With Your Fierce Tears: Rage, Rage Against The Dying Of The Light

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas

Sounding remarkably like the early Earth First!, 350.org’s Bill McKibben published It’s time to talk and act tough in which he discusses the failure of reform environmentalism to accomplish much of anything on the climate change issue. Actually it long past time to act tough, but let’s not quibble.

If politics as usual in the backrooms has been ineffective, so is grassroots politics as usual. Summit hopping and annual protests are going to make as much difference as they already have, ie pretty much none.

As such McKibben makes a clarion call for global mobilization, the creation of a true movement that takes it to the streets:

And in any event it won’t work overnight.  We’re not going to get the Senate to act next week, or maybe even next year. It took a decade after the Montgomery bus boycott to get the Voting Rights Act. But if there hadn’t been a movement, then the Voting Rights Act would have passed in… never. We may need to get arrested.  We definitely need art, and music, and disciplined, nonviolent, but very real anger. McKibben

Predictably there has been both positive and negative responses. One of the more patronizing ones appearing in the LA Times as Bare-knuckled environmentalism won’t save the planet.

Bad as it is, there is a grain of truth in the article,  that our society suffers from an absurd delusion that we can change everything while changing nothing.

Further, that we in the Industrialized world have an unbelievable sense of entitlement that means we are not going to put aside any frivolous luxury even for our own survival. I live in a culture where we face our own extinction. and yet it is a struggle to get people to consider not using disposable shopping bags, never mind making any real changes in their lives. If this culture is going to be turned around it is going to take much more than what McKibben is calling for.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Clearly grassroots protest as usual is not what McKibben meant, but I will nonetheless underscore that more of the same will achieve more of the same, and nothing more.

We may not need any one to get arrested, but we need hundreds of thousands, possibly millions willing to risk it. Willingness to risk arrest, or worse … experience actual inconvenience by becoming largely vegan, getting rid of our private automobile, and experience the social ostracism reserved for those who actually are threatening the status quo.

McKibben invokes the Montgomery Bus Boycott to make the point that change comes only after a long struggle. I would emphasize that it is a long struggle we are talking about. The activists in Montgomery boycotted the buses and walked, hitch-hiked, took taxis etc for months.  That is what struggle means … and it is the sort of thing it will mean for us.

Of course making a call for mobilizing it and getting it are two different things. That radical action is necessary does not mean it will happen.  Clearly McKibben is hoping that we can move into Stage 4 of movement struggle, but wishing does not make it so.

Are we at the point where the Rebels are ready to come to the fore? We have to be, and we will be if we understand one thing … that “the Rebels” are you and me. We cannot wait for anyone else to fix it anymore than people of colour could wait for the white man to bring justice. It was never going to happen then and it is not going to happen now.

There is no abstract “other: who is going to do it for us. Not Al Gore, nor the scientists, nor other activists.  There is no one but you and me.

McKibben calls for anger. I would say what we need is more outrage than anger. Anger wants to strike back, outrage wants to make things right.

This is not the time for the stupid libertinage of the Black Bloc, but rather for “exemplary crimes, aesthetic crimes, crimes for love.” We need the disciplined fury of the civil rights, Indian Independence, and many other movements.

We need an outrage that burns so hot that people will not only put their bodies on the line, but practice all of the more mundane actions that make real change possible, realistic, inevitable. We need the courage to do the ordinary in order to be able to do the extraordinary. We need the courage to love.

The courage to love our children, to love whales, corals, forests and butterflies. To love them fiercely and to weep fierce tears at their possible loss.

To love and be open to that possible loss so that we may find there the strength we need to endure the struggle that we must begin.

Are we at the point where the Rebels are ready to come to the fore? To do both the day to day necessities of living a low carbon life, and the acts of extraordinary power to turn the world on it’s head? Do we have the courage to do now what must be done?

Only you know the answer to that … it is in your own heart

Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Image Credits:

Sunset balloon flight by Axel-D

sunset by DaDaAce

Bedruthan sunset by law_keven

Just another Tequila Sunset… by law_keven

sunset on goulais bay by spisharam – AWAY

Sunset from my House 2 by krisdecurtis


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