What Can We Do?

There are many details to be worked out but let me briefly cover a few options that are not viable.

Armed Struggle

More and more Americans are arming themselves and training for armed conflict. Some to overthrow the government, some to attack the liberals in the suburbs and some to defend us from refugees. All of these are a trap. Some of you will be mislead into killing the few who are actually on a path to save you. Others will give an excuse for the government to declare martial law and again stop the few who can save you. Armed conflict is the preferred weapon of the government. They will win in an armed conflict. This is why the government police protect you, bus you around, are members of your groups, and why you can bring arms to protests while in many cities the nonviolent protesters can not even use a wooden stick for their signs. They will use infiltrators to turn nonviolent movements into an armed conflict. Even if somehow you can win with armed conflict, we will get leaders who are even more ruthless than today. We will not avoid climate catastrophe. Use your courage to join a nonviolent revolution. I believe it is the book “Why Civil Resistance Works: The strategic login of nonviolent conflict” 2011 by E. Chenowith and M.J. Stephan, that studied revolutions of the last couple of centuries and characterized them as primarily nonviolent or violent. They learned than the nonviolent revolutions were twice as likely to win and of those that won, twice as likely to be sustainable. The US government has used these nonviolent tactics to overthrow governments that were not sufficiently open to foreign exploitation.

Planing Your Private Escape

Undoubtedly the rich have teams making plans for their survival. Personally I can’t imagine a viable plan. You need to hope that the entire human population is not wiped out or the entire planet made unlivable by nuclear war or other weapons of mass destruction. Do you think that you can control this once you get it started? Then you will need to defend yourself from billions of very angry and desperate people. Do you expect any members of your private security to be loyal after you have sacrificed their families and friends. You might be powerful on Wall St but are you ready to defend your state of privilege when it might be a physical competition, like kings of old. Your network of democracy for elite will collapse and you will be defending yourself like kings and emperors of the past, many of whom were assassinated. Your own family might kill you for what you have done. In my opinion, a better plan would be signing some agreement with society that when a People’s Assembly is formed to deal with the climate emergency, you will join them, live more modestly, but more likely live. The people might be more forgiving if you donate your wealth toward the needed changes. I am not personally threatening, just glad that I am not in your shoes. In fact I have always avoided climbing the ladder because I saw it as a trap.

Clinging to Your Stuff and Ignoring the Suffering of Others

The people who have gained a little and don’t want to loose it are the greatest barrier to dealing with the climate emergency. This has been the downfall of nearly every attempt to revolt and establish democracy. The comfortable people turn to the government to put down the struggle of the suffering people.

In March of 2012 I traveled to Washington DC for training in the Veterans for Peace, Action Team and to attend a month of social forums. I can not imagine a better way of using my Caterpillar vacation days before retiring on April 1. The first day I walked just North of the White House looking for an Occupy camp. I was greeted by a huge young man named Tank with a huge, painful looking, ear piercing. When I tried to talk with him, he brought over another lean man, clearly controlling the group and handling public relations. He did not identify himself. He started telling me how we need to start shooting people in the suburbs to get the revolution started. They are too comfortable and need to be motivated. They allow the abuse of our government, creating much suffering. I do not know whether he was a government infiltrator to create rationale for the government crushing of the nonviolent Occupy movement or if this was his personal perspective. Clearly this was an alternate encampment and not the Occupy movement, which I later confirmed. In any case, I learned that there are very justifiably angry people who have been sacrificed and are planning to start shooting.

About the same time I read “The anti-American manifesto” 2009 by Ted Rall. This is a frightening book. I mostly agree with his assessment of our government and its accomplices but not with his proposal of armed revolution. I have included some excerpts so you can start to understand the risk of remaining complacent and indifferent to suffering.

The anti-American manifesto

2009 by Ted Rall.


It has become standard practice to conflate the citizens and the government of the United States. For instance, even critics of the U. S. government write statements like: “We killed more than a million people in Iraq.”

I subscribe to the concept of guilt by tacit consent. The United States military would not and could not have killed a million-plus Iraqis if the people who live in the United States had done everything they could to stop them.

Like the victorious Allies at the end of World War II and Osama bin Laden, I subscribe to the concept of guilt by tacit consent. The United States military would not and could not have killed a million-plus Iraqis if the people who live in the United States had done everything they could to stop them. If Iraqis one day find themselves enjoying the power to hold us accountable for our inaction, they would be right to do so.

the government and its allies in the media and business are not “we the people.”

However, I do not use “we” to refer to the U.S. government. The government has become so undemocratic and unresponsive that the only reasonable means of opposing it is to strive for its violent overthrow. The revolutionary transformation of an individual from quiescent citizen-poodle to enemy of the state requires a mental separation: the government and its allies in the media and business are not “we the people.”

They are not even our representatives. They have murdered more than a million Iraqis. We will stay. They must go.

They are not even our representatives. They have murdered more than a million Iraqis. We will stay. They must go.

We who do nothing are complicit.

We who choose to act are not.


The great triumph of Reaganism is that it has convinced Americans to stop demanding that their government do anything for them. This is absurd. Any government, regardless of its political orientation, ought to provide the necessities of life—the things everybody needs to live and thrive—for free. Well, not free—in return for paying taxes. Never forget your ten basic rights:

  • Shelter
  • Food
  • Basic clothes
  • Education in accordance with your talents and abilities (through college)
  • Medical care
  • Retirement benefits
  • Transportation
  • Communications (telephone, Internet, etc.)
  • If you’re charged with a crime:    competent legal counsel
  • In prison: job training and rehabilitation.


Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed … Whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it.

—Declaration of Independence of the United States, 1776

It shall be unlawful for any person with the intent to cause the overthrow or destruction of any government in the United States, to print, publish, edit, issue, circulate, sell, distribute, or publicly display any written or printed matter advocating, advising, or teaching the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying any government in the United States by force or violence.

—U.S. Code, from a 1940 law still in effect

You can feel it.

Or maybe you can’t.

It doesn’t matter whether you feel it or not. It’s happening. The story of the United States of America as we know it—not merely as the world’s dominant superpower, but as a discrete political, economic and geographic entity—is drawing to a close due to a convergence of emerging economic, environmental, and political crises.

Nothing lasts forever, empires least of all. And this one, which only began to expand in earnest circa the year 1900, doesn’t feel like it has the staying power of ancient Rome. Not at all.

But we’re not here to talk about the vague possibility of collapse at some point in the future. We are here—in this book and within this historical moment—because the collapse feels as though it is currently in progress.

We are here because the U.S. is going to end soon. There’s going to be an intense, violent, probably haphazard struggle for control. It’s going to come down to us versus them. The question is: What are you going to do about it?


Us: Hard-working, underpaid, put upon, thoughtful, freedom-loving, disenfranchised, ordinary people

Them: Reactionary, stupid, overpaid, greedy, shortsighted, exploitative, power-mad, abusive politicians and corporate executives

In 2008, like the people of the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s, we put our hopes into a young new leader. He is the kind of fresh-faced reformer who just might have been able to do some good had he been put into power decades ago. “Black Man Given Nation’s Worst Job,” read the headline in the satirical weekly newspaper the Onion after Barack Obama won. He has failed. It is by design that internal reformers like Mikhail Gorbachev and Obama inevitably come too late to actually accomplish anything. Even if a leader like Obama were inclined to push for the sweeping reforms that might save American late-stage capitalism from itself, as did Franklin D. Roosevelt—and there is no evidence that the thought has crossed Obama’s mind—his fellow powerbrokers, fixated on quarterly profit statements and personal position, would never allow it.

The media talks a lot about reform. But it’s too late for nips and tucks. Reform can only fix a system if the system is viable and open to change. Neither is true about the United States of America.

A few months later I traveled to Philadelphia to join Veterans for Peace for the national gathering of Occupy on July 4th. I had traveled with Paul Appell, a Vietnam veteran and hog farmer from central Illinois near where I worked for Caterpillar. That evening we joined the youth marching from downtown to the site of the fireworks. When we got close, and could see the crowds on a street below walking to the fireworks, police blocked us. We learned later that supposedly there was an unrelated shooting death that the police were responding to. It had been a long, hot day and I suggested to Paul that we return to the hotel before they kettle and arrest us. Paul had chosen a Holiday Inn Express downtown, right across a tiny side road from the Quaker church. We were staying with Homeland Security. Six of their vehicles were parked in the hotel entrance. I do not know how many in the parking lot. Across the street we could see the top of the Wikileaks van on the other side of the stone wall and hear the activists inside, eating and preparing to sleep.

As we were preparing to sleep, I suggested that we first go back down and get a beer in the hotel bar. My voice is not loud and when the bartender asked me to repeat, I first said that my voice is hoarse from chanting in the streets. The bar was nearly empty except for one man next to me who had clearly been heavily drinking.

I suspected that my remark would be provocative and was correct. First the man asked if I worked for Google. I was wearing a Google t-shirt that I had received from Google at a Software Developer’s Conference in Silicon Valley. I only use it to sleep but had not changed to quickly have a beer. I replied no, the truth, but his tone of voice had concern. I suspect he knows of security connections with Google and was concerned if I, a protester, work for them.

He asked if we were the leaders. I laughed and did not respond. I had been a competent engineer but that day was totally out of my field of expertise, taking the streets with youth. He also does not understand that Occupy has no leaders.

He then told us how he was in charge of Homeland Security snipers and had been stationed on the roof of the Federal Reserve Building, which overlooks where we were gathered. They had brought him in from New Orleans initially for the threat of us but later in the day responding to a much greater threat. He might have been talking about the New Black Panthers who were prominent and distributing literature.

He was very racist. At one point he told me that a black or white person was cruising looking for a fight and asked if I could guess who was cruising and who was being attacked. I did not respond. He explained that, he, a white guy would drive around with buddies to punch blacks. I suspect he was testing my views. I would normally respond, but not to a white, racist sniper in a hotel with his Homeland Security buddies.

He then repeatedly talked about Kent State, not the details where reserve troops fired on and killed University students during protest of the Vietnam war, just Kent State. He was clearly very disturbed and was drinking. He had been a sniper that day against us. He explained that he had served two terms in Iraq and now this was the only job that he could get to support his little children. As we finished a second beer and were paying, he said “You need to get this revolution started. You have no idea how bad it is and how many of us (in Homeland Security and military) are with you and will join you. You need to quickly get this revolution started.”

He paid his $70 bar bill and went up the elevator with us. Again mentioning Kent State and apologizing that this is the only way he can support his family.

We had never said anything about revolution and would not even respond when he talked about it. Like Tank’s buddy in Washington, and Ted Rall in his book, I have no idea if he was authentic or trying to entrap us. I do think they were all talking about legitimate problems and a system that is ready to explode.

I voted for Reagon once, until I learned more. I voted for Obama once, until I learned more. I suggest that those who still are captivated by the smiles of Bill, Hillary, Obama and Biden, dig deeper. There are very angry, armed people who are justified in viewing you as accomplices in extreme injustice.

Chris Hedges is an important author and colleague. He had risked his life as a war correspondent for the New York Times through many conflicts. They dismissed him in 2003 after he criticized the Iraq invasion at the commencement address in Rockford IL, not far from me. Chris wrote, in his book “War is A Force That Gives Us Meaning” (page 12):

Despots can be understood, even tolerated, but parasites rarely last long.

“The Palestinian uprising was not just about throwing the Israelis out of Gaza and the West Bank, but also about crushing the urban elite, the shop owners and businessmen, in East Jerusalem and Gaza City. The “strikes” organized by the shabab, the young men who fueled the uprising from the refugee camps, hurt the Palestinian community far more than they hurt the Israelis. In Bosnia it was the same, the anger turned against a Communist hierarchy that kept for itself the privileges and perks of power even as power slipped from their hands in the decaying state. There is little that angers the disenfranchised more than those who fail to exercise power yet reap powerful rewards. Despots can be understood, even tolerated, but parasites rarely last long.”