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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 3/9/14

Democracy Heads, VOLDEMORT Tails: The High-Stakes Keystone Coin Toss

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In a recent OpEdNews article, I already emphasized that the Keystone XL pipeline is an important civil rights issue. What I stressed there was the strong likelihood of a brutal crackdown on civil disobedience--blacked out or even justified by corporate mainstream media--if Obama okays the pipeline. And of course such a crackdown would deepen fear of expressing dissent, not just through illegal Civil Disobedience(CD,) but through such "whitebread" constitutional staples as public protest. (Which itself has always--in a tragic failure of U.S. civics education--struck "decent" Americans as vaguely disreputable.)

Voldemort--His pipeline's deadlier than his wand.
Voldemort--His pipeline's deadlier than his wand.
(Image by Rev Stan)
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In fact, I strongly suspect our governing thugs will exploit anti-pipeline CD's illegality to deepen existing measures virtually criminalizing any dissent. Not that I find civil disobedience against the pipeline unjustified; in an increasingly lawless land, breaking unjust laws is heroic and necessary. The real criminality, from a moral standpoint, will of course be Obama okaying the pipeline. If I warn of government exploiting a civil disobedience I heartily approve, it's only to hammer the need to prearrange legions (if possible) of lawyers and sympathetic media. Heroes rightly saying, "You'll build this pipeline over my dead body" should realize that ruthless, equally desperate "oiligarchs"--if unconstrained by law, media scrutiny, and public opinion--will be only too glad to oblige.

But on reflection, I find even my rather novel highlighting of the civil rights dimension of the pipeline decision far too weak. What we're really facing in the Keystone XL decision is a crisis of U.S. democracy. And, given our bullying U.S. empire's "800 pound gorilla" stature, possibly of world democracy. Before I further explain, let the unfamiliar, perhaps startling idea of the pipeline decision as a crisis of U.S. democracy seep into your every pore.

If I so heavily stress the crisis nature of the pipeline decision--at the risk of seeming some nutcase given to overblown hyperboles--it's simply because my own experience has taught hard it is to wake up. See, I myself, like my family, relatives, and friends, grew up as one of those "decent" Americans to whom even mere protest seemed vaguely disreputable; I, like them, was a victim of the tragic failure of civics education I mentioned. Though I've since undergone a long political awakening, I was past 50 when fracking's threat to destroy a home my wife and I loved at last converted me to political decency. But my own experience--which I saw deeply reflected in most fellow Americans--taught me an important lesson: as a people, we're far too passive to sustain democracy. And the pipeline, if not ferociously resisted and defeated, has very good prospects of ending it.

Of course, part of my case for the pipeline decision being a crisis of democracy is already made. If you take a citizenry already browbeaten by overwork and economic anxiety, who habitually seek escape in Super Bowls, videogames, and sex scandals (if not stronger drugs), and to whom all this somehow seems a valid life and to whom protest seems indecent and disreputable (a sentiment reinforced by mainstream propaganda, as with Occupy), effective public dissent is already a fragile sprout. So naturally, fear-producing crackdowns on protest--and Occupy, again, is a recent reminder--are the last thing that frail shoot needs. And because far more is at stake with the pipeline than symbolically conveying a message--and because pipeline civil disobedience will actually be illegal-- the pipeline crackdown will be much harder core. The pipeline, if approved, will be a zero-sum game, with mega-billions staked on eradicating dissent like some noxious weed. A view the passive U.S. public, blissfully unaware the very ecosystem of democracy--and not just the fate of some tree-hugging hooligans--is at stake, is likely (at minimum) to condone. With a chilling (and, as with Occupy, a lasting, demoralizing) effect on public protest and dissent.

But even that gloomy picture is inadequate to express the grave crisis of democracy the pipeline poses; and my just realizing this is compelling proof of how hard it is for Americans to wake up. Far more than our discouragement from or fear of engaging in public protest is at stake--though for anyone who "groks" the First Amendment's pivotal role in preserving our freedoms, its accelerating atrophy should seem crisis enough. But the pipeline's approval and construction will represent a much deeper, more demoralizing evil, as if Lord Voldemort himself had actually gained control of our land. If you think I exaggerate, please let me explain.

Everything I write about climate change and democracy is based on a simple fact: that I take climate science seriously. When even climate science's natural ideological enemies--like, say, the Pentagon, major banks, and the oil and gas industry itself--are verifiably basing their strategic calculations (whatever they tell the public) on the overwhelming verdict of climate science, there's simply no more excuse for dodging its real-world consequences. If a world-renowned climatologist like James Hansen tells me that building the Keystone XL pipeline will radically increase greenhouse gases and spell "game over" for the climate, I'm inclined to believe him. What's more, I conclude we must do everything in our power to stop it. Not only because saving human civilization and most animal species seems like, dare I say, a sensible idea--but because a world where those who would consciously, deliberately destroy humanity itself triumph strikes me as an evil, poisoned world, a world scarcely worth living in. And that, to put it mildly, is DEMORALIZING, demoralizing to the point democracy--which demands action rooted in hope--can't possibly survive.

To continue the Harry Potter analogy, the chilling effect on politics--at least for those who understand the pipeline's "humanicidal" implication--will be as if Voldemort had unleashed a legion of dementors on political activists. The evil tormentors, that is, who suck every ounce of life, hope, and happiness out of the air surrounding them.  

So take, for example, the purely admirable, long-overdue campaign to purge money from U.S. politics. An uphill battle, to say the least, one that will demand tremendous moral and physical energy. But what's the point of expending such energy if we know the plutocratic evildoers whose unjust domination of government have already won--won to the extent of handing humanity a death sentence. And it's not merely the unspeakable, unthinkable, almost unimaginable consequences of their victory that demoralize me; it's the thought of the unspeakably foul means by which they achieved it. It's not by accident that I wrote an article demanding the death penalty for the Koch brothers; if anyone deserves it, it's surely arch-criminals who perversely abuse the excessive wealth and privilege society's allowed them to murder humanity itself.

Can one really live with hope and make strenuous moral and political efforts in a world where such arch-fiends have won? That's why the fate of democracy itself is at stake in Obama's decision on the XL pipeline. And members of Obama's Democratic Party must now live up to their name and make him squelch it.

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Patrick Walker is co-founder of Revolt Against Plutocracy (RAP) and the Bernie or Bust movement it spawned. Before that, he cut his activist teeth with the anti-fracking and Occupy Scranton PA movements. No longer with RAP, he wields his pen (more...)

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