Once some understanding of oppression is gained, most people are called to action. There are four broad categories of action: legal remedies, direct action, withdrawal, and spirituality. These categories can overlap in ways that are helpful or even crucial to resistance movements; they can also be diversions that dead-end in despair. Crucial to our discussion, none of them are definitively liberal or radical as actions.
Most activist groups are centered around legal remedies to address specific harms. This is for a very good reason. As Catharine MacKinnon points out, “Law organizes power.” Legislative initiatives and court challenges can run the gamut from useless pleading to potential structural change. It’s too easy for radicals to dismiss this arena as inherently reformist. Much of it is, of course, and the main purpose of this book is to ask environmentalists to consider approaches beyond the usual legal response. But if we would like to organize power in an egalitarian distribution, we will need to grapple with the law. The trick is to do this as radicals, which means asking the questions: Does this initiative redistribute power, not just change who is at the top of the pyramid? Does it take away the rights of the oppressors and reestablish the rights of the dispossessed? Does it let people control more of the material conditions of their lives? Does it name and redress a specific harm? We can stand on the sidelines with a more-radical-than-thou attitude, but attitude will not help a single gasping salmon or incested girl child.
This is not a call to behave and ask nicely. I believe in breaking the law because the edifice is supported by a federal constitution that upholds a corrupt arrangement of power. It was written by white men who owned white women as chattel and black men and women as slaves, and those powerful men wrote it to protect their power. We have no moral obligation to respect it; quite the opposite. I also believe we will need to bring the whole edifice down or I wouldn’t be a coauthor of this book. But there are legislative victories and court rulings—like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Roe v. Wade—that have changed people’s lives in substantive ways, redirecting the flow of power toward justice. Further, a transition toward direct democracy built on a foundation of both human rights and human participation in the life of the planet is not conceptually difficult. Law is not just for liberals. The question is, what actions will get us from here to there? Neither sneering nor despairing has ever proven to be effective. It’s easy for nothing to be radical enough, but an interior state of rage is also not enough. Structural change needs to happen. A radical analysis starts from that fact. How best to force that change is a strategic question.