Those Mixed-Blessing Big Marches

Joshua Frank’s excellent critique of the recent Big Gathering in NYC (“We Don’t Need Climate Marches We Need a Political Awakening“) deserves a respectful complement.

Josh is absolutely on target in critiquing the Democrats for pushing more coal mining, more oil drilling, the earth-cracking horrors of gas fracking…and even dying, murderous post-Fukushima nuke power industry.

It’s no accident that this administration has further embraced the imperial dream of perpetual war. From his lukewarm opposition to George W. Bush’s attack on Iraq so many eons ago, President Obama has devolved into ceaseless imperial bloodshed.

Josh warns of the climate leadership’s embrace of this party and administration. As in so many social movements, the masses arise and then a part of the ruling establishment “bends” to meet a part of the “movement leadership”. Deals are cut, edges are blunted, momentum appears to be dissipated.

What Martin Luther King called the “marvelous new militancy” in his 1963 “I Have a Dream” Speech will surely ebb and flow as we proceed into this fight for global survival. So it was for the campaigns for workers’ rights, civil rights, peace in Vietnam, a nuclear freeze and so much else.

Some of this movement’s “leadership” has already devolved so far as to embrace nuclear power, a profoundly irresponsible response to a planetary crisis made a million times worse by massive doses of errant radiation, not to mention huge outflows of waste heat and precious cash.

Other “leaders” are certain, along the way, to sell us out on variously indefensible projects, candidates and legislation. It’s always that way. So forewarned is forearmed.

But at the core of these marches, most participants are sensible enough to take the leadership with massive grains of salt (or puffs of cannabis). The grassroots rank-and-file that I met on the buses and in the streets was grateful for the energy that organized the event, receptive to the science that’s prompted the campaign, and dismissive of the inevitable shortcomings that trickle down from the top.

Josh also writes:

“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.”

Maybe I’m overly optimistic (a life-long habit driven by genetics) but at least for this particular march, I don’t see hope ending….if for no other reason than our survival is at stake. In this fight for the planet, we win or die.

So this time marchers getting “back to their daily routines” means continuing the fight at the grassroots. Many of the people I spoke with—some of whom rode buses all the way from Kansas and points west—already have a “routine” of fighting their local polluters.

Some marchers could remember King’s actual speech, 51 years ago, and all those great movements since. They won’t be folding theirtenets when candidates sell us out yet again, or when movement leaders end up compromised…or dead.

Big Battles do matter. But those King CONG mines, burners, reactors and wells still have to go in somewhere. And if people keep opposing them on the ground, where they are, at the point of maximum destruction, the depredations of the Big Players must someday cease.

There was no shortage of anger behind this march. People didn’t ride trains from California or buses from Topeka with vague notions of influencing Obama at the United Nations.

The Democrats’ corporate collapse is as certain as the science behind global warming and the knowledge that Fukushima has exploded four times. There will be no shortage of “leaders” who will equally disappoint.

But it does help, as Josh says, that this march felt good. The environmental movement was born with a flair for theater, a Solartopian joy at riding the winds of optimistic non-violence. We are children of a beautiful Mother Earth, marching to save our place amidst her bounty.

After this well-earned dance in the streets, let’s now win where it really counts…at the grassroots.


Okay, so we had this historic march.

It was…

…joyous, beautiful, exhilarating, inspiring, life-confirming…and in many ways turning point.

Now that the dust has settled a bit, we can see that it will change things for a long time to come.

It proved to ourselves and the world that we have a huge, diverse, broad-based movement. And that we can put aside our differences and all get along when we have to.

We are our species’ ever-evolving immune system. We are the survival instinct that must defeat the corporate profit motive.

We are also part of a mighty activist stream that’s campaigned for peace, civil rights, social justice, workers’ rights, women’s rights, gay pride, election protection, No Nukes and so much more.

We’ve endured the circular firing squad and want it abolished.

Our hard-earned commitment to non-violence allows for a calm internal space and the great power that emerges from it.  So in a diverse movement of good people with very strong opinions, we are learning to cut each other plenty of slack.

But how do we now build on this?  What do we do next?

Politically, we operate at two essential levels:  the local, and the global.

And to stay functional, we need:  net neutrality, corporate accountability, election protection, social justice, peace.

1.  Local organizing is our ultimate source of power.

The green movement has the great luxury of tangible targets.  The King CONG corporations (Coal, Oil, Nukes, Gas) need actual land on which to do their dirty work.  So we can fight them inch-by-inch, at the source.

We can count the number of nukes Nixon wanted to build (1000) and how many we stopped or shut (about 900 in the US; far more worldwide).

We can name scores of reactors that didn’t get built, did get cancelled, are now being shut, will soon be stopped.

There are also mines undrilled, mountaintops not removed, oil rigs not pumping, fracking wells cancelled, polluting factories greenly altered, and much more we’ve beaten quietly, on the ground.

There are also solar panels on rooftops, windmills generating power, electric cars in the pipeline, recycling programs in place, consumption reduced, the overall vision of a green-powered Solartopia becoming ever more tangible.

In this movement, “what can I do?” always has a ready answer:  fight the polluter next door.  Pick one and shut it down!

So after our joy walk in New York, we return to our letter writing, phone calling, neighborhood speeches, strategy meetings, classroom educating, town council lobbying, around the corner picket lines, civil disobedience, finance-sabotaging, office seeking, rate withholding, fund raising, dog-that-corrupt-politician work.

Some of these fights we may seem to lose, at least for the time being.  But it’s never over til we quit, which our survival instinct won’t let us do.  A polluter once opened can always be shut if we never give up.

So at the grassroots, we are the individual immune cells that fight toxic industrial poisons and cancerous trash at the source.  That’s the revolution that’s not televised.

2.  But our planet as a whole is now infected with a lethal mega-virus—the global corporation, a metastasized cancer that usurps human rights but shuns human responsibilities.

A toxic tumor that demands just one thing: a constant flow of dollars, don’t ask how.

If it can make an extra dime by killing the planet, it’s bound to do just that.

Big gatherings to fight this menace can be risky, divisive, diverting and expensive.  They can come and go without apparent impact.

But they can also be amazingly effective, often in ways that are hard to see.

Last century, mass strikes built the labor movement.  They withstood violent corporate/government assaults. Without them, we would have no unions.

In 1932 a “Bonus Army” was attacked by by Herbert Hoover.  Two marchers were killed.  It seemed a dismal failure.  But it opened the door to the New Deal.

During World War 2 the mere threat of a mass march by labor leader A. Philip Randolph extracted major civil rights concessions from a reluctant Franklin Roosevelt.

Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” march changed civil rights forever.

LBJ and then Richard Nixon scorned the anti-war gatherings.  But both were forced to resign, and Nixon (NEVER forget this!) said those marches stopped him from nuking Vietnam.

Civil disobedience at Seabrook, Diablo Canyon and other reactors prompted a flood of cancellations, and opened the door to Solartopia, a green-powered Earth.

Ronald Reagan scorned the millions who marched to freeze nuke weapons, but somehow went eight years without using one.

Bush/Cheney “ignored” 15 million marchers and attacked Iraq.  But what more would they have done had we not marched?

Now millions have gathered against global warming.  And the day after, Barack Obama attacked Syria.

Did we fail?  Should we march again soon, this time with massive civil disobedience?

3.  As we work this through, there are inter-related issues we can’t avoid:

NET NEUTRALITY defines the core nervous system of what’s left of global democracy.  The corporations want it killed.  This demands everyone’s immediate attention.

CORPORATE PERSONHOOD must die by Constitutional Amendment.

ELECTION PROTECTION demands universal hand-counted paper ballots, an end to Jim Crow vote theft and a ban on the corporate billions that poison what’s left of our democracy.

SOCIAL JUSTICE, including workplace democracy and a universal living wage, means we can all live and work with integrity, no matter our diverse religions, race, gender, sexual preference, etc.  Poverty is an unsustainable form of planet-killing pollution.

PEACE means ending the suicidal idiocy of permanent imperial war.

All these difficult issues are essential to the health of our species.  We don’t get to a green-powered Earth without bringing them with us.

4.  For each of us there’s also a deep internal dimension to this work. Being an activist is itself a great leap of faith.  It can have a long list of personal costs.

But the rewards—spiritual, of the heart, in terms of inner peace—can be incomparable.

If undertaken in good faith, and with success, the ability to do movement work can be one of life’s great gifts.  Amazing joy can come with saving our only home.

After all, we are seven billion sentient beings, thinking and breathing together, inseparable from each other and the planet that gives us life.

One way or another, our Mother Earth lets us know how to undo the damage done by our baser instincts. Our greatest test now is to cure the cancer of the global corporation.

To fight it, we might listen to our gut instincts, accept what we’re good at doing, heed our natural passions, respect our comfort zones, heal in concert with our fellow citizen who are struggling to do the same.   As the good Dr. Spock once told the young mothers of a new generation, “you know more than you think you know.”

No victory is too small to count, no polluter is too big to beat.

As we saw on this march, and in so much else we do, when we fly with non-violence and consensus, our living planet gives us generous margins.

So the specifics of our next moves are up for a good, healthy debate.  But we all know we have no choice but to win.

And that as we work our newfound power toward joyful agreement, and a peaceful trust in the will of our species to survive, we cannot fail.

Harvey Wasserman edits and wrote SOLARTOPIA!  Our Green-Powered Earth, where King C.O.N.G. made its literary debut, at last brought to visual life by Gail Payne. 


Harvey Wasserman wrote THE PEOPLE’S SPIRAL OF US HISTORY: FROM JIGONSASEH TO SOLARTOPIA.  Most Mondays @ 2-4pm PT, he co-convenes the Green Grassroots Election Protection Zoom (www.electionprotection2024).  The Mothers for Peace ( could use your help in the struggle to shut the Diablo Canyon nukes.