National Equality MarchCourtesy via FlickrIf the mainstream media is going to largely ignore a mass demonstration on the national mall—such as Sunday’s National Equality March for gay rights—public demonstrations might as well be small, numerous, and spread all over, says founder Bill McKibben.

Also, they should be beautiful.

McKibben—writer, Grist board member, and an occasional contributor—was reflecting on the future of activism during a call with reporters and bloggers to promote the International Day of Climate Action on Saturday, October 24. Where the equality march was centralized, the climate day will consist of thousands of events scattered across the globe—some rallies, others closer to performance art. Church bells will ring 350 times, mountain climbers will hang “350” banners, and the Maldives Cabinet will hold an underwater meeting in hopes that the island nation won’t end up submerged beneath a rising ocean.

To McKibben, this strategy is more in sync with today’s decentralized online media.

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“The world works differently now,” he said on Tuesday’s call. “It’s dispersed. Using that dispersed architecture to rally public sentiment is what we’ve been trying to do.”

The idea is to transcend fights over specific policies (cap-and-trade vs. a carbon tax, for example) by focusing on the bigger picture: the need to reduce the world’s level of carbon dioxide. Many of the events will highlight the number 350, which McKibben sees as an effective rallying cry. (Go here for a good explanation of 350.)

“There’s something wonky and arcane about taking a scientific data point and making it the center of a campaign,” he said. “But it seems to have succeeded. More than succeeded—it’s gone viral. We need it now to go swine-flu viral.”

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