On dismantling the ‘thin blue line’ that blocks us from action
To meet the challenges of the global climate crisis, we need bold ideas and to speak truth to power. That’s the idea behind Climate/Justice, a Planet Detoit opinion column written by Detroit-based environmental justice activist Michelle Martinez. Martinez writes not only as an activist but as a mother and 4th-generation Detroiter. Follow all of Martinez’ columns here.
Everyone I know has been following the incidents at Uvalde, Texas with horror, dismay and utter despair, followed by rage, and deep, existential pain. What can be done?
I wish Texas Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke was dragged from that press conference kicking and screaming “You are complicit!” instead of exiting quietly. I wish the gun manufacturers like Daniel Defense and Remington would be dismantled, and all their profits given to mental health facilities for communities impacted by gun violence from Columbine on.
I want our children, like my child since the age of four, not to have a reason for another active shooter drill, or to hide in closets and use desks as shields. I wish gun violence wasn’t the number one cause of death for kids in the United States.
I want to melt down every damn automatic weapon and build commuter rails and playscapes.
Oh, the despair.
I imagined myself yesterday as the parent pleading with police officers in Uvalde to do something, anything, while his child was gunned down. The thin blue line between this parent, desperate to protect the life of his child, and action. I wail at thinking of his fear, his anger.
What precious life, the sacred instant of birth, tiny fleeting moments eating ice cream, the photos, the lost graduations and birthdays, first love—all tied to the decision of police officers called repeatedly by children inside– and who consumed nearly 40% of Uvalde’s municipal budget in 2022—but waited 78 excruciating minutes until it was too late for 19 students and two teachers.
What would I do when I got the phone call from my pleading child from a cell phone inside the school? I imagined myself as these parents tased, handcuffed, and crumbled. I don’t know about you, but I’m crying while working, in the bathtub, while I drive, angry, angry tears. How could life be worth so little?
Phew. Between Buffalo, and this, it’s really difficult to pivot back to working on climate.
But if I am honest, when I really step back and put things into perspective, this is the same feeling of utter frustration and desolation I have when I think about the ravages of climate catastrophe and those who stand in the way of life-saving action.
My entire adult life has been marked by war for oil and gas in a nation with the largest war budget on the planet. And now we stand knowing that all life on Earth could collapse if we don’t stop burning fossil fuels. WE ARE PLEADING, “do something, do anything” to stop it. Just as so many parents are now pleading with Republicans to “do something, do anything” to stop the school shootings and gun violence in our communities.
I interpret our water protectors, our climate justice activists, living this life in a similar way every day. We plead with the politicians, CEOs, bankers, policy-makers, and the President to take action to save lives as we witness the unfolding of mass death.
I am thinking about water protectors like those who fought Enbridge Line 3 Tara Houska, Winona LaDuke, Detroit water protectors Mariam Kramer, or Bill Wylie Kellerman, so many who witness and foresee that children’s lives are being threatened by the ongoing risks of a waterless world in the Great Lakes. The youth of Climate Strike laid down on DTE Energy’s front lawn for climate justice.
They seek to protect not only our kids but the water and Earth itself. They are gassed, handcuffed, and arrested; they end up in court, paying legal fees.
I think of the activists at Standing Rock, Sunrise youth as young as 13, who laid their bodies on the line, at risk of arrest and imprisonment, beaten by private security firms for the purpose of saving life itself.
Climate activists feel the despair of a burning planet in some way every day, for the life of all species on Earth. And we are desperate to save her many lives as they are snuffed out in greater numbers each year.
This is not some far-off thing on some faraway land. Look at Detroit’s massive floods last year or at the tornadoes in Gaylord which tore through homes and businesses and took the life and dreams of so many.
What stands between us and saving our loved ones from imminent death? It’s a part of the same sick system. The thin blue line — the world that has been militarized for the protection and maintenance of what Eisenhower called “the military-industrial complex”: mass militarization, markets fueled by fossil gas production and guarded by the politicians the oil and gun lobby pay.
Arms deals are even promulgated within local police departments, police that don’t have any Constitutional duty to protect us. And apparently, anyone with a heartbeat can get a gun, while the stock market soars after each mass shooting.
Princeton professor Rob Nixon discusses slow violence as violence with a slowed effect that is “drama deficient”. While the speed of climate is slower (though rapidly accelerating), the bullet of an AR-15 moves 3x faster than the speed of light.
But the violence of climate change, although slower in unfolding, is just as horrific. Like gun violence, it can be mitigated. But instead, we construct false obstacles between loving people and the obvious actions and solutions that can save the lives of our children – and all life on Earth.
After each climate disaster, or mass shooting, people forget and move on. But we can afford to no longer. Making sense of the violence in Uvalde has my mind in knots. But the logic is apparent: put simply, market-driven mass death is worth the profit no matter the collateral damage to kids, elders, Black, Asian, Indigenous, forests, oceans…
And this moment — if nothing else — is a call to love life, and to do something, anything to dismantle the systems that prevent us from protecting it.
Top photo credit: Sara Faraj
Martinez will be donating all proceeds from this column to Black to the Land Coalition, and she urges readers to donate to the organization via CashApp at $blacktotheland.