TONIGHT: Burrillville Power Plant Public Hearing

Tonight is the final public hearing about the fracked-gas power plant that Invenergy wants to build in Burrillville. If you live in Rhode Island and can go, please do. Bring a sign opposing the plant. If you’re not a resident of Burrillville, you may not be able to get a spot to speak, but be there and show your opposition.

There are other hearings (dates at the link above) where the public can attend but won’t be allowed to speak.

Doors open at 5pm tonight and it’s expected to be crowded, so getting there at 4:30 if you can might be good.

TONIGHT (Tuesday), October 10th, 6-10pm

Burrillville High School Auditorium, 425 East Avenue, Harrisville, RI

We can’t afford any more fossil fuel infrastructure. A lot of people, I know, support this because they are hungry for construction jobs, and so making sure that Rhode Island develops jobs and training in renewable energy and energy efficiency construction (with something like the Energize RI bill) is an essential part of taking care of Rhode Islanders in the short term as well as the long term.

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Actual History: Refusal 10 (May Day)

May Day as International Workers’ Day has its origins in the Haymarket Affair of 1886, a double display of state violence: on May 3rd, the third day of a general strike for an eight-hour work day, police protecting strikebreakers fired into a crowd of striking workers. At a mass meeting the following day, someone threw a bomb into a group of arresting officers, and the ensuing police raids and arrests ended with eight men sentenced to death. The state hanged four and later pardoned two; one took his own life in prison. Meanwhile, labor organizers continued their work, and in 1889 the Second International declared May 1st International Workers’ Day.

I also want to talk about another day in May.

Starting–but more about that in a minute–on May 1st, 1867, striking workers in Chicago shut down the economy of the city for a week to close loopholes in a law calling, already for the eight-hour workday. Industries in and around Chicago at that time included meatpacking, garment manufacturing, shipping, lumber processing, iron molding–so we can guess that fewer components were poured and fewer cuffs and collars sewn, that cargo ships sat at their moorings and that meat rotted on the packing lines. A week of people earning no money, drawing from the strike fund if they could. A week in which a city that bragged about how much it could produce, how fast it grew, couldn’t hold onto that pride and had–if only for a week, after which the strike collapse–to admit who made that pride possible.

The strike itself started on May 1st, but the work of making it possible started long before: in conversations, in the nurturing of loyalties, in meetings, in the gathering of resources, in the asking of questions, in the distribution of knowledge, in arguments, in shared meals, in the washing of clothes and the tending of children, in corners, in quiet, under the cover of machine sounds.

The fight for the eight-hour workday is a fight to be owned less than entirely. It says: we won’t let you use us up. It says: we are more than fuel.

*

My attention keeps turning to the failures to refuse in the May Day origin story: the police who, on May 3rd, didn’t have to but chose to fire into a crowd of striking workers. The jury. The hangman. Someone would probably have punished them, or tried to, if they refused, but that’s not identical with not having a choice. Examine your promises: who do they require you to hurt?

The May Day march in Providence starts at 3pm today, in Burnside Park. I’ll be walking with the Climate Justice and Just Transition bloc. Come too.

Alternate History: A Just Transition

This alternate history, whose task is to show our current choices as contingent rather than natural and to imagine a world that works better for more people, owes a great debt to the ongoing work and words of Mariame Kaba.

7/8/16

That day we recognized that police officers were like coal miners or offshore riggers, maintainers of imbalance, people distorted and damaged by the work some of us were asking them to do, and that they were in need of a just transition away from dirty, dangerous, dehumanizing work. They needed true and possible paths that would allow them to recognize themselves and others without damage.

We did all the usual things, to start. We made cordons with our bodies around entire neighborhoods, three and four people deep. Similar cordons formed around the Public Safety Complex, around the parking garage, around at least some cops’ houses. The moments when one threw their gun or taser on the ground, out of reach, and came to stand beside us were precious to us; this didn’t happen very often. More often, we said to armed men and a few armed women: this line can open to you. There’s a place for you beyond this line. But you can’t force it open. You have to tell us what you’re going to do. And it can’t be anything like what you did before. We said: you can’t stay on that side of the line alone, forever.

They didn’t hit us, didn’t shoot or gas us. They knew, we think now–and some of them have even said, since then–that the time for that was over. That was the beginning of their part in the change, but not the end.

It’s a struggle every moment to unschool yourself as a bully, but it was part of their reparations to the rest of us: when they asked us what we wanted, what would satisfy us, after the days of blocking their paths everywhere they went, we said that we couldn’t undo the past but that we needed to undo a future of violence, starting now. We said, you have to be the ones to do it; our job will be to make a place for you as you get better at it.

A person who doesn’t know that they are desperate is dangerous, and a person who doesn’t know that what they’re doing is a decision is equally dangerous. We stood in front of them. We said, we’re desperate; this is what desperation looks like. We said, this is our choice; this is what a choice looks like. Do you want to see who you could be on the other side of the line? What you could have? What you could leave behind?

People who weren’t cops stopped calling the cops. More and more cops quit. Like everyone now, they were guaranteed a living whether they worked or not, but they told the rest of us that that wouldn’t be enough. They needed something else to attach their ideas of themselves to, like the mussels that cling to the rocks; they needed to do work, and they needed to learn how to feel fear without doing harm. Well, so did we.

The world we were making was full of necessary daily work, both grim and joyful; the need for extreme heroics, sea rescues, fire control, resuscitations and transfusions; plenty of dead bodies to tend, despite everything we could do. There was a lot of that kind of work for them, in addition to the slow, grinding, stammering labor of breaking survival away from entitlement, identity away from blame. Most of them were very bad at this at first, no matter how willing they were: it always had to be someone else’s fault. But there was no one else’s fault for it to be.

The men’s houses were helpful for some of the ones who were men. (Free access to hormones, and confidence of their welcome as women–though not necessarily as former cops–in all places, was helpful for some of the ones who were in fact women.) The anger shrines on street corners, with their punching surfaces and screaming chambers, saw a lot of use, too. Some of the ex-cops spent time tending horses, as veterans also did, forming a new understanding of risk, fragility, care and trust. We were using horses more for certain tasks by then, even in the city–hauling things that weren’t in a hurry to get there, supplying manure for our farms–and occasionally for fast city-to-city transportation, since the solar shuttles were still in prototype.

More people were living more of their lives in public, too, by this point–houses were fuller, streets and waterways more active, privacy more a matter of courtesy than of soundproof walls and locked doors. It was harder to hide cruelty, and there was less to steal. The night watch made it harder for people who wished to stab and twist and violate to do so under cover of darkness. We used Build the Block and Creative Interventions as models for emergency response. We mostly didn’t allow the ex-cops to do these things with the rest of us: it was too close to the wound of what they had been for us to be safe with them, and sometimes, in spite of all that work, they were the people we needed to stop.

We sunk the guns in the last of the concrete–it was the easiest, most permanent thing to do with them.