At the end of the day, the most important march is the one that ends at the ballot box.
No disrespect to Bill McKibben and David Helvarg, who are calling upon Americans to head to Washington, D.C., on Saturday, June 9, to protest the Trump administration’s offshore drilling schemes. As both men note, there’s plenty to raise hell about:
True, the Trump administration has proposed expanding offshore oil drilling to more than 90 percent of our public seas while at the same time eliminating many of the safety measures on oil-rig blowout preventers and offshore operations that were put into effect after the BP/Deepwater Horizon disaster of eight years ago, which killed 11 oil workers and became one of our most protracted environmental nightmares.
But this proposed drilling has sparked widespread opposition from citizens and elected officials across the political spectrum—beach-state governors are almost unanimous in their opposition, whether they’re burned red by the sun or chilled blue by the early-season water. Equally unpopular is the Trump proposal to shrink marine sanctuaries and national marine monuments if they limit access to oil, even though these sites act as both great wilderness parks in the sea and biological reserves for the future in a changing ocean.
The opposition comes because everyone knows that oil spills follow offshore drilling as surely as seagulls follow ferries. And more and more are figuring out that even when the oil makes it safely onshore, the carbon from its combustion spills into the atmosphere, acidifying the ocean, warming it, and raising it to the point where barrier islands and beaches are beginning to disappear. That’s why the March for the Ocean is promoting a rapid transition from test-blasting, drilling, and spilling to clean, job-generating renewable energy.
As a participant in the September 2014 People’s Climate March—which also promoted “a rapid transition from test-blasting, drilling, and spilling to clean, job-generating renewable energy”—I’ll never forget the joy and spirit of that day…nor will I ever forget the horror I felt less than two months later, as the United States Senate fell into the hands of climate-change deniers. As former Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank suggested in 2015, marching is usually not as impactful as voting.
This is not to diminish the importance of historic marches, whether it was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963 or the March for Our Lives in March 2018. However, at the end of the day, electing progressive-minded individuals is the sine qua non of making social change. A march would not have made the Affordable Care Act the law of the land; it took electing a President, a House of Representatives and Senate committed to health care reform in order to bring that landmark legislation to life.
Had climate hawks turned out in force in the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections, we likely would have had a strong federal climate bill by now, and would have made significant progress in breaking our addiction to fossil fuels. A strong federal climate bill would have been far more important than any march.
Think about it: when’s the last time you saw a right-wing march—besides Charlottesville, that is? Right-wingers usually don’t march. They vote as though their lives and their futures depend on it. Those of us horrified by the perversity of Scott Pruitt and the egregiousness of ExxonMobil should do the same, no?
McKibben and Helvarg conclude:
We know what the solutions are to sustain ourselves and our blue marble planet; all we lack is the political will to implement those solutions faster than the problems that confront us. A basic organizing principle, of course, is that you must protect what you love. That’s why this June, we’ll be going to the beach, getting wet and salty in the sea, and then drying off long enough to march for the ocean.
Let’s hope the marchers stay dry—and stay motivated going into the 2018 midterms. Only by voting can we bring civilization closer to the moment when, as Barack Obama put it a decade ago, “the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”