If we had enough people for a mass movement or enough time to build one, we could shut down the activities that are destroying our planet using only determined human bodies. People armed with nothing but courage ended segregation in the American South and others pulled down the Berlin wall. Enough people could shut down the oil refineries, the coal plants, the relentless horror of the tar sands and strip mines and clear-cuts. In the fall of 2010, French workers went on strike to protest a proposed raise in the retirement age. Protestors used trucks, burning tires, and human chains to blockade fuel depots and close all twelve of France’s oil refineries. The major oil terminal was offline for three weeks, stranding thirty oil tankers. When the government tried to open the country’s emergency reserves, protestors blockaded twenty more terminals. In a few weeks, the whole economy was slowing toward a halt for lack of fuel. Even after fuel trucks were able to access the terminals, it took a few days for the affected gas stations to resume regular business “since transportation and other strikes have tangled each step of the distribution process.”29 As Jean-Louis Schilansky, president of the French Oil Association said, “We have considerable bottlenecks.”
The French strikers did what every military and every insurgency does: interrupted key nodes of infrastructure. They were well on their way to completely shutting down the economy, and they did it using nonviolence. I would vastly prefer to wage our struggle nonviolently. As the French strike has shown, it could be done. If we had enough people, we could shut this party down by midnight using human blockades. But my longing will not produce the necessary numbers. And it’s a little late in the day for millenarianism.
This is the question on which the world entire may depend: Are you willing to accept the only strategy left to us? Are you willing to set aside your last, fierce dream of that brave uprising of millions strong? I know what I am asking. The human heart needs hope as it needs air. But the existence of those brave millions is the empty hope of the desperate, and they’re not coming to our rescue.
But a few hundred exist, answering to the name of MEND. They are the direct descendants of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others who chose to fight with their lives as their only weapons. Those lives ended in a tight noose of vicious power, tied by the military on behalf of the globally wealthy. But their struggle didn’t end. On that grim day, power didn’t win. Because now MEND is willing to say to the oil industry, “Leave our land or you will die in it.”
Are we willing to do the same? To say: Leave our mountains, our wetlands, our last, ancient trees. Leave our kin of feathers and fur, who every second are slipping away from the world and into memory. Are we willing to fight for this planet?
The Black Panthers wanted to have a national gathering but there was no safe place for them to hold it. The Quakers of the Philadelphia Meeting, despite serious and profound differences on the issue of nonviolence, offered their largest meetinghouse. And more: they circled the building to keep the Black Panthers safe from the police in an act of extraordinary solidarity, putting their lives between power and the resistance.30
Will you offer your meetinghouse? There are polar bears and black-footed ferrets, bison and coho salmon who need a safe place. Where will you put your life?
Will you offer your meetinghouse? The resistance needs a place, too, a place to gather its forces, find its courage, and launch the final battle.
The carbon is swelling; the heat is rising; the rivers are fading and somewhere a black tern is giving up in exhaustion. The same noose that took Ken Saro-Wiwa is tightening, and there is only time for one last breath. Will you close your eyes and let the earth fall, with a sickening snap of species and forests and rivers? Or will you fight?
Whatever you love, it is under assault. Love is a verb. So take that final breath and fight.