Across history, wherever there is oppression, there is resistance: let that be our first, drought-ending drop. We need to learn from those who have come before so we can decide where we need to build and what we need to abandon. Successful movements follow broad patterns, and one strong element in their success is the surrounding culture of resistance. Cultures of resistance mobilize existing cultures of survival, building on networks of community support and material exchange, the resilience that the oppressed must develop under the indignities of injustice, and the spiritual wellsprings that often occupy the center of cultures of survival. If we come from such a culture, we can bring needed skills and experiences on which to model a specifically deep green culture of resistance. To date, most radical environmentalists are white and globally privileged, which means that the cultural norms they bring will be greatly lacking. But acknowledging that lack is the first step toward building something better, something that this movement desperately needs if it’s to win.
To make a successful cultural transition from survival to resistance requires two related processes. One is an active, collective, and political embrace of direct confrontations with power. The other is a psychological break with an identification with the oppressor. Malcolm X was the eloquery of this experience for black Americans; Dee Graham and her theory of Societal Stockholm Syndrome outlines a similar process for the male identification structured into women’s psychology.111 This emotional remodeling often demarcates one generation from the next, and can be a source of pain and conflict. When you have survived by keeping your eyes down and your mouth shut, when the consequences to speaking out and fighting back have been serious, it feels uneasy at best when your cohorts start refusing to submit. But that refusal is the foundation of resistance, and it has to happen.
Throughout the ’60s, the left was split between the counterculture of hedonism, drugs, and “mystical apoliticism,”112 and, on the other hand, a protest culture which had a critical analysis but failed for lack of long-term strategy. Both sides of the split were predictable given their genesis as youth cultures. That the hippie current would give rise to the New Age navel gazers is no surprise, as its lineage from the Wandervogel and Asconia is direct. But the protest culture was also a youth culture, creating “delusions of revolutionary grandeur” and “subsequent frustration and disillusionment.”113 There was no long-term plan because the actionists didn’t yet have the brains that could think long-term; while the rejection of authority and everyone over thirty meant they allowed no guidance from people who could have provided it. Left to their own youthful devices, secular millennialism took hold, and poorly articulated if intensely felt calls for militance were where the antiwar movement and the left in general dead-ended. Those of us who try to propose a thoughtful and strategic militant resistance—for instance, the targeting of industrial infrastructure—are always arguing against the legacy of the Weather Underground and the Black Panthers. The DGR strategy is not one of militant action to magically usher in generalized social chaos and revolt, nor is it a call to action because it feels better, nor is it militance to shore up masculinity. The DGR strategy is instead a recognition of the scope of what is at stake (the planet); an honest assessment of the potential for a mass movement (none); and the recognition that industrial civilization has an infrastructure that is, in fact, quite vulnerable. If you want to take issue with any of those three premises, well and good. But at least give us the respect of differentiation from other movements whose strategic goals we have clearly rejected.
Without long-term strategy—and let’s be clear, a just and sustainable culture will take generations to achieve—some combination of millennialism and personal purity are what the disaffected will turn to, and they’re both dead ends. In From Slogans to Mantras, Stephen A. Kent traces how ’60s radicals adopted both. He writes, “The revolution would still come, but its arrival would be heralded by a personal transformation of purified individuals, and its appearance would (have to) be a divinely orchestrated event (since bitter experience had taught them that it could not be a socially orchestrated occurrence).”114
A bitter experience of perhaps five to ten years.
A culture of resistance must meld the idealism and courage that youth typically bring with the knowledge, experience, and long-term thinking of maturity. It also must believe in resistance if it’s going to plan for it; beyond that, it must understand and embrace its other functions as a crucible of the resistance. In order to produce activists who last beyond youth, a culture of resistance must provide a range of emotional and material supports or people will give up and retreat to whatever personal solace they can find.
Central to that support is a framework that provides meaning. Humans are storytelling animals; we build narratives and then live inside them. It is no accident that the Irish independence struggle arose from the Gaelic Revival or that the civil rights movement followed the Harlem Renaissance. People need stories; people who resist need stories of resistance. But right now, calls for changing the culture are set in opposition to resistance. “Political change accomplishes nothing; it’s the underlying culture that needs to change” is the assertion. But both are necessary to each other. Without a culture of resistance, actionists will give up in exhaustion, which will not be a personal failing but a collective one. Likewise, without resistance at the core, cultures stay locked into positions of mere (if Herculean) survival or are relegated to irrelevancy. A DGR strategy acknowledges the essential and symbiotic relationship between the culture of resistance and the actionists engaged in resistance. The authors of this book are not the people rejecting one for the other, as neither can exist without the other.
The tasks of a culture of resistance include holding and enforcing community norms of justice, equity, commitment, and solidarity; encouraging vibrant political discussion and debate; producing cultural products—poems, songs, art—that create a mythic matrix organized around the theme of resistance; and building individual character based on courage, resilience, and loyalty.
Specific material projects encompass everything from prisoner support to alternative schools to the creation of institutions capable of running civic society as the old system collapses. Along the way, from personal relationships to small groups to our larger institutions, a culture of resistance has got to embody justice and firmly reject domination. This means that white people have to own up to white privilege, ally with people of color, and commit to dismantling racism. It means that people from settler cultures have to acknowledge that the Americas are stolen land in an ongoing genocide, a genocide we must stop. It means men have got to cease in their sexual atrocities against women and girls, atrocities as quotidian on the left as on the right, and it means women have to stand in solidarity with each other. It means that men must ally themselves with women and against those who would abuse them.
We’re up against a system that is not only unjust, but insane. A culture of resistance must collectively face the layers of horror embedded in history; the daily acts of sexual sadism that comprise slavery, conquest, and rape; the knowledge that these acts are not the mistakes of confused, tragic children. Forgive them or not: they know what they do. A culture of resistance believes in resistance because no amount of love or compassion or earnest education, no shining example of communal sustainability or individual self-respect has ever stopped the powerful. Continent by continent, sustainable and egalitarian cultures have been wiped clean off the map, mere smudges of history that stood in the way of wealth; and the individuals who led them—brave, self-respecting, stalwart—took their place at the hanging end of a noose or beneath the heavy bodies of the hateful. “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will,” wrote Frederick Douglass with the dense eloquence of those who know too well.
A culture of resistance is the mitosis of those demands, where the twin strands of pain and courage are triggered into life. As every living cell carries the message life wants to live, so, too, a culture of resistance is a determined miracle. However long the odds, life will live, and people will fight.
The odds are longer now than they’ve ever been, a shadow stretched with vanishing species and rising carbon. But there are warriors who might yet throw their bodies between the last of our future and its destroyers, if only they have a viable strategy and visible support. So the question is: Will the rest of us help them? Will we cast our lot with them, speak in their defense, shelter them in danger, sing songs of their stories, raise our children to take their place, prepare the way for their victory, claim them as our bravest and brightest?
Another 200 species went extinct today. Make your choice.