They put the number at 300,000 — but who knows? The important thing wasn’t the number. A new generation made an unforgettable coming out. Later on Friday, after returning home possessed with an ecstatic kind of exhaustion, we read about the rallies in 185 countries, an unprecedented uprising everywhere on Earth — for the Earth.
The Stop Shopping Choir and I were invited to march with the indigenous leaders from Amazonia. They were in town for the United Nations General Assembly, as were representatives of 193 countries, and Greta Thunberg. Of all the institutions of our civilization, it is the UN that has kept up the call of our emergency, with the assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (commonly called the IPCC reports). The timing of it all grew the drama, starting with Thunberg’s arrival like a Charles Lindbergh in reverse, sailing on a carbon-free boat from Europe.
Something remarkable was generating on Friday from the worldwide school strike. The hundreds of thousands of youth in the streets were more like an ecosystem and less like an institution, more like first responders to a tragedy and less like professionals with opinions, more like music and less like information. These were kids not in the system yet, led by a kid who was making her own system.
Our previous big protest was in 2014 with the People’s Climate March (PCM). Snaking through the iconic buildings of Midtown, New York, it had its radical shadow event the following day, Flood Wall Street. The flood will always be remembered for the image of the hand-cuffed man in the surprisingly realistic-looking polar bear suit. (Inside was Peter Galvin from the Center for Biological Diversity). The mainstream PCM event had numbers comparable to this weekend’s strike, although it didn’t have the aura of the worldwide uprising of the children’s strike.
Friday’s event was of, for, and by the children, and their hero childlike in aspect, although Thunberg’s voice has an ageless quality, formidable, coldly scolding dithering business leaders and politicians.) The strike seemed to combine the radical nature of the Flood Wall Street occupation with the larger mass protest. The whole thing lacked the intrusion of institutions and famous people. And looking back on the People’s Climate March of 2014, it makes us wonder if the big institutions and big names inhibit mass action, even as they labor with their radical gestures to inspire our revolutionary emotions.
Thunberg is standing there quietly thundering with all the storms and wildfires. I wonder what the Big Oil and their banking enablers are thinking after that worldwide outpouring. The Green New Deal must look like an inevitable FDR avalanche of change. Chase Bank’s Jamie Dimon must be taking another look at Greta Thunberg, this braided school girl from Sweden. He makes a $100,000 a day and puts CO2 into the air from every continent with his investments. For the change to be enough to bring back the birds and the frogs and to reassure these angry children, Wall Street will have to be flooded for real.