Why #OccupyWallStreet May Be Progressive Turning Point


Photo by Jim Kiernan via Flickr - All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Are we on the cusp of an American Autumn a la the Arab Spring? Last night, Van Jones said yes. "I think everybody should hold on to your seats. October is going to be the turning point when it comes to the progressive fight back," Jones said.

From the Keystone XL protest led by Bill McKibben, 350 and the Tar Sands Action coalition to Al Gore calling on climate realists to oppose climate denial during his global event of 24 hours of Climate Reality to the on-going #OccupyWallStreet movement to 350's Moving Planet rally, September has already been an unusually busy month for progressive action. What will we see in October and how will environmentalists, greens and climate hawks be involved? Note: MSNBC's video embed code seems to fail often, so if the video below fails or is the wrong clip, the correct video should be available here.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

It is noteworthy for TreeHugger's to hear Jones talking about this because he has long been a leading voice on the issue of Green Jobs.

PODCAST:Hear our TreeHugger podcast with Van Jones.

And with Obama on the road rallying support for the American Jobs Act, now is a particularly good time for people concerned with jobs policy - and green jobs, in particular - to be voicing their demands.

But what does Occupy Wall Street have to do with sustainability
For a point-by-point explanation, see Mat's post: Why Environmentalists Should Care About the Occupy Wall Street Protests.

I see the overlap in these causes from a practical & strategic lens. Here at TreeHugger, we try and say often that caring about the environment is not strictly a "right" or "left" issue and that's true. It doesn't have to be a partisan issue. But unfortunately, it has become one. There is no denying that in American politics today, there is a stark divide between the two political parties on sustainability issues, such as clean energy, green jobs, transportation and urban planning. Not to mention the Republican Party's mind-boggling embrace of anti-science conspiracy theories regarding climate change.

Why Environmentalists Should Support Progressive Reform Movements
In addition to the reasons stated above, there are two famous quotes I think are important to keep in mind right now. One is from economist Milton Friedman, who said, "Only a crisis produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around." This tactic has unfortunately been used following crises to push unpopular policies - also known as the Shock Doctrine. And it is one of the reasons we're in this financial mess to begin with. But as a strategic political tactic it's wise to have plans you want to see implemented ready - shovel ready, if you will.

The second quote is from FDR. Speaking to a group of activists, he said, "I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it."

On both of these points, the environmental movement has so far failed. We've failed to successfully push the current administration and have instead lost many key battles. This is somewhat due to an absence of plans in waiting, like Friedman suggests, but it is also a failure of collective action. Consider one big change that took place during Obama's first term. Don't Ask Don't Tell was repealed because the gay rights movement forced Obama to fulfill his campaign promises. The environmental movement has much to learn from this method of demanding what we want.

With all of this context in mind, this really does feel like a moment for environmentalists. No, the financial crash and unemployment crisis are not widely viewed as environmental issues, but they are.

Take just one issue that greens and climate hawks want to accomplish - launching a "space race" scale boom in clean energy & transportation - action on these issues is hindered by the same political stagnation and corruption opposed by the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Occupy Wall Street as Lesson for Environmental Movement
A couple hundred radicals came together to spark the Occupy Wall Street protest and 13 days later groups with membership totaling in the hundreds of thousands are pledging to join in the coming days. Environmentalists should not let an opportunity like this pass them by. By joining forces with these coalitions, environmentalists can help contribute to the changes that are needed in our political and financial systems which will help lead to greater action on the issues we care about.

I concede I may not be making my case well enough to convince the conservative or more-moderate members of the TreeHugger audience to join a progressive movement. That is fine. Sit this one out. But to those reading that agree that we need changes in our political and financial systems in order to reach the scale of change we know is needed to solve the climate crisis, I ask that you stand up now and help make October a month of progress.

What Can You Do?
1. To start, visit: Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Together, 350 , Rebuild The Dream and join the groups that support your views. They will email you action items and additional ways to help.
2. Tell someone why you care. Tell your friends and family why this is important to you. Maybe they will want to join and maybe they won't. That is fine. But expressing the reasons you specifically care can sometimes help people see an issue more clearly.
3. Use social media to follow the action and help spread the word. Every movement will have Twitter accounts and hashtags to follow. Look for them on the links above.

And like Leonora wrote this week, if you want to change the world, the most important thing you can do is to start.

I'm @ChrisTackett and I like to tweet about these and other things.

Tags: 350 | Activism | Al Gore | Energy | Green Jobs | Occupy Wall Street | Tar Sands | Tar Sands Action

Best of TreeHugger