People’s Climate March – A Movement in the Making or a Dull Knife?
As the People’s Climate March looms right around the corner, a debate is surging within the climate movement over the significance of the march and the usefulness of its tactics.
350.org, one of the climate march’s main organizers, has billed the march as an “invitation to change everything”. The Sierra Club, says that “the People’s Climate March just might be the biggest public outpouring of support for climate solutions this planet has ever seen.” There’s no doubt that if the more than 100,000 attendees expected do actually show up, the huge gathering will be unprecedented in the climate movement’s history.
The leaders of the march are highlighting the symbolic importance of the event. This symbolism demonstrates the power and ability of the climate movement to mobilize hundreds-of-thousands of people from around the country for a march in NYC. They are also hoping to showcase a much broader coalition of support for climate mitigation policy.
Rebecca Leber from the New Republic writes that the People’s Climate March is important because it represents a new approach to mobilizing against climate change that incorporates broad support to demonstrate that climate change is not an “isolated policy area”. Leber points to the fact that “religious groups, labor unions, students, and social justice organizations” are all part of the march’s organizing coalition.
Others have not been so sure about the broadness and inclusivity of the march. We’ve heard criticism from activists in New York City that the march organizers have not reached out to communities of color in New York to be part of the organizing process. The march organizers are placing the communities most directly impacted by climate change at the front of the march, but this has also led to criticism that such efforts are attempts to present an image of diversity to the media when in reality the march organizers and their organizations lack diversity.
The implications of such criticism are incredibly important for what comes next after the march. Mark Hertsgaard from the Nation has pointed out that numerous climate change marches have led to no concrete policy changes. If the lack of diversity in the organizing process is true, then we can expect very few bridges to have been built across racial and ethnic lines, and this division continues to be a huge hindrance for the climate movement.
Still others criticize the march for lacking in both messaging and in tactics. One of the most scathing criticisms comes from Truth-Out contributor Quincy Saul. Saul argues that the march lacks poor timing, has no demands, and is missing a target. The march is slated to end on NYC’s West Side highway, which is far away from both the UN and any major contributor to climate change pollution. Chris Hedges is calling the march “The Last Gasp for Climate Liberals” because the march’s messaging is so broad that even corporations like British Petroleum, Dow Chemical, and Goldman Sachs have supported the march by way of the Climate Group, an organization of which they are all members.
All of these criticisms have not come without suggestions, however. Hedges writes that real change is not going to come from a peaceful march, but is going to come from “those willing to breach police barricades” and those willing to “physically disrupt corporate machinery”. Saul calls for climate change activists to first make demands on ourselves and our communities and also to not be afraid to break the rules and get arrested.
There are many groups that are intending to take the march in a more radical direction. A group of activists are organizing Flood Wall Street, an action of civil disobedience taking place the day after the climate march. They are asking for volunteers to sit-in and blockade Wall street to demonstrate that the climate crisis is the result of “an economic system based on exploiting frontline communities, workers, and natural resources”…in other words, capitalism.
Sunday’s march will represent a diverse set of viewpoints, and each will be vying for the space and attention to frame the event in a particular way. Only time will tell whose voice is the most creative and who is most able to capture our imaginations. We all need to make sure that we ask ourselves what does the climate movement mean to me?