‘Well, the truth is…we can’t solve global warming because I fucking changed light bulbs in my house. It’s because of something collective’.” –Barack Obama, 2008
I’ll admit that when I first read this quote (reference here), back during the campaign year, it was Obama’s use of the vernacular language that made me take notice. And when Newsweek reported it, in their tell-all, behind-the-scenes report on the campaign, it didn’t get a lot of attention, no doubt because of that same language. Which is a shame, because in the content of that quote may lie the most important thing he’s ever said regarding what is arguably the central problem of our age. It’s not the F-word that matters here–it’s the C-word.
I was thinking about our need for collective action quite a bit during the recent Tar Sands Action I participated in, where more than 1200 citizens in opposition to the continued exploitation of the Canadian Tar Sands were arrested in front of the White House fence (see my previous post). Clearly, all of the many people from across the US and Canada had not bicycled to Washington for this event, and I’m sure most of the protesters were very much aware of this seeming hypocrisy. (In the claustrophobia-inducing police wagon I was in after being arrested, much time was spent in speculation about just how much gasoline was being burned by the van as it idled for an hour or more outside the place where we were to be processed…)
The previous evening, at a rally for the protest, a wonderfully inspiring speaker had asked the crowd, “Are we going to buy Tar Sands Oil?” ”NO!!” the crowd shouted back in unison–followed by a small “yes” from the back of the room. And that “yes” voice was right. The Tar Sands already are the single largest source of US oil imports, and only those of us who had both bicycled to the protest and were living completely oil-free lifestyles could have honestly said “no”. We have no choice but to do that, to do so many things each day that we don’t believe in, because of the way our society is structured. Barack Obama was right–we need collective action to change that, to make another world possible. The protest itself was a beautiful example of collective action–and of thousands of people not allowing their good-liberal guilt to stop them from speaking out, and demanding that President Obama act on behalf of the collectivity of all of us. Clearly, he gets it that that is what needs to happen. It is all of our jobs to give him the courage he needs to make it so.