Sunday, September 21, 2014

People's Climate March

From Peoples Climate March
Manhattan, New York, NYC

I remember being dismayed at how small and sordid Occupy Wall Street seemed to me, when I first visited. Sarah L and I, who had weathered the Egyptian Revolution and its aftermath together, went down to see Zuccotti Park on the day Gaddafi was killed in Libya. I was high on revolution that day, with the fall of perhaps the most brutal dictator of the Arab Spring (Morsi and Sisi not yet in the picture). There was, I felt confident, a global groundswell rising. Omar Offendum's anthem #Syria rang in my head:

isqaat an-niDHaam!
The people
will never be defeated!

I stood on the corner of Broadway with Sarah L, facing Zuccotti Park in silence, feeling my shoulders droop. A few hundred people standing around in white man dreadlocks and grunge, some bedraggled tents, signs leaning against trees, bits of rubbish on the ground. There was noise, but no energy. Not like Tahrir Square. We looked at each other, shrugged. "There's this great French place around here with amazing crepes," Sarah said, pulling out her smartphone.

Nearly a year later, OWS announced a march to reboot the movement, on May 1, the great socialist holiday of International Workers' Day. I expected the same desultory showing, but I was unemployed and at loose ends; I couldn't job search 24/7, and the exercise would be good for me. Some people from All Souls Unitarian Church and Fourth Universalist Church would be marching with Occupy Faith, so I decided to meet them at the Ghandi statue in Union Square.

Marching with All Souls' Asst Minister Lissa Anne Gundlach and Director of Religious Ed Taryn Strauss was different, immersive. We discussed the issues as we walked, photographed people's signs, and Taryn led us in "This Little Light of Mine." We shouted, "The people / united / will never be defeated," and people cheered us from fourth and fifth floor windows and fire escapes. It was a transformative experience that eventually led me to my job at All Souls, which came to include organizing with Lissa around the People's Climate March.

This was entirely different again because this time it did feel like a movement. I remember first hearing about the march back in May at a screening of Groundswell Rising at All Souls, an anti-fracking documentary. " wants to top the biggest climate protest in history, 85,000 in Copenhagen. We're aiming for 100,000." I thought it was a pretty number but I didn't know how realistic it was.

Then I was attending a free summer concert in Prospect Park: Janelle Monae, the series opener. Young people were going up and down the long line of waiting concert-goers with quarter sheets of paper, encouraging the hipsters, rock fans, families and neighbors to the People's Climate March. "I've already got one. I'll be there," I said, but I wondered if that many people really cared about the climate, even in liberal New York, even so soon after Superstorm Sandy.

After we started talking about it at All Souls, though, I began to have hope that this really did move people. The Unitarian Universalist regional district was organizing homestays for UUs from across the country. There were dozens coming down from Vermont, a couple hundred traveling together by train from California. We were the second largest faith contingent at the march, behind only the Catholics!
From Peoples Climate March

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