is potential to look at how other groups are developing and enacting political processes that are coherent with their shared values and ambitions.
While the climate crisis cannot be avoided; disaster can be. The main question regarding the severity of the Anthropocene will be how human beings organize in this unpredictable and hostile terrain and what processes have the structural integrity to survive constant destabilization. If our “movement of movements” is to withstand the coming waves, winds and wars, we need to be addressing our own incoherencies, lest they open fissures in our structures at every weak point. Across the world, bottom up processes are gaining force as the global climate justice movement begins to inhabit its politics, tilting from being diverse protest movements towards being a truly revolutionary force that can rise faster than the oceans.
About the author:
Kevin Buckland stumbled into the climate justice movement, somewhere between resisting the war on Iraq and realizing that there was a clear need in any movement for a guy who was good at painting banners.
As an arts organizer working inside the global climate justice movement, he has held a unique position for, as one colleague said, ‘You have no power, but everyone wants to work with you’. The past decade of activism has led him through many diverse and divergent spaces: from UN Summits to rural indigenous land occupations, from massive youth skill-shares to academic conferences, from mainstream NGO coalitions to squatted anarchist collectives. This has been a transformative time, both for Buckland and for the nascent Climate Justice movement – it often felt like they have been coming of age at the same time. As a cultural organizer, he became increasingly aware of the diversity of organizing cultures he was engaged in, and how those different structures affect the work he was able to do. What has struck him is how few mainstream movements take the time to intentionally cultivate divergent cultures or understand themselves as cultural actors. Inside these diverse movements movements, he has seen both glimpses of revolutionary equality and rigid militaristic patriarchal hierarchies. Slowly, he has begun to see his work differently, less as an artist and more as part of developing culture as an approach to organizing. This series of articles is intended to be useful to movements.