Sherrod Brown, John Boehner and Keystone XL plus food sovereignty activist and author Eric Holt-Gimenez

On February 14 a group of concerned citizens opposing the Keystone XL pipeline visited the Columbus office of Democratic senator Sherrod Brown.

Andrew Sidesinger works with here in Columbus Ohio.

Andrew Sidesinger

“ We delivered 1,800 petitions against Keystone XL. We have more than 20,000 in general from all the partner organizations in Ohio and we just gave him (Sherrod Brown) the message that if we want good, clean energy jobs we have to stop being behind fossil fuels and start being behind clean energy.”

Joining Sidesinger for the visit to Sherrod Brown’s office was Jason Box, a climatologist at the Ohio State University.

Jason Box, Ohio State University climatologist

Box said the tar sands are a pool of carbon as large as that of Saudi Arabia.

“We cannot release this carbon to the atmosphere without locking in additional, dangerous amounts of warming in our climate system.”

Box said now’s the time to have policy that will build a clean energy infrastructure.

“The renewal energy infrastructure that we need can employ millions of Americans in long-term jobs.”

Box said this view is supported by the facts. He said he visited Sherrod Brown’s office to send a clear message against Keystone XL, as a scientist and as a concerned citizen.

Alec Johnson said it would be a smart move for Sherrod Brown to take a stand against Keystone XL.

Alec Johnson

“Poll after poll shows that when you explain to people, among other things, the truth about the Keystone XL pipeline, they oppose it. They want clean energy job production. They understand where our future is going to be generated and it’s not be looking toward these technologies of the past.”

Johnson said there is an enormous amount of misinformation about Keystone XL.
He said oil companies are lying in order to build support for the pipeline, and that the companies seek to risk damage to public health and the environment in order to make big profits by selling the tar sands oil to foreign countries.

“This is a bad deal for Americans. This is a bad deal for Ohioans. This is a bad deal for the world, and we mean to oppose it. We mean to stop it.”

A couple of weeks earlier, Johnson took part in a protest against Keystone XL which took place at the Westchester office of Republican Congressman John Boehner. Johnson said Boehner is the poster boy for big oil corruption in Congress.

“He’s received an enormous amount of money from the fossil fuel lobby. He does their bidding routinely, predictably. This is just nuts.”

Danny Berchenko of Ohio said Boehner has taken more than $1 million from the fossil fuel industry during his time in Congress.

John Boehner using false jobs numbers to push for Keystone XL, says activist

“He also has hundreds of thousands in personal investments in big oil companies which stand to benefit from tar sands oil extraction.”

Johnson said what Boehner is doing is a form of insider trading.

“If you or I engaged in this kind of behavior, we’d go to prison. Instead, he’s going to wind up making money by taking advantage of our public trust and abusing it.”

Boehner’s office has not responded to requests for comment from WCRS. Berchenko said Boehner has used legislative schemes to push Keystone XL forward such as holding the payroll tax extension hostage.

“So, it’s clear that the money that he’s taking from the fossil fuel industry and the money that he’s personally invested is absolutely affecting his judgment when it comes to his leadership in Congress.”

Berchenko said if Boehner were truly representing the interests of his constituents he would not be blocking attempts at regulating carbon emissions and otherwise addressing the climate crisis. Berchenko said Boehner is touting false numbers about the amount of jobs Keystone XL will create.

“He’s claiming 20,000 jobs will be created by it. Those are numbers based off of a company who stands to actually build the pipeline if the permit is approved. The actual jobs numbers if you look at independent analyses shows that at most building this pipeline would create 5,000 temporary jobs, and really only 50 permanent jobs.”

Berchenko said Keystone XL might kill more jobs than it creates because of running over sensitive farm land, including a key aquifer used for irrigation. He said the existing Keystone pipeline has leaked twelve times in the past year and that XL is not likely to be any better. Berchenko said a real jobs solution would involve legislation that creates incentives for investments into wind, solar, and retrofitting buildings for increased energy efficiency.

“Those are jobs that can’t be shipped over seas. We have to hire people to retrofit our buildings over here because we can’t uproot a building and send it to China to then be retrofitted.”
Danny Berchenko…of

On February 14th Food Sovereignty activist and author Eric Holt-Gimenez spoke at the Ohio State University. WCRS recorded the following conversation between Gimenez and Avery Lewis, who is a manager at Global Gallery in Clintonville.

Holt-Gimenez calling for systemic change to global food policy. He said globalization has led to increased concentration of wealth.

“If 10 years ago, we had 500 billionaires, now we have 1,100 billionaires. So liberalization has not been good for the planet or for society and we got these crashes and the inability to address some very serious crises.--the fuel crisis, the food crisis, the climate crisis.”

He said there is no possibility for reform unless we have a strong movement to counter economic neo-liberalism.

“To introduce reforms, we need to have political will. Political will is not just what one politician wants to do. It’s what society will allow politicians to do. To introduce reforms as Roosevelt did with the New Deal, you need massive public support.”

Getting massive public support for reforms of our political and economic system requires alliances between progressives and people on the left who call themselves radicals, said Holt-Gimenez .

“That was the case with the New Deal. Roosevelt didn’t introduce it just because he had a good idea, it’s because it looked like this government was going to fall because of all of the social protest. That social movement was built from the alliance of progressives and radicals, not progressives and reformists.”

He said alliances between progressives and reformists merely strengthen the status quo.

“To change the system, you have to have a counter movement coming from the outside which forces the reforms…If you leave the radicals out on the fringe, you don’t have enough social weight to be able to advance reforms.”

Holt-Gimenez said not-for-profit organizations and the foundations that fund them are doing important work. But he said what they are doing is not enough to bring about systemic change.

“What the funding has not done is bring about a political convergence of all these different groups and that’s what we need today.”

He said the progressive movement 80 or a 100 years ago was more radical than what we have today. He said back then , progressives got to the root of political and economic issues, and pressured governments to make systemic change.

“Now the folks that are, for example, in the food movement that are the most radical, that go to the root of the problem, are those that ally themselves with food sovereignty. Progressives tend to be more about food justice or equitable food access. Food sovereignty is more about, ‘we need to take control back over the food system.’ We don’t just need access. We need to ensure access in the future for everybody and we do that by taking back control of the food system by looking at the structures which control our food system.”

Holt-Gimenez said social movements around the world are now entering what he refers to as a Second Wave.

“The First Wave of social change came about with the great labor struggles and the struggles for national liberation and the capture of state power in order to introduce reforms. Those happened over the last 50 years. But in the last 25 years or so, those forms of organization have been less and less effective at introducing social change.”

He said this new, Second Wave of social movements is more diverse than the First Wave.

“It’s not just about labor. It’s not just about capital. It’s about gender, race, the environment.”

He said such diversity makes current social movements more fragmented than those in the past.

“What we need to find is convergence in all of this diversity in order to be a powerful enough social movement…to introduce the changes, the systemic changes, and the structural changes.”

That convergence requires a ‘pluralistic politics.’ said Holt-Gimenez

“We’re not going to be able to have the sort of unilateral, vertical…ideological forms of organization that social change groups used to have during the First Wave.”

He said activism on the ground today is moving ahead of the theories of those who study social movements.

“This notion of convergence and diversity comes from observation…Theorists are struggling to understand this new phenomenon in the face of the contradictions of capital and the inability of our present system to resolve the major problems of the world today.”

Holt-Gimenez said activists and other people living in developed nations have a lot to learn from peasant farmers. He those farmers who are involved with the agrarian movements of the Global South are very clear about the structural issues that affect their lives.

“They may not be as clear about a lot of other things. They may not know how to set up a CSA or they may not necessarily know about agro-ecology. Buy they’re very clear that their land has been taken away, that they’ve been forced into migration, that their livelihoods have been destroyed by a system which they can name and describe.”

Holt-Gimenez said peasant farmers in the Global South also are clear about what systemic changes are needed to improve their lives.

“For example, they need land reform, that’s a structural change. They want agriculture out of the WTO. That’s another structural change. This is the sort of political and structural clarity we could learn a lot from here in the United States.”

Eric Holt-Gimenez, author and food sovereignty activist. He directs the not-for-profit Food First.