A little over a week ago an article by Victor Feldman in the Berkshire Edge, “Climate March Sept. 21 in New York City; Berkshirites to take part” caught my eye. Reading on, I immediately knew that this was my opportunity to join a local group descending upon NYC. I had to go. The door was open. No excuses.
For too many years, I have felt helpless, frustrated and yes, angry. Having read and attended talks as well as met Bill McKibben, Elizabeth Kolbert and even, Al Gore, it still remained hard to wrap my head around making a difference in this overwhelming quagmire. Solutions to “climate disruption,” a current term, appeared too daunting — especially in this political climate. Working locally remained the only way. Here now was the opportunity to cross a bridge between the local and the global, the well-known E.F. Schumacher philosophy.
Granted, I had contributed to 350.org, Friends of the Earth and the NRDC, insulated to the max our colonial house, was driving a Prius, and, just last week, installed solar panels. Still, the nagging sense of remaining stuck on a small, even insignificant, personal trajectory while the planet’s trajectory is growing more dire, needed a boost of fresh air.
As I discovered on September 21, I was not alone. Thanks to what is known as the Berkshire Node of 350MA.org, I was one among what has been estimated at the latest count to be 400,000 in Manhattan.
And, it was like holding hands with people around the globe. From Melbourne to New Delhi, from Capetown to Paris and all over the map in the U.S., people came out on the streets to voice their concerns loud and clear. Befitting this traditional UN International Day of Peace, the demonstrations remained peaceful.
Our Berkshire contingent, carrying two large painted banners and wearing blue T-shirts, was one among 1,300 organizations that officially attended while 2,000 events were taking place in more than 160 countries. Local individuals had also made it their priority to attend. A roughly estimated 300 from the Berkshires were partaking in what turned out to be the biggest march on climate change in U.S. history. (Little did we know that we were making up for 1/10 of 1 percent! Not a very PC number…)
As a former New Yorker, I felt it as a pilgrimage. It was also a giant leap into the past with keen memories of anti-Vietnam war demonstrations in Washington D.C., and, more relevantly, the first Earth Day in 1971 which led to major legislative change in the Clean Air and Clean Water acts. Fast forward to today, it was heartening to discover how the ages, backgrounds and environmental agendas were so diverse. I knew distance — and the label: Red state — were not impediments either when I walked past a bus with a Texas plate near our Blue state bus.
So, what were a few details and highlights for some of us from around the county? To give you just an inkling: at 7 a.m., 30 of us boarded a bright, shiny white bus in Lee and were prompted by Michael Bedford from North Adams, a former Peace Corps director in Bangladesh and Volunteers in Asia (VIA) leader, on the logistics of the day. We were in good hands.
Around 11 a.m., we were greeted near the Museum of Natural History in NYC by Ellie Johnston, a co-founder of our local group, and also met up with a handful of those who had traveled separately. The bus, made available in part thanks to the Sierra Club, could not accommodate us all.
Things on the street soon began to feel quite familiar. Here were Jim and Teri Weber of the Berkshire Bateria inundating the urban soundscape with their dynamic Brazilian-style percussion. Cops smiled and swayed ever so slightly; folks danced or tossed about an earth-imaged beach ball while others simply chatted, gazing at banners, signs, flyers and, last but not least, costumes. A highly photographed one included two folks outfitted in white styrofoam, blue ribbons and white masks displaying a “We’re melting” banner. The lesson: while the context may remain serious, creativity can still abound.
As time dragged on, someone referred to our static human traffic jam on Central Park West as a “stand in.” With others pouring in from all directions, we waited patiently by the museum en masse for more two hours.
Click here for a drone’s-eye view of the march.
Taking that first, small step to our final destination, 24th Street and 11th Avenue, was a huge relief. Perhaps the United Nations meeting on Tuesday will follow suit as it lays the groundwork for the Paris Talks in 2015.
And then something magical took place: at 1 p.m. a few moments of hushed silence came upon the massive crowd followed by what can only be described as an almost primitive roar. Like an ocean wave the sound was traveling uptown.
What about verbal messages? They too abounded. Poetic slogans on signs included: “Leave the oil in the soil and the coal in the hole, and pass the gas!”; “Shrinking glaciers, melting ice, rising seas will push us back, it won’t be very nice.” Most succinctly was: “There is no Planet B.”
Environmental and social justice agendas were aplenty. Petitions were distributed while a pervading sense of camaraderie flowed throughout the day.
In our section of this geographically and thematically well-designed march, anti-fracking messages remained a powerfully expressed theme. Next to us was a Harvard group petitioning for financial divestment. Finally, in speaking with our group I learned more about the battle against the proposed Kinder-Morgan gas pipeline.
Below are a few words from friends who took part in this momentous, unforgettable day:
Barbara Zheutlin from Berkshire Grown: “I was energized, inspired, and also challenged by participating in the March. Thrilled to see so many people pouring into the streets of New York. There is so much energy in NYC — to add hundreds of thousands of individuals wanting to push the world into action on global climate change — is exciting and challenging. So many points of view on the various signs. So many various ways of making changes happen.”
Eve Schatz from the Berkshire Center for Justice: “I hope for two things to manifest now. Those in position to determine policy and make environmental laws and decisions, stand up and take notice that millions across the world are communicating with each other in solidarity about the environment. And second, those with the imagination to invent clean, renewable, sustainable fuel, know that millions across the world are ready for affordable energy.”
Ellie Johnston, co-founder of the Berkshire 350MA.org: “It was very successful, very cool to be there with so many people from the Berkshires and beyond. For sure I feel it made an impact on the media. The leaders are finally listening.”
Tom Stokes, coordinator of the Pricing Carbon Initiative: “Sunday’s memorable march was the watershed event in the climate movement that we’ve been waiting for! It has given us hope and much needed encouragement for our battles ahead. Notwithstanding the daunting prospect of climate disruption, we now know that the troops are there for the long fight, and they’re in good spirit! As governments from around the world gather for the U.N. Climate Summit to address a crisis that appears hopelessly beyond their control, a call to action was heard, loud and clear.
“I’m still marveling on the many engaging conversations I had with folks, from NYC and afar, who signed the petition to price carbon pollution.”
His long-term commitment makes for concrete action. In his “Petition to Congress and the President of the United States” are the words:
“We the undersigned call upon the United States Senate, House of Representatives, and President Obama to work together to introduce, promote, and pass legislation that puts a price on carbon pollution and returns revenues to the American people, either directly or by reducing taxes.” To sign this go to: www.pricingcarbon.org.