Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2015/ Climate March Followup

Climate March Followup

As threatened, on July 5 I went to Toronto to participate in the "Justice, Jobs, and Climate" march. Since then some thoughts have been bouncing in my head, so you get to suffer through a followup post.


Was it worth it? My answer is "no".

My hope was that by participating in a large march we could get some media coverage. The Toronto Star gave the march front page coverage. That was encouraging, but not that effective. Although the Toronto Star has a relatively large readership, most of that readership already believes that climate change is real, and a large fraction is in alignment with the other left-wing views expressed in the march. If the Toronto Star had not covered the march it would have been a disaster, but getting on the front page was a success.

An outlet called the Metro Daily put on a slideshow called "The voices of Toronto’s March for Justice, Jobs and Climate Action".

The Guardian ran an article entitled "'Historic' Toronto climate march calls for new economic vision". Getting coverage from a UK news organization surprised me, but again The Guardian is already pretty sympathetic to climate change actions, and I am guessing its readership is as well.

I found some other coverage as well. Here are some headlines:

There was other coverage as well, but this selection conveys the theme: almost all of the coverage focused on Jane Fonda's presence at the march. During the event I heard people grumbling about Fonda's participation: she spoke for a few minutes during the press scrum, then left. But it was clear that getting Jane Fonda at the march increased its exposure in a way that the presence of other celebrities (David Suzuki, Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben) did not.

Global News was particularly obsessed with the celebrity:

Only Global News was with Fonda from the moment she arrived on the front lawn of the Ontario Legislative building until she slipped away just as the march was about to begin.

Notice the snark? They continued that tone right up to the final sentence of the article:

As thousands of people prepared to march the 1.5-kilometre route, Fonda and her grandson made their way through the crowd, crossed the street and hailed a cab to return to their hotel.

“We’ve got a flight to catch,” she said, as she waved goodbye.

Clearly, the undertone of this article was that climate march participants (and Jane Fonda in particular) are hypocrites. Is that the kind of coverage worthwhile?

Choosing Jane Fonda as the keynote celebrity is problematic as well. She is not liked amongst those on the political right. They call her "Hanoi Jane" for her defence of the Vietnamese in the Vietnam War.

If anything, that was the lasting effect of the march: it further polarized the climate change issue, and tried to associate it with left-wing causes. In so doing, it tried to bring different factions of the left (social justice organizers, union supporters, indigenous rights activists, and environmentalists) together, but also alienated those who do not support the entire basket of causes. I heard a lot of things said during the pre-march speechifying that made me cringe.

I do not think that this action changed anybody's mind for the better. It entrenched people's political positions. That made me uncomfortable.

I also felt uncomfortable with just how much hypocritical we were in advocating our causes. I can live with organizing busloads of people to come from all over Ontario to Toronto for the event. But I disagree profoundly with the opinion (voiced again and again) that we have solutions to climate change, or that we know who is responsible. Some of the speechmakers were quick to blame Big Business and Multinational Corporations for the problem, but lots of people drove their cars to the protest. Furthermore, I overheard some upsetting conversations about people discussing their pension plans. If there is a root cause of climate change, it is those pensioners:

At no stage is anybody allowed to wake up, understand the gravity of the problem, and then make effective (and probably expensive) changes to mitigate climate damage. But nobody at the march was willing to admit that they were the bulk of the problem. Everybody pointed fingers at other people.

The organizers estimated that 10000 people showed up for the event. I think that is probably the right order of magnitude. That is not a small number of people, but it largely consisted of the converted: even though the event was in Toronto I saw a lot of familiar faces from the Kitchener-Waterloo social activism scene present. I think the march attracted a few "regular people", but not as many as I hoped.

Even if the march had attracted twice the number of people I don't think it would have made a difference to the media coverage. Maybe if 10 times the people had showed up there would have been more media coverage about the march, but Jane Fonda would have continued to dominate the headlines.

People on the street noticed us marching as we passed by. There were a lot of cellphones out snapping pictures and taking video. Again, I do not think that this march changed anybody's mind about climate change; mostly, I think bystanders either enjoyed the spectacle or were irritated at the disruption.

As a political activism tool I do not feel the march accomplished much. I wish I could promise that I will never participate in such a march again, but that is probably a lie.

I do not know that the march did a huge amount of harm to the cause of climate change activism. Mostly, I think it was ineffective. Now a few weeks have passed, I am pretty sure the event has largely been forgotten even by the participants.

In retrospect, all of this should have been obvious.


As a political tool, I was not satisfied with the march. It was a pleasant enough vacation day, however. That was part of the problem, of course.

When signing up for the march I had been afraid that the police would be oppressive, and would be eager to flex their collective muscle in light of the Pan Am games. As soon as I got on the bus those fears were allayed; the bus was full of white, middle-class, middle-aged people. If the bulk of participants had been young activists then I would have continued to worry.

The ride to Toronto was astonishingly smooth, in the sense that we did not hit heavy traffic even once. As such, we got to Queen's Park considerably early, so instead of sticking around to get irritated by misguided activism I took a walk through downtown Toronto. Boy was that nice. I walked through some quietish neighbourhoods with straight streets and small businesses, and made my way through Chinatown.

Then it was political protest time, so I headed back. The media tent spectacle was too crowded to hear anything, so I wandered about and found some Kitchener-Waterloo activists to hang out with. I ended up marching with a coworker and some of his friends, none of whom were affiliated with any particular organization.

We stood through the pre-march speeches. Several of the speakers were passionate, but overall people said a lot of cringeworthy things. Then we were off. Along the way I had some good conversations with my coworker's friends. That was probably the most productive aspect of the march for me, although as usual I talked too much and did not listen enough.

The weather was sunny and hot. I was grateful that I had brought my floppy had and ridiculous noseguard, because otherwise I would have been anxious about sunburns all day.

I think marched in the third section, misleadingly labelled "We know the solutions". Maybe we were unofficially tagging along with the Green Party, and maybe we were walking on our own. Behind us there was a vigorous and loud drum band, which I found disconcerting but which one of my conversants liked a lot. If nothing else, the drum band energised the march considerably.

I had not brought a placard, partially because I could not think of anything witty to write. In retrospect I should have made a placard that read "Join In. Walk With Us." There were a lot of bystanders, and I think some of them might have joined the parade if invited.

There were a lot of other placards, though. Unsurprisingly, the unions seemed particularly well-equipped.

The march was only a few blocks on a map, but took us well over half an hour to make our way through the route. Afterwards there was some party at Allen Gardens. I hung around for a bit, talked with some more Kitchener-Waterloo activists, and then headed off for another walk towards the University of Toronto. There I met up for a personal engagement I won't discuss in this blog, and then I managed to catch the last GO bus back to Kitchener.

I think people at the march enjoyed talking with each other, and maybe some of them felt a sense of solidarity around these political issues. Maybe some of the relationships that people formed as they marched will persist, and maybe people will use some of those relationships to work together in the future. If the march accomplished anything positive, maybe that was it.

I did not solve climate change by participating in this event. In several ways I made the problem worse. But I was relatively happy with the outing nonetheless, because I accomplished some personal objectives: I got to Toronto, I walked around, and I had a vacation day in an exotic location for a reasonable (although not trivial) amount of money.