“Our Future, Our Choice” — On the Ground at the People’s Climate March
On September 21, I was present at a piece of history…the People’s Climate March of 2014. It was a huge event, planned with precision, and broken down into six contingencies. The route covered two miles. My interviews began with people waiting for the bus, on their way to the west side of Manhattan.
Harry Miller, a Buddhist marching to be a “brick in the wall of raising consciousness,” raised concern about the “political nature” of climate deniers. Mary Ann Garisto, a nun and former biology and environmental science teacher, told me, “We are co-creators with God. Caring about the earth is one of our vision statements. We live in an interdependent world.”
When I reached Central Park West and 65th Street, volunteer security marshals and peacekeepers were gently guiding hordes of people into place. I was standing at the tail end of the “frontline communities,” when Bianca Jagger went flying by. Jagger has been outspoken about climate change—with an emphasis on social justice.
Savraj Singh, sporting an EcoSikh tee, said, “I’m marching because climate is of critical importance to us as human beings.” He was asked by a passerby about the fight to combat pollution in Punjab, India. Industrial pollution of the rivers, including high levels of uranium contamination, has been an ongoing source of cancer and birth defects.
Parents were represented in large numbers. Alison Yager, from Brooklyn, attended with her two children, ages 5 and 7. She related, “Having kids has made me even more concerned about the immediacy of the crisis.” Apprehensive about unregulated fracking, Yager’s message to Big Oil was, “You have kids and grandkids, too!”
Elected officials and international climate activists assembled under a banner that read, “We Can Build the Future.” Letitia James, Public Advocate for New York City, was talking to constituents. New York City Comptroller, Scott M. Stringer, stated, “I stand for climate change!” On the right flank was Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. He and Chairwoman Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) have sponsored legislation to tax carbon, while directing billions of dollars into sustainable energy. On the left flank was Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and United Nations Special Envoy on Climate. Robinson has focused on global environmental justice—especially its impact on the poor and disenfranchised.
At 11:35 a.m. people began moving forward. Drums, tambourines, and a brass ensemble enhanced a festive atmosphere. Colorful costumes, floats, and artwork added to the upbeat tone. The placards bore messages from the humorous to the deadly serious. They included:
- Oil Wells into Wind Mills
- Climate or Capitalism
- One-Third of All Land Animals Face Extinction by 2050
- Members of Congress Ignoring Climate Change will Join the Dinosaurs
My personal favorite was the tag line from the Mental Health Workers Concerned about Climate Change. It noted, “Anxiety is Appropriate.”
I worked my way north toward 96th Street. Participants reflected all nationalities, races, and ages. There were senior citizens (“Elders off Our Rockers”), some being pushed in wheelchairs. School and college groups were out in force. They chanted calls for “Climate Justice Now” and “Our Future, Our Choice.” Their signs read, “Youth Choose Divestment” and “Environmental Security is Human Security.”
I had a conversation further along with Joan Lesikin of Cragsmoor, New York. She underscored, “I’m here because I feel I have to do something.” Lesikin, an artist with a PhD in Applied Linguistics, discussed how she had transformed her 1950s house to a solar setup. Despite limited income, she worked with a company that offered her a twenty-year lease on solar panels—with no installation fee. Mentioning the “environment versus the economy” card that elected representatives continue to play, she responded, “These [renewable] industries will create jobs.” She added, “It’s about money. Our utilities are on the stock market.” Lesikin pointed out, “People like stasis. They don’t like change.”
At 12:58 p.m. the crowd began quieting down for a minute of silence for the victims of climate change. Then, at 1 p.m., a roar went out in waves.
Toddlers sat astride the shoulders of parents. Not far from a seven-foot “polar bear” against global warming, I met 5-year old Julian. He was clutching an alligator knapsack. Julian confided that he was at the march because of worries about his “favorite endangered animals.”
Peter Nightingale, a professor of Physics at the University of Rhode Island, was standing with the “Fossil Free Rhode Island” group. He outlined his efforts to prod higher education and state-run funds to divest from fossil fuel. He informed me that the while the United States is only 5 percent of the world population, we have already used 25 percent of humanity’s carbon budget.
The bottom line came down to the wisdom of 6-year old Jojo. With a drum hanging down from his neck, his handmade sign said it succinctly:
“Treat the earth the way you want to be treated.”
This article originally appeared on the website Moms Clean Air Force.