A People’s Climate March

I was at the People’s Climate March this past weekend in NYC and it was an amazing experience. I have had the privilege of attending many marches over the years but this one was different in some very important ways and for those reasons, in addition to the fact that there were 400,000 people there, it felt historic.

The foremost reason it stood out to me was that it was the first march I have ever been to where there were no “allies” to the issue or group being focused on (e.g. heterosexual allies working for marriage equality without a clear sense of how they will benefit from it as heterosexuals). Instead, it was crystal clear that everyone there felt deep ownership regarding climate justice and could see the connections of our current climate crisis to their own work. Labor unions were clearly articulating the relationship between classism, exploitation, and economic inequality and the conditions that have led to climate change. Students and youth were clearly making the connections between the situation we are in and the reality of their future. Various Communities of Color and Native Communities (along with Whites committed to racial justice) were identifying the explicit ties of racial oppression, colonization and endless exploitation to what got us into this dire planetary situation. Feminist groups were connecting the dots between gender oppression, misogyny and the violent assault on the earth. In every way, deep and complex links were being made between health and climate disruption, education and climate change, food justice and climate justice, and so on. And I think this is what gave me a sense of hope I did not expect – 400,000 people all understood (granted to varying degrees) that we truly are all in this together, that standing on the sidelines is nowhere near an option, and that the stakes have never been higher for our species. Moreover, there was substantial consensus on what the solutions are: the need for a zero-carbon economy and an immediate switch to renewables, a restructuring of our economic systems such that human needs trump corporate, neo-liberal capitalist needs, and that we must think as a whole planet and not national fiefdoms some of which are privileged while others suffer.

The second aspect of the march that was noticeably different than any environmental work I had seen before was that it was led (both physically the day of as well as in the months of planning) but Native Peoples and People of Color. One of the most pernicious problems with mainstream environmental groups over the last five decades (I’m marking this from the time of publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring to today) is the predictable whiteness, middle-classness, and all-too-often maleness of “the movement”. To directly challenge this history, and to give prominence to the voices that have been ringing so loudly and clearly for so long, the first major contingent of the march included Native Peoples, People of Color, Island State (OASIS in the COP configuration) representatives, and migrants from all over the globe. This contingent stretched from 59th to 65th streets and its centrality to the overall message of the march signaled a sea change in the leadership and organizing around climate justice nationally and internationally. My hope is that the largest climate justice march ever being led by Native Communities and Communities of Color will mark a permanent shift in future organizing and activism from U.S. and international environmental justice organizations. Specifically I am hoping that historically white-led EJ groups will deeply and consistently rethink tired “business as usual” ideas such as political expediency and move to a racial justice, class justice, and gender justice lens for their work.

The third and final aspect of the march that stood out for me was that this gathering and how we all engaged with each other felt like not only the blueprint for how we are going to organize for climate justice, but also a hint at how we could all live on this small, blue dot together. There is no question that the clock is ticking and this can have the tendency to exacerbate fears that lead to separation. On this day, however, the sheer gravitational force of our commitment to push back on the carbon lobby and to jar the political leaders from their torpor was so substantial that it held us all together despite the wide variation in who we were, where we came from and what our stories were. At the end of the day (and throughout the day) we were just this one family, fighting like hell to end this utter madness. And that is exactly what it is – to destroy one’s source of life in the name of short term profit is such a profound departure from reality that it cannot be described as anything else. And there we all were – shoulder to shoulder as far as the eye could see demanding with our bodies that we be heard.

Given the anti-corporate, anti-war, critical race/class/gender analysis of the event, I am not at all surprised by the paltry coverage in mainstream media. I often hope that slightly left-leaning folks like Rachel Maddow will give at least a cursory nod to climate change issues but she spent her entire Monday show covering the bombing of Syria with not even a minute of coverage of the march. The other networks were not much better. NPR did an abysmal job covering the march and spent much more time this week on what they must think is “legitimate” climate content – the U.N. conference. Democracy Now, however, did pre-march stories and interviews, ran 3 hours of live coverage on Sunday, and then followed up with numerous additional interviews and coverage Monday and Tuesday. For this reason I want to thank Amy Goodman and the folks at DN and ask that readers who care about climate justice make a small donation to DN via their web site.

There is a reason that a massive number of U.S.-ers don’t “believe in” climate change (as was the case with a flight attendant on a recent flight) and much of it has to do with the cowardice of mainstream media. In lieu of media doing its job, we must take it upon ourselves to fill in the information gaps and educate our peers. For my part, over the next two months I am hosting two workshops at my house to help educate friends and colleagues and I invite others to do the same. Just start with those you know, begin wherever each person is at, and work to deepen the discussion around climate change and climate justice. If we make it part of our everyday conversations then it will move from margin to center in our political landscape and we stand a chance of making larger, structural changes that will match the scale of the problem. I know it seems overwhelming and “what can one person possibly do” with respect to a problem that is planetary in size, and yet what else is there for us to do but try? I hold no delusions that if we all just come together we can “save the planet”. I know too much of the climate science data to hold out for that. But, I also know that morally, spiritually, ethically, and professionally there is no other option for me but to turn toward the fear and pain and grief, be with it, and do everything I can (as one among many) to address this crisis. This weekend I was reminded what large groups of people can do when we come together. The energy from the march is still with me, a low-grade hum whose power is palpable and whose signature is pushing me onward. I know you all have busy lives, but in a time such as this please make space to lean in and take up this shared charge with your words, with your actions, with your donations, with your vote and with all your heart. As cliché as it sounds, all of our futures depend on it like never before.

* Note: To watch the pre-march video (52 minutes) go to www.watchdisruption.com.

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