Editor's Update: Kalle Lasn, editor of the anti-consumerist magazine Adbusters is in the midst of planning a global Billion People March, or D19, to take place on December 19 after the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP21, which ends December 11. After the attacks on November 13, Paris is on lockdown, and two other planned marches were cancelled for Paris and other cities in France. But anticipating that COP21 won't deliver all that's needed on climate action, Lasn still expects the #billionpeoplemarch to be the first “global big bang moment” in a series of protests aimed at drawing attention to how the global financial system drives climate change.
Adbusters, which helped spark the original Occupy movement with a "Tactical Briefing," has sent out messages about D19. A recent one states:
"For many of us, it was never just about protesting during COP21, hoping against hope that the world leaders will finally get it right. Whatever deal they sign at COP21, we know in our hearts that it won’t be enough . . . So for now, let the logic of COP21 play itself out and then on Saturday, December 19th, let's hit the streets of every major city in a global big-bang moment the likes of which the world has never seen." Channeling the energy the drove Occupy, the statement continues, "#D19 is the start of a new kind of movement...D19 might just be remembered by future generations as the day when the people of the world rose up in massive numbers and started calling the shots from below."
Lasn, one of the brains behind the Occupy movement, told me recently from his headquarters in Vancouver that he sees a new movement in the making. To many, the revolutionary spirit of the Occupy Wall Street movement seemed to recede almost as soon as it arrived in late 2011. For two months, huge numbers of protesters camped out in Zuccotti Park in New York City, and in other cities around the world, igniting a debate over income inequality and financial corruption. Yet the movement was widely criticized for being ineffectual and lacking a coherent strategy or message, and seemed to quickly flame out. Lasn disagrees with that analysis.
Q: There is a perception that Occupy burned out without accomplishing much. Does the Occupy movement still exist, and did it accomplish its goals?
Kalle Lasn: It was inevitable that the first phase was going to fade out. But people who say that don’t get it, quite frankly. They expected the Occupy movement to make demands to the government and accomplish specific policy goals. That’s not what happened. Occupy politicized millions of young people around the world. It sent a message that if we’re smart and come up with smart strategies like occupying the iconic heart of capitalism, and if we use social media to organize, then we can create global big bang moments that change things. The Billion People March that we’re working on now—and a whole bunch of other initiatives that are happening around the world—is because the spirit of Occupy is alive.
Q: The stated goal of the Occupy movement was to stop the moneyed corruption at the heart of American democracy. But that corruption exists more than ever.
Lasn: This is the core idea behind the Billion People March, that to solve this existential crisis we need to change the guts of the financial system. You’re not going to solve climate change by imposing a carbon tax. You have to deal with the fact that corporations still have all the power. We have to figure out what are the systemic changes that need to happen to pave the way for solving climate change.
Q: So the march will be to draw attention to how our economic system drives climate change?
Lasn: Yes. We’re hoping that December 19 will be the first global big bang moment. There has been incredible anticipation around this climate conference in Paris because we know it’s the last chance. If global leaders don’t come up with a binding agreement that nips global warming in the bud, then the only option left is for us to jump over the global leaders and for the people to take control.
Q: What specific changes are you seeking?
Lasn: Job one is to change the global financial system. The way to start is to have a 1 percent tax on stock market transactions. If December 19 is successful, then on April 1 we will march to take power back from corporations. One idea is a “three-strikes-and-you’re-out” law, where if a corporation breaks the law three times we would remove its corporate charter and put it out of business.
After that, on September 17, the five-year anniversary of Occupy, we’re planning a march against political secrecy. We want huge penalties for politicians and corporations who keep vital information from the people. After that there will be other marches against war and the sale of weapons. There’s half a dozen systemic changes we’re trying to bring about through a globalization of activism.
Q: You’ve called climate change the biggest market failure the world has ever known. Explain that.
Lasn: Well, I wasn’t the first person to say that. But we assume the marketplace can get us out of every problem, while it’s the marketplace that’s creating the problem. We don’t have a true cost marketplace. Just about every product in the global marketplace is telling a lie because it doesn’t tell the ecological truth. Which means almost every one of the trillions of purchases every day puts us deeper into the hole. Climate change is the one event that puts the lie to the idea that the global marketplace works.
Q: When we spoke a few years ago, your idea to address this was through a new political party, the True Cost Party of America, which would demand that the price of products include the environmental damage they create. Is this still in the works?
Lasn: That’s the idea in my book Meme Wars—that if we could could take the current dysfunctional marketplace and segue into a true-cost marketplace eventually the system would stabilize. Economic growth has become like a God. But neoclassical economists don’t understand this basic idea that you cannot grow forever on a finite planet. A true-cost marketplace would automatically regulate growth. The cost of so-called bad products would rise. If we had a true cost marketplace for cars, a car might cost you $75,000 instead of $25,000—which would mean fewer cars sold. I believe in true-cost capitalism. But I don’t think a new political party is realistic anymore. We’re beyond the point of tinkering with the system. If there isn’t enough anger among the young people of the world to rise up and demand systemic changes, then I think any sort of a viable, sane, sustainable human system will cease to exist.
Q: You mention the anger of young people. Bernie Sanders is giving voice to that anger and stands for many of the things that you do. Would you support him?
Lasn: Sanders is saying pretty much the same things that Adbusters and the Occupy people have been saying for years. But given the current political situation in America, the chances of Sanders winning and passing his agenda is close to zero. I don’t believe the American political system is yet capable of that kind of reform. Given the fact that we are facing an existential crisis, we have to think globally. So while I admire what he’s doing, I still say the world’s young people need to create conditions where eventually somebody like Sanders can get elected. He is pushing things in the right direction. A lot of young people are getting politicized because of him.
Q: Do you see any hope on the Republican side? Only one question about climate change was asked during the first GOP primary debate, and none of the candidates seemed to believe it was a problem.
Lasn: My feeling watching them was, “How stupid can a country be when some of its political leaders—one of whom might be the next President—don’t believe in climate change?” I wonder if it’s possible for America to play any kind of a leadership role in the world again.
This story appears in the December 2015/January 2016 issue of The Progressive Magazine.