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Brown: Climate change protests can only go so far

BY MARCUS BROWN | SEPTEMBER 26, 2014 5:00 AM

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This past weekend, more than 1,000 protesters took over the streets of New York, following the much larger demonstration for climate-change awareness held in NYC just days before. The main difference between the smaller protest and the larger global demonstration that brought out hundreds of thousands of people in New York alone was the arrest of 104 protesters. The smaller protest focused on a call to action from Wall Street to help fight climate change. A similar protest was held this past Sunday in Iowa City to increase awareness of climate change as a major issue.

The protest held in NYC where protesters took to the streets, blocking traffic and clashing with the police, was very reminiscent of the Occupy Wall Street movements held in 2011. The Occupy Wall Street movement consisted of people setting up camp on public parks, streets, and institutions for months to protest economic and social inequality.

The issue I have with both of these protests is whether or not this is the method that will culminate with the most action. Certainly, getting people riled up and passionate about an issue is a good thing, but to what extent causing havoc in the streets furthers an agenda is what is up for debate.

These recent protests were held about a week before the U.N. Summit Meeting in New York City, with world leaders gathering from across the globe to address climate change and what can be done to curb its effects. The obvious goals of these protests were to make a call for action, but exactly what this action would look like remains unclear.

Ultimately, it will be up to world leaders to establish policies and practices that will bring down the production of global pollution. Talks to establish said policies and practices are happening now, and while the idea of people across the globe coming together in mass protest to support an issue is nice, the tangible benefits are yet to be seen.

The unraveling of the Occupy Wall Street movement was due to a lack of solidarity and varying demands that resulted in an incoherent overall call for action. While the protest succeed in capturing the attention of the people, it failed to do much with that attention. My fear is that the protests for climate change will garner the same results. Large-scale protests are an effective means for the people to demonstrate the extent of their beliefs, but when this technique becomes overused it loses its power.

What took the world by surprise with Occupy Wall Street was that it was the first time in a while people had seen such a drastic response from such a varied group of protesters. However, the longer the protest went on, the less shock and awe it produced, because people quickly became acclimated to it. You can’t shock people into action repeatedly using the same methods without it losing effectiveness. The climate change protests may very well face this same problem, the message being drowned out by the people protesting it. When the streets are finally cleared and all the protesters dressed up as polar bears are arrested, it would be nice for people to remember what all the commotion was about in the first place.


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