GUEST POST: I’m a Democrat Who Voted for Trump. Here’s Why.

[Below is a guest post from an anonymous Democrat who voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election.]

– by Anonymous Democrat

trump_democrat_1000As a lifelong Democrat and long-time activist for social justice and environmental causes, I’d like to explain to you why I voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election.

If you’re like many of my friends, you’re wondering why I crossed party lines to join the surprisingly high percentage of Democrats who voted for Hillary Clinton’s much-reviled opponent.

It’s a great question and I promise to be honest with my answer. However, before I do so, I want to share some of my politics with you so you can’t dismiss me as simply a right wing conservative in disguise.

[Read more…]

In Defense of Pipelines [Satire]

– by Fiske Sterling, CEO, Thanatocorp

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(Photo: 44 News)

From Keystone XL to the Dakota Access to dozens of other pipelines proposed across the US to transport crude oil, natural gas, or biofuels, pipelines have gotten a bad rap recently.

We all know the arguments against them: Burning fossil fuels causes climate change. Drilling and fracking harms water quality. Building pipelines steals the land of everyone from farmers to Native Americans. Oil spills pollute water and soil.

But that’s just one side of the story. Pipelines also do a lot of good, if you look at them right. Here are just three examples.

[Read more…]

Activist vs. Expert: Who’s Better at Creating Positive Change?

– by The Shitty Activist

expertAbout halfway through my twelve-year career as an environmental activist, I started to wonder if I might better be able to protect the planet by enrolling in a Ph.D. program.

Not so much because of any information I’d be privy to (which these days is available to anyone with an internet connection), but because of the instant credibility that would’ve come along with having those three letters after my name. Justified or not, it’s hard to deny that it’s easier for an activist with an advanced degree to get media coverage, speaking engagements, and even book deals, than it is for an activist without one.

Still, after a great deal of soul searching, I decided against it. So why didn’t I become Dr. Activist? Was laziness to blame? The exorbitant expense? A bit of both, perhaps. But ultimately my refusal to rejoin academia to advance my advocacy was for another reason entirely.

Those at the crossroads of either spending the next several years as a scholar or immediately jumping into the fray as a grassroots activist, might want to consider some of the same questions I did before making your decision. [Read more…]

Activist Suggestion Box

– by The Shitty Activist

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Those who are familiar with The Shitty Activist know that I write these pieces in hopes of improving the effectiveness of activists working for positive change (and to go off on the occasional cathartic rant). However, now and again I stop and think about whether it’s all worthwhile, namely: how open are activists to feedback?

Personally, I don’t know anyone who enjoys being criticized. Whether you’re a jet setting corporate executive at the helm of a Fortune 500 company or a convicted murderer picking up litter from the side of the highway, if someone has something unpleasant to say about your work, chances are you’d much rather they keep it to themselves.

Sometimes this can be chalked up to laziness, where accepting that your work might stand some improvement means you’ll have to work harder (or smarter). But I suspect it actually goes deeper, in that we all tend to think of ourselves as good people, which by extension, means that most anything we do is good. Therefore, anyone who has anything but praise for our work is surely condemning us as human beings, and the only people who would do that are either mistaken, holding a personal grudge, or mentally deranged. All convenient reasons to ignore the criticism.

This, of course, is a kind of denial exercised by people from all walks of life. But it can take on a particular flavor with activists.

As we know, activists strive for a better world, often sacrificing monetary (and other) benefits to dedicate themselves to a worthy cause. Most activists operate primarily out of the kindness of their hearts, directed by their moral compass, with the desire to do good being the overwhelming impetus. So, when someone suggests there might be a better way for an activist to do good, they are often either confused, outraged, or both.

Now, if your job is trying to sell toothbrushes and someone tells you you’re not selling enough of them, you’ll either agree or disagree with their assessment. What you probably won’t do is consider the statement an affront to your character. But if you’ve vowed to save the world and someone wants to tell you you’re failing to do so, it’s hard not to take that personally.

A defense mechanism adopted by some activists unwilling to face criticism is to label the critic an opponent to the cause. If you’re an anti-fossil fuels activist and someone suggests that we’re never going to completely transition over to clean energy until people learn to reduce their energy consumption, it’s much easier – physically, mentally, and emotionally – to accuse this person of being in favor of fossil fuels than to evolve your campaign to encourage people to use less energy.

Another unique difficulty is that activism, unlike many other professions, doesn’t really have any mechanisms in place to determine success. If you’re a telephone salesperson and repeatedly receive bad customer reviews, you’ll know there’s room for improvement. But there isn’t such a rubric for activists.

One would assume paid activists – as opposed to unpaid – would have to qualify their work. And that’s true…to an extent. Most nonprofits are largely, if not entirely, dependent on corporate foundations, to whom an organization must prove deliverables on a yearly basis. Yet these deliverables typically pertain to a foundation’s specific agenda, which may or may not actually advance the cause they profess to be concerned about. In fact, in many cases, such as with the environmental movement, foundations want groups to take weaker stances on certain issues so as not to conflict with a particular industry, political party, or pro-capitalist viewpoint.

I hate to say it, but your average “checkbook activist” (someone who writes yearly, monthly, or weekly checks to an organization) has no way of knowing whether their money is actually helping the issue they care so much about, no matter how many glossy annual reports they read.

Obviously, unpaid activist organizations have even less of a mechanism for determining effectiveness, but since they aren’t beholden to corporate donors, the shortcomings are usually more about a need to improve their organizing, rather than a matter of “selling out.” However, since these organizations are less fixated on donations, they can also be unconcerned about their reputations, making it easy to ignore all criticism.

Of course, if you’re a mindful activist, you’re probably open to criticism, no matter how hard it is to stomach. But for those who just can’t tolerate helpful pointers, maybe it’s worth giving them a little nudge?

Perhaps what’s needed is a virtual activist suggestion box, where activists can offer ways to possible improve one’s activism, with the goal of holding activism to the high standards of other professions.

Since this Yelp-like platform can be easily abused by detractors of a given movement, it should only be open to those who have demonstrated that they are, in fact, legitimate activists themselves. Which means people would have to be transparent about their own work, and, yes, their identity.

The goal wouldn’t be to call out “shitty activists” as an outlet for some people’s pent up rage and aggression. Ideally, criticism would never be directed at an individual, always at the actions that can be improved for the good of the movement.

Yes, yes, I realize how unlikely this whole concept of an activist suggestion box is, whether it would work, or even if it’s a good idea.

In fact, I’ve come to the slow realization that, when I write pieces for The Shitty Activist (drawing on my own failures as a former activist of 12 years), I’m not really expecting my critiques to be taken to heart by those who I believe could use them most. It’s doubtful that truly shitty activists would ever even read my pieces (or at least more than the titles).

In truth, I’m actually writing these pieces for those who are just starting out in activism, in hopes of giving them a readable map to avoid falling into the same pitfalls as their predecessors. Also, to encourage those who are already doing the right thing to keep being that model for positive change that we all need to feel hope for tomorrow.

So, to all those non-shitty activists out there – you know who you are – I want to offer my heartfelt thanks, and more important, my solidarity. You’re the reason I’m doing this.

The Unreasonable Activist

– by The Shitty Activist

workers-fistIf you’re an activist, probably one of the most common complaints you get is that you’re not being “reasonable.” That you’re refusing to see the other side. That you won’t compromise and find common ground with opponents.

I’d like to propose that not only isn’t “unreasonable” activism a bad thing, it’s essential to the long-term success of a given movement.

Of course, the ability to see a perspective other than your own is an essential skill in life. Many professions, such as journalism, require this (or at least pretend that they do). And, obviously, it’s extremely valuable in person-to-person relationships. If you can’t see where another person is coming from, then you’re either an asshole or a sociopath.

While it’s helpful to understand an opposing view as an activist, your main job is actually to craft an argument to counter those views. To carefully determine your movement’s goals and use every (ethical) tool in the toolbox possible to achieve them.

One of the best definitions of the role of activist was formulated by David Brower, aka the Archdruid, the first executive director of the Sierra Club, and the founder of many environmental organizations including League of Conservation Voters, Friends of the Earth, and Earth Island Institute:

“Compromise is often necessary, but it ought not to originate with environmental leaders. Our role is to hold fast to what we believe is right, to fight for it, to find allies, and to adduce all possible arguments for our cause. If we cannot find enough vigor in us or our friends to win, then let someone else propose the compromise, which we must then work hard to coax our way. We thus become a nucleus around which activists can build and function.”

Personally, you might see some validity in what those on the other side of the aisle are saying, and you may believe that finding that middle path is ultimately the best route. And perhaps that’s true, in many circumstances. However, that middle path is already the likely end result of negotiations, with the majority of voices advocating for that position. Your opponents, meanwhile, are probably sticking to their guns, and if you want to assure that middle ground, you’ve got to hold your position in the ideological tug of war.

This doesn’t mean you’ll automatically win. In fact, depending on how ambitious your goals are, you might actually lose. But your job is to frame the debate and pull the resolution as hard as you can in your direction. You need to be the counterweight, and as an activist, almost all of your power is in your message.

For example, say your movement calls attention to the health and environmental impacts of bioenergy, the burning of trees, trash, plants and manure for electricity, heat, and transportation fuels – currently ½ of “renewable” energy in the U.S. You can damned well guarantee that industry is pushing hard for an expansion of all forms of bioenergy, biomass, and biofuels.

If your movement opposes bioenergy because of air pollution, climate, and forest impacts, to support any form of this technology will contradict your platform, make it hard to build a grassroots base, confuse the media, and cause politicians not to take you seriously.

I bet you probably haven’t heard much about the health and environmental impacts of bioenergy, even though it’s the #1 form of “renewable” energy in the U.S. And I’d venture to say that’s largely due to the “reasonableness” of biomass opponents.

It’s interesting to note that most of the bioenergy “critics” that have been most prominent in the media are actually well-funded supporters of the majority of bioenergy. Many of these groups will speak out against biomass facilities that generate electricity – about 11% of total bioenergy – while supporting biomass heating (50% of bioenergy) and liquid biofuels (27%), even recommending taxpayer subsidies for these dominant aspects of bioenergy.

Imagine an anti-coal movement that opposed 11% of coal burning, while coming out in favor of the rest, so long as it was done “sustainably.” Not only would that stymie the building of a strong grassroots movement, it would carry no real power to influence strong policy – though it would carry the appearance of success when middle-of-the-road legislation is proposed resembling their platform (because this was fated to be the case whether they existed or not).

This sort of weak advocacy isn’t exclusive to biomass opponents. Think of your grassroots movement and how some organizations and activists are pushing for wimpy half-measures and phony “solutions” that are either naïve, defeatist, or done to receive grant funding or a seat at the political table. Now imagine how strong your movement could be if everyone operated in solidarity.

So long as you also have integrity, tell the truth, reevaluate your strategies, and build alliances, you are entitled to be as unreasonable as possible in your activism.

If you believe your role is to travel that middle road, you might want to consider becoming a journalist, government agency staffer, or legislator…and leave the activism to the unreasonable.