In light of the People’s Climate Mobilization in New York and worldwide, Sabina Virgo writes on the need to build a movement using the examples of fights for civil rights, women’s rights and peace, based on the principle that corporate-centered business as usual must end, bringing about a just transition to a sustainable economic model that creates jobs and prosperity for all while protecting our fragile ecological balance.
We are a family perishing
In our own home. It is below zero
outside and we set fire to the house, which is in the middle of no-
where, to warm us up. Our very own pyre.
Look, here comes the shiny fire brigade, flying
the flag. Pumped firemen shout orders, uncoil
black snakes. They assure us “everything
is okay” as they hose our house with jets of oil.
By Greg Delanty, appearing in the anthology So Little Time: Words and Images for a World in Climate Crisis
The Demands of a People’s Climate Mobilization
By Sabina Virgo
Anne Petermann of the Global Justice Ecology Project wrote an article discussing the September 21 demonstration at U.N. Climate Summit in New York “where world leaders will discuss ambitions for the upcoming Climate Conference in Lima, Peru.”
Her article, printed by Daily Kos, is, I believe, of great service to the Climate Change Movement.
In her writing, Ms. Petermann analyzes the decision (made by People’s Climate March organizers 350.org and Avaaz) to have neither speakers nor demands at the rally – in order, they say, to “have a big tent for change.” In profound disagreement, Ms. Petermann recounts the demands, and the scope of civil disobedience, of both the anti-Viet Nam War Movement and the Civil Rights Movement – and encourages similar demands and actions for New York.
In supporting the need for demands, she points out that corporations like Goldman Sachs and Nike have formed a climate group which will be included in the rally – and that their (non) solutions to the climate crisis will fill the political void created by the lack of demands from the demonstration itself. Corporate misdirection will be covered by the media, any officially planned actions to stop “business as usual” will clearly be absent, and the demand for deep-seated, systemic transformation will be MIA at the New York demonstration.
[At the People’s Climate March] there will be no rally, no speakers, and no strong political demands. Just people showing up with the overarching message that the world’s leaders should take action on climate change. Why no solid demands? I’ve been informed by organizers that the reason this march is being held with no actual demands is because we need a big tent. A big tent, as in, the circus is coming to town… But this tent is so big that it even includes organizations that support fracking and the tar sands gigaproject. — Anne Petermann
The Climate Movement: Who are we Fighting?
The raising of these issues is of critical importance, and their absence at the rally is significant. The organizers of this rally seem to believe that the sheer presence of 200,000 people will speak for itself. Which it well may. But what, exactly, will it be saying?
What, in fact, are we saying? Do we agree on who/what we are fighting? Do we have agreement on whether we need to fight for policy, or power, or both? Have we looked at the world-wide concentration of wealth and power, and analyzed its role (if any) in climate disruption? Are we talking about how to build the kind of powerful, mass movements that were referenced from our past by Ms. Petermann?
I don’t think we have asked/answered those questions yet. And, in my view, it is clear that forces do not yet exist (in any widespread way in the leadership or the development of the Climate Movement) that view the need for systemic change as fundamental to the sustainability and habitability of earth.
The elites, whether in Congress or attending U.N. summits, have no intention of cutting off their access to wealth, power and privilege. They know where the money is. They know what they have to do to get it. And we are not part of the equation. — Chris Hedges in Truthdig
Petermann points out that representatives of that system have organized and will be at the rally. In my experience, the other side has always interjected (or infiltrated) its own voice in our movements, and has used much of our language when they do. They form their own organizations in our midst. They destabilize and divert. They co-opt our ideas and sanitize them, and try to feed them back to us. (Remember George W. Bush singing We Shall Overcome on MLK’s birthday last year?) They put on a show for us. This is not new.
Nor is the (not always agreed upon) reality that fundamental change in power relations in this country is required just to maintain the gains already struggled for and won. The decades long backsliding on victories (in policy) won by the Civil Rights movement, the Anti-War movement, the Women’s movement and the Labor movement should serve as ample and glaring examples of that truth.
Each of those movements encompassed within them different tactics, strategies, and understandings of society. Some of those differences in politics were based on class, some on ethnicity, and some on gender – and in each movement, differing social visions both co-existed and struggled with each other.
The same is true of the Climate movement. This is a movement which, as a whole, developed out of the environmental movement. That movement had its own unique political/social history – and will need to deal with its fundamental and strategic divisions through the realities of struggle.
“The march is symbolic, but we are past the time of symbolism. What we need is direct action against the United Nations during the meeting. This should include blockades and disruption of the meeting itself. We need to highlight the fact that the United Nations has sold out to corporate interests. At U.N. meetings on climate change you see corporate logos on display.” — Kevin Zeese of Popular Resistance
The movement against Climate Change in the U.S. is young, and has to grow into a powerful adult very quickly. We don’t have a great deal of time to learn who and what needs to be defeated to protect the future. The Environmental Justice movement, which faces clear and immediate danger, has, I believe, a stronger handle on these issues than does the movement as a whole.
Petermann says, and I believe it is true, as that No Tent for Change is big enough to contain both Yes and No. None big enough to contain an economic system that must continue to produce to continue to exist. Our system is like a plane – if it stops, if it slows down to much – it falls to earth and crashes. One truth is that the ongoing rape of the earth for production and profit will crash our planet. And another, is that our economic system is based on more and more production.
It seems to me, that unless we believe that the climate is changing itself, or that our next door neighbor is to blame, we need to identify “who is holding the shotgun,” analyze the forces/systems/interests and people that threaten the habitability of earth, and collectively deal with the guys holding the gun. If we don’t know what the bully in the playground looks like, how can we stop him?
We have known about the deleterious effects of carbon emissions for decades. The first IPCC report was published in 1990. Yet since the beginning of the Kyoto Protocol Era in the late 1980s, we have emitted as much carbon dioxide as was emitted in the prior 236 years. The rising carbon emissions and the extraction of tar sands—and since the industry has figured out how to transport tar sands without building the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline, this delivery seems assured—will continue no matter how many police-approved marches are held. Play by the rules and we lose. — Chris Hedges
The Climate Movement, Just, Diverse, Principled
As our movement grows, differences in strategies and direction will contest with each other, debate with each other, and (hopefully) our clarity and vision will become equal to the enormity of task we face. And the Tent will grow big enough to include — not ‘The Climate Group’ of Goldman Sachs – but working people throughout the country, who are struggling to survive in these difficult economic times.
For our Tent to grow – for our movement to encompass the “People on many fronts made both the war and business as usual impossible” we need to become a Climate Movement whose Tent reaches out to the breath of people who birthed the Civil Rights Movement – and those whose support helped end the war in Viet Nam, to which Anne Petermann refers.
For our Tent to be big enough, we need to become a Climate Movement that fights for a Just Transition to clean, green, well-paying jobs for people who work in polluting industries. A Climate Movement that prioritizes the right to economic security and decent jobs for all people. A Climate Movement through which the US public will be able to see — as clearly as they did during the Viet Nam war and the Jim Crow South — that its youth are in danger, that people are dying — and that we have the power to make it stop. The struggle facing the Climate Movement today is for clarity in both what we are fighting for, and who and what is standing in our way. A principled struggle on those issues (such as Ms. Petermann has begun) has the potential to build the critical mass required to protect the future.
If we were further along, if a tent of enormous proportions had been built as a result of our work, then the demonstration at the UN would have powerful demands, then there would be no ‘business as usual’ in the city — and then, the so-called leaders meeting in New York, and the bullies roaming in the playground, wouldn’t even know what hit them…
Sabina Virgo is an organizer for Southern California Climate Action Coalition 350 and a member of the Martin Luther King Coalition of Greater Los Angeles