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The news these past weeks has been that oil prices are negative as demand worldwide plummets from humans everywhere staying at home and closing up industries that usually consume fuel. Transfer stations, usually able to ship out deliveries of oil to refineries and end users, instead are stuck with full tanks of once-valuable and now useless goo that needs to be stored. So tankers float and stand idly by, backing up outside major ports of call. And still the pumps flow at the source, because turning off oil pumping, apparently, diminishes the future capacity to draw oil out. Oil companies will pay people to take their oil away for now, to guarantee their ability to get every last drop out of the earth in the long run. And so crude oil will be stored not only in approved tanks, but also tankers, barges, and pipelines.

A shot of ETP's Line 3 on Anishenaabeg land

It is important to see the pipelines that will be storing oil as demand dries up. How long will the oil stay in such containers never intended for long-term, static storage?


The photo above shows Line 3, operating at half capacity in the best of times because it is known to be obsolete, running through Fond du Lac territory northwest of Duluth, Minnesota. The "replacement" project, which creates an entirely new route and additional oil capacity, has been at the center of significant controversy as the project was approved despite overwhelming public opposition. This image calls to mind the analogy given to us by Anishinaabeg guides: that, like a splinter, the earth is rejecting this damaging piece of infrastructure and forcing it up out of the ground.


Carly Ann, a member of the Four Necessity Support team, organizes with Extinction Rebellion Chicago, 2019

Once again, the coronavirus is reinforcing the climate movement, pointing out our total ignorance of our relationship to the earth prior to this shutdown. But now, Wall Street investors align with climate activists they long ignored or opposed as naive. Diversified energy, rather than an oil psuedo-monopoly, makes good financial sense. Investing in energy diversity, through The Green New Deal, could put people back to work, and even create a small burst of demand for this oil in manufacturing, shipping, and installing the infrastructure we will need to make a just transition to clean energy. Solar and wind energy assets do not poison anything when power isn't needed - the sun still shines, the wind still blows, and the world goes on. And then, we could leave the oil in the soil for the unseen emergency scenarios, like the coronavirus, that may yet require a boost of fossil-fueled power to accomplish.

Maria and leaders of an anti-DAPL protest in Iowa, 2016

We believe that this is a moment where we can build a new world in the shell of the old, to paraphrase Peter Maurin, one of the co-founders of the Catholic Worker Movement. We believe that this is what our protesting was preparing us for - to reimagine and advocate for a world that is more just, that is sustainable. Will you join us? Ask your elected officials, your bosses, your neighbors, to prioritize walking lightly on this earth in their plans to re-open. The oil companies are betting that we won't, that life will go back to normal, ignoring the signals from the environment and the investors. They have always relied on federal subsidies, and they have always planned on increasing profits as oil runs out. If we want another reality, we need to work for it.


Wildfire smoke from Canada and California obscures the view from Grinnell Glacier in Glacier National Park during August 2018. The parks project that global warming will melt all the glaciers in the park in the next 5 years.

While we are at home, things are happening out in the world. Some of the most hopeful are the reduction of pollution and return of wildlife to places once dominated by human use. It is humbling that a tiny being, a virus, can overcome all the barriers to reducing our consumption and rebalancing our relationship with the natural environment that seemed insurmountable only a month ago. It recalls to mind the spirit of the Valve Turner's action, that we can accomplish nothing alone, but only through cooperation with the mystery of the spiritual world that surrounds us.


And so we are not despairing, but waiting watchfully at the other, more destructive developments that are proceeding while we are staying home. In Chicago, over and against years of community organizing, a developer demolished a coal power plant stack in the midst of a latinx neighborhood on Saturday, April 11th, during both Holy Week and Passover. For the safety of their community, many organizers in this neighborhood chose to cancel meetings and close offices in advance of the official stay at home order while concurrently acknowledging their expectation that the developer would take advantage of the shut down in some way. They were right. Without any of the common-sense and promised safety measures, the smokestack fell, and a huge cloud of toxic dust washed over the community.


On a federal level, much the same is happening. We have seen clean the EPA stop enforcing environmental laws due to Covid-19, remove recently-won rules to lower vehicle emissions, as well as restrictions on mercury and coal power emissions.


Have a little more time on your hands these days? At the bottom of this Frontline segment is a link to the movie, The War on the EPA, following the story of how Andrew Wheeler, a lawyer and energy industry lobbyist who opposed EPA regulations, who is now the director of the EPA.


We are feeling, as a group, a mix of motives towards continued organizing and activism and working to create new communal systems that will support the people most harmed by this shut down of our economy, creating alternative economies that can extend this reduction in consumption and environmental impact. We hope you, wherever you are, will join us in imagining a new world, a more beautiful and sustainable world, and taking the small actions available to you to make it more real.

No DAPL - protest graffiti at the 47th Street Redline station on the south side of Chicago, a place not usually associated with environmental organizing

It occurs to me that many of you who read this blog have taken part in protests. Perhaps that's why the story and updates of the Four Necessity Valve Turners appeal to you. But some of you may consider yourselves new to this space, or outsiders altogether. The coronavirus quarantine may be the first "nonviolent direct action" you have ever taken.


"But the government told me to stay home," you may say, "I am following the law, not breaking it!" That is true. Ordinarily, activists target the government because elected officials have power to control outcomes. In this moment, the government's inability to control outcomes is painfully obvious. Scientists modeled the probabilities associated with the levers the government has to pull (laws, our tax money, the medical and insurance system we have agreed to, "the free market," the medical resources of the army and the navy) and said our most powerful and promising course of action is the power of everyone acting together.


So the government is not the target of our action. The coronavirus is the target. As if they were leaders in a coalition of activist organizers, the governments of the world have asked us all to join them in supporting this non-violent civil disobedience because there is no other recourse, and because, like most protest, it won't work unless we all participate. We are cooperating because we all agree the alternative is too terrible to contemplate. Perhaps because the government is so unused to working this way, a lot of the details of how to get supplies and support where they need to go, and how to govern in the meantime, is falling back on organizers and the police, as if this really were a big messy street demonstration.


The organizers in your local communities desperately need your support right now, because of the intense side effects of corona. They are the same side effects (or externalities, or environmental injustice, or systemic violence, take your pick of terminology) as before: the segregation, poverty, racism, agism, sexism, xenophobia, homelessness, and classism that have always spelled untimely death, poverty, and criminalization, but here that impact is magnified a hundred-fold and compressed into days, not decades. These injustices, also, are too terrible to contemplate, and now we have no distractions from them, no illusions about them.


Perhaps you are new to this space of organizing. You'll have started to feel the side effects of the uncertainty of movement work. Some days you'll be able to enjoy your family, the next day you're scrolling for answers, unable to pull your eyes away from the news and social media responses. You're overly invested in the details of implementation - can we wear masks? should we? how do you properly wear a mask? what is the current number of days to double cases in my city, in my parent's city? how many people have died? - Maybe you get a productive day or two in the week, whatever that means for you at this time, but you find yourself indulging in adolescent-guilty pleasures, or just staring at the ceiling more often than you ever remember. Small wins become invested with outsized meaning and importance. Welcome to the fairly normal day-to-day experience of an activist.


There is a shortage of seeds right now, because one of the best antidotes to this uncertainty is the very certain, concrete, consuming work of gardening. As farmers and urban gardeners, our team is particularly well-placed to attest to the virtues of gardening as part of movement work. Conveniently, growing is also done at home, and combats any uncertainty we might have in the security of the food supply chain.


These are our ways of coping because we have no control over the outcomes of our actions, in this coronavirus time, yes, but also in all movement work. We do this work, now and always, not because we can say for sure it will work, but because we have no other option. Because there is no greater power than everyone working together for what we believe in. Because the alternative is too terrible to contemplate.


Now that we're all going through this demonstration together, as we flesh out an almost anti-capitalist anti-coronavirus experiment, I wonder what will come next. The most powerful governments in the world are reminded that we the people are the greatest power, and the greatest asset, that they have, not their armies or the stock market. And we the people are reminded of how valuable, vulnerable, connected and united our world really is. But we've replaced the government (or the market), as the power structure we are seeking to influence.


Will the federal government's odd tangential role in this moment allow it to sidestep accountability for the failing systems creating this crisis? Will we ride an already rising wave of fear-driven populist nationalism (and locally racism and classism), reinvesting our trust in the the state and the markets despite their obvious impotence? Or will we take this time of waiting to re-imagine how the greatest power in the world, the power of everyone acting together, can address the other systems that cause untimely and unjust death? The alternative is too terrible to contemplate.


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