They came from all corners of the country and the globe for the Peoples Climate March. On Sunday, September 21, Manhattan’s streets turned into a sea of people, registering their demand for world leaders to take action on what many believe is the “defining issue of our time.”
A Kentucky coal miner spoke of his black lung disease and how his beloved Appalachian mountains are being blown apart, an Asian-American woman told of her kids being rushed to emergency room for their asthma, Native American man told of cancers among his people , the Ramapo who were here before the American Revolution and now their land, the air and water is being destroyed by fracking, a North Dakota native American told of “bomb trains” that carry oil but have a propensity to explode – like the one that killed 86 people in Quebec and other bomb trains in Alabama and North Dakota, a young woman from Rockaway appealed for action that will stop the destructive storms, anjd a woman from Marshall Islands pleaded for something that will save her homeland from being swallowed by rising seas.
Nearly 400,000 people – exceeding even the “official” count of 310,000 and quadruple the number that had been forecast – of all ages, all walks of life came to New York City to in the People’s Climate March. They marched for themselves and they marched with organizations – from labor, community groups, environmental groups, religious organizations – some 1,500 organizations participated. And around the world, there were 2700 solidarity events in 162 countries, on every continent but Antarctica.
“Today, the world marched for climate action. From Manhattan to Melbourne, more than half a million people took to the streets in a unified global move to demand ambitious commitments from world leaders in tackling the climate crisis.”
One of the marchers in Manhattan was the award-winning actor and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio. Later, at the Clinton Global Initiative where he won a Global Citizen Award he said, ”Climate change is a real and terrifying crisis. Climate change is compromising the very livability of this planet. It causes 7 million premature deaths a year, yet we stand by as oceans and forests – that would mitigate carbon – are being destroyed. Climate change, the defining issue of our time.”
The march was intended to stir up activism at the local level, since it has become clear that the powerful forces that serve the Fossil Fuel industry – the most profitable in human history – will not budge.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. faults Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision for giving the Fossil Fuel Industry – the most profitable in human history – and Koch Brothers outsized “voice” and power to control lawmakers and subvert democracy.
Stanley Sturgill, the retired Kentucky coal miner spoke of trying to visit his Congressman Harold Rogers, who refused to see him and then had him arrested.
There were other powerful stories as well, from:
Bill Aristovolus, a superintendent in an energy efficient building, who stayed in the building for two weeks ferrying supplies to residents during Hurricane Sandy
Silaka Cox, a 19-year old NYU sophomore from the Rockaway Youth Task Force, who lives in public housing and was affected by Sandy.
Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, a young woman and mother from the Marshall Islands who has been selected as the official civil society speaker at the United Nations Climate Summit.
Kandi Mossett, a Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara indigenous woman who fights fossil fuel extractaion in South Dakota with the Indigenous Environmental Network.
Mari Rose Taruc, a Filipina organizer from Bay Area, mother of two, from an immigrant farmworker family.
Elizabeth Yeampierre, the executive director of Uprose, who helped lead a community response to Hurricane Sandy.
The march had another purpose – to replace cynicism that nothing can be done because it might be too late, with hope.
“The power of the march isn’t in the march, it’s the people going home, making change,” said Van Jones, a former Obama Administration official, who now heads Green For All. “Things will happen in this country because of this march. As many marchers as are here, there are hundreds and thousands of locations around world. This is biggest movement in world and just getting started. This is the most powerful climate statement on record.
“We thought in a global climate emergency, the federal government would act first, but the laws of political physics don’t change,” he said. There will not be movement on the federal front until they see the states act. “that’s how a movement works.” It was the same with the LGBT movement.
One of the concrete policies being advocated is a carbon tax – something that Republicans had once supported but no longer do. Here again, federal inaction is spurring state action- California imposed a carbon tax, and instead of raising energy costs, energy costs are coming down and the revenue raised is used to offset carbon or incentivize alternative energy. Massachusetts is also considering a carbon tax.
“Once there is a patchwork of laws, then the federal government has to move. That’s the power of change. Power is not in the march, but in the marchers.”
Senator Bernie Sanders has every right to be cynical and frustrated – though a member of the Majority in the Senate, Republicans have used the filibuster to obstruct even wildly popular legislation.
But he, too, is hopeful.
“I’m here because Climate Change is the great planetary crisis we are facing. I am here because at end of day, the only way to make change is exactly by people taking to street.”
And take to the streets they did – in droves.
At 12:58 pm there was a moment of silence. Then at 1 pm, a wave of sound filled the march. A clarion call for action. Periodically, there would be similar waves of sound.
At 3 pm, march organizers released an initial count of 310,000 people based on the crowd density along the march route, which stretched across Manhattan from 93rd Street and Central Park West to 34th Street and 11th Avenue. But as the day continued, reports came in of tens of thousands more protesters marching outside the official route, streaming down avenues in midtown Manhattan. At 5 pm, march organizers had to send out a text asking marchers to disperse from the march route because the crowds had swelled beyond the routes capacity.
When I caught up with Bill McKibben, whose organization 350.org is the primary organizer and also mover of the Climate Change, and asked his reaction, he looked up 59th street and down 6th Avenue, seeing this sea of people and said, “I’m pretty stunned. The size is crazy. It is far bigger than we expected. It’s good.”
But I asked about how first, Climate action was blocked by well-financed climate deniers and now there are many who say action is already too late.
“Some people may feel it’s too late . This march gives people hope. People end up feeling more hopeful.”
Among the other notables at the march: UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, Former Vice President Al Gore, actor and anti-fracking activist Mark Ruffalo, Edward Norton, Sting, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, Congressmen Keith Ellison and Jerrold Nadler, NYS Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Christiana Figueres.
Notably, union workers and environmentalists – once seen at odds, are now unified in support of jobs at living wages in industries that support sustainability and environmental justice.
Nearly every labor union in New York helped organize turnout for the march, including SEIU, the largest union in the city and the second largest in the country.
“Our members are marching because climate change affects all of us,” said Héctor Figueroa, president of 32BJ SEIU. “We live in the communities that get destroyed by storms like Sandy. We work in the buildings that get flooded. We get hit by health epidemics like asthma that are rampant in our communities, and we care about the world that we will leave for our children and grandchildren.”
“We said it would take everyone to change everything — and everyone showed up,” said Eddie Bautista, Executive Director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance.
The New York march was led by indigenous and frontline communities who came from across the globe to highlight the disproportionate impact of climate change–from communities hit hardest by Superstorm Sandy to people living in the shadow of coal-fired power plants and oil refineries to those living in Island Nations already faced with evacuating their homes.
“The frontlines of the climate crisis are low-income people, communities of color and indigenous communities here in the US and around the globe. We are the hardest hit by both climate disruption––the storms, floods and droughts––as well as by the extractive, polluting and wasteful industries causing global warming,” said Cindy Wiesner, Co-Director of The Climate Justice Alliance. “We are also at the forefront of innovative community-led solutions that ensure a just transition off fossil fuels, and that support an economy good for both people and the planet.”
“Today, civil society acted at a scale that outdid even our own wildest expectations. Tomorrow [at the UN Climate Summit], we expect our political leaders to do the same,” said May Boeve, Executive Director of 350.org.
The global day of climate action came just two days before a UN Climate Summit, which is hosted by UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, and attended by more than 125 world leaders, including US President Barack Obama, French President Francois Hollande, South Korean President Park Geun-hye, and UK Prime Minister David Cameron. The summit is intended to kickstart a process that will end with significant climate action agreement at global negotiations in Paris, in December 2015.
Organizing for The People’s Climate March brought together 1574 groups. Just in the last week, 1,000,000 flyers were handed out across New York City. A total of 550 buses from nearly all 50 states flooded into Manhattan as well as two dedicated trains, one from DC and one from California. For the last month, 1 out of every 10 subway cars in the city also ran ads for the march.
Meanwhile, New York City announced a week of climate change events and Governor Andrew Cuomo (who did not join the march), released a list of climate change/environmental initiatives of his administration. He has yet to come out in favor of banning fracking in the state.
And activism was continuing on Monday, with a peaceful demonstration at Wall Street.
Meanwhile, there were solidarity marches around the world:
In Melbourne, Australia, 30,000 people took to the streets, while locals went on a 50 km beach march on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, and a 700 km march from Melbourne to Canberra. Over 10,000 more participated in events in over 100 other cities and regional towns.
More than 2,500 people from across India marched in New Delhi, the nation’s strongest ever call for climate action.
In Tanzania, the Maasai marched across their traditional lands to call for action to protect their homelands in the Serengeti from the impacts of climate change. Simultaneous events also happened across Africa including Johannesburg, Togo, Niger, The Ivory Coast, and Benin as well as a march planned in Africa’s largest city Lagos, on Monday.
In London, the bells of The Church of London rang out across the city as 40,000 people combined forces to create an historic march to the steps of Parliament.
In Paris, 25,000 people took part in the “Paris Marche pour le Climat,” with parades, marches, and bicycle rides across the bridges of the Seine.
On the US / Canada border, thousands of marchers from First Nations groups and local organizations were traveling from Vancouver and Seattle to join hands in a truly international event, showing that “climate change knows no borders”.
In the Pacific Islands, from Tonga to Tuvalu to Tokelau, people rallied calling for “Action, Not Words”, to protect the Pacific Islands. In rural Papua New Guinea students from a primary school marched to a nearby lighthouse, which has recently become semi-submerged due to rising sea levels. And preparations are underway to send 30 Pacific Climate Warriors with their canoes to block the world’s largest coal port in Australia in October.
In Istanbul, close to 3000 people marched through Taksim Square, with impacted communities from across Turkey at the forefront.
In Berlin, over 10,000 people participated in three parallel marches which converged for a colourful festival at the Brandenburg Gate.
In Rio, thousands are marching on the beaches of Ipanema, after images were broadcast on the statue of Christ the Redeemer for the last week building up to the march.
In Jakarta, thousands of people marched to send an urgent demand to the newly elected President for a commitment to build an economy that is powered by renewable energy. Other events in Asia include Seoul, Taiwan, Manila among others.
See more at peoplesclimate.org.
Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner
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