Seated before a corner lamppost, at the foot of the J.P. Morgan Chase Tower, was a blind man with a Starbuck’s venti cup and a hand-lettered cardboard sign. Resting against his knees on the pavement, it read: “Please help the homeless.” Clothed in a gray sweatshirt, mangy coat and army surplus trousers, he was half-asleep, his bearded face slumped forward on his chest. Dropping a handful of change into his cup, I heard the clink of coins and the blind man’s: “Have a blessed day.” Droves of pedestrians moved through the hum of rush hour traffic, inured to the Loop’s growing army of Poor Toms camped out on sidewalks or sleeping in doorways. Towering above the blind man were the skyscraper’s brown-tinted, curving glass walls. Built of limestone and burnished steel, it was crowned by the blue Chase logo, and housed J.P. Morgan Chase’s Commercial Banking World Headquarters.
“How many banks have come and gone,” I thought, “since I first opened an account, here, thirty years ago?”
Manufacturers Hanover, Chicago Tokyo Bank, Bank One, Chase Manhattan, and now J.P. Morgan Chase. One had acquired another, which, in turn, was acquired by a third. Big fish ate the small fry, then along came a whale to gobble them all up! The concentration, centralization and increasing organic composition of capital, resulting in the global polarization of rich and poor. At one end, the blind man seated on the pavement, begging for pocket change; at the other J.P. Morgan Chase, headquarters of a $1.2 trillion mega-corporation, with operations in over fifty countries. To see them juxtaposed, there, before you: Inequality in the 21st century…It reminded me of the famous Alfred Steiglitz photograph of J.P. Morgan wielding a knife.
The great robber baron had been caught with a gleam in his eye, and that silver blade brandished in his fist. Talk about banks buying banks, he’d been Mr. Merger and Acquisitions, all by himself! He’d formed a syndicate that had supplied the national government’s depleted gold reserves, in order to relieve the U.S. Treasury crisis. He’d arranged the mergers that had created the General Electric Corporation, United States Steel and the International Harvester Company. He’d amassed corporations and banks – and through a system of interlocking directorates – had achieved almost single-handed control of the nation’s economy. The bane of muckrakers and reformers alike, he’d been the dominant figure in American Capitalism until his death in 1913. It was only fitting that the scions of the house of J.P. Morgan should have devoured the Chase Manhattan Bank!
J.P. Morgan had been a “world-historical figure” during the Age of Imperialism. Having begun in the late nineteenth century, that “latest stage” of capitalism, had spread across the globe to create a world commodity market. But the capitalist mode of production, in the form of the large-scale factory, had been largely confined to Europe, the United States and Japan. The rest of the world was used as a source of raw materials, cheap labor, markets and investment. The advanced nations had partitioned the globe among themselves, closing one sphere of influence to the others. From the beginning of the twentieth century, it had been completely divided; so that further competition required its re-division. Imperialism’s chief characteristics were the centralization of production and distribution in monopoly corporations; the export of capital; the merging of firms with banks, as finance capital; and the fusion of capital with the state. This economic competition, between blocs of nation-states, had led to military competition; and this, in turn, to two world wars. But since the 1950s global capitalism, itself, had entered a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene. Humanity now had a decisive influence on the planet’s climate; one which accelerated the earth’s evolution and led to today’s Global Climate Crisis.
This crisis was the result of capitalism’s antagonistic relationship to nature. A system based on the exploitation of labor for profit within competitive markets, the earth was treated as a realm of unlimited economic growth. Its atmosphere, seas and land were no more than sources of wealth to be extracted; polluted oceans, forests and mountains of toxic waste, left behind. These “global commons” were “enclosed” by wealthy state’s multinational corporations. And climate change was the result, the ruin of the planet’s atmosphere, caused mainly by capitalism’s addiction to the burning of fossil fuels. Since the Industrial Revolution, its carbon emissions had been accumulating in the air, causing the average atmospheric temperature to rise in Global Warming. This level of carbon dioxide was now approaching a critical point – a “global rift” – when the earth’s climate would spin irreversibly out of control. Today’s rate of climatic degradation put the planet on a collision course to reach that catastrophe in the year 2035.
The advanced capitalist nations were most responsible for Global Warming; yet they were the ones least affected. The poor southern countries, the least responsible, were the most vulnerable of all. Already the victims of droughts, storms and floods – seven million climate refugees in the year 2019, alone – the climate crisis would only exacerbate the world’s existing social inequality. The Global Climate Crisis was now unfolding in a sequence of events leading to an apocalyptic vision: an island fortress of wealthy nations, surrounded by cyclopean walls, within an endless sea of refugee camps in which hundreds of millions starved…
A “world-historical figure” of our own time was the young Swedish activist, Greta Thunburg. A month before, the 16-year-old had arrived in New York City harbor aboard a black-sailed, emissions-free yacht. It had anchored off Coney Island, having completed a two week voyage across the Atlantic. Greta had participated in the September 20th Global Climate Strike, and later addressed the U.N. Climate Change Summit. Her story was the stuff of legend. In August of 2018, she had stood alone outside the Swedish Parliament, with her backpack and hand-lettered sign, protesting. Her example had inspired other students to demonstrate; and this became the movement, Fridays for the Future. She spoke at forums, and took part in demonstrations throughout Europe. And this was further amplified by millions of youngsters in protests around the world. Today she was world-renowned – her picture on the cover of Time – inspiring a modern Children’s Climate Crusade. St. Greta had crossed the ocean to do battle with the Dragon in the White House. News footage later caught her observing President Trump, as he spoke to reporters at a U.N. press conference. She appeared to cast a spell on him: bore witness to his brazen lies. He was the world’s Climate Denial personified; and she, the young maid on an historic quest to slay him.
As President of the United States, he was the leader of the capitalist world, with a “grand strategy” of Global Energy Dominance. It was committed to the maximum expansion of the fossil fuel industry: extraction of oil, natural gas and coal; construction of a worldwide infrastructure of pipelines, refineries, supertankers and export terminals. And with the “Fracking Revolution”, all regulation had been abandoned. Extraction of crude oil and natural gas now increased exponentially, making the U.S. one of the leading producers and exporters. The possession of fossil fuels was seen as key to its economic growth: and chief weapon of its military might. Future conflict between nations would be the result of scarce energy, food and water. World power now depended on who “controlled the tap”. As the climate crisis worsened, war would become more widespread; the threat of nuclear war, more likely. And this policy was in sheer defiance of the Global Climate Crisis…
From the bank, I proceeded on to Daley Plaza. “J.P. Morgan Chase,” I recalled,” was the world’s leading lending institution for financing projects aimed at the expansion of the fossil fuel industry.” I entered the revolving doors of the Daley Center’s rust-colored steel-and-glass lobby, passed through its metal detectors, and took the elevator to the 29th floor. It was here I had worked – at the Cook County Law Library – for almost thirty years. Only a month before, on September 20th, I had participated in the Global Climate Strike, myself…
Although the G-7 was meeting in Europe to discuss the Climate Crisis, President Trump hadn’t even bothered to attend. He was far too busy conducting his personal Reign of Terror against America’s immigrant community. Further south, the Amazon Rainforest – the “Lungs of the Earth” – was burning out of control. This holocaust was killing the forest’s indigenous peoples, according to the plans of Brazil’s rightwing President Bolsonaro. Hurricane Dorian had swept from Puerto Rico to Florida to the Carolinas, to finally strike the Bahamas with disaster. President Trump refused to admit these desperate refugees, claiming they were “very bad people…gang members…drug dealers…”
On that warm humid morning I had walked through the loop to Grant Park. I passed through the corridor of bronze sculptures of native warriors on horseback. Further on, a flock of Canada Geese had been shading themselves beneath the park’s tall trees. The last time I had visited Grant Park, a number of years earlier, was when I was arrested as a member of Occupy Chicago…
We had peaceably assembled in the park, and remained past the 11:00 pm curfew. The cops moved in, fastening plastic handcuffs on our wrists, behind our backs. Then we were led off to nearby paddy-wagons, where we waited; until driven south to the Cook County Jail. We sat in its cells until midnight, when we were finally bailed out. The following week, the National Lawyers’ Guild had brought a class-action law suit against the city. The courts later determined that the arrests had been unconstitutional; those arrested were awarded millions in damages…
I watched the crowd arriving in the park for today’s Global Climate Strike. Young parents pushing baby carriages; students in t-shirts and shorts. Teenagers sported tattoos and nose rings; they had half-shaved heads with green-streaked hair. Soon the organizers gathered at the front of the march, behind banners and colorful signs. They spoke through megaphones to those assembled. West of the park, towering above us, were three great skyscrapers. A futuristic one – a silo of glass and steel – thrust its head up into the clouds above us. The cops remained in the background, as we began marching north to Federal Plaza. To the beat of drums we proceeded, chanting along the way.
We finally arrived at the plaza – with its Post Office and Federal Building – by the great architect, Mies van der Roh. They were of mat black steel, I-beam mullions, with glass-and-metal curtain walls. In the center of the plaza was a sculpture – in the form of a huge orange lobster – by the sculptor, Alexander Calder. The Federal Post Office was an elegant, cathedral-like cube. Its single story climbed to an elevated ceiling, with circular lamps like stars in the firmament.
Seated on one of the tree planters before the Federal Building, I recalled the Harold Washington Library we had just marched past, and the Pritzker Pavilion, a few blocks away. These were paradigms of the architecture of Chicago.
Mies van der Roh was Modern: rectilinear and symmetric. The Harold Washington Library was Post-modern: a hideous eclecticism. A squatting marble mastodon, it occupied an entire city block! A mass of historic clichés, it featured bulging blocks, red brick walls and green owls perched like gargoyles on the latticework roof. Frank Gehry’s Pritzker Pavillion was another stage of the Modern: curvilinear and assymetric.
Now the booming base drum – together with the buzz of conversation, chants and speeches – had echoed in the cavern formed by the Federal Plaza’s towering dark facades. Behind me were the doors of the Federal Building, where I had been arrested in 2003, when the U.S. invaded Iraq…
At 5:00 pm on that day we had gathered, here, at Federal Plaza. After speakers were heard, thousands took to the streets: streaming out onto Lake Shore Drive. We marched north to Michigan Avenue; then up the Miracle Mile’s expensive blocks of shops. An hour later – without warning – the cops had surrounded us: hundreds were corralled and arrested. The following morning, I had represented my socialist organization, in civil disobedience before the doors of the Federal Building. We were handcuffed, placed in patty-wagons and driven to the county jail. A class-action law suit was later filed against the city, and damages awarded to those arrested…
Spreading the newspaper out on the reference desk, behind which I now stood, I remembered the day of the Global Climate Strike. There had been over six million protestors worldwide, the largest climate protest in history. Opening the New York Times to the Arts & Leisure Section, I saw an interview with the great Brazilian photographer, Sebastiao Salgado. Beneath it was a photograph: a portrait of a Galapagos tortoise. Remembering my experience among the youngsters at the Global Climate Strike, I couldn’t help having felt the old curmudgeon among them. I glimpsed a look of recognition in the creature’s glaring right eye. Fascinated, I googled ‘tortoise’ in the Wikipedia; which produced the text of Melville’s classic, “Two Sides of a Tortoise”.
Of the family, Testudinidae, it was a land-dwelling vertebrate: diurnal, crepuscular and herbivorous. It was shielded from predators by its carapace – the very roof over its head. This was “…heavy as chests of plate, with vast shells medallioned and orbed like shields, and dented and blistered like shields that have breasted a battle…” The creature “…seemed newly crawled forth from beneath the foundations of the world…” “…The great feeling inspired… was that of age: dateless, indefinite endurance…no other creature can live and breathe as long…What other bodily being possesses such a citadel, wherein to resist the assaults of Time?” But the old codger within his castle was as stubborn as a mule. Melville says “Their… resolution was so great that they never went aside for any impediment…I found him butted like a battering ram against the immovable foot of the foremast, and still striving tooth and nail, to force the impossible passage…”
I returned to Salgado’s photograph. An eye with its brow of horn stared accusingly at me. Thin lips clamped shut; black nostrils scenting fear. Above, its shell, and a wrinkled sack of skin; below, toenails hugged the ground, on the ends of heavily encrusted legs. Behind him lay the vast desert through which he’d dragged himself along for a lifetime. I had discovered the tortoise in myself.
A septuagenarian bachelor, living in an apartment in Rogers Park, I could see through my living room windows the waves of Lake Michigan advancing on the shore. My political activism had begun in the late sixties, during the Vietnam War, when I had been subject to America’s draft lottery. One fateful evening the entire nation had listened over the radio. Ping pong balls – numbered with the 365 days of the year— had been spun in a wire cage. I had been fortunate to have received number 359, placing me out of harm’s way. So I became an activist in the movement against the war, while attending the University of Michigan. I worked in an office of the Student Activities Building, for the largest antiwar coalition of the time, the New Mobilization Against the War in Vietnam. Each spring and fall, we built national demonstrations in Washington, D.C.; and organized teach-ins at Ann Arbor’s Hill Auditorium. I remembered a night at one of them, when the activist, Rennie Davis, spoke about his recent trip to Vietnam. There, he had himself witnessed the bombing of the North, while huddled in caves dug beneath the earth…
As the years past, I had worked in series of social movements, with various political organizations. And like the female tortoise, dug my own nesting burrows, where I lay my clutches of eggs. But mine had been piles of socialist newspapers, leftwing brochures and buttons, gathering dust in my desk’s bottom drawer. Like the incubating hatchlings beneath the sand, it had all begun with my parents.
My father had been a businessman, a manufacturer of concrete products. But he was a liberal, and sympathetic to unions. As a youngster he had told me – although proudly having served in the army during World War II – that he had opposed the bombing of Hiroshima. Both he and my mother were against the Vietnam War. They would have moved our family to Canada rather than let them draft their sons. And my father had been a member of a small organization, Businessmen Against the War. He had died a number of years back.
My 96-year-old mother was now living with my brother’s family in the suburbs. They occupied a large ranch house, with a backyard of tall oaks and poplars. My mother had her own bedroom, large-screen television and daily routine. She was still beautiful – and had she been gifted! As a child, her piano teacher had told her that she was her most talented pupil. And she had had the ability to draw by hand from an early age. At thirteen she’d been offered a full scholarship to the Cranbrook Academy of Art! She got straight-A’s in grammar and high school, without hardly bothering to study. Both my parents had brought me up to love literature and the arts. My feeling for social justice had come from my father.
Unlike my mother, I was a mediocre student – where she got straight-A’s, won scholarships and awards – I was only average. Nevertheless, I had modest gifts – enough for political activism. Thus, I began the tortoise’s “…slow weary draggings…” his “…strange infatuation with hopeless toil…” This had been my career as a socialist activist.
I began as a volunteer for Eugene McCarthy’s presidential campaign. I spent a summer canvassing neighborhoods with petitions to get him on the ballot. Then, in college, I became a member of the New Mobilization Committee. While I studied Marx in the philosophy department, I had organized Ann Arbor’s college students. Later, there had been the BAM Strike (Black Action Movement), which had won increased Black admissions and a Black Studies Department. Then I had graduated and moved to New York, where I picketed weekly in front of liquor stores for Caesar Chavez’s Farmworkers’ Union Boycott. While in Manhattan I worked as a bartender at various Broadway theaters. Then I returned to Detroit for law school, at the Detroit College of Law. While in attendance, I worked part-time in the family concrete business. From philosophy at Ann Arbor to the family business in Detroit, I had gone from “the abstract to the concrete”, as my father had once remarked.
From Detroit I moved to Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, where I attended the University of Chicago Library School. Then I moved to Rogers Park, where I had worked at the Cook County Law Library for the past thirty years…
Following the Global Climate Strike was the first demonstration of Extinction Rebellion Chicago. We had gathered at Daley Plaza, below the library, where I worked. A group of us carried signs, banners and megaphones from a nearby underground garage. Slowly the crowd of demonstrators had arrived. I saw two old comrades from the Chicago Left, and a lawyer I recognized from the library. There were speeches by young students, mounted on the Picasso sculpture’s rusty-brown platform.
After an hour, there was a “die-in” across the street from City Hall, by a group of local students. Then demonstrators had gathered behind a banner, with signs and megaphones, in the streets surrounding the plaza. A few TV cameras and reporters with microphones had arrived to record the event. And there were rows of cops, in blue helmets and uniforms, lined up in the streets before us. Now we marched through the loop, chanting and carrying signs. Periodically, we faced off with rows of cops, sitting down in the streets. Around the loop we had danced with the cops for several hours. Then, as it began to grow dark, I noticed neon signs in the sky, and the flashing of green and red traffic lights. A demonstrator with a miniature film projector flashed a XR image high above us on the side of a building.
At the end of the demonstration, we had returned to Daley Plaza. One of the organizers was waving a black flag with an X on a long metal pole.
“Sorry, you weren’t arrested.” he had said.
“The readiness is all.” I replied…
The following week was the Close the Concentration Camps demonstration. It was “the other side of the coin” of the Climate Crisis, which drove immigrants to flee their countries, only to be imprisoned in refugee camps around the world. Not only was President Trump the world’s Chief Climate Denier, but he was Chief Persecutor of America’s immigrant community. And foremost among his crimes was separating children from their families and putting them in cages. The U.S. held nearly 70,000 children in detention in 2019 – exceeding that of any other nation – and resulting in lasting trauma and harm. What more need one say once you have been convicted of deliberate cruelty to children? And to treat desperate people fleeing hardship like criminals; to put them in prison behind bars. Besides, there was the sheer racism of the man. He said of our Mexican neighbors that: “…They’re bringing drugs…crime. They’re rapists…” And of the refugees from the Bahamas, that they were: “…very bad people…gang members…drug dealers…”
My own grandparents had been immigrants from czarist Russia at the turn of the century. My grandmother had come over in steerage, at the age of 13, to stay with relatives in Detroit. She had worked in a sweatshop, seated behind a sewing machine: twelve hours a day; six days a week. Over the years she saved; had finally brought her brothers and sisters to America. So it was only a minor leap of the imagination for me to appreciate the plight of America’s immigrants, today. And I was particularly proud of how my fellow Jews had risen to the occasion; and there were the Japanese-American survivors of our World War II camps and their families. Together with the Franciscans I had worked with in the human rights movements of Central America during the seventies, they had all come forward to protest, be arrested, and open their churches and synagogues as sanctuaries. They demonstrated at ICE facilities, private prisons, and the corporate headquarters of companies that profited from detention. Immigrants’ Rights was not only America’s problem; it was a grave international issue. Throughout the world there were millions fleeing from climate change, poverty and political persecution. They had left their countries, only to find themselves imprisoned in squalid refugee camps. And along with Trump’s national system of concentration camps, there was his monomania about the border wall with Mexico.
His Reign of Terror against America’s immigrants included raids by armed ICE agents on workplaces and homes. His personal vendetta against dark-skinned people had known no limits. When mumps spread to children in the camps, he denied them vaccines. He eliminated the limits on child detention; sought to eliminate birth citizenship. Long-standing procedures for granting refugee status were ignored and underfunded. And those in the camps, themselves, were denied regular showers, soap and clean clothing.
There were the overcrowded pens – topped by razor-wire fences – through which their dark eyes had stared at us in photos. In open-air prisons they clustered under “space” blankets or pieces of tarp, to escape the blistering heat of the sun. Trump’s was a regime of heartless cruelty, a system of violence, abuse and neglect. When Vice-president Pence paid a visit to one of the jails, he had been photographed turning away in disgust at its over-powering stench.
Trump’s was a policy of persecution of people of color: Central Americans, Mexicans, Carribeans and Africans. They were desperate; had only come here to work; to support themselves and their families. These people were not criminals; they had broken no laws. As the wealthiest nation in history, it was our duty to help them: to set an example of generosity for other nations. But the U.S. had a long history of putting minorities in camps: Native Americans on reservations, their children placed in “Indian schools”; enslaved Africans in plantations, their children chattels, bought and sold; and Japanese-Americans imprisoned in camps during World War II. Since 9/11, there were the Arabs and Muslims declared “enemy combatants” in Guantanamo Bay: never charged with a crime, subject to torture and indefinite detention…
A month after the Global Climate Strike was London’s International Rebellion. It had begun on Monday, October 7th, and consisted of nearly a fortnight of demonstrations and civil disobedience. There were eleven sites around Westminster, in central London, including two of the city’s bridges; and the International Rebellion had extended far beyond London to over sixty cities around the world. Its organizers, Extinction Rebellion (XR), had pledged to make the protest five times larger than the previous one in April. On that occasion, they had taken over Parliament Square, Oxford Circus and Waterloo Bridge; and over a thousand had been arrested. This time they pledged to shut the city down. They launched their rebellion by focusing on the state’s failure to act. Until it did, they would create a spectacular rebellion, consisting of site ‘blocks’, massive rallies and small group actions. For eleven days of pageantry – of passion plays and processions – they had attempted to awaken the nation and the world to the Climate Crisis. Theirs was a Political Theater featuring Death and Destruction: the death of countless species; destruction of the earth, air, seas, and its people. Over 30,000 had participated; 1,800 had been arrested; and their modern “Siege of London” had taken many splendid forms.
The first morning was spent occupying the sites around Westminster; setting up structures and accommodations for the long weeks ahead. Trafalgar Square had featured “Burning Earth”: a dystopian world, its oceans running red, with forests aflame and animals driven to extinction. A giant hearse was driven into the square, and parked in the midst of the swelling crowd. A number of rebels had locked or glued themselves to the vehicle. Its “undertaker”, the man in the driver’s seat, was locked to the steering wheel by his throat. In the back of the hearse a great coffin had been mounted. On its panels were printed the words “OUR FUTURE”. It was a command performance of planetary loss, followed by mourners with wreathes of flowers and lighted candles.
Victoria Embankment was “Peace Rebellion”: demanding the vast sums spent on the military be used to address the climate crisis. The pressures of Climate Change were among the many causes war; and war itself, and preparations for war, were causes of climate crisis. A large percentage of global emissions came from the military’s motor vehicles, air force and admiralty.
Whitehall’s, “Beyond Politics”, demanded a Citizens’ Assembly be created, whose democratic decisions would be binding on society. The Global Climate Crisis was far too important to be left to corrupt political parties dominated by the wealthy and their corporations.
Westminster Bridge was “The Beacon”: dramatizing hope, through our connections with other peoples and species. It declared that the chief responsibility for the crisis was the Global North, with its dependence on fossil fuels and affluent patterns of consumption. These were over-heating the planet, creating conditions for mass migration. Refugees were forced to flee their homes and seek asylum in foreign lands; only to be imprisoned in camps around the world.
Millbank Road, Victoria Gardens was “Rewilding North”: featuring solutions to the crisis. Smithfield Market was “Animal Rebellion”: focusing on plant-based foods. Home Office was “Rainbow Rebellion”: featuring marginalized communities that would be hit worst by climate change. Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy was “Power to Truth”, dramatizing how fossil fuels dominate our lives. Here, public hearings were conducted, in which workers in extractive industries gave testimony about the destruction of the environment through coal mining, fracking, oil and gas drilling. Victoria Tower Garden’s “Global Justice Rebellion”, honored indigenous communities fighting injustice around the world.
Parliament Square’s “Hunger Strike”, demanded that the government declare a climate emergency, set up binding public assemblies, and oversea a just transition for all. It featured a march in memory of the indigenous activists who were assassinated by the state and corporate criminals. Participants wore black, carried lighted candles and plaques, with the names of these defenders of the earth.
And there were many more inspiring performances. Physicians laid one hundred and ten pairs of shoes on the steps of Trafalgar Square to represent the number of lives lost to air pollution every day. A terminally ill patient had also participated. When interviewed, he had said that he could “live with dying”, but “not with himself” if he failed to act. Despite multiple health problems, the 57-year-old from Leeds was arrested in Milbank, central London, for obstructing the highway with his wheelchair. Having spent many hours on the road, he was finally forced to leave when his ventilator threatened to break down.
City Airport featured “Fly Today, No Tomorrow”, a mass sit-in in which rebels had descended on City Airport. A number of them had super-glued themselves to the airport’s floors. Others had climbed onto the terminal’s roof; a few had boarded planes. A former blind Paralympian cyclist had even climbed aboard a British Airways plane and glued himself to its roof! The police had used a cherry-picker to finally bring him down.
Another rebel had climbed the scaffolding, at Westminster clock tower, surrounding Big Ben. It had been erected for the refurbishment of the old clock’s mechanism. After climbing upwards, he had disappeared into the clockworks. Then he reappeared outside to unfurl a large banner, “No pride in a dead planet.” He was applauded by protesters far below, who then moved off towards Trafalgar Square, for the Rebellion’s final ceremony.
The Imperial War Museum site, “Extinction March”, was surely the climax of the International Rebellion. Here, the city had witnessed a funeral procession of 20,000 mourners march down Oxford Street, carrying a huge black coffin, in a collective expression of grief. Led by the “Red Brigade”— groups of silent women, in white make-up and scarlet robes – the march was followed by thousands of mourners dressed in black. Floats featured the giant white skeletons of ancient beasts, and an aquarium of creatures doomed to extinction. Groups of unionists had now joined in, carrying their trade council banners. Finally, In the procession’s wake was a jazz band playing a solemn funeral march. It was a ritual of mourning for the 6th Mass Extinction, already in progress and accelerating throughout the world.
The British Police had now issued a blanket ban on all protests. It was challenged in court; and, later, overturned. Thousands had gathered in front of Buckingham Palace to protest this denial of their rights…
London’s International Rebellion had attempted to warn us. In the cold and rain they had camped out on the city’s streets. They had glued themselves together; had chain-locked themselves to doors. They set up road-blocks to stop traffic, to prevent government and business from functioning. Their “Siege of London” sought to dramatize the gravity of the moment. They put on a command performance to make us see, make us feel. And it had finally resulted in Britain declaring a climate emergency…
Marx once suggested that revolutions are the locomotives of history. On the contrary, said Walter Benjamin, they are the passengers aboard that runaway train, desperately reaching for the emergency brake.
Today, we find ourselves passengers – asleep – aboard a runaway train. And Extinction Rebellion is desperately trying to awaken us to reach for that emergency brake. London’s International Rebellion was surely their “finest hour”. But where do we go from here?
Given the power of the capitalist state, we have no choice but engage in a war of attrition. Like a medieval siege, it will be a contest of endurance…
At my age, there was little I could do: provide financial support; myself, be arrested. I was reminded of Salgado’s tortoise. “Their resolution was so great that they never went aside for any impediment…like a battering ram…striving tooth and nail, to force the impossible passage.” To end capitalism’s dependence on fossil fuels before it destroys our planet’s atmosphere will take, at the very least, a Green New Deal. Certainly, the odds are against us. But despair is not an option. We’re talking about unimaginable suffering; the death of hundreds of millions…