Humanity's Crisis Is Systemic and Overwhelming - And the Only Way Out Is to Create Bold New Systems
It is easy to become numb to the realities we face. We hear near daily reporting of severe crises covering so many aspects of people’s lives, they even include our survival on the planet. Sometimes these crises seem larger than anything humans have ever seen before.
Rather than becoming numb, many in the human community see this as an opportunity to put forward big visions for a very different future.
On the agenda are transformative issues like:
- Creating a new democratic economy where people control their economic future at a time when big finance capitalism continues its collapse and the wealth divide has become so extreme that 85 people have wealth equal to 3.5 billion people.
- Rebuilding the ecology of the planet at a time when the oceans are threatened, when there is mass species die-off and as climate change threatens the planet in ways humans can barely imagine.
- Ending the extraction economy and shifting to a carbon-free, nuclear-free energy economy when extraction has become extreme and risky with tar sands, fracking, mountain top removal and offshore oil drilling; and when the global impacts of the dangers of nuclear energy have become more evident as a result of Fukushima.
- Creating real privacy in our communications when technology allows the security state to conduct dragnet surveillance of virtually every communication by phone or the Internet on the planet.
- Ending war at a time when the war economy robs us of money needed for urgent necessities, when killing has become robotic and the deaths of civilians are hidden, when the most expensive and high tech military is unable to resolve conflict and when the war culture is infecting civilian police forces and youth culture.
These are a few examples of many fronts where people are urging dramatic new approaches. Other examples are free post-high school education, healthcare for all in a non-profit system, rebuilding cities with vacant housing turned into housing for those who need it, low cost or free mass transit replacing dependence on cars, a guaranteed national income as robots take the place of humans, global trade that puts people and the planet before profits for the wealthiest and recognizing the legal rights of indigenous peoples. The list is long. The crises we face are consequences of the global neoliberal economic system; therefore, systemic transformation is needed.
One of the beautiful things about these visions is that they are all achievable. Thousands are already working to make them a reality.
A Systemic Crisis Links Issues: Climate, Economy, Energy and Social Justice
As the problems grow in size, the response also needs to grow to confront them. One of the most urgent situations we face is the climate crisis. But, the climate crisis does not stand alone.
Recently at an organizing meeting in Chicago, Tim DeChristopher, a climate justice activist, said that one of the reasons progress has not been made in solving the climate crisis is that it was relegated to the realm of being an environmental issue. In reality, the climate crisis affects every area of our lives from food and water security to health to jobs and housing and, of course, energy and the environment.
At the meeting, activists from around the country who work on a broad range of issues joined together to start organizing a Global Climate Convergence. Another organizer, Deneicha Powell describes it as “a new education and direct action campaign uniting people in an intentional and organized way from a broad spectrum of grassroots social justice movements including anti-poverty, labor, peace, economic, racial, indigenous, immigrant and environmental justice groups as well as Medicare for All, sustainable food and natural health advocates and Occupy Wall Street networks among others.”
Ten days of actions are being planned from Earth Day to May Day to bring greater awareness to the connections between climate change and all areas of our lives and to show that we are going to have to work together with urgency in our communities to build political power and to put solutions in place together.
The climate and extraction battles are bringing young climate justice activists, environmentalists, ranchers and farmers together. Indigenous communities are leading the resistance to extreme energy extraction and the Keystone XL Pipeline. In New Mexico, the Navajo and Pueblo are fighting a uranium mine that will destroy sacred land and threaten their health. The Moccasins on the Ground project is training communities all across America in direct action so that many people will have the skills needed to protect the air, land and water.
Climate justice advocacy is one example of people that have never worked together before joining in specific campaigns and finding that unity creates greater impact. We also see it in the work to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and so far, it is succeeding in stopping Congress from passing the fast track bill, a law required in order to get this rigged corporate agreement into law. The growing opposition to the TPP is having a broader effect on the TPP negotiations. In advance of the next round of meetings, lawmakers from seven of the twelve countries involved are calling for the text of the agreement to be released to the public as has been the practice for every other trade agreement.
We also saw it on February 11 in the organized response to mass dragnet surveillance. “The Day We Fight Back” campaign brought together more than 6,000 websites that displayed a banner urging people to make phone calls and write emails to Congress calling for reforms to protect our privacy. In one day, 277,000 phone calls and emails were sent to Congress urging stopping the NSA and putting in place privacy protections.
Linking issues, joining together, working across issues and geography make us stronger. We are confronting a systemic crisis that requires a systemic response and solidarity among movements.
A Systemic Crisis Needs New Systems that We Must Create
To achieve real solutions requires both resistance actions to stop what is harmful and constructive work to create alternative approaches. These are intimately connected. Resistance alone may lead to unjust solutions if there isn’t also work being done to build just alternatives to replace the current systems. The work being done to build alternatives that are just empowers more people not only through increased knowledge but also by fulfilling critical needs for housing, food and jobs among others. Building new systems is part of building a social movement that has political power.
Wen Stephenson wrote about some of the places where this is happening around the country like Boston, Boulder, Detroit and Richmond, CA in “From Occupy to Climate Justice.” In Kentucky, there is a deep connection between the fight for environmental and climate justice and building a new economy. Communities depend on coal not just for energy but also for jobs. Community support means transitioning to renewable energy sources to replace the coal and to an economy that provides employment. In South Dakota, more than 80 families are solving this problem by pooling their land to build a giant wind farm.
A similar struggle is happening in Lake Superior where indigenous communities and allies are trying to stop very destructive mines and at the same time find ways to support the community economically that are sustainable. Tribal members and others are deeply committed to preventing the land from being mined and are prepared to use direct action and litigation to stop the mining from going forward.
They are also showing that there can be an alternative to the environmental destructive bomb-bust extraction economy, an economy that dies when the extraction is complete, leaving behind an ecological disaster. In 1880, 248,000 pounds of maple sugar came out of the region. Today, maple sugar sells for $22 dollars a pound. That one product would generate 5.4 million dollars. The environment in the region has many sustainable resources that can create an economy that does not leave behind post-extraction ghost towns, but instead builds communities that can go on and on.
The fight against the extraction economy is a global struggle. In Ecuador, President Correa, who signed the new constitution granting the rights of nature in 2008, is now launching an assault on nature by selling land in the Amazon to gold mining corporations. The same tribe, the Shuar, that was the only tribe to defeat the Spaniards and Incas, has vowed to defend the land with their lives if necessary. In Romania, the Rosia Montana community has been fighting off gold mining corporations for decades and is now asking for outside help so they can continue.
In both circumstances, the Shuar and Romanians see that traditional economies that sustained local communities will be destroyed by extraction that mostly enriches people outside the community, and they envision how their economies could continue in a longer-term, more successful way without extreme mining practices.
The new economy is not only being created in reaction to the extraction economy but also because the current economy is simply not working for most Americans. As a result, democratic economic institutions are being put in place. Baltimore activists are organizing a conference, “Building Our New Economy Together,” this May 16-17 that will bring together national experts and local activists. This is one of many conferences and meetings being held around worker cooperatives, links between farmers and people in need of food, community land trusts to control housing prices, participatory budgeting, moving beyond capitalism and creating a new economy.
Ending War: A New System for Resolving International Conflict is Needed
Another global crisis which is also connected to climate change, the unfair economy and the extraction economy is war. The United States military is one the biggest polluters and contributors to climate change. And most of our military actions, wars that are declared and some that are not, are over control of resources and economic domination.
A new effort is being organized that goes beyond traditional efforts to stop or end particular wars. World Beyond War is a global campaign to abolish war itself. So far the response has been very positive with thousands of people signing on to the pledge. The official launch date is September 21, the International Day of Peace.
People who have taken the pledge describe how war is connected to many other crisis issues, prevents people’s necessities from being met and continues the destruction of the planet. As David Swanson of World Beyond War summarizes “If we abolish war, humanity can not only survive and better address the climate crisis and other dangers, but will be able to create a better life for everyone. The reallocation of resources away from war promises a world whose advantages are beyond easy imagination.”
But, most important, people pierce the myth that ending war is impossible. As with many changes that seemed impossible, in a time of crisis, views change. Alice Slater of the Global Council of Abolition 2000 says: “The abolition of war is an idea whose time has come. We are at a transformative moment in history.” This is echoed by Judith Hand a founder of AFutureWithoutWar.org who writes “Human history has arrived at a pivotal moment. We can choose a path built on cooperation, where our caring and sharing side uplifts us, or we can continue to embrace a worldview where domination using violence imprisons us in cycles of killing and destruction. I’m a biologist, and war is not genetically fixed. War is a cultural invention.”
The power to create change will not come from the people who wage war. Russell Faure-Brac, author of Transition to Peace writes: “Change will not come from a President Gandhi. Rather, the initiate for change will come from the bottom up as citizens force politicians to act. We just need to put our voices together and get sufficiently organized.” Long-time peace and justice activist, David Hartsough cites a statement from President Eisenhower who made much the same point. Hartsough notes that Eisenhower said: “I like to believe that the people of the world will want peace so much that governments will have to get out of the way and let them have it.” Hartsough adds: “When the people of the world decide to end war, we can end it.”
Transformation Starts with a Bold Vision for the Future
It is time to be bold in our thinking. We are in a time of great transition. In another era of change, Thomas Paine wrote “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.” In many respects we are remaking the world. It is time to dare to dream about what you want the world to be like and join others in making it a reality.
In 1972, the 16-year old king of Bhutan decided to reject using Gross Domestic Product as the sole measure of his nation’s well-being and created the Gross National Happiness Index (GNH). The GNH looks beyond economic growth to evaluate other areas that affect people’s lives. Happiness is defined as “a state of being that one achieves when one is able to balance the needs of the body with the needs of the mind, when the material and the emotional, psychological needs are being met, within a stable, peaceful and secure environment.”
More than 40 years later, the GNH has changed the discussion at all levels, even internationally, to include consideration beyond economic indicators when determining the condition of businesses, cities, states and countries. The GNH created a cultural shift in the way that progress is measured.
On a smaller scale, there are many signs that people are thinking big, connecting their struggles and making a difference. Since 2007, a coalition of diverse groups has been meeting in North Carolina as a Peoples Movement Assembly to organize for social, economic and environmental justice. They are behind the Moral Mondays movement that is now spreading to other states. Recently, their yearly march in Raleigh, the Moral March which started as HKOJ (Historic Thousands on Jones Street), brought an estimated 80,000 people from inside and outside North Carolina.
The history of progress for humankind has always been one where the seemingly impossible becomes the new reality. This new reality is borne out of the visions of humanity and the work of people seeking to remake the world in seemingly impossible ways. Nelson Mandela said something that applies to all the great struggles of our era: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”