by Wade Rathke
December 20, 2021
Little Rock Sometimes you stumble over something so obvious, you shake your head wondering why your thinking was so patterned that it was in danger of becoming more habitual than flexible in facing organizing problems. An organizer always has to challenge herself not to simply fall back on a practiced repertoire of tactics and strategies in facing an organizing problem or situation but to carefully evaluate and analyze what might work in the context and wrong-foot the opposition, forcing progress and change. Recently, I was lured into such an exercise by an old and trusted comrade to think about how to organize politically conservative constituencies in rural areas of the United States in a way that would integrate political change with climate change. It was a fascinating process, and I hope one that bears fruit, because now I want to implement the program, not just outline the plan. All of this made me more attuned to observing the strategy and tactics of environmental activists trying to confront policymakers and corporations around their environmental practices.
Reading not one, but two, essays in the London Review of Books that critiqued the advocacy writing of the Swedish environmental activists and writer, Andreas Malm, I found myself shaking my head at how superficial my review of such organizing and argument has been. I had never heard of Malm or his work, and suddenly I was reading exhaustive arguments about whether he was right or wrong in advocating violent disruption by climate organizations and activists. I read his new book, How to Blow Up a Pipeline while flying back from Montreal recently. His choice of that title alone gives you a sense of what is to come, although, despite the advertisement, this is not really a how-to book, although it does offer some reports on how easy activists have found it to disrupt pipelines around the world, but a philosophical, historical, and contemporary argument about tactics. Perhaps his clearest how-to is a description of his own personal work as part of a gang of self-described climate cowboys deflating the tires of SUVs in rich neighborhoods in Sweden. Not what you were thinking perhaps? Not really Georg Sorel’s syndicalists or Mikhail Bakunin’s anarchists, with bombs bursting, but from his reporting, achieved almost the same point with no blood shed or lives lost.
Wade Rathke is founder and chief organizer of ACORN and ACORN International. You can find Wade’s recent past posts here Chief Organizer Reports. And you can link to his website here Chief Organizer ACORN/ACORN International.