Massive People’s March reflects growing movement, yet world leaders shrug

Share with your friends


It was hailed as an historic march by some activists and chastised as merely symbolic by others. But the convergence of hundreds of thousands of people in New York City in September to protest climate change was a milestone for the movement to end greenhouse gas pollution and reverse the damage it has done to the planet.

A main organizer of the march was, headed by author and activist Bill McKibben. Its efforts gathered eco-conscious organizations from around the country and world. Mass grassroots meetings were held in New York City leading up to the demonstration.

Freedom Socialist Party members in New York were excited to see multi-issue politics evident at the organizing meetings they attended. Because some meetings had over a thousand participants, activists broke into affinity groups to work on different issues: fighting energy corporations in the neocolonial world; defending indigenous lands; combating environmental racism; tackling the jobs vs. environment conundrum.

The diversity of issues was refreshing. It reflects the immense potential of the climate justice movement to radicalize — and unite — people of different nations and backgrounds in a common effort to confront the profit system that drives climate devastation.

But kept a tight grip on the message of the march to make it reflect their own politics of green capitalism. This is the belief that the climate crisis can be resolved within the parameters of the profit system, through various reforms such as carbon trading, divestment from the fossil fuel industry, and development of clean energy.

The vague call for “Climate Action Now,” made no real demands on world leaders gathered for a U.N. Climate Summit. This lack feeds the illusion that the U.N.’s problem is inertia, rather than domination by capitalist superpowers such as the U.S., which wages war for oil profits. Two months after the march, as President Obama and Chinese Premier Xi announced inadequate targets on greenhouse gas emissions, McKibben urged “bigger and more powerful movements that push the successors of these gentlemen to meet what science demands.” Yet no matter the size of the movement, nurturing hope in these capitalist statesmen — or their successors — is leading the climate justice effort into a blind alley.

Reformists hold progress back. Since the 1970s, grassroots groups that raised their own money and elected their leaders have been dwarfed by Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) that are funded by rich donors, corporate grants, and investments in companies that are major polluters. and its sister organization 1Sky are funded, in part, by the Rockefeller and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations. The Nature Conservancy has at least $22 million invested in energy and collaborates with BP, Shell and other Big Oil companies.

Most Big Green NGOs push “green capitalism” as their agenda and campaign to elect “friendly” candidates — mostly Democrats. The ranks of these groups don’t necessarily share these politics. They join Big Green because they are passionate about saving the planet. Many activists are open to radical solutions, and this fact was certainly on display at the People’s March, as well as in the organizing leading up to it.

The march also showed that there are legions of grassroots, reform-oriented groups doing great environmental work at all levels of society. Socialists should work with these organizations as well as NGOs to fight for important reforms — such as stopping the Keystone XL pipeline — while also winning adherents to an anti-capitalist perspective.

Green anarchists vs. the state. Another political force at the People’s March was anarchism. Anarchists seek to foment protests that will grow as climate change worsens, adding up to a “green revolution” that will sweep aside the state.

How these vast changes will occur organically, without political parties or leaders providing direction, is never explained. This strategy also severely underestimates the capitalists’ power to react with state repression, as happened with Occupy Wall Street.

Yet the determination of anarchists to take militant action to defend the planet is refreshing. Rising Tide, Tar Sands Blockade, and the Mountain Justice Summer campaign take the fight to extraction sites and stop business as usual. They block mining equipment from being transported to tar sands pits, chain themselves to excavators, and film oil spills that have been “cleaned up” by energy companies. Socialists can help build the anti-capitalist wing of the movement through collaboration with these activists.

An idea whose time has come. The international character of the People’s Climate March, and the impressive rainbow of unions, indigenous and grassroots groups, and radical-minded protesters eager to “flood” Wall Street shows the potential for organizing a democratic coalition with a clear program of action to reverse climate change.

Ecosocialism takes this one step further in naming capitalism as the main roadblock to healing the planet. There is no way to transform a system designed around profits into one that protects Mother Earth and all her inhabitants.

The economic system that can do this is socialism, where the economy is democratically-planned and industry is nationalized under the control of workers and community. Imagine the changes that could be made overnight if Exxon, General Motors, and Wall Street weren’t calling the shots.

The silver lining of the climate crisis is the renewed urgency it gives to upending the capitalist order. And ecosocialism is the logical ideological home for all the oppressed and outcast peoples who are being displaced by this warming world: native and indigenous people who defend their lands from transnational mining and energy companies; women who suffer the most from shrinking water supplies, corporate farming, and mining operations; people of color organizing to stop their neighborhoods from becoming dumping sites; and workers, who want jobs that don’t compromise their health or the quality of life for generations to come.

Ecosocialism offers the climate justice activists a way to link environmentalism with other social justice struggles in a movement whose aim is to put the world’s working classes in power. Such an international system could end the energy wars, redirect human talent and resources into developing renewable energy, and start to repair the ecological devastation capitalism has visited upon this fragile and pale blue dot we all call home.

Contact Mark Drummond at

To listen to this and other articles from this issue, click here.

Share with your friends