Yesterday over 400 thousand people marched through the streets of New York City yelling, singing, drumming, and clamoring for climate change justice. The march made the front page of the New York Times as the largest single environmental gathering in history, but across the world yesterday cities came together: 30,000 in Melbourne, almost 5,000 in Paris, 40,000 in London, 15,000 in Berlin, and 5,000 in Rio de Janeiro, to name just a few of the other 2,500 events around the globe. In New York, six of our delegation joined the march, myself included.
For me, the trip started at 3 A.M. in Vermont when a group of us left the V.L.S. parking lot, car-pooling to a bus in Montpelier filled with climate marchers, headed straight to N.Y.C. As we boarded, I took a glimpse up at the stars remembering my awe of the natural wonders of this world and wondered whether future generations would have clear skies to view these celestial lights. In my excitement, I anticipated singing, speeches, and storytelling on the bus, but in the early A.M., mostly we all just slept. It wasn’t until we approached the city that people really started stirring, and to fulfill our expectation of civil demonstrations, we quietly sang one song. But as soon as the bus parked, the activity started. The first sound to hit us of the streets of New York was the strong rhythm of a band of African drummers, playing as they made their way down the sidewalk to the March. On the same block, posters were set out with markers, the top stated in bold: “I’m Marching For” with a blank underneath for each person to write their own reasons for marching. In the blanks some wrote, “the Humans,” My Unborn Children,” or “My Mom.” As we moved closer to Central Park, the crowds drew denser; I saw more signs with messages from organizations and individuals with declarations of hope, anger, representation, and action. In the running for cutest sign was one carried by a little boy around three or four. Next to a drawing of a tiger, it said, “I like tigers,” and on the back it said “Save the tigers.”
We stood without moving in the masses for nearly two hours, occupying ourselves by meeting strangers and hollering out chants, such as, “What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like!” and “Divest, divest, put fossil fuels to rest!” Eventually real marching commenced. The march stretched a mile through N.Y.C.’s busy streets, down Central Park West, through Times Square, and eventually culminating in a block party on 42nd. I realized at Columbus Circle exactly how incredible it was to to be standing in that street, the rush and isolation of the automobile, for that moment, completely displaced for individuals in collective procession. My reverie ended when another chant broke out: “What do we want? Climate Justice! When do we want it? Now!” Perhaps the most powerful moment during the march was the moment of silence, where thousands of people stood together completely silent honoring those already lost due to climate change. The moment ended in a grand alarm with ringing bells and shouts; we must have action now.
For those interested in celebrity sightings, there were plenty, including Leonardo DiCaprio and Joseph Gorden Levitt, I was happy to spot Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, but also would have loved to see Ban Ki-Moon, who was marching with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Al Gore, and Jane Goodall. But more impressive than any particular individual in attendance was the vast diversity of the populace represented. There were blocs for the youth, for energy, for different states (I started the march in Vermont’s bloc); there were Buddhists and vegans, Indigenous groups, Unitarians, people of all ages (the youngest not yet even born)–all marching in solidarity. At one point I saw a huge arc that exemplified the feeling. On it stood a man carrying a sign, which read: “An atheist on the arc? Unite for climate justice!”
The big question at the end of the day as we all stood around exhausted but still warm with excitement, was “what next?” How do we keep this energy up and move it onto the next project of building new systems and policies to bring our march chants into pragmatic codes? Of course, many are already deep in the process of building changes to battle climate change. The UN will be continuing its work tomorrow at the UN Climate Summit. Millions are already working within their communities, but there is still more to go, and I hope we can keep our voices up as we all head back to our respective homes and keep that global solidarity with us and we continue working for climate justice in our own communities and projects. I got home exhausted, sweaty, and hopeful.