We Need Clean Air, Not Another Billionaire

The first time I heard the chant it was while helping to block the street in front of leading fossil fuel financer Black Rock in lower Manhattan last Wednesday the 13th: “We need clean air, not another billionaire!” The dozens of people I was taking action with also liked it, and we kept chanting loud and long while we watched the traffic back up and for when the police were going to move in on us.

Then there was the other one: “Tax the Rich, Tax the Mother-F—ing Rich!”, also a big hit all throughout the week of actions in New York City. The most memorable time chanting it for me was on the morning of the 18th. I was with a group of 27 other people arrested, handcuffed and stuffed into an old police bus after blocking one of the entrances to the Federal Reserve bank in the Wall Street area. As the bus pulled away heading towards 1 Police Plaza and hours of processing, someone started up this chant. We must have chanted it for at least 5-6 minutes with no let up and loud-loud-loud as the bus traveled through the Wall Street area streets. And since our windows were partly open, there’s no question a lot of people heard us.

This was the spirit of the week of resistance to end fossil fuels and build another world, another world that looks much more possible now that we’ve shown each other just what we can do when we work hard together in a cooperative and respectful way.

It is just tremendous, a huge and very important thing that, according to mainstream media reports, 75,000 people took part in the March to End Fossil Fuels on September 17. The organizers of the march did their job and did it well, and masses of people responded. It was and is, clearly, a movement moment.

It’s special that almost 200 arrests were made for the many acts of determined nonviolent direct action throughout the week.

It is a very big deal that there were many hundreds, possibly close to a thousand, local actions happening around the country and around the world over this weekend. The world is rising up together again on this most critical of issues, the rapidly deepening climate emergency.

And the mix of people! From where I was on Sunday, deep in the middle of the march, it was great to experience:

  • the racial diversity—predominantly white but with a stronger mix of people of the global majority/people of color than I expected; and,
  • the issue diversity—anti-militarism, feminism, youth, plastics, labor, elders and more, all in the context of the overall climate justice focus of the action.

Then there was the press coverage, lots and lots of it. One of special note is the New York Times on the day after the march displaying a big color picture on the front page, with a very good article and more pictures inside that front section of the paper.

This was a week not to be forgotten. This week really can be a turning point moment for climate justice-centered, mass movement-building. But what is next? Here are my thoughts:

This showing, this showing to one another what we can do when unified, has to continue. A top priority has to be support for the many battles raging against new fossil fuel pipelines like the Mountain Valley Pipeline, LNG export terminals in the Gulf states and elsewhere, other infrastructure, and oil and gas leases. All of us need to do whatever we can when the calls go out for supportive acts of resistance, whether electronic or in person, responding as best as we can.

But we need more. The success of this week that was, this historic week in NYC and around the world, was seen and heard about by literally tens of millions of people who had no idea that our movement was this big, this unified, this organizationally capable. We need to take visible action in local areas all over the country, and maybe the world, on a regular basis, in part to give these new people an on ramp into the world of activism for justice.

Young people with Fridays for Future gave leadership on this tactic beginning years ago via the local, distributed-but-connected actions on the same Friday day. Jane Fonda’s Fire Drill Fridays did something similar for a while, and national webinars are still being done monthly.

What if one of the main follow-ups from this historic week is something similar: End Fossil Fuels Fridays, every month, like the first Friday of every month. Local groups would use the political framework of the March’s four demands and the context language going with them—see below–but they would determine what specifically is done each month, what important local or other fights are prioritized and what exactly happens. A diversity of nonviolent tactics would be the overarching tactical approach.

Can we do this? After what we’ve just done, of course we can. Is there a better idea? Very possibly. Let’s discuss! But not too long, sisters, brothers, cousins, friends. Every day we need to go about our life-saving work acting with the urgency, but also with the love and compassion, that the times require.

We need clean air, not another billionaire!

From www.endfossilfuels.us:

We call on Biden to:

-STOP FEDERAL APPROVALS for new fossil fuel projects and REPEAL permits for climate bombs like the Willow project and the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

-PHASE OUT FOSSIL FUEL DRILLING on our public lands and waters.

-DECLARE A CLIMATE EMERGENCY to halt fossil fuel exports and investments abroad, and turbo-charge the build-out of more just, resilient distributed energy (like rooftop and community solar).

-PROVIDE A JUST TRANSITION to a renewable energy future* that generates millions of jobs while supporting workers’ and community rights, job security, and employment equity.

* Our renewable energy future must not repeat the violence of the extractive past. Justice must ground the transition off fossil fuels to redress the climate, colonialist, racist, socioeconomic, and ecological injustices of the fossil fuel era.

Ted Glick works with Beyond Extreme Energy and is president of 350NJ-Rockland. Past writings and other information, including about Burglar for Peace and 21st Century Revolution, two books published by him in 2020 and 2021, can be found at https://tedglick.com. He can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/jtglick. Read other articles by Ted.