Showing Up (at the Keystone XL Rally)

By JT Haines, February 20, 2013

I went to 350.org’s Forward on Climate Rally in Washington DC on Sunday, the stated goal of which was to demand action from the White House on climate change and to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Yes to both! The pipeline is a disaster, and another glaring opportunity to start in earnest the magnificent course correct this moment requires. Taking that truth to be, as I do, overwhelmingly self-evident, this post is rather about reaction to the event.photo (2)

Predictably, it was met with a certain amount of criticism, including from folks who otherwise agree with the goals. Michael Swanson at warisacrime.org counts himself among the underwhelmed. To him, the rally was “packaged as a belated campaign event” and should have “simply demanded the protection of our climate.” (I don’t agree that it was the former, or that it did not do the latter, but I do share some of his concerns.) Here’s a sampling of some other criticisms: It was not “Gandhian” enough. It was too phony, or too partisan. It wasn’t disobedient enough. We should be protesting militarism instead. There weren’t enough people there (350.org asserts 40,000). Too few news outlets were covering the event. The President wasn’t even in town. (He was, according to HuffPo, playing golf with Tiger and “oil men.”)

Each of these concerns merits discussion. After all, whatever we choose to do or not do, we’re expending time, money and energy. And for my part, I certainly have moments — perhaps while plodding along a pre-approved march route with someone screaming “this is what democracy looks like” in my ear as if that’s doing much other than making it harder to enjoy participating in same — when I consider whether it’s worth it, or whether it will amount to anything more than a hill of beans.

That said, my thinking on this day was, I’m going to go stand with several thousand people (or as Casey Camp from the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma put it, her relatives…which I love) and demand action on climate change from a guy who was at that moment golfing, whatever the result. Would my time have been better spent volunteering somewhere, or staging a one-man sit-in on the street corner, or even resting up on the couch for the next one, or for nothing at all? Except for that last bit, I honestly don’t claim to know. Maybe, after some further discussion, a better option will present itself. And it’s clearly important to at least be aware of our own limits. But on this particular day, this is what I did, and that’s sort of that.

One day I asked my friend Joel — one of the more effective Battle-Ax Boomers I know — about his general approach, and he said, “I keep showing up.”

Indeed.

Post-script: I’d be remiss to not also mention that, while not perfect, the event was still quite good. And some of the speeches — especially from the First Nation and tribal elders — were excellent. Here’s a sampling of additional coverage from Salon, the Nation (which, unlike others, actually grasped the nuance of the re-appropriated campaign slogan and logo), Truthdig, Democracy Now, and War is a Crime. And here’s an article from my bus friends, in Westchester New York’s Rivertowns Patch.

Feb 17 Rally (photo credit Len Tsou from the Westchester Bus)

Feb 17 Rally (photo credit Len Tsou from the Westchester Bus)

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3 comments

  1. Like you, I just keep showing up. I showed up in August of 2011 for the act of civil disobedience. I showed up again in November of 2011 along with 5,000 others to encircle the White House. Last weekend I showed up with close to 50,000. There is a tipping point, and if you and I keep showing up, we are that much closer to hitting it.

  2. It’s interesting, strategy wise, to focus in on Obama. I have no doubt that he disagrees with the policy of Keystone. Mostly, he doesn’t want to spend political capitol battling swing state democrats in Congress. As activists, it’d be smarter to make sure our senators and rep’s speak out against Keystone XL so that Obama has the political cover to take action.

    Strategy aside (really, 350 should get smarter about their messaging and political targets), I think showing up is the best policy. An engaged citizenry is the first step towards action.

    Also, this made me mad: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/20/obama-climate-protest_n_2719338.html

  3. Pingback: Why the Attitude

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