Tuesday, April 19, 2011

For As Long As We've Got

Power Shift 2011 is a gathering of 10,000 or so mostly young people organizing for action to confront the Climate Crisis and related environmental crises.  Leaders of the group met with President Obama, and the report of this at Climate Progress elicited the usual political grumbling and the inevitable debate on whether the Baby Boomers ruined everything.  A bit unusual however was that it appeared boomers were taking both sides.

While one commenter wrote "my generation has failed, and too many of us have become indifferent or selfish." Another:  "If there is to be a future,the youth of today are going to need to shame us grey hairs into making difficult decisions by staying in our faces forcing us to confront the truth. If our Youth are to have a life, then us Grey Hairs from Presidents & Legislators, Business Leaders & Faith Leaders, Opinion Makers & Everyday People need to be confronted with the facts that how we live in the present is consuming their ability to live in the future. It is encouraging to see our Youth refusing to let us steal their future."

But another commenter countered: " I think we deserve more credit than “failure”...  That the fight took longer than any of us realized in the 60s and on does not mean we have failed. Look around. Civil Rights. Gay and lesbian rights. Women’s equality. Human rights around the world. Respect for the environment. And so much more. I agree none of the above is complete and can be considered a total victory but all are far from failure. The battle lines are getting closer to “Black” and “White” and that is why the rhetoric is sharper. Guns get drawn quickly. A cornered foe fights dirty. Big money spent hundreds of millions of dollars to control the power and the best they could muster is the Tea Party with an uninspiring IQ average. Yes, we have not won, but we are far from losers."

My own point of view is that while this also sounds like a dialogue within a single conscience, there is plenty of "failure" to go around.  As much as I'm heartened by this organization and this conference, I've heard a little too much nonsense about "powerful" organizing techniques, and I'm afraid there's lots of evidence that artistic efforts and "messaging" haven't been very effective yet in furtherance of Power Shift's goals.  That doesn't mean they should stop trying.  It just doesn't make their efforts automatically superior, or the final answer.    

And I also point out that the techniques these young people are using--including the theatre of large-scale demos--were pioneered by my generation during anti-war demos in the 60s and 70s.  (Check out those puppets.)

While I regret many things in my life, I don't think I've regretted for a moment not going to one more demo.  I did what I could, and I still do.  All the good fight is a process, and we all have our parts to play in it.  And if we follow the reference I'm pointing towards--Jacques' speech in As You Like It-- one determinant of our roles is age.  We did what we could when we were young.  I think we did a lot.  Some of this "selfishness" later on was people concentrating on raising their families, seeing their kids through the tumults of the crazy 70s and depressing 80s, etc.  And what we were part of did change things.  And some of it backfired.

But now we're older, and some of us are old.  We have perspective and specifics from our experience and history to contribute, if anybody cares to listen--and lumping us together with the people really responsible for "failure" isn't going to help with that.

  And we can help with things like courage and perseverence and lasting.  And that above all is what this is going to take. 

Bill McKibben pretty much said so in his heartfelt and cogent address to Power Shift.  He didn't mince words about the power that immense amounts of money has in this society right now.  And he didn't mince words about our chances, or what it would take.  He finished this way:

" So far, we’ve raised the temperature of the planet one degree and that’s done all that I’ve described, it’s melted the arctic, it’s changed the oceans. The climatologists tell us that unless we act with great speed and courage that one degree will be five degrees before this century is out. And if we do that, then the world that we leave behind will be a ruined world.

 We fight not just for ourselves, we fight for the beauty of this place. For cool trout streams and deep spruce woods. For chilly fog rising off the Pacific and deep snow blanketing the mountains. We fight for all the creation that shares this planet with us. We don’t know half the species on Earth we’re wiping out.

And of course, we fight alongside our brothers and sisters around the world. You’ve seen the pictures as I talk: these are our comrades. Most of these people, as you see, come from places that have not caused this problem, and yet they’re willing to be in deep solidarity with us. That’s truly admirable and it puts a real moral burden on us. Never let anyone tell you, that environmentalism is something that rich, white people do. Most of the people that we work with around the world are poor and black and brown and Asian and young, because that’s what most of the world is made up of, and they care about the future as anyone else.

We have to fight, finally, without any guarantee that we are going to win. We have waited late to get started and our adversaries are strong and we do not know how this is going to come out. If you were a betting person, you might bet we were going to lose because so far that’s what happened, but that’s not a bet you’re allowed to make. The only thing that a morally awake person [can] do when the worst thing that’s ever happened is happening is try to change those odds.

I have spent most of my last few years in rooms around the world with great people, many of whom will be refugees before this century is out, some of whom may be dead from climate change before this century is out. No guarantee that we will win, but from them a complete guarantee that we will fight with everything we have. It is always an honor for me to be in those rooms. It is the greatest honor for me to be with you tonight. No guarantee that we will win, but we will fight side by side, as long as we’ve got."

So instead of fighting over who is responsible for failure, we pick each other up and we fight the good fight together.  And if there is anything that getting older teaches you, it is the meaning of "[for] as long as we've got."