The Climate March Was Great. Now What?
Hundreds of thousands of us marched against climate change Sunday to emphasize to the political leaders of the world assembling at the UN in the next few days that this is an issue of intense concern for the people of the world. We demand action, not just pious statements of concern!
There were people from around the world marching down the streets of NY, including people of every imaginable religion and ethnic group. It was an immense outpouring of people who were not content to sit back and just wait some more. And the spirit was one of joyful affirmation of our caring for the earth and the life support system of the planet. There was very little anger – the feeling was one of elation that so many people had come together to show their upset and their caring for the fate of Earth. They came with walkers and with baby strollers, young and old, many people in every age group. They sang, they danced, they cheered, they chanted their messages, and it was a beautiful manifestation of all that is good in human beings! And this scene was repeated around the country in dozens of cities and around the world as well.
Some pointed out the obvious deficiencies of the march. In order to get these hundreds of thousands of participants, the organizers avoided putting forward any specific demands as the basis for joining the coalition backing this march. As a result, some of the most opportunistic climate destroying capitalist firms had signed on – including gas and oil companies whose activities are primary contributors to the destruction of the environment. We’ve seen this tactic before; the TV and magazine ads by Chevron and other companies that proclaim how much they care about the environment, the funding of small environmental damage clean ups even as these same companies do everything they can to prevent a tax on carbon, an absolutely essential step to saving the environment, or any other environmental legislation that would actually have teeth. The criticism, then, is appropriate, yet I think that Bill McKibben and other organizers of the march were right in not requiring agreement with specific demands for this particular march. It was important to have the largest possible turnout this time to push the issue back onto the public agenda. But this should not become the path of the future, when the demonstrators must become more seriously focused on the “now what?” rather than on how many people they can assemble for this kind of beautifully joyous celebration.
Less defensible was the absence of speakers or teach-ins sponsored by the organizers for the weekend before and after the march. It was a huge mistake to not use the opportunity once this many people were assembled to a.) teach people more about the facts of the crisis so that they could become educators and organizers themselves in their own communities when they returned from the march, and b.) to provide a place for people and organizations that do have specific strategic ideas on how to make the changes that are necessary. We in the Network of Spiritual Progressives, as co-sponsors of this march, raised these issues to no avail.
Of course, we actually have such a strategy, the ESRA (Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the US Constitution), which would a.) require public funding of elections and forbid any other source of money in politics, thereby rectifying the situation in which the climate-destroyers are able to elect their loyalists to the Congress and State legislators and thus frustrate any serious climate legislation b.) require all corporations operating in the US or selling its products and services here, with incomes above $50 million a year, to get a new corporate charter once every five years, and that would only be given to those that could prove a satisfactory history of domestic and global environmental and social responsibility to a panel of ordinary citizens who would hear testimony from people from all around the globe who had been impacted by the production, transportation, advertising, employment practices, and use of the resources of the planet by these corporations.
Corporations would be forbidden from moving their base of operations or reducing their investments or employment without first compensating local economies and employees for the damage these decisions caused, and all international trade agreements and aspects of the US Constitution that were deemed in conflict with the terms of this amendment would be declared null and void to the extent that they conflicted with this amendment. Please read the ESRA.
People have already begun to approach their own political parties, civic organizations, religious organizations, professional organizations, colleges and universities, labor unions, local city councils and elected officials to support the ESRA, and we urge you to do the same. And our Network of Spiritual Progressives is offering training for Transformative Activists wherever you can get fifty or more people to sign up for a one day or two day training to help you develop the skills you need to be advocates for this and other aspects of our spiritual progressive worldview (please go to www.spiritualprogressives.org and read our Spiritual Covenant for more details of what a world based on our New Bottom Line of love and caring for each other and the planet might actually look like). For more info on the training, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meanwhile, on a personal level, during the weekend, particularly at the march, I had another opportunity to hang out with many of our NSP activists and to meet many, many people who approached me to thank me for the good work of Tikkun and the NSP. Yet most no longer subscribed or were members, and when asked why, they told me that they still felt deep appreciation but kept connection by reading our free emails like this one and our free Tikkun Daily Blog and our free website (which now has tens of thousands of readers). This is both a blessing and a curse: the blessing is that our message is getting out; the curse is that without the financial support we need, we’ve shrunk to a tiny little staff, work for peanuts (in my case, for free since we can’t afford to pay me a salary), and have to continually beg for support (and not always very successfully). I can’t fully understand why those who appreciate our message and our work don’t realize that it is only if they move beyond what they normally feel comfortable donating to help us out can we continue to do the work and writing that they appreciate getting. So if you have friends who don’t yet subscribe to Tikkun or have not joined the Network of Spiritual Progressives as dues paying members, would you please help us out and get them to join or subscribe or make a tax-deductible contribution? I also had a wonderful experience at Romemu, the Jewish Renewal style synagogue led by the spiritually deep rabbi David Ingber – a real treat for the soul.
One other personal point. There were several moments during the march when my eyes filled with tears of joy – that’s how wonderful it felt to me to be with hundreds of thousands of people who had decided that they would spend many hours that day indicating their concern for the future of the earth. No matter how isolated we are from each other on a daily basis, those hundreds of thousands who showed up were only the tip of the iceberg of all the wonderful people in our world who really do care about the well being of others and the well being of the planet. The media usually makes us invisible to each other, which is part of why it’s so important to build an organization like the Network of Spiritual Progressives even if you don’t have time to be an activist within it, because just showing up by joining is a hugely important statement to others that they too are not alone. And there’s nothing like this kind of huge demonstration to remind us once again of all the goodness that surrounds us on this planet, that it’s not really a planet dominated by the corporations and imperialists of western societies, or the people who rally to ISIS or Likud or Hamas or the many who cheer on militaristic versions of religious fundamentalists or militaristic versions of atheistic secularist nationalism, but rather that there are billions of decent and loving people on this planet and that it’s time to find ways to give them the voice and presence that they usually lack in the public arena.
With love and appreciation for all of you who are working to heal and repair our world and save our planet from environmental destruction, my blessings to you!
Rabbi Michael Lerner