This post is by the RAN staff who were in New York as part of the People’s Climate March: Lindsey Allen, Ginger Cassady, Susana Cervantes, Adrienne Fitch-Frankel, Chelsea Matthews, Scott Parkin, Claire Sandberg, Amanda Starbuck, Laurel Sutherlin, Emm Talarico, Christy Tennery-Spalding and Todd Zimmer.
Wow, these past few days have been an exhausting and exhilarating whirlwind of activity and activism here in New York City.
As world leaders gathered yesterday for the UN Climate Summit, much of RAN’s staff and network was recovering from back to back, power-packed days of nonstop organizing, training, marching, meeting, movement building and risking arrest to challenge corporate power at the heart of the global financial system.
You’ve likely heard the superlatives. Sunday’s People’s Climate March was the largest demonstration for climate action in history, with more than 400,000 people — from all walks of life and all over the country and across the world — joining together in the streets of Manhattan to demand a change of course from the dangerous path towards climate chaos we are all headed down. The global media coverage of the march meant that, for once, the old chant was true: “The whole world is watching!”
Of course no one is naïve enough to think a big march is going to solve climate change overnight. But equally, all of the great social movements of our time have been catalyzed by pivotal mass mobilizations that ratcheted up pressure on the power structures of the status quo and spurred those present — and those watching — into further action.
The vibrant and wildly diverse display of humanity we witnessed in the streets was breathtaking and truly inspirational — there is just nothing quite like the electricity of glimpsing the immense power of people joined together in mass collective action. The fossil fuel industry may be the wealthiest in history, but on Sunday we reminded the world that money is not the only form of power.1
But we did not start or stop our work here with the march. The network, from board to staff, from Eugene, Ore., to Charlotte, N.C., from former interns to celebrity supporters, has been busy helping to support and add strength to many facets of this week’s sprawling mobilization.
We organized an all day workshop on Friday to share tactics and strategies for challenging corporate power to a large and enthusiastic crowd of supporters. Afterwards we hosted hundreds of activists and change makers for a Happy Hour for Hellraisers networking extravaganza that was part reunion, part relationship building and part letting off steam.
It was after the march, though, that things got really exciting. Responding to a call from the Climate Justice Alliance for civil disobedience actions to add urgency to Sunday’s march, local organizers issued an invitation to Flood Wall Street. As both the symbolic and literal epicenter of global capitalism, Wall Street’s main players must be held accountable for funding the current climate crisis as well as actively opposing organized efforts to wean our economy off fossil fuels.
Unlike Sunday’s permitted march, the Flood Wall Street protest Monday morning was in direct defiance of business as usual and the thousands of people who gathered knew we were risking arrest by participating. After listening to rousing speeches by Indigenous and frontline community leaders and Naomi Klein about the stakes we face at this moment in history, the crowd, all wearing blue, streamed into the streets and overwhelmed traffic, bringing it to a halt.
The raucous but peaceful procession flooded the streets surrounding Wall Street’s iconic bull and then sat together in the streets, unfurling a 10-foot wide, 300-foot long banner, legible only to those in the office towers, helicopters and drones overhead, that read “Capitalism = Climate Chaos: Flood Wall Street”.
For many hours the protest shut down one of the busiest thoroughfares in any financial district in the world, chanting the anthem of the day:
People gonna rise with the water
We’re gonna calm this crisis down
I hear the voice of my great granddaughter
Saying: “Shut down Wall Street now!”2
Yesterday took us from the streets to the halls of power. RAN’s very own Lindsey Allen and Laurel Sutherlin attended the U.N. Climate Summit, where they saw encouraging steps by governments and companies,3 and witnessed a huge campaigning victory firsthand. They watched as the CEO of one of RAN’s oldest and most intransigent targets, Cargill, stood next to U.S. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and announced an unprecedented zero-deforestation pledge. Cargill is the biggest importer of palm oil in the U.S. and the largest private company in the world, and this sweeping global commitment covers its entire empire.4
That massive climate, human rights and biodiversity milestone follows years of hard, committed campaigning by RAN and its allies. It’s a bracing reminder that while — as Frederick Douglass said — power concedes nothing without a demand, together we can challenge corporate power and win.
More than ever, this week affirmed for all of us that executives and politicians will not and cannot save us now. Only a strategic, determined and diverse social movement like the one we saw in New York can truly change the course of history.
The RAN crew returns to San Francisco with new allies and fresh resolve to double down on our efforts to keep carbon in the ground and to lift up the voices of those ready to enact real climate solutions. We are reinvigorated in our fights to protect the forests of Indonesia, to prevent reckless coal mining in Australia and Appalachia, and to end extraction of the North American tar sands.
1. “Challenge Corporate Power in the Streets of NYC,” September 21, 2014, Rainforest Action Network
2. “#FloodWallStreet,” September 22, 2014, Rainforest Action Network
3. “The Proximity of Hope at the U.N. Climate Summit,” September 23, 2014, Lindsey Allen, Rainforest Action Network
4. “Cargill commits to zero deforestation across entire global supply chain: all commodities,” September 23, 2014, Rhett A. Butler, Mongabay