From Occupy to Climate Justice

There’s a growing effort to merge economic-justice and climate activism. Call it climate democracy.

The Nation, By Wen Stephenson
| February 24, 2014, edition of The Nation

"Anyone who is committed to the hard work of bringing deep structural change to our economic, social and political systems—the kind of change that requires a long-term strategy of organizing and movement-building—is now faced with scientific facts so immediate and so dire as to render a life’s work seemingly futile. The question, then, becomes how to escape that paralyzing sense of futility, and how to accelerate the sort of grassroots democratic mobilization we need if we’re to salvage any hope of a just and stable society.

I don’t know anyone who has all the answers, but I do know a few people who are at least asking the right kinds of questions, starting the necessary conversations and actually working to connect climate and economic-justice organizing across the country. As it happens, more than a few of them were engaged in Occupy. (David Graeber should be proud.) They point to a convergence of movements for economic democracy and climate justice, and show us what a trajectory from Occupy to something new—call it climate democracy—might look like.

Equally important, they’re acting with the kind of urgency, and commitment to civil resistance, that the crisis demands. They know there can be no climate justice without economic justice, but they also know there won’t be any economic justice—any justice at all—without facing up to our climate reality, simultaneously slashing emissions and building resilience. They know the “climate” part of “climate justice” cannot be an afterthought, some optional add-on to please “environmentalists.” Because this shit is real. And the game is far from over. No matter what happens in terms of climate policy in the next few years—and the prospects are not pretty—current and future generations have to live through what’s coming. ...

Rachel is the 26-year-old director of youth and student organizing for the New Economy Coalition, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. ...

It was around this time, in late 2011 and early 2012, that she started talking with Bob Massie, a longtime social-justice and environmental activist, ordained Episcopal priest with a doctorate from Harvard Business School and, among other things, the initiator of the Investor Network on Climate Risk. Massie had recently been hired to head the New Economics Institute, which merged early last year with the New Economy Network to form the NEC. Rachel began to realize ... that the kind of work going on in the “new economy” or “solidarity economy” movement—with things like cooperatives and worker-owned businesses, community-development financial institutions, community land trusts, local agriculture and community-owned renewable energy, as well as efforts to reconceive corporations and redefine economic growth—is challenging the dominant and unsustainable corporate capitalist system. And not simply rejecting that system, she emphasizes, but “creating new economic institutions that are democratic and participatory, decentralized to appropriate scale so that decisions are made at the most local level that makes sense and, rather than only prioritizing one thing—the maximization of profit—prioritizing people, place and planet.”

"New-economy innovations are occurring all over the country, bubbling up,” Massie told me. “What they lack is mutual awareness, mutual support and mutual connectivity.” There’s potential for real transformation, he believes, in providing those connections. “As people become aware of each other, their frame of reference about what’s happening, and what could happen, changes. They realize all these problems are linked—but all these solutions may also be linked.” ...

Jihan Gearon, executive director of the Black Mesa Water Coalition, grew up on the Navajo reservation in Arizona. She told me that their approach to climate is “holistic,” addressing not only emissions as they move away from coal but also adaptation—especially as water becomes scarce—and economic transition. “We are not content with parts per million of CO2 reduced,” she said. “We also want to ensure that we protect health, water and jobs as we reduce CO2.”"

http://www.thenation.com/article/178242/occupy-climate-justice

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