Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Divestment as a strategy to build the movement.

[Up, Down]

I wonder if I can put this simply and succinctly enough for y'all to actually read and think about and maybe find useful? It may be preaching to the choir but please hear me out before deciding.

On March 2nd, last month, I was in a room and heard Elizabeth May say that our coming election and the UN foofaraw in Paris in November are the last kicks at the can. I believe her. But there is no faith involved. I have studied the analyses of Jim Hansen and Joeri Rogelj and Michael Mann and many others, it's a long list, most recently Camilo Mora at the University of Hawaii - so you could say I agree with her rather than 'believe' anything at all. (Her party - as far as I can see, and I'm very sorry to say it - is not so forthright.)

For several years I've thought that the only antidote is mass civil disobedience. Toronto is truly an excellent place to get disavowed of such naive notions but I'm a slow learner so even after a string of still-born failures I've carried on cheering for Zoe Blunt & our friend Brett Rhyno and Toghestiy and Louis Lesosky.

Then along comes Alan Rusbridger over at The Guardian a few weeks ago and starts a fossil fuel divestment campaign 'Keep it in the Ground'. AND he has some significant early victories. AND what I see now is this:

What we need, generically, as a movement, is to grow exponentially at such a tremendous rate in the few remaining months (nine in fact, enough for a birth) that something emerges with enough moral momentum to turn the tide and stop the madness. And what I see in divestment is, exactly, a way to do that.

If two people stand out in front of any church in this city on a Sunday morning before the service with a very polite banner that reads "Do you know if the funds that support this church come from fossil fuel investments?" then there will be at least two in the congregation who will join with them and the movement will have doubled.

"If this be error and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no man ever loved."

There is already the example of Trinity St. Paul's United Church which has accomplished it.

We all know the story of the rice on the squares of the checker-board. Don't we? 2 grains on the first square, 4 on the 2nd, 8 on the next, 16, 32 and so on until there is not enough rice in the king's entire granary for the last square.

The logic of divestment arguments is so simple and true. No difficult scientific terms like 350 ppm and ocean pH and albedo and methane clathrates and the like to be patiently explained. Just two weights: 500 billion tons and 2,500 billion tons; and lots of money: many billions of dollars annually in subsidies and continued exploration to find fuel which cannot sensibly be burned.

And standing politely out in front is an extreme of the possible approaches - there are other clever and effective ways to get at it (knowing how averse this town can be towards anything the least bit aggressive or confrontational). And not just churches either - every organization with any claim to social conscience and a pension fund, including every labour union &c.

So ... "Let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late."

Be well, David Wilson.

PS: I wondered aloud to your colleague how the UofT divestment campaign could have taken so long and resulted in (what looked to me like) no more than a 287 page document of (what I saw as) dubious efficacy. (It's now down to 230 pages but I have not re-read it yet.)

He set me straight - for which I thank him (again). There's an important, even vital, lesson in this for y'all if you will hear it - viz., there is nothing like a straight answer to a straight question (however stupid) for building connections. I was ignorant, f'rinstance, of the lengthy struggle leading to the recent confrontations at Harvard which is certainly comparable. And so on.

I present two bits of evidence for thinking the ambience may have changed:

1) Among the fifty or so people I approached at the teacher's pension meeting at the Carlu the other afternoon none were unaware and only one was dismissive - this is a HUGE change from 2009-2012 when I gave away thousands of 350 buttons on Toronto streets (one of them to Jack Layton himself) and found less than one in a hundred who had any idea whatsoever about global warming; and,
2) It took Alan Rusbridger only a few days to convince The Guardian's financial caretakers to pledge to divest. Granted he telegraphed his punch but even so.

This to say that I continue to think the strategy of going for quick divestment victories is a way of building the movement at a rate to give real results in the limited time remaining.

In any event, three pairs of people could verify it at three churches in the space of a few hours with little risk or outlay.

Again, be well,

        Guardian - Keep it in the Ground
        Trinity St. Paul’s United Church, Climate Justice
        Zoe Blunt / Vancouver Island Community Forest Action Network
        Louis Lesosky / Occupation Apple Tree
[Up, Down]

No comments:

Post a Comment