In humanity’s current existential climate crisis, leftists who see any hope for humanity put our faith in movements. Without movements relentlessly pressuring them to do the right thing, politicians of both US major parties—especially at the crucial national and state levels—will remain their bought-off pro-corporate warmongering selves, and powerful corporate media will provide them propaganda cover.
US media providing propaganda cover for politicians doing the wrong thing has been “a thing” almost forever, especially in foreign policy, where we’ve persistently done the murderous wrong thing in distant lands most Americans know or care little about. Among almost countless instances, the Vietnam and Iraq wars spring powerfully to mind. Our government lied, our media spread their lies, and our government mass-murdered, while We the People helped foot the bill with our taxes. But even where tax-cutting was all the rage, as in the “Dubya” Bush administration, no cost was too high for wars elites wanted— unwittingly providing a powerful argument for supporters of modern monetary theory (MMT).
With the stakes higher than ever, when doing the wrong thing now bears a hideous climate price tag, our government is at it again. While Naomi Klein titled her groundbreaking book on climate politics This Changes Everything, for our bought-off Republican and Democrat warmongers, humanity’s climate crisis evidently changes nothing, and the business-as-usual of illegal, murderous US regime change remains the order of the day. If our intentions in Venezuelan aren’t murderous, why put a proven amoral butcher like Elliot Abrams in charge of things? Under the PR stunt cover of US humanitarian aid to Venezuela (a self-serving political stunt the Red Cross and the UN warned the US not to try), Abrams may already be up to his old trick of smuggling arms to Venezuelan rebels. While our corporate media—acting yet again as our warmongering government’s propaganda arm—almost universally applauds.
A Moment of Truth for Sunrise and the Poor People’s Campaign
For those of us leftists who put faith in politically oriented movements—like the Sunrise Movement and the Poor People’s Campaign (PPC)—our illegal Venezuelan coup poses a serious quandary. If both movements fail to protest a catastrophic policy that sabotages their own stated aims, they lend credence to leftist critics who regard such movements as hopelessly naïve or compromised (chiefly by fear of offending Democrat politicians and their supporting media) and therefore useless. And perhaps the most damning critics are important, skeptical leftists (like Anthony Monteiro and Chris Hedges, cited below) who treat both movements as unworthy of even discussing.
Now, both the Sunrise Movement and the PPC have a type of protective coloration that tends to shield them from direct leftist criticism. With Sunrise, perhaps an unwillingness to criticize apparently sincere, idealistic young people with a great cause forces leftist critics to focus on Sunrise political ally Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) or the current (Sunrise-supported) Congressional resolution on the Green New Deal (GND). Leftist articles criticizing AOC and the Green New Deal—and generally both together—abound; see here and here for two characteristic leftist critiques.
As for the PPC, shielding from direct leftist criticism apparently stems from a fear of looking racist (or at least unsympathetic to a heavily black movement inspired by Martin Luther King). Even the Black Agenda Report’s principled black leftists have published precisely one direct critique of today’s PPC, though many (perhaps most) of their pieces imply critique of the PPC’s silence over many injustices—especially militarist ones—publicly condemned by Dr. King. That Duboisian scholar Anthony Monteiro can rightly say that only movement pressure can make Democrats serious about their leftist “talking points”—without even citing the PPC, not even for criticism—is typical and telling. What does it tell us that serious black leftists, stressing the urgent need for movements, deign not even discuss a present-day PPC claiming the moral legacy of Martin Luther King?
Equally telling is the total silence of another champion of movements–Pulitzer Prize journalist Chris Hedges—about both Sunrise and the PPC. The only plausible conclusion is that Hedges doesn’t really take either movement seriously and doesn’t wish to give offense (perhaps to his Truthdig editors, who’ve given both movements considerable coverage) by saying so. One gets the impression Hedges would strongly prefer a movement more radical and disruptive, like the French Yellow Vests, though without the element of violence. Numerous US leftists certainly think we have much to learn from the Yellow Vests (see here, here, and here).
For climate justice strategists like me, Sunrise’s and the PPC’s failure to impress important leftists—especially informed leftist critics like Monteiro and Hedges—poses a serious quandary. The quandary lies not so much in the influence of such silent critics, though, in the case of a world-renowned journalist like Hedges, Sunrise and the PPC would clearly find his outspoken support well worth having. Rather, I overwhelmingly suspect Monteiro’s and Hedges’ silence is linked to serious flaws in both movements—flaws likely, if unaddressed, to make them fail catastrophically in their stated missions. And the best way to address these flaws is to hammer Democrats for their unconscionable support of Trump’s Venezuela coup right now.
But I’m getting slightly ahead of myself. For a politically oriented strategist like me, the crucial point is that if politically oriented movements—meaning ones (like Sunrise and the PPC) dedicated to pressuring politicians and facing them with potential electoral repercussions—aren’t sufficiently principled and consistent to resist business-as-usual sabotage of their own aims, we leftists (who hold humanity’s future in our hands) are left without a viable way forward. For while Americans are clearly coming around to leftward-leaning agendas, they’re simply not yet radical enough to support street disruption of the Yellow Vest brand.
Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers, in a piece cited earlier, make a convincing case that a looming economic collapse would bring a French style of resistance to our streets. But the climate crisis alone is urgent enough that we can’t simply wait for economic collapse; and no person of good will can wish for the massive suffering such a collapse would entail. Besides, the response to such a collapse and mass protest would still (sooner or later) need to be a detailed political agenda, such as Sunrise and the PPC are pushing. A disruptive street revolt brings more force, but it tends not to bring a detailed constructive program. In rough terms, street disruption sends politicians the message “The status quo is intolerable,” while a politically oriented movement tells them “This is what we demand you do.”
Ultimately, I agree with savvy political strategist Richard Moser that both types of movement pressure are needed, as when Moser writes, “Projects like the Green New Deal can draw support from reformers as well as revolutionaries.” The problem, in my view, is convincing large segments of the US public, who already support many Green New Deal reforms, just how revolutionary—how threatening to existing power structures—an effective Green New Deal will need to be. To borrow a slogan from my old strategic writings, movements’ desperately needed job is to “radicalize the mainstream”: to make average Americans aware how thoroughly Washington “business as usual” must be resisted to achieve the reforms they crave. By not denouncing our unconscionable, imperialist coup in Venezuela—business as usual at its worst—both Sunrise and the PPC are failing miserably in their needed messaging work of “radicalizing the mainstream.”
In short, the potentially fatal flaw in both Sunrise and the PPC lies not in what they do, but in what they dare say. And what they dare say must be dictated by the inner logic of their own agendas, not by fear of embarrassing their shallow, warmongering “supporters” among Democrats—supporters whose support is as thin as the lips used in lip service and will disappear as soon as the truly revolutionary nature of the Green New Deal becomes apparent. If Sunrise and the PPC fail to oppose a Democrat-supported coup that vomits on their aims—especially those aims as represented by Naomi Klein and Martin Luther King respectively—the two movements may be as insignificant as Monteiro and Hedges seem to think them.
The Venezuela Coup: Obscenely “Dissing” Klein; Desecrating MLK’s Grave
In this closing section, I hope to justify my article title’s strong language, clarifying how Democrats who support Trump’s Venezuelan coup disrespect any effective Green New Deal to the point of vomiting on it. Almost needless to say, the Sunrise Movement should make denouncing that coup a litmus test for Democratic presidential hopefuls who claim to support a Green New Deal. And, as regards the PPC, I hope to make my obvious point briefly: that Dr. King would have so vehemently opposed Trump’s Democrat-supported Venezuelan coup that any tolerance for it amounts to desecrating his grave.
If Naomi Klein so ardently supports a Green New Deal, it’s pretty surely because she sees it as brilliant, US-market-adapted packaging of the climate justice agenda in her book This Changes Everything (cited earlier). In a very recent article, she continues to emphasize that a Green New Deal is about virtually everything: that it spells the end of confining issues to political “silos.”
Sadly, the Klein of the Intercept article only implies what the Klein of This Changes Everything said more explicitly: that the world of climate justice needs to be a world of reduced military budgets and resistance to dominance by classes, communities, or nations. (See pages 113 and 114 of the 2014 Simon & Schuster edition, along with the numerous pages touting a communitarian vs. a dominance worldview.) I don’t know whether Klein has succumbed to coddling Sunrise—just as their own ally Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez coddles her indefensible House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (see here, here, and here)—but the time for crystalline clarity is now: Trump’s coup in Venezuela spits in Naomi Klein’s face. Or makes some other, vastly obscener gesture Trump’s more juvenile supporters would gleefully make toward Klein—assuming they knew of her existence.
But even by implication alone, Klein’s recent Intercept piece (without, unfortunately, specifically mentioning Venezuela) forcefully makes my case. In that piece, Klein asserts that Trump has “wildly underestimated the public appetite for transformative action on the triple crises of our time: imminent ecological unraveling, gaping economic inequality (including the racial and gender wealth divide), and surging white supremacy.” Now, adopting Klein’s “three-crisis” packaging of the Green New Deal, we simply can’t “silo” her comprehensive, PR-savvy approach to climate action from Trump’s Democrat-supported coup, which flies (or spits) in the face of all three crises Klein stresses.
In fact, in terms of Klein’s “triple crises,” Trump’s Democrat-supported Venezuelan coup is the ultimate perversity: an “ecological unraveling” (attempt to maximize pumping of oil) that robs Venezuela’s darker-skinned poor of the profits from their petrostate’s predominant source of income. Famed investigative journalist Greg Palast has already tellingly emphasized the racist, classist nature of Trump’s Venezuelan coup. But what I wish to emphasize is its sheer perversity in terms of the delicate “just transition” problem of petrostates: How do we wean petrostates away from oil economies (as climate action demands) without inflicting massive economic harm on their average citizens, who bear little responsibility for their nations’ monolithic “fossil” economies?
As neither just—nor a transition away from fossil fuels but the polar opposite—Trump’s Democrat-supported coup slaps the face of climate justice as forcefully as one could imagine. And therefore should be anathema to all sincere supporters of a Green New Deal.
Finally, the Poor People’s Campaign’s website banner page, in its expression of moral values, is a stellar tribute to the spirit of Martin Luther King; if only its actual practice could come remotely close to its aspirations! Given King’s almost infallible knack for seeing “the big picture,” the Poor People’s Campaign has surely honored his spirit by updating King’s original “triple evils” of racism, poverty, and militarism to include “ecological devastation.” Failing to resist a Venezuelan coup that embodies all four evils the PPC is pledged to fight is simply a betrayal of King, a standing by with hanging arms while moral barbarians desecrate his grave. And King’s own condemnation of half-hearted white moderates should say all that needs to be said about fear of offending unprincipled Democrat allies.