The week of Sept. 20-27 promises many climate change related events around the United Nations Climate Summit 2019 to be held at the UN headquarters in New York on the 23rd. Teen climate change activist Greta Thunberg arrived in New York and will be a key speaker at the event and in a global climate strike on the 20th. The summit and Thunberg’s presence have served as catalysts for more than 500 scheduled strikes and marches across the United States and the world. At least three are planned for Tennessee, in Nashville and Memphis.
I am 100 percent in favor of the Summit and any and all legal and conscionable strikes and protests to draw attention to the most serious crisis facing our planet at this time. I’m not in favor of unlawful provocations of law enforcement that tie up critical emergency services while disrupting and putting the lives of innocent non-participants in danger. Unfortunately, one group appears to be planning just that. A press release for the event dubbed #shutdowndc describes what sounds like a militarized agenda to “blockade Washington D.C.” by “seizing key intersections” and “causing large-scale disruption” in an effort to force the government to implement their agenda. In another release, they refer to themselves as “climate rebels” and say they will “celebrate the rising tide of rebellion against climate catastrophe.”
The government they want to shut down is my government. I’m not OK with that plan. I often think they should be doing more work than they do, not closing up shop yet again. Any action that could effectively shut down the government would have to be of a scale that would require a costly response from law enforcement. I’m not on board with that either. I don’t want my tax money spent unnecessarily so that one fringe group can get free publicity. And I don’t want my government to negotiate policy with radical groups that want to disrupt or terrorize, domestic or otherwise.
But what bothers me most is that they know their actions could hurt others. It could prevent people from having access to help from first responder agencies in emergencies, prevent or make it difficult for them to go about their daily lives and create unsafe situations, as well as tying up law enforcement resources and potentially putting officers’ safety at risk.
“We know that this shutdown will cause massive disruption to people who bear little responsibility for the climate catastrophe we are facing,” their website says. But they believe they can “cause massive disruption for politicians, huge corporations and the lobbyists who control our government” and are willing to take that kind of an “ends-justify-the-means” attitude that compromises the rights and wellbeing of others to try to get what they want.
When I contacted a spokesperson for the group, her responses to my questions left me wondering if they hope for confrontation with the police and my concern, though she did not overtly state it, is that they will intentionally provoke violence for publicity. “No we have not applied for permits,” she wrote in an email. “We aren’t collaborating with the police. We definitely expect police presence.”
Am I “collaborating” with the police if I want them to keep our streets safe from radical groups that want to “disrupt,” “seize” and “shut down” our cities? To clarify, the ACLU website specifies that “If marchers stay on the sidewalks and obey traffic and pedestrian signals, their activity is constitutionally protected even without a permit.”
There are many legitimate and lawful strikes and other events planned by law abiding citizens on Sept. 20 and this group seems to be piggy-backing off of those to try to gain credibility and support. It saddens me because any images of this group flashing across screens in a clash with police would likely give an impression of environmentalists that could destroy the credibility of all of us.
I urge you to do something during the week of the Climate Summit to make your voice heard. Participate in a lawful strike or protest if you’re so inclined. Contact your representatives. Attend a lecture or rally. Join the Citizens Climate Lobby to work for bipartisan solutions to the climate crisis. Use the legislative process we have in place to make legitimate and lasting change. But we will never succeed in creating a better and more secure world by acting like we we’re a war-torn, third world country with no constitutional recourse and where the tactics of terror and destruction play out in the streets every day. We must rise above those principles, roll up our sleeves and work together for real solutions.