The Just Transition has Begun

A crowd of protesters, many holding umbrellas, stand in front of the tall fencing surrounding the Justice Center at night. Blindingly bright lights shine down on them from the other side of the fence.
(June 6th at the Justice Center. Photo credit: Austen Lethbridge-Scarl)

The IPCC says we have 10 years to stop climate change. They’re wrong. We have six months.

In the decades since we’ve known climate catastrophe is coming, why have we activists accomplished so little? It’s not that we have nothing to show for our efforts, but, given that we’re still cruising towards extinction, we’re failing where it really counts. With every new crisis and every new piece of legislation, we always fall short in the end.

What do all of our failures have in common? Look at any news story about what’s happening in every city across America right now and you’ll find the answer. It was right in front of us all along, literally beating us over the head with a stick.

It wasn’t corporations who crushed the protests at Standing Rock. It was the police. It isn’t JPMorgan Chase or KKR driving the Wet’suwet’en off their own land. It’s the police. Through all of XR’s hundreds of acts of civil disobedience over the years, it’s never been the polluters or politicians who take us to jail. It’s the police.

It’s always the police.

This national uprising, possibly even an insurrection, against police brutality, triggered by the brutal murder of George Floyd, is first and foremost a declaration of the sanctity of black lives and a rebellion against the systems of power that consider them expendable. But that injustice runs deep, and the amount of sacrifice our society has been willing to make in the name of controlling black bodies is truly staggering.

It was important enough in the earliest days of the United States that slave patrols were created with the legal right to enter any home by force to look for escaped slaves. And it’s important enough today that we accept a class of people who can get away with theft, sexual assault and, of course, murder.

White supremacy is not the sole source of the world’s ills, but it’s the thread we can pull to make it all unravel. Every time someone dies from a preventable disease, every time an oil pipeline is activated, every time a billionaire evades justice, it can always be traced in some way back to the decisions we’ve made in defense of white supremacy.

In casting off white privilege, we can become able to cast off the oil companies’ enforcers. We can cast off the corrupt politicians. We may even cast off extinction itself.

(Police behind their fence. Photo credit: Lynn H.)

This rebellion against America’s police will ultimately end in one of two ways. The first is that this campaign of naked brutality from America’s cops succeeds and cows the people into submission, leaving us with a more oppressive (if more honest) version of the dystopia we already had. The second is that the police state is dismantled, creating a more peaceful and more just society, and giving us another shot at our failed battles of the past, not the least of which is ending the climate crisis.

That’s why we have six months. This is the fight that could determine the future of our planet. If we lose, we may never get another chance.

And so I’m personally inviting you to join me in the streets of Portland. Marches and rallies have their place but, like I wrote last week, they only work if those with power are ultimately willing to listen. Our police barely listen to the Mayor. Do you think they’re going to listen to you?

The Portland Police are loyal to no one. 82% of them don’t even live in Portland. When they were told to cut back on teargas, after repeatedly flooding downtown with it and recklessly firing it into traffic, they deployed the LRAD “sound cannon”, which causes permanent ear damage, on teenagers to shoo them away from their headquarters. (It could be heard as far away as Mt. Tabor.) They intentionally assault journalists. They hide their names and arrest you if you ask, even if you have a press pass. No reform can change who these people are. No training course will change this culture of entitled resentment. No oversight board will ever make them care.

Minneapolis is about to disband their police department. Once that happens, it’ll be easier for other cities to follow suit. I find it difficult to imagine that Portland won’t be one of them. But it’ll only happen if we want it.

Flashbangs are bright and loud but rarely dangerous. Teargas sucks but can usually be treated with water by the dozens of street medics found throughout the crowd and on every corner. (Just don’t wear contact lenses.) Every single night, the crowd becomes more disciplined, more resilient. We’re quickly mastering the techniques of Hong Kong: extinguishing grenades, blocking surveillance, being water.

You won’t be safe. But you never really were.

If you want information on what kinds of actions are taking place, the PNW Youth Liberation Front is a great resource, although it’s always a safe bet that you’ll find a crowd in front of the Justice Center by 8pm. I’ve also been putting together a list of organizations and journalists who cover the protests as they happen—useful for both figuring out where things are happening on the ground and stressing yourself out when following along at home.

So come find me at the Justice Center. I’ll be the guy in the grey bike helmet, wearing the green XR mask, screaming.

About Austen Lethbridge-Scarl

Austen Lethbridge-Scarl (he/him) is the editor of the XRPDX newsletter. Besides climate issues, he focuses on racial justice, police abolition and antifascism.


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