We marched. We chanted. We got counted.
Yesterday my long-suffering husband woke up with me at 3:00 am, drove me over to VCU to pick up three strangers, drove us all over to the James River Transportation parking lot to get on a bus with 54 other (mostly) strangers. We came together for a common cause, one that was waking people up all over the East Coast to get on busses headed for NYC. One that was mobilizing people all over the world, in 166 countries, to march together to "peoplesplain" to our world leaders at the UN Climate Summit this week, that it's not ok to continue business as usual. It's not ok to keep acting like the planet has infinite resources and that greed is more important than our environment.
The organizers of this march in NYC were top-notch. They've been driving this action for over two months. They gathered a coalition of over 1500 groups: environmentalists, justice workers, students, spiritual leaders, you name it. They provided simple instructions on how to accomplish the goal of recruiting marchers. They gave us great posters, flyers, sample letters, phone bank tactics, and more.
Communication on the day of the march was simple and efficient. Our bus captain (she-who-endured-countless-conference-calls) knew right where to direct our bus and a greeter hopped aboard as soon as we were close to the curb. The greeter gave us the marshaling plan (which our bus captain has already given us on nice card stock) and answered any last minute questions, then we were off to grab our signs from the bottom of the bus and head towards our spot on 77th street. We signed up for a text group to monitor for the moment of silence at 12:58 pm and receive other important announcements.
By the time we reached 77th, we were immersed. That's the only word I can find right now to describe the seething mass of humanity that greeted us. And we were there pretty early. It was amazing to be surrounded by so many hopeful, energetic, dedicated, concerned, steadfast and opinionated people of all ages. I saw the stooped veterans of many marches wearing their protest buttons and ribbons covering every inch of hats, t-shirts and vest. I saw thousands of students. I saw lots of babies.
The diversity of groups was astounding. I was marching with the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club, so I was expecting lots of other environmental groups. We were, after all, marching in Section 3 (of 6): "We Have Solutions" - a just transition is possible - Renewable Energy, Food and Water Justice, Environmental Organizations, etc. I also saw people from other groups as they made their way to their staging areas. Sometimes it seemed like every third person had on a different shirt. I was happy our group had a big banner to carry so we could attempt to stay somewhat together.
I haven't marched in anything in quite some time and I didn't realize how important it is to wear your message. Headgear is especially important. You want to build something creative that makes a powerful statement. It needs to be big, durable, yet lightweight. Signs are a real pain to carry and when people are marching toe to heel, signs are hard to read. Best is headgear that is also a sign. Noisemakers seem to be pretty popular also. There was plenty of cowbell.
Precisely at 12:58, hands started shooting up in the air and voices (and cowbells) just stopped. There were a few seconds of the inevitable shushing noises as the slower folks got the message and then it started to get really quiet, really, really quiet. The quiet started getting deeper and clearer. The quiet became almost a thing. It got longer and energy settled. Then the wave of noise started from the front and bore down on us, catching our breath as we cheered and hollered. It was forceful. It was hundreds of thousands of people inhaling and exhaling as one.
The official count in the news media was over 400,000 people. We marched as best we could from where we were, at the end of Solutions. We finally realized that at the pace we were going, we couldn't hope to finish the march and meet our bus on time, so we cut out at 65th street, headed over to Columbus and hoofed it down to 37th to meet the bus. Six hours later, my trusty driver was there in the dark to drive us back to our beds.
I hope and pray that our leaders understood the commitment and energy involved in gathering that many people in one place for one reason. This week, as the UN leaders debate the policies that will drive our planet's future forward, I hope they keep in the minds the image and sound of 400,000 people marching and chanting for a new direction for our finite earth.