Direct Action on Climate Change and Preparing for Frankenstorms
By Chuck Collins
It is time to form affinity groups.
We need to come together to form small groups of friends and neighbors that can engage in creative nonviolent action and lean on each other in the months and years to come.
Regardless of the outcome of the 2012 presidential election, it is obvious that our current political system is incapable of responding to the urgent problems facing our country.
An affinity group is a group of 10 to 20 people, often neighbors or people who mostly know each other. They support one another through mutual aid and to engage in bold nonviolent actions they are called to do.
I was in an affinity group between 1977 and 1979 affiliated with the Clamshell Alliance for the purpose of keeping the Seabrook nuclear power station from being built. I was trained in MLK-style nonviolent civil disobedience and participated in a variety of protests. While we didn’t succeed in stopping Seabrook, thousands of us got schooled in principled direct action and democratic decision-making.
In 1983, I joined another affinity group to “pledge to resist” a possible U.S. invasion of Nicaragua. This effort engaged thousands of people in the country – and had a direct impact on containing the Reagan administration’s interventionist impulses. Our affinity group of 15 people, called the Five Rivers Organizing Group, remained together for years, as both a source of personal support and mutual aid –but also as a place where I could join others to think strategically about how to take action.
Inspired by the urgency of climate change, I’ve joined with a dozen others to form an affinity group in Boston. We view our purpose as keeping our spirits up, singing more, and engaging in creative actions around the climate crisis. We have begun to reach out to other affinity groups in the Boston area to learn from their efforts.
I just watched the PBS Frontline documentary “Climate of Doubt” with four members of my affinity group last night. It gave me a better understanding how the “organized climate deniers” worked to kill “cap and trade” legislation and shift public attitudes about climate change. Watching it alone, it may have just added to my despair about climate change. But watching it with others allowed me to think proactively about its implications for us individually and as organizers.
The fossil fuel industry is using its political clout to block urgent reforms for their own short-term gains. As Bill McKibben writes in Rolling Stone, in an article called “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” If people come to understand the cold mathematical truth – that the fossil-fuel industry is systematically undermining the planet’s physical systems – it might weaken it enough to matter politically. Exxon and their ilk might drop their opposition to a fee-dividend solution.”
After the election, the environmental group 350.org and McKibben are launching a “Do The Math” campaign that includes a call to colleges, individuals and religious institutions to “divest from fossil fuels.”
But we’re clearly at a moment when we need to organize ourselves – whether it’s to convince an institution we’re part of to divest from fossil fuels, or to prepare our community for a “Frankenstorm” that is most likely part of climate change’s weird weather.
In Boston, there are efforts to convene affinity group “meet ups” and support new affinity groups. See some examples of upcoming training events at www.localcircles.org/affinitygroups.
Imagine six months from now a social movement that no longer waits for elected politicians to lead and engages in direct action against the fossil fuel industry and their lobbying power. Imagine college students and religious congregations organizing to divest from fossil fuel companies and reinvest in the new economy. All these efforts lead Congress to separate “oil and politics” and find real climate solutions.
The tinder is dry and ready to be ignited. As throughout history, change will start when a critical mass of people makes the personal decision that “enough is enough” and form small action groups to engage in sustained organizing.
Chuck Collins is a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies and author of 99 to 1: How Wealth Inequality is Wrecking the World and What We Can Do About It. He is coeditor of inequality.org.