Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Butterflies Take New York: September 21, 2014

  Climate Change March

The news reports say 310,000 people filled the streets of New York, demanding action on climate change. Not all of those people were human. There were birds, fish, mermaids, sunflowers, trees, and more than one Mother Earth and Mr. Death. Some species who couldn't make it in person, like tapirs, sent human ambassadors.

The people who did look human looked like all sorts of human. Indigenous people led the march, wearing gorgeous regalia, drumming and dancing. Great numbers came in from “front-line communities” like Indonesia and poor parishes in New Orleans, the communities least responsible for climate change yet most affected by floods, droughts, and hurricanes. Young people came to fight for their futures. Old people came to fight for their grandchildren.

Some of us have been waiting 45 years to see what we saw in New York: activists for social justice, peace, and the environment joining forces. Out of countless splinter groups, the Movement has finally pulled itself back together. And not a moment too soon.

Fox “news” and Koch-funded “think tanks” might still deny the existence of catastrophic and accelerating climate change, or the fact that humans have caused it. But nearly all scientists and a growing majority of ordinary people understand what's going on. It scares us so badly that our instinct for survival is kicking in.
We are not threatened only as nations or ethnic groups. We are in danger as a species. For the first time in our history, we must identify ourselves most strongly as humans – a species as vulnerable to extinction as whales and butterflies – if we're going to overcome our own deadly mistakes.

The Vermont collective Bread and Puppet performed some vivid street theater to get this point across. First came dozens of people dressed as caribou, with branches for antlers. Behind them loomed a huge Tar Sands puppet, with black wings appropriately made of garbage-bag plastic. Behind that puppet came Death.

Whenever the march stopped, the troupe blew horns to signal the advance of Tar Sands. The caribou fell cowering to the street. Death seemed triumphant; its minions danced on stilts.

Then the horns blew once more, and from nowhere came the Butterflies Against Climate Change: hurrah! They flew through the crowd, revived the caribou, and defeated the forces of destruction.

So okay, butterflies aren't going to save us. But think of them as representing creativity, the winged aspect of the human spirit, and this fable makes sense.

The more we know, the more frightened we get. Our culture is so deeply rooted in greed, violence, and exploitation. So much needs to change. Our leaders get their power from the way things are, which doesn't motivate them to change things. It's hard not to despair.

That's why this march was so necessary. We desperately need to believe that there is enough creativity, enough spiritual power, enough wisdom and skill in the great mass of “ordinary” people, to save humanity from the mess we have made.

On the last day of summer, hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated these qualities in New York City. New Yorkers – not known for their belief in unicorns – smiled and waved and flashed peace signs, hung banners from their balconies, and joined the mermaids and the sunflowers in the street.

So get in touch with your inner butterfly, and stay tuned. The struggle of our lifetimes is just beginning.


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