The power of buzz and the People's Climate March

While sitting around waiting for that time when all waste will become energy, I was delighted to discover that the Galapagos Islands is tracking toward achieving its goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2020.

At that point the islands, a territory of Ecuador with 30,000 inhabitants, will be even with themselves, producing what energy they need through renewable sources. They are already close and will likely arrive at their destination on time.

We in the U.S. are less than a month away from what is anticipated will be the world’s largest climate march on Sept. 21 in New York City, my hometown. 

Called the People’s Climate March, the event will bring together a wide range of groups -- from environmentalists, to labor unions, to businesses, to religious communities -- two days before President Barack Obama and other world leaders meet at a special climate summit at the United Nations. Organizers have projected as many as a hundred thousand people will attend, with separate solidarity marches taking place worldwide, from Melbourne, Australia, to London, to New Delhi.

How do I know how big the People's Climate March will be? By the buzz.

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By the dozens of phone calls my congregation at the Judson Memorial Church is getting each week asking for floor space on which to sleep. By the growing number of people on that very green, if very boring new technology, “the conference call.” By the kinds of noted speakers and activists signing up to host conversations, like Naomi Klein recently offering to keynote a call.

Permit me to muse on whether we will be equal with ourselves, but let me first define that balance a little more carefully. Will what we put in be the equivalent of what we put out? Will moral energy coalesced become moral power released into the universe? Will there be any waste? Or will all the input go straight to output?

If you have ever done any community organizing, you will feel these questions sharply.  You will know there has to be some waste, some lack of human kindness, some stupidity involved. You already know the statement, “Let it ride, he is just another bozo on the bus,” or some similarly cynical self-protection.

For those involved in the march, you probably had other things to do this summer but once you felt the buzz, you joined the hive. Such moments don’t have to constitute waste. They may instead be learning opportunities. Most of us learn from our failures more than we learn from our successes.

There is also waste involved with lost vacations. Then again, who can vacation at times like these? When the wave comes, we ride it.

When people organize and activate themselves, there is a renewable energy, stronger than solar or wind. It multiples. It’s catching. You want to be there. You are being refreshed and revived in the same ways that vacating or self-emptying or Sabbath-keeping makes possible. 

What is more problematic as potential waste is not measurable in individual terms. It will only be known in the after. Will the national conversation turn toward sustainability?  Will the United Nations grow up into the power the world desperately needs?

Will the Chinese care about what Americans do? Will the U.S. change its fossil fuel policy, and if not, why not? Will the next election be about green matters, or waste another opportunity to do something about the earth before it is too late?

That is the kind of waste the earth can’t bear. 

If we end up marching and creating waste or coming out unequal, then we will have to do more than march -- as well as march again. Holding each other accountable to our hope is very important right now.

All these things are on my mind as I tell one more group that we are maxed out in terms of space. Or get on one more phone call and realize I’ve never even heard of most of these people. Queers for the Climate held a picnic in Manhattan, and right after that, we prayed that the mountains and hills will burst into song. Then the trees of the fields will clap their hands. Surely, the mountains will be brought low and the valleys will rise up.

Power will change its meaning and transcend the electrical. Real power is the power to make positive impact. Real power is the capacity to disrupt. There is a crucible and a cruciality to being a power.

You know you are a power by whether or not other people take you seriously. You know you are a power by what other people get away with saying about you or to you. Whether other people want to copy you or emigrate from you. Or by click testing: Did they read or share what you posted? Power shows up in buzz. 

We in the climate movement are on our way to power, the kind that is much more equal and sustainable than what we have now in our diminished, fossilizing state.

Think like the Galapagos. Think and pray that all this energy we are putting into the People’s Climate March is going to equalize a very unequal and imbalanced situation. Imagine rejoicing on the 22nd of September and in 2022.

If the march doesn’t work to achieve real power, we’ll just have to keep trying.


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