by Martin Boksenbaum
Two lines from T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men” meant little to me until thinking about how to talk about what needs to be done, what we need to do, to address the climate crisis. Although certainly not what T.S. had mind, those lines have considerable relevance for thinking about the character of current protest movements in the United States, no put-down intended:
“Shape without form, shade without colour, Paralysed force, gesture without motion;”
Like amoeboid blobs, not that amoebas aren’t wonderfully successful in their own way. But wouldn’t it be better if protest movements were more vertebrate-like in character? Think about what an organizational version of the vertebral head and central nervous system could do for protest movements. Eyes, ears, mouths, brains and the rest of the central nervous system providing frameworks for action, continuity, coordination of and among the billions of networking, interacting cells of which they are comprised, receiving and processing information about the world, enabling and activating purposeful movement of the whole entity.
Folks in protest movements are recognizing, more and more, that in order to un- paralyze us, to keep from pulling in different directions and ending up going nowhere, we need to work on our various efforts through collaborative organizational structures.
And that, yes indeed, the various matters addressed are interconnected. And that we need more than gestures—we need to take actions that really move us forward.
How is that playing out here in the Lehigh Valley? Case in point: climate action.
Dialogue is bringing attention to bear on the interconnectedness of matters related to the climate crisis. We are developing a knowledge base that provides better understanding. The climate crisis is now seen as a manifestation of systemic dysfunction. Causally connected to the climate crisis: political-economic pressures, energy matters, industrial agriculture, emotional and belief disconnects, and population growth. And to address the climate crisis effectively, we need folks in each of those arenas to work with the folks in the other arenas. Three examples of what such holistic approach looks like organizationally:
1. The Sustainability Commons provides a democratic, collaborative, activist framework for sharing, discussing, planning, and moving forward. Tom Moroz discusses it at length in his essay. In the past year, the Alliance has developed this online workspace for people to work both on their individual interests as well as to collaborate on “social, economic, and environmental issues that are important to all of us in the Lehigh Valley”. [more information].
2. Community Bills of Rights à la CELDF (Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund) provide frameworks for organizing and empowering communities.
“Community Rights is a paradigm shift”, a move away from a “structure of state and federal law in place that preempts local decision making, and that forces harmful activities such as fracking and factory farming into communities — despite community opposition and harm to the public health and environment”, and a move toward community decision-making, while recognizing and protecting our interdependence with nature. “Recognizing that communities want
to do more than just say ‘no’ to harmful activities, and in fact wish to put in place their vision for healthy, thriving communities, CELDF works with them to develop Community Bills of Rights that establish the right to clean air and water, sustainable energy, sustainable food systems, and the rights of nature”.
The value of such an organizational approach to the municipalities of the Lehigh Valley is mind-boggling. It is quite in line with the Transition Town way of building municipal communities and it provides a vertebral framework upgrade from the amoeboid gradualist struggles of Gar Alperovitz’s “evolutionary reconstruction” (in which a variety of economic struggles are nibbling away at big finance capitalism and creating a new economy that serves the people).
3. Lehigh Valley Committee of 100 / Green Shadow Cabinet/Government is an organizational arrangement that pro- vides a platform and a voice for a holistic sustainability approach.
The Green Shadow Cabinet of the United States includes nearly 100 prominent scientists, community and labor leaders, physicians, cultural workers, veterans, and more, and provides an ongoing opposition and alternative voice to the dysfunctional government in Washington D.C. As with shadow cabinets in other countries, the Green Shadow Cabinet of the United States responds to actions of the government in office and demonstrates that an- other government is possible.”
We could take this a step further, by using such an organizational structure to develop ways for moving us forward in ad- dressing the climate crisis and for bypassing the blockages of the dysfunctional, mainstream system. With climate action as one of its major sectors, a Lehigh Valley Green Shadow Cabinet / Lehigh Valley Committee of 100, could be the organizational structure providing continuity, coordination, activation, movement. For information or to get involved, contact the Alliance Steering Committee.
Our number one priority for climate and other sustainability action is to help build and make use of organizational structures that will facilitate our working together. From such organizational frameworks will come decisive, well thought out, coherent analyses, positions, and programs that will provide us with the basis for effective action and give us political clout.
by Martin Boksenbaum
Martin is a member of the Alliance Steering Committee
(Published in the 2014 edition of Sustainable Lehigh Valley)
(Essays express the ideas of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Alliance.)