Don’t believe comrades who tell you: “it’s now or never”

Part of the movie poster.
Part of the movie poster.
Yesterday Doorbraak activist Jeroen Breekveldt delivered this talk in a cinema in Wageningen after the movie “Night moves”. A nice discussion ensued with about twenty participants. (Warning: this talk may contain spoilers)

First I will introduce Doorbraak and myself.

Doorbraak means “Break through”, and we want to break through barriers, especially those within the world of Left-wing groups.

Doorbraak exists for 8 years now. The organization originated from youngsters with Turkish and Marxist background living in and around Deventer who wanted to fight for justice in the Netherlands. They sought cooperation with the Leiden based group “De Fabel van de illegaal”, “The myth of the illegality”, who were mainly white anarchists. The activist info center in Wageningen had contacts with the Leiden group since the early nineties, and some people, like myself, joined Doorbraak. What we do is protesting injustices, we give information and we try to help build stronger communities who dare to fight back. We have always supported struggles of refugees and immigrants to get permits to stay, because we believe the world is everyone’s.

We’re on the internet and the streets to influence opinions and we try to find ways in which people – including ourselves – can achieve some of their social political goals. And although we are only some 45 active people now, we contributed to some successful struggles, which we joined from early on. Like we organized a march against the racist phenomenon of Black Pete, in August, 2008, which the police then canceled because of all the threats we received. We’re still active in this growing movement.

Four years ago we started an organizing experiment with jobless people against forced unpaid labor. Now we see even the christian trade union worried about this unpaid labor. We want to be honest, so we tell you Doorbraak also developed campaigns which were less successful. What we agreed on is the way we work: discuss our goals, make a plan which includes small steps and evaluate whether the praxis is what we wanted to do.

I must say that I was quite depressed after this “Night moves” movie we saw tonight. The movie is good, exciting, no doubt about it. However, if this shows an accurate picture of the eco-activists in the US, I feel depressed.

So, first I feel compelled to make some obvious remarks on this, and second I want to give some statements on activism in general and on eco-activism in particular.

To start positive, I think this movie shows hope. Because there are people who try to make the world a better place. An infrastructure for or from that movement exists. And although I see some macho wanne-be-a-hero kind of behavior, it is also brave of the three that they risk their freedom with their actions. In the US one can easily be jailed for many years.

The special FBI programs against activists called COINTELPRO are legendary. And especially after 9/11 also eco-activism is faced with what is called Green Scare, after McCarthy’s Red Scare of the 50s. One example: caught eco-activist Christopher McIntosh showed no remorse and was sentenced to eight years in prison for setting fire to a Seattle McDonald’s restaurant in January, 2003, and causing damage of 5,000 dollar.

So I think “Night moves” touches on a real fear we see in Josh’s behavior towards Dena. However, killing Dena is far beyond the activist way as far as I know.

So the obvious “To do” things for activism are: work with people you know well, discuss limits, accept the fears of your comrades, don’t push them to take risks they don’t feel like taking or taking yet.

The first thing of course is: make sure you don’t hurt people with your actions. This action, blowing up a functioning dam, is quite likely to hurt people. I don’t think a real eco-activist group would do this. I was asked to say something on the “moral dilemmas” in taking action. Although I don’t feel comfortable with this word, I think I just did say something that can be called moral.

One specific important experience I want to share is: don’t believe people or comrades who tell you: “it’s now or never”. A “now or never” situation is only when somebody’s life is in danger. Otherwise it’s usually not “now or never”: the struggle isn’t that easy. It takes a long walk to freedom. Yes, sometimes it’s “now or never”: in 1936 the Spanish revolution to stop the Franco fascists, that I would call a “now or never” situation. When you find yourself within this kind of a situation, you will probably recognize “now or never”.

Environmental problems are real.

Eco-activists don’t turn away for the environmental problems. They want to do something about it. I think that is positive. But it’s very important to know what eco-activists see as the root of these problems. The economic system – that favors the one percent – causes environmental problems. That’s why many eco-activists join labor, feminist and anti-racist struggles.

However, some-eco activists seem to blame “the humans” as the root cause of the environmental problems and destruction of nature. Yes, humans do these things, but not all are equally responsible. In order to survive, or to have a bit of a decent life, many people have little option than to work in jobs that are not very environmental-friendly. These one percent: they are especially to blame. However, some eco-activists become misanthropic and blame “the human race” and say there are “too many” people on this earth. This analysis can easily lead to accepting or even promoting for instance migration controls or forced sterilizations in order “to save the planet”. I’ve heard quotes like “huh, it’s not too bad this aids epidemic”. I find it stunning that it’s always the others – especially in the South – who are labeled “too many”.

Now I want to give some statements for the discussion.

1. As an activist one has to have an idea of what world you’re fighting for. Technically a pretty good life for all is possible; detrimental to the capitalist notion of war of all against all and “survival of the fittest”.

2. One has to make an analysis of the current situation, in which you want to act. So you have to realize we live in a society divided by class, gender, and “race” or culture.

3. Take into account which social struggles are already happening and which the positive aspects and trends are in other movements. So I mean, your action might influence other struggles. For good or for worse.

And 4. It’s my severe advise: try to learn from the others and from others in the past, also known as history.

Jeroen Breekveldt