On the ground at the People's Climate March in New York City

On the ground at the People's Climate March in New York City

The People’s Climate March in New York City this past Sunday kicked off Climate Week in a big way. Crowd estimates ranged up to 400,000, making it by far the biggest march in U.S. history focused on the climate crisis.

I was at once a part of and an observer to this event. I marched (and stood) for over six hours on Sunday. The March was very inspiring but also gave me pause.

There were headliners. including Jane Goodall and Al Gore, Ban Ki-moon and Leonardo DiCaprio. Of course the mastermind behind it all was Bill McKibben. There were chants and signs, and more chants and more signs.

The signs included insights such as "Science is not a liberal conspiracy" or entreaties to the establishment, including "Harvard University divest from Fossil Fuels."  One of the most clever yet unrepeatable was the sign that encouraged us to change our behavior: "The Earth is our Mother — so stop being a mother f***er."

There were drum bands and troubadours. There were whistles and noisemakers. There were families. There were drag queens. There were musicians and someone dressed as the god Neptune. There were old people and young people. There were priests and nuns, Buddist monks and Rabbis. There were Pagans and Muslims and Hindus. There were scientists and artists, socialists and MBAs. And there was the god Neptune again.

A group was wheeling a giant chalkboard showing the Keeling curve and saying "The Debate is Over."  Citizen’s Climate Lobby were carrying checks for $4,800 for everyone (promoting their fee and dividend campaign).

Just to see so many different kinds of people come together in common cause was exhilarating. Socialist workers marched to abolish capitalism and vegans marched to abolish meat-eating. There were messages of anti-fracking, messages about overpopulation, messages about poverty and social injustice. All these problems were linked to the climate crisis by their advocates. That interdependence can provide great strength to such a movement saying, "This is a wide-ranging problem and we are all in it together."

However, I began to wonder, if perhaps the March tried to include too much. All these problems are manifestations of a system — our planet — that is moving towards potential self-destruction.  Addressing that requires urgent action which demands consensus. With so many different perspectives and agendas, how can such a disparate group come together and ‘stay on message’ to reduce and eliminate industrial emissions of greenhouse gases?  We can only hope.

There is a little-known secret in Washington that if you write your Senator a letter which you address by hand, she or he will read that letter. They know that for every handwritten letter there are 10,000 people who didn’t write but feel the same way. Similarly, the 400,000 people who took to the streets in New York on Sunday were addressing their elected representatives not by hand but by foot. Each also represent many others who were not there but feel the same way.  This march will be a success only if it can get those politicians to realize that truth sooner rather than later.

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