Article by Bronwen Beechey (Fightback/MANA Owairaka).
The largest demonstration to date against climate change was held in New York City on September 21.
The march was part of a global day of action held before a United Nations climate change summit in New York on September 23. Among the estimated 400,000 who attended were indigenous people from the US, Canada and Latin America, students, unions and representatives of communities affected by fracking.
The marchers stopped for a moment of silence to honour those who have already died around the world as a result of catastrophes linked to global warming. The entire crowd then erupted in a tremendous roar to literally sound the alarm, accompanied by the 26 marching bands that took part blaring their instruments. It was directed at the heads of state and governments that have repeatedly failed to address the problem.
The march was initiated by 350.org and other groups on the activist wing of the environmental movement, but as the momentum grew, more conservative groups like the Sierra Club endorsed the march. The march was also built extensively through social media activist groups such as Avaaz and NZ’s Action Station.
One of the groups in the US that initiated the march, and was a central organising force, was System Change Not Climate Change (SCNCC). A coalition of socialist groups and individual radicals, SCNCC targets capitalism as the cause of climate change and advocate socialism as the only long-term solution.. The role played by SCNCC in organising the march and its acceptance as part of the broader environmental movement marks an important step forward. The impact of the recession, the Occupy movement that targeted the wealthy “1%” and implicitly capitalism itself, and the obvious role of big corporations as destroyers of the environment, has made many realise that capitalism is to blame.
According to US socialist Barry Shepherd, writing for Green Left Weekly : “This was a truly grass-roots march, not a top-down affair. The march organisers from different environmental groups encouraged everyone to bring their own banners and literature, and raise their own concerns. The result was that all aspects of the problem of climate change were expressed.”
The day after the march, around 1000 people took part in a sit-in in Wall Street that was explicitly anti-capitalist. The action was called “Flood Wall Street”, referring to the flooding of the area that happened following Hurricane Sandy last year. Around 100 people, including one dressed in a polar bear suit and three in wheelchairs, were arrested after blockading the street for eight hours.
Solidarity actions also took place in other cities in the US, and around the world, with an estimated 40,000 in London and 30,000 in Melbourne. In Auckland, several hundred people turned out despite miserable weather and the disappointment of the previous day’s election result.
Unsurprisingly, the UN summit produced little in the way of any action on climate change. However, the numbers protesting shows that more and more ordinary people are prepared to act, and that many are recognising that stopping climate change will mean changing the system.