Bumper Sticker Activism
In the 1970’s I rode around on my bicycle with my Minolta SRT101 camera and on the camera case was an Ecology Now bumper sticker.
Almost 50 years later and surprisingly my bumper sticker did nothing. The situation in regards to our ecology is worse today than it was when I was in my teens.
That little bumper sticker was a personal statement and as such useless, much like identity politics, accomplishes nothing except feeding the ego.
A list of some of the pressing issues we face, largely due to overpopulation and tax laws that focus on consecrating and concentrating wealth rather than our survival can be found here.
What I did see working was running for office, working on policy, setting up communications networks free of corporate control and organizing for clearly defined goals. Rewriting the constitution of the Ontario Greens so that we had an activist leader, ran in elections to win, that was effective. The only problem we did not do enough of that sort of thing.
The effective things were the orchestrated group actions, the useless things were the personal gestures, identity politics and non strategic protests. A look at the foolishness of a knee jerk protest can be found here.
A Short History of the Ontario Greens
I worked as an activist for the Green Party of Ontario when it was known as the Ontario Greens. You can find Some happy snaps here, the snaps are courtesy of Frank deJong. Frank was the leader of the party from 1993-2009. I was active from 1993 to 1997
Phillip Fleischer put out the quarterly newsletter of the Ontario Greens for a number of years, some of those greenhouse magazines are here.
A bulletin board system was set up for the Green Party to share policy drafts. The early communication system, before the world wide web, before Goggle and Face book was at the time way ahead of other political parties that relied on Telex.
Perhaps because I was working in a defence factory it caught the attention of the RCMP and they came to my home and trashed the system. Not all history is in a text book.
The history of the Greens in the early 70s was at its heart an attempt to coalesce the peace, civil rights, environmental and labour movements. The peace side of it spoke loudest to me.
A Hippy in a Defence Factory
My career goal was to be a Tool Designer and the technical novelty of working as a Tool Designer using the best technology had to offer overshadowed for a while the horror my manufacturing skills were inflicting around the world.
I realized my goal not knowing that my part in the streamlining of the production of the fire control systems for the M1 Battle Tank was connected to the 6,000,000 killed in Iraq, Afghanistan Libya, Syria, Somalia and Yemen.
“After 16 years of war, about 6 million violent deaths, 6 countries utterly destroyed and many more destabilized, it is urgent that the American public come to terms with the true human cost of our country’s wars and how we have been manipulated and misled into turning a blind eye to them – before they go on even longer, destroy more countries, further undermine the rule of international law and kill millions more of our fellow human beings.“
By Nicolas J S Davies Special to Consortium News
The Plan or Business Case
The light of reality thrust forward on the first day at work where I was shuffled into a board room with about 30 other new hires. It was explained to us that the entire supply chain of the M1 Battle Tank was being upgraded in preparation of a desert war where the United States could loose a thousand tanks and we needed to make our part of the chain to be able to respond with 1,000 units in a month.
This meeting was 4 years before the first gulf war.
It Was Just a Poster
At the start of the first Gulf war it was obvious to me that this had been planned out years ahead. I decided to chronicle the sorties. I made a poster, put it on my office wall. After every bombing sortie I updated the chart. The chart presumed that each bomb fired would kill 100 people. That seemed reasonable.
|Date||Sorties||x 100||Total Killed||official|
|Jan 20 1991||1500||15000||15000||200|
|Jan 25 1991||1250||125,000||140,000||900|
|Feb 15 1991||3000||300,000||440,000||1,200|
|Feb 26 1991||2000||200,000||640,000||1,700|
|Mar 15 1991||2800||280,000||920,000||2,600|
|Apr 17 1991||2600||260,000||1,450,000||8,400|
Shock and Awe was allot of runs but the media was saying a tiny number of non combatants were being killed. My calculations were much higher. Right or wrong my numbers were getting allot of attention from the boys in the shop. To disperse the small crowds I was called into my directors office and told to take down the poster . I decided not to comply and left my job before lunch.
Huddle in for a coaching moment
Coaching Moment: If you ever decide to quit a defense factory at the beginning of a major international “war of the willing” do not answer the questions on your Unemployment Insurance Claim form with the statement “I got tired of making things that killed people”. It lead to a major delay in my claim, allot of complaining on my part, a meeting with my Member of Parliment, an interview with the local paper and ended finally with a call from a deputy minister where I was told to answer the questions as follows and my claim would be approved. Just please shut up. I did and it was.
The Good news is that Computing devices was rid of a trouble maker and it avoided a possible speech from me in the style of Alice’s Restaurant …..I imagine going over to the Director, and saying, …. “I mean, I mean, I mean that just, I’m sittin’ here on the bench, I mean I’m sittin’ here on the Group W bench, ’cause you want to know if I’m moral enough to make fire control systems for the army, to burn women, kids, houses and villages after putting up a poster.” He looked at me and said, “Kid, we don’t like your kind, and we’re gonna send you fingerprints off to Washington.” And so it was, if you do not understand all that download a copy of Alice’s restaurant.
Murray Bookchin 1921 to 2006
Being active in the Green Party lead me to the writings of Murray Bookchin. I am fond of his writings perhaps because we met at a Green Party conference. At the time I was the policy coordinator for the Green Party and had a chance to sit down with him and chat.
Murray Bookchin was a prolific writer, raised as a Marxist, grew into an anarchist and his ideas developed into the concept of Social Ecology. Much of his thinking was from a time of abundance when the worlds population was under 2 billion people. I took the liberty of updating some of his ideas and that can be found here.
Many anarchist quote Bookchins’ early writings, however towards the end of his life he abandoned ideas of anarchism. A primer of his work can be found here
Activism: Thoreau vs Hannah Arendt
How a person approach activism can make a world of difference. For some its personal, like my quitting a defence factory during a war, kind of cool but really irrelevant. Thoreau style acts of civil disobedience, or acts of conscientious objection can be useful but are really only effective if tied to a larger struggle. You may feel great about it but other than a few possible karmic points it does not accomplish a whole lot. An excellent article on that topic can be found here. This link is an article written by Katie Fitzpatrick and examines the difference between effective activism and narcissism.
Thoreau’s emphasis on personal convictions vs Hannah Arendt’s recognition of the futility of such actions unless tied to a larger struggle is a critical message for those who want to be part of a change in our society. Its what we do collectively that matters, your personal actions are not relevant. Once that critical distinction is made then an ethic is required.
An Ethic to guide you
“Everyone searches for meaning in life, for supportive convictions that take various forms. Many look to faiths that ignore or discount the importance of this world, not realizing in any profound sense that we are born from Earth and sustained by it throughout our lives. In today’s dominating industrial culture, Earth-as-home is not a self-evident percept” From The Mosquin Earth Manifesto which can be found here.
65 year perspective, 5 things that worked and 5 things that did not:
It Worked 1: Running Municipally
Of all the things I did running municipally was the most personally powerful and effective things. A clipping can be found here. Things I had struggled to do with the local council were adopted once I stopped trying to work with them and decided to lead rather than follow.
It Worked 2: P.A.A.L.S.
My sweetheart and I ran an anti pesticide group called “People Against Addicted Lawns” We did a wide range of pesticide awareness campaigns in the Ottawa area municipalities. Along with others active at the time we managed to get cosmetic use of pesticides banned in Nepean, Kanata and Glouster. A group in Ottawa lead by a co fighter named John Sankey had similar success in the city of Ottawa.
Sadly the cities in and around Ottawa merged shortly after making activism, i.e. democracy less accessible, practical or participatory.
It Worked 3: Organizational Changes
Talk about the Green Party Constitution is outlined in the PDF called the “History Greens and the RCMP” and can be found here .
As the cartoon highlights not everyone in the anarchist inspired “Ontario Greens” was thrilled about the changes from a decentralized, ineffective, navel gazing salon with no members to a organization with a clearly defined electoral objective who today have multiple federal, provincial and municipal candidates elected, as well as the organizational punch to put candidates in every riding.
Leaderless groups will never work, they did not work for the feminists, the greens or labour. For a 50 year old analysis “THE TYRANNY of STRUCTURELESSNESS” by Jo Freeman aka Joreen go here
It Worked 4: Building a Sustainable Future
A handbook for the Green Party of Ontario
I worked on a policy book for the Green Party of Ontario. Over a two year period we discussed policy issues at conferences, by mail, on an early BBS system I set up for the party. The whole document was ratified at the 1993 policy conference and can be found here
It Worked 5: Education
Education works, which is why Islamic and Christian fundamentalist set up schools. For me I still remember a message from my Grade 10 Geology teacher at Merivale High School in 1973.
Mr Hunt warning us that a 1 degree rise in temperature would end our civilization. He went on to explan Co2 in the atmosphere was the problem. This was in 1973 after he read an article in Canadian Geographic. So it was well known for a long time.
That moment more than most in my high school experience made me want to be an activist. Thank you Mr Hunt, I should have done more.
Dangerous Idea 1: Perpetually aggrieved
What are you left with for an explanation of how the world works if you refuse to accept that race, gender or sexuality are the root of anything. If you focus on these, you will miss the mark.
Self serving narcissism is a useful tool for the wealthy; they think money will protect them and only the poor will die. It is kinda their thing. Howard Zinn says it better. Brilliant.
Link to things of little consequence can be found here
Dangerous ideas 2: Gaian Hypothesis
Spoiler alert, I do not think your spiritual rebirth is going to help us with the fundamentally messed up organizational issues we face. James Lovelock was right about some things, creating a myth maybe not so smart. My obituary for James can be found here.
Dangerous Ideas 3: Anti Capitalism
It matters not if we are Buddhists, Taoists, Jacobian, Communist or Capitalists. Our religion nor how we divide the spoils of nature is not the problem, its our numbers and the vision of how our society interacts with nature. Our society is intentional, our tax laws reflect our goals. My attempt at trying to explain this to an ecological citizen can be found here.
Dangerous Ideas 4: Lets just get along
I get lots of email from people suggesting that tiny changes are going to have big effects. Equally nieve is the idea that if we all just Tune in, Turn on and drop out somehow copper will not be smelted, fish stocks decimated and C02 will not longer be pumped into the atmosphere. My response to my Eco Village living friend can be found here
Dangerous Ideas 5: Vegetarianism
For almost 25 years I was a vegetarian. I put a huge emotional and financial effort into being self sufficient on a small permaculture / vegetarian farm. Not possible. Switching to growing meat, potatoes and garlic, all of sudden I could meet all my nutritional needs with about 10% of the effort. It is actually quite easy to admit you were wrong when you are so far off. I was so completely wrong it lead to Vegetarian regrets. That story can be found here.
Last word to Victor Cherbuliez
I like this quote by Victor Cherbuliez, Victor was a French writer of fiction, a refugee, someone who saw hard times. Yet he coined this little gem. It works for me.
Luck comes from having a habit of watching for opportunities of having a patient but restless mind of sacrificing ones sense of vanity, of uniting a love of detail to foresight and passing through hard times bravely and cheerfully Victor Cherbuliez