Stop, hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look. What’s goin’ down?
(“What It’s Worth” chorus, 1966, lyrics or listen)
This song was written in 1966 by Stephen Stills of Crosby, Sills, & Nash fame. They recorded it and performed it thousands of times although it was first performed by Buffalo Springfield that year. The song quickly became an anthem for all those working on numerous fronts of the global struggle for human rights (in the 60s that meant the end of war and environmental protection). This song is still ranked #63 on Rolling Stone’s list of the The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, by the way.
The song’s universal appeal was practically instant even though it was actually inspired by local Los Angeles rock fans protesting the imposition of a 10 PM curfew on the entertainment area on Sunset Boulevard, known as the Sunset Strip — you know, to keep the ruckus down. At the time, Buffalo Springfield and other bands were performing there at places like Whiskey A Go Go and Pandora’s Box. But its origins didn’t matter because it struck a chord, a truth, something that everyone on the planet could recognize.
There’s somethin’ happenin’ here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun, over there
Tellin’ me I got to beware
(“What It’s Worth” first verse, 1966, lyrics or listen)
The young anti-war counter-cuture that emerged following the end of World War II embraced many Crosby, Sills, & Nash’s songs, but “What It’s Worth” was unique in that it so well described the educational challenges inherent in any struggle for any cause, from peace and the environment to immigration/voting/equality/human-rights, etc., even to lift an unjust curfew.
There’s battle lines bein’ drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speakin’ their minds, once again
Gettin’ so much resistance from behind
(“What It’s Worth” second verse, 1966, lyrics or listen)
Take for example our recent and highly successful People’s Climate March, with a follow-up Flood Wall Street sit-in quite publicly demanding corporate environmental responsibility. And, many of us are encouraged by this week’s Climate Summit at the United Nations and the specific commitments outlined by President Obama. Taken together, all three of these events can perhaps lift spirits but their impact in conveying the urgency of this issue will only be measured by how fast and how hard we work, redoubling our efforts to educate our family members, work mates, and community — everyone in our sphere of influence.
As we pointed out last week with this photo, time is the only commodity that can’t be recycled, so we have to do everything today to make the world a better place. Once, having envisioned a perfected future, there exists an imperative, an obligation, to materialize that vision.
Protests, rallies, meetings, summits, pamphlets, posters, banners, and speeches will only take us so far. Surely these are useful in recruiting new allies to any cause, but what will really harness the power of all the people, or at least a healthy majority, to not budge until change comes about?
Capturing the planet-at-large will require the most creative explosion of public engagement and education that we have ever seen, an expression of non-violent civil disobedience on a global scale.
Central to this effort must be the fact that climate change is already upon us. Therefore, we must move away from the elemental proof or disapproval of its causes — a never ending battle with the naysayers, a red herring. We are long over that debate.
The destruction of ocean habitats, the rising sea levels, the increasing scarcity and privatization of water, and much more, are factual realities that we are being forced to reckon with, and this can only be done through worldwide harmony. The alternative is death. People arguing against protecting our environment are akin to those in some parts of this country who will not put out your house fire unless your taxes are up to date. They don’t look at the big picture, either on purpose or because they are incapable of normal cogitation.
One of the things everyone in the world does understand, however, is the power of money, what gets spent on what, and what are the expressed priorities at any given point. We have to encourage the growth of financial divestment coalitions already in existence among universities, pension funds, venture capitalists, foundations, and corporate boards of directors. We must draw them away from technologies that have no future such as fossil fuels, the meat industry, and the privatization of water resources, and away from state regimes that hurt their population. While we cringe when we see corporations use their newly assigned personal rights to take away the rights of others (limiting their female employees’s personal birth control choices, for example), we must also recognize that without people, without customers, there are no corporations. We hold a mighty power to shape corporations by using global non-violent civil disobedience to both raise awareness/educate and reap new commitments to the people’s issues by getting powerful entities to champion our cause.
We are beginning to see this happen, and our duty is to hurry along this process. Time is all we have.
For more on how progress happens, click here.