Capitalism is killing us, killing the planet, and killing itself. We, the living, must work to facilitate the selfinduced death of capitalism while surviving and thriving together. A new commonwealth of life and care is on the horizon; it was glimpsed in Zuccotti park, and in peoples’ movements across the globe.
Our first step is to ask: how do you live? What do you do when the basis of your life is taken away? The water you drink, the soil you farm, the air you breathe, the rivers you fish, the atmosphere you inhabit — imagine it plundered and destroyed by an imperial tyrant operating with impunity. For most people in the world — especially in the Global South — this colonization and decimation of life is not so difficult to imagine. It has been happening in real time for centuries and the deathdealing tyrant has a name: Wall Street.
OWS has been privileged to launch our attacks directly at the doorstep of capitalism, at the heart of the empire. Storming the financial district, confronting its troops in the NYPD, we map sites of injustice with our bodies, voices, our affirmation of the commons. We connect the dots between the crime scene of Wall Street and the melting of glaciers, the rising of seas, the spreading of deserts, the clearing of forests, the poisoning of water, the failing of crops, the displacement of people.
A politics of the living is emerging that aims to put capitalism out of out of its misery. We have found “climate” to be a blunt weapon, despite the deadly catastrophe it evokes.
Climate-talk restricts our imaginations — even when used by our friends on the Old Left. In the United States, it typically leads to policy discussions of carbon emissions standards, green jobs, investment in alternative energy infrastructures by the state. We hear appeals to international norms and frameworks. We hear demands that governments and corporations adhere to principles of sustainability, mitigation, and adaptation. This is all fine, but it misses some fundamental questions about life and capitalism.
Consider the Keystone XL protests at the White House last Fall. 1000 climate activists were arrested in a civil disobedience action. The action announced the danger of releasing billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from the Alberta Tar Sands, and called upon President Obama to withhold a permit from the corporation developing the pipeline. The action was part of a long-term, concerted activist campaign. But was the intention of the action revolutionary? Did it aim to facilitate the death
of capitalism? Did it aim to open space for a new form of living?
What will it take for revolutionary intentions to be developed? When will we recognize that organic food, hybrid cars, even green jobs programs miss the point when it comes to saving life from its destruction by capitalism? Mainstream sustainability discourse imagines a win-win for life and capitalism. We see these two terms as mortal enemies.
Capitalism has always been hostile to human and nonhuman life. People have suffered in factories, mines, plantations and sweatshops to generate the profit that is capital’s life-blood. Plantations rendered the soil infertile, mines ruin rivers and mountain tops, logging devastates forests, factory
smoke makes the air harmful, fracking destroys water supplies and puts communities at risk of industrial disaster. For a long time, we’ve been able to think of this as an accidental by-product of capitalism that you could either fix through regulation or just ignore because you didn’t live where it was happening.
The death-machine of Wall Street amplifies other forms of oppression embedded in the ongoing histories of colonialism, sexism, and racism. Climate-related crises, from droughts to floods,
affect the lives of most disempowered people first. Any struggle for climate justice must be a struggle for economic and political justice at large. It should follow the lead of movements from below, as when the Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth made at the People’s Conference on Climate Change in Cochabamba, Bolivia (2008) calls for “the decolonization of the atmosphere.”
Decolonize life, Occupy Wall Street. This pair of terms can reopen our imagination when it comes to the often narrow discourse of climate politics with which are often confronted in the United States. It can open space for militant direct action in our cities, our farms, our landscape, our infrastructures; It can facilitate a different relationship to land, work, energy, credit, food, water, and more; a form of living based on cultivating the commonwealth rather than the systems of endless growth and private profit that are leading to our common demise. We are the living. We are the 99%