civil disobedience

Happy Birthday, Mom!

My Mom would be 93 today if she was still alive. Happy birthday, Mom!!

 

I was with her when she drew her last breath

That’s when I learned that to be present at a person’s death is an honour

A gift.

 

So glad I was able to be there

So glad Mom was my Mom!

 

She had a lot of problems.

A lot of challenges in her life

 

She went down some pretty hard roads

(My father was a very hard road to go down

Ask anyone who went down that road)

 

But Mom was feisty

She was strong

She refused to be bullied

Or, well, she tolerated it for a while (a long-ish while, to be fair)

Then one day, she’d had enough

 

She was a good role model for me

She wasn’t perfect

She made her fair share of mistakes

(can't think of anyone who hasn’t)

 

But I am thankful she was my Mom

***

On one of the anniversaries of her birth, I found myself in court

Ironic how one’s life can take so many twists & turns, hmmm?

How someone who used to help “enforce” the law

Would later see the need to resist it.

To challenge “the powers that be.”

 

My “disobedience” is always very “civil

Violence could never be my way

 

I use my voice

My words

Sometimes, my body

Sitting somewhere, somewhere I am not wanted

Just sittin.’

 

Sitting in “protest

 

I’m not ashamed

Not ashamed at all!

But proud

I’ve sat in some fine spots, with some very fine people, waiting to get arrested.

It’s a lot more fun than you might suppose!

 

On Mom’s birthday, I pause

I know she’d be proud of me too

 

Sometimes we really must have the courage to say to the bullies

Stop. You have to stop this now.

It has to stop.

That’s enough.

Janet

Quote of the day’ with this post: “May the world’s feast be made safe for women and children. May mothers’ milk run clean again. May denial give way to courageous action. May I always have faith.” – Dr. Sandra Steingraber, author, poet, ecologist, mother, cancer survivor, activist

 

Tar Sands Action: Dear Mom

** I wrote this at the same time as my other recent Ottawa tar sands protest blog posts. Just finally posting it now, finally; never mind why, too long to explain, OK? I wrote it as though I was telling my Mom about the protest (not all Moms want their kids taking part in protests & getting arrested…you know?)

Dear Mom:

I wanted to explain to you why I went to Ottawa a few weeks ago with the express purpose of being arrested at the tar sands protest that took place on Parliament Hill on Monday, September 26th.

As you know, civil disobedience has a long & proud history. People like Henry David Thoreau, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks & Nelson Mandela all committed acts of non-violent civil disobedience. The Council of Canadians' Maude Barlow was arrested on this particular occasion. I’m in mighty fine company!

Dr. Howard Zinn, an American historian, academic, author, playwright & social activist, said “Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy, it is absolutely essential to it.” I think he’s nailed something there.

I don’t know if you, or most Canadians, have any idea how ferociously destructive the Alberta tar sands project is. Or how far-reaching its impacts. 85,000 square kilometres – an area larger than Scotland! – is currently leased for tar sands development. Every barrel of oil extracted consumes between 3 & 5 barrels of water, releasing the polluted water into toxic tailings ponds that now stretch over 170 square kilometres. Even if they shut down the tar sands today, those ponds would need to be monitored for 150 years. That is some toxic!!

Our government subsidizes the oil industry to the tune of over $1 billion every year. I’m going to repeat that, to make sure you really take it in: Our government subsidizes the oil industry to the tune of over $1 billion every year. Yes. Our government gives over a billion dollars a year to the richest corporations, while slashing funding for the renewable forms of energy we need to be focusing on from here on in (& a thousand other things Canadians really need - crazy things like clean water...you know??)

And the oil industry - with its more than a billion dollars in gift money (our tax dollars, btw) - treats downriver communities with contempt.

Aboriginal communities downriver now have poisoned water, & their local ecosystems have been destroyed. The industry breaks both treaty agreements (20,000 treaty violations alleged by the Beaver Lake Cree First Nation) & international law.

A couple of years ago, Suncor had a spill. They called other companies in the area right away & advised them not to open up their water intakes. They waited 36 hours to tell the residents of Fort Chipewyan. I call that contempt. When oil company bigshots visit Fort Chip, they bring along their own water. These people know what they are doing. They don’t care about the people in the area, & they don’t care about the rare & aggressive cancers now affecting even the young.

For me, environmental issues are really, at bottom, always about people. When we trash the earth, we are trashing people. As Chief Jackie Thomas (Sai´kuz First Nation) said at the Ottawa protest, “If we don’t take care of the land, the land will not take care of us.”

I didn’t expect to see anyone else from this area at the protest – but I did. I saw three other Durham Region residents who, like me, were arrested because we feel we must stand up & be counted.

We knew that over 1200 people were arrested in Washington in late August to protest the Keystone XL pipeline & the tar sands, & that more civil disobedience will be necessary to force our governments to stop listening to the oil industry, & start listening to regular people (& common sense!).

I once saw a button that said, “Silence is the voice of complicity.” I believe this is true.

I want you to know I’m not at all ashamed of having been arrested (for the second time now). I’m proud of standing up for what I believe in. I hope you’ll be proud of me too!

I think you understand that I’m not doing this for me – I’m doing it for all of us. Especially for the indigenous people of Alberta, who are right on the front lines of this horrible assault – & also for my children & the grandchildren I may have one day.

As a funny placard I saw in Ottawa said, “Silly adults – the future’s for kids!”

Love,

Janet

p.s. There’s a really good, short (8½ minute) YouTube on the Council of Canadians Web site. It’s called “The Dark Side of the Boom: Canada’s Mordor.”

p.p.s. There’s also a well-done 10 minute YouTube about the protest that includes scenes from our civil disobedience training the day before, & snippets of the speeches at the rally on Parliament Hill. Plus a shot of Maude Barlow & her fellow arrestees. Amazing what's packed into that 10 minutes!!

p.p.p.s. You might want to check out my 4 other postings about the Ottawa tar sands protest:

 

p.s. # 4 (Geez; me & my P.S's, eh??) You might also want to check out the 350.org site - & its upcoming November 6th action in Washington!

 

Tar Sands Action: Informative, Fun, INSPIRING!

** Good article by Stephen Leahy entitled "Jail Before Climate-Wrecking Tar Sands, Canadians say" here

So, I took part in the Tar Sands Action in Ottawa yesterday (September 26th).

Great 10-minute YouTube on it here - includes coverage of the civil disobedience training session & speeches on Parliament Hill. Well done!!

So glad I took part!!

The Non-Violent Civil Disobedience (NVCD) training we received on Sunday was awesome! Well-organized & run, lots of great people involved (both trainers & participants), & super practical (we even got fed!!)

The action on Parliament Hill was fabulous.

First of all, a rousing rally of very inspiring speakers.

A number of native people from affected communities (& oh my, are they affected. Bad water, cancer clusters, young people dying of cancer; this is a huge tragedy & our First Nations people are right on the front lines) who spoke so eloquently & passionately, they brought tears to one’s eyes.

Actress/activist Tantoo Cardinal spoke so inspiringly of the traditional role & value of women in native culture that I had goose bumps. Wow…

Union reps, Council of Canadians, young Bridget who held up the STOP Harper sign in the Senate (speaking of feisty young people!!)

It was a most impressive line-up.

Then, a bunch of us climbed over the fence the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the federal police force in charge on Parliament Hill) had put up, knowing that a rally & civil disobedience were planned for the day.

In the end I think it was around 200 people who chose to go over the fence & be arrested in order to make a very loud statement to prime minister stephen harper(1) that he was not elected to turn the House of Commons into a House of Corporations (great phrase eh?? Not mine, I’m quoting) & that the horrific environmental & human health disaster that is the Alberta tar sands must be STOPPED.

Then we all sat on the lawn in the very hot sun & were passed water & fruit & granola bars by people standing on the other side of the fence (we’re such dangerous characters, we “protesters,” eh?), & chatted & got to know people we had not met before (there were people from all provinces across Canada & one or two – not sure how many – from the U.S.).

Eventually we were handcuffed & told we’d be charged with Obstruction, then were taken off to a tent that had been erected to process the arrestees, handed over to the Ottawa police, who wrote us out a ticket for having been “Engaged in Prohibited Activity in Premises” (I think that’s what the messy scrawl says).

We are being fined $68 (actually, I can’t read my ticket properly so am not 100% sure of the amount) & told we are to stay off the grounds of Parliament for a year.

What an odd thing to forbid us to do! It’s our Parliament – our House of Commons (isn’t it??) & now we are being told to stay away.

Well. Whatever. Harper & his minions of course don’t want people like me hanging around where he hangs out, I do get that…

I could say lots more (never at a loss for words, eh??) but I gotta get back home & back to work.

Just want y’all to know I couldn’t be more delighted to have taken part in this historic action, protesting the tar sands & being arrested in order to send a strong message to politicians (& everyone!).

I’m also proud of having sat in Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s office in November 2009 & being arrested there, & of having taken part in 2 protests against clear-cutting in old growth forest in Temagami (Ontario).

& just in case anyone who feels terribly “spiritual” wants to lecture me about being negative & what I resist persisting, please read the post here that explains why I view protesting as a celebration.

I celebrate the strong voices of citizens who know when we’ve had enough.

I celebrate the power of individuals coming together to act like members of a very large & very caring “tribe” (or beehive) who know if we don’t set aside our personal agendas & our personal fears & our personal greed, & begin to venture outside our personal comfort zones, we are doomed as a species (we may be doomed anyway! But taking action is far more empowering than pretending everything is OK & that all I really need to care about is me, me, me).

As my (now two-time fellow arrestee & grassroots climate crusader buddy) Sharon Howarth says, “Speaking up about something that matters is the best recreation ever.”

Janet

P.S. the posting here lists/links to several good videos/shows/YouTubes about the tar sands – the single most environmentally destructive project taking place here on Planet Earth today.

P.P.S. Good quotations on civil disobedience here

P.P.P.S. Ontario election time!! Lotsa good quotes on democracy here

P.S. # 4: Other posts about this experience

‘Quote of the day’ with this post: “In the long run, the real choice is not jobs or environment – it’s both...or neither. What kind of jobs will be possible in a world of depleted resources, poisoned water and foul air, a world where ozone depletion and greenhouse warming make it difficult even to survive?” ~ United Steelworkers of America, 1993


(1) I don’t feel he deserves to have his name “capitalized” when he is such a woeful "leader" to Canadians & such an utter lackey of the global oil industry.

Screwers & Screwees: How things REALLY work

I’ve been reading the marvellous John W. Gofman book Irrevy: An Irreverent, Illustrated View of Nuclear Power (published in 1979 by the Committee for Nuclear Responsibility).

John W. Gofman (September 21, 1918 - August 15, 2007) was an American scientist and advocate. He was Professor Emeritus of Molecular and Cell Biology at University of California at Berkeley. Some of his early work was on the Manhattan Project” (this snippet from Wikipedia). Later on, Gofman did tons of good stuff, including turning totally away from nuclear energy & advocating passionately against it.

Fascinating book! Illuminating, clever, witty – a must-read for many reasons! (It’s probably “out of print” now, but I’ve managed to get my local small bookseller dude to get me 3 copies for a very reasonable price. Amazing what local small bookseller folks can do for you!!)

The book’s Chapter 4 is called “The Catch-22 Society: Some Thoughts on ‘Civil Disobedience’ and ‘Uncivil Obedience.’”

He starts it off with the wonderful (former slave) Frederick Douglass quotation from August 1857:

“Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its waters. This struggle may be a moral one; it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical. But it must be a struggle.

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue until they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” – Frederick Douglass

Hooey.

Gofman then goes on to paraphrase Douglass:

“There are two fundamental groups in society, the screwers and the screwees. The screwers have all the apparatus of power, the sycophantic henchmen who do their bidding, and they have unflinching devotion to the preservation of their privileges at the expense of the screwees. Further, the screwers have enormous difficulty understanding why the screwees should ever raise any questions about the super-wonderful system which they have in place.

Generally speaking, screwees have never particularly enjoyed being overtly known as such. Therefore, a subterfuge is essential. The subterfuge which has emerged is the myth that the screwees are the ones who are really running the show, and that they do so through a democratic government. The ostensible purpose of government is to protect the rights and security of its citizens. This is done through a system of laws, drafted by hordes of those individuals we call lawyers, such laws being written as to defy comprehension by virtually anyone, but never written so as to be neutral in any conflict between the screwers and the screwees.

There is not necessarily any desire to be evil on the part of the screwers. All they want is an absolute guarantee that they can preserve and extend their privilege at the expense of the screwees. Stated otherwise, they wish to acquire an ever-increasing share of all the means of production and resources of the Earth, so that they can still further increase that share. And to these ends, we have the so-called “economy,” which through ceaseless churning, steadily allows those with power and privilege to increase both. Thus the top 19% of families owns about 76% of all the privately held wealth in the USA, while the bottom 25% has no assets at all (Dr. L.C. Thurow, M.I.T. Department of Economics). The concentration of wealth and power is such that recent estimates are that the top 5% of the American population owns more assets than does the bottom 81% combined (also Thurow).

What is manufactured in this “economy” is really quite irrelevant to the screwer-class. The only criterion is that what is manufactured be saleable at a profit. Hula hoops, arms, oil, cars, cigarettes, nuclear power plants, food, all are viewed through only one lens – can they be sold at a profit. Better still are those products which, through built-in obsolescence, can insure that the purchaser becomes locked into the system of dependence. Best of all are those products which become absolute necessities in the contemporary way of life, and which cannot possibly be made by the screwee himself. Thus, for example, nuclear power plants to create electricity are lovely, whereas small solar systems are a disaster – from the point of view of the screwers.” – John W. Gofman, in Irrevy: An Irreverent, Illustrated View of Nuclear Power.

Sobering take on things, hmmm?

For sure, it sounds 100% bang on to me.

Gofman is brilliant, funny, &, as the book title suggests, very irreverent.

Here’s what he says about when we finally “get” that we are screwees, & what we can do about it:

“But let someone raise the issue that pollution of the environment, poisoning of people, poisoning of other life forms, should be prevented and that the responsibility for such prevention be borne by the screwers, and all hell breaks loose. Or if someone suggests that a particular profitable activity should ever cease entirely because it cannot be made safe, we are in for a battle royal. They tell you that Kepone and dioxin put bread on your table.

Ostensibly, those who are concerned have a marvelous recourse – namely the government of, for, and by the people, which will (of course) be ever watchful of the interests of the people. The Congress will pass the laws necessary, the Executive Branch will set up administrative agencies to flesh out the programs and regulatory agencies to insure that the public is protected from depradations. If the laws don’t seem to be achieving the goals dreamed of by the screwees, they can turn Tweedle-dum out of office and elect Tweedle-dee. When Tweedle-dee turns out to be a carbon copy of Tweedle-dum, then there is always the privilege of electing Tweedle-dum’s cloned brother.” (John W. Gofman in Irrevy: An Irreverent, Illustrated View of Nuclear Power, on page 116).(1)

This made me laugh out loud. So did what he said (on page 126) about the coconut heads at the Atomic Energy Commission (to do with the so-called “safety” of eating coconuts from Bikini Island, where nuclear testing had taken place. Seems like the coconut heads are all over the place!! We have our fair share here in Canada too, for sure!)

Well, I could go on & on here, extolling the virtues of this wonderful book, & odds are good I’ll talk about it some more, maybe soon.

But for now, just mostly wanted to pass on the screwers & screwee description.

We might as well have a realistic grasp on how things work on Planet Earth, don’t you think?

I’m not saying it’s nice, or fun – for sure, it’s … bracing

Janet

P.S. John Gofman curriculum vitae here. Interview w. Gofman here

P.P.S. The book is chockfull of brilliant cartoons, btw. Lots of good laughs! Some more quotes here

P.P.P.S. Some of my own Tweedle wisdom here

P.S. # 4: Watch Canadian politician Tommy Douglas on YouTube, talking about "Mouseland." Same message as the Tweedledum & Tweedledee. Must-see!

‘Quote of the daywith this post: “No degree of prosperity could justify the accumulation of large amounts of highly toxic substances which nobody knows how to make “safe” and which remain an incalculable danger to the whole of creation for historical or even geological ages. To do such a thing is a transgression against life itself, a transgression infinitely more serious than any crime ever perpetrated by man. The idea that a civilisation could sustain itself on the basis of such a transgression is an ethical, spiritual, and metaphysical monstrosity. It means conducting the economic affairs of man as if people really did not matter at all.” – E.F. Schumacher, 1911-1977

** Lots of other great nuke-related quotes here


(1) Of particular interest to fellow Ontarians as we contemplate replacing one of our Tweedle-dums with a Tweedle-dee, hmmm? Only two political parties in Ontario are anti-nuclear: Greens & NDP. If we vote Liberal or Conservative, we are voting for more Tweedles … & more nukes. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

 

Tar Sands: Civil Disobedience Called For

Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein, Wendell Berry Call for Civil Disobedience on Tar Sands From June 23rd, original found here

Today, a group of eleven leading activists and environmentalists released a letter calling for people to join them in Washington DC this August to take part in civil disobedience to help stop the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Want to join in? You can sign up to take part here.

Dear Friends,

This will be a slightly longer letter than common for the internet age—it’s serious stuff.

The short version is we want you to consider doing something hard: coming to Washington in the hottest and stickiest weeks of the summer and engaging in civil disobedience that will likely get you arrested.

The full version goes like this:

As you know, the planet is steadily warming: 2010 was the warmest year on record, and we’ve seen the resulting chaos in almost every corner of the earth.

And as you also know, our democracy is increasingly controlled by special interests interested only in their short-term profit.

These two trends collide this summer in Washington, where the State Department and the White House have to decide whether to grant a  certificate of ‘national interest’ to some of the biggest fossil fuel players on earth. These corporations want to build the so-called ‘Keystone XL Pipeline’ from Canada’s tar sands to Texas refineries.

To call this project a horror is serious understatement. The tar sands have wrecked huge parts of Alberta, disrupting ways of life in indigenous communities—First Nations communities in Canada, and tribes along the pipeline route in the U.S. have demanded the destruction cease. The pipeline crosses crucial areas like the Oglalla Aquifer where a spill would be disastrous—and though the pipeline companies insist they are using ‘state of the art’ technologies that should leak only once every 7 years, the precursor pipeline and its pumping stations have leaked a dozen times in the past year. These  local impacts alone would be cause enough to block such a plan. But the Keystone Pipeline would also be a fifteen hundred mile fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the continent, a way to make it easier and faster to trigger the final overheating of our planet, the one place to which we are all indigenous.

How much carbon lies in the recoverable tar sands of Alberta? A recent calculation from some of our foremost scientists puts the figure at about 200 parts per million.  Even with the new pipeline they won’t be able to burn that much overnight—but each development like this makes it easier to get more oil out.  As the climatologist Jim Hansen (one of the signatories to this letter) explained, if we have any chance of getting back to a stable climate “the principal requirement is that coal emissions must be phased out by 2030 and unconventional fossil fuels, such as tar sands, must be left in the ground.” In other words, he added, “if the tar sands are thrown into the mix it is essentially game over.” The Keystone pipeline is an essential part of the game. “Unless we get increased market access, like with Keystone XL, we’re going to be stuck,” said Ralph Glass, an economist and vice-president at AJM Petroleum Consultants in Calgary, told a Canadian newspaper last week.

Given all that, you’d suspect that there’s no way the Obama administration would ever permit this pipeline. But in the last few months the president has signed pieces of paper opening much of Alaska to oil drilling, and permitting coal-mining on federal land in Wyoming that will produce as much CO2 as 300 power plants operating at full bore.

And Secretary of State Clinton has already said she’s ‘inclined’ to recommend the pipeline go forward. Partly it’s because of the political commotion over high gas prices, though more tar sands oil would do nothing to change that picture. But it’s also because of intense pressure from industry. TransCanada Pipeline, the company behind Keystone, has hired as its chief lobbyist for the project a man named Paul Elliott, who served as deputy national director of Clinton’s presidential campaign. Meanwhile, the US Chamber of Commerce—a bigger funder of political campaigns than the RNC and DNC combined—has demanded that the administration “move quickly to approve the Keystone XL pipeline,” which is not so surprising—they’ve also told the U.S. EPA that if the planet warms that will be okay because humans can ‘adapt their physiology’ to cope. The Koch Brothers, needless to say, are also backing the plan, and may reap huge profits from it.

So we’re pretty sure that without serious pressure the Keystone Pipeline will get its permit from Washington.  A wonderful coalition of environmental groups has built a strong campaign across the continent—from Cree and Dene indigenous leaders to Nebraska farmers, they’ve spoken out strongly against the destruction of their land. We need to join them, and to say even if our own homes won’t be crossed by this pipeline, our joint home—the earth—will be wrecked by the carbon that pours down it.

And we need to say something else, too: it’s time to stop letting corporate power make the most important decisions our planet faces.

We don’t have the money to compete with those corporations, but we do have our bodies, and beginning in mid August many of us will use them. We will, each day through Labor Day, march on the White House, risking arrest with our trespass. We will do it in dignified fashion, demonstrating that in this case we are the conservatives, and that our foes—who would change the composition of the atmosphere are dangerous radicals. Come dressed as if for a business meeting—this is, in fact, serious business. And another sartorial tip—if you wore an Obama button during the 2008 campaign, why not wear it again? We very much still want to believe in the promise of that young Senator who told us that with his election the ‘rise of the oceans would begin to slow and the planet start to heal.’ We don’t understand what combination of bureaucratic obstinacy and insider dealing has derailed those efforts, but we remember his request that his supporters continue on after the election to pressure the government for change. We’ll do what we can.

And one more thing: we don’t want college kids to be the only cannon fodder in this fight. They’ve led the way so far on climate change—10,000 came to DC for the Powershift gathering earlier this spring. They’ve marched this month in West Virginia to protest mountaintop removal; Tim DeChristopher faces sentencing this summer in Utah for his creative protest.  Now it’s time for people who’ve spent their lives pouring carbon into the atmosphere (and whose careers won’t be as damaged by an arrest record) to step up too. Most of us signing this letter are veterans of this work, and we think it’s past time for elders to behave like elders. One thing we don’t want is a smash up: if you can’t control your passions, this action is not for you.

This won’t be a one-shot day of action. We plan for it to continue for several weeks, to the date in September when by law the administration can either grant or deny the permit for the pipeline. Not all of us can actually get arrested—half the signatories to this letter live in Canada, and might well find our entry into the U.S. barred. But we will be making plans for sympathy demonstrations outside Canadian consulates in the U.S., and U.S. consulates in Canada—the decision-makers need to know they’re being watched.

Winning this battle won’t save the climate. But losing it will mean the chances of runaway climate change go way up—that we’ll endure an endless future of the floods and droughts we’ve seen this year. And we’re fighting for the political future too—for the premise that we should make decisions based on science and reason, not political connection.  You have to start somewhere, and this is where we choose to begin.

If you think you might want to be a part of this action, we need you to sign up here. As plans solidify in the next few weeks we’ll be in touch with you to arrange nonviolence training; our colleagues at a variety of environmental and democracy campaigns will be coordinating the actual arrangements.

We know we’re asking a lot. You should think long and hard on it, and pray if you’re the praying type. But to us, it’s as much privilege as burden to get to join this fight in the most serious possible way. We hope you’ll join us.

  • Maude Barlow
  • Wendell Berry
  • Tom Goldtooth
  • Danny Glover
  • James Hansen
  • Wes Jackson
  • Naomi Klein
  • Bill McKibben
  • George Poitras
  • David Suzuki
Gus Speth

p.s.—Please pass this letter on to anyone else you think might be interested. We realize that what we’re asking isn’t easy, and we’re very grateful that you’re willing even to consider it.

'Quote of the day' w. this post: “Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy, it is absolutely essential to it.” Dr. Howard Zinn

P.S. from me: I've blogged about the tar sands before. The post here lists some good viewing if you want to learn more about the awfulness of the Alberta tar sands horror.

Egypt: This is what the people can do!

I heard on CBC radio on Thursday that, after the 17 days of massive protest against him in the streets of Cairo, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak had decided to step down.

Well.

What can I say??

What I can say is that THIS is what the people can do.

THIS is what determination…& courage … mean.

This is what sheer guts can lead to. (Along with cooperation, of course; we are not islands, after all!)

Wow!!!!

And there are several issues I’m currently involved with that I know call for civil disobedience here in Canada. A couple of nuclear ones, a waste incinerator being planned. Always, always, always climate change.

And I want to ask all my friends to take part in some principled acts of civil disobedience in the days & months ahead.

And I know they won’t.

Because. Because why? Because this is Canada.

This is where we are so polite (so afraid of our own shadows), we even reflexively say “Thank you!” to the police officer who gives us a speeding ticket (yes, I did this once, a million years ago now. Boy was I taught my pleases & thank-you’s well!!)

We don’t do civil disobedience here.

We have a corrupt, self-serving, hypocritical & bordering-on-Bush clone federal prime minister & political party “in charge” – & odds are, Canadians may vote these… “leaders” (note the quotation marks) back in. (They were voted in by default, because so many Canadians DON’T VOTE).

And/or because we ourselves are foolish & deluded & … because our political system is adversarial; it’s not really aimed at cooperation – although we pretend & always claim we are living in a “democracy.”

Ack ack ack!!!!!!!!!

A friend & I had had a good chuckle on the phone the day before. I’d said to her, “Yikes. What, in this pathetic country of ours, would actually get people out in the streets? What would get people off their comfortable, complacent, lazy asses… & out in the streets protesting?”

Hmmmm????

And she said, “Hmmmm. Maybe if the price of a case of beer went up by $10?”

& then we had a grand old laugh.

‘Cos she probably got that about right. The price of gas – &/or the price of beer: these are things that might get Canadians really exercised.

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh, Canada.

Shame on us for our sheer apathy...

Janet

P.S. And bless these brave Egyptian people – for their sheer courage

P.P.S. You can find some quotations about courage here. Some political quotes here

‘Quote of the day’ with this post: “Each day we are born again to start our life anew. What we do today is what matters most.” ~ Buddha

Runner-up quotes: “Talk – Action = Zero” ……… ad in Jan/Feb. 2009 ‘Watershed Sentinel’ magazine

“Non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as cooperation with good.” – Martin Luther King

“When nothing is sure, everything is possible.” – Margaret Drabble

15 Things I’d Do (if I had a little more time…)

I drafted this funny (as in odd) little list in August 2009, at which time I had sold my house & was getting ready to  move. The first 2 items are now sort of obsolete - but I did indeed help w. them. The rest of the list seems to me now as relevant as it was in August '09 - so here it rather belatedly is! 1. Promote like crazy the 350.org movement & the global day of action on climate change this group has spearheaded. Organize a busload of people to go to Ottawa (Ontario, Canada - our capital city) to 'Fill the Hill' and show our politicians & fellow Canadians we DO care about climate change and want action - NOW. (Actually, I am doing this. So...yay!!) Tons has happened since Oct. 24/09. Check out www.350.org for what's up now!!

2. Promote the Canadian tour of long-time anti-nuclear activist Helen Caldicott to Toronto, Peterborough, Kingston & London. I'm going to do a separate post about her itinerary. [Of course Helen Caldicott was very recently in Port Hope & Oshawa, Ontario, for a barn-burner of a talk to members of the Port Hope & area public about the very appalling situation created there by Eldorado & Cameco.]

3. Promote the Syracuse Cultural Workers & their wonderful work/catalogue/projects. Check them out here & ask to have one of their catalogues sent to you. The stuff they do - & sell - is awesome!!! (1)

4. Contact Sarah Ban Breathnach - author of the book Simple Abundance - & get permission to make buttons of her quotation "We are not meant to fit in; we are meant to stand out." I've wanted to do this for years!! (I picture black lettering on a pink background...)

5. Get the Syracuse Cultural Workers to make up & sell the buttons.

6. Promote sustainable living in every possible way. Off-grid living. Solar power. Wind power. Better public transportation. Local food. Community gardening. Communal, cooperative living.

7. Help children learn to be:

    • Resourceful
    • Resilient
    • Capable
    • Strong
    • Useful
    • Cooperative
    • Compassionate
    • Unselfish
    • Unafraid to use their own voices
    • Activists
    • Lovers of the Earth / Nature
    • Independent/critical thinkers
    • Lovers of books, reading & learning
    • Leaders, not followers.

Encourage them to NOT:

    • Watch television much at all
    • Pay any attention whatsoever to ads in movies & on TV
    • Immerse themselves in violent games, movies, video games, etc.
    • Be obsessed with "looking good"
    • Be "spoiled brats."

8. Encourage all adults to:

    • Grow up!
    • Parent well
    • Get counselling/professional help, if need be, in order to help with the 2 previous items
    • Be critical thinkers
    • Read good books & become better informed
    • Realize that all the best & most important things in life are not things...
    • Love the Earth / Nature
    • Be leaders
    • Take action
    • Turn off the TV
    • Think "outside the box"
    • Walk daily
    • Sing daily
    • Think long-term but Be. Here. Now.

Encourage them to NOT:

    • Count on things continuing to "be the way they've always been" (2)
    • Spend much time watching television
    • Fear change
    • Fear death - but instead, learn to live fully now.

9. Figure out how to distill my (usually) cheerful spirit & faith & willingness to act & somehow distribute it to everyone - or wave a magic wand - so that everyone would begin to care (& act) passionately about looking after the Earth (& each other!) properly...

10. Teach everyone to have faith in abundance, & to abandon fear-based thinking & our all-too-characteristic "poverty mentality."

11. Publish the books I've written.

12. Encourage EVERYONE to turn off the TV, read more, 'get back on their feet,' & do things every single day to help the Earth/fellow human beings.

13. Clean up all the lakes & rivers & streams & oceans - & the air - zap all the toxic waste & garbage & nuclear waste & just give the Earth - & the human spirit - a very, very thorough house-cleaning.

14. Encourage everyone to consider a little "civil disobedience" once in a while. As I once heard someone say, if you saw a child about to be hit by a car, you wouldn't spend any time thinking about how to react in a "rational" fashion. The adrenaline would start pumping & you would leap to action. I'd say - given the state of our world - we all need to leap to action - now!!

15. Encourage everyone to have fun - to laugh & sing & be good to & appreciate the people in y/our lives every day. To celebrate Life - & the grand experience of being alive here on beautiful Planet Earth. Life is not meant to be a funeral dirge, nor to have us chained miserably to a mostly meaningless 9 - 5 Monday to Friday grind. It's supposed to be a celebration!! So say some very, very bright dudes whose books I've read (Matthew Fox & Thomas Berry). I'm convinced they're right!

Janet

P.S. My sincere apologies for the dog's breakfast (as they say) of this post's formatting. It's the nastiest post I've ever put "up"! Nasty, nasty, nasty, & for the life of me, though I have tried & tried, I have not been able to format it as I'd like. Sometimes life's just like that, isn't it???

(1)    Great T-shirts, postcards, buttons, calendars, books, bookmarks, posters, bumper stickers with cool messages, & probably other neat stuff I'm forgetting to mention.

(2) 'cos they're not going to be! 

Dear Judge: Comfort Zones & Climate Change

Readers: This post consists mostly of a letter I wrote to a provincial court judge after having been sentenced in her court – along with 6 other Toronto-area activists calling ourselves 'People for Climate Justice' – on February 23rd. We had occupied Canadian federal finance minister Jim Flaherty’s Whitby, Ontario constituency office on November 30th, last year. We wanted to convey to federal politicians, just prior to the Copenhagen meetings, our deep concern & frustration about our federal government’s inaction (& even willful obstruction) vis-à-vis international efforts aimed at appropriate action on the most urgent issue facing humanity today: global climate change.

After spending about 6 ½ quite peaceful hours chained together in Mr. Flaherty’s office, we were arrested, handcuffed & taken to police holding cells & charged with 3 related offences. These were Loiter and Obstruct Persons in Public Place, Mischief – Obstruct/Interrupt/Interfere with Lawful Use/Enjoyment or Operation of Property (both Criminal Code offences) & Fail to Leave Premises (Trespass to Property Act).

We had a court date on January 14th and then again a few days ago, on February 23rd.

The judge gave us an opportunity to say a few words before she handed down our sentence(1), but I found myself feeling pretty intimidated by the whole situation, and refrained from saying anything. I’ve now written her a letter & have mailed it to her office. Here it is…

February 25, 2010.

Dear Judge:

I was in your courtroom in Oshawa the other morning, Tuesday, February 23rd. I was there with my 6 co-accused on charges relating to our November 30th peaceful sit-in at the office of Jim Flaherty, Whitby’s Conservative MP and Canada’s federal finance minister.

Ours was one of 6 such protests that took place across Canada just prior to the United Nations meetings in Copenhagen to discuss and find urgent solutions to the climate crisis. (Occupations also took part in the offices of federal cabinet ministers Jim Prentice, Rona Ambrose, Gary Lunn, John Baird and Andrew Saxton.)

I believe you suggested to us that we might find more law-abiding ways in future to express our frustration with the Canadian government’s (in our view criminal) lack of action on this utterly crucial issue – in fact, the single most serious issue and challenge ever faced by humanity! We did not really have the opportunity to explain to you that we have indeed each tried more “conventional” and “polite” methods.

I’m writing this letter to you now because, although you did give us the opportunity to speak up just before you handed down our sentence, I personally found the whole setting and situation more than a little intimidating, and so remained silent.

What I would have liked to say to you on Tuesday, in court, is this:

Your Honour, I am very proud of having taken part in the peaceful occupation of Canada’s finance minister’s office this past November 30th. As a matter of fact, it’s one of the things in my life I am most proud of. I wish I had done more of this kind of thing in my life, because taking this action made me feel great! Apathy and inaction in the face of such a momentous issue and challenge drain our energy, while action is a powerful energy booster.

You commented that you suspected our action probably took us all a little beyond our usual comfort zone, and you are certainly correct in my case. Chaining myself to fellow human beings and being hauled off to a jail cell with my hands cuffed behind my back in a cold, hard paddy wagon is indeed not the sort of thing I do routinely.

But here’s the thing: I felt I had to do this. That it was the very least I could do in the face of our government’s appalling inaction on climate change and its (in my view) criminal behaviour in the Alberta tar sands.

Letters, phonecalls, petitions, peaceful gatherings on Parliament Hill – none of these have made even a tiny dent in our so-called leaders’ intransigence. When these conventional methods of expressing dissent in a democracy fail, one feels obliged to “up the ante.”

Another thing I want you to be aware of is how overwhelmingly positive the reactions to my part in this protest have been. People have offered effusive praise, and I’ve been told over and over that friends and family members are proud of me.

Canadians are disgusted with the antics of the Harper government. We all know we need to see serious action on climate change: targets, policies, legislation and global cooperation.

Yet our government sits on its hands, stifles dissent by proroguing Parliament, and embarrasses our country on the world stage (we’ve been labelled a “corrupt petro state” by world-respected writer/activist George Monbiot) with its appalling performance on this most urgent issue in the entire history of humanity.

I recognize that you are playing your own (perhaps quite principled) part in our legal system in the best way you can, and I do appreciate your intelligence and considerate handling of our case. The disposition you handed down was not an unreasonable one, given the original charges and the limitations with which you no doubt must work. I must say too, though, I do not feel the slightest bit guilty or ashamed for having done what I did. I’m proud of it, and I wish many more citizens would take similar coordinated action.

Yours sincerely,

Janet McNeill

P.S. Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown have said in Coming Back to Life – Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World, “Grace happens when we act with others on behalf of our world.” It’s true!

Note to blog readers: Other blog posts about the sit-in: Busted for Climate Justice!; Civil Disobedience Rocks!! 10 Observations;Civil Disobedience: Why did we occupy Fin. Min’s Office?

Also note: If you go to Direct Action in Canada for Climate Justice you can read up on the various sit-ins held in MPs’ offices across Canada last Fall, just before the Copenhagen meetings.

‘Quote of the Day’ w. this post: “When the Earth has been ravaged and the animals are dying, a tribe of people from all races, creeds and colours will put their faith in deeds, not words, to make the land green again. They will be called ‘Warriors of the Rainbow,’ protectors of the environment.” – Native saying


(1) The first 2 charges were dropped. We pled guilty to the third. We were each fined $100. & will be on probation for a year. The conditions that had been imposed on us at the time of our arrest (involving police notifications & non-association with our co-accused) were also dropped.

 

Climate Change: Making it Personal

This morning's Toronto Star has an article headlined 'Making climate change personal.' A quote right above the article says "Change can happen, it must. Apartheid was broken by just such a spirit."

The article quotes 2 environmental activists who've been involved in recent acts of civil disobedience (occupying federal government cabinet ministers' offices) in Calgary & Edmonton, Alberta (Canada).

Both cite well-known heroes from the past who changed the world by being peacefully "disobedient."

I'm sure you've heard of Nelson Mandela? Rosa Parks? Mohandas Gandhi?

I expect you've also heard that the Inuit people of Canada's Arctic are on the front lines of climate change. It's no "theory" to them, & it can't be disproved. It's right in front of their faces - every single day of the week.

Until issues become "personal," it seems we are reluctant to act. Trust me, folks - climate change is personal as all get-out! It will spare none of us.

You can find the Toronto Star article here

Civil Disobedience: Why did we occupy Fin. Minister's Office?

I’ve blogged twice recently about an act of civil disobedience I took part in last week, & do hope I’ve convinced some usually "polite" people to consider acting &/or speaking up themselves.

For information about doing direct action, you can go to Direct Action in Canada for Climate Justice

I've just realized I ought to have said more about why we did what we did!?

Seven of us sat chained together in Canadian finance minister Jim Flaherty’s office for the day & were willing to be arrested because:

  • We know climate change is the single most urgent threat facing our world.
  • We wanted to send a very strong message to the Harper government about the need to take ACTION on climate change – not stall & prevent global action/solutions at the Copenhagen meetings.
  • We know the Harper government’s finance minister Jim Flaherty controls the federal government’s purse strings.
  • We wanted to call on Flaherty & his government to finance the solutions to climate change – & climate justice – not continue subsidizing the tar sands (home of the world’s dirtiest oil).

The results of our actions? Impossible to pin down – but I do think this action (& others like it) have the potential to demonstrate to very different constituencies of people that:

(a) the issue of climate change is indeed mind-bogglingly urgent, & recognizably so, to vast numbers of Canadians/youth/world citizens &

(b) those of us protesting are not unruly, unreasonable or violence-prone; we are sensible, concerned, passionate people committed to action on climate change, & also to spreading the word about the need for climate justice. (Visit http://www.globalissues.org/article/231/climate-justice-and-equity for information about why we in the well-off, developed countries have a moral obligation to fund solutions in the poorer countries, the ones bearing the brunt of climate change impacts.)

Groups you can check out for their work on climate change & their take on & participation in the Copenhagen experience:

The KYOTOplus coalition – “A Canadian public engagement campaign to support an urgent solution to the global warming crisis” – consists of over 120 environmental & social justice groups – & many thousands of individual citizens – who have signed the KYOTOplus petition.

Check it out at http://www.kyotoplus.ca/

Here is what Canadian writer/blogger/filmmaker & activist extraordinaire, Guy Dauncey, has said:

“The message, so firmly, is – don’t give up. Don’t hang with the cynics, the angry-hearted, the whiners, the blamers, the negative minded. Hang with those who believe in love, hope, and beauty – and then work with them to make this a reality. This is our planet. This is our time. This is our call to action.” ~ Guy Dauncey, author of The Climate Challenge: 101 Solutions to Global Warming

For suggestions of things you can do about climate change, please consider reading the blog post ‘Copenhagen Primer’. Skip lots of the “chat” if you prefer, & scroll down to near the end, where practical suggestions are offered.

Janet

P.S.  This blog is my own. I am not representing or speaking here on behalf of any other groups to which I belong - just me, myself & I. Any screw-ups are mine alone!?

P.P.S. Other blog posts about the sit-in are found at Busted for Climate Justice!; Civil Disobedience Rocks!! 10 Observations & Dear Judge: Comfort Zones & Climate Change.

P.P.P.S. Here is a fine quotation about disobedience: “You want sanity, democracy, community, an intact Earth? We can’t get there, obeying Constitutional theory and law crafted by slave masters, imperialists, corporate masters, and Nature destroyers. We can’t get there, kneeling before robed lawyers stockpiling class plunder precedent up their venerable sleeves. So isn’t disobedience the challenge of our age? Principled, inventive, escalating disobedience to liberate our souls, to transfigure our work as humans on this Earth.” Richard Grossman

Civil Disobedience Rocks!! 10 Observations

5 days ago now (on Monday, Nov. 30th 2009), I took part in a peaceful sit-in at the Canadian Harper government’s finance minister’s office in Whitby, Ontario, along with 6 other Toronto-area ‘People for Climate Justice.’ We spent the day in Jim Flaherty’s office, & at the end of the day were arrested, taken to the Oshawa police station, charged & later released. [See also Busted for Climate Justice! & Civil Disobedience: Why did we occupy Fin. Minister's Office? & Dear Judge: Comfort Zones & Climate Change]

It was the first time I’d ever been arrested, & all in all, I found the whole experience pretty energizing!

Here's a list of 10 things I’ve concluded:

1. I am very pleased & proud to have taken part in this event. Surprisingly, it was a lot more fun than I’d anticipated!

2. The young people involved in social justice/environmental activism are wildly

  • smart
  • energetic
  • committed
  • courageous & assertive &
  • politically astute (much more so than I was at their ages!)

3. Something that really stands out for me is how community-building this experience was. Totally the opposite of isolating or alienating, which so many things in today’s world seem to be. I felt kind of like one small cell in a functioning body. No need to overplay my own “importance” or contribution. The support that those of us who did the sit-in had was phenomenal – & that felt awesome.

4. The actions of individuals can & do make a huge difference! This “action” was the culmination of many different individual actions & contributions, & its success is due to the synergy of all those individual contributions. The whole is definitely greater than the sum of the parts, and each of those individual “parts” helped hugely! I am so grateful to everyone involved!!

5. The Buddhists are always saying that everything is connected (well, not just the Buddhists; it’s a pretty widely-understood phenomenon by now). Many of my blog entries are about how we need to learn that “Everything isn’t all about ME,” & how valuable “spiritual growth” is, & how much we need to learn from teachers like Eckhart Tolle about the need to tame our egos. This civil disobedience experience was an on-the-fly exercise in the need for these very kinds of lessons. When we know in our guts that “everything isn’t all about me,” it’s pretty powerful what we can work for & achieve…together!!

6. Given some of the feedback I’ve had from friends & family since my arrest, it’s been brought home to me more than ever that those of us who feel capable of speaking up &/or being arrested have a moral duty to do so – because when we do, we're speaking/acting for many, many others who for a whole host of compelling reasons may not be capable of this kind of action themselves. When we do it, I think we help them in some mysterious way to feel the power of their own voices, thoughts & actions too.

7. We middle-class Canadians are, I am ever more convinced, much too complacent, compliant & comfortable. We allow our own comfort to insulate us & isolate us & become an excuse for inaction.

8. Occupying a politician’s office for the day, being arrested & spending a few hours in a police station is a very “small potatoes” contribution, hardly a heroic act! I think of the bravery of the suffragettes, & Rosa Parks, & Nelson Mandela, & Mahatma Gandhi, & so many millions of current prisoners & refugees all over the world who have suffered & are suffering far, far more than I can ever imagine. If I cannot give up my comfort for one day in solidarity with the millions on this planet who are suffering & will suffer grievously due to climate change impacts, well... what kind of person am I, then, really?

9. It is time for my generation – the Baby Boomers – to step up to the plate. Our parents lived through the Depression & World War II, & made huge personal sacrifices in order that our generation might have better lives. So many died during World War II, that we might live. What has my generation done? Is it not finally time for us to make a contribution to the future for our own children & grandchildren? To actually make some sacrifices? I definitely think so.

10. We have been too quiet, too polite, too selfish, too inwardly-focused. It’s time to speak up. To get off our comfortable backsides & show some gumption. As someone wise has said, “Democracy is not a spectator sport.” It’s time to get our hands dirty!!

More & more well-known figures – people like George Monbiot, & Wendell Berry, & Dr. James Hansen, are saying that civil disobedience must be stepped up. It isn’t just “overgrown hippies” who see that it’s time for change; many, many respected writers & scientists & educators of all kinds are saying we must speak up – and act up.

Let’s use these wonderful voices we’ve been given, shall we?

Janet

p.s.  This blog is my own. I am not representing or speaking here on behalf of any other groups to which I belong - just me, myself & I. Any screw-ups are mine alone!?

p.p.s. You can read the blog entry ‘Copenhagen Primer’ if you need some suggestions for personal action. I went out yesterday to do some errands in downtown Toronto, & the simple fact that I was wearing a (Toronto Climate Campaign) button about climate change led to a good conversation with a staff person in a store. Such a simple contribution, just wearing a button!!

p.p.p.s. For information about doing direct action yourself (and some good photos!), you can go to Direct Action in Canada for Climate Justice here

Quotations I hope may help summon up the blood, as it were….

“The optimism of the action is better than the pessimism of the thought.” – Harold Zindler

“The single most important contribution any of us can make to the planet is a return to frugality.” – Robert Muller, former Assistant Secretary-General of the UN

“The saving of the world from impending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of the non-conforming minority.” – Martin Luther King

“Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality of those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change.” ~ Robert F. Kennedy, in a speech in Capetown, South Africa, June 6, 1966.

“I still believe the model of the peaceful world is the potluck supper.Everyone can make a contribution, everyone can gain fellowship and nourishment, and we can all learn from one another.” – Ursula Franklin

“The hottest place in hell is reserved for those who, in times of crisis, preferred to remain neutral.” – Dante, in The Inferno

“Activism is the rent I pay for living on this planet.” – Alice Walker

“Anything else you’re interested in is not going to happen if you can’t breathe the air and drink the water. Don’t sit this one out. Do something.” – Carl Sagan, astronomer (1934 – 1996).

“Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it’s the only thing.” – Albert Schweitzer

“We are privileged, and the duty of privilege is absolute integrity.” – John O’Donohue, Irish poet, philosopher and former priest

“The most alarming sign of the state of our society now is that our leaders have the courage to sacrifice the lives of young people in war but have not the courage to tell us that we must be less greedy and less wasteful.” – Wendell Berry, quoted in Depletion and Abundance – Life on the New Home Front or, One Woman’s Solutions to Finding Abundance for Your Family while Coming to Terms with Peak Oil, Climate Change and Hard Times, Sharon Astyk, New Society Publishers, 2008.

“Thou shalt not be a victim. Thou shalt not be a perpetrator. Above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.” – Quote displayed at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. – quoted in Heat – How to Stop the Planet from Burning, by George Monbiot, Doubleday, 2006.

“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less important whether or not I am unafraid.” – Audre Lourde, 1934-92

“Do we want to be remembered as the generation that saved the banks and let the biosphere collapse?” – George Monbiot

We Are TOO (Freakin’) Polite!

<Oct. 5/09>

This is a rant about being TOO polite. For sure, just to be clear, I was raised by my parents to be a very polite person. I always (almost always) remember to say my “pleases & thank-you’s,” and dutifully taught my children to do the same.

It’s a form of obedience, really. We are taught from Day 1 (by our parents & if not by them, by our culture) to be very obedient to the rules of our society. Not to “colour outside the lines,” as it were – and to be sure that we “play by the rules” and all that jazz. Yes??(1)

Sure we are. We live in an insanely (obscenely?) voracious culture that is destroying the Earth (a remarkably abundant and beautiful place, by the way, not to mention being our only home), yet we are all so damn polite that not only do most of us not speak up about what is taking place all around us, those of us who do are looked upon as “weirdos.” I know this because I’ve been perceived as a weirdo (by a lot of the folks who know me) for the past 20 years.

There are 3 things I’d like to cite about this being too polite business:

1. What got me started musing on this (again) recently was my attendance at an anti-uranium rally held at Queen’s Park in Toronto (Ontario, Canada) on Sunday, September 27th (2009). Increasing numbers of Ontario citizens have begun to oppose the mining of uranium – and with good reason. The rally was held at our provincial legislature to let our MPP’s (Members of Provincial Parliament) know that we want uranium mining stopped. There were several dynamic speakers to inform those in attendance about the issue & what needs to be done about it (namely, demand a legislated ban on uranium mining for all of Ontario – similar to the bans already in effect in three of our other provinces – British Columbia, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick – & the territory of Labrador).

Native elder Bob Lovelace told the crowd at the rally that in his view, we Canadians are too polite. He knows a lot about this, having been sent to jail for his part in trying to protect his native band’s territory near Sharbot Lake, Ontario, against uranium exploration. What he said really resonated for me. We are, indeed, much too polite.

If you want to learn more about the Ontario uranium mining scene, go to the Web site of Cottagers Against Uranium Mining & Exploration (CUME) There is also a ton of useful information at the site of CCAMU – the Community Coalition Against Mining Uranium.

2. Something that had got me thinking about this politeness business some time ago were the insights I had as a result of attending several Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) hearings in Ottawa. These were about tritium light facilities in Pembroke & Peterborough, Ontario (the companies are called SRB Technologies and SSI, for Shield Source International, respectively). Oh yes, there was also one on Zircatec Precision Industries Inc. a nuclear facility in Port Hope, Ontario – that I sat in on.

At each of these hearings, I’ve been absolutely blown away by the intelligence and information possessed by the citizen interveners who object to these 3 privately-run, profit-making nuclear facilities. Intervener presentations (firmly limited to 10 minutes per person, although the proponent – that is, the nuclear facility representative – has almost unlimited time and endless opportunities to state his case) are fact-filled, well-researched, and passionate, often, given the fact that their citizens, their neighbourhoods & their communities are bearing the brunt of the emissions and releases from these facilities.

The government-appointed CNSC commissioners seem to have very limited understanding indeed of the complexities (& risks) involved in nuclear technologies. Their knowledge very clearly represents a tiny fraction of that possessed by the citizen interveners (toward whom, btw, their demeanour is extremely patronizing).

My take, overall? These are “kangaroo” courts. They’re a joke. The CNSC does not exist to promote nuclear “safety” for Canadians; it exists to promote the nuclear industry.

I could go on here at length, because I have other insights & strong opinions about the CNSC hearing process – but I won’t.

It does frustrate the heck out of me that a) the “average” Canadian citizen has probably never even heard of the CNSC, has certainly never attended one of their kangaroo courts (oops, I mean hearings), & has no idea what this taxpayer-funded outfit gets up to & b) those of us who oppose these various nuclear operations can talk ‘till we’re blue in the face, present impressive evidence & studies from all over the world, cite human health impacts until the cows come home – but nothing ever changes. We put on our very best clothes, talk very, very politely in the hearings (which I suppose, come to think of it, are a little reminiscent of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party), and the commissioners (and the CNSC’s very considerable-sized & no doubt well-educated & well-paid staff) go right on ahead & do what they’re going to do – with no apparent real concern for the safety of the Canadian public they are all supposedly being paid their generous salaries to protect.

It was this that got me thinking some time ago now that we are too damn polite

It was either Benjamin Franklin or Albert Einstein (I’ve heard both being credited) who said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

So who is it who’s insane here, anyway??

3. All of this motivated me to take part recently in a Greenpeace “Climate Action Camp” to learn about civil disobedience. So glad I went!!

I learned lots, and had a lot of fun, too! It was interesting to be reminded of some of the very early & well-known practitioners of civil disobedience. Jesus Christ was one of its early agents when he kicked the money-lenders out of the temple. There was Gandhi in India, & Martin Luther King & Rosa Parks in the U.S.

Civil disobedience has a very proud history. Henry David Thoreau. Harriet Tubman. Nelson Mandela. Vaclav Havel. And so on & so on. People most of us now recognize as heroes for having put their necks on the line – for going to great lengths, and at considerable personal cost – to speak up very loudly & initiate change on critically important social issues.

Now Greenpeace is making itself heard loudly & clearly on the climate issue, with recent actions in the Alberta tar sands – home of the world’s dirtiest oil.

You can love Greenpeace or not love them, but one thing you have to admit: their stunts get our attention – and they force us to think & become better informed.

If you want to learn more about Greenpeace &/or the Alberta tar sands project, go here Scroll down on the left under ‘What we do’ for tar sands information. GP has also recently commissioned a film about the tar sands. Watch for it! (I believe it’s now making the rounds of film festivals & will be released to the public soon.)

Meanwhile, why not muse on this being too polite business?

Is it really necessary – or wise – or even excusable – that we remain silent – and “polite” – in the face of crimes against the planet – and humanity?

We all have to decide this for ourselves, of course – but surely it’s worth a little thought.

Janet

P.P.S. A while after this (end of November 2009, to be precise), I took part in some "civil disobedience" myself. There are several blog posts about this - good one to start with is 'Busted for Climate Justice.'

P.S. There are other films/YouTubes on the tar sands. I’ve heard of these so far (they are all also listed in the posting 'Tar Sands: Canada's Oil Shame.')

1. “The Dark Side of the Boom: Canada’s Mordor” - here

2. From National Geographic: here

3. “Dirty Oil: Alberta’s Tar Sands Explained

4. Tipping Point: The Age of the Oil Sands. 2 hour documentary.


(1) The blog essays ‘Looking Good’ and ‘Looking Stupid’ speak to this societal dynamic we’re all caught up in from Day 1. So does 'Good Girls & Boys.'

Good Girls & Boys

<June 2008>

I’m in my mid-50's now. I guess somehow, when I wasn't looking, I became an “elder.” We begin to see things a little differently at my age – once all the career fol-de-rol & the parenthood fol-de-rol & the great, wondrous roller coaster of life have slowed down a wee bit & given us time to think, reflect & …. be. (Menopause may also be a factor.)

Something that has struck me recently is the notion that we are all (well, most of us, I think) trying very, very hard – & have been trying very hard all our lives – to be such good boys & girls.(1)  We’ve tried so hard to please our parents (many of whom were, truthfully, rather nasty people & outrageously bad role models, not to mention utterly impossible to please!); we’ve tried so hard to fit in, in this culture that places such conflicting & impossible demands on us (be yourself, but make sure you “keep up with the Joneses”), that we have done a real number on ourselves.

I think the vast majority of us are trying so hard to be good girls & boys – with our careers & our families & our 100% buy-in to a (mostly dysfunctional) culture in which “looking good” is the be-all & end-all, that we seldom stop to think about whether the life we’re leading is really making sense – or satisfying us very much at all.

Are we really doing – really living – the kinds of lives we really want to live?

Are the things we’re doing – the jobs we’re doing – the things we are endlessly buying – really bringing us joy – satisfaction – fulfillment?

Hmmm…

Or are most of us on some kind of gigantic treadmill, running ‘round & ‘round in circles, just doing what the materialistic & superficial & voraciously consumptive culture we’re immersed in tells us we ought to be doing & finding our fulfillment in? In the way that fish very likely haven’t any concept of water, in which their whole lives are conducted, do most of us ever really think deeply about the culture we live in – & whether any of it really makes any sense – or are we so fully immersed in running in the prescribed circles that we haven’t noticed it is utterly destructive to people & the planet that is our only home?

Well, we’re odd critters, we human beings, no doubt about that.

Even so – & even though I suspect our culture/civilization (I use the term loosely!) is headed at a pretty fast clip for a very unforgiving brick wall – even so, even so, I find our sincere & often quite well-meaning (if misguided) efforts to be “good boys & girls” really rather touching – rather poignant.

Many of us have worked ourselves half to death – with workaholism & various & sundry other “isms” & addictions – in what I think are lifelong (but mostly unconscious) efforts to prove to those gods & goddesses, Mommy & Daddy  (who, as previously mentioned were often utterly hopeless role models, & besides which, many of whom are now actually quite dead!) that we are good girls & boys.

Perhaps it’s time for us to stand back – take a pause from the craziness that is life in the western world in 2008 – & ask ourselves, “Is this really what life is meant to be about?”

As a church signboard in my neighbourhood said so wisely one time recently, “Plan ahead! It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.”

We all know tough times are coming down the pipes at us, one way & another.

Let’s make sure we’re getting ourselves ready for them!

Janet

P.S. on October 6/09 – i.e., 6 months after posting this item:

I just spent a weekend learning about civil disobedience (loved it!). One of the presenters Greenpeace had invited is a lawyer – an awesome, feisty woman full of piss & vinegar (as they say) & in her presentation helped us see that it isn’t just our parents who try to keep us “in line” – the entire legal system (not to mention the whole society) is structured that way.

Think about it: we are socialized to not want to stand out, to be different. Our legal system (I never call it a “justice” system, because it has very, very little indeed to do with justice. Several years working as a federal parole officer provided me with some first-hand experience in that regard) – the courts & the police & the whole darn set-up is designed to intimidate – to keep us “in line.” Of course, we know there are “good” people working as judges & lawyers & cops – but that doesn’t change the fact that the system they work in is set up to maintain “order” at all costs.(I’ve written elsewhere that all our human-made systems are broken. Political – legal – religious – health – educational – industrial – economic; have I missed any?? I often recall that great quotation “There isn’t a problem with the system. The system is the problem.” Sadly & ironically, all these broken systems are being propped up by many, many “good” people. Is it not so? Give it some thought, hmm?)

It’s all a “pretty mess,” as they say, hmmm?

I think more of us need to start “colouring outside the lines;” maybe even taking part in acts of civil disobedience.

Why the heck not???

P.P.S. I've posted an item called ‘We are TOO (freakin’) polite’ that is somewhat relevant on this score.


(1) I think we do this because when we are “growing up,” our parents are our very god & goddess. We want so badly to please them, & do what they will reward us for. We are such simple creatures, at bottom, aren’t we??