by ARUN GUPTA
I’ve never been to a protest march that advertised on the NY subway, $220,000 on posters inviting Wall Street bankers to join a march to save the planet. Welcome to the “People’s Climate March” in NYC. It takes place before a UN Climate Summit two days later. I’ll join the march, the Climate Convergence, and most important the “Flood Wall Street” direct action on Mon., Sept. 22. The movement is radicalizing thousands of youth. Endorsers include some labor unions and many people-of-color community organizations. Nonetheless, like Han Solo, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
Anne Petermann and Quincy Saul describe how the People’s Climate March has no demands, no targets, and no enemy. There is no sense of history: decades of climate-justice activism are erased by the invocation of the “biggest climate change demonstration ever.”
Having worked on Madison Avenue, I can smell a PR campaign a mile away. That’s what the People’s Climate March looks to be. Avaaz found a lucrative revenue stream by warning about climate catastrophe that can be solved with the click of a donate button. To convince people to donate it said we need Occupy-style actions, but when the moment comes for such a protest, Avaaz and 350.org blocked it and then when it did get organized, they pushed it out of sight. If you go to People’s Climate March, you won’t find any mention of the Flood Wall Street action. Bill McKibben of 350.org began promoting it this week, maybe because there’s discontent in the activist ranks. One inside source said, “It’s a branding decision not to promote Flood Wall Street.”
Branding. That’s how the climate crisis is going to be solved. In an era of postmodern social movements, image comes first and shapes reality. PR and marketing determine the message, the organizing, and the strategy. Left to their own devices the organizers will lead the movement into the graveyard of the Democratic Party, just as happened with the movement against the Iraq War a decade ago. Remember that worldwide movement? The NY Times dubbed global public opinion “the second superpower.” Now Obama has launched an 8th war and there’s no mass antiwar movement to speak of.
The grassroots are being mobilized; that’s why it’s a mistake to condemn it. People are joining out of genuine concern, passion and hope for an equitable, sustainable world, but control is top-down behind closed doors. The lack of politics is a political decision. The goal is to have visuals of a diverse crowd, hence the old saw about a “family-friendly” march. Organizers will capitulate to anything the NYPD demands to get their “visuals.” The march is on Sunday morning when the city is in hangover mode. It ends on Eleventh Avenue, no-man’s-land far from subways or the UN. There’s no closing rally. World leaders won’t even be at the UN, and they’re just hired guns of the real climate criminals on Wall St.
Avaaz has pioneered “clickbait activism.” Avaaz creates “actions” that generate emails for its fundraising operation, with a business model to create products (the ‘actions’) that help it increase market share (emails), and ultimately revenue. The actions that get the most attention are those with the most petition signers, media coverage, and revenue. Avaaz has turned social justice into a product to enhance the liberal lifestyle. A Dec. 2013 email headlined “24 Months to Save the World” about climate change was apparently a gold-mine. Telling people there’s 24 months to save the world is odious, as is implying an online donation to Avaaz can save the planet. Presumably orderly marchers behind NYPD barricades will convince the governments of the world they need to pass UN Secretary≠General Ban Ki Moon’s “ambitious global agreement to reduce global warming pollution.” But it’s hard to find details on the UN Climate Summit web-site, on what they’ll discuss. Canadian journalist Nick Fillmore claims the main point will be a carbon pricing scheme. This is a corporate-designed scam that rewards the worst polluters with the most credits to sell. So we have a corporate-designed march to support a corporate-dominated world body to implement a corporate policy to counter climate change caused by the corporations.
Rather than moaning from the sidelines or on Facebook, radicals need to be in the streets. Join the marches and the direct actions. Why, for the second time in 15 years, has a militant uprising, first Seattle and then Occupy, given way to liberal cooptation. What good is radical analysis if NGOs and Democratic Party fronts out-organize us? Naomi Klein says we need to end business as usual because climate change is going to change everything. Unfortunately the organizers of the People’s Climate March didn’t get the memo. The future is unwritten. It’s not about what happens on Sunday. It’s what happens after that.
Arun Gupta contributes to outlets including Al Jazeera America, The Guardian, and In These Times.