Lies our Senators Tell Us, or, Whither Congress?

Last month, a group of student activists from various Bay Area climate justice groups visited Senator Feinstein’s office in California to deliver a letter urging her to support the Green New Deal. While the students may have held out some hope Feinstein would see the light after agreeing to meet them without a scheduled appointment, it was not to be. It took only a moment for Feinstein to voice her disapproval of the Green New Deal by bluntly telling the students, “Well, there are reasons why I can’t [support the GND resolution]. Because there’s no way to pay for it.” Upon hearing that we could cut military spending to help pay for it, Feinstein demurred by claiming that the government can’t just transfer vast sums of money allocated for one program to another because “it [the system] doesn’t work that way.”

This observation is true enough, actually, but it undermines Feinstein’s argument in that any institution incapable of resolving the severe ecological and socioeconomic crises confronting humanity in the 21st Century is one, sooner or later, destined for the dustbin of history. In her arrogance, Feinstein likely can’t see that her justifications, or rationalizations, for continued inaction in the face of ecological catastrophe and exploding inequality speak to the urgent need for deeper, inclusive forms of democracy to replace the reckless, oligarchic rule of wealthy elites in Washington and other capital cities across the world.

If one were searching for some semblance of humility on Feinstein’s part in this exchange, one would be sorely disappointed. As a creature of Congress, Feinstein won’t, or possibly even can’t, acknowledge Congress’ utter inability to enact rational and just policies on behalf of workers or the global poor. Bearing in mind that the US Senate is a den of power-hungry snakes and was always meant to protect the “minority of the opulent against the majority,” we should fully expect “our” senators to lie to the people and do whatever else it takes to preserve their privileged positions. The consequences for the rest of us be damned.

Perhaps recognizing that Senator Feinstein will never stand up for what’s right and necessary, a young activist finally cut in during the exchange to exclaim, “The government is supposed to be for the people, by the people…and all for the people.” Immediately following this impassioned plea, Feinstein decided the time had come to lecture the students about her “illustrious” experience in office, “You know what’s interesting about this group? I’ve been doing this for thirty years. I know what I’m doing. You come in here and you say, ‘It has to be my way or the highway.’ I don’t respond to that. I’ve gotten elected, I just ran, I was elected by almost a million-vote plurality. And I know what I’m doing. So, you know, maybe people should listen a little bit.”

It’d appear that the student activists had struck a nerve. Didn’t they realize Feinstein won the approval of less than a quarter of California’s eligible voters!? Didn’t they realize Feinstein will always prioritize the well being of children just as she did with her votes on Iraq and “No Child Left Behind”!? Didn’t they realize Feinstein’s millions and her marriage to an investment banker have no impact on the positions she takes!? Didn’t they realize Feinstein looks out for the common person rather than corporate donors!?

The “righteous indignation” of Feinstein and her defenders is reprehensible! A condescending, out-of-touch imperialist firmly entrenched within the halls of power is an enemy to the environment, children, and the working class. She, McConnell, Trump, and the rest of the elites in the United States understand nothing about the plight of workers anywhere. Never forget that they have aided and abetted corporations in stealing an increasingly larger share of what is rightfully yours! Think about it: Would these corporations really continue to employ you if they weren’t getting more out of the deal than you? If they cared about you, would these same businesses seek to destroy the safety net, intimidate those interested in forming unions, or haphazardly lay waste to our planet? If they cared about your opinions, why are you forced to take orders at work on a daily basis and denied even a day off on election day?

Feinstein and the rest of the Capitol Hill gang believe that we are incapable of governing ourselves, and that we should know our place beneath them. Don’t let them fool or distract you for a minute! The bread and circus (in today’s era, it’s the smartphone and social media, perhaps) remains the ruling class’ eternal means by which to stem discontent from below. If workers refused to settle for anything less than outright control of the state, the ruling class’ rotten nature would be exposed for all the world to see because they are averse to the practice of workers’ democracy, and will resist any serious efforts to restore the commons (spaces or resources accessible to all within a community and under community management) or community-based forms of economic production centered around cooperation as opposed to cutthroat competition. The elites understand that the artificial scarcity imposed by capitalist economic relations is the “whip” they can turn to time and time again to keep the wage slaves in line. Moreover, they recognize that a turn towards a world of radical abundance would spell the end of their rule.

On Twitter, Feinstein attempted to save face for talking down to the student activists by touting her own non-solution to climate change, which she has since doubled down on despite mounting criticism. Her lack of urgency shines through and through, regardless, though. Feinstein now maintains that “it [a climate change resolution] should not involve education, and guaranteed jobs, and paid for health care and all those things.” In other words, it shouldn’t involve itself with the sort of comprehensive solutions demanded by reality!

If the tragic effects of devastating natural disasters, like the Camp Fire, can’t jar Feinstein and other politicians awake, what will!? Unfortunately, her colleagues in the GOP flagrantly deny that fossil fuels or capitalist industry are causing irreparable harm to the environment, so the “mainstream” voices defending her disgraceful abdication of responsibility come across as reasonable by comparison. In aiming to obfuscate the public’s understanding of climate change and other ecological crises, the GOP is merely doing the bidding of Big Oil and international capital. Telling the truth about the awful health of our planet’s ecosystems would raise a host of questions about the continued viability of the entire capitalist project, after all.

While these duplicitous politicians will prattle on and on about preserving our or your way of life, they’re really only interested in preserving the privileges and power of their social class: the capitalist class. Their power to enclose the land. Their power to exploit the global poor. Their power to corrupt minds via advertising. Their power to pillage habitats and drive species to extinction without a second thought. A “responsible adult” would raise all hell about the central role of Big Oil and its congressional minions in poisoning the environment rather than attempting to work with a few Republicans on a complete nothingburger of a bill. Ultimately, they all need to answer for their ongoing assault against children and workers around the world! Dispossession, exploitation, and deceit have left us with a world where human lives and human potential are wasted on a ghastly scale. We must all cry out together, “No more!”

After listening to Dianne Feinstein and various other “leaders” in Congress express their haughty disdain for the Green New Deal over the past few months, one can’t help but be struck with pessimism. Pessimism because the “representatives of the people” generally demonstrate gross ignorance, political cowardice, or blatant indifference when discussing the ongoing collapse of ecosystems around the planet. Pessimism because global climate change and other ecological crises (unfortunately, multiple planetary boundaries are being crossed) are spiraling out of control. Pessimism because the “realistic” or “feasible” reforms proposed by the gutless “pragmatists” of Congress won’t address the root causes of environmental degradation or mass extinctions. Pessimism because Congress and parliamentary bodies in other countries are ill-equipped to solve complex global issues that demand they place the interests of all the people before those of their corporate donors, AKA their true constituents, or before their own ambition. Pessimism because the people are not yet conscious of their right to the commons, their right to a democratic community, and their right to the necessities of sustainable 21st Century living.

According to Feinstein and her ilk, we can’t afford a Green New Deal, but this is a bald lie. More specifically, it mistakes the limitations imposed by our current economic system built around the rule of profit, or the law of value, with the underlying material resources actually at our disposal. You need only look at the imposing skylines of modern megacities to see that the people of the United States and other other developed countries are more than capable of facilitating a rapid transition away from fossil fuels at home and around the world. Today’s workers are, also, more educated than their predecessors and, as a result, possess the technical knowledge needed to oversee the transition towards ecological justice.

We can absolutely live in balance with nature and guarantee everyone on the planet has their essential needs met, too. We lack only the collective will to do so. It’s a colossal challenge, of course, but the alternative is barbarism as hundreds of millions to billions (primarily people of color, the indigenous, and members of other historically oppressed groups) of people will find themselves sacrificed at the altar of Mammon if the current state of affairs persists much longer. By 2070, for instance, more than 500 million people could be living in areas so warm that the shade will no longer offer prolonged protection against deadly heatstroke. Climate change-induced warming and unchecked land degradation threaten to displace up to 700 million people by 2050. Animal and insect (the data is more spotty here) populations are in free fall due to the combined pressures of habitat destruction, the introduction of invasive species, poaching, and climate change. Is any of this acceptable to you!?

In order to avoid disastrous ecological fallout and put a halt to Earth’s sixth mass extinction event, we’ll need to place key industries (e.g., finance, energy, telecommunications) under democratic, community control as soon as possible. The productive, material resources hoarded by the ruling class, however, can only be accessed if members of the ruling class voluntarily hand them over to the people (sadly, it’s unlikely that many would do so) or if the people seize the wealth directly. This would undoubtedly be an extreme measure, but extreme circumstances would necessitate it. To achieve any of this, though, a mass movement committed to workers’ control of the means of production and ecological restoration must be built.

If any such movement hopes to succeed in creating an economic system premised on meeting human needs within planetary boundaries, a scientific planning process subject to democratic oversight and strict transparency requirements needs to be put in place to guide future development decisions. In country after country, a high quality of life has only been achieved at the expense of ecological sustainability, so we can’t reasonably expect local or regional responses to overcome a glaring contradiction baked into the global capitalist economic system itself. Furthermore, researchers working in the emerging field of Earth Systems science suggest that the resilience of Earth’s ecosystems and myriad life forms depends on the interaction between various social-ecological systems operating on a planetary scale. To build solidarity across national lines and highlight capitalism’s unresolvable contradictions, we must strategically demand the creation of universal social programs and services (e.g., healthcare, recreation, legal services, social support services, shared social housing, public transit, education, food, IT services) accessible to everyone for free regardless of their nationality or social status.

Let’s be clear, local decision making processes and institutions have an important role to play in the future management of society, but, at the same time, we must be honest about the high degree of global coordination required to ensure a good life for all within planetary boundaries. Depending on the good or service under consideration, the level of centralization at the planning and delivery stages will vary, though. The provision of housing, for example, will likely be (relatively) decentralized as people start to utilize the pre-existing structures and materials available in their localities for the creation of shared living spaces. Although an organized mass movement demanding economic system change and the implementation of scientific planning at the global level has yet to congeal, flickers of hope are popping up all over the planet.

After witnessing thousands of students in over 100 countries stage a school strike on March 15th to demand a solution to the climate crisis, one can’t help but be struck with optimism. Optimism because the gilets jaunes movement lives! Optimism because the popularity of capitalism looks to be waning! Optimism because the Black Lives Matter movement has exposed the racist character of the United States’ institutions to all! Optimism because indigenous peoples refuse to roll over when their land is threatened! Optimism because women are standing up to their abusers en masse! Optimism because the LGBTQIA community demands respect from everyone! Optimism because teachers and other workers are rediscovering their power as a class! Optimism because the people have made it clear that the “end of history” is not upon us!

Matthew Pappalardo is Co-Chair of Democratic Socialists of America, San Diego Chapter.