The perspective from which you look impacts what you see.
Bill Connolly looks from the dinner table and sees zombies oppressed by a future they are constrained to build.
These days, I look from the blockade line at the gates of Crestwood Midstream on the south of Seneca Lake outside Watkins Glen, New York. Next to me, I see organized activists and committed people from all over the Finger Lakes. They are teaching me a lot about what matters in the current political struggles at the intersection of climate and capitalism and about what doesn't.
Since We Are Seneca Lake began blockading the gates of Crestwood in October, there have been nearly 200 arrests. At least half a dozen people have gone to jail. The arrested range in age from 19 to 90. They include students, retirees, former military, farmers, vintners, health care workers, scientists, musicians, teachers, moms, college professors and others. On the morning of my first arrest, right after we were processed at the local sheriff's office, a former elected county official (in her late seventies), said "okay, now let's get back on the line!" These people are dedicated, steadfast. Each time I hear the organizers describe the blockade in trainings for new recruits I am moved: "and then a large truck tries to pull into the gate and not a muscle twitches, not an eye blinks; nobody moves."
The Defenders of Seneca Lake didn't emerge out of nowhere. I don't think any of them got their start in a dinner table conversation about the term "anthropocene" (although the ideas associated with the concept--as well as the debates over it, which morph into the "capitalocene" and the manthropocene--are interesting). Because their concern is focused on political organizing and not deflected into debates over gatekeeper terms like the "anthropocene," when these activists are around the dinner table, they try to figure out how many signatures they need to get in order to pressure their local townships to ban fracking and how long they should take to get them. For them, people's active impact on the climate includes their capacity to change the political climate as well as the geologic one (which they discuss actively -- explaining the fragility of shale formations, the likelihood of salt caverns to collapse, the relation between the different lakes in the region as they formed during the ice age, etc). The We Are Seneca Lake activists (and other fractivists in New York) don't see the people around them as zombies. Instead, they see them as people willing and able to struggle against a corporation and a system that, in pursuit of profit and shareholder value, creates sacrifice zones and assigns some of us to them.
The Seneca Lake Defenders came out of the convergence of different groups and efforts in the battle against the gas and oil industry. In New York state, this convergence ultimately resulted in a state-wide ban on fracking. The struggle is ongoing, now targetting the infrastructure of storage and pipelines that supports fracking elsewhere (like in Pennsylvania) and thereby enables the oil and gas industry to continue pouring greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
The story of the victory over fracking in New York state is an exciting one. Some of the parts of it that I've learned as I've been looking from the blockade line include remarkable convergences: of long-term local activists who had set up a film and lecture series that, over the course of a few years, built up a list of concerned and engaged people; a couple of lawyers working pro-bono to scour state law to come up with the municipal banning strategy; a few people going door-to-door for several months to get signatures on petitions that would pressure local officials to ban fracking within their townships; these same activists doing presentations in town after town to folks who wanted to get their communities to pass similar bans; scientists doing research on the effects of fracking; other activists working within the system to compile reports on liquid petroleum gas storage; and, journalists keeping the issue in the local papers.
The struggle against fracking in New York state has been going on for about six years. It's duration has been vital, enlivening, letting it grow and spread, not like a swarm but as an organized collectivity. The length of time has brought more people into the movement, often in unexpected ways. From marches, to meetings, to rallies, to support for civil disobedients, to arrests, to jail, to more organizing -- people come into the struggle and find themselves ever more engaged. The work, the struggle, feels more real than anything else.
In the battle for Seneca Lake, one begins to see the different fronts of the struggle--policy, media, courtoom, Crestwood gates--and appreciate how they fit together--local political knowledge plus scientific knowledge plus legal knowledge plus creativity. One becomes heartened by the skills and energies of others.
In multiple sites of organized political struggle, the liveliness that Connolly doesn't see and thinks needs to be fomented is already a vibrant matter. And it's vibrant because people collectively are figuring out what to do and this collective engagement is inciting more action, more involvement. Down near Watkins Glen, people drive by the blockade at the Crestwood gates. Next time they bring hot chocolate. Next time they join the line. Then they organize another group, perhaps to get standing at an issues conference, perhaps to pressure state and federal officials, perhaps to begin another strategy.
It sometimes feels like the whole area is united against this Texas company: when people come up to us in the grocery store and shake our hands, when they send us email asking how to give money for legal support, when they say thank you. It's interesting when people begin conversations by saying "I'm not ready to get arrested yet" -- what an amazing jump! They aren't grappling with some abstraction of zombified complacency versus making a pronouncement here or there. They are already figuring out what they want to do next, how they want to be involved. They feel themselves already in the life of the collective engagement of the people around them. This becomes the crowd to be in--not a swarm or a shuffling zombie mass of individuals worried making a difference in themselves but a collective changing the world.
Those trying to fend off zombiness in the Baltimore area don't have to look very far for the kind of collective engagement that enlivens the Finger Lakes (as well as the multiple sites of organized struggle against pipelines, storage, and other parts of the fossil fuel infrastructure). An ally of We Are Seneca Lake is We Are Cove Point. They are organizing to stop the building of the first fracked gas export terminal on the east coast. It's important work: stopping the fracking infrastructure is crucial to make sure that this destructive form of extraction can itself be eliminated. A dozen Chesapeake Bay groups have converged to constitute We Are Cove Point and blockade the entrance to the Dominion Resources Cove Point construction site. At least twenty people have been arrested so far.
Instead of zombified repetition constraining them to future oppression, the protectors of We Are Cove Point are collectively creating a future conducive to a habitable and even more just and equitable planet. From where they look, they see a world they are and can actively change.