“Look at all these people here because they care about your future.”
– Parent to child while observing the People’s Climate March, overheard by Geoffrey Supran
This past Sunday, together with 70 others from MIT, the Incredible Hulk, and 400,000 more from across the U.S. and around the world, I marched for climate change in New York City.
I marched because if our generation doesn’t deal with climate change, the next generation may not be able to.
I marched because I believe a price on carbon is the most efficient road to a livable future climate.
I marched because the world leaders convening in New York on Tuesday needed to see us march.
I marched because those who have the privilege to know have the duty to act.
I marched because otherwise my children would someday ask why I didn’t.
I marched because I stand with science.
I marched because there is still hope.
I marched because it was the People’s Climate March—the biggest climate-change demonstration in history, a statement of the people, by the people, for the people.
I had no idea what to expect. I’ve never been an activist before. All I knew when I boarded a bus from the Alewife T station outside Boston on Saturday morning was that 500 buses carrying 25,000 people from all over the country would converge on New York City in the next 24 hours. Aside from 8 MIT students and staff, my bus, hosted by 350MA, was filled with mostly older folks from Cambridge, Somerville, Lexington, Concord, and a few other sleepy suburbs of Boston. Maybe it would be a quiet weekend.
At 10AM on Sunday morning, we assembled just west of Central Park between 59th and 86th St. for the start of the march. The MIT contingent crowded into the student section at 69th St. and Central Park West. More and more people trickled in. By 11AM, hundreds of thousands of people overflowed the 30-block-long assembly area—so many that after the march started at 11:30AM, those near the back didn’t start moving until 2 hours later. It was hot, sticky, overcast, altogether unpleasant. But no one complained. The day was about climate, not weather. A moment of silence at 12:58PM honored those already affected by climate change; a tidal wave of noise two minutes later sounded the alarm to the world. So the march began.
For context, I’ve been working with Fossil Free MIT (FFMIT) for over a year now, pushing MIT to take strong action on climate change, in particular by divesting its $12.4B endowment from companies with major reserves of coal, oil, and natural gas. FFMIT is part of a growing international divestment movement among individuals, companies, and institutions both public and private. It just makes sense. When you study the global impacts of climate change, when you look at the urgency of near-term action and the looming carbon bubble, when you find out that political donations are blocking climate legislation, when you ask the mirror, “What can I do about climate change?”, divestment is the logical answer. Fossil-fuel divestment is all about leveraging institutional clout to achieve a better future. I can’t think of a stronger action that students can take today.
On Sunday, I marched with 50,000 students from MIT, Stanford, Harvard, BU, BC, Berkeley, Tufts, Yale, Duke, UNC, Tulane, and hundred of other schools; with Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio and the U.N. Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon; with men and women and children from every state and every socioeconomic status. All day the chants echoed through the streets of New York:
“What do we want? Climate justice!
When do we want it? NOW!”
“Show me what democracy looks like.
THIS is what democracy looks like!”
“Hey hey—ho ho—fossil fuels have got to go!”
For 4 hours we marched, south and east around Central Park, past Trump Tower and the Bank of America Tower and the Fox News building, through Times Square and all the way to 11th Ave. We marched with banners, signs, posters, body paint. Scientists marched with a giant chalkboard showing rising CO2 levels and rising global temperatures. Students marched with a 30-foot inflatable globe. Parents marched with kids in Lorax costumes. Rappers and musicians marched with boom-boxes, with megaphones, with loud voices and louder conviction. All marched with pride.
But climate change wasn’t the only issue at hand. The marchers represented causes ranging from climate change to clean water, social justice to global health, labor unions to indigenous communities, veganism to socialism. The message to the U.N. and to world leaders would have been stronger had everyone been asking for the same thing. My vote would be for a price on carbon, widely accepted as the most economically efficient solution to climate change. But seeing so many communities come together on one street, if not one issue, was truly an inspiration: Every advocate for every cause knew that unchecked climate change would weaken their own cause, deepen economic prejudice and injustice, and ultimately create more problems for more people. Each one knew the terrible and beautiful truth, that “to change everything, we need everyone.”
I was in a meeting a few months ago when the discussion turned to climate change, and someone made a keen observation: If we don’t solve cancer or education or just about any other problem in the world, nothing will change. Life as we know it will go on. But if we don’t solve climate change, things will change. Life as we know it will not go on. This is a fact. The most conservative thing any of us can do today is to move boldly against climate change, just like 400,000 people did last Sunday at the first-ever People’s Climate March.
A few shout-outs to…
Anastasia for being a gracious host last weekend
Patrick for a heroic organizing effort
Jenn and Alison, my banner buddies
Ploy for her climate artistry and for being featured all over the national news
Geoffrey for being appointed to the MIT Climate Change Conversation Committee
All my fellow MIT marchers who made the PCM so damn inspiring