Day 1 of the People's Climate Change March in New York City brought together folks from all over the world for the party. From flood victims in Red Hook, New Jersey, to drought-stricken Native Americans, every permutation of climate change was represented in the estimated 300,000 plus crowd that marched from Columbus Circle, across Central Park South, down Sixth Avenue, and west to the Hudson River. With self-assertion in myriad forms, from dancers to tuba players, with floats and costumes, it was as festive as the Macy's day parade.
Along with its primary focus of demanding a halt to the greenhouse gas emissions associated with recent droughts, floods, hurricanes and pestilence (yes, there is a distinctly biblical ring here), the march allowed for the raising of many related concerns. Climate change is not happening in a vacuum, and speakers referred repeatedly to "corporate greed" as complicit in its profiting from mining and burning fossil fuels. Issues and answers filled the streets.
George Ferguson, the mayor of Bristol, England, shared his city's newly minted currency, which he claims is accepted by thousands of businesses. Ferguson believes the answer to today's inequitable society is to go local, to bring business home instead of relying on distant corporate providers. "We need to grow local vegetables, not support the trucking of food from hundreds of miles away."
Vandana Shiva came all the way from India, concerned about the rising waters in Bangladesh and blaming the crash of 2008 for many of her county's ills. But she offered a hope for the future: "When Wall Street fails you, the earth will be there."
Beautifully festooned indigenous peoples from Mexico dressed mostly in enormous feathers celebrated their traditional culture, threatened by globalization. Upstate New Yorkers held anti-fracking placards in favor of retaining the moratorium on shale mining in the state.
And what's a good rally without Labor? From the Teamsters Brewery Workers to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the unions spoke resolutely from their pre-march platform, advocating for good green jobs. Referring to the controversy over using work horses in Central Park, an advocate rallied, "There's no greener transportation than a horse-drawn carriage- let them stay!"
Adhering to the website's posted guidelines, the crowd followed their marching orders. Participants were spirited but well-behaved. They sang songs, beat drums and waved banners, so celebratory in their complaints that it barely felt like a protest.
Day 2 of the Climate March was not so restrained. The non-permitted, unofficial Flood Wall Street march kicked off in Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan under blue skies with advice about what to do if you got arrested. Then came some ardent speeches from voices well versed in climate change and how to demand it, including some articulate luminaries. Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein held "capitalistic excess" accountable: "If there is hope of building an ecologically sustainable and socially equitable economy, we have to start at the root." Acclaimed columnist and social critic Chris Hedges pointed north, saying, "Up that street lies the emerald city of Wall Street." He went on to condemn corporate profiteering and ended by declaring now the time for revolution.
Since the speakers had no microphone, people repeated their words, carrying the message back through the crowd in waves. The echoed phrases took on the sound of a liturgy, like the exchange during a service between the spiritual leader and the congregation.
Following this rousing start, the march proceeded towards Wall Street, dancing, singing and cavorting in high spirits. The presence of the police grew thicker. Two enormous balloons labeled "CARBON BUBBLE" bounced around above the heads of the marchers. When the air-filled balls picked up speed, the police nabbed and collapsed them. Huge boos followed from the crowd.
Chants took many forms, often targeting the financial and corporate sectors as major obstacles in the climate change challenge:
"People gonna rise like the water
We're gonna calm this crisis down
I hear the voice of my great granddaughter
Saying shut down Wall Street now!"
The tone of the crowd, while still playful and creative, was clearly more confrontational than Day 1. A more insistent vibe carried the dancers on stilts, the brass band, and someone dressed in a polar bear suit who spoke if spoken to: "I came down here from the Arctic because my home is melting." At the hour of this writing, my Twitter feed records two arrests, one of them the polar bear.
While some may criticize that the many coalitions represented reflect a lack of focus, it can also be viewed as appropriate that a wide range of groups get their two cents in. Because nobody's going to escape climate change-- it's an equal opportunity destroyer.