A number of people were rattled by my piece in the American Prospect offering a constructive critique of Occupy Wall Street. Specifically, responding to a piece by Subhash Kateel, an organizer for whom I have immense respect, I wrote this.
Some feathers were ruffled by my constructive criticism of the Occupy Wall Street protests. I respect and value the opinions of those who critiqued my post enough to respond.
“I tend to favor the sort of well-ordered, well-bathed protests of the early 1960s; I want to know what democracy looks like, not what it smells like.” My latest for the American Prospect.
Back in the day, I wrote a piece for the NYU Review of Law and Social Change entitled “Greasing The Wheel: How the Criminal Justice System Hurts Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered People and Why Hate Crime Laws Won’t Save Them” It was provocative then, it’s provocative now. And apparently it’s online. Check it out.
I wanted to like the Clinton Global Initiative. After all, Barbara Streisand was there. And what’s not to like about that?
But apart from the always-unsettling juxtaposition of very wealthy people in a very fancy hotel talking about how to help the people of Sudan, something else bothered me. Among the heads of state, non-profit leaders and philanthropists were representatives of some of the most disastrous corporations in the world. CGI sponsors included Dow Chemical Company, Exxon Mobil and Chevron.
Asked during the opening plenary at CGI what Americans watching the proceedings at home could do to heal the world’s problems, former President Bill Clinton said, “If you’re an American, the best thing you can do is make it unacceptable to be a climate change denier.” That would have been a more convincing line, Mr. President, if your gathering weren’t sponsored by the world’s leading climate change deniers.
Consider the records of Dow, Exxon and Chevron — as well as Coca Cola and Estee Lauder, whose CEOs also attended the meeting:
• An Exxon Mobil pipeline rupture earlier this summer spilled 42,000 gallons of crude oil into Montana’s Yellowstone River.
• Coca-Cola has been sued by international labor organizations for collaborating with paramilitary death squads to assassinate pro-union workers in its Central American factories.
• Dow Chemical produces a number of incredibly toxic, carcinogenic chemicals — such as dioxins, which it dumped into Michigan’s Tittabawassee River over the last half century.
• Estee Lauder, which regularly adds its voice to “pink ribbon” anti-breast cancer campaigns, has refused to remove cancer-causing chemicals from its cosmetics sold in 130 countries around the world.
• In 2010 alone, a Chevron pipeline in Indonesia exploded coating two children with burning crude oil, one Chevron pipeline in Utah ruptured twice in five months spilling over 50,000 gallons of oil, Chevron was fined $64 million by the government of Kazakhstan for reckless release of toxins in the air, and Chevron expanded its exploration of Canada’s tar sands, which will deplete the second largest carbon reserve on Earth and quicken the pace of climate change.
On some level, it’s great that labor abusing, community polluting, nasty multinational corporations helped put their money behind a meeting of the global elite to allocate charity to the global poor. On another level, though, couldn’t companies like these do more to help humanity by first changing their business practices that do so much harm? Does President Clinton deserve kudos for dragging dirty energy corporations like Chevron and Exxon to the sustainable consumption table (one of the CGI themes this year)? Or does Clinton deserve blame for helping dirty energy corporations green-wash their images ensuring the world’s poor, polluted communities are perpetually the net losers?
We all know that Mohandas Gandhi once instructed to “be the change you want to see in the world.” According to his son, Arun, Gandhi said this when speaking at a prayer service during which everyone kept saying “the world has to change for us to change.” “No,” said Mohandas Gandhi, “the world will not change if we don’t change.” If it was inspiring to suggest that millions of Indians suffering under colonial rule were directly responsible for their own liberation, it’s insulting to suggest that a small handful of CEOs can gather in a conference room and pray for global justice without acknowledging their direct responsibility for injustice in the world.
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