Sunday, November 29, 2015

Reflections in Princeton, on Paris, COP21, Hemlock Trees, History as Tragedy, Farce and Weekend Hikes through the Mountains

scene from the streets of paris.

We were in Princeton for much of last week after a death in the family. It was a rough few days, a time to think about the world spinning around us.  Every death opens all the old wounds for everyone. 

Scenes from Princeton and our favorite birch tree. 

In between family business we walked though town.  I spent the time thinking about the former president of the university here.  The students had been holding rallies and a sit-in.   And the New York Times editorialized:

As the historian Eric Yellin shows in “Racism in the Nation’s Service,” Wilson stocked his government with segregationists who shared his point of view. The man he chose for the postal department, which had the most black employees nationally, had campaigned on the promise that the Democratic Party could be counted on to keep black people out of its own ranks and out of the government affairs of the Southern states. In this way, the administration set about segregating the work force, driving out highly placed black employees and shunting the rest into lower-paying jobs…..None of this mattered in 1948 when Princeton honored Wilson by giving his name to what is now called the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Black Americans were still viewed as nonpersons in the eyes of the state, and even the most strident bigots were held up to public adulation. This is certainly not the case today.  The overwhelming weight of the evidence argues for rescinding the honor that the university bestowed decades ago on an unrepentant racist.

I was good to see their hateful former president get a little comeuppance from the historical record. He presided over a red scare, admired the KKK, passed the Sedition Action, and institutionalized racism. The Espionage Act used against Snowden was also born of his administration.  It was an era when Sacco and Vanzetti were murdered by the state.  The Red Scares of the era exposed a xenophobia which fueled a war on ways of thinking, asking questions, and imagining a different America. Eugene Victor Debs was prosecuted under the Espionage Act. The act effectively rendered certain forms of speech criminal, ushering in thought police, and policing of subversive thinking, as well as protest.   A century later, the rallies in Paris were coming under a similar security.

Of course, the conversation among many of my friends was about the COP21 Climate Change conference I will be attending next week in Paris.  I was planning to be there for the march and street actions.  And then the bombings in Paris and the story line changed. 

John Jordan posted a few notes and photos on facebook.

 The french government has just banned the 29th March and D12... Welcome to the state of emergency. Welcome to the shadow of the future .. if we obey it...

John Jordan
7 hrs · Paris, France · 
This might be the situation in France during the cop 21 ... lets put all our creativity into thinking what to do.. how to continue to resist the real state of emergency whose scale is the size of the sea, the sky and the soils... The future will be one of authoritarian governments trying to deal with the front of terror on one hand and social and ecological collapse on the other, we can chose to accept their states of emergencies or show the that this is a time for the opposite of war and crack downs on civil liberties, this is a time to stand for justice and for real democracy to arise...

Upon the news from Paris, I suggested.
I guess we'll have to do something besides march? With the state taking away my freedoms to protect me, I feel so much safer? Not.

As Greg Smithsimon in Paris reminds us. "For those of you were wondering, how long does it take for a government to use a state of emergency as an excuse to cancel protests that have nothing to do with emergency, wait no longer. The answer is four days. The government just announced that they are canceling the big climate protests in Paris because of the state of emergency."

Jordan posted a note from Naomi Klein:

November 18, 2015

PARIS — The Prefecture of Police of Paris informed the Coalition Climat 21 this afternoon that due to the heightened security situation, the government will not allow the Global Climate March planned in Paris for 29 November and the mobilizations planned for 12 December. French Campaigner Nicolas Haeringer issued the following response:
“The government can prohibit these demonstrations, but our voices will not be silenced. While this makes it difficult to go forward with our original plans, we will still find a way for people in Paris to make the call for climate justice heard, and we encourage everyone around the world to join a Global Climate March and raise their voices louder than ever. There’s never been a greater need.
While our plans in Paris must change, the movement for climate justice will not slow down. Around the world, marches, demonstrations, and civil disobedience are all planned for the weeks and months ahead. Together, we will continue to stand against violence and hatred with our peace and resolve.
For people around the world, join the Global Climate March in your community to show your support for climate justice. For those who were planning to travel to Paris, still come and join us, and together we’ll find a way to take action together.”
Over 2,173 events, including over 50 major marches, are planned worldwide as part of the Global Climate March on 28 and 29th of November. Many of the events already planned in Paris for the two weeks of COP21 are also going forward, including the Pathway to Paris concert with Thom Yorke, Patti Smith, Flea and others. Organizers are also encouraging activists to still plan on coming to Paris for the final days of the conference to make sure people, not the polluters or politicians, have the final word.

#ClimateGames posted a similar statement.
We have been contacted by many asking how the attacks of Friday 13 November in Paris might affect the Climate Games and other forms of non violent civil disobedience in Paris.
First of all, we want to clearly state our solidarity with all victims of all forms of terror. Machine guns and explosives hurt the same whether in Paris or Beirut, Ankara or Yola, Damascus or Kobane, Baghdad or elsewhere. The hurt feels the same whether it comes from the gun of a jihadist or a police officer, the missiles of a fighter plane or a drone.
These attacks must not change the conversation but deepen it. We want to clearly state that our dedication for social and climate justice remains as strong as ever. We are convinced that the geopolitical and economic dynamics that underpin climate chaos are the same as those that feed terrorism. From the oil wars in Iraq to the droughts in Syria caused by ecological collapse, all feed the same inequalities that lead to cycles of violent conflict.
We are writing this from a city under a state of emergency. The government has announced that the COP21 negotiations will go on, but all public outdoor demonstrations across France, including the Global Climate March and the day of mass actions on December 12th, have been banned. We refuse this shadow of the future, we will not bend to the politics of fear that stifle liberties in the name of security. The biggest threat to security, to life in all its forms, is the system that drives the climate disaster. History is never made by those who ask permission.
We believe that COP21 can not take place without the participation or mobilizations of civil society while governments and multinationals continue with business as usual. Only the Climate Justice movements with their disobedient bodies will be able to do the necessary work of keeping 80% of the fossil fuels in the ground.
We are still and more than ever dedicated to forms of actions that aim to address the root causes of climate chaos in determined non-violent ways. Our playing field has been totally transformed in Paris, but everywhere else in the world we encourage people to continue with their plans and adventures. We call all teams in Paris to take into account the exceptional circumstances and to not put anyone in fear or danger.
The decentralised creative nature of the Climate Games could become the alternative nonviolent response to this state of emergency. Like the mushrooms that emerge at dawn, the ants that scuttle across borders at night we will rise out of fear and shock, we will adapt and resist. We are not fighting for nature, we are nature defending itself.
Looking forward to seeing you in Paris or in your own habitat.
 Love and courage from the Climate Games crew.

People have long suggested that fossil fuel producing states such as Saudi Arabia could not be happier to see the COP21 street actions rendered illegal.  Their messy relationship with the US seems to muddy the terrain; terrorism seems to rise along with efforts to combat it.

The clash between freedom of speech and repression, between those hoping to speak out about injustice and those hoping to squelch such conversations, this is not a new one.  We need more dialogue and disobedience, not less.

"Let us not become the evil that we deplore..." noted Barbara Lee in the sole vote against the Authorization to Use Military Force in Afghanistan, 3 days after 9/11.  

Terrorism seems everywhere, and so are efforts to suppress speech under the specter of panic. People have long paraphrased Marx’s famous adage from the 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon: history repeats itself first as tragedy second as farce.  The young Napoleon had assumed dictatorial powers and the Marx called him on it, rejecting the conservative state and its social controls in favor the left as “the party of anarchy.”

Hopefully, anarchy will find some of its subversive abandonment in the streets of Paris once again, with love and care, peace and abundant, joy and justice.

Hopefully, the climate games and rallies and art and marches and stories point to another way of being and living in this crazy world.

Fortunately, people around the world were on the streets speaking up and protesting. We saw them in New Paltz and New York City.  They will be at it all week, I hope, here, in Paris and all around the world.

And they certainly are. As my friend Owen writes after marching today.
I am glad that French citizens are defying French police attempts to enforce a ban on public assembly. I am also grateful for the activists in the US who oppose fossil fuel pipelines with their bodies, the Black Lives Matter protests, whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, people who shun the products of industrial agriculture, and people who encrypt their devices and messages.
Freedom versus security is a false choice. We need to defend our liberties by maintaining our autonomy and rejecting fear.

The weekend was a important time to talk and walk and reflect, to think about the trees.  Two of the 400 year old hemlocks died up here after the climate changed faster than they could handle noted one of the guides on our morning hike yesterday.  The world is changing faster than we can imagine. But we have to speak out and reflect and try impact this trend.  Thanks  to my family for being there as we spent the time together for this moment in time. 

A weekend walk at the Mohonk.