Why the People’s Climate March Fails As a Strategy

27 September 2014

Eighty-four years ago, Mahatma Gandhi set off on a march that would make history. The 24-day, 390 kilometre march led to the coastal village of Dandi, where, on 5 April 1930, Gandhi broke the British salt laws by picking up salty mud from the seashore and boiling it in seawater, thus producing domestic, and therefore illegal, salt.

The march triggered acts of mass civil disobedience by millions of people across India, resulting in the arrests of some eighty thousand people. The Salt Satyagraha, as it became known, had sent the British a simple but powerful message: that they could only govern India with the consent of the governed.

Last Sunday saw another march, the People’s Climate March, billed as “the largest climate protest in history.” The march came about through a “call to arms” penned by 350.org’s Bill McKibben in May this year, inviting 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.” The main march took place in New York City, with smaller solidarity marches taking place around the world. Scheduled two days before the 69th UN General Assembly and a climate summit of world leaders, the event brought some 400,000 people together on the streets of Manhattan to demand action on climate change.

What were the marchers demanding? And who were the demands directed at? Here’s what the official website said:

In New York City there is an unprecedented climate march—in size, beauty, and impact. Around the world people are taking action at over 2,700 events in more than 150 countries to demand Action, Not Words. We are demanding 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. [italics added]

Zaid Hassan is a strategist, writer and facilitator. He is author of The Social Labs Revolution: A New Approach To Solving Our Most Complex Challenges (2014 Berrett-Koehler). He is based in Oxford, England. Follow him on @zaidhassan.