I began to involve myself in actions and organizing to address the global warming crisis 10 years ago, in 2004. The first thing that I did was to attend a national conference related to that subject in Washington, D.C. in early January of that year.
I went to the conference fired up about the urgency of this crisis. I had spent several months in the fall of 2003 studying the issue following the August heat wave in Europe which killed 30,000 or more people. That study convinced me that we were facing worldwide climate catastrophe much sooner than I had thought if we did not build a strong movement for a clean energy revolution. I remember that the primary thing which I did at the conference was to raise throughout it the need for a massive March on Washington to dramatize and call attention to this most serious of issues.
10 years later, something akin to a March on Washington on the scale that I thought back then was needed is now in the works: a massive, tens of thousands strong, People’s Climate March in New York City on September 21.
Without a doubt, unless you live far away or are taking climate action that day somewhere else (there are over 150 other actions in solidarity taking place around the world, with more almost certainly in the works.), the Columbus Circle area of Manhattan is the place to be in late morning of the 21st. Those who are in NYC will be in the company of environmentalists, trade unionists, activists of color, community organizers, fracking fighters, religious people of many faiths, representatives of businesses and schools, young people, peace activists and lots of “just plain folks.” Over 950 organizations as of this writing have endorsed, and over 90 self-organized “hubs” are organizing march contingents and, in some cases, other events over that weekend.
The action in NYC will reflect the kind of broad coalition needed if we are ever going to turn this country and world around towards a culture and a politics all about justice, oneness with the earth, love and human dignity.
Why is this action happening on September 21st? It’s because of the initiative of Ban Ki Moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, to convene a one-day Climate Summit on September 23rd that will include a number of heads of state, including President Obama and Xi Jinping of China. Moon has given leadership in this way in an effort to push those heads of state to take this issue more seriously than they have to date. It is part of the lead-up to the UN Climate Conference in Paris in late 2015 where the objective is to come up with a substantive world action plan.
Is it realistic to expect very much out of that meeting? No, it is not, but, in words from the website, “world leaders will only act (or be able to act) on climate change when everyday people express the desire, and create the political mandate for them to do so. Therefore, it is a good thing for heads of state to discuss climate change. We don’t have blind faith that the summit will solve the crisis. We think that organizing, mobilizing, and building social movements are ultimately what changes the course of history.”
The People’s Climate March can be, has to be, a watershed moment in the struggle of the world’s peoples against the continuing power of the fossil fuel industry and its wealthy, regressive and complicit corporate and government allies, the less-than-1% who rule over us.
The important role that environmental justice groups have played in giving leadership to this mobilization must be built upon, as must the involvement of important sections of the labor movement and the general success in forging broad unity in action.
The success of the mobilization, the raising up of the climate issue in this way six weeks before the November elections, can be utilized by issue-oriented climate organizers to bring issues related to climate—like pricing carbon, supporting renewables, fracking, mountaintop removal, fossil fuel exports or tar sands—into the political debate.
September 21st must also energize those sectors of the climate and progressive movement which understand that stronger action is needed, those sectors that organize nonviolent direct action. To the extent possible, those sectors need to come together also to figure out how a sustained, on-going and growing campaign of direct action can be developed that targets the institutions and major players most responsible for the continuing hold of coal, oil and gas over the federal, most state and many local governments.
September 21st badly needs to be seen by historians of the future as a primary source of the energy, momentum and mass activism in this decade which fueled the 21st century clean energy revolution that prevented looming climate catastrophe. Si, se puede!