Over 300,000 attend People’s Climate March
By Julia Rentsch, Staff Writer
To the uninformed onlooker who caught a musky whiff of marijuana smoke as it drifted over portions of the People’s Climate March, it might have seemed that the event was just another hippy-dippy protest of righteously indignant college liberals avoiding their homework. But what happened in New York City on Sunday was actually much more than that: it was the biggest protest for climate justice in history.
A staggering 310,000 people (for comparison, approximately 250,000 people participated in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963) gathered in the streets to shout, dance, sing, and brandish posters to peacefully yet fervently signal their displeasure at the political inaction that has allowed the causes of climate change to flourish.
Members of Gettysburg’s Environmental Concerns Organization (GECO) traveled to the march to participate. They were among thousands of other students, families, laborers, scientists, indigenous community members, elders, environmental organizations, anti-corporate campaigners, religious groups, community groups, and many others who marched.
“After attending a march in Washington D.C. in February of 2013 we were really excited for this march,” explained Betsy Atkinson, President of GECO. She continued, “I have never been more inspired to fight climate change and for cli
mate justice than now. Being with all those people and seeing how many people were affected and felt the same that I did gave me hope that maybe we can make a change in time to save our planet.”
For a lot of participants, what characterized the march as such an awesome and unprecedented event was the high level of diversity of their fellow marchers.
“The march’s inclusiveness really showed that nothing can divide us and nothing can stop us,” said Will Griswold, a Gettysburg student who marched. “I had never experienced anything like this in my life, and I hope it won’t be the last time.”
Another Gettysburg march attendee, Rachel Wigmore, said “everyone came together for the cause and, as cliché as it sounds, put all of their differences behind them. I took a picture of a few individuals on [a] float that looked like Noah’s Ark. They had people of all kinds of religious sects on it: Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and even an atheist holding a sign saying ‘#atheistontheark’. It was a beautiful thing to witness.”
The march, put together by climate campaign organization 350.org, hoped to convey a message of unity to the more than one hundred officials gathering in New York City for the U.N. Summit on Climate Change on Sept. 23.
According to their website, previous events organized by the 350.org team have been the Day of Climate Action in 2009, the Global Work Party in 2010, Moving Planet in 2011, and Climate Impacts Day in 2012. Marchers were grouped according to their affiliations, which also told a story of how everyone would band together to fight climate change. Themes in their marching order were “Frontlines of Crisis/ Forefront of Change,” “We Can Build the Future,” “We Have Solutions,” “We Know Who is Responsible,” “The Debate is Over” and “To Change Everything, We Need Everyone.”
2808 sister events in 166 countries occurred between September 20-21 in solidarity with the march in New York City. On its website, the People’s Climate group explain that they “realize that no single meeting or summit will ‘solve climate change’ so they primarily focus on the human beings involved in the movement: “the people who are standing up in our communities, to organize, to build power, to confront the power of fossil fuels and to shift power to a just, safe, peaceful world.”
For those unfamiliar with the idea of climate justice, it is based around the more commonly known principle of global warming. Global warming (also referred to as climate change) is the scientifically tracked rise in the average temperature of Earth’s surface over the past few centuries, with about two thirds of the increase occurring since 1980. Over ninety-five percent of climate scientists agree that the causes of global warming are man-made, a statistic that has been reprinted by many sources. Disputes over the evidence are common in popular media, but not in scientific discourse.
Climate justice is the movement to eliminate the unequal burdens of climate change, such as compromised health, financial burdens and social and cultural disruptions. Communities that are most at risk include those with low incomes, mostly black and indigenous populations. The belief behind support of climate justice is that no one should have to suffer the effects of climate change that were originally caused by anthropogenic abuse of the planet. Again, it is a focus on unity: no person deserves any more or any less than another.
Although certain news outlets have been writing condescending articles about the march, citing trash left in the streets and all the paper used to make posters as an illustration of the hypocrisy of the marchers, it is important to keep in mind the big picture: this march was what democracy looks like, as it allowed every person who wanted to speak to have a voice.
Sam Siomko, a GECO member who also attended the march, was particularly concerned about the media’s portrayal of the march in this way “because that really has something to say about our society. The fact is that news outlets can only pick out mistakes… instead of the fact that hundreds of millions of people banded together to stand up for something… It kind of makes me mad that
the good in this can’t be addressed, because everyone is still trying to make this a political thing.”
“I think the most important point the march was trying to make was that the climate is everyone’s issue,” said GECO member and march attendee Maddie Price. “No matter your political affiliation, you live on this planet too.”
“I felt like I was actually contributing to the movement,” continued Wigmore. “Every individual who participated was important because the numbers added up to a massive crowd that couldn’t be ignored.”
As the march and all its participants have again and again showed, the movement for climate justice is all-inclusive event. Any person can choose to be conscious of their actions and the way they affect others—be that by peacefully protesting or by simply reducing your consumption. “Students on campus need to know that they don’t have to turn vegan (though it would be more environmentally friendly) or go to other extremes in order to cause positive change,” explained Wigmore. “Simple things like not overprinting at the library can help.”
“Ideas for reform and activism are always being generated by Gettysburg students, but only so many fully follow through…we get caught up in school work, discouraged by unanswered emails, or don’t know who to seek for support,” explained Price.
“The People’s Climate March happened because a smaller group of people had an objective, came up with a plan, then worked relentlessly to bring their idea into reality, and people came to the march because they also held onto the faith that the people’s voices in great numbers will make change.”
“The hardest part,” explained Atkinson, “[is that] people don’t see climate change as an immediate thing, but it is. If we don’t do something now in defense of climate justice, then we will be too late. I hope that GECO can continue to be a group for environmental activism and change on the Gettysburg Campus and that this march shows that it is an important topic in this generation. The march was so inspiring and I hope that GECO can transfer some of that motivation into the campus community.”
For Gettysburg College students interested in environmental issues, activism, or education, GECO meets on Wednesdays at 7 in Plank basement. If you are ready for action and can’t wait until Wednesday, go to act.350.org and sign the letter to world leaders stating that you, too, cannot stand for climate change denial.
As stated by the People’s Climate website, “Our demand is for action, not words: take the action necessary to create a world with an economy that works for people and the planet – now. In short, we want a world safe from the ravages of climate change. To do that, we need to act—together.”