From #Idle No More to Forward on Climate – Momentum Swells as Thousands Take a Stand for the Earth

By Felicia Gustin
Jan 13, 2013

We’ve been hearing about extreme climate around the world and even the New York Times recently weighed in, citing numerous examples: China enduring its coldest winter in nearly 30 years, Brazil in the grip of a dreadful heat spell, Eastern Russia registering temperatures of minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit, bush fires raging across Australia, Pakistan inundated by unexpected flooding, a vicious storm bringingrain, snow and floods to the Middle East.

We’re also seeing climate change coming home to roost. The draft National Climate Assessment, which comes out every 4 years, is outlining the impact of climate change in the U.S. just as 2012 was named the hottest year in recorded U.S. history by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. From Superstorm Sandy devastating the East Coast to ongoing droughts crippling farms in the Midwest and West, from heavier rains expected for the Northeast, Midwest and Plains to rising sea levels along coastal areas – the picture is pretty grim.

Meanwhile the Obama administration is still considering approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. The push for domestic gas drilling is at an all time high and the Halliburton-developed drilling technology of "fracking" is poisoning and threatening to poison the drinking water of millions of people. Then we have the rightwing and their corporate sponsors who are intensifying their climate change denial campaigns.

But people across the United States are standing up and speaking out. Thousands will converge on Washington DC this coming February 17th in what is expected to be the largest climate rally in U.S. history. The Forward on Climate Rally is a project of the Sierra Club, and the Hip Hop Caucus and organizers predict more people will come out than the 15,000 who surrounded the White House last year to protest the Keystone pipeline.

Organizers also see this as a way to insure the President starts his second term with strong climate action: “From rejecting the toxic Keystone XL tar sands pipeline to firing up our clean energy economy, Barack Obama’s legacy as president will rest squarely on his response, resolve, and leadership in solving the climate crisis.”

Native American environmental leader Winona LaDuke (Anishinaabe) of the White Earth Reservation is Executive Director of the Native-led environmental organization, Honor the Earth. She will be among the tens of thousands marching on the White House over Presidents Day weekend.

“The climate crisis is the largest crisis of our time,” she told me when asked why she’s participating. “We as North Americans must face down the major corporations of the world if we are to save our grandchildren and all of our relatives, whether they have wings, fins, paws, hooves or roots.”

LaDuke says she’s going to stand against a rogue fossil fuels industry because “my community is on the front lines of destruction from these same corporations - whether the tars sands pipelines, the tar sands exploitation or the coal strip mining in the Navajo nation.”

Indigenous communities are also on the forefront of recent activism. #Idle No More, a protest movement of Canada's First Nations Native peoples, has been locking up the country with protests, rallies, flash mobs and blockades sparked by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s omnibus bill C-45 which weakens Canada’s environmental protection laws and impacts Native communities and sovereignty. Chief Theresa Spence of Attawapiskat launched a hunger strike in December, demanding a meeting with the Prime Minister and the Governor General of Canada to discuss Aboriginal rights and sparking solidarity protests worldwide.

Across the United States, Native communities and their allies are staging #Idle No More solidarity rallies from coast to coast. Environmentalist and author Bill McKibben likens #Idle No More to the Occupy movement “but with deep, deep roots.”

“Corporations and governments have often discounted the power of Native communities -- because they were poor and scattered in distant places…” McKibben writes in the Huffington Post. “But in fact their lands contain much of the continent's hydrocarbon wealth -- and, happily, much of its wind, solar and geo-thermal resources, as well. The choices that Native people make over the next few years will be crucial to the planet's future -- and #Idle No More is an awfully good sign that the people who have spent the longest in this place are now rising artfully and forcefully to its defense.”

McKibben also points out that American leaders like Winona LaDuke have joined in the fight with a vengeance, drawing the connections between local exploitation and global climate change. LaDuke is so committed to this struggle that she is taking her children with her to Washington DC.

“My family - including my two twelve year old sons - will be there to join with thousands of others to say no to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and to say, we know what a future looks like, based on respect and a durable way of living.”

To learn more about the Forward On Climate Rally:

To learn more about #Idle No More:

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the entire War Times project

Felicia Gustin has been with War Times since the beginning. She currently works at SpeakOut, a national organization working primarily with colleges, universities, and high schools and dedicated to the advancement of education, racial and social justice, leadership development and activism. She is a long-time activist in international solidarity, peace, racial justice and labor movements. She was a journalist for 10 years in Cuba and is currently working on several projects - an historical memoir and a poetry collection, among others.

More by Felicia Gustin:

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