This blog was written by Laura Hassler, Director Musicians Without Borders
February 3, 2023
I could have been arrested.
On Saturday, January 28th, I joined a demonstration in the Hague, called by Dutch civil society organizations in solidarity with Extinction Rebellion (XR). The reason? Dutch police had ‘preventively’ arrested eight XR activists, days before a planned demonstration, for using social media to promote a nonviolent protest. The demonstration would block the A12 highway for the short distance between the Parliament and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and…ahem… Climate, demanding that the Dutch government stop subsidizing the fossil fuel industry –currently for 17+ billion euros per year. Our demand in solidarity: the right to protest.
Around 850 demonstrators were arrested for blocking the highway, as more than 2000 of us watched and cheered and chanted and sang from the sidewalks above. Later, it was reported that the police had also wanted to arrest us, too. For what? Standing together on a sidewalk, peacefully—though not quietly—in support of young (and a few old), nonviolent demonstrators calling for an end to fossil fuel subsidies, on behalf of our shared Planet Earth.
Russia: the convenient enemy
Had I been arrested, at least I would have had a book to read. In my bag was JFK and the Unspeakable: why he died and why it matters, by James Douglass, a thoroughly documented historical exploration of the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy in 1963, an event I am old enough to remember.
I’m still in the first chapters, the context of that earlier Cold War, the global arms race between the US and the Soviet Union, the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. And– extraordinarily—the story of the secret line of communication that grew between JFK and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, their conversations and letters about their love for their children and grandchildren, their mutual concern for the survival of the planet. We are alive today thanks to their decision, in 1962, to turn away from enmity between their countries, making the deal that saved the world from a nuclear holocaust, and starting a process of negotiation toward disarmament, a radical turn toward peace. For Kennedy, this was a firmly and passionately taken new direction that pitted him against his own military and CIA establishment, finally costing him his life.
I grew up in those times, in that place. The US was immersed in a climate of fear of ‘the Russians’ and ‘the communists’, fear kept at a feverish pitch by politicians and the media. The Russians were building even bigger bombs than we had, competing with us in the space race, expanding their empire aggressively and threatening our lifestyle, our freedoms! Anyone who questioned this narrative was either ignored, blacklisted or attacked as a ‘card-carrying communist’ or at least a ‘fellow traveler’. Uprisings of poor and disenfranchised peoples around the world were never explained in relation to colonialism and exploitation, but presented as the ominous spread of communism, an existential threat to the principles of democracy, needing to be stopped at all costs.
At all costs, indeed. Those costs, in fact, went mainly to the arms industry, the Pentagon, the FBI and the CIA, the dark and hidden agencies that promoted and maintained a war-based economy, and the people kept in power by this web of secrecy and paranoia. Meanwhile, ordinary folks lived in terror of the Russians (sometimes also the Chinese), ducked and covered, built fall-out shelters under their houses, and feared their neighbors.
Some years later, the Soviet Union collapsed, for most Americans an inexplicable event. But, the Cold War was over, and we had won. The US helped install a new Russian regime, and Russia was no longer scary. And China, once the main communist threat in the far east, became the world’s greatest trading partner, source of raw materials and cheap labor for western businesses.
But the war business still needed enemies and so new ones were created: former allies Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi were in turn the new ‘Hitlers’, their countries subsequently destroyed by the wars that followed. Then, the terrorists in Syria, the Islamic State, the Taliban, Iran, North Korea, the Axis of Evil—all reasons to continue to funnel vast sums of money to the war industry, while funneling human bodies to the wars, droning civilians and torturing ‘some folks’.
And today, welcome back: Russia is again our enemy, Putin is the newest ‘Hitler’, and arms industry profits are through the roof. Meanwhile, prominent US politicians narrate the new war story: ‘We must fight Russia over there so that we don’t have to fight Russia over here’; or ‘Our bullets, their blood’. Whoever raises a question about this newest, dubious war in Ukraine is silenced, censored and labeled a ‘Putin apologist’, or even, ridiculously, a ‘communist’.
Gas profits, war billions
These days, I live in the Netherlands, in the EU, in Europe. As a result of the war in Ukraine, and the coerced cut-off of relations (and pipelines) between Russia and Europe, our utility bills have soared, with hikes of sometimes 400-500%. We hear daily stories of ordinary people, having to choose between heating and eating. EU countries, once headed in a greener direction, are now returning to atomic energy, gas drilling or even dirty coal mining. The ramifications for the rest of the world are much worse, as food supplies are disrupted and millions in the global south face starvation. And we all face the threat, once again, of nuclear war…. while fossil fuel profits skyrocket.
All global crises are connected. War is fueled by fear. The fossil fuel industry, greenwashing itself at climate conferences, feeds the war machine—which is exempted from climate agreements– as both buy off those in power. And the police defend the powerful—also on the A12 in the Hague.
So what’s a poor musician to do?
There’s a blessing, and hope, in hundreds of young people sitting down on a highway, accepting arrest and jail, out of love for all of life and a determination to protect it. Refusing to stop telling the truth, willing to sacrifice their own temporary safety for the long-term safety of the Planet, they are part of a global movement.
Let’s help it to grow. This is about climate. It is also about peace, and justice, and standing for the human right of all to live in dignity.
As they chanted last Saturday: we are unstoppable, another world is possible.
Extinction Rebellion has announced its next planned blockade of the A12 highway on Saturday, March 11. Maybe I’ll ask some musician friends to join….
Can’t think of a better way to celebrate my 75th birthday.