by Scott Parkin
“Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes.”
Hiding out in the Good Friday press dump, the Biden administration announced it was opening up more public land to oil and gas drilling. The New York Times reported it as Biden trying to bring down high gas prices and save some sort of face for the 2022 elections. This is a reversal of his 2020 campaign promise to end new oil and gas leasing. It locks in new fossil fuel extraction despite his pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The consultation prize for environmentalists is a sharp increase in cost for oil companies.
Former Student for a Democratic Society Dick Flaks once said “the people who are running society are the corporate liberals. They want to stabilize, not repress.” They want to stabilize business as usual and even extreme repression, as we saw under Trump, becomes destabilizing. It’s why you saw everyone from Wall Street CEOs like Chase’s Jamie Dimon to the anti-worker National Association of Manufacturers to the Wall St. Journal saying the 2020 election wasn’t stolen and denouncing the Capitol Riot.
The ruling class prefers corporate liberals like Joe Biden or Jeb Bush than a lunatic like Trump at the helm. Unfortunately, for the rest of us and fate of human existence on this planet, they also prefer having oil and gas as part of their “business as usual.” This is why Democrats like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema were top recipients of oil and gas dollars. It’s also why Manchin and Sinema and 50 Republican senators have so much sway over our political system. The oil and gas industry gave over $139 million to both parties into the 2020 election.
And currently, it’s why Biden is now reversing course on public lands oil and gas drilling permits.
If it wasn’t Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema blocking legislation for oil and gas, it’d be two other Democrats. The political system, by design, is inherently corrupt. It is owned by the oil and gas sector, as well as a variety of other industries (banks, real estate, manufacturers) that want to keep things stable for an ever-growing economy.
Keep It in the Ground
In 2015-2016, I worked with others to organize disruptions at Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public ocean and land auctions in a campaign to keep fossil fuels in the ground on public lands. Obama had rejected the permit for the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline in 2015 after a four year campaign and many within the climate movement had high hopes and we next moved to get him to ban fossil fuel extraction on public lands.
But during that time, the Obama administration offered 45 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for Oil and Gas development. Not the sort of thing that a KXL rejecting “climate hero” might do, more along the lines of your typical liberal asshole policy.
Our campaign continued to build and organize. The central strategy was the disruption of federal BLM and BOEM auctions where the leases were being sold off to the highest bidder. We organized protests and disruptions across the West targeting federal auctions in Colorado, Nevada and Utah. The tactic fit into a strategy of drawing attention to the administration’s policy of lease sales, disrupting them where we could and growing a bigger bolder movement.
The disruption of public lands auctions had become widely known after climate activist Tim DeChristopher had successfully bid $1.8 million for leasing rights to drill on 14 parcels of land. He was a student at the time and didn’t have the money. Consequently, Tim was charged by the U.S. Department of Justice with a federal felony and spent 21 months in prison.
In the New Orleans Superdome, we had our biggest splash as we marched 200 people into the middle of BOEM auction where they were selling off leases in the Gulf of Mexico. As Gulf organizer Cherri Foytlin put it,“We want to stop these lease sales. As long as these leases go through, [industry] is tying us to an archaic economy and an archaic way of doing things that is destroying our earth.”
As part of that campaign, I also attended an Obama fundraiser in Columbus OH that year and disrupted his address at the Ohio Democratic Party “Annual State Dinner” calling on him to end the federal public leasing program. He laughed and bantered back and forth with us until police took us away. I got banned from the Greater Columbus Convention Center for a year.
But, ultimately, in his remaining days in office, Obama did nothing to end fossil fuel extraction on public lands. Despite his rhetoric of “hope and change,” Obama was just another corporate liberal dedicated to keeping the economy stable for corporations and the ruling class.
Build a ferocious movement
It’s not lost on many of us that Biden’s reversal comes just weeks after the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UNIPCC) most recent dire warnings about it being a “now or never” moment on climate. Many from the reformist environmental non-profit industrial complex think that asking Democrats nicely will get us what we need. As during the Clinton and Obama eras, that’s clearly not working.
Centrist Democrats are also waging war on the left flank of their own party and racial justice and labor movements. When Biden says that we need to FUND the police and centrist Democrats in the Senate sink a key Dept. of Labor nominee, it’s a clear message that the forces of neo-liberalism and law and order run deep within the party.
In struggles around fossil fuels, it’s no different. From crackdowns on water protectors at Standing Rock and Line 3 to Manchin siding with Republicans to kill climate legislation, it happens over and over.
We need a bigger more ferocious climate movement. There needs to be much less compromise and playing electoral games with the Democrats. People are hungry for militancy. We see that militancy at fights around pipelines, old growth logging, development of luxury homes in Detroit and other points of destruction, but we need to meet the crises in our world at a greater scale.
A little historical perspective.
In 1935 rubber workers in Akron, Ohio formed a union called the United Rubber Workers Union. They created 39 local chapters and begin a strike against poor working conditions, low wages and few benefits. The American Federation of Labor attempted to call off the strike. So thousands left abandoned union leadership, and instead used sit-down strikes and long picket lines to win their demands. The mayor of Akron attempted to send the police in to put down the strike, but police refused to face off against thousands of organizer workers.
By 1969, draft resisters had built a formidable movement against the war in Vietnam. Their disruptive actions sparked a shift in tactics from legal protest to mass civil disobedience, drawing the Johnson administration into a confrontation with activists who were largely suburban, liberal, young, and middle class — the core of Johnson’s Democratic constituency.
Pictured in this photo, Quaker Robert Eaton not only was arrested in civil disobedience actions, he spent three years in prison for draft resistance.
Right now, lots of talking heads and armchair pundits are talking about how weak and ineffective the left is. But, everywhere I go as an organizer and every time I look at my inbox, people are reaching out to get involved and get involved with action. Organizing is the act of building power and mobilizing is the act of using the power you’ve built. Our power is already here, we just need to organize it. So, get busy, the ruling class won’t overthrow itself.