On Earth Day: The shape of protest in a pandemic

 

April 2020 CT Killingly (Not Another Power Plant)
Protest against the Killingly fracked-gas power plant at the Connecticut capitol in Hartford in 2019. (Photo: Not Another Power Plant)

How Connecticut is organizing for climate justice    

By ITALO LUNACARTA

Today, April 22, we celebrate not only the births of Vladimir Illych Lenin and jazz legend Charles Mingus but the 50th anniversary of Earth Day as well. We humans find ourselves at a historic crossroads on this day: in the throes of a literal plague propagated by the very same forces that have driven us to the ecological brink, namely capitalism.

While we should be alarmed at the brazen disregard for human life displayed by right-wing public demonstrations against the quarantine mandates and economic shutdown, we must not despair because activist groups everywhere are supporting one another and organizing web-based rallies and teach-ins. In Connecticut, a group called Connecticut Climate Crisis Mobilization (C3M) has built a whole week of online actions starting April 22 and culminating in a virtual rally on Saturday the 25th, which will feature short speeches from activists representing a diverse array of climate and social justice groups and live music.

Originally, this rally was to take place at the site of a proposed fracked-gas power plant in Killingly, a quiet town in rural eastern Connecticut, but the realities of COVID-19 forced the coalition, which is composed of representatives of various sub-groups and individuals from different political tendencies, to get creative. While it is tragic that it is not safe to protest en masse, as groups all over the planet were intending to do today, ecosocialists must use this opportunity to further the discussions about how public health and climate change are inextricably linked to the global political economy.

Imperialism, industrial farming, environmental racism, and extractive industry are all facets of the same putrid body. C3M has issued a statement, drafted by the steering committee and then edited democratically by members, to the local press that is explicit in its outlook on what is wrong, scientifically and morally, with the practices that have gotten humanity to this point.

While a statement of this length cannot fully expound upon the many complexities of any individual topic, it is above all an attempt to identify zoonotic illnesses, ecological destruction, militarism, agribusiness, the global petrocracy, and environmental racism as fibers of the same rope, which we, the working people of earth, find ourselves at the end of. The truth of the matter is that the full aims of the environmentalist movement are wholly incompatible with capitalism, even its “progressive” variant.

The present economic crisis, which may well turn into a full-scale depression, is an opportunity for socialists to shatter the illusion that even the most ambitiously drafted Green New Deal is sufficient recourse. Without the nationalization of the war industries to produce ventilators today and windmills tomorrow, we cannot possibly hope to stop the needless human suffering from imperialist wars, coronavirus, or the eventual collapse of the biosphere.

But ecosocialism in one country shall prove no more effective than socialism in one country; the solution must be international. The document calls for an end to military campaigns and sanctions and for a new era of international collaboration and solidarity. The demands raised around the military industrial complex are particularly striking in Connecticut, which despite being a small state is actually a manufacturing giant in aerospace and defense.

We must make the point, again and again, that the better world that we have been describing for well over a century is not the utopian pie in the sky that billionaires and their favorite lapdogs, the “pragmatic” politicians, mock. It is simply the outcome of what would happen if our already existing means of production and distribution were reconfigured to provide for human necessity instead of making a small slice of society increasingly wealthy.

The reason why one billion kilograms of edible potatoes now sits rotting in a Netherlands warehouse, why tens of thousands of gallons of milk are being dumped down the drain by farmers in the States, why egg-producing hens are being prematurely slaughtered in droves, is not because farmers don’t want to sell their goods, nor is it because people have stopped needing them. This waste is mandated by the market to keep supply and demand fixed within the window of profitability, as was done during the Great Depression wherein F.D Roosevelt’s government paid farmers to destroy their surplus at the same time that people in the farmers’ communities were literally starving.

That you can interchange maps of income, race, air quality, and COVID-19 casualties in any city is no coincidence. That attacks on Indigenous sovereignty and the fast-tracking of pipeline construction (and other destructive projects, such as the Connecticut Killingly fracked-gas plant) are shifting into high gear now, at a time when mass mobilization is unthinkable, is also not a coincidence. Neither is the fact that war production has been deemed “essential” while there remains a huge shortage of ventilator machines and PPE.

Capitalist crises like the current one not only indict the status quo but provide us a glimpse into what could be if we socialized the means of production. We could nationalize all public hospitals, as Spain, a capitalist country, has done. We could suspend all mortgages, as Italy has done. A moratorium on rents would be the only logical next step. We could house the homeless in hotels, as Britain has done.

The capitalists and their political agents resist these measures not because they can’t be done, but because they are actually imminently possible, and would be politically costly to remove once in place. These temporary measures would reveal that a better world is possible if capitalist property relations were upended.

While 52 percent of its workforce is being laid off and thousands of square feet worth of factory machines sit gathering dust, General Electric workers in Lynn, Mass., are demanding that their plant be repurposed from jet engine to ventilator production in order to meet the rapidly growing need. As the C3M Earth Day Declaration urges: today, ventilators; tomorrow, windmills. The working class is the only force capable of such a radical and necessary transformation of society. A better world is possible and at times of crisis we can even see its ghost within the existing order, struggling to be born.

 

 

 

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