Labor Advocate Online

‘Step it Up’ Meets Goal Of Modest But Widespread Actions
But What’s Next?
by Bill Onasch


'Group Photo' Of KC Step It Up Rally

On Saturday, April 14, there were more than 1300 community events across the USA that tapped in to the growing concern about the Global Warming crisis. In major cities participants in these actions numbered in the hundreds. Some were held on remote mountain tops, a few were under water.

Step It Up, as these loosely coordinated actions were designated, called on congress to enact measures leading to a eighty percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050. But clearly most of those turning out did so around the general issue, not because they are locked in to any particular existing legislative agenda.

Step It Up’s success is a fresh example of advocacy politics driven by digital technology. Beginning only about three months ago with dedicated and tech savvy former students at Middlebury College in Vermont, grouped around Bill McKibben, the idea soon took hold over the Internet.

The timing was perfect, building on a new series of grim reports detailing the unfolding disasters of climate change on many fronts. By the end, not only mass environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club and Greenpeace were promoting it but unions such as SEIU and the Steelworkers, and antiwar groups such as UFPJ, were on board as well. And, of course, that ever vigilant movement parasite MoveOn.org rushed to suck its life blood.

McKibben is neither a scientist nor a traditional movement leader. A practicing Methodist, there is a spiritual side to his work. He first gained prominence as a writer for the New Yorker magazine and in 1989 authored an early best selling book on global warming, The End of Nature.

McKibben is also very much dedicated to convincing the politicians to do the right thing. In the FAQ section of the Step It Up web site he responds to the question, Why not just have a march on Washington?:

“The day may come when that's what we need. But we think that it's even more important for our representatives to know that the people back in their districts really care about this issue. (And we hope you'll invite them to come pose for pictures with you at the rallies-in many cases, they'll be eager to show up. And even if they don't come, the message will start to sink in).

“We also think it's going to be truly striking for Americans to turn on the TV and see their countrymen in iconic spots across the nation-some spectacular, like the peaks of icy mountains or underwater on coral reefs. But many more in places that look like home to them: on church steps and in city parks, along the tidelines of our coastal cities, in the fields where our food comes from. This is the America we want to defend against the massive change that would come with global warming-it's the America we dearly love.”

Part of the shtick for April 14 was a group photo of each event that could document concern in every congressional district. This imposed a size limitation to the range of available fish eye camera lens.

But McKibben’s strategy becomes clearer with “Next Steps” outlined on the Step It Up website. They are:

Sign A National Petition. For this they have partnered up with the Democrats in MoveOn.org.
Become A Climate Voter
. Here they collaborate with another Democrat front group, climatevoter.org.
Stand With Us.
A lobbying effort to contact every member of Congress calling for “robust action on climate change.”
Attend Live Earth.
This is a series of concerts organized by Al Gore.
Climate Summer
. “After ten weeks of citizen outreach, presentations, and community meetings in Iowa and New Hampshire, youth organizers will march with thousands of citizens from Ames to Des Moines, Iowa, Nashua to Concord, New Hampshire, and Georgetown to Charleston, South Carolina.”
Focus The Nation
. “Focus the Nation is coordinating a national teach-in on ‘Global Warming Solutions for America.’ Focus the Nation will culminate January 31, 2008, in the form of national symposia held simultaneously at over a thousand colleges, universities, K-12 schools, places of worship, civic organizations and businesses across the country."

The last point has some merit. The teach-in format was born during the early days of the movement against the Vietnam war and greatly helped activists understand the real forces at work. A similar approach to Global Warming could be useful.

I think concerts are a good thing.

McKibben and his followers deserve credit for stirring up action Saturday around the Global Warming crisis. But the other next steps he suggests, regardless of intentions, are all too familiar. They threaten to divert a blossoming mass movement out of the streets into the toxic swamp of Establishment politics. We don’t need an Environmental Caucus in congress to sell us out--like their colleagues in the Peace Caucus, Progressive Caucus, ad nauseam--with various scams like ethanol and “cap and trade.”

In the greetings I delivered on behalf of the KC Labor Party to the Step It Up rally in Kansas City I concluded,

Great social change, such as required to halt and reverse the forces changing our climate, have always been the product of great mass movements. We need to leave here today determined to educate, agitate, and organize in our communities, workplaces, and campuses and not rest until we have accomplished our mission to save this planet.

That is the direction I urge local coalitions that built Step It Up to take. We’ll have much more to say on this topic soon.

April 15, 2007

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