The People’s Climate March: Standing Up for Planetary Health

By path2positive

Saturday, April 29 brought some weird weather to Washington, D.C.: scorching, 90-degree temperatures. But for tens of thousands of dedicated people in the nation’s capital, the unseasonable heat seemed fitting for a People’s Climate March

The march’s mission was to unite the public on a single day to express their long-term commitment to removing barriers to a safe climate and a just society. This action-oriented goal was expressed in this slogan seen everywhere that day: “We Rise, We Build, We Resist.”

Multitudes with Messages

My husband and I happened to be visiting family in the area, so we decided to stay in a hotel on Capitol Hill. That made it easy to station ourselves at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 6th Street NW— the perfect vantage point from which to view the march when it kicked off a block away at 12:30 p.m.

We were well rewarded. Over the next two hours, about 200,000 marchers of all ages, from all over the country and all sectors, streamed by. They were organized into eight contingents. In order of appearance, they included:

  • “Protectors of Justice” (Indigenous peoples and frontline environmental justice communities)
  •  Creators of Sanctuary (immigrants, LGBTQ folks, women, Latinos, water keepers, food sovereignty and land rights advocates)
  • Builders of Democracy (labor, government workers, voting rights and democracy organizations)
  • Guardians of the Future (youth, parents, elders, students and peace activists)
  • Defenders of Truth (scientists, educators, technologists and the health community);
  • Keepers of Faith (religious and interfaith groups)
  • Reshapers of Power (economic justice, fossil fuel resistance, anti-nuclear; renewable energy; bicycling and clean transportation groups)
  • Many Struggles, One Home (environmentalists, climate activists, and others).

The mood was both earnest and festive, with plenty of humor and costumes on display. Popular slogans included “There Is No Planet B” and “Climate change doesn’t care if you believe in it” -- as well as a fair share of unprintable political sentiments. Another often-seen image was drawings of the president’s Mar a Lago resort swallowed by rising seas. (You can check out some of the best signs, courtesy of The Washington Post.) But while the posters, banners, and T-shirts were diverse, the underlying message was the same: Climate change is real, and it is time to end our nation's reliance on polluting fossil fuels and transition to an equitable, clean-energy economy.

Interestingly, as they marched, the formal contingents began to overlap and blur, a metaphor for how climate change impacts us all-- whoever we are and wherever we reside. Some groups are more vulnerable than others, which is why the Protectors of Justice initially led the parade.

The health care sector was well represented. Members of Physicians for Social Responsibility passed by just feet from me, carrying a banner almost as wide as the street. So did sign-bearing members of National Nurses United and the U.S. Climate and Health Alliance.  Black Doctors Against Climate Change, The New York State Nurses Association, the Maryland Environmental Health Network and many other practitioner groups also marched on Washington—check out their Twitter feeds for photos.

All of the participants were headed for the White House, which they then completely encircled. Sitting on the ground, they beat their hands against their hearts 100 times, symbolizing its occupant’s 100th day in office. And to punctuate their message: Act on climate now. (I didn’t witness this– but the president may have. According to NBC News, he was home at the time.) A rally followed at the Washington Monument, where ordinary people and celebrities alike shared stories, music, and artwork.  

The D.C. event was the nation’s largest climate march that day, but it was far from the only one. More than 300 sister marches took place in scores of other U.S. cities—including unseasonable Denver, where it snowed.  Health professionals were well represented there, too: among others, National Nurses United marched in Chicago; California Nurses marched in Los Angeles, Oakland, and San Diego; and the Maine Nurses Union marched in Augusta.

Communication in Context

While 200,000 is an impressive number of people, the crowd on April 29 was half the size of the 2014 climate march in New York City. The smaller numbers might be attributed to the fact that only last week, some 40,000 attended the March for Science, held on Earth Day. (In the pouring rain!) While strongly focused on climate, the science march mainly emphasized the importance of basing policy on facts and continuing to fund the scientific enterprise. (This article from International Business Times explains the main distinctions between the two events.)

But also, peaceful demonstrations aren’t for everyone. As a past marcher at other events, I know that they provide a great sense of community and allyship (“I’m not alone!”). They also offer many opportunities for networking. For those comfortable with public speaking (whether at a podium or chanting slogans) or talented in visual or performing arts, marches offer an ideal platform for self-expression. News cameras are at the ready to record important messages and put a human face on sometimes abstract issues.

On the other hand, while marches (like those for civil rights) have historically been powerful tools for change, they are mainly symbolic. That’s why it’s important to pair them with more practical, ongoing strategies –to reach our leaders, and to lead in our everyday lives.  ecoAmerica and Climate for Health offer many resources to do just that, including reports and webinars for communicating with specific groups, and a new set of fact sheets to share with patients and peers. For those not ready to run for office or take to the streets, this type of advocacy allows us to better control our messaging and to fit them into our daily routines.

Were you at one of the climate marches April 29? If so, why not share it on social media with the hashtag #climatemarch? Don’t forget to tag @climateforhealth! We’d also love to hear what you did for Earth Day.

 

Miranda Spencer is a freelance writer and editor specializing in environmental issues. If you have comments, questions, ideas, or would like to submit a blog of your own, feel free to contact her at [email protected]

 

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