Hitting the Streets for the People’s Climate March
Frederick Douglas, the writer, statesman, and abolitionist, in calling for the emancipation of African Americans once said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” And so opens Disruption, a postmodern film (it was released exclusively on the Web) that centers on the consequences of climate change. It’s equal parts documentary and rally cry. “We’re the first generation to feel the impacts of climate disruption, and the last generation that can do something about it,” reads a movie promo. Disruption also touches on the latest scientific consensus on climate change. The facts are plainly terrifying: ice sheets are collapsing, oceans are acidifying, and climate disturbances are putting immense pressures on global agricultural systems.
On Tuesday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will convene a meeting of world leaders from 120 nations, including President Barack Obama, for a climate summit at United Nations headquarters in New York City. But the meeting, which proposes to “galvanize and catalyze climate action,” is not an official part of the ongoing climate talks organized by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Greenhouse gas emissions have shot up by almost 50 percent since the first UNFCCC negotiations, and major protests hit Copenhagen in 2009 during one of these conferences, but missed targets and public outcry have failed to catalyze action. Elizabeth Kolbert writes this week in the New Yorker, “The Copenhagen talks collapsed without resolution, and so it was agreed that the successor treaty would be negotiated in Paris in the fall of 2015. And this time we really mean it!”
Speaking to the crowd in Canandaigua, New York in 1857, Frederick Douglas continued, “This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle.” A struggle is exactly what Disruption calls for. The film shows the behind the scenes organizing strategies that have gone into September 23rd’s People’s Climate March in New York City. Thousands of organizers including climate and environmental activists, organized labor, social justice advocates, indigenous peoples, student groups, artists, and faith leaders are preparing to hit the pavement in Manhattan to demand action as diplomats prepare for the week-long summit on climate change. Scenes of young students spitballing social media strategies for getting boots on the ground is either inspiring or prosaic, depending on your personal level of cynicism when it comes to mobilizing action in the day of slacktivism and corporate regulatory capture. Perhaps middle-of-the-road types thought the same during 1964’s Freedom Summer as college students up north were prepped to deploy to Mississippi in an effort to register African Americans to vote.
The aim of the People’s Climate March, spearheaded in large part by Bill McKibben’s 350.org, is sweeping: over a million flyers have been distributed throughout the city and supporters from across the country are being wheeled in on nearly 500 busses; organizers hope attract more than 100,000 marchers, “if the weather holds up.” On Sunday morning, the rally will kick off at Columbus Circle, head east along the south side of Central Park, wind through Times Square (an icon of decadent consumerism if there ever was one) before heading back west on 34th street. At 1:00 p.m., a moment of silence will be held to honor “victims of climate change and the fossil fuel industry.” Leaders of the march will then make sure the message is loud and clear as they “sound the climate alarm” with drums, trumpets, vuvuzelas (think bumblebees at the World Cup in South Africa), backed by a score of marching bands. And you thought the Occupy Wall Street drum circles were annoying?
“If there is no struggle, there is no progress,” Frederick Douglas insisted. A hundred and ten years later, in Atlanta, Georgia, Martin Luther King, Jr., speaking on the inhumanity of Jim Crow, said, “It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.” Today’s climate activists walk in the shadows of yesterday’s civil rights icons. Anjali Appadurai, a former U.N. youth delegate on climate justice, once told The WILD that unification overwhelms cynicism, “There is no other choice but to struggle and find solidarity with people who have the same conception of justice.”
The People’s Climate March begins at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday in New York City.
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