Month: July 2020

It’s Time For The Democratic Party To Mention The Occupation

The Democratic Party often has meaningful debates when putting together its platform on a range of issues—including one often seen as the third rail of American politics: US policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As longtime activists in the American Jewish and Arab American communities, respectively, we believe this year’s platform has the opportunity to be groundbreaking and fruitful instead of divisive. Democratic leaders should unite behind a vision that shows a clear commitment to the rights and security of both Palestinians and Israelis. They should promote diplomacy to help achieve peace, while strongly opposing settlements, annexation, incitement, violence, and the injustice of occupation.

The first draft of the platform’s Israel/Palestine plank revealed last week contains several of these elements—including, for the first time, affirmation of “the right of Palestinians to live in freedom and security in a viable state of their own.” Yet, frustratingly, once again the platform draft is missing an indispensable component: acknowledgement that millions of Palestinians continue to live under Israeli military occupation, without the basic civil rights and freedoms enjoyed by Israeli citizens living both inside the State of Israel and in illegal West Bank settlements.

Including or omitting reference to occupation is not a mere word choice. It’s an indication of whether the Democratic party is truly willing to confront and oppose the systemic injustice that has been at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for over 53 years.

Without admitting the existence of occupation, one cannot understand how Palestinians are daily deprived of their fundamental rights—or why they demand freedom and independent statehood. Without admitting occupation, one cannot understand why so many veteran Israeli political and security leaders warn that the country’s unending rule over another people is eroding its democratic institutions and leading it down (in the words of former prime minister Ehud Barak) “a slippery slope toward apartheid.”

It’s encouraging that the current draft includes opposition to Israeli settlement expansion and potential unilateral annexation. This is a major improvement over previous platforms that said nothing on the subject of settlements. Yet if the next Democratic administration is serious about promoting real peace, the party needs to go beyond this.

It’s not only annexation or further expansion of settlements that poses a major obstacle to peace—it is the entire settlement enterprise, which for decades has entrenched occupation, compromising the creation of a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Until we confront the settlers’ agenda head-on, our diplomatic efforts will continue to be stymied—and both Palestinians and Israelis will continue to lose faith that a negotiated solution could ever be possible. Until we make clear that American taxpayer dollars cannot be used as a blank check to help implement illegal annexation and other actions and policies that run counter to US interests and values, the Israeli right will continue to reject all compromise and to believe that it can act with impunity.

Outside of the settlement movement and its apologists, the term “occupation” is not and should not be controversial in this country, in Israel/Palestine or anywhere in the world. Until the Trump administration, it has been the policy of both Republican and Democratic presidents to recognize (and oppose) the occupation since it began in 1967.

In 2008, President George W. Bush called for “an end to the occupation that began in 1967.” In a 2009 speech, President Barack Obama stated that “the Palestinian people…endure the daily humiliations—large and small—that come with occupation.” For decades, even Israeli hard-liners such as former prime minister Ariel Sharon have regularly used the term.

There is no reason for the Democratic Party not to officially recognize occupation in 2020, at a time when so many Americans are finally grappling with deep systemic issues, like racial injustice and police brutality, that continue to shape our reality.

As the party seeks to affirm its commitment to the fundamental rights of all people in this country and around the world, it must include a clear commitment to the rights and security of both Israelis and Palestinians. It must decisively bring an end to years of obfuscation and denial. It must confidently call out the occupation as an unacceptable injustice that—in order to achieve a better future for both peoples—can and should be brought to an end.

With the platform still subject to amendment and revision, it’s not too late for party leaders to take this vital step. If they do, they can help avoid further divisiveness and frustration among their own base voters. Democrats across the country would rally behind a platform that promoted this vision.

G20, Heal Thyself

As the world’s largest economies, the G20’s members have one overriding responsibility at their finance ministers’ upcoming meeting: to agree on actions to suppress the pandemic. Ensuring effective public-health measures is today’s essential economic policy.

The G20 ministers of finance meet this week under the auspices of Saudi Arabia, which holds the group’s presidency this year. But it is hard to imagine the G20 countries leading the world, as they like to pretend that they do. Most of them can’t effectively lead themselves through the current COVID-19 crisis.

As the world’s largest economies, the G20’s members have one overriding responsibility at the upcoming meeting: to agree on actions to suppress the pandemic. A few G20 countries are doing well; the laggard countries need to take urgent measures to stop the spread of the virus. All G20 countries need to cooperate on global-scale policies to overcome the health crisis.

An overview of the G20 countries is sobering. Many are so poorly governed that they have been utterly ineffective in containing the pandemic. Judging by data from the past two weeks, the biggest G20 failure, at 176 new cases per day per million population, is Brazil, led by the reckless populist Jair Bolsonaro, who has himself now contracted the virus. The second-biggest failure is the United States, led by the Bolsonaro of the north, Donald Trump, with 137 new cases per day per million population. The two other G20 countries with more than 100 new cases per day per million population are South Africa (129) and Saudi Arabia (112).

The next tier of countries, reporting 10-100 new cases per day per million population, includes Russia (47), Mexico (43), Turkey (16), India (15), and the United Kingdom (11). These countries are all at risk of a significant rise in transmission, with Mexico and India appearing to be at the greatest risk.

Six of the G20 countries currently report 1-10 new cases per day per million population – reasonably low rates that make possible decisive suppression of the virus in the near future: Canada (8), France (8), Germany (5), Indonesia (5), Italy (4), and Australia (3).

Only three of the G20 countries report under one new case per day per million population: South Korea (0.96), Japan (0.9), and China (0.01). These three northeast Asian countries have displayed the necessary combination of political leadership, public-health professionalism, and responsible behavior (wearing face masks, maintaining physical distancing, and enhancing personal hygiene).

An epidemic is a social phenomenon and needs a social response. As South Korea, Japan, and China have shown, the virus can be suppressed – that is, new cases can be brought to near zero – if a basic logic is followed. Those who are infected with the virus need to protect those who are not infected. They can do this in four ways during the two weeks while infectious: keep their physical distance; wear face masks; stay at home and away from others; and remain in a public quarantine if the home is not safe.

This protection does not have to be perfect; indeed, it won’t be. It has to be good enough, however, to ensure that on average an infected individual infects less than one other. All people must be cautious until the pandemic is suppressed. That means wearing face masks in public places, keeping a prudent distance from others, and monitoring ourselves and our close contacts for symptoms. Officials must make available testing sites and support services for the isolation of infected individuals, whether at home or in public facilities. Managers of workplaces must take precautionary measures, including remote work or safe physical distancing on site.

The egregious G20 failures have in most cases started at the top. The likes of Bolsonaro and Trump are braggarts, bullies, dividers, and sociopaths. Their countries’ massive death tolls have moved them neither to expressions of sympathy nor to effective public-health policies. One sees similar perverse behavior among other G20 strongmen. Whereas women leaders (in New Zealand, Finland, Denmark, and elsewhere) have a superior track record on the pandemic, the G20, alas, has only one, Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Trump is a special case, because he governs the world’s greatest military power. The sociopathy of a US president is a worldwide tragedy, unlike that of a Brazilian president (though Bolsonaro’s sociopathy affects the world through an anti-environmental agenda that fuels the wanton and deliberate destruction of the Amazon). Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the World Health Organization in the midst of the pandemic battle has immediate global repercussions. The same is true of his efforts to launch a new cold war with China, instead of saving his own country and cooperating with China to help the rest of the world fight the pandemic.

In this, China obviously has much to offer. It has used the world’s most decisive measures to suppress a fulminant pandemic (after the first outbreak in Wuhan) and may well be on the way to producing the first useful vaccine.

Yet societal outcomes are not just the result of political leadership. They also depend on culture and social responsibility. The Confucian culture of northeast Asia emphasizes social cooperation and pro-social personal behavior such as wearing face masks. American hotheads, stoked by Trump, loudly proclaim the freedom to reject face masks – that is, the freedom to infect other Americans. One would rarely hear such a claim in northeast Asia.

What is also notable is the failure of US business leaders to take measures to contain the epidemic. One of America’s leading entrepreneurs, Elon Musk, demanded the reopening of the economy (and his business), rather than using his engineering genius to help contain the virus. Other top business leaders, too, have contributed little or nothing to suppressing the epidemic. This, too, is part of American culture: money over lives, personal wealth over the social good.

The G20 finance ministers will no doubt talk of money – budgets, stimulus, monetary policy – and so they should, but only after they have spoken about stopping the virus itself. There is no way to save the economy without stopping the pandemic. Ensuring effective public-health measures is today’s essential economic policy.

Is AIPAC Losing Its Grip On Democrats?

I came to Washington, more than four decades ago, to run the Palestine Human Rights Campaign (PHRC). We founded the PHRC after hearing from lawyers and human rights activists in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian lands horrible stories of rights being abused on a daily basis. Because these stories were not known in the US, or they were ignored, we launched the PHRC to shine a light on these violations and mobilise support for the Palestinian victims.

Early on, we were successful in gaining the endorsement of prominent civil rights leaders, major anti-Vietnam war activists, and church leaders from a number of major Christian denominations. There were, however, only a few Members of Congress who embraced our efforts, and those who did often put themselves at risk of incurring the wrath of the pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). AIPAC made no secret of their displeasure with elected officials who were supportive of Palestinian rights and often threatened Members of Congress that if they did not back off, they would be defeated.

In 1979, I received a call from the staff person of one Congressman who had endorsed a few of our more prominent cases and had been a consistent critic of Israeli policies. He had repeatedly voted against bills to give Israel more aid, citing their human rights record. The staff person told me that her boss met with representatives of AIPAC and someone from the embassy of Israel and a heated discussion had ensued. She said that because he liked and trusted me, I should come over to the office and speak with him. I did so, but never got to see him. In fact, despite the fact that we had been friends, he rarely spoke with me after that day. Not only that, but during his next few decades in Congress he never again voted against AIPAC-supported legislation, all the while becoming one of the largest recipients of pro-Israel financial contributions.

It was fear, the threat of defeat and the power of campaign contributions, either for you (if you voted “correctly”) or against you (if you dared to vote “incorrectly”) — that shaped the way that Congress behaved on matters involving Israel and the Palestinians.

Members of Congress are not, by definition, the bravest souls on the planet. Because of the corrupting influence of money in politics and the ever-increasing amounts being spent on political campaigns (mainly for television and digital advertising), elected officials find themselves engaged in never-ending fundraising.

I remember expressing my frustration to former Congressman John Conyers that Members who consistently voted to give Israel blank check support were acting in an unprincipled way against the interests of the United States. He laughed and told me that from the day they were first elected, the only principle that guided a Congressperson’s behaviour was what they felt they needed to do to be reelected. “In their minds,” he said, “the national interests of the US becomes synonymous with their reelection”.

While there are a number of principled souls serving in Congress, for too many Members raising money and getting reelected become ends in themselves. Many will have issues that motivate their public service but as they make their election calculations they’ll say “why should I go against the banking industry, or the health insurance and pharmaceutical companies, or the gun lobby, or Israel, when doing so might only result in money being raised to defeat me?”

Even very principled Congressmen have been known to make such determinations. In 1980, after Israel had expelled two Palestinian mayors, I went to Congress seeking support. My first stop was a well-known human rights champion. I said to him, “I’m asking for your help because I know that you are a consistent advocate for human rights. You’ve spoken out for victims in South Africa, the Philippines, and Latin America. And you’re a leader in the struggle for nuclear disarmament and civil rights here in the US.” His response was: “And if I do what you’re asking me to do, money will be spent to defeat me and I won’t be around to champion those causes for which I’ve been fighting.” Now I knew and I believed that he knew that wasn’t true. He was from a very safe district and would be reelected until he decided to retire. But the point he was really making was “I’ve already got so many powerful interests lined up against me, do I really need to add another one to create more discomfort for me and my staff?” [Note: he remained on office for many more terms, ultimately came around on Palestinian rights and was never seriously challenged.]

The money that could be raised for or against a candidate was real, but it was never the decisive factor. More consequential was the cultivated myth of AIPAC’s invincibility.

AIPAC consolidated its hold early in the 1980’s when they received two unearned gifts. They were able to claim credit for the defeat of two prominent elected Republicans, a congressman and a senator. I know first-hand that although AIPAC did pour a great deal of money into both elections, other critical factors decided both contests. The Republican congressman lost because he had been redistricted from a Republican-majority district to one that favored Democrats. In addition, in the year he lost, there was a Democratic wave in which the party won an additional 27 seats in Congress. But that did not stop AIPAC from boasting that they had vanquished their foe and use this victory to cement fear of their power.

The senator’s defeat in 1984 also played into the AIPAC myth. It is true that a great deal of money was raised to defeat him, including 1 million dollars to run a more conservative individual as a third-party candidate to siphon votes away from him. But, as he told me just one month after his loss, the real reason for his defeat was that for the first time Black voters had endorsed his opponent. Up until that election, he had run against more conservative Democrats and had won the support of the Black community. The year he lost, he ran against a liberal Democrat who had the backing of newly-elected Chicago mayor, Harold Washington.  That did not stop AIPAC from once again boasted of their victory in defeating a “foe of Israel”. In the years that followed, one pro-Israel Senator became known for taking colleagues ?aside who were undecided on an issue of importance to Israel and reminding them of their former colleague’s defeat saying, “you don’t want the same thing to happen to you, do you”?

During the time of the Iron Curtain, when the Roman Catholic Pope would name a Cardinal in an Eastern European country, he would do so “in our heart” fearing that if the name were released it would be cause for persecution. Over the decades, I have compiled my own list “in my heart” of Members of Congress who have told me, in confidence, “I’m really with you, but I’m afraid to go against AIPAC.” None have been “profiles in courage.” Some, though publicly vocal supporters of Israel, have been nothing more than outright anti-Semites. I had a special name for them, “anti-Semites for Israel.” But that is what fear does. It may win public support, but it also provokes silent resentment.

I can be thankful that all this is changing, at least among Democrats. The recent victory of Jamaal Bowman over AIPAC-backed Eliot Engel; AIPAC being forced to “give permission” to Members of Congress to oppose Israeli annexation plans for the West Bank; and the recent letter to US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, from 12 representatives and one senator not only opposing annexation, but promising legislation to condition US aid to Israel to their policies in the West Bank, all provide evidence that AIPAC may be losing its grip on Congress. Here are some of the reasons for this change: the outrageous arrogance of Benjamin Netanyahu; the fact that today the dominant pro-Israel lobby in Washington is the Christian right-wing of the Republican Party; the virtual marriage of Netanyahu and President Donald Trump; the deep divisions in the Jewish community that have given birth to powerful new groups that advocate for justice and peace; the fact that Arab Americans have become empowered and unafraid to speak out; and the growing support for Palestinian rights among especially Black voters, but also Latinos, Asian-Americans, and young voters, in general.

It is these factors combined that have turned the tide. I wish that it had been sooner. But it’s happening now, and we are better for it.

Cornel West On Uprising Against Racism

Following the killing of George Floyd, West and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor respond to the global uprising against racism and police violence. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor is an American academic, writer, and activist. 


Danny Glover On George Floyd

Danny Glover was recently a juror and mentor at Turkey’s virtual International Migration Film Festival, for which he took a deep dive into films tackling the plight of migrants around the world from his home in San Francisco, just as protests over the death of George Floyd escalated in the U.S. The actor-writer-producer and passionate political activist spoke to Variety about how he’s been associating the current global migrant crisis with the historical roots of violence against African Americans in the U.S. The screen icon, known for classics such as “Places in the Heart,” “The Color Purple” and the “Lethal Weapon” franchise, also discussed his parallel career as a producer of socially relevant films by global auteurs, such as Cannes Palme d’Or winner “Uncle Boonmee who can Recall his Past Lives,” and why “Lethal Weapon 5” should come back “within the political framework that we are in.”

What’s your biggest takeaway from the movies you saw about the migration crisis?
As an American citizen, we see glimpses of it on the news, and we know that there is a crisis happening. We see the actual reporting. But we don’t understand the entire stories that are engaged, and the historic nature of those stories, particularly in Afghanistan, which we’ve heard so much about. So (in “Just Like My Son,” by Costanza Quatriglio), the story of a young man trying to find his mother after not seeing her for years and years, it’s a touching personal story. And it has its own power, with respect to seeing it in a much larger context. That personal story has a much stronger impact in understanding the crisis that we are in…You see the magnitude of the crisis, yet we are immune to it in this country. In America, there is a kind of certainty of expectations that the government is able to protect you, to some extent. Except in some neighborhoods, in some communities.

Such as South Minneapolis.
There is an outcry after the murder of George Floyd — or there is an outcry after Eric Garner — which in some sense is expecting resolution in this country. But the question of migrants has existed internally in this country.

As an African descendant from enslaved Africans – who either escaped as migrants, and after the Civil War and after they were freed became constitutional citizens – they still were forced to migrate to various places in the country to escape the violence that they themselves experienced. The emotional and physical violence; the lynchings and murders. They were internal migrants within the country itself. Even though the country posed this certainty for other citizens, it didn’t pose this kind of certainty for them.

So when I saw these different stories they made me think about this. You think about mothers sending their daughters away once they became 13 and [when] white men and white boys started looking at them. They sent them from the South somewhere North or somewhere else where they could be safe. This is something that is not often expounded upon in our historical narratives. Or parents of young boys having them leave the South because of the possibility of their being lynched. Or escaping the violence that is inscripted in the 400 years of this country’s history towards enslaved Africans, or formerly enslaved Africans.

Do you think, this time, the Black Lives Matter movement can make a difference?
It has to be seen. We don’t know what’s going to happen in this particular moment. The resources and the allocations that are going to be thrown at this; the choices that are going to be made are going to be numerous. But the violence that we see – whether it’s the toxic places where they (black people) live; the inadequacy of health care for them; whether it’s the lack of affordable housing; the absence of jobs at living wages; all those things – that’s basically going unseen. We see the actual violence because the police is what it is. It’s the last line of defense for white supremacy. That’s what the police represents. They don’t protect African Americans. You can make an argument that the institutional violence has its roots in so many different ways. The violence that we see now that is acted out on the physical body of George Floyd has been the kind of violence that is engrained within the American idea of its culture, in its own subtlety, since the first Africans were brought here. So it’s 400 years of violence. It’s not just now!

As James Baldwin said: when we cannot tell ourselves the truth about our past, we become trapped in it. This country has been trapped in its past and continues to be. It’s even trapped in its past in terms of First Nations people. We never hear about the violence on First Nations people.

What does real change look like? That’s the question at a moment in time when we shape the images of change, and they might not be the kind of substantial changes, qualitative changes and transformative changes that are necessary.

What would the change look like in terms of narratives coming out of Hollywood?
It may be a democratization of what I call cultural production. Cultural production looks at: how do people live? How do we understand each other? What are the elements that bring us together and form the whole idea of the responsibilities that we have to each other as human beings? How do those kinds of stories evolve? It must not only happen within my business. It has to happen in concert with all the kinds of relationships that we have. We have to be honest about that. As I said before, we can’t be honest about what we are. We fantasize about what we think should be changed. What does that mean?

I think we started having a different sense of African Americans [on screen] when the civil rights movement came about. The new images of African Americans presented by Hollywood came through avenues that were opened because of singular artists at the time. Sidney Poitier changed the whole image of African Americans. Every one of us: me, Morgan [Freeman], Denzel [Washington], Sam [Samuel Jackson] we are descendants of the images presented by Sidney Poitier!

I think there has to be some sort of sound way, because we can’t go back to just anything…In terms of saying: we are going back to the past. We can’t go back.

Those people who are white and Black and brown and gay and LGBTQ  — all of them are saying, as they march in the streets: we can’t go back! That’s the message that’s on the street right now.

Of course, you’ve been fostering a different type of cultural production for years as a producer with Louverture Films in partnership with Joslyn Barnes.

I had the advantage when I started out of doing the plays of the great South African writer Athol Fugard as my foundation for looking at cultural production. And that was in the midst of the Anti-Apartheid movement and the Free Mandela movement. I’ve also had this fascination about world cinema. When I was working, I would often go to arthouses and watch world cinema.

So the idea that came around with Joslyn Barnes started by talking about the Haitian Revolution. Now somebody might have thought that was a rock band, but there was a Haitian Revolution [led by Toussaint Louverture]. Haiti was the first nation ever to be formed by formerly enslaved Africans who defeated the Spanish, defeated the French, defeated the British. That’s how the conversation started.

Then we talked about our interest in world cinema. And we began to say: how do we put emphasis on this issue? So we put emphasis on storytellers. Elia Suleiman, Palestinian, one of the great filmmakers in the world. How do we get involved in that?

Apichatpong [Weerasethakul] from Thailand, “Uncle Boonmee who can Recall his Past Lives.” Brilliant. I could have shown that movie to my grandmother, who was born in 1895, and she would have gotten it! My grandparents, they would talk about past lives; about visions. They would sometimes scare the hell out of me as kid! And so those are the kind of things that we were able to do.

What about your career as an actor?
There are things that I’ve done that are no doubt important. “The Beloved” is an important film; an extraordinary film. “The Color Purple” is an important film. “Places in the Heart,” with Sally Field, is an important film for me. They moved my career in a lot of ways, but they were important for me to do. Because they were also expressions of part of that psychic history that’s in my bones, that comes from my great-grandmother, who was born in 1858. All that history is a part of me. So being able to do those films is a way of exploring that part of myself.

But also the opportunity to have a franchise film, and to try to do something with that franchise film. And that’s basically what Richard Donner and the creators of “Lethal Weapon” did. One [film] was about drug proliferation; one was about arms proliferation. One focused on South Africa. There’s value in that as well.

In January it was reported that producer Dan Lin said there are plans to do another “Lethal Weapon” sequel with you and Mel Gibson on board. Is there any truth to that?
There has been a conversation about that in January. I don’t want to give away the plot on the script that I read, but I found the plot had very strong relevance to some of things that are happening today. I can say that. But that was in January. History changes so fast…But yes, there’s been talk about it. There is something of a plan.

Would you like to do it? Sounds like you liked the script.
Yes, I liked it. I can only tell you, if it does happen, there is something extraordinary in it. If “Lethal Weapon” gives us some sort of contribution to understanding a little bit more…It would be interesting to do. It would be interesting to see how we take this within the political framework we are in; the economic framework that we are in. And especially that framework as opposed to the communities that have been affected by the kind of police violence, the kind of police standards, and the power that they exert as well. And what would be interesting from that vantage point is what that attempt could be like at this particular moment.

And maybe it will attempt to confront the issue head on, within whatever script comes out.

What Facebook And The Oil Industry Have In Common

Why is it so hard to get Facebook to do anything about the hate and deception that fill its pages, even when it’s clear that they are helping to destroy democracy? And why, of all things, did the company recently decide to exempt a climate-denial post from its fact-checking process?

The answer is clear: Facebook’s core business is to get as many people as possible to spend as many hours as possible on its site, so that it can sell those people’s attention to advertisers. (A Facebook spokesperson said the company’s policy stipulates that “clear opinion content is not subject to fact-checking on Facebook.”) This notion of core business explains a lot—including why it’s so hard to make rapid gains in the fight against climate change.

For decades, people have asked me why the oil companies don’t just become solar companies. They don’t for the same reason that Facebook doesn’t behave decently: an oil company’s core business is digging stuff up and burning it, just as Facebook’s is to keep people glued to their screens. Digging and burning is all that oil companies know how to do—and why the industry has spent the past thirty years building a disinformation machine to stall action on climate change. It’s why—with the evidence of climate destruction growing by the day—the best that any of them can offer are vague pronouncements about getting to “net zero by 2050”—which is another way of saying, “We’re not going to change much of anything anytime soon.” (The American giants, like ExxonMobil, won’t even do that.)

Total, the French oil company, has made the 2050 pledge, but it is projected to increase fossil-fuel production by twelve percent between 2018 and 2030. These are precisely the years when we must cut emissions in half, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to have any chance of meeting the vital targets set by the Paris climate agreement, which aim to hold the planet’s temperature increase as close as possible to one and a half degrees Celsius. The next six months will be crucial as nations prepare coronavirus recovery plans. Because effective climate planning at this moment will require keeping most oil, coal, and gas reserves in the ground, the industry will resist fiercely.

So we need power brought to bear from companies whose core business is not directly challenged by climate activism. Consider the example of Facebook again: after organizing by people like Judd Legum and, companies including Unilever and Coca-Cola agreed to temporarily stop advertising on the social platform. Coke’s core business is selling you fizzy sugar water that can help make you diabetic—when that’s threatened, the company fights back. But when it feared being attacked for helping Facebook’s core business, it simply stopped advertising with the company, which wasn’t essential for Coke’s business.

That’s why it is critical to get third parties to pressure the oil industry. This past month, the growing fossil-fuel divestment campaign got a huge boost when the Vatican, whose core business is saving souls, called for divestment, and the Queen of England, whose core business is unclear but involves hats, divested millions from the industry. Keith Ellison, the attorney general of Minnesota, announced that he was suing ExxonMobil, as well as the American Petroleum Institute and Koch Industries, for perpetrating a fraud by spreading climate denial for decades. (Ellison’s core business is justice, and his office is pursuing this climate action at the same time that it is prosecuting the killers of George Floyd.) All this, in turn, puts pressure on the financial industry to stop handing over cash to oil companies. As I pointed out in a piece last summer, JPMorgan Chase may be the biggest fossil-fuel lender on earth, but that’s still only about seven per cent of its business—big, but not core.

Effective progress on climate will require government and the finance industry to enforce the edicts of chemistry and physics: massive action undertaken inside a decade, not gradual, gentle course correction. And that will require the rest of us to press those institutions. Because our core business is survival.

Passing the Mic

Anna Jane Joyner is a climate activist who concentrates on what she calls “crafting stories and strategies that inspire new audiences to take action on climate change.” She makes special effort to engage evangelical Christians, including her father, who is a prominent pastor. She was featured in the Showtime series “Years of Living Dangerously,” and is the co-host of the podcast “No Place Like Home” with Mary Anne Hitt, an activist from the Sierra Club.

You’re focussed on spirituality and the response to climate change this season on the podcast. What are you learning?

I’m learning to take the long view and just focus on the next right thing. When the Rabbi Jennie Rosenn talked with us, for next week’s episode, about the seder—a celebration of the exodus of Israelites from slavery and oppression—she emphasized that part of that story is that, first, they wandered in the wilderness for forty years, not knowing what would happen, but with faith that God would protect them. Reverend Lennox Yearwood, of the Hip Hop Caucus, reminded us that for many vulnerable people, activism isn’t a choice, it’s simply fighting for their lives, families, and homes. For me, that means that even when we’re feeling despair, anxiety, and fear, we can’t give up—a lot of people don’t even have that option. He told us, “We can be overwhelmed but not overcome.” Dr. Kritee Kanko, a Buddhist teacher, shared how meditation helped her climb out of a deep depression, and reminded us of our “interbeing”—how deeply interconnected we are, as we’re all witnessing now because of covid-19.

As activists, both Mary Anne and I have increasingly turned to spirituality as a way to find our own resilience and courage, and we’ve heard the same from a lot of fellow climate friends. We wanted to dig deeper into that and share it with our listeners, and also take a look at the landscape of spiritual stories and traditions to find even more tools and guides that offer light during hard, dark times.

You come from an evangelical background in your youth. What’s made it seemingly uniquely hard for much of that world to grapple with this issue?

I am a preacher’s daughter, and my dad is a climate-denying megachurch pastor. To me, it seems most white evangelicals are lost in a false nostalgia and brainwashed by the cult of Trump and Fox News. They’re driven by an ideological identity and a mentality of my team vs. yours, not science, or even compassion, and stuck in the culture wars of the nineteen-eighties and nineties. I like to remind people that there’s a lot more to Christianity than what white evangelicals have to say. There’s still a lot of hope among young people who were raised in that space, and even those who still identify with it, who are far more likely to embrace science and social justice. And there are millions of progressive Christians who care about the climate crisis and are inspired by Jesus’ teachings and other tenets of Christianity to act. But I fear that many, if not most, older white evangelicals may be lost—not that I won’t still keep trying.

How do you find solace when you have to deal with this crisis all the time, and what do you do when you just get overwhelmed?

Buddhist teachings on non-attachment have been really helpful: the reminder that my job is not to know how to fix everything, it’s just to show up and do the next right thing. The Christian story of resurrection and life overcoming death is inspiring me right now. Often, when I’m really overwhelmed, I just stop what I’m doing and walk outside and listen and watch, to feel the universe itself giving me solace. When I was nineteen, I was on a sailing trip and we got caught in a terrible storm. It’s the closest to death I’ve come. And I was in a state of panic—finding it hard to breathe, etc.—and out of nowhere, for the first time in years, I prayed: “God if you can’t calm the storm outside, please calm the storm within me.” I’ve prayed that prayer a lot the past few years. When I really can’t get out of a funk, I pick up someone else’s story: a podcast, novel, memoir, show, or movie. I almost always find comfort, creativity, and courage in focussing on something beyond my own story for a minute. Then, I get back to work. There’s a lot of solace in action, too.

Climate School

This newsletter has covered the problem of abandoned oil wells before, but new numbers in a report from Reuters are truly striking. “More than 3.2 million abandoned oil and gas wells together emitted 281 kilotons of methane in 2018, according to the data, which was included in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s most recent report on April 14 to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. That’s the climate-damage equivalent of consuming about 16 million barrels of crude oil, according to an EPA calculation, or about as much as the United States, the world’s biggest oil consumer, uses in a typical day.”

It turns out that public transit probably wasn’t a major spreader of the coronavirus pandemic, according to The Atlantic. Get out of your car, but wear your mask.

The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, which was formed by the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, after Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and young people from the Sunrise Movement occupied her office, in 2018, released its recommendations yesterday—it’s a highly detailed, five-hundred-and-thirty-eight-page document that could help form a blueprint for congressional action in the years ahead. The first reaction from Julian Brave NoiseCat, at Data for Progress: not half bad. In The New Republic, Kate Aronoff points out that although the plan’s designed to take on global warming, it’s not very global.


California sent a strong signal to the trucking industry, announcing that it would phase out sales of diesel trucks in favor of ones with electric motors. The move will reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, and eventually clean the air in communities that are unfortunate enough to be situated near shipping hubs.

California, New York, and now Massachusetts are planning for a future without natural gas. The Bay State’s crusading attorney general, Maura Healey, has asked for an investigation into natural gas, noting that Massachusetts likely can’t meet its global-warming targets if it keeps burning propane. Space heating and water heating together are the second-biggest source of emissions in the state, and two-thirds of that comes from burning natural gas, so the switch to electric heat pumps running off renewables is a logical step.

Last week, authorities in Baton Rouge charged two local anti-pollution activists with the crime of “terrorizing” after they carried out a peaceful publicity stunt. Protesting plans for a huge new plastics plant in a community already suffering from high levels of pollution, the activists left a box of plastic pellets, known as “nurdles,” from a similar factory in Texas at the home of an oil-and-gas lobbyist. The attached note listed, among other things, the name and phone number of the activists’ attorney, which is not something that actual terrorists, or even criminals, normally do.

Last week, leaders in Colorado Springs decided to shut down two coal-fired power plants and invest in renewables instead. Along with the Air Force Academy, the city is home to so many religious organizations that it has been called the “evangelical Vatican.” It has also seen large-scale wildfires in recent years.

Alaska’s congressional delegation, upset that some banks have decided not to lend for oil drilling in the Arctic, including in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, have tried to make a “racial justice” issue out of it. The members of Congress argue that some indigenous groups want oil exploration to proceed. Bernadette Demientieff, the leader of an advocacy group for the Gwich’in tribe, dismissed the politicians’ claim in an op-ed: “Why have they spent their careers ignoring the true cause and cost of the climate crisis, as Indigenous villages slip one by one into the ocean and hunters trying to feed their families fall through prematurely melting ice?”

The Supreme Court ruling protecting gay rights may have an important knock-on effect in protecting efforts to fight climate change. Justice Neil Gorsuch ruled that the definition of sexual discrimination in the Civil Rights Act included gay and transgender people, even if they were not among its initial group of protected people. That finding could be used, analysts said, to similarly claim that the Clean Air Act covers carbon dioxide, even though it was not considered a pollutant when the law was originally adopted.

Warming Up

Surely you know to listen on occasion to WWOZ, the great heritage-music station out of New Orleans. But on Saturday evenings—and anytime on the time-and-distance-obliterating Internet—the show “Soul Power” offers rare and deep cuts from the seventies and eighties, thanks to D.J. Soul Sister. Given this week’s discussion, cue up Stargard’s “What You Waitin’ For?”