I have to admit, my first reaction was, “Not another rally.”
This is not to dismiss or disrespect those who will be participating in today’s “Rise for Climate” demonstrations across the country (as well as internationally) today. Yes, it’s important to take to the streets to condemn the moral scandal that is the Trump administration’s efforts to worsen the climate crisis. However, if this voices aren’t matched with voting, nothing will change.
Back in April 2007, climate activists rallied across the country to raise awareness about the need to curb carbon pollution. Back then, the political focus of the rallies was quite specific:
The campaign, called Step It Up, was described by organizers as the largest environmental demonstration in the country since Earth Day 1970, a gathering that helped start the modern environmental movement. Yet the many scattered Step It Up events seemed far smaller in comparison. Some drew a few hundred, others a few dozen. In Manhattan, organizers estimated a crowd of 1,200.
Step It Up’s lead organizer, Bill McKibben, a resident scholar at Middlebury College in Vermont and the author of “The End of Nature,” a 1989 book about global warming, said the widespread, do-it-yourself activities fit the campaign’s unifying theme: urging Congress to cut carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050.
It was pressure from climate hawks–pressure reflected at the ballot box in November 2008–that led the House of Representatives to pass historic climate legislation in the summer of 2009. That legislation died in the Senate, thanks in part to a dereliction of duty by, yes, John McCain, as well as a hissy fit by Lindsey Graham; perhaps there would have been a second chance at passing strong climate legislation had climate hawks turned out in force in the 2010 midterm elections to keep the House out of the hands of climate-change deniers.
Sadly, that did not happen, and climate hawks also failed to harness the momentum of the 2014 People’s Climate March towards the immediate political goal of keeping the Senate out of the hands of climate-change deniers as well.
Whenever I read about the next march or rally or demonstration to protest the latest Trump travesty, I’m immediately reminded of former Rep. Barney Frank’s observations about the superiority of voting to marching. The right didn’t resort to rallies to seize power; they mobilized their troops with a variety of scare tactics–a sad irony, in the sense that it is progressives, not conservatives, who really have things to be afraid of.
In a late-August interview with NPR, former Secretary of State John Kerry, asked about why he is so passionate about Trump’s abandonment of the Paris climate agreement, responded:
Because it’s a matter of life and death. And we are already suffering the consequences. We are beyond where some scientists said that we should be with respect to a tipping point. And we are heading towards 4 degrees centigrade increase in this century. That is a world that my children and grandchildren are going to face. And I think every responsible person in public life, every parent ought to be incensed by somebody without any foundation of science whatsoever, without any basis based on facts who is taking America away from its leadership position in responding to this challenge. It’s the challenge of our time.
Indeed it is, but that hasn’t always been reflected on Election Day. Only rising voting levels can stop the threat of rising sea levels. If that isn’t the message of today’s rally, then the rally should be deemed a failure.