Growing the Roots to Weather the Storm—Reflections on the People’s Climate March

Last fall, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced that the opening of the UN General Assembly’s 69th General Debate session would be delayed to make time for a one-day United Nations Climate Summit on September 23, 2014.  The UN Climate Summit, which is being billed as a ‘solutions-driven summit,’ is being held one year in advance of the COP21, the Paris summit where some world leaders hope to negotiate a legally binding and universal agreement on climate change.

Shortly after the announcement of the New York summit, several NGO’s most notably began calling for a mass mobilization in New York in the lead up to the UN Summit.  The mobilization, which is now known as the “People’s Climate March” is being billed as the largest climate march in history.  In the call to action for the People’s Climate March “With our future on the line and the whole world watching, we’ll take a stand to bend the course of history. We’ll take to the streets to demand the world we know is within our reach: a world with an economy that works for people and the planet; a world safe from the ravages of climate change; a world with good jobs, clean air and water, and healthy communities.”

The call to action has now been signed onto by over 950 organizations, ranging from large NGO’s like the Sierra Club to grassroots groups like the Climate Justice Alliance. The Climate Justice Alliance, the Ruckus Society, and Rising Tide North America have put out a parallel call to action demanding that local, national, and international decision makers support local communities in “building Just Transition pathways away from the ‘dig, burn, dump’ economy, and towards ‘local, living economies’ where communities and workers are in charge!”

These calls for bold action in New York have generated a significant amount of excitement and engagement in communities across the continent.  But the focus on this mass mobilization and this global legislative process raises some important questions for organizers committed to confronting the root causes of climate change:

  • Can we use a mobilization like this to build and amplify our ongoing community based work?
  • How can mass mobilizations align with local work in a way that emphasizes and reinforces, and does not distract from local struggles?
  • How can we use moments and mobilizations like this to build capacity for radical climate justice organizing?
  • What does radical or transformative climate organizing mean to you?
  • In what ways are you participating in New York and why?
  • What are you working on now at home, and does New York impact it?  If so, what are your hopes for the mobilization and other events?


Over the past several months, Rising Tide activists and allies have been wrestling with these important questions and discussing and debating these issues over social media, e-mail, more than a few beers, and in a handful of movement publications. Because of the sheer size and scope of this mobilization, the amount of resources we are seeing expended, and the important political and strategic questions that it prompts, we wanted to help to cultivate thoughtful analysis on these important questions.

In July, Rising Tide North America published a call for submissions for this publication, “Growing the Roots to Weather the Storm.” We asked activists and organizers around North America to help us think through and answer these important questions. In total, a half a dozen activists and organizers submitted essays, illustrations and poems reflecting on the People’s Climate March and our broader movement for climate justice.

Many of the submissions pressed for support for action on the front lines of the fight against climate change. In Uprooting the Liberal Climate Agenda, Scott Parkin references struggles on the front lines of extreme resource extraction calling out national NGO’s for abandoning and ignoring these struggles. Parkin writes that in campaigns in against mountain top removal, the Keystone XL Pipeline, and tar sands mining in Utah, bold and effective organizing against oil, gas and coal companies has created moments to stop egregious practices and projects at the points of destruction only to be abandoned or ignored by the larger environmental establishment. In the wake of that abandonment, hundreds of Appalachian Mountains have been leveled while oil flows through the Keystone XL pipeline from Cushing, OK to the Gulf Coast, and ground is now broken on the first tar sands mine in the United States.”

Writing from Houston, TX on the front lines of the fights against the Keystone XL Pipeline and tar sands refining, Eric Moll writes that he’s staying at home this September. The New York native writes, though I do miss New York City’s vibrant, tightly packed vastness. Right now, this frontline can’t spare the people or the expense” of walking away from local organizing to travel to New York.

In a summer that saw the Israeli siege of Gaza, the shooting of Michael Brown and popular uprising in Ferguson, and the escalation of US military intervention in Iraq, the People’s Climate March certainly is not happening in a political vacuum and two of the pieces reflect on the situation in Palestine. In the wake of a heated debate about so-called “Green Zionist” organizations being included in the list of endorsers of the People’s Climate March, Rising Tide North America issued a Statement in Solidarity with Palestine, articulating that “We believe that from Palestine to New York City and beyond, our struggles for climate and social justice are all related.” In his piece, Palestine, A Climate Justice Issue, Dan Fischer pushes further, imploring us to understand Palestine as a core climate justice issue, pointing out devastatingly unsustainable development in Israel, and calling out green Zionism’s greenwashing of Israel.

Beyond the immediate questions related to the efficacy or effectiveness of the People’s Climate March, there is a broader question: What does it take to stop climate change?

Anne Petermann argues that we clear demands and real action to stop climate change. In Climate Action vs. Climate Justice, Petermann calls out the greenwashing of the week of action by the corporate-backed “Climate Group.” Petermann argues that a “lack of clear justice-based and ecologically sound demands in this march will leave a vacuum. And no vacuum remains empty for long. It’s simple physics. The Climate Group has already set up shop in that space.”

One thing that all of our contributors—and even the organizers of the People’s Climate March—agree on is that one march in New York City is not going to stop climate change. The climate crisis is real and we need to fight harder—and smarter—than ever before to save our shared planet. Beyond New York we need to continue to mobilize, to organize, to build capacity and to take bold action to confront the root causes of climate change and build a just and sustainable world.

Now, more than ever, we need to build together and fight together to grow the deep roots we need to weather the storm.

We’ll see you on the streets in New York, and in the mountains of Appalachia, the fracking fields in Pennsylvania, the fenceline refinery communities in Texas, the tar sands mines in Utah, the export terminals in the Pacific Northwest, and the pipeline paths all across the continent.