In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit. — Albert Schweitzer
Six months ago, I went through a period of depression that was probably the lowest I’ve felt, for a sustained period of time, in 40 years. The reason? It was what was happening back in April, May, and June in the House of Representatives as they worked to put together comprehensive legislation to address the climate crisis. For two months or more, as it became clear that the legislation was going to be nowhere near what was needed, perhaps even worse than no legislation at all, each day became a struggle to find the energy to keep going.
I was in a state of political shock. This was the best possible result from the election of Obama, Henry Waxman’s ascendancy to the chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Democratic control of the White House, Senate, and House? I could hardly believe it.
It didn’t help that, during this time, I organized and participated in a month-long hunger strike with others around the country in an effort to influence what was happening. We might as well have gone on a hunger binge, deliberately overeating, for all the good that it seemed to do.
But at least one positive thing did happen during that hunger strike when we were contacted by young people from Australia who were beginning to organize for a serious “climate justice fast” in connection with the Dec. 7-18 U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Since that initial contact, I’ve become progressively more involved with Anna Keenan, Paul Connor and all of the others who have made the Climate Justice Fast a worldwide reality, beginning yesterday. In the process, I’ve had my spirit and my hope for the future renewed. It has been truly wonderful to be supportive of the leadership that the young people of this initiative are giving for the climate movement, indeed, for the world.
And so I’m now on my second day of what will be a hunger strike of at least six weeks. Mine will be sometimes on water-only, sometimes on juices and broths. A core group of fasters are planning to consume only water over this 42 days or longer period of time.
I think back to some of the discussions on the international conference calls over the past several months, the comments made by people about their willingness to risk their lives for this most urgent of causes. And I remember the words of Rev. Daniel Berrigan during the Vietnam War about the need for peace activists to be willing to take risks and make sacrifices for peace similar to, if different than, the risks and sacrifices made by soldiers during war.
We will not be able to overcome the power of Big Oil, King Coal, other corporate interests allied with them and subservient elected officials without the taking of risks, over and over again. In the words of Frederick Douglas:
Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those they oppress.
This action is coming at just the right time. It has begun two weeks after the inspiring worldwide actions organized by 350.org, one month before the opening of the Copenhagen climate conference, and five weeks before the next big day of international climate action on Dec. 12 on the Saturday in the middle of that two week long conference.
It is completely clear that, absent a political uprising on the part of large numbers of people leading up to and during Copenhagen, very little is going to be accomplished there. The negotiations leading up to it have been so bad, the industrialized countries, led by the U.S., have been so recalcitrant, so unwilling to get serious about the actions needed if we’re to avoid catastrophic climate disruption, that there was an organized walkout by the African countries this week at pre-Copenhagen negotiations in Barcelona, Spain.
Indeed, this may be a precursor to what happens in Copenhagen. Rather than the successful adoption of a stronger treaty than the Kyoto Protocol, we could see something very different. The huge gaps between rhetoric and action, between the countries of the Global North and the countries of the Global South, could lead to a failure of these talks. In the words of Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists, “if industrialized countries don’t start putting their climate finance cards on the table soon, there’s not going to be a card game in Copenhagen.”
Perhaps this is what is needed for forward progress. Perhaps an international political crisis will lead to a new set of alliances, a new political dynamic, among nations and movements which get it on the urgency of the crisis that leads to serious political pressure from below. These pressures may force the Obama Administration and others to act as if “Yes, we can” was more than a 2008 campaign slogan.
For the growing community of climate justice fasters around the world, we will be doing all that we can, yes, every day, every hour, to advance the worldwide clean energy revolution at this critical historical moment. We pray that others, including government leaders, will find the courage to do the same.