By Benedict Wright
Despite good intentions and powerful voices, the climate strike held on Friday, Dec. 6 was a frustrating disappointment. After a positive and moving experience at the strike in September, I was excited and motivated to join with my peers and other members of the community to make our voices heard at Colorado Springs City Hall. However, I soon felt that this protest lacked the energy and solidarity that made the earlier one successful. Certainly, there were some positive elements. It was encouraging to see young and passionate activists finding their voices and speaking truth to power. The speakers were right to call out the apathy, corruption, and environmental racism that has fueled and continues to fuel the climate crisis. They were right to call for unified action in the face of powers that seek to divide and silence us.
Unfortunately, by the end, that was not the dominant sentiment. In spite of some powerful words and righteous anger, the energy of the protest became lethargic, uncomfortable, and at times divisive. After several prepared speeches and the “die-in” demonstration, as motivation and participation waned, the organizers offered the mic to anyone who wanted to share their voice. A series of speakers raised concerns regarding tactics and commitment. Some called for personal responsibility and better individual choices, while others condemned corporations. Some implored the young people present to vote in next year’s election, and others countered that as consumers we vote with our dollars every day. One speaker called out Colorado College for their inadequate composting program, and another defended it. There was a sense that each speaker was trying to point a finger at the last. It felt like each one was saying, “No, this is the real problem, and this is the solution.” Righteous anger dissolved into angry self-righteousness.
With these remarks finished, the protest meekly disbanded with the students and community members quietly going their separate ways. This is not what solidarity looks like. When the stakes are this high, we cannot afford to isolate those with whom we share a common cause. All of these tactics — lifestyle change, personal choices, social advocacy, and electoral politics — are necessary. We share a common enemy. We are all locked into a system that sustains itself on the burning of fossil fuels and the maintenance of a racialized economic hierarchy. Just by existing in this system, we are complicit. Only solidarity and inter-communal consciousness will bring lasting change.
I am certainly guilty of forgetting this at times. I often feel my passion shriveling into apathy, my anger into holier-than-thou judgement. Protests have the power to wake us up, to make us realize that our interests are united. Condemnation of our sisters and brothers in this fight will not lead to victory. I hope the next climate strike in Colorado Springs (and globally) will be alive with the spirit of community. Future generations are counting on it.