On Friday, as I was leaving work, a ruckus erupted in the crossroads out front. A couple hundred people were blocking the intersection, waving signs and chanting in time with a megaphone. Naturally, I waded into the crowd. I was surprised to see that these people were tiny, unwrinkled and super cool . They were teenagers. They were Zoomers.
These kids were on strike from school, in the model of Greta Thunberg and hundreds of thousands of others, to protest climate inaction and demand change. And why shouldn’t they? They’re the ones that will see out the chaos of this century. They’re the ones stuck paying the carbon debt for a dozen generations of bad ancestors.
Of course, they were ineffective. They blocked the intersection for an hour before meekly submitting to the cops. The obvious Millennials running the show were uninviting, and they weren’t even doing basic pamphleting. When you block a road, you should always explain to the people you’re obstructing why you had to do it and how they can get in touch to have their minds changed further. Otherwise you’re just frustrating the working class and muddying the conversation with petty grudges.
The Extinction Rebellion in London (XR) did a great job of this: their rolling blockades stopped traffic across the city for seven minutes on, seven minutes off, repeat. This allowed the bystanders to get to work, and got new eyes in front of their signs. They shut down London for eleven days – unlike the school strikers, who spent an hour shouting “we won’t move until things change,” and then marched back to campus.
We’re more connected than we ever were, and more charged up politically. And we need to be, because the stakes are higher than we’ve ever imagined. World famine and record disasters and mass migrations are the next stage of our cancerous capitalist society. The only way to stop this ride is to get off.
We have a fundamentally broken system of human coordination. It only rewards the extraction of value, the alienation of human experience. The GDP goes up with every cigarette sold, every coal mountain mined. There’s no money in doing good for the Earth: anybody with a big heart and a bigger student loan can tell you this. The things we need to do (decarbonize industry, ecologize agriculture, equalize society) are not possible under this mode of production. Money is a broken measurement of value.
The strike is a timeless tactic. The mode of production is made of our bodies and minds, after all. If we remove our fuel from the machine it does not run. And a strike is more than a mass of bodies. It’s a village. It’s a group of people who see each other anew and realize that life can be about something other than grinding out a profit. That it can be a creative experiment. That we humans can build joy and meaning in any circumstance, as long as we do it together. The teachers’ strikes across the country, the Stop N Shop strikes in New England, the students and the uprisers have created counter-power. They threaten capital and the state, and they get what they want. The United Kingdom just declared climate emergency: the first of three XR demands met.
We have to build connections outside of buying and selling. We need those networks of friends and neighbors and colleagues, so that we can coordinate in ways other than the market. Better: when we build those connections, when we strike together, when we feed each other, we create new modes of production. We prefigure the society we will create.
It’s worthwhile to be strategic. Don’t waste your time repeating the same shallow broken chants I was shouting in 2003, when we did the school strike against Iraq war. Fight to win. But remember not to lose that humanity that we’re fighting for. If the utopian society has no room for relaxation, or play, or love, why build it? Might as well go extinct, if the alternative is becoming robots.
Thanks for reading,
###### SCIOPS is a letter about things that really grind my gears, kids. And other stuff. Technically still published on Mondays. Feel free to forward it, or share it, or subtweet me in nasty ways. You can find a web version of the latest letter here , or view the archive here .
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