December 15, 2021
From ROAR Mag

In the face of such grim and devastating projections, sidestepping into the hopelessness trap seems like the easiest place to land, but millions of people across the globe do not have the luxury of retreat or denial — and if we consider the long game, none of us do. How do those of us who are determined to act on climate change think about what it means to actualize global solidarity and mass mobilization within the context of this historical moment where everything is at stake? What are some of the political guideposts that should lie at the heart of what it means to be a climate organizer?

One thing that immediately comes to mind is that our mobilizations around climate change and environmental justice must be guided by an internationalist framework that is both anti-colonial and anti-capitalist. A consistent focus on the ways that “here is deeply connected to there and there is deeply connected to here” necessitates that we never lose sight of the fact that the vast majority of people in the world who are staring down the devastation of climate change at this moment have not had a hand in producing it.

We can take our cue from youth climate organizers in this regard. In Philadelphia, as a case in point, activists with Youth Climate Strike have been mobilizing protests in the streets while operating with a direct line to internationalism — linking struggles for environmental justice in the neighborhoods in which they live with the devastation of the climate crisis in the Global South. Their organizing transcends geographical boundaries, demanding that those of us in the Global North open our eyes and act on our responsibility to communities locally and to the rest of the world for a climate catastrophe that is, in large part, made in the United States.

A framework of internationalism, however, must also include foregrounding a critical analysis of the ways that racial capitalism continues to wreak havoc on the planet. Indeed, countries like the US function as part of a much larger constellation of imperial projects that produce great suffering, initiate catastrophic death, and remake ecologies and modes of relationship in order to facilitate the movement of capital. The Zapatistas knew this in 1994 when they made their “First Declaration from the Lacandon Jungle.” The Standing Rock Sioux stood in opposition to this when they launched their epic battle against the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016. And communities in Guyana are pushing back against this as they organize in response to the expansion of Exxon’s oil extraction which expects to send more than two billion metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.

A framework of internationalism must also include a critical analysis of the ways that racial capitalism continues to wreak havoc on the planet.

A related reason that an internationalist and anti-colonial framework is so vital in this moment of climate organizing is that imperialism goes hand in hand with environmental destruction. That is to say, imperial projects such as the United States’ 20-year colonial occupation of Afghanistan has not only left countless Afghan citizens in a situation of immense danger and precariousness since the reinstatement of the Taliban, but has also left the country in a state of environmental wreckage. This destruction is evident in rampant deforestation, which proliferated during the turbulence of such a long war, and a rise in toxic air pollutants that were released by US armed forces through trash burning — and other military activities — and are making Afghani people chronically ill because they increase the risk of cancer and other diseases. Defunct military bases also require environmental remediation before the land can be used for life giving instead of life taking purposes.

A recent report from Brown University’s The Cost of War Project confirms that the United States spends more on the military than any other country in the world — substantially more than the combined military spending of Russia and China. The use of military force requires a great deal of energy, and most of it in the form of fossil fuels. As a result of this monstrous commitment to militarization, the US war machine is one of the largest polluters on the planet with this cataclysmic damage extending out to the other colonial projects supported through US tax dollars.

The war-finance nexus ties the United States and Canada to Africa, to the Middle East, to South America, to Asia; in short, to all places where international finance capital moves. The billions of dollars that have gone to support the Israeli military, for example, has enabled immense environmental ruination in Palestine. Bombs and related lethal weaponry are intended to destroy, not to build. And the afterlife of such destruction continues to impact the air, land, water, plants, animals and people who have lived under conditions of war for years, even after a war ostensibly comes to an end or an occupying force ostensibly “withdraws.” This means that a robust climate justice movement must necessarily include demilitarization in order for an internationalist agenda of ecological justice and sustainability to be realized.

In order to make internationalism happen in the spaces and places of climate organizing, however, coalitions must also be part of the answer. Those of us who are the most privileged have a responsibility to do the hard work of building multi-racial and anti-colonial feminist coalitions between different social movements collaborating across political and geographical borders — multi-issue coalitions that foster self-reflexivity and allow us to understand one another better, to decipher the ways that our worlds have become co-constituted through a series of lived experiences and historical material relations.

Racial capitalism, as it is fueled by colonial and imperial projects, works through all of us, it becomes entrenched in even the most seemingly benign social practices and ways of being, it shapes our collective and individual memories about who we are. In essence, it plays with what it means to be human — how we develop relationships to one another and the world around us, how we eat, breath and love — part of the labor we have to commit to doing has to do with understanding how this happens in order to identify the things that bind us together and determine how best to unify in a collective struggle to save the planet.

In this regard, a crucial aspect of the climate justice movement should involve creating platforms where people can engage in debates and dialogues about power and history in their everyday mobilizing efforts. Through these interactions, people can knit together their social positions and experiences of oppression, marginalization and resistance while being attentive to the specificities of particular struggles. This resonates with Afro-Caribbean scholar and activist Jacqui Alexander’s call for feminists of color to become “fluent in each other’s histories” and Black radical feminist Angela Davis’s plea to foster “unlikely coalitions.”

Multi-racial and anti-colonial feminist coalition building of this sort has the ability to speak loudly to a politics of interdependence; to become a powerful counter to political echo chambers. It allows us to set forth a challenge to (re)educate ourselves and confront, head on, blind spots about history and present and to explore how nationality and citizenship status, class, race, gender, sexuality, age, and ability, among other factors, produce social realities and lived experiences that are tied to one another but also very unequal. We can start to see linkages between social issues and communities all over the world that are often positioned as separate and removed from each other and prompt those in the Global North to adjust their organizing efforts, networking, and platform building in a manner that addresses these inequalities in practical ways to begin to shift power dynamics.

Wherever these coalitions come into being, Indigenous leaders must play a fundamental role given global histories of land dispossession and ongoing colonial occupations, and because they offer critical guidance and anti-colonial blueprints for how we can actively shape a decolonizing path moving forward.

Multi-racial and anti-colonial feminist coalition building has the ability to speak loudly to a politics of interdependence.

Put simply: in order to push our politics of solidarity further, we have to refuse the desire to isolate alongside a refusal of the messiness and limitations of identity politics that will always seek to divide us instead of bringing us together. We need people who are pushing the boundaries of environmental movements to speak across divergent but shared colonial histories, contemporary forms of racial state violence, and the ongoing devastation of settler colonialism, colonial gender violence and anti-Black racism in places like the United States. And we also need people who can identify the ways these forms of colonial violence exist as part of a larger imperial web that reaches far beyond national borders. African American composer and activist Bernice Reagan’s oft cited speech, “Coalition Politics: Turning the Century” offers counsel here about why this matters so much: we need coalitions because movements that exist in relation to one another are stronger for it. We need them to ensure survival.

Perhaps what we will gain from multi-racial and anti-colonial feminist coalitions, then, is an emerging architecture of decolonization and practice of solidarity that produces new political ecologies that are reflective of this historical moment. In turn, this holds the potential to illustrate points of alignment and intersection, thus enabling the identification of common political goals and paving the way for global unification across distinct social and historical geographies. States do their best to carry out projects of colonialism and imperialism, but the people are never conquered. As such, those of us persevering for a better world must also conduct our political organizing around climate change in a way that actively works to bring people together, addressing colonialism at home and abroad.

Finally, because organizing against climate change is a future-oriented project, it is one that demands and requires durable and deep relationships. This means that we need to commit to resurrecting the idea and practice of solidarity by pulling it back from the clutches of oversimplification and empty overuse. In the parlance of Palestinian writer Steven Salaita, solidarity requires ethical commitments to function and does not involve appropriation. It is performed in the interest of better human relationships and for a world that allows societies to be organized around justice rather than profit. This is the kind of solidarity we must seek to bring into existence.

We have to ask ourselves, then, to identify the processes and practices that will allow us to build real understanding while centering a common interest of survival that is informed by notions of reciprocity, empathy and humility, reminiscent of the Zapatista’s idea of “caminar preguntando” asking questions while walking. We have to be able to see one another and to recognize the individual and collective struggles that taken together are threatening the continuation of life itself. We have to be willing to listen and receive a rigorous education and simultaneously be eager to teach, to share, to trust and to invest ourselves in a future that elevates mutual validation and recovers a sense of dignity through resistance. Philosopher Esme Murdock reminds of this (re)alignment so powerfully when she says, “[t]here is a whole, messy, and beautiful place waiting for us where we fuck up and make it right and fuck up and make it right by holding each other responsible in the strength and terror of becoming and making kin.”

A relationality of this type has the power to activate, it moves us towards political organizing and praxis because it reminds us that we are, in fact, capable of crafting relationships with our relatives, human and other-than-human, that are built on mutual respect and interconnection. But to do this, we have to be honest with ourselves about the culpabilities and responsibilities we carry and be open to altering our comprehension of the problems we are facing and in turn, be ready to shift our ideas of “solutions” that will be most effective in the context of a rapidly shrinking timeline. We have to both harness and give up some of our power.

Read the full issue here.

Science alone will not save us, and neither will government policy, UN meetings or climate summits where we expect “world leaders” to stand up and unify around the changes that we so desperately need. We cannot ameliorate this problem by promoting better consumer choices that privilege individual behavioral change or by supporting corporations pedaling “sustainable products.” There is no magical technology that is going to allow things to return to “normal,” the green billionaires do not have the answers, and there is no fantasy island that we can swim to that will offer a climate reset.

We require a revolutionary plan of action that is generated by a global peoples’ movement and guided by a set of shared political commitments and ways of relating to one another that can withstand the immense uncertainty of this moment, a plan that is grounded in the dynamics of the here and now and committed to a just future liberated from the shackles of climate apocalypse. The road forward is not easy, but making the decision to step onto it is perhaps the thing that matters most in this moment because it signals an attachment to the idea that something else is possible, that we have not conceded or given up, that we are willing to keep trying. And in the end, our ability to stand together is one of the greatest weapons of hope and resistance we have.

A version of this article will be included in Jaskiran Dhillon’s latest book Notes on Becoming a Comrade: Solidarity, Relationality, and Future-Making, forthcoming in 2022 with Common Notions Press.