Wellesley Went to New York & Met 400,000 Friends

Phyllis Theermann

climate change march 1

Show me what democracy looks like.
This is what democracy looks like : people in the streets making their concerns clear to those they employ as politicians.

A few months ago several of the Sustainable Wellesley (SW) Leadership decided to go to the Climate March in New York. We had gone to one in Washington where up to 40,000 people turned out in the cold to walk around the White House to send a message about Keystone XL to the President. As Bill McKibben said on that day “All I ever wanted to see was a movement on climate and now I see one”. We felt that march was important and we wanted to do what we could this time around.

Lise Olney suggested renting a bus from Wellesley. That sounded ambitious but Lise decided to find out what was possible, and discovered that the bus would cost over $2,000. SW has no budget and we seemed stuck at the first hurdle. Then we realized that a train to New York would cost each of us over $200 so if we could get 10 people to commit to a train fare we could then hire an entire bus instead – and maybe get some more people to go. We sent the email and in the space of a few hours we had 8 commitments and Lise reserved the bus. The full bus would cost $40 per ticket. Lise even managed to get the March Organizers to help fund the bus, dropping ticket prices to $25. The race was on to fill it. Our large and very active membership really stepped up and within few days; we were approaching capacity. As soon as tickets became scarce, demand rocketed. When we filled the first bus, Lise booked another without blinking and filled that within 15 hours. We could have filled another three busses but every single one in Massachusetts was already booked for the march.

On the day of we got up at 4.45 and stood in the rain singing-in people on wet pieces of paper waiting for a bus to arrive in a Wellesley College lot. They all came – from age 9 to age 76+ (no one over 30 was volunteering their age) and got on the bus….and fell asleep.

As we neared New York we discussed climate change and our reasons for coming. We had people who had marched in each decade since the 60’s – from civil rights, through the original Earth Day, women’s rights, Vietnam, nuclear disarmament and the Iraq War. But mostly we were people who had never marched before until this day.

climate march from up highWe arrived at 86th street to massive crowds and superb organization. Walking to the march we reached 83rd street and had to stop. The front of the March was about 40 blocks away at Columbus Circle and for two hours people streamed in behind us. By 12.pm they couldn’t unload busses because the streets were too full. It took more than two hours after the first marchers started walking before the wave of motion reached us and we were on the move.

At 12:58 the entire crowd went deathly quiet and raised their hands above their heads. All that could be heard was a police siren far away in the city as all of Central Park went still, with every street packed with silent people. Two minutes later we raised the ‘climate alarm’ : 30 marching bands struck up, countless other bands and groups played, and every single mouth was shouting or blowing a whistle. The roar progressed from the front of the march to the back and could be heard over a mile away. When the noise reached us we joined in and saw again just how many people had turned out to make a statement and just how much they cared about global warming.

The march itself was very entertaining, with representatives from the science community, faith groups, animal rights groups, anti-pollution groups, and of course fracking and Keystone XL protesters. The atmosphere was committed and optimistic.
As news began to spread of the size of our crowd the significance grew – this was the largest climate march in history and was so big that it would get noticed by every politician in the country, from the President through Congress to State Senators and beyond.

As a society we have been addicted to coal oil and gas for a century or more. After decades of research into global warming, after decades of talking, explaining, writing and petitioning we were making a statement that could not be ignored. The time had come to sound the climate alarm. And we did it in a way that no one can ignore.

And no one can ignore what happens next – we move from coal oil and gas to clean, job-creating, renewable energy or we watch everything that we value suffer.

Millions judge their politicians first on this question : “Are you working as hard as you possibly can to curb global warming?”. A “Yes” answer is simply the table-stakes to be able to deal with all the other issues that global warming make worse – war, jobs, security, food scarcity, unemployment, human rights, the environment and more. Now the politicians know we are paying attention, and voting and acting accordingly will keep that pressure on.

— by Quentin Prideaux

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Phyllis Theermann
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