The Feb 16 Climate Crisis Conference, initiated by World Can’t Wait Chicago and taken up by many other groups, was a sober and an exciting event. The opening presentation by Carl Wassilie, Yup’iaq Alaskan from Anchorage’s Big Village Network, powerfully illustrated how life threatening the situation facing indigenous people in Alaska is. Storms are eroding their villages, their whole relationship to the natural environment – developed over centuries – is at peril, and animals they rely on are growing sick from toxins of unknown origin, a heart-breaking and infuriating situation. Carl reported that native peoples in Alaska are the most heavily regulated by the US government and yet they are being left to die. He drew an analogy to Jews in Nazi Germany, calling this is genocide.
Barney Bush, a member of the Shawnee and Cayuga tribes and president of Vinyard Indian Settlement in southeast Illinois, described the struggles of his peoples to stave off further destruction by mountain top removal and coal mining and prevent planned fracking, declaring that once a mountain is gone or a river destroyed, they are gone forever. That’s why it must be stopped, no matter what it takes to do that. Dr. Robert Goldstein, an ordained Lutheran minister, renounced the legacy of Christianity in justifying empire and colonialism and argued for a radically different interpretation of Jesus’ teachings, that we must be stewards of the earth. And Orpheus Reed, a reporter from Revolution newspaper, made the case that the very workings of capitalism require the exploitation of natural resources before a competitor can get to them and that only a socialist society can truly live according to sustainable principles of development. The morning plenaries gave everyone a lot to think about and discuss over lunch, which was served on site to encourage that exchange.
All these speakers drew lively portraits of the urgency of the situation and reflected a powerful spirit of determination to stop this devastation while we can. This was then the backdrop to afternoon sessions where people made plans – to force institutions to divest from fossil fuels, to demand a moratorium on fracking in the state of Illinois, and to develop a movement to stop the processing of tar sands in a nearby Indiana town that is the site of the largest inland refinery in the country. The conference drew a broad mix of environmental , social justice and anti-war activists and the fact that we were coming from many different practical backgrounds and political perspectives brought a lot of lively debate to our deliberations as well.
A follow-up gathering is planned for next weekend – the organizers and many new friends are determined to develop greater resistance that reflects the spirit of this day and the urgency we face – because humanity and the planet come first!
Get in touch with the Chicago Chapter of World Can’t Wait here.