Donald Trump
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Maybe there’s hope after all.

As it turns out, the September 8 Rise for Climate rallies across the United States were in fact vehicles for non-partisan voter mobilization and on-going organizing–the sort of civic engagement that is necessary to ensure that sound climate policy advances in this country. In the aftermath of Hurricane Florence–to say nothing of the death toll of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico–the advance of sound climate policy can’t come soon enough.

“I believe that we reached our goals [with the rallies],” Paul Getsos, National Director of the Peoples Climate Movement (which organized the marches), said in a September 10 e-mail interview. “This year, our goal was not large numbers as much as organizing actions and activities that lead to longer-term building work.”

It’s the sort of organizing that could well save our imperiled planet. “Many of our partners have significant organizing and civic engagement programs in place,” Getsos observed. “This year, [the Peoples Climate Movement] is experimenting with non-partisan voter education activities that use our climate, jobs and justice frame to educate voters about why voting is important on these issues. With the Trump administration blocking what can be accomplished at the federal level, state and local action is needed more than ever. Local, statewide and state representative elections are very important, and many voters don’t realize that these elected officials have the power to make things like 100 clean energy, funding just transition programs, or strengthening worker rights, labor standards in the clean energy economy, or investing in efficiency programs that reduce the emissions that cause global warming happen. We are looking at focusing on millennials, particularly millennials of color and young parents as target populations to get more involved.”

Asked about the controversy surrounding the Democratic Party’s perceived unwillingness to vehemently oppose the machinations of the fossil fuel industry, Getsos noted, “President Obama did make climate action a priority of his administration with actions like the Clean Power Plan and there are Democrats who are working to address climate change at the state and local level. However, there are not enough politicians in either party taking bold action on climate change. That is why we believe that we need to move as many people as we can – first into the streets so elected officials see there are large numbers of people who care about an issue – and then more importantly, in to long term organizing and advocacy work. This year the Peoples Climate Movement is directly following up with people who did something on September 8th with weekly calls for people on how to get involved in civic engagement work connected to local and state programs – registering people to vote, voter education and non-partisan programs make sure people who care about climate jobs and justice issues are involved in the political process. We have also created Peoples Climate Votes, which will focus on electoral work in a set of pilot programs this year.”

In the event that Democrats take control of the House and/or Senate, Getsos stated that the Peoples Climate Movement will mobilize to ensure that climate action is a priority: “If new leadership comes to either or both houses, we hope and I am sure [that] many people and organizations will work to make sure that the bad policies that impact all of our communities are mitigated. It is up to us to ensure that these issues are part of the resistance to the Trump Administration.”

September 2019 will mark the fifth anniversary of the Peoples Climate March in New York City. Asked to reflect upon the legacy of that march, Getsos responded, “The 2014 March built off the work of the successful traditional climate and environmental advocacy organizations and the powerful organizing work of environmental justice and indigenous organizations by successfully bringing in more constituencies and sectors like labor, faith, multi-issue and civil rights organizations into the climate issue. We successfully changed the narrative of who cared about climate change – moving it out of the environmental silo. We also brought into the climate movement a stronger commitment to racial and economic equity and created momentum for traditional environmental organizations to have stronger justice frames. Conversely, [the Peoples Climate Movement] and the conversations among our partners also helped moved our labor partners to be stronger in terms of reducing carbon emissions by supporting 100% clean energy demands and getting them more engaged in climate work. In a number of places – 2014 led to mobilizations in 2015 and 2017 that engaged more people in the climate movement, more organizations and in a number of places, [such as] New York State, [Maryland], Florida, Colorado, Minnesota, Illinois and Michigan commitments from different sectors to work together at the state and local level to address climate change with a strong commitment to a justice frame. Our hope is that our movement can continue to strengthen the relationships, trust and coordination of important sectors of the progressive movement – to ensure that our leaders both in the private and public sector – make bold climate action a priority and that action is rooted in racial and economic justice. The next phase of our movement over the next 18 months is to continue to seek alignment, work out where we have agreements around solutions, build at the local and state level, and identify at what moment in 2020 makes the most sense for another strong show of public power lifting up climate action.”

Getsos concluded, “I believe that strong climate action will happen in those states where all stakeholders – environmentalists, environmental justice groups, poor peoples organizations, communities of color, and labor unions in particular can work to build enough power to advance a bold climate agenda that creates both good paying family sustaining jobs and healthy communities free of pollution.”

For the sake of our children and grandchildren, let’s hope so.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.