The Future of Climate and Social Justice

James Williamson

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While it is easy to recognize the problems and challenges still left to be addressed following Sunday's People's Climate March in New York City [September 2014] and similar marches and events around the globe, it is also extremely hopeful that such a huge turnout of people took part. And despite whatever corporate hangers-on were lurking in the periphery, the energy of upwards of 675,000 protesters bottlenecking the streets of New York is never inconsequential.


There was even a bit of the commercial mainstream press in attendance if only to capture the public spectacle aspect of the event. The celebrities were there: France's Minister of Ecology, Ségolène Royal, Amy Goodman, Sting, Robert Kennedy Jr., Bianca Jagger. Of course, Leonardo DiCaprio put in his two cents at the UN two days later. The march carried with it groups like the Teamsters and the National Black Environmental Justice Network.


True, the march did not go anywhere near the United Nations. And it is also true that the entire route was micro-managed by the police. However, the thing to remember is that this was only “a prelude,” as Chris Hedges has pointed out, to more effective actions of “resistance” that will inevitably follow.


As a body of politically-aware citizens, we have come a long way. Let's face it: over the last three decades, we were, for the most part, a people rendered almost totally inert by our mindless consumerism, screen-gazing, and self-obsessed brand of identity politics, all the while forsaking issues of community and education, immigration and labor, health and the environment. While we sat idly contemplating our navels, the social sphere (along with our personal rights) had been usurped by the corporate 1%. We fell asleep at the wheel and the surveillance state and its hyper-militarized thugs moved in.




Though perhaps a new day is here. The following day's collective act of civil disobedience, the Flood Wall Street protest, upped the ante on the public relations effort of the day before, morphing it into one of legitimate radical action. It even included a touch of humor as a polar bear (not a real one) was handcuffed by “New York's finest,” who, it is safe to say, didn't appreciate being made the butt end of the joke.

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Speaking of polar bears, in the UK, on Tuesday, fifty Greenpeace activists and another (or the same?) polar bear (again, not a real one) halted a 1,500-ton coal train destined for the Cottam Power Station in the town of Nottinghamshire, near Sheffield. While the large bear blocked the path of the train, activists climbed on top of the freight cars and began shoveling coal into sacks. They were then stamped with "Return to Sender: Vladimir Putin." (According to Greenpeace, more than 50-percent of the United Kingdom's coal imports comes from Russian coal oligarchs.) This is more than mere street-theatrics. This is the kind of action that could begin to create logistics problems for carbon-producing industries.

In the time since we fell for the promises of Obama and his milquetoast, though highly effective, posturing on both domestic and international fronts, Detroit has been robbed of its citizens' basic human right to water, police forces around the nation have become brutishly militarized to the point of adopting an unspoken policy of shoot-first-ask-questions-later, the NSA has slithered into the private conversations of its citizenry, and country after country has been invaded, destroyed or rendered dysfunctional under the pretext of spreading American-style democracy. Wall Street is still running amok, our students are drowning in debt, the job market is just as bleak as before, and Congress is more corrupt and under the sway of corporate influence than ever. 


Obama has been no FDR. Among the many crucial items he failed to address were: the desperately needed recodification of the original Glass-Steagall Act; a prosecutorial clamp-down on banking and corporate malfeasance following the crisis of 2008; a jobs program; a rebuilding of our crumbling infrastructure; an end to the dubious military actions that have repeatedly blown up in our faces; and linking all of this together, of course, would be attending to the challenges of climate change, including a sweeping overhaul of our energy goals and policies.

As I watched the various groups marching along, waving their signs, chanting, singing, shouting, all within the safety and scripted predictability of a reined-in and well-managed public relations event, I was moved by something unfamiliar. I was moved by the passionate and sincere engagement with this issue by today's youth.

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