Last Sunday, I joined 400,000 people in NYC for the largest and most diverse march the climate movement has seen. As world leaders prepared to gather at the United Nations for a summit meeting on climate change, people from around the world came together to take action in the face of inaction by world leaders. Though I’ve participated in many marches for a variety of causes, I’ve never been to one of this size, with this much energy and excitement.
As I stood in the crowd waiting for the march to begin, it struck me how representative the gathering was of the challenges and opportunities facing the climate change movement.
The diversity of people and backgrounds that mobilized on Sunday reiterated the message that the climate crisis is a global one that, while impacting some sooner and stronger than others, will eventually affect us all. The variety of signs, ranging from calls for food justice to Dogwood’s own Our Forests Aren’t Fuel banner underscored the fact that environmental irresponsibility has devastating consequences for nearly every aspect of our lives. And, as I stood there growing impatient for things to start moving, I thought about how, like the march, the climate change movement requires an extraordinary ability to coordinate diverse nations, issues and challenges.
The march was intentionally open and devoid of a concise and central ask. The marchers came together under the umbrella issue of the urgency of the situation. Representatives from indigenous communities, island nations, faith communities and the science community were present, as well as children, students, the elderly and all ages in between. Even with 400,000 of us present, we knew that we represented so many more who couldn’t be there. At 12:58, the crowd grew silent, as we took a moment to reflect on the gravity of the situation and to honor all those who have suffered the most from climate change. Then, one minute later, we rang an alarm – drums beating, horns blaring and mostly, the whoops and hollers of the marchers.
It was thrilling to participate in this moment, in what many have described as the turning point for climate change, the moment when our world and our leaders started to pay attention to this serious threat.
On one of my first marches, many years ago, in support of immigration reform, I met with a state senator afterwards. Sitting in his office, he told us that while we marched past their offices, state senators and their aides were doing little to take us seriously. To which my colleague replied, “We don’t do it for you, we do it for us”. This has always stuck with me and came to me again during the climate march. While no one believes the solutions will come over night, we came together as the people…because to not do so is too dangerous. What is at risk is so great that we can no longer sit silently. And, I believe that eventually our policymakers will take notice. I asked John Beal, a valued Dogwood Alliance Board Member, what brought him to the people’s march, and he replied, “I saw the power of the peace movement to change the direction of our country in the late 60’s. So I wanted to participate in this historic effort to move governments and corporations toward a greener future for the earth.” Throughout the march, I glimpsed similar messages of empowerment, from people who had changed their own personal habits, to those who were not giving up on the fight to protect their communities from new and existing threats. “It was also important to me as a board member,” John added, “to make sure that Dogwood Alliance was represented.” I agree. I felt proud to march behind the Dogwood banner, knowing that we at Dogwood are standing up to an industry that is built on false solutions and corporate greed, and that we are protecting some of our earth’s most incredible forests here in the Southeast. As I travel through North Carolina this week, meeting with community members in areas where new wood pellet facilities are to be built, I feel a renewed sense of belief in the power of the people to create the world we want to live in.
We need to do it now. March attendees sent a strong message to global leaders to act now on issues of climate change. Island communities reiterated that they do not have time to wait, and students and young people held signs urging policymakers to consider what will be inherited by their children and grandchildren. It is crucial that global leaders do the right thing and pave the way for sustainable policies that curb greenhouse gas emissions and encourage investment in true renewables such as wind and solar. But, the energy, urgency, and excitement of Sunday’s march is a reminder that we will not and cannot wait for our world leaders.
It is up to us to start building the world that ought to be.
While we wait for global leaders to catch up, we can all play a part to demand action and protect our earth. At Dogwood, we know that every voice matters and that every step in the right direction is part of the solution.