The Path to Activism After the People's Climate March

Why everybody should want the opportunity and the tools to "persist to resist."

by Khalid Pitts
May 1 2017, 9:27pm

Photo via Flickr user Becker1999

This is an opinion piece by Khalid Pitts, principal at the consulting firm Democracy Partners

On Saturday, April 29, an estimated 250,000 environmentally conscious Americans descended upon the nation's capital. Their goal was twofold – protest steps by a Trump administration aided by congressional allies to dismantle environmental gains made over the last eight years and commit to a future that protects our families, communities, and climate and builds an economy that works for all. But these messages are not just being delivered in Washington, D.C. Similar marches occurred in cities from Alaska to Florida, and across the world. People gathered on every continent.

This isn't the first large march to support climate action. In 2013, tens of thousands came together on the national mall to urge action on global warming. A year, later 400,000 organizers marched in New York City on the eve of the historic UN Climate Summit. And we know this isn't the first march in resistance to the Trump administration's vision for America or their attacks on civil rights, justice, and economic fairness.

Americans know how to march. We marched to Europe in two world wars to oppose aggression, Fascism and Nazism. We marched in the 1960s to support civil rights and voting rights, and to push for an anti-poverty program. We marched in the 1970s and 1980s to oppose the war in Vietnam and Apartheid in South Africa, and to support equal rights for women and to fight AIDS. Over the last twenty-years, moms have marched for common sense gun control, African-American men have marched for recognition, immigrants for a fair and just immigration system, the LGBTQ community for acknowledgment, and women continue to march and march for equality. Hell, we've even marched to Restore Sanity. Americans have marched for One Nation – we know how to march.

Looking back, each and every march was successful in bringing attention to an issue or a cause or to help fortify values we hold true. Marches are great one-day events, but causes aren't won in one day. The nation doesn't simply change. What happens the days, weeks, and years after a march is far more important than what transpires on the day of the march day. In using that as a barometer, not every march has been a complete success.

Some of the blowback has been because of the increased polarization of our political and legislative process. But just as much has been because, particularly in recent years, progressives' inability to convert the energy generated around a march into long-term organizing on the local level -- or an infrastructure to support it.

I believe this is a lesson Climate March organizers have heeded. First, they have deemphasized the importance of crowd size in Washington to energize participation at home, with over 300 events in cities, towns and hamlets across the country. Second, they have made this more than just about the climate, and also about the socioeconomic environment of today. They've linked to sister issues like immigration reform, labor rights, good paying job growth, economic fairness, and social justice. Third, because climate change is just as much about the future as it is about the environment now, they have intently engaged younger adults and millennials who are the organizers, leaders and economic drivers of the future.

It is this third area that is so important. Millennials were part of the three-legged stool President Obama stood on as a foundation to victory. However, the enthusiasm and euphoria of 2008 turned to skepticism and cynicism in 2016. In those eight years, younger Americans were looked at more as a voting block than a resource to make change themselves.

The message Climate March organizers have heard loud and clear is that young people don't want to wait to change this country. They want the opportunity and the tools to "persist to resist."

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