Imagine that there is an apocalyptic threat casting a shadow over the country. In a reasonable society, the people would assume that their government would do whatever possible to figure out the cause and talk about it. When it comes to climate change, the federal government has more or less followed through by addressing the cause of excess greenhouse gas emissions heating up the planet, melting ice caps, and causing unusual, potentially dangerous, weather patterns. It is common practice now for President Obama to address climate change in his repetitive vernacular when speaking to the public.
Back to the apocalyptic threat., the next thing the people should expect is that when the culprit of the threat is found, which, in the case of climate change, is the fossil fuel industry, the government would make immediate policy changes to reduce the progression of this self-induced environmental disease. Unfortunately, this latter expectation has not been met in the slightest, forcing civilians to rise up and pressure politicians to work for their demands.
This summer I had the privilege of working in New York City with 350.org, an international environmental NGO. 350 was founded in 2007 by Middlebury College professor Bill McKibben, along with a few of his students. Seven years later, 350 has organized and mobilized in over 188 countries, helped launch the fossil fuel divestment movement and more than once has organized direct actions at the White House in order to prevent the Keystone XL Pipeline.
350 has always functioned as a grassroots organization, which is fitting since they are one of many social justice groups working together over the past few months to organize the largest public environmental mobilization the United States has ever seen.
On Sunday, Sept. 21, in the streets of midtown New York City, roughly 150,000 people will turn up to show our political leaders how serious the movement to reduce our carbon footprint is, specifically to ensure the sustainable survival for future generations. It is called the People’s Climate March, and everyone is invited.
The March is designed to encourage political leaders around the world, who are all meeting just two days after the March in NYC for the UN Climate Summit, to pass climate legislation that will reduce GHG emissions and bring the carbon in the atmosphere back down to 350 parts per million.
The energy this summer in NYC and in the 350 office was electric. Every employee had too much work on his or her plate, but no one complained about it. The workspace often felt like a group of kids building a time machine out of cardboard boxes, unbelievably excited at the future potential of their life-changing creation.
After months of working with 350, many hours of community meetings, and thousands of posters printed, it finally dawned on me how incredibly bizarre this movement has become. We, the people, are working tirelessly to convince our government, whose job is essentially to look after us, not to destroy the planet. This is literally sitcom material in the darkest of ways.
I realized how adaptive the majority of Americans have become in both trusting and accepting some of the blatantly corrupt, illegal, and violent practices of our own government, simply because we are too afraid of the strength of national political forces as compared to our own.
A population of frightened citizens contradicts democracy in the most fundamental way. When the people feel hopeless in corresponding with their own government, their democracy has turned into a dictatorship. The People’s Climate March has the potential to dramatically change the dialogue about climate and democracy in American politics and governments around the world.
Unlike many of 350’s past direct actions, which have intentionally resulted in the arrests of thousands of people including students, the March will be a safe event for everyone to attend. This mobilization will not be a small, mainly white group of upper-class environmentalists holding up protest signs and chanting to save the oceans; the People’s Climate March is less about the whales, bears, and seals, and more about the human populations that have been the most effected by climate change.
Climate change is largely a social justice issue. As seen by the communities that were affected most during Hurricane Katrina, communities of minorities and low incomes are always hurt most in environmental disasters. Many of the partnering organizations involved in the March are not directly related to environmental activism, but see climate change as a huge threat to their own mission. Some of these groups include Women Against War, Christ Temple United Baptist Church, and even Go Vegan Radio.
Although it is disturbing that our society has gotten to the point where people have to plead for the most basic of human needs, the fact that we are still fighting for our rights is an inspirational sign. A hopeless society is one where the people are too defeated to stand up for themselves. When every major newspaper in the country reveals the breathtaking aerial photos of thousands of people marching in the street at the People’s Climate March, I believe the entire world will gain a little more motivation to demand that their voices be heard.