Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Citizens are not Subjects, Reform is not Revolution: A Letter to My Friends in the Pennsylvania Anti-Fracking Movement

Gas Line Trail, Cammal, PA near Pine Creek, 5.14
Photo Wendy Lynne Lee

Dear friends,

My message is a simple one: there are reasons why the anti-fracking movement in Pennsylvania has thus far failed to staunch the liquidation of the state, and if we do not begin the difficult task of asking what these are, there will be little left to salvage. 

Our collective self-respect will be among the casualties.

Yet we seem to be far more devoted to maintaining our social ties that our moral objectives. This, I think, is because we don't have a single clear objective. 

When our leaders cannot bring themselves to whisper the word "ban" for fear of offending or alienating their elected representatives--when they let the rest of us act as the Hoplites while they pontificate about harms at their next media event in front of a mic--that is no movement. 

That's something more like a corporation who, like any such organization has as its first objective the reproduction of itself--a reproduction that requires either that the harms continue or that something out of which we can create equal celebrity replace them.

Be that as it may, the Pennsylvania anti-fracking movement has had some spectacular moments--most of them a direct challenge to the system that disenfranchises our citizenship virtually autonomically.

The trouble is that ultimately these moments 
must come to something more than 
the placeholder that the word "movement" fills. 

Because the Gas Behemoth against which we were compelled to move was so daunting, we could not afford to remain a few moments of movement.

We needed to become an insurgency--but we seem not to have the stomach for it--returning over and over again to the same worn strategies, appealing to the same system of law that undermines us.

The truth is that a movement so fragile 
that it cannot even look in the face of 
its critic's arguments--
much less digest those arguments 
and respond to their reasoning-- 
is not a movement at all. 

I have argued that a movement whose capitulation to the thin blood of "halts" and "better regulation" and "moratorium"--notions that appear to infuse its very bone marrow--is not only doomed to anemia and slow death--but to the pre-emption of its very purpose as a movement. 

Why would any industry ever accede to a ban when they know its leaders will settle for the withering diorama that's left of the state forest? When they know that we can be intimidated by as little as a request for a survey of our lands?

The gas industry has billions of dollars at stake--and all the immense power that goes with it. Yet we think standing on the steps of the capitol building in the middle of a workday will move them to reconsider.

The governor tosses off a crumb from the frack cake he will have and eat too, and we drop to our knees in thanks--all the while he signs more permits to poison us with his free hand.

When did our disposition become so servile and cloying?

We thought the enemy was the gas industry, but truly it is our own unwillingness to see that until we are willing to put our bodies by the thousands in front of the drill rigs and trucks, nothing is going to change.

Instead, we lie to ourselves and to our fellows--insisting to them that the next petition will matter, the next 10 am Tuesday protest, the next plea to the Gas Wolf Governor.

And then the harm continues. 
Truth is, we simply do not care enough.
Or we are too afraid to challenge the system 
that allows our employers to fire us 
for participating in our own lives as citizens.

Even worse, the essentially fascist state and its industry partners are more than accommodating of our current strategies because these strategies exhaust us, keep us where law enforcement can conveniently surveil us, and are reliably ineffectual. 

The movement in its current incarnation is a gift to law enforcement--especially since they get to pretend we are some sort of threat, and we get to pretend we're making headway.

But this is all a game. Same moves. Different day. 

All the while the systematic destruction of our air and water continues as the "energy sector" becomes more and more in control of every aspect of our lives.

The thing is--I wish I were wrong.

But this is what I have come to see. 

And I feel certain that no one will want to mount a counter-argument--not because there might not be one--but because we have little stomach for truth, preferring to lie to ourselves instead about how much we're accomplishing. 

The facts tell a very different story.

So long as we continue to invest our faith in a system of law rigged in its very origins and objectives against us--so long as we continue to appeal for remedy to that system even though the predictable outcomes remain the same--we will continue to see the same tragic results. 

And the fault is not the gas industry who simply acts like the consumption machine that it is.

The fault is ours.

We are so myopic and parochial in our vision 
that we cannot see that it's not fracking 
that's the crisis--
it's the system of laws that privilege the wealthy 
and the corporatized that creates us 
not as citizens but as subjects--
not as rights-bearing members 
of communities, 
but as labor, as consumer-- 
as disposable.

More drilling permits, more pollution, more deforestation, more property value loss, more explosions, more damaged streams, more cancer, more asthma, more birth defects, more neurological disease, more harm.

That is the legacy of subjects 
whose value is measured 
in the terms of production and commodities--
not intrinsic worth and not as life.

We are not merely sacrifice zones--we are  impediments that must be moved out of the way--and we routinely oblige.  

We evince this blind faith in a system that makes us subjects--but not citizens--every time we appeal to FERC, every time we seek remedy through the courts, every time we respect a "free speech" zone--every time we move just because we are told to move.

We are convinced of the very myth that law enforcement would have us believe--that if we do not obey the law, we are guilty of a violence.

We know unequivocally that we are governed 
by the threat of force and through intimidation--
but we cannot bring ourselves to 
challenge the system 
that denudes our communities 
and makes a mockery 
of our aspirations to democracy.

We also know that solidarity is forged out of experience--something for which the mere repetition of petitions and signs and press releases and newsletters and photo-ops cannot provide sufficient fire in the belly.

As long as we believe that the system will ultimately work, we will never be able to muster the collective courage to take a decisive stand against what is a fascist relationship between the government, law enforcement, the gas industry, and the burgeoning private security firms that make up organizations like the Marcellus Shale Operator's Crime Committee and its proliferating analogues.

And so long as our leaders seem more interested in celebrity-frack-alebrity--than in actually organizing an insurgency against a system that autonomically disenfranchises us all well beyond the drill bit and the pipelines, we will see at best the cosmetic change offered on occasion as a moratorium re-instatement, a pipeline relocation, a fine.

But only subjects are satiated by these stale crumbs, 
and a cosmetic fix is nothing more 
than a cover story.

Citizens demand more--not cake, mind you, but the far more filling bread of rights exercised and objectives won.

We cannot afford to lose--it is our existential conditions that are at stake. 

It is the existential conditions of our neighbors that are at stake.