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Pseudo-Protests and Serious Climate Crisis

Van Jones

Van Jones

Going in, I was of mixed views regarding Sunday’s rally in Washington, D.C., to save the earth’s climate from the tar sands pipeline. I still am.

Why on a Sunday when there’s no government around to protest, shut down, or interfere with?

And why all the pro-Obama rhetoric? Robert Kennedy, Jr., was among the celebrities getting arrested at the White House in the days leading up, and his comment to the media was typical. Obama won’t allow the tar sands pipeline, he said, because Obama has “a strong moral core” and doesn’t do really evil things.

As a belief, that’s of course delusional. This is the same president who sorts through a list of men, women, and children to have executed every other Tuesday, and who jokes about it. This is the guy who’s derailed international climate protection efforts for years. This is the guy who refused the demand to oppose the tar sands pipeline before last year’s election. If he had been compelled to take a stand as a candidate there would be no need for this effort to bring him around as a lame duck.

As a tactic, rather than a belief, the approach of the organizers of Sunday’s rally is at least worth questioning. For one thing, people are going to hear such comments and take them for beliefs. People are going to believe that the president would never do anything really evil. In which case, why bother to turn out and rally in protest of what he’s doing? Or if we do turn out, why communicate any serious threat of inconvenience to the president? On the contrary, why not make the protest into a campaign rally for the president through which we try, post-election, to alter the platform on which the actual candidate campaigned?

The advantage to the expect-the-best-and-the-facts-be-damned approach is clear. Lots of people like it. You can’t have a mass rally without lots of people. The organizers of this event are not primarily to blame for how the U.S. public thinks and behaves. But, then again, if you’re trying to maximize your crowd at all costs, hadn’t you better really truly maximize it? Sunday’s rally probably suffered from being held on a bitterly cold day, but I suspect that most people who planned to come did come; and I’ve seen more people on the Mall in the summer for no reason at all, and many times more people on the Mall in the winter for an inauguration (which, in terms of policy based activism, is also nothing at all).

What if the celebrities generating the news with arrests at the White House were to speak the truth? What if they committed to nonviolently interfering with the operations of a government destroying the climate? What if they committed to opposing the Democratic and Republican parties as long as this is their agenda? What if they said honestly and accurately that the personality of a president matters less than the pressures applied to him, that this president can do good or evil, and that it is our job to compel him to do good?

Sunday’s rally, MC’d by former anti-Republican-war activist Lennox Yearwood, looked like an Obama rally. The posters and banners displayed a modified Obama campaign logo, modified to read “Forward on Climate.” One of the speakers on the stage, Van Jones, declared, “I had the honor of working for this president.” He addressed his remarks to the president and appealed to his morality and supposed good works: “President Obama, all the good that you have done . . . will be wiped out” if you allow the tar sands pipeline.

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Firedoglake.com. Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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