Today’s social and climate crises need a movement, activist Naomi Klein tells F&M College crowd


Naomi Klein, 47, the writer, documentarian and progressive activist, confesses to being a difficult, self-absorbed, borderline-delinquent teenager.

Then came the shock of the catastrophic stroke her mother suffered at the age of 46.

Overnight, Klein told an audience of several hundred Thursday at Franklin & Marshall College, she went from being a kid to being an adult. She became a care taker, not a taker of care.

Klein, author of “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate,” said a crisis, like the one she experienced at the age of 17, is a test.

And today, Klein said, humanity is being severely tested, not by a single, urgent crisis, but by overlapping, intersecting crises.

They include storms, droughts and wildfires exacerbated by climate change. They also include dislocations of entire populations by war and famine. And there’s the rise of steep income inequality created by systems that benefit the 1 percent.

“Every alarm bell in our house is going off,” Klein said. “It is time to listen.”

“We want the people who have gotten the worst deal under the current system to be first in line.”

Speaking at Mayser Gymnasium at a lunch-hour program sponsored by the college’s Center for the Sustainable Environment, Klein said the way forward must be different than traditional tactics of single-issue advocates.

She called for a broad, inclusive movement.

“Movements are expansive,” Klein said. “They say it takes all of us. They reject the ethos of scarcity and approach the world with open arms.”

Klein cited Lancaster Stands Up as an example. The activist group, which formed in response to Donald Trump winning the White House, is working to mobilize diverse people and groups opposed to the country’s lurch to the right.

Klein contrasted the fluid, long-term reach of a movement with the small, short-term goals of advocacy groups.

Progressive activists today work in boxes — an environment box, a racial justice box, an immigration box — and think “small and winnable rather than big and systemic,” Klein said.

She said the system of how advocacy is funded creates disincentives to groups coming together.

But what’s needed in this age of overlapping crises is not an “oppression Olympics” where causes vie to come out on top, Klein said.

“We need to map ways to do it all at once,” she said.

“Every alarm bell in our house is going off. It is time to listen.”

Klein spoke of the celebrity-backed Leap Manifesto that diverse Canadian groups wrote in 2015 to unite activists around a vision of a society that doesn’t plunder the planet and oppress the vulnerable.

“We want the people who have gotten the worst deal under the current system to be first in line to own and control their own renewable energy,” Klein said.

She said backlash to the manifesto isn’t surprising.

“What we are trying to do with The Leap is to explicitly explode that box of what is considered politically possible,” Klein said. “Because if that box doesn’t leave room for the safety of our species, then there is something very, very wrong.”