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September 2014

The Great “People’s Climate March” Scam

On Sunday, September 21 an event will be held in New York City called the People’s Climate March in conjunction with the 2014 United Nations Climate Summit, which will begin two days later. The Sunday event is being billed as “the biggest climate march in history,” with 100,000-plus participants predicted. The organizers boast of an “ever-growing coalition” of more than 1,500 organizations, including in addition to various Green organizations, seemingly every union in NYC, religious groups, and socialist and anarchist outfits. Similar events are being held in a number of cities around the world. But the whole thing is a gigantic scam, a public relations stunt masquerading as social activism.

Subway ad for People’s Climate March.   (Photo: Occupy Wall Street/Facebook)

To begin with there is the question of its demands: there are none. There will be “themed contingents,” and depending on where you enter the march route you can be with environmental, indigenous, labor, interfaith, anti-corporate, peace and justice, scientific, LGBTQ and community groups. This will allow for varied photo and video images to “thread our many messages together.” The march itself will not be calling on anyone to do anything in specific. There will be no speeches or rally at beginning or end. Just a petition appealing to “all world leaders” for “urgent action to safeguard our planet, our future and all that we love.” Meaning nothing.

This lack of concrete demands is not an accident, the organizers (more about them below) purposely decided not to raise any in order to make it more “mainstream,” “family friendly,” nothing “divisive,” nothing that would turn anyone off. Instead this will be a celebration of liberal social concern. Posters urge people to get up in the morning, walk your dog, have brunch, join the march. A subway ad asks, “What puts hipsters and bankers in the same boat?” with the word “boat” crossed out and replaced by “march.” A photo of this ad appeared on the Facebook page of Occupy Wall Street, which hailed it. That tells you something about OWS, but for working people an appeal for unity with bankers means hold on to your wallet.

Certainly the huge numbers of people who will join the march will be motivated by concern over global warming. But while various measures to combat this threat are proposed, one thing is certain: there is no way this can be seriously controlled so long as capitalism rules the planet. What this march is about is not saving the planet, it’s about saving capitalism. The “green” in its “message” is the color of money. The “people” behind the “people’s march” are the corporations recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court as “persons” for purposes of buying elections.

In good part, this event is part of the run-up to the November U.S. elections. Ask yourself: why do labor bureaucrats ever do anything in the fall of even numbered years? They may talk “jobs,” but it’s really to elect Democrats: expect to see plenty of pols parading on Sunday. This march is also to preempt peace marches. Barack Obama just declared a new war in Iraq and Syria, the Pentagon has dispatched 1,600 troops, Congress voted to authorize the slaughter . So where are the peace marchers? Answer: they’ll all be at the feel-good climate march on Sunday. When Republican George W. Bush launched his Iraq war there were half a million protesters in the streets of Manhattan. When Democrat Obama launches his, there is the sound of silence.

To be sure, from Vietnam to today, the endless impotent peace marches serve mainly to defuse anger over imperialist war and channel it into support for the Democratic Party, with leftists doing the donkey work. The “biggest climate march” ever won’t do a bit to stop climate change. But in this case, there is nothing remotely leftist about it: this event is purely bourgeois. To organize an “anti-capitalist” contingent (International Socialist Organization) or one against “war, racism and imperialism” (Workers World/International Action Center) is like calling for an internationalist contingent in a Fourth of July parade.

So who is behind this lollapalooza of a media event? There are two main groups organizing it. First is an outfit called “350.org,” headed by environmentalist Bill McKibben, which serves as a propaganda medium highlighting former Democratic vice president Al Gore. While its board includes Naomi Klein to give at a hint of “anti-capitalism,” 350.org was started by seed money ($480,000) from the Sustainable Markets Foundation of … the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, derived from the Standard Oil Company fortune. More recently 350 has been funded mainly by the Tides Foundation, whose largest donor by far is Warren Buffett’s Novo Foundation.

A main focus of 350.org is its campaign to stop the Keystone XL pipeline bringing oil south from the oil fields of North Dakota and tar sands of Alberta. In particular, the campaign calls for universities, churches and other concerned investors to divest stocks in fossil fuel companies. This has allowed the oil majors to buy back shares at discount prices, and has been a windfall for railroads (which are the main alternative to shipping by pipeline), in particular Burlington Northern, owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway corporation. So “non-governmental organizations” (NGOs) campaigning around climate change are funded by and benefit the same mega corporations that profit from fossil fuels. A rather inconvenient truth for “green” NGOs.

The second major organizer is Avaaz, which boasts that it is the world’s biggest activist network, with 9 million “members.” Avaaz was set up by George Soros, the billionaire hedge fund mogul (and convicted inside-trader) whose MoveOn.org is a major NGO “advocacy group” advocating for the Democratic Party and fundraising for its candidates. Avaaz has been a major force lobbying for aggressive U.S. imperialist intervention around the world, notably in Libya and now in Syria. The founders and leaders of Avaaz are also the founders and leaders of an NYC-headquartered conglomerate consisting of Purpose, Inc. and its non-profit arms, Purpose Foundation, Purpose Action and Purpose Campaign.

Climate March organizers Avaaz are major lobbyists for imperialist aggression. Above: Avaaz claims its e-mail blast played key role  in getting U.N. approval for "no-fly zone" which led to destruction of Libya. Below: Avaaz/Purpose co-founder Tom Perriello (right) with ex-general David Petraeus (left) at U.S. Institute of Peace.

Avaaz/Purpose credits itself with having played a major role in getting the U.N.-authorized U.S.-NATO “no fly zone” over Libya in 2011 that gave the green light for the bloody imperialist attack that toppled the government of Muammar Qaddafi and destroyed the country. U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice thanked Avaaz for its e-mail blitz of one million messages. Last year, Avaaz mounted a major campaign to push for U.S. bombing of Syria, using the lie of massive use of chemical weapons against civilians by the Assad regime. After last year’s failure, Avaaz/Purpose leaders recently mobilized liberal war hawks to demand that Obama present a plan for bombing Syria, this time with the Islamic State jihadis as the excuse.

So here we have the same people pushing an empty climate change march and insistently demanding war on Syria, while “anti-war” liberals and reformist leftists are herded along like sheep. The herders are no novices. Avaaz co-founder, former Virginia Democratic congressman Tom Perriello, was earlier a mover behind the drive for U.S./U.N. intervention in Darfur, Sudan, co-founding DarfurGenocide.org, now called Darfurian Voices, whose sponsors include the National Endowment for Democracy (NED [read: CIA]). Perriello has appeared on panels with ex-general David Petraeus (at the U.S. Institute of Peace!), is a fervent backer of Israel and now head of the Democratic Party-aligned Center for American Progress think tank.

But beyond war, what are the 350/Avaaz/Purpose organizers after? Profit, of course. Why spend millions of dollars – including subway ads, ads on the New York Times web site and other media – to organize a march with no demands? Arun Gupta, who edited the Occupy Wall Street Journal and The Indypendent, commented: “Having worked on Madison Avenue for nearly a decade, I can smell a P.R. and marketing campaign a mile away. That’s what the People’s Climate March looks to be” (CounterPunch, 19 September). He’s not the first to smell a rat. It’s all about marketing, and in particular “branding.” The leaders are seeking to mobilize millions of consumers for their political, and commercial, projects.

Avaaz/Purpose co-founder Jeremy Heimans at Economist award ceremony.   (Photo: The Economist)

Avaaz/Purpose co-founder Jeremy Heimans calls himself a “movement entrepreneur.” The Economist (26 January 2013) ran an article about “the business of campaigning” headlined “Profit with Purpose.” It noted that Purpose Inc. “sells consulting services to big companies such as Google and Audi, and to charities such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation….” It helped Audi’s “social innovation fund” start a company to dispense clean water in India, to sell water as a privately owned commodity. “Purpose also hopes to develop a business promoting ‘new economy’ products such as solar energy. It will recommend to its members that they buy solar power from such-and-such a provider. In return, it will charge a referral fee.”

Meanwhile, the non-profit arm of Purpose raised $3 million from investors in 2012, among them the Ford Foundation. In 2011, Heimans received the Ford Foundation’s Visionaries Award of $100,000, saying he would use it to promote “consumer activism, of organizing people not as citizens but as consumers.” Other past and present leaders of Avaaz/Purpose include Marilia Bezerra, who earlier was Commitment Development Senior Manager at the Clinton Global Initiative; and brand strategist Douglas Atkin, author of The Culting of Brands: Turn Your Customers into True Believers, who helped relaunch brands like Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Lipitor through the “secrets of fierce customer identification” and “unbreakable loyalty.”

Heimans’ particular shtick is that it’s necessary to junk the term “green,” even the talk of a “green economy,” that “we need to kill the language and imagery and green in order to have any real shot at scaling sustainable consumption.” Instead “we can create a new economy that takes these models that can very quickly acquire market share and we can give people a sense they’re part of something much bigger, we’ll build the green economy, we just won’t talk about it and we won’t say that we’re doing it.”1 Having “found a lucrative revenue stream by warning about climate catastrophe that can be solved with the click of a donate button,” Gupta writes, these specialists in “behavioral economics” are launching a marketing campaign to test it out.

Meanwhile, along with Sunday’s “People’s Climate March” a whole week of profitable activities are planned. There is a book launch for Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. A recruiting movie presented in conjunction with the New School: Disruption. Climate. Change. A Flood Wall Street action on Monday by Occupy. And a host of activities by the Climate Group, a corporate action group founded by the Swiss Re insurance giant, with the military contractor Lockheed Martin as a “platinum sponsor,” Hewlett-Packard and BMW as gold sponsors, Bloomberg LP and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund as supporters, and Ikea and the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation as Clean Revolution Partners. Talk about a royal corporate flim-flam job!

As for the U.N. summit, it will be an opportunity for 120+ heads of state to utter pious platitudes about international cooperation combating climate change. The U.N. is the outfit that brought cholera along with imperialist occupation to Haiti. Our demand to the U.N., from Haiti to Libya to Syria, is “hands off.” Calling on the U.N. to act as ecological guardian is like … calling on BP, the criminals of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, to preserve the Everglades. At least BP are not partners and sponsors of Climate Week. That would violate one of the cardinal rules of marketing, avoid “branding dissonance” at all cost. Nevertheless, BP is an official Supporting Partner of International Women’s Day 2014.

The People’s Climate March is the official rolling out of the campaign for a “sustainable” capitalist economy in the Brave New World of untrammeled corporate dominance. With heart-warming visuals of a diverse crowd in the streets, with balloons and floats for “the planet” and “all that we love,” they will be market-testing appeals to scale up “eco-friendly” business in the digital world, to substitute “clicktivism” for mass struggle. It will certainly do nothing to counter the threat posed by global warming. To deal with that, it is necessary to put an end to what Karl Marx called the anarchy of production for profit – capitalism – through an international socialist revolution. And for starters, we need to break the stranglehold of the Democratic Party and begin building a revolutionary workers party. ■

  1. 1. This and much of the information about Avaaz/Purpose comes from well-researched articles by the Canadian environmental journalist Cory Morningstar on her web site The Wrong Kind of Green, including “This Changes Nothing. Why the People’s Climate March Guarantees Climate Catastrophe” (15 September) and “Syria: Avaaz, Purpose & the Art of Selling Hate for Empire” (17 September).