People’s Climate March

I’ll start with the train. 170 people rode coast to coast to attend the People’s Climate March in NYC, the largest climate focused protest in history. 120 folk started in Emeryville from all over the west coast, and 50 more joined along the way to Chicago. The trip took four days. The train was a great setting for organizing, strategizing, campaign building, and just getting to know fellow train riders. Each person had their own reason for getting aboard: some were working with local, statewide, or national organizations; others were working toward community resilience in impacted communities; and some just saw it as a great networking opportunity and a good way to get involved further within the movement. There were workshops held in the observation car, aisle ways, and any space available. Topics ranged from building alliances bridging races and genders, the importance of including indigenous communities and frontline members who bear the brunt of the burden caused by climate change, to people sharing stories and experiences of past actions against the Keystone XL Pipeline, tar sands extraction, mountaintop removal, and plugs from different organizations about what’s been going on in different areas. Sometimes, spontaneous conversations about politics, philosophies, and reshaping the system would last until the early hours of morning.

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When we got to Chicago, I was lucky enough to sit in on a People of Color Caucus. People of all origins, from impacted communities like Richmond, Oakland, and Native American reservations, told stories of witnessing first hand the externalized costs of climate change. Poor air quality, high health risks, contaminated water, schools and playgrounds next to factories, fear for the youth, and what it feels like to be forgotten about. We talked about oppression, being marginalized, systemic racism, white privilege, and the importance of building a movement which encompasses and includes ALL people, no matter their background. You can see pictures and videos of the damages, or watch lectures about these topics, but witnessing first hand real accounts from real people really drives the point home.

We made it to New York a few days before the March, so the organizers set up plenary talks to keep people busy. Jill Stein, presidential candidate for the Green Party; leaders of Idle No More, an indigenous people’s
rights coalition; Oscar Olivera, a labor leader from Bolivia who fought against the privatization of Cochabamba’s water supply; hip-hop artist Immortal Technique; and others all told their stories and spoke about the growing power behind our movement. They all stressed the importance of taking this momentum home with us to organize in our communities. This fight expands beyond us all, and the ones who have done the least to affect climate change bear the most weight of its impacts. It is up to us all to make our voices heard, but more importantly, do the dirty work that will help change the system.

At the march on Sunday, I was overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people who heeded the call of Bill McKibben and 350.org to take to the streets of New York and demand our leaders stop pidgeon footing around the issue.

310,000 people. Three Hundred Ten THOUSAND people were at
the march. You can’t joke about those kinds of numbers. We took over six city blocks! Union workers, labor rights advocates, lawyers, socialists, anarchists, children, old folk, indigenous leaders, frontline community members, teachers, students, scientists, a variety of campaign leaders and supporters of divestment, anti-extraction, clean air and water advocates, even celebrities—all marching in support of one thing: our future.

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The next day was Flood Wall St. Unlike the day before, this had no permits. Cops had police barricades lining the streets, and brought buses to intimidate us all. Smaller in size, about 1,500 people blocked Broadway St., and organized until we marched to the intersection of Wall St., which the police had blocked off. As people tried to pass the blockade over to Wall St., I witnessed three people get pepper sprayed and dragged to safety by fellow protesters. Luckily, medics were on hand and no one was seriously harmed or injured. The stand-off lasted for hours, filled with chants of “Whose side are you on?”, “Make Wall St. listen!”, and “Whose streets? Our streets!” among others. After dispersal orders were given, much of the crowd thinned out, save for the 100 or so people who stayed and were arrested. They were processed with minor charges.

This is a very small summary of what happened. It wasn’t pointless. It was more than symbolism. Our message was strong, and it was heard! Major companies have begun changing their portfolios to divest from fossil fuels and extraction companies. Even the Rockefeller heirs divested! And the U.N. took notice. At one point in the march they showed solidarity marches from over a dozen cities worldwide.

But now it’s up to us. All of us. As people who live in a first world country, we use the majority of resources. Unfortunately, there is currently no viable alternative to the power structure which exists.

So let’s build a new one. Not just for ourselves, but for everyone.

We all hold a responsibility to do something.

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Tommy Diestel can't remember life without music and writing. He began writing for the Synthesis at the ripe age of 19, and aspires to be a life-long writer.