The masses are Messiah
NEW YORK CITY —There were yogis, Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, agnostics, vegans, tree-hugging capitalists, grandparents and grandchildren. There were Communists, Socialists, feminists, pacifists, bicyclists though no bikers as far as I could tell.
There were boldface names: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, New York mayor Bill de Blasio, former veep Al Gore, chimp expert Jane Goodall, movie stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo. Even the geriatric came out, many sitting on chairs looking on or riding pedicabs generously provided by some group.
A touch of humidity and some chance of rain but otherwise September 21st, a Sunday, was a glorious day for a parade. For about thirty city blocks of Central Park West on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, people with a diverse range of ages, ethnicities, sexual persuasion, and causes, came together to demand that the politicians of the world, gathering at the United Nations for a summit on climate change, act now to reverse or at the very least halt the increasingly negative effects of global warming. As one placard read, To Change Everything Everyone Is Needed.
The mood was definitely festive. There were marching bands, demonstrators in stilts and costumes, singers and speakers on makeshift stages, even a few hula hoopers. And, of course, banners of every size and stripe. Initial expectation of the crowd size was 100,000. The actual number far exceeded that; most estimates placed the gathering at approximately 350,000.
Slated to begin the march to midtown at 11:30 a.m., the parade got underway only at around 1 p.m. Or at least that was when the section where I was, towards the tail end, began moving. After having mingled among other marchers amassing on the street, to get a feel for what the vibe was (convivial, defiant, outspoken) within the barricades, I later marched on the sidewalk, where a good many had relocated, seeing as to how the main body had swelled to bursting. Among the slogans borne that day were these:
“Save the Humans!”
“No More Fukushimas!”
“Environment Over Profits!”
“Another World is Possible!”
“There is No Planet B!”
One placard quoted from John Lennon’s “Imagine”: “You may say I’m a dreamer/ But I’m not the only one.” I saw this on a placard right by the Dakota Apartments, which faces Central Park West on 72nd Street, in front of which Lennon was gunned down in December of 1980, and not far from Strawberry Fields, a plot of the park dedicated to his memory.
The fact that similar marches took place in other cities such as Berlin and Bogota, Paris and London and Hong Kong, underscored the universality of the sentiment that change was needed, that the pols had to stop talking and stalling and act, particularly the two largest economies on the planet, China and the United States, responsible for the industrial development that directly leads to carbon emissions.
I know many folks, even liberals when it comes to politics, think such a parade not only won’t accomplish much but is in fact a manifestation of, as a friend put it, mass hysteria. I suppose it is, in the same way that the desire and reach for a true democracy can be said to represent collective delusion. This reflects both a head-in-the-sand approach and a cynicism towards any populist movement. In the case of Filipinos old enough to remember having felt empowered by the fall of the Marcoses in 1986—triggered by what was immediately tagged as People Power, which no one would describe as an instance of “mass hysteria”—so many have grown disillusioned when it comes to fulfilling the promise of those heady days. The 21st, by the way, happened to be the 28th anniversary of the official declaration of martial law and while it may seem that the current political scene back in the archipelago is hardly anyone’s idea of a progressive dispensation, that is no reason for waxing nostalgic for the wretched excesses and human rights abuses perpetrated in those dark days. Only those lacking in any sense of moral outrage and/or ignorant of history will indulge in this kind of fantastical thinking.
Back to the march. Sure, the parade tempted the rabble-rousers and the dogmatic to come out and strut their self-proclaimed superiority to all and sundry, but that was all right, that was to be expected. Everyone else was having fun, not allowing the sense of the planet’s possible demise to overwhelm them.
From fossil fuels to farm production, from nuclear power to overfishing: the whole structure meant to place profits above the common good, above the sweat and stink and ideals and dreams of folks like you and me, was excoriated, and all types of strategies to dismantle this apparatus were offered. Would any of these do any good? Or were we just blowin’ in the wind, constructing sand castles that would be swept away by the unrelenting tide and seduction of corporate greed?
That is for individuals to determine. And if enough of us determine that indeed a change for the better is attainable, then it will be attainable. I was reminded of the late poet Emmanuel Lacaba’s wonderful and inspirational lines, from his “Open Letters to Filipino Artists,” with its quote from Robert Frost: “The road less traveled by we’ve taken / And that has made all the difference: / The barefoot army of the wilderness / We all should be in time. Awakened, the masses are messiah.”
Copyright L.H. Francia 2014
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