One with the Crowd

The People’s Climate March from New York

Clarkies Alexis Charney and Kevin Dunn at the march | Photo: Gretta Cox-Gorton
Clarkies Alexis Charney and Kevin Dunn at the march | Photo: Gretta Cox-Gorton

On a cloudy Sunday morning, the New York subways were packed with a motley collection of people. From people carrying banners in Spanish to new-age hippies in flower power outfits, everyone was heading midtown to the streets around Columbus Circle. There was a palpable sense of unity in the air, as strangers helped each other with directions, accommodated oversized posters in the crowd, and shared secret smiles of acknowledgement, for everyone was united in the same cause. The biggest climate march in the world was happening in the heart of Manhattan on September 21, and the whole city was abuzz.

Universities from all over the East Coast and from as far as Berkeley travelled overnight to arrive at the People’s Climate March. A Clark bus carried around fifty Clarkies to the march, though demand far exceeded supply, and for that week the campus was divided into two groups – those who went to the march, and those who hated the people who could go to the march.

At Columbus Circle, the first contingent was forming in the early hours of the morning. First in the rally were the indigenous groups, those whose lives are directly affected by climate change, joined by actor Leonardo DiCaprio, former Vice President Al Gore, and UN Chief Ban Ki-moon. They were followed by different environmental justice groups, associations, watchdogs, anti-war, and anti-capitalism brigades, and the student contingents.

From a distance, the whole of 6th Avenue looked like a mass of dark heads, with colorful banners bobbing intermittently. Every environmental issue under the sun was being represented by someone. People were angry, they were concerned and they made it known; but instead of civil disobedience, the anger was expressed with a creative outpouring. Behind the police barricades and do-not-cross signs, people were cheerily marching on, children held hand painted “Plant trees” posters, middle-aged men wore polar bear hats, and old women carried anti-fracking posters (“Frack me? Frack you!”).

In places, the sound of trombones and guitars drowned out the chatter. There were dance groups with drums and saxophones driving the crowd wild. A choir of three strummed Native American songs about nature while riding on a bicycle cab.

In the distance, paper birds floated over the crowd, behind the backdrop of foggy Manhattan skyscrapers. The crowd snaked through the city streets, passing by the towering behemoths of capitalism, sometimes raising hands in solidarity, sometimes letting out a battle cry that carried out from one end of the avenue to the other.

Being flanked by towering brick structures should have made the protesters feel alienated, but somehow, the Manhattan setting felt perfect. It imbued the protestors with a sense of the odds we were marching against, armed with the knowledge that behind the scene, meetings were being held, that the higher-ups were being forced to listen. Ahead of the UN summit on climate change, which some countries were still dallying about attending, and where the topic of oceans was being sidelined, the march felt like a very public push.

The march was deliberately inclusive; ideologies clashed, but tolerance prevailed. Outside of New York, in Paris, London, or New Delhi, people were taking to the streets, ready to put their differences away for the common cause. It was this air of unity that made the march a success. There were more people in the world who cared.