Last night, I had the pleasure to go see a talk by Will Potter of Green is the New Red at a local vegan coffee shop. Potter is an investigative journalist who has made a name for himself by tirelessly exposing the post-9/11 erosion of civil liberties in this country. After the talk, we schmoozed for a little bit and I picked up a copy of his excellent new book in which he tells the stories of non-violent animal liberationists and environmentalists whom the FBI has aggressively targeted as “the number one domestic terrorist threat.” Using legislation quite literally written by pharmaceutical and agribusiness corporations, the federal government has applied “terrorism enhancements” to the prosecution of activists who are pushing the envelope of the green movement.
If you know much about the history of the FBI, you are already aware that they have existed more or less as a social movement busting organization since their inception as the General Intelligence Division in 1919. At that time, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer handed over half a million dollars to a young J. Edgar Hoover and told him to “fight radicalism.” We all know where that went. Historically, the U.S. government has debuted repressive techniques first on easy to marginalize minorities before casting a wider net. The Palmer Raids occurred in an era when hardworking Americans, many of them immigrants, were attempting to reorganize society in a way that they felt was more just and equitable. While we should avoid making direct equivalencies, there is a clear parallel between that historical moment and this one.
As Will Potter will tell you, the issue here is not whether you agree with the politics of vegan abolitionism or earth liberation. In the past few years, we have seen the slow emergence of a national conversation on what it means to be a sustainable society. The world is overwhelmed by war, violence, ecological degradation, alienation and indignity. Things cannot continue as they are if the human race is going to make it out of the 21st century. We need real systemic change, not the rebranding of the same ignominious policies that have impoverished the world.
As this consciousness shift coalesces into action, we find ourselves running up against the inflexibility of a system where the pursuit of profit has killed the drive for innovation. It’s species-wide maladaptivity and we’re borrowing to pay for the privilege. As humanity struggles to evolve in a rapidly changing landscape, entrenched corporate and political interests push back against us with everything they have. Why? Because if we grow into something greater than mere consumers, then the primitively accumulated wealth and privilege of the upper class will wither into irrelevance.
It’s great to argue over visions of a peaceful new world sprouting from the ashes of the empire. These are discussions that need to happen and I find it incredibly encouraging how much they abound these days, even in completely mainstream locales. But there’s something we need to push out of the way before any of us can begin laying cornerstones. If we approach this monumental task through the framework of consumerism, then we have already lost. We can’t afford to let a vested interest in stagnation sell our ideas back to us, de-fanged and castrated. Don’t let them tell you that spending a few more dollars a pound for “humane meat” is the answer to that sinking feeling in your gut when you first saw raw footage of a steer bleeding out on the kill floor of an Iowa abbatoir. You can’t buy revolution at the supermarket. You can’t vote it into office. You won’t read about it in articles from the vanguard party’s newspaper. There will be no hyperlinks to it on this blog. Revolution starts with taking responsibility for changing yourself from the inside out, not giving it up to someone else in the hopes that they’ll change the world to suit you. Real change isn’t safe but you’re not the only one who wants it. Look around. Talk to people. Find something you can lock arms over. And if you’re the last one out of the era of corporatist militarism, please make sure you turn out the lights. After all, we’re going green.