Monday, September 8, 2014

Marching Towards Oblivion

Bill McKibben leads the "Forward on Climate" march in Washington D.C., in Feb. 2013.

Environmental activists will descend on the United Nations' headquarters in New York on Sept. 21, for a global warming rally billed as the "largest climate march in history."

The so-called "People's Climate March," will feature all of the major environmental advocacy, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Sierra Club--as well as less strictly environmentally-focused progressive groups like Amnesty International, the League of Women Voters, and local chapters of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

The march comes in advance of the U.N.'s "Climate Summit 2014" conference, a gathering of world leaders in preparation for next year's U.N. Climate Conference in Paris. Activists and participants are hoping to call attention to the imperative urgency of a renewed climate change negotiation to dramatically reduce global CO2 emissions.

"With our future on the line and the whole world watching," the People's Climate March website reads, "we'll take a stand to bend the course of history."

I have attended dozens of marches, rallies, vigils and similar street events like this. I have marched in Washington D.C., New York, and in my hometown of Kennebunkport, near George Bush I's vacation home at Walker's Point. (In fact, Kennebunk had a fairly strong anti-war contingent during George W. Bush's presidency. But like so many anti-war factions, it has all but evaporated since Barack Obama's election.)

And I am becoming increasingly convinced these events are largely a waste of time.

Some of them are, admittedly, rather fun--even if the issue allegedly being denounced is quite somber (war, illegal wiretapping, torture, the imprisonment of Chelsea Manning, etc.).

But these pseudo-protests rarely entail any genuine sense of risk for protesters. They are often so meticulously prearranged--with those few protesters who wind up getting arrested typically having planned to do so ahead of time--they amount to little more than glorified street theater.


As a rule of thumb, these events occur exclusively on the weekend--when Congress is not in session. In keeping with this rule, the People's Climate March is scheduled for a Sunday. While march facilitators' desire to maximize turnout is understandable, what good is any sort of rally if there is no government present to shut-down, disrupt or otherwise protest?

Participants march along a predetermined route via police escort often with rally facilitators running ahead to coordinate traffic. This portion of the event usually follows an interminable lineup of speakers--some of them famous, celebrity-like figures of the left, like Michael Moore or Rev. Al Sharpton--whose job is to "work the crowd" like a football coach.

During the march, protesters recite cheerleader-style chants ("The people/United/Will never be/Defeated!") and wave semi-witty homemade signs like "Go Frack Yourself!" or "Bush + Dick= Screwed." In what seems to be a fairly recent trend, some protesters will even dress up (the Guy Fawkes mask inspired by V for Vendetta is a popular choice of attire). Earlier this year, I attended an anti-GMO, "March Against Monsanto" where many people dressed up as bees.

Far be it from me to impinge on anyone's creativity. But seriously, people--is this a political demonstration or a Halloween party?

Actually, I should back up.

Before the rally can even take place, event facilitators must first obtain a permit from the city or town. I have no idea how this permit process works, but I assume city officials could conceivably deny permit-seekers for any reason. I am trying to envision Thomas Paine waiting calmly to receive written permission from the British monarchy before circulating copies of Common Sense--an incendiary document that, mind you, was calling for colonial revolution.

As a result, these events have become completely symbolic. They are, in the words of Macbeth, so much "sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Much of the problem lies with the liberal environmental groups that typically coordinate these rallies--groups like Greenpeace, Sierra Club, and the aforementioned

As I wrote last year, while these "non-profit" groups are generally staffed by well-intentioned progressive activists, they are, at the end of the day, completely beholden to the Democratic Party. The liberals that run these groups generally have disdain for the Green Party, Ralph Nader or any other environmentally-conscious third-party.

Therefore, the entire premise that outfits like MoveOn or 350 can effectively make any sort of genuine demands of President Obama and congressional Democrats is laughable. The fact is, Bill McKibben and his 350 followers will remain loyal to Obama no matter what he does or does not do.

Indeed, all of the "Big Green" groups endorsed Obama for re-election as early as April of 2012, hailing him as the "greenest" president in history despite his penchant for nuclear power and something called "clean coal."

The fact that many recent global warming marches have appeared more like campaign rallies--complete with protest signs that unapologetically ape Obama's campaign logo--does not help matters.

If we are to create a truly effective and formidable movement to save the planet, we must move beyond these empty street theater rallies. Perhaps they were genuinely effective at one point in time. But that time is long gone. The corporate state, along with the progressive NGOs who have been all too eager to play by the rules, has successfully neutered these marches, rendering them impotent. We must create our own grassroots movement, independent of the Big Green Groups that are essentially lobbyists for the Democrats.

We must engage in massive acts of nonviolent civil disobedience to literally disrupt business as usual. We must, in the words of Mario Savio, put our "bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus and you have got to make it stop."

This is where, I believe, Occupy Wall Street got it right. Occupy can still offer us a blueprint for how to seriously take on corporate power and mitigate the climate crisis.

While liberals continue to invest their energy toward appealing to traditional systems of power--the White House, Congress, the U.N., state legislatures, etc--Occupy correctly understood where real power rests in this country: ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Citigroup, and J.P. Morgan. These are the corporations that are, quite literally, killing the planet. We should be marching on their headquarters.

As Frederick Douglass famously observed:
If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters... Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.

A few groups are planning more "serious" actions in conjunction with The People's Climate March. Click here, and here for additional details on the NYC Climate Convergence. And as always, if you want to keep this blog going, please consider making a donation. Any amount is greatly appreciated.

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