NYC Climate March holds potential for real change

By Isobel Whitcomb ‘17
Current Events Columnist

In general, I have always been skeptical of our generation’s attempts at activism. We seem too worried about stepping on others’ toes to fight for the changes we want. I know times have changed with the advent of social media. Yet social media campaigns such as #Kony2012 seem petty in comparison to the demonstrations of civil disobedience of the 60s and 70s.

At my most discouraged, I fall into the trap of criticizing my own peer group for apathy and laziness. However, this week, when a peer informed me about the People’s Climate March happening in New York City on Sept. 21st, I felt hopeful that I might have misunderstood our generation.

Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, an organization committed to global climate change through “online campaigns, grassroot organizing and mass public actions,” first announced plans for the People’s Climate March in May of this year. The event was to take place on the same weekend as a United Nations summit on climate crisis. It was over the summer that the march gained tremendous momentum. According to PeoplesClimate.org, the event is now expected to draw over one thousand businesses, schools, unions, environmental groups and more. Organizers of the event are calling it “the biggest climate march in history,” and estimate that over one hundred thousand people will participate.

After doing my research, I sat down and thought about why this feels like such a momentous event. Thousands of people marching will not lower the temperature of the planet several degrees. It does not  even guarantee a policy change. So why is it that I feel hope and excitement, rather than skepticism? What differentiates this demonstration from countless sincere attempts to “raise awareness” via social media? The only answer I came to was community.

Social Media is a paradox. As much as it connects us to one another, it also isolates us. Even as we post about movements we are joining, campaigns we support and money we are donating, our activism is so tied into the formation of our own identities via the internet that it becomes isolating rather than community-building. And if there is any one element necessary to making momentous change, it is community. A movement against a crisis like climate change cannot afford to be fragmented.

At this point most people realize that in order to fight climate change, serious changes have to be made by everyone. But we still have to prove to ourselves and to the rest of society that as a community we are capable of making these changes. To achieve this goal, social media activism alone is not enough. A major part of showing one’s support for a movement is taking a risk and physically showing up. This is why the People’s Climate March is such a big deal.

What could be better proof of our solidarity and willingness to change than tens of thousands of people all flocking to New York City?

“This is an invitation,” Bill McKibben wrote in his piece titled A Call to Arms, published in Rolling Stone Magazine. “An invitation to come to New York City. An invitation to anyone who’d like to prove to themselves, and to their children, that they give a damn about the biggest crisis our civilization has ever faced.” This invitation succinctly summarizes why The People’s Climate March could make a difference. As a society, we need to prove to ourselves that we give a damn. And next weekend, New York City might do just that.