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Activist Malpractice: the Celebrity Catch-and-Release Movement
Photo of actress Daryl Hannah by Ann Heisenfelt. [Never have “arrests” brought so much happiness to so many participants.]
Photo of Civil rights leader Julian Bond by Ann Heisenfelt. [More good cheer all around.]
Counterpunch | Weekend Edition February 15-17, 2013
Tweeting as the World Burns
by MICHAEL DONNELLY
“They say that hens do cackle loudest when there is nothing vital in the eggs they have laid.” —Ambrose Bierce
“Bucket list item checked off: share a paddy wagon with Julian Bond. This is a broad movement,” Bill McKibben tweeted after his misdemeanor arrest for protesting the Keystone Pipeline outside the White House, February 13, 2013
“There is nothing so agonizing to the fine skin of vanity as the application of a rough truth.” —Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton
“It’s always good to get arrested with a Kennedy” posted Pete Nichols, who flew in from California for the rally. When informed about the Tar Sands-derived fuel in his and many of the other protesters’ mode of transportation, he frivolously responded, “I actually teleported. New Waterkeeper project. ssshhhh…btw…..tar sand oil makes terrible jet fuel and even worse martinis.”
McKibben, Nichols and other corporate foundation-anointed “leaders” (read: paid staff) from the professional environmental movement and a handful of celebrities – around 50 in all – converged on DC to get arrested after standing outside the White House for an hour-and-half – posing for photos and holding a protest banner with Obama’s Campaign logo on it – calling on Obama to “Lead on Climate” by withholding approval of the new Northern part of the Keystone XL Pipeline. The pipeline would bring ever more bitumen from Alberta’s devastated Tar Sands region into the US and down to refineries along the Gulf of Mexico. McKibben and others have been saying that completion of said pipeline would mean “game over” for the climate for some time now.
In one of those Cosmic moments, an article about the effort to desegregate the Arkansas Capitol’s cafeteria in 1964 appeared the same day as the invite-only Designer Protest. On July 15, 1964, two weeks after passage of The Civil Right Act, Ozell Sutton entered the Arkansas cafeteria, grabbed a tray and stood in line. Cafeteria manager Edris Tyer confronted him, “We don’t serve negras here!” Sutton replied, “That’s all right lady, I don’t eat them either, so you don’t have to serve me any negras. You need to serve me some roast beef.” He was promptly removed.
After nine months, during which dozens of protesters endured massive state violence, including being doused with corrosive mustard gas, the cafeteria was desegregated.
Comparing what those Civil Rights Movement activists endured with the 1.5 hour Vanity Protest and catch-and-release arrests held at the White House is akin to equating the Battle of Antietam with the Battle for Granada…yet, that is exactly what the organizers are doing all over social media. They were simply charged with failure to disperse and obey lawful orders and released on $100 bond each. (And don’t even get this Irishman started on the pejorative “paddy wagon” line. “Tweets from the Birmingham Paddy Wagon, anyone?”)
Frequent Flyer Activism
Yes, indeed. Democracy certainly looks like a bunch of well-compensated, members-only First World “Climate Campaigners” and celebrities decked out in suits for a Vanity Protest in front to the White House. This is the “Broad Movement” that McKibben waxes proudly about. An unconscionable amount of carbon was spewed high in the atmosphere flying people in to the protest. And massive amounts more will be spent bringing people in to the open-to-the peons follow-up protest this Sunday (though, at least most of the peons will be bussed in – the plane tickets are reserved for the “leaders.”) The late, great Joe Bageant called this kind of ridiculousness “Dancing at the Doomsday Ball.”
Other than the I-got-arrested-with-a-star buffoonery, the point of the protest(s) was/is to draw media attention to backstop their call for Obama to stop the pipeline. Then again, with his campaign logo front and center on their protest signs and buttons, why would Obama ever take them seriously, regardless of how much pop idol-driven media they generate?
And, how did the media attention work out? The few media outlets around the country that covered it all used the same Associated Press article which was heavy on the famous person stuff and woefully lacking on the substance of the issue. Most didn’t note it at all. USAToday, the national newspaper, didn’t have a single word on it. Then again, I didn’t check TMZ.
During it all, CNN’s This Just In news blog featured pieces on 3-D nipples, Dog Wins Best in Show, World’s Oldest Bird Gives Birth and No Party for Pope. On the other hand, the rightist site Breitbart gleefully covered Daryl Hannah’s role in it. Its Comments section pretty much verifies how I characterized how such elitist efforts are perceived by the opposition in my recent Elephant in the Boiler Room piece on Climate Change.
I’m not even opposed to collaborations with celebrities. It just has to have some efficacy and can’t be the focus, ferGaiasakes! The American Indian Movement’s Long March to DC was helped greatly by having Max Gail along; living the same hard life as the rest of the marchers. Woody Harrelson, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt were/are No Nukes and Forest Protection activists. Sammy Davis, Jr., Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, Dick Gregory, Frank Sinatra, Lean Horne, Charlton Heston (yep!), Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee all played large roles, including planning strategy, in the Civil Rights Movement. Dear to my heart, the effort to save Opal Creek’s magnificent Ancient Forest was sealed when Paul Newman agreed to narrate the Rage over Trees documentary on it.
“Our non-negotiable American Way of Life” —Darth Cheney
Things are indeed dire. But, unless we get a handle on the consumption that drives it all; Tar Sands, the abomination of Moutaintop Removal coal extraction (and the Appalachian cultural cleansing it also engenders), fracking for natural gas, killing riparian ecosystem with dams, burning even green thing on the planet for electrons (“renewable, carbon neutral Biomass” in Big Green parlance)…will continue. Frequent flyer activism and castle, err, wind tower in the sky energy scams sure ain’t gonna get the goods.
Unless self-identified greens start “Leading on Climate” themselves by dramatically lowering their own large carbon footprints, the public will simply not buy in (read those Breitbart comments). And yes, I’m know I’m a hypocrite on it, born into it and all…but I recognize it and am trying my best to unplug – when this antique computer dies, I doubt I’ll replace it with a new one.
How Many Earths do we have?
I have a friend who has lived in a small cabin off-the-grid for over 20 years. He walks to work, has no running water (hot or cold), no electricity, no Internet, no kids, is a strict Vegan, only eats local, organic foods, uses wood heat, has traveled by jet once in his life…He took one of those on-line tests that assesses your personal Carbon Footprint and tells you just how many Earth’s worth of resources it would take if all 7 billion clever apes lived at your consumption level. His answer? 2.5 Earths! Mostly, because of the wood heat he has a 15-year-old Jeep.
Before the astroturf Climate Movement was paid to never mention Consumption and to always tout fantasy energy solutions as the answer – said wind, solar, etc. fantasy energy being a tax swindle bubble that benefits the very corporations that fund this distraction, Bill McKibben wrote a great piece on Consumption. We’ve wasted crucial decades by not addressing and finding solutions to the real underlying cause – Consumption and Population. You have to go back to February 1985 to find a full month that was not warmer than the long-time norm. These corporate-sponsored diversions have cost us precious time; of which we have little.
I’ll predict right now that Obama will end up approving the pipeline with a slightly different “more ecologically-sensitive” route. It will be coupled with a Carbon Tax which will dedicate a large amount of the income to the “renewable” swindle. This package will be called a “major victory” by Big Green Central and the foundations’ billion dollar Climate Campaign. (Canada will succeed in getting any tax at the Tar Sands source tossed as an unfair restraint of trade – thank you neolib Free Trade agreements.)
A fellow activist notes, “That we’ve wasted time even talking about the pipeline is EXACTLY what the corporate masters who bought the environmental movement had hoped for. The pipeline has zero to do with what happens next, and they know it. They have to just wonder at the stupidity of so-called environmentalists — dumber than they even thought.”
[MICHAEL DONNELLY gained a thorough understanding of corporate-financed DC environmentalism during the days a real grassroots’ movement helped save tens of thousands of acres of Ancient Forests. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org]