Against the climate march cynics

Paul D'Amato
Aerial shot of climate march NY

Paul D'Amato, editor of the International Socialist Review, answers the objections of several left-wing writers who critiqued the People's Climate March.

HUNDREDS OF thousands of people--some estimates ranged above 300,000--gathered in New York City September 21 to protest government inaction on climate change, ahead of a United Nations climate summit held two days later.

Contingents came from all over the U.S., representing a broad range of activist constituencies, including Native Americans, unionists, students, immigrant rights activists, scientists, war veterans and socialists. The protest also included a number of prominent actors and politicians, including Leonardo DiCaprio, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and former Vice President Al Gore. Even President Obama--who many environmental activists have criticized for his support of the oil and gas industry and his failure to effectively address climate change--announced his support of the march.

. . . YET PRIOR to the march, some left-wing writers expressed a critical, if not openly dismissive, attitude toward it.

To list a few: Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges penned an article calling the march "The last gasp of the climate change liberals." Ecosocialist Horizons cofounder Quincy Saul wrote a scathing attack on the march titled "Like a dull knife: The people's climate farce." Author Arun Gupta wrote a piece called "Business as Usual in Manhattan: How the People's Climate March Became a Corporate PR Campaign."

The gist of the criticisms was that march organizers played to the political "lowest common denominator" to draw in the largest numbers of people possible; failed to have clear demands; were too willing to cooperate with police to set a march route; utilized the services of an NGO using a business model of organizing; and allowed do-nothing politicians and corporate fronts to endorse the march.

Another criticism was that this was a purely "symbolic" protest that, by gathering two days before the UN summit was set to meet, failed to effectively challenge the government and corporate forces responsible for climate change and for stalling action against it.

Hedges dismissed the rally to come as a "climate-themed street fair," writing that the presence of corporate-backed sponsors such as the Climate Group and the Environmental Defense Fund "exposes the march's failure to adopt a meaningful agenda or pose a genuine threat to power."