By Margaret Klein
The lack of demands at the People's Climate March is a golden opportunity. We, the marchers, will determine the demands.
This article originally appeared on the Climate Mobilization website here.
A Movement and a March: Full of Possibilities
The People’s Climate March on September 21st will likely be the largest march for climate action that has ever taken place. We should be grateful to the organizers and sponsoring organizations for putting so much time, energy, and resources into persuading tens (or hundreds!) of thousands of people to come to New York City. The march will bring passionate people together from across the world, to demand a response to climate change, and to make connections with each other, creating a broader movement going forward. The march has already accomplished a good deal in terms of raising awareness—and people's spirits—while focusing on inclusivity and diversity. There is much to be proud of here.
However, the People's Climate March has faced sharp criticism in recent weeks. Christopher Hedges charged that the march will be nothing more than a “climate-themed street fair,” given that it will lack formal demands and speeches and will adhere to the demands of state authorities.
The only answer, Hedges writes, is direct action: “This resistance will be effective only when we refuse to do what we are told, when we turn from a liberal agenda of reform to embrace a radical agenda of revolt.”
While Hedges' passion is to be admired, his proposed strategy is vague and unpersuasive. What are the revolt’s demands and how will they be accomplished? He calls for marchers to “disrupt” the machinery of corporate capitalism, and to establish self-sufficient local communities. But how, precisely, will disruption and local action lead to drastic and rapid emissions reductions? How could it usher in the war-time mobilization widely regarded as necessary to stave off catastrophic climate disruption? Hedges barely goes there. Direct action is a tactic, but not, in itself, a comprehensive theory of change.
Hedges argues that if “we play by the rules, we lose.” Fair enough. “The rules” as they currently exist are destroying the climate and placing all of humanity in peril. But breaking the rules is thinking too small. We need to rewrite the rules.
We face the prospect of billions of people starving to death within this century. Each and every one of us has a profound moral responsibility to ensure that this horrific fate is averted. We need to stop wringing our hands and pointing fingers. It’s time for all of us to get to work on serious, constructive movement building.
In the coming months and years, we must forge a powerful campaign that encompasses large swaths of American society. This movement will necessarily include Americans of all creeds, colors, classes and political affiliations. Its primary demand is clear if success is to be assured: The federal government must lead a social and economic mobilization to save civilization from climate change. This movement will enlist allies in the press, the universities, the foundations, and the non-profit sector. It will move with tremendous power into the political arena.
How do we even begin to approach this challenge? This is the question that The Climate Mobilization, a new organization— staffed entirely by volunteers and funded by individual donations—has begun to tackle. For the past year, we have developed a strategy to address the predicament that Chris Hedges has so eloquently described in his numerous books and articles. Now, on the cusp of the People’s Climate March, we are ready to launch. Yet unlike Hedges, we do not believe that the coming march is a lost cause. On the contrary, we believe that the march holds extraordinary promise. It is the march’s very lack of demands that is the source of its potential.
The Pledge to Mobilize
On Sept. 20, we will launch the Pledge to Mobilize in New York City. We invite all those coming to New York City to sign this pledge, which contains demands powerful and honest enough to propel the march into the history books, and the climate movement on the road toward victory. Once the march is done, we hope those who sign it will take the Pledge back to their home communities to begin the hard work of local movement building.
The Pledge to Mobilize is a political platform and social movement strategy. It is a one-page document that every American can sign. The Pledge is an unblinking declaration of reality — a chance to take a stand against the great evil of our time.
When you sign this pledge, you commit your support to political candidates who have also signed it, on the local, state, and national level. The Pledge calls on the federal government to immediately:
1) Commence a social and economic mobilization to restore a climate that is safe, stable, and supportive of human civilization. This heroic campaign shall be carried out in the spirit of the American World War II home front mobilization. As in WWII, this mobilization will require hard work and shared sacrifice from all Americans.
2) Reduce our country’s net greenhouse gas emissions one hundred percent by 2025 and deploy a national system that removes greenhouse gases from the atmosphere at emergency speed.
3) Enlist tens of millions of Americans in efforts to rapidly expand our carbon-neutral energy and agricultural systems, conduct groundbreaking research, and implement large-scale adaptation measures.
4) Conduct this mobilization in accordance with the Constitution and ensure that the essential needs of the civilian economy are met during this time of transition.
5) Establish the following imperatives as our nation’s top foreign policy priorities: A one hundred percent reduction of global net greenhouse gas emissions at wartime speed, and the deployment of a comprehensive international system that removes greenhouse gases from the atmosphere until a safe climate is restored.
In signing the Pledge, you join forces with other mobilized Americans in an urgent campaign to save civilization. You agree to spread the Pledge to people you respect and care about — such as your friends, family, neighbors, and political candidates.
This Pledge has a unique structure. It is not another example of alienating internet “clicktivism.” It is designed to be a significant event in the lives of signers. One cannot just “take” the Pledge. This Pledge must be given by someone who has already taken it. This person vouches for you, affirming that you will spread the pledge with respect, focus, truth, and courage. They also agree to support you in your efforts to mobilize yourself.
Because of this person-to-person structure, the Pledge has the ability to focus dinner table discussions, and the national conversation at large, on the near-term threat of a civilization collapse as well as the massive, concerted effort needed to prevent it. Variations of the Pledge are set to launch in other countries, providing a bridge between the hyper-local, the national and the international. The Pledge to Mobilize empowers each of us to reject denial and passivity in favor of effective political and social action. It allows us to rise to the challenge of our time, together.
The Pledge and the Climate Movement
The Pledge to Mobilize allows us to stand firm on what is non-negotiable while also serving as an umbrella organization that engages a wide variety of people and perspectives.
What is non-negotiable is written into the text of the Pledge: We must commence an all-out effort to eliminate GHG emissions as quickly as possible, and continue to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. If we are to restore a climate that is safe for humanity, this is what science and ethics demands. It is our only moral option.
While the demands of the Pledge are unshakeable commitments, there is much room for discussion and debate. Issues that have historically divided the environmental movement such as nuclear power, capitalism, reformism vs. radicalism—cannot divide and hobble us any longer. If we agree that a climate mobilization is necessary to save civilization, then we must work together towards that goal, as we discuss and debate how precisely the mobilization will unfold.
The scale of the Pledge’s demands are commonly recognized as necessary among the leading lights of the environmental movement as well as prominent economists. A WWII mobilization has been advocated by Joe Romm, Paul Gilding and James K. Galbraith, among others.
In 2011, a host of leading environmentalists signed an open letter to Barack Obama and Hu Jintao, calling for the United States and China to reduce their emissions 80% by 2020 through a “wartime-like mobilization.” Signatories included: Bill McKibben, Lester Brown, Ross Gelbspan, as well as the executive directors of the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, the Rainforest Action Network, and Friends of the Earth.
But the Pledge’s demands, as well as its tone, have broad appeal far outside of the environmental movement. We have witnessed a wide variety of Americans react positively to the Pledge, including people who are politically disengaged, deeply religious, and politically conservative. This crossover appeal is necessary to achieve the kind of supermajority necessary to call forth a WWII-scale climate mobilization.
We crafted the specifics of the Pledge in consultation with a network of allies, including scientists, leading activists, and citizens of conscience. Philip Sutton, the co-author of the highly acclaimed book, “Climate Code Red,” was particularly helpful in making sure that our demands were in line with the latest science and safety standards.
We understand that this platform will be perceived as unrealistic in our current political climate of paralysis and despair. That's why the Pledge to Mobilize is also a social movement strategy, designed to overcome our culture’s widespread denial and passivity and leverage massive public support for these scientifically necessary demands.
The Pledge is a psychological tool that allows individuals, and our culture at large, to overcome the denial, dissociation, and passivity that keep most Americans from truly taking in the scope of the climate threat. The basic psychological premise is that the experience of helplessness is a key factor in denial and inaction. If we are to get hundreds of millions of people to grasp the horror of the threat, and to demand an emergency climate response, we need to truthfully tell individuals that 1) a comprehensive response exists, and 2) they are an essential part of that response. In order to get people to face the truth of the crisis, we need to empower them to participate in the solution.
Signing the Pledge does not preclude the use of many other tactics, including demonstrations, lawsuits, internet memes and local transitional measures. On the contrary, signing the Pledge can synergistically enhance the use of other tactics. Imagine, for example, if media reports of direct action at the UN or White House contained a paragraph reading: “The protesters demanded that the United States government immediately initiate a WWII-scale mobilization to halt climate change. This 21st century economic mobilization, organizers said, would enlist tens of millions of Americans in efforts to overhaul the nation’s energy infrastructure, and would reduce net greenhouse gas emissions 100 percent in ten years.”
The Pledge strategy is not dependent on election cycles, because sitting politicians are also invited— and can be pressured— to sign. Mobilizers will call their Representatives to say, “I have supported you for 10 years with my vote, time, and money. But I recently signed the Pledge to Mobilize and I will no longer do so unless you sign it also.” However, elections are the most basic and forceful instrument of democracy. We must focus our strategy on the huge national election 2 years away. If we elect a Mobilization Government in 2016, then our next President will have eight years to lead the mobilization and bring the United States to carbon neutrality. This gives us two years to build a momentous social movement, to spread the Pledge far and wide, and to place relentless pressure on political candidates to step up. This will take a tremendous amount of effort, to be sure. Armed with the truth, the Pledge, and the spur of dire necessity, we can transform our culture and reclaim our democracy.
Our Presence at the People’s Climate March
The People’s Climate March is an amazing opportunity to launch this new strategy. Marchers who sign the Pledge will return to their communities and begin spreading it there. They will leave the march with a historic mandate to save civilization from climate change.
The Pledge to Mobilize also creates a remarkable opportunity for the People’s Climate March. In not providing demands, the organizers of the PCM have allowed the marchers to speak for themselves — to make the march, and the actions that will follow it— their own. We offer the Pledge to Mobilize for this task. Some marchers have already told us that they want to sign the Pledge pre-march, and spread it to others during the march.
If thousands of marchers make this decision, it would make a statement exponentially more powerful than if the march’s organizers undertook an opaque process that determined the march’s demands. The organizers of the march understand this. Indeed, two of the organizing principles that the People’s Climate March has endorsed are: “Emphasis on bottom-up organizing” and “Let people speak for themselves.”
Instead of seeing the lack of demands at the People’s Climate March as a fatal flaw, consigning the march to the dustbin of history before it has even occurred — we must view it as a golden opportunity. We, the marchers, can determine the demands of this march. By selecting clear, heroic, achievable demands for ourselves, and Pledging ourselves to them—we will invest both the Pledge and the People’s Climate March with tremendous significance and power.
We will be begin offering the Pledge to Mobilize in the week preceding the March and throughout the march itself.
Our ground team will be identifiable through their Climate Mobilization T Shirts saying “I Pledged to Mobilize, ask me why.” Marchers who Pledge at the march will display stickers read “I Pledged.”
We will also have multiple events throughout the weekend:
— TCM@PCM - Public Pledging in Pier 84 in Hudson River Park @44th st
To make this happen, we need help!
Sign up here to be part of our ground team, or attend a Climate Mobilization event, or take the Pledge at or preceding the PCM!
Let us rise to the challenge of our time, together.
For more information, visit TheClimateMobilization.org
*For a fast, visual explanation of this strategy: See the slideshow at thetop of the homepage.
*For a more thorough discussion, read our strategy document “Rising to the Challenge of Our Time”
This Article was written with Ezra Silk.