Have you ever taken part in a street demonstration of any kind? Few of us have. Perhaps when you were much younger, you watched the civil rights marches or peace demonstrations of past decades on TV and wished you were out there too. Will you ever find yourself taking part in a march or rally for the environment, or even organizing one?
The Role of Marches and Rallies in Communities and Nations
Although symbolic, marches and rallies are a first step in changing behavior and cultural values that can help the nations of the world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the degree necessary to avoid the worst consequences of global warming. The need to publicize issues surrounding global warming and environmental degradation is only going to grow.
Last year in the United States, Step It Up rallies around the nation told Congress “Reduce carbon 80 percent by 2050.” The idea was to achieve publicity and raise awareness. At the community level, rallies may show support for local sustainable energy industries and/or objection to new coal power plants or other local proposals that only increase greenhouse gas emissions.
As the focus moves from awareness of global warming to changes that actually reduce carbon emissions, you can be sure that vested interests will fight tooth and nail to stop them. The entire community must serve as watchdog and referee, and that includes you and me. There will be times when the direct actions available to citizens in free societies are needed to counter “the powers that be” and the status quo.
Until the movement of carbon through a series of interlinked industrial, farming, and cultural practices is better understood, we’ll be playing “whack-a-mole.” Bash carbon emissions down in one place and they pop up someplace else. People will try to continue business as usual for themselves and their livelihoods and let some other group bear the burden of rapidly reducing emissions. When Governor Bill Richardson was running for president of the United States, I heard him use the “S” word – sacrifice. This is rare to hear from public figures. Global warming means sacrifice is inevitable. If everyone bears their share, it need not spoil the joy of living life. In fact, examining what truly makes us happy could increase our satisfaction in life.
Can Rallies and Marches Change Anything?
In recent years, marches, rallies, and strong direct action in concert have shown that people of the world can still change government and corporate policies dramatically. For example, following World Bank advice, in 1999 Bolivia granted a 40 year privatization lease to a subsidiary of the Bechtel Corporation, giving it control over the water on which more than half a million people survive. The justification was to bring in foreign capital to build a modern water system for the area. Immediately the company doubled and tripled water rates for some of South America's poorest families. People were denied access to all sources of water by the government lease, including being denied the right to collect rainwater, and yet they could not afford to buy it without going hungry. In 2000, protests became widespread and eventually the Bolivian government ended its deal with Bechtel. Development of the region’s water system was placed in the hands of local people.
Starting in 2004, demonstrations took place at Coca-Cola bottling plants throughout India. It takes nine liters of drinking quality water to make one liter of Coke. Coca-Cola, like many other multinationals, locates large deep aquifers where it wishes to expand business, buys the land, builds its factory, and begins pumping out the water. The water table falls and local wells supplying the population dry up. Following massive global pressure and the constant presence of the locals at the plants, Coca-Cola is now scaling back its extraction. Unfortunately, this kind of predation upon local water supplies is widespread.
These examples may seem far-fetched in developed nations, but as water sources diminish and the demand for water as a commodity rises, people in these nations too are going to find their water being sold out from under them. Irrigated crops? Mining operations? Ethanol plants? Water resources are being over committed, often by well-meaning local authorities trying to bring more jobs and financial prosperity to their residents.
“Water Wars” will be the immediate crises that come from the combined effects of unrestrained development, water sources being sold to the highest bidder, and climate change. Where only a small portion of the US population joined the Step It Up rallies for a goal involving the year 2050, everyone who loses access to an essential for life will not hesitate to take to the streets and demand change. Better we should rally BEFORE the situation deteriorates to that degree.
Green Seniors, the time has come for you to be aware of using marches and rallies as a tool for change. It belongs in the toolkit for environmental action.
New Handbook for Community Marches and Rallies
The Step It Up team has written a book “Fight Global Warming Now—The Handbook for Taking Action in Your Community” (Holt Paperbacks, 2007 by Bill McKibben), which puts their experiences and lessons learned on paper to assist others in organizing rallies and fighting global warming. You can buy this book, but check your local public library first.
Below are some of the book’s key points. Keep in mind that these points were developed for symbolic actions. If your water is gone tomorrow and you know who took it, you will not need a handbook to tell you what to do.
* Take action. Do something. Get together with whomever you can and brainstorm. …Plan it, do it, learn from it, repeat.
* Don’t fret about structure. Far more than we need new organizations, we need nimble, relevant, strategic, and often temporary groups of people who can come together to do what needs to be done at the moment….
* Emphasize openness. Let people know what you’re up to, invite them in to help, make them leaders. Figure out what you can work together on, not what divides you.
* Have fun. The best antidote for fear and powerlessness is joy. If you need to have meetings, make them fun…if you can. Joy should not be postponed until after we have conquered global warming; it’s precisely the fuel that will keep your passion burning for the long run.
Although “have fun” sounds trite to us at Green Seniors, we take it in the sense that pessimistic and unpleasant people rarely succeed in rallying the troops. We would prefer the term “inspire,” for to unite people with purpose and meaning is a path to success. The “S” word doesn’t scare us. We seniors, especially the elders in our number, have experienced sacrifice and do not consider what passes for “sacrifice” today as doing justice to the concept.
Many more of us need to organize rallies and marches or other, more direct, actions on behalf of ourselves and the environment we depend upon for our survival; or to assist others in our communities in doing so.
The on-line technique used by Step It Up made it easy to set up local actions coordinated in a national framework. However, there is no need to wait on a national group to launch a local rally. The Handbook for Taking Action in Your Community gives tips on how to organize with little time and less money. However, just by thinking it through, you can figure out how to take effective action on your own. People of every age are continuing to build the movement.