I attended the Peoples’ Climate March in New York City on September 21st . Actually, I really wish I stayed the entire weekend instead of rushing through one day. I don’t remember seeing so many people attend a rally at least since the announcement of a troop surge into Iraq by President Bush in early 2007. It would be very difficult to count the number of people who came because crowds literally stretched the streets further than the eye could see. The organizers put together a team of 35 crowd spotters, who took their results to a mathematician, at Carnegie Mellon University who crunched their results and estimated 311,000 people marched along the route.
Some notable celebrities came to show their support, including actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who gave a compelling address before the UN General Assembly on the urgency to act now. Also, actor Mark Ruffallo was in attendance along with the renowned author Naomi Klein. Similar rallies took place worldwide including in London and in Sydney, Australia. Australia had experienced a summer of record breaking heat so serious that billboards literally lit on fire as temperatures exceeded 100 degrees for days on end.
It was impossible to not immediately notice that the vast majority of messages expressed were anti-capitalist, which is new and critical. It was clear to see that people were truly starting to make the connection that capitalism must be overthrown in order to save the planet. People made explicit connections to fighting for the planet among so many other fights as well. There was a big contingent of indigenous people fighting to save their land. People made the connection to a system that shuts off thousands of people’s water in Detroit Michigan to the same brutal system that does the same thing to the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. People understood that toxic dumping sites all over the world are exclusively in poor communities and usually communities of color.
At a forum that was recorded and on the internet, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont was heckled and booed for his support over the summer of Israel’s vicious assault on Gaza. The same assault resulted in Gaza’s only sewage treatment plant being bombed. Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben shared the stage for that same public forum.
People showed their support for the LGBT community, and their opposition to the Obama Administration’s “all of the above” energy policy including the absurd concept of “clean coal”. People rejected all oil pipeline projects and did not have a simple limited focus on opposing the infamous Keystone XL Pipeline. The crowd was multi-racial, multi-cultural, and made up of every different background, religion, community and age (although it was overwhelmingly young). Seeing a growing radicalization is so obvious among young people.
However, the environmental movement as a whole is a mixed bag on the national scale. Like almost all movements, it is one more movement that is organized by NGO’s often closely tied into the Democratic Party and into major corporations. The most common false strategy is electing the most so called progressive Democrat into office. The NGO model still often emphasizes personal choices and consumption instead of putting pressure onto the system. There is still too much emphasis coming from the top down to conserve water, eat more organic food, recycle and drive less.
Quite often, there is a focus of the moment, such as shutting down the southern portion of the Keystone XL oil pipeline while the northern end is already being constructed and many more pipelines are being planned out. Another example is 350.org‘s major focus for students to put pressure on their universities to divest from coal. These efforts can be important and should not entirely be dismissed. But it is also true that the youth radicalization taking place needs to be offered more alternatives than what is being given. People are pushed into dog and pony show elections far too often when they radicalize. This is because the NGO’s who people look to for answers are controlled by liberals with ties to corporate foundations , who’s major focus is on electing politicians, or perhaps weak ballot initiatives.
Despite recognizing this, the radicalization is further proof that being cynical and pessimistic is exactly the wrong attitude to have. There is an opening for radical politics. And so many people coming into the environmental movement are brand new to any movement and could easily be pulled into that opening for radical ideas and politics.
So, the conclusion I have is that the opportunity is right now for socialists, anti-capitalists and leftists to unite against the system and bring people into the movement. It needs to be up to everyone in their own communities to organize their own struggles however. Indigenous communities must fight their own struggle and lead the way. The people of Detroit suffering from water shut offs must take the lead for their struggles as well. Every community throughout the United States and all over the world must fight their fight. But the role of socialists anywhere is to unite with their anti-capitalist allies and take the lead when necessary and be there to show solidarity. Socialists must argue why this movement must be focused on putting pressure only on the system, and why personal choices won’t solve the crisis of climate change.
Moving forward, there are no easy answers. Even if every car in the world was taken off of the road tomorrow, climate change won’t simply go away. The same is true if every single home was solar powered. It is important to recognize society needs a very major restructuring to simply put the brakes on climate change. This point must be argued. Moving forward, it is time to seize the opportunity at hand to create the kind of environmental movement that is independent of the two party electoral system, and that takes its power into the streets, and seeks to involve ever broader sectors of society and the radicalizing youth.