The work I have been doing the last two months helping to organize a massive March to End Fossil Fuels September 17 in NYC has brought back memories of something that happened from April 19-24, 1971 in Washington, DC.
Over the course of that week, while the war in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos raged, the then-newly-formed organization, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, camped out on the DC Mall and each day engaged in anti-war actions that received a ton of press coverage. The culmination was an action at the US Capitol on the 23rd where 700 or more veterans threw away medals they had received for their Vietnam actions over a high fence and onto the steps of the Capitol.
Then, the next day, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took part in permitted demonstrations in Washington, DC and San Francisco. Four years later, on April 30, 1975, the US military was completely out of Vietnam. There’s little doubt in my mind that this week of creative, determined and massive action was a turning point in the decade-long effort to end that war.
Will the actions planned for the week leading up to, after and including the September 17th mass demonstration, and the September 20th United Nations “Climate Ambition Summit” which is the reason for all of this mobilizing, be ultimately seen as a key turning point in humanity’s efforts to end the era of fossil fuels and shift rapidly to wind, solar and other truly clean renewable energy sources? Only history will answer that question, but I think it is a real possibility.
One reason is that it is looking like UN Secretary Antonio Guterres is standing firm against what must be more than a little pressure on him to moderate his intentions as far as the Climate Ambition Summit. When it was announced months ago he said that the purpose is to generate “credible, serious and new climate action and nature-based solutions that will move the needle forward and respond to the urgency of the climate crisis. There will be no room for back-sliders, greenwashers, blame-shifters or repackaging of announcements of previous years.” Indeed, one of the reasons why this mass mobilization is so important is to have his back and strengthen him in his strong stance.
Another reason is the positive response to a coalition organizing nonviolent direct actions in the week before September 17th, beginning on September 12th. Throughout that week and then on September 18th, many hundreds, possibly thousands over the course of those days, will be taking action at some of the myriad number of corporate and financial targets in Manhattan: oil and gas companies, and the big banks and insurance companies which are propping them up.
September 17th itself is building a lot of momentum. There are now over 370 organizations which have endorsed, from local frontline groups fighting new fossil fuel infrastructure to major national groups like the NAACP, Sierra Club and Third Act. There are at least 90 “hubs,” groupings of people on the basis of geography, issue or some other affinity, which are organizing to bring out tens of thousands of people. 40 high schools in New York City have organized groups which are mobilizing. The action that day is going to be big and impactful.
The youth organization Fridays for Future has called for international days of climate striking on September 15th and 17th. As of now, more than a month away, there are 335 locations all around the world which have signed up and are organizing local actions. And there are other actions elsewhere, about 35 as of now, planned in other parts of the USA and the world.
A lot can happen in a month, an awful lot. We need to do something every day over the coming month, no matter how small or big, to make these September days of action all that they can be. History and a realistic hope for a truly new world are calling!
This article is part of the Future Hope Column.
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