By Christine Marie, Socialist Action, August 17, 2016
“People gonna rise like the water,” the most poignant of the new songs of the climate justice movement, makes a strong prediction. And the potential breadth and power of that people was on display in a new way on July 24, as close to 10,000 marchers took to the streets on a sweltering day (97 degrees) before the opening of the Democratic Party Convention in Philadelphia.
The march began at City Hall after a press conference anchored by front-line activists from communities devastated by extreme extraction from Pennsylvania to Honduras. There Teresa Hill of ACTION United condemned the plans to turn Philadelphia into a major “energy hub” for fracked gas, whose methane emissions are alone capable of taking us to a climate tipping point. Laura Zuñiga Cáceres, daughter of the slain Honduran environmental and Lenca warrior Berta Cáceres, closed with the now immortal words of her famous mother, “Wake up Humanity! Time is running out!”
While there have been larger marches, the July 24 “March for a Clean Energy Revolution” focused more pointedly on the immediate dangers of the fracking process and the massive infrastructure that is being constructed around the United States for fracked gas, which is obstructing the effort for an emergency transition to renewable energy. The unequivocal demands for a ban on fracking, keeping fossil fuels in the ground, and a quick and just transition to 100% renewable energy represent the vanguard of the movement and the terms on which the growing movement will be most effectively mobilized.
The insistence that both political parties were failing humanity on the climate front came through loud and clear. Mark Schlosberg, the organizing director for Food & Water Watch, the group that leads Americans Against Fracking and brought 900 national and local groups to endorse the march, built the demonstration by forcefully arguing, “both parties’ platforms fall far short of addressing the climate emergency we are in.”
These principled demands and the unwillingness to subordinate the movement to the Democratic Party agenda brought together a large number of activists from front-line communities in a display of determination to take back the earth from those who would sacrifice them and the land for profit. Participants included those struggling against the assault on their health in the Pennsylvania gas fields; those living next to the radioactive tailings ponds of the Southwest and the potential storage sites at Seneca Falls, N.Y.; and those from the urban centers where parked oil trains deprive their children of breath.
At the final rally, in front of Independence Hall, Theresa Hill of the Green Justice Philadelphia Coalition pointed out that the local refineries are located exclusively in economically depressed neighborhoods: “And they think that people of color and low-income people won’t fight back. But as we said to the CEO of this oil refinery, who still hopes to expand the refinery, we are saying NO! … We will fight! Fight for our right to breathe!” Marchers reflected the understanding of the enormity of this struggle in chants such as “Hydo-fracking: Shut it Down!; Oil Pipelines: Shut it Down!; the Whole Damn System: Shut it Down!”
One of the constituencies that were most warmly welcomed was that of public health advocates and workers. The organizer of the health contingent, Karuna Jagger of Breast Cancer Action, rallied the crowd at the final rally when she said, “We are marching to demand an end to fracking and other dangerous drilling practices that rely on toxic chemicals and are linked to an array of deadly diseases and disorders.”
The devastating impact of the fracking on working-class lives is now documented in rising number of white papers. Sandra Steingraber, the science adviser to Food & Water Watch, wrote in the wake of the march that the number of premature births—premature birth being the number one predictor of infant mortality—rose 40% if one was forced by economic circumstances to live amidst the drilling pads despoiling large swaths of the U.S.
Labor organizers who have stepped up to help combat the climate crisis very visibly built the demonstration. Joe Uhlein of the Labor Sustainability Network and the convener of the Labor Climate Convergence in January of this year, urged trade unionists to attend. “It is time for those of us in the labor movement to rise to the challenge and become a central player in the movement to build a sustainable future for the planet and its people—not only for the survival and wellbeing of all, but also for organized labor’s own self-interest,” he wrote in a blog post called “Why Trade Unionists Should March for a Clean Energy Revolution.”
The labor contingent at the march, which included groups from AFSCME and the postal workers union was modestly impressive and reflected the patient and systematic outreach and education being carried out in labor councils, union locals, and other labor bodies from one coast to another.
A Peace and Climate Justice contingent, initiated by Peace Action and built by Code Pink, organized its members under the demands: Slash the Pentagon and world military budgets, provide strong aid to climate refugees, and fund green energy, targeting 100% clean by 2030. The adoption by the peace community of the latter demand is reflective of the now broad acceptance of the real science of climate change, a science that is unanimous in concluding that we must have an emergency transition that begins today and is extremely advanced just 14 years from now.
Fortunately, Mark Jacobson and his team at Stanford have made it crystal clear that current technology will allow us to complete a transition to a 100% renewable energy grid by 2050. The only obstacle is the political elite who refuses to take responsibility for organizing this transition.
Front-line marchers included participants in the “Indigenous Leaders Protect Our Public Lands Caravan,” a group of youth activists and elders from Colorado, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona who traveled to Philadelphia on a nickel and hope. The 17 spokespeople for the Native American victims of extreme extraction by the fuel industry also anchored the impressive Summit for a Clean Energy Revolution, held the day before the march at the Friends Center in Philadelphia.
Other contingents included those organized by the faith community, by elders, by advocates of a nuclear-free transition from carbon, for those leading the drive to popularize local 100% renewable solutions, by SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice), and students. The success of this march, organized effectively despite the tremendous negative pressures of the bourgeois electoral season—bodes well for the next steps in our efforts to build a massive movement independent of the Democratic and Republican parties and reliant on its own power in the streets.