Is the People's Climate March in New York City on September 21 a waste of time? Even hardcore environmentalists are questioning the political efficacy of major street demonstrations to produce relevant and significant legislative action. Judging by the anti-war rallies leading up to the Iraq invasion in 2003, it is clear that governments can completely ignore massive protests without batting an eye.
So why march? My answer is based more on the evidence of social history than a hopeful dream for our future. Major acts of civil resistance have always played a dramatic role in shaping the destiny of moral progress. Gandhi's Salt March began as a meager 70 person hike down the Indian coastline. By the time he had reached the Dandi Beach 240 miles and 24 days later, there were more than 50,000 people gathered together to resist the unjust salt tax. It was this event that shook the British Empire and began the process of granting freedom and democracy to 350 million people.
The 1963 Children's March in Birmingham, AL is another example. In spite of fierce opposition from the local and state authorities thousands of African- American young people took to the streets and demanded to be treated with dignity and fairness. It was this march that changed Kennedy's mind about the South and altered the course of American civil liberty forever.
And most recently we can turn to the march on the Brooklyn Bridge in 2011, when 700 demonstrators were arrested for trying to awaken the conscience of a nation. This event helped fortify the encampment on Wall Street and propelled a movement that is still changing the global conversation about economic disparity and social justice.
Like the Salt March, the People's Climate March can help to begin the dismantling of corporate monopolization over our planet's resources. Like the Children's March, it has the potential to galvanize people from all over the world to fight for human dignity. And by defending our natural permission to access clean air, water, and food, it has the power to build a climate justice movement every bit as urgent and far- reaching as Occupy. Marches of this caliber have transformed the course of history before. Why not again?
Founder and Director
Gandhi Earth Keepers International is a member of the Rochester People's Climate Coalition