The People’s Climate March: A Climax and a Beginning

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

-Winston Churchill

“Oh my God, I can’t believe we’re down here again,” exclaimed a brash sign at the People’s Climate March in downtown Washington, DC. The first 100 days of the Trump administration have been marked by protest after protest, from the Women’s March to the First Nations March to the March for Science, all of which I enthusiastically covered for EarthTalk. Yet 100 days in, with the People’s Climate, I was exhausted and disaffected, wanting only to get it over with and move on to different kinds of stories.

SAM 0361 400x267 The People’s Climate March: A Climax and a BeginningThe march itself, however, convinced me otherwise. The size and exuberance of the crowd, the dynamism of the floats, displays, and multiple giant floating earths brought a fresh excitement. For an environmentalist, the People’s Climate March should be the culmination, and indeed it succeeded.

“After all the marches I couldn’t believe the turnout,” says Ashlea Glickstein, a volunteer organizer from nearby Maryland, estimated at over 200,000 in DC, plus 370 sister marches across the nation. In the capitol city, people streamed in from all corners of the United States, from Indiana to California, bearing affiliations from organized labor, religious denominations from Episcopalian to Muslim, and indigenous people.

“A coalition of over 50 organizations help coordinate the march,” explains Maura Cowley, Associate Director of the Sierra Club Climate Campaign, encompassing “progressive organizations, labor unions, environmental justice, and mainstream environmentalism.”

Glickstein praised “the energy of all the people there, the willingness to stay whole time in the heat, to march all way down to White House,” which masses of people surrounded as the march neared its end. Finally, it culminated in a massive rally at the Washington Monument punctuated by funky music and spirited speeches.

comb over 400x267 The People’s Climate March: A Climax and a Beginning“This is a wake up call to the administration,” exclaims Terry McGuire, Senior Legislative Representative at Earthjustice. The message for the Trump administration and its supporters is that, for its “coziness with big polluting companies, there will be a political price to pay.”

Glickstein has felt compelled to return, march after march, by the gravity of an administration that outright denies climate science and has moved aggressively to reverse generations-old protections to our air and water. “My husband is a climate scientist,” she explains. “The best information we have from the best experts not only in the U.S. but all around the world . . . is that there is anthropogenic warming.” She adds that, “to continue to ignore experts” and “interpret data incorrectly, it’s essentially criminal.”

This was actually the second People’s Climate March. The first was held in 2014 in New York City under radically different circumstances. “We had President Obama,” says McGuire, “holding polluters accountable. That administration was not always perfect, but we were there to push them.” Indeed, the Obama administration spent its last couple of years ushering in the Paris Climate Agreement which, while imperfect, held out the best chance so far of providing a decent future for humanity.

“The dynamics this time are completely different,” says McGuire. The Trump administration is initiating “significant regulatory rollbacks to diminish, undermine, and block a whole host of public safeguards.” The goal now is not just to march forward (although that would certainly be nice), but to avoid crashing backward.

The march’s full title is “The People’s Climate March for Jobs and Justice,” fitting it within the crescendoing series of protests against the Trump administration. “All these issues are connected,” says McGuire. “People need clean air and water to have a job, a place they can provide for families.”

SAM 0307 400x267 The People’s Climate March: A Climax and a Beginning“Clearly low income communities, communities of color are disproportionately affected” by climate change, along with air and water pollution, explains McGuire. For environmentalists, this means new outreach and coalition building. McGuire points out that “bad ozone days . . . smog and dirty air are directly connected to climate change. The EPA’s own data” shows these have “disproportionate impacts on children and folks next to roadways.” Climate change is a social justice issue, and it showed at the march.

Cowley concurs, explaining that “we see the attacks on unions, climate, people of color, immigrants, as all connected.” Resistance to the current administration and Congress is coalescing into “one broad movement—pushing for solutions that can create good jobs, build a new economy.” A new economy requires a new coalition, which showed up at the march.

Indeed, environmental jobs have been growing faster than other sectors of the economy. “We’ve always known it’s a false choice, environmental safeguards over economic growth,” says McGuire. “The numbers on job growth in solar and wind, it’s staggering.”

SAM 0354 400x267 The People’s Climate March: A Climax and a BeginningA rally can inspire, but it is only one part of an ongoing movement that will require continued political engagement. In the long-term, Glickstein sees education as the best remedy. “There are plenty of places people don’t have access to information,” she says, “and they are more easily controlled by the influence of people who are lying to them.” The march, that is, is only a preliminary action in a long struggle that will take place on many fronts, in many communities.

Still, the People’s Climate March has sent a “clear message to the administration and the world,” says Cowley. “The American people want to see action on climate change.”

“This is our collective home, this little planet earth we all live in, all are connected in a web of community,” exclaims McGuire. More than anything, this, perhaps, explains the march’s huge numbers and tremendous ethnic and social diversity. The time for individual action seems, for the moment, to be over. It is all one movement now.