A response to/critique of “Nomos of the Earth” by 1882 Woodbine
I came across this 4-page newsprint text at the Mayday space shortly before the People’s Climate March. I have some strong critiques of it, which I think are worth making, given the gravity of the issues at hand. This is somewhat long, but may be an important read for some.
Basically, this text says that we are living in end times, knowing that polar glaciers are melting irreversibly and that this will eventually lead to massive sea level rise, drowning out nearly half the world’s population in due time. The text calls upon readers to abandon the illusory values and goals of our present society (something I agree with), and to come together to seize and create the necessities of life (food, shelter, land, healthcare, etc). This is all well and good, but there are serious shortcomings to this imperative. “Nomos” completely lacks any analysis of the severely unequal distribution of the burdens and responsibilities of climate crisis. It is utterly ahistorical, without the slightest mention of colonialism, slavery, and imperialism — the capitalistic forces that have led us to this current climate crisis. There is zero race, class, or gender analysis. This is highly problematic, because many are suffering catastrophic consequences of climate crisis NOW (the millions displaced by flooding in Bangladesh, the thousands killed by Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines last year), and if the majority white, educated, middle-class, first-world readers of this text EVER experience such effects, it is unlikely to occur for several centuries. And in the event of a crisis, they are unlikely to get pumped full of lead like poor blacks in Katrina did. “Nomos” calls upon readers to huddle together and commander resources and “increase our power”, with our ever asking what the role of said readers is within the larger global dynamic. Anecdotes about resistance carried out by indigenous and frontline communities are peppered in alongside descriptions of first-world ennui, with no analysis of the vast differences between these situations.
It is quite ironic that this text emphasizes “being strategic” and yet offers nothing in the way of strategy beyond “get stuff and share it”. It focuses of hyper-local responses while overlooking that climate crisis is a global issue requiring global solutions. Leaders in the climate justice movement know this and have been building power and solidarity among frontline struggles for years. How are we linking struggles, sharing information, and acting in solidarity with those most affected? Despite our (completely reasonable) disillusionment with the political process, there are moments where intervening in high-level decision-making may be necessary to prevent things from getting a whole lot worse. We can only know what those moments are if we actually do the work to find out, and not just indulge in apocalyptic escapism. Here and now in New York City, there are numerous, diverse conversations taking place where people are sharing experiences and developing strategies. The Stories from the Global Frontlines of Climate Change event at Mayday in mid September was excellent. The Climate Justice Alliance is currently wrapping up their People’s Climate Justice Summit through their Our Power campaign. The summit provided a space to dismantle the lies of false, corporate-led solutions and highlight the work people are doing all over the world in affected communities to implement and control systems needed to sustain life while sustaining the planet. It’s projected that there will be 200 million climate refugees by NEXT YEAR. Just focusing on back to the land and arts and crafts projects isn’t gonna cut it. If you wanna talk strategy, talk strategy. And listen to the people who are actually dealing with the crisis firsthand.
The concept of justice is nowhere to be found in “Nomos”. There is no “line of flight” drawn between this supposedly revolutionary future and the struggles of today, let alone the past. In this conception of revolution, what measures are being taken to dismantle the numerous inequities and divisions of our current world? How are the struggles against current oppressions helping us build towards a truly just, revolutionary, sustainable future? I don’t have all the answers, but the concept of transformative organizing has helped me find at least a general path forward. TO principles, which I practice in my own work, dovetail really well with the Bali Principles and the Jemez Principles, values which the CJA insisted be upheld if they were to sit down at the table with the big greens and work together on the People’s Climate March. And as much as “more radical than thou” types like to look down their noses at the PCM, I can say as someone who spent a bunch of time in the spaces where the march was being organized that the upholding of these principals is having profound effects of the culture of the climate justice movement, pushing it in exciting, radical directions.
Finally, I’d like to state that “Nomos” had nothing to say about one of the most important tasks of revolutionary organizers today, and that is the question of how to build just, revolutionary movements and relationships across the gaping divisions and inequities that our violent economic and social system has imposed upon us. I can say from experience that the continual acknowledgement of these inequities is a foundational step. From here, we can find ways to move resources, develop capacities, and lift up the voices of the unheard. We can look at the world through one another’s eyes and thus see with a new consciousness. This is a commitment and a process, and I do not see it being made sufficiently by purveyors of texts such as these. We are seeing supposedly ultra-radical spaces being opened up in gentrifying neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens, doing little to nothing to build relationships with the people who live there and experience the brunt of the inequities that so-called revolutionaries like to decry from the comfort of their (conveniently affordable!) “movement spaces”. Powerful forces of environmental racism, economic exploitation, oppression of migrants, and displacement of low-income residents are all playing out right in their own backyards. Hailing from a majority low-income, immigrant neighborhood in Queens myself, I feel strongly that transplants to our NYC neighborhoods have a responsibility to engage in the struggles in the areas which they occupy. Re-fashioning our relationships to our neighbors and the land on which we stand is fundamental. There is no better place to begin this process than by engaging in local, in-your-face issues alongside those most affected by them. And if you don’t like the way the non-profit industrial complex does it, fine, but that doesn’t let you off the hook. Listen, learn, and put in real work. It’s time for pseudo-revolutionaries to either step up or fall back. We can’t afford to mislead the next generation. Thanks for reading.
by Sarah Quinter.