“It was beautiful,” Dr. Jim Garrison reminisces. “It was a protest like back in the sixties, it was like Woodstock. There was music, there was dancing, there was joy and exuberance. There were nearly a million people, all affirming women’s rights, gay rights, animal rights and the rights of all human beings.”
Dr. Garrison’s words conjure a powerful image of the Women’s March of January 21st, where placard in hand the CEO, founder and president of Ubiquity University took to the streets of Washington DC to speak out against Donald Trump, a man he says will “decimate the Earth”.
The Women’s March was the biggest one-day protest in U.S. history, with an estimated 4.2 million Americans joining forces in more than 600 U.S. cities. From Dr. Garrison’s depiction, it was a starkly different affair compared to the Inauguration, just one day earlier.
He described the National Mall transformed into a sterile, policed state. “For the first time in American history, they surrounded the Mall with a chain-link fence, from the Capitol building to the Washington Monument. It was ten feet high, surrounded by police, and you could only go in through checkpoints. There were thousands of police, thousands.”
Perhaps this, at least, is a comforting thought for a president obsessed with superlatives and beating records. But the truth is, while Trump has mobilized millions, it’s not in the way he might have dreamt.
Jim Garrison’s political activism stretches from the street into the business world. On the Ubiquity University blog, on Twitter and Facebook, and also writing for The Huffington Post, he shares information, rallies audiences and incites change. Reading his pre-inauguration ‘Call to Action’, a rousing command to fight the power and protect the planet, I’m eager to find out what motivates him, and how he believes individuals and business leaders can make a difference.
“I believe that politics is an essential aspect of our lives,” Dr. Garrison explains. “We don’t get involved in every political issue, but we take stands. I think we’re in a situation with Donald Trump as the president of the United States where we’ve reached a tipping point. If we don’t take a stand against Trump and stop him, he’s going to destroy the world as we know it”.
He goes on to describe Trump’s outrages against democracy and the environment. In particular, he’s referring to the president’s plans to drill the Arctic for oil. This invasive activity, which threatens the fragile ecology of the Arctic, was banned by President Obama in late December, though his successor has been particularly vocal about opening federal lands to fossil fuel production.
“For me, the preeminent issue is climate change. Obviously, that’s the one that’s going to do us all in,” says Dr. Garrison. “There is also economic disparity, and now there’s the assault on the American Constitution. So, there’s plenty to keep everybody busy, that’s for sure.”
In a blog post titled “Make The Earth Great Again!” Dr. Garrison asks that during the week of April 22-29, between Earth Day through to the Washington DC People’s Climate March, people continue the momentum of global manifestations and come together once again. In an earlier entry, circa 2015, he muses on how a Taylor Swift/Kanye West presidency might play out. It’s tongue in cheek, a poke at the would-be horror of a celebrity president, and evidence of the more playful side of the long-time activist and academic.
Dr. Garrison has been politically active since he was young. “I refused to draft during the Vietnam War, and I’ve engaged in all kinds of protest since then. While studying at Harvard, I organized a takeover of the administration building to force the university to disinvest from South Africa because of apartheid. I organized massive demonstrations at the Pentagon and actions against nuclear power facilities. I’ve been arrested for disobedience maybe half a dozen times.” He’s not exactly new to the game. He knows how this plays out, from his days as an activist, but also as an academic and a business leader.
In the turmoil of a Trump presidency, business leaders across the globe have sought to make a stand against divisive politics that have potentially catastrophic consequences. From Apple to Zappos, directly lobbying and protesting, or agreeing to stock Trump homeware, brands are deciding where to position themselves in the foray. At the same time, we’ve seen the temporary closure of borders to immigrants and refugees, dismissal of climate change issues, reinstating the global gag rule, new plans for oil pipelines and, who could forget, that legendary wall. Amid this chaos, the largest protest from industry leaders has undoubtedly come from the tech world.
Ubiquity University is an education and tech platform. It’s an accredited university with a twist. Dr. Garrison describes it as an “integral learning system” at the core, which includes developing social and emotional intelligence, and various life competencies. This means teaching students about global issues, like climate change, and urging them toward social engagement in political affairs. “I set the example. I’m the founder, I’m the leader, I’m the chief executive. I’m at the barricades.”
Should brands get involved with politics, I ask. “Engaging in politics is good for democracy, it is good for business and it is an excellent way to develop a cutting-edge brand,” says Dr. Garrison. Though it’s no bed of roses. He tells me when he first raised the issue of climate change ten years ago, people in the university were upset. He lost students and faculty, people he says that believed politics had no place in academia.
But, corporate involvement in civic affairs is nothing new and Dr. Garrison notes that over time people have come to see that climate change is an issue that every individual and company must deal with. An interconnected world and digital media brings these conversations into the foreground. He reels off numerous instances, from Patagonia’s political stands, Richard Branson and Virgin, to Apple’s privacy stance, UBS’s women’s banking and VC firms like Green VC that will only invest in green technology. “It’s intensifying,” he says, particularly when it comes to the environment, but still more is needed.
His advice to individuals that want to speak up is to figure out and work on the issues you truly care about. “I always say to people, what wakes you up at 3AM that you feel passionate about,” that’s a place to start. “And then do it,” implores Dr. Garrison, “You can do it through Facebook, through Twitter, through whatever vehicle and technology you’re comfortable with. Getting this stuff out, disseminating information is important. The ability of individual now to communicate and to act is unprecedented in the history of the world.”
As the interview comes to a close, Dr. Garrison emphasizes the importance of getting people to speak up, in the US and internationally too. “You need to get out there, get everybody you know,” he says. “Trump is a major, urgent priority for everyone right now. Wherever he travels, we need to take this guy on.”
This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.
This post is part of our contributor series. The views expressed are the author's own and not necessarily shared by TNW.