1- Hambi Bleibt! Against coal, in defense of forests

By Elke, Berlin

My eyes follow the smooth structure of the branch up towards the blue of the sky and meet brilliant endless fresh green whispering. For a few moments there is no sound, a peaceful calm. And then I see one arm of this old beech tree reaching out and wrapping around a branch of the neighboring beech, the two branches melted together in a neverending tender kiss. Growing in two different directions yet nurturing and supporting each other, building stability together. My human words can only try to describe what my eyes see and my heart senses all around. As this beech tree stands there in it’s own reality, and history, it is rooting down into the time of the earth where no humans existed.

In September of 2018, I along with two other Slingshot collective members were visiting the Hambacher Forest occupation in Germany. Two weeks later, the Anti Coal Movement ‘Ende Gelaende’ organized 50,000 people to protest on October 6 against the open pit coal mining and for the preservation of the Hambacher Forest. However, the day before the demo, news came that temporary protection for the Hambacher had been won, and the protest became a celebration. On October 5th, the OVG (Higher Administrative Court) in Münster suspended the clear-cutting in Hambach Forest until the VG (Administrative Court) of Cologne can come to a decision regarding the legality of open pit mining at the Hambi. Those involved in the process expect that this decision might not happen before the end of 2020.

It felt like victory until December 3, when the VG Cologne announced that they intend to come to a decision as soon as the first quarter of 2019. If the VG rules in favor of RWE, the energy company that is destroying the forest, they could start cutting immediately — although they can only cut between October and March.

The previous stance of the VG Cologne in favor of RWE gives little reason for optimism.

Here are my impressions (written in late September 2018) from my visit at the Hambacher Forest, the oldest still existing piece of ancient forest in Europe. It is also one of the sites of a 30 year battle of the environmental movement against the fossil fuel industry and for social justice.

Here, after the last glaciers melted about 10,000 years ago, a rich and fertile soil gave life to a growing and recreating web of plants and creatures, powerful and insecure, solid and fragile, in a constant, still ongoing process of changing, destabilizing, and balancing, fighting for light and growing out of decay.

There needn’t be a halt to this process of life and death, of building up layers on top of the earth’s hidden treasures. Unfortunately underneath my feet, deep down, the ancient ice formed thick brownish layers of lignite (brown coal, bituminous coal or soft coal). My ancestors discovered this hidden treasure and started to pull more and more of the brown gold into daylight. They had figured out that they could burn this lignite. And they got more and more hungry for the warmth, the energy, its possibilities: The possibility of the industrial revolution! Now we desperately need another ‘revolution’: Coal phase-out now!

A few steps out of the forest I’m once again facing our collectively created reality. I see an enormous wasteland that stretches to the horizon, the forest gone and the topsoil stripped away to expose the lignite. And at the distant edge of this nightmare thick yellow smoke wafts into the air out of several power plant towers. This vast, lifeless moonscape takes my breath away and I notice I am shivering.

Closer by is a huge steel monster, 60 people high and 2 football fields long. This is among the largest machine ever built, a giant rotary excavator and it cuts deep into the earth shoveling tons of coal onto conveyors that disappear toward the power plants on the horizon. It all looks like a horrific crime scene but the electricity generated allows me to turn my heater on when I’m cold and it powered the train I took to the Hambacher Forest. I hold up my sign at the edge of this disaster zone: “STOP COAL! PROTECT THE CLIMATE!” And I mean it! — and I also deep down know that I have to stop….and that one day I will stop. The question is how much I ‘take with me’ on that way? And I also know the right answer for this question deep down. I look at this wasteland and am aware of what I already have taken with me, consciously and often unconsciously as the inevitable result of my lifestyle: a warm shower, the washing machine, my tea kettle. And my sign doesn’t help me here; I feel my deep embeddedness.

The fight for the remaining Hambacher Forest (“Hambi bleibt!”) is both the fight against fossil fuel extraction (climate destabilization) and for forest protection (climate stabilization), because the forest here ‘protects’ the fossil fuels from our exploitive hands.

In 2012 environmentalists started to occupy the forest, building artful tree houses connecting them with bridges to little ‘villages’ and founded a community.

The biggest German environmental organization, BUND (Friends of the Earth), is fighting alongside the Hambacher Forest protectors. Since years this NGO is battling in front of the courts for a ‘Stop’ of the clear-cutting of the Hambacher Forest to protect the unique biosphere and an endangered species of bats in particular. The cutting was stopped for the 2017/2018 deforestation season (October till March) due to a court decision and when I was visiting in September a new court decision was still pending and the cutting season was about to begin in less then two weeks!

Germany is, despite its image as one of the most ecologically concerned countries, the largest producer of brown coal (lignite) in the world! And right now 30% of German’s energy production is from coal. And this coal is responsible for over 80% of the emissions in the power producing sector.

A new push towards clean(er) energy in Germany forced the government to install an advisory commission (members of industry, labor unions, climate scientists, economists and members of environmental organizations, including the BUND), the so-called ‘Coal Commission’, to develop a plan and time frame of how to phase out coal in the next years. The push this time is, compared to the 80s and 90s, less a grassroots movement than connected to economic questions of survival as a highly industrialized country. It is also strongly supported by technology driven interest groups. That makes me not very hopeful for the results of the ‘Coal Commission’. The German government was expecting the results of this commission for the beginning of December 2018 to bring them to the next UN Climate Conference in Poland that December. (Update 01/26/2019: The German government went with ’empty hands’ to Poland and the commission’s results were just published yesterday: the Hambacher Forest is saved and lignite/brown coal will be the first to be phased out by 2022, even though the overall results are rather a start of the phase out process than an agreement to an immediate time frame)

The (little) hope here is that the (slow moving) work of the ‘Coal Commission’ could at least function as a lever right now in the pending court decision (see above): Why should still more trees be cut down in one of the oldest remaining forests in Europe, the Hambacher Forest, if a legislative decision is made (soon?!) by the government to (finally!) stop coal?!

I feel a nervous energy, but filled with this hint of hope, amongst the almost 10,000 people out here for the ‘forest walk’ on this mild and sunny September day. It’s a game of time. RWE is not allowed to cut further trees down as long as the court decision (see above) is still pending. But they’re masking the eviction of the tree houses as ‘clearing’ the forest to prepare for the cutting (that might never happen!). In the late summer of 2018 RWE hired ‘forest cleaners’. They met a constantly growing group of protesters. Each weekend new barricades were built on the roads and around the tree houses and each week the ‘cleaners’ came in, facing more and more defenders. RWE asked for ‘police protection’ for the eviction of the tree houses. Tensions escalated when journalist Steffen Meyn lost his life while documenting the ‘cleaning raids’. He fell from one of the suspension bridges close to a tree house that was about to be evicted. His death was used by authorities and the media to criminalize and vilify the tree-protectors and supporters. Two weeks later his death feels a like a sacrifice to me. Each week(end) the resistance is growing, more people, all ages and from different socioeconomic backgrounds, are coming out into the forest and are serious, grim in their protest.

What else has to happen that the government pulls the legislative ‘trigger’ to stop the in all ways deathly coal energy producing corporations?!? While scientists are proving that the existing coal mining area, the giant wasteland next to the Hambacher Forest, can serve the coal power plants for another three years (and further extension of the coal production is not only unnecessary but obsolete with coal-phase-out on the way!), the coal commission is still taking its sweet time.

Of course I’m also aware that the Hambacher Forest is a symbol and a tiny part of the complex question of stopping coal production, fossil fuel use, constant population and economic growth, etc. and how to restructure (or destructure?) our industrialized societies in the time of ‘climate emergency’.

We’re getting more hectic, building barricades around the few remaining tree houses, pulling dead tree limbs, 50 feet and longer, out of the bushes, dragging them. 20 or more people pulling and pushing together and the limb moves slowly by slowly, with a lot of shouting and laughing closer to the pile of wood in front of the ditches that other people dug around the tree house area. Some people build tri-pods and suddenly a marching band comes in and suggests another rhythm.

We’re even more fired up to dig and drag and pile and deep inside I feel like David fighting Goliath, noticing the overwhelming anger mixed with doubts of success clogging my throat.

For how many days can we hold the destruction off?

To complete the picture: the whole scene is watched (or observed?) by the cops, 1000 of them out there that day, passively lined up to ‘direct’ us on or off the paths or ‘protect’ us from falling over the edge into the coal digging wasteland. Most of them seem very young and I see an emptiness in a lot of their faces — am I sensing in some of them that they are thinking to be on ‘the wrong side’? Mostly we’re ignoring them as much as we can. And we know, on other days, when the majority of visitors are back to their day by day lives, the police brutality towards the core group of protesters and tree-protectors is increasing.

Still, it feels like playing a game, I dislike the game, I dislike playing a role in it and dislike not having the imagination of how to step out, change the rules, spark the climate revolution!

“For a Living, Learning and Loving in Freedom” is what the Hambacher Forest community is standing for. My heart is with those words but my brain is tangled in the contradictory reality of being born in one of the world’s dominating countries.

There was one serious drop in emissions since 1990, worldwide, not only in Germany. And that was in 2009, after the ‘economic crisis’ hit at the end of 2008. Lesser production had an instant impact and illustrates our core involvement: consumption and the myth of constant economic growth.

Ende Gelaende says “There are no Jobs on a Dead Planet”. Minimal and local production leaves ships in the harbor, planes on the ground, less trucks on the street, less food variety in the stores and in our pots. And less wealth in all our pockets, not only in the pockets of a shrinking middle class.

Still, the slogan hits me painfully and it makes sense — to me it means we collectively have to accept to have fewer jobs. Personally I think there will be still a lot to do!

But I’m concerned with how to turn this message into an attractive picture for the future society: a lot of people identify with their job, a lot of people are afraid of losing their job or are already struggling economically.

Maybe a ‘universal income’ could be a good starting point for everyone to have the freedom to personally and ‘collectively’ (and globally?) re-evaluate our needs and ethics?!

I took the train back to Berlin with a feeling of unrest. I’m thankful to the activists in the trees and I am even more convinced that we can’t turn ourselves away from the urgency of changing our behavior. Otherwise their tree-sit is pointless, my marching is pointless. And if I’m changing just by myself it stays pointless as well until I fight with others in all possible ways — even against myself sometimes.

I can’t say if ‘our fight’ will be successful (which I hope as much as I doubt it), but it seems like the right thing to do. Organize — Question — Reorganize!

There are climate camps planned in several European countries and the connections are made to climate activists all around the globe.

Here are some websites to check for updates and local activities:






2- Stop the presses – why we decided to postpone the fall issue

You may have noticed that there wasn’t a fall 2018 issue of Slingshot. We intended to publish one, but when the article deadline arrived, there weren’t enough quality articles for us to make the paper. Sometimes when that happens we publish a lower-quality issue or scramble to get a few after-deadline, last-minute articles thrown together so the issue isn’t so bad. This time we decided to wait.

During the pause, there were some inspiring meetings with a dozen people, yummy dinner, dessert, candles, and wine to talk about how to reinvigorate the project and improve our internal process.

Most of us feel like it is still worth it to print Slingshot on paper — which is increasingly unusual and has some disadvantages in the internet-world. Right before this issue, long-running punk zine Maximumrocknroll announced they would stop paper publishing. Printing on paper is super expensive and distribution is labor and fossil-fuel-intensive. The idea is that a paper publication may be able to get beyond the internet echo chamber – where computer algorithms feed you familiar ideas and voices.

On the other hand, writing an article for a publication that prints 22,000 copies limits your ideas to those 22,000 copies — or at least that has been the case for Slingshot. It has been years since any Slingshot articles got any meaningful distribution on the internet or through social media, so writing Slingshot articles feels like yelling into a void where only a few people may ever hear you. You do just as much work as if you were writing for an on-line audience, but with much less reach. Slingshot readers are surprised to hear that Slingshot articles are posted on-line at the Slingshot website — and that this has been the case for the last 25 years. Who even knew Slingshot had a website …

Anyhow, at the inspiring Slingshot meeting to discuss the postponed issue, there were a lot of engaging ideas:

• We should do things differently and maybe make different types of of publications like mini-issues, issues with less text, issues just on a single theme, etc.

• We should only print really “good” articles and less filler and embarrassing articles. However, defining what is a “good” article can be hard in a collective with many different voices and ideas. We agreed that we want to still try to include work from a variety of voices emphasizing content, not style.

• Someone suggested publishing a survey in the issue and on-line to see what readers want and where they got the paper, etc. (You can mail in the little survey thingy below.)

• The collective could have more meetings between issues to workshop article ideas and insert group ideas into individual author’s work. Maybe it could be like a writer’s guild. It didn’t happen between October and the issue you hold in your hands.

• The group decided to spend a few meetings to work out a better process to avoid recent problems around decision making, printing articles not everyone agreed with, and people having a big voice without sticking around to do the shit work. As of today, the process discussion is still unfinished.

• We decided we needed to have better established alternatives to publishing an issue after a deadline if the articles that are turned in aren’t good enough.

• We discussed how we could locate really good articles, including maybe putting into print articles that are only published on-line. That didn’t happen for this issue, either. A possible problem is that a lot of authors need to be paid, and Slingshot is an all-volunteer project that doesn’t pay authors…

• Perhaps the paper could have regular columns and regular sections in the paper. This suggestion also didn’t happen in this issue.

• Another good idea was to invite people to speak at Long Haul and then publish the result as an interview.

• Each issue there is a brainstorm for article topics. A comment was to make the brainstorm more than just topics for articles but focus on articles people at the meeting will actually write, and then having a discussion to help them develop their ideas.

• And as the meeting was winding down, we discussed sending the paper to shelters for battered women in addition to prisons. About 10% of Slingshot issues are mailed to prisoners.

Slingshot needs to find decent articles, and that is very difficult. Every article doesn’t have to relate to current events, but the articles turned in for the issue that got postponed were almost all rants that mentioned topics but then quickly went off into confusing tangents. The big issues at the top of everyone’s mind — sexual harassment, climate change, income inequality, police killings, immigration, the recent prison strike — were all missing. It was like the articles that reached us were from a universe far, far away or maybe they were from Russian trolls. They felt like distractions.

The process of making Slingshot is fun which is the main reason it keeps going. Layout weekend is like a lengthy party and community gathering. But if the paper continues having such a hard time finding good articles, the project is organically coming to an end.

The collective could decide to continue publishing the Organizer, but put the paper on extended hibernation until rebellion in the streets or other external events require us to make an issue. In the early years, the paper was infused with the direct actions happening in the streets and maybe it needs that to compensate for the messy layout and rough-written articles.

In an uprising, everyone takes up the tools they have access to, and for better or worse Slingshot collective finds itself with this zine. On the plus side, we have excellent grassroots distribution, some fans, and funding isn’t a problem. It is obvious that there are better publications and doing an all-volunteer collective project imposes limitations. Revolt is messy — so is the Slingshot office.


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1- We’ve reached a Turning Point – disrupt and decarbonize

By Jesse D. Palmer

During the Camp Fire that destroyed Paradise, California last year, even 160 miles away in Berkeley the smoke was so thick that you could only see 2 blocks and we all had sore throats and watery eyes. A week into the smoke, my 6 year-old’s school was cancelled due to poor air quality and my family decided to flee South to Monterey on the coast, searching for clean air.

Even though our escape was a soft and privileged one — we knew we could come back, we went to a motel with our housemates — our forced migration due to ecological degradation was surprising and disturbing. It’s the first time I’ve ever had to flee — and it felt like a personal wake up call that we no longer have the luxury of time to get serious about climate change. Climate change isn’t about the future — it is now. Yet despite so much evidence, there’s a striking lack of urgency. There’s plenty of fashionable memes, handwringing, denial, despair and grief — but what we really need is mass action.

Running out of time means it is already too late to avoid some of the effects of climate change. The question is whether we will continue mostly doing nothing as things get worse — like the frog in the pot of heating water.

Human life on an individual and collective level is mostly a matter of muddling through — we all do the best we can. But with climate change, that approach isn’t going to cut it. The status quo or anything close to it — really anything other than rapid and dramatic action to decarbonize and reduce other greenhouse gases on a global level — may result in human extinction, to say nothing of the on-going mass extinction of our fellow species — the Sixth mass extinction known as the Anthropocene.

Perhaps it doesn’t feel like there’s anything we can do individually. Personal changes feel meaninglessly inadequate to the global scale of the problem, and as individuals we have little power over the 1% whose investments and political decisions determine how electricity is generated, cars fueled, food grown and goods manufactured.

So the rational personal decision appears to be to do nothing and put un-solvable problems out of our minds, lest they ruin our days. Or if denial or distraction don’t work, another coping mechanism is to blame someone else — people who don’t care, corporations, politicians. Obviously those in charge are to blame for their inaction — yet pointing the finger followed by our own inaction conveniently gets us off the hook, yet changes nothing.

My goal in this article is to describe things we can still do — individually and collectively — to avoid the worst forms of climate catastrophe.

There is a chance to avoid our own extinction. My determination to seize whatever chances we have is driven by joy — not fear or anger at those who’ve gotten us into this mess. Bothering to care about saving the world is based on the love I feel while experiencing the sky, plants, animals, dirt and people. Sure people have done a lot of terrible things, but I still fiercly want to preserve our species and the amazing things we’re capable of conceiving and creating — music, books, bicycles, art, architecture, yummy food.

Both impossible and within reach

Decarbonizing the whole world quickly enough to avoid the worst climate change seems impossible on one level, and frustratingly within reach on another. People lived for thousands of years without burning any fossil fuels at all; our current total dependence is only a century old. Scientists have spent the last 30 years understanding climate change, and they have determined that if we add too many greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, we’ll trigger natural feedback loops that will further warm the climate — and the warming will become self-sustaining past a certain tipping point even if humans stop adding more emissions. Ocean acidification as CO2 is absorbed by water is another threat. So it is urgent to stop adding more CO2 and other gases like methane before tipping points are crossed. Scientists believe that there may still be time to avoid a climate catastrophe if emissions are eliminated right away.

Doing so is possible now with current technology — what is missing is the social will. Decarbonization means we need to put the interests of 99% of the population of the world — who don’t own or work for fossil fuel companies — ahead of the 1% who do. Smarter people than me have created detailed plans that describe how each particular fossil fuel dependent social function can be decarbonized — from electricity production to transport to manufacturing to agriculture. It’s worth it to read the details — see the end of this article for some links — but it’s also important that we develop catchy phrases to summarized extremely complex ideas. My current favorite catchy phrase is the Green New Deal, which I’ll discuss later.

In talking about climate change, we urgently need to reverse the mainstream perspective. Those defending the status quo or just doing nothing and living like there’s no problem aren’t realistic, mature or reasonable people — they are delusional lunatics about to wander off a cliff. These people are going to get us all killed and when they say we’re dreamers or radicals, we need to turn the tables and call them out. Changing the climate on a whole planet is reckless — a mad-scientist experiment.

The typical mainstream political divisions between climate-denying Republicans in Red States and supposedly climate change-aware Democrats living in Blue States are hogwash. Climate denial isn’t only denying science. A much more insidious form of climate denial is saying you believe in science and yet not taking dramatic and immediate action that is equal to the scale of the problem.

If you “believe science” then you’re aware that our species may be on the brink of extinction or at least social collapse — so cautious, gradual political policies aimed to avoid disrupting the status quo (while continuing to accept campaign contributions from oil companies) is not going to cut it. When Obama, Al Gore and the rest of them had power, their actions were laughably inadequate to the scale of the problem.

What is to be done?

Because the biggest problem is building social will, we need to start on a psychological and personal level.

Climate change is so global and overwhelming that its easy to fall into all-or-nothing thinking. “If I can’t figure out how to fix the problem, then I guess we’re doomed so it isn’t worth doing anything.” When that feeling moves from a personal level to mass psychology, it is self-fulfilling and means avoiding climate catastrophe will be impossible.

With climate change, it is better to do something than nothing since less emissions are better than more emissions — perhaps we can buy time by putting off climate feedback loop tipping points.

If you are on the freeway and a car in front of you stops in such a way that you know you’re going to hit it, you still put on the brakes and try to swerve because maybe you won’t hit the other car so hard. You certainly don’t hit the gas pedal. Doing something might possibly help and doing nothing because an accident is inevitable is ridiculous.

We’re all in the car together. Climate crisis calls for all-hands on deck and everyone doing whatever they can, knowing that no single action will be enough. On a psychological level, we all have to overcome our sense of powerlessness. It has basis in fact, but it is also encouraged by those who want to hold onto their power.

While many things are out of our control, what we can do is disrupt business as usual. Being disruptive and disorderly is possible even with a single person or a very small group. Elites have proved that they will not meaningfully reduce emissions — certainly not within the time we still have left. The price of inaction can and must be disorder and chaos on a mass scale. The Yellow Vests in France are just the latest example of effective disruption. Through history, uprisings have made continuation of business-as-usual impossible and required change.

When disrupting business as usual, it is great to focus on the social actors who are doing the most harm such as politicians and polluting industries. However, mass disruption on the scale that will be necessary to force rapid change has to go beyond symbolism and it is going to be inconvenient to regular people who are probably on our side. There’s no point in intentionally alienating allies, but this is a crisis, not a popularity contest. While there may be backlash, delay is a greater risk.

Specific disruptive actions and tactics have to be developed by each individual or group based on their own capabilities and local context. We’ve already seen occupations to stop pipeline construction, sit-ins at corporate offices, traffic blockades and tree-sits to stop coal mining. Coal mostly moves by train, so blocking coal trains pops to mind. Even small blockades can stop complex industrial operations or play chaos with urban life. Disruption means gumming up the normal functioning of the machine — making fossil fuel dependence an expensive hassle.

Although there’s been too much emphasis on personal lifestyle-based solutions to climate change because the scale of the climate crisis will require more than individual action, saying that our individual choices are entirely irrelevant is also obviously wrong and harmful. Pointing this out doesn’t mean we should get bogged down in guilt-based judgments about other people’s consumption decisions. It just means that in an all-hands on deck effort to decarbonize our lives, many fossil fuel use decisions are within our hands. A popular meme states that just 100 corporations are responsible for 71% of global emissions, but a lot of those emissions are really consumer emissions that people buy from corporations. Shifting blame to someone else may make you feel better but it won’t cut emissions.

Per capita emissions in the US are about 4 times the world average and this is related to both corporate decisions and individual decisions. People in the US drive more, fly more and use more stuff — and personal consumption is increasing even in the face of the climate crisis. In the EU, with a similar quality of life, greenhouse gas emissions are less than half per capita US emissions. During WWII, personal efforts like driving less and Victory Gardens had meaningful effects because they were mass actions taken on an individual basis. Half of the fresh vegetables grown in the US in 1944 were grown in Victory Gardens.

We need to debunk magical thinking that either our personal actions alone can solve this crisis or that we can keep living just as we do now and rely on government and corporations to reduce our emissions for us. We shouldn’t be driving a mile when we could just as well walk or bike. Now is a terrible time to replace your car with a gas guzzling SUV, which is nevertheless a huge trend now. It is important to select alternatives rather than taking actions that burn fossil fuels.

Inconvenient Talk

An all-hands on deck approach means that we need to hold our collective noses and talk about mainstream politics and government. Talking about these things doesn’t mean we support them or are abandoning a DIY counter-culture orientation. Rather, we need to discuss mainstream politics because they are part of reality. I am tired of walling off particular parts of reality and pretending they don’t exist just because I’m writing for Slingshot.

Capitalism and the industrial revolution are highly aligned with fossil fuel consumption — all three developed in tandem. Nonetheless, insisting that the only way to avert climate catastrophe is to overthrow capitalism or return to a state of nature boxes us in too tightly. One possibility is that the urgency of climate change may require rapid shifts in social organization that will sweep capitalism away.

But replacing capitalism is a complex project. It is hard to see how it can happen in just the few years that may be left to decarbonize before tipping points are crossed. Maintaining a critique of capitalism shouldn’t mean that we wait for the revolution before starting the struggle to decarbonize.

I increasingly think that the path of least resistance may be to use political and social paths within the current system to decarbonize as quickly as we can. Survival has to be the first priority.

It is possible to decarbonize under the current system because the current economy can function just fine with solar power and electric cars. While fossil fuel companies and their politicians are powerful, they are outnumbered, and with enough social pressure, their interests can be overcome. It is painful to admit that while capitalism is harmful and unjust in many ways, it has a proven track record of supporting innovation and rapidly deploying technological advances on a mass scale. This has been particularly true during wars. During WWII the US rapidly converted civilian production to military production and was able to make numerous technological breakthroughs. The activist group Climate Mobilization has proposed a 6 point “Victory Plan” inspired by the US mobilization for WWII.

The idea of the Green New Deal is also to harness capitalism’s productivity to rapidly decarbonize in a worker-friendly fashion. The idea has been kicking around for several years, but it is achieving greater visibility now because of the dynamic efforts of the direct action-oriented Sunrise Movement and NY Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Obviously capitalism won’t embrace either the Victory Plan or the Green New Deal on its own — far from it. Left on its own, capitalism has no internal values other than growth, efficiency, and concentration of wealth. Generally capitalists control the state to support capitalist priorities and despite the state adopting a democratic form, the state doesn’t operate to serve the people, but rather the state serves and legitimizes capitalism.

Nevertheless, given sufficient pressure, there are historical and geographical examples where government intervened in the market to bend capitalism for particular outcomes.

The obvious problem is achieving sufficient pressure and motivation. Wars are perhaps the only historical situation in which societies have pulled together in the dramatic and rapid fashion that is now necessary to decarbonize the world. There probably isn’t going to be a single global climate change-version of the Pearl Harbor Bombing or the 911 attack, even though Hurricane Maria took more lives than either one.

This gets back to my earlier point about disruption and disorder being the one form of leverage available. Extreme levels of political pressure are necessary to give those in charge a choice between decarbonization, or ungovernability. It is easy to imagine such a strategy failing. Governments are likely to respond to chaos with violence and repression, not decarbonization.

Promoting and helping to organize disruption and pressure is our job — radicals, the counter-culture, civil society, etc. Those within the system — the NGOs, the corporations, the political parties — can’t and won’t disrupt their own system. They are blind as to how their reformist methods are limited and failing. Only people organized collectively can destabilize the status quo sufficiently to bend history. In the UK, Extinction Rebellion has begun organizing widespread disruptive actions to require a rapid government response to climate change.

If we’re serious about creating disruption in the hope of forcing government action, we need to be self-critical about our own past failures and realistic about how power works. During the Occupy Movement, we were extremely successful in building a thriving, grassroots, widespread, decentralized disruptive direct action movement. But we weren’t able to transform pressure and momentum into political power or measurable improvements within the system.

For my part — and I think many people felt this way — we didn’t care. Winning crumbs within a corrupt and doomed capitalist/political system was unattractive, uncool, and uninteresting. We didn’t want to get our hands dirty and with good reason.

But let’s compare our moral purity to the right-wing Tea Party Movement. They created a ruckus, but none of them felt like winning demands within the system was uncool. They encouraged politicians to harness their energy to achieve results within the system. Many ran for office. Arguably US society moved right.

While we’ve been refusing to participate in the system, others have filled the space. It is hard to beat something with nothing.

We can find the courage to rebel when our backs are against the wall but the risk of action is nonetheless our best change of survival. For me, it was the smoke from the fire in Paradise that felt like the last straw and really made me feel a shift within my heart. I always wondered what I would do if I had a terminal disease — and suddenly I realized that the planet has a terminal disease. It means I have nothing to lose, but I also feel free and clear in my mind. Not everyone is going to feel this at the same time — there won’t be a single climate change wake up call — but I think there may be many localized ones that have happened or are about to happen to a lot of people in cities and towns everywhere.

When disasters happen, we need to be prepared to connect them to climate change and use them to build pressure to decarbonize. Perhaps the best radical reaction to the smoke in the Bay Area wasn’t just to organize mask distribution to homeless people — even though that was a very excellent thing to do. At a critical moment when millions of people were searching for solutions and feeling personal distress, that was the moment to very clearly demand action to decarbonize. I’m not sure if we could have had an effective protest in the midst of the smoke, but next time something similar happens I sure hope we try. We need to have the banners and the networks ready.

A climate change revolt — an Extinction Rebellion to go with the British term — is a snowball process where suddenly, you notice people you’ve never met are saying and doing the same things you are. That’s already happening. These moments are inspirational and make it easier to up your own game, and when you do, you’re helping other people act, too.

Part of our problem is a collective feeling of powerlessness. Being in an uprising is the opposite of powerlessness. During an uprising, all our everyday moments are opportunities during which we use whatever means we have — our jobs, our roles, our holiday letters, our conversations with friends, Slingshot articles. It is a political and psychological shift where people re-set priorities. The focus we need now is for climate change to be the top priority. While there are many other ecological crisis like plastics in the oceans, a narrow focus on climate change is necessary because if tipping points are crossed, all current complex life forms are at risk.

During the Iranian Hostage Crisis in 1980, US news programs started each broadcast by telling you how many days the crisis had continued. What if news programs began to lead with the atmospheric CO2 concentration? What if every conversation and decision referenced climate?

I had a dream that part of the decarbonization uprising would involve everyone greeting each other with a new climate change word — instead of saying “hello” or “goodbye” you would say it to signal that you’re part of the rebellion like people said “Peace” during the Vietnam War. I couldn’t remember the word when I woke up, but we need to find that word and start saying it.


I don’t know whether decarbonization is possible within capitalism — but we need to pose the question. Obviously relying on — actually seeking out — government action carries extreme risk and can lead to a lot of problems.

When I fled to Monterey to get away from the smoke, after my daughter went to sleep I biked out into the dark and stopped on some rocks above the ocean to start this article. The act of fleeing had rattled me. It felt like a turning point. I’ve been an activist for 35 years, and every year things seem to get worse. It feels like activist malpractice to keep on thinking and doing the same things and expect a better outcome. So I think it is essential that we all — in our own ways — take some time to question our assumptions and look into the abyss.


This article calls for drastic and rapid change that will touch everyone and everything. And that’s a lot of work and stress and bother. Most of us would be much happier to continue with what is familiar and comfortable. That’s not limited to suburbanites or Trump voters — in some ways the most change-averse and conservative people I know are Berkeley radicals who are outraged if a single cafe changes its name.

Decarbonizing the entire economy — especially in just a few years — means the sort of drastic change we haven’t witnessed since World War II. It could end up making WWII look modest by comparison because to decarbonize the world, the front line will be everywhere simultaneously.

We’re all going to have to adapt to new technologies (or less technology?) and new forms of social organization. In urban areas, NIMBYs are going to have to accept more transit and more density and probably other things we can’t even imagine right now. Everyone’s going to have to get rid of their familiar comfortable car and drive an electric one instead, or maybe even ride a bike or take transit. Some comforts like food out of season or air travel may not be worth the ecological costs. We’re used to oil drilling rigs and gas stations, so we don’t notice them — and eventually we won’t notice a few million acres of solar panels and windmills, either, but at first it is going to be shocking and stressful.

I just hope we can all look deeply at the uncomfortable options and agree that accepting a lot of rapid change is our only option and is worth it if it gives life on earth a better chance of continuing in something like its current complex form. It is always easier to continue with the status quo or try to slow down change, but in this case we’re not going to avoid rapid and dramatic change either way. If we don’t decarbonize, the change will be outside our control and will almost certainly be less pleasant. Which brings me back to my experience of fleeing to Monterey.

I want to approach the need to decarbonize with joy and excitement, but the smoke and then fleeing was all about discomfort and fear. After just a week of staying inside to hide from the smoke, I began to lose creativity and feel tired and irritable. Everyone stopped going out and the streets were deserted. It was like living in a dystopian movie — the sun was very dim and I saw smoke blowing out of the BART tubes when a train arrived. People learn to cope, and if the smoke had gone on, it would have become the new normal.

Fleeing was about self-preservation and all about privilege. If we think inequality is bad now, just reduce crop yields by half for a few years due to bad weather. Ecological collapse is the greatest threat to social justice because it will lead directly to mass displacement, migration, war, genocide, fascism and ultimately canibalism. We no longer have the luxury of time and we need to come together and put all our energy into preventing such a grim future.

Further Reading on-line

• Climate Mobilization has a great 6-point Victory plan that I highly recommend: climatemobilization.org

• The Sunrise Movement has exciting direct actions yet seems pragmatic about achieving results: sunrisemovement.org.

• Extinction Rebellion in the UK has the best direct actions and overall has my favorite vision for how this could work: rebellion.earth

• Statistics in this article are mostly from the Center for Climate and Energy Studies c2es.org/content/international-emissions/

• The on-line version of this article includes additional material at the end.

1- Berkeley Free Clinic – Fifth years of Radical Health

By Finn

The Berkeley Free Clinic, a cooperatively run clinic that’s been providing free health services in Berkeley since 1969, turns 50 on May 25th. With ever worsening gentrification in the San Francisco Bay Area, it feels miraculous that we’re still in our decrepit church basement off Telegraph Ave, surviving on salvaged medical supplies and dumpstered pizza. I wrote this article in commemoration of our 50th birthday and in writing this, I’m hoping to accomplish several things. First, I want to let everyone know that we’re (still) here – I sometimes meet folks who are shocked to learn that we still exist or have never heard of us, and I want more folks to know that we exist as a resource and as a rad project to get involved with. I also want to offer a reflection on our history and how we operate so others can use us as inspiration for similar projects. Finally, I hope that our story provides a concrete example of radical alternatives to existing healthcare systems.

Who We Are

If you happen to live in the San Francisco Bay Area, you might be familiar with the Berkeley Free Clinic and our characteristic red Chinese dragon logo (a holdover from the Maoists who worked in the clinic during the 1970s). You might know that we’re a good place to get a free tuberculosis test or to have your butthole swabbed for gonorrhea, or noticed the oddball mix of UC Berkeley students and older wingnuts who staff the place. We’re not completely in-your-face about our history or politics, though, so it’s possible to enter our space without being totally aware of how it functions.

The Berkeley Free Clinic is an all-volunteer, worker-owned collective that provides free medical care, dental care, peer counseling, vision services, and referrals in Berkeley. We were founded on the beliefs that healthcare is a human right, that much medical knowledge can be learned and practiced by folks with no formal education, and that communities have a ton of power to collectively respond to public health crises.

Although we’re not by any means the only free clinic in the United States (a lot of medical schools have student run free clinics), we’re unique in that we’re non-hierarchical and services are provided by community trained medics instead of professionals. When we provide services, we dismantle the traditional power dynamic where a “professional” holds knowledge about other people’s bodies and tells them what to do. Instead, we work to demystify the process of healthcare and involve clients in learning about their bodies and health. Instead of training in a formal environment, we learn cooperatively from each other and try to blur the barrier between provider and client by recruiting clients to join our collective.

We can’t stress how weird and rare this is in a country where medical services are wrapped in a tangled net of bureaucracy, hierarchy, and liability. Also weird is our autonomy. Our budget mostly comes from donations and grants that we apply for, which means government budget cuts don’t really impact us. Our lack of reliance on government funding (which usually comes with a lot of strings attached) means we don’t have as many regulations to follow as other clinics, and this gives us a lot more freedom to see people who might otherwise not feel safe getting medical care. For example, we aren’t required to report abuse to the police, which means survivors of physical violence and sexual assault can get medical care from us without us being forced to call the cops on them. Similarly, we can provide anonymous HIV testing, even though most clinics are required to report positive HIV tests by name to the State. And because we don’t bill any kind of insurance, we don’t have to check IDs or require proof of eligibility – everything is free without question.

Some notes on our structure

The BFC is made up of small, semi-autonomous collectives that each specialize in a different area of health (like dentistry, peer counseling, general medical, etc.). We make decisions both as these smaller collectives (which can decide if they want to be consensus-based or use a voting process) and as a larger, clinic-wide group (which has a formal voting process). Some of our sections provide direct services and others are strictly logistical. Logistical sections work to preserve institutional knowledge and make sure that all of the little things that need to happen (like updating referrals and maintaining the space) happen. Members who conduct bookkeeping and custodial work receive small stipends, but we do not hire paid staff. In the past, we did have paid members in logistical or administrative positions, but discovered that this created a hierarchy were paid individuals consolidated more power. As a result, these positions were eliminated. Although we no longer “formalize” concentrated power by having paid staff, members who stay in the collective for longer and who get more involved do tend to become more powerful. Whether this is a problem that needs to be solved isn’t totally clear to us, but it is a pattern that’s common in collectives and we try to be self-reflective about it.

Nurturing a culture of accountability is a constant process. In past decades, we held Maoist-style “criticism/self-criticism circles” where individuals would provide “plus and delta” feedback to each other. Eventually, we realized that providing formal criticism in front of a group can create a toxic environment where people feel bullied (indeed, enforcing ideological conformity was why Maoist groups used this form of criticism). Instead, we focus on developing everyone’s communication and de-escalation skills and creating an environment where open discussion is normalized.

Each section is responsible for recruiting and training new members, but we also have clinic-wide trainings that all members take. These trainings focus on institutional history, political education, anti-oppression work, and some safety items like de-escalation and how to intervene in crises without calling the cops.

A brief history of the Berkeley Free Clinic

Our unusual clinic structure is rooted in the anti-war movement of the Vietnam War era. The BFC grew out of an emergency field hospital established by activists during the People’s Park Riots in 1969. During this era, police and soldiers used many of the weapons that we’re familiar with today – like tear gas, pepper spray, and batons – but were also using live ammunition (birdshot and buckshot) and nausea gas (an odorless gas that causes uncontrollable diarrhea and vomiting) and protester injuries were both really serious and not safe to treat in hospitals (since the cops would come arrest the person who sought help). In response to this, a group of Vietnam vets who had been trained as combat medics set up a clinic near UC Berkeley’s campus, where they cared for protesters who had been beaten, shot, and gassed by the University of California police and the National Guard.

According to legend, this improvised field hospital was raided by riot cops, a street medic and an x-ray machine were thrown down a flight of stairs, and our anti-authoritarian clinic was born. The BFC was open 24 hours a day, run by volunteers who used pseudonyms, and provided both acute and emergency medical care. When not caring for protestors, the BFC began serving the general needs of the activists and runaway youth who’d flocked to the Bay Area during the 60s. In 1970, a group of feminists joined the clinic to run a women’s reproductive health night. They brought radical theory with them and eventually usurped the largely male, military-trained core of BFC members, resulting in a more horizontal distribution of power. The 70s were arguably the most radical and involved years of the BFC. During this period, we collaborated with the Black Panther Party’s free clinic in South Berkeley, operated a drug information hotline that was known nationwide, and had a psychiatric emergency team that responded to bad trips and overdoses throughout Berkeley. In 1976, the Gay Men’s Health Collective formed to offer queer-friendly sexual health services to men who faced homophobia from doctors. Clinic culture was steeped in the sexual revolution and psychedelic drugs and naked business meetings and orgies were much more common than they are today.

The 1980s were a much rougher decade for the clinic. Prior to the 80s, the clinic actually did receive government funding, but Ronald Reagan’s budget cuts brought on a financial crisis that saw the end of 24-hour services at the clinic (and gave us good reason to be more independent of government funding). At the same time, AIDS began killing clinic members, lovers, clients, and friends, and the BFC responded by offering anonymous HIV testing. Although our financial situation stabilized in the 1990s, staffing of the clinic declined, due in part to the gutting of the welfare state and because fewer activists had the resources to be on-call at odd hours. Daytime and afternoon shifts disappeared, and the clinic shifted to its current evening and weekend schedule. The AIDS epidemic continued, and clinic member John Iverson founded ACT-UP East Bay and began pushing a baby stroller full of clean syringes around People’s Park. Needle Exchange Emergency Distribution, our sister syringe distribution collective, was born. Members were routinely arrested for the first three years of the program but persisted through legal challenges and budget cuts to become a thriving collective.

In the early 2000s, word got out that a lot of BFC volunteers went on to medical and nursing school with a big advantage in the application process, and pre-med UC Berkeley students became much more interested in joining the clinic. Although this gave us the opportunity to corrupt and radicalize young minds before they went off to professional training, volunteer turnover increased as students went off to graduate programs, leading to the loss of institutional memory and more burnout. Despite this, we continued to exist as a clinic that supports marginalized communities and social movements. We were in the streets providing medical care during Occupy, Black Lives Matter, and the anti-fascist defense of Berkeley from Nazis. During particularly intense protests, we kept the clinic open all night to care for injured demonstrators and in one case, a medic used her body to prevent riot police from getting through our front door. Between intense periods of street activity, we quietly filled cavities and treated UTIs and taught folks how to reverse overdoses. We provided a warm indoor space with bathrooms and free hygiene supplies and endless cups of donated nettle tea. We also increased our outreach work to growing homeless encampments throughout the East Bay, scrambling to provide medical services to homeless folks while local governments destroyed their tents and bedding and failed to provide any actual help.

The BFC is currently in a dual state of revival and precarity. As often happens when radical political organizations fill in government gaps in social services, we spend so much time trying to meet folks’ basic needs that our ability to organize is limited. As we approach our 50th birthday, there’s talk of finding ways to strengthen our activist and advocacy work on top of the services we already provide. We’re expanding our anti-oppression and radical political training, finding ways to contribute to mutual aid projects in California, and trying to support the fuck out of other radical health projects in the area.

That being said, we’re also fighting to keep our shit together. Several members have died recently, our energy is spread thin from responding to multiple crises in the Bay Area (homelessness, fire, ICE raids, sex worker crackdowns, overdoses), and we need to move out of our current church basement space as the building is condemned. In the middle of a rapidly gentrifying university town, the BFC is a small, funky pocket of difference. However, the reality of existing in that gentrified city is starting to hit us and it’s unclear in what form we’ll exist in the future (though given the creativity and dedication of my co-collective members, it’s highly unlikely that we won’t be here).

Like a satellite that is in constant free-fall without ever hitting the ground, the BFC has spent the past 50 years in a state of managed chaos, without ever actually falling apart. We are a collective made out of human beings, with all the mess and conflict and dysfunction that sometimes goes with that, and our limited skills and resources prevent us from meeting everyone’s medical needs. However, we’re also a proof of concept: lay people can do something tangible for the health of their communities and provide healthcare in a totally transformative way. Knowledge and power in the healthcare system can be horizontalized, and even in the face of police repression and lack of resources, it’s possible to craft little pockets of creative difference.

How to Support the Berkeley Free Clinic

The radical imagination is our most valuable resource. If you live in the Bay Area and are into the idea of joining a radical health collective, please just fucking join. We always need more people, especially people who want to take initiative, make shit happen, and stick around for at least a few years. We have info sessions on the 3rd Monday of every month at 7:30PM at 2339 Durant St. You can also go to our website at www.berkeleyfreeclinic.org to see which sections are taking applications.

Even if you’re not in the Bay Area, you can always give us money.

Do you know of a grungy church basement or warehouse space in Berkeley that could house a clinic? Come find us and let us know.