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Beyond the People’s Climate March: What are We Willing to do for Climate Justice?

We are a Boston-based group of 17 young people who were arrested in #FloodWallStreet - Earth First! Newswire, September 26, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

We came to New York City to #FloodWallStreet. The Climate March was beautiful and historic, but it was also a target-less parade demanding vague “climate action” from bought-off world leaders. Along with many others who felt that the climate crisis demanded more, our heart was with #FloodWallStreet, a response to the Climate Justice Alliance’s call to take direct action beyond the march.

Recognizing this as a crucial moment in history, people, especially privileged youth, came in droves from across the country to the People’s Climate March. They were there to tell a story en masse: that change will come if enough of us demand climate action from our leaders. Yet when it came time to tell the more honest story, the story of how those at the root of this crisis are the corporations and Wall Street profiteers making fortunes off of the suffering of billions, we lost almost everyone. We went from 400,000 at the People’s Climate March to 3,000 at #FloodWallStreet. When it finally came time to stand our ground, to sit on Wall Street and put our bodies on the line, our numbers dwindled from 3,000 to 102.

We do not aim to devalue the good that came out of #FloodWallStreet. We have so much love and gratitude for the organizers that put tireless work into the action, and everyone that showed up. It was incredibly powerful to shut down a major intersection in the financial district for a day. But it’s too easy to walk away from this patting ourselves on the back and waiting for the next day of action to come around. So we want to share some honest reflections. This piece is not about making anyone feel guilty. Our intent is to push everyone, including ourselves, to think about what it will take to truly live up to Frederick Douglass’s oft-quoted words: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will.”

We feel frustrated that #FloodWallStreet fell short of its potential to be a game-changing moment in the climate justice movement. We felt that it was a mistake for the organizers to declare the action a success a few hours after taking the street, telling folks they should “feel free to go home.” We understand that the organizers wanted to pass the action off to the direct democracy of the people, but about half of the participants left after they were told: “we did what we came to do.” The truth is we hadn’t — the action was about disrupting business as usual at the NY Stock Exchange. We never did that. Much like the People’s Climate March, folks were ready to call it a day after a couple of hours of fun in the street.

One reason people actually stayed is because a few of us mic-checked to the crowd: “from the looks of it, we’re now flooding Wall Street. This is our target. Let’s stay until we are forcibly removed!” When the dispersal order came shortly thereafter, most of the remaining folks left. When the arrests started, only 3% of the original 3,000 of us stood our ground. The crowd of spectators was three or four times larger than the bloc actually risking arrest. Many protesters who soap-boxed with mic-checks abandoned the fight when they were called upon to match their words with actions. Most of the key organizers of #FloodWallStreet sat on the sidelines watching, like generals watching their troops take the hit.

We understand that there are critical support roles for arrestable action, that it takes privilege to voluntarily risk arrest, and that there were many who could not afford to do so. But #FloodWallStreet was advertised as a direct action against climate profiteers, and over 1,000 people specifically signed up to commit civil disobedience. It happened between the biggest climate march in history and a major UN Climate Summit, in a city that was, at that moment, hosting a historic number of climate activists. We were in the belly of the beast, the epicenter of global capitalism, at a crucial moment to indict Wall Street for fueling the climate crisis and environmental racism. Could there be any more appropriate moment for thousands of people to put their bodies on the line for climate justice?

While being processed in jail, some comrades next to us were a 17 year-old high school student and woman of color, and a 63 year-old man from Chicago, IL who missed his flight as we sat over-night in jail. Two of the women in our shared cells were from Oakland, CA and New Orleans. Where were the local organizers who called for this action and prompted so many to risk arrest? Where were the devoted organizers of dozens of climate nonprofits who claim this to be the final window for climate action? Where were the thousands of privileged college students from the Northeast who work for “climate justice” on campus? Proclaiming our solidarity with frontline communities and denouncing capitalism is meaningless if we are not willing to sacrifice our privilege and put our bodies on the line for those beliefs.

We are disappointed by the dramatic dissonance between the magnitude of the climate crisis and the level of radical resistance on the ground, particularly from activists who we know care deeply. As we spent all day at the People’s Climate March handing out fliers and spreading the word about #FloodWallStreet, we heard the same excuses from our allies: “I can’t miss class.” “I have work.” To our privileged peers who know they can take a day off and survive: do we really think we will ever get the change we need by conveniently fitting protests into our weekend plans? If we are not willing to sacrifice a single day of class or work to take action against the global profiteers of injustice, how the hell do we expect to change anything?

Over the coming decades, as the frontline communities leading us in resistance continue to bear the brunt of the climate crisis, as cities drown and droughts leave dinner tables empty for the most vulnerable, how will we look back at our role in this crucial moment? The days of work and classes missed will mean nothing. Our only regrets will be our failures to
act courageously when we had the chance.

So let’s recognize those rare moments when we’re in the right place at the right time and we have power–and seize them. Imagine if the 3,000 people that came to #FloodWallStreet had stayed when the time came to actually put our bodies on the line. Imagine if there were too many of us to be arrested. Imagine if thousands of us continued to hold Wall Street through the UN Climate Summit. Only then would the story grow beyond the scuffle with the cops and that one *goddamn* polar bear who got arrested. Only then would the story of how neo-colonial capitalism = climate chaos be pressed onto the world stage.

If our generation expects to see climate justice in our lifetime, we need to step it up. We must work together to make those game-changing moments happen — and be willing to stand our ground when the opportunity is ripe.
Together, let’s do whatever it takes to make our story heard.


Emily, Martin, Abbie, Noah, Marisa, Shea, Evan, Bobby, James, PJ, Andrew, Kristina, Naveh, Simon

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