Post-430: “Declare Emergency!” Part II

(1700 words)

Yesterday I wrote (Post-429: “Declare Emergency!”) about my in-the-wild discovery of “Declare Emergency!” Today I find myself with something meaningful to add. The “Declare Emergency!” group, I learned, group was hosting an event at a meeting room in the public library today. I resolved to stop by, and I did stop by. What I learned gives me enough for a few more words about the group and its goals.

The group’s manifesto confirms that the group encourages people to “block roads and do civil disobedience,” quoting from one of their leaflets, “until such time that the Biden Administration declares a climate emergency.”

Early in the day, I ran into more “Declare Emergency!” leaflets that I hadn’t previously seen. They were paper, about the size of two 3″x5″-sized cards stacked on top of each other, and were printed in color on quite-good-quality paper. The “Declare Emergency!” logo is in a red-and-white color scheme.

Today’s leaflet said:

“Climate collapse has f*cked our future. — Let’s act while we still can. — DECLARE EMERGENCY!”

(The asterisk is theirs.)

The leaflets I saw were gently blowing in the breeze, adhered with tape to a plastic signboard which serves as a permanent sidewalk advertisement for an “early bird parking special” at a certain garage.

On the back, there is a huge QR code again, and this:

“Now is the time to declare a state of planetary emergency.” — Prof. Johan Rockstrom, Potsdam Institute.


Flash forward to evening. The library. A screen lists the different events of the day that have reserved space in one of the meeting rooms. The most popular is the tax-filing help event, which is over by the time I arrive. “Climate emergency seminar, room such-and-such.” Got it. Let’s see what’s going on and what emergencies are being declared over there.

I begin to notice how empty the library is this evening. It is unusually empty. (A hyped-up weather forecast may be responsible. It had been warning all day of thunderstorms and hail. I did not see any such weather. I did notice the sharp drop in temperature,from an unusually-warm and summer-like daytime to a comparatively chilly dusk and evening.) (Update, April 7: I realize I overlooked that it is Easter week, which is “spring break” week, which means no students or their hangers-on are here.)

In the vicinity of the meeting-room. There are some “Declare Emergency!” fliers laid out on a set of chairs. I recognize the one I saw earlier in the day. Of more interest to me is a long-form, “analog”  manifesto (i.e., printed on paper). The manifesto is titled “Open Letter to Americans on the Climate Emergency.” I took one with interest.

I was not impressed by the manifesto. It is too shrill, emotionalistic, angry, and even unfocused. The genre of “public-facing political manifesto” should surely avoid being those things. It is not disciplined. The manifesto wastes a lot of words on a dubious historical comparison and a kind of statement-of-faith that is not even related to climate change. The immaturity of the people behind “Declare Emergency!” strikes me.

The manifesto is 500-600 words in length, one small size piece of paper front and back. It fails to make use of that textual real estate. Tight writing is required, with real care and precision, probably even many drafts. (I am reminded of the famous words of a long-ago letter-writer: “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter so I wrote this long one.”) The skill and tact and grace behind that kind of disciplined writing has, I believe, hugely atrophied since its long peak some generations back. In the tech age, I expect it’s gotten considerably worse still. Whoever wrote this manifesto may be good at scribblings on Twitter, or Instagram, but is not good at this.

This manifesto, the product of this local chapter of the “Declare Emergency!” group, starts with these words:

“Let’s be blunt: our government is hard at work destroying our futures, our education, our healthcare, our jobs and our families because of their capture by corporations and the fossil fuel industry. We have a future of unprecedented injustice, suffering, and death, and still they refuse to tell the truth and begin the process of a just transition away from fossil fuels. The “adults in the room” have shown that they don’t give a s**t about us. The People must take action, like we’ve done again and again throughout history.”

Besides the grammatical errors, there is an unusual pattern of bolding phrases. The line “they don’t give a s**t about us” is, for some reason, put in bold (and is not asterisked in the original). I don’t like the trend in casual use of “bad words” which itself feels like its own kind of poor grammar. Using the phrase “they don’t give a s**t about us” is cheap and demeaning, is a “low-effort” way to try to shock or grab attention, and signals unseriousness.

The rest of the manifesto is poorly argued, has a religious-like tone, and goes on tangents. The point, anyway, is on the back side. They will be organizing people for “blocking roads and doing civil disobedience in Washington DC continually.” Why? To get that “Emergency!” declaration. The rest is hazy. The justification: “[T]he alternative– our extinction– is beyond appalling.”


The “Declare Emergency!” event itself was poorly attended. But, then, this is a group calling for illegal actions (strictly speaking), and it takes a certain type to cross this psychological Rubicon even in this era of kid-gloving such protestors.

At one point the manifesto says: “If we get beaten, so be it. If we are imprisoned, so be it.” I believe the “beaten” refers to physical assault in this case, not losing.

A thin and trim white male, who I take to have been leading this event, spoke in a low tone of voice. His voice is that kind of tone that would make a classroom of students lose respect for a teacher pretty quickly; it is the kind of tone and presentation which, if coming from a substitute teacher, would lead kids ages eleven to fifteen or sixteen to try to take advantage of him in some way.

I didn’t go into the ongoing meeting. I listened in a little bit and took a look at the material, including the interesting manifesto I’ve already quoted from. I could make out only a portion, snippets of phrases. I definitely overheard the phrase “nonviolent resistance.” The word “social” I heard repeatedly. I think I made out the word “revolutionary” once or twice.

I didn’t stick around more than that. I took the opportunity of being in the library to pursue my occasional hobby of allowing books to find me. Of most interest was a book of Virginia architecture, written circa 2001. (Architectural history is one of those things that sounds really, really boring to a kid, but is actually surprisingly interesting. It is a kind of graceful parallel track to general history, to social change. Something like that. These architectural historians say a lot of interest. Books themselves also become historical artifacts, tied to the places and times of their publication. This book had few if any ritual denunciations of an Evil Past. The writers referred neutrally to Robert E. Lee, even specifying that he was considered a “national hero” rather than merely a “Southern hero,” which is why the U.S. government took over his mansion and has run it as a national monument (which still holds today, despite the Red Guard-like unrest of 2020 and since). That line on General Lee is in the entry on the Arlington House, also known as the Lee-Custis Mansion, which sits so majestically across the river from the Lincoln memorial.)


The “Declare Emergency!” group is planning to do targeted traffic blockades, they say, “starting” April 21st of this year. That is Earth Day weekend.

What do I make of “Declare Emergency!”-?

Based on their manifesto, they are not rigorous thinkers.

They imagine themselves rebels, but they are not. They are extreme partisans, but of a consensus position.

They are advocates of moral-purity. They see themselves as purer than normal people, and definitely purer than the faceless villainous opponents but also purer than the neutrals. Purity-spiralling is built into their program. I could analyze their manifesto more to make the point that they are not really rebels but rather conformists and “purity spirallers,” but I see little use in taking further time to do so.

They are undisciplined, immature, negativistic. There is a hotheadedness that is either a sign of immaturity (I believe I’d have been interested in this group and its goals at age 14) or that points to the kind of person who inserts himself at angry political rallies for thrills, to provoke, maybe to scuffle with police, or to taunt and scuffle with political opponents in the streets as available, or who likes to harass political opponents in general. Applied to another milieu, it’s the man who provokes bar-fights (maybe).

They have an unhealthy apocalyptic vision of things. There may be some kind of narcissistic complex at work here, or whatever term from psychology fits, in which they believe they are on a divine mission. Invectives towards evildoers are in the name of the divine will; blocking traffic can force governments to follow the divine will. If the gods are angered, there will be fire and fury. They are therefore doing this in the name of everyone. To quote the manifesto again: “[T]his fight [is] for humanity’s very existence.”

There are certain ideological features implied in their manifesto, and other material, which create a qualitatively different sort of the “climate activism” recognizable in previous decades (it was formerly known as “environmentalism”). The manifesto repeatedly compares climate non-activism and the faceless evildoer class to a caricatured version of white racism of the past. It’s a package-deal of positions, but alas is based on racialized morality-tales; to argue against them or to disbelieve them are blasphemous. (This is what people mean by “Wokeness.”)

I’ve given a pretty negative appraisal of this group. It can’t all be negative. viewing it from the outside, I find little positive to say about it. As I say, I’d have written a very different appraisal twenty years ago as a mid-teenager.


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