It’s been about a week since the 2020 presidential election in the United States was called for former-Vice President Joe Biden, and the dust has anything but settled. As a new presidential administration prepares to replace the current one (which has openly declared its refusal to leave), where does this leave the degrowth movement in the United States?
I was in the middle of a reading for one of my classes when I found out the news on Saturday, November 7th. Opening up Twitter to take a break from some Ivan Illich, I saw that my timeline was filled with people discussing Biden’s win. Many were celebrating the symbolic ousting of President Donald Trump, while many others were critiquing the outcome, highlighting the fact that the U.S. still remains a capitalistic settler colonial empire, no matter who stands at the helm of this country.
Also populating my feed were the reactions from President Donald Trump and his camp, denying the validity of the election. This contestation of the election results remains ongoing at the time of this piece’s writing, with Trump’s campaign filing over a dozen lawsuits in more than five states. Many of these cases have been dismissed in state courts or abandoned by Trump campaign lawyers. Other escalations leave many people (myself included) wondering just how tumultuous of a transitory period the U.S. is about to enter, like Trump’s firing of people in key positions such as the Secretary of Defense and the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, as well as pro-Trump and anti-election-results rallies across the country (with the one in D.C. featuring violent confrontations between Trump supporters and counterprotestors).
And to be honest, I’m still working through how I feel about the election results. I understand how a Biden win can be seen as the more preferable outcome in the realm of federal electoral politics, but the president-elect is by no means an ally of socioecological transformation. When considering Biden’s past misdeeds (like his record of constructing federal policies that supported the war on drugs and mass incarceration) and current causes for concern (like his corporate executive-stuffed transition team, climate plan pervaded by growthism, and infamous assurance to rich donors that “nothing would fundamentally change” if he secured the presidency), it becomes clear that the Biden administration will continue the rampant ravaging of land and people in relentless pursuit of capital accumulation.
With this in mind, is it worth celebrating when the ceaselessly violent set of institutions, practices, and beliefs that lie at the putrid core of the United States simply changes its face? Once again: the United States of America—henceforth written as amerikkka (to call a spade a spade)—exists as the product and perpetrator of untold amounts of harm. As Indigenous scholars Nick Estes and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz write, amerikkka stands as “the first nation born entirely as a capitalist state with a burgeoning and land-hungry plantation economy, a nation, in other words, built by Indigenous genocide and African labor, the legacies of which are now being struggled over on the streets.”
Therefore, it can be said that amerikkka stands as a significant obstacle on the socioecologically liberatory paths tended to by degrowth movements. How, then, can degrowthers living in the imperial core of amerikkka effect change? As presidential power swings from one corporate party to the other, how can we work towards ensuring that the Biden administration is the last amerikkkan corporatocracy, thus putting an end to the amerikkkan settler colonial project? In short, what does degrowing amerikkka look like?
Giacomo D’Alisa and Giorgos Kallis provide some insight regarding these matters in their paper that presents a theoretical understanding of the state in relation to degrowth transformations. Drawing upon Antonio Gramsci and Erik Olin Wright, D’Alisa and Kallis describe the state as a relational entity comprised of “heterogenous social forces and organizations that operate, more often than not, against each other [as a] result of conflicting relations and ideological struggles.” They go on to write that transforming an oppressive state into a more convivial orientation “requires a cultural change of common senses through the creation of new alternative spaces and institutions and the generalization of these changes through intervention at the level of political institutions”—a combination of efforts that both erode and tame the state (to borrow language from Wright).
In other words, dismantling and transforming amerikkka necessitates two simultaneous paths of action: (1) the cultivation of local, on-the-ground initiatives that help people meet their social and material needs, thus opening up their minds and hearts to the possibilities of alternative ways of living and (2) the passing of policies within existing political systems that enable and facilitate these alternative ways of living.
Indeed, both of these paths (and more) have been the subject of much discussion in the strategy debate within degrowth movements. In an attempt to contribute to this ongoing discussion, and drawing upon the guiding questions developed at Degrow Empire’s first political education meeting, here are some questions I’ll offer that are specifically centered around degrowth strategy in amerikkka:
- – How can degrowthers living within the imperial core of amerikkka better connect and organize with each other?
- – How can we better connect with and learn from concrete projects like those in the Symbiosis confederation when it comes to nurturing alternative provisioning practices and institutions informed by degrowth principles?
- – How can we frame and disseminate degrowth concepts so that they’d resonate with people who would be interested in degrowth? (The most recent DegrowthFest in Burlington, VT comes to mind as an inspiring example.)
- – How can we better connect and organize with the Red Nation and the Red Deal, LANDBACK, and other struggles for Indigenous sovereignty?
- – How can we better connect and organize with abolitionist movements and struggles for Black liberation?
- – How can we ensure that our work also stands in solidarity with other struggles for liberation, including queer, femme, trans, disability, fat, spiritual, and racial liberation?
- – What about the Sunrise Movement—how can we coalition-build with Sunrise hubs in order to introduce the concept of a Green New Deal without growth into the national conversation?
- – What about mainstream environmental organizations? 350.org, the Sierra Club, Greenpeace—do we wish to connect with these kinds of environmental NGOs? If so, how?
- – How can we continually challenge the Biden administration’s and the Democractic Party’s likely attempts at re-establishing a liberal status quo, corporatizing any Green New Deal, and putting economic growth at the center of its economic policy-decisions?
- – How can we better connect and organize with international degrowth movements?
- – And how can we be self-reflexive along the way, ensuring that our struggles for socioecological liberation do not implicitly or explicitly uphold the very systems of subjugation we seek to tame and erode?
In the spirit of critical self-reflexivity, here’s where I’ll call myself out as someone who’s still quite new to degrowth and with limited experience in long-term movement building—as well as someone who’s still very much complicit in amerikkkan destructiveness.
Even so, I write as someone resolved to stride ever forward on the path towards collective liberation, in spite of the unique challenges of advancing degrowth in one of the global centers of economic growth, corporate power, and empire.
Thankfully, I know that I am not alone on this journey. DegrowUS is organizing a virtual general assembly on Sunday, December 6th at 5pm EST, and for anyone in the imperial belly who is reading these words and finding themselves similarly resolved to degrow amerikkka, I hope to see you there. May we nurture life and prosperity for all.