It’s a familiar place, our current existence. It’s not like we haven’t been here before. For those of us who didn’t live through WW2 or don’t remember much of tenth grade history class, we may not be aware of the colossal undertaking of launching a war effort at a time when we were immersed in our own struggles as a nation. The far-reaching effects of the 1929 stock market crash that reverberated through every town and community, rural and big city alike, that still echoes in ways we have only yet to understand, or perhaps appreciate, in the parallels between that time and now.
The level of corruption and income inequality, the lack of good paying jobs or consistent employment, the dwindling or then nonexistent safety net to protect us when our economy fell due to the whims of the stock market. The “fat cats in Washington” and the all-too-big-to-fail banks that profit by the billions off our collective misery-then, as today. We faced the same kinds of oppression and accompanying bigotry that comes when the upward mobility of the country remains squarely in the hands of the corporate few, while millions of workers toil away in a disappearing middle class and fading and distant hope of attaining anything like the American Dream.
In the times of the Great depression preceding WWII, people died in the streets as they stood in bread lines, we’re told. The elderly, sick, and impaired, the young and most vulnerable among us, the marginalized communities of color, the indigenous people, the women, suffered the most. The heavy toll of an economy they were not fully a part of or allowed to partake in, much like the circumstances for some of us today. These were the generations of the silent majority. The quiet, yet resilient pioneers who willing or not, ambitious or not, understood the importance of community. Who valued individual liberty and believed in a lofty set of ideals to always strive for if never fully achieve. These were the backbone and the marrow of our America…or at least the folklore we grew up on and unreservedly believed in.
The young and ideal of generations that followed raised on the idealistic pride of the underdog, conquering the Nazi’s and preserving the sanctity of a democracy still imagined. A swift rebound and vitalization as a nation at our most desperate hour, plagued with saving the world from the all-too-prescient threat of a dictator like Hitler, and the ideology of the Third Reich. At a time when we existed in an atmosphere of poverty, hunger, and homelessness. The unemployed masses, lacking prospects, access or education, and levels of income inequality we had yet to rival, until today.
Then an era of prosperity following all our good intentions. The American Dream, born out of our productive efforts to mobilize a war effort that, despite all odds, surpassed anything we could have imagined or hoped for, except in our most optimistic and patriotic dream. A war we’d neither planned for nor were prepared for, and one that brought the same devastating unforeseen consequences of war along with our victories. The weapons of mass destruction-originator, the atomic bomb, and the industrial revolution that led us to the climate crisis we now face.
It’s from this context that we must place our understandings of our current predicament, and what we imagine possible in our hearts and efforts. The past mistakes learned and examples set should guide our compass as we prepare to wage another World War against a different kind of enemy- the all-too omnipresent existential threat of catastrophic climate change.
This pontificating may seem like hyperbole, but I assure you it is not. This is the quintessential threat we face as a nation, as a people, as human beings fighting for a continued existence that isn’t born of a nightmarish imagining in an apocalyptic future. Most of us want our children to live and prosper, to be healthy and happy. To live free in a world we raised them to believe existed, somewhere, if not in reality, then perhaps in a distant imagined dream for the future.
Some of us who have not yet embarked on parenthood question the morality of that undertaking given our current circumstances. I for one have felt no end of guilt for selling my child a bill of, albeit naively believed-in goods about the world as we know it. The monumental responsibility I’ve placed on her shoulders through my inaction and apathy, and acquiescence to the ‘norm’, like a bird-with-head-deeply-in-sand, still and immovable in my blind resolution.
While I would never wish her out of existence in a million of a million years, I still feel shame and utter despair at the lot I’ve sentenced her to. A visceral imperative to ease that burden, if not for myself, then utterly and completely for her, plagues me daily.
I know I am not alone in this feeling. My generation started coming-to in the wake of the Trump presidency, the 2016 primary, the fading imprint of Occupy, in the era of sexual harassment and culture of rape. The incarceration of a near entire generation of people, people of color, in systemic slavery under the guise of a criminal justice system. In a time of Black Lives Matter and the ominous forewarning of its long-forgotten predecessor, the Rodney King beating. Our recent histories come back to bite us- Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, Reaganomics and the Bush’s, the Iran Contra, the scapegoating of Ollie North, the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings, all made relevant once again in the era of Trump.
In the aftermath of 9/11, the war on terror, the war on drugs, the never-ending wars for oil, the culture of wealth obsession and materialism and endless status-seeking where we’d sell our souls in worship of achievement, ownership, power and control over the ‘almighty dollar’ and in pursuit of personal wealth. The death of journalism in an era of alternative truths. The end of a free press, as we knew it. The dawn of the inter-connected highway on the world-wide-web. An the absence of personal privacy, personal freedoms, personal rights. A hi-jacked economy, government, and political system. The death-toll of the sick-care health system that places profits over people and corporate interests over individual lives.
The climate denial that, from its biggest proponents falls the ironic wisdom that what we’d refused to accept is now far too big to ever fix, so not worth the effort to even try. These defeatists attitudes of the not-so-long-for-this-world who neither have the time nor inclination to face the troubles they’ve helped lay at the rest of our feet’s. These are the haunters’ voices we must remember, yet persistently ignore- remember to not repeat, ignore in their fatalism that all is lost so why bother now?
-the unspoken answer, if for no other reason than when you have nothing left to lose, there is little reason not to at least try.
Perhaps the fool’s errand is not so foolish after all. Not when the outcomes of combating climate change are still, however bleakly, within our grasp. If we collectively mobilize against it- as we did in the Great Depression, the WWII war effort, that birthed the industrial revolution and invention of the middle class. Yes, it’s monumental, yes it requires a massive mobilization and a will to try, and to acknowledge this is the war. A war for our own existence. The world war to end all wars as never before on a far-reaching and tangible scale.
From this perspective, other battles may feel petty. Fighting ‘terrorism’, fighting each other, fighting for and against our prejudices. Fights over identity, politics, party, ideology, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, race- all can feel superfluously lost in the shadows of the very real and prescient threat of disastrous climate change.
Yet, irony of ironies, it’s within the intersectionality of these trials that the battle for our climate plays out. It’s in these spaces where we resolve our conflicts, transform ourselves and our society and mobilize our war to end climate change. A war we each take part in whether we want to or not. From our front line communities, as immigrants and asylum seekers, as the extreme disparate of the rural and urban working poor. As single parents consigned to starvation wages, or religiously persecuted, to the broader majority of the 99 percent. We all battle against the climate crisis from within our individual and historic wars. From the same fields we’ve fought for equality, acceptance, justice and equity, where we win the Climate Wars.
We know how to fight these sort of battles, and we know how to survive them. So, now is not the time for towel throwing. It’s a time for mobilizing with our emerging leaders, our groups and communities standing resolutely on the front lines of hopeful victory. This is the cataclysmic event to unify around, the resounding last call for solidarity in a fight to protect our planet and continued existence. It’s a time for greatness and great change where heroes are born of everyday people, in the most unlikely of corners.
Like the invisible waitress from the Bronx who on a hope and a dream knocks on neighbors doors to win a seat as the youngest member of congress, defeating number four in democratic leadership, who goes on to launch a new fervor and urgency that puts a much-needed spotlight back on climate, with a bold new plan for reform.
Or the old guard still obstinately defiant, railing against a corrupt system as he has done for nearly half a century. The willful independent senator from Vermont who has stood his ground, never lost his footing, never changed his message, and never altered course. Even when his was the only voice of reason in a sea of doubting naysayer’s. He managed to change the conversation and lead the country towards the most pressing and widely supported initiatives of today- Medicare for all, a Green New deal, the Fight for $15, ending income and wealth inequality, union workers, criminal justice reform, college for all, and more. The working-class champion of decades past now come back ‘round to popular opinion. The rarest of enigmas-an honest politician. Though not so rare now. His answered call for a political revolution from the ‘Not me, Us’ bottom-up grassroots crowd is winning hearts and minds anew everyday.
And what about the Somalian refugee speaking words of wisdom and uncomfortable truths to power on taboo subjects. Raging war against oppression and fighting for human rights and dignity from her congressional podium as she stands demonized and threatened. The brave immigrant in a headscarf who continues to speak for those who can’t amidst shameful attempts to silence her using the same tools of discrimination hurled in accusation at her guiltless head.
What about the first generation Indian-American from Silicon Valley. The second-term congressman, leaping tall buildings to champion policies like ending the war in Yemen, the Stop Bezos Act alongside Bernie Sanders, or sitting down with DCCC head to explain why blacklisting primary challengers and their supporters might not be such a good idea. The handful of justice democrat fighters, already making waves toward long overdue reforms.
And what of the youth-led activists, the Parkland survivors fighting for their lives in the name of silenced classmates with cries for much needed gun control. Or the voices of the Me-too movement. Or the quiet professor asked to appear at a congressional hearing for a supreme court nominee. Their brave voices reaching out, even when it endangered their careers or caused life-altering consequences. The brave women risking everything with their honest revelations, even when they’re ignored, mocked or made the villain. The powerful example of launching a losing battle, yet valiantly doing it anyway because it’s the right thing to do. These exceptional and resilient souls that inspire so many more of us to reexamine our own lives to decide what we will or will not tolerate or accept anymore.
Or how about the anonymous everyday people who care enough to still give a damn about their fellow human beings. The independent media truth-sayers, the peace warriors, the water protectors who doggedly persist in the face of sometimes brutal opposition to make all our voices heard. The union organizers, the community activists, the climate innovators, the public school teachers, the blue collar union workers, all of those among us who refuse to let their privileged or not-so privileged eye turn blind, or tolerate the eye-turn of others in the face of tyranny.
And what about the ones who have yet to seize their moment that wait in the wings of change in the world. All of us together, we can and must move mountains to defeat the real obstacle standing at the door. The long-reaching arm of momentum-killer: a lack of political will.
This is what we’re called to action for, with cries for a mass mobilization around a Green New Deal. Uniting us in this battle, a strong-armed trifecta: The Sunrise Movement, politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ed Markey, and Bernie Sanders, and a New Consensus, the architect of the Green New Deal Resolution. Their apt comparison to what American philosopher William James coined ‘the moral equivalent of war’:
So, let’s get to fighting, if we haven’t already. Let’s be inspired by valiant efforts of unsung heroes. Let us call back to our former selves when we still believed, and remembered, that ordinary people can change the world if enough of us just stick together-and then let’s do some sticking on the battlefields of war to defeat climate change.