The People’s Climate March: A Dazzling Display of Unity

By Jenny Silverman

We asked BBR member Jenny Silverman to write about her experiences as part of the People’s Climate March in New York City on September 21.

It was quiet and dark in the parking lot in the early morning of September 21 as people began arriving with banners, signs, and daypacks. We were gathering to meet the Jamaica Plain buses organized by 350.org to take us to New York City, to what had been billed as the largest climate change rally in history.  Our bus was filled with young and old, from two-year-old Abra going to her first major demonstration with her parents, to veterans of the civil rights, human rights, antiwar, and environmental movements of years past. My worlds blended on our bus, as it included folks working with me to build a new food co-op in Dorchester, fellow members of Dorchester People for Peace, and a large contingent from Boston Workmen’s Circle, where I am the director of our progressive, secular Jewish Sunday School. I was accompanied by Owen, one of my sixth-grade students, who didn’t want to miss the People’s Climate March even though neither of his parents could go.

Our buses rumbled down the highway during the early morning hours, and we felt the excitement build as we stopped at a rest stop filled with other buses and cars going to the march. What had motivated all these people to mobilize their friends and communities to come to New York City this September morning? Clearly, the time had come for people to advocate for global action on climate change and its complex impacts. Rising ocean levels and warming, melting glaciers, increasing “superstorms,” severe droughts, wildfires, invasive plants and animals, and more: all of these events and environmental threats affect every area of the earth and have been sounding alarm bells that more people are finding impossible to ignore.

As our bus pulled into New York City and made its way down Fifth Avenue, it stopped to let off passengers who crossed Central Park to join their contingents lining up for more than fifty blocks on the west side of Manhattan. Our Boston Workmen’s Circle contingent was dropped off at 59th street, where we made our way through the already crowded streets to join our national organization.

  Photo credit: John Minchillo

Photo credit: John Minchillo

Already, we could see the head of the march, which was ready to start moving downtown from Columbus Circle. The organizers wisely decided that the march would be led by those people who are first and most significantly impacted by climate change, including indigenous peoples and environmental justice organizations. Behind them was an impressive array of different constituencies, including labor, generation groups, environmental groups, anticorporate and peace and justice groups, interfaith groups, scientists ("the debate is over”), and groups from different parts of the country. Within each of these general groups were smaller affinity groups with colorful banners, signs, costumes, and floats highlighting different aspects and issues of the climate change challenge.

 Photo credit: Owen Dodd Photography

Photo credit: Owen Dodd Photography

Our Boston Workmen’s Circle Group was marching with the interfaith groups, and we found our staging area on 58th Street filled with congregations and groups identified by signs and banners: Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Atheists, Pagans, Wiccans, Hare Krishnas, and our delegation of more than 100 from the National Workmen’s Circle. At the front of these groups was a large “Ark” with references to the man-made “flood” awaiting us, and a large “mosque” float.

 Photo credit: Light Brigading

Photo credit: Light Brigading

The atmosphere was festive as we waited more than two hours to begin marching. When we finally fed into the march, it was exhilarating to join more than 400,000 people who filled the streets and sidewalks of midtown Manhattan: babies in backpacks, toddlers in strollers, octogenarians, and many, many young people—teens, college students, and young adults. People of all colors and all faiths, gay and straight, artists, workers, vets, and vegans created a dazzling display of unity.

Later on in the march, I met up with my affinity group from the Clamshell Alliance, a group I worked with to try to stop the building of the Seabrook nuclear power plant in the late 1970s. Our affinity group has stayed together for almost forty years—working together and individually for environmental and social change, and it seemed fitting that we should all be together again for this major action.

jenny 5.jpg

Where do we go from here? Clearly, having 400,000 people marching in the streets of New York City (and in accompanying rallies that same day across the globe) is an important step and energizing for all. 350.org and other leaders are hopeful that the energy from the march and the ensuing direct actions the days that follow will be noticed by world leaders, and that the march participants will return to their local communities to continue to build a grassroots movement to reduce carbon and the use of fossil fuels and to strengthen the effort to build sustainable systems that will enable humankind to live in harmony with the planet. Are we ready to roll up our sleeves and do the work?

You can take action for the climate by participating in the 2014 EcoChallenge, October 15–29. Choose a challenge that will make an impact and track your progress online.