An opportunity like no other – the Great March for Climate Action

In March 2014 the giant Great March for Climate Action will begin its 8 month cross-country activist trek. I believe it has truly profound potential for personal and social change, and is worthy of our support and participation. Dialogue and deliberation practitioners, in particular, can make a significant difference here.

If all goes as planned, almost six months from now – In March 2014 – one thousand people will depart Santa Monica, California, on a cross-country Great March for Climate Action. It will take them eight months – walking about 15 miles a day – to reach Washington, D.C. They will speak in hundreds of communities and venues along the way and be joined by locals for days or weeks. Once they arrive in D.C., they will swarm-lobby their representatives. Equally importantly, the lives of every participant will be profoundly changed and their roles in the world will evolve in ways they (and we) can barely imagine before this adventure begins. Above all, I believe they will co-create new, far more effective forms of social change.

I want to see that happen. I want this march to succeed in boosting climate activism to an entirely new level. I want it to produce hundreds of more savvy activists and hot collaborations. And I want you to consider joining it, to think about it seriously, as I find myself doing. It is worthy of the participation and/or support of every one of us.

Why do I feel so strongly about this?

The first reason is that climate change is, as the organizers note, not an issue, but a crisis – a Very Big Crisis, with many side effects and repercussions. Along with peak oil and other resource limitations – and the wars, corruption, and social and economic disruption those limits could generate – the climate crisis may be the defining fact of life for people living through the coming decades. The time for addressing all this was yesterday, and now it is today. The longer we wait, the messier it will get. The earlier we take creative action on it, the more profound and positive the transformational impact of our efforts can be. And, as my friend John Abbe (who became Marcher #22) said, “The time to act is now before it is more too late than it already is.”

The second reason I feel strongly is that 27 years ago I spent 9 of the most intense and transformational months of my life on the 400-person LA-DC Great Peace March. As I describe in the Prologue to The Tao of Democracy, that experience gave rise to the vision of possibility that became my life’s work on co-intelligence, wise democracy, and our collective capacity to effectively self-organize our communities and societies. This leads me to believe that the potential impact of such a mobile activist community will be at least as big from the exciting things that happen in and among the marchers, themselves, as from the marchers’ engagements with the places they pass through.


Early during my life on the Great Peace March, I wrote an article entitled “Mobile Peace Activism”. I explored the interesting ways that peace marches, bikeathons, cruises, and caravans get attention and build community. I’ll share here some of what I wrote 27 years ago exploring the question of why someone would go to all the trouble to organize or join a complicated cross country march instead of engaging in traditional action right at home?

“Novelty plays a role in this. Travelling out-of-towners bring new life and flavor with them — the spirit of other places and a sense of connection to those other places. Stationary people seem fascinated with why mobile people are doing what they are doing….

“It is easy to get into ideological, psychological, spiritual, emotional, organizational or tactical ruts when you are always confronting a desk or a book [or a screen!] or the same faces at every meeting. There’s something about moving to another place each day or week that rubs off on your whole way of thinking and feeling. Perhaps a certain responsiveness or fluidity can develop, making it easier to break out of fixed conditions, to think in new ways…

“Many of us long for a way to transform ourselves while we transform society, to enjoy life while we are saving it from destruction. Mobile activism tends to have transformative and recreational effects on the participants while at the same time achieving external objectives.

“Most mobile activities demand a high level of cooperative living just to keep moving down the road. This stimulates the formation of tightly-knit mobile communities with strong feelings of being ‘family.’ This is both a backdrop to activism and an actively-created part of it, a laboratory for building effective, loving, non-violent lifestyles. And mobile activists, in their trips from town to town, can weave together a greater sense of community among the local activists with whom they work.”

Perhaps most significantly, when hundreds of climate activists walk down the road together every day and live in tents beside each other every night, THEY TALK. Among the things they will talk about are climate change, activism, strategies, deeper causes, long term nuanced consequences, how their grandchildren will live, and what REALLY needs to be done about all that. Their diverse perspectives and information will churn together in a thousand combinations and novel configurations. The march will be a hothouse of new ways of thinking, feeling, and taking action. We could even say that it will be “the other greenhouse effect” – a hundredfold concentration and enrichment of the energy, thinking, and conversations we already engage in together for a few hours or days at a time.

Carrying on such intensified interaction for EIGHT MONTHS cannot help but generate breakthrough initiatives and collaborations, transformed lives and lifestyles, new directions for the whole climate movement and every other movement. That’s what happened to me on the Great Peace March: My life changed totally and my work on co-intelligence was born. As I noted in my “Mobile Peace Activism” article, some of the most profound effects of mobile activism are “the effects that all those activists create once they leave the mobile activity and return home or involve themselves in other forms of activism.”

During the last decade I have often wondered if and when there would be a resurgence of mobile activism — of people taking the road instead of taking to the streets. I see it happening now, with this climate action march being perhaps the most ambitious initiative among many others.


Ironically, the most important thing that happened on the 1986 Great Peace March was that it fell apart two weeks after it began. The founding organization, ProPeace, went bankrupt and told us all to go home. 800 of us did. 400 of us didn’t. Instead of going home the remaining 400 of us talked…. and the March was reborn in the middle of the Mojave Desert as a self-organized mobile community that generated its own collective intelligence and collaborative functioning woven out of complex voluntary leaderful activity with nobody in charge. It was held together by purposeful determination and rudimentary but dedicated conversational processes, most especially “talking circles” (which I prefer to call “listening circles“).

Many of my readers and subscribers are practitioners of leading edge processes like Sacred Circles, Open Space, World Cafe, Appreciative Inquiry, Future Search, Dynamic Facilitation, and dozens more. The Great March for Climate Action may not fall apart like the Great Peace March, but it will surely be filled with powerful, smart, assertive, value-driven people – exactly the kind of people who can make or break a giant collaborative enterprise, who can get in each other’s way or together generate highly functional activities, breakthrough insights, and innovative projects that change the world. This polarization of good and bad possibilities will become even more intense in the potent greenhouse of living and walking together day after day after day.

Perhaps the most significant factor in whether the best or worst occurs on this march is how much opportunity the marchers have for high quality conversations designed to support the emergence of breakthroughs, healing, effectiveness, and joy. That’s why I hope that dozens of practitioners who read this essay will join this march. Together they can convene and facilitate conversations that will vastly improve the march’s capacity to govern itself effectively, resolve its internal conflicts wisely, vibrantly engage the communities through which the march passes, and ensure the march positively affects the issue that may well impact more people and more issues – from water to democracy, from justice to war – more profoundly than anything else in this century.

That’s why I invite you – I urge you – to seriously consider what role you could play in support – or as part – of this remarkable effort. Depending on how we each engage with this opportunity, it could make all the difference in the world.

Blessings on the Journey we are all on together.


Leave a Reply to John Abbe Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.