Thursday, May 12, 2016

From Civil Disobedience to Compulsory Obedience: How the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund Exploits Communities to Advance One Man's Vision of the Revolution

Photo Wendy Lynne Lee
In "Community Rights or Game of Thrones? Response to Thomas Linzey," I argued that while the Community Rights Legal Defense Fund--CELDF--certainly makes a persuasive-sounding case for the rights of communities to self-governance, there remain a number of crucial questions not only about what constitutes a "community," but to what communities have a moral obligation to recognize as rights-bearing. 


Here I would like to return to these questions--but with two significant additions. First, I'd like to entertain a claim Linzey made at a presentation he gave at the Bloomsburg Town Firehall, April 1st as part of his series, Time for a Pennsylvania Revolt ( Pressed for a definition of what counted as an "ecosystem" by restoration ecologist Kevin Heatley, Linzey responded that it was whatever the community says it is. 

Second, I'd like to consider a recent CELDF article entitled "Pennsylvania Township Legalizes Civil Disobedience."

I. What counts as a Community? Who Decides?

First, then, let's return to the original August 2015 piece where I set up a number of clearly crucial questions any organization like CELDF must be able to answer--and for which neither Linzey nor anyone else among the CELDF leadership to date has offered any response:

·      What bars me from defining "community" as the economic bastion of the wealthy--at the expense of the less well-to-do? 

·      What prevents "community rights" from simply deteriorating into a version of NIMBY-ism (Not-In-My-Back-Yard) for those who can afford the lawyers?

·      What in Linzey's argument prevents a community from adopting grossly unjust statutes such as one that condones slavery or one that effectively dispossesses women or sanctions child labor? What about a community that bars Jews? Muslims? Christians? Hindus? That disallows the gas drilling operation—but welcomes the factory farm? That requires every household to be armed? That requires all first-born children be sons?

Linzey might respond that we’ve grown beyond these kinds of bigoted and self-defeating laws, or that because such statutes are intrinsically inconsistent with the concept of equality and justice, they'd never pass muster within any legitimate constitution. But neither of these responses can be adequate since:

·      CELDF already effectively accedes to economic/class divisions by omission, and like Ancient Greece, it is entirely within the self-accorded rights of a community to determine what counts as a "member." 

·      What, in other words, prevents a community from defining membership in terms of, say, sex, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation/identity--or class? 

·      What, in fact decides even whether "community" needs be geographically bounded? (in which case, all bets are off with respect to any democratic principles governing membership).

Linzey simply fails to articulate in what intra-community protections would consist:

·      What prevents a community from adopting grossly unjust statutes governing, for example, speech or other forms of expression? 

·      Could a community whose majority members want, say, a fracking ban vote to silence or exile opposing members? 

·      Do communities have the right to censor their membership if that member's speech is perceived as a threat to the integrity or cohesion of the community? 

·      Who's authorized to make these determinations in particular cases?

·      Who decides what counts as free expression in art? Music?

Linzey also fails to define what is the legitimate place of the state or federal government with respect to its relationship to communities. And this is a mater of vital importance since a confederation of loosely knit but entirely independent communities is not a "united states,” much less a “country.” And this sets us up for a whole other round of crucially important questions:

·      What happens when the action of one community poses potential harm to another? 

·      For example, do communities really have the right to decide against vaccines? 

·      Do they really have the right to erect barriers to keep out "strangers"? 

·      Should every community be responsible for its own militia? Should we abolish the federal-level armed services?

·      What about a community who wants as many frack pads and pipelines as they can squeeze in--at the direct cost of water contamination for their neighbors? 

·      What of the community who wants to build a flood-wall--and makes their poorer neighbors the victims of the next hurricane? 

·      What about a community that determines it's in their best interest to make a communal living off puppy mills? 

·      How about rare-earth mineral extraction? 

·      Can communities impose a religion on their members? 

·      Can communities impose any variety of qualification for membership? 

I think it telling that the CELDF response to criticism--even to questions--is non-response. Indeed, Linzey's refusal to address any of these questions--the apparent code of silence of the CELDF leadership--offers us an important clue at least to what "community" means within the CELDF ranks: circle the wagons. I'm not suggesting that CELDF board of director members have been expressly discouraged from speaking to my questions--much less that censorship is CELDF's official intra-community policy. But I am suggesting that any organization that cannot or will not rise to the occasion to address its critics plainly does not exemplify the democratic principles it espouses. 

II. What is an "Ecosystem"? "Whatever a Community Says"

During the question and answer at the April 1st "Time for a Pennsylvania Revolt" presentation in Bloomsburg, Linzey was pressed to answer the question "What, exactly, is an ecosystem?" To what, in other words, do we assign rights when we refer to things like the rights of nature? Clearly baffled by this question Linzey responded that an ecosystem was "whatever a community says it is." "Really?" responded Kevin Heatley. 

This, of course, is far more than a non-answer. It opens a Pandora's box of possibilities wholly consistent with a number of the unanswered questions above. In fact, even the most fracked, climate change devastated, disease saturated ecosystem is an ecosystem. Even the arid gas-soaked tundra of Mad Max or the post-Apocalyptic wasteland of Cormac McCarthy's The Road are ecosystems. 

They're just really really shitty ones where no one wants to live--and Linzey leaves it wide open for a community to adopt The Road as its utopia if it wants to.  If an ecosystem is "whatever a community says," then while one township may decide to take up aggressive nonviolent protest to protect itself from a deep injection well, another may decide that what benefits its ecosystem the most is the cash flow made available (for a little while, for a few) through welcoming the next big round of natural gas extraction or tire burner or Walmart. 

If an ecosystem is whatever the community says--and the community leaders just really like their bacon--then what's to stop that township from permitting a ginormous industrial animal agricultural operation to raise pigs? 

Answer: nothing. CAFOs are ecosystems. Trees are ecosystems. Dead human bodies are ecosystems. Ebola is an ecosystem. The community called "the planet" seems hell-bent on regarding all of its existential resources as endless. Or better: the folks who call the shots are more than happy to let the rest of us starve and burn and die. They're a "community" too--just one protected by the banks of the Panama Papers. Upshot: CELDF can talk a good game about clean air and water, but if their leaders cannot define an ecosystem in accord with some realistic principle and the science to defend it, then its claim to defend the "rights of nature" is just vacuous gobbledygook that the nice folks at PGE are going to crush.  

Actually--it's even worse: "whatever the community says" opens the door not only to defining ecosystems in whatever way the most powerful in that community decide, it also "justifies" whatever these folks decide to count as "rights"--and to whom and what rights apply. "Whatever the community says" is, in other words, open license for those who appear to exercise power to impose their vision of what the community must be. 

And if Linzey's response is that such imposition flies in the face of all that's sacred about the democratic, I say this: we celebrate the Ancient Greeks as a model of democracy--and they were slavers who held both foreigners and women to be a deviation from the mean of what constitutes a human being. There's nothing to prevent that from happening in any community when "what the community says" just means "what it's loudest and most powerful demand."

III. Pennsylvania Township Legalizes Civil Disobedience

Recently Grant Township supervisors "passed a first-in-the-nation law that legalizes direct action to stop frack wastewater injection wells within the Township."

If a court does not uphold the people’s right to stop corporate activities threatening the well-being of the community, the ordinance codifies that, “any natural person may then enforce the rights and prohibitions of the charter through direct action.” Further, the ordinance states that any nonviolent direct action to enforce their Charter is protected, “prohibit[ing] any private or public actor from bringing criminal charges or filing any civil or other criminal action against those participating in nonviolent direct action.” 
The community of Grant Township, in other words, has the right to participate in nonviolent acts of civil disobedience/direct action in the effort to prevent the construction of a PGE deep injection well (or whatever) that's inconsistent with the township charter that ostensibly protects its members' right to clean water. Moreover, criminal charges cannot be brought because these would be inconsistent with the township charter.

This sounds great--in principle. Grant Township is to be applauded for taking this principled stand. But the law also illustrates the extent to which CELDF is obviously willing to go in advancing their vision of a "Pennsylvania Revolt" by using--exploiting--townships in the pursuit of that larger agenda. Fact is, Grant Township does not need a "not-really disobedience" law, and CELDF's assistance in drafting it just makes Grant Township more beholden to CELDF--all the while CELDF gets to claim another victory.

The principle here is simple: the ends do not and cannot justify the means when the means--bankrupting a township and subjecting its citizens to genuine hardship--create very real and very great harm

Grant Township supervisor Stacy Long claims that she'll "do whatever it takes to provide our residents with the tools and protections they need to nonviolently resist aggression like those being proposed by PGE." I respect this principled position, and I applaud Long for it. But there are serious logical and practical problems with the direct action law--and Long has a right to know this before she puts her body on the line.

First, to legalize civil disobedience is to make that particular variety of action--say, blocking a backhoe--precisely not disobedient. This might seem like mere semantics--but it's not. In fact, if blocking a backhoe is a right I have under my community charter, and I am bound by that charter to protect the community's right to clean water, what stops that action from becoming a responsibility

In other words, the potential effect of this law is to transform civil disobedience into civil obedience because rights--as all civil libertarians know in their bone marrow--create responsibilities. And a law that allegedly liberates me from being prosecuted for civil disobedience is a short step from erecting a law that compels me to obedience in the defense of my community, in this case, putting my body in front of a backhoe. 

A right to protect my community where there is no penalty for not doing so confers a responsibility to protect my community. Linzey might point out that the explicit language of the law reads "may then enforce the rights," not must. But this has little logical or practical force since what the community charter protects is the right to something essential to the existential conditions of living things: clean water. How could any morally thinking citizen--freed from the prospect of prosecution--not feel it as a duty to engage in direct action in blocking that backhoe? 

Linzey, of course, knows all this, and he knows better on at least two counts:

First, Linzey knows that unless a compelling number of other communities join forces with Grant Township, this law will have less than zero force--it will simply expose courageous Grant Township citizens like Stacy Long to arrest and prosecution. While CELDF may be there to defend her in court, that will be cold comfort the next time she makes, say, a job application. The only community members in a position to take the real risk of standing up to PGE are those with little to lose when they're arrested--and that won't be many. 

Second, Linzey knows that if this experiment fails, he can still refer to it as a CELDF victory for having drafted the charter and the law defending it. The harm, after all, isn't to CELDF. And when CELDF leaves, the harm to Grant Township will still be there--right along with the deep injection well.

To be very clear: 

I am absolutely not advocating against civil disobedience. 
I am apprising Grant Township members of the very real risk that 
no new ordinance is going to protect them from.

It is a lie to tell brave community members anything else.

CELDF is selling community members a bill of 
deceptive goods by leading them 
to believe that there will not be very real consequences 
that follow on direct action.

There will be, and if there weren't, civil disobedience would have no real force.

I stand with Tim DeChristopher, co-founder of the Climate Disobedience Center, who says he's "encouraged to see an entire community and its elected officials asserting their rights to defend their community from the assaults of the fossil fuel industry," and that he knows "there are plenty of folks in the climate movement ready to stand with Grant Township.” I hope he's right.

But that's just the point: what makes direct action 
powerful and valuable is that it is disobedient.

With CELDF's help, Grant Township has gutted its most powerful tool. I hope they'll reconsider.

Wendy Lynne Lee 

Thursday, March 10, 2016


 Posted for my friend and fellow insurgent, Karen Dwyer.

ACTION: Miami, Florida, Sunday, March 20 to Friday, March 25:

WHAT: Walk for the Future Generations of All Natural Life

WHO: Aboriginals, allies, activists, groups, policymakers

WHERE: Base camp: Trail Lakes Campgrounds, ‪40904 Tamiami Trail East, Ochopee, FL ‪ 
Begin walk: Pump Station S334, 1 mile east 177 Ave. & SW 8th St., Miami, FL

End walk: Collier Seminole State Park, 20200 Tamiami Trail E., Naples, FL

WHEN:   March 19, Gathering Day at Base camp; check-in at 1:00 p.m.

March 20, Begin Walk, Pump Station S334, 9:30 a.m.

March, 25, End Walk, Collier Seminole State Park, 5:00 p.m.

 A growing alliance of aboriginals, activists, and environmental groups will step up efforts to save the Florida Everglades.  

In an 80-mile, six-day protest march across the Everglades and Big Cypress, from Miami to Naples, winding through seven national and state parks, a World Heritage site, and designated Outstanding Florida Waters, along the proposed route of the River of Grass Greenway (ROGG), the alliance will be inviting everyone—from legislators to land barons—to partner with them in saving South Florida.  

Their goal is to:

*Stop the expansion of new Everglades oil operations and fracking, 

*Shut down the River of Grass Greenway, 

*Promote local and state fracking bans, 

*Halt the deregulation of archeological artifacts, 

*Oppose the regulation of indigenous plant gathering, 

*Compel policymakers to send clean water south to restore the Everglades as mandated by Amendment 1 and the massive 30-year Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP).

  During the walk, the alliance will stop at key points for protests and press conferences.  

Everyone is encouraged to attend these to welcome walkers, hold signs, listen to speakers, and call on policymakers to reject destructive projects and unfriendly bills.  

*At Pump Station S334 on the levee, they’ll address Everglades Restoration and sending clean water south

*At Raccoon Point, new irresponsible oil operations and bills that fast-track fracking

*At Monument Lake, site of the historic Seminole Conference, sacred sites and bills that threaten them

*At Big Cypress Headquarters, ROGG and seismic testing in respective petition deliveries

*At Everglades City McLeod Park, ROGG with a call for Everglades City Council and Miami Parks Service to officially withdraw their support.  

*At night, everyone is welcome to meet up at base camp for fire circles.  The march, press conferences, and fire circles are meant to offer ample opportunity for community engagement in defending Everglades water, wetlands, and wildlife. 

Bobby C. Billie, Council of the Original Miccosukee Simanolee Nation Aboriginal Peoples and Betty Osceola of the Panther Clan and Miccosukee Tribe are spearheading this alliance-building effort because the Greater Everglades is their homeland.  

All three indigenous communities—the Independents, Seminoles, and Miccosukees—have already had their traditional way of life threatened by irresponsible development: 

First, when the Everglades was drained.

Second, when toxic levels of mercury in the water, plants, fish, birds, and animals forced them off their tree islands deep in the Everglades.  

Bobby C. Billie, warns that the most important concern is “the destruction of the Natural World that sustains us all:  the Earth, the Water, the Air, the Trees, the Plants, and the Wildlife.  These Creations must survive in order that we may all survive.  Nature has a right to live a life undisturbed by further development.”

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Trees Can Be Trees, Or Trees Can be Money: The Holleran's Sugar Bush and the Constitution Pipeline

What makes the destruction of the Holleran family Sugar Bush all the more head-shakingly sad--and predictable--is the profound misunderstanding of in what, as minimum conditions, a 21st century movement for ecological integrity must consist, of what it must mean by "the local is the global, and "the global is the local." 

To be sure, no slogan is worth a tinker's damn until it informs the very bone marrow of our strategy and oxygenates the blood vessels of our resolve. It's thus not surprising that the consequences for things like trees and soil and all of the creatures and biota dependent on their intimate relationship are as predictable as the rasp of chainsaws and diesel engines the moment we accede to a worldview in whose vocabulary "global" and "local" are valued as property and revenue

And trees are especially important--to global climate, to animal habitat, to aesthetic experience.

 When they're reduced to commodities whose worth lay not in the integrity of their relationship to human communities, but in the capacity to be exploited and exchanged, we're all in trouble. 

Stop the Tennessee Pipeline, Photo, Wendy Lynne Lee
What, in other words, we forfeit when we accept the worldview of the capitalist--for whom everything and everyone is either an obstacle or a potentially exploitable resource--is the right to be taken seriously when we try to make anything--like maple trees--an exception. We can deny that we accept these ideological premises, but we use the language of "property," and every time we do we signal the extent to which we're either woefully naive about the difference between the defense of property and the defense of an ecology, or we're willing to execute a strategy that, for the zillionth time, the oil and gas, the pipeline, the export industry, and the banks know will fail. 

It's not merely that we forfeit the moral high ground when, for example, we hold up "Stop the Pipeline!" signs for a family whose already tried to negotiate merely to move the right-of-way to protect their own property. 

It's that we forfeit the ground itself insofar as the pipeline company has every reason to believe we'd not be protesting "Stop the Pipeline!" in front of neighbors ready to wave the American flag over "their" piece of the Constitution.  
Tennessee Pipeline Cut. Photo, Wendy Lynne Lee

If, in other words, we're going to defend ecological integrity, the human community--including families like the Hollerans--cannot be our single or even primary measure of value.  After all, the vast majority of such communities--including corporations--are more than willing to sacrifice ecology for property. 

It's just not true that community rights are necessarily consistent with ecological stability, and so long as we continue to defend the first conflating it with the second, we'll not only continue to mistake property value for ecological integrity, in so doing we'll continue to undermine the necessary conditions of our insurgency, namely, a planet that can sustain us.

Let me put this differently: so long as the primary foci of our protests are human beings to the exclusion of the ecologies upon which we're all dependent--whether that unit of value comes in the form of families like the Hollerans or neighborhoods, or corporations, or the state--property will continue to govern how we conceive what's worth defending. 

Truth is, where we human beings think we occupy the undisputed center of what constitutes value, all else can only be assessed in terms of what's useful to us. 

That's what we call "property."

The fossil fuel companies and the pipeliners know this; hell, they embrace it as surely as the sun rises on a denuded hillside. 

They know that if what matters to us is protecting property as property that we're essentially on their team, that everything's about negotiation and compensation.  

And once we're all on the same team, whatever claims protesters might make about "the environment," well, they just don't need to be taken seriously because nobody cares enough to lay siege, be arrested, be arrested en masse, be pepper-sprayed, tear-gassed, beaten, or shot to defend it. 

Negotiation and compensation: what's left to protest other than the money?

116 Environmental Activists killed in one year.
 And that's really it.

That the environment knows no property lines, or that the neighbor's property is just as much a part of the planetary environment as is anyone's, doesn't seem to register in anyone's calculation of value. 

That protesters virtually everywhere but in the U.S. are being murdered to insure the free flow of oil and gas doesn't seem to impact our misplaced confidence. We just don't seem to get it that these are the same companies, and that means we have to take the same risks as all these other brave folks to stop companies willing to spend billions to make more billions.

How do we not get this? The neighbor who waves his "Vote for Trump!" sign in front of a cheery tree-cutting crew is as irrelevant to the fact that the U.S. Constitution helps to facilitate the conversion of ecology into property as is my vote for Bernie Sanders--unless I am willing to take a stand for the integrity of my neighbor's trees--even if he doesn't like it

Even if he threatens me.

Even when, as a matter of strategy, we decry the abuse of the laws that govern eminent domain, we concede to the fossil fuel capitalist everything essential for him to win. The central concept of eminent domain is "property," it's central issue the what, when, and who of its disposition as a resource for human use. 

Is what happened to the Hollerans a grotesque abuse of these laws? 

Sure it is. 

Protest FERC, Photo Wendy Lynne Lee
 But that's irrelevant insofar as the family had already conceded to Williams precisely what empowered the company to take their land and mow down their sugar bush, namely, that trees are property, that what's needed is the right compensation for property loss. Once the Hollerans agreed to the terms of this "debate" over the where of the pipeline and the exchange value of the lost trees, they forfeited the right to defend the trees as trees. 

For example, 

Cathy Holleran said her family has sought a re-route for part of the pipeline onto a neighbor's land — a neighbor she said was not opposed. If that were to occur, she would be eager to agree to an easement that would spare the bulk of the maples. As for ancillary benefits from the pipeline, she was dubious.

"Somebody will benefit, but it won't be us because we are out here in the boonies," she said. "They're never going to pipe gas to our house. We don't even have cable TV." (

Such a "re-route" will, of course, contribute every bit as much to climate change as the original route: the gas still gets to market. Moreover, it doesn't really matter whether the gas goes to the global markets or remains local; it's "ancillary benefits" involve the emission of greenhouse gases either way. Once, in other words, the trees were in the way of the pipeline, they could be trees or they could be money, but they could not be both, and the Hollerans chose the latter. At that moment, there never was any "Stop the Pipeline!" At least not at that juncture of the right-of-way.

Photo, Wendy Lynne Lee
 To those who'd argue that that calling out the abuse of eminent domain is an effective stalling strategy--that it can monkey wrench a project until relevant environmental or habitat protection laws stall it for another year (March 31st in the Holleran case)--sure. 

Perhaps this is what Catherine Holleran had in mind when she argued in a cease and desist letter dated February, 2016 that:

“We [the Holleran family] assert our [Fifth Amendment] rights, enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, that we must receive compensation before eminent domain condemnation. As compensation hearings have yet to be held, we find any action to develop our property to be unconstitutional. We hope that your client will proceed with good faith negotiations with our counsel prior to any tree cutting, especially given their affinity for the name ‘Constitution Pipeline” (

But this too has become a threadbare tactic in that we know FERC (the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) exists to permit pipelines, that judges execute laws written by and for an industry that poses an existential threat to human beings, nonhuman animals, and environmental stability. We know that the vocabulary of "property" and therefore "profit" will govern every aspect of this decision-making whether by the state or the industry. We know that the morally weighty distinction between a "vital public interest" and a "profit-seeking enterprise" is long lost not merely to corporate personhood, but to a long and hoary American history whose laws have privileged wealth over life from its inception. 

Part of what's so troubling here is that what the experienced protesters of the anti-fracking and anti-pipeline movements know is not necessarily what the Hollerans are in a position to know. 

The disconnect is quite striking: the Hollerans clearly seek to exhaust every avenue of a legal system stacked against them not for the sake of saving the maple trees per se, but for saving North Harford Maple ( that depends on them. 

The protesters claim to want to "Stop the Pipeline!" But these are obviously not the same thing; in fact, they're wholly opposed projects. 

Photo, Wendy Lynne Lee
Put differently: I don't begrudge the Hollerans a livelihood. But as a business dependent on a certain kind of property, maple sap, it's reasonable to ask what distinguishes their business from Williams other than the trivial difference (qua property) between maple sap and natural gas. 

If the answer to that question is "nothing" because the real issue is ecological integrity and not property, then why do the protesters defend the Holleran's quest for compensation? 

Why, in other words, aren't the protesters holding up signs that say "Move the Pipeline!" instead of "Stop the Pipeline!"? 

And if the answer to that question is because there's a world of difference between tapping sugar bush and building a high pressure pipeline--that it is about ecological integrity--why on earth are the protesters defending the Hollerans? 

The sad truth is that the Holleran's sugar maples were lost long before Megan Holleran, daughter and family spokesperson, was quoted in the Pike County Courier:

This is our land and family business. The pipeline has been years in permitting and we just staged our equipment to set up for this year’s syrup production. If they cut the trees now they would destroy our equipment and that’s criminal. That’s property destruction. We asked them to negotiate with our attorney before cutting and that hasn’t happened yet. I’m ready to stop them by standing in the right of way if they try. (
 Here's why:

When Holleran appeals to the word "now," she implies that Williams could come later to cut down the trees--just not now while they need the trees to make money.

When Holleran appeals to the word "property," Williams knows that what the dispute is about is not trees, not an ecology, and not the biota of that land. What they know is that this is really all about money--the meaning of "property"-- and that the Hollerans are willing to play a very specific game of negotiation according to rules that privilege the pipeline company. Williams knows precisely who will win.

Tennessee Pipeline Cut. Photo, Wendy Lynne Lee

When Holleran refers to negotiation with the family attorney, Williams knows that neither she nor any of the protesters are going to stand in the way of the tree-cutters once a judge has ruled in favor of the company's egregious abuse of eminent domain. Why? Because every one of the players in this story--including the protesters--has already agreed to the fundamental rules--that trees are property, maple syrup sites, a staging location for machinery. And with that, it all becomes a matter of whose property, for what use, for how long, and under what conditions.

Simply put: there's no such thing as "No Pipeline!" and "Move the Pipeline!" In the first case the pipeline doesn't get built; in the second it does.

If the Hollerans are victims, it's not of Williams; it's of the protesters who effectively used the family as an opportunity to stage one more "direct action" in the "fight" against the construction of natural gas pipelines. I don't doubt that the protesters were invited. I don't doubt that their motives were essentially good--if misbegotten. But once their leaders knew that this was about relocation and compensation--and never really about stopping the pipeline--why did they move forward? 

Was this about stopping a pipeline or preserving the appearance of a movement? 

Lastly, I have often heard the anti-fracking movement compared to the American Civil Rights movement. I've been tempted to that comparison myself. 

Photo, Wendy Lynne Lee
 But until we become unified and far clearer than we are now about the point of our protest, this comparison is odious.

Civil rights movement leaders may have argued among themselves about many things, but that the movement was about the fundamental dignity of human beings regardless ethnicity, heritage, geography or culture was not one of them. 

That human beings are not property is the governing principle of what we mean by civil rights--by human rights. That's what so many fought and died for during the Civil Rights movement.

We're apparently not that brave.

Until we are prepared to extend the fundamental idea of unimpeachable dignity to the defense of the planet--to treat it and its inhabitants with the respect owed beyond "property," we will not gain traction or win battles beyond the NIMBY-ism ascribed to us by the gas industry. 

Photo, Wendy Lynne Lee
 But that, of course, would mean deep-going alterations in the way we, especially in the wealthy North, live--and decisions far more difficult than whether or not to spend an afternoon or even a whole weekend holding up signs. 

But such meaningful alterations in our ways of life seem awfully hard to hope for among movement builders who'd "stop" a pipeline only to retire to eating a cow, a pig, a chicken.

Indeed, if we can't even see that the most vulnerable among our sentient fellows are not property, what hope is there for things like sugar bush?

Wendy Lynne Lee

Monday, December 21, 2015

Educators Against Intolerance - An Open letter

Photo Wendy Lynne Lee, 12.10.15
Note: This came to me from a colleague in the English Department at Bloomsburg University. If you're an academic follower of this blog, please consider signing. We in the academy have, I think, a special duty to be out in front of standing up to bigotry, intolerance, and ignorance. Here is a modest opportunity to do just that.

Dear Colleague,

In light of recent events there is a heightened sense of intolerance in the US, especially towards Arab and Muslim Americans. A few faculty members from Harvard, MIT and Princeton have helped draft a letter (pasted below) that speaks out against such intolerance and discrimination. 

This letter is being circulated to solicit signatures from other educators who share these concerns. Once a sufficient number of signatures are collected (ideally by Wednesday December 23rd), the letter (along with the names of the signatories) will be sent to appropriate media/public outlets (such as the NYT) in the hope that they will be interested in publishing it.  

I have already signed the letter and am forwarding this email in case you would also like to do so. Signing the letter only takes a few minutes. Please click the link here to sign:

If you would like to see the names of those who have signed so far please click here

Please also forward this message to other academic colleagues in the US - both those in your department and in other departments/institutions - and encourage them to sign and also forward. Since the hope is to get the letter published, it would be best to not post it for now on social media. 

If you have any questions, you can email:


The Letter:

Recent events have, once again, brutally violated the nation’s sense of security. Many Citizens believe that another terrorist attack is as likely today as it was in the days following 9/11. Almost half worry that they or someone in their family will be a victim of terrorism. 

 But this fear can also disconnect us from reason and have devastating consequences. The reduction in immigrants’ rights codified by the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, the restrictions on free speech established by the Espionage and Sedition Acts of 1917-18, and the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII were all policies born from fear, and all resound throughout history as stark contradictions to American values.

 We are concerned that we could head down a similarly dark path today. Hours after the San Bernardino massacre on Dec. 2, 2015, the top Google search in California using the word “Muslims” was “kill Muslims”. Public personalities have openly called for barring Muslims from entering the US and have not ruled out building databases to track American Muslims.

 While denounced by the majority, such rhetoric normalizes intolerance. It permits actions with undesirable and unintended consequences. The visa waiver bill, voted through by over 90% of the House on Dec 8 2015, is one such example. Under this bill, specific individuals from the 38 countries eligible for a visa waiver would be barred from using it. Those newly excluded would include British citizens of Iranian descent, as well as Germans who volunteered for relief work in Syria. As such legislation is often reciprocated by other nations, it may well relegate American Arabs and Muslims to second-class citizen status and deter all Americans from traveling to places where our help is critical.

 Broad-brush, discriminatory and highly visible measures targeting Arab and Muslim populations are likely to create division, not heal it – playing right into the extremists' hands. Making it harder for individuals to travel hurts the very exchange of ideas that fosters tolerance in our society and allows our universities to become world leaders in producing knowledge and promoting free speech and rational discourse.

 Our universities indeed exemplify how we thrive by enabling people from different cultures, religions, political values and priorities to cohabit and work together productively. As we interact with our students, fellow educators, and policy makers, we are constantly reminded of how important this diverse and open exchange is, and the critical part it plays in informing the fabric of our values.  As we see signs of fear clouding our judgment, we are compelled to speak out in defense of tolerance, rational discourse, and basic human values. 

 We therefore categorically reject all forms of intolerance and any discriminatory treatment of Arab and Muslim Americans and other minority groups. We call upon each other and upon our leaders to do the same.