What the climate justice movement can learn from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr

Martin Luther King JrBy José-Antonio Orosco and originally published in the Times of Trenton guest opinion column on January 20, 2014.

Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. won the Nobel Peace Prize. One of the most striking aspects of his acceptance speech is the hope he expressed in humanity’s ability to overcome war. This was no mere idealism on his part. Less than five years earlier, the world had come to the brink of thermonuclear destruction because of Cuba. The United States and the Soviet Union eventually diminished their threats and, in 1963, signed and ratified an agreement to end the open-air nuclear testing that was blanketing the planet with radioactive fallout. These were small steps, but to King they indicated that human beings were capable of cooperation, even in the face of something as horrendous as the suicide of the human race.

Today, the possibility of the annihilation of humanity looms again because of climate change. In 1964, King could not have imagined the particular features of global environmental destruction that we now face. Yet, he had reflected carefully on the kinds of action needed to avert mass extinction before, so his work can still be useful today in thinking about directions for the climate justice movement.

First, King reminds us to think in terms of the “beloved community” in which we are all interconnected. That means that the injustices that we experience are also intertwined. For many climate activists, thinking about racism, sexism or poverty are side issues; after all, if there is no habitable Earth, then those problems won’t really matter. King cautioned against the view that injustices could be divided into neat, isolated silos. The world, he said, faces the danger of the “evil triplets”: racism, militarism and materialism. These are interrelated features, he thought, that are at the root of wars of aggression against distant peoples for control of natural resources needed to maintain the luxuries of a few.

Climate change activists today need to acknowledge the overlapping systems of injustice that make some people vulnerable to climate damage much more immediately. It will be poor countries, largely in the global south, that will suffer the most from environmental degradation of air, water and soil. In the U.S., extreme weather — as we have already seen with Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy — will disproportionately affect economically fragile areas, usually made up of historically marginalized communities: indigenous people, people of color, immigrants, the elderly and LGBTQ people. Climate justice activists will need to build alliances around these diverse issues and develop the capabilities to listen to, and lift up, the voices of disenfranchised people.

In his last years, King wrote about the forms of activism that were needed to confront the evil triplets. He warned activists not to get trapped by the usual mix of demonstrations and protests that were hallmarks of the early civil rights movement. With these forms of direct action, King believed the movement had fallen into “crisis thinking,” that is, reacting to injustice after it had already appeared. Complex justice would require mass protests, but it also meant getting out in front of social problems and building alternative civic and economic structures so that people would not have to rely on problematic state or corporate institutions. He called for organizing neighborhoods and creating diverse networks of allies that could support one another.

A glimpse of this kind of activism came about when Occupy organizers provided assistance in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Achieving climate justice, then, will mean not only protesting against this pipeline or that shipping port, but also working to connect local community gardens, alternative currencies, free libraries and medical clinics into thick webs reaching across urban and rural areas. This kind of organizing will enable widespread skill sharing and mutual aid, but also deliver a message that was dawning at the height of the Occupy movement: Another world is possible, and there are many across the world who desire to work together to build it.

King believed we had it within us to avoid mutually assured destruction. He also thought we were developing the insights and activist resources to radically align our world to the moral arc of the universe. The climate justice movement might become the place where we prove him right.


Corvallis Martin Luthur King Essay Contest Award Presentation

In January 2014, the City of Corvallis sponsored an essay contest for students at the high school level and received many amazing entries. In an event, co-sponsored by the School of History, Philosophy, and Religion, OSU Peace Studies, and the Anarres Project for Alternative Futures, hosted at the historic Majestic Theater on January 22, excerpts from each winners essay were read by Mayor Julie Manning who subsequently presented each student with their awards.

Transformation without Apocalypse: How to Live Well on an Altered Planet

Transformation Without Apocalypse
Humans will be living differently in the very near future, perhaps occasioned by catastrophes brought on by forces of greed and climatic disintegration. But it’s also conceivable that we will choose, by acts of imagination and collective will, to create new narratives of how to inhabit the planet.  This will require a radical re-imagining of who we are in relation to the world and how we ought to live. We have to do everything possible to end dependence on fossil fuels, stop the privatization of water, seeds, and the atmosphere, and arrest climate chaos. But that work will fare better if we have tangible visions of new/old ways to live that promise thriving without exhausting the Earth. So this symposium will engage the essential experiment, testing a different sets of ideas about how to live on Earth.

The symposium will include an environmental and social activists’ fair so people can immediately begin channeling the inspiration of the event into new alliances.

All events will be free and open to the public.

World Peace and Other Fourth Grade Achievements

World Peace and Other Fourth Grade AchievementsJoin us for a screening of World Peace and other 4th-Grade Achievements including a Q&A with author John Hunter at the Majestic Theater in Downtown Corvallis on 01/22 @ 7pm as part of the City of Corvallis Martin Luther King Celebration.

What can 4th graders do? John Hunter, an elementary school teacher in Virginia, believes they can solve world peace. He believes they are capable of much more than we usually ask of them. As we prepare children for their futures, teacher John Hunter describes his type of teaching as particularly relevant for students today because “The World Peace Game is about learning to live and work comfortably in the unknown.” For over thirty years, Hunter has been teaching students the world of peace through a remarkable exercise that he created called The World Peace Game.

The World Peace Game is a multi-dimensional strategic board game that requires participants to solve global economic, geo-political, environmental, and other challenging world issues. The participants must decide for themselves how to approach, and respond to each situation, whether through negotiation, the threat or use of force, or acquiescence. Hunter uses his large-scale game grounded in real-world problems to teach his students critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, coordination, communication, research, negotiation skills, and the skill of synthesis, to name a few. Because the ever changing, interconnected world in which we live demands it, Hunter intentionally presents his students with complexity and ambiguity in order to challenge them to think their way through unclear, layered issues and dilemmas.

Filmmaker Chris Farina documented one class’s participation in The World Peace Game in his film, World Peace and Other 4th Grade Achievements. This exceptional and moving look into Mr. Hunter’s classroom is an engaging and exciting example of what project-based, problem-based, highly energized and relevant teaching and learning looks like. It shows a very structured and engaging classroom created by relinquishing the traditional notion of teacher always in control, at the front of the room, dispensing well-proportioned information. The film shows what is possible to create when we adopt a new vision of the learner and his or her needs and what is possible when educators continue to grow, learn, and challenge themselves.