James Charles Loses 1 Million Subscribers Amid Tati Westbrook Feud
James Charles Loses 1 Million Subscribers Amid Tati Westbrook Feud By by Lena Grossman | Sat., May. 11, 2019 4:11 PM Share YouTube
The saga continues.
Hollywood celebrities appear to be taking sides in the dramatic and stunning feud between YouTube stars James Charles and Tati Westbrook , which escalated to even greater heights on Saturday.
On Friday, Tati officially severed ties with her once-close YouTube beauty protégé, James. Tati published a 43-minute long video titled ” Bye Sister ” and sounded off on the 19-year-old and his actions. Tati’s video has already received over 16 million views.
James published an apology video of his own later that day (his was 8 minutes, not 43) and spoke about how Tati has been “like a mother” to the YouTube star ever since he got started on the scene.
His video, which has over 13 million views, wasn’t enough to sway some A-list influencers because in one day, James lost over 1 million subscribers and followers on various social media platforms.
According to Newsweek , the list includes Miley Cyrus , Kylie Jenner, Katy Perry, Demi Lovato, Tana Mongeau and Shawn Mendes . Photos
2018’s Biggest Celebrity Feuds
Their feud goes back to when James ended up doing an ad for the supplement company Sugar Bear Hair Care, which is a rival to Tati’s Halo Beauty. Newsweek reports that Tati asked if James would promote her Halo Beauty products on his channel, but he refused. James’ subsequent Sugar Bear ad left Tati feeling “betrayed” and “lost.”
During her 43-minute long upload, Tati spoke about how she thought James was ungrateful and criticized his behavior.
“How entitled do you have to be to think that you have it rough? You are a 19-year-old millionaire. You do not get to wake up and stress out about how unfair your job is. That is so ridiculous to me,” she said at one point. “Get off your high horse and have some respect. You don’t have any for the people who are in this industry and that’s the sad fact.”
She then asserted towards the end of her video, “You sold out me, but you threw away our friendship. You lied to me, made up a story, you knew this would be embarrassing for me. No our relationship is not transactional. I have never asked you for anything in return.” Tara Ziemba/WireImage; Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Vanity Fair
James apologized to Tati again and again in his video.
“I’m sorry for every that that is going on, everything that I put you through over the past few weeks,” he said at the top of his upload. He called his former mentor “an amazing person” and that she “truly does want the best for everybody around her.”
He concluded, “I’m so disappointed in myself that I hurt her.”
James’ former friend Jeffree Star later weighed on Twitter , writing, “There is a reason that [my partner] Nathan [Schwandt] banned James Charles from ever coming over to our home again. There’s a reason why I haven’t seen him since [Tati] ‘s birthday in February. He is a danger to society. Everything Tati said is 100% true.”
Tati and James’ feud is hardly the only one in the land of YouTube stars. Check out the list below to see other scandals that went down in the YouTube sphere. Tara Ziemba/WireImage; Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Vanity Fair James Charles & Tati Westbrook
Westbrook, a cosmetics guru with more than 6 million subscribers, sent the YouTube community into a frenzy when she publicly addressed her dramatic falling out with Charles in a nearly 45-minute video posted on May 10, 2019. In it, Westbrook, who Charles has heralded as his mentor and “mom,” shared her side of the apparent betrayal, which involved Charles promoting Sugar Bear Hair Care vitamins on his Instagram, a direct competitor to Westbrook’s own supplement company.
“How entitled do you have to be to think that you have it rough?” Westbrook vented in the video. “You are a 19-year-old millionaire. You do not get to wake up and stress out about how unfair your job is. That is so ridiculous to me. Get off your high horse and have some respect. You don’t have any for the people who are in this industry and that’s the sad fact.” Youtube Shane Dawson
Dawson’s need to clarify that an old joke about participating in sexual acts with his cat was just that—a joke—was hardly the first time the popular vlogger has found himself embroiled in scandal over questionable comments or behavior. In January of 2018, a since-terminated YouTube channel released a video entitled “I think Shane Dawson is a pedophile. Here’s my proof.” The video proof was an edited clip from another episode of Dawson’s old podcast in which he said he looked up “naked baby” online and called the search results “sexy.” Dawson quickly responded with a video of his own in which he played the clip in full, which included him quickly saying he was “kidding” after calling the images “sexy.” “I wanted to play that clip in full—that moment especially in full—just for context because that seems to be missing nowadays. I cannot believe I’m having this make this video,” he said, before declaring that he is “not a f–king pedophile.”
That same year, he also found himself embroiled in controversy courtesy of his sponsor BetterHelp, a wellness app that described itself as “the largest online counseling platform worldwide,” aimed at helping people deal with issues “such as stress, anxiety, relationships, parenting, depression, addictions, eating, sleeping, trauma, anger, family conflicts, LGBT matters, grief, religion [or] self esteem.” The service advertises its services costing anywhere from $40 to $70 per week, billed monthly, and many felt that Dawson and the other YouTubers who made videos praising the services were actually profiting off their followers’ mental health issues. Michael Simon/startraksphoto.com Olivia Jade
Fans of Olivia Jade were shocked last week when it was revealed that the Gen-Z lifestyle queen with nearly 2 million YouTube subscribers was at the center of the alleged college entrance exam controversy otherwise known as Operation Varsity Blues thanks to the charges leveled against her famous parents, Full House star Lori Loughlin and fashion mogul Mossimo Giannulli . According to court documents obtained by E! News, Loughlin was charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud to get her children into college. “The Guannullis agreed to a pay bribes totaling $500,000 in exchange for having their two daughters designated as recruits to the USC crew team—despite the fact that they did not participate in crew—thereby facilitating their admission to USC,” the affidavit noted.
As a result of the arrests, Olivia’s seen her endorsement deals disappear into thin air and been forced to disable the comments on both her YouTube channel and her Instagram account, where her followers total over 1.3 million. Article continues below Instagram Austin Jones
In June 2017, Austin Jones , who’d amassed over 500,000 subscribers thanks to the acapella pop music covers he uploaded onto the video sharing website, was arrested and charged with two counts of production of child pornography. According to court documents obtained by E! News, the then-24-year-old YouTuber had allegedly been in communication with two underage female victims in August 2016 and May 2017 over Facebook, with the complaint describing Jones requesting that one girl “prove” she was his “biggest fan” by sending him sexually explicit videos. The arrest followed a 2015 incident where he apologized for lying about his age to solicit “twerking” videos from underage fans. On February 1, 2019, Jones pleaded guilty and faces a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in federal prison with a maximum of 20 years. In May, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. YouTube Logan Paul
To ring in 2018, Logan Paul treated his Logang (of which there are currently over 18 million) to a video entitled “We found a dead body in the Japanese Suicide Forest…” In the 15-minute video, which has since been deleted, Paul and his entourage visit Aokigahara, a forest on the slopes of Mt. Fuji in Japan, which has been home to hundreds of suicides. In the film, he comes across the body of a person who had hanged himself from a tree, blurring out only the victim’s face. Reaction to the tasteless video , which racked up over 6 million views in less than a day, was swift and overwhelmingly negative, prompting Paul to apologize and assert that he didn’t “do it for the views. I get views.” His channel was later removed from Google Preferred by YouTube and Paul said he would be taking a break from posting. He returned to the site on February 4.
A year after posting the controversial video, he returned to the headlines when he declared on an episode of his Impaulsive podcast that he would “go gay for just one month” in March of 2019. After being condemned from just about everyone, GLAAD included, for perpetuating the idea that homosexuality is a choice, Paul claimed it was a “very poor choice of words” before eventually apologizing. YouTube Marina Joyce
Buckle up, because this one’s bizarre. Back in 2016, fans of popular UK vlogger Marina Joyce noticed a marked difference in the then-19-year-old beauty YouTuber’s personality. What was once upbeat and quirky now seemed sullen and uncomfortable, with videos full of silent stares and off-camera glances. They even thought they heard her whisper “Help me” in one video. Soon, the hashtag #SaveMarinaJoyce was trending worldwide and fans were frothed up in hysterics, postulating that she was being held against her will or using drugs or, in the most outlandish theory, had been absconded by ISIS. Eventually, police in her hometown made a visit to her residence to check on her well-being and determined there was nothing wrong. A year later, she would finally speak out about the ordeal, saying the reason she waited so long to speak about it was because she was “not in the right mind” to provide an answer. She added that she had been suffering from depression and felt “so grateful to this day that I am still alive.” To this day, fans still don’t seem to be buying it. In the comments on her most recent video , uploaded on March 14, 2019, one user wrote, “I feel like you are scared of something I think your [sic] in horror if I’m telling the true send me a emoji under my comment,” while another said, “I hope you are ok and not kindaped [sic].” Article continues below YouTube Monalisa Perez
In June 2017, then-19-year-old Monalisa Perez claimed she accidentally killed her boyfriend and father of her two children, 22-year-old Pedro Ruiz III , when she shot him in the chest. The couple had begun posting videos in May and wanted to increase their viewership, so they thought up a stunt involving Perez shooting Ruiz while he held a thick encyclopedia. They believed the book would stop the bullet. It did not. Right before the tragic incident, Perez (who was pregnant with her second child) tweeted, “Me and Pedro are probably going to shoot one of the most dangerous videos ever HIS idea not MINE.” After pleading guilty to second-degree manslaughter in December, she was sentenced to six months in jail in March 2018. As part of her plea agreement, she was allowed to serve her jail time in 10-day increments. She has since returned to YouTube, where she has over 35,000 subscribers. YouTube Michael & Heather Martin
This Maryland couple who ran the controversial YouTube channel DaddyOFive, which saw the five children of their blended family subjected to humiliating pranks and abusive behavior in order to film their reactions, were eventually turned into the authorities by fellow YouTubers in April 2017. By September, they had both pleaded guilty to child neglect charges and were sentenced to five years of probation each. As part of their probation, they lost complete custody of 11-year-old daughter Emma and nine-year-old son Cody and were barred from filming their other children for social media. Their videos have since been removed from the streaming site, but the Martins have resumed posting videos of only themselves, under the name MommyOFive. YouTube Sam Pepper
In November 2015, Sam Pepper , a British YouTuber, uploaded a video entitled “Killing Best Friend Prank,” which featured fellow internet personalities Sam Golbach and Colby Brock , whom were kidnapped by a masked Pepper. In the video, Pepper takes both men, only one of whom was in on the prank, to a rooftop where one is forced to watch as he “shoots” the other, leaving the horrified Golbach in tears. Over 100,000 people signed a petition calling for YouTube to remove Pepper from the website over the cruel prank, while, in an interview with Metro, Golbach tried to defend his friend, saying the video was “about living life to the full.” With the criticism unwavering, Pepper turned to GoFundMe, stating he would delete his channel if $1.5 million was pledged to him. The campaign was quickly removed, along with the accompanying video on his YouTube channel.
It wasn’t the first time one of Pepper’s videos had landed him in hot water. In September 2015, he uploaded one called “Fake Hand A-s Pinch Prank,” in which he seemingly accosted unsuspecting women. Facing allegations of sexual harassment and rape, Pepper claimed the video was “staged and scripted,” with sexual harassment “the focal point of the experiment.” He later removed the video from the streaming service. Article continues below Getty Images Trevor Martin & Tom Cassell
These two gamers, known online as TmarTN and Syndicate, respectively, shared videos in which they heavily promoted Counter Strike: Global Offensive . In the videos, they were seen playing and gambling on the game, which seemed harmless enough until everyone learned that the pair actually owned CS:GO Lotto, the gambling website affiliated with the game that permitted users as young as 13 to join in. Cassell apologized for his shiftiness on Twitter, but Martin refused to, saying in a 2016 video, “Obviously, on my end, me playing on Lotto rather than other sites gives me an advantage because it promotes my own site, but it is not immoral, there is nothing wrong with it. I am 100 percent honest.” Michael Tullberg/Getty Images Kian Lawley
Kian Lawley , who launched his first YouTube channel in 2010, was well on his way to a more traditional acting career in 2017 when he landed a role in the film adaptation of the socially-conscious YA novel The Hate U Give . But he had the film role swiftly taken away on February 5, 2018 when a video of him using racist language surfaced on YouTube. Replaced by Riverdale star KJ Apa , Lawley later tweeted about his “mistakes,” writing, “If u don’t learn from ur mistakes, u can never grow as a person. I’ve learned a lot & i am grateful to have the power to change. i never want to be who i was yesterday. we’re in a constant battle to become a better version of ourselves, use ur voice as ur weapon.” YouTube Sam & Nia
Sam and Nia Rader , known to their fans simply as Sam & Nia, began vlogging about their daily life as a Christian family and rose to prominence with a March 2014 video of them lip-synching to the song “Love Is An Open Door” from Frozen . In August of 2015, they went viral yet again with a video of Sam surprising Nia with the news of her own pregnancy. As he claimed in the video, he’d secretly used some urine his wife had left behind in the toilet, prompting some to question whether they were telling the truth. Three days later, another video was posted, revealing that Nia had miscarried, adding even more fuel to the naysayers’ fire. Three days after that, it was revealed that Sam had an account on Ashley Madison, the website where people arranged to cheat on their spouses. (He confirmed he had an account, but insisted he never went through with anything.) A few days later, while at a vlogger convention, Sam would confront some fellow vloggers over their comments regarding the miscarriage, resulting in him being forcibly removed from the event. After that very intense string events, they took an indefinite hiatus, returning to the site a month later. Article continues below YouTube Nicole Arbour
In September 2015, self-proclaimed comedian Nicole Arbour uploaded a video to her channel entitled “Dear Fat People.” In the six-minute video, she speaks cruelly and relentlessly about people who are overweight, going so far as to advocate for fat shaming. Needless to say, it did not go over well. She was fired from an upcoming job choreographing, ironically, an anti-bullying video for kids. An appearance on The View saw Arbour try and defend the clip as “satire” that was “made to offend people.” Speaking with TIME , she claimed, “I find seeing someone’s head being blown off offensive. I find children starving in a country with more than enough food offensive. I find women’s bodies being mutilated for religious purposes, that is offensive to me. But words and satire I don’t find offensive.” She continues to post videos on her YouTube channel, where she maintains over 400,000 subscribers. Chris Jackson/Getty Images PewDiePie
Felix Kjellberg , or, as he’s known to his over 90 million YouTube subscribers, PewDiePie, is a Swedish YouTuber known for his video game commentary and quote-unquote comedy. He remains one of, if not the, most-subscribed users on the website. And in early 2017, he posted a video featuring two men, whom he’d hired, holding up a sign that read, “Death to all Jews.” While many saw the video as anti-Semitic, he defended it, saying he had posted it “to show how crazy the modern world is.” Whatever that means. After he published the video, YouTube canceled the second season of his YouTube Red show, Scare PewDiePie, and removed his channel from Google Preferred.
In late 2018, he was under fire once more after promoting and linking to the channel of another user whose videos often include homophobic and anti-Semitic language. That year, he also called new NBC late-night star Lilly Singh a “crybaby and an idiot” after she raised concerns over the complete absence of women on a recent Forbes list of highest-paid YouTube stars. Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images Jake Paul
Jake Paul , Logan’s younger brother and famed YouTuber in his own right, came under fire in July 2017 when his neighbors in the Beverly Grove neighborhood of Los Angeles considered filing a class-action public nuisance lawsuit against the star after he’d made his home address public, leading crowds of fans to gather outside the residence, turning the street into a madhouse. “I feel bad for them, for sure,” he told local station KTLA when it visited the street, before adding, “There’s nothing we can do, though—the Jake Paulers are the strongest army out there.” Days after the reports broke, he was fired from Disney Channel series Bizaardvark while in the middle of filming the second season.
In January of the following year, a video was leaked to TMZ which featured him rapping the n-word twice. He still posts videos on his channel regularly to the apparent delight of his 18 million+ subscribers. Article continues below YouTube Lonelygirl15
Ah, the one that started it all. Back when YouTube was just getting off the ground and we were all naive enough to believe that everything people posted on the site was, you know, the truth, along came Lonelygirl15. Launching on June 16, 2006, just 16 months after the video platform went online, we all believed we were watching the video diary of a teenage girl named Bree dealing with the sort of mundanity that we’re all familiar with. Somehow, Bree’s vlog became one of YouTube’s most popular. Three months later, we would learn that Bree wasn’t actually Bree at all—rather, she was a 19-year-old actress named Jessica Rose and the entire thing had been developed by three creators Mesh Flinders, Miles Beckett , and Greg Goodfried , under the working title The Children of Anchor Cove . And just like that, we would never truly trust anything ever again.
So far, James has yet to post about his loss of subscribers. Share
George Clooney praises Maria Ressa, wife Amal | Inquirer Entertainment
George Clooney —RUBEN V. NEPALES
LOS ANGELES—“Do you guys know who Maria Ressa is?” George Clooney began when he answered my question about the recent launch of TrialWatch at the Columbia University Law School, in which Maria Ressa, CEO and executive editor of Rappler, was one of the speakers in the program’s panel, “Journalism Should Not Be A Crime.”
“Ressa is facing a string of cases in the Philippines as the Duterte administration slams Rappler for its critical coverage. Ressa has since posted bail eight times and has been arrested twice,” Rappler wrote in its story on the launch of TrialWatch, which aims to safeguard the rights of journalists, dissidents, minorities, women and LGBTQ individuals. ADVERTISEMENT
George was speaking to a group of journalists in Los Angeles primarily to tout Hulu’s “Catch-22,” the miniseries adaptation which he codirects and stars in, along with Christopher Abbott and Kyle Chandler (more about this show in a future column).
“We did a conference at Columbia University with Maria Ressa, Jason Rezaian (Washington Post journalist, who was jailed in Iran) and Mohamed Fahmy, who is the journalist from Al Jazeera (imprisoned in Egypt),” continued George. FEATURED STORIES ENTERTAINMENT Actress goes on a holiday instead of promoting her movie, gives producers headache ENTERTAINMENT ‘Matitibay dibdib natin’: Chito Miranda compares ‘sensitive’ millennials with ‘tough ’90s kids’ ENTERTAINMENT Alyssa Milano calls for sex strike, ignites social media
He and his wife, lawyer Amal, cohead the Clooney Foundation for Justice, which launched TrialWatch, a program that “will train and send monitors to observe legal proceedings in nations where human rights may be at risk,” according to the foundation’s website.
Referring to Maria Ressa, Mohammed and Jason, the Oscar and Golden Globe winner said, “These are guys who all went to jail for doing their job, which is what you guys do. That is unfortunately happening more and more, not just going to jail, but also being killed.
“Maria Ressa is the bravest of them all right now because she keeps going back (to the Philippines), risking not only jail time, but her life, in a real serious way. Rappler is a pretty amazing thing and she was doing everything live while we were there. She is that version of us at our best, holding truth to power. So she should be supported by all of us as loudly and as often as possible.”
On the origins of TrialWatch, which partners with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the American Bar Association, Columbia Law School and Microsoft Corporation, George explained, “Amal and I looked at what we could bring together to try and change things. Many governments are using the judicial system to commit crimes, basically, and they are using that and saying, OK, they’re found guilty. And the judge isn’t even a lawyer.
“That is exactly what happens. For Fahmy, the judge wore sunglasses at the trial and sat there in Egypt and he was called ‘The Executioner’ or some stupid name like that.
“So, our version is to democratize trial watching by being able to deputize people to go in and record, either on an app which we have or whatever, what is going on. So that we can have translations, real-time information and ultimately try to build a justice index of 194 countries, and saying, here is where we stand. And that includes the United States, by the way.
“It’s a long process and it is one that we are excited about. It fits in with The Sentry (an investigative team cofounded by George and John Prendergast ‘that follows the dirty money looted by the war criminals most responsible for Africa’s deadliest conflicts,’ according to the Clooney Foundation for Justice’s website) that I work with, which is chasing warlords’ money down, which is fun. ADVERTISEMENT
“You should see those days when I sit down with the head of a big bank and I say, ‘Here is our forensic accountant’s evidence that these warlords or presidents of countries, have embezzled $400 million and stuck it in your bank in a shell company.’
“Then I can say, ‘Now, we are telling you what or who that is. And either you are going to do something about it or I am going to hold a press conference and say that you are helping finance warlords.’
“[For instance,] the boycott of hotels by wealthy people doesn’t harm the sultan of Brunei. But what harms him is when all the banks, all the financial institutions come out and say, ‘That’s it, we are out of the Brunei business.’ And then sultan puts out a statement [that Brunei would not stone people convicted of gay sex, adultery or rape to death, and it would ratify the UN Convention Against Torture].”
George, the son of Nicholas Joseph Clooney (a journalist, anchorman and TV host), and Nina Clooney (a beauty queen and a former city councilwoman), remarked about his activism: “I get involved in the things that matter to me. For the most part, it’s hard to succeed, but it’s certainly worth the effort. And to not try to do that is a crime.”
“I had to work that hard on extremism in certain countries,” George added.
“If you look at the United States, its history of handling the refugees, it’s been very good sometimes and it’s been very bad sometimes. This is a bad moment. John Bolton (National Security Adviser) and Mike Pompeo (Secretary of State) who basically said that not only are they going to deal with the International Criminal Court, they will pull the visas of anybody involved (in investigating war crimes and abuses by US forces in Afghanistan and other countries). And that they will arrest the International Criminal Court (personnel).
On how he and Amal, who have twins (Ella and Alexander, born in 2017), weigh the dangers of espousing causes and fighting oppressive regimes, George answered, “We talk about what are cases that would be detrimental in a way, that are more dangerous. I said that I am going to stop going to war zones where it is dangerous and where I have been put in some pretty hairy spots.
“And Amal is going to stop going to certain places. She has been in some pretty rough places. She was in a bunker trying Hezbollah for killing Hariri.
“She is also taking on this role in England of working with the English government about press freedom.
“She was on her way to the Maldives, which sounds like a great vacation spot. They stabbed her cocounsel in the head with a knife the day before she got there.
“But she is tough as nails, and she is going to keep doing what she believes is the right thing to do. Our family motto is ‘pick good fights.’ It’s good, it’s exciting.”
On what safety precautions they take, George pointed out, “My wife is taking Islamic State to court. This is the first trial against IS. We have to pay attention to things, obviously.
“But we also have to live our lives in as normal a way as possible. I do try to not surround myself with the kind of protection that makes me isolated in a way.
“We have to change hotels sometimes and things like that. But that is only just out of precaution.”
The actor, who is distantly related to America’s revered 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, ruled out a career in politics. “I am not going to get into politics,” he stressed. “I said that every time everyone has asked me.
“I am willing to stand very firmly on the things I believe in, then let the chips fall where they may in terms of what I am doing in my life. That means that sometimes, which has happened before when I was against the war in the Gulf, that people were protesting [against me when I was in] the theater.
“You can’t demand freedom of speech and then say, but don’t say bad things about me. If I were in government in any way at all, I would have to make compromises that I am not prepared to make.”
E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at http://twitter.com/nepalesruben.
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Loving a vanishing world
Follow Following May 9 I want to talk about power — how much we have, and how we can use it meaningfully. But I’m going to start with despair. At a beach in British Columbia’s Gulf Islands recently — on my first real vacation in almost three years — I felt much of the loosening that I often feel at the coast. The smell of the sea is home for me, the brush of the waves on the shore, the spark and flutter of sun on the water like innumerable languid butterflies. Breathing at the ocean, I feel different. I’ve known for a long time that humans and other species are in profound trouble, and that the seas are rising. I’ve known for a long time how much is at risk. I went to BC specifically to have the time to develop my thoughts and write about these risks, and how we can move forward in a way that matters. So sitting there, on sand and the countless soft shards left behind by clams and mussels and oysters over decades, I couldn’t loose myself of the knowledge that the ocean is beginning to die. There are plastic garbage patches the size of Texas. There are micro plastics in almost every tested sea salt. Fish populations are collapsing. Whales and dolphins are suffering profoundly from the din of the sonar used by oil companies and the navy. Seawater is acidifying so fast in the Salish Sea that oysters are struggling to build shells. And perhaps most troubling of all, phytoplankton levels are down 40% since 1950 — and phytoplankton is not only the base of the marine food chain, it also produces most of the ocean’s oxygen, as well as ours (one phytoplankton is so prolific it generates your every fifth breath). This fact, by itself, should be enough to make us address the crises in the natural world immediately. The truth is that the ocean that looks so beautiful and unchanging is well on its way to becoming a vast garbage dump full of plastic and of heavy metals, where little survives but jellyfish. It will not smell the same. Its colors will change. And most sea-birds, of course, will die with it. So I want to ask you the same question I ask myself every time I’m entranced by the beauty of this world: what does it mean to love this place? What does it mean to love anyone or anything, in a world whose vanishing is accelerating, perhaps beyond our capacity to save the things that we love most? Knowledge is responsibility, isn’t it? If we let this world die — if we let it be slaughtered by the shockingly small number of villains who have lied to us for decades — then we become complicit, because we are the only ones with the leverage to help it live again; those who come after us will have far less ability to do so, as we have far less ability than our parents would have (had they known the truth to the degree that we do). For better and for worse, we are the ones at the intersection of knowledge and agency. So how do we best use that leverage, and how do we find the heart to keep going when the realities of loss overwhelm us? The stakes are unnervingly clear if we look at the Earth’s five previous extinctions, particularly the end-Permian, in which as much as 90% of life on Earth was wiped out. In all of them, greenhouse gases from volcanic activity, and the ensuing temperature rise, were triggers of destabilization. All of them happened extremely suddenly in geologic terms — but with temperatures and greenhouse gas concentrations that were rising hundreds or thousands of times more slowly than we’re causing them to now. So it’s not just our grandkids; it’s not just low-lying or hot/dry places; it’s not just humans; it’s not just orcas or the Great Barrier Reef or monarch butterflies; it’s not even “just” the oceans (upon which so many species, and people, depend). What’s at risk now, as best we can tell, is life on Earth. Possibly all of it: scientists now know that runaway greenhouse gas scenarios can turn a pleasant, habitable, water-filled planet….into Venus. The potential loss of all life is clarifying, because there is only one medicine for any of it — for any of us — and that is the restoration of a thriving natural world, beginning with the near-term end of fossil fuel use. If we’re making real progress towards those goals, we can almost certainly tip the balance for some individuals and species — at least for awhile. And that’s surely a good thing: to help some people live longer lives with some stability is much better than not to do so, even if it doesn’t last for millennia, and to save somespecies is far better than to save none. What could be a more meaningful way to spend our lives? The word “sacrament” comes from the Latin for “solemn oath” — used by early Christians, interestingly, as the translation for the Greek word for “mystery”. This work is, in the deepest sense, both a solemn oath and a mystery; it is a sacrament. We are walking into great darkness, and the light that guides us must come from within. But even if we do the right things, the understanding that we saved something is a consolation for our deathbeds. Our goal can and must be far more expansive than that: to use our leverage this week, this month, this year, this decade as best we possibly can . That gives the widest swath of life a chance, and it’s also the only thing that gives humans a chance, because it’s been a very long time since we’ve been nimble, cooperative, and knowledgeable enough about the natural world to survive the diminished Earth that we know is coming. Would you risk your life for someone you love? Would you work day in and day out to give someone a chance at a decent life? Then you know what to do — the imperative of it, if not yet the details. And I want to make a difficult point, but one that I think is also clarifying: We cannot expect to feel hopeful , at least not very often, and having any particular hope is likely to end in heartbreak. We have entered — already, in some places — into an era of chaos and great pain, and if we ask the universe to make us feel optimistic about that somehow, even as others suffer far more than we do, we’re asking for illusion. But our gift, and our task, is far more powerful than sunny feelings, because we still have the chance to make the space for hope — to act in such a way that hope might exist for others who come after us. Not everyone can focus on this full-time, of course — many people are already full up with the difficulties of their daily lives; they have small children or elderly parents who need care; they work 60 hours just to keep food on the table, or commute 3 hours a day because housing near their jobs is too expensive. But if your school or work leaves you with some time, and you’re not caring for a family member who needs you around the clock; if you’re retired or you can retire, then the world needs you, and it needs you right now, because anything that we do this year or next is worth ten of the same thing ten years from now: nothing has ever been more important than holding the world well back from any of the tipping points that we haven’t yet crossed, and they are perilously close. This makes us, in a strange way, the most powerful and privileged people who have ever lived. This is true in ways that have been devastating for Earth, of course — nothing has threatened our ecologies more than affluent consumer culture, by which I mean us : the flying and driving, the eating of meat, the buying of things that we don’t need made of materials that nature has no experience breaking down. All of this made devastatingly easy by our living far from the places where our pollution poisons the air and water, where animals are slaughtered, where plastics are made or discarded. But that negative power is not what I mean here — I mean that we have been granted an astonishingly beautiful gift that has never before been given to humans: the chance to shepherd human and animal life into the coming centuries and millennia, when we know that it would otherwise disappear. That’s a power that should make us very humble, and a privilege that can motivate us profoundly. In a way, our darkness — the knowledge that without great effort, many or most of Earth’s creatures will vanish — is what reveals the light within, the seed of life and possibility that we share with all of Earth’s life, the one that we can carry forward. Not that it’s something I feel all the time, to be honest. Faced with the knowledge of certain and devastating loss, sometimes it’s a struggle to breathe. But the incredibly freeing truth is that life on Earth isn’t concerned with my sorrows, and those who are already struggling to save their kids’ lives or their homes aren’t interested in whether I’m grieving or uninspired. They need me to do something. What we do bears some relationship to how we feel, of course — we’re only human — but it’s not dictated by it. I can organize people to go to a hearing to testify for new transit or against a new pipeline even if I feel demoralized — and doing so will likely make me less demoralized. I can make calls to elected officials, even if I suspect it’s not going to matter. I can support migrants by protesting detention and family separation, or by giving time or money to services that support them, even if I know we’re failing countless others. And I can organize my community to support carbon-absorbing forestry and agriculture, even if I don’t honestly believe it will be widespread enough to make a difference. Everybody has different skills, and different temperaments; I’m an introvert, so organizing didn’t come naturally to me — and still doesn’t, really, but I’ve learned ways I can be effective by leaning on other people and letting them lean on me. We can best use our own abilities within the landscape of our feelings, in other words, by valuing those of others. We have one volunteer who spends a day every week doing our books, another who does all the tricky work on our database, another who writes all our thank-you notes for us. We even have a retired massage therapist who offers us free massages. All of the work is critical in this moment, and we must do it with humility; learning as we go; taking on both the deeply satisfying and the unpleasant or routine tasks. We don’t have to believe they’re adequate — we only have to understand that not doing them would mean we’d decided not to care for this world, and ceded the greatest power we’ve ever had…In order to what? Watch television? Do yoga? Make really cool apps? How will those choices look when you’re dying, and you know the world is too? How do they look even now, when migrant children wash up on the beach? Imagine if even ten percent of the country started engaging deeply, even just one day a week. Our possibilities would be — will be — entirely different from what they are now, because our existing system, the one that’s hurtling us towards disaster, depends entirely upon our disengagement from one another, and our belief that we can’t really have an impact on what we care about — that we should all instead simply focus our own personal fulfillment: a thing that isn’t even possible in the absence of deep engagement, with the natural world as well as with each other. Our emotions matter to us , of course, even if not to those who are suffering the most. Feeling constant despair or becoming automatons will not help us do this great work with love, and thrive, which is what will allow us to do all we can. But we can experience our emotions, and still do the work we need to do. Feelings are not destiny. When my mother was dying, my grief was profound, and occasionally, I avoided calling her because of it; such complicated feelings didn’t fit easily into a difficult and busy time in my life. But I called the next day. And again the next, and the next. And I traveled to see her, though not as often as I would have liked to. And I knit her an alpaca blanket — in meetings and on car trips and whenever else I didn’t need my hands. We can feel fear and grief and anger, in other words — we can even feel avoidant sometimes — and still attend to the world’s very real and immediate needs, as long as we don’t let our feelings be an excuse for abandoning our responsibilities. And in truth, serving the world’s needs is the only thing that I have seen consistently lighten that fear and grief and anger in others, and the only thing that has done so consistently in my own life. When the focus is no longer on our own desires, for one thing, it doesn’t matter so much that we’re often uncertain what they are. In any moment, we can choose to show up. I’ve been thinking lately about the “campsite rule”, by which we’re supposed to leave a place or a person in at least as good shape as we found them. As a species, this is essentially impossible — if you multiply even a single plastic bottle by 7.5 billion people, it’s clear that we’ve been devastating for the web of life. But not evenly, not by any means. The great majority of those people have done extremely little harm, and what harm they did was outside of their control — they cut trees to cook with wood because it was all they had, or they used pesticide because their family would starve if they lost a crop. Here in the United States, any adult of working class or above (anyone who travels, or commutes in a car, or lives in a single-family home) could spend the rest of her life planting trees and taking plastic out of the ocean, and as an individual, she would still be far, far in the red to the living world: her campsite would have a stream poisoned by mountaintop removal or fracking, and it would be an antibiotic-resistant mound of plastic and animal remains. Individual actions can slowthe growth of that mound, but they’re simply not enough to make a dent in it. We did not intend this harm, but we have done it; given the reign of neoliberalism and the lies of the fossil fuel industry, living as social beings almost required that we do this harm. But now, if we wish to remain social beings, something else is required of us. We cannot undo what we’ve done simply by being nice and Earth-friendly people — or by killing ourselves, for that matter. And we can’t leave this world better than we found it — it will be lesser for a long time. But we can change the path that it’s on now, and we know how to start making up for what we’ve done. We have beautiful work to do before we die. Archimedes knew: give us a long enough lever, and we can move the world. What can give us the needed leverage? Working together to change the very systems that brought these catastrophes down on us. Jumping in to the tasks, and learning all along the way. How do I know? This is a story I’ve told many times, but I’m going to admit something new. In 2015, I was part of the #ShellNo fight against Arctic drilling. I had held a vigil with a friend two years before, when Shell’s rigs had also been in town — but this time, we were part of a much larger group, and some experienced organizers came to town, young women who knew so much more than any of us did that it was truly humbling. I threw myself into the campaign, and was aided in my work by virtue of the fact that the same week that our public Port announced that it would be hosting the Polar Pioneer, the journal Nature outlined the energy projects we could not engage in and still hope to avoid truly catastrophic climate change: Arctic drilling was one of these projects. So I pointed out the craziness to every Port Commissioner, news crew, and journalist who would listen: we’ve just been told this is a civilization-threatening project, and the City of Seattle is enabling it . About a dozen of us made up the core group organizing people to go to the hearings, get into kayaks, shut down the Port for two days, and generally put our outrage to good use. For about six months, I lived and breathed this fight. I did all of this purely because it was the only way I could look myself in the mirror. I did not have any faith that it would “work” in any clear or immediate sense, and I knew that wasn’t quite the point. Still, when the rig was delayed by our kayaks for only about an hour, my heart sank. All of that work and love — for what? I knew that it mattered that we’d drawn an international spotlight to the dangers of Arctic drilling…but it was hard to feel like that mattered as I watched the rig leave Elliott Bay and head to the pristine and fragile Chukchi Sea. I cheered up notably several weeks later, when friends in Portland stopped one of the associated vessels — without which they couldn’t start drilling — for a full 36 hours, by hanging from a bridge with streamers in the blazing heat — the most beautiful and effective small-group action I’d ever seen, supported again by scores of people in boats. But the real transformation in my perspective came at the end of September, when Shell announced that it was abandoning its Arctic drilling quest. A board member told The Guardian that yes, they’d been disappointed by how much oil they’d found—but also, they’d been greatly surprised by all the protest, and acutely aware of the risks to their reputation. By which they meant: us. A project they’d sunk years and billions of dollars into, in remote waters far from any population centers, and it had ground to a halt because of a dozen or two core people in Seattle and Portland, and a thousand or so others who participated once or twice or all the way through. That’s leverage. And the thing I want to admit is that what it felt like, for a month or two, is that I, personally, had stopped Arctic drilling. We had slain a dragon, and for a little while, I felt invincible, a thing I had never felt before. Not in an egotistical way — I knew very well how much I’d needed the wisdom, skill, and numbers of the others; I had, after all, organized a perfectly useless vigil two years before. But it helped me to understand my power — a power rooted in working with othersso that we might be greater than the sum of our abilities. Working with this small group of people, I had had a real effect on global climate change, by using leverage: a dozen folks focused more or less exclusively on this, supporting another few dozen giving a day or two a week, supporting another couple hundred showing up every few weeks or month, and several hundred more who probably only came out once or twice, but who thereby made it clear that this was something that many people cared about . It’s not always that easy, of course — easy being a relative term, since I probably worked on average 80 hours a week in that 6-month period, and many of the meetings were quite painful. We haven’t had such a magical or consequential win since then, and it’s not for lack of trying. We have had wins, which are often — like that one — simply the absence of devastating losses; it’s why an energy insider referred to the Pacific Northwest as the “place where fossil fuel projects go to die”. It’s not anything like enough to make a real dent in business as usual — but it’s far, far better than not averting those losses. We bought a tiny bit of time. Perhaps we even saved a few humble species — for a few decades or centuries — by making one of the worst projects just a little more expensive, and shifting public opinion just that bit more towards what might be, a couple of years from now, some legislation ambitious enough to finally matter. Perhaps we inspired some of the Sunrise kids, who have made the Green New Deal suddenly seem actually possible. And you know what might in fact be enough to make a real dent in business as usual? If you were doing this too — those of you who have the space in your life to be one of the dozen, the several dozen, the few hundred, the several hundred. Maybe you’ve already been in one of those outer circles — good, if so — that’s important work. Now move a rung or two closer to the core, please: we desperately need you. This fight is just flat-out too big for the existing folks to do what needs to be done. We are exhausted, and we need you. I’m not going to lie — we almost never get the kind of affirmation that we got in the ShellNo fight, that what we did had mattered. Usually, the other side does all it can to diminish our work, and say it had nothing to do with anything. Remember, they need us to be disengaged — to give up on change and focus on buying things, taking a trip, living our lives as though millions aren’t suffering from Mozambique to Nebraska, as though the world we’re leaving behind us isn’t going to be radically diminished. But we know that it is. Oh, sure — like that’s going to stop climate change . That’s what they say, whether you’re organizing a protest, canvassing for a long-shot candidate, showing up for a hearing, getting in a kayak, hanging off a bridge, or turning off a pipeline. Trust me. But the people who say that have a major investment (literally) in discouraging you, and/or are themselves so brittle, so removed from any understanding of their own power to make change in the world, that really, we should just have compassion for them, ignore the taunts, and keep working. So that’s my story of leverage, and why I know it works. But I want to move this away from the instrumental question of what you can do about climate change , important though that is, and back to the intrinsic value of what it means to love the world (or anybody or anything in it), and how we can think about love and hope and imagination even when the coming decades start looking like the end of the world…because they will. In places like Paradise, California, they already have. If we can’t metabolize new ideas about hope and meaning, then lists of ways to engage will fall radically short when we’re grieving — and we’ll lose our chance to find or make possibility within that grief. So, back from my tale of slaying dragons — to the Salish Sea, beautiful but very troubled outside my window a few weeks ago. It was so beautiful there. At one level of my soul, I can simply appreciate it — we may as well, after all, and loving this vanishing world feels like a kind of prayer sometimes. At another level, I am overwhelmed by the grief of knowing what’s coming — everything from the vast human suffering to the very specific and local near-certain loss of the 75 remaining Southern Resident orcas — creatures so extraordinary and intelligent that I feel privileged simply to share a bioregion with them, and ashamed that I cannot save them. But at the deepest level, I need to invert time and shift metaphors, so that I can see not only loss, but gain. A world with millions of people vs. one with none, or a world where half of extant species survive, vs. one with, say, five percent — these are worlds absolutely worth fighting for — but from this relatively full moment in time, it’s hard to celebrate those millions or that half, knowing what will have gone missing. When we think about the accelerating extinction, we’re looking at the terrifying narrows of an hourglass, where only a few will slide through. So sometimes, I imagine myself instead on the far side of something more like an ecological birth canal. How many of Earth’s beauties can we help to survive the passage into the next era? Is each one not a gift we can safeguard to the world by our actions? Isn’t that who we want to be? Recently, watching On the Basis of Sex , it occurred to me that despite the Hollywood reliance on a lone hero, it has something important to say about social change. In it, Ruth Bader Ginsburg very nearly loses a case that helped to change laws rooted in gender discrimination. At the eleventh hour, after stumbling badly, she finds the confidence to persuasively argue her case — because she finds a way to thoroughly inhabit her imagination: the imagination that the United States was a place where sex discrimination was understood to be senseless and outmoded . That was not the world she lived in, and she knew it as well as anyone, but unlike nearly everyone around her, she was able to see a world in which it was not just true but self-evidently true, completely consonant with our values, and she made that consonance and that world visible to those around her. She breathed it into being for them. That’s what social change does: by our actions and words, we aim at what the world can be, and help other people see it too. This is also the power that Greta Thunberg has, I think — in part because of her Asperger’s, it is utterly self-evident to her that we must all change our lives to respond to climate change, and the purity of her understanding is transmitted to us. Bader Ginsburg had found the confidence to keep going — and as a result, laws shifted that likely affected millions of people. They probably would have shifted eventually, of course, but at a minimum, she sped that process up, and thus materially affected lives in those years, as well as deepening the momentum for change. She did not say, I can’t fix millennia of patriarchy, this is hopeless, I give up. For Greta, it’s too early to identify all her impacts, but we know that hundreds of thousands of students all over the world have followed her example — and that plans are afoot to make sure that adults are not far behind. What we do matters. We cannot save the world. We can save a great deal. How much, depends on us and us alone. That is our burden, and our greatest gift. Do you want to be among those who let the fossil fuel industry kill the world? Or do you want to be among those who did everything in their power to save what could be saved? In the world of your imagining, can you see that ending fossil fuel use in the developed world in the next twelve or fifteen years is actually far easier and cheaper than the alternative? Can you see that the only sane thing to do is to radically change our agriculture and our forestry to help stabilize the climate — again, knowing that the alternative would be so, so much harder? Can you see children living who might have drowned, reasonably stable communities that might have burned, species and animal individuals hanging on into the coming century and beyond — and understand those as a thing to fight for, for the rest of your life? We can rejoin the web of life. We do not have to be its destroyer. But our last best chance is now, and countless tasks lie ahead of us. So when you go home and are tired and unsettled and thinking about all that you have to do; or next week, when this symposium has faded away, and someone asks you to do something you’re not sure you want to do; or better yet, in a few weeks, when you realize that there’s something you could do by bringing a group of people together, remember: in any moment, we can choose to show up. We can let them kill this beautiful world— or we can get to work making space for a decent future. from the May 5, 2019 Chrysalis Symposium at OSU’s Spring Creek Project
The astonishing disappearing act of Beto O’Rourke | US news
#Betomania became #Betofatigue in six short months – can the Texas Democrat rise again and show voters what type of president he’d be?. W hen Beto O’Rourke travelled to Yosemite in California to unveil his $5t n plan on climate change, a ripple of surprise crossed America. How did the tall white guy with the funny first name known for his punk past , Beatnik road trips and fondness for campaigning atop counters get to be the first Democratic candidate to proclaim on the crisis of our age?
This wasn’t the O’Rourke that the country had grown used to during his battle with Ted Cruz last November for a US Senate seat. Then, the Texas Democrat had propelled himself to within three percentage points of victory, and with it national stardom, by making viral speeches about NFL players taking a knee and by instilling hope through a feel-good but rather wishy-washy call to unity.
Now here he was framed against the beauty of Yosemite Falls, delivering a granular plan of action worthy of the most nerdish policy wonk. Coming from a politician from oil-rich Texas who has been criticized for his track record on fossil fuels, his proposals for the largest 10-year investment in history and a goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 caught many off guard.
“We were pleasantly surprised,” said David Turnbull of the climate advocacy group Oil Change US. “When you see someone like Beto O’Rourke calling for the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies and an end to fossil fuel leasing on public lands – that’s moving in the right direction.”
There was another group of people hoping to be pleasantly surprised by the Yosemite announcement that day – O’Rourke himself and his team of campaign advisers. They have been wrestling with one of the great magical mysteries of the early phase of the 2020 presidential election.
That is: the astonishing disappearing act of Beto O’Rourke.
Beto O’Rourke listens to environmental advocates on 29 April 2019, in Yosemite national park, California. Photograph: Marcio José Sánchez/AP
Like Houdini, O’Rourke has gone from front of stage to a puff of smoke in six short months. #Betomania morphed into #Betofatigue, seemingly overnight.
Look back on the events of 7 November 2018, when he delivered his concession speech , having lost to Cruz in a packed sports stadium in El Paso, and you can see the contrast. At that time he was lauded as the politician who could do the impossible: challenge a virulent Republican like Ted Cruz in a solid red state like Texas and come within an inch of victory.
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His charming ways and good looks were thrown back in his face as white privilege. That wasn’t helped when he gave Vanity Fair a gift of a one-liner on the eve of launch – “Man, I’m just born to be in it” – that made many Democrats wince.
The mere decision to run for the White House was interpreted as chutzpah. As the Daily Beast cruelly put it: “Reacting to losing to Ted Cruz by running for president is like failing to land a role in a community theater production and deciding to take your talents to Broadway.”
In the latest poll from Quinnipiac university, O’Rourke is drawing a glum 5% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters. He is being outgunned on 10% by Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who has stolen much of his thunder.
“We’ve seen Mayor Pete take the lead in the newcomer department,” said Quinnipiac’s Peter Brown who predicted worse to come. “We’ve got 18 months to go and I bet there will be other fresh faces taking the spotlight.”
So what happens next to O’Rourke now that the spotlight has swung away from him? Can he complete the Houdini trick and make a reappearance? And if he can, what kind of potential president would he present to the American people?
‘He was always very focused’ Examining those questions, it quickly becomes clear that all roads Beto lead to El Paso. That’s the dusty, sunbaked border town in Texas where he was born Robert Francis O’Rourke in 1972.
His father, Pat, was a businessman and judge, and his mother, Melissa, ran a furniture store. They were comfortably off and formed part of the white middle class elite in a city that is 80% Latino.
O’Rourke’s opponents have tried to depict his youth as one of fecklessness and debauchery. Rightwing pundits like to poke him for the name “Beto”, claiming it is a conceit designed to suggest that he has Latino roots, which he does not.
They also point to a drunk-driving episode in 1998, his teenaged flirtation with his punk band Foss and to the period when he floundered around in New York City working as a glorified maid . Reuters recently contributed to that pile of potential negative attack material with the revelation that O’Rourke had secretly belonged to the prominent “hactivist” group Cult of the Dead Cow.
But those who have known O’Rourke for years say they do not recognize this caricature of the spoilt wild boy from the border town. Take Maggie Asfahani, a writer and El Paso restaurateur, who had a teenaged romance with O’Rourke when he was at an all-male boarding school in Virginia.
Asfahani clearly recalls their first encounter in an El Paso mall when he was back on holiday. Her memory instantly puts to rest any suggestion that “Beto” was an adult affectation. “I’d imagined this Mexican kid, given the name, but there was this really tall white guy. I can categorically dismiss all that speculation – he was ‘Beto’ at least since I’ve known him in high school.”
Asfahani can also, incidentally, put to rest any scurrilous talk about a much reproduced photograph of O’Rourke flanked by his Foss bandmates in which he wears a long floral dress.
“I want to put on the record, that is my dress he’s wearing,” she said. “There’s nothing particularly complicated about it – we were all hanging out, and someone thought it would be funny if we switched clothes, the girls and guys. That was all, just being different.”
What struck Asfahani then as now was something that’s been lost amid the presidential chatter – his seriousness. “He was always very focused. He was this fiercely intelligent, curious person who was into things, always wanting to learn things, always with a book in his hand.”
Asfahani remains in touch with O’Rourke to this day. She thinks the flak he has taken over unearned entitlement since he entered the 2020 race, based on her knowledge of the man, has been unfair.
“It strikes me he is finding his way on the national stage,” she said. “He’s being open and honest and vulnerable, hoping people will relate to that and see themselves in it. That’s not a fault: it has been his personality since I’ve known him.”
‘He learned how to take energy from crowds’ O’Rourke’s entry into politics followed his return to El Paso, the prodigal son, at age 26. Having been largely away since his teens, he re-engaged with the city, setting up Stanton Street, an internet company combined with a short-lived alternative newspaper.
His political ideas formed around his ambitions for El Paso, which in the late 90s was economically depressed and suffering from a brain drain of young people. O’Rourke forged a bond with four friends who came to be known as the Progressives, one of whom, Veronica Escobar, now occupies the El Paso congressional seat vacated by O’Rourke.
“What motivated him was the idea that El Paso didn’t have to settle for being a low-key, down-at-heel city which was fine with exporting its children,” said Bob Moore, former editor of El Paso Times who has known O’Rourke since his return in 1998.
The Progressives’ aspirations for their city led all four friends to stand for local office. All four won, with O’Rourke joining the El Paso city council in 2005.
Moore recalls that in his political infancy O’Rourke cut a paradoxically diffident figure for a man now competing for the White House. “By nature he’s a deeply private person. He was very awkward when he first ran for office, uncomfortable in large groups. Then he learned how to take energy from crowds, and that has changed him.”
Despite such initial reticence, O’Rourke championed some radical and highly contentious causes. He became a passionate advocate of legalization of marijuana long before it was de rigueur, authoring a book with fellow Progressive Susie Byrd, Dealing Death And Drugs, that argued powerfully that the US war on drugs was a disaster for both sides of the US-Mexican border.
He also fought to extend health benefits to unmarried and same-sex partners of city workers , then a hot potato in heavily Catholic El Paso.
You will hear O’Rourke projecting his track record on marijuana and LGBT rights on the presidential campaign trail. You are much less likely to catch any reference to a third controversy that dogged him as city councilor, and still does to this day: the redevelopment of downtown El Paso.
The plan to revitalize downtown with a new sports arena, Walmart and other facilities preceded O’Rourke’s time on the council, having been initiated in 2004. But he embraced it keenly.
Beto O’Rourke walks with his wife, Amy Hoover Sanders, and his three children, Ulysses, Henry and Molly in El Paso on 6 November 2018. Photograph: Paul Ratje/AFP/Getty Images
His involvement became problematic for two main reasons. The first was his family ties to the mastermind behind the plan, multi-millionaire real estate magnate William Sanders. Months after O’Rourke joined the council, he married Amy Sanders and William Sanders became his father-in-law.
The downtown project was a private-public partnership. The private side involved a civic organization called the Paso del Norte Group, PDNG, which Sanders set up with some of his super-wealthy friends from El Paso.
Controversy erupted when it emerged that O’Rourke was also a member. Did his position, with one foot in the private PDNG side of the deal and another on the public council side, amount to a conflict of interest? He was slapped with an ethics complaint, later dismissed.
O’Rourke initially voted in the council to go ahead with the development plan, but as local resistance grew he recused himself from several key votes. Further cries of foul play descended on him in 2012, when O’Rourke made an insurgent’s bid to unseat the incumbent Congressman for El Paso, Silvestre Reyes.
A company owned by Sanders contributed $40,000 to a Republican-backed Super Pac that invested in attack ads against Reyes, contributing to O’Rourke’s underdog victory and giving him a leg-up to Washington.
In a recent interview with the American Prospect , O’Rourke denied any conflict relating to his father-in-law. Sanders “made it a rule that he religiously followed, never to talk politics”, he said.
But the Sanders connection still rankles with activists opposed to the downtown scheme such as David Romo, a leading member of the main protest group Paso del Sur. He said that O’Rourke’s connections to Sanders takes the shine off his current claim that as a presidential candidate he eschews big money and is running a “people’s campaign” .
Romo told the Guardian that in his view O’Rourke’s role in the redevelopment casts doubt on his 2020 candidacy. “What happened in El Paso tells me that the solution to our national problems does not come from a multi-millionaire funded by billionaires who does their bidding.”
Romo is a celebrated historian of El Paso’s revolutionary past and as such is an articulate exponent of the second criticism leveled at O’Rourke over the redevelopment scheme – that he sided with gentrification despite the harm it would inflict on poor Latino residents and historic El Paso. “He was the pretty face of ugly gentrification.”
O’Rourke denies that he sided with gentrifiers, insisting his intention was to breathe new life into the dilapidated heart of a major city. He did tell the American Prospect, though, that in hindsight he accepts that he did “a really poor job of listening to that criticism”.
‘He really does need to answer questions’ Similar controversy followed O’Rourke to Washington. Whether it originated from his innate pragmatism as a politician who tends to decide each issue as it comes rather than following ideology, or whether it was because of his roots in Texas, a state that has been dominated by Republicans for the past 20 years, his voting record in Congress was striking for its lack of party purity.
Although El Paso veers overwhelmingly Democratic, a fivethirtyeight.com tracker shows that he voted 30% of the time in line with Trump. Compare that to his presidential rivals: Kamala Harris (17%), Bernie Sanders (14%) or Elizabeth Warren (13%).
That didn’t matter much in his senatorial race last November. But then he was running against Ted Cruz, one of the most toxic rightwing senators who even fellow Republicans call “Lucifer in the flesh” .
In that race he proved himself to have several of the qualities that might appeal to Democratic voters looking for a presidential nominee capable of beating Trump, first and foremost his ability to turn out the vote. He showed himself adept in appealing to young people, African Americans, Latinos and suburban white women – electoral groups all likely to play a crucial role in 2020 in deciding Trump’s fate.
But the road to the presidential nomination is proving to be a stonier path for O’Rourke than his route last year. By taking his campaign national he has moved on to much more fertile ground for a Democrat than the traditionally arid soil of Texas, yet it has come at the price of sharply intensified scrutiny.
Which brings O’Rourke back to his climate change announcement amid the splendor of Yosemite Falls. Fossil fuel activists may have been pleasantly surprised by O’Rourke’s robust policy, but that doesn’t mean they have forgotten that his relationship with the oil industry has been complicated.
He hesitated for weeks before agreeing to sign the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge in which candidates forego all donations above $200 from Pacs, lobbyists and executives of fossil fuel companies. The pledge was particularly sensitive for O’Rourke, who according to Open Secrets accepted more contributions from oil and gas in 2018 than any congressional candidate other than Ted Cruz.
Beto O’Rourke raises $6.1m in first 24 hours, smashing Bernie Sanders’ record Read more
He has said his hesitancy was out of concern for ordinary workers in the industry who should be allowed to participate. The organizers of the pledge however stressed that only the donations of top bosses were excluded.
In the end, he did sign the pledge, two days after his Yosemite declaration .
Another sticking point is that O’Rourke voted twice in Congress to lift a 40-year ban on US exports of crude oil. He tried to justify the vote in October 2015, two months before the Paris Agreement on combating climate change was adopted by 195 nations, by arguing that US crude was cleaner than that of other countries and “the oil that supplies the current dominant mode of transportation will have to come from somewhere”.
The lifting of the ban has led to a massive spike in US crude exports , from well under 1m barrels per day to more than 3m per day currently. “There’s been a dangerous and problematic increase in the extraction of crude oil driven by exports in the US. He really does need to answer questions about that vote,” David Turnbull of Oil Change US said.
It all points to the steep uphill climb that Beto O’Rourke faces if he is to claw his way back into the Democratic spotlight. The Yosemite announcement made a solid start, introducing American voters to a more serious, focused politician than they had previously been shown.
Now the real scramble begins.
Topics US elections 2020 Beto O’Rourke US politics Oil Texas features
Richard Powers: ‘I’ve read more than 120 books about trees’ | Books | The Guardian
The Pulitzer-winning author of eco-novel The Overstory on Extinction Rebellion, his many alter egos and the brilliance of Robert Macfarlane. T here was something fitting about hearing the news that Richard Powers’s The Overstory had been awarded the Pulitzer prize just as Extinction Rebellion activists took to the streets of London. Powers’s richly layered novel engages profoundly with questions of protest and conservation. It’s a book about the intricacy and beauty of trees, and about nine characters who are drawn into deep relationships with these trees. The novel takes a radical approach to time, seeking to present the lives of its “sentinel” trees alongside those of its human characters, intertwining normal narratological time with life “at the speed of wood”. The Overstory is Powers’s 12th novel and yet, until his Pulitzer win, he was often referred to as “the best writer you’ve never heard of”.
You’ve written novels about genetics, chemical engineering, neuroscience and now environmentalism. I wondered if you wrote about things because you already knew a lot about them, or if novels are your way of learning more about the things that interest you?
I feel like I don’t know a great deal about anything, but the books become the way of getting that first orientation into a way of seeing the world, a way of knowing the world that would otherwise have remained alien to me without making that narrative journey. What was really lovely about doing the research this time was that it didn’t feel like research. It felt like literally a walk in the woods. I did end up reading copiously. I read more than 120 single-volume books about trees, but unlike many of the other topics I’ve written about in the past, I was able to do a lot of the emotional research for the book just by being in the forest, in the woods.
Do you put yourself in your characters? It feels like Nick Hoel , one of the principal figures in The Overstory , contains a lot of Richard Powers…
One of the things I wanted to do in writing this book was to create several characters all of whom have a claim to being my alter ego. The psyche of a writer is often not that far away from a person suffering from multiple personality disorder. Nick’s qualities – his introversion, his midwesternness, his reticence, his artistic struggle – are very much a vicarious alternative instance of my own life. But so [are those of] Neelay Mehta, who comes of age at the dawn of the computer revolution and makes a living as a programmer – that was also a road not taken in my own life. I would say the same thing about Patricia Westerford [another character in The Overstory ] and her commitment to science.
Are we as a species “plant-blind ”, as one of the characters in the book terms it? For even those of us who think we know the difference between oak and ash and thorn only rarely acknowledge the complexity of trees. Or is this changing with books such as those by David George Haskell , Peter Wohlleben and Robin Wall Kimmerer ?
We’re at this watershed moment where our destruction of biodiversity and old ecosystems is accelerating. The matter is almost nightmarish here in the States, where the Trump administration in just three years has managed to obliterate more than half a century of hard-fought environmental legislation. At the same time it’s also clear to anyone who’s paying attention that we’re in a moment of slowly transforming consciousness. What’s not clear is whether that moment has a chance of becoming more than just a moment, whether we are now moving towards a new relationship with the neighbours with whom we share the world.
The Overstory by Richard Powers review – a majestic redwood of a novel Read more
We’ ve recently seen the Extinction Rebellion protests taking over the streets of London. One of the things this book is about is the necessity of protest, even in the face of powerful corporate interests and political hostility…
When you look at the statistics of what’s happening to species, to rainforests, to forests of all kinds, it’s so overwhelming that it’s difficult to believe it. It’s utterly daunting. I wanted to tell a story about ordinary people who, for whatever reason, have that realisation about the irreversible destruction that’s happening right now and who get radicalised as a result. The book explores that question of how far is too far when it comes to defending this place, the only place we have to make a home. The act of writing this book has made me more radicalised, for sure.
What books are on your bedside table?
I have Jonathan Drori’s Around the World in 80 Trees .
Which writers working today do you admire the most?
I have just completed Robert Macfarlane’s Underland and I was blown away by it. What a glorious book it is. Fabulous. He’s the nonfiction writer I admire the most.
What do you read for sheer pleasure?
Everything is pleasure for me. At the moment I’m reading about animal rights, just to have my perspective challenged and to think about the world in a new way.
How do you organise your books?
I have one bookshelf devoted entirely to trees. There’s no particular order to the books on that shelf, although I’ve separated out the ones I’ve yet to read. The rest of the books on the shelves of my library are truly haphazard, though for whatever reason I can still put my finger directly on whatever I need.
Which classic novel did you read recently for the first time?
I came back this year to Don Quixote . I found it tremendously entertaining when I was young and terribly sad now, at the age of 61.
Which books and authors have stayed with you since childhood?
I still treasure a book by Crockett Johnson called Harold and the Purple Crayon . I loved it because whatever Harold drew with this magic crayon came to life. And I think in that incredibly provocative set-up was the seed of somebody who wants that to be the case in his own life. That simply telling that story would be enough to make it vital enough to become real.
• The Overstory by Richard Powers is published by Vintage (£8.99). or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £15, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99
Topics Richard Powers Books interview Fiction Pulitzer prize Awards and prizes features