In the smart new F/X drama “The Americans” about Elizabeth and Phillip, a pair of lovable Soviet sleeper agents living in the DC suburbs during the Reagan-era 1980s, a top Soviet spy tells Elizabeth “the American people have elected a madman as their president. He makes no secret of his desire to destroy us.”
The Reagan years represented a dangerous time in global history. Along with the nuclear arms race that eventually bankrupted the already faltering Soviet Union and took the world to the edge of nuclear war, the Reagan Administration provided aid and comfort to numerous brutal dictators and right-wing governments from sub-Saharan Africa to the Middle East to Central America. Ronald Reagan’s secret wars in places like Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador killed hundreds of thousands in a bloody campaign to end or contain communist influence.
Reagan’s legacy tells us that his political skills as the “great communicator” created a popular united front behind his conservative policies in the United States, but history reflects something very different. During the 1980s, a militant mass non-violent movement, known as the Central American Solidarity Movement, emerged to challenge Reagan’s covert wars in Central America. A critical strategy that the movement developed was the “Pledge of Resistance.” The Pledge of Resistance became an organizing tool that brought together a coalition of peace, religious, feminist and anti-nuclear activists and organizations to actively resist Reagan’s Central American policies.
As the Reagan Administration and its political allies began to escalate its not-so-secret wars in Central America, the Pledge of Resistance began escalations of their own. From 1984 into the early 1990s, the Central American Pledge of Resistance organized thousands into civil disobedience actions, both large and small, in protest of possible invasion of Nicaragua, the funding of the contras and support of death squad governments in El Salvador and other parts of Central America.
Now, we are faced with even more dangerous times.
During the 80’s, these madmen waged secret wars and funded death squads to eradicate other political ideologies, but today we are faced with an insane system based on fossil fuel exploitation shifting the composition of the planet itself for short term profit for a small elite minority. The results of oil, gas and coal extraction and combustion are heading the world further and further down the path of catastrophic climate change. Oil companies in Canada are extracting tar sands oil from an area the size of Florida. Coal companies use mountaintop removal coal mining to destroy over 500 Appalachian Mountains, bury thousands of miles of streams and rivers with mining debris and poison countless communities with air and water pollution.
The latest battle has been around the Keystone XL Pipeline which would run oil from the Alberta tar sands to the Gulf Coast. It would flow billions of gallons of oil in what climatologist James Hanson has called “the fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet.” Canadian oil giant, TransCanada has lobbied the U.S. government, spending millions on lobbyists and election year donations to grease palms for it’s dirty project. A few weeks ago, the State Department released a long awaited Environmental Impact Statement which said that the Keystone XL Pipeline would have little or no impact on the environment and climate. It turns out that the report was written by a TransCanada subcontractor.
For the past two years, environmental and climate activists have waged hard fought campaigns against the pipeline. In August, 2011 over 1200 were arrested sitting in at the White House demanding Obama reject it. Since July 2012, the Tar Sands Blockade has led actions against the southern leg of the pipeline (approved early last year by Obama) that runs from Cushing, OK to Houston, TX. The rebellious energy of the blockade has led to dozens of arrests, an 85 day tree-sit and a harsh backlash by TransCanada, Texas law enforcement and courts. Last month, tens of thousands marched in Washington D.C. in the largest climate rally in history.
Now a coalition of groups have called for another Pledge of Resistance, this time to the Keystone XL Pipeline. CREDO, Rainforest Action Network, 350.org, Hip Hop Caucus, Oil Change and others have put out the Pledge and have had over 50,000 sign up to resist the pipeline. Big plans and big movements are in the works.
When Reagan’s presidency ended in January 1989, he had failed to overthrow the Nicaraguan government either by U.S. invasion or through contra military action. The Pledge of Resistance held the line against Reagan’s interventions. While he attempted to bring to full bear the force of the U.S. government and military against the people of Central America (and many died as a result), the Pledge contributed to the thwarting of his ultimate goals. But now we’re faced with nothing less than melting permafrost, rising sea levels and extreme weather.
It’s now time to escalate outside the Beltway and even beyond the pipeline route.
Will you take the Pledge?