The People’s Climate March – Taking it to the Streets

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A Demonstration for the Planet in Manhattan

The New York Times reported that over 400,000 climate change demonstrators frustrated by international inaction on global warming descended on New York City on Sunday, the 21st of September, marching through the heart of Manhattan with a message of alarm for world leaders set to gather at the United Nations for a summit meeting on climate change.

The People’s Climate March was joined by demonstrations on Sunday across the globe. Organizers were intent on creating a very big tent, to draw international attention to the overwhelming relevance of climate change and its deadly effects.

The march attracted leading lights in the environmental movement, most notably former Vice President Al Gore and secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, presiding over the week’s United Nations climate summit meeting. And it included Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York, who had just announced that he was committing the city to an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050.

But it was mostly an event for concerned ordinary people, many of them veterans of climate change efforts, others relative newcomers. From as close as the Bronx and as far as at least Rome and Romania, the demonstrators came in vast numbers- 400,000 at last estimate. Waving giant sunflowers and big blue waves.

On West 58th Street, the minaret of an inflatable mosque bobbed next to a wooden replica of Noah’s Ark the size of a school bus. Nearby, Capuchin Franciscan monks in flowing brown robes, who were in town from Rome for the march, mingled with nuns, while a group flying a pagan flag beat a drum.

Groups proclaiming multiple religions, ethnicities and generations marched together. At Columbus Circle, there were bare-breasted women and people with dreadlocks and homespun clothing. There were Muslim women wearing hijabs and groups of older women with signs proclaiming they were “Grandmas Against Global Warming.” and that “Gray Is Green.”

In front of the Flatiron Building, on Fifth Avenue, a 3,000-pound ice sculpture spelled out “The Future.” Dripping onto the sidewalk, it had been carved over two days in Queens by a group of Japanese ice sculptors. “I would say we are melting down the future,” said Nora Ligorano, one of the artists who conceived the work. “It’s a comment on what we are doing to the planet.”

Two high school seniors from Long Island, Kirsten Cunha and Alexandra Dos Santos, both 17, marched with dust masks over their mouths. “Wearing masks like this could quite possibly be our children’s future,” Ms. Dos Santos said.

One of the key organizers of the event, the international advocacy group Avaaz, presented a petition with more than 2.1 million signatures demanding action on climate change. “It’s a testament to how powerful this movement is,” Ricken Patel, executive director of Avaaz, said. “People are coming in amazing numbers.”

But the march wasn’t all balloons and noise makers and merry making. About 100 climate change protesters were arrested on Monday the 22nd as hundreds marched through the streets of Lower Manhattan. They had begun marching late Monday morning from Battery Park to Wall Street to protest the role they say investments in companies with practices that damage the environment play in encouraging climate change. Many of the demonstrators dressed in blue to symbolize a wave of water — water that could engulf the low-lying streets near the New York Stock Exchange, as it did during Hurricane Sandy.

The event, called Flood Wall Street, was planned over months as a more aggressive and angry corollary to the large-scale climate change march that drew more than 400,000 people to Midtown on Sunday. The activities on Monday were organized without official permission from the city, and many people taking part said they were willing to be arrested to show their conviction that the economic system encourages investment that is damaging to the environment.

At the height of the march, a few officers shoved demonstrators, and punched the hands of marchers gripping the barricades. Then, a burst of pepper spray sent many of the demonstrators reeling backward. The police said three protesters had been arrested by 7 p.m. . There were no reports of injuries, the police said.

Among them was Yates McKee, an art critic from Inwood in Upper Manhattan. “We’re highlighting capitalism as the target,” Mr. McKee said. “Capitalism equals climate chaos.”

As the protesters took to the roadways on Monday, blocking vehicles while chanting, dancing and holding meetings, the police appeared to take a restrained role, containing the roving group instead of confronting it directly.

This story is based on reports by Kim Wall and Beenish Ahmed with support from the UN Foundation.


About Claire McCurdy 3 Articles
Claire McCurdy, Senior Editor at the International Policy Digest has come to writing after years with New York educational and nonprofit organizations. Her international work experience began as a teacher of English in Japan in the 1970’s, followed by work at Japan Trade Center in New York in the early 80’s. .. For the past four years Claire has also written a column in the International Policy Digest, covering international relations, health, and the arts, as they pertain to Japan. After “3/11” Claire began to follow the news of Japan very closely. In July 2011, she attended and wrote a report on a Japan Society NY discussion featuring Japanese NGOs, academics and commentators, on the aftereffects of the triple disaster and the world’s response. She has been reporting on Fukushima events ever since through IPD and at meetings in Tokyo, Oxford (UK), and Rochester Institute of Technology, (RIT), New York. A resident of New York, NY, Claire has an M.A. in History from New York University.