Sure enough, the largest climate march in history went off in NYC on Sunday, with over 300,000 activists taking to Manhattan's Upper West Side and Midtown streets (even the busy 6th avenue and 42nd street). And the Flood Wall Street sit-in action, organized by Occupy activists, plugged the streets of the financial district with over a thousand blue-clad protesters, NYPD vehicles and barricades, and all-around-feel-good direct action. Over one hundred activists, including one dressed as a polar bear and four others in wheel chairs, were proudly arrested for their civil disobedience Monday night.
So let's start with some backstory.
Earlier in the month, I started to see posters and fliers about the People's Climate March all around the city -- on light poles, in store fronts, even at my new job (I work at an outdoor sporting goods store, so besides any individual ethics we associates may have for environmental stewardship and care, the company itself has a vested interest in a healthy planet; it's those of us with individual-ethics-for-environmental-stewardship-and-care that make up their entire customer base! One customer came in to support our store just because she saw the poster hanging on the front door). At my neighborhood community bookshop, Word Up, we carried fliers and posters for the march as well. But it wasn't until I helped host an info session about the People's Climate March at the bookshop that I saw how significant this march might ultimately be.
I signed up for the newsletter and became more and more hyped about participating in this event, even though it was scheduled for my birthday, September 21 (a date also appropriately recognized as the International Day of Peace). Then, just a week or two before the Climate March, I also received word from my various Occupy-related newsletters that the Flood Wall Street demonstration would be scheduled for the very next day and involve civil disobedience.
Why was I so excited about these demonstrations, even to the point that I would march on my own birthday?
I joined these two actions for the same reasons that I've joined so many other protests and demonstrations over the years -- primarily, to bear witness to them and to contribute my own voice and music to the din of the protests.
There are so many myths and rumors about what happened at Occupy Wall Street in the fall of 2011. I still hear and read about them all the time. But no one can argue with my first-hand memory of what happened at Zuccotti Park during those months, or on the Brooklyn Bridge when 700 protesters were arrested, or now what happened when we flooded Wall Street on Monday. Reading newspapers or history books will never replace the experience of actually having been there and seen it with my own eyes (at this point, I expect that if newspapers or history books bother covering these events at all, they will not likely tell the stories very accurately).
Secondly, I'm a musician. Singer, songwriter, performance artist. At my core. So I am not fully present or really making a worthwhile contribution to anything if I'm not also using these gifts and passions. And I joined these demonstrations because I wanted to be sure that the folks in places of power -- be it the United Nations or the financiers on Wall Street -- could hear our cry for climate justice; so on Sunday I brought my mandolin, on Monday my guitar, and on both days, my voice to sing and shout on behalf of the planet.
Now, one of the critiques that has been leveled against the efficacy of these marches is that they don't care. The UN heads of state and Wall Street bankers don't care about how many hundreds of thousands of people march through midtown Manhattan, or about how many get themselves arrested. And they sure as hell don't care about the climate, which is why these demonstrations were organized in the first place! So what's the point? All that time and energy, all those resources spent. For what?
I'll be the first to admit that people in power are not likely to heed our call, to hear our protest. I'm not so deluded as to think that they give a rip about how many people showed up or what we had to say. Insofar as that may have been a goal for many demonstrators, I'll join the trolls in saying that we wasted our time. Nevertheless, I'm certain that these demonstrations will prove to have served much the same purpose that the Occupy Movement always has: to galvanize and mobilize communities across the country and the world to take matters -- in this case, climate justice -- into their own hands. Also, I've written before about the importance of direct action and I'll say it again: throwing a monkey wrench into the cogs of an unjust system will always be a welcome gesture, in my book. Perhaps the folks in power don't care about what we have to say, but when our (direct) actions begin to affect them, I get the feeling they'll start to listen!
That being said, it's true that I was not willing to go all the way on Monday, to be arrested along with so many of my comrades. It just wasn't in the cards for me, not this time. I have many other commitments to my family and community right now that preclude me from volunteering myself for civil disobedience and arrest. Besides, to be perfectly honest, there are many other issues more important to me than climate justice -- such as justice for the poor, for immigrants, for veterans, for sweatshop workers, and for victims of US war and violence all over the world. How can we expect to treat the planet with dignity and respect when we still don't know how to treat other human beings in that way? These will continue to be my priority and certainly causes worthy of my voluntary arrest, should such opportunities ever present themselves.
Finally, to my lefty friends and colleagues who argue that either of these actions were not radical enough, I invite you to please tell me, tell us -- what are you doing that we can also take part in, to dismantle exploitative capitalist and corporatist systems, to bring climate justice to our planet? The People's Climate March and the Flood Wall Street demonstrations were not meant to take us all the way, they were not ends in themselves (thank you for reminding us of that), but rather steps in the right direction -- among them raising awareness, energizing a political base, and challenging the status quo. Perhaps with your help we can continue marching that way, keeping the end in full view.
- Yes, I own and use an iPhone
- Yes, I eat food and wear clothes produced by the capitalist system; and yes, I do have a day job (believe it or not)
- No, these facts do not delegitimize any critiques that I or other protesters (who also succumb to modern-day needs of communicating with peers/comrades, eating food and wearing clothes) may have about capitalism and its impact on the environment
- Yes, climate change and capitalism (as we know it) are real problems that ought to be addressed
- No, we actually don't have anything better to do because addressing climate change is that important
- And no, I don't need a shower (it's not that day of the week). I appreciate your concern, but perhaps you should focus on the climate situation, which stinks at lot worse than any of us protesters do