President Obama wipes perspiration from his face as he speaks about climate change at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., last year. APCharles Dharapak
The climate change march in New York on Sept. 21, expected to draw as many as 200,000 people, is one of the last gasps of conventional liberalism’s response to the climate crisis. It will take place two days before the actual gathering of world leaders in New York called by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to discuss the November 2015 U.N. Climate Conference in Paris.
The marchers will dutifully follow the route laid down by the New York City police. They will leave Columbus Circle, on West 59th Street and Eighth Avenue, at 11:30 a.m. on a Sunday and conclude on 11th Avenue between West 34th and 38th streets. No one will reach the United Nations, which is located on the other side of Manhattan, on the East River beyond First Avenue—at least legally. There will be no speeches. There is no list of demands. It will be a climate-themed street fair.
The march, because its demands are amorphous, can be joined by anyone. This is intentional. But as activist Anne Petermann has pointed out, this also means some of the groups backing the march are little more than corporate fronts. The Climate Group, for example, which endorses the march, includes among its members and sponsors BP, China Mobile, Dow Chemical Co., Duke Energy, HSBC, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Greenstone. The Environmental Defense Fund, which says it “work[s] with companies rather than against them” and which is calling on its members to join the march, has funding from the oil and gas industry and supports fracking as a form of alternative energy. These faux environmental organizations are designed to neutralize resistance. And their presence exposes the march’s failure to adopt a meaningful agenda or pose a genuine threat to power.
Our only hope comes from radical groups descending on New York to carry out direct action, including Global Climate Convergence and Popular Resistance. March if you want. But it should be the warm-up. The real fight will come once people disperse on 11th Avenue.
“The march is symbolic,” said Kevin Zeese of Popular Resistance when I reached him by phone, “but we are past the time of symbolism. What we need is direct action against the United Nations during the meeting. This should include blockades and disruption of the meeting itself. We need to highlight the fact that the United Nations has sold out to corporate interests. At U.N. meetings on climate change you see corporate logos on display. During the last meeting on climate change in Poland, the U.N. held a simultaneous conference to promote coal as a clean energy source.
These U.N. meetings have become corporate trade shows where discussions on climate are hijacked to promote corporate interests. Barack Obama has announced he will continue the U.S. stance of only calling for voluntary climate goals in advance of the upcoming climate summit in Paris next year.”The fossil fuel industry and corporations, from ExxonMobil to Koch Industries, underwrite political campaigns and author our legislation. They have stacked the courts with their judges and the airwaves with their apologists. They fund our scientific research and have effectively silenced dissidents. This corporate reach extends to the United Nations. Companies set up exhibition halls at U.N. climate summits promoting various corporate schemes to profit from the climate crisis, from “clean” coal and biofuel to nuclear power and carbon trading.
Those who attempt to offer a counter narrative, especially after the disruptions at the climate summit in Copenhagen in 2009, are swiftly silenced by U.N. security. Fences and security barriers now ring heavily guarded U.N. climate conferences. Protesters are herded into police-controlled “free speech” zones outside—like the march in New York—and ruthlessly dealt with if they deviate from the approved routes or make their voices heard among the delegates. The U.N. security at climate summits, which includes physically removing journalists so they cannot photograph or document protests that are shut down by force, is so absolute that the U.N. demands preapproved wording for T-shirts worn at its gatherings. The elites, whether in Congress or attending U.N. summits, have no intention of cutting off their access to wealth, power and privilege. They know where the money is. They know what they have to do to get it. And we are not part of the equation.
Our democracy is an elaborate public relations charade. And the longer we accept this charade the longer we will be irrelevant. Only when we understand power can we fight it. This fight must be waged on two fronts. We must disrupt the machinery of corporate capitalism and at the same time build parallel, autonomous structures for self-governance that address basic needs such as food and green energy. Capitalism, as Karl Marx pointed out, is not merely a system of economic exploitation. It justifies itself by hijacking the ruling political and economic ideologies—ideologies that buttress capitalism’s ceaseless expansion and commodification of the natural world and human beings. “The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships,” Marx wrote, “the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas.” And this makes our struggle a battle for ideas as well as a battle for power.
This is not a battle I would have picked. I prefer incremental and piecemeal reform. I prefer a system in which we can elect politicians to represent the governed and thwart corporate abuse. I prefer a United Nations that serves the interests of people around the globe rather than corporate profit. I prefer a vigorous and free debate in the public arena. I prefer a judiciary that is not a wholly owned subsidiary of the corporate state. I prefer the freedom to express dissent without government monitoring of my communications and control of my movements. I prefer to have my basic civil liberties protected. But we do not live in such a system.