March on Climate Change: the Lesson

I traveled with a group of about 80 people from the Kansas- Missouri area on a bus (26 hours one way, blech) to New York about three weeks ago. Though the trip was long, and the time spent in New York City (less than 10 hours) was short, the New York City March on Climate Change showed a myriad of different types of people. 400,000 inspired people showed up, some from as far as the West Coast, all for the same cause: to bring awareness to a growing problem- arguably the growing problem- and inspire others to do the same.

For the most part, I feel that we, the protesters at the largest climate rally in the world to date, did quite a swell job bringing awareness to this issue. It is hard to ignore 400,000 people flooding the streets of downtown New York City, after all.

The awareness was certainly not where we fell short: it was the inspiration portion of the protest that ran into problems.

I think environmentalists are naturally abrasive, controversial and excitable people; otherwise we wouldn’t very well support the things that we support. Unfortunately, this type of personality can be off-putting to others who do not share the same sense of urgency or belief in the cause. This is often where the gap lies: the gap which needs to be bridged.

I encountered first hand the type of problem that I am describing while at the March.

One of the many groups of people who attended the March was a group that I will kindly refer to as The Vegans. They were not Some Vegans, or a Group of Vegans, but The Vegans.

There’s a joke that goes “how do you know if someone is a vegan? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.”

This is slightly maddening and only a little true, I had once thought. The only vegans I had ever met were very nice people! I had never personally met those vegans until the New York City March on Climate Change.

These vegans made signs claiming that environmentalist’s had a lack of commitment if they still ate any animal by-product, they yelled out incredible statistics about the amount of CO2 which is emitted by livestock and even argued with fellow protesters while we marched. They were almost comical in their attempt to accost a couple from the group I was marching with: they pranced around us, back and forth, waving their signs and yelling “livestock contributes x amount of tons of CO2 to the atmosphere in their poop alone. YOU don’t produce that much CO2, do you?”

Other than the obvious flaw in comparing an entire population of livestock to a single person, I realized something else very important that day about the environmentalist movement.

Being abrasive will not get someone on the fence to agree with you. Unless The Vegans idea was the exact opposite of what they said, I feel like they failed extraordinarily at converting a group of 400,000 people to veganism. And not just any group of 400,000 people, but a group of relatively radical and young environmentalists.

Reaching out to those who don’t share the same vigor for the cause seems to be where the environmentalist movement has fallen short. We need ambassadors to the people, representatives even, who are able to make the movement accessible and less ideologically intimidating than a bunch of vegans dancing around with signs telling you that you aren’t good enough.

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