Charlottesville, Oppression, and the Imperative of System Change
We are living in deeply troubling times. Our democracy is eroding, wealth and income inequality has skyrocketed, and tragedy and violence seemingly erupt daily around the world. The recent events in Charlottesville, VA are just the latest reminder of the disturbing place we find ourselves in. Yes that incident was about race and hate, but it also connects to something much deeper. Anyone who pays attention to current events should be starting to connect the dots between the myriad problems plaguing our society.
While we categorize and silo these problems as distinct and separate issues, they are actually interconnected as they arise out of a single dominant worldview that values profit and power over people and planet.
This extractive, neoliberal, patriarchal, and supremacist world order is literally killing us and killing the biosphere that sustains us. That is the inconvenient truth we must face. It is not enough to make incremental reforms and to push for changes that are politically expedient. We must come to realize the imperative of transforming our system of political economy and our cultural values.
That begins with coming to terms with our long and ugly history of imperialism and colonialism. It is a history of brutality and genocide, and the forebear of modern terrorism and ecocide. What transpired in Charlottesville was nothing short of domestic terrorism, resulting from one group of people determined to exert dominance, power and force over another group. Similarly, the unraveling of ecosystem and climate stability is the result of one species exerting an ethos of supreme dominion over, disrespect for, and right to destroy other species and the environment.
Racial and religious persecution is inextricably linked to environmental abuse. From the early extermination of nature-based indigenous societies by “civilized” white colonials to the rise of the Middle East petro-state that is now the center of Islamic extremism, connections can be drawn between how we treat other humans and how we treat Earth and its natural resources.
James Gustave Speth and J. Phillip Thompson III put it beautifully in a piece published in April 2016 in The Nation: “The subjugation of nature and its life creates the pretext for the subjugation of human beings…This attitude of control and dominion over “soulless” matter and animals, including “inferior” nonwhites, is an evil embedded deeply in the culture of modern society. It also haunts and weakens our democracy. Absent genuine solidarity across racial groups, democracy can easily degenerate into a tyranny of the majority, as it has for much of American history. Unless we counter the white-supremacist attitude of control and domination over both nature and nonwhite others, the cross-racial solidarity we need in order to deepen democracy, change the economy, and save the environment will continue to elude us.”
We are beginning to see seeds of resistance, particularly in this embarrassing era of the Trump presidency. Thousands of Americans responded to the attack in Charlottesville by joining solidarity rallies and vigils, demonstrating a counter to the white supremacists and hate groups. The Women’s March in January saw millions participate around the world. Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets in a series of People’s Climate Marches. Large crowds gathered at U.S. airports protesting the president’s Muslim-targeting travel ban. The list goes on.
These are not isolated protests, but rather an indication that the ground is beginning to shake beneath those who benefit from upholding the status quo. The dominant worldview is very much intact but is slowly starting to crumble. As progressives and people of conscience it is up to us to break through our “issue silos” and realize we are all part of the same struggle. Overcoming oppression and injustice in all forms requires an unprecedented social movement on a massive, global scale. Once we build this movement, we can finally realize the systemic transformation necessary to heal our deeply rooted, systemic crises.