Comments on Victory Plan from long-time environmental activist
October 7, 2016
Dear Ezra, Margeret and Others at TCM:
I read with enthusiastic interest the documents on your website, especially the draft Victory Plan. As someone who’s given my all to fighting for environmental justice as an organizer, attorney and nonprofit director at environmental groups for 30 plus years, I have important feedback to share. (See below.)
I would like to send you a complimentary copy of my new book, What It Will Take. Rejecting Dead-ends and False Friends in the Fight for the Earth. The book offers a long-time activist’s perspective on why we’ve been losing ground in our struggle for justice and survival. It provides essential context for planning the way forward. To what address should I send the book?
A little more about me: I hold a law degree from the University of Michigan, and worked for environmental groups in Michigan, Connecticut and D.C. before moving to the Pacific Northwest in 1989. In the Northwest, I worked for ten years with the Washington Toxics Coalition, including three as its ED. I then shifted to helping farm worker families in their struggle against exposures to highly toxic farm pesticides, and did that work for 10 years. (With Columbia Legal Services briefly and then the farm worker-led Farm Worker Pesticide Project.) I have been honored with the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association’s Public Justice Award and Pesticide Action Network’s Health & Justice Award.
Input on the Draft Victory Plan (having to paste this here deletes the fonts making it hard to read. Sorry!)
First of all, thank you for:
• Telling the truth about how dire the situation is and how major our response must be. I discuss in my book the propensity of environmental groups and others to aim low and imply that we’re making adequate progress even though we’re not. I also discuss the dynamics of hope, and how telling the truth is actually the key to generating hope, while sugar-coating things leads to despair.
• Laying out an aggressive plan of action with lots of excellent ideas.
• Putting the document out for public input.
I do have some important suggestions for how the plan can be improved. These include the following:
- The plan needs to better reflect and address the barriers to success that spring from our current economic set-up.
As my book details, we have been blocked in our efforts to create the just and sustainable world we want by the power dynamics inherent in the current economic set-up. Under capitalism, key industries that affect whether basic human needs are met and determine our fate as a species are privately owned and operated for profit. A number of outcomes flow inexorably from this set-up:
• An elite few at the top of corporations make decisions about what products and services are produced despite profound implications for all of us. They also determine what jobs will exist and where, who will have those jobs, and much more. They hold the reins for very important decisions, and we don’t.
• Meanwhile most of us work as wage laborers, and though we spend most of our waking hours at work, we have almost no control over our jobs. This subjects us to extortion. We give corporations what they want and/or we keep our heads down and our mouths shut, to get and keep jobs. When people are extortable, we don’t truly have a democracy.
• On top of having little or no control over jobs, workplace conditions and what we produce with our labor, we also have no control over the profits our work produces. The profits are funneled upwards to the owners of the corporations we work for. That leaves us without the money we need for implementing environmental solutions and doing other things we want. At a time of enormous prosperity, we are forced to endure austerity.
• Theoretically, we’re supposed to be able to influence the decisions of those at the top through public policies. But corporate owners use the giant profits they accumulate to distort every aspect of how policy decisions are made. Big Money in elections is just a tiny part of the picture. Big Money also buys scientific research, huge PR campaigns, news media outlets, control over higher education, major influence in K-12 education, spies, lobbyists who target legislators, lobbyists who target agencies that implement and enforce laws, lawyers who sue farmers and activists and governments, front groups, experts who pretend to be independent, smear campaigns to discredit independent scientists and effective activists, violence and more. The influence wielded by corporate owners is so pervasive and so insidious, that activists regularly promote solutions or take approaches that are counter-productive because they don’t realize that their perceptions have been manipulated.
• On top of all that, with inequity deepening each year as those at the top gather even more of the world’s resources, it’s becoming harder and harder for people to be involved in our self-governance. We’re stressed out of our minds, struggling to make ends meet, and juggling multiple burdens.
This backdrop has to be understood and recognized as the Victory Plan is refined. We may be able to get some wins by mobilizing lots of people behind a joint agenda, but those wins will be undone if we leave our fundamentally undemocratic economic system in place. My book provides multiple examples of this happening in the past.
We must take public control of major industries, and use vibrant democratic grassroots-up structures to develop and implement plans for those industries. Workers, communities around each industry’s facilities, and all of us collectively need to have ownership. We can’t control what we don’t own. By nationalizing key industries,
• We will hold the reins. This is a vastly different situation…one in which we have actual power…as compared to one in which we try to affect the decisions corporate owners make.
• We will gain control over jobs – creating them, locating them, linking them to those who need them, and more.
• We will gather the profits of our labor and use those profits for democratically-derived next steps.
Small businesses can still be privately owned in the economic system I envision. We can jointly decide what the dividing line will be between publicly owned enterprises and privately owned ones. But certainly public ownership is warranted for the energy, pharmaceutical, agribusiness, and financial industries, to name a few. Small businesses will do better under a socialist system than a capitalist one. In agriculture small farmer ownership should be supported and greatly expanded over its current diminished status. Society must support the farmers who feed us, sharing the risks inherent to farming, for example.
Private ownership of things like homes can also continue. In fact, more people will actually own their homes under socialism than under capitalism. Currently banks own more homes than people do. Lots of people are renters. And the ranks of the homeless are expanding every day.
In summary, my first recommendation is that the Victory Plan must clearly articulate the need to establish worker, community and collective ownership of major industries.
- The plan needs to stop perpetuating the model of agencies and other institutions being steered by parties that have massive financial conflicts of interest.
In the old days, people understood that those who stand to make or lose big profits as the result of government decisions should never be in the drivers’ seat regarding those decisions. That understanding made absolute sense. But it’s been thrown out the window, no doubt as the result of a calculated strategy by the ultra wealthy.
The norm now is to put those with blatant financial conflicts in positions of power. Corporate representatives are appointed to high positions in government agencies (right near the revolving door back to industry.) They are appointed to “stakeholder groups.” If people without conflicts are at the table at all, we are outnumbered and outgunned.
I know all about what happens in “stakeholder groups”….those ubiquitous “partnerships” and “collaborations” that bring corporate owners who profit from decisions together with those whose health, planet, wages and working conditions are at stake. If the official or unofficial goal is consensus, the corporate owners have literal veto power over the policies we, the people, want. In fact, they have veto power over even bringing those ideas up for discussion. Even if there’s no consensus goal, those with financial conflicts use their money and power to steer discussions and skew outcomes. Please see the discussion in my book about how this works.
The draft Victory Plan adheres to this upside down way of doing things, putting those with financial conflicts in positions of power. The Climate Mobilization Board is to be staffed in part by “CEOs”, for example. The Mobilization Labor Board is to be steered by a board composed of not only labor and the federal government but also “capital.” This approach has got to be rooted out of the plan.
No, we don’t have to have all parties at the table. Those with financial conflicts shouldn’t be there. They can provide comments, but decision-making bodies and staffing positions must be populated by working people who don’t have major financial conflicts of interest.
If my first recommendation is implemented, major industries will be publicly owned, rendering this topic moot. There won’t be private CEOs for affected industries any more. Capital will be controlled by the public rather than by individuals seeking to become wealthier and wealthier at the expense of others.
- The Plan needs to be much stronger and clearer about jobs and other rights. It needs to establish and make enforceable an Economic Bill of Rights for all.
Currently the draft plan has the President “champion” “Four Freedoms.” It needs to more clearly articulate in a distinct subchapter, that we need to establish an Economic Bill of Rights. Perhaps this will be done via a constitutional amendment. Perhaps via some other route. In any case, we need much more than a declaration by the President about his or her desire. The Economic Bill of Rights needs to be established as an essential core of our efforts, or else extortion will continue and people will not have time and wherewithal to engage in self-governance.
With increases in productivity that have already happened, and further productivity increases projected for the future, we will be able to work part-time for full living wages. That will give us more time to become involved in our self-governance. It will reduce our stress and make us healthier, thereby increasing our ability to be effective participants in our democracy.
We need guaranteed good paying life-affirming jobs for everyone who is able to work. This right should belong to everyone, not just those who sign up for a job transition program, as is currently the case in the draft plan. The guarantee has to be enforceable.
Those who cannot or should not work due to debility, old age, illness, a new baby, or other causes, must also be guaranteed a livable income. Caring for one’s own children, as well as others’ children, needs to be considered a job, worthy of a good salary.
The Economic Bill of Rights must include all the things you list as “freedoms”, and also the right to free health care and free education.
- The Pledge is a useful tool but as written it over-emphasizes electoral politics and forces people to support Democratic Party candidates which is bad.
Various Democrats have taken the Pledge. One problem is that the pledge they’ve signed is vague. The Victory Plan is a draft. What is it exactly that they’re pledging to do? Elected officials are adept at co-opting language and claiming to do things they’re not doing… “Let’s not and say we did”, characterizes the Obama Administration’s approach on a number of key fronts, for example.
But beyond the details of the pledge, it is extremely problematic to funnel Climate Mobilizers energy into supporting Democrats. The Party has long been absolutely committed to maintaining the economic and political systems that disempower us and doom our species. Its record on climate change and on other environmental issues is atrocious as I detail in my book. While co-opting the language of concern over climate change (after conspicuous years of silence, joining by environmental groups who were urged at a White House meeting to not talk about climate change), President Obama and his Party have overseen a massive expansion of fossil fuel extraction, including via the most extreme technologies and in the most vulnerable regions. On agricultural issues, this President and his Party have approved pesticide after pesticide. Obama’s White House has interfered with far more environmental regulations (and other regulations) than prior Republican White Houses did. Horrendous trade agreements, US ambassadors strong-arming other countries’ leaders on behalf of Monsanto and other GMO corporations. The list of environmentally destructive Democratic Party policies goes on and on.
Yes, mavericks are sometimes tolerated by Party leaders, but only so long as they serve the purpose of giving people false hope of changing the party. When the mavericks’ votes really count, they are forced to bend. Dennis Kucinich violated his life-long commitment to single payer health care after the head of his party, President Obama, twisted his arm, as just one sad example.
The Democratic Party is funded by the 1% and most of its leaders and top candidates are among the few who have been made wealthy by our current undemocratic economic system. It is absolute folly to continue to funnel our money, time and passion into this dead-end. We must develop our movement for environmental sanity and economic democracy first and foremost, and then as part of that movement-building we can and must develop our own working people’s party. We need our own political voice that stands for the system changes we so desperately need. More people are independent now than Democrat or Republican. The time is right for an independent party. It would be a very bad thing if this great TCM movement propped up one of the biggest barriers to saving life on earth that has ever existed: the Democratic Party.
Finally in addition to steering TCM supporters to Democrats, the pledge also steers them into electoral politics as a priority effort. True, the pledge allows for and encourages other work, but a clear major emphasis is electoral involvement, and those taking the pledge will act accordingly. Electoral politics has long been perceived by many as the end-all. Since the campaign season is so long, there is almost no time when people aren’t fixating on electoral organizing. This diverts our attention from movement-building, which is what we need to see as our priority.
The outreach strategies I saw on your website fail to understand the value and importance of focusing on working people’s organizations. Ultimately, to achieve the fundamental changes we need, we will have to use the power working people have to bring society to a standstill. Working people make things run. Therein lies our power. Even if we turn out huge crowds to rallies, these can become ineffective unless we have a way to significantly disrupt things. Refusing to operate the machines, open the stores, drive the trains, unpack the ships and more will ultimately be our ticket to success. The Plan and other relevant documents need to explicitly discuss the importance of focusing on labor organizations. It needs to articulate how to do so.
With respect to nationalizing industries and paying compensation for that, consider carefully what we need to advocate:
• A strong argument can be made that compensation is neither necessary nor appropriate for many major industries. See Bruce Lesnick’s Truthout article, Why The Climate Change Movement Must Demand Energy Industry Nationalization (http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/29745-why-the-climate-change-movement-must-demand-energy-industry-nationalization), for example.
• Don’t forget charter revocation as one tool for taking the leap forward to controlling major industries and our destiny.
• Check out the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) and its materials for additional ideas on legal handles for transitions. I’m still exploring their materials and analysis myself, but want to make sure you know about this organization.
Miscellaneous additional comments:
• The plan regularly uses the term “citizen” which is problematic. Huge numbers of people are currently denied citizenship. They must be valued and empowered by the Plan. Please correct this important semantic error.
• Ultimately, the plan needs to discuss immigration reform, and take on the disenfranchisement currently accomplished by immigration injustice, incarceration, etc.
• The plan needs to call for free education, not debt-free education.
• The plan should identify establishing a single payer health care system as an important step. Providing actual health care (as opposed to expensive unusable insurance) will make a big difference in people’s lives. It will also establish an important precedent of ending privatization of things that should be public.
• Obviously there’s more work to be done fleshing out the details in the later parts of the Plan. In articulating what we aim for and how we get there on agricultural issues, keep in mind the points I made above. If we allow ongoing private ownership of agribusinesses we will not get where we need to go. Chemical/agribusiness corporations thoroughly manipulate and undercut public policy-making. That’s why they’ve grown bigger and more powerful year after year, wreaking havoc on our agricultural system and our planet. (Note: we should restore family farm ownership. It is just large agribusiness operations and the planning that goes with them that should be made public.)
I hope you find these comments useful and persuasive. I would like to meet with you to discuss them and other matters. Do let me know if you’d like a complimentary copy of my book, and where to send it.
I will be speaking in the Bay Area of California the week of October 22nd. I will forward these comments to TCM people there, and request a meeting with them.
Thank you again for your admirable work. I look forward to meeting you and working together.
@cdansereau thank you so much for your thoughtful analysis not only of the Victory Plan but of the whole economy. I have bought your book as a result and will share it with Chris Martenson on Peak Prosperity .com as well as with my local climate activists.
I am well past my prime but am committed to supporting people like you, clearly in her prime.
Judy Hyde, Northampton, MA
@cdansereau Your points are excellent. I will get your book, which might answer these Questions that arose for me, from your post:
In China, members and leaders of the Communist party enjoy tremendous power and perks, including kickbacks, free housing, cars, clubs, etc. What would be the safeguard – to nationalization of major industries – which would protect against greed and corruption, which can happen in ANY system human beings have devised. (Those railing against socialism call it “tyranny by the masses.”) Have we learned anything from other country’s experiments with social democracies which could show Americans that Democracy does not have to allow unfettered capitalism? What kind of education campaign could change the knee-jerk rejection of socialist ideas?
I loved what you said about the burdens of life and how that has resulted in less and less involvement in social movements. My feeling is that those of us working on climate, need the shared living arrangements of a cooperative, to give us time and support for our work. Perhaps a series of Tiny House Communities across the country.
I identified with your comments about labor/management negotiations. Ever since Reagan initiated and normalized union-busting and disparagement of unions, workers rights have diminished steadily. The administration where I work administers public funds, yet in contract negotiations they were as intractable and ruthless as if it was their own money. It was as if they did not want anyone but the few at the top to have even a living wage. They knew no one would strike, so they got everything they wanted. And even if we had a strike, they could have fired us with barely any community censure, since unions have been so disrespected.
Thank you, I look forward to reading your book. Sincerely, Karen Jeffers Tracy