On Sunday September 21st, more than 310,000 people came together for the People’s Climate March, a family-friendly, celebrity-flecked affair meant to “change everything” in the parlance of its organizers. But the real sensation took place the next day, when #FloodWallStreet closed down the biggest financial district on the planet – instantly transforming our collective conversation about Climate Change.
Organized by members of the Occupy movement, #FloodWallStreet was part spectacle, part survival strategy. For all the good that the People’s Climate March did (much of which won’t be clear for some time) its organizers refused to challenge corporate dominance of our culture in a direct way.
Although beautiful and powerful, it was mostly symbolic, a lovely way for people of all backgrounds, ages, nationalities, and causes to gather and express their grave concern about Climate Change. But there were no specific demands except for a general call to world leaders to take action on the eve of the United Nations Climate Summit.
#FloodWallStreet makes no bones about its one demand: the market must pay for what its done to our planet. Its message was clear – capitalism caused our spiral into Climate Change. There is some disagreement within the ranks – do we aim to regulate capitalism, or do we aim to overthrow it all together?
The day began by the water at Battery Park, water that came up over the railings during Superstorm Sandy, flooding the blacked-out financial district. #FloodWallStreet aimed to show that if we do not take immediate action to curb carbon, Sandy will merely be the first of many floods. The short-term profits made by the men and women in suits in the buildings that rise above the river will result in its demise in a few short years. Capitalism = Climate Chaos, read the signs. We wore blue to symbolize the water that will drown us as sea level rises.
Chris Hedges and Naomi Klein, author of the new and brilliant “This Changes Everything,” gave speeches as organizers blew up huge “Carbon Bubbles” meant to symbolize the carbon market’s dangerous bubble, the ways in which Wall Street trades and plays with the planet’s resources.
The original call was for us to march to the steps of the stock exchange and stage a sit-in, risking arrest. Not just risking arrest, but inviting it, in the way that Rosa Parks took the burgeoning Civil Rights movement to the next level when she sat at the front of the bus. We need next-level consciousness — and major disruption — if we’re going to move the dial on Climate Change.
As we marched toward Broadway, singing “Wade in the Water” and chanting my favorite chant: “We Are Unstoppable: Another World is Possible!” tourists on double-decker buses got more than they bargained for. As we filled the streets near the iconic Wall Street Bull, the call was made to occupy the block. We sat down on the street, exhilarated, in the midst of the traffic. Eventually the buses were waved by, and soon we found ourselves in charge of Lower Broadway — thousands of us throwing a party in the middle of one of the busiest thoroughfares in the world.
The famous “People’s Mic” born during Occupy Wall Street required four waves of repetition — that’s how big the crowd was. As we sat, serenaded by the dulcet tones of the Rude Mechanical Orchestra, we danced, chanted, sang, and listened to our hearts beat in unison. One of my favorite moments was when a man began singing “We’re Not Gonna Take It” by Twister Sister and the band jammed as we all erupted into a fiery thousands-strong rendition of the song. There was a woman on stilts, two women dressed as “Captains Planet” and a polar bear who is now famous on the Internet and beyond (he was on Chris Hayes’ show on Monday night). Here is a short video of the street party.
Organizers expected arrests early in the day, but the police in Bill De Blasio’s New York behaved quite differently than they did under Bloomberg. By mid-afternoon there were only two arrests — the police allowed us to express ourselves, honoring the first amendment. Later, as protesters tried to rush the barricades to get to the stock exchange, the pepper spray came out and fellow protesters poured Maalox into the eyes of their comrades. But then the carnival atmosphere quickly returned — 400 pizzas were ordered for the crowds, there were spontaneous soccer games, and a hardy few hundred people stood their ground, refusing to leave until the police arrested them. (The polar bear was one of the 102 people arrested, his paws cuffed.)
I don’t yet know what the next steps will be for #FloodWallStreet, but I suspect it will be equally as provocative. Revolution doesn’t happen in one day, and these amazing people are in it for the long haul. When I got home on Monday afternoon to charge my phone, a bit disappointed that I hadn’t been arrested, I learned that the Rockerfeller’s were divesting from fossil fuels — a small win for the climate movement. Yet later than night, more alarming news came over the wire — the war on Syria had begun in earnest. No conspiracy theory here, but wow, that’s a way to get the climate crisis out of the headlines in an instant. The news cycle was instantly hijacked.
It’s a stark reminder that we’re being told to be afraid, very afraid — of something that is statistically unlikely to ever harm us. Terrorism is a bogeyman, but Climate Change is very, very real. And if we don’t take to our streets, they will most certainly flood. Not merely with activists dressed in blue, but with the rivers and oceans planet-wide. This is not a drill — Climate Change is here. If you have children or plan to, this is your fight too.
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Images via Stefanie Iris Weiss