This piece was written by a Boston-based group of 13 young people who were arrested in #FloodWallStreet.
Recognizing this crucial moment in history, people, especially privileged youth, came out in droves from across the country to the People’s Climate March. They were there to tell a story en masse: that change will come if enough of us demand climate action from our leaders. Yet when it came time to tell the more honest story, that those at the root of this crisis are the corporations and Wall Street profiteers making fortunes off of the suffering of billions, we lost almost everyone. We went from 400,000 at the People’s Climate March to 3,000 at #FloodWallStreet. When it finally came time to stand our ground, to sit on Wall Street and put our bodies on the line, our numbers dwindled from 3,000 to 102.
We do not aim to devalue what was accomplished at #FloodWallStreet. We have so much love and gratitude for the organizers that put tireless work into the action, and everyone that showed up. It was incredibly powerful and effective to shut down a major intersection in the heart of the most important financial district on the planet. But it’s too easy to walk away from this patting ourselves on the back and waiting for the next big mobilization. This isn’t about making anyone feel guilty. Our intent is to push everyone, including ourselves, to think about what it will take to really live up to Frederick Douglass’s oft-quoted truth: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will.”
We feel frustrated that #FloodWallStreet fell short of its potential to be a game-changing moment in the climate justice movement. We felt that it was a mistake for the organizers to declare the action a success a few hours after taking the street, telling folks: “feel free to go home. We did what we came to do.” But we hadn’t — the action was about disrupting business as usual at the NY Stock Exchange, or if that was not possible, escalating through civil disobedience. Instead, much like the People’s Climate March, folks were ready to call it a day after a couple of hours of chanting in the street.
One reason people actually stayed is because some of us and others mic-checked to the crowd: “from the looks of it, we’re now flooding Wall Street. This is our target. Let’s stay until we are forcibly removed!” When the dispersal order came shortly thereafter, most of the remaining folks left. When the arrests started, only 3% of the original 3,000 of us remained. The crowd of spectators was three or four times larger than the bloc actually risking arrest. Many protesters who soap-boxed with mic-checks abandoned the fight when they were called upon to match their words with actions.
We understand that there are critical support roles for arrestable action, that it takes privilege to voluntarily risk arrest, and that there were many who could not afford to do so. But #FloodWallStreet was framed as a direct action against climate profiteers, and over 1,000 people specifically signed up to commit civil disobedience. It happened between the biggest climate march in history and a major UN Climate Summit, in a city that was, at that moment, hosting a historic number of climate activists. We were in the belly of the beast, the epicenter of global capitalism, at a crucial moment to indict Wall Street for fueling the climate crisis and environmental racism. Could there be a more appropriate moment for thousands of people to put their bodies on the line for climate justice?
While being processed in jail, some comrades next to us were a 17 year-old high school student and woman of color, and a 63 year-old man from Chicago, IL who missed his flight as we sat over-night in jail. We shared cells with women who would have to fly back from Oakland, CA and New Orleans for their court date. Where were the thousands of privileged college students from the Northeast who work for “climate justice” on campus? Where were the devoted organizers of dozens of climate nonprofits who claim this to be the final window for climate action? Where were the local NYC organizers who called for this action and prompted so many to risk arrest? Standing on the sidelines or watching the livestream from home at those key moments won’t cut it. Proclaiming our solidarity with frontline communities and denouncing capitalism is meaningless if we are not willing to make sacrifices for those beliefs. Particularly when those who’ve faced the most devastation have been at the frontlines of resistance for years.
We’re saddened by the dramatic dissonance between the magnitude of the climate crisis and the level of radical resistance on the ground, particularly from activists who we know care deeply. As we spent all day at the People’s Climate March handing out fliers and spreading the word about #FloodWallStreet, we heard the same excuses from our allies: “I can’t miss class.” “I have work.” To our privileged peers who know they can take a day off and survive: do we really think we will ever get the change we need by conveniently fitting protests into our weekend plans? If we are not willing to give up a single day of class or work to take action against the global profiteers of injustice, how the hell do we expect to change anything?
Over the coming decades, as frontline communities continue to bear the brunt of the climate crisis, as cities drown and droughts leave dinner tables empty for the most vulnerable, how will we look back at our role in this crucial moment? The days of work and classes missed will mean nothing. Our only regrets will be our failures to act courageously when we had the chance.
So let’s recognize those rare moments when we’re in the right place at the right time and we have power–and seize them. If the 3,000 people that came to #FloodWallStreet had stayed when the time came to face consequence, there would have been too many of us to arrest. Imagine if thousands of us continued to hold Wall Street through the UN Climate Summit. Only then would the story grow beyond the scuffle with the cops and that one polar bear who got arrested. Only then would the story of how capitalism = climate chaos be pressed onto the world stage.
If our generation wants to see climate justice in our lifetime, we need to step it up. We must work together to take advantage of high impact moments, and be willing to make real sacrifices when the opportunity is ripe. Coming home from NYC, let’s continue to organize, to build deep relationships and resilient communities to weather the storm. But let’s also remember that to end this madness it’s going to take privileged people putting their bodies on the line, again and again and again.
Emily, Martin, Abbie, Noah, Marisa, Shea, Evan, Bobby, James, PJ, Andrew, Kristina, Naveh