In April of this year, Wrong Kind of Green posted a Counterpunch article titled Manufacturing Dissent, in which the author dissected the astroturf organizations posing as environmental activists under the cover name Tar Sands Action. In this article, the Keystone Pipeline charade in Washington, D.C. — staged by Democratic Party fronts, and funded by Tides Foundation — was exposed as nothing but political theater, albeit a pricey one. Then again, what’s a measly ten million dollars to the oil industry?
As a pro-Obama drama, choreographed to give the big O an environmental win in the run-up to his re-election contest, throwing Tides’ pet protestors a bone that could later be yanked away like Lucy’s football before a baffled Linus in the classic Peanuts cartoon, was all the more tragic in light of the president’s earlier betrayals–betrayals that include his deregulation of offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico (that caused the largest oil spill in US history), his endorsement of drilling in the Arctic (which threatens to annihilate that ecosystem), and his unbridled support for coal and nuclear power.
In September 2009 I wrote about how the Alberta Tar Sands is the largest and arguably dirtiest, carbon-generating industrial project in human history. So how do the oil companies go about defeating the First Nations and bona fide environmental networks opposed to the project? The answer according to Macdonald Stainsby and Dru Oja Jay, authors of Offsetting Resistance: the effects of foundation funding and corporate fronts, is to buy their own environmental group to negotiate with the government on their behalf.
That organization, Tar Sands Coalition (part of the Tides’ Tar Sands Action project), can then be counted on to help smother the grassroots environmental movement. As oil corporations like Tar Sands investor Sunoco look to defeat environmentalism and indigenous peoples from the Arctic to Patagonia, giant multi-billion dollar foundations like Pew Charitable Trusts are critical.
Using money-laundering operations like Tides to help them, Pew (same family that owns Sunoco), Rockefeller, Ford and Hewlett Foundations — all benefactors of the San Francisco-based Tides Foundation — can then effectively greenwash corporate fronts masquerading as environmental organizations. When organizations like The Nature Conservancy, Greenpeace, and Sierra Club can be bought off by big oil, the only thing to do is expose the colossal fraud. In their remarkable report, Stainsby and Jay, I noted, have done just that.
In September 2005, I was reading Michael McFaul’s article Political Charades in the Moscow Times one morning, in which he reviews Andrew Wilson’s book Virtual Politics: Faking Democracy in the Post-Soviet World.
In the book, says McFaul, Wilson shows how “PRshchiki, or political technologists, became the main actors in elections, not political parties. Their trade largely consisted — and consists to this day — of creating the illusion of normal electoral politics. As this industry grew, many of our Russian discussion-group participants, originally trained as academics, stopped trying to analyze the nonexistent institutions and organizations of a democratic Russia, and instead joined the lucrative business of staging virtual politics.”
Virtual Politics, says McFaul, is the first truly comprehensive account of the sophisticated industry of political technology that has emerged from the collapse of the Soviet Union, …in which Wilson carefully documents the wide array of methods used by political technologists, both in and out of the government, to destroy political enemies, invent pro-government parties and personalities, and even create, manipulate and control so-called opposition parties.
As McFaul observes, “At first glance, an American reader would find something familiar about the methods used to fake politics in Russia…K Street in Washington is filled with firms specializing in the invention of grassroots movements that pressure the government to pass legislation or stop regulation on behalf of the people, while actually supporting corporations …”
McFaul also notes Wilson’s point about the one fundamental difference from the American model: the role of the state. “In the United States, this industry is still a private one. In Russia, it is becoming increasingly nationalized.” But then, I ask, if the illusion-makers and the illusion-fakers are all in bed together, what real difference does it make?
Which brings me back to the title of McFaul’s article, and the notion of charade as it is enacted in the American street, not to mention the White House or halls of Congress. I mean, what do the plethora of 501-C-3 do-gooders in turtle costumes or Che berets, waving signs to save this or stop that, really have to do with authentic democracy? In truth, shouldn’t their radical academic courses in activism and social change be relocated from political science departments to that of theatre arts?