The March of Industrial Progress

On the last day of the University of Chicago’s Earth Week (you know, when they took the trays out of the dining halls), my planet gave to me rain by the bucketful and a postponement of the Environmental Concerns Organization’s Earth Parade, a theatrical protest march against environmental degradation by “capitalists.” Two weeks later, there was more rain, and another cancellation. But last Thursday, the clouds parted, and the long-awaited parade began at the center of the UofC quads with three twirlers twirling troll dolls and hacky sacks on strings, two earth-bearers with a papier maché effigy resting palanquin-style on a “BIKE LANE” sign, one tie-wearer drumming on a bucket, a ninja in a jumpsuit hitting a saucepan with a spoon, a polar bear, and this author. The destination was Promontory Point, where the earth would be burned (because, you know, capitalists love burning shit), clothes would be changed (because, you know, capitalists wear ties and khakis), and marshmallows would be roasted in honor of the various ways forward.

Though it took a few minutes for the marchers to assemble, and a few more for them to conclude that nobody else was coming, the procession began in high spirits. The choice of marching songs was complicated by general uncertainty about what planet-ravaging capitalists would sing. I know, it’s a tough question. I suggested the Beach Boys (because, you know, capitalists love cars and vocal harmonies). Someone else suggested the Beatles (because, you know, capitalists love money and hate taxes), but we settled on “Capitalism…gets on everybody’s nerves! Everybody’s nerves!” to the tune of “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” A couple UofC Lab School students smirked at us, but overall, the public reaction was minimal, mostly because nobody was out at 7:45 on a cloudy evening. Along 57th Street someone saw their professor in a bookstore, but was afraid to invite him along. By the time we neared the beach our anthem had become “Capitalism…wants to burn up all the earth!” After neatly removing the school-purchased yoga ball the effigy was built on, the earth was mounted on a pyre. At first it seemed like the flames might be suffocated under it, but soon they were peeking up beyond Antarctica. Within minutes the Middle East was ablaze, and the whole planet went tumbling, rolled to a stop, and smoldered. Then, it was time for s’mores. On the carbon balance of things, the emissions were marginal. ECO president Dave Reese made sure the paint was non-toxic and that vegan chocolate was available. Under a crimson sunset, cotton-puff clouds recalled the vanishing Aral Sea. Soon it was dark, and my TV set was calling. Radical structural change, indeed.