The People’s Climate March: Just like a Real Protest, Except Fun and Devoid of Meaning
Hundreds of thousands rallied last Sunday on the West Side of Manhattan to bring awareness to climate change. It was done in conjunction with a UN Summit addressing the matter. In attendance were members of the political and social elite along with throngs of average concerned citizens. It is reassuring to know that an issue so significant to every person on the planet, is at the forefront of so many people’s political agenda.
But, given this platform– with vast support and massive, favorable media coverage– what did this march achieve? Was there a specific piece of legislation proposed? Was there direct action taken to force the hand of entrenched interest in favor of environmental security? Not really. With the tremendous opportunity to effect change lain before them, the protesters decided to have a party.
And what a party it was! I can best describe it as a parade that culminated in a street fair. I call it a parade because a protest march usually entails civil disobedience and a challenge of some sort. Not cooperation with authority and a diluted business friendly message. Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Mark Ruffalo joined in the festivities. Former Vice President Al Gore, and New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio also got in the fun along with other power brokers from the political and religious communities. (To me a protest becomes suspect when politicians use it as an opportunity for a photo-op.) These luminaries and others locked arms with the masses as they defiantly marched the streets, alongside a protective police cordon. Around 1pm the crowd began furiously popping bubble wrap to break a moment of silence in respect for Mother Earth. (What an environmentally friendly way to honor her!) Upon completion of the parade, a sweet after-party ensued where businesses had the chance to display their green wares. Music, laughter and a strange herbal aroma filled the air.
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You might argue that the parade was a resounding success. Hundreds of thousands of people turned out. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon accepted a petition, with over two million signatures, calling for a reduction in greenhouse gases. The New York City Council pushed through a set of green bills. The media covered the hell out of it. Best of all everyone had a great fucking time.
I may sound like a curmudgeon to criticize such a popular event with such an important message. But, there is a reason for my crankiness beyond the fact that I like to complain. Think of the collective time, effort, political will and cash expended for this event. Now consider what was gained from it. No significant laws passed, no serious pledges from government or business, not even a succinct message from the protestors. To me it seemed less like a legitimate protest and more like a stage for political grandstanding and an occasion to hook up with hippie chicks.
Specific changes that could actually impact rising temperatures and other degradations were not even suggested. I suspect it was not because protest organizers were incapable of doing so. The biggest contributors of carbon pollution– oil and gas extractors, cement producers, car manufacturers and the defense industry– were not harangued for their destructive business practices. I think it would have been far more difficult to garner such broad political and media support if they had. It is easy call for green practices it is much more difficult to demand a cessation of destructive ones. It’s clear the planners opted for easy consensus over strong message.
Protests that seek measurable fundamental change are not easy or fun and they have a specific goal in mind. They involve hard work and the courage to stand strong in the face of powerful hostility. Think of the Civil Rights marches or Anti-War sit-ins. They sought concrete change and were willing to face arrest, violence and even death in support of their cause. Because of this they brought about great moral strides for humanity: the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act, an end to the Vietnam War among others.
Today’s protests are vapid and directionless. Think of Occupy Wall Street, the Ferguson Protests, and yesterday’s People’s Climate March. All were founded on the noblest of intentions: the correction of income inequality, an end to racial injustice in policing and a halt to carbon pollution. All three had massive public support and favorable media coverage, yet all three were doomed to inconclusive results, or coopted for cynical purposes.
Why is this? I believe it’s due to a lack of concise demands. Nobody knew what they were protesting for, except some vague ideal. After the demonstrations subsided people left without really knowing what had been achieved, if anything. For all three I can quickly think of demands that activists could have made— restructure of the tax code, federal oversight of the Ferguson police department and a ban on all future oil and gas extraction—alas none were proposed. The energy and resources of honorable people squandered.
At least Ferguson was spontaneous and driven by a palpable community rage. Occupy and the Climate March feel like conspiratorial misdirection. Almost as if they were purposely used to distract reform minded people from actual reform.
My intention here is not to shit on the aspirations of the countless who seek a cleaner, healthier earth. In fact, I agree wholeheartedly with those who marched for an end to carbon pollution. What I am against is the tactics employed. I love a raging party/ parade/ street fair as much as the next guy (due to my alcoholism, probably much more). What I hate is disguising one as protest. Political dissidence is a sacred right in our country. It has been used over the few centuries this nation has existed to effect real, positive change without the barbarism of war. Let us not allow the powerful to cheaply abuse or coopt our hallowed tradition to offer hollow promises.
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Photo Credit: edx.org