Let’s Get Free!: We Have The Means, Now Do What’s Necessary

By Kourtney Mitchell / Deep Green Resistance

On June 28, 1964, Malcolm X gave a speech at the Founding Rally of the Organization for Afro-American Unity (OAAU) at the Audubon Ballroom in New York. In the speech, he stated what became his most famous quote:

We declare our right on this earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.

Interestingly, X was popularizing a line from a play titled Dirty Hands by the French intellectual Jean-Paul Sartre, which debuted in 1948:

I was not the one to invent lies: they were created in a society divided by class and each of us inherited lies when we were born. It is not by refusing to lie that we will abolish lies: it is by eradicating class by any means necessary.

There are some really important ideas presented in both of these quotes. Sartre succinctly summarized the primary struggle for the socially conscious – that society as we know it is divided into classes, and that social change is not achieved merely by refusing to behave like dominant classes, but by ultimately dismantling the power structures upholding this stratification.

X’s spin on this was equally profound. The white power structure of his time enacted brutal and morally reprehensible repression on the masses of black people in the United States, and X was stating the very real yet existential condition: that this repression was a dehumanizing tactic, upheld by violence and enslavement, and that the response to this repression must equal the scope of the problem. Simply put, white supremacism will use any and all means necessary to maintain power, and thus those fighting against it must do the same.

The modern environmental and social justice movement could learn a thing or two from these quotes. Any one who is not meditating in a cave should realize by now that this culture we live in – industrial civilization – is quickly killing the planet. All life support systems on Earth are declining, and have been doing so for several decades. As a matter of fact, since the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, generally considered the birth of the modern environmental movement, there has not been a single peer-reviewed article contradicting that statement.

This should ring some alarms for everyone, but surely for those in the movement, right? One would think so, but unfortunately this does not seem to be the case. Instead, what we are seeing is a continued ignorance of the true scale of environmental destruction, and a refusal to be honest about what it will take to stop it. What we are seeing is a constant faith on popular protest and nonviolence as the end goal of resistance, a hegemonic adherence to pacifism.

At the same time that nearly all native prairies are disappearing, and insect populations are collapsing, and the oceans are being vacuumed, and nearly two hundred species of animals are going extinct every single day, women are also being raped at a rate of one every two minutes. A black male is killed by police or other vigilantes at a rate of one every 28 hours. There are more slaves today than at any time during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. And indigenous cultures and languages are being wiped off the planet.

It is apparently certain that for all of our good intentions – our feelings of loving-kindness, taking the moral high ground and being the change we wish to see in the world – we are failing, and miserably. We are losing.

This must change.

It is time to face the truth, a truth climate scientists, indigenous warriors and anyone who is half awake have been telling us for a really long time – our planet is being killed, and we must fight back to end the destruction before all life on the planet perishes for good.

A starting point for establishing an effective response to environmental destruction and social oppression is to develop a clear understanding of the mechanisms for this arrangement. The dominant classes of people who are enacting this brutality utilize concrete systems of power to do so, namely industrial capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy and human supremacism.

These institutions of power are run by people – human beings, who instead of holding a reverence for life and love of freedom, value privilege and power above all else. This system is based upon, and would quickly collapse without, widespread and pervasive violence. Privilege is upheld by violence, because no one willingly cedes their freedom and autonomy unless forced to do so.

There is a necessary realization one must have when considering all of this, and it is a realization many in the so-called movement are yet to have: as the oppression of human and non-human communities and the destruction of the planet is being enacted by a particular class of people – that is, a group of people sharing a real or perceived identity and having similar goals and the means to achieve those goals – it is also being endured by a particular class of people.

Men, as a class of people whose collective behavior has a very real effect, are oppressing women as a class. This is not to claim that every single man on the planet has some palpable sense of hating women, but it does mean that to be a man in this society is to behave in a socialized manner that oppresses women.

Whites as a class of people are oppressing people of color. This is not to say that every single white-identified person on the planet has some palpable sense of hating people of color, but that to be white in this society is to behave in a manner that oppresses people of color in at least some ways.

If the violence is enacted by classes, the resistance must also exist on the class-level. It has never been enough for the individual to make personal, lifestyle changes so that they can feel better about themselves while the rest of the people in their class suffer. Systems of oppression are not defeated by individuals – they are defeated by organizing with others, a collective struggle.

This is what it means to be radical. As radicals, we aim to get to the root of the problem. Radical anti-racists understand that the white identity is based upon privilege, and that privilege is inherently oppressive to people of color. Radical anti-sexists understand that the concept of gender is built upon male dominance and female submission, which is inherently oppressive to women. And radical environmentalists understand that industrial civilization – based upon extraction, destructive agricultural practices and the genocide of indigenous cultures – is killing the planet.

From there, we draw the line. A radical’s primary goal is not to combat the symptoms of oppression – we do not merely wish to navigate the gender spectrum, toying with it at will as some kind of protest. We wish to abolish gender, recognizing it as the primary basis for women’s oppression. And we do not wish to merely give people of color a bigger slice of the pie in the white supremacist power structure. We wish to abolish white supremacy altogether, and furthermore to overcome the concept of race itself. Radical environmentalists cannot afford to continue to espouse technological fixes for a problem caused by technology and extraction. No, industrial civilization is wholly irredeemable, and no amount of technology can fix it.

What should be apparent is that our movement needs more than nonviolence and good feelings. We need to mount a serious threat to the power structures, one that is forceful and continuous. We need militant action. Those killing the planet will not stop unless forced to do so.

Nonviolence is a powerful tactic when correctly applied, but it alone cannot match the scale of destruction. When coupled with strategic attacks on the infrastructure of oppression, it can result in concrete, lasting change.

And this is the strategy of Deep Green Resistance. As an aboveground movement, we use nonviolent direct action, putting our bodies between life and those who wish to destroy it. Though we have no connection to (and no desire to have a connection with) any underground that may exist, we actively support the formation of an underground, encouraging militant resistance that will bring down oppressive institutions for good.

DGR is also dedicated to the work of helping to rebuild or to build new, sustainable human communities. We are working towards a culture of resistance – where oppression and ecocide are not tolerated, and where people incorporate resistance into their everyday lives. We work to establish solidarity and genuine alliance with oppressed communities, always keeping an eye towards justice, liberating our hearts and minds from the hegemonic tendencies of privileged classes. DGR understands that marginalized communities have been on the front lines of resistance from the very beginning, defending their way of life and reclaiming their autonomy. For too long, pacifists and dogmatic nonviolent activists have left the hard work of actual resistance to those marginalized groups, shying away from the real fight. No more – it is now time for men to combat sexism, for whites to combat racism, and for the civilized of this culture to fight against industrial empire and bring it down.

This analysis and this strategy should be inspiring. But what is more inspiring is that we have the means to achieve our goals. We know how to bring down industrial capitalism, which is controlled by critical nodes of technology and extraction. When these nodes are attacked and brought down in a way preventing their rebuilding, the system begins to collapse. The mechanisms of control – the military, the police and the media – cannot operate without consistent input of fossil fuels and willing agents.

When this system falls, the living world will rejoice. Two hundred species of animals who would have gone extinct will instead live and flourish. Indigenous communities will reclaim their traditional homelands. The salmon will begin to spawn anew with each dam taken down, and the rivers will rush with life.

This is the world for which we fight. And we intend to win.

Let’s Get Free! is a column by Kourtney Mitchell, a writer and activist from Georgia, primarily focusing on anti-oppression and building genuine alliance with oppressed communities. Contact him at kourtney.mitchell@gmail.com.

12 thoughts on “Let’s Get Free!: We Have The Means, Now Do What’s Necessary”

  1. Do you “radicals” realize how counterproductive it is to tie the environmental movement to “social justice”? I’m a blogger on a conservative site who can’t convince ANYONE that climate change is real. Why? Because to conservatives, environmentalists all come with extra baggage that NOTHING to do with the environment.

    Environmental problems should be looked at from a cool scientific and unemotional viewpoint. As it stands, you’ve lost millions of people who might agree with the straight environmental aspect of things.

    Keep the “social justice” separate.

  2. Frau Katze,
    If my intention is to be as respectful as possible, I may state that I kinda understand what you’re saying here. However, it’s tough to stay polite in this regard.

    Environmentalism is a social justice issue, and if you actually take the time to think about it for more than a few minutes, you’ll see why.

    You see, where do oil companies drill? In the backyards of wealthy whites? Negative – we both know where they drill.

    Who suffers first and most from the effects of a changing climate, polluted air/water/soil, and depleted natural resources? Wealthy whites? Again, negative. It is the poor, the destitute, the enslaved – we are the ones who suffer. The power plants, the oil refineries, the recycling plants – these are in the backyards of my people, and the indigenous. The indigenous are the ones who suffer when their rivers are dammed and their land is stripped bare and their food sources over hunted to the point of extinction.

    The tendency that causes men to rape at minimum a third of all women, and film it for the sadistic entertainment of woman-haters; the tendency that causes whites to lynch and burn and beat and kill people of color in the streets and grant the perpetrators paid leave and pensions; the tendency that causes corporations to pollute every river in the U.S. and blow up mountaintops and enslave African children in diamond mines; these tendencies are all the same, and have the same root – the iron heel of civilization crushing the necks of human and non-human communities the world over.

    Maybe your “conservative” values are shielding you from common sense. But I will not mince words, and I have zero patience for such dismissal. Our planet is dying; my people are being systematically killed or incarcerated; men are at veritable war with women; and there is an ongoing genocide against indigenous cultures. These are all products of civilization, the brutal arrangement of power that has the planet on the brink of sheer and utter destruction.

    You would benefit from doing your homework, because this class grades in life and death.

    1. I agree. The new IPCC has come out. It’s not good. Time is short and people vontinue to ignore reality. Our planet is dying while our culture enables people to continue hiding beneath the covers of privilege, and power.

    2. I have done a great deal of “homework” in the sense of following news closely and reading about environmental damage and global warming.

      You are stuck in a 1960’s mentality on social issues. That is your problem. But it is stopping the message of serious environmental damage reaching a larger audience.

      1. No, Frau Katze, I am not “stuck in a 1960’s mentality on social issues.” I am stuck in a culture that allows police officers and vigilantes to beat, shoot and kill unarmed people of color in the street. I am stuck in a culture that criminalizes protest and dissent. I am stuck in a culture that builds oil refineries, recycling plants and other petro-chemical infrastructure in the backyards of my people. I am in stuck in a culture that hates me and everyone else who dares speak out against it. So to hell with your callous dismissal of real-world problems effecting oppressed people.

        You’re stuck in the privileged mindset of people who have no freaking clue what they’re talking about. You parade ignorance as practicality because you haven’t lived the experiences of my people, you don’t see the oppression and poverty and dehumanization we see every single day.

        Industrial civilization is the cause of my oppression. It is the bedrock, the foundation by which elite ecocidal and omnicidal white men oppress nearly every other person on the planet, and destroys the planet at the same time. If you can’t see that, it’s not my problem, it’s yours.

        I repeat – do your freaking homework.

  3. Frau Katze i think your response also misses the fact that most people make decisions not based on a rational process but due to being emotionally impacted, then often finding facts to back up those opinions.

    This whole “cool scientific” standpoint is one in which many of us believe we operate, but this has been shown not to be the case in study after study and the understanding of psychology. That doesn’t mean scientific explanations don’t have their place, but thinking they are the primary means by which most make conclusions is false, and leads many activists down the many dead ends.

    The most persuasive of arguments are those that strike deep and connect with a persons emotional understanding while being factually defensible.

    1. Maybe. But I am very concerned about the failure of conservatives to recognize the truth of global warming.

      Are you concerned? Concerned enough to try to detach your message from social justice? You can do that too, but keep it separate. This is too important!

      This should be a stand-alone issue.

  4. Thank you for this timely article! It addresses the leading edge, where many of us have realized in our hearts that “Direct Action” is not working, is not stopping the industrial machine. DA, whether “creative” or “angry” or “compassionate” has successfully diverted huge numbers of activists into a sort of holding pen of short-term emotional satisfaction while delaying a more strategic perspective and analysis.

    This article strikes deep, and connects with the spirit of real resistance. May it travel far, and provoke wonderful insights and discussion the world over.

  5. I appreciate your article and your words, and I agree with the ties between destruction of culture, of women, nature and ultimately, ourselves, as all linked and connected. I believe that much of these truths are extremely painful when they are first discovered by people who are basically good people, trying to navigate these class and privilege structures that they were born into, and it is a process to wake them up and begin to create change.

    That being said, there seems to be a lot of emphasis on what should be done right now to break down these systems, but not a lot of ideas on what that ‘industry-free’ world will look like, or how we might get there. I mean, I get all of what you are saying, but I am also someone who has a son with special needs. He needs to be cathed with a catheter three times a day. That uses plastic, which is created in a sterile lab so that he can live. Are you guys going to bomb my kid’s medical needs that are part of this industrial system? Are you going to deny me a trip to the hospital if he needs care? Will you dismantle any research on ways to help people survive cancer or disease? What about culture and art, such as the internet, or stories or books? I mean, what is the line you are drawing where civilization begins that is unacceptable?

    As far as your healthy models of acceptable culture go, what countries or communities are ‘getting it right’ as per your definition of living in the way that respects women, life, people of color and the planet? I would love to hear you write about that. As far as what I have seen in my three decades of working with kids and adults in wilderness skills, most people have a serious lacking of basic community awareness and responsibility, or any skills for living communally, and this won’t just magically appear if we dismantle civilization. In fact, it could end up being an incredibly brutalizing experience that might last for generations, and I don’t see how we don’t actually lose millions upon millions of people in the process.

    I am not sure how I feel about that, or about say, killing the entire power grid that will kill hundreds of thousands of people on life support, or whatever, to make a point. I feel like it will just make our culture even more militarized and restrictive, rather than encouraging a powerful dialogue to help us move in the right direction.

    How far does your definition of industry stretch, and who gets to decide what gets removed and what is okay? Is it you? Is it DGR? Is it someone else? These are important questions, because without a transition to a new, better model, I can hear the Who song running through my head… “We won’t get fooled again!” if you know what I mean. And I don’t see how your revolution prevents the exact same power structure from starting all over again instantly.

    I do share the urgency and the need, and I am working constantly on how to help support and create the shift. I do sort of think that climate change and a few new viruses will ultimately take care of the problem. Yes, that might sound like a cop out, but I am personally not ready to start killing people either directly or indirectly through violent means.

    I really appreciate how this article has made me think and I am left with your images of communities that are being raped, both literally and environmentally, and driven to extinction, and that is not acceptable. I continue to search for the right tool and leverage to help us get to the actual root of the problem. Thank you for your words.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *