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Reflections on This Changes Everything

By Bob Shimabukuro, Associate Editor of the Retiree Advocate and member of PSARA’s Executive Board

Naomi Klein’s September 28 daytime meeting with labor, environmental, and community groups was puzzling to me. She was, after all, scheduled to speak to an already sold-out Town Hall, to promote her new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, so the purpose of this daytime meeting of representatives of selected groups seemed redundant, if it was just to sell books. So I thought that she was going to announce something or talk about some great movement happening elsewhere.

She quickly doused that idea in her opening remarks, saying she was interested in finding out what was going on in Seattle, that it seemed like this is where there are a lot of things (political organizing) happening.

It was, strangely enough, the third event in a month, where I had heard someone say that things were “happening” in Seattle, and made me wonder what I had been missing.

Just when I was about to give up on her, I heard the words, “People who have been on the front line of our toxic economy should be the first in line for any benefits of the new economy,” and then added so that no one could misinterpret her, “[T]he first beneficiaries should be the indigenous.”

Klein’s statement also got the attention of Got Green advocate Michael Woo. He welcomed the proposition, noting that sometimes people of color and poor people don’t have the resources to be working with environmental issues; yet we need to get real specific as we talk about availability of jobs.

I was drawn to Klein’s comments because they were very similar to something I had noted in a previous Advocate. Writing about education and jobs, I quoted Grace Lee Boggs, from The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century (2011):

…[A]s citizens of a nation which had achieved economic growth and prosperity at the expense of African Americans, Native Americans, other people of color, and people all over the world, our priority had to be in correcting the injustices and backwardness of our relationships with one another, with other countries, and with the Earth.

This idea is not new. In 1974, James and Grace Lee Boggs had written in Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century:

The revolution to be made in the United States will be the first revolution in history to require the masses to make material sacrifices rather than to acquire more material things. We must give up many of the things which this country has enjoyed at the expense of damning over one-third of the world into a state of underdevelopment, ignorance, disease, and early death. … It is obviously going to take a tremendous transformation to prepare the people of the United States for these new social goals.

(Upon further review, the similarity shouldn’t come as too big a surprise. Both Klein and Boggs credited Martin Luther King as a source.)

Klein was well received and if the purpose of the meeting was simply a chance for all the different groups present to let other groups know what they were doing, then I would say that was a worthwhile meeting.

Klein is an exceptional story teller. Throughout her book is a series of stories of guerilla warriors, farmers of ancient knowledge growing perennial grains, Big Green organizations with oil wells, or sinking islands, etc. And what she is saying is this: We have to change what we have going on now; we have to do it quickly and collectively; we need to be inclusive; we need to transform ourselves; we need to be more equal; we need to pay reparations.

A tall order, indeed. But Klein is very optimistic.

It’s difficult to cover all the issues brought up in This Changes Everything (and in Klein’s previous book, The Shock Doctrine), but we can have a very brief look (more correctly, a glance) at two.

We are currently locked in a consumer-based society. People go into debt to consume. The people who loan money own and make money on that wealth. And a lot of that money is from investments in coal (and natural gas). The investors (and workers) are not going to give up their investments (or their jobs) easily.

As Klein writes about tar sands workers in Fort McMurray, Alberta:

And with so few well-paying blue-collar jobs left, these extraction jobs are often the only route out of debt and poverty. It’s telling that tar sands workers often discuss their time in northern Alberta as if it were less a job than a highly lucrative jail term: there’s “the three-year plan,” (save $200,000, then leave); “the five-year plan,” (put away half a million); “the ten-year plan,” (make a million and retire at 35). . . .[T]he plan is always pretty much the same: tough it out in Fort Mac (or Fort McMoney as it is often called), then get the hell out and begin your real life.

Gary Delgado, Senior Fellow at University of California for New Racial Studies, sees another situation, besides climate and economy, developing in the US that may affect the course of both: By 2050, people of color will outnumber whites. He pointed out that no one is talking about who will hold the political, structural, and institutional power then. But that is behind a lot of the voter restriction/registration drives going on now.

When I was growing up in Hawaii, my dad (and a lot of other people) used to refer to the Big Five (Theo H. Davies, Castle & Cooke, American Factors, Alexander & Baldwin, and C. Brewer and Co.) who ruled Hawaii. Hawaii, at the time, was in my dad’s estimation (and therefore in mine) a colony of the United States. The term “territory” was just another euphemism. A small population of whites ruled a majority people of color (including indigenous Hawaiians), citizens in a so-called democratic territory. The political leader, called a Governor, was appointed by the President of the United States.

Seventy-five years later (if I live that long), I could find myself in exactly the same situation as I was in Hawaii. I need someone who can do the math here. Help. Somebody tell me, if five companies ruled Hawaii during the 1950s, is that greater or less (population-wise) than the 1% that is ruling the USA today?

Perhaps this should be a Common Core question.

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