Friday I expressed some concerns about the People's Climate March, deliberately set some low expectations, and looked forward to having those expectations exceeded. In that respect, for me anyway, the march succeeded. It also had a lot more progressive/radical bite to it than the March for Science. But in terms of opportunities missed, in terms of its effect on Greater Houston, in terms of the call to resist the regime, this one left a strong taste of nothingness in my mouth.
The turnout was pretty puny compared to the March for Science downtown. Never mind comparing it to the 200,000 who showed up in record-smashing heat in DC, 8,000 in torrential rain in Chicago, and 5,000 in a freak snowstorm in Denver.
Missing: Solidarity with the Community
Not many Clinton Park residents came to the park to witness the rally. The Clinton Park Community Center was closed to the public. The march itself did not invade the neighborhood to show solidarity with the people who live and breathe there. I was eagerly looking forward to carrying the Texas Campaign for the Environment's painted ZERO WASTE, ZERO WARMING parachute through the streets, but alas and alack, that didn't happen.
It was gratifying to hear Mayor Sylvester Turner state with certainty that climate change is real, ongoing, anthropogenic, and in need of addressing now. Not only does the overwhelming consensus of scientists support those conclusions, but mayor across the US, of various political stripes, are enacting plans to brace their cities for the effects of global warming. As accommodating as Turner can be, he clearly has no time for climate denialists. However, since some of the most powerful economic forces in Houston and Texas make their money from the production and consumption of fossil fuels, he and City Council have tough rows to hoe on that particular acre of policy.
Just as gratifying was hearing the representative of the Sunnyside Community Association calling Turner and Councilmember Dwight Boykins liars. This group is determined to hold city officials accountable regarding a proposal to tear down the "unsafe" community center and rebuild it on an old landfill site. These officials declared that the landfill was "safe" before any tests on the soil were carried out. True, this particular issue is small potatoes compared to global climate disruption, but the lesson is important: You can't always trust your elected officials, even those on your "team," even the ones you genuinely like.
Lots of Words, a Little Walking
The speeches from the stage went on for a little over an hour on this warm, humid, windy Saturday morning. Before they ended, I was ready for a nap. It's not that the speeches were boring; au contraire, some of them were quite compelling. High marks go to Steve Brown, 2014 Democratic nominee for a spot on the Texas Railroad Commission, for his polished and somewhat pugnacious oratory. I also enjoyed Mike Battey and friends encouraging the crowd to make a real impact on greenhouse gases by adopting a vegan diet, and chief organizer Stefania Thomas melding of policy with mindfulness. But the aggregate was too much preaching to the already converted.
Then we marched around the trail, a literal walk in the park heavily symbolic of how environmental movements have been going in circles for the last several decades. This is not to say that Stefania Thomas, Melanie Scruggs (Texas Campaign for the Environment) and the others haven't been doing outstanding work in their various specialties. One can't refute that the organizers put metric tons of time, thought, and legitimate labor into this event. But a protest march needs a destination, a target, a focus: e.g., City Hall, the gates of a particularly nasty refinery, or a people-oriented institution you feel compelled to defend.
Do It Yourself, Smart Guy
Some of you may rightly ask, "If you know so much about protests, why don't you organize one?" I wish I had the time and organizational skills to put together a proper demo. My role is that of editor: one who can listen to others' ideas, critique them, recommend alternatives. My skills are more legislative than executive.
Sure, I can claim to have brought World Naked Bike Ride to H-Town, but I had lots of help. Houston's WNBR has never had turnouts anywhere near what they get in Chicago, Philadelphia, or comparable cities, let alone the thousands they get in Portland, Oregon. Since starting in 2011, we've never even attracted 100 riders to any given ride.
The disappointing turnouts for WNBR are of a piece with the relatively low turnouts for demonstrations in Houston, Women's March and March for Science notwithstanding. Most people in Greater Houston are afraid to rock the boat, and in our case the boat is an oil tanker. Even in this relatively liberal city, the price paid for boat-rocking has historically been daunting. The people who have the time and resources to protest have either nothing to lose from confronting the establishment, or too much to lose to do so comfortably.
May Day Hopes
At least there will be some worker-solidarity actions here on May Day. There will even be one after the day shift, a rally at Guadalupe Park just east of downtown sponsored by about a dozen Latinx and socialist organizations. It will likely be amazing and awesome, as my ladyfriend Kayleen likes to say, but I won't be there: We have a Green Party Steering Committee meeting, as we usually do on the first Monday of the month, and I'm facilitating the May meeting. I also didn't arrange to take time off work for the May Day march downtown during lunch hour, so it's bound to be awesome as well.
The alleged president has given May Day protesters ammunition, whether he knows it or not. The administration's attempt to rebranding the worldwide workers' holiday as "Loyalty Day" is likely to fly right back in its collective face. (Newsflash: This is not something #45 & crew just invented. It dates back to the McCarthy Era, and they're just bringing it out of mothballs.) Even if just 1% of Americans are woke enough to see "Loyalty Day" for the fascistic crock of shite it is, that 1% will say it loud enough for others to get the message—assuming the others don't just turn up Faux News or CNN to blot the message out.