By Bobby and Michael Righi
In September we decided we would spend our fossil fuel allotment for the year and fly to New York City to take part in the People’s Climate March to demand an end to the burning of fossil fuels. We stayed in Bedford-Stuyvesant, a primarily African American community. Nearly every corner shop we visited in the neighborhood had posters and flyers about the climate march. We began to realize that this was not going to be the typical climate demonstration.
On Saturday, the day before the march, there was a “Climate Conference” with over 100 presentations and workshops held in 18 places across the city. We split up and attended one on the role of unions, one on the plight of young Black men, and another on the potential of agro-ecology to slow climate change. Each of these was in a packed auditorium and was sharp, inspiring, and raised provocative questions — each could be another Advocate article.
On Sunday morning, PSARA Climate Change signs in hand, we took the A train to Central Park West and 59th St. We tried to find the area where we should assemble because the organizers, knowing the crowd would be large, published a plan with six large sections describing where groups should assemble. We chose the “WE Can Build the Future” section, because we fit into several of those categories: Unions, Families, Elders, and Students.
The labor contingent was big and impressive, including members of United Steelworkers, Teamsters, IBEW, UFCW, AFSME, AFT, ATU, UAW, and the New York Nurses Union, just to name the ones I could see. It was a sign of the gathering strength of the climate movement — we need the voices and organization of labor.
There were groups from all over the world and areas of this country. One beautiful banner read “New Orleans: The Seas Are Rising and So Are We.” Whole neighborhoods of communities that had been devastated by Hurricane Sandy marched together. They know the power of climate change to cause damage to lives and jobs, and they learned that the wealthy people mainly responsible for causing the problems in the first place were not anywhere in sight when they were left without electricity and water for weeks. It was the people of Occupy who helped.
As the march got going, people were packed together, chanting and singing. It began to dawn on us that we were an enormous and diverse mass of people and we had become part of something historic. As the march began, those of us at about 72nd St. did not get to move for almost an hour because so many people were pouring into the march from the side streets. The route of the march was only a bit over two miles but it took three hours to reach the end point because of the size of the crowd. And when we did reach it, the later sections had not even started the march.
Along the route there were giant LED screens with pictures of the march. At one point all of the screens posted a notice to have a moment of silence for the victims of climate change. The huge crowd went silent and then, after a minute, the cheers began rolling down from one block to another, creating an inspiring and goose-bumpy feeling.
The march was criticized by some for not having any concrete demands. As we marched, we saw a wide diversity of people in organized contingents from neighborhoods, unions, schools and communities taking the time to march. It seemed that this broad call to fight climate change fit the diversity. We all need to work to change our society to make it sustainable and that fight will take different forms. The emphasis was on going back into peoples’ respective communities and continuing to organize on local and regional scales.
At the end, we were tired. Knees hurting, we watched the march for a while and then went home and prepared for the next day’s march from Battery Park to “Flood Wall Street,” organized by the folks from Occupy. Everyone was to wear blue to signify the waters rising around the capitalists of the financial center of the world.
The next morning, after a rally in Battery Park, four or five thousand of us marched without a permit into the streets of the financial district and occupied the streets for several blocks. Many people sat in the streets, sang songs, and danced to the music of the bands in the march. This went on all day and into the evening, when over 100 people were finally arrested. It was clear that the police were not anxious to make arrests and cause more ruckus.
Because of all of the work that went into turning out over 400,000 in New York and hundreds of thousands more around the world on the same day, it is clear that there is a climate movement, and like other historic movements before, it is made up of diverse groups and communities with different demands, but determined to keep going and building to stop climate change, and take power into our hands.
We are sounding the alarm on climate change, one of the greatest threats our world has ever faced. We are demonstrating the tide of anger, joy, and resolve that is going to do something about it.
Bobby and Michael Righi are retired college teachers and active members of PSARA .