Newsletter: The Times Are A-Changing

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Sometimes, when in the midst of transformational change, it is difficult to recognize that it is happening.

We are in a transformational moment now.  The new political culture that erupted with the occupy movement in 2011, but which has roots going back decades, and its evolution into activism on key fronts of struggle such as wages, racism, trade, militarism, capitalism and other issues, has grown to be so impactful that it is fracturing the two corporate political parties.

A lot of change is occurring on many fronts. That should encourage all of us to keep building the movement of movements so we can create the transformation we need.

People observe a moment of silence at 2:46pm(0546 GMT) atop of a seawall, at Taro district in Miyako, Japan.

People observe a moment of silence at 2:46pm(0546 GMT) atop of a seawall, at Taro district in Miyako, Japan.

Metaphor for Transformation: Dying of Nuclear & Carbon Energy, Rise of Solar

Yesterday was the fifth anniversary of the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan following the earthquake and tsunami. The ecological, economic and human costs from that disaster continue with no end in sight.

Problems with aging US nuclear reactors are also mounting. This week a study found the Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant, located just south of Miami, has caused levels of tritium, a radioactive isotope, in Biscayne Bay to spike to 200-times higher than normal levels. This February it was reported that the Indian Point nuclear plant just north of New York City was leaking “alarming levels of radioactivity at three monitoring wells, with one well’s radioactivity increasing nearly 65,000 percent.” Governor Cuomo has called for the plant to be closed. The mayor of Miami says, closing Turkey Point may be the only safe option.

While some nuclear plants are closing because of safety and economic concerns, it is now evident that the nuclear industry is pricing itself out of the energy market. In the United States and around the world, the experience with nuclear power is consistent: long delays in building plants and massive cost over-runs make it pretty useless for combating climate change and producing new energy. The estimated cost for two new reactors being built in Georgia has increased from $14 billion to $21 billion. The last reactor built in Georgia took 18 years to complete, a decade over schedule.

1solaSolar is the opposite, rather than taking years to build it takes months; rather than costing more, the price of solar is declining. In January, ALL of the new electrical energy generated in the United States came from wind and solar. For the last two years renewable energy has been the largest source of new electrical energy. The last quarter of 2015 was solar energy’s largest in U.S. history, breaking a record set in the previous quarter. Rooftop and community solar allow solar to be a local solution that is affordable for low-income communities. Last week a new breakthrough in battery storage could transform solar and wind within the next five to ten years. There are now more people in the US working for the solar industry than the oil industry.

The oil and gas industry is in a very troubled situation. Oil and gas companies are deeply in debt with prices of carbon energy at new lows and the cost of extraction and new infrastructure escalating. This week at a JP Morgan conference in New York, the CEO of Canadian Pacific Railway told the attendees that fossil fuels are “probably dead.” He said new investments in traditional energy sources will dry up because of environmental hurdles. Industry news outlets have reported concerns by banks and investors that their current oil and gas investments will become ‘stranded assets’ on which they will never see a return.

1nolaThis week, three members of Congress asked the SEC to investigate whether Shell’s failure to tell investors of the risks posed by climate change violated the law. The SEC has already been asked to investigate ExxonMobil and last week the FBI began a probe of ExxonMobil’s role in creating fraudulent climate change science when they knew their product was putting the planet at risk. This week a Bureau of Land Management auction to lease lands for oil and gas exploration was protested by people urging that carbon fuels be kept in the ground. The auction ended up without anyone leasing the lands. Upcoming auctions in Milwaukee, New Orleans, and Cheyenne, Wyoming will also be protested.

The transition to a carbon-free nuclear-free energy economy has been ongoing for years but is now picking up speed. The transition that we are currently in the midst of has long roots. Protests against nuclear energy are decades long, the climate movement has been building since the 90s and solar energy has grown in spurts since the 80s. There have been also long-term protests against the coal industry, which is now shrinking, especially against practices like mountain top removal. All of these movements seem to be reaching fruition now with multiple plans for a carbon-free world, like this blueprint from National Geographic, or this 50 state roadmap from Stanford University, or the carbon-free, nuclear-free roadmap from the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research.

Asheville Duke ProtestSome states, like California are trying to make solar energy more accessible. Oregon voted this week to switch from coal to clean energy by 2030. Of course, the status quo energy companies are not giving up their profits-first philosophy and are fighting back to stop the transition. Utility companies are moving to push solar energy out of Nevada, but people are fighting back. Similarly, in North Carolina where Duke Energy is seeking to block solar, the people are escalating their protests. There have been widespread protests against FERC as well as against fracking, tar sands, carbon infrastructure, oil trains, off-shore drilling – the public is demanding an end to the carbon-nuclear energy era.

Changing the Political Culture Changes Everything

The impact of the movement for economic, racial and environmental justice is changing the political culture in the United States. The increase in clean energy and the downward spiral of dirty energy is part of that change in culture but it affects numerous fronts of struggle.

By Tyler LaRiviere/Chicagoist

By Tyler LaRiviere/Chicagoist

We can see the impact of political culture in the presidential nominating process of the Democratic and Republican parties.  Both parties seem to be fracturing over rejection of the establishment candidates. Senator Sanders, who is talking about popular issues like Wall Street corruption, inequality and single payer health care, is making party favorite Hillary Clinton’s nomination more difficult than expected. And the rise of Donald Trump led a recent meeting of Republican Party leaders and funders organized by the right-wing American Enterprise Institute to become a strategy session on how to oust him.

Will these fractures grow and create a vacuum, and if so, what will fill it? When opportunities such as this arise, those who are the most organized have the best chance of advancing. This is an important question for the movement to consider. Can it be filled by the Green Party, an alliance of progressive parties or a new anti-Wall Street party?

Trade is a defining issue in the elections with Donald Trump expressing his opposition to corporate trade agreements like the TransPacific Partnership (TPP) in every speech. Bernie Sanders is also using his consistent opposition to corporate trade as a way to differentiate himself from Hillary Clinton and reach people in communities where their economy has been undermined by trade agreements. Clinton has been forced to change her position on the TPP, saying she now opposes it, because of public pressure. The movement against global trade, rooted in the 90s, has developed into a large movement of movements. Corporate trade has become a toxic political issue that puts careers at risk.

1weare1The wealth divide is an issue that has been put on the agenda by the popular movement. The reality of the divide, highlighted in the 99% meme, has provided a lot of energy to the Sanders campaign. Sanders has long raised the issues of inequality and the corrupting influence of Wall Street, but the social movement gave his campaign energy which he is riding. Whether he wins or loses, this will be an issue that will remain on the political agenda and which elected officials will be forced to deal with.

The Black Lives Matter movement has made sure its issue was on the political agenda and used targeted protest to ensure that police violence, mass incarceration and racism became part of the campaign dialogue.

The same has been true for the Fight for 15 movement which has been protesting in cities holding debates to make sure they are heard and the issue of a living wage becomes part of the campaign dialogue.

The transition on the drug war and marijuana policy has also been notable. In recent years states have passed voter initiatives to allow the medical use of marijuana, legalize and regulate non-medical use of marijuana and to increase the use of treatment rather than incarceration for drug offenses. This has changed the political culture and now these issues are being addressed in legislation.

1bpsOther movements are growing like efforts to stop the corporatization of schools, high stakes testing, cuts to education funding, school closures and inadequate programs to train teachers. The student debt movement is growing especially around the for-profit college scam. As a result of pressure from parents, schools are allowing parents to opt-out of testing and even entire school districts are choosing to opt-out. This week thousands of students marched in Boston against cuts to schools; and the Chicago Teachers Union has called for a general strike on April 1 to shut down the city.

Facing the Roots of the Crisis

The movement is making progress on changing the political culture, winning positive changes and impacting political priorities. While this is all good news, we have a long way to go in formulating a plan that brings these issues together into a coherent system to replace big finance capitalism and US Empire.

Jerome Roos, the editor of ROAR, reminds us this is a global revolt, pointing to:

“The Greek riots of December 2008, the mass protests against austerity in Southern Europe, the Occupy movement in North America and the UK, the student mobilizations in Canada and Chile, the mass demonstrations in Turkey, Brazil, Mexico, and countless other countries of the Global South, the urban uprisings against anti-black police brutality in cities like Ferguson and Baltimore—each of these brief ‘insurrectionary’ episodes constitutes a flashpoint in the emergence of a new politics, offering a collective vision of a radically different future that is being imagined in the very process of struggle.”

1demoHe does not see us developing a “new anti-capitalist politics” that pulls all these movements together. There are some commonalities, among them a desire for democracy, with slogans like “Real Democracy Now” being heard in countries that claim to be democracies. What is desired is not the traditional representative democracy with corrupted political parties, but more direct democracy as practiced in the encampments of the Spanish Indignado and the Occupy movements; and that is being put in practice at the urban level with participatory budgeting and cooperatively-run workplaces.

Gar Alperovitz, a historian and political economist, describes how people are gradually bringing democracy to the economy through cooperatives, land trusts, public ownership of energy and public banks, to name some examples. Finding opportunities to put in place democratic control of structures is a critical ingredient, combined with a social movement, for shifting the power from big finance capital to the people. This is a form of a gradualist revolution that Alperovitz calls the “evolutionary reconstruction” of our political and economic systems. This reconstruction occurs as the current Wall Street-dominated economic and political system gradually loses its political legitimacy and the power of the movement and these new systems grow.

The success the movement is having at this stage in shifting power and creating significant change should encourage each of us to bring more people into it and to take more action to continue to build the national consensus for dramatic change. We are already having an impact greater than many of us can see.

1weare2The legitimacy of the elites is shrinking. The power of the people is growing. We may not recognize it now, but the transformation is underway.

In the words of Bob Dylan:

The present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin’

Yes, the times they are a changing.

  • Al

    I think we need to think much larger than the Green party or any political party. We should be boycotting this rigged, corrupt and inadequate representational government system, particularly the election of a President, not trying to participate in it. Yes, this is a global struggle and the revolution has got to be global. I was just reading about the spy apparatus in China for example. The controls are everywhere and we can’t overcome it with protests and hoping a silly political revolution from Sanders will transform into something bigger, or misinterpreting what is really happening by saying “there’s a lot of dissatisfaction out there Jane, something’s got to blow”. It’s always been that way. Remember the sixties, look where we are now. It was fairly impressive in ways but we didn’t come close to overturning the power. We have to be more cunning and organized globally to end rule by the rich forever, kind of like a global People’s Kellogg-Briand Pact that will become the cornerstone of a new U.N. Charter. Get a billion signature and march into the U.N. demanding the People’s voices be heard. Sound extreme? We have an extreme problem that has lasted for thousands of years, it’s going to take extreme measures to solve it. People are dying every day because of the cretins at the top, we have to stop them.

  • Aquifer

    By refusing to take politics seriously for decades we have allowed ourselves to be conned into perpetually putting the political handmaidens of the corporatocracy in charge of the levers of gov’t … it is not the electoral process, per se, rickety though it is, that is at fault, but how, we the people, have chosen to use it, as a “team sport”, a way to keep the other “bad guys” team out, instead of using it to get what we want and need … TPTB know what we could do with it if we chose, which is why they spend so much money and media on convincing us to keep the duopoly in power … that TINA to it ..

    Third parties, indeed, need to get their act together, to get serious – stop thinking of themselves as “protest” or “conscience”, or “raise the issues” choices – the issues have been raised, it is time, past time to move on, to present themselves as a political arm of this movement of movements, to not just “get it heard” but to take control of those levers in it’s name and for its purposes … and we are running out of time …

  • Gary Brumback

    I have proposed an Alter America to replace Real America. Alter America would be a nation we should become, one that respects human rights, practices peace not war, and is economically sound enough to provide everyone with decent jobs and wages. What needs to be done is to find influence opinion makers and activists in each of the four geographical regions of the US to establish an assembly of a cross section of Americans in their respective reasons. These assemblies would be charged with designing a blue print for how to reach Alter America. A supra assembly would then take the four blueprints, merge them and mobilize and organize Americans to carry out the necessary strategies to achieve Alter America. I will be getting much more specific about this idea as time goes on.

  • History301

    I agree the removal of claimed legitimacy is one step along the way and as they say, statistics don’t lie. For example, only around half of registered voters cast a ballot during the selection of a president and if memory serves, Reagan claimed a mandate in 1980 with only 23% of votes from registered voters going his way.
    Further, just how does a government, calling itself a republic, a debatable term to be sure, gain legitimacy? Of course, it’s when voters cast ballots, so what happens when or if this doesn’t happen? Would the corporate media even report the actual numbers if say, only 8% cast a ballot? If 23% isn’t challenged as a mandate, what could be claimed if far less cast a ballot to continue a system that only serves a few and truly is, the best democracy money can buy? I believe the majority is aware this is the case, or the percentage of ballots cast would be far higher. People know the game is rigged, but then again, propaganda does work. If it didn’t, Reagan would never have received his 23% the first time and around 27% the second. The percentages haven’t changed much since then, with Obama being an exception in 08, but not by a whole bunch. Slightly more than half turned out that time.
    I’ve argued a long time for the removal of this government’s legitimacy, as have many others. I’m unsure what it’s going to take before that other half of registered voters finally realize they are victims of a shell game, but the sooner that happens, the better off we’ll be I believe.
    Meanwhile, we can and do organize locally as best we can and hope forms of direct democracy spreads community by community until self governance becomes a reality. I wish I had better answers to our collective troubles, just as you and others do. Hopefully, we’ll discover better ways of doing things before it really it is too late for our and other species on an ever warming and more polluted earth.

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  • DHFabian

    The critical point: Remember Newt Gingrich, essentially the mouth of the right wing back in the late 1980s, early 1990s? He actually did talk about THE key issue. He pointed out that each time the right wing gained power, the proverbial masses ultimately united to push back — the poor and middle class, workers and the jobless, to the benefit of all. Gingrich pointed out that the only way to bring the “Reagan Revolution” to fruition would be to divided the masses, pitting them against each other. This effort has been more successful than any budding fascist of the ’80s could have dreamed possible.

  • DHFabian

    In the US, though not elsewhere, the revolution was cancelled.Think back to Occupy. What began as a people’s movement that could have changed the course we’re on, was quickly redefined (by Dem pols, lib media, then participants themselves) as a middle class movement alone. The rest of us — the poor, and those who get why it matters — finally walked away. Since then, Democrats and liberal media have vigorously promoted middle class elitism, disappearing the truly poor.

    Each time in the past that the richest few gained a dangerous degree of power, to the harm of the country, the masses — middle class and poor, workers and the jobless — united to push back, to everyone’s benefit. That can’t happen this time. We lost. If there were a revolution, who would fight whom? We’re rich vs. middle class vs. poor.

  • DHFabian

    Disagree. Millions of us continued to take politics VERY seriously. We lost because we were successfully divided and subdivided by class and race, and pitted against each other. This has left the masses with only an illusion of some power. We would love to have a revolution, but how many people can get enough time off from work to do that?

  • Aquifer

    Really? And how serious can we take them when we keep returning the duopoly to power year after year?

  • DHFabian

    Or think of it this way: Republicans represent the interests of the rich/corporate powers. Today’s Democrats represent the interests of the middle class, with an occasional pat on the head to low wage workers. Who would you vote for, if you were poor? That’s simplistic, but you get the idea.

    Only a D or R has a chance of being elected president in the foreseeable future. Obviously, Democrats have not been the lesser of the evils for the poor. A good percentage of today’s working class know (even if they try to deny it) that they could be a single job loss from losing everything, with no way back up. The US simply doesn’t have jobs for all. And even though it appears to be a taboo subject, I think most people must know how brutally we treat the very poor today.

  • DHFabian

    We could look at our own 20th century history. From FDR to Reagan, the US implemented a range of policies and programs, with a focus on poverty reduction, that actually took the country to its height of wealth and productivity — far from perfect, still a work in progress, but better. Then we changed our minds. We ended the programs, reversed the policies, and the US has maintained its economic (and social) downhill slide ever since. There could be some clues in this.

  • red_slider

    History alone, I’m afraid, simply cannot provide the answers or solution-sets to the problems we face. That will take an uncommon amount of imagination and creativity, one that may need to reject entirely what has been asserted by the past, its ideologies, its either/or economic and political theories and the lessons that have been taught and re-taught over the past 7,000 years. Clearly, all of those lessons have failed to provide a sustainable answer to the problem of constructing a sane, healthy and flourishing society.

    The blueprint for a real alter America might be quite different than anything that has been tried or even thought of before. Who knows if we should even be talking about “wages” or “jobs”, “justice” or “democracy”, or the myriad things so familiar to our idealizing that we’ve come to regard them as axiomatic to constructing a healthy society? Perhaps they are ruling axioms only because they are derived from obsolete concepts that are themselves fundamentally flawed. This may present the greatest obstacle to change of all, since change is not only contingent on the scale of material investments that have been made to build the present scripts of our reality , but investments in the shared orders of belief which we have invested in those scripts and cannot so easily escape short of total collapse.

    More plausible is that America, perhaps Western Civilization, is truly in decline and nothing America might tinker with, given its fundamental and historical investments, will avert eventual replacement by another ascending and dominant nation or civilization. Our choice then may be limited to whether we opt to decline in a state of grace and generosity, or in the mean and violent assertions self-interest that are so familiar to us.

    In the one case we may be supported in that decline with some measure of respect and comfort. In the other we are likely to experience a very ugly decline in which the rest of the world simply takes us apart for whatever they find useful, discarding the rest and leaving us to decay in our own painful fashion. It is a choice which we already seem to be very close to making for the worst possible case.

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  • History301

    I agree that’s how most think about the two parties, although it hasn’t been an accurate way of looking at this for a long time, with both parties having sold out to banking and corporate ownership and we see what this had led to, when it comes to policies foreign and domestic. Resource wars, raping of resources, massive pollution, control of media, therefore the ability to control the narrative, or what passes for one. The total takeover by such interests of every agency of government, just as described by Prof. Sheldon Wolin going as far back as 1962, the transformation that allows for the continued growth of the MIC isn’t a party issue any longer, but for Americans who don’t actually study such things, it’s easy to see why around half continue to vote for keeping the system as is, when all most see is what the corporate media wants them to see and hear.
    I was speaking with another teacher a while back, and he no longer tried to teach social studies or history outside the textbook, out of fear of losing his job, and you are correct about how many are one job loss away from becoming homeless. This applies to many people, not just educators in the public schools, and that’s not even discussing the way higher education works for associate professors, living in fear of saying the wrong thing, and moving so often just to find a job in their profession, much less that longed for blessing of tenure most start out thinking they will be able to earn.
    We could write for days about the many methods used that benefit the self-appointed ownership and agree on most of them, but I doubt the vast majority will begin to pay attention to the point of action until things grow much worse than they are today and the way the economy is designed, that day may be a long time off. It’s not like the ruling elites don’t understand they can go only so far over the generations. After all, it wasn’t that long ago when a house with 3 or 4 bedrooms sold for around 18K, or even less and if a person was making 8 bucks an hour, they had arrived right into the center of the middle class and could afford a home on that single income.
    A quick example: My dad was a steelworker making around $9 an hour, bought a four bedroom, three story cape cod with a two car detached garage, three full baths. on an acre 20 minutes outside Richmond, VA. in 1966 for $16,500 and supported a wife and three children. Health care was something everyone seemed to have during those years too and this would not have been the case in a right to work state had unions not once gained that benefit. He also did side jobs on Saturdays and generally carried me with him to mix mortar, carry brinks, cut boards, depending on the nature of the work. What happened to that way of life? By the mid 70’s, I think it fairly easy to dissect exactly what happened and as the generations go by, the standard of living will see an ever shrinking middle class, as the transference of wealth from working people goes to those few at the very top. Something like 63% of such middle class wealth has already lined the pockets of these elites since 1975 and I expect this to continue under the so-called, two party system.
    Social injustice is another matter, as is a social conscience and understandably so under the current circumstances, with so many living right on the edge of poverty or below that line. It’s asking a lot of people to stand up to a system that acts in it’s owner’s interests, with what little so many have that could be taken away overnight. But what will it take to change it? Courage. Unity. Taking lessons from the early labor movements. Dealing with issues as human beings, not party members, etc. I hope to live long enough to see these changes take place and unlike in the past, much more is at stake in the years to come than just an economy as you’re aware.
    Good luck to you and yours and thanks for your reply.