GZAFarce2.jpg

Marching to Nowhere:

Why A “Big Tent” Won’t Save the Planet 

A Critique of the People’s Climate March

(First Draft for Limited Release)

by Adam Weissman, Wendy Scher, and Mike Hudak[1]

Background: About This Text

This text was developed as part of an internal conversation within TradeJustice New York Metro, a coalition of NYC area organizations united in opposition to NAFTA-style trade deals. For weeks, TradeJustice discussed if and how it should participate in the People’s Climate March. The original draft of this document was developed by Adam Weissman of Global Justice for Animals and the Environment with an additional section by Wendy Scher in order to help TradeJustice decide if we should boycott, protest, or participate in this massive event.

Adam and Wendy are volunteers with Global Justice for Animals and the Environment (GJAE), a member group of TradeJustice New York Metro. GJAE is an organization that fights the impact of neoliberal trade policies on the environment; animals; just, safe, and sustainable food; and the human rights of environmental defenders. GJAE was launched in 2005 by volunteers from Wetlands Activism Collective, one of the organizations that co-founded TradeJustice New York Metro in 2002 along with the NY Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, the Batay Ouvriye Solidarity Network, and others.

Founded 25 years ago, Wetlands Activism Collective (Wetlands) began as a typical green campaigning group, but in short order realized that we couldn’t fight for the environment without also fighting to defend the rights of its human and non-human animal inhabitants. For a quarter century, Wetlands has to build alliances between environmental, human rights, and animal rights activists in the New York metropolitan area—recognizing a common enemy in global capitalism and seeking to build unity around a shared commitment to creating a world worth living in. For Wetlands, this has often meant challenging allies—and itself—on actions, attitudes, practices, and language that are divisive and oppressive.

As this document grew, the authors began to feel that it should be seen by a wider audience than the small group of TradeJustice decisionmakers. Adam asked Mike Hudak, an expert on the environmental impact of public lands cattle grazing, to contribute additional material.

The People’s Climate March was promoted as “the largest climate march in history”—even before it happened. It has been described as a game changer for the climate justice movement and has generated a great deal of enthusiasm across a surprisingly wide spectrum of activist groups. Leading up to the march, though, there was also a significant amount of criticism by activists and progressive journalists who felt the march was leading the climate justice movement in the wrong direction.

A number of articles appeared both before and after the initial publication of this text. In developing this text, we tried to avoid repeating points that had already been communicated by other texts, though we reached similar conclusions to many of these articles.

Below, we’ve compiled many of these articles, along with additional articles that have appeared since. We have made no effort to remove points that already appeared in our text before being addressed in some of the newer article, so there may be some repetition of points, but we encourage the reader to peruse these texts before reading ours,

Truthdig: The Last Gasp of Climate Change Liberals by Chris Hedges

Daily Kos: The Need for Clear Demands at the Peoples’ Climate March by Anne Petermann

WilderUtopia.com: People’s Climate Movement: The End of Business as Usual  by Sabina Virgo

Truthout: Like a Dull Knife: The People's Climate "Farce" by Quincy Saul

Wrong Kind of Green: This Changes Nothing. Why the People’s Climate March Guarantees Climate Catastrophe by Cory Morningstar

Counterpunch: Ditching the Big Greens: Uprooting The Liberal Climate Agenda by Scott Parkin

Counterpunch: Business as Usual in Manhattan: How the People’s Climate March Became a Corporate PR Campaign by Arun Gupta

Groundwork for Praxis: Against the Inclusion of Zionist Organizations In The People’s Climate March by kat yang-stevens with contributions from Jonathan Sidney

INTRODUCTION

Who Called the Shots at the “People’s” March?

People’s Climate March leadership tried to frame the event and the organizing leading up to it as a grassroots effort—a mass convergence and an expression of popular will. Even the name of the event was intended to give this impression. There have been many large climate marches, but this one in particular chose to frame itself as the people’s march.

When PCM organizers called a public meeting in May 2014, many attendees expected an opportunity to discuss the issues that concerned them and to work together with others to craft an agenda that reflected those concerns. They assumed that like most marches, PCM organizing would begin with an effort to define a concrete agenda, a unified statement spelling out what actions they wish to see policy makers take (and not take) to address climate change. And this process would continue when deciding how to implement this action.

To their frustration and disappointment, they found the meeting to be a reflection not of the sort of open, participatory organizing model they anticipated, but rather a top-down affair with a predetermined agenda. When participants tried to propose specific issues for the march to focus on, they were shot down and told that the march wasn't going to focus on specific issues, but just on a generic message of concern for global climate.

This critical decision was decided before “the people” were invited to the conversation. The point of the meeting, they were informed, was to focus on how to bring people to the march, not to set an agenda for it. So while veteran grassroots organizers expected to gather at this “organizing” meeting, and the ones that followed, to participate in a coalition effort could help draw attention to and exert pressure upon decisionmakers towards the focus issues of their organizing, the meeting organizers seemed only interested in asking “How can your movement help the mobilization?” Such an approach left many grassroots activists like us feeling both alienated and disempowered, because both 1) Local groups were polled about what particular issues they focused on, only to be divided into breakout groups in aspects such as media, outreach, and logistics - making our perspectives virtually irrelevant; 2) Smaller organizations without the capacity to mobilize a large preexisting base had no value to this “organizing” process.  had no opportunity to present underaddressed issues to other organizers in order to suggest that the march could be an opportunity to bring greater attention to critical, but little known, climate concerns.  Even much of the route of the march was decided before this initial “organizing meeting,” Grassroots organizers were thus being called upon to do work for an event controlled by others.

This is a commonly reported complaint by grassroots activists regarding their engagements with NGOs, with NGO staff treating independent local organizations and their volunteers as the NGOs’ unpaid employees.  (Actually, the organizers did hire a staff member between the first and second meetings, exclusively to work on the march—not that they let any of the meeting attendees know that they were hiring!)  Coming in and telling us "we set the [nonexistent] agenda; you should do the legwork" is insulting and disrespectful of our time, priorities, and insights. It's also not necessary. The global justice movement has a proud history of organizing successful mass mobilizations based on a model of horizontal, participatory decision making. But NGOs with a top-down culture sometimes tend to deal with volunteers and allies as they deal with their staff—as people they can tell what to do rather than as equal participants.

PCM masked this top-down approach by filling its website with a list of over 1000 "participating groups" and with a highly misleading statement suggesting a participatory organizing model: "There are several different bodies that are convening to collaborate on the People’s Climate March, including local New York area community groups, international NGOs, grassroots networks, churches and faith organizations, and many more. You can see a list of participating organizations here. Because this is a  ‘movement  of movements’ moment, the People’s Climate March is being organized in a participatory, open-source model. This means that there isn’t a central ‘decision making’ body or single coalition. Rather, groups and individuals are collaborating with some basic shared agreements around respect, collaboration, trust, and many are using the Jemez Principles of Environmental Justice. This September is going to be a success because of the work we all do together—not because of any one person or organization. Take the initiative to organize your community, your school, your workplace, and your neighbors. Find out how you can help here, or find out how your organization can support the People’s Climate March here."

While there were indeed a vast array of independent groups and coalitions organizing for this march, people engaged in this organizing process reported  with frustration that in reality, the core decisions were coming from 350.org, Avaaz,, and organizers from the New York Environmental Justice Alliance. Grassroots groups were encouraged to mobilize their own constituencies for the march and to define their own focal issues and visual representation for the march, but were shut out of decisionmaking on the really big questions of the march.

The top-down nature of PCM organizing was fully on display at the pre-march meeting. Held two weeks prior to the march at the New York Society for Ethical Culture, the gathering felt more like a pep rally that an actual meeting, with speakers on stage and attendees in effect audience members. Pre-selected presenters stood followed a tightly crafted agenda fulfilling three functions—pepping attendees, giving them logistical details on the march, and giving them promotional marching orders. There was no opportunity for comments or even questions from attendees.

Given the march’s appropriation of the phrase "movement of movements," this approach was striking. That phrase grew out of the global justice movement, which also organized mass meetings preceding mass actions at international summits. However, those meetings used the horizontal spokescouncil process, demonstrating the possibility of collective self-governance as an alternative to corporate globalization, a model based on the elite few making decisions on behalf of the many. Failure to capture this key aspect of the organizational model of the Seattle WTO protests was one of the chief criticisms raised against the film Battle in Seattle, which portrayed a gathering more in the style of the PCM meeting.

It is hard to interpret PCM’s boasts about the openness and transparency of their process and anything other than a cynical attempt to hide the reality that just the opposite is true.[2] Environmentalists have been fiercely critical of astroturfing by corporate interests. Wikipedia defines Astroturfing as ‘’the practice of masking the sponsors of a message or organization (e.g. political, advertising, religious or public relations) to make it appear as though it originates from and is supported by grassroots participant(s). It is a practice intended to give the statements or organizations more credibility by withholding information about the source’s financial connection.“

Naomi Klein, one of the “big names” most closely identified with the march praised it as an event with no big organization out front branding it in its own image.

There were a few big marches in Copenhagen, but it felt like only professional activists were there. This was called “The People’s Climate March,” and it felt like a people’s march. It didn’t just feel like activists and NGOs. It felt like communities, and that was because of a really remarkable, often painful, coalition that was built.

One of the things that happened is that the big NGOs that were involved checked their branding at the door and actually made real space for communities to lead and speak. It wasn’t perfect. But I’ve been to a lot of NGO-organized events where the branding just completely takes over, and I think for the first time some of our big NGOs realized it’s way better if you don’t.

And I think that part of it is the whole funder model where it’s all about getting your photo op and showing “Our brand’s here!” and then going to a foundation and going, "Look! We did this. Look at our logo. It’s everywhere."

Now people get so pissed off when organizing is done that way. They know they’re being used as props. This has not been an easy lesson to learn, and I’m not saying everybody’s learned it, but this was the first time that I’ve seen real progress in this regard.

And I think that because everybody is so happy with how the march turned out that with any luck, this will lead to real lasting change in how we build a movement.[3]

While this charitable interpretation suggests that these groups wanted to share the spotlight with “the people,” failing to explicitly identify themselves as the march decisionmakers allowed these organizations to act as puppeteers in the shadows—controlling decisions would define actions of hundreds of thousands while falsely giving the false impression of a decentralized, horizontal decisionmaking process. This simultaneously allowed them to escape accountability for their decisions while continuing to shut others out of influencing those decisions, since it wasn’t entirely clear who was making them and how, exactly, they were being made.

Thus, grassroots organizers were told that the march would have no demands or unified message points, but were never informed who made that decision, how that decision was made, or if there was any mechanism to appeal it. Instead, they were given the impression that the march would be BIG, BIG, BIG, so people had better go along or miss the boat. While they were free to wear whatever they wanted for the ride, they would have no real say over which direction it was heading, where it would be stopping, who was at the helm, and what their agenda was.

TOO BIG A TENT

There was also no mechanism to register objections or have influence over who else was along for the ride. One of the most disturbing aspects of the march is the range of unsavory allies that have chosen to come under its big tent in service to their own highly questionable agendas. While activists don't need to be in ideological lockstep to form alliances, they do need to have an established basis for common ground. In the late nineties—early 2000s global justice movement, we addressed this by drafting a “Points of Unity” statement for mobilizations. Coming to consensus on these statements was often a grueling process, but people considered them so vital that they refused to move ahead on any further organizing until we were able to reach a level of fundamental agreement on what principles and objectives we were uniting around—and upon what things we felt our collaboration must be conditioned.

But instead of uniting diverse forces around common objectives, this march has opted for a bigger is better “big tent” approach to environmentalism—an approach that really reached its height around 1989 and 1990 with the massive Earth Day 20 celebration, when major corporations tried to cash in by marketing their products as green—often by doing nothing more than changing branding strategies on the products they were already selling. George H.W. Bush, campaigned in the ’88 election by saying he wanted to be “the environmental president,” ignoring Reagan’s eight years of rolling back the environmental advances of ’70s administrations. Bush, of course, would go on to draw the US into an environmentally catastrophic war for domination of the Middle East and its petroleum reserves. This “anything goes” approach to environmentalism facilitated the rise of corporate (and legislative) greenwash.

For a generation of young people, environmentalism became not a cry of resistance to the current order, but rather cloying, cynical corporate hucksterism to be viewed with suspicion and contempt. Within short order, the news media stopped covering environmental stories, the corporations moved on to the next marketing fad, Bush moved on from talking about the threat of pollution to the threat of Noriega and Saddam, and the public largely forgot the issue. A quarter century later, environmentalism has yet to regain its centrality as a public concern—as an issue that a Republican Presidential candidate would view as so popular to such a wide segment of the public that he would choose to define his candidacy by it. The “culture vultures” that Abbie Hoffman wrote about in Woodstock Nation—the corporate forces who sought to co-opt, control, profit off of, and ultimately destroy the counterculture of the late ’60s and early ’70s, had successfully parasitized the environmental movement, leaving a deflated and defeated husk that was utterly unprepared to resist the environmental assault to come in just a few years with Gingrich's Republican Revolution.

We see echoes of this failed approach to environmentalism in Earth Day celebrations around the nation every year, in which environmental activists have been marginalized by expensive promotional displays by corporate polluters. This past April, Global Justice for Animals and the Environment/TradeJustice NY Metro activists were chased away from the Green Festival (sponsored by Global Exchange and Green America) by aggressive security threatening to call the police on us, even if we stood in a public park NEAR the Festival. We had admission badges to the event, were affiliated with an exhibit booth, and were not there to protest the event. Our “crime” was preparing to distribute literature and wearing signs concerning the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an agreement Global Exchange has claimed to be committed to opposing—in its fundraising appeals.

The hostile treatment we received stung, given that both Global Exchange and Green America are organizations we’ve collaborated with and done favors for before. We noted that while being threatened and harangued by the security guard, we were standing next to a display for Ford Motor Company, one of the event’s biggest sponsors. A decade ago, we distributed cards at the premiere of the film The Day After Tomorrow criticizing Ford’s contribution to climate change with its massive SUVs. The people who asked us to do this? Global Exchange! A decade later, GX apparently has decided to devote a festival to another kind of green, one that Ford has loads of, unlike the rabble they previously relied on to do their legwork. Instead of challenging multinational corporate polluters, they now jump in bed with them.

Zionism and Environmental Justice Are Irreconcilable

From the People's Climate March website, under the heading Centered on Justice: “Committed to principles of environmental justice and equality—representing the communities that are being hit the hardest by climate change.”

According to the Principles of Environmental Justice drafted and adopted as the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, Environmental Justice opposes military occupation, repression and exploitation of lands, peoples and cultures, and other life forms.”

But one of the listed participating groups in the march is GZA—the Green Zionist Alliance. GZA is so evasive on the subject of Palestinian statehood that they dodge THEIR OWN QUESTION IN THEIR OWN FAQ:

What is the Green Zionist Alliance’s position on peace and Palestinian statehood?

Wild species and environmental pollutants do not stop at borders, and as such, environmental solutions must be cooperative in nature. To that end, the Green Zionist Alliance calls on the State of Israel to work collaboratively with neighbors to solve environmental issues. Israel must stand as a regional leader for environmental protection. By deliberating on environmental issues with her neighbors, Israel will begin to form close working relationships with other peoples in the region and promote peace with all her neighbors.”

Their recent statement on Operation Protective Edge is somewhat more encouraging:

"End War: A Green Zionist Alliance Statement on the Gaza Conflict

Aug. 5, 2014 — 9 Av 5774

Bombs and guns and rockets have left too many scared, too many dead, too many grieving in the latest Gaza-Israel war. And modern Zionism, as defined by its founder, Theodor Herzl, means the pursuit of a utopian society, where all people, regardless of their religion or background, should be accorded honorable protection and equality before the law. We call upon Israeli and Palestinian leadership to cease fighting and negotiate a peaceful resolution to the conflict. And as we always have done, we encourage Israeli and Palestinian leadership to embrace a two-state solution, resulting in Israeli and Palestinian states living beside one another in peaceful coexistence.

Today, on Tisha B’Av, as Jews around the world commemorate the historic destruction of both Temples, Jerusalem, and our loss of sovereignty over the Promised Land, let us remind ourselves that after nearly 2,000 years of exile we have returned to Israel and Jerusalem, and let the teachings of Isaiah (2:3-4) remind us that to follow in the path of God means to embrace peace, to beat our swords into plowshares. We have known the price of war too well. Let nation not lift up sword against nation, and let us learn war no more."

On the surface, this language echoes the Principles of Environmental Justice’s demand “that public policy be based on mutual respect and justice for all peoples, free from any form of discrimination or bias.” Yet without indication to the contrary, we can assume the two-state solution that GZA calls for reflects the Oslo plan, which would have maintained Jewish Law of Return while denying Palestinian Right of Return, a position that cannot possibly be described as free of discrimination or bias.

And how can a plan that offers one people a state on two tiny, divided bits of land, while allowing the continued existence of a separate state built on the stolen land of that people, be considered to be "based on mutual respect and justice?" Utterly absent from GZA's platform statements to the World Zionist Organization's (of which they are a member) World Zionist Congress is any mention of Israel's attacks on the resources necessary to Palestinian survival and prosperity, from the theft of water resources to the destruction of olive farms. Instead they call for environmental impact statements on settlements:

"Environmental-impact statements for World Zionist Organization construction projects

This resolution requires all WZO construction projects, including through the Settlement Division, to meet environmental criteria. And it creates a mechanism of environmental-impact statements and assessments to ensure that these criteria are met."

Notably absent from their statement is a word about the illegality of these settlements, which violate international law, undermine the peace process, and violate the territorial rights of the Palestinian people.

Similarly, they laud reforestation efforts in Israel: “And holidays such as Tu B’Shvat, the new year for trees, take on special meaning in a country that lost nearly all of its original forest cover in Byzantine times, and where reforestation in the last century has had a positive climate impact.”  They say nothing about how reforestation has been used by Zionists as an ethnic cleansing tactic and a means to erase history. 

Unsurprisingly, they condemn the US Green Party support for the BDS movement.

The People’s Climate March can be open to any and all groups who wish to be listed as participants regardless of their politics or it can be a march that stands for environmental justice. It can't be both.

 

GZA’s presence may help to put a green patina on slow-motion genocide, but it at least is not generating revenues by driving climate change. The same cannot be said for some of the corporations that have attached themselves to this event.

Unilever Front Company Ben & Jerry’s Lauded by March Leader

Ice cream manufacturer Ben & Jerry's is making a big push for PCM and 350.org (one of the groups at the core of the march) apparently thinks this is great news. In a reply to an environmental activist writing to him to express concerns about B&J’s role in the march, 350.org leader Bill McKibben commented “there’s no company on earth who's done more to try and change the planet than Ben and Jerry's.”

WESTPCM2.jpg

Image 1.

The admiration appears to be mutual—B&J’s opens their PCM page with a McKibben quote and includes a massive graphic of a McKibben quote on their West Coast PCM page (Image 2).

WESTPCM1.jpg

Image 2.

20754e_PeoplesClimateMarchMeltingConeOnlineImage300x300.jpg

Image 3.

For decades, Ben & Jerry’s has profited from a hippie brand image and an association with progressive causes. This image continued with the company's sale to Unilever in 2001. Unilever, an Anglo-Dutch multi-national, is the world's third largest consumer products company. Oxfam cites Unilever as one of the ten major food industry drivers of climate change.

Unilever also enthusiastically supports the use of  genetically modified crops. In a remarkably cynical move, Unilever’s public relations scheme has Ben and Jerry's very publicly making tiny contributions to GMO labelling campaigns—while the parent company quietly works to defeat them. 

In the labor front, the company has a record of union-busting at multiple factories in India.

As far as animal welfare, Unilever recently agreed to look for an alternative to the grinding alive of male chicks, a "waste product" of the egg industry. However, according to Buzzfeed News, "The statement the company made today is vague, and there is no indication that they will stop buying eggs from factories that kill newborn male chicks." 

Furthermore, Unilever was recently fined for water pollution in Connecticut. And air pollution in California.

Even if Ben & Jerry’s were not a Unilever subsidiary, the company’s core business runs counter to a vital climate mitigation strategy—reducing consumption of animal products, particularly from ruminant livestock.

Science Daily: Meeting climate targets may require reducing meat, dairy consumption

Climactic Change: The importance of reduced meat and dairy consumption for meeting stringent climate change targets 

The Guardian: UN urges global move to meat and dairy-free diet:  Lesser consumption of animal products is necessary to save the world from the worst impacts of climate change, UN report says

Chalmers: Meeting climate targets may require reducing meat and dairy consumption

Cynically glomming onto left/green mass actions and turning them into massive guerilla marketing opportunities is Ben and Jerry's modus operandi. At the height of the Occupation of Zuccotti Park, Ben and Jerry's co-founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield showed up with a cart and doled out ice cream to Occupiers—in paper cups prominently displaying the company logo, turning protesters into living corporate billboards in front of the throngs of media photographers filling the park. Undoubtedly they'll do the same thing at the Peoples Climate March. Perhaps they can remind participants that in the hotter future to come—a future to which Ben and Jerry's and Unilever are directly contributing—a double scoop of Chunky Monkey or Cherry Garcia will be the perfect way to cool down (Image 4).

WESTPCMHeader.jpg

Image 4.

Responding to the activist who wrote to McKibben about Ben and Jerry's, sharing information on the role of the dairy industry in driving climate change, McKibben wrote, "also, true confession, I eat ice cream." Yes, many people do. Many people also use gas stoves, but that doesn't mean a climate march should be jumping in bed with a fracking company.

Marching in Lockstep with the Gas Industry?

When we wrote the last line of the previous section, it was intended to be a reductio ad absurdum—clearly a climate march would not be collaborating with the gas industry! Apparently, we were wrong.

Another one of the march’s participating groups is NRG Energy, which touts its heavy investment in solar and wind power, as well as electric vehicle charging stations ... when in reality, its "renewable energy" accounts for only 4% of its energy sources. It also touts natural gas (read: fracking), in fact - saying it "has roughly half the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions of coal. This fuel source will play a critical part in the transition to a renewable-based energy system in the United States, and therefore plays a prominent role as part of NRG’s sustainability strategy and vision."  Regardless, the company still has a good share of massively-polluting coal plants, such as:

NRG's Limestone Generating Station in Texas, which had the fifth highest mercury emissions of any power plant the country in 2009.

NRG's Indian River plant in Delaware reported 17% higher cancer rates than the national average from 2000–2004. In 2011, water contaminated with hexavalent chromium (Cr(VI)) was reported at the site above 211 ppb (parts per billion)—10,500 times the proposed California drinking water goals and 2.11 times above the federal drinking water standard.

In November 2012, Louisiana Generating, owned by NRG, was ordered to spend approximately $250 million to reduce air pollution, pay a civil fine of $3.5 million, and spend $10.5 million on environmental-mitigation projects. This was the result of a Justice Department lawsuit in 2009, alleging that its Big Cajun II power plant had operated since 1997 without any update to its air-pollution controls.

With this much bad press about their power plants, no wonder NRG is pushing the “green” angle as much as possible.

FRACKING:

And their solution to reducing pollution is fully embracing natural gas - 54% of its generation as of 2013, in fact.  The company supports methane extraction in all its forms, touting the whole "cleaner bridge fuel" cliche. NRG's CEO David Crane puts it as: “I’m a believer that fracking is amazing."  and adds that negative advertising has given the practice a bad reputation. 

To sum it up, Reuters explains that "The newest fracking innovations have enabled companies like NRG Energy ... to extract natural gas that simply wouldn’t have been accessible even a few years ago." 

GREENWASHING:

"NRG bought Austin-based Green Mountain Energy in November 2010, making it the largest green power retailer in the country."  To put this in perspective, even though NRG owns Green Mountain Energy, renewables still only account for 4% of its energy mix!

Many critics have also pointed out that Kathleen McGinty, one of NRG's directors, also serves on the Obama administration's federal panel on fracking regulation and safety, the "Natural Gas Subcommittee." The panel only consists of seven members, and six of them have direct ties to the industry they will be evaluating. 

Perhaps we shouldn't have expected PCM organizers to thoroughly research and vet every organization that signs up, but the report that contains their basic energy mix is front and center on the website that NRG provides on the Climate March participants list. So, it's not hard to find.  So if we see a coal and fracking company as an official participant in the march, that clearly means that there is no real criteria whatsoever.  A more authentic “grassroots” organizing presence would have sent the message that real supporters of this event have to actually do the work in this direction, not just show some pretty pictures of solar panels and send some employees down to the march for a day.

Electric Car Batteries Are A Climate Catastrophe, But KXL is No Problem?

A basic principle of ethical organizing is DO NOT FUCK OVER OTHER ACTIVISTS' CAMPAIGNS, even if the issue isn't one I'm focused on. While solidarity is clearly not a priority for this march, one would think that from its perspective of trying to build a big tent, it would want to avoid openly supporting a group that is joining the march EXPLICITLY TO ATTACK ACTIVISTS IN THE MARCH.

NYCLASS is an animal protection organization that has been at the forefront of the long battle to ban horse-drawn carriages in New York City. It is probably best known for being the driving force behind the New York City Is Not for Sale political organization, whose “Anybody But Quinn” campaign had a huge role in shifting Christine Quinn from a frontrunner to an also-ran. It goes without saying that Mayor DeBlasio's insistence on banning the horse carriages is a direct consequence of their advocacy. NYCLASS, whose agenda extends beyond carriage horse advocacy to broader animal protection concerns, is one of the over 1000 organizations that has signed on to participate in the march.

Despite this, the People’s Climate March Twitter account retweeted a photo from Teamsters Joint Council 16 featuring Central Park carriage drivers announcing their participation in the People’s Climate March:

As explained in an Epoch Times article, the drivers "are concerned about the source of batteries that may be used for electric cars proposed by anti-horse-carriage groups to replace New York City’s horse-drawn carriages."

Teamsters Local 553, part of Joint Council 16, has unionized the carriage owners. While unionizing owners is not unprecedented—the National Taxi Workers Alliance works on the same premisethere are serious questions about unionizing carriage owners, given that many HIRE drivers to work their carriages. Some owners are also stable owners, raising the question of whether the Teamsters are, in this case, unionizing the BOSSES of hired drivers and stable hands rather than their workers, which would mean that 553 is in effect running a bosses association disguised as a union or at best a hybrid workers/bosses association.

The People's Climate March's choice to step into the highly contentious horse carriage issue is paradoxical at best. If their goal is to build a big tent movement, why antagonize animal advocates on what has become their signature NYC issue? Animal advocates have the potential to make a valuable contribution to the march—they've been enthusiastically organizing as part of the People’s Climate March's Vegan Hub to address the significant role of animal agriculture in driving climate change and to promote plant-based diets as a solution, a message that reinforces the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 5th Assessment Report (see, for example, Chapter 11 of the Mitigation Report especially pages 33–37).

Friends of Animals (FOA), a major national animal advocacy organization that has campaigned vigorously to ban the horse carriages for years, had intended to participate in the march but has reluctantly decided that at this point they cannot endorse PCM or encourage its supporters to participate in it. FOA which has long addressed the connection between animal agriculture and climate change, is a group that  has mobilized thousands to the streets to protest a wide range of animal abuse issues. Their loss means the March will miss the opportunity to engage potentially hundreds of concerned volunteer activists in deference to an industry using the March as little more than a cynical and hypocritical PR stunt to advance its narrow agenda.

The choice to step into the carriage horse issue becomes even more paradoxical when considering that the Teamsters have been the most vocal labor voice opposing the biggest climate activist campaign in the US, the fight against the Keystone XL pipeline, a fight led by many of the groups at the center of the People’s Climate March, including 350.org.

Here's Teamsters President James Hoffa stumping for KXL.

Here's Speaker of the House John Boehner lauding Teamster support for KXL.

And here are 9 pages of articles in support of KXL on Teamster websites.

Of course, this is nothing new for the Teamsters, who shattered the goodwill generated by the labor/animal rights/environmental alliance of the Seattle WTO protests, immortalized with the slogan "Teamsters and turtles together at last!" by almost immediately thereafter announcing their support for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Teamsters later reversed that position, committing in an inspiring statement to pursue job creation in green energy production. Thus, their backsliding to support KXL has been bitterly disappointing.

There’s no indication that PCM has inspired the Teamsters to stop backsliding where the environment is concerned. I visited the block where the Teamsters contingent waited for hours to join in the Labor Day Parade last Saturday to do outreach on Fast Track and TPP. At the front were the carriage drivers with their horses and carriages. Lining either side of the block were rows of tractor trailers painted with Teamsters logo and graphics—all of which appeared to be idling. Yet a few electric car batteries are a cause for protest!

 

And if it wasn't already clear that the PCM was aligning itself with questionable allies on this issue, watch this video.

Does that driver look familiar? He should.

Take a look at again at PCM's retweet—check out the second driver from the right.

Drivers.jpg

The Teamsters are on the right side of many issues[4], and there are times when it makes sense to count them as an ally. But having them participate in a climate march while continuing to support KXL only serves to neutralize the march. What message did policy makers absorb  about what marchers were asking for when they disagree on something as fundamental as KXL support?

A mass march is a bit like a mosaic. A mosaic contains tiles of many colors, but what the viewers sees is the overall picture formed. PCM made a point of breaking the march into segments with names like “We Know What the Problem Is” and “We Have a Solution.”  But with so many contradictory voices and a lack of a stated demand set, the overall picture formed by PCM was vaguely defined concern about climate change with no clear sense of what the problem really is and what are and are not real solutions. When the activists themselves are willing to be “all-inclusive,” why should the politicians not do the same thing? They can say they care about climate change, while also saying they care about the job creation potential of KXL? After all, the 400,000 marchers clearly find this acceptable, so why shouldn’t they? If the climate activists aren’t willing to risk alienating anyone by taking principled stands, why should elected officials who want union money and union votes?

                                            

March Organizers Squander Opportunity to Educate the Public about the Greenhouse Gas Contribution of Livestock Agriculture

While no less a respected body than the FAO of the United Nations has pegged the contribution of livestock agriculture at 14.5% of human-induced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the PCM organizers chose to behave as if our food choices play no role in the Earth’s changing climate. As stated in the PCM’s “Frequently Asked Questions” (FAQ):

We have 14 New York City food trucks lined up with some of your favorite eats; vegan, pizza, ice cream (they have vegan), tacos, African, Asian Fusion, frozen yogurt, Philly Cheesesteaks, sandwiches, Italian, Latin, and lobster rolls.

As it turned out, the array of vendor trucks even included one serving shrimp (see Image 5), a deceptively climate-impacting commodity. Although shrimp was traditionally harvested from the open sea, much of global production today comes from Southeast Asian shrimp farms having a carbon footprint ten times that of “beef from cows raised on cleared Amazon rainforest.” Ninety percent of U.S.-consumed shrimp is now imported, with much of it coming from those shrimp farms.

climate-change-meat-eater.jpg

Image 5. Credit TheirTurn.net.

Let's be clear: the primary importance of PCM organizers limiting their chosen vendors to the selling of plant-based food would not in itself have been to significantly reduce the carbon footprint of the vendors’ customers, but to provide a teachable moment for PCM participants and spectators alike.

                                            

Most likely the selection of food vendors was not the result of a conscious decision to dissociate animal agriculture and climate change in the minds of marchers. Rather, it is reflective of a culture among many mainstream environmental groups, including those groups at the helm of the march, of holding a dismissive attitude about the importance of reducing consumption of animal products as a vital strategy for mitigating climate change. Consequently these groups are reluctant to suggest that personal food choices have a role to play in mitigating climate change, particularly when those changes indict the livelihoods of the farmers and ranchers many environmental groups are trying to court.

This is especially true when environmental groups are actually FUNDED by ranchers. PCM organizer 350.org has reportedly received “millions” from former hedge fund manager and current rancher Tom Steyer through his Tomkat Charitable Trust. [Also worth noting is the fact that much of Steyer's money has come from less than “clean” investments—over 15 years, Steyer's fund Farallon Capital Management invested in companies that operate coal mines and coal-fired power plants.] For 350.org, condemning the livestock industry would be biting the hand that feeds it.

From its beginning, 350.org has remained silent about animal agriculture as a force for good or ill. In a 2011 article, historian James McWilliams pointed out to the organization that “Eating a vegan diet is seven times more effective at reducing [GHG] emissions than eating a so-called sustainable, local, meat-based diet.” McWilliams then noted having received an email from 350.org that stated “we don’t really take official stances on issues like veganism.”

McWilliams offered a few possible explanations for 350.org’s refusal to embrace a plant-based diet in its fight against climate change. He cited the comparative “aesthetics of pipelines and pastures”—the former being “brute technological intrusions” while the latter appeals to our myth of a nature more pure in the absence of human beings.

McWilliams also cited the matter of “personal agency” as a possible factor in 350.org's position—while what one puts into one's body is a personal, intimate decision, a coal-fired power plant represents a “sinister corporate-government alliance.” And so, McWilliams suggests that 350.org eschews discussing personal eating habits for anti-coal advocacy because “it appeals to our instinctual, if misguided, sense of personal agency.” In other words, individuals are more likely to act against an external, ominous threat than to change personal behavior intertwined with a lifetime of positive associations.

Then McWilliams raised the matter of fundraising, noting that the image of McKibben getting arrested at a protest over construction of a natural gas pipeline is much more effective in attracting donors than him “staying at home munching kale, and advising others to do the same.”

But while 350.org has stated that it does not take a position on human dietary choice in regard to climate change, this hasn’t stopped its co-founder, chairman and “leader”[5] Bill McKibben from advocating on behalf of certain types of animal agriculture over competing methods, even in the face of scientific evidence that such substitutions yield little-to-no environmental benefit.

Consider McKibben’s 2010 article in Orion[6], [7] that extolled the environmental and human-health benefits of pasture-raised beef compared to feedlot-produced beef. Raising cattle on pasture is, coincidentally, what 350.org donor Tom Steyer does. Yet research supports neither McKibben’s claim for lesser GHG emissions by cattle raised on pasture compared to grain-fed cattle at a feedlot, nor that pasture-raised beef is healthier for human consumption, as it remains high in cholesterol and saturated fat, risk factors for atherosclerosis, while its high-protein content has been implicated in raising one’s risk of cancer.

Commenting on a presentation in Melbourne that McKibben gave during a 2013 Australian speaking tour, environmental and animal rights campaigner Paul Mahony notes McKibben’s promotion of Allan Savory’s approach to ranching known as Holistic Management. (The scientific community has been critical of Holistic Management (and its predecessors “Holistic Resource Management” and “Savory Grazing System”) since the 1980s. Charges have included its being based on several false premises about grassland ecology, along with the absence of peer-reviewed studies showing that this management approach is superior to conventional grazing systems in outcomes of land health and animal productivity.[8] Also noteworthy is the article by Briske et al. that challenges specific claims (including one regarding rangeland sequestration of atmospheric carbon) made by Allan Savory[9] in the TED talk that Mahoney witnessed Bill McKibben promoting on his Australian lecture tour in 2013.[10])

As regards that Australian speaking tour, Mahony’s article further examines McKibben’s advocacy for positions that coincide with those of Allan Savory (and largely with those of Tom Steyer, as best one can ascertain from web resources[11]). These positions include advocacy for buying locally raised beef, for favoring beef raised on pasture over that from feedlots, for using domesticated ungulates to mimic the ecological role of “old-school” ungulates, for claiming that soil microbes absorb atmospheric methane in excess of that emitted by cattle that graze on the land,[12] and for touting the health benefits of pasture-raised beef. Citing reputable sources, Mahony finds all of McKibben’s claims wanting. Mahony also reveals the extent[13] to which individuals associated with Allan Savory’s organization, the Savory Institute, had assisted McKibben in writing his Orion article of 2010. The appearance of cozy relationships among Allan Savory, Bill McKibben, and 350.org donor Tom Steyer is further strengthened by the fact that Steyer hosted Savory in a ranching workshop at his ranch in December 2013.

While Bill McKibben’s untenable positions on animal agriculture would alone be sufficient to call into question his competence, if not, his veracity, animal agriculture is not the only topic on which his remarks have failed to coincide with facts. Fundamental to the integrity of an organization is the nature of its funding sources, and the ways in which those sources might influence the policies of the organization, or even of just the remarks made by its spokespersons.

McKibben, it seems, has been reluctant to disclose the funding sources of his campaigns and the extent of such funding. By way of background, a February 2013 article by Vivian Krause notes:

Since 2006, McKibben has led three campaigns: Step it Up, 1Sky and 350.org. Each campaign built on the previous one. In the summer of 2006, Step it Up organized a protest walk across Vermont to push for a moratorium on coal-fired power plants and other federal actions. Created in 2007, 1Sky began a national movement to jump-start a clean energy economy. 350.org built on 1Sky and in April of 2011, the two campaigns officially merged.

Krause further notes that McKibben has in articles portrayed himself as “starting 350.org with seven students and almost no money” and elsewhere, stating in 2010: “last year, with almost no money, our scruffy little outfit, 350.org, managed to organize what Foreign Policy called the ‘largest ever co-ordinated global rally of any kind’ on any issue.” Krause discovered that McKibben's suggestion that his campaigns have been poorly funded is contradicted by financial filings. Her article reveals:

1Sky began in 2008. In its first year, 1Sky reported expenditures of US$2.6-million, tax returns show. Of that, US$2.2-million was payroll, including US$1.2-million for consultants. In 2009, 1Sky’s campaign director, Gillian Caldwell, a lawyer by training, was paid US$203,620 through the Rockefeller Family Fund.

During 2011, the most recent year for which tax returns are publicly available, 350.org again had a US$2-million payroll, including US$622,000 for consultants. 350.org spent US$1.2-million on grassroots fieldwork, partnership with other organizations and media coverage, and US$356,000 to recruit participants through emails, blogs and social networking.

Krause further reports that “McKibben’s campaigns have received more than 100 grants since 2005 for a total of US$10-million from 50 charitable foundations. Six of those grants were for roughly US$1-million each.”

And from where did that funding arise and towards what purposes was it directed? Krause reports:

More than half of the US$10-million came from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF), the Rockefeller Family Fund and the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy, where McKibben, a trustee, was paid US$25,000 per year (2001–09). Since 2007, the Rockefellers have paid US$4-million towards 1Sky and 350.org, tax returns say. The Schumann Center provided US$1.5-million to McKibben’s three campaigns as well as US$2.7-million to fund the Environmental Journalism Program at Middlebury College, in Vermont, where McKibben is on staff.

And finally, in regard to 350.org’s acknowledged list of donors, Krause writes:

What 350.org’s list of donors fails to convey is that some foundations provide only US$5,000 or US$10,000, while two unidentified donors provide half of 350.org’s budget for 2011, according to its financial statements. Four grants accounted for two-thirds of 350.org’s budget. 350.org declined to identify the donors of those grants.[14]

Bill McKibben’s pro-ranching statements contained in his writings and live presentations must please 350.org donor Tom Steyer, and they can only benefit the industry in which Steyer believes. Additionally, McKibben’s promoting a self-serving genesis myth for 350.org, along with that organization’s shielding of its donor identities accounting for the bulk of its income can only further arouse suspicions about hidden agendas, including ones that promote animal agriculture. By inviting meat, dairy, and seafood vendors into the People’s Climate March, event organizers have further increased that suspicion.

A Taste of Powerlessness


In challenging the big tent, we’ve heard over and over that focusing on “purity” would have dramatically reduced the number of marchers, significantly weakening the statement made by PCM’s massive turnout.

In an article in the Communist Party USA’s journal Political Affairs, Marc Brodine wrote, “Not requiring that everyone condemn, for example, the Keystone XL pipeline project was a concession that enabled some unions (though not many construction unions), to endorse and participate, and that was, in my opinion, a net positive. So some compromises on program were necessary to make the march as broad and large as possible. That doesn't mean giving up the fight against the pipeline, it just means that a tactical move sideways to not force every important environmental issue into the list of required demands was, on balance, a good thing.”[15]

While it certainly would be limiting to require full agreement on every environmental issue, it seems fairly unfathomable that, given that opposing Keystone XL has been the signature campaign of the US climate justice movement or at least the last three years and is currently the most contentious environmental political battle in Washington, DC, that this issue, if no other, would be one where hard lines could be drawn. When environmentalists are willing to compromise and forgive ongoing active opposition to a cornerstone issue in the environmental agenda in the interest of maintaining a “big tent” what message does that send to Democratic elected officials in deciding how to vote when faced with conflicting interests between their supporters?

Congressional Democrats answered this question in mid-November when 31 House Democrats voted for Keystone XL and four days later the Democratic Senate found time to schedule a vote on KXL during the precious few waning days of their Senate majority in an almost sure to fail bid to improve Mary Landrieu’s chances of winning her runoff with Landrieu and 13 other Dems voting for the ultimately unsuccessful bill.

Clearly 400,000 with a vague message weren’t enough to convince Congressional Democrats to unite against KXL. Would 600,000 have been? A million? What about 100,000 with a clear defined agenda and xxxxxx/???

Advocacy campaigns, fundamentally, break down to a pretty simple formula:

On the surface, the People’s Climate march acknowledged elements of this formula -- the march even contained major segments called “We Have Solutions” and “We Know Who Is Responsible.” But with no unified statement of positions and demands, the march as a whole was far less than the sum of its parts. A mosaic may contain a million gorgeous tiles, but without a clear overall vision for the whole, it is doomed to be nothing more than an enormous gray blob -- to the benefit of politicians and corporation who would like nothing more than to burnish their reputations with a commitment-free expression of support for concern about climate change.

But even a clear set of principles and demands would have only been a starting point. 400,000 people is an impressive number, but it only provides leverage with an indication that those 400,000 people will DO something that will positively or negatively affect decisionmakers -- vote, boycott, blockade, riot -- something other than simply go home after the march. To be sure, many will -- but as with the march itself such diffuse action doesn’t really send a message in particular to a decisionmaker that this march and its participants will directly affect THEM. Absent an explicit call to specific action, the assemblage of 400,000 people was merely a show of (vaguely defined) sentiment, not any real show of force.

Had the march been used as a moment to announce a single, unified campaign against a particular corporation vulnerable to consumer pressure, it’s hard to think that this wouldn’t have an immediate effect. The march itself would have become newsier -- more of a real story of something happening, the launch of something new and big rather than one-off event. It’s quite possible the corporation would have seen an immediate drop in the value of its shares, faced with 400,000 people marching in support of a boycott, committed to going back to their communities and taking action to expose and disrupt that company’s activities.

If the march had chosen to focus on elected officials, it could have sent a powerful message through the simple act by registering all attendees to vote and collecting their contact info at the end of the march. 400,000 people committed enough to march miles and, for many, travel long distances at personal expense to challenge climate are very likely 400,000 people who would consider a candidate’ record on climate issues when considering who to vote for -- especially if march organizers sent them a candidate scorecard or postcard encouraging them to vote for an endorsed candidate.

Many march supporters responded to criticism that the March lacked a hard hitting, focal action component by pointing to the Flood Wall Street civil disobedience protest planned for the next day. But it’s not clear that that action, an attempted sit in in front of the New York Stock Exchange, was in any way more focused or strategic.

 Direct action[16] involves direct physical intervention to have a direct effect on a problem. It can have symbolic value, but that isn’t it’s defining characteristic. Direct action can be civil disobedience, but it can also take many other forms. By the same token, civil disobedience is not always direct action. It’s a fairly same assumption that most of the people participating in Flood Wall Street did not believe their action on that day would have such a crippling effect on stock trading that the financial industry would be forced to immediately address its role in contributing to climate change. Clearly, the action’s  was intended to be symbolic with its primary intended value was as a statement, a public challenge to Wall Street.


But who feels the pressure from criticisms of the amorphous concept “Wall Street”? There is no company called Wall Street that people can boycott and no elected official named “Wall Street” that people can vote against. There are, however, specific elected officials and corporate executives that make decisions that will influence the actions of the financial industry. A protest on Wall Street can certainly be used to call out these specific decisionmakers to take specific actions (introduce legislation, divest funds, etc.), but only by being explicit about who they are and what action people are being called upon to take to influence them (write letters, vote, boycott, etc.)

Some anti-capitalists would argue that this approach is too reformist, that the problem is “the whole damned system” and that we need to, through our actions, indict the whole damned system. But how exactly does a one-off sit in do this? Are stock brokers and financial industry CEOs supposed to have a sudden change of heart? Is the newspaper reader who sees a 150 word article about the protest on page 7 of a newspaper’s Metro section expected to find sudden inspiration and commit to the cause of revolutionary communism to fight climate change?

Far too much activism seems to operate on a sort of magical thinking, an unfounded and unexplained article of faith that symbolic actions will translate into real world change. They might have better luck with prayer. Many activists, it seems, worship at the Church of the Hundredth Monkey. Popularized by self-help guru Ken Keyes Jr.’ 1970s book about nuclear war, the notion of the hundredth monkey phenomenon has its roots in new age writer Lyall Watson’s account of observational research of macaque monkeys by scientists on the island of Koshida.

Keyes  wrote:

“The Japanese monkey, Macaca Fuscata, had been observed in the wild for a period of over 30 years.

In 1952, on the island of Koshima, scientists were providing monkeys with sweet potatoes dropped in the sand. The monkey liked the taste of the raw sweet potatoes, but they found the dirt unpleasant.

An 18-month-old female named Imo found she could solve the problem by washing the potatoes in a nearby stream. She taught this trick to her mother. Her playmates also learned this new way and they taught their mothers too.

This cultural innovation was gradually picked up by various monkeys before the eyes of the scientists. Between 1952 and 1958 all the young monkeys learned to wash the sandy sweet potatoes to make them more palatable. Only the adults who imitated their children learned this social improvement. Other adults kept eating the dirty sweet potatoes.

Then something startling took place. In the autumn of 1958, a certain number of Koshima monkeys were washing sweet potatoes -- the exact number is not known. Let us suppose that when the sun rose one morning there were 99 monkeys on Koshima Island who had learned to wash their sweet potatoes. Let's further suppose that later that morning, the hundredth monkey learned to wash potatoes.

THEN IT HAPPENED!

By that evening almost everyone in the tribe was washing sweet potatoes before eating them. The added energy of this hundredth monkey somehow created an ideological breakthrough!

But notice: A most surprising thing observed by these scientists was that the habit of washing sweet potatoes then jumped over the sea...Colonies of monkeys on other islands and the mainland troop of monkeys at Takasakiyama began washing their sweet potatoes.

Thus, when a certain critical number achieves an awareness, this new awareness may be communicated from mind to mind.

Although the exact number may vary, this Hundredth Monkey Phenomenon means that when only a limited number of people know of a new way, it may remain the conscious property of these people.

But there is a point at which if only one more person tunes-in to a new awareness, a field is strengthened so that this awareness is picked up by almost everyone!”

For many activists, the mass media seems to serve as a sort of stand-in for Kesey’s mind to mind communication leap. Suddenly, via computer and TV screens, newspaper pages, and radio speakers, people are, remarkably, expected to absorb the concepts, values, and in-depth knowledge leading activists to pursue a particular course of action. This despite the recognition by activists that the media dumbs down ideas, presents information in a truncated soundbite format, and values spectacle over substance.

Assuming the Metro section reader finds the activists indictment of Wall Street as a culprit in driving climate change, what exactly is she supposed to do with that knowledge? Is she expected to be a master strategist who will devise a brilliant solution to this problem that hasn’t dawned on anyone up to this point? Will she rise up as the inspirational leader the masses have waited for, leading them in glorious battle for the planet’s salvation? Are the masses suppose to be swayed by the photo, snide headline, dashed off article, and six word quote attributed (correctly or not) to an anarchist to the point where the spontaneous transmission of heightened consciousness will eventually reach corporate boardrooms and the halls of Congress?

Unsurprisingly, reviews of the original research that Watson (and, by extension, Keyes), based his story upon, gave no suggestion of the sort of paranormal idea transmission intimated by Watson and Keyes. The monkeys did take up the practice of washing sweet potatoes and monkeys did learn the practice by watching other monkeys, but there was no evidence to support a tipping point and leap in consciousness by other monkeys.

In an article in Strategies for Cultural Change debunking the phenomenon, Elaine Meyers wrote “What the research does suggest, however, is that holding positive ideas (as important a step as this is) is not sufficient by itself to change the world. We still need direct communication between individuals, we need to translate our ideas into action…”

For all the reasons activists protest Wall Street, simply having good ideas and offering a passive, symbolic expression of perturbation cannot and will not lead to change. We do not live in a pure democracy. Expressing a point of view, even a considered one expressed in an impassioned manner, does not create change without direct leverage over those in positions to institute change.

For the most part, the corporations driving climate change are presumably not doing so out of a desire to harm the environment. And while there may be cases where corporations simply don’t understand their impacts,there are plenty that know exactly how they are harming the environment. The

There are, of course, a variety of ways to do this. Terrorism or acts of economic sabotage can sometimes force the hand of decisionmakers, but they can also encourage decisionmakers to harden their positions in order to demonstrate that they cannot be swayed by lawlessness, violence, and destruction. Most other tactics involve some form of mass engagement, generally in an organized form.

Decisionmakers are, for the most part, creatures of self-interest. For the most  In considering a course of action, one of their primary considerations will almost always be how a course of action will affect them.

 

Would it not have been possible to execute a more convincing show of strength with 400,000 than a targetless march, ending in one of the most desolate parts of Manhattan?

Conclusion: The Importance of No

There is something eerily familiar about this “all approaches are welcome” approach to addressing climate change—an approach that says no to nothing and yes to everything. It sounds a lot like Obama’s “All of the Above” approach to energy policy, really, an approach that sees renewable energy, not as an alternative to fossil fuels and nuclear power, but that sees “clean coal,” gas, natural gas, and nuclear as part of a “solution” that ALSO includes renewables.

As Hillary Clinton moves closer to announcing her Presidential candidacy by the day, it will no doubt be great comfort for her that climate activists are willing to get inside a “big tent” with the forces driving climate change and with forces anathema to ANY concept of justice—environmental or otherwise. After all, in a few months, she’ll be asking us to do just that. When she announces a platform that throws the environmentalists a few crumbs while ensuring corporations that she won’t take any action that will reduce their profit margins, she’ll count on us to stay inside that tent. When she promises unwavering loyalty to the Israeli right to cheering crowds at AIPAC conventions, she will count on the vast majority of the the left to stay inside that tent. And to keep us there she’ll stick a sign on the entrance and that sign will read “Lesser Evil.”


When the Zapatistas say “
One no, many yeses” we should understand their wisdom in BEGINNING with “NO.” Only when we first say NO—when we understand what we are united in opposition to, can we begin to envision real alternatives and move in their direction of turning our visions into reality.

Addressing huge issues like climate change may at times require unlikely alliances across ideological lines. But this can only really work when there are well defined shared goals, giving groups who may choose to align themselves on a very limited basis the assurance that coalition allies with whom they have seriously conflicting interests and ideologies will be unable to hijack, distort, or dilute the message of a coalition effort. Organizations whose objective are fundamentally at odds with the objectives of an action or coalition should not be welcomed to participate.

 By contrast, PCM explicitly AVOIDED having a clear message or set of goals and welcomed with open arms any organization that chooses to join, even ones that are actively campaigning AGAINST efforts to fight climate change.

By calling itself an environmental justice march, PCM accepted a responsibility to honor that term and what it stands for. Creating a central organizing role for the New York Environmental Justice Alliance was an important move towards this end, but a far broader range of voices needed to be part of that conversation on what would con

At the same time, they co-opted language from grassroots environmental campaigns rooted in a vastly different politics than the approach of this march—terms like “environmental justice.”

There aren’t always hard and fast rules about what alliances do and do not make sense to make, but that’s exactly why it’s vital to discuss alliances rather than to impose them. For groups that felt the march was helping to legitimize the very

Creating a big tent that uncritically includes anyone who purports to wish to solve the problem of climate change feeds right into the hands of capitalists who seek to profit off of false and unjust solutions. Cap and Trade. REDD. “Holistic Management” livestock. Climate Smart Agriculture. Agricultural biofuels. Nuclear power. "Clean" coal. LNG. Devastating hydroelectric projects like Belo Monte. The big "tent" that we already share—our planet—can't afford to find a place for these "solutions." And neither can we. A march even a tenth the size of the People's Climate March that explicitly rejected these sinister scams would have been a far stronger statement.

When we say yes before remembering a principled no, we ultimately end up saying a very unprincipled no by default. By saying yes to the carriage drivers, PCM said no to Friends of Animals and other people fighting for animal liberation. By saying yes to the Green Zionists, PCM said no to many who are mourning the loss of loved ones mercilessly slaughtered just weeks earlier in Gaza.

Another world IS possible, but we will not find it on a literal and metaphorical march to nowhere with fossil fuel burning energy companies, cynical greenwash fronts for big food multinationals, and green Apartheid apologists. And in this case, on this day, not with a union that has at times been a vital ally (and in other contexts will continue to be one), but that has also placed its narrow self-interest in generating jobs that will create dues-paying members over the future of the planet—or the freedom of sentient beings.

For, as a very different kind of labor union is fond of saying, “An injury to one is an injury to all.” Because really, what is so toxic about the big tent concept is how it distorts and perverts the notion of genuine solidarity—the idea of uniting to form a mass movement that will fight for everyone’s liberation and survival—but not for everyone’s profits.

POSTSCRIPT:

As expected, Ben & Jerry’s milked PCM as a promotional opportunity:

march1.jpg

Image 6.

march2.jpg

Image 7.

march3.png

Image 8.

The carriage drivers, true to form, showed up with their horses in tow, illustrating what we’re saying all along—that their participation had everything to do with promoting their trade and nothing to do with fighting climate change.  

According to Allie Feldman of NYCLASS, “The Teamsters and the cruel carriage drivers decided to ignore the rules of People's Climate March, and paraded a horse drawn carriage anyway, through 400,000 people and loud noise. Just goes to show the lawlessness and callousness of this inhumane, abusive industry.”

1450109_10105083209768723_9140060995779473545_n.jpg

Image 9.

THE REAL WINNERS OF THE PEOPLE’S CLIMATE MARCH

Screenshot from 2014-09-27 18:59:31.png

Image 10.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Adam Weissman and Wendy Scher are core organizers with Global Justice for Animals and the Environment (GJAE), an advocacy organization that works to challenge free trade agreements that threaten animals; the environment; safe, just, and sustainable food; and the human rights of environmental defenders. They represent GJAE in TradeJustice New York Metro, an alliance of diverse social movement group united in opposition to the expansion of the NAFTA free trade model. Adam and Wendy were both members of GJAE’s predecessor organization, Wetlands Activism Collective, an anti-capitalist activist group that worked for human, Earth and animal liberation via grassroots campaigns in the New York metropolitan area. Wetlands Activism Collective was an early exponent of the “movement of movements” concept and worked not only to build coalitions across movement lines, but also to challenge movements when they fell short of showing solidarity with other struggles against injustice and ecological destruction and when they failed to challenge oppression within their own movements. This article is an extension of that work.

                                            

Mike Hudak has been a grassroots organizer and advocate for ranching-free public lands since 1997. He is the founder (1999) and director (1999–2013) of the nonprofit project Public Lands Without Livestock (subsequently named Vibrant Public Lands). From 1998–2000, through articles in Sierra Club publications and 45 live presentations at Club venues in 20 states he lobbied that organization to oppose commercial ranching on federal public lands, ultimately securing resolutions from groups and chapters representing 37 percent of Club members. Hudak subsequently participated in negotiations that resulted in a compromise policy sufficient to support a viable legislative solution. Hudak then took his advocacy (2000–2012) to a variety of organizations. Hudak is the author of Western Turf Wars: The Politics of Public Lands Ranching (2007) and producer of 47 companion YouTube videos. As the volunteer Vice Chair (2007–2008) and Chair (2008–2013) of the Sierra Club's Grazing Team, Hudak orchestrated the four-year effort to reintroduce voluntary grazing retirement legislation to the U.S. House, a goal that was realized in 2011 with the introduction of the Rural Economic Vitalization Act. Hudak's most recent public remarks were at the June 2014 Speak for Wolves event in Gardiner, MT, where he recounted the largely ineffective 30-year history of opposition to ranching on public lands, and offered suggestions for how such advocacy might best proceed within the current dysfunctional climate of federal politics.


[1] Thanks to Susan Gordon, Mike Hudak, Joshua Trost and many others who offered feedback and provided editorial assistance with this text.

[2] One of the early reviewers of this text offered a less cynical interpretation: that the gaps between PCM’s claims about its organizing model and the reality "is probably more about the fact that there are ideals among some leaders that aren't being held up by others, as opposed to a conniving attempt to fool the grassroots" and warns against "alienat[ing] the well-intentioned by assuming they have evil intentions.”

[3] Van Gelder, Sarah. "Naomi Klein: People's Climate March Is a "Glimpse of the Movement We Need"" Truthout. Truthout, 7 Oct. 2014. Web. 28 Oct. 2014. <http://truth-out.org/news/item/26686-naomi-klein-people-s-climate-march-is-a-glimpse-of-the-movement-we-need>.

[4] For example, the Teamsters have continued to be a good ally against free trade agreements and JC 16 itself is an ally against Fast Track Trade trade authority:

Here's an alert they sent out against Fast Track on their Facebook page. 

Here's a quote from them from the press release for that labor press conference against Fast Track on a snowy day last January:

'“Fast Track would allow unfair trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership to speed through Capitol Hill with little debate and no amendments,” said Teamsters Joint Council 16 President George Miranda. “We must derail Fast Track and replace it with a process that allows Congress to fully debate the deal and make the TPP work for working families. We are not against trade—just unfair trade. We’ve seen enough lost jobs, shuttered plants and abandoned communities as a result of unfair trade agreements.”

[5] An example of characterizing Bill McKibben as the “Leader of 350.org” can be found on ice cream producer Ben & Jerry’s website. As the public face of 350.org, McKibben’s remarks carry significance well beyond that of his status as an author of books about the environment.

[6] In his Orion article, McKibben states in regard to the controversy over the climate impacts of animal agriculture (particularly the raising of cattle) that “I Do Not Have A Cow In This Fight.” Yet viewed within the context of his organization receiving large donations from a rancher, McKibben’s denial rings hollow.

[7] Mike Hudak criticized aspects of McKibben’s Orion article in the third comment shown on the Orion website, 2 April 2010.

[8] Examples of articles in scientific publications that have been critical of Allan Savory’s grazing management include

  1. Rod Heitschmidt and John Walker, “Short Duration Grazing and the Savory Grazing Method in Perspective,” Rangelands 5, no. 4 (August 1983): 147–50;
  2. 2) Jon Skovlin, “Southern Africa’s Experience with Intensive Short Duration Grazing,” Rangelands 9, no. 4 (August 1987): 162–67;
  3. Jerry L. Holechek, Hilton Gomes, Francisco Molinar, Dee Galt, and Raul Valdez, “Short-Duration Grazing: The Facts in 1999,” Rangelands 22, no. 1 (February 2000): 18–22;
  4. John Carter, Allison Jones, Mary O’Brien, Jonathan Ratner, and George Wuerthner, “Holistic Management: Misinformation on the Science of Grazed Ecosystems,” International Journal of Biodiversity 2014, Article ID 163431 (10 pages).

[9] The claims by Allan Savory addressed in Briske et al. are 1) that all nonforested lands are degraded, 2) that rangelands can store all fossil fuel carbon in the atmosphere, and 3) that intensive grazing is necessary to prevent rangeland degradation.

[10] Neither Allan Savory in his TED talk of February 2013, nor Bill McKibben in his Australian lecture provided a source for their claims that livestock under Holistic Management would increase the soil’s ability to sequester atmospheric carbon. But a citation on a Savory Institute webpage (W. R. Teague, S. L. Dowhower, S. A. Baker, N. Haile, P. B. DeLaune, and D. M. Conover, “Grazing Management Impacts on Vegetation, Soil Biota and Soil Chemical, Physical and Hydrological Properties in Tall Grass Prairie,” Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 141 (2011): 310–22) may be that source. The Savory site notes that Teague et al. demonstrates that “regenerative grazing” increases soil carbon by 30 tons per acre over that from conventionally grazed pastures. While the statement accurately reflects the findings of the cited research, the relevance to Holistic Management is dubious, as the multi-paddock grazing studied in the research was described as “light to moderate,” NOT the intense grazing advocated by Allan Savory. Not mentioned on the Savory Institute site, but even more significant from the perspective of reducing atmospheric carbon, the researchers found that multi-paddock grazing did not result in significantly greater soil carbon than that found in soil of comparable land from which grazing had been long excluded (see Teague et al., Table 5, p. 314). Since the addition of cattle to the landscape would introduce carbon into the atmosphere through methane produced by enteric fermentation, the most effective action, from the perspective of reducing atmospheric carbon, WOULD BE “no grazing.”

[11] Stephanie Strom, “An Accidental Cattle Ranch,” New York Times, sec. B1, 12 November 2013.

[12] Paul Mahony’s article (Sec. 2.2) reports research showing that one hectare of grassland in the Snowy Mountain region of Australia can absorb the amount of methane produced by only 0.162 of a cow. In other words, for livestock grazing there to remain “methane neutral” the density of cattle cannot exceed 1 cow for every 6 hectares. Recall also that the article by Teague et al. cited in Footnote #10 showed that ungrazed land sequestered as much atmospheric carbon as did the multi-paddock system touted by the Savory Institute. Research by Teague et al. is not unique in demonstrating that ungrazed grassland can sequester significant amounts of atmospheric carbon. Corroboration is found in the following publications:

  1. Wu L, He N, Wang Y, and Han X, “Storage and Dynamics of Carbon and Nitrogen in Soil after Grazing Exclusion in Leymus Chinensis Grasslands of Northern China,” J. Environmental Quality 37, no. 2 (Mar–Apr 2008): 663–68;
  2. Qui L, Wei X, Zhang X, Cheng J, “Ecosystem Carbon and Nitrogen Accumulation after Grazing Exclusion in Semiarid Grassland,” PLoS ONE 8, no. 1 (2013): e55433. Doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0055433;
  3. Stefani Daryanto, David J. Eldridge, and Heather L. Throop, “Managing Semi-arid Woodlands for Carbon Storage: Effects on Above- and Belowground Carbon,” Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 109 (2013): 1–11;
  4. Xing Wua, Zongshan Lia, Bojie Fua, Wangming Zhoub, Huifeng Liua, and Guohua Liu, “Restoration of Ecosystem Carbon and Nitrogen Storage and Microbial Biomass after Grazing Exclusion in Semi-arid Grasslands of Inner Mongolia,” Ecological Engineering 73 (December 2014): 395–403.

[13] More details about the assistance provided to Bill McKibben by Adam Sacks and Seth Itzkan, who are associated with the Savory Institute through the New England Center for Holistic Management (NECHM) (see photo captioned “Taken after Allan Savory’s presentation at the Tufts University Fletcher School on January 25.”), can be found on Paul Mahony’s blog, but the essential information is as follows. Postings on the Google Group “soil-age” give some indication of the assistance these individuals provided to McKibben in the writing of his Orion article of March/April 2010. The initial posting by Adam Sacks states: “McKibben comes out with his rotational grazing article. Although a bit sparse on details, a very good start (dare I say thanks to Jim Laurie and me and our explanations to him at the MCAN conference), let’s see if he and 350 act on it.” Sacks’ remarks elicited the following reply from Seth Itzkan, which quoted in part reads: “Yes. This article is a direct result of your interaction with him and the subsequent correspondences that you, me, and Jim [Laurie] had with him in the following weeks, both the general theme, as well as the particulars and specifically all the language about about [sic] electric fences, dung beetles, predators, and of course ‘methane-loving bacteria.’ He was profoundly influenced, and grateful for our influence, and I’m thankful to you for helping to make that connection.”

[14] Additional evidence of Bill McKibben’s reluctance to disclose the funders of his organizations can be found in his 2011 interview with Karyn Strickler: https://vimeo.com/17613444. (This segment taken from McKibben’s full interview above deals solely with funding: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9KKV6TqHrEw&spfreload=10)

[15]BRODINE, MARC. "The Environmental Movement: Which Way Forward?" Political Affairs. People Before Profits, 28 Oct. 2014. Web. 13 Nov. 2014. <http://politicalaffairs.net/the-environmental-movement-which-way-forward/ >.

[16] Perhaps no term in the activist lexicon has a more contentious and fluid definition than direct action. For the purpose of this text we’re using one approach to defining the term that suits the point we are trying to communicate, without making any claims about the “correct” historical and current use of of the term.