The People's Calls For Climate Justice
NEW YORK, NY: The following three distinct events took place leading up to the 2014 UN Climate Summit in New York City:
1. Global Climate Convergence
2. The People’s Climate March
3. The Financial District Sit-in: Flood Wall St.
The message laid forth was, in part, defined by the various signs and visual messaging: we need significant change to preserve our planet. The problem lies with the over consumption of natural, finite resources, such as trees and fossil fuels, and with the extensive pollution caused by carbon emissions of daily life, factories, and businesses, as well as pollution by mechanisms of war (such as bombs, tanks, and explosives). This is as much an issue of foreign policy as it is a matter of economic justice. Since 1997 when the first UN Climate Summit took place, UN talks have done little to curb greenhouse emissions. Without strict regulations on businesses, and a moratorium on fossil fuel extraction and use, Band-Aid solutions will continue to cosmetically make it appear that something is being done.
In the current economic system, capitalism, materials are being produced for profit in ways that are unsafe for the ecosystems involved. The priority is to make money, rather than to base business models and manufacturing with the ethical responsibility of caring for the planet, and the lives of people, plants, and animals that are now at stake. Unfortunately, the lack of accurate information being disseminated by popular media sources, such as Fox News, exacerbates the problem through misinformation and deceit. The less people know about the harsh realities of climate change, the more likely they will continue to live their lives as usual, preventing the changes that are vital to human adaption in the face of a drastically changing global climate.
From September 19 to 21 the Climate Convergence took place, consisting of teach-ins, speak-outs, and skill-shares meant to be educational and movement building. It was an alternative summit that preceded the UN Climate Summit on Tuesday, September 23. The event countered the inertia of world leaders with discussions of viable solutions and mobilizations for feasible solutions that are essential and required to quell the ongoing global environmental crisis and alter the current trajectory towards a more sustainable future. At the closing assembly, Naomi Klein echoed a crucial theme from her most recent book, This Changes Everything, that, “there are no non-radical options left,” she added that if business as usual continues, we will be looking at a 4˚C to 6˚C rise in temperatures.
Members of the Climate Convergence call for five key demands:
• for the creation of millions of jobs in renewable energy, conservation, and public transit;
• for a just transition from fossil fuels and nuclear power;
• for climate-friendly food and farming, as well as new water and sanitation systems;
• for an emergency transition to a new kind of economy;
• to tax the rich and make large cuts to the military budgets.
The People’s Climate March took place the next day. There was a diverse and extensive group of 400,000 people spanning four miles of pavement, marching across the streets of New York City in protest of the irresponsible use and extraction of resources. I was at the front of the march, acting as a “Rude Mechanic” for the Rude Mechanical Orchestra, a radical marching band with a mission to support those working for social justice. Rude Mechanic is a cool name for a sometimes-dancing, sometimes-chanting, crowd control.
At 12:58 p.m., the crowd hushed into a moment of silence—a tribute to those impacted the most by climate change. One could hear Sunday traffic and birds chirping on the other side of the skyscrapers towering on either side of the massive strip of people. I have never heard New York City this quiet, especially in the midst of more than half a million people. At 1:00 p.m., a roar of sound from the back end of the march came over us in a wave as people began cheering, sounding the “Climate Alarm.” This is what that sounded like:
(note: please be prepared for the audio to go from silence to booming noise.)
The march was accented with a vast and colorful display of artwork. NYC-based artist and activist, Rachel Schragis, was hired by 350.org to coordinate 40 core visual messaging projects over the course of seven months to be displayed at the march. She worked with a team, and advocated for artist stipends. The art projects brought together a diverse population, unifying art for the same cause. The visual effect of banners, puppets, and painted visuals held high carried with it the messages of the climate movement from the people within it. I interviewed Rachel the next day, as we marched into the financial district for the Flood Wall Street sit-in.
That Monday morning, participants of Flood Wall Street rallied in Battery Park, the Statue of Liberty in sight. Between one to two thousand activists participated in the sit-in in the Financial District. More than 100 protesters were arrested, including a man in a polar bear costume, and a few people in wheelchairs, one of which was relying on a respirator.
At the rally, a line up of speakers, including Chris Hedges, Naomi Klein, and others from West Africa and Nepal, were “mic checked” by the People’s Mic. The People’s Mic, if you are unfamiliar, is a system in which an individual speaks about three words at a time to a crowd who repeat it to those behind them, so that one person’s message is carried by many to reach others out of ear-shot. This was a commonality at Occupy Wall Street, an activist movement that took place in its original format three years prior.
Ta’kaiya Blaney, age 13, spoke on behalf of the indigenous youth. Here is the transcript of her speech, phrases are divided by a “/” where the People’s Mic relayed the message:
“Hello, / my ancestral name / is Jega Jimo / My community, / is under climate attacks / from government and corporations. / We have seen / some of the most devastating / industrial attacks of destruction. / And when I say / “we” have seen, / by ‘we’ I mean / the youth. / Recently, / toxic tailing sludge / spilled into our tributary rivers, / our lakes / and two of the world’s / largest salmon runs. / This is just one example / of poor leadership, / bad governments / made by our leaders / in the name of oil, gas, and greed. / The time to speak up / was yesterday, / and the day before. / The time to act / is now.”
The toxic, tailing sludge spill she is referring to was a massive environmental disaster in which a pond of sludge containing toxins such as heavy metals and arsenic, part of a copper and gold mine (Mount Polley Mine near Likely, BC) breached into several nearby waterways in August.
Many of the grievances held in regard to the current state of the natural world connect people across the world of various religions, socioeconomic statuses, cultural backgrounds, and genders. This was made evident by the turnout this weekend.
In the past few decades, extensive damage to the environment, largely caused by fossil fuel extraction, has been increasing in frequency. Natural disasters including droughts, floods, and super storms have been matching the devastation. More extreme weather patterns are on the rise.
Impoverished communities and communities at the frontline of environmental damage have experienced, and will continue to experience, greater personal losses with fewer resources to help them recover than the wealthy and well off so long as nothing changes.