Edward Snowden, the man who risked everything to expose the US government’s system of mass surveillance, reveals for the first time the story of his life, including how he helped to build that system and what motivated him to try to bring it down.
In 2013, twenty-nine-year-old Edward Snowden shocked the world when he broke with the American intelligence establishment and revealed that the United States government was secretly pursuing the means to collect every single phone call, text message, and email. The result would be an unprecedented system of mass surveillance with the ability to pry into the private lives of every person on earth. Six years later, Snowden reveals for the very first time how he helped to build this system and why he was moved to expose it.Spanning the bucolic Beltway suburbs of his childhood and the clandestine CIA and NSA postings of his adulthood, Permanent Record is the extraordinary account of a bright young man who grew up online—a man who became a spy, a whistleblower, and, in exile, the Internet’s conscience. Written with wit, grace, passion, and an unflinching candor, Permanent Record is a crucial memoir of our digital age and destined to be a classic.
Swedish environment activist Greta Thunberg (L) speaks as This Is Zero Hour co-founder Jamie Margolin (C) and Alliance for Climate Education fellow Vic Barrett (R) look on during a joint hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Europe, Eurasia, Energy and the Environment Subcommittee, and the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, at the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on September 18, 2019. (Photo: Alastair Pike/AFP/Getty Images)
Rather than delivering prepared remarks, 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg submitted a landmark United Nations report on global warming as testimony at a U.S. House hearing Wednesday and urged federal lawmakers to heed experts’ warnings about the necessity of ambitious, urgent efforts to address the planetary emergency.
“I am submitting this report as my testimony because I don’t want you to listen to me,” said the Fridays for Future founder. “I want you to listen to the scientists. And I want you to unite behind the science. And then I want you to take real action.”
Thunberg appeared at a joint hearing of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, Energy, and the Environment and the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.
The Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C (pdf) that Thunberg submitted was released last October by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Warning that “climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet,” the report called for “rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented” reforms on a global scale to avert climate catastrophe.
Thunberg’s decision to submit the report as her testimony was widely praised by other climate advocates.
“Yes!” tweeted the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Greta Thunberg is telling us exactly what the scientists have been saying for years—we have to rapidly reduce emissions to protect all humanity together. Starting now. No more excuses.”
Bill McKibben, co-founder of the environmental advocacy group 350.org, praised Thunberg as “one great politician” and “a master of the gesture.”
Linking to Thunberg’s short remarks explaining the move, 350.org co-founder Jaime Henn tweeted, “This is so badass.”
The joint hearing Wednesday also featured testimonies from Jamie Margolin, co-founder of This Is Zero Hour and a plaintiff in Piper v. State of Washington; Vic Barrett, fellow at the Alliance for Climate Education and a plaintiff in Juliana v. United States; and Benji Backer, president of the American Conservation Coalition.
The hearing preceded a global week of action that will kick off with climate strikes worldwide on Friday. The demonstrations will coincide with the U.N. Climate Action Summit in New York City.
Thunberg traveled on a zero-carbon sailboat across the Atlantic to New York last month to participate in the strikes, summit, and other related events—including to deliver an another address to members of Congress Wednesday at 5 pm ET.
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Thank you to all who are posting there! Check Indybay other events.
Climate action listed for San Francisco:
Friday 9/27 (Chevron Headquarters – San Ramon)
Indybay listings for Climate Actions in: Arcata, Berkeley, El Cerrito, Mill Valley, Monterey, Palo Alto, Sacramento, Salinas, San Jose, San Ramon, Santa Cruz/Watsonville, Santa Rosa, Walnut Creek – dates vary for actions.
3. Demand Congress stop the deportation of veterans
September 20th, Friday
SF Bay Area Youth & Allies Climate Strike
See item #2 –for new info & request from youth that labor and adult contingents meet at Civic Center Plaza on 7th & 8th Streets on Market St.-
Note: Two other contingents will be meeting on 8th & Mission Streets – item #1 & #3
1. Friday, 9:30am – 2:00pm, Grandmothers Contingent Global Climate Strike March (New)
8th Street & Mission (corner)
Come join the1000 Grandmothers in marching with largest youth led demonstration in global history. We will March behind the youth as part of a diverse coalition supporting the Global Climate Strike. Co-conspirators welcome! Wear your T shirts, be ready to sing, chant and be part of our community with WECAN and other Woman climate justice marchers. We stand with young people and Future generations to work for life in a just and thriving world. More details coming soon!
We call for a youth-led climate strike march, going to different targets that are contributing to climate breakdown, leaving our mark to let these places know what we are fighting for. (While this is a youth-led event, adults are also welcome to come to support the youth!)
We will again start at the office of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and will connect targets in government, finance, and energy. For those that can’t join in person, we will be asking people to post on social media and tag our targets.
3. Friday, 10:00am – 2:00pm, San Fran Global Climate Strike – Women for Climate Justice (New info)
Mission & 8th Street (corner) in front of Focaccia Market Bakery
The Women for Climate Justice Contingent will first meet at Focaccia Market Bakery on the corner of Mission and 8th Street at 10:00 am, then we will walk over to the Strike starting point at the San Francisco Federal Building.
Young people have woken up much of the world with their powerful Fridays for Future school strikes for the climate. As we deal with devastating climate breakdown and hurtle towards dangerous tipping points, young people are calling on millions of us across the planet to disrupt business as usual by joining the global climate strikes on September 20, just ahead of a UN emergency Climate Summit in New York.
Women, girls, and allies are invited to join a diverse coalition of women’s groups, climate justice organizations, and others – to organize and strike together, in solidarity, as part of the Global Climate Strike.
We heed the call and stand with young people worldwide whose very future is on the line. We will raise our voices with them to demonstrate women’s power to build just climate solutions – and take a stand for all future generations to live in a healthy, just, and thriving world.
4. Friday, 10:30am – 12Noon, Climate Strike at AmazonGo/ Huelga Climatica en AmazonGo (New)
575 Market St.
Join us at AmazonGo, a stop on the Youth and Allies Climate Strike March as part of the global climate strike on September 20th. Come together with families and union members as we call on Amazon to stop profiting off expanded fossil fuel extraction, to stop supporting ICE and DHS raids on immigrant communities, and to treat their workers with respect.
10:30am- Art Making 11:15am- Main Program
Continue on with us as we join Youth vs. Apocalypse and other allies in marching to other bad climate actors
AMAZON, PUT OUR CLIMATE OVER YOUR PROFITS Amazon is a bad climate actor, seeking to profit off increased fossil fuel extraction even as our climate and ecosystems collapse. Amazon Web Services for Oil & Gas initiative is devoted to helping fossil fuel companies accelerate and expand oil and gas extraction. Amazon donates to climate-deniers including 68 members of congress in 2018 who voted against climate legislation 100% of the time…
Since April 2019, more than 8000 Amazon workers have demanded that their company develop a company-wide climate plan – to date, their appeal has been ignored.
AMAZON, CUT TIES TO ICE Amazon provides essential technological infrastructure to DHS and ICE, enabling the Trump administration’s raids on immigrant communities and detentions in dangerous camps on the border. Amazon Web Services is Amazon’s cloud technology that mass hosts and stores information. The Department of Homeland Security, and ICE, use AWS cloud technology to store, sort, and share massive amounts of data to target immigrants, including through information provided states by residents for their drivers licenses.
Hosts: Jobs with Justice San Francisco, Hand in Hand: The Domestic Employers Network, Bay Area Families Solidarity Network
6. Wednesday, 7:00am – 10:00am, Swarming for the Global Climate Strikes! (New)
333 Post St.
Come swarm downtown San Francisco with XRSF Bay
Swarming is a low-risk, high-impact action that is characteristic of XR. De-centralized “swarms” briefly stop traffic to cause POLITE disruption and hand out info to drivers about the climate crisis and upcoming actions. Please swarm with us!
We will meet in Union Square where there will be a welcome area and multiple training stations. Groups and individuals will have the option of being trained before heading out to swarm, so if you don’t have a group lined up already, come anyway!
September 23rd in Union Square: we will train groups then send them out.
Interested in learning more about the trainings or in helping the swarm on the day-of by providing training, on-foot support, or de-escalation? Contact Avir at firstname.lastname@example.org
Hosts: Extinction Rebellion SF Bay Area, Climate Justice SF
7. Monday, 7:00pm – 9:00pm, An Evening With Land & Water Protectors
Intertribal Friendship House
523 International Blvd
Free – donations for speakers appreciated
Join us for an evening of conversation with Anne White Hat, Cherri Foytlin & Mark Tilsen to hear firsthand accounts from years of Indigenous led resistance to pipelines. Come hear from three of the most effective organizers on Turtle Island about ongoing work fighting back against Energy Transfer Partners, community resiliency in the Gulf South and visions and plans for how to fight back. We will be touring with Mutual Aid Media’s film “L’eau Est La Vie From Standing Rock to the Swamp.” This tour is happening simultaneously to a wave of of climate action and we are looking forward to connecting and building with our west coast family during this important moment of movement building.
snacks available, feel free to bring finger foods to share
8. Wednesday, 7:00am – 5:00pm, Strike for Climate Justice!
Montgomery & Market Sts.
We understand that the beautiful system of life that has supported humanity for hundreds of thousands of years is being destroyed by capitalism, greed, and misguided leadership. Most of our elected officials have been co-opted by corporate directors and do not act according to the will of the people. They have utilized vast sums of money to discredit concerned groups of citizens and confuse the public.
There are millions of children, Indigenous people, people of color, rural and urban frontline communities, and citizens rising up around the world to ensure a safe, healthy, and sustainable future for ourselves and generations to come. We invite everyone to join us during the Climate Strike in September.
In addition to actions during the rest of the week, on September 25th, we name those responsible for destroying life as we know it.
Other options on this day include creating 20 street murals, each one representing a part of the whole vision we have for an immediate transition to the resilient, sustainable, and safe world necessary for survival. Join us to dream, paint, and share how we move forward at this time.
On this day we will put on large display of the depth of our love and commitment to Mother Earth and all the generations to come!
9. Wednesday, 7:00am – 5:00pm, Global Strike SF at the Brasilian Consulate! We <3 the Amazon! (New)
300 Market St.
Please join Brasil Solidarity Network and hundreds of other people in the Bay Area as we shut down streets in San Francisco on September 25th where decision making about the harms to Mother Earth are being made.
We are declaring that WE LOVE THE AMAZON!
Look for the big trees and you’ll know you’re in the Amazon! In front of 300 Montgomery Street there will be a mini Amazon. We will be painting a mural and an Amazon River to create our vision of the future for the Amazon.
We will be listening to the sounds of the Amazon. We will also be building an altar – you are welcome to bring something for it for example flowers, music etc.
We would like to invite you to come dressed or painted or whatever as your favorite Amazon animal or tree. Be creative!!
Hosts: Brasil Solidarity Network, Rainforest Action Network, Amazon Watch, Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network, DiRT, Idle No More SF Bay
10. Friday, 9:00am – 12:00Noon, Climate Strike at Chevron
6001 Bollinger Canyon Road
Meet at the entrance of Chevron’s global headquarters for a vibrant, powerful action, demanding that Chevron’s CEO speak to the youth whose future is jeopardized because of Chevron’ drive for profit at the expense of our air, water and climate.
Join youth and allies on September 27th to protest Chevron, one of the world’s biggest polluters headquartered here in the Bay Area. Chevron knowingly pollutes the Richmond area, the Central Valley, the earth, and many other communities. Chevron is one of the top climate polluters in history – one of four fossil fuel companies that are the highest emitters of carbon since 1988 and one of the top 100 companies that are responsible for 71% of all global emissions. We will be demanding that Chevron gets off of fossil fuels by 2025 and that they stop using their influence to harm frontline communities and our future. We also demand that Governor Newsom hold Chevron accountable.
Hosts: Youth Vs. Apocalypse and Idle No More, Sunrise Movement Bay Area
Democratic socialist Tom Gallagher is primarying Nancy Pelosi, with a focus on America’s disastrous foreign policy of endless war. In a world without capitalism, he says, “we could eliminate a lot of military spending and war.”
Meagan Day INTERVIEW BY Meagan Day (jacobinmag.com)
A book called Radicals in Power was published in the 1980s. It featured one chapter on Bernie Sanders, then the mayor of Burlington, Vermont, and another chapter on Tom Gallagher, then a Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) member serving in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.
Now Bernie Sanders is a major contender for the Democratic presidential nomination for the second cycle in a row, DSA is bigger than ever before, and Tom Gallagher is primarying Nancy Pelosi in her home district of San Francisco. (Another sign of the times: Gallagher is not the only DSA member primarying Pelosi.)
Jacobin’s Meagan Day spoke with Gallagher about US militarism, democratic socialists’ prospects inside and outside the Democratic Party, and Gallagher’s plan to rebuild Central America to address the crisis there and at the border.
Your campaign is explicitly antimilitarist. On your website, you state your opposition to obscene military funding and talk about both parties’ addiction to endless war. What needs to change about US foreign policy?
Everything. We’re in our eighteenth year of a destructive crusade in the Middle East. There are now eligible voters who have never been alive when there wasn’t a war in Afghanistan. We have made more enemies for ourselves than friends. There would be no ISIS were it not for the so-called War on Terror. It’s gotten so ridiculous that the United States has aligned itself with Al-Qaeda at points because ISIS, which the United States is responsible for creating, was worse.
It’s insane on that level, but then there are the expenditures. US military spending exceeds the next seven countries combined. That’s why my campaign literature features two photos side by side. The first is a picture of some of the finest fighter bombers money can buy. And it says, “Because we spend so much on this, we don’t have the money to fix this,” pointing to a second picture of a homeless encampment.
We’re active in sixty or seventy countries, I lose track. We have something like eight hundred military bases around the world. We bomb seven countries annually. We have the money for these preposterous military expenditures while our own people sleep on the streets. And we call this sanity. People who deny climate change are generally considered cranks these days. People who deny that we need to change our military foreign policy are called “defense intellectuals.”
This is certainly my core motivating issue. And socialist that I am, I think there’s been some loss of vision over the years. When the Socialist International started, the idea is that there would be no more war between the working class of one country and another. That idea, as we know, has been in the dust for a hundred years.
Where does your opponent Nancy Pelosi stand on questions of foreign policy?
She votes for military budget increases. It’s a cynical move, and I don’t mean cynical on a personal level. It’s not a character flaw. It’s cynical in the sense that she thinks if you park your truck next to the Republicans’ truck then they can’t argue that you’re soft on defense and unpatriotic. This dynamic has been going on within the Democratic Party since the Second World War.
In 2008, San Francisco decided that it was city policy that our congressional representatives will vote for no further funding for the Iraq War. I wrote that. I got the signatures from the Board of Supervisors and put it on the ballot. To my knowledge, we were the only city in the country to ever vote for an end to war funding. It had no impact. Pelosi voted for funding anyway.
Last year I went to the California Democratic Party State Convention and helped get the platform amended to demand no further funding for the Afghanistan War, except for removing troops. I think it’s the only state Democratic Party platform that has that as policy. And again, it had no impact.
Now, I’m not naïve, and I’m not surprised. I didn’t think we were going to stop a war. I didn’t even think we were going to affect Nancy Pelosi. But it does highlight the degree to which her decisions are not reflecting her constituency.
What do you make of Nancy Pelosi’s conflict with the younger left wing of the party in Congress? The Squad, as they’re called.
I will tell you that when the Sunrise Movement came and occupied Pelosi’s office and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez came and visited, Pelosi is never going to forget that. That was pretty remarkable. I think her conflict with them is partially that they annoy her personally and that their politics are challenging to her. It’s a mix of the two.
I think her staff is probably worried about Pelosi’s image. It’s their business to worry about these things. But Pelosi’s used to getting 70 percent of the vote, so I don’t know how threatened she feels. Pelosi gets a pass in San Francisco. Most voters here disagree with her on Medicare for All, on the Green New Deal, on military funding, and they still vote for her. She’s an institution.
I’ve thought about entering this race for a long time, and the idea was never necessarily that she’s ripe to be knocked off. But this is probably her last campaign, and it’s important to get left-wing ideas out there, especially in San Francisco. Here, political races often focus on local issues, who took Ron Conway’s money, and so on.
This race will not be about that. The person who makes it into the final with Pelosi will get to debate big issues with her on a very big stage. And it will become a showdown, if you will, between the Sanders wing of the party and the corporate establishment.
Right, and that’s an important thing because as we saw in 2016 with Bernie Sanders, that showdown created some political space that has been extraordinarily politically fertile ever since.
I wrote a book on this, actually, called The Primary Route. It’s a very well-unread book, making the argument that the only way to build an electoral left in this country is to run candidates in the Democratic presidential primary. If Bernie had gotten 15 percent in 2016, I would’ve considered it validation, as long as he did better than Dennis Kucinich. Imagine my reaction when he gave Clinton a run for her money, and then all of these people joined DSA.
In DSA, I work on the political education committee of the San Francisco chapter, and we held a panel on the need for a workers’ party and I opened up by asking, “why are we here, folks?” I don’t mean, “why did you come to this panel,” but why is this crowd so much larger than DSA was ever able to get over the years? It’s because Bernie Sanders ran in the Democratic primary.
I have made that same argument myself, but one of the things that I’m always trying to do is make the case that we need to tactically use the Democratic Party ballot line in order to build the potential for an eventual independent electoral expression. Because there are enormous class contradictions within the Democratic Party that are always going to bite us in the ass.
Well, if you have a split and the right wing remains unified, the right wing wins. Let’s assume the Democrats and the Republicans remain competitive in terms of size. Where is the logic in our looking to break away and create two parties, each smaller than the Republicans?
What about in a potential future, decades down the line, where we’ve built a strong case for working-class politics and we’re actually able to take with us a substantial portion of the right wing’s undeserved working-class base into a new party formation?
If we can come up with a formation that is bigger than the rump Democratic Party and the Republican Party, sure. Absent that, nope.
How long have you been a socialist?
It came over me in high school. I grew up in the Bronx, and the high school was in Manhattan, a Jesuit high school. I had nothing like a red diaper baby background. My parents were working-class, liberal Catholic Democrats.
So one time we went on a religious retreat, and in my room there was a book featuring a questionnaire. One question was: what’s your political affiliation? The answers were Democrat, Republican, and Socialist. I thought, huh? And another question was: do you think a Catholic must be a pacifist? I thought about this for a few months and decided I was a socialist and a pacifist.
I moved to Boston and was involved in antiwar organizing. I did farm worker organizing and worked for a local left-wing community newspaper. I joined DSA, and I was an open socialist when I was in the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1981 to 1986. After I left office, I was the chair of the Boston chapter of DSA and was on the staff of the Socialist Review.
In the decades since I’ve been active in the Bernal Heights Democratic Club here in San Francisco, a competitor for the most left-wing club in the city, and I was chair of Progressive Democrats of America for almost a decade. And I’ve done election observation in Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kyrgyz Republic, Macedonia, Russia, and Ukraine, in addition to being a supervisor in Bosnia and UN election officer in East Timor.
What do you make of today’s DSA?
I cross my fingers all the time that it can hold together. It’s good that there are people in DSA who you never would have dreamed would be in the same organization in the past. They would’ve each had their much clearer, much smaller organizations. DSA changes that pattern, and this is a great thing. My main criticism of DSA is I don’t feel it’s doing enough on foreign policy. I don’t mean the positions are bad, just that DSA doesn’t do much.
You have an idea on foreign policy that’s central to your campaign, what you call your Marshall Plan for Central America. What is that?
First, I’ll say that as soon as I put it out there, people began objecting to the name because Marshall himself was anticommunist. So I think we may change the name to the Romero Plan, after Archbishop Óscar Romero of El Salvador.
In any case, the idea is that when you look at the situation at the border right now, we’re spending about $4 billion on border patrol and only $180 million in foreign aid to the three countries where everybody’s coming from. What if those figures were reversed?
The United States is very stingy on foreign aid. If you look at Sweden, Ireland, lots of countries give a much higher percentage of their GNP in foreign aid. We don’t like to do that. It goes back to “Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute.” We kind of regard aid as a type of tribute, and tribute is bad. The thinking is, why should we be giving these people money?
The Marshall Plan temporarily broke that pattern because an unusual confluence of interests came together to agree on the need to rebuild the European continent after World War II. I think there is potential to build a new unique alliance to rebuild Central America, and that would go a long way to solving the crisis at the border.
There would be people focused on humanitarian issues in Central America who would be in favor of more aid. There would be some who would see it as a form of reparations. You know, we overthrew the government of Guatemala; we spent $4 billion on the wrong side of a civil war in El Salvador; we installed contras in Honduras — we owe it to them.
On the other hand, you have people who don’t care about any of that who could be convinced to join the coalition. For example, you have Panama joining up with China’s Silk Road project, and the Panamanian president telling the United States to get more involved. If countries want to compete on how constructive rather than destructive they can be, I can’t argue with that.
I’m wondering if you think there’s a strict causal relationship between capitalism and war. Does the United States wage war exclusively to protect and advance capitalist interests?
I don’t think it’s strict. We’ve been doing war since before there was capitalism, even though we’re raised to believe that anything that came before capitalism is not reality. War creates its own weather.
Of course, there is money to be made from it. It’s a nasty business, but it is people’s livelihood. Attempts to reduce the military budget have been going on forever and have sometimes run up against sectors of the labor movement that wanted no part of this because they had unionized jobs in military industries. And those jobs probably pay better than the average unionized factory jobs because you had the government backing up the cost for once.
And the War on Terror has everything to do with oil, no question. Why is the Middle East significant to the United States? Because we assume that our society doesn’t work without our oil under their sand. That’s the economic justification. But I don’t think the insanity of the War on Terror can be reduced to that. There’s also this crazy ideological thing where we went to war in Afghanistan, as far as I can see, because the feeling in Washington was that we have to bomb somebody.
Still, I think if the modern nations of the world did away with the idea of corporate profit being the driver of their economies, small ethnic disputes would still happen, but we could eliminate a lot of military spending and war.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tom Gallagher is a progressive activist and organizer. He is a candidate for California’s 12th Congressional District in the US House.
In an exclusive interview with FRANCE 24, the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden shared his thoughts on mass surveillance around the world today. Snowden spoke to FRANCE 24 from Russia, where he lives in exile after leaking confidential documents on US mass surveillance in 2013.
“We have seen changes in the laws in the United States and in other countries around the world as well, to try to legitimise the surveillance by putting it on a sounder legal footing,” Snowden told FRANCE 24’s Valériane Gauthier.
“The government is still spying on basically everyone they want to and on a pretty extreme scale, but now we have a little more involvement by judges. It is an advance, but of course it’s nowhere near enough.”
Snowden said although he doesn’t expect to get a fair trial in the United States, he feels that the tide of opinion has turned in his favour.
“What we see now is bit by bit… we see ordinary people coming to a consensus that even if they don’t like me personally… on balance, we are better off for knowing what our government was doing in secret. This has not risked lives, this has saved lives,” he concluded.
FAA flight restriction has been issued for Tuesday, 10:15am – 4pm, centered at San Antonio Rd x Foothill Expressway in Los Altos. We are gathering by this location, at Lincoln Park. There is a visible location for Chicken Trump, and plenty of parking so we can quickly mobilize to the fundraiser.
We still have three possible locations for the fundraiser, all within a 15 minute drive of our gathering spot
Please look for an email or text update before heading out on Tuesday morning. (Search your inbox for eventbrite.)
Hosts: Vigil for Democracy, SOSAmerica2019, Resistance SF
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Ben Carson in SF:
Hands Off Our Housing!
Tuesday, September 17th
1101 Connecticut Street
HUD Director Ben Carson is coming to SF tomorrow.
We will be there to demand more funding for affordable housing and to END the criminalization of homelessness!
Text/call Sam Lew Policy Director for more info: 415-272-8022
People take part in the demonstration ‘Fridays for Future’ in Piazza del Popolo, on April 19, 2019 in Rome, Italy. (Photo: Simona Granati-Corbis/Getty Images)
Maybe you haven’t heard, but we’re in some dire straits. Land grabbers are burning the edges of the Amazon rainforest to clear it for industrial agriculture. Greenland is melting at a historically unprecedented rate. This summer, Europe, Japan, and the eastern United States were scorched by epic heat waves. The capital of Indonesia is running out of water. Wildfires are already whipping across Australia, and it’s only spring there.
Thank goodness, someone has started paying attention, but perhaps it’s not who you’d expect. While scientists and (some) politicians spout on and on about the need to tackle climate change, it’s the youth who might finally move the world’s governments and businesses to action.
Take Olivia Wohlgemuth. She’s 16, a drama enthusiast, and incredibly busy. On a late-summer afternoon in Brooklyn, New York, she was participating in a massive art build in preparation for the September 20 Climate Strike—an international, youth-led strike from school and work demanding political action on the climate crisis.
A year ago, this isn’t how Wohlgemuth imagined spending the weekends of her senior year. An acting student at LaGuardia High School, she spent her days in the theater or babysitting or tutoring. She was looking forward to a summer of travel, acting in short films, and tackling her college applications. Though she’d always cared about the environment—she quit single-use plastics and became a vegetarian in her early teens—her daily routine, and her future plans, were cast aside after Greta Thunberg stormed her social media feed.
Thunberg gained fame last fall when she began skipping school to protest outside the Swedish parliament. At first often standing alone, she eventually found an audience—and founded a movement—after posting about her “Fridays for the Future” on social media. Thunberg’s act of protest sparked student strikes in over 130 countries, including a mass walk-out six months ago.
Wohlgemuth joined a branch of Thunberg’s mobilization effort—Fridays for Future NYC—and organized the exodus of almost 1,000 students (her count) from her high school on March 15. The protest emboldened Wohlgemuth: Since June, she’s spent every Friday of her summer striking outside the United Nations headquarters in New York City. It also emboldened many other of the 1.6 million youth activists worldwide who joined the March day of protest. For the strike on September 20, over 150 countries (and counting) have signed on. But this one’s different: The adults are invited.
Adult-led environmental organizations like the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, 350.org, and Oxfam are collaborating with the protestors, but the youths have, thankfully, kept the reins. While they recognize adults have resources they don’t have—a well of organizing experience, the right to vote, a network of adult friends, and money—it’s the youths who are guiding the spirit of the more than 500 planned strikes. Much like March for Our Lives (lest we forget this generation faces not only ecological collapse but mass shootings), it’ll be youths speaking from the stage. If parents still want Fridays to be a dependable part of the school week, they should meet the youths’ demands
Nania Agrawal-Hardin, an organizer with the Sunrise Movement, is excited to see the climate action movement become more intergenerational and collaborative. “I think adults have put us in this position,” she says, while acknowledging her gratitude for the work that’s come before her. “But our movement is taking our power back. We still have our whole lives ahead of us.”
While Greta Thunberg may have been the flint that sparked 2019’s youth uprising, young people have been shouting about the climate crisis for years. In 2015, a group of 21 young people filed a lawsuit, Juliana v. United States, arguing that the US government’s actions have spurred climate change and, in the process, violated their generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property. In the four years, and ongoing court decisions, since, mass mobilization around the lawsuit has spurred collaborations among the Sunrise Movement, Zero Hour, International Indigenous Youth Council, Extinction Rebellion Youth, and other groups. Now, the idea of a strike has become central to youth organizers’ political strategy. That’s because strikes are inherently risky, and a kind of last resort.
“Youths have the moral authority. It’s the world we’ve inherited,” Wohlgemuth says. Although she used to imagine the family she’d have when she grew up, she says she and many of her friends will now “devote our lives to fighting and solving the climate crisis instead of investing in the careers and families you all have had.”
Jonathan Palash-Mizner, co-coordinator of Extinction Rebellion Youth, says he grew up knowing about climate change, an awareness he attributes to his parents and his community in San Francisco. But he says he prioritized other social justice issues until the IPCC report came out in October, warning that the window for action was closing if the globe’s nations were to meet the greenhouse gas emissions reductions promised by the Paris climate agreement. “I saw we were living in an emergency,” Mizner says. “It terrified me.”
Wohlgemuth, who is considering taking a gap year before college to continue her climate activism, says school is no longer her primary drive. For Sophie Anderson, Mizner’s co-coordinator, it’s difficult imagining her life before March’s climate strike, though she acknowledges she was less anxious.
“It’s hard for me to take a break, especially around an issue that’s so large. There’s always more we can be doing,” says Anderson, who has had to force herself to moderate how often she checks her email, especially so she can get enough sleep. “But,” she says, “why go to school if we’re studying for a future we’re not going to have?”
For Agrawal-Hardin of the Sunrise Movement, her involvement with climate activism has led to a different wake-up call. Although she’s a person of color—her parents are from India—she says getting involved with climate justice has opened her eyes to “racial and economic injustice, LGBTQ+ liberation, and the challenges that marginalized communities face in society today.”
Because their movement is youth-led, it also highlights what Generation Z, the most diverse generation in US history, cares most about: intersectionality. Instead of organizing around climate science, they’re organizing around climate justice. For Mizner, focusing on marginalized communities is important to the fight against climate change, and it’s inherently right: “Frontline communities need to be brought to the front of the movement,” he says.
This commitment to bridging environmental and social concerns is reflected in the demands of the youth coalition, which were released two weeks before the strike. They include transforming the US economy to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030; restoring 50 percent of the world’s lands and oceans; stopping all deforestation by 2030; and ending subsidies for industrial agriculture while investing in regenerative agriculture. But the process of reaching those goals is just as important. The climate strikers’ demands also call for respecting Indigenous lands and sovereignty and welcoming people “displaced by the cumulative effects of the climate crisis, economic inequality, violence, and lack of opportunity.”
A year from now, Agrawal-Hardin hopes the youth climate movement will look like a “highly educated, energized, and motivated group of people of all ages getting out the vote for the 2020 election for the sake of climate justice.”
What’s on the line for Agrawal-Hardin? For Mizner and Anderson and Wohlgemuth? For the 21 plaintiffs in Juliana v. United States? For the 1.6 million protesters who turned out on March 15? For the 7.5 billion people alive today? Oh, not a lot. Just survival.
“We all want to keep going with our lives,” Mizner says. “We don’t want 12 years to be the end.”
At her recent weekend art build, Wohlgemuth helped other activists create screen prints, paintings, giant parachutes, shakers made out of seeds. “We’re also making cardboard waves,” she says. They’ll be painted blue, and protesters will hold them along the sidewalk. They’ll look something like a rising sea.
Austyn Gaffney is an editorial fellow at Sierra. Follow her stories on Instagram and Twitter: @austyngaffney.
We are again reaching the point in the business cycle known as “peak debt,” when debts have compounded to the point that their cumulative total cannot be paid. Student debt, credit card debt, auto loans, business debt and sovereign debt are all higher than they have ever been. As economist Michael Hudson writes in his provocative 2018 book, “…and forgive them their debts,” debts that can’t be paid won’t be paid. The question, he says, is how they won’t be paid.
Mainstream economic models leave this problem to “the invisible hand of the market,” assuming trends will self-correct over time. But while the market may indeed correct, it does so at the expense of the debtors, who become progressively poorer as the rich become richer. Borrowers go bankrupt and banks foreclose on the collateral, dispossessing the debtors of their homes and their livelihoods. The houses are bought by the rich at distress prices and are rented back at inflated prices to the debtors, who are then forced into wage peonage to survive. When the banks themselves go bankrupt, the government bails them out. Thus the market corrects, but not without government intervention. That intervention just comes at the end of the cycle to rescue the creditors, whose ability to buy politicians gives them the upper hand. According to free-market apologists, this is a natural cycle akin to the weather, which dates all the way back to the birth of modern economics in ancient Greece and Rome.
Hudson counters that those classical societies are not actually where our financial system began, and that capitalism did not evolve from bartering, as its ideologues assert. Rather, it devolved from a more functional, sophisticated, egalitarian credit system that was sustained for two millennia in ancient Mesopotamia (now parts of Iraq, Turkey, Kuwait and Iran). Money, banking, accounting and modern business enterprise originated not with gold and private trade, but in the public sector of Sumer’s palaces and temples in the third century B.C. Because it involved credit issued by the local government rather than private loans of gold, bad debts could be periodically forgiven rather than compounding until they took the whole system down, a critical feature that allowed for its remarkable longevity.
The True Roots of Money and Banking
Sumer was the first civilization for which we have written records. Its notable achievements included the wheel, the lunar calendar, our numerical system, law codes, an organized hierarchy of priest-kings, copper tools and weapons, irrigation, accounting and money. It also produced the first written language, which took the form of cuneiform figures impressed on clay. These tablets were largely just accounting tools, recording the flow of food and raw materials in the temple and palace workshops, as well as IOUs (mainly to these large public institutions) that had to be preserved in writing to be enforced. This temple accounting system allowed for the coordinated flow of credit to peasant farmers from planting to harvesting, and for advances to merchants to engage in foreign trade.
In fact, it was the need to manage accounts for a large labor force under bureaucratic control that is thought to have led to the development of writing. The people willingly accepted this bureaucratic control because they viewed the gods as having decreed it. According to their cuneiform writings, humans were genetically engineered to work the fields and the mines after certain lower gods tasked with that hard labor rebelled.
Usury, or the charging of interest on loans, was an accepted part of the Mesopotamian credit system. Interest rates were high and remained unchanged for two millennia. But Mesopotamian scholars were well aware of the problem of “debts that can’t be paid.” Unlike in today’s academic economic curriculum, Hudson writes:
Babylonian scribal students were trained already c. 2000 BC in the mathematics of compound interest. Their school exercises asked them to calculate how long it took a debt at interest of 1/60th per month to double. The answer is 60 months: five years. How long to quadruple? 10 years. How long to multiply 64 times? 30 years. It must’ve been obvious that no economy can grow in keeping with this rate of increase.
Sumerian kings solved the problem of “peak debt” by periodically declaring “clean slates,” in which agrarian debts were forgiven and debtors were released from servitude to work as tenants on their own plots of land. The land belonged to the gods under the stewardship of the temple and the palace and could not be sold, but farmers and their families maintained leaseholds to it in perpetuity by providing a share of their crops, service in the military and labor in building communal infrastructure. In this way, their homes and livelihoods were preserved, an arrangement that was mutually beneficial, since the kings needed their service.
Jewish scribes, who spent time in captivity in Babylon in the sixth century B.C, adapted these laws in the year or jubilee, which Hudson argues was added to Leviticus after the Babylonian captivity. According to Leviticus 25:8-13, a Jubilee Year was to be declared every 49 years, during which debts would be forgiven, slaves and prisoners freed and their property leaseholds restored. As in ancient Mesopotamia, property ownership remained with Yahweh and his earthly proxies. The Jubilee law effectively banned the outright sale of land, which could only be leased for up to 50 years (Leviticus 25:14-17). The Levitican Jubilee represented an advance over the Mesopotamian “clean slates,” Hudson says, in that it was codified into law rather than relying on the whim of the king. But its proclaimers lacked political power, and whether the law was ever enforced is unclear. It served as a moral rather than a legal prescription.
Ancient Greece and Rome adopted the Mesopotamian system of lending at interest, but without the safety valve of periodic “clean slates,” since the creditors were no longer the king or the temple, but private lenders. Unfettered usury resulted in debt bondage and forfeiture of properties, consolidation into large landholdings, a growing wedge between rich and poor, and the ultimate destruction of the Roman Empire.
As for the celebrated development of property rights and democracy in ancient Greece and Rome, Hudson argues that they did not actually serve the poor. They served the rich, who controlled elections, just as rich donors do today. Taking power away from local governments by privatizing once-communal lands allowed private creditors to pass laws by which they could legally confiscate property when their debtors could not pay. “Free markets” meant the freedom to accumulate massive wealth at the expense of the poor and the state.
Hudson maintains that when Jesus Christ preached “forgiveness of debts,” he was also talking about economic debt, not just moral transgressions. When he overturned the tables of the money changers, it was because they had turned a house of prayer into “a den of thieves.” But creditors’ rights had by then gained legal dominance, and Christian theologians lacked the power to override them. Rather than being a promise of economic redemption in this life, forgiveness of debts thus became a promise of spiritual redemption in the next.
How to Pull Off a Modern Debt Jubilee
Such has been the fate of debtors in modern Western economies. But in some modern non-Western economies, vestiges of the debt write-off solution remain. In China, for instance, nonperforming loans are often carried on the books of state-owned banks or canceled rather than putting insolvent debtors and banks into bankruptcy. As Dinny McMahon wrote in June in an article titled “China’s Bad Data Can Be a Good Thing”:
In China, the state stands behind the country’s banks. As long as authorities ensure those banks have sufficient liquidity to meet their obligations, they can trundle along with higher delinquency levels than would be regarded safe in a market economy.
China’s banking system, like that of ancient Mesopotamia, is largely in the public sector, so the state can back its banks with liquidity as needed. Interestingly, the Chinese state also preserves the ancient Near Eastern practice of retaining ownership of the land, which citizens can only lease for a period of time.
In Western economies, most banks are privately owned and heavily regulated, with high reserve and capital requirements. Bad loans mean debtors are put into foreclosure, jobs and capital infrastructure are lost, and austerity prevails. The Trump administration is now aggressively pursuing a trade war with China in an effort to level the playing field by forcing it into the same austerity regime, but a more productive and sustainable approach might be for the U.S. to engage in periodic debt jubilees itself.
The problem with that solution today is that most debts in Western economies are owed not to the government but to private creditors, who will insist on their contractual rights to payment. We need to find a way to pay the creditors while relieving the borrowers of their debt burden.
One possibility is to nationalize insolvent banks and sell their bad loans to the central bank, which can buy them with money created on its books. The loans can then be written down or voided out. Precedent for this policy was established with “QE1,” the Fed’s first round of quantitative easing, in which it bought unmarketable mortgage-backed securities from banks with liquidity problems.
Another possibility would be to use money generated by the central bank to bail out debtors directly. This could be done selectively, by buying up student debt or credit card debt or car loans bundled as “asset-backed securities,” then writing the debts down or off, for example. Alternatively, debts could be relieved collectively with a periodic national dividend or universal basic income paid to everyone, again drawn from the deep pocket of the central bank.
Critics will object that this would dangerously inflate the money supply and consumer prices, but that need not be the case. Today, virtually all money is created as bank debt, and it is extinguished when the debt is repaid. That means dividends used to pay this debt down would be extinguished, along with the debt itself, without adding to the money supply. For the 80% of the U.S. population now carrying debt, loan repayments from their national dividends could be made mandatory and automatic. The remaining 20% would be likely to save or invest the funds, so this money too would contribute little to consumer price inflation; and to the extent that it did go into the consumer market, it could help generate the demand needed to stimulate productivity and employment. (For a fuller explanation, see Ellen Brown, “Banking on the People,” 2019).
In ancient Mesopotamia, writing off debts worked brilliantly well for two millennia. As Hudson concludes:
To insist that all debts must be paid ignores the contrast between the thousands of years of successful Near Eastern clean slates and the debt bondage into which [Greco-Roman] antiquity sank. … If this policy in many cases was more successful than today’s, it is because they recognized that insisting that all debts must be paid meant foreclosures, economic polarization and impoverishment of the economy at large.
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San Francisco Fridays for Future San Francisco, CA 5 members Public group Join this group What we’re about We need to follow our children and take real action to let our local, state and federal representatives know that this is a climate emergency and needs crisis-level thinking and crisis-level collaboration. Many of us have jobs that won’t let us strike every Friday, but that doesn’t mean we have to just sit on the sidelines. As the awesome Greta Thunberg says, “Activism works. So act” I would like to meet and work with other Bay Area adults and youth who feel… Continue reading →
Climate Strike – San Francisco Posted by LaborSolidarityCommittee WHEN: September 20, 2019 @ 10:00 am – 2:00 pm WHERE: San Francisco Federal Bldg 90 7th St San Francisco CA 94103 CONTACT: Event website PROTEST We call for a youth-led climate strike march, going to different targets that are contributing to climate breakdown, leaving our mark to let these places know what we are fighting for. We will again start at the office of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and will connect targets in government, finance, and energy. For those that can’t join in person, we will be asking people to… Continue reading →
Sensible Cinema Sponsored by the UUSF Social Justice Council SAY HER NAME: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland Friday, September 20, 2019, 6:30pm Unitarian Universalist Center 1187 Franklin Street @ Geary Blvd. The arrest and question-raising death of activist Sandra Bland is poignantly explored in directors David Heilbroner’s and Kate Davis’ film Say Her Name: The life and Death of Sandra Bland. The film does two things best one is bear witness to what happened on the day of the arrest and place it in the context of Bland’s political life and second chronicles how Bland’s mother and sister… Continue reading →
Town Hall with Senator Scott Wiener: Date: Saturday, September 21, 2019 Time: 12 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. Location: Commodore Sloat Elementary 50 Darien Way, San Francisco, CA 94127 Please join me at a town hall to learn about the 2019 California legislative agenda, ask questions, and share your priorities. Refreshments will be provided. To attend please RSVP by calling (415) 557-1300 or visiting bit.ly/townhallsept21.
August 28, 2019 by Common Dreams ‘No Time Left for Business as Usual’: Climate Activists Plan Day of Mass Civil Disobedience to #ShutDownDC “There’s a tremendous amount of power that drives through those streets and parks next to those sidewalks and walks into those buildings. We want them to think about what they’re doing with that power.” by Jake Johnson, staff writer Students cheer and chant while listening to a speaker during the Youth Climate Strike on March 15, 2019 on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. (Photo: Tom Brenner/Getty Images) Environmental activists are hoping to bring Washington, D.C. to a “gridlocked standstill” next month… Continue reading →
KPFA Movie Matinee Presents: Boulevard Nights Join us for a 40th Anniversary Screening of Boulevard Nights, a film that centers around a Mexican-American family living in East Los Angeles. September 23rd 3pm @ The New Parkway. Click here for details and tickets. This is a KPFA benefit.
STOP DEPORTATION DEMONSTRATIONS at ICE immigration holding center (deportations) Mondays and Wednesdays 4 – 6 pm at 630 Sansome Street San Francisco, California Let’s build a permanent presence at I.C.E. to stop the deportations. Bring signs, Spread widely. Stop Deportations Block I.C.E. Melt I.C.E. with LOVE LOVE not HATE JOIN US NO BAN, NO WALL INSIST ON LOVE We are all immigrants Say it loud, say it clear, // immigrants are welcome here (two sides of a sign) Never Again *non-violence* Chants: No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here refugees are welcome here, No ban, no wall, sanctuary for all… Continue reading →
September 24th from 12-2pm HRC Rally & March “March For Our Right To Stay” Join hundreds of tenants on Tues, 9/24/2019 We are not prey, and we fight to stay. Where: Rally at One Bush ST ( Market & 1st) then march to 724 Pine (about 15 mins) Thanks