Changing the Game: The People’s Climate March

--NYC (& Global), Sept 21, 2014 by Tom Fletcher

 The anticipation was welling up inside me as I road the subway from Brooklyn - where I had been staying with my niece - into Manhattan. When I emerged to the surface at Columbus Circle, where Broadway, meets 59th Street, meets Central Park West, it was chaotic.

Not typical NYC chaotic – this was more. On the sidewalks, at the base of the building-formed canyons there were clusters of people, some wearing matching t-shirts, some in colorful costume, many carrying signs displaying creative messages, scrambling across the street before the cops could set the barricades. The clusters were forming into throngs all converging from different directions, heading toward Central Park West, the March staging area. In the distance I could see a big banner stretched across the street and people already packed behind it. I wasn’t headed immediately to the lineup, but a couple blocks away from the route to meet Jonathan Sheline, his son, and his son’s girlfriend at a coffee shop. The march was not slated to start for another 30 minutes, but I did not have to wait to know this was going to be BIG. Though 100,000+ were expected, perhaps the fact that many, including Jonathan’s son and his girlfriend, made the last-minute decision to come was swelling the numbers.

From the café we headed for the march and before long the four of us found ourselves relatively near the front, amidst the people from “front line” communities (those first and worst hit by climate change). What was amazing was the huge diversity. There were people from the Pacific Islands threatened by rising seas to Native American groups fighting the Tar Sands and coal mining destruction and battling the Keystone XL and other pipelines, to the urban communities of New York and New Jersey devastated by Hurricane Sandy. This was not your typical environmental march of days gone by. People are connecting the dots between environmental, economic, and social issues and groups connecting together in the Movement..

Slipping further back in the march we got a broader sense of the diversity of people and groups represented – labor, teachers, moms, youth, scientists, faith groups, indigenous peoples and ranchers and farmers, every aspect of society was represented. At 12:58 pm, as planned, the throngs of marchers came to a stop and raised their hands for a moment of silence. Whether people chose reflection, contemplation, prayer, meditation or something else….it was silent. Then beginning at Columbus Circle the silence was broken by a wave of joyous sound moving along the streets, echoing off the 6th Avenue skyscrapers, toward the front of the march. People were yelling and smiling and hugging and high-fiving as an expression of togetherness – together with one voice to say we are here, we demand action to address climate chaos, and whether or not governments take action, we will.  

Below is a quote about the march from an article on the Common Dreams website:

“Less than two weeks have passed and yet it isn’t too early to say it: the People’s Climate March changed the social map -- many maps, in fact, since hundreds of smaller marches took place in 162 countries. That march in New York City, spectacular as it may have been with its 400,000 participants, joyous as it was, moving as it was (slow-moving, actually, since it filled more than a mile’s worth of wide avenues and countless side streets), was no simple spectacle for a day. It represented the upwelling of something that matters so much more: a genuine global climate movement.”

“The extraordinary range, age, and diversity exhibited in the People’s Climate March -- race, class, sex, you name it, and if you were there, you saw it -- changes the game. The phalanxes of unions, indigenous and religious groups, and all manner of local activists in New York formed an extraordinary mélange. There were hundreds and hundreds of grassroots groups on the move -- …”

The March was a crescendo to an extraordinary week, after months of preparation that included numerous conferences on advocacy and activism, the Flood Wall Street action on Monday, Sept 22, and meetings with UN officials urging its member nations to lead global action on climate justice.

Having experienced the march, I feel energized and reinvigorated. Seeing so many people, so many different people, who all recognize and feel the interlinked challenges we face and are ready to make the enormous commitment to take these challenges on. This is spirituality in action.

This video, "Into the Streets," captures some of the sense of the March: