We may be on the edge of quite a summer - one that, who knows - may just set the stage for turning our planet around.
Most everyone knows the basics at this point: we're seeing some of the worst never-before-scene storms, wildfires, and droughts, while we're seeing communities poisoned in never-before-seen-new-ways, and we know the extreme energy and fossil fuel industries are largely to blame. Corporations like ExxonMobil are literally radicalizing our planet's climate by burning billions of tons of carbon a year, and while they're at it - they're flooding towns like Mayflower, Arkansas, with dirty tar sands. Our future is under fire, and in places like Colorado's forests, and faucets in Pennsylvania - that's not a metaphor.
Letting corporations poison our planet is wrong. We know this: but we haven't done all that much about it. We've taken potshots, had our skirmishes, but the carbon keeps climbing, the poisons keep spreading, and the pipelines keep getting laid for more. We're losing. Any honest campaigner will tell you that.
Maybe it's because, to a degree, we're afraid.
We're afraid on three levels:
1) We've been trained on fear. Most every environmental campaign has rightfully taught us to be afraid: afraid the polar bears might all drown. Afraid the mountains will keep being blown up for coal. Afraid the Arctic will keep melting. Afraid that pipelines will always leak. Afraid that we can't stop the fracking epidemic - just look at North Dakota from space - so maybe we ought to just regulate it. Afraid that maybe it's too late. Afraid that if we don't all do something right now - then we might as well throw in the towel. Except doing something usually means signing a petition, or sharing something on Facebook. Our fears were woven in with the threads of disempowerment.
2) We're afraid of what it will take: because facing off with the fossil fuel industry means some very tough choices. These are mighty foes we are up against. Challenging them requires various kinds of sacrifice: sacrifice of our relationships, sacrifice of our freedom, sacrifice of a carefree life. Not full sacrifice - indeed life grows brighter once you find your frontline - but some degree of letting go of what you think is comfortable. Folks who led the way in the civil rights were beaten, attacked by vicious dogs, and some are still missing. Women who led the suffragette movement didn't fare much better. Actually stopping a fracking well, or a refinery, or what have you--that all your neighbors say is impossible--indeed who tell you it's good for jobs--is not an easy thing.
3) We've been afraid of letting go. Especially if you're a professional campaigner: well, we've been afraid of letting go. We've been afraid of getting out from out front, and getting behind a mass uprising against the foes of our future. Remember when all sorts of paid progressives were initially super critical of Occupy? That's in part because Occupy showed what's possible when ordinary, mostly young, disempowered people, find their power. Everything looks like it can change. Yet: it means your organization that makes petitions or funds a good-guy lobbyist or two looks largely irrelevant. It doesn't have to be that way: we can build solidarity, and when these openings present themselves, find meaning in our different roles.
And so, here we are - facing another big summer of activism.
Last Summer we saw a wonderful tease of what may yet be the sequel this time around.
Last Summer: Fed up Appalachians and their allies locked arms, walked onto, and shut down the largest mountaintop removal site in the country. Texans also locked arms, as they trained for waves of direct action against construction of the Southern Leg of the Keystone XL. And later on, regular folks from Montana held arms in a circle, for a near week of sit-ins in their Statehouse, demanding an end to coal export mining.
Last Summer was one of the highest spikes of hope our movement has ever seen -- yet it was also one of the most under-reported and under-funded. A few of us banded together in the heat of it and came up with the label "Summer of Solidarity", and outlined our common language as against the fossil fuel industry and for a livable planet. We told a united story on facebook, and had a shared hashtag: #ClimateSOS.
Bless groups like 350.org, Energy Action Coalition, and Bill McKibben for getting behind last year's Summer of Solidarity in real time, but it was all a little late and last-minute. Yet it was all a wonderful taste of what we knew we could pull off.
Now as this summer is around the corner, many more folks are wondering: how do we frame our actions all together? Do we say it's a climate emergency, do we say it's a hot summer (literally and metaphorically)? How do we bring together the anti-extraction edge of our movement, with the 40,000 climate activists who rolled into DC just the other month?
How do we frame our next big chance at changing our story?
Well - maybe we've got a chance here at facing our fears.
Maybe it's time to lay our fears out on the table: and say: We're ready for a #FearlessSummer.
A Fearless Summer doesn't mean we're ditching our fears: but it means being real with them.
It means we're facing our fear of hopelessness. We've lost a lot in this fight already: but we haven't lost our hope. Even as the world starts to melt & burn: our destiny as a human race is still up to us to write. We have not yet written the full future of our life on this planet.
It means we're facing our fears of sacrifice. This won't be easy. We may have to do things we never even imagined - put our bodies in places our bodies really don't want to go. Getting arrested--going to jail--for peacefully standing up, is unfortunately going to be a big part of this work. That's just where we are. But for some of us, freeing our collective future will be more important than locking up one's present. And we don't all have to take these kinds of stands: sacrifice takes many shapes and forms. Ditching a family vacation to cook meals for a summer action camp - that's a form of heroic action.
It means we're facing our fears of letting go. As professional campaigners, we need to keep reminding ourselves that our biggest job is to unleash a movement, not speak for one. This isn't just about sending e-mail blasts-- it's about lifting leaders, megaphon-ing stories of resistance, fueling the scrappy groups on the edges, drawing connections in shale country and coal country and climate-wrecked country, and letting chaos have a little bit more play.
Look: this Summer is important. It's not our last stand - but it's one of them. And how you name a thing, is a lot how you define it.
Thousands of young people around the country are turned on by divestment, and looking for ways to dig deeper, and keep busy this Summer. Indigenous groups are back on the map and calling for solidarity and support. Fossil fuel frontlines aren't backing down, and many are planning for a "long hot summer" of throw downs. Another wave of climate change-accelerated storms is brewing - with the sliver of an upside of people who are willing to take a stand upon their lives' wreckage. Tim DeChristopher comes home in a few weeks, and one can only surmise the ripples of his first public address.
I believe we are ready for a #FearlessSummer.
I believe we're ready to throw down in ways we've never seen before, in ways so huge as to be irresistible and only grow. I believe we're ready to take far more stands of courage--and find our lunch-counter moments. I believe we can set the stage for a movement of resistance that may yet see this fight through - precisely because it realizes the stakes, and the sacrifices needed.
I believe by couching this Summer as a "Fearless Summer", we can speak to the truth-telling neighbor in a fracked community who is being bullied to keep quiet, to the climate activist grandmother who stays up late at night afraid for the future of her grandchildren, and to the fresh-faced college student who is ready to take a bolder stand. As well as to the thousands upon thousands of progressives who still haven't entered this fight--afraid that it's a lost cause, or of what lies beyond recycling. We must all face our fears together.
I believe Spring is helping us plant the seeds of resistance for a beautiful Summer.
And I believe that after Summer finds her way to Fall - as she tends to do, we'll be ready to be #FearlessfortheFuture.
Follow Joe Solomon on Twitter: www.twitter.com/engagejoe