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We Don’t Need Climate Marches, We Need a Political Awakening

Last month’s People’s Climate March, with 310,000 people flooding the streets of New York, has been lauded by many as a victory in broadening the climate movement.

Bill McKibben, who penned a “Call to Arms: An Invitation to Demand Action on Climate Change” in Rolling Stone last May and whose organization 350.org helped organize the march, told The New Yorker, “The real point of building a movement is to provide a countervailing power to the fossil-fuel industry. Right now, leaders are afraid of them, but we need them to be afraid of people as well.”

Others, including CouterPunch contributor and long-time anti-nuke activist Harvey Wasserman expressed his excitement about the march, “The magic of today’s New York minute was its upbeat diversity, sheer brilliance and relentless charm. A cross between a political rally and a month at Mardi Gras.”

Marches certainly feel good. They invigorate, they excite and most importantly, they give us a sense of hope – in this case hope that civic energy can reverse the warming of our dying planet. More often than not that hope ends when the streets empty and people get back to their daily routines. I don’t agree with McKibben that “leaders are afraid,” right now they have no reason to be.

Democrats, including President Obama, may talk big about the importance of addressing climate change, his administration, with a Democratic majority in the Senate, has done next to nothing. Obama has embraced fracking, even heralding the practice during the fifth State of the Union address. Meanwhile new research suggests that natural gas won’t save us. But it’s not just fracking that Obama has supported. His administration has refused to put a stop to mountaintop removal. Obama has also backed Big Oil’s large expansions of on and off-shore oil drilling. In fact, oil production under Obama is higher than it ever was under Bush.

President Obama is an environmental failure of epic proportions and we are watching his blunders play out in real time. In the past two years carbon emissions in the United States have risen 6%. Per capita, only Australians burn more carbon than we do.

That increase in emissions is not just the result of a growing population and economy, it’s largely the fault of a politically timid climate movement. In the past, McKibben and others have talked tough, criticizing Democrats and asking them to do more. But when push came to shove and elections neared, many fell victim to lesser-evilism. McKibben, who bought into Obama’s illusion of hope and change, included:

“For most of us the 2008 campaign was partly about [Obama], but it was more about the campaign itself – about the sudden feeling of power that gripped a web-enabled populace, who felt themselves able to really, truly hope. Hope that maybe they’d found a candidate who would escape the tried-and-true money corruption of Washington.”

McKibben and 350.org are planning more marches, but marches alone do not significantly challenge the status quo. Far larger protests, which took place around the world against the war in Iraq in early 2003, did little to halt Bush’s invasion – which was backed by a majority of Senate Democrats, including Hillary Clinton. The marches were not enough. The Democrats did not fear the antiwar movement. Likewise, the fight to put the brakes on climate change, particularly in the U.S., must be waged in the voting booth and with our wallets.

It’s time to break up with the Democratic Party.

“I know how much carbon we can have in the atmosphere, but I don’t know the exact number we need in the streets. It strikes me that the more we have, the better our chances,” says McKibben.

Chances of what? A march won’t save walruses in search of ice. It won’t make it rain in California or rescue the Maldives. More importantly it won’t decrease carbon in the atmosphere. Chances are McKibben’s movement will fall in line with what ever Democrat comes out of the primaries during the presidential election – not because the candidate will strictly regulate carbon emissions, we know that won’t happen, but because they are slightly better than their Republican opponent.

Slightly better is not enough.

Currently the U.S. Senate hangs in the balance, yet many southern Democrats, like Michelle Nunn of Georgia, are supporting the Keystone XL pipeline along the campaign trail. What does it say of a climate movement if it can’t energize opposition to environmental disasters like Nunn? The fear is the movement McKibben and others have helped build will wither away like Occupy Wall Street. The steam went out of Occupy the very moment it became a tool of the Democrats instead by refusing to make demands on Obama during the 2012 election. The Democrats will simply never have any fear of defeat unless their perceived allies turn on them.

We don’t need more feel-good marches. We need anger. We need direct action as well as voters who aren’t afraid to stick their necks out and vote against the corporate two-party system. We need radical opposition. We need a political awakening and we need it now. It’s time for McKibben to raise the stakes and call for a boycott of the do-nothing Democrats. They won’t fear us until we give them a reason to.

The fate of the planet depends on it.

JOSHUA FRANK is managing editor of CounterPunch. He is author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush (Common Courage Press, 2005), and along with Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland and Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, both published by AK Press. He can be reached at brickburner@gmail.com. You can follow him on Twitter @brickburner

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JOSHUA FRANK is managing editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book, co-authored with Jeffrey St. Clair, is Big Heat: Earth on the Brink, to be published by AK Press next month. He can be reached at joshua@counterpunch.org. You can troll him on Twitter @joshua__frank

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