It is Happening Here

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I used to teach a course called Contemporary Political Theory in which I had students study Wilson, Lenin, Hitler, and Mao. We also read Jacques Ellul’s seminal work on propaganda. I mention this simply to say that I have actually studied the rise of Hitler fairly closely, I have read Mein Kampf four times, and I have looked closely at the propaganda Hitler used both before and after coming to power.

In my entire adult life, I have never compared an American politician to Hitler, with only one exception – Donald Trump. The megalomania, the scapegoating, the acceptance and encouragement of violence, the xenophobia, the racism, the authoritarianism, the harking back to some golden age of the Republic that only he can restore, the simplistic economic remedies, the manipulation of fear and hate, the casual use of the threats of military force, the use of religion to divide people, the methods of propaganda that make his followers see him as the only one who can make all things seem right again are all classic indicators of a person who is working to create a fascist state under authoritarian rule.

This is deadly serious. People and the planet will suffer greatly under Trump’s authoritarian rule. Our systems of democracy and checks and balances are not as robust as we think they are. With a Congress afraid to stand up against a president who has come to power on a wave of fascist populism, with courts stacked with Trump appointees, with a police force whose national union has already shown its support for Trump, and with the force of the military under his command, it is naive to think that Trump will be controlled.

This is a a warning, a warning from someone who has actually studied and taught about the rise of Hitler – it can happen here, it is happening here; and at this point Clinton and the people who vote for her are the only ones who can stop Trump from becoming President of the United States of America. Clinton is a lot of problematic things, but she is not a potential Hitler. Trump is. Progressives who are not voting for Clinton and who are working to keep people from voting for Clinton are aiding in the rise of Trump, whether they know it or not or admit it or not. I plead with you to look carefully at the reality of our situation. In January, our president will be Trump or Clinton. Anything we do to enable Trump to win will lead us into an era of real consequences for real people and all of life.

 

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A Storm is Coming

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A sermon delivered at Mosaic United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City, OK on “Storm Sunday” as part of their Season of Creation Series.

This past Friday night at 8 p.m.,  I left my house to go pick up my 14 year old daughter and one of her volleyball teammates from the Edmond Santa Fe football game with Deer Creek. The game was at Deer Creek Stadium, and as I left my house I saw the familiar sight of thunderstorms on the horizon. A storm was coming, and it was actually quite beautiful. There were two towering thunderheads set against the Western sky. There was just enough backlight from the recently set sun to provide a clear outline of the clouds as I drove west towards the stadium from our house in southwest Edmond. In each thunderhead there were lighting strikes providing a show like the many other lightning shows I have witnessed in my life in Oklahoma. When I was growing up in the western part of Lawton, my dad and I would often go out into the front yard of our house at night to watch the thunderstorms roll in from the west with their amazing lightning, and we would take turns judging the distance of the storm based on how long it took for the sound of the thunder to make it to our ears. That was when I first learned about the difference between the speed of light and the speed of sound. This was before the digital age, so watching storms was the kind of thing you did in Oklahoma at night, though my dad would remind me that he and his family watched thunderstorms even more often when he was a boy before dawn of television.

So the thunderstorms rolling in from the West this past Friday night were a familiar sight for me as an almost lifelong Oklahoman, but immediately after a moment of taking in the beauty of the storms, a bit of panic set in as I became aware that these storms were bearing down on Deer Creek stadium where my daughter was watching her high school team play football. As the last flicker of twilight provided back light for the storm, the steady bright lights of Deer Creek stadium in the distance provided a stark contrast with the lightning that was dancing in the ominous clouds just to the West. The thought of the very bad combination of lightning strikes and metal bleachers motivated me to simultaneously accelerate my vehicle and call my daughter on the phone to ask how close she thought the storm was to the stadium and to inquire if she had a plan for shelter in case the storm arrived before I did. Fortunately, the distance of storms can be deceiving, and my daugher and her volleyball buddy made it safely into the car before the storm arrived with time to spare. As drove away from the lights of stadium, my daughter and her friend could see more clearly the storm that had been headed their way, and they expressed relief that they were on their way to our house and no longer in the stands.

Beauty, wonder, power, life giving rains, danger, destruction, and even death – these are the realities of what we experience with storms; and in Oklahoma, we have had more than our share of the danger, destruction, and death that come with some storms. Today, we are much more likely to be watching a meteorologist on TV than sitting out on the front porch watching the storm roll in. In Oklahoma, we know what storms can do, and if you are like me, you can name many of the dates of some of the worst of them as they become markers of time in years of our lives and the experience of our communities. April 10, 1979 is a date we remember in my hometown of Lawton and our sister city of Wichita Falls, Texas, May 3, 1999 and May 20, 2013 are dates we remember in Moore and Oklahoma City. Depending on what part of the state you are from, other dates probably come to mind. In some other parts of the country, people remember many of their storms by names: Camille, Andrew, Hugo, Katrina, and Sandy. In others parts of the world, people have different dates and names that they remember. These dates and names remind us of the terrifying and destructive power of the storm – a power over which we as human beings have no control other than to do all we can to protect ourselves as best we can from the raging winds and waters and then care for each other as best we can in the storm’s aftermath.

In a storm’s aftermath, one of the most unhelpful and unconstructive things we can do is try to make sense of why a storm hit a particular place or a particular people. The temptation of trying to give moral meaning to major storm events or to claim that God was using such and such a storm to punish such and such a group is utterly unhelpful in caring for each other or in interpreting meteorological events. I have lost count of the number of religious figures who have claimed a storm hit a city, state, or country or even an individual person or family because it is God’s will. One of the persons who is well known for doing this just recently lost his home to flooding in Louisiana, and was struggling to come up with a good explanation for that, but that flooding event had no more to do with him than the other storms he believed God sent on other people had anything to do with them. Storms just happen. We may not like them, we may fear them, we may wish they did not exist, but they are simply a part of the way this world works. We may know more now than ever about their cause and how they develop, but our morality or lack thereof has not made God visit us with an individual weather event to punish us or others for our sins.

And here, I must say, I find the Biblical narratives to not be very helpful when it comes to storms other than to recognize the wonder and awesome power that they possess and that they are a part of the whole creation. The Biblical authors had about as much understanding of weather events as they had understanding about sexual orientation, which is to say – not very much. In pre-scientific communities and cultures, one can understand why people might think God uses the weather to restore the moral order of the universe, but this is no longer a viable interpretation of the role of storms in the life of the human community or the broader ecological community. We can understand why early Christians might have wanted to portray Jesus as having power over storms and that our faith could somehow have influence over a storm, but such a worldview is not helpful as we experience and respond to storms today. What is helpful from the life and teachings of Jesus in relation to storms is that we are called to love our neighbors, to help the most vulnerable, and to provide comfort, shelter, food, clothing, and care for those who have felt the impact of a storm. But there is no place for blaming people for being hit by a storm or for saying that it is the result of their lack of faith. Storms happen, and they can happen to anybody. They happen to the best of us and the worst of us. It is part of the natural order of life and creation. Our best response is simply to love each other in and after the storm with all of our hearts. And we can do all we can to prepare for storms so that fewer people will experience their worst consequences.

From what I have said thus far, one might think that I am saying that human activity has no influence on the weather, and that all we can do in relation to the weather is protect ourselves as best we can and care for each other as best we can when the weather turns bad. However, the same scientific method that has helped us to understand that individual weather events should not be understood as the result of the moral failure of individuals or groups of persons, also has shown us that there are some activities that we humans do collectively that actually do have an impact on the overall climate of the earth. We are currently experiencing the warmest year on record, in the warmest decade on record, and likely the warmest century on record during the history of human existence on this planet. And the vast majority of climate scientists point to human activity as the primary driver in the climate change we are experiencing. The emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases are changing the chemistry of our atmosphere and thus changing the atmosphere’s capacity to hold more heat. The science is less complex than fossil fuel companies would like to lead us to believe.

Climate scientists also tell us that global climate change will contribute to more severe droughts, more severe flooding events, more intense storms, and more intense fires across the planet. So even though we do not have control over any one weather event or even a set of weather events, this does not mean that human activity does not contribute to a climate in which we will experience more extreme weather events. There are storms that are coming that we can do nothing about, but the climate change that is coming and that is happening now is something that we can do something about, but it will take immense political will and commitment to each other in the human community and a deep care for our ecological community.

If we do nothing about the coming and present storm of climate change, it will have the most negative impact on the most vulnerable among us that Jesus calls us to love and care for. In the coming and present storm of climate change there will be more hunger, there will be more thirst, there will be more homelessness, there will be more refugees, there will be more poverty, there will be more disease, there will be more violence, and there will be more suffering. The way of God’s love and justice that is expressed in the way of Jesus points us in a different way than our current path for both our human and ecological communities.

There are storms over which we have no control and for which there is no good explanation, and the only proper response is to do what we can to protect ourselves from them and to care for and love one another when they hit, but there is a storm coming of our own making that up until this point we have largely ignored and through our ignoring it, we are strengthening it. There are storms we do not control and there are storms of our own making. May God grant us the wisdom to know the difference, and may we have the courage and compassion to act for the well being of all life on earth. Amen.

 

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Statement in Support of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe

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(The following remarks were made at a press conference in Oklahoma City on September 7, 2016  in support of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and their efforts to oppose the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline.)

It is my privilege to stand today in support of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and to support their resistance to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline that threatens both their water and their sacred historical and cultural sites.

As a child of the earth I am thankful for our Native American sisters and brothers who are protecting our common Mother from the Dakota Access Pipeline, and I am proud to stand with Standing Rock. I resonate deeply with the words of Doug Crow Ghost, the Direct of Water resources of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation who says that “Nobody wants their church to be desecrated, and the earth is our church.”

As a United Methodist Christian, I join with a myriad of voices in my church who are also standing with Standing Rock. I am thankful for the leadership and courage displayed by members of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference of the United Methodist Church who have been leading the way in the United Methodist church here in the state of Oklahoma and nationally to bring attention and support to those who are protecting earth and water at Standing Rock. We have been blessed to hear from one of those leaders here today, Rev. Chebon Kernell.

I am thankful for Bishop Bruce Ough of the Minnesota and the Dakotas area who wrote these words, “I stand with my Lakota and Dakota brothers and sisters because I believe the central question of the creation story is at the heart of their lament and their protest: What will we do with the blessing of power God has given us? This is a particularly poignant God-question for those of us who have the power of privilege in our country and the world.”

I am also grateful for the witness of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society and its leader, General Secretary Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe. In her call for solidarity with Standing Rock, she writes “As United Methodists continue our journey of repentance and healing with indigenous peoples, we understand that this journey is meaningful only if it leads us to action in addressing ongoing oppression and injustice. Today, that commitment leads us to stand alongside the people of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation. To offer ourselves as partners in resistance against those who would marginalize the voices of native peoples, despoil sacred lands, endanger life-sustaining waters and prioritize profits over the health of God’s people and God’s planet.”

And so it is that I stand here today with others in the United Methodist Church to be in solidarity with our Native American sisters and brothers who are serving as protectors of the earth and water. As an Oklahoman, I am particularly of aware of our need to be in solidarity with the protectors at Standing Rock, for we in Oklahoma know all too well the history of broken promises and violence against indigenous people. As Oklahomans we are also aware that much of the oil that would pass though the Dakota Access Pipeline, if it were completed, is oil that is owned by fossil fuel companies with deep connections to our state. In a state being shaken by damaging earthquakes of our own making, we know first-hand the negative consequences of an unrestrained fossil fuel industry that runs roughshod over the will of the people. We in Oklahoma have a special moral responsibility to stand with Standing Rock to protect our earth, our water, our climate, and each other.

Rev. Dr. Mark Y. A. Davies

Chair, Board of Church & Society, United Methodist Conference of Oklahoma

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Thanks to Serena Blaiz for the pictures.

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Will It Take Dead Bodies?

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This morning Oklahoma was hit by a 5.8 magnitude earthquake with the epicenter near Pawnee, Oklahoma. The damage is still being assessed, but there is significant damage to the town’s historic buildings and more damage reports are sure to come in from the surrounding area. The earthquake was felt by persons in numerous states throughout the Midwest. It is the largest earthquake in Oklahoma history, eclipsing the previous record of 5.7 set in 2011, and it was the second magnitude 5+ earthquake in Oklahoma this year (the first year in Oklahoma’s history to record two magnitude 5+ earthquakes).

Oklahoma has experienced thousands of earthquakes over the past 6 years since the fracking boom in Oklahoma has led to massive amounts of wastewater being stored in injection wells throughout the state. In spite of the fossil fuel industry using its clout with Oklahoma’s government and higher education to attempt to misinform the public about the correlation between wastewater injection wells and earthquakes, numerous independent scientific studies have shown that the evidence of correlation is overwhelming. The United States Geological Survey had to redraw the nation’s earthquake hazard map to indicate that chances of a damaging earthquake are now just as high in Oklahoma as they are in California. Today highlighted the prescience of the USGS’s map revision.

Almost any other state in the United States would put a total moratorium on fossil fuel industry wastewater injection if it experienced the kind of fossil fuel industry induced earthquakes that we experience in Oklahoma – but not Oklahoma. We have become a commodity colony in which the well being of our citizens is less important than fossil fuel industry profits.

In a just nation, the federal government would come in and do a thorough assessment of the damage caused by the earthquake this morning in Oklahoma and give the bill to the fossil fuel industry for payment. The injustice of private citizens paying insurance premiums and deductibles for damage caused by the fossil fuel industry is criminal.

But this is Oklahoma and we have been here before. The following is how things play out after a big quake shakes our state –

Big earthquake hits Oklahoma

People: Something has to be done now to stop these earthquakes!!

Oklahoma Government: We are doing everything we can to study the situation. We are not yet sure about the cause of this particular earthquake, but after a careful assessment we will make public our course of action.

People: You better! We are mad as hell, and we are not going to take it anymore!

Oklahoma Government: After careful assessment we have decided to lower the amount of wastewater being injected into certain areas of concern.

People: We would feel better about a moratorium. Moratorium now!

Oklahoma Government: We can’t shut down wastewater injection in Oklahoma. It will hurt the fossil fuel industry too much. We know what’s best. In the meantime, we recommend you buy earthquake insurance.

People: Well this better work!

Oklahoma Government: We are happy to report that we are having fewer earthquakes owing to the responsible action we have taken to manage wastewater injection.

People: We feel a little better and will be quiet for a while.

Another Big Earthquake hits Oklahoma – Wash, Rinse, Repeat.

This cycle will never change unless the people make it change. In the meantime, federal government could you please help protect us from ourselves before the damage caused by the fossil fuel industry in Oklahoma is measured in bodies, not just falling stones and bricks? Will it take dead bodies for Oklahoma to address this crisis? Will dead bodies even be enough?

*source for map graphic – http://time.com/4273258/usgs-earthquake-map-oklahoma/?xid=fbshare

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Standing with Standing Rock

  
As a child of the earth I am thankful for Native American sisters and brothers protecting our common Mother from the Dakota Access Pipeline, and I am proud to stand with Standing Rock. 

The following letter was sent by the Oklahoma United Methodist Environmental Coalition in support for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
2 September 2016
To Steve Standing Bear, Standing Rock Sioux

To President Barack Obama

To Dennis McDonough, Chief of Staff, White House 

To Jo-Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary of the Army

To Oklahoma Members of Congress

The Oklahoma United Methodist Church’s Environmental Coalition stands in solidarity and support of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other communities in their opposition to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The environmental threat to land, water, endangered species—indeed, to the entire planet by encouraging the burning of more fossil fuel that leads to climate change—is real.

The disrespect to indigenous people by not consulting with them before their land is violated is abhorrent.

The United Methodist Church’s Social Principles state:

“We are aware that the current utilization of energy resources threatens this creation at its very foundation…We strongly advocate for the priority of the development of renewable energies…Rampant industrialization and the corresponding increase in the use of fossil fuels have led to a buildup of pollutants in the earth’s atmosphere…We therefore support efforts of all governments to require mandatory reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and call on individuals, congregations, businesses, industries and communities to reduce their emissions.

Indigenous peoples have a deep and profound understanding of Earth’s systems, of how nature works and it is long overdue that we listen to them. We stand strong with the people of the Standing Rock Sioux community as they and other native peoples lead this nation and the world toward a more sustainable Earth community.

We urge the Corps of Engineers to listen to them as well.

Sincerely,

Jane Wheeler, Pat Hoerth, Co-Chairs OKUMC Environmental Coalition

Rev. Dr. Mark Davies, Chair OKUMC Board of Church & Society

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Oklahoma Dead Canary State Campaign

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THE CANARY IS DEAD!

Oklahomans must do something to transform the Oklahoma Legislature to bring about systemic change in our state. The Oklahoma Legislature’s underfunding of public education and other key services for Oklahoma’s most vulnerable citizens is a moral failure. This campaign hopes to raise awareness of this moral and legislative failure while encouraging Oklahomans to take positive actions for a better future.

To support this campaign go to this link: https://www.booster.com/dead-canary-state-ok to purchase an Oklahoma Dead Canary T-shirt. Make a statement and raise awareness about the need for Oklahoma to provide quality public education and services for all Oklahomans. All proceeds will benefit public education in Oklahoma via http://www.donorschoose.org.

For some context to the Dead Canary State Campaign, read the following article that I posted after the close of the 2016 session of the Oklahoma Legislature from May 31, 2016:

Oklahoma and Kansas are dead canary states. Both have succumbed like a canary in a coal mine to the toxic air of a radically right wing, corporate controlled, fossil fuel dominated, theocratic leaning, and ALEC orchestrated republican government that has cut taxes and rolled back regulations for wealthy individuals and corporations under the distracting smokescreen of a barrage of anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQI, anti-Muslim, and anti-Latino rhetoric and legislation. All the while these two states have dramatically reduced investments in public education, healthcare, infrastructure, and other basic services with disproportionately negative impact on the poor and most vulnerable citizens. In addition, Oklahoma has the highest female incarceration rate on the entire planet (not an exaggeration). Both states are broke and broken – failed experiments in extremism. Oklahoma and Kansas serve as a clear warning for all other states who might be considering a journey into the depths of this section of the republican coal mine where little to no resistance is given over against unregulated capitalism, and where time and time again the interests of corporations and the wealthy elite are valued over the common good.

Kansas succumbed earlier than Oklahoma as it was not buoyed in the same way as Oklahoma by years of an oil and gas boom; but even during the boom, Oklahoma cut income taxes and offered oil and gas companies hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks such that the state was left unprepared for the inevitable bust – it is not like Oklahoma has not seen the cycle of boom and bust before. Even during the boom, Oklahoma reduced state funded per pupil spending more than any other state in the country, cuts that are now even deeper owing to the bust. And now in the bust, Oklahoma is experiencing repeated revenue failures and $1.3 billion budget shortfall for 2016-2017.

The Oklahoma Legislature’s response to the revenue failures and the budget shortfall highlighted in bold relief the sickness unto death that the failed Kansas/Oklahoma experiment has become. In action after action and in bill after bill passed by the legislature over the past month, the burden of the cuts was placed on the backs of the poor and most vulnerable. Some rural hospitals are closing and quality healthcare (including mental healthcare) is becoming less accessible, state supplemental payments are being delayed, teachers are being laid off and many common education programs cut, higher education and environmental protection programs received disproportionately large cuts, and the working poor had cuts in their earned income tax credits. Over and over again the wealthy and the oil and gas industry were protected from harm. A grossly ill-timed state income tax cut that disproportionately favored the wealthy was not repealed, and no cuts were made to the hundreds of millions of dollars of tax relief given to the fossil fuel industry on gross production of oil and gas. An ideological aversion to Obamacare kept the legislature from accepting the federal expansion of Medicaid that could benefit the health of hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans. $29 million were taken from poor working families in the cuts to the earned income tax credit, while the wealthy and oil and gas companies were held harmless. And let’s not forget, this is the same oil and gas industry that has made Oklahoma the earthquake capital of the world through its wastewater injection wells and externalized the cost of the damage and the cost of earthquake insurance onto private citizens.

As the New York Times Editorial Board correctly opined, Oklahoma’s response to the budget crisis was to make the poor poorer – “Republicans controlling the Oklahoma Legislature cruelly targeted some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens — the working poor.” It is not enough that the canary has died in this failed republican experiment; the vultures have moved in to pick at the carcass. Message to the rest of the country – you have been warned.

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An Open letter to Dr. Jill Stein, Green Party Candidate for President of the United States

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Dear Dr. Stein,
The platform and values of the Green Party are a witness and an inspiration for what the United States needs to become in order to become a more just, peaceful, participatory, and sustainable society. I am thankful for your unwavering commitment to these values that are so necessary in the make or break century for a livable climate and livable planet for both human and ecological communities.

Dr. Stein, as a supporter of Bernie Sanders. I am in agreement with many of the major concerns you have about Hillary Clinton – most notably her corporate connections with Wall Street, industrial agriculture, and the military industrial complex. Clinton has been much too quick to see military interventions as a solution to international relations, and she has real problems with judgment and trustworthiness. One does not have to be influenced by the right wing propaganda machine to see these major problems with Clinton. It was these concerns about Clinton combined with the positive vision put forth by Senator Sanders that led me to support him during the democratic primaries.

You and I agree that Senator Bernie Sanders was not treated fairly by the Democratic National Committee during the primaries and that there were way too many irregularities in the democratic primary voting processes, all of which need thorough investigation and remediation. Unfairness and injustice in our election processes are unacceptable and cannot stand without every effort to bring about systemic transformation for transparency, fairness, and uninhibited access to participation in the democratic process.

In spite of all of these things about which you and I agree, we are in deep disagreement about what our response should be to the current situation. You have decided that the way forward is for as many progressives as possible to cast their votes for you for the office of President of the United States. The stark reality however is that Secretary Clinton is the only candidate left who can beat Trump, and a Trump presidency is antithetical to everything for which the Green Party and you stand. There may be some truth that in some circumstances things have to get worse before they get better, but this is not one of those times. A Trump presidency would be the end of any meaningful work to address climate change. Trump’s energy policies, prepared for him by fossil fuel oligarchs, are based almost exclusively on further extraction and burning of oil, natural gas, and coal with no concern about the social and ecological costs of the methods of extraction or about the global consequences of their use. Trump would void U.S. participation in implementing the Paris Climate Accord, he would kill the Clean Power Plan, and he has already made explicit his plans to dismantle the EPA. Given that a President Trump would have the potential to shape the makeup of the Supreme Court for a generation, reversing these devastating consequences for the environment and a livable climate would take much more time than we currently have to arrest and reverse climate change. A Trump presidency would be ecocide.

Dr. Stein, I am writing to ask you to please stop running for president. This is not the way to build the Green Party or the Green Movement. As much as it disappoints you and me, Hillary Clinton is the only candidate who is capable of preventing a Trump presidency. Her election is the only way to keep the window open for working for a livable planet. It is also the only way to avoid a fascist, racist, misogynist, Islamophobiic, sociopathic demagogue from becoming president of the most powerful country on earth at a time when the earth most urgently needs the United States to create peace, eradicate poverty, and sustain a livable planet. A Trump presidency will bring real and lasting harm to Latinos, African Americans, Muslims, women, LGBTQ persons, and many others while destroying any opportunity we might have to arrest the Sixth Great Extinction on the planet.

It is with the urgency of now in mind that I respectfully ask you to please stop running for president and use the months before the election to promote the Green Party’s solutions for systemic transformation for a more just, peaceful, peaceful, and sustainable society. Please keep challenging Clinton and others to do more for people and the planet and to move away from placating Wall Street and corporations and to move away from over reliance on military interventions. Please call for a 50 state effort to make Ranked Choice Voting a reality across the nation, so that people can vote for their first choice candidate every time without hurting their second choice or helping their least favorite candidate. This is the only way for third party candidates and ideas to gain the traction we need to transform the systems that perpetuate our toxic relationships within human and ecological communities.

I am convinced that among many other horrific consequences for the United States and the world, a Trump presidency represents ecocide, a closing of the window for any opportunity to avoid the very worst consequences of global climate change and ecological degradation. The choice between Trump and Clinton is the choice between no chance for a livable climate and some chance for a livable climate. Anything that the Green Party does right now that contributes to the “no chance” option for a livable climate is complicit participation in the ecocide that a Trump presidency will bring.

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