Part I: Did we change everything? The jury’s still out

Marching down 42nd St. in Manhattan.

Marching down 42nd St. in Manhattan.

Climate change deniers are committing a “crime against humanity.” So said Mary Robinson, first woman president of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, at one of the many events leading up to the September 21 People’s Climate March.

The whirlwind of activity touched off by Bill McKibben of and the

myriad other organizers who put 400,000 people on the streets of New York with 2,646 supporting events in 162 countries pulled me in with an intensity I had hoped for but didn’t expect, starting with a 24-hour ride on the People’s Climate Train. On the ride, at the pre-march events and in the streets of Manhattan during the march, I met some incredible people, whose dedication and intensity give me hope. I heard leaders like McKibben and Naomi Klein speak.

There were 2,646 events in 162 countries in support of the march.

There were 2,646 events in 162 countries in support of the march.

Set for two days before the UN’s Climate Summit, the march and the grassroots activity it spawned were not ignored by the world leaders who assembled in New York.

Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon wasn’t going to allow that. He was there, marching across 42nd Street with the rest of us. “Instead of asking if we can afford to act, we should be asking what is stopping us, who is stopping us, and why?” he said in a Sept. 20 Huffington Post blog entry.

“As citizens keep marching, we cannot pretend we do not hear them,” President Barack Obama told the summit. “We have to answer the call.”

But answer they won’t, unless the movement that has been building for many years continues to mount the pressure.

“Having won the argument, we’ll also have to win the fight,” McKibben told a rally the day before the march, adding hopefully, “This is the moment this movement came of age.”

I marched with the Climate Reality Project, the group founded by Al Gore.

I marched with the Climate Reality Project, the group founded by Al Gore.

It was a heady feeling, taking over the streets of Manhattan, being part of a group of 400,000 people who, at least for that day, were all on the same page.

I hadn’t experienced anything like it since the 1981 Solidarity Day march in Washington, when the labor movement brought about the same number of people to the National Mall to protest Ronald Reagan’s assault on unions. But I have to remind myself that even after that impressive show of strength, unions have continued to lose membership and influence ever since.

On the Saturday before the march, I made my way down to Greenwich Village to see a movie that was touted on the march organizers’ master schedule. It’s called Forward 13 and it’s an earnest attempt to tell a story that links the real estate bubble, the financial and energy industries and the government as joint perpetrators in climate change and the killing of the “American Dream.” Using a montage of clever and creative images and a cinéma vérité style of storytelling, the movie grabbed me. You can get it on Amazon.

So the question is, what do we do now?

Obviously there are a lot of ideas out there, and many people working on a host of different issues, with a lot of disagreement on overall strategy and what tactics are most effective. See part II for more.

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