NEW YORK CITY, September 21 2014 – An active, strong voiced, diverse and creative multitude filled New York City’s broad 6th Avenue from sidewalk to sidewalk for more than five hours during the People’s Climate March on September 21. People were happy and apparently mostly optimistic and well informed, sharing information about their particular concerns, engaging with spectators, and joyfully waving signs and banners. Thousands of placards and many groups emphasized community action, clean energy and a better future.
Crowd estimates ranged up to 400,000, many more than the 100,000 that had been expected. It is unclear now what effect these marchers that surged through Midtown Manhattan will have on leaders and the political system, but the turnout was so large it seemed an indication of a relentless popular demand for action on climate change.
Beginning at 11 am at Columbus Circle with waves of marchers representing affected communities, indigenous people, workers and migrants, the march turned down 6th Avenue for 17 blocks and then passed through Times Square on 42nd Street. The last marchers did not reach the end of the course until almost five pm and organizers urged people to disperse quickly then because the march’s police permit had timed out.
The march was announced in May by Bill McKibben of 350.org, and it became a national and worldwide event. Despite the presence of celebrities and leaders like McKibben, Al Gore, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jane Goodall, several Senators and UN chief Ban Ki-Moon himself, the march’s emphasis and leading message was for “climate justice” — help and change for those most affected by climate disruption, through positive action by themselves, business and government leaders.
More than 1,500 organizations from across the U.S. and many nations took part in organizing logistics and attendance, representing the poor, labor, native American, climate solutions, peace, anti-corporate campaigns, youth, scientists and local environmental groups. It was clear during the march, however, that many thousands of individuals and families had also come to add their own independent aspiring and determined voices. The rally took place two days before a special United Nations meeting in New York about climate change involving thousands of UN delegates.
Waves of cheers and music from more than 30 bands echoed through the marching crowd, most dramatically after a 1 pm halt and moment of silence — broken by a loud tsunami of cheering and drumming flowing down the march route. In the line of march were giant puppets, 20 foot circular banners, large inflated globes and life preservers, a Noah’s ark — but only one powered vehicle, a biofuel truck pulling a trailer marked “People Power.”
One man pushed a five foot lump of soil representing the need for an Earth Representative to the United Nations; another pulled a tray of dry ice like a great weight. Filipino laborers swept the street urging us to “Clean Up the Mess”, and cloth heron puppets on tall poles flew over the crowd symbolizing people who are in flight from pollution and climate disasters. Many people’s signs indicated impatience with political inaction and concern with climate disasters, but calls for justice, local organization and new energy futures predominated.
Indigenous people and more than 300 youth from the New York City area began the People’s Climate March, calling for climate justice.
Strong calls for new energy and a cleaner, healthier future were common along the parade, as was a mix of ages, races, nationalities and working backgrounds.
The elements, as both strong sources of Native American spirituality and new energy for the future, are carried aloft in the indigenous people’s portion of the march.
Community gardeners from the New York area were the focus of this group carrying placards, here in the Times Square area of corporate advertising signs and entertainment.
Five-year-old Julia Aristi walks with her family. Her parents, originally from Spain, brought her, said her mother, “to learn how to claim what she thinks is right.”
Kids play under a giant circular banner carried by a Hispanic climate action group.
The food focus groups of the march carried messages ranging from anti-industrial farming to the threats to agriculture from weather disasters to local food growing and gardening.
Communities flooded and shattered by rising sea level and hurricanes marched as “Shorefront Communities United” with each town named on a life preserver.
A huge circular banner reading “It takes roots to weather the storm” emphasized local organization and preparedness.
One of hundreds of earths carried along the march route is hoisted by Wren Miller of New Hampshire, who came with her husband, baby, dad and neice. “Momentum is building,” she said. “The great thing about this is that it reaches more and more people.”
Photojournalist Gary Braasch has covered and photographed the science and effects of global warming for 15 years. His archive of images is online at worldviewofglobalwarming.org. Braasch’s photographs have been used for United Nations postage stamps and calendars, in exhibitions at the Boston Museum of Science and Chicago’s Field Museum, and in an app “Painting With Time: Climate Change.” Currently a 32-print exhibit is showing in Munich. His books on the subject include Earth Under Fire: How Global Warming is Changing the World (University of California Press) and How We Know What We Know About Our Changing Climate: Scientists and Kids Explore Global Warming (with Lynne Cherry; Dawn Publications). Dr. Joan Rothlein contributed to his reporting on the climate march.