Hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life took to the streets of Manhattan in what organizers are calling the largest climate change protest in history. Organizers also said the march was the largest social justice march in New York City in over a decade.
March organizers expected over 100,000 people, but that turned out to be a conservative guess. The initial estimate is 310,000. It has been six hours since the march began, and people are still streaming down 42nd Street, miles from where the march began.
The original plans were for marchers to line up on Central Park West from 60th Street to 86th Street. But at 1:45 p.m., two hours after the march started, the staging area stretched to 93rd Street and was still packed with people.
“We said it would take everyone to change everything – and everyone showed up,” said Eddie Bautista, executive director of the New York City Environmental Justice Coalition.
This march was historic in many ways. While there were many high profile participants, they were not given the mic. Instead they marched like everyone else. The only speakers at the pre-march press conference were people representing communities suffering the effects of climate change.
There were no endless speeches from talking heads. Even without the usual messengers, the message that climate action is needed now was clearly articulated. At 12:58 p.m., the front of the march stopped at 42nd Street and 7th Avenue for a moment of silence. Everyone held hands. At that point the march stretched back to Central Park West where it began. The silence sent a clear, unified message.
The significant participation of Labor in an environmental march was also historic. In the past, trade unions and “environmental caucuses” from some of the larger unions have come out for events like this. Today Labor was a significant player, which bodes well for the climate movement’s strength within the Democratic Party.
Senator Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont, echoed the importance of the strong participation from Labor. “This march will be heard in Washington. The diversity will not be lost on my colleagues,” said Sanders. Sanders also warned that if the Republicans take the Senate, the chairman of the committee that will oversee climate change issues will be Jim Inhofe, who wrote a book claiming climate change is a hoax.
The historic action didn’t take place only in New York. 2,500 protests took place around the world.
In addition, at last count, 2,129,060 people around the world had also signed onto a petition calling for world leaders to take bold action at the UN Climate Summit this week.
“With hundreds of thousands marching in over 2,500 protests worldwide, this is by a long way the largest climate mobilization in history. It's a wake up call to politicians that climate change is not a green issue anymore, it's an everybody issue,” said Ricken Patel, the executive director of Avaaz, who delivered the petition to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at 1:00 p.m. this afternoon on the march route.
The historic participation of indigenous people was another significant development at this march. Indigenous communities affected by climate change, from the Americas to Tibet, led the march with spirited song and dance.
The question is, who was listening?
The end of the march reached 42nd Street and 7th Avenue at 5:30 p.m., six hours after it left Columbus Circle.
(Scott Galindez was formerly the co-founder of Truthout, and is now the Political Director of Reader Supported News.)