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The Importance (or not) of Climate Change Rallies

Tom Schueneman's picture

Environmental writer, journalist and web publisher. Founder of

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  • Feb 20, 2013 8:00 pm GMT

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Do climate change rallies really help bring about effective change?Seems every day there is a new rally related to the environment.  Usually they’re in Washington D.C., and usually they’re related to a specific environmental policy or business decision citizens are asking politicians to stop.

But in the 21st century, should we re-evaluate the effectiveness of a rally?  In a recent episode of the NBC sitcom 1600 Penn, a group of environmental activists are protesting in front of the White House.  An ill-witted first son unknowingly engages the protesters and parleys a sit-down with the President.  Spoiler alert: the President pacifies them without offering any tangible response, and the protesters leave star struck and happy.

What’s this got to do with climate change in the real world?  We have to consider the reality of a media-saturated, socially-networked, wi-fi world and the impact this connectivity has on the efficacy of an in-person rally.

Yes, it feels good to connect with others who feel the same way, and it feels good to know you’re part of a cognitive community.  A hive if you will.  But does it do any political, environmental or other good?  Does it impact the issue at hand?  I wrote my thesis on community organizing techniques.  And I found one constant: the human element is the most impactful.This means every tactic that involves direct human-to-human contact is more effective than, say, a yard sign, bumper sticker, or Google ad.  But does this impact spread to situations of peaceful protest?  Or does the protest simply take time, resources and energy away from the issue and the people that are shaping it?  I would argue the latter.

So, climate changeologists, it’s time to re-think strategy.  It’s time to find ways to engage the populace, the skeptics and the fence-sitters in a forward thinking manner.  Here’s a brief game plan, please add your thoughts in the comments below.

  1. Develop a vibrant and engaged internet community.  Despite every webmaster’s dream, Facebook remains the social networking tool that meets almost every need.  Abandon the futile attempts to build this community on your own website.  Reach 600 Million potential activists through the only platform more popular than television.
  2. Break activism into infant-sized bites.  Forget asking for sweeping and universal policy changes.  Try asking for minuscule adjustments and a few lines of change.  How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.  Move this mountain one shovel at a time, and the skeptics won’t even know what happened.
  3. Traditional organizing* is dead.  People walk down the street staring at their mobile device instead of looking at your picket line.  It’s a hard truth, but “grassroots” might as well be the name of an app, not a community organizing technique. *I respect the hell out of Si Kahn, but it’s time to adapt the strategies into the new world order.

Cyrus Patten is a human services administrator and consultant in Burlington, Vermont.

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