Thousands gathered in Washington February 17 to urge the President to move on climate change and to protest the Keystone XL pipeline.

On Sunday, February 17th, somewhere between 35,000 and 50,000 people traveled to Washington from Maine to California and in-between to urge action on climate change, starting with rejection of permits for the Keystone XL pipeline.

Billed by its organizers as the “largest climate change protest in the history of the United States,” the “Forward on Climate” rally was conceived and coordinated by [see here] and Sierra Club [and here] and joined by more than 160 other environmental and civic organizations.

Bracing winds compounded the chill of the low-30s temperature for those who assembled to hear activists, celebrities, politicians, and indigenous peoples urge action on climate change. (Former Obama official Van Jones delivered a particularly stirring speech, urging young people in the crowd to “stop being chumps”: “If you don’t fight for what you want, you deserve what you get.”)

Organizers distributed signs for “Forward on Climate” and “It’s time to cut carbon.” But many brought their own signs — or wore costumes — to protest against fracking or on behalf of Arctic wildlife. (Yes, for many the polar bear remains the go-to image for climate change.)

The crowd then marched around the White House to deliver rhythmic messages of protest — e.g. “Barrack Obama, yes you can / stop the dirty pipeline plan” and “Hey Obama / we don’t want no pipeline drama” — to the president.

CNN offered the only significant pre-coverage of the event, framing it as a follow-up to the smaller protest the Wednesday before, when Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and his son, along with activist Bill McKibben, actress Daryl Hannah, the Sierra Club’s Michael Brune, civil rights leader Julian Bond, and some 40 others, were arrested for cuffing themselves to the White House fence.

News coverage since the Sunday rally has been quite extensive, as evidenced by this early “round up” by Inside Climate News.

[View larger image]
Photo 1: People quickly filled the area in front of a stage near the Washington Monument.

[View larger image]
Photo 2: Elliot Crown came from New York City to protest environmental impacts of fracking in the Marcellus Shale formation, which runs through Pennsylvania and New York.

[View larger image]
Photo 3: Three different groups of protestors gather for a joint picture by the many amateur, freelance, and professional photographers in attendance. The fool/fuel pun was a staple at the rally.

[View larger image]
Photo 4: The area between the jumbotron and the sidewalk ringing the Washington Monument filled mid-rally. Inside the crowd, protection from the wind helped compensate for the cloudy day and chilly temperatures.

[View larger image]
Photo 5: After the rally, the crowd moved from the Mall to Constitution Avenue. Several minutes passed waiting for the ‘Obama lead on Climate!’ banner to arrive.

[View larger image]
Photo 6: Park police — on horseback, on motorcycles, on foot, and in cars — monitored marchers closely, especially at turns in the route.

[View larger image]
Photo 7: A gaggle of photographers and videographers captured the crowd from the base of Rochambeau’s statue at the southwest corner of Lafayette Park.

[View larger image]
Photo 8: In the narrow space left by the fenced-off inaugural platforms, still being disassembled, the crowd chanted for several minutes before marching back to the Mall, where, after some dancing and photo-ops with the organizers, it dispersed.

Photo Credits:  Images 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, and 8 by Brian Nielson, image 4 by Steven Svoboda, each using Android-based tablets. (One problem with tablet photo-journalism in cold weather: you can only activate the touch screen with bare fingers.)

Michael Svoboda

Michael Svoboda, Ph.D., is a professor in the University Writing Program at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where he has taught since 2005. Before completing his interdisciplinary...