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Our Lunch Counter Moment

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Environment and Climate Resource Center page.

"Dark and cold we may be, but this Is no winter now. The frozen misery Of centuries breaks, cracks, begins to move; The thunder is the thunder of the floes, The thaw, the flood, the upstart Spring. Thank God our time is now when wrong Comes up to face us everywhere, Never to leave us till we take The longest stride of soul we ever took. Affairs are now soul size."

-Christopher Fry, A Sleep of Prisoners

Rev. Lennox Yearwood, leader of the Hip Hop Caucus and the MC at yesterday's massive Forward on Climate rally in Washington, D.C., talks all the time about this being the climate movement's "lunch counter moment." And, thank God, it looks like he has been prophetic.

"Lunch counter moment" refers to the point in 1960 when the African-American freedom movement took off. It did so when young black people all over the South began sitting in at segregated public lunch counters, refusing to leave until served. For these actions, they were beaten, spat upon, arrested and more by white racists and racist power structures, but their courage and nonviolent direct action galvanized a south-wide and then national movement which, five years later, forced the federal government to pass a Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act outlawing legal segregation.

Without this movement, Barack Obama would never have been President. Much more importantly, without it we would not have seen the end of 1950's McCarthyism, the rise of a powerful anti-war movement, women's movement, environmental movement, lgbt movement and more.

The climate movement's lunch counter moment: what was it about Feb. 17 in DC which makes it realistically possible that history will record this action as the launching pad for the "yes, we did," massive popular movement which literally pulled human society back from the cliff of looming, catastrophic climate disruption?

Numbers: Size is sometimes important, and it definitely was yesterday. All the main organizers expected tens of thousands, but I don't think too many expected 40,000 to 50,000. Especially given the incredibly cold weather, this was a huge accomplishment for our movement.

Determination: It was really cold yesterday, with a wind chill that had to be around 10 degrees at times when that wind whipped across the mall, and it did so often. Yet the crowd kept growing all morning and into the early afternoon, and virtually no one left. People could have said, after an hour or two, well, this is important, and I'm glad I came, but I've got to get to somewhere warm. IT DIDN'T HAPPEN. For four hours, from 12-4, for some longer, we persevered and, indeed, we stood (and jumped) strong.


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