Up until Sunday, I had never been in a march before. And that felt … bad. Like I wasn’t a real environmentalist. I can buy organic food and non-toxic beauty products, recycle, blog, and bring my reusable bag and water bottle everywhere. But if I haven’t raised my voice? Well, that is an incomplete career in protecting the environment.
So, despite the fact I hadn’t gotten home until 5 am the night before, on Sunday morning I roused myself and my boyfriend from bed, showered, and took the train uptown to meet Elizabeth from The Note Passer and her husband to join the march. Elizabeth treated us to fresh apple crumble muffins, packed herself a mason jar of water to bring along, and off we went to 86th Street.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you’re into exercise and making things hard on yourself), we ended up at the very, very back of the march. It literally petered out a half block behind us. Down at Columbus circle, the march had started and was winding its way southwest over to 11th Avenue and 34th Street. But for the first two hours, we saw close to zero movement. So we hung out, chatted, and took pictures. It was fun, but very anticlimactic. Lazy, even. Is this really how you change the world? By chillin’?
It got me to thinking about protests. Today Flood Wall Street is staging civil disobedience by sitting in on the steps of the NYSE. (A largely symbolic sit-in, since nobody of importance really needs to get in and out of the stock exchange these days–it’s all online.) But I wondered, as we cracked jokes about the vaguely disappointed crowd of respectful (mostly-white, though not all white) people hanging out on the Upper West Side, would this make a difference?
Sure, nearly 400,000 people turned out for the largest climate march in history. For better or for worse, everyone comported themselves perfectly, with no arrests being made. Nothing was broken. Most of the chants were even curse-word free. I imagined the people who have the power to move us forward on addressing climate change sitting over at the UN, blandly remarking on the march. “Oh, there are some people walking down the street on the other side of town. Hmm, that is interesting.” And then moving on with whatever cynical, back-room agreements they came to the table with.
Or maybe the march will tell them something. 400,000 people is 5% of the population of New York City. The march seemed to go forever, as thousands upon thousands of people passed through Columbus circle, down through Times Square and over to 11th Avenue. Will leaders see that people care? Or will it take something more drastic to get them to sit up and notice?
Another observation: the wide variety of interest group, organizations, and coalitions involved that were still all on-message. There were people demanding a ban on fracking, people supporting better cycling infrastructure in cities, people asking for alternative energy options, people against capitalism, people against all fossil fuels, people for a carbon tax and people for clean water and clean air, and people against the pentagon. But it all went back to the same message: we need to lower our carbon emissions. Now. There’s a variety of ways to do it, and they all deserve consideration.
One thing I thought about a lot was the amount of plastic I saw during the march. It wasn’t a huge amount, but I would always do a bit of a double-take when I saw people decorating themselves or art with plastic. But then I told myself to chill out. Because people aren’t perfect. And we’re asking for a world in which we can find these things–buttons, laminated cards, costumes, etc.–without plastic. We want to live in a world where it’s possible to just live in general, to survive without plastic. We’re asking for alternatives.
However, for a crowd of 300,000, there was remarkably little trash. We saw one overflowing trash can in midtown. Otherwise, it was a neat and tidy march. I blame the mason jars. (Wink.)
When we did finally get moving, it was still slow-going. Five hours later we had only made it to 42nd Street and 9th Avenue. Our backs were hurting, our feet were sore, and we decided to call it a day, rather than continue to march west and then have to walk back east to find a subway station. We had been counted. We had chanted. We had seen and been seen.