A day before the largest climate action in history, Kshama Sawant joined Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, activists Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben and Chris Hedges in New York City for a panel discussion to debate the way forward for the environmental movement. Video jumps directly to Kshama, and you can read the speech below.
Transcript of Speech as Delivered
It is an honor and privilege to be here for this incredible weekend, and it’s been an honor to listen to my esteemed fellow panelists. Please accept my heartfelt thanks and congratulations to the thousands who have worked so hard to organize for this weekend.
Sisters and Brothers,
History is calling on us.
To answer that call, we must make sure tomorrow’s protest marks a turning point.
A decisive turn towards collective action demanding the fundamental structural changes that are necessary to address climate change.
Tomorrow’s protest will bring tens of thousands together: Environmental activists, students, workers and their unions. We are building on thousands who have been heroically fighting the Keystone XL pipeline. In Seattle, other activists and I have been involved in civil disobedience against oil and coal trains—this growing threat of climate disaster on wheels.
But whether on rail or through pipelines, big oil is hell bent on trafficking its profits. They have the leadership of both political parties in their back pockets. It will be no small matter to stop them.
Our message on Sunday needs to be clear: If you are not yet organized, there is an urgent need to get involved and stay engaged. Join an environmental group, join a labor union, join the socialists, become a part of this struggle.
Capitalism & Socialism
Our demands to the so called “world leaders” also need to be clear.
We need massive public projects to put an end to fossil fuel as part of a rapid transformation to clean energy, along with a dramatic expansion of mass transit—all of which would create millions of living-wage, unionized jobs.
The people controlling these climate summits are utterly beholden to the fossil fuel industry and the financial aristocracy that dominates the world economy. The richest 5 corporations in the world are all fossil fuel companies.
These corporations have all the resources, all the technology, necessary to end the fossil fuel economy and power our global society on clean energy.
So why haven’t they done it?
As Naomi was saying, the truth is no amount of scientific evidence, no voice of reason, will talk them out of drilling every last barrel of oil out of the ground.
Take Exxon Mobil, for example, which spends millions promoting its green credentials—yet in a recent letter they assured their shareholders they will sell all of the oil and gas they have found—and all that they will find in the foreseeable future.
This is the reality of international capitalism.
This is the product of the gigantic casino of speculation created by those highway robbers on Wall Street and the rapacious oil vultures. In this system the market is God, and everything is sacrificed on the altar of profit.
We must face up to the fact that the so called free market will not be able to end its addiction to fossil fuels, and certainly not at the speed that is required. Nor is it capable of the kind of coordinated, democratic international planning that will be necessary.
A lot of people are prepared to change their personal lifestyles, and that is important. However, I’m focusing here on the big corporations. And why?
It is estimated that almost two thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions since the dawning of the industrial age came from 90 corporations. Only 90 companies! Exxon, Shell, BP, Chevron – you know their names.
To address the climate crisis we must be able to democratically and rationally decide how these resources – which are currently concentrated in the hands of a small cabal of oligarchs and speculators – can be directed.
So that society as a whole can use these resources in the interests of people and the planet.
But how else can this be done except by bringing the giant energy corporations into public ownership?
It’s really straightforward. You cannot control what you do not own.
Strategy to Win
In the course of our struggle we will need to deploy many different strategies and tactics depending on the concrete circumstances. But one thing should be crystal clear – we cannot be bound by what is acceptable to establishment politicians and the big corporations they serve.
Our movement must be guided instead by the needs of working people and the environment.
There are experiences from other social movements. Recently in Seattle, my organization, Socialist Alternative, helped put forward a demand for a $15/hour minimum wage for all workers.
Some at first dismissed this as unrealistic, but it was a demand that corresponded to the real needs of working people. We worked with others to mobilize a strong grassroots movement to win it. Corporations were always against it, but they had to concede in the face of growing mass support.
It is true we did not win everything, and the political servants of big business – by the way all Democrats in Seattle – carved out loopholes.
But we won the highest minimum wage in the country by demanding it
– far more than we would have won if we had started out only asking for what we were told was acceptable to big business!
In fighting climate change, we need the same approach, boldly demanding a massive program of public investment in renewable energy and mass transit. Let’s link this with a fundamental challenge to the broken system of capitalism.
This is the way to win the most, starting here and now, while at the same time offering the vision of a lasting solution: The vision of a just and sustainable society—a socialist world that can deliver a sustainable and high standard of living to all.
The Role of the Democratic Party
I think there is broad agreement in this room on the need for collective struggle, and the need to get organized independently of big business. In my opinion, however, this will not be achievable unless we also confront the reality that is corporate politics.
Nobody here would disagree that we cannot rely on the right wing, climate change denying Republicans. But neither can we rely, as Chris has said, on the big business Democrats.
Under Obama there has been a massive expansion, not of clean energy, but of fossil fuels, of oil drilling in the arctic, of fracking—it is an expansion that hasn’t been seen in more than a generation. And it’s not just about Obama. The Democratic Party establishment is awash with oil money.
If we tone down our demands to appease the Democratic Party elite, they will simply use our generosity to further appease their corporate donors.
Only an independent force of the 99%, a new party based on workers, young people, environmentalists, and labor, will be able to fight Wall Street and big business—a party that will struggle and boldly advocate for alternatives to this crisis-ridden system.
Bernie Sanders for President?
It was great to hear Bernie Sanders tonight. There has been some talk about Bernie running for President in 2016, to provide an alternative to Hillary Clinton.
I don’t always agree with Bernie, I’ll be honest—especially his recent positions on US foreign policy. But just for a moment, let us imagine the impact of a well-known and credible independent left challenger of the stature of Bernie running as a challenge to the two parties of big business in the 2016 elections.
If we had a Left-wing campaign that refused any corporate cash and called for taxing corporations and the super-wealthy to fund a massive green jobs program, an end to corporate welfare, a $15 minimum wage, single payer healthcare, and a cancellation of student debt.
I would appeal to Bernie to run as an independent candidate for president in 2016, not tied to the Democrats and their big business agenda.
The ecological clock is ticking too fast for us to let the 2016 political arena be dominated by climate change denying Republicans and pro¬-fracking Democrats. We need a voice for environmental sanity, an alternative to this dysfunctional two party system.
An independent left campaign would appeal to the millions of Americans who are disgusted with the shameless pandering to Wall Street that is carried out in the name of “political realism.” In fact, a recent poll showed that sixty percent of Americans want a third party.
Such a campaign can act as lightening rod for hundreds of thousands of workers and young people who want to fight back, laying the basis for a movement that can win real gains, regardless of who happens to occupy the White House in 2017.
The great working class fighter, Rosa Luxemburg, said a century ago, that the future will either be one of socialism or barbarism. It’s up to us to ensure that our future is not one of the disasters of climate change and capitalism, but instead one of cooperation, humanity, beauty, and sustainability.