THE CLIMATE MARCH AND WHAT’S NEXT
Thanks to readers who attended the book talk on my memoir Moon Shadow Of War at the Naugatuck Historical Society. The book is now available in their store at the old railroad station on Water St., Naugatuck. There is a possibility for a spot on the Democracy Now radio show. Readers are asked to e-mail/call the station to request an interview with Len Yannielli to discuss the book and connect to present day endless wars.
http://www.democracynow.org/contact or
call +1-212-431-9090
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In C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, adventurous children experience a sense of wonder as they go through the doors of a wardrobe into a dark, mysterious world called Narnia.

I felt a similar sensation when finally reaching The Climate March in New York City on September 21st, 2014. The difference from Lewis’s children’s classic was that my group, from both Connecticut and New Hampshire, were greeted by a joyous and determined 400,000 other marchers. It was neither dark nor mysterious. It was luminous and exciting.

It was also massive. We first realized the enormity of the event when subways to our March site were jammed and would not allow any other riders. We had to take an alternate route more than 20 blocks short of our designated entry point.

Once above ground, we endeavored to at least watch the March as we moved against the stream of delegations from all over North America and the world. No go. Feeder marches were jammed at all the entry points. Reality was hitting home. We were in the midst of an historic happening.

I had had similar experiences in the past. The 1971 march on Washington for peace in Vietnam was the first. I remember getting on a friend’s shoulders and saw marchers from where we were to the end of the march at the Washington Monument. Feeder marches were jamed on side streets. Massive best described that march.

Again in 1982, the Nuclear Freeze March on the United Nations, also our destination on the Climate March, was huge. Its distinctive character was its international composition. It was reputed to be the largest mass protest gathering ever. Again massive.

Was the Climate March deja vu all over again as famously said by Yogi Berra? No. Did it share their massive size . Yes. I want to focus on what was different.

The rainbow of peoples marching along with the coming together of disparate movements was a distinctive character of the Climate March. Let’s count the ways.

The Cowboy/Indian Alliance was an outstanding example. It consists of ranchers, farmers, Native Peoples, and greens from the Midwest and west. They operate in such conservative states as Wyoming and Idaho and bring together groups that in the past were at loggerheads. Opposition to the Keystone pipeline was one of their unifying issues.

A new group was Idle No More, consisting of Native People of Canada and beyond. An exciting interview with Idle No More marchers can be found here. http://www.idlenomore.ca/videos

A crucial ingredient to this diverse march was the contributions of both people and financial resources nationally from seventy five unions. In my case, train cars were secured for Climate Marchers out of New Haven, Connecticut, with the help of the International Association of Machinists (IAM). In all, 13 unions and the CT state AFL-CIO supported the March. Reaching out to wide-ranging groups has been spearheaded by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, whose statements and commitments around the struggles in Ferguson, Missouri, have been widely publicized and read. The “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” rally cry from Ferguson could be heard throughout the Climate March.

Historical Perspective

It was throughout the 1980s and the fight-back against the policies of the Reagan Administration that one can see, in retrospect, the developing base of this massive peoples’ climate alliance. The taking down of the solar panels on the White House was just the opening salvo of this anti-environmental administration. Reagan aggressively went after roadless areas in national forests, opening them to logging, and he especially went after the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for fossil fuel exploration.

One consequence of this was that people at the grassroots saw the drawbacks and hesitancy of national groups, like the National Audubon Society and the Sierra Club, to fully enter the fray. In response, grassroots groups, by the thousands, popped up like prairie dogs. This phenomena continued in the 1990s and into the new millennium.

A good example was in Naugatuck, Connecticut. Nine grassroots groups sprang into action in the 1990s around fights to stop gravel extractions in neighborhoods, pollution of the Naugatuck River, battles around a future super fund site, and the birth of two passive open space groups.

On the Labor front, attacks on the air traffic controllers union by Reagan and other battles, sparked a rank and file labor movement that moved many unions away from the “business” unionism model to struggle actively on the job and in the communities. Richard Trumka’s election is really part of the result of these decades old struggles. A corner has been turned.

Does it make a difference when huge numbers of people march? Let’s go right back to the examples above. After the 1971 march for peace in Vietnam, much happened. The Committee to Reelect the President (Nixon) was poisoning the country’s atmosphere. At the same time, a certain turn to the grassroots of activists was maturing. Local politicians, responding to that grassroots pressure, were now part of delegations to congresspeople and to Washington D.C. They demanded an end to hostilities in Vietnam as the war was draining the countries resources. The grassroots pressure and economic arguments helped bring an end to that criminal war.

Did the 1982 Nuclear Freeze March make an impact? That march was huge number-wise and was followed by many local initiatives. The effects of a nuclear exchange between the USA and the Soviet Union was explained at community gatherings, union halls, and town meetings. Towns declared themselves nuclear free zones. Delegations were exchanged between Soviet and U.S. citizens. The result was an agreement between parties to freeze nuclear stock piles. By the end of the decade, missiles were being destroyed in their silos.

I recently saw a performance by the talented music duo Schooner Fare. At the end of the performance, they mentioned the meeting between Reagan and Gorbachev in Iceland in 1986 as representing hope for the world. While there was truth in that statement, it was the massive Nuclear Freeze March and the ripple effects from it that brought the two presidents together to begin defusing the nuclear threat at that time.

No one has a crystal ball concerning the future. What can we say? The 2014 Climate March, which is easy to predict and as previous massive marches have proven, will have ramifications for many years. I see two new phenomena on the horizon. But first we need to entertain an important question. With this new push for change, who should we listen to?

Let’s start with who we shouldn’t listen to.

Tom Friedman, arch dispenser of confusion via the New York Times, who supposedly is good on Climate change. That is only half correct. He joined the chorus calling for an invasion of Iraq in the beginning of the new millennium. That, as we know, destabilized the Mid-East. He now wants legislation allowing oil to be exported from the USA. His unwritten goal here is support for the Keystone XL (Fast Track) pipeline, drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), and harming other national treasures. He deserves a new moniker – Fast Track Friedman. He claims to be hip with climate change yet lines up with the likes of Shell and ALEC who deny that climate change exists and that there is no scientific consensus.
Tell Shell to stop funding ALEC’s climate disinformation today.

Who to listen to: Elizabeth Kolbert, of Sixth Extinction fame, supplies ample data on anthropogenic climate change but with an asterisk. While her book makes a solid case to fight against climate change, she recently said her writing is not a call to action. Luckily, 400,000 marchers did not listen to the Kolbert on that one.

Here’s what I see developing. Yes, it is a call to action.

1. One of the most successful solidarity movements in recent times was the divestment movement supporting the end of apartheid in South Africa. It helped, with the African National Congress (ANC) and Nelson Mandela doing the heavy lifting, bring down the racist South African government. Labor unions refused to unload cargo from South African ships. Environmentalists took copious notes from this movement. Let’s look at our towns, unions, pensions, colleges, and universities and demand divestment of any resources in fossil fuels. From the get-go we need discussions with unions for green jobs to keep workers employed during the transition. We need a just transtion sometimes called climate justice. Go here for more on these topics.
http://gofossilfree.org/usa/
http://labor4sustainability.org/

2. A transformational movement is needed along side the transition movement shifting away from fossil fuels, What is transformational? A political movement that would not only defend the gains of transition but would also go on the offensive. This would of necessity involve the electoral arena. How much of this movement would include established political parties and/or the development of an independent electoral vehicle would depend on an assessment of the balance of forces at the time.

What needs to be defended? A good example is Vinalhaven, Maine. Three wind turbines supply electricity there. Within a year of generating clean wind energy, along came a legal challenge by a small group with major funding by a nonresident with deep pockets. The almost one million dollars spent by the electrical cooperative defending itself has, thus far, made the hope of lower electrical bills in Vinalhaven unattainable.

What could a transformational movement do offensively? It could put in place, through mass mobilizations and electoral work, policies that extend major funding for renewable resources. Lower prices for solar, wind etc. would lead to much greater demand for their use. The trend is there. The price for solar has dropped 50% in four years. A transformational movement with a strong labor contingent could help shift money from the highway fund to public transportation.

Along side the above, a transformational movement would see to it that the enormous funds drained away by the military budget and endless wars be shifted to green, peace time production, and green jobs. Of the 29% of the federal budget that is discretionary, 55% goes to the military. The present Futures Commission of Connecticut is a glimpse of what such a movement could make possible and permanent in every state. They are holding hearings to make this green shift happen.

Ending the dominance of the financial military industrial complex is important for many reasons. We must never forget that militarism plus political extremism can lead to barbarism. C.S. Lewis won’t let us forget. The children in his classic children’s book have come from London to rural England. Why? To avoid the bombs of Nazi Germany during WWII.

Those children created by C.S. Lewis entered Narnia and encountered many evil characters. That was not the case with the Climate March. With a confidence in the future, marchers celebrated with joy and gladness. They celebrated not only the collective goals of the end of fossil fuel destruction of our shared planet, promoting peace, green jobs, and social justice but also our necessary unity marching forward.

Was the Climate March a sign a developing transformational movement in embryo? It’s green, peace, labor, and social justice composition certainly goes in that direction.

What do you think?

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