New York, September 22—"Stop Capitalism. End the Climate Crisis." That's the motto for the Flood Wall Street demonstration that aimed to "take to the streets of New York's Financial District" and "carry out a massive sit-in to disrupt business as usual" in order to "highlight the role of Wall Street in fueling the climate crisis." The would-be Flooders rallied at the World War II Memorial in Battery Park at the tip of Manhattan. In contrast to the huge turnout for the People's Climate March on Sunday, Flood Wall Street attracted a hardcore group of about 1,000 protestors, many of whom were clearly nostalgic Occupy Wall Street veterans. Participants were asked to wear blue so that their sit-in would signify how rising ocean tides fueled by man-made global warming will eventually inundate the inner sanctum of global capitalism.
Since I had somehow missed Occupy Wall Street events, this was my first time enjoying the human "microphone" in which participants nearer the speakers repeat by shouting what they are saying so that others further back can benefit from their insights. I will say that the rhythmic call-and-response aspect of the "microphone" did make it easy to take notes. The first speaker at the Battery Park pre-Flood rally was Canadian activist Naomi Klein, author of the new book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate.
Klein began by reminiscing that the Occupy Wall Street movement had originated three years ago, almost to the same day as the Flood Wall Street protest. Occupy Wall Street "put corporate capitalism on trial," said Klein. "The entire world listened and the debate on inequality opened up." Klein continued, "We are oppressed by the knowledge that the system of short term profits and deregulated greed that deepens inequality and forecloses on our homes is the very same system that is foreclosing on our collective home." Klein ended, "We demand to Change Everything." Nice how she worked the title of her just released book into her exhortation. Listening to Klein it was pretty hard not to conclude that the real goal is imposing equality, and climate change is the excuse.
Next up followed a slate of speakers from around the globe representing "frontline communities" that are supposedly bearing the brunt of climate change caused by corporate greed. "A typical example of criminal acts caused by corporations is climate change that is already causing damages," declared socio-economist Mamadou Goita from the West African country of Mali. Specifically corporate climate change "is causing major losses in food production." Perhaps so. But World Bank data on cereal yields per hectare suggest a somewhat different story. While Malian grain yields do bounce around a bit, there is pretty clearly a long-term rising trend. In 2000, yields were 1,006 kilograms per hectare; by 2013 they had risen to 1,667 kilograms per hectare. "Corporations took power; devastated our nature; are destroying lives; and are dismantling all people's power," asserted Goita. He concluded, "Now it is the time to take back our power."
Brazilian anti-dam activist Elisa Estronioli is quite right that the rights of poor and indigenous people are all too often disregarded when it comes to constructing big hydroelectric dams in developing countries. She cogently asked at the Flood Wall Street rally how can electricity from such projects "be clean energy when it is produced inside a model that violates human rights?" Estronioli is an organizer against the giant Belo Monte dam largely being built and paid for by the Brazilian government in the Amazon region. "We are the victims of the same global model in which energy plays a central role," concluded Estronioli. "There is no clean energy in the capitalist system." Say what?
One other frontline community speaker was Miriam Miranda from Honduras. "The planet is collapsing and the time has come to act," said Miranda. Why is action necessary? Because we must fight "against the culture of death that we are being condemned to by the grand corporations of death and transnational capital," Miranda finished.
Once the featured speakers were done, it was time to configure the Flood. The protestors were instructed to arrange themselves into three cohorts depending on their willingness to be arrested: The most eager to be arrested in the front and the more hesitant at the back. However, one of the organizers whose name I didn't catch did knowingly assure participants, "We believe that if you've never been arrested before, this is the perfect action to join."
So off streamed the Flood festooned with a variety of anti-capitalist placards, buttons, posters, and so forth. One of the main attractions were a couple of giant mylar balloons symbolizing the fossil fuel industries' "carbon bubble" that activists argue is about to burst. The bubble supposedly exists because fossil fuel companies are overvalued because their worth is calculated using carbon energy reserves that they won't be able to sell in the future as the world turns toward renewables.
The Flood was firmly channeled by barricades up Broadway backed by police ornamented with garlands of white plastic flexi-cuffs. Expecting the Flood to eventually flow onto Wall Street itself, I took a back route and waited for the Flood to arrive in front of the New York Stock Exchange. While waiting, a single middle-aged demonstrator unmolested by the police waved around a poster reading "Global Warming Burns Me Up." A younger protestor climbed the steps of Federal Hall and yelled something like, "What are you going to do Wall Street when the oceans drown your kids?" He was quickly shooed off by two portly Park Service guards.
Some 30 to 40 minutes passed, so I went in search of the missing Flood and found that the police had halted the tide on Broadway. The protestors had ended up "flooding" just a couple of blocks of lower Broadway around Arturo Di Modica's Charging Bull sculpture. Some were sitting-in, others milling randomly, and an occasional chant rose from the stymied flow: "1-2-3-4, climate change is class war." Sometime around 2 p.m., a single demonstrator tried to run past the police line and was immediately caught and handcuffed in the view of several score cameras. After all that excitement, I left.
Later, when the police ordered the Flood to disperse, about a hundred refused and were arrested and booked. Wall Street was not Flooded.
The U.N. Climate Summit convenes 120 or so world leaders Tuesday to "catalyze ambitious action on the ground to reduce emissions and strengthen climate resilience and mobilize political will for an ambitious global agreement by 2015."