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Building Community Politics Beyond Extraction without Limit
New political platforms and organizing is necessary now, other than just Democrat and Republican. Stop telling lies. Build renewable energy projects to fund child care. New ideas, new alliances.

By Michelle Alexander and Naomi Klein

Editor's Note: The following is a partial transcript of a conversation with Michelle Alexander and Naomi Klein, moderated by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, in front of a sold-out crowd of 3,000 at Chicago's Auditorium Theatre on May 9, 2017. To read the whole transcript go to TruthOut.

Michelle Alexander: I think first we have to begin by telling the truth, which I think has actually been a big stumbling block. We can look at Trump and see how he lies, but I think we also have to look at some of the lies we've told ourselves and the lies we've accepted and internalized ourselves.

One of those lies is that all we need to do is elect more Democrats. No. That actually isn't going to get us to the Promised Land. If that's the case, if more is required than simply doing the same thing over and over and hoping and praying for better results, then we're going to have to ask ourselves: What kind of organizing and movement-building will actually produce a meaningful alternative?

My own view -- and I'm very open to hearing other perspectives -- is that this movement-building needs to begin at home, in local communities. It isn't about trying to launch a brand new national party overnight. It's about people in communities coming together across lines of difference, bringing with them their movements, their families, and coming together and saying, "How can we together build a movement of movements here at home? What would that look like? What do we want to do right here in our communities?"

I've been thrilled to see the sanctuary movement around the country. But I have to say I also have had some feelings of: Wow, why wasn't there a sanctuary movement when the war on drugs was declared? Where was the sanctuary for people who were suffering with drug addiction, when the police came with SWAT teams and dragged them away? Where were the safe spaces?

I think that we need to begin talking about what does it mean to create these safe spaces in our communities, to begin welcoming one another into our homes and into our communities when they're returning home from prison, people who are on the streets. We need to begin doing the work in our own communities of creating the kind of democracy that we would like to see on a larger scale.

I hope that we will also take seriously the necessity of building alternative parties, and do that work in our communities of organizing movements of movements, creating safe spaces and sanctuary, coming into dialogue, figuring out what a common platform might be for all of us, and building on the work that is happening elsewhere around the community. Even as we resist Trump, doing so with an eye toward building a truly transformational, even revolutionary movement that can become a meaningful alternative to the Democratic and Republican parties.

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor: I'm wondering, within that context, if you, Naomi, would talk about the Leap Manifesto in Canada as a concrete example of what organizing can look like?

Naomi Klein: We tried to do something similar coming on a couple of years ago in Canada and this idea has been spreading. There's actually been quite a bit of interest, in this country and in different countries, in this model. In Canada, we did start at the national level, it's a little easier to do that in a country with a much smaller population, but one of the things that's been interesting is that it's now gone local. People are taking it and working with it at the city level, at the union level. What it was is precisely what Michelle was talking about: a people's platform. We actually did it during an election campaign, where we looked around and we saw that not one of the three parties that had a chance of winning the election had a platform that we felt met the historic moment, whether on inequality, Indigenous rights, racial justice or climate change. So, a group of us convened a meeting of 60 movement leaders, theorists, very cross-movement, and we had high-level leadership from the trade union movement, from the climate movement, migrant rights…. It wasn't perfect: we didn't have everybody who we should have had, but we had some incredible Indigenous leadership in the room.

We had two days of very, very hard discussions, trying to understand why we hadn't worked together in the past. We had had coalitions of 'no' before, where we had come together to say "we don't want this trade deal," "we don't want this politician," or "we don't want this terrible austerity package that's coming down." But we had not in recent memory come together to say, "This is what we do want. This is what the world we want actually looks like. What does it feel like? How can we imagine it?"

Getting to that space to dream was really hard, because there's baggage in all of these movements and there's terrible history that we're trying to navigate. We were blessed to have some incredible facilitators to help us work through that, and that's really important when you're building these spaces and people are coming together, to understand that arguments mean it's working. If you're not arguing, your coalition isn't wide enough. This is part of healing. But it's a real skill to know how to facilitate those moments so that you can move past them and through them.

Some common themes emerged, and one of them was that we live in this culture of endless extraction and disposal: extraction from the earth, extraction from people's bodies, from communities, as if there's no limit, as if there's no consequence to how we're taking and disposing, and as if it can go on endlessly. We are reaching the breaking point on multiple levels. Communities are breaking, the planet is breaking, people's bodies are breaking. We are taking too much.

So, the frame that emerged out of it was "moving to a culture of care," of radical care and consent, which begins with the original caretakers of the land, water and air, which begins with fully implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. It means taking the science of climate change seriously, that says that we need to get to 100 percent renewable energy very quickly: in two decades for electricity, for the rest of the economy a little bit after that.

"Why would be build as unequal a renewable energy sector as we have built a fossil fuel sector?" -- Naomi Klein But as we make this transition, we have this incredible opportunity to build a fairer economy. Why would we build as unequal a renewable energy sector as we have built a fossil fuel sector? The nice thing about renewables is they're everywhere, so you don't have to have monopoly control in the same way.

We were inspired by the German model, where in transitioning to renewables -- and they're not all the way there, but they're a hell of a lot further on than we are -- there's been an explosion of cooperative ownership: 900 new energy cooperatives; hundreds of cities and towns have taken back control of their energy grids so that they run them democratically and keep the profits in their communities to pay for daycares and community centers and lots of good things.

But we also said, "No, we want to go further than that, we want energy reparation, we want energy justice." Which means that the people who have been on the front line of our extraction and of our toxic additions, and have borne the burden in their bodies with soaring asthma rates for their children, and cancer clusters -- and you certainly know all about this in Chicago -- those people must be first in line to own and control their own renewable energy projects.

The other thing that we wanted to do was redefine what a green job was, what a climate job was. We said: "Wait a minute. There's all these people out there who are doing low-carbon work." It's not just guys in hard hats putting up solar panels. Teaching is low carbon. Caring for the sick is low carbon. Daycare is a green workplace.

Overwhelmingly, this is work that is done by women, overwhelmingly women of color, on the frontlines of austerity clawbacks. So, we said: "Austerity is a logic that's at war with life on earth, and it has to end." And the money is out there, we live in a time of unprecedented private wealth. So, we worked with progressive economists to cost it out and say where the money's going to come from. It's going to come from "polluter pays;" it's going to come from redistribution. So those are the principles: Frontline first. Polluter pays.

In this country right now, it's so crucial -- because there are these amazing inspiring social movements that predate the Trump era, and they've been surging since Trump -- it's really urgent, I think, that all these movements find space to come together and hash out some kind of people's platform. I agree with Michelle entirely that it's not going to work at the national level for the US, but it could work in a city like Chicago. It could start to work at a state level, and we are seeing some examples of this: in New York State, there's a great coalition called New York Renews that is bringing together labor, racial justice, climate justice to fight for really progressive legislation.

Rather than waiting for some perfect candidate to come along and do it all for us, what if the people's platforms led? What if people figured this out, including what their red lines are? "Any candidate who wants our vote has to endorse this platform, has to endorse these demands." I think that would put us miles ahead of where we were in 2016. Just waiting, waiting and seeing -- "Who's going to run? What's it going to look like? Let's wait and see" -- that's backwards.

Get organizing. Write your platforms. And then say to the candidates, "If you want our votes, endorse our platforms."

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Date Added: 7/6/2017 Date Revised: 7/6/2017 4:57:19 PM

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