Bill McKibben, The Guardian, 25 August 2011, Martin Luther King’s legacy and the power of nonviolent civil disobedience: In opposing the Keystone XL oil pipeline, demonstrators are getting a sense of the civil rights leader’s courage,
Preacher, speaker, writer under fire, but also tactician. He really understood the power of nonviolence, a power we’ve experienced in the last few days. When the police cracked down on us, the publicity it produced cemented two of the main purposes of our protest: First, it made Keystone XL “ the new, 1,700-mile-long pipeline we’re trying to block that will vastly increase the flow of “dirty” tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf of Mexico “ into a national issue. A few months ago, it was mainly people along the route of the prospective pipeline who were organising against it. (And with good reason: tar sands mining has already wrecked huge swaths of native land in Alberta, and endangers farms, wild areas, and aquifers all along its prospective route.)
Aquifers, like the Floridan Aquifer we defend against the Sabal Trail pipeline and fracking.
McKibben said the message was getting through, witness “the incredibly strong New York Times editorial opposing the building of the pipeline that I was handed on our release from jail.”
Second, being arrested in front of the White House helped make it clearer that President Obama should be the focus of anti-pipeline activism. For once Congress isn’t in the picture. The situation couldn’t be simpler: the president, and the president alone, has the power either to sign the permit that would take the pipeline through the Midwest and down to Texas (with the usual set of disastrous oil spills to come) or block it.
And in February 2013, 40,000 people went to the White House (I was there, as were others you know).
It’s not just Obama’s mind which was being changed. A few days earlier, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune was arrested in front of the White House, “in the first act of civil disobedience in the organization’s 120-year history. Here is Brune with Georgia’s own Julian Bond. Julian Bond, about whom MLK wrote a letter in 1966 quoting John F. Kennedy,
“War will exist until that distant day when the conscientous objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.”
Bond had opposed the Vietnam War, and the Georgia legislature had refused to seat him as an elected representative. Bond and King appealed to the Georgia Supreme court and won. And in 2013 Bond stood with Brune and McKibben to be arrested in front of the White House, opposing the root of our wars for oil: the fossil fuel industry that wants to drive the Keystone XL pipeline through the heart of the country for corporate profit. The same industry that wants to drive the Sabal Trail pipeline through the heart of Bond’s and King’s and our beloved southland for corporate profit.
When Sabal Trail Transmission entered the FERC pre-filing process in October 2013, everyone had already seen the above events in the news.
It’s not a stretch to assume everyone at the SpectraBusters protest in front of the Leesburg, GA courthouse 10 July 2014 knew about most of the above, as probably did the protesters in Albany, Valdosta, and Jasper, and those getting arrested at the FERC offices in DC and at Spectra’s own home office.
In September 2014, 400,000 rallied in New York City against climate change (others you know were there).
In November 2014, the U.S. Senate rejected Keystone XL.
And in November 2014, Mr. Obama went to China and with
Chinese President Xi Jinping announced announced on Wednesday commitments to reduce both countries’ greenhouse gas emissions. The surprise announcement, which came while Obama visits Beijing this week, is the clearest sign yet the two countries are serious on climate change.
Also in November 2014, after three years of cautious temporizing, president Obama finally categorically opposed the Keystone XL pipeline,
Understand what this project is. It is providing the ability of Canada to pump their oil, send it through our land, down to the Gulf, where it will be sold everywhere else. That doesn’t have an impact on U.S. gas prices.
Just like the Sabal Trail fracked methane pipeline.
On 6 January 2015, Obama’s press secretary came right out and said Obama would veto any Congressional attempt to pass Keystone XL.
Obama hasn’t publicly made the connection between Keystone XL and methane pipelines; rather he’s still pushing “natural” gas as an energy independence solution. However, in December 2014 the EPA proposed a methane emissions rule, which Obama promoted in a 14 January 2015 press conference. Limiting methane emissions from fracking, pipelines, and compressor stations is indeed a step forward. Stopping fracking and new pipelines, compressor stations, and LNG export would be even better.
The point remains: Obama likely never would have done any of this if not for Bill McKibben and Michael Brune and 40,000 and 400,000 others emulating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and Mohandas K. Gandhi by nonviolently opposing Keystone XL and the fossil fuel industry that is cooking the planet. The leaders of the world’s leading nations are probably only finally seriously considering doing something about climate change at the December 2015 U.N. meeting in Paris, because of these children and grandchildren of MLK and Gandhi.
As MLK said at Oberlin College in June 1965,
I’d like to suggest some of the things that we must do in order to remain awake and to achieve the proper mental attitudes and responses that the new situation demands. First, I’d like to say that we are challenged to achieve a world perspective. Anyone who feels that we can live in isolation today, anyone who feels that we can live without being concerned about other individuals and other nations is sleeping through a revolution. The world in which we live is geographically one. The great challenge now is to make it one in terms of brotherhood.
Now it is true that the geographic togetherness of our world has been brought into being, to a large extent, through modern man’s scientific ingenuity. Modern man, through his scientific genius, has been able to dwarf distance and place time in chains. Yes, we’ve been able to carve highways through the stratosphere, and our jet planes have compressed into minutes distances that once took weeks and months. And so this is a small world from a geographical point of view. What we are facing today is the fact that through our scientific and technological genius we’ve made of this world a neighborhood. And now through our moral and ethical commitment we must make of it a brotherhood. We must all learn to live together as brothers—or we will all perish together as fools. This is the great issue facing us today. No individual can live alone; no nation can live alone. We are tied together.”
Make no mistake: this is a revolution of decentralized energy. Like the change from horse and buggy to cars and trucks a century ago, the world revolution to solar power, including solar powered vehicles, is already well on the way, backed up by wind and water power. Yet this revolution is already happening as fast as the Internet revolution put a supercomputer in your pocket, within a decade. As former FERC Chair Jon Wellinghoff predicted, solar power more than doubled deployment in the past two years, and will continue to do so. While solar increased 200% in two years, the most positive predictions for shale gas are for a 56% increase for the 28 years from 2012 to 2040, and that was before OPEC pushed prices of oil and gas to record lows. Spectra the oil war stock suddenly got cut to hold and Spectra Energy CEO Greg Ebel has to try to defend his position. The fragility of centralized systems has been exposed. While Sabal Trail struggles through a multi-year process for a single pipeline, Georgia Power and others have busily been deploying solar power in Georgia and elsewhere. Pipeline opponents merely have to delay new pipelines a few more years, and the truth will be clear to everybody, including energy investors: fossil fuels are a bad bet; the smart money is on solar and wind power.
It’s not just on the international and national levels, either. This month, after years of patient protests, town hall meetings, and lobbying the legislature and the Georgia Public Service Commission, and directly talking to Georgia Power and its parent Southern Company, solar power proponents led by Georgia Sierra Club finally are in sight of victory: Georgia Power appears to be claiming credit, for a solar financing bill in the Georgia legislature.
As MLK said during a visit to India in 1959,
“It was a marvelous thing to see the amazing results of a non-violent campaign. The aftermath of hatred and bitterness that usually follows a violent campaign was found nowhere in India…”
Ahimsa, nonviolence, non-harming, love in action: call it what you will, this was the seed of all of Gandhi’s actions, and MLK’s as well.
As MLK said 7 December 1964 in London a few days before he received the Nobel Peace Prize,
It also says that it is possible to struggle against an evil, unjust system, with all your might and with all your heart, and even hate that unjust system, but yet you maintain an attitude of active goodwill and understanding and even love for the perpetrators of that evil system. And this is the most misunderstood aspect of nonviolence. And this is where those who don’t want to follow the nonviolent method say a lot of bad things to those of us who talk about love. But I still go on and believe in it, because I am still convinced that it is love that makes the world go round, and somehow this kind of love can be a powerful force for social change.
I’m not talking about a weak love. I’m not talking about emotional bosh here. I’m not talking about some sentimental quality. I’m not talking about an affectionate response. It would be nonsense to urge oppressed people to love their violent oppressors in an affectionate sense, and I have never advised that. When Jesus said, “Love your enemies,” I’m happy he didn’t say, “Like your enemies.” It’s pretty difficult to like some people. But love is greater than like. Love is understanding creative, redemptive goodwill for all men. Theologians talk about this kind of love with the Greek word agape, which is a sort of overflowing love that seeks nothing in return. And when one develops this, you rise to the position of being able to love the person who does the evil deed, while hating the deed that the person does. And I believe that this can be done. Psychiatrists are telling us now that hatred is a dangerous force, not merely for the hated, but also the hater. Many of the strange things that happen in the subconscious, many of the inner conflicts, are rooted in hate. And so they are saying, “Love or perish.” This is why Erich Fromm can write a book entitled The Art of Loving, arguing that love is the supreme unifying force of life.
Some people call that sacrifice, or selfless: MLK did. But where is the sacrifice in removing the wooden beam from your own eye so that you can speak about the speck of sawdust in others’ eyes? See Jesus, Matthew 7:3. Where is the selflessness in working to protect ourselves and our neighbors from a corporate invasion? Where is the selflessness in working for a cleaner, safer, more prosperous world for all of us? I say it is mutual aid, it is cooperation, it is helping ourselves, and ahimsa is the seed.
“Ahimsa and Truth are so intertwined that it is practically impossible to disentangle and separate them. They are like the two sides of a coin, or rather a smooth unstamped metallic disc. Who can say which is the obverse and which the reverse? Nevertheless ahimsa is the means; Truth is the end.”
Ahimsa is the bedrock of [satyagraha, literally truth-force, Gandhi’s movement of nonviolence], the “irreducible minimum” to which satyagraha adheres and the final measure of its value.
Truth like Keystone XL would only produce 35 jobs and the Sabal Trail pipeline similarly would produce almost no local jobs and is quite likely actually for LNG export, which would drive up the domestic price of natural gas. While solar power is already producing rural jobs right where we need them while reducing electric bills, promoting real energy independence, burning no water, without taking anybody’s land, without drilling under any rivers, and with no leaks or explosions. There are already more solar jobs than jobs in non-supervisory oil and gas extraction. The truth is that new pipelines, whether for tar sands oil or for fracked methane, are a bad investment, while solar and wind power are good investments. Refusing to invest our land, water, and air in corporate bad investments is just good common sense.
Truth like it’s no accident that refineries, fracking, and pipelines tend to be built where there are black people and poor people without financial means to defend themselves against corporate colonization. Truth that fighting against the centralized fossil fuel industry and for distributed renewable energy is fighting for Dr. King’s primary goal of racial equality.
Action is the water for that seed of non-harming. As MLK said in London in 1964:
And so it is wonderful to have a method of struggle where it is possible to stand up against segregation, to stand up against colonialism with all of your might, and yet not hate the perpetrators of these unjust systems. And I believe firmly that it is through this kind of powerful nonviolent action, this kind of love that organizes itself into mass action, that we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation and the world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. Certainly this is the great challenge facing us.
To the fossil fuel corporations we are all backwards natives to be colonized or shoved out of the way for their hundred-foot wide rights of way for their yard-wide pipelines under our rivers and through our fields, forests, and far too close to our schools, businesses, and people.
Just as economic divestment was used successfully against apartheid in South Africa, fossil fuel divestment is even more rapidly succeeding, starting at Harvard and spread already to Valdosta State University and even to the heirs of Standard Oil, with the Rockefeller Brothers Fund divesting from tar sands oil.
Action like that of Bond and McKibben and Brune, and the 40,000 at the White House and the 400,000 in New York City, and even the dozen in Leesburg, Georgia.
The fruit of the seed of love in the soil of truth, watered by action, is already growing. That fruit is a world without new pipelines ravaging our lands and waters for corporate profit. W world run on real renewable energy, sun, wind, and water. A world without wars for oil. A world that corporate greed no longer cooks for its profit. A world of more prosperity for more people and more community.
It is not selfless to work for such a world. It is for all our selves and for all the other creatures on this planet that we work to create a better world.
As MLK said at Oberlin College:
Yes, we shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. We shall overcome because Carlyle is right: “No lie can live forever.”…
We shall overcome because William Cullen Bryant is right: “Truth, crushed to earth, shall rise again.” With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair, the stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood, and speed up the day when, in the words of the prophet Amos, “Justice will roll down like waters; and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
Let us stand up. Let us be a concerned generation. Let us remain awake through a great revolution. And we will speed up that great day when the American Dream will be a reality.
With nonviolence and truth and action, we shall overcome. The sun is already rising on Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and the world.
There is no doubt that there is nothing new in what Tolstoy preaches. But his presentation of the old truth is refreshingly forceful. His logic is unassailable. And above all he endeavors to practice what he preaches. He preaches to convince. He is sincere and in earnest. He commands attention.
Tolstoy in that letter wrote:
As soon as men live entirely in accord with the law of love natural to their hearts and now revealed to them, which excludes all resistance by violence, and therefore hold aloof from all participation in violence—as soon as this happens, not only will hundreds be unable to enslave millions, but not even millions will be able to enslave a single individual.