Introduction: The PPC and Climate Justice
For U.S. climate justice activists like me, the Poor People’s Campaign (PPC) is really the only game in town. That is to say, it’s the only U.S. political movement that, by effective coalition building and massive direct action, has the remotest hope of radically overhauling our obscenely corrupt U.S. political system—the one now obstructing virtually all effective climate action.
And, by adding “ecological devastation” to Martin Luther King’s original triple evils of poverty, racism, and militarism, the PPC has—though not yet explicitly enough—made itself a de facto climate justice movement. One strongly in sync with the climate justice vision compellingly sketched in books like Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything and David W. Orr’s Dangerous Years.
In a clumsy, indirect way, I began making this point in an article about Russiagate and climate justice published, appropriately enough, by Black Agenda Report (BAR). If that article now strikes me as clumsy, it was because I hadn’t then concluded that the PPC was, for U.S. activists, the only climate justice game in town. Held back by my own reservations about today’s PPC, I sketched a desirable movement like the PPC, without mentioning the actual PPC until the very end. If I call Black Agenda Report (BAR) an appropriate venue for my piece, it’s because BAR writers share several of my reservations about the PPC; Bruce Dixon in particular has published an articulate constructive critique of the movement.
At the same time, the PPC incorporates important radical elements. Of course, there’s its dedication to practicing peaceful civil disobedience—an essential tactic in today’s unresponsive, anti-democratic U.S. political system. Just as importantly radical are the movement’s black origins and leadership, assuring blacks and other people of color that their particular concerns will be represented. This corrects a major failing of climate and other justice movements overly associated with middle-class whites: how can such movements succeed when white skin is perceived (too often correctly) as the only “skin” in the game? By guaranteeing a real voice to poor people of color (rather than identity Democrats’ purely symbolic representation in their leadership elite), the PPC renders itself bulletproof to identity Democrats’ sleazy playing of the “race card” to cover their own social justice sins. As Hillary Clinton, for example, hypocritically played it against Bernie Sanders.
So, climate justice activists must recognize the PPC as our only viable organizing prospect in today’s U.S. But does that mean we should simply jump board the PPC bandwagon, trust PPC strategizing, and shut our mouths about our own climate justice vision and aims? Absolutely not!
As I’ll argue in the rest of this piece, climate justice activists can provide the PPC with a more compelling framing narrative than it’s now offering. After all, what cause better exemplifies Dr. King’s famous words “the fierce urgency of now” than saving human civilization itself? And—if that framing narrative isn’t gift enough—we can offer a more astute political analysis, one that dictates a much sounder political strategy. An analysis and strategy demanding the impeachment—for planned climate genocide—of President Donald Trump.
Trump’s Planned Climate Genocide of the Dark-Skinned Poor
To avoid frustrating readers intrigued by my purposely inflammatory title, I’ll pass rapidly over what climate justice’s “fierce urgency of now” adds to the PPC’s narrative. Beyond the urgency of “saving human civilization itself” illustrated in the link above, volumes of evidence can now be mustered that humanity faces a climate emergency—one guaranteed, like most lesser human catastrophes, to take its first and worst toll on the dark-skinned and poor. Obviously, the longer effective climate action is delayed, the more devastating the death and suffering toll on the dark-skinned poor will be—well beyond the minimal level to justify the term planned genocide. In adding “ecological degradation” to the original PPC’s “triple evils,” I’m sure the new PPC’s leaders realized the urgency of humanity’s climate emergency. Especially as people committed to abolishing racism and poverty.
So I think it’s safe, without further stressing climate action’s “fierce urgency of now,” to pass on to the strategic merits of impeaching Trump for planned climate genocide—above all, of the dark-skinned poor.
If I boldly embrace the purposely inflammatory—but quite realistic—term climate genocide for Trump’s climate policy, I must admit I owe a considerable debt of gratitude (as leftists often do) to Noam Chomsky. With eminently rational calm, Chomsky has repeatedly—and quite logically, for anyone who grasps climate science—dubbed today’s Republican Party “the most dangerous organization in human history.” Now, as one of the authors who literally wrote the book on U.S. mainstream media as a propaganda organ, Chomsky knows just how outrageous his assertion about Republicans sounds to minds conditioned precisely by the nonstop propaganda of such media. In fact, he says (in the course of the BBC interview I linked to), “Look, this is a very outrageous statement.” To which he immediately adds, “But is it true?”
“But is it true?”—a question that should speak volumes to movement activists in these days of incessant, dangerous propaganda. Above all, it should speak volumes to activists in movements claiming a stance of moral witness—precisely the stance today’s PPC, wrapping itself in Dr. King’s mantle, has openly adopted. So when a climate justice activist like me (emboldened by Chomsky’s lifelong courage) “outrageously” asserts that Trump’s climate policy is “planned climate genocide of the dark-skinned poor,” PPC supporters should first and foremost ask themselves, “But is it true?” Not “How will it play with the media, prominent politicians, and the general public?” but “Is it true?”
For undeniably, if any planned genocide—climate or otherwise—is afoot, the very first thing aspiring “moral witnesses” need to know is that they have a planned genocide to prevent; questions of rhetoric and strategy are obviously secondary. Though, if past human history is any model, not blurting out the plain truth about planned genocide seems, on the face of things, a pretty piss-poor strategy for preventing it.
So, ask yourself whether my assertion that Trump’s climate policy is a planned genocide—above all, of the dark-skinned poor—is true. I feel fully as confident in claiming that as Chomsky does in repeatedly, provocatively asserting that today’s Republican Party is the most dangerous organization in human history. Following logically (just as Chomsky’s assertion does) from the facts of climate science and the proper definitions of words, my assertion of “planned climate genocide” is equally outrageous—and equally true. But I’ll now go far beyond merely claiming that blurting out the truth about planned genocide is the best strategy for preventing such genocide. Instead, I’ll now argue that openly calling for Trump’s impeachment on grounds of his planned climate genocide is the PPC’s best—and perhaps only—hope for advancing its whole justice agenda.
The Newsworthiness of Collective Truth-Telling
As I mentioned earlier, the Poor People’s Campaign has a huge fund of automatic credibility and respectability that renders it bulletproof to the smear campaigns used against Occupy. With black and female leaders in William Barber and Liz Theoharis, it’s likewise bulletproof to the “racist” and “sexist” smears Clinton’s identity Democrats used against the Sanders campaign.
But respectability poses its own dangers for a political movement, a gargantuan one being that it won’t do anything newsworthy. Perhaps in its defense, the PPC can claim that it’s just getting organized—and is organizing for the long haul. But as far as creating actions disruptive enough to get news coverage is concerned, the PPC is light-years behind where Occupy was at a similar stage in its existence. The crucial question for the PPC at this point is how to spend some of its respectability capital and make itself so breathtakingly disruptive as to force universal media coverage.
My suggestion is that it collectively tell an outrageous “inconvenient truth”: that Donald Trump must be impeached for conspiracy to commit climate genocide. And racist, classist climate genocide to boot. Neither Republicans nor Democrats will be pleased in the least—the smart money says they’ll be horrified—and by collectively hammering that outrageous demand, the PPC will make itself an overnight, unavoidable news sensation.
A sensation, moreover, that could gain billionaire support. That any billionaire would think of backing the Poor People’s Campaign—except to coopt it—is perhaps the ultimate case of strange bedfellows. But there’s clearly one case where the PPC’s new, “outrageous” demand could enlist fervent billionaire passion. Democrat billionaire Tom Steyer, founder of NextGen Climate, has long been “hot” on the subject of a dangerously warming climate. Lately, he’s become equally fevered on the subject of impeaching Donald Trump.
So fevered, in fact, that he’s willing to make himself profoundly inconvenient to Democratic Party bigwigs, who not only show no special passion for impeaching Trump, but would be horrified that he be impeached on climate-related grounds. That might, for example, compel Democrats to end their own climate foot-dragging. It might even force them to give up their widespread, silent support for fracked natural gas—a dirty energy Secretary of State Hillary Clinton worked tirelessly to make global.
Tom Steyer is already making mainstream news by his relentless calls for Trump’s impeachment—and he obviously plans to invest his vast resources in making more. Steyer is of course motivated by climate in his demand to impeach Trump, but I don’t think he’s dared make it the grounds for his impeachment call. And he’s certainly not talking about “planned climate genocide against the dark-skinned poor.” By collectively proclaiming that outrageous truth, and making it the grounds for impeaching Trump, the PPC could stake out its independence from Steyer in a newsworthy way while supporting a cause extremely dear to his heart. Steyer might find himself forced to support the PPC (which could keep him from taking over by constantly “guilting” him about his hoarded billions). Testing the moral mettle of a self-styled billionaire philanthropist while proclaiming an “outrageous” moral truth Americans desperately need to hear seems a splendid way for the PPC to grab major headlines.
Deep Climate versus Shallow “Russiagate” Grounds for Impeachment
I’d like to conclude with an argument for climate-based impeachment extremely dear to my own heart. Readers will recall (from this article’s first section) how my own hesitations about accepting the PPC as the needed climate justice movement created clumsiness in an article I published. Specifically, an article denouncing Democrats’ Russiagate narrative as a giant middle finger to climate justice. I hesitated to embrace the PPC as a climate justice movement for its failure to denounce that narrative.
With Noam Chomsky, I feel that whatever comparatively insignificant interference Russia may or may not have plotted against our election, it pales in comparison with the nuclear war risk and wasteful spending of a New Cold War. Especially when unprecedented government and private spending—and equally unprecedented international good will—are essential to addressing humanity’s climate emergency. Not only should PPC supporters resent Russiagate for those reasons, but we should also consider how the military spending of a new Cold War robs the domestic anti-poverty and racial justice programs the PPC cherishes. Additionally, we should be furious at how Russiagate has totally crowded the PPC’s key issues—and the PPC itself—out of mainstream news coverage and public policy discussions. Assuming Mueller has any evidence of Trump campaign collusion (a big assumption), the last thing PPC supporters need is such a shallow, war-promoting narrative serving as the chief ground for impeaching Trump. Especially when vastly better grounds are available—like conspiracy to commit (climate) genocide. But in one respect, impeaching Trump for climate genocide is infinitely superior to Russiagate as basis for impeachment: it will deter Pence—or any future president—from the same genocidal policy.
In a future piece, I’ll try to discuss the legal aspects of impeachment, such as whether the best motivation for impeaching Trump—planned climate genocide—should also serve as the legal basis. Since the law isn’t always about what’s morally right (it often isn’t), other legal grounds (readily available, even aside from Russiagate) may need to be chosen. But as a movement of moral witness, the PPC shouldn’t be concerned with legal niceties, but only with the best moral ground for impeaching Trump: his commitment to climate genocide. If there isn’t yet a law against that, there damn well ought to be.
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