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On Selfishness and Solidarity – A Knot in the Revolutionary Lifeline

Here thousands of metres of pipes are stacked in a field southwest of Morden, Manitoba Canada, waiting to be installed. (Photo: loozrboy, on flickr)

Here thousands of metres of pipes are stacked in a field southwest of Morden, Manitoba Canada, waiting to be installed. (Photo: loozrboy, on flickr)

It was painful hearing many of them speak. A mother and daughter, ranchers from Nebraska, broke down in tears. There was a veritable parade of tribal chiefs from the indigenous tribes in Northern Alberta. Each one was more articulate than his predecessor as they almost poetically described their people’s reverence for the natural world. There were all the “usual suspects” from the National Resources Defense Council, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and many other environmental groups I’d never heard of. It was especially great to see the uncompromising opposition to the pipeline from the Transit Workers Union. They all understand, all too well, what was happening here.

Hillary Clinton’s State Department was holding a public hearing on the proposed Keystone oil pipeline. If approved, a pipeline will be built that will cut the US in half, from Alberta to Texas, passing through one sensitive environmental area after another. We all the know the risks of oil spills and pipeline leaks: cancers, polluted aquifers, species extinction, crop damage and more. We all watched the BP geyser. Some are aware of the recent pipeline rupture in Yellowstone National Park. I’m afraid to say I think the fix is in. Until the revolution gets underway, the corporate government we all disdain is still in full charge and their agenda is not your agenda. On this one, Big Oil is calling the tune. The pipeline is likely to be approved.

But the Keystone project goes beyond the risks of oil spills; way beyond.

What’s going to be pumped through that pipeline will be harvested from “tar sands”. Some have estimated that the CO2 produced from burning this dangerous fossil fuel will be eleven times greater than burning conventional oil. James Hansen, a NASA climatologist, said that if this project goes through, it’s ballgame over for the climate! Hillary’s for the pipeline as is Obama’s Big Oil puppet, Energy Secretary Chu.

The microphones at the hearing were open to all who wanted to speak. Of course, there was the usual droning on by Big Oil’s tongue-waggers. They had names like the National Petroleum Institute and the Sleezy Friends of Greed (I may not have heard that one right). “It is totally safe; we use the latest technology; it’s been thoroughly researched; it will make the country safer because we won’t need to depend as much on Middle Eastern oil… blah, blah, blah.” What did you expect them to say?

But the crushing disappointment came towards the end of the meeting. There was a large contingent from the Laborers’ International Union. They were all dressed in orange which appears to be their union’s color. One speaker after the next after the next spoke about jobs. “We want jobs!” No discussion about the environment; no discussion about indigenous tribes with a reverence for nature and the land they’ve inhabited for hundreds if not thousands of years; no compassion for a tearful mother and daughter worrying that their land and way of life will be destroyed; no tip of the hat to the environmentalists who cited, with remarkable clarity, the inevitable eco-devastation this pipeline would cause.

They even failed to acknowledge the detailed study done at Cornell University that showed that jobs created to build the pipeline would last only two to three years and that the number of people likely to be hired would be roughly one-third the number claimed by Big Oil’s lobbyists.

“Whither thou goest, Mr. Trumka?” I did a little web research to try to learn where the massive and powerful AFL-CIO stands on this critical issue. The official position of the AFL-CIO is that they don’t seem to have a position. Apparently a number of their membership organizations support the pipeline so they’ve opted to more or less steer clear of taking a stand.

That’s just not good enough. To build a powerful revolutionary movement, as OccupyWallSt seeks to do, this knot in the revolution’s lifeline is going to need to be untangled. If we are truly to be “the 99%”, we need to be operating on a principle of doing what’s right for everyone, i.e. for the commons, and not grabbing for whatever benefits us individually. That is the selfish behavior we’ve seen from corporations and their greedy investors. Without question, we must have compassion for those who are out of work. Nevertheless, they, too, must put the greater good above their own genuine but selfish interests. When the revolution becomes “me” instead of “we”, it ceases to have a purpose. Labor keeps asking for solidarity but they need to understand that it must be earned.

On this specific issue, the Keystone pipeline must be stopped. Climate change may already be beyond the tipping point. We can ill afford to start spewing tar sands into our atmosphere. But beyond the specifics of the oil pipeline and the corruption of our democratic processes by corporate cash and lobbyist loot, sits a very, very painful reality. The “99%” is far from a unified front and we are still, tragically, easily divided. While there is always room for both negotiation and nuance, certain principles must be respected. As the movement builds, we must confront our differences head-on to reach an accord. There is, perhaps, no greater task that lies before us.

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