It would be hard to argue that we have not seen some remarkable achievements in the past week or so, most notably in the form of the massive, grassroots power displayed by the hundreds of thousands of people coming together in common cause in the heart of the world's financial capital, New York City. An estimated 400,000 people came out for The Peoples Climate March on September 21st - it has been called the largest march on climate in history - joined by roughly 2,000 organizations that came to this party and joined in around the globe for simultaneous actions. In New York, they came from across the country and across oceans to march in Manhattan with creative banners, signs and t-shirts carrying the message that we must finally take a stand against global climate change. This massive people's action would also serve as a prelude to the UN Climate Summit that followed two days later, with 120 world leaders - including President Obama - in attendance. It is more than about time that those in charge address this ongoing crisis.
Beyond New York, unknown numbers rallied in 165 nations around the world that day, with over 2,400 events and actions carried out by those committed to finding solutions for climate change and combating its devastating impact on our environment, communities, health and the future of our planet. This day was also a call for justice and fairness, and for corporations to finally take responsibility for their gross self-interest and greed. It was an expression of the human spirit, with the People rallying to take on the corporations and the 1% and the dirty fossil fuels they champion in their endless drive for profits over people at any cost. In New York, there is a very strong anti-fracking movement that has managed to keep that unpopular practice out of our state and seeks to ban it outright. Our waffling Governor Andrew Cuomo, though, has not had the courage to press the state legislature in Albany for such a ban, perhaps because the polluters are fattening his campaign coffers for a potential run for president in 2016? Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton, another potential candidate for president in two years, was also absent from the march, as was Bill. But that didn't stop her "Are You Ready For Hillary" shadow campaign from busily hawking t-shirts and an infant's outfit with Hillary's name on them, each for $20.16 - get it?
The day after the march, a large crowd headed to Wall Street in the morning for an all-day "Flood Wall Street" event to bring the noise on climate change to those who are ultimately the cause of it, with their massive investments in fossil fuels and polluting industries. While the protesters managed to tie up traffic near the Stock Exchange, they were denied access to the area around the Exchange itself by New York's "Finest." In fact, the NYPD used pepper spray on the protesters, and 102 wound up being arrested or issued summonses by the police. Memories of Zuccotti Park and the Occupy Wall Street Movement that served as an inspiration for this world event must have been fresh in the minds of many. The police said that 400 were present, even though an aerial view from a Channel 7 copter overhead clearly showed at least a few thousand protestors engaging in peaceful civil disobedience.
Finally, on Tuesday, the UN met, and we are still waiting for news of what will come out of their deliberations. What - if anything - can we expect from them? Hope springs eternal, but history says not to expect much in the way of change from that notoriously slow and timid body politic.
All of this was preceded by a major forum on the Saturday night before the march held at the Unitarian Church of All Souls on Lexington Avenue at 80th Street in Manhattan. The keynote speaker was Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who was joined by such notable figures as Chris Hedges, Brian Lehrer, Naomi Klein and Bill McGibben of 350.org, who was a leading organizer of the Climate March. Also present was a political newcomer named Kshama Sawant, a Seattle City Council member who ran as a Socialist while advocating to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. She won, and a national movement was launched. She is now running for re-election, and fearless leaders like Kshama are just the kind of people who should take more prominent roles in public life across the land, along with the rest of the luminaries who came to talk that night to the audience of 800 who crowded into the church, with hundreds more being turned away.
Mr. McGibben spoke of making a lot of noise at the march and to make sure we are seen and heard, and of the thousands of climate protests around the world that would be occurring, many orchestrated by him and his organization. Brian Lehrer spoke of the two corporate parties running Washington, and that a third party was needed - a friend of mine got pretty pissed when none of them mentioned the Green Party filling that role, as they, unfortunately, remain invisible on the national stage. Lehrer also emphasized that we must demand results from our elected officials on many fronts and issues that are being neglected in our dysfunctional government. And Bernie himself - whom we all came to see and hear - did not disappoint. His vision was crystal clear on the issues and where we need to go as a nation as he reminded the audience that only a small number of the super-rich are controlling our government.
Bernie is clearly testing the waters for a presidential run, as he has been to Iowa, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Wisconsin, New York, and is now heading to New Hampshire and back to Iowa again, while conducting his hugely successful town hall gatherings. At every stop, Progressive Democrats of America has been there offering their support, with banners, flyers and bumper stickers urging "Run, Bernie, Run!" as part of their campaign and petition drive to draft him to run as a Democrat. A PAC for a presidential run for Bernie will be unveiled shortly by them as well. The PDA campaign should garner great support among Progressives and anyone else with plain old common sense, as Bernie connects with the people and understands their concerns. Even so, he has said he doesn't want to "teach meaning" during a presidential campaign, and questions whether or not he can build support in all fifty states. In some states it is nearly impossible for a third party candidate to even get on the ballot. A further question is whether Bernie should run as an Independent or a Democrat. There are obviously potential perils attached to either choice. In any event, he will want to win and not be a spoiler candidate, so he will need to have a great campaign plan in place before he decides to dive into the race.
On September 25, I received an email from Senator Sanders warning of the drastic consequences if the Republicans were to succeed in taking over Congress in November. He laid out in clear and unflinching terms the costs to the country if this were to happen, warnings so frightening that I am passing along this extraordinary document to you in Bernie's own words, written a few days after his New York appearance and the Climate March. His title was simply, "The Time Is Now," and the essence of the email was that Bernie was reaching out for our help to "...prevent the right wing from completely taking over the U.S. Congress in the coming November elections." The good Senator also managed to articulate a winning message for Democrats - at least those who are not in corporate pockets:
"1. In the U.S. today, the middle class continues to decline, while 95 percent of all new income created since the Wall Street crash of 2008 goes to the top 1 percent.
"2. Today, we continue to have the most unequal distribution of wealth of any major country on earth. The top 1 percent owns 37 percent of all wealth, while the bottom 60 percent owns all of 1.7 percent. One family - the Walton family of Walmart - owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent, and the gap between the rich and every one else grows wider and wider.
"3. Today, real unemployment is 12 percent, while youth unemployment is 20 percent. The federal wage remains a starvation wage at $7.25 per hour, and women receive only 78 cents for every dollar a man earns.
"4. Today, while millions of families are unable to afford health care or a college education, one out of four corporations pays nothing in federal income taxes, and we lose about $100 billion a year as corporations stash their profits in tax havens like the Cayman Islands.
"5. Today, the threat of climate change is worse than ever, with scientists telling us that there is only a short window of opportunity to transform our energy system, cut carbon emissions and reverse global warming.
"THAT IS WHAT IS HAPPENING IN THE REAL WORLD THAT AFFECTS MILLIONS OF AMERICANS. AND THEN THERE IS THE POLITICAL WORLD WITH A DIFFERENT REALITY.
"6. In the coming November elections, some 60 percent of Americans will not vote, which means that 70-80 percent of low income workers and young people will not be voting.
"7. And while most Americans have been turned off by politics in this off-presidential election, the billionaire class is very well attuned. As a result of the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision, the Koch brothers - the second wealthiest family in America worth over $80 billion - are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to elect candidates whose main function is to make the rich even richer. And they're not alone. Other billionaire families are spending freely to make certain that the Republican Party captures the U.S. Senate and retains the U.S. House. And if we don't stop them they may succeed. Republican control over the U.S. Congress would be a disaster."
Bernie then went on to detail what a Republican Senate will mean for America, pointing out that not one Republican voted in support of a Constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. In fact, many Republicans want to eliminate restrictions on campaign spending altogether.
Bernie went on to make the case for fighting a Republican takeover of the Hill even stronger:
"Are you concerned about global warming and its threat to our planet? Well the new Republican Chairman of the Environmental Committee may be Sen. Jim Inhofe, who recently wrote a book calling global warming a 'hoax.'
"Are you concerned about the need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage? The new Republican Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee could be Sen. Lamar Alexander, who has publicly stated that not only should we not raise the minimum, but that we should eliminate the concept of the minimum wage - which means workers in high unemployment areas could be working for $3 or $4 per hour.
"Are you concerned about income and wealth inequality? Senate Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans want to completely eliminate the estate tax, providing a huge tax break for millionaire and billionaire families.
"Are you concerned about women's rights and pay equity? The vast majority of Republicans in the Senate do not believe woman has the right to control her own body, and there is almost no Republican support for pay equity for women workers.
"Are you concerned about poverty in America? The vast majority of Republicans want to make major cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and Nutrition programs, and balance the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable people in our country."
And then, finally, Bernie's call to action:
"What Can We Do? FIGHT BACK. In the remaining weeks of this campaign, we need to mount a vigorous grassroots movement, which connects with millions of Americans through door knocking, phone calls and in every way possible. We need to educate and organize the American people to understand what a Republican-controlled Congress will mean to the average American and make sure that does not happen."
Bernie ended with a plea to help him and donate to his Leadership PAC, Progressive Voters of America, so that we can support Progressive candidates and grassroots organizers all across the country:
"Help me to make sure the Republicans do not take over the Congress. Help me to protect millions of middle-class and working families."
So, are you ready to answer Bernie's call? I am. He more than makes the case for the perils of a Republican takeover of Congress, which no other member of Congress has done to date. Getting out the vote will be crucial, and the PCCC has recently announced a campaign to make four million phone calls for top Progressive candidates in this election cycle - they are seeking volunteers to assist. Moveon.org has also announced a heightened campaign to make five million phone calls in targeted areas and to raise $550,000 for this imperative - they have already raised $150,000 in small donations.
Other Progressive organizations, along with every Progressive in this country, must join in the fight to get Progressives elected and stop the GOP from taking over Congress. The stakes are just too high not to.
- with Jonathan Stone